What Mark Taylor could be prosecuted for

If Mark Taylor manages to get from captivity in Syria to Turkey, and then back to New Zealand – the Government nor anyone else seems to be rushing to help him come back here – he is likely to be taken into custody pending prosecutions. What he might face is yet to be determined, but there’s a variety of possibilities.

Stuff – Mark Taylor: The potential legal case facing the ‘Kiwi jihadi’ if he makes it home to New Zealand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said “Kiwi jihadi” Mark Taylor would face the full force of the law if he returned to New Zealand, so what would that look like?

Ardern made clear “it is unlawful to join and fight with a terrorist organisation as Taylor has done”, so there would certainly be legal consequences.

Is it Ardern’s call to make? Prime Ministers wouldn’t usually get involved in prosecutions, politicians are supposed to get a separation between them and the administration of the law.

If Taylor manages to make his own way to consular assistance – the closest available is in Turkey – and return to New Zealand it’s likely he will be picked up at the airport by authorities and brought to prison awaiting criminal prosecution.

That seems like a given. It would be alarming if this didn’t happen.

In 2015, police took “further security measures” after Taylor posted a YouTube video urging Islamic State followers in New Zealand to launch attacks on Anzac Day.

This week police told Stuff if a New Zealand citizen suspected of associating with a terrorist group were to return, they would be investigated under New Zealand law.

Police were working closely with domestic and international partners as part of its efforts to ensure the safety and security of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

“The circumstances of these individuals is highly complex and any investigation or possible judicial proceedings would be considered on a case by case basis. Police does not discuss matters regarding specific individuals.”

So what is Ardern giving her opinion for then?

Legal experts say Taylor’s social media and video postings would like see him charged under the Crimes Act, Terrorism Suppression Act and possibly the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act.

He would be refused bail but would avail the rights offered to every citizen in the criminal justice system and his case would likely be long and drawn out through the courts.

The prosecution would not necessarily be a slam dunk with much of the case dependent on proof.

It’s normal for just about any legal case to depend on proof.

Dr Bill Hodge from the University of Auckland law faculty…

“As I understand it, he wasn’t shooting but acting on guard duty but that in itself is routine military exercise. Even if he wasn’t shooting or beheading, he was enabling others to do those things.”

“I think he’d be faced with a maximum possible sentence of 14 years, on the outer limits.”

That must surely depend on what he is charge with.

Professor Alberto Costi​ from Victoria University, who specialises in armed conflicts and international criminal law, said it was not clear what Taylor really done but he had boasted about what he was involved in.

There were provisions in the Crimes Act for threatening to kill as well as the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity.

John Ip, senior law lecturer at the University of Auckland, said Taylor could be charged with several crimes.

War crimes were a possibility.

He cites a case from Sweden, where a former rebel was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes – more specifically, involvement in the execution of captured Syrian government soldiers.

However, it’s more likely Taylor would face prosecution under the Terrorism Suppression Act. It states any person who even joins a designated terrorist organisation, is liable on conviction to imprisonment for up to 14 years.

That’s where the 14 year maximum comes from, but that’s just one possible charge.

Another possibility under the same act, was to commit a terrorist act, punishable by up to life imprisonment, he says.

Ip and other legal experts agree, the most likely offence would likely be section 13 of the act; participating in a terrorist group, which would not require proof of specific wrongful conduct such as executing prisoners and killing civilians. The law describes the participation in a designated terrorist entity.

But Ip says there is no guiding case law on what terms like “participation” mean.

“The sections have never been used and sitting moribund since the aborted prosecution in relation to the Operation Eight raids in 2007.”

Whatever Taylor ends up being charged with it would be a test case and is likely to be challenging to both prosecute and defend.

Would it go before a jury? It could be hard to find 12 people in new Zealand who don’t think he’s an idiot who deserves to have the legal book thrown at him.

It’s possible that with untested law he gets off on a technicality.

Another possibility is some sort of charge and plea agreement. Taylor has already claimed or admitted quite a bit. He might find it simpler and less risky to cooperate and accept a moderate sentence.

Problems for Mark Taylor, and for New Zealand if he gets here

Mark Taylor created major problems for himself by joining ISIS in the war in Syria.

After finding life with ISIS ‘unbearable’ (they are largely defeated) Taylor handed himself over to Kurds in Syria, probably one of his safer options. But his problems don’t end there.

