Macron announces Sahel troop drawdown, calls for new force

Macron announces Sahel troop drawdown, calls for new force
French Barkhane force soldiers leave their base in Gao, Mali, after wrapping up a four-month tour of duty in the Sahel, June 9, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 10 June 2021

Macron announces Sahel troop drawdown, calls for new force

Macron announces Sahel troop drawdown, calls for new force
  • France’s future presence will be as part of the Takuba international task force in the Sahel in which ‘hundreds’ of French soldiers will form the ‘backbone’
  • It will mean the closure of French bases and the use of special forces who will be focused on anti-terror operations and military training

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced a major drawdown of France’s military presence in the Sahel and the end of the existing Barkhane operation.
“The time has come: Our commitment in the Sahel will not continue in the same way,” Macron told a press conference.
“We will undertake a profound transformation of our military presence in the Sahel,” he added. “The framework will be made clear in the weeks to come.”
He said that he saw France’s future presence as being part of the so-called Takuba international task force in the Sahel in which “hundreds” of French soldiers would form the “backbone.”
It would mean the closure of French bases and the use of special forces who would be focused on anti-terror operations and military training, he added.
France currently has 5,100 troops in the arid and volatile Sahel region, which stretches across Africa south of the Sahara desert and spans half a dozen countries.
The Barkhane operation dates back to an initial deployment undertaken from January 2013 as Paris intervened to stop the advance of extremists in Mali.
Macron said the French drawdown had been decided because the “longstanding presence of France... cannot be a substitute for political stability.”
For years Macron has tried to get Western allies to help shoulder the burden of an anti-terror fight in the Sahel where France, the former colonial power in the region, is the lead foreign presence.
The killing in April of the veteran leader of Chad, a close Paris ally, and a coup in Mali last month have also underlined the threat posed by continued political instability in the region.


Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’
Updated 11 min 13 sec ago

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’
  • Relocation scheme to bring to Britain former colleagues who risked their lives is “inadequate,” letter warns

LONDON: Former high-profile British defense figures have urged the expansion of a relocation initiative for Afghan interpreters who supported Britain’s role in the country’s conflict, after it emerged that hundreds were denied the right to live in the UK.
The group raised “grave concerns” in a letter to The Times newspaper that the UK scheme was inadequate in protecting Afghans who risked their lives to help coalition forces in the conflict with the Taliban.
The letter includes the signatures of six former heads of the armed forces, and in total was signed by 45 former military officers and officials.
It urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider the scheme, warning: “It is not being conducted with the required spirit of generosity and urgency.”
The initiative, formally titled the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, was launched this year to urgently relocate Afghans — who previously worked for British forces as interpreters —   to the UK amid a NATO withdrawal from the war-torn country.
In past years, more than 2,200 Afghans and their families arrived in Britain.
But through the letter, the former military figures raised urgent concerns that too many relocation applications had been “unreasonably rejected” by UK officials.
It read: “The UK should be as generous and welcoming as we know it can be. These individuals have stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We must now do the same for them.”
Other campaigners have also joined the campaign in urging the government to update the scheme. The Sulha Alliance, which was founded to promote the relocation of former Afghan interpreters, warned that policy should be “more generous.”
About 450 Afghans who worked for British forces told the alliance that their applications had been formally rejected, Ed Aitken, a former captain and co-founder of the group, said.
One former interpreter who was rejected, Muhammad, 30, warned that “it is only a matter of time before the Taliban find and kill me.”
He said that he was being “left behind to die after being denied sanctuary in the UK.
“I am sure I will suffer the same fate as interpreters before me and be beheaded.”
But despite his warnings, as well as personal recommendations from British commanders, his application has been continuously denied by officials.


Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill
Updated 31 min 18 sec ago

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill
  • Government is telling young girls who were forced overseas that they are not victims, Reprieve director tells Arab News

LONDON: British women and children trafficked overseas into terror groups would be barred from returning under the government’s new immigration bill, an investigation has revealed.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which passed its second reading last week, will give Home Secretary Priti Patel the power to deny victims protection under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 if they are trafficked by a terrorist organization.

