After Raqqa, Trump says US shifts to ‘new phase’ in Syria

In this Oct. 17, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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After Raqqa, Trump says US shifts to ‘new phase’ in Syria

STERLING, Virginia: President Donald Trump is portraying the Daesh group’s ouster from its Syrian stronghold as a milestone in the US fight against terrorism and a step toward a political transition and lasting peace in Syria.
That assessment, in a statement released Saturday, runs counter to warnings in recent days from his national security aides that the militants remain fully capable of striking American interests. And there are no signs of an impending political transition, with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government newly strengthened.
Kurdish-led forces on Friday declared victory in Raqqa, the extremists’ self-declared capital, where they had terrorized the population for four years.
Trump called it “a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat Daesh and its wicked ideology” and said “the end of the Daesh caliphate is in sight.”
He cited his efforts to empower US military forces on the ground, and repeated his claim that more had been done to defeat the group in recent months “than in the past several years.”
The US “will soon transition into a new phase” in Syria, Trump said, and offer support to local security forces. He said the US will back diplomatic negotiations to end the violence, allow refugees to return safely home, and “yield a political transition that honors the will of the Syrian people.”
There is no indication, however, that a political transition will come any time soon.
UN-led talks have shown no serious signs of picking up steam. The ouster of IS forces from Raqqa and other parts of Syria has overlapped with the increased influence of Iran and Russia in the country and a stronger hand for Assad, dimming prospects even further for the type of political solution the US has long wanted to see.
Most Raqqa residents fled long ago and are now scattered across refugee camps or abroad, and there is little for them to return to. The once vibrant metropolis on the Euphrates River has largely been reduced to rubble and is littered with land mines and booby traps.
So far, the Trump administration has shown little appetite for longer-term engagement or involvement in nation-building in Iraq and Syria. While it will work to clear Raqqa of mines and restore basic services like water and electricity, Washington has made it evidence that it has no intention of playing the leading role in rebuilding the city.
National security officials, including CIA director Mike Pompeo, have warned that just because IS has been evicted from Raqqa, it doesn’t mean the group won’t be able to carry out attacks against the United State.
The US military this past week estimated that 6,500 IS fighters remain in eastern Syria and western Iraq, many concentrated along the Euphrates River valley straddling the border. Those fighters pose an insurgent threat in both countries and an ideological threat globally.


British defense contractor under fraud investigation over suspected corruption in Algeria

Updated 9 min 45 sec ago
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British defense contractor under fraud investigation over suspected corruption in Algeria

  • Ultra said in a statement that it had referred itself to the British fraud authorities and that the SFO investigation concerned the business conduct of Ultra, its subsidiaries, employees and associated persons
  • The SFO’s investigation into Ultra, which makes military electronics for land, air and sea forces, follows probes into other British companies operating in the defense sector including Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems

LONDON: Ultra Electronics on Thursday announced that the UK’s Serious Fraud Office had opened a criminal investigation into “suspected corruption in the conduct of business” by the British defense contractor in Algeria.
Ultra said in a statement that it had referred itself to the British fraud authorities and that the SFO investigation concerned the business conduct of Ultra, its subsidiaries, employees and associated persons.
“Given the stage of these matters, it is not possible to estimate reliably what effect the outcome of this matter may have on the group,” Ultra said, adding that it continued to co-operate with the SFO.
The SFO in a statement said it was looking into Ultra but said it could not provide additional information as the investigation “is live.”
Ultra shares were down 6 percent in early trade.
The SFO’s investigation into Ultra, which makes military electronics for land, air and sea forces, follows probes into other British companies operating in the defense sector including Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems.
Ultra Electronics’s biggest market is North America with just 17 percent of its revenue coming from what it calls “rest of the world.” It does not mention Algeria in its annual report.
Ultra, which last month abandoned a bid for US company Sparton Corp. due to anti-trust concerns, is currently without a chief executive.
Douglas Caster assumed the role of executive chairman last year after the previous CEO quit. New CEO Simon Pryce is due to join in June.
The SFO has been criticized by lawmakers in the past over its efforts to bring companies and senior individuals to book. More recently it has secured deferred prosecution agreements with Rolls-Royce and Tesco and filed unprecedented criminal charges against Barclays and former senior executives.