Deadly two-day operation against rebels concludes in Kashmir

Police and paramilitary officers carry the coffin of their colleague Deepak Thusoo, who was killed in a gun battle with suspected rebels, during a ceremony at the police headquarters in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir on Mar. 22, 2018. (AP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Deadly two-day operation against rebels concludes in Kashmir

SRINAGAR: Government forces have ended a two-day operation against rebels fighting against Indian rule in disputed Kashmir in which 10 combatants died, officials said Thursday.
Troops cleared explosives from a remote forested village in northwestern Kupwara region where fighting began early Tuesday and ended overnight, police said.
Five government troops, including three soldiers and two counterinsurgency police, and five suspected insurgents were killed in the fierce fighting.
Speaking at wreath-laying ceremony for a slain police official, Inspector-General S.P. Pani said the operation was difficult because of the thick vegetation and mountainous terrain. He said the slain militants were intercepted after they had infiltrated into the Indian-held side of Kashmir from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
Pani also said evidence pointed to their allegiance to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group New Delhi blames for a 2008 attack that left 166 people dead in India's commercial capital of Mumbai.
There was no independent confirmation of the police claim.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which in recent years has seen renewed rebel attacks and repeated public protests against Indian rule.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels' cause against Indian rule while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.


US unveils action group to run policy on ‘malign’ Iran

Updated 9 min 10 sec ago
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US unveils action group to run policy on ‘malign’ Iran

  • Brian Hook led the Trump administration's unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the Iran nuclear deal
  • Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran

WASHINGTON/JEDDAH: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named Brian Hook as the new 'special representative' for Iran, who will head up an 'Iran Action Group.'

Pompeo declared he is forming the dedicated group to coordinate and run US policy toward Iran as the Donald Trump administration moves ahead with efforts to force changes in the country's behavior after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Officials said the group will be headed by Brian Hook, who is currently the State Department's director of policy planning. Hook led the Trump administration's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies before the president decided in May to pull out of the accord.

Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as "malign activities" in the region. 

In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Shiite rebels in Yemen and anti-Israel groups. It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran's human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil.

The administration is warning Iran's oil customers that they will face US sanctions in November unless they significantly reduce their imports with an eye on eliminating them entirely. 

It has also told businesses and governments in Europe that they may also be subject to penalties if they violate, ignore or attempt to subvert the re-imposed US sanctions.

In his new job, Hook is to oversee implementation of the administration's entire Iran policy, the officials said. Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran and maintain they only want to see the government change course. Pompeo created a similar group dedicated to working on North Korea policy while he was director of the CIA.

Hook is expected to be replaced as policy planning chief by Kiron Skinner, a foreign policy academic and adviser to several Republican presidential candidates who served on President Donald Trump's national security transition team and very briefly at the State Department after Trump took office, according to the officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, two leading German firms are the latest to pull out of projects in Iran as the sanctions take a toll on foreign investment. Rail operator Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom said they would end their involvement because firms investing in Iran will be barred from doing business with the US. Oil firm Total, and carmakers PSA, Renault and Daimler have said they will also withdraw.

Harvard scholar and Iranian-affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said the regime in Tehran is in deep trouble at home as the sanctions, which came into effect last week, are working.  

“More companies and firms are halting their business deals with Iran,” he said. “Foreign investors are also withdrawing. This is significant due to the fact that many foreign investors have invested billions of dollars in Iran’s debt market as Tehran’s economy is cash-strapped.

“On the surface, Iran’s leaders are brushing aside the sanctions as trivial, but Tehran is significantly wary as the sanctions are affecting its economy negatively. If the Iranian regime does not alter its destructive behavior, the sanctions will cripple its economy.”

The first wave of sanctions focuses on preventing Iran from purchasing US dollars and precious metals, and targeting the automotive and other sectors. A second wave in November will target energy, the main source of Iranian state revenues.

(With AP)