Secret US military unit accused of killing civilians in Iraq, Syria

Secret US military unit accused of killing civilians in Iraq, Syria
In this Jan. 13, 2020 file photo, U.S. Soldiers stand at a site inside the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq. (AP/File)
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Updated 14 December 2021

Secret US military unit accused of killing civilians in Iraq, Syria

Secret US military unit accused of killing civilians in Iraq, Syria
  • Independent estimates say up to 13,000 civilians may have died in the brutal missions

LONDON: US officers have alleged that a top-secret military force repeatedly killed civilians and committed war crimes in Iraq and Syria.

The military unit, known internally as Talon Anvil, was deployed in Iraq and Syria from 2014 to 2019, where they allegedly killed many civilians in a brutal campaign.

Former staff on the unit broke with codes of secrecy to tell journalists at The New York Times about troops ignoring laws designed to protect civilians from the conflict.

A former US Air Force intelligence officer who worked on hundreds of classified Talon Anvil missions from 2016 to 2018 told the newspaper: “They were ruthlessly efficient and good at their jobs. But they also made a lot of bad strikes.”

Led by Delta Force commandos, the unit worked round the clock to direct the US-led anti-Daesh coalition’s jet and drone strikes.

At one point, the unit was said to consist of fewer than 20 people, who took the lead on the coalition’s airpower from a control room packed with giant televisions that screened the violence across the region.

The revelations come amid a debate on the efficacy of Western intervention in the campaign against Daesh, which the US Army has said was one of the most precise and humane in history.

But former Department of Defence and Pentagon adviser Larry Lewis has told reporters that anti-Daesh operations had civilian casualty rates that were 10 times higher than similar missions in Afghanistan.

An official assessment claimed that some 1,410 civilians were accidentally killed during the anti-Daesh campaign from August 2014 to March 2019.

But Airwars, a Britain-based monitor on civilian deaths at war, has calculated that a more accurate figure is between 8,000 and 13,000.

Former members of the Talon Anvil claim that there was an unprofessional and unmilitary culture rife within the unit. One former member said: “They (operators) worked on a first-name basis, went to work in shorts and casual footwear like Crocs and Birkenstocks and often sported bushy beards.”

Members of US and UK special forces are known for breaking with convention and regulation on dress and military grooming, but the allegations against Talon Anvil went further than beards and footwear.

It was alleged that the unit dismissed rules on evidence verification or confirming targets by claiming that its strikes were made in “self-defence,” which freed them to react faster and without oversight.

An Air Force officer also told the newspaper that the unit tampered with the evidence-collecting process used for drone strikes, with footage usually stored from drones for battle damage assessment.

But Talon Anvil, they alleged, had a pattern of moving drone cameras away at vital moments “as if hit by a wind gust.”

The officer described an incident involving a drone that was flying over the Syrian farming town of Karama.

They alleged that an operator in the unit posted on a chat shared with US Air Force intelligence based in the US: “All civilians have fled the area. Anyone left is an enemy fighter. Find lots of targets for us today because we want to go Winchester.”

The phrase “going Winchester” refers to a pilot using up all their ammunition until they are empty, which in this case included several missiles and the Predator drone