US says ‘committed’ to defeating Daesh; allies skeptical

Some of the 20 ministers, including those from the US, France, Britain, and Germany, pose for a photo prior to the 55th Munich Security Conference in southern Germany, on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2019

US says ‘committed’ to defeating Daesh; allies skeptical

  • Acting US Defense Secretary Shanahan envisions a ‘bigger and stronger’ coalition to fight Daesh globally

MUNICH: Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Friday that the US is committed to defeating Daesh in the Middle East and beyond, but officials said European allies are skeptical of Washington’s pledges.
US President Donald Trump’s announcement in December that he was withdrawing all 2,000 US troops from Syria surprised and rattled allies. US officials have crisscrossed the Middle East in recent weeks to reassure them that Washington remains committed to the region.
Trump’s Syria decision was opposed by top aides, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit, leaving his deputy Shanahan in charge of the Pentagon.
“While the time for US troops on the ground in northeast Syria winds down, the United States remains committed to our coalition’s cause, the permanent defeat of Daesh, both in the Middle East and beyond,” Shanahan said after a meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
The meeting included about a dozen defense ministers from the coalition to defeat Daesh. Kurdish-led fighters are battling to capture Daesh’s last major stronghold in Syria, but even without territory, the militant group is widely seen as a continuing threat.
Shanahan said he envisioned a “bigger and stronger” coalition to fight Daesh globally. “We will continue to support our local partners’ ability to stand up to the remnants of Daesh,” he added.
However, European officials said they were given few details during the closed-door meeting in Munich and many questions remain. “We are still trying to understand how the Americans plan to withdraw. I don’t think there is any clarity still,” one European official, speaking on the condition of anonymity said.
Another official said Shanahan did not provide allies with a timeline of the American withdrawal from Syria and allies expressed skepticism during the meeting. A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no commitments were made during the meeting and there was little discussion about timelines.
“These meetings don’t tend to have specific deliverables or decisions, it tends to be more focused on taking stock of where we are,” the US official said.
Trump has said he expects a formal announcement as early as this week that the coalition fighting Daesh has reclaimed all the territory held by the group.
Around 20 ministers including those from the US, France, Britain, and Germany will take part in the meeting, according to one source.
US forces are the largest contributors by far to the anti-Daesh coalition and their pullout will leave a vacuum in Syria where major powers are jostling for influence.

Withdrawal issue
“The withdrawal of the American troops from Syria will evidently be at the heart of discussions,” said French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly before the meeting.
“Once the so-called caliphate no longer has any territory, the international community will have to guarantee that there will be no resurgence of Daesh in Syria or elsewhere,” her ministry’s statement said.
The end of Daesh territory in Syria is heightening worries about experienced militants and foreign fighters escaping and forming new Daesh cells in Syria or beyond.
Once American forces leave, another complication emerges: The future of areas in northern Syria controlled by Kurdish YPG forces, a key US ally in the fight against militants but a militia branded terrorists by Turkey.


Kashmir protesters defy restrictions, clash with security forces

Updated 23 August 2019

Kashmir protesters defy restrictions, clash with security forces

  • Paramilitary police tried to enter Soura, which has emerged as a center of the protests, as hundreds demonstrated against Narendra Modi’s decision to withdraw autonomy
  • Posters appeared overnight in Srinagar, the Muslim-majority region’s main city, calling for a march to the office of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan

SRINAGAR, India: Security forces used tear gas against stone-throwing local residents in Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Friday, after a third straight week of protests in the restive Soura district despite the imposition of tight restrictions.
Paramilitary police tried to enter Soura, which has emerged as a center of the protests, as hundreds of locals staged a protest march against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to withdraw autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir on Aug. 5.
Posters appeared overnight this week in Srinagar, the Muslim-majority region’s main city, calling for a march to the office of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), to protest against India’s decision.
This was the first such call by separatists seeking Kashmir’s secession from India. India’s move was accompanied by travel and communication restrictions in Kashmir that are still largely in place, although some landlines were restored last week.
The UNMOGIP was set up in 1949 after the first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, a Himalayan region both countries claim in full but rule in part. The group monitors cease-fire violations along the border between the countries.
In a narrow lane of Soura, blocked like many others with rocks and sheets of metal, residents hurled stones at the paramilitary police to stop them moving into an area around the local mosque, Jinab Sahib, which had earlier been packed for Friday prayers.
The police responded with several rounds of tear gas and chili grenades but were beaten back by dozens of stone-pelting men. Some men suffered pellet injuries.
The locals said the security forces had been repeatedly trying to move into Soura, often using tear gas and pellets.
“We are neither safe at home, nor outside,” said Rouf, who declined to give his full name. He had rubbed salt into his face to counteract the effects of tear gas.
The afternoon had begun peacefully, with men and women streaming into Jinab Sahib for afternoon prayers. A cleric then raised a call for “Azadi” – Urdu for freedom – several times, and declared Kashmir’s allegiance to neighboring Pakistan.
“Long live Pakistan,” the cleric said, as worshippers roared back in approval.
US President Donald Trump plans to discuss Kashmir when he meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in France this weekend, a senior US administration official said on Thursday.
Trump, who has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, will press Modi on how he plans to calm regional tensions after the withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy, and stress the need for dialogue, the official said.
Some Indian media reports on Friday said “terrorists” were trying to enter India from Afghanistan, citing unnamed government officials.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan responded on Twitter on Friday that such claims were being made to “divert attention” away from what he called human rights violations in Kashmir.
“The Indian leadership will in all probability attempt a false flag operation to divert attention,” Khan said.
Khan’s comments came a day after United Nations experts called on the Indian government to “end the crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and peaceful protests” in Kashmir, saying it would increase regional tensions.
“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offense,” they said in a statement.
At least 152 people have been hurt by teargas and pellets since security forces launched their crackdown, data from the Himalayan region’s two main hospitals shows.
Large swathes of Srinagar remain deserted with shops shut except for some provision stores with shutters half-down. Police vans patrolled some areas announcing a curfew and asking people to stay indoors.
On the Dal Lake, long rows of houseboats, normally packed with tourists at this time of year, floated closed and empty, as police patrolled its mirror-calm waters in boats.