Somehow Taylor needs to cross from the Kurds into Turkey (who oppose the Kurds), get to the New Zealand Embassy in Ankara, get an emergency passport (even if he hasn’t destroyed his passport as claimed it will have expired), and pay for plane tickets back to New Zealand. He may not have much money, nor an easy way of getting any.

If Taylor does manage to get back he enters a situation with more problems.

Going by comments here and elsewhere he may just about enter a lynch mob mentality. He is likely to be arrested and held in custody, and that may be for his own safety. But he may need to be protected in prison too.

Unlike some (it seems many in Taylor’s case) I oppose capital punishment, but I expect he will be charged appropriately, and if his own claims about what he has done are true he should be sentenced to far more than the couple of years in prison he said he was expecting or hoping for. It looks to me like he has earned something like a life sentence with a long mandatory non-parole period.

If he has to spend that in isolation for his own protection then he only has himself to blame. Going to fight for ISIS is one of the more reprehensible things anyone could have done. He is lucky not to have been killed by opponents in Syria, and also by others in ISIS.

If he is lucky enough to get back safely to New Zealand I hope we are lucky enough to be fully protected from him.

‘Kiwi Jihadi’ fled ‘unbearable life’ with ISIS

New Zealand has it’s own problem with what to do about someone who got involved with ISIS in Syria. In the first instance, apparently nothing, although Mark Taylor is a New Zealand citizen so we may end up being stuck with him.

RNZ: ‘Kiwi Jihadi’ in Syria will have to find his own way out – Ardern

Nicknamed the ‘Kiwi Jihadi’, Mark Taylor told the ABC he fled the Islamic State group in December and surrendered to Kurdish forces because life had become unbearable.

In 2009, he was arrested in Pakistan for trying to gain access to Al Qaeda.

In 2010, he was deported by ASIO after he was assessed as being a security risk. Taylor had lived in Australia on and off for 25 years.

In 2015, the US government declared Taylor a global terrorist after he encouraged attacks in Australia and New Zealand and appeared in an IS propaganda video.

Taylor said he would be surprised if New Zealand did not take him back.

“If they do take me back, most probably I’ll be spending a couple of years in jail,” he said.

Is that optimism? I don’t know what he could be charged with if he comes back to New Zealand.

And he had an apology, of sorts, for his home country.

“I’m sorry for causing too much trouble and being a bit hot-headed and flamboyant in my approach… I don’t know if I can go back to New Zealand, but at the end of the day it’s really something I have to live with for the rest of my life.”

Joining and fighting with a  group with a despicable war and human rights record is a bit more than “a bit hot-headed and flamboyant”.

Ms Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little would not be drawn on the specifics of the case at a post-cabinet press conference today but said they had warned New Zealanders of the risks.

“New Zealand has made it very clear from the outset that New Zealanders should not travel to Syria. Further, it is clear that it is unlawful to join and fight with a terrorist organisation as Mark Taylor has done.”

His actions in joining IS and travelling to Syria to fight for them has created potential for legal ramifications in New Zealand, she said.

“As with any New Zealand citizen overseas, if they wish to return to New Zealand then a journey specific emergency travel document can be issued under Section 23 of the Passports Act 1992.”

The absence of New Zealand diplomatic representation in Syria meant the ability of the government to assist any citizens there was “severely limited”, Ms Ardern said.

She said Taylor would probably have to travel to Turkey to get the documents he needed.

“We have consistently told Mark Taylor that we cannot help him obtain a travel document, he would need to make his own way to a country where New Zealand has consular representation, something that in his current situation will be difficult to do.”

Taylor only had a New Zealand citizenship and the government had an obligation not to make people stateless, she said.

More from RNZ:  Call for NZ to take ‘Kiwi jihadi’ Mark Taylor likely

New Zealand can shortly expect demands from Kurdish officials to take the imprisoned Kiwi IS fighter, Mark Taylor, off their hands.

Mr Taylor was arrested in December, and told the ABC’s Middle East correspondent Adam Harvey he had turned himself over to Kurdish forces when he realised life under Islamic State wasn’t what he had anticipated it would be.

He said his life had become unbearable, with no food or money, and that basic services had collapsed.

Life has been unbearable for many people as a result of what ISIS has done, and that he has been a part of – inluding encouraging attacks on New Zealand.

Mr Harvey told Morning Report that Kurdish authorities wanted nothing to do with the western fighters now scarpering from the terrorist group – and that includes Mr Taylor.

