US-backed forces in Syria race to capture Deir el-Zour

Syrian state media said government forces have broken the “Islamic State” (IS) group’s siege of the airport to the eastern city of Deir el-Zour. The risk of a clash with US-backed Kurdish SDF forces has grown.

Syrian soldier brandishes the Syrian flag in Deir el-Zour, witha tank and fellow soldiers in the background

Syria’s SANA news agency reported on Saturday that government forces had broken the siege on two Deir el-Zour neighborhoods as well.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said it had reports that pro-government forces had opened an artery to the airport, besieged by IS militants since early this year.

The predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced Saturday they had launched military operations against IS in eastern Syria, increasing the possibility of conflict with rival, Russian-backed government forces running their own operations in the same area.

Territory held by armed factions in Iraq and Syria

Control of the border

Control of the border will shape regional dynamics going forward. Since Syria descended into civil war in March of 2011, President Bashar al-Assad has relied heavily on Iran, which has sent thousands of fighters and advisers to help fend off multiple rebel groups seeking to topple him.

Washington, however, has considerable influence in northeastern Syria, where hundreds of US troops and advisers are aiding the SDF.

The US-backed fighters are still battling to liberate Raqqa from IS control.

After three months of fighting, the SDF has liberated about 60 percent of Raqqa, which lies about 85 miles (140 km) to the northwest of Deir el-Zour and 165 miles from the Syrian-Iraqi border.

DW RECOMMENDS

Syrian forces have retaken a hospital in Deir el-Zour following an attack by “Islamic State” fighters, according to a monitoring group. The government forces and IS are battling for the province’s control. (15.05.2016)

While the SDF forces are expected to prevail in Raqqa, many experts believe more difficult fighting lies ahead.

Nawaf Khalil, a Syrian Kurdish representative based in Germany who frequently visits northern Syria, said the SDF no longer needed a large number of fighters in Raqqa, freeing them up for battle elsewhere.

“Deir el-Zour is a main connection point and a very important geographic area,” Khalil said.

The arrival of Syrian troops in Deir el-Zour this week ended a nearly three-year-old siege by IS militants on government-held parts of the city. The Syrian military issued a victory statement, saying the city would be used as a launching pad to liberate other IS-held areas along the Iraqi border.

bik/jm (AP, Reuters)

DW RECOMMENDS

Courtesy, DW

 

Sydney anti-terror raids: Australian police carry out swoop

Security forces have conducted counterterrorism raids across Sydney, aimed at disrupting plans for “terror attacks.” Officials are on alert for possible assaults by radicalized citizens returning from the Middle East.

Australien Festnahmen bei Anti-Terror-Razzien 18.09.2014 (Reuters/D. Gray)

DW RECOMMENDS

A seige at a Melbourne apartment building is being treated as an act of terror, police said. The gunman who killed a man and took a woman hostage was shot dead by police. (06.06.2017)

Australian counter-terrorism police carried out raids on Saturday in at least three Sydney suburbs as well as the inner city.

“This activity relates to an ongoing investigation,” a police spokesman said, without divulging further details.

Australia’s national broadcaster ABC said at least one man was arrested during the raids.

Read: Australia sets up cyberwarfare unit to target foreign enemies

“These operations are designed to disrupt and prevent plans to undertake terrorist attacks in Australia,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement.

“The public should be assured that our security and intelligence agencies are working relentlessly to keep us safe,” the premier added.

Radicalization threat

Australian security officials are said to have prevented at least 12 extremist attacks on home soil since September 2014. Five attacks have taken place, however, including a fatal June shootout in Melbourne that was claimed by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) group.

Many Australian citizens supportive of Islamist ideology have traveled to the Middle East – including Iraq and Syria – to fight along IS and other militant groups. Their return to Australia is believed to pose a serious security risk.

Read: Australia arrests suspect for advising ‘Islamic State’ on missile design

Australia is a US ally in Syria and supports groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial regime.

Watch video00:26

Car plows through Melbourne pedestrians, 3 dead

shs/rc  (AFP, Reuters)

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC

Taliban storm police headquarter in eastern Afghanistan

Taliban gunmen and a suicide bomber have attacked a police headquarters in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least five officers and injuring 22. The assault comes as the US is preparing to send more troops to the country.

