US-backed fighters say operation at last Daesh enclave not over

The Syrian Democratic Forces have been battling with Daesh fighters in the last weeks. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 March 2019
0

US-backed fighters say operation at last Daesh enclave not over

  • The SDF has denied the claims made by Syrian Kurdish news outlet Hawar

DEIR AL-ZOR, Syria: US-backed Syrian fighters said they were still searching territory captured from Daesh at its final enclave in eastern Syria on Thursday and denied a report the jihadists had been finally defeated.
The final capture of the Baghouz enclave at the Iraqi border will mark the end of Daesh territorial rule that once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq after years of military campaigns by a range of international and local forces.
After weeks of fighting, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took a big step toward capturing the besieged area on Tuesday when they seized an encampment where the militants had been mounting a last defense of the area.
“Combing continues in the Baghouz camp,” an SDF media official said, citing commanders of the operation on Thursday, after the Syrian Kurdish news outlet Hawar reported that the entire enclave had been captured and IS defeated.
“There is no truth (to the report of) the complete liberation of the village,” the official said.
The report on Hawar News, which is close to the Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria, was later removed from its website.
US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that a “tiny spot” of remaining Daesh territory would be “gone by tonight.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country has participated in the campaign, said on Wednesday he expected the announcement of the “final territorial defeat” to be made in the “next few days.”
Though the defeat of Daesh at Baghouz ends its grip over territory, it remains a threat, with fighters operating in remote territory elsewhere and capable of mounting insurgent attacks.
The US military has warned that Daesh may still count tens of thousands of fighters, dispersed throughout Iraq and Syria, with enough leaders and resources to present a menacing insurgency.
The Pentagon’s internal watchdog released a report last month saying Daesh remained an active insurgent group and was regenerating functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria.
It warned the group could resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and regain limited territory without sustained pressure.
The US believes Iraq is the location of its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who stood at the pulpit of the great medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims.


Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

Updated 25 April 2019
0

Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

  • The bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen
  • Govt forces detained the bird on suspicion that the attached GPS tracker was a spy device for Houthi militants

SANAA: Griffon vulture Nelson crossed into war-torn Yemen in search of food but ended up in the hands of Yemeni fighters — and temporarily in jail for suspected espionage.
The sand-colored bird came down in the country’s third city of Taiz, an unusual move for a young vulture that can soar for long distances across continents in search of food and moderate weather.
Nelson, approximately two years old, embarked on his journey in September 2018 from Bulgaria, where his wing was tagged and equipped with a satellite transmitter by the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF).
But he seems to have lost his way, eventually coming down into Taiz — under siege by Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who mistook Nelson’s satellite transmitter for an espionage device and detained the bird.
Forces loyal to the government believed that the GPS tracker attached to the bird may have been a spy device for the rebels.
Hisham Al-Hoot, who represents the FWFF in Yemen, traveled from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Taiz to plead with local officials to release the helpless animal.
“It took about 12 days to get the bird,” he told AFP.
“The Bulgarian foreign ministry reached out to the Yemeni ambassador, who in turn contacted local officials (in Taiz) and told them to immediately give the organization the vulture.”
Hoot said that the bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen — where the FWFF lost track of the bird.
Nelson was MIA until April 5, when the conservation group received hundreds of messages from Yemenis concerned about the creatures’ welfare.
Today, the locally-famous vulture is being properly fed and getting stronger every day.
“When we first took him, he was in very bad condition,” said Hoot, adding that the bird was underweight.
Smiling, he puts on gloves and carefully handles the majestic creature — blowing it a kiss.
Hoot said the bird will be released in two months when he believed Nelson will have regained his full strength and his wing — broken somewhere during his journey — will have healed.
“We thought at first it would take six months for him to heal, but now we don’t think it will be more than two months,” he said.
Hoot said that Nelson was not able to find any source of sustenance in Yemen.
“They can eat carcasses of dead animals, but now there is no more with the current situation of war.
“This is what forced him to come down and stopped him from completing his journey.”
The four-year conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
The war escalated in March 2015 when a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened to bolster the efforts of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Since then, at least 10,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization. Other rights groups estimate the toll could be much higher.