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Dozen ISIS fighters killed in Balochistan raid

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QUETTA: Security forces on Sunday said they had killed around a dozen Islamic State (ISIS) militants in a three-day raid prompted by intelligence reports that the group were holding two recently kidnapped Chinese nationals. The operation took place in Mastung district of Balochistan and targeted the hideout cave of a group of IS commanders, a senior security official said. “Some 12-13 IS commanders have been killed after intense gun-battles and the area was cleared late Saturday”, he said, but added that the Chinese pair were not recovered from the scene despite the presence of the vehicle used in their kidnapping nearby.

 

 

 

 

Syrian army advances south toward rebel-held area

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The Syrian army said it had retaken a swathe of territory from Islamic State in southern Syria on Thursday in a rapid advance near areas held by U.S.-backed Syrian rebels at the border with Jordan and Iraq. Tensions flared in the southern region last week when the U.S.-led coalition mounted an air strike against pro-government forces that U.S. officials said posed a threat to U.S. and U.S.-backed Syrian fighters in the area. Washington described the forces as Iranian-directed. The Syrian army on Thursday declared the capture of areas to the south of Palmyra and to the east of Qaryatayn in southeastern Homs province. An official with one of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups operating in southern Syria told Reuters that government forces appeared to be trying to preempt any rebel move toward Deir al-Zor, another priority target for the government.

 

Philippine city under siege after attack claimed by Islamic State

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Housands of civilians fled fighting in the Philippines on Wednesday as troops tried to fend off Islamist militants who took over large parts of Marawi city, taking hostages, seizing and torching buildings and setting free scores of prisoners. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the rampage via its Amaq news agency. The attacks came as President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on Mindanao, the Muslim-majority island where Marawi city is located. The violence flared in Marawi on Tuesday afternoon after a botched raid by security forces on a hideout of the Maute, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Fighters quickly dispersed, torching buildings and taking over bridges, a hospital, two jails, a church and a college. Duterte said he heard reports they may have beheaded a police chief.

 

Official: Germany to provide budget to build hospital for Peshmerga

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The government of Germany will provide the budget for a 200-bed hospital for the Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Peshmerga, a Kurdish military official said. The Deputy Chief of Staff in the Peshmerga Ministry, Qaraman Kamal, told NRT on Tuesday (May 23) several companies have put together plans for the Peshmerga forces’ military hospital. “A number of companies have prepared designs for the hospital”, Kamal added. “The best design will be chosen today”. Germany’s government will provide the budget for the hospital, which amounts to more than 5 million Euros (more than $5.624 million), according to the Peshmerga official. The hospital will be built in Erbil from the “best” design selected, the official noted. Kamal said the Ministry of Peshmerga will no longer have issues regarding wounded Peshmerga members after the hospital is built. There will be no need to send members of Peshmerga forces abroad for treatment. “We can bring medical experts from abroad to treat wounded Peshmerga if necessary”, he added, stating this would take less of the budget from the Peshmerga Ministry. Germany has been supporting and assisting the Peshmerga forces with weapons and military equipment in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). According to a defense ministry spokesman, Germany has delivered 70 tons of weapons, including 1,500 rifles, 100 shoulder-fired rockets and three armored vehicles, to the KRG.

King Salman: Iran spearheading global terror

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King Salman, during his speech at the International Summit, held on 21st May, has declared the participation of Trump is useful to indicate his keenness in reinforcing and assuring cooperation in various fields. What is noting and noteworthy is, during this conference, was possible to assist at inter religious cooperations and also to shared value like countering terrorism and extremism and realizing an united front to fight against them, pursuing a common aim. King Salman has kept on condemning the use of Islam religion in order to achieve political aims as some groups do, for example Hezbollah group, ISIS and also Iranian regime. In addition to this, King Salman has also declared the importance of stopping the revolutionary regime in Iran, established since Khomeini revolution. Iran has neglected all forms of neighborhood. The Gulf Coordination Council has also adopted, with the signing of an agreement with USA, the application of firm measures against terror financing, establishing a center in Riyadh.