This denial of assistance will be justified by classifying the trafficking victims as a threat to national security. 

The new legislation is being introduced despite the Home Office being forced to U-turn after it claimed a child who was trafficked to Afghanistan by a terrorist gang “did not fall under the definition of modern slavery.”

Patel later admitted that the department’s actions were based on a “misunderstanding of the law” and withdrew it. 

Home Office lawyers said in 2019 that it was “not her position or policy” to separate trafficking victims from the protection they are owed when terrorist organizations are involved.

Maya Foa, director of the legal charity Reprieve, told Arab News that “the government is effectively telling young girls taken to Syria by an older man ‘you weren’t trafficked.’ 

“It’s telling women who had no choice but to go to Syria with their abusive, controlling husbands that they weren’t trafficked either. And it’s telling the teenagers groomed online by predators that they cannot have been trafficked because the gang in question was ISIS,” she said, using another term for the terror group Daesh.

She added: “It flies in the face of everything we know about trafficking — and is illegal under international law.”

Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. 

The government’s own guidance notes that a child cannot consent to being trafficked, even though they may appear a “willing participant.”

Reprieve has found that of the Britons held in camps in northeastern Syria, 20 are women and 35 are children and that nearly two-thirds of the women met the legal definition of a trafficking victim. 

However, the government has ignored calls to recover them to Britain. Most of the women have had their citizenship removed.

Women in the camp who meet the standard for being designated as trafficking victims include a teenager who was taken to Syria by a male relative aged just 12. She was raped, forced into marriage at 14 and was pregnant via rape at 15.

The Home Office has denied that its new clause breaks any obligations to trafficking victims. “All decisions to exclude people from provisions are considered on a case-by-case basis and will safeguard those with legitimate modern slavery claims,” a spokesman said.


Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity
Updated 28 July 2021

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity
  • Federal Prosecutor's Office said Alla Mousa is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in Syria
  • Prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants in Germany

BERLIN: A Syrian doctor has been charged in Germany with crimes against humanity for allegedly torturing people in military hospitals in his homeland and killing one of them, German federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe said in a statement that Alla Mousa, who came to Germany in 2015 and practiced medicine before he was arrested last year, is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in the Syrian cities of Homs and Damascus. The allegations include charges that Mousa tried to make people infertile.
A federal indictment charged him with murder, severe bodily harm, attempted bodily harm and dangerous bodily harm, the statement said.
Prosecutors said after the beginning of the opposition uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011, protesters were frequently arrested and tortured. Injured civilians who were thought to be members of the opposition were also taken to military hospitals, where they were tortured and sometimes killed.
In February, a German court convicted a former member of Assad’s secret police of facilitating the torture of prisoners in a landmark ruling that human rights activists said would set a precedent for other cases in the decade-long conflict.
Eyad Al-Gharib was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz state court to 4 1/2 years in prison.
It was the first time that a court outside Syria ruled in a case alleging Syrian government officials committed crimes against humanity. German prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants in Germany.
In the current case, prosecutors accuse the Syrian doctor of having poured alcohol over the genitals of a teenage boy and another man and setting fire to them with a cigarette lighter at military hospital No. 608 in Homs. He is also accused of torturing nine more people in the same hospital in 2011 by kicking and beating them.
The indictment also alleges that Mousa kicked and beat a jailed man who was suffering an epileptic seizure. A few days later, the doctor gave the man a medication and he subsequently died without the exact cause of death ever clearly being identified, German prosecutors said.
The indictment lists other cases of alleged torture at the military hospital in Homs, including hanging people from the ceiling and beating them with a plastic baton, and pouring flammable liquids over the hand of one of them and burning it. Mousa also is accused of kicking another patient’s open, infected wound, pouring disinfectant into it and setting it on fire.
In one case in 2012, Mousa allegedly beat and kicked an inmate severely. When the man defended himself by kicking back, Mousa beat him to the ground with the help of a male nurse and shortly after administered a toxic substance that killed the inmate, German prosecutors allege.
In addition to the torture allegations at the military hospital in Homs, Mousa is also accused of abusing inmates at the military hospital Mezzeh No. 601 in Damascus between late 2011 and March 2012.


