US-backed forces admit to ‘difficulties’ beating Daesh in Syria

Syrian Democratic Forces have made gains in the battle against the last pocket of Daesh. (AFP)
Updated 17 March 2019

US-backed forces admit to ‘difficulties’ beating Daesh in Syria

  • An SDF statement said the latest fighting broke out after the Kurd-led force attacked Daesh positions inside Baghouz

BAGHOUZ: US-backed forces fighting to recapture the last Daesh group outpost in Syria admitted on Sunday they were facing “difficulties” defeating the extremists, saying they were being slowed by mines, tunnels and concerns over harming women and children among the militants.
The battle to capture the extremist group’s last patch of territory in eastern Syria — a collection of tents covering foxholes and underground tunnels in the village of Baghouz — has dragged on for weeks amid an unexpected exodus of civilians from the area.
The sheer number of people who have emerged from Baghouz, nearly 30,000 since early January according to Kurdish officials, has taken the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces by surprise. Most have been women and children whose existence in a labyrinth of underground caves and tunnels was unknown to the fighters.
In the last two weeks, many fighters appeared to be among those evacuating. But an unknown number of militants and civilians remain inside, refusing to surrender.
“We are facing several difficulties regarding the operations,” SDF commander Kino Gabriel told reporters outside Baghouz on Sunday.
He cited the large number of mines and explosive devices planted by IS and the existence of tunnels and hideouts beneath the ground that are being used by the militants to attack SDF forces or defend themselves.
The camp is all that remains of a self-declared Islamic “caliphate” that once sprawled across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. But a declaration of victory and the group’s territorial defeat has been delayed as the military campaign sputtered on in fits and starts.
A final push by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces started on Jan. 9 but has been paused on several occasions, mainly to allow for civilians to evacuate and fighters to surrender.
Underscoring the struggles faced by the SDF as they try to flush the out extremists, three Daesh fighters emerged from Baghouz on Friday acting as though they wanted to surrender only to blew themselves up, killing six people.
The campaign has also been hindered by bad weather. Intermittent storms have at times turned the battlefield to mud and Daesh militants have mounted counteroffensives on windy days, burning tires and oil to try to force the SDF back with smoke.
On Sunday, dozens of men and women were seen walking around the besieged Daesh encampment in Baghouz, as SDF fighters watched from a hilltop close by.
The camp, looking much like a junkyard, was littered with damaged vans and pickup trucks parked between tents where people appeared to be moving about.
On the hilltop lookout north of Baghouz, an SDF sentry, lying flat on his stomach with his rocket launcher trained on the camp, cautioned an approaching comrade not to get too close. “There are snipers,” he said of the IS camp.
Gabriel said the camp was approximately 0.25 square kilometers in size — much the same area it was five weeks ago, when the SDF said it was finally going to conclude the battle.
In the middle of the camp stands a pair of two-story compounds, showing little sign of damage. Several houses that appeared habitable can be seen as well.
With operations now stretching into the spring, Gabriel faced pointed questions from the press over whether Daesh would be able to resupply itself with water and goods, despite the siege.
He said he was not aware of any smuggling tunnels still in operation, and that Daesh was cut off from the outside world.
“I don’t think we will be seeing more IS terrorists appearing in this pocket," he said using an acronym for Daesh.
A commander participating in operations on the western side of the enclave said he did not believe Daesh was fleeing to the other side of the Euphrates River either, where Syrian government forces and their allies are holding positions.
Gabriel said 29,600 people have left Baghouz since Jan. 9, among them 5,000 fighters — far greater than the SDF had initially estimated remained inside.
He said the SDF no longer estimates how many people remained in Baghouz but added that recent evacuees told the fighting forces that another 5,000 were still inside.
The force and the Kurdish-led authorities that administer northeast Syria have banned in recent days journalists from interviewing evacuees from Baghouz.
The evacuees are now living in detention-like camps in the self-administered region that international humanitarian organizations say are vastly overcrowded and underserved. They say disease is rampant in the camps and medical care is desperately needed.
“The Daesh terrorists are starting to feel hunger and thirst and we are seeing this in the people who are coming out of the camp,” said Gabriel. 


Companies must deploy AI to transform industries: Mubadala deputy CEO

Updated 59 min 43 sec ago

Companies must deploy AI to transform industries: Mubadala deputy CEO

  • ‘One of the mega trends you see around the world is that preferences matter’
  • ‘We have to change the way we view technology’

DUBAI: The next wave of value creation in the business world will not come from companies that develop artificial intelligence (AI), but from those that can innovatively deploy technology to transform industries, Waleed Al-Muhairi, deputy CEO of Mubadala Investment Co., said on Tuesday at the first Middle East SALT conference.

The two-day event is taking place in Abu Dhabi, and is run by former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

It is hosting more than 1,000 leaders from the worlds of investment, finance and policymaking at the city’s financial hub, the Abu Dhabi Global Market.

Discussing Mubadala’s partnerships with China, the UAE’s largest trading partner, Al-Muhairi referred to billion-dollar investments in China’s private and public sectors.

“We have a wonderful partnership with China. We’ve established a $10 billion fund there with the China Development Bank, and have deployed almost $2 billion in 15 to 16 different sectors, with technology being the main theme,” he said.

Mubadala currently has $240 billion of assets under management, with close to $100 billion invested in the US (60 percent of the state-owned holding company’s portfolio).

The remaining 40 percent is divided “almost” equally between investments in the UAE, Europe and Asia, “with a heavy concentration in China,” said Al-Muhairi.

“But our objective is to participate in the growth and success of a large, growing and dynamic economy like China’s,” he said, adding that it is only a matter of time before the country becomes the “largest economy on Earth.”

On technology, Al-Muhairi cited Asia-focused private equity firm Hill House, which transformed a mid-level athletic footwear company in China to the No. 1 brand in the country through the deployment of AI.

The company applied the expertise of 50 scientists and engineers to revolutionize the manufacturing process of footwear, while subsequently improving the brand’s retail experience.

By placing censors on the shelves to detect customers’ interest in buying specific footwear, they were able to shorten the cycle of understanding customer feedback and preference, said Al-Muhairi.

“One of the mega trends you see around the world is that preferences matter. And those business that are able to curate a customized experience for customers are going to be the ones who succeed, especially in the retail industry,” he added.

While people often refer to technology as a “sector,” Al-Muhairi believes it is similar to the concept of “electricity” in that it empowers projects and is infused in everything we do today.

“We have to change the way we view technology,” he said, adding that while it is the “life-blood of any successful company” and the “single most important enabler,” it is not an objective in itself. 

“We don’t invest in technology for the sake of technology. We invest in it because it will transform something or it will create value and a return,” he said.