Turkey calls for removal U.S. envoy to counter ISIS over Kurdish policy

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Coalition Forces to counter Islamic State (ISIS), Brett McGurk, of supporting Kurdish forces in Syria, and called for the removal of McGurk from his position. “Brett McGurk, the USA’s special envoy in the fight against Daesh [Islamic State], is definitely and clearly giving support to the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and YPG [People’s Protection Units]. It would be beneficial if this person is changed,” Cavusoglu told NTV television on Thursday (May 18). Turkey sees the YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as “terrorist organizations” as it says they have ties with the PKK, which is designated as a terror group by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. The comments by the Turkish foreign minister came after McGurk, along with officials from the State Department, paid a visit to Syrian Kurdish controlled areas on Tuesday (May 16) in order to meet Kurdish officials there. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he told U.S. President Donald Trump that Turkey would not hesitate to attack if it faced any sort of attacks from the YPG, according to Turkish media. “We clearly told them this: if there is any sort of attack from the YPG and PYD against Turkey, we will implement the rules of engagement without asking anyone”, Erdogan said being cited by Sabah newspaper. In the battle to free Raqqa from ISIS, the U.S. has actively supported the YPG-led SDF, but was initially wary of allying directly to the YPG due to concerns from NATO ally Turkey. U.S. ties with the Syrian Kurds have grown deeper despite the concerns of NATO ally Turkey, which views the YPG as a terrorist group because of its links to the PKK.

Trump’s Announcement of the Kurdish-Centric Plan to Take Raqqa

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On May 9th, the Trump administration made public its plan to provide the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with substantial heavy weaponry. The announcement signals Washington’s decision to rely on the SDF, which is dominated by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), for the operation to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State (ISIS) control. Ankara’s reaction to this decision, as it was to the Obama administration’s similar conclusion, will be vociferous. Turkey views, with a good deal of justification, the PYD as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) affiliate in Syria. The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for most of last 33 years. Your humble columnist dearly wishes he could be a fly on the wall listening to the upcoming meeting between Trump and Erdogan on May 16th. Mr. Trump nonetheless made the only right, and only real, choice for an administration that promised to defeat ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. Going with Turkey for the Raqqa operation would have been a terrible choice. The Turks were never willing to send much of their army to Raqqa, their Free Syrian Army (FSA) proxies are not as good or proven fighters as the Kurds, the Turkish-aligned FSA are less numerous than the SDF/PYD, and in many cases they seem about as Islamist as ISIS. Turkish forces and their proxies would also have been fighting the Kurds all along the way to Raqqa. Naturally some policy elites in Washington appear intent on second guessing Mr. Trump’s decision on the matter. James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, argues in an April 10 Foreign Policy Magazine piece that the U.S. should have gone with Turkey on the Raqqa operation. Although this columnist has not seen any evidence for Mr. Jeffrey’s contention that local tribes want a Turkish role in the liberation of Raqqa, the rest of his argument deserves some scrutiny. Jeffrey argues that by focusing on the short-term tactical goal of destroying ISIS, the Americans are forgetting the more important strategic contest (which he likes to a “great game” of chess) going on in the area: Efforts by Turkey, Israel and other Arab Sunni states to push back against Iranian and Russian attempts to overthrow the regional order in the Levant. Jeffrey’s then goes on to draw a misleadingly simple tradeoff, where Washington can either 1) Fight ISIS without Turkey and let Iran and Russia win the larger game; or 2) Join Turkey against the Iranian-Russian attempt at hegemony in the Levant.  Mr. Jeffrey, like many American and Turkish policy makers, appears unable to see more than a two-dimensional game of chess. He works hard to argue that Turkey is an American ally while the PKK (and its Syrian PYD sister) are proxies of Iran, Assad and Russia. Things are a lot more complicated than that. Sometimes the PKK and these actors cooperate, while at other times they fight each other. To understand what the Iranians’ and Russians’ three-dimensional chess game looks like, in contrast, one need only ask how Iran, which Jeffrey himself acknowledges to be much less economically and militarily powerful than Turkey, enjoys so much leverage and influence outside its borders? Russia as well, with an economy the size of Australia’s, seems to punch in a foreign influence weight class far beyond its real size and power. The answer has to do with both Iran and Russia’s complex policies of supporting and working with various actors internationally, adroitly applying patronage and cooperation to maximum effect. Iraqis, for instance, know very well how Iran supports myriad groups in that country including various Shiite parties competing with one another, some Kurdish political parties and even Sunni Arab parties. When Iran thus wants to get something done in Iraq, it has a lot of often mutually hostile groups it can turn to. If something occurs in Iraq that Iran opposes (such as the 2012 no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Maliki), it can use its influence to overthrow the whole process. If the Americans, either by shrewd design or by accident, are to play a similarly high level of three-dimensional strategic chess in the Levant, they might well start with more support for the PYD at the same time that they remain NATO allies with Turkey. This seems especially wise given Turkey’s own ties with Jihadi groups in Syria and elsewhere (Jeffrey conveniently ignores the question of replacing ISIS with Jabhat al Nusra or Ahrar al Shams, which would hardly offer much of an improvement from the American point of view). In such a game, why couldn’t the U.S. support the PYD against ISIS and simultaneously oppose Iran? A simple rhetorical flourish might even do the trick: While leaders in Washington have repeatedly stated that American weapons given to the SDF/PYD must not end up in PKK hands or be used against Turkey, they never said anything about such weapons finding their way to the PKK’s Iranian branch, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). PJAK, of course, has been fighting a guerrilla war against the government in Tehran since 2004. This way, Ankara gets to keep supporting Hamas, Jabhat al Nusra (al Qaeda in Syria) and other American friends, while Washington can pursue its own Kurdish friendships outside of Turkey, and both can still pretend to be the best of friends at NATO summits — just like Turkey and Iran pretend to be friends at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

