Turkey sends tanks to confront Kurds on Syrian border

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AFP)
Updated 28 August 2017

Turkey sends tanks to confront Kurds on Syrian border

ANKARA: Turkey has again boosted its military presence along its southern border to prevent hostile incursions by Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria.
Ten trucks carrying tanks and howitzer artillery pieces moved into position on Saturday in Kilis province, immediately across the border from the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region of Syria.
The YPG are US allies in the fight against Daesh in Syria, but Ankara views the group as terrorists, and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has conducted an armed insurgency in Turkey for more than 30 years.
YPG militias have de facto autonomy in parts of northern Syria bordering Turkey, and there was an exchange of fire with Turkish artillery in Afrin in June.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey will not allow “terror groups” to create a corridor in northern Syria. The Turkish military’s Operation Euphrates Shield from August 2016 until March this year targeted Daesh, but also aimed to prevent the YPG from forming such a corridor by linking areas such as Aziz and Manjib.
Turkey views the establishment of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria as a threat to its integrity and national security, said Kadir Ertac Celik, an adviser at the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM).
“In this context, Turkey places the protection of the regional status quo and stability at the top of its foreign policy agenda. And if needed, Turkey can launch a military intervention into Afrin region,” he said.
The current rapprochement between Russia and Iran strengthened Turkey’s hand, Celik said.
Ankara has begun identifying its security line beyond its national borders, and it has the ability and determination to intervene against any national threat on legitimate grounds, Celik said.
“This border reinforcement move is a clear message and a precaution vis-a-vis the unfolding geopolitics in northern Syria.”
Turkey has openly expressed its willingness to intervene in the PKK/YPG presence in northern Syria for some time, as manifested by a series of discussions in recent weeks, said Merve Seren, a researcher on security studies at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a think tank in Ankara.
“The visits to Ankara by the Iranian chief of staff, Gen. Mohammad Baqeri, and Jim Mattis, US defense secretary, have been considered as showing support by these countries to Turkey’s counterterrorism efforts against PKK and its offshoots,” he said.
Turkey could launch a partial military intervention into the Tal Rifaat area of northern Aleppo and then into Afrin, Seren said.


Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

Updated 48 min 27 sec ago

Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

  • “Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Al-Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father said
  • Twenty-four hours later, hei was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home”

BAGHDAD: A prominent Iraqi blogger resurfaced Friday a day after he was seized by masked gunmen, his father said, as Amnesty International denounced a “climate of fear” in the country after protests and deadly violence.
Shujaa Al-Khafaji’s family said armed men had snatched him from his home on Thursday without identifying themselves or showing an arrest warrant.
Khafaji’s Facebook page, Al-Khowa Al-Nadifa (Arabic for “Those Who Have Clean Hands“), carries posts on political and social issues and has some 2.5 million followers.
“Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father, Fares Al-Khafaji, told AFP.
He said they seized his son’s phones and computers, but were not violent.
Twenty-four hours later, Khafaji was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home,” his father added.
The report of Khafaji’s seizure sparked an outcry from activists and influential political leaders.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced a “relentless campaign of intimidation and assault against activists in Iraq” by authorities.
“The Iraqi authorities must immediately rein in the security forces and dismantle the climate of fear they have deliberately created to stop Iraqis from peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and assembly,” said Lynn Maalouf, the group’s Middle East research director.
The group said other activists, including a doctor and a lawyer, were “forcibly disappeared more than 10 days ago,” and called on Iraqi authorities to reveal their whereabouts.
Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr wrote on Twitter that “any act of aggression (against journalists or activists)... by the state constitutes an attack on freedom of speech.”
Former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s parliamentary bloc called on the government “to stop abuses of free media.”
Iraq was gripped by anti-government protests between October 1 and 6, during which 110 people, mainly demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces.
During the protests, unidentified armed men in uniforms raided several local television stations in Baghdad, destroying their equipment and intimidating their staff.
Journalists and activists also reported receiving threats, mostly by phone, from unidentified callers accusing them of having sided with the protesters.
Khafaji faced online harassment last month after a string of attacks on bases of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force dominated by pro-Iran groups.
The group on Thursday denied any involvement in the disappearance of activists, threatening legal action against anyone making such accusations.
But according to Amnesty, the Hashed was involved in at least one abduction — that of lawyer Ali Hattab, who represented protesters and was seized on October 8 in the southern city of Amara.
He was snatched by “suspected members of a faction of the Popular Mobilization Units (Hashed),” Amnesty said quoting Hattab’s relatives.
It happened two days after “two armed men from the PMU came to (his) home to warn him to stop being vocal about the killing of protesters on Facebook, otherwise they would kill him,” Amnesty added.