“They’ve expressed to us their desire, that that’s what needs to happen with these foreign fighters and the IS families, the people in the camps,” he said.

Mr Harvey said Mr Taylor also told him he had spoken with New Zealand representatives since his arrest in December.

“He said shortly after his arrest he was spoken to by New Zealand intelligence officials on the ground here.”

“I have no idea when a formal request will be made. We’ll be speaking with the Foreign Minister of Kurdistan in a couple of days so we might get some more information then.

“But I think it’s safe to say that they want Mark Taylor out of here as soon as possible. He’s just a burden to them.”

He’s likely to be a burden to New Zealand if he ends up here, but we may have no choice.

 

US to leave 200 ‘peacekeepers’ in Syria

Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that the US troops would withdraw from Syria took the world by surprise, and serious concerns were expressed in the Respected US. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis resigned immediately.

Trump said in a video released on Twitter:

“We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

That was questioned and ridiculed as fighting continued against ISIS.

And a  complete US withdrawal would have left Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia in positions of influence.

The plan has now been adjusted, with 200 peacekeepers to remain.

Reuters:  U.S. to leave 200 American peacekeepers in Syria after pullout

The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 American troops in Syria, saying they had defeated Islamic State militants there, even as U.S.-backed Syrian forces continued a final push against the group’s last outpost.

But Trump has been under pressure from multiple advisers to adjust his policy to ensure the protection of Kurdish forces, who supported the fight against Islamic State and who might now be threatened by Turkey, and to serve as a bulwark against Iran’s influence.

“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The decision was announced after Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. A White House statement said the two leaders agreed, regarding Syria, to “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone.”

Leaving even a small group of U.S. troops in Syria could pave the way for European allies to commit hundreds of troops to help set up and observe a potential safe zone in northeast Syria.

The commander of U.S.-backed Syrian forces has called for 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in the country to help fight Islamic State and expressed hope the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

It would also have left the Kurds, who the US had supported in Syria, in a precarious position with Turkey.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

And it would have strengthened Iranian and Russian influence.

US senator Lindsey Graham had been strongly against the announced withdrawal.

Real Clear Politics (20 December 2018) – Sen. Graham: Trump Withdraw From Syria “A Stain On The Honor Of America”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night blasting President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Graham called Trump’s declaration that ISIS has been defeated “fake news” and leaving the country would be a “stain” on America.

Graham Statement on Syria (11 January 2019):

“From an American point of view, we have strategic objectives that must be accomplished in northeastern Syria.  The Iranians, Russians and Assad should not be allowed to be the biggest winners of our withdrawal.

“The mission in Syria is not yet complete and we must continue to work with our partners and allies to ensure that ISIS is destroyed and never returns.”

ABC News (17 January 2019):  Graham says Trump’s statements have emboldened ISIS in Syria

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top ally of President Donald Trump, expressed concerns on Wednesday that Trump’s comments about withdrawing troops from Syria have emboldened terrorist groups like ISIS, and that he hopes Trump thinks “long and hard” about his next moves when it comes to withdrawing troops from the war torn country.

“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting. You make people we are trying to help wonder about us.”

Task and Purpose (20 February 2019): Sen. Graham tells Shanahan that leaving Syria is ‘the dumbest f*****g idea I’ve ever heard’

“That’s the dumbest f******g idea I’ve ever heard,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly replied when Shanahan confirmed the Trump administration still plans to complete the Syria withdrawal by April 30.

Later, Graham told Shanahan, “I am now your adversary, not your friend.”

The blow up came during a Feb. 16 meeting in Munich with Shanahan and three dozen lawmakers from both parties, according to Breitbart, the Washington Post, and NBC.

Graham’s spokesman Kevin Bishop did not dispute media reports of Graham’s comments during the meeting, adding the senator declined to comment for this story.

While he rarely criticizes the president, Graham initially called Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops from Syria a “huge Obama-like mistake.”

The pressure on Trump to think long and hard – something that seems alien to his personality – seems to have worked.

After the announcement that the US would leave troops in Syria, Graham issued this statement:

“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew. This also ensures Turkey and SDF elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria”.

“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives.

“Well done Mr. President.”

It still won’t be easy keeping all the different forces at bay and counter the influence of Iran, Turkey and Russia, but at least the US will have a base presence to work from.

There is a heck of a lot of sorting out still to do in Syria.