 

Hashd al-Shabi controls road into Shingal, Iraqi forces take districts in Mosul

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The Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary force declared on Saturday it had captured four villages and a main road connecting the Yezidi area of Shingal to the ISIS-held town of Qairawan west of Mosul in northern Iraq. This comes as the Federal Police represented by the elite rapid Response Force and the Iraqi army liberated the entire Haramat district northwest of the city on Saturday, read a military statement, adding that with this progress on the battlefield they are now in full control of “the western and southern bank of the Tigris River” in Western Mosul.  The 16th Division of the Iraqi army has also liberated Hawi Kanisa, again in the northwest of the city, another military statement read. A statement from the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary reported that the main Shingal-Qairawan road has fallen to their forces and they are now just 3 kilometers from the center of the ISIS-held town of Qairawan. It also announced that some 40 families were rescued from four liberated villages around Qairawan including Um Hijra, Mughaira, Abid and Khinaisi. Rudaw’s Tahsim Qasim, reporting near Qairawan, south of Shigal, reported heavy clashes between the paramilitary, backed by the Iraqi air force, and the ISIS militants.  Qasim added that the mainly Shiite force had the Yezidi village of Tal Banat besieged as they continued to bomb the ISIS positions.

 

 

Iraq’s Shiite militias squeeze Islamic State toward Syria border

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Iraq’s Shi’ite paramilitaries launched an offensive on Friday to drive Islamic State from a desert region near the border with Syria as security forces fought the militants in the city of Mosul. Spokesman Karim al-Nouri said the target of the operation was the Qairawan and Baaj areas about 100 km west of Mosul, where U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are advancing in their campaign to rout the militants from city. Seven months into the Mosul campaign, Islamic State has been driven from all but a handful of districts in the city’s western half including the Old City, where it is using hundreds of thousands of civilians as human shields. The paramilitaries have been kept on the sidelines of the battle for the city of Mosul itself, but have captured a vast, thinly populated area to the southwest, cutting Islamic State supply routes to Syria. Islamic State is losing territory in both  Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi military said in a statement its air force was supporting the operation by the paramilitary groups known collectively as Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). Unlike regular Iraqi security forces, the PMF does not receive support from the U.S.-led coalition, which is wary of Iran’s influence over the most powerful factions within the body. Officially answerable to the government in Baghdad, the PMF were formed when Islamic State overran around one third of Iraq including Mosul nearly three years ago and Iraqi security forces disintegrated. Nouri said PMF control over the border would assist Syrian government forces when they push toward the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa. On Friday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said their assault on Raqqa, the militants’ biggest urban stronghold, would begin soon and that they were awaiting weapons including armored vehicles from the U.S.-led coalition

Beginning in relations between United States and Turkey

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday  that his visit to the United States next week would herald a new beginning in relations between the two countries. Relations between the NATO allies have been strained by differences over Syria policy. U.S. President Donald Trump approved a plan on Tuesday (May 9) to arm the Syrian Kurdish YPG in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS), a move which was strongly objected by Turkey, which sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Erdogan told a news conference at the capital Ankara that he believed the United States was still going through a “transition period”, and that decisions such as the arming the YPG dated back to policies from the previous administration. He also said he would pursue Turkey’s demand for the extradition of the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says was behind a failed military coup last July. That was followed by a purge of tens of thousands of Turkish state employees accused of links to Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

 

 

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