German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria
Updated 28 July 2021

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

BERLIN: A German woman who traveled to Syria to join the Daesh group and whose husband bought a Yazidi woman as a slave has been charged with membership in a terror group and being an accessory to a crime against humanity, German prosecutors said Wednesday.
The indictment of Leonora M., whose full name wasn’t released because of local privacy rules, is the latest in a string of cases in Germany involving women who went to the area held by Daesh and were involved in holding women captured by the extremist group as slaves.
Federal prosecutors said the suspect went to Syria and joined Daesh in 2015 and became the “third wife” of a member of the group. She is accused of enabling her husband’s activities for Daesh by running their household in Raqqa and writing his application for a job in the group’s intelligence service.
The suspect herself allegedly worked at an Daesh-controlled hospital and snooped on wives of Daesh fighters for the group’s intelligence service.
Prosecutors said her husband bought a 33-year-old Yazidi woman as a slave in 2015 with the aim of selling her with her two small children. Leonora M., they said, cared for the woman so that she could be sold on at a profit — which she subsequently was.
The suspect surrendered to Kurdish fighters in January 2019 as IS lost the areas it held in Syria. She was brought back to Germany in December last year and arrested after her arrival.
The indictment was filed on July 7 at a court in the eastern town of Naumburg.


Taliban tell China Afghanistan will not be base for separatists

Taliban tell China Afghanistan will not be base for separatists
Updated 28 July 2021

Taliban tell China Afghanistan will not be base for separatists

Taliban tell China Afghanistan will not be base for separatists
  • Taliban officials have cranked up their international diplomacy in recent months

KABUL: A top-level Taliban delegation visiting China assured Beijing the group will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for plotting against another country, an insurgent spokesman said Wednesday.
The delegation is in China for talks with Beijing officials, spokesman Mohammad Naeem told AFP, as the insurgents continue a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan — including areas along their shared border.
Their frontier is just 76 kilometers (47 miles) long — and at a rugged high altitude without a road crossing — but Beijing fears Afghanistan could be used as a staging ground for Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang.
“The Islamic Emirate assured China that Afghanistan’s soil would not be used against any country’s security,” Naeem said.
“They (China) promised not to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs, but instead help to solve problems and bring peace.”
Taliban officials have cranked up their international diplomacy in recent months, seeking global recognition for when they hope to return to power.
They have made sweeping advances across Afghanistan since May, when US-led foreign forces began the last stage of a withdrawal due to be completed next month.
Beijing hosted a Taliban delegation in 2019, but back-door links with the insurgents stretch back longer, through Pakistan.
Communist Party leaders in Beijing and the fundamentalist Taliban have little ideological common ground, but experts feel shared pragmatism could see mutual self-interest trump sensitive differences.
For Beijing, a stable and cooperative administration in Kabul would pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics.
The Taliban, meanwhile, would consider China a crucial source of investment and economic support.
“China can deal with the Taliban... but they still find the Taliban’s religious agenda and motivations inherently discomforting,” Andrew Small, author of “The China-Pakistan Axis,” told AFP earlier this month.
“They have never been sure how willing or able the Taliban really are to enforce agreements on issues such as harboring Uyghur militants.”
The Taliban’s campaign has so far seen them capture scores of districts, border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.
Government forces have abandoned some rural districts without a fight, but are digging in to defend provincial capitals even as the insurgents tighten a noose around the cities.
Rights groups have accused the insurgents of committing atrocities in territories under their control, including in the border town of Spin Boldak, where Afghan officials accuse Taliban fighters of killing around 100 civilians.
The nine-member Taliban team in China is led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the hard-line movement.