The Syrian civil war started in 2011, with the US getting involved with an international coalition in  2014. It’s been complicated. From Wikipedia:

The Syrian government and Syrian Armed Forces and its international allies, a loose alliance of majorly Sunni opposition rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadistgroups (including al-Nusra Front), and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved or providing support to one or another faction (Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States, as well as others).

Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah support the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Armed Forces militarily, with Russia conducting military operations since September 2015.

The U.S.-led international coalition, established in 2014 with the declared purpose of countering ISIL, has conducted airstrikes primarily against ISIL as well as some against government and pro-government targets.

Since 2015, the US has also supported the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and its armed wing, the SDF. Turkey, on the other hand, has become deeply involved against the Syrian government since 2016, actively supporting the Syrian opposition and occupying large swaths of northwestern Syria.

Between 2011 and 2017, fighting from the Syrian Civil War spilled over into Lebanon as opponents and supporters of the Syrian Arab Republic travelled to Lebanon to fight and attack each other on Lebanese soil.

Furthermore, while officially neutral, Israel has conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian forces, whose presence in southwestern Syria it views as a threat.

The 200 US troops that will remain in Syria have a few challenges – but will no doubt have a mass of ships and planes and troops not far away in support if needed.

And one of the biggest ongoing battles may be in limiting the damage Trump does with spur of the moment announcements on Twitter that can have serious implications for the Middle East and the world.

I hope Trump has not been given the ability to order nuclear strikes by tweet.

Citizenship confusion for ISIS bride in Syria

Shamima Begum left London as a 15 year old in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria. She was recently found in a refugee camp in Syria after (reportedly) leaving the last stronghold of ISIS. She wants to return to the UK, but her citizenship may determine where she can go – if her citizenship can be determined.

She claims she has only UK citizenship.

BBC – Shamima Begum case: I have one citizenship, says IS bride

Shamima Begum – the teenager who fled London to join Islamic State – has said she only has “one citizenship” and it was wrong for the UK to revoke it without speaking to her first.

The 19-year-old told BBC News she had hoped the UK would understand she made a “very big mistake” by joining IS.

She gave birth to a son at the weekend and now wants to return home.

It is only possible to strip someone of their UK nationality if they are eligible for citizenship elsewhere.

It is thought Ms Begum has Bangladeshi citizenship through her mother. But the Bangladesh foreign ministry said the matter had nothing to do with the country.

Ms Begum’s mother is believed to be a Bangladeshi national which means under Bangladesh law she would be too.

But Ms Begum told the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Quentin Sommerville: “I wasn’t born in Bangladesh, I’ve never seen Bangladesh and I don’t even speak Bengali properly, so how can they claim I have Bangladeshi citizenship.

“I have one citizenship… and if you take that away from me, I don’t have anything. I don’t think they are allowed to do that.

“I was hoping Britain would understand I made a mistake, a very big mistake, because I was young and naive.”

She said she changed her mind about IS after they imprisoned and tortured her Dutch husband – an armed jihadi.

Escape was impossible, she claimed: “They’d kill you if you tried.”

She added that she understood the anger about her wanting to come home.

“I understand why you don’t want to be sympathetic because of everything IS did… and claiming it’s all for the sake of Islam… it’s really not,” she said.

Her citiizenship is disputed by politicians.

Mr Javid said the power to deprive a person of citizenship was only used “in extreme circumstances”, for example, “when someone turns their back on the fundamental values and supports terror”.

“We must put the safety and security of our country first,” he added.

But shadow home secretary Diane Abbott accused him of breaching the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality”.

What is the legal situation on citizenship?

Under the 1981 British Nationality Act, a person can be deprived of their citizenship if the home secretary is satisfied it would be “conducive to the public good” and they would not become stateless as a result.

Ms Begum has the right to challenge the Home Office’s decision either by tribunal or judicial review, said former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile, but would have to prove the home secretary had acted disproportionately.

He said it was a “complex issue” which “could run for a very long time through the courts”, and Ms Begum could stay where she is “for maybe two years at least”.

Lord Carlile said her baby may be entitled to British, Dutch and Bangladeshi nationality.

Is Shamima Begum entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship?

Under Bangladesh law, a UK national like Ms Begum who is born to a Bangladeshi parent is automatically a Bangladeshi citizen. That means that such a person would have dual nationality.

However, their Bangladeshi nationality and citizenship lapses when they reach the age of 21, unless they make active efforts to retain it.

