Afrin offensive tests US alliance with Turkey

A Turkish soldier stands on a tank near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on Jan. 24, 2018, as part of the operation "Olive Branch", launched a few days ago. The operation aims to oust the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey considers to be a terror group, from its enclave of Afrin. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2018

Afrin offensive tests US alliance with Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey’s “Olive Branch” military operation against Kurdish militias in northern Syria has forced the US to reconsider its priorities in the conflict.

The offensive on the city of Afrin, which began on Saturday, targets the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara considers terror groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Ankara and its Western allies. The YPG denies it is a terror outfit.

The YPG is the Pentagon’s main partner in its fight against Daesh in Syria. America has supplied it with weapons and training.

As Turkey pushed ahead with its operation in Afrin, fears grew of an escalation in tension with the US, despite both countries being NATO allies.

But, at least in their public statements, US military officials have expressed their understanding of Ankara’s domestic security concerns.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said that if YPG fighters battling Daesh in northern Syria move to Afrin, and if the military equipment provided by the US is used for any purpose other than fighting Daesh, the US will withdraw its support for the group.

“We are only providing training, advice and support to forces that conduct operations against Daesh,” Galloway told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.

Washington’s extension of an olive branch to Turkey on such a sensitive issue seems to have produced positive results on the Turkish side and marks a new phase in relations between the two powers.

On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pushed the blame away from the Trump administration and toward former US President Barack Obama for failing to “keep his promises to Turkey in Syria,” particularly in Manbij, a city currently held by the YPG.

“The operation during Mr. Obama’s administration aimed to clear terrorists from Manbij. But he failed to keep his promise and cheated us,” Erdogan said.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told CNN Turk on Tuesday that the prerequisite for Turkey to cooperate with the US in Syria is that Washington ends its support to the YPG and takes back the arms it provided to the group.

Burak Bilgehan Ozpek, a Middle East expert from TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara, said Washington’s latest moves to appease Turkey are part of a broader Western strategy to attempt to persuade Turkey not to expand its Afrin operation to Manbij, as Erdogan as threatened.

“Not only the US, but also other key NATO countries, like the UK and the Netherlands, made key statements in recent days as a strategic maneuver empathizing with Ankara’s security concerns and condemning the YPG,” Ozpek told Arab News.

“The Western community noticed Russia’s game plan in Syria — with it giving a green light to launch the Afrin offensive — because Moscow’s main goal is to shift Turkey away from NATO, to sow discord between Turkey and the West, disintegrate the alliance, and establish a more asymmetrical relationship pattern.”

Such a game plan, if it succeeded, would deprive NATO of its second largest military force and leave Russia free to step into the vacuum by deepening ties with Turkey.

But Ozpek said Russia’s tactic has so far failed to produce enough of a split between Turkey and the US, adding that Moscow has also “completely lost the trust of Syrian Kurds.”

On Tuesday, a high-level US delegation visited Ankara to discuss the details of Turkey’s operation in Afrin. On the same day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met his American counterpart Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of a conference in Paris.

Those meetings came the day after White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged that the US takes Turkey’s security concerns seriously and “is committed to working with Turkey as a NATO ally.”

This remark followed a claim by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert that “Russia is trying to drive a wedge between the two NATO allies.”

Mete Sohtaoglu, a Middle East researcher, said the US does not want to create the perception of a threat to Ankara if the YPG fighters it supports relocate. He stressed that the US currently only partners with the YPG to combat Daesh on “the eastern flank of the Euphrates.” To the west of the river, he said, “the Daesh threat is non-existent.”

“The fight against Daesh is the main driver of America’s myopic relationship with the YPG,” Megan Gisclon, a researcher on US-Turkey relations at the Istanbul Policy Center, told Arab News.

“Since the YPG forces currently in Afrin are not working with the US in the campaign to defeat Daesh, the US has no allegiance to these factions,” she added.


How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge

Updated 29 min 19 sec ago

How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge

  • With a growing population and diminishing water resources, region's cities face a major challenge
  • Despite tech breakthroughs and growing use of renewable energy, many of the world's cities are ailing

DUBAI: As the cities of today grow into those of the future, they will encounter daunting sustainability challenges.

Arguably, the most significant factor that all urban centers will have to take into account is climate change.

With temperatures projected to rise, new infrastructure and operational challenges will have to be tackled by city authorities.

“We need to manage our greenhouse gas emissions while managing our economy,” said Fahed Al-Hammadi, director of climate change at the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change.

“We must understand future trends in the region and how we will be affected in different sectors. We must engage with the private sector because we can’t work as a government alone,” he added.

FASTFACT

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Percentage of its lifetime a car in the US is parked on average.

“We need to attract more ‘green’ investors, and ensure that the capacity of renewable energy we’re transitioning to can cope with the transformation.”

Speaking at a recent summit in Dubai on emerging technologies, Al-Hammadi visualized cities of the future contributing to a reduction in emissions — transportation currently contributes a third of total emissions — and thus helping governments achieve their emission-reduction targets.