Afghanistan Selbstmordanschlag (Reuters/S.Peiwand)

The attack began Sunday morning when a suicide bomber detonated a car laden with explosives at the main entrance of the police headquarters in the eastern city of Gardez in Paktia province.

The blast cleared the way for the other six attackers who stormed the police station and targeted Afghan officers.

Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said two gunmen were immediately killed by Afghan police, while the other others held out for hours. It took Afghan security forces most of the day to kill the last gunmen.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.

“Around 6:20 (local time) this morning, a martyr attack was conducted by our mujahideen against a special forces base in Gardez, Paktia,” Mujahid said.

“First a car bomb detonated then our mujahideen entered the building, opening fire on police,” he added.

In April, the Taliban launched their “spring offensive” against Afghan and international forces stationed in the war-torn country.

Read: Opinion: Observe and reflect on Afghanistan

Deteriorating security situation

The so-called “Islamic State” (IS) militant group and the Taliban have launched numerous attacks in Afghanistan in the past few months, with experts saying that President Ashraf Ghani’s government is failing to protect citizens.

Read: ‘China and Russia want US out of Afghanistan’

“The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated further. Afghan security forces control only about 57 percent of the country’s territory. Around 2.5 million people live in areas controlled by the Taliban and nine million more live in contested areas,” Nicole Birtsch, an Afghanistan researcher at the Berlin-based think tank, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW.

“The number of civilian victims, including many children, remains high. And many people are internally displaced due to the fighting between government forces and the Taliban,” she added.

Sunday’s attack came as the Pentagon is getting ready to send some 4,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan.

The latest wave of US troops will mainly be deployed to train and advise Afghan forces, following warnings by top US commanders in the region that the local military was facing a resurgent Taliban and a rising threat posed by IS.

Read: Afghan soldier attacks US troops near Mazar-i-Sharif

Watch video25:59

Quadriga – Afghanistan – No way forward?

DW RECOMMENDS

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC

‘Islamic State’ claims Israel stabbing attack, but so does Hamas

For the first time the Islamic State has claimed direct responsibility for an attack in Israel. A border guard who was responding to a shooting attack when she was stabbed multiple times has been killed.

Israeli policewoman lies dead after a stabbing attack (Picture-Alliance/dpa/AP/M. Illean)

On Saturday, the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility on Saturday for the fatal stabbing of an Israeli policewoman outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

In an online statement, IS claimed that fighters had targeted a “gathering of Jews” and warned that “this attack will not be the last.”

Police said two people shot at a group of officers, who returned fire. Meanwhile, at another location, one person stabbed a border policewoman before being shot.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Hadas Malka, 23, was responding to the initial shooting when she was assaulted with a knife. Malka wrestled with the man for several seconds as he stabbed her multiple times before other officers saw what was happening and opened fire, killing him, Samri said. Malka later died of her wounds in hospital.

The three attackers were shot dead.

DW RECOMMENDS

Israel has pushed ahead with the construction plans for some 3,000 homes across the occupied West Bank, an NGO claimed. In February, US President Trump urged Israeli PM Netanyahu to temporarily hold back on settlements. (08.06.2017)

IS ‘revenge’ attack?

Israel has been hit by several IS-inspired attacks in the past, and authorities have arrested people with suspected links to the group, but this is the first time IS has directly claimed an attack on Israeli soil.

IS claimed that the attack was “revenge for the religion of Allah and the sanctities of the violated Muslims.”

“Let the Jews watch for the demise of their state at the hands of the soldiers of the Caliphate,” the statement said.

But Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza strip, rejected the claim, saying the attackers had come from among its ranks and those of a leftist liberation movement.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abou Zouhri said the IS’s claim was an attempt to “muddy the waters,” adding that the attack was carried out by “two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a third from Hamas.”

The killing was “a natural response to the crimes of the occupier,” he said, echoing the language used by Hamas after other recent attacks in Israel.

A spokesman for Israel’s internal security agency told AFP it was “impossible to corroborate (the IS claim) at this point.”

The Israeli army refuted claims by both IS and Hamas saying that its preliminary intelligence evaluation “found no evidence of them belonging to any group, rather they appear to have been a typical popular terror squad.”

Ramadan attack

The attack happened as Muslims marked the end of the third Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan, during which tens of thousands of Palestinians from east Jerusalem and the West Bank attended prayers at the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site.

It was the latest in a wave of attacks on civilians and soldiers that erupted in 2015.