So, it is Ms Begum’s age, 19, that is likely – in part – to have given Home Office lawyers and the home secretary reassurance there was a legal basis for stripping her of her UK citizenship.

Her Bangladeshi citizenship remains intact until she reaches 21, even if she has never visited the country or made active efforts to retain her citizenship.

Politics again:

Former Conservative Home Secretary Ken Clarke said refusing Britons who joined IS the right to return would be a “great boost for jihadism” as the “hundreds of foreign jihadis stuck in camps in northern Syria” would be further radicalised.

And MP Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s spokeswoman for justice and home affairs, saidthe home secretary’s actions were “more about his leadership ambitions than security issues or due process”.

Mr Javid told MPs earlier this week that more than 100 dual nationals had already lost their UK citizenship after travelling in support of terrorist groups.

In an interview with the BBC on Monday…

…Ms Begum said she never sought to be an IS “poster girl” and now simply wished to raise her child quietly in the UK.

‘Quietly’ may be difficult for her after all this publicity.

She hasn’t helped her case with comments she has made, especially justifying a terrorist attack in Manchester- see Shamima Begum: Manchester Arena bombing ‘justified’ because of Syria airstrikes, Isis teenager says

But where she ends up living looks likely be determined by lawyers.

 

US Senate challenges Trump’s plans to withdraw from Syria

Donald Trump’s announcement and follow up statements about withdrawing US troops from Syria and Afghanistan were typically controversial, vague and contradictory. He surprised and alarmed people in the US, to the extent that his Defence Secretary James Mattis resigned immediately over Trump’s withdrawal proclamation last month.

The criticism continues.

Time: Trump’s Own Intelligence Chief Contradicted Him Several Times

The nation’s intelligence chief contradicted President Trump’s statements on North Korea, Syria and Russia while addressing the Senate on Tuesday, arguing that ISIS continues to pose a threat to the United States despite the Administration’s claims that it has been defeated.

Director of U.S. National Intelligence Dan Coats released the results of the Worldwide Threat Assessment, which describes the biggest international dangers facing the United States, and told lawmakers during the Senate hearing that the U.S. must “keep our eyes on” ISIS.

“While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” Coats said.

As usual Trump thinks he knows best.

Does Trump know that Iran is closely linked to Syria? A US withdrawal from Syria would help Iranian interests there.

These tweets have been criticised – Bloomberg:  Trump Blasts U.S. Spy Agencies as Passive, ‘Weak’ on Iran Threat

Responding to Trump’s criticism, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a tweet that “it is a credit to our intelligence agencies that they continue to provide rigorous and realistic analyses of the threats we face. It’s deeply dangerous that the White House isn’t listening.”

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on Senate Intelligence, said in a tweet that “the President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality. People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”

Now the US Senate, led by a Republican majority, are pushing back against Trump’s plans (if you can call them plans, they are more like random proclamations).

CNN:  In rebuke to Trump, Mitch McConnell unveils proposal urging troops stay in Syria, Afghanistan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing an amendment to a Middle East policy bill that would acknowledge “al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to us here at home,” a move seen as a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump’s push to withdraw US troops from Syria.

“It would recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,” McConnell said Tuesday from the Senate floor, announcing the amendment to the bill, which is currently being debated.

McConnell added that, “while it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done…..we’re not the world’s policemen, but we are the leaders of the free world.”

The leader of ‘the leaders of the free world’ (that’s increasingly debatable under Trump’s isolationism) might have to do a lot more firing to get his Intelligence agencies onside with his way of thinking, but one president can’t vote out 100 senators.

The US risks becoming the joke of the free world, but given the international situations the lead joker is thrashing around in it is not really a laughing matter.

Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation

Donald Trump recently announced that the United States would be withdrawing their troops from Syria. This raised questions about the fate of the Kurds who had been supported and used by the US, but are opposed by Turkey.

Trump has answered in his typical bluster and threat style, via Twitter:

“Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone…Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

What if the Kurds attack Turkish forces? Should Turkey not respond for fear of economic devastation?

What if Russia…? What if Iran…?

What would economic devastation mean for Turkey and the Middle East and the Mediterranean?

Reuters: Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks Syrian Kurd militia

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara on Monday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the NATO allies.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Speaking in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he did not think the threat would change plans to withdraw troops from Syria. Asked what Trump meant by economic devastation, he said: “You’ll have to ask the president.”

“We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things, Pompeo said, adding he had not spoken with Ankara since Trump’s comment.