Senseable City Lab at MIT collects data on car movement to improve urban transport. (Supplied)

Cities’ sustainability will prove a major challenge in the Middle East, a region with a growing population and diminishing water resources.

“Climate change is happening and there are future challenges, but it’s very important, with the structure we have in modern cities, to have an understanding of the impacts and the changes we’re going to experience,” Al-Hammadi said.

One tool that is becoming increasingly important for urban authorities planning for future challenges is data.

Carlo Ratti, director of Senseable City Lab at MIT, said that reliable data is essential for a better understanding of the cities we live in.

He is working on collecting data from the movement of cars to understand transport patterns in a city and how it can be improved.

With the average number of car sensors today ranging from 2,000 to 3,000, Ratti told the EmTech MENA conference that the “ambient sensing platform” can be scaled up to include taxis and used for monitoring a city’s “structural health” (bridges and other infrastructure). Pilot projects are currently being conducted in collaboration with Uber in Singapore, he said. 

“You can radically change the way we move in a city,” Ratti added. “In the US today, a car is parked on average 95 percent of the time. It uses valuable space in our cities as well. But a self-driving system can change that.”

Ratti  offered the example of the 1.37 million parking spots in Singapore, 70 percent of which can be cut with autonomous cars. 

His work encompasses traffic lights as well, whereby cars will be able to detect intersections, removing the need for such lights.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam self-driving boats that can be used as floating platforms for temporary bridges are being deployed to configure the city in an increasingly dynamic way.

Self-driving boats are used as temporary bridges in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Supplied)

“The beauty of technology isn’t about creating new needs. It’s about doing things in a different and better way,” Ratti said.

Experts have jumped to cities’ defense by trying to make them more resilient as they face the twin onslaughts of overpopulation (55 percent of the planet’s 7.4 billion people live in urban areas) and climate change (rising sea levels due to global warming threaten to wipe out many coastal cities).

The health sector will need an overhaul to cater for the evolving needs of the cities of the future. 

A pioneer in this area is BioBot, a US biotech company that measures the concentration of drugs that are excreted in urine and collected in sewerage systems.

“We measure opioids in sewage to estimate consumption in cities, counties and states,” says BioBot’s website. “We map this data, empowering communities to tackle the opioid epidemic in real time.”

By mapping a city’s wastewater network and studying the demographic information associated with that data, more effective public-health policies can be created, said Newsha Ghaeli, the company’s co-founder and president.

“A human health crisis affecting communities, such as measles, polio, obesity or diabetes, is only heard about when the crisis turns into a catastrophe,” Ghaeli said.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. We imagine a city where every person can contribute to a database about our health and we’re building it, based on a concept called wastewater epidemiology.”

For instance, human urine is an important pathological sample, and so can be regarded as a rich source of information embedded in city sewers.

“You need a lot of different disciplines and industries working together to make sense of this data, like engineers, chemists, biologists, public health, urban planners, water and sewers, elected officials, data scientists and public works,” Ghaeli said. “So we’re the first company in the world to commercialize data from sewage.”

Hardware units are installed inside manholes, hanging a few feet above the sewer flow, with tubes that capture bacteria and study the chemical profile. BioBot’s team of scientists then looks at the human bacteria, viruses and chemicals. 

“There’s so much we can learn from wastewater,” Ghaeli said. “We chose to tackle, first, the opioid epidemic, which is the leading cause of accidental death of Americans under 50.”

However, recent studies have shown that less than 1 percent of those who suffer from  opioid use disorder are dying. 

“So it doesn’t matter how you slice or dice the data, we just don’t have the information,” Ghaeli said. “What’s clear is that we’re measuring the wrong thing, so we are now measuring 30 different drugs and looking at emerging trends in drugs.”

The first town to test the system was Cary in North Carolina, where overdoses decreased by 40 percent last year for the first time in half a decade, Ghaeli said.

Pavegen’s tech captures energy from pedestrian footsteps to power street lighting. (Supplied)

During a six-month pilot program, BioBot was also able to create a heat map to pinpoint areas where overdoses were concentrated.

Despite such technological breakthroughs, and the fact that an estimated 33 percent of the world’s energy is now derived from renewable sources, many of the world’s most densely populated cities are ailing.

“Cities have been built for machines — cars and planes — and some have forgotten about the people,” said Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen.

The technology company has developed paving slabs to convert energy from citizens’ footsteps into “energy, data and rewards.”

He said: “I’m on a mission to try to make our cities greener. There is a big challenge in urban areas.”

To achieve his goal, Kemball-Cook turned to kinetic energy, capturing the energy from pedestrians’ footsteps to power streetlights.

So far, the kinetic-energy system has been used in Nigeria, London, Abu Dhabi Airport, Thailand and Birmingham, as well as on a running track in Hong Kong.

“We’re excited about the vision of the future city,” he said, adding that he hopes to take Pavegen’s technology to Expo 2020 in Dubai and Neom in Saudi Arabia.

“The potential of using human power in our cities is huge. The technology in a city has to work with the people,” Kemball-Cook said.

“A city isn’t just about finding a new energy solution, it has to be about wellness, smart (practices), fun, sustainable and connecting into the Internet of Things data layout,” he added.