US troops cross into Iraq as part of withdrawal from Syria

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Above, a military convoy of carrying US troops vehicles at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in the outskirts of Dohuk in Iraq.
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The US currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

US troops cross into Iraq as part of withdrawal from Syria

  • US troops have crossed into Iraq from Syria through the Sahela border crossing in the northern province of Dohuk
  • US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria

DOHUK, Iraq: US troops crossed into Iraq early on Monday, part of a withdrawal from northeast Syria ordered by President Donald Trump that opened the way for Turkish troops to launch an offensive against Kurdish fighters in the area.

A Reuters cameraman saw more than 100 vehicles crossing from the northeast tip of Syria, where Turkey has agreed to pause its offensive for five days under a deal agreed between Washington and Ankara. The truce expires late on Tuesday.

Reuters video images showed armored vehicles carrying US troops through the Sahela border crossing into Iraq’s northern province of Dohuk.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Daesh militants and “to help defend Iraq.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Ankara will resume its military assault in Syria when the deadline expires if the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have not pulled back from its proposed “safe zone” area spanning the border.

Erdogan has also said Turkey will set up a dozen observation posts in the planned “safe zone.” A witness in the region said Turkish forces had already begun establishing two such posts on Sunday, drawing criticism from Iran on Monday.

“We are against Ankara’s establishing of military posts in Syria,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a weekly news conference broadcast live on state TV.

“The issues should be resolved by diplomatic means ... Syria’s integrity should be respected,” said Mousavi, whose country is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Turkey launched its offensive after Trump announced he was withdrawing US troops from northeastern Syria. Trump’s move was criticized in Washington and elsewhere as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who had fought for years alongside US troops against Daesh.

However, Trump is now leaning in favor of a new military plan to keep about 200 US troops in eastern Syria near the Iraq border, the New York Times said late on Sunday. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ankara is seeking to set up the “safe zone” as a buffer as it regards the YPG militia, the main component of the SDF, a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey. The YPG has been a close US ally in the fight against Daesh.

On Sunday, the SDF said they had withdrawn from the border town of Ras Al-Ain under the US-brokered cease-fire deal, but a spokesman for Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said the withdrawal was not yet complete.

US troops have crossed into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, an Iraqi Kurdish security source told Reuters on Monday.

About 30 trailers and Hummers carrying heavier duty equipment crossed, with troops in cars coming through, the source added. A second security source in Mosul also said US troops had crossed into Iraq from Sahela.

The US pullout has also created a vacuum that Russia, Assad’s most powerful backer, has looked to fill. Syrian and Russian forces, invited by Kurdish authorities, last week entered the two border cities of Manbij and Kobani vacated by US troops.

Erdogan has backed rebels fighting to oust Assad in the eight-year Syrian conflict, but has said Turkey had no problem with Syrian government forces deploying near the border if the YPG militia were removed.

At a planned meeting on Tuesday in the Russian city of Sochi, Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the issue of YPG withdrawal from Manbij and Kobani, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday.

While Erdogan and Putin have close ties on defense and energy, Moscow has called the Turkish offensive into Syria “unacceptable” and said it should be limited.


Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2020

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.