So it sounds like Trump’s Secretary of State doesn’t know what the hell Trump is playing at. This isn’t an unusual situation for Trump’s administration. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syrian withdrawal announcement.

Trump has already impacted significantly on the Turkish economy.

Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the United States. A diplomatic crisis last year, when Trump imposed sanctions on two of President Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

Things are getting crazier, with Trump letting loose on Twitter making seemingly impulsive, destablilising (for his Administration and for the world) and potentially devastating pronouncements.


Reuters Explainer: Where do the Kurds fit into Syria’s war?

The future of Kurdish-led swathes of northern and eastern Syria has been thrown into doubt by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops who have helped secure the territory.

The region, roughly a quarter of Syria, is the largest chunk of the country still outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran.

Syrian Kurdish leaders fear Turkey, which sees them as a threat, will use a U.S. pullout as an opportunity to mount an assault into northern Syria.

This has driven them to talk to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of agreeing a deal to protect the region and safeguarding their political gains.

The Russians will be quietly looking for any advantage they can take over the Us withdrawal from Syria.

HOW DID THE KURDS EMERGE AS A FORCE?

The main Syrian Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), began to establish a foothold in the north early in the war as government forces withdrew to put down the anti-Assad uprising elsewhere. An affiliated militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), secured the region.

Early in the conflict, their control was concentrated in three predominantly Kurdish regions home to roughly 2 million Kurds. Kurdish-led governing bodies were set up.

The area of YPG influence expanded as the fighters joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (IS), becoming the spearhead of a multi-ethnic militia alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF influence widened to Manbij and Raqqa as IS was defeated in both. It has also reached deep into Deir al-Zor, where the SDF is still fighting IS. The SDF, which also includes Arab and other groups, says it has more than 70,000 fighters.

Kurdish leaders say their aim is regional autonomy within a decentralized Syria, not independence.

The Syrian Government would probably not react well to an bid for full independence.

WHY DOES TURKEY VIEW THEM AS A THREAT?

The PYD is heavily influenced by the ideas of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights. Ocalan has been in jail since 1999 in Turkey. He is convicted of treason.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey says the PKK is indistinguishable from the PYD and YPG.

So the US has been supporting an organisation they have designated terrorists?

Turkey has a Kurdish minority equal to 15 to 20 percent of its population, mostly living in eastern and southeastern areas bordering Syria. Wary of separatistism, Turkey views the PYD’s Syrian foothold as a security threat.

Turkey has already mounted two cross-border offensives in northern Syria as part of its efforts to counter the YPG.

Now Trump has threatened Turkey not to do that.

FOR KURDS, IS ASSAD A FRIEND OR FOE?

Syria’s Baathist state systematically oppressed the Kurds before the war. Yet the YPG and Damascus have broadly stayed out of each other’s way during the conflict, despite occasional clashes. They also have been seen to cooperate against shared foes, notably in and around Aleppo.

The YPG has allowed the Syrian state to keep a foothold in some of its areas. The YPG commander told Reuters in 2017 it would have no problem with the Assad government if Kurdish rights are guaranteed in Syria.

But Damascus has long opposed Kurdish autonomy demands and talks between the two sides last year went nowhere.

It’s complicated. And difficult to see a lasting solution.

WHAT WOULD AN ASSAD-KURD DEAL MEAN FOR THE WAR?

The territory held by Damascus and the Kurdish-led authorities accounts for most of Syria. A political settlement – if one could be reached, perhaps with Russian help – could go a long way to stitching the map back together.

Anti-Assad insurgents, though defeated across much of Syria by the government and its allies, still have a foothold in the northwest stretching from Idlib through Afrin to Jarablus. Turkey has troops on the ground in this area.

The rebels include Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army groups and jihadists.

Assad also wants Turkey out as he vows to recover “every inch” of Syria.

It’s very complicated.

I don’t think Trump can deal with complexities, apart from making them more complex with his ad hoc impulsiveness and threats.

Some good may accidentally emerge from his approach, but there is a far greater likelihood he will make things worse.

Russia will be seeing how they can benefit from all of this. I can’t see Trump deliberately aiding Russia here, but that is a highly likely inadvertent outcome.

 

Trump changes Syrian war, Kurds feel betrayed

Donald Trump surprised many people and countries with his sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. In protest US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, resigned.

Trump’s decision has forced a sudden chaange of approach in the war by Turket, and Syrian Kurds, used by the US in the war but regarded as terrorists by Turkey, feel betrayed.

Reuters – Syrian surprise: How Trump’s phone call changed the war

President Donald Trump’s declaration in a phone call with Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border.

In the phone call two weeks ago, Trump had been expected to deliver a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to launch a crossborder attack targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, U.S. officials say.

Instead, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.

“Trump asked: ‘If we withdraw our soldiers, can you clean up ISIS?’”, a Turkish official told Reuters. He said Erdogan replied that Turkish forces were up to the task.

“Then you do it,” Trump told him abruptly. To his national security adviser John Bolton, also on the call, Trump said: “Start work for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.”

“I have to say it was an unexpected decision. The word ‘surprise’ is too weak to describe the situation,” said the official, one of five Turkish sources who spoke to Reuters about the Dec. 14 call between the two leaders.

Trump’s decision was also a shock in Washington, where senior administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, tried for days to change the president’s mind, U.S. officials said. When Trump made clear he would not back down, Mattis and a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, both resigned.

For Turkey, Trump’s decision offers opportunity and risk.

Ankara has complained bitterly for years that the United States, a NATO ally, had chosen the Kurdish YPG militia as its main partner on the ground in Syria against Islamic State.

Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist group, inseparable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey in which 40,000 people have been killed.

The U.S. withdrawal potentially frees Turkey’s military to push the YPG back from 500 km of border without risking a confrontation with American forces. It also removes a main cause of this year’s diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

But it also opens up an area of Syria far larger than anything Turkey had expected to fill, potentially pitting it against not just Kurdish forces but also the Damascus government – which is committed to regaining control of all of Syria – and its Russian and Iranian backers.

The YPG on Friday asked the Syrian government to take over the town of Manbij, which the Kurdish militia currently controls with U.S. support, to protect it from Turkish attack.

And if Turkish forces are to take on Islamic State in its last pocket of Syrian territory near the Iraqi border, they would first have to cross 250 km of territory controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.

“Erdogan got more than he bargained for,” said Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute. “He had asked the U.S. to drop the YPG, but not withdraw from Syria”.

Alliances between groups fighting in Syria and countries involved in the war are complicated. Trump’s decision will force other countries to rethink their involvement, and will no doubt change the power struggles within and over Syria.

New York Times:  Syria’s Kurds, Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection

Feeling betrayed by the United States, its Kurdish allies in Syria asked the Syrian government on Friday to protect them from possible attack by Turkey.

The request surprised some American officials and could help open the way for the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, to start retaking the Kurdish-held part of the country near Turkey’s border.

That would be a big step toward Mr. Assad’s goal of reclaiming all of Syria, upended by almost eight years of war.

It was also the first sign that President Trump’s abrupt announcement last week that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria was not only shifting alliances in the conflict but directly benefiting Mr. Assad — a brutal autocrat once described by Mr. Trump as an “animal” responsible for chemical attacks and other atrocities.

American-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., said the Syrian government should send troops to the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.

The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey.

The Kurdish militias are regarded by Turkey as dangerous, autonomy-minded insurgents. The United States regards them as valuable partners in helping rout Islamic State extremists from Syria — the original purpose of the American military deployment four years ago.

Although the American troops in Syria number only about 2,000, they have been a deterrent to an assault on the Kurdish militias by the Turks. The American presence also discouraged Mr. Assad’s forces from sweeping into the area even as they retook major areas elsewhere from anti-government fighters, often with the support of Russia and Iran.

Mr. Trump’s surprise announcement that he would pull American troops had raised fears of a scramble by competing forces to exploit the resulting vacuum.

It’s hard to know whether trump understands the implications of his sudden decision or not.

Groups controlling land in Syria:

 

The areas run by the Kurds in Syria have long stood apart in the conflict. They had hoped, with their American friends, to pioneer an alternative model for Syria’s future.

While none of the other powers fighting in Syria liked the situation, they mostly avoided attacking the area for fear of provoking the United States. Now, with that deterrent set to end, the future of the northeast is up in the air.

Those most likely to gain, analysts say, are the Syrian government and its allies, who want to bring the northeast back under the control of Damascus, both for the good of Mr. Assad and for their own interests.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen in Syria now.

Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syria pullout announcement

Of the many resignations from the Trump administration Defence Secretary Jim Mattis walking away seems to have caused the most consternation.

It is claimed that Mattis resigned ij protest and on principle over Trump’s announcement that the US would withdraw troops from Syria.

