Raqqa a ‘few weeks’ away as US ups military muscle

A convoy of US armored vehicles moves near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij. (AFP)
Updated 10 March 2017

Raqqa a ‘few weeks’ away as US ups military muscle

BEIRUT/MOSUL: US-backed Syrian forces said on Thursday they were closing in on Daesh-held Raqqa and expected to reach the city outskirts in a few weeks, as a US Marines artillery unit deployed to help the campaign.
On the other front in Iraq, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the terrorist group’s leader, is reported to have abandoned Mosul, leaving local commanders behind to lead the battle against Iraqi forces advancing in the city.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia alliance including the Kurdish YPG, is the main US partner in the war against Daesh in Syria. Since November it has been working with the US-led coalition to encircle Raqqa. SDF spokesman Talal Silo said: “We expect that within a few weeks there will be a siege of the city.”
Coalition spokesman US Air Force Col. John Dorrian said the additional US forces would be working with local partners in Syria — SDF and the Syrian Arab Coalition — and would not have a front line role.
Some 500 US personnel are already in Syria to help the fight against Daesh. A 400-strong additional deployment which arrived in recent days comprised both Marines and Army Rangers, Dorrian said, adding they were there temporarily.
Coalition airstrikes killed 23 civilians, including eight children, in the countryside north of Raqqa on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor said. The coalition said it was investigating the incident.
Daesh is also being fought in Syria by the Russian-backed Syrian military, and by Syrian opposition groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner with Turkish backing in northern Syria and Jordanian backing in southern Syria.
On the other major flank of the assault, Iraqi forces aim to dislodge the militant group from west Mosul within a month.
Dorrian said the effort to isolate Raqqa was “going very very well” and could be completed in a few weeks. “Then the decision to move in can be made,” he said. The artillery will help “expedite the defeat of ISIS (Daesh) in Raqqa,” he said.
The US military alliance with the SDF and YPG has strained relations with Turkey, a US ally. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish foreign minister, said Turkey would strike against US-backed Kurdish YPG militia in Manbij if they advanced into the Syrian city and found them present, according to NTV television.
A spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the YPG should move out of Manbij to the eastern side of the Euphrates river, which Turkey is broadly believed to see as the boundary of a safe zone it aims to create.
In a separate development, Syrian regime and opposition groups are invited to resume peace talks in Geneva on March 23, the UN envoy said as the US pledged support for the negotiations. Staffan de Mistura announced the date after reporting to the UN Security Council on the results of the last round of talks on ending Syria’s six-year war.
Meanwhile, a defense official in Washington said Al-Baghdadi was in Mosul at some point before the offensive. “He left before we isolated Mosul and Tal Afar. He probably gave broad strategic guidance and has left it to battlefield commanders,” said the official.
On Thursday Iraqi forces were “combing the city center area to defuse (bombs in) homes and shops and buildings,” Lt. Col. Abdulamir Al-Mohammedawi of Iraq’s elite Rapid Response Division told AFP.
“Currently there is no order from the operations command to advance toward the Old City. We will advance when this order is issued,” Mohammedawi said.

Sudanese celebrate transition to civilian rule

Updated 17 August 2019

Sudanese celebrate transition to civilian rule

  • Members of the Transitional Military Council and protest leaders signed the documents that will govern the 39-month transition
  • Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir is leading Saudi Arabia’s delegation at the ceremony

KHARTOUM: Sudan's main opposition coalition and the ruling military council on Saturday signed a final agreement for a transitional government.
The agreement was signed in the presence of regional and international dignitaries including Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. 
During a ceremony that was held at a hall by the Nile in the capital Khartoum, members of the Transitional Military Council and protest leaders signed the documents that will govern the 39-month transition.
“Today, the country begins its historic transition to democracy,” read the front page of the Tayar newspaper, a headline echoed by most other dailies.
But the road to democracy remains fraught with obstacles, even if the mood was celebratory as foreign dignitaries as well as thousands of citizens from all over Sudan converged for the occasion.
The deal reached on August 4 — the Constitutional Declaration — brought an end to nearly eight months of upheaval that saw masses mobilize against president Omar Al-Bashir, who was ousted in April after 30 years in power.
The agreement brokered by the African Union and Ethiopia was welcomed with relief by both sides — protesters celebrated what they see as the victory of their “revolution,” while the generals took credit for averting civil war.
Hundreds of people boarded a train from the town of Atbara — the birthplace of the protests back in December — on Friday night, dancing and singing on their way to the celebrations in Khartoum, videos shared on social media showed.
“Civilian rule, civilian rule,” they chanted, promising to avenge the estimated 250 allegedly killed by security forces during the protests.

The Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir led Saudi Arabia’s delegation at the ceremony in Khartoum, Saudi Press Agency reported.

Al-Jubeir is being accompanied by the Saudi Minister of State for African affairs Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan and the Saudi ambassador to Sudan Ali bin Hassan Jafar.

Saudi Arabia has and will continue to support everything that guarantees Sudan’s security and stability, Al-Jubeir said at the ceremony.

“We look forward to the Sudanese fortifying the partnership agreement and combatting foreign interference.”

Al-Jubeir also said that Saudi Arabia actively participated in supporting efforts to reach the agreement in Sudan.

After Saturday’s signing, Sudan kicks off a process that includes important first steps.
The composition of the civilian-majority transition ruling council is to be announced on Sunday.
On Thursday, former senior UN official Abdalla Hamdok, a veteran economist, was designated as transitional prime minister.
He is expected to focus on attempting to stabilize Sudan’s economy, which went into a tailspin when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011 and was the trigger that sparked the initial protests.
At Khartoum’s central market early Saturday, shoppers and stallholders interviewed by AFP all said they hoped a civilian government would help them put food on the table.
“Everybody is happy now,” said Ali Yusef, a 19-year-old university student who works in the market to get by.
“We were under the control of the military for 30 years but today we are leaving this behind us and moving toward civilian rule,” he said, sitting next to tomatoes piled directly on the ground.
“All these vegetables around are very expensive but now I’m sure they will become cheaper.”
While it remains to be seen what changes the transition can bring to people’s daily lives, residents old and young were eager to exercise a newfound freedom of expression.
“I’m 72 and for 30 years under Bashir, I had nothing to feel good about. Now, thanks to God, I am starting to breathe,” said Ali Issa Abdel Momen, sitting in front of his modest selection of vegetables at the market.
But many Sudanese are already questioning the ability of the transitional institutions to rein in the military elite’s powers during the three-year period leading to planned elections.
The country of 40 million people will be ruled by an 11-member sovereign council and a government, which will — the deal makes clear — be dominated by civilians.
However, the interior and defense ministers are to be chosen by military members of the council.
Observers have warned that the transitional government will have little leverage to counter any attempt by the military to roll back the uprising’s achievements and seize back power.
Saturday’s official ceremony is to be attended by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and several other regional leaders.
Security forces deployed across the city for the biggest international event to be held in a long time in Sudan, which had become something of a pariah country under Bashir’s rule.
One of the most immediate diplomatic consequences of the compromise reached this month could be the lifting of a suspension slapped on Sudan by the African Union in June.
Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in the Darfur region, had been slated to appear in court Saturday on corruption charges.
But his trial has been postponed to an as yet undetermined date.