In that time Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. Israel has killed 250 Palestinians during the same period, mostly identified as attackers.

shs, aw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

DW RECOMMENDS

‘Islamic State’ kills hundreds of fleeing civilians in Mosul, says UN

The UN says it has credible reports that “Islamic State” (IS) has killed more than 231 civilians in the Iraqi city of Mosul city since May 26. The UN body is also investigating civilian deaths in anti-IS airstrikes.

Irak - Flucht aus Mossul (picture alliance/AP/dpa/M. Alleruzzo)

A statement from the office of the United Nations human rights chief said Thursday the self-styled “Islamic State” (IS) group had killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians trying to flee Mosul.

The UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had on Tuesday accused the militants of killing 163 civilians on June 1 in the city’s al-Shifa neighborhood.

The Thursday statement adds two new allegations, including a May 26 incident where IS reportedly shot dead 27 people, including five children.

Karte Irak ENG

The UN’s rights office said the jihadists slaughtered 41 civilians in the same neighborhood on June 3.

“Credible reports indicate that more than 231 civilians attempting to flee western Mosul have been killed since May 26, including at least 204 over three days last week alone,” the statement said.

“Shooting children as they try to run to safety with their families – there are no words of condemnation strong enough for such despicable acts.”

Iraqi forces retook eastern Mosul from IS in January and last month began a push to capture the remaining parts of the city. Rights groups and monitors say some 200,000 people are trapped in western Mosul.

There are also reports that several May 31 air strikes from the anti-IS coalition killed between 50 and 80 people in the IS-controlled Mosul neighborhood, Zanjili. Zeid said the UN was also investigating these killings.

The UN rights chief urged the coalition “to ensure that their operations comply fully with international humanitarian law and that all possible measures are taken to avoid the loss of civilian lives.”

Watch video01:42

Civilians killed while fleeing ‘IS’ in Mosul

shs/jm (Reuters, AFP)

DW RECOMMENDS

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC

North Korea to launch Korean-style attacks on US and Seoul spy agencies over Kim Jong-un murder plot

World

Ananya Roy,International Business Times 14 hours ago

‘Mother of all bombs’ – what has it achieved?

The US has dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on an “Islamic State” (IS) target in Nangarhar. DW examines the reasons behind the attack, its timing, and whether IS really poses a big threat to the US in Afghanistan.

USA Bombe GBU-43/B in Florida (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/US Air Force)

Residents of Achin district, where the US dropped the “Massive Ordinance Air Blast” or MOAB – touted as the “mother of all bombs” – described the explosion as the biggest they had ever seen. And the Afghans have definitively seen a lot of colossal bombings in the past few decades, particularly during the US invasion of their country in 2001 and after the consequent fall of the Taliban’s Islamist regime.

Defense experts say the MOAB is a successor to the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” used during the Vietnam War and the start of the post 9/11 Afghanistan conflict.

“What it (MOAB) does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” said Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, to an American journal.

“It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”

But President Donald Trump’s administration’s decision to drop such a huge bomb in the war-ravaged Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province raises a number of questions.

Watch video01:29

US drops ‘mother of all bombs’ on IS caves

First of all, does the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) pose such a massive threat to US interests in the region that justified the use of the MOAB against the group?

Secondly, what did Washington achieve by killing some 36 IS fighters in Afghanistan through this very expensive explosion?

“I’m familiar with the area and I believe the US military did not need to use such a huge bomb to target a small number of IS fighters,” Attiqullah Amarkhail, a Kabul-based retired military general, told DW.

“When you drop 11 tons of explosives and kill only 36 of your enemies, it is a waste of your weaponry, unless you have some other targets to achieve,” Amarkhail added.

‘IS’ in Afghanistan

According to US’ own estimates, there are between 600 and 800 IS fighters in Afghanistan, primarily in Nangarhar province. The militant group is much more active and has a much bigger presence in Iraq and Syria. The US has never used the MOAB in these Middle Eastern countries.

DW RECOMMENDS

US drops largest non-nuclear bomb on ‘IS’ target in Afghanistan

The Pentagon has confirmed the first-ever combat use of the GBU-43, also known as the MOAB, or “mother of all bombs,” in a targeted attack on ‘Islamic State.’ Afghan officials said the bomb killed at least 36 fighters. (13.04.2017)

Opinion: A calculated step toward the apocalypse?