Fox News: Behind the scenes of the Mattis bombshell: More resignations expected after ‘protest’ exit

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation, which shocked Washington’s national security establishment and rattled America’s allies, was sealed in a fateful 18-hour period that saw President Trump resolve to withdraw troops from Syria – alarming Pentagon officials who see America’s role in the region as crucial.

“Make no mistake – Jim Mattis is resigning in protest over the president’s national security policies,” a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News.

Fox News is told more resignations at the Pentagon could be coming in Mattis’ wake.

Trump has stood by his Syria decision, telling detractors that the pullout should come as “no surprise” given his 2016 campaign promises and arguing that America’s role as “Policeman of the Middle East” is not worth the sacrifice.

But Mattis could not abide the call. Fox News has learned new details of the final moments that led the hardened Pentagon leader to march his resignation letter to the White House, setting off speculation – and bipartisan concern – about the direction Trump’s foreign policy will take in the new year, especially with John Kelly leaving as White House chief of staff.

Before leaving for the White House, Mattis watched the president’s video explaining his decision to pull out of Syria. In the video, Trump declared, “We have won against ISIS … and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

According to those familiar with the secretary’s decision, it was a resignation based on principle.

Fox News is told that Mattis believes pulling out of Syria is a betrayal to the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces – U.S. allies whom military leaders believe will be slaughtered once the U.S. leaves Syria.

In Washington, what comes next may be another seminal debate that will define the principles of the Republican Party for years to come.  In his military drawdown effort, Trump has found allies in lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who adamantly oppose U.S. intervention overseas.

But for now, they are overwhelmed by hawkish Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham who consider such pullouts a grave and strategic mistake.

The Syria pullout was coupled with news that the Pentagon is being told to consider withdrawing up to 7,000 troops from Afghanistan – or half the U.S. presence – against the advice of senior military leaders.

“If we continue on our present course we are setting in motion the loss of all our gains and paving the way toward a second 9/11,” Graham said, regarding Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Mattis was asked by Fox News’ Bret Baier at the Reagan National Defense Forum whether he was being pressured to pull out of Afghanistan. Mattis warned of the consequences of doing so:

“If we leave, 20-odd of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world centered in that region, and we walk out of there, then we know what will happen. Our intelligence services are very specific that we will be under attack in a number of years.”

There are risks whatever is done in the Middle East, in particular at the moment regarding Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The US withdrawing must give Russia significantly more influence.

Much may now depend on who Trump appoints in place of Mattis, but the sudden resignation may create an immediate problem – unless a new Defence Secretary is appointed soon that may give Trump a free hand to do as he wants less restrained. That will worry a quite a few people – and more than a few countries.

Mattis to Depart in February After Clash With Trump Over Syria

So Mattis will remain in the job for two months, but his influence is likely to be significantly reduced in that time.

Graham: Afghanistan Withdrawal Paves Way Toward 2nd 9/11

Trump’s Decision Ends Policy That Found Lukewarm Support in U.S.

 

 

 

 

Trump pushing weapon sales to Middle East

You would have to be cynical to think that this has anything to do with The ‘virtue-bombing’ of Syria.

 Arming the world: Inside Trump’s ‘Buy American’ drive to expand weapons exports

In a telephone call with the emir of Kuwait in January, U.S. President Donald Trump pressed the Gulf monarch to move forward on a $10 billion fighter jet deal that had been stalled for more than a year.

With this Oval Office intervention, the details of which have not been previously reported, Trump did something unusual for a U.S. president – he personally helped to close a major arms deal. In private phone calls and public appearances with world leaders, Trump has gone further than any of his predecessors to act as a salesman for the U.S. defense industry, analysts said.

Trump’s personal role underscores his determination to make the United States, already dominant in the global weapons trade, an even bigger arms merchant to the world, U.S. officials say, despite concerns from human rights and arms control advocates.

Those efforts will be bolstered by the full weight of the U.S. government when Trump’s administration rolls out a new “Buy American” initiative as soon as this week aimed at allowing more countries to buy more and even bigger weapons. It will loosen U.S. export rules on equipment ranging from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, the officials said.

Human rights and arms control advocates warn that the proliferation of a broader range of advanced weaponry to more foreign governments could increase the risk of arms being diverted into the wrong hands and fueling violence in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia.

There’s good bomb business in the Middle East in particular, even under the guise of virtue bombs.