What makes MOAB Mother of All Bombs?

Nangarhar: Gateway to Afghanistan for ‘Islamic State’

An Afghanistan conference without Afghanistan

But that certainly does not mean IS is not expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan.

Reports of IS presence in Afghanistan emerged in early 2015. In 2014, the Afghan government and US military officials acknowledged that the terror group was recruiting fighters in eastern Afghanistan, using the power vacuum in the Taliban leadership.

“If this group is not stopped here [in Nangarhar province], it will pose a danger not only to Afghanistan but also to other countries in the region,” a resident of Achin district told DW in 2015, calling on the Afghan government to support their fight against the terror group.

The scene in Achin district in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, which shares a border with Pakistan’s tribal areas, bears resemblance to parts of Syria and Iraq under IS command. Members of the terror group control large parts of the district, killing opponents, looting houses and spreading fear among residents with the help of their recently-launched propaganda tool, “The Caliphate Radio.”

IS members broadcast threats to harshly punish those who oppose Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the self-declared “caliphate” extending over parts of Iraq and Syria.

“The MOAB was clearly meant to telegraph a message of intent, that the US will come after IS militants wherever they may be, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere,” Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW. “That said, we shouldn’t assume that this bomb will set some type of precedent for assaults on IS elsewhere around the world.”

The American expert admits that the group’s presence in Nangarhar has been weakened in recent months. “The US and Afghanistan have been leading a joint effort to eliminate IS fighters there for quite some time, and in fact just earlier this week they took out a large number of fighters in the very district where the bomb was dropped. My sense is that this bomb was meant to eliminate those fighters that survived the earlier US-Afghan operation and had fled into the tunnels that the bomb targeted,” Kugelman noted.

Bildergalerie IS in Afghanistan (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Habibi)IS is expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan

Experts say the Thursday bombing in Afghanistan could also be a message to Afghanistan’s neighboring country Pakistan, which many policymakers in Washington believe is supporting Afghan militant groups, including the Taliban and IS.

Despite the fact that the “IS” presence in Afghanistan seems quite limited, there is a possibility that the militant group is getting assistance, and possibly fighters, from neighboring Pakistan. In the past few months, IS has claimed a number of deadly attacks on Pakistani soil.

The Islamic country also has a reputation as a breeding ground for Sunni militant groups. Afghan authorities have repeatedly accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups and sending them into Afghanistan to destabilize the government.

Moscow conference

Observers find it interesting that the US chose to use the biggest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal at a time when Russia is hosting an Afghanistan conference in Moscow.

Twelve countries, including Afghanistan, China, India, Iran and Pakistan, are participating in the Friday conference. The US was invited to take part, but it turned down the invitation.

In December last year, representatives of Pakistan, China and Russia met in Moscow to discuss the Afghan conflict but they excluded Afghan officials from the gathering.

Geostrategic relations are rapidly changing in southern Asia. Former Cold War rivals India and the US are bolstering their defense and trade ties amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness in the region, particularly in the disputed South China Sea. On the other hand, Islamabad and Washington, who were allies against the former Soviet Union and collaborated in the 1980s Afghan War, are drifting apart. Simultaneously, Islamabad and Moscow are reviving their ties, as the two Cold War-era foes held their first-ever joint military drills last year.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Gipfel in Ufa Premierminister Nawaz Sharif und Präsident Wladimir Putin (picture alliance/dpa/SCO Photoshot/Ria Novosti)Pakistan is seeking to forge closer ties with China and Russia to counter New Delhi’s growing influence in Kabul

The changing geopolitics has also prompted Pakistan to forge closer ties with its long-time ally China. Beijing is expanding trade and military cooperation with Islamabad in view of the New Delhi-Washington maneuvers.

Experts say the US does not want Russia and China to increase their presence and influence in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan and Iran. They note that the Nangarhar bombing was a message from the Trump administration to these countries that they should not take Washington’s somewhat minimal role in Afghanistan as its weakness.

“The US is showing its military power to Russia and China. The timing of the use of MOAB is very important to understand the situation. Moscow is hosting a conference on Afghanistan and the US has sent a warning to everyone participating in the meeting,” underlined Afghan expert Amarkhail.

But Amarkhail believes that the Nangarhar bombing will exacerbate the security situation in Afghanistan.

“The militants will use this bombing to recruit more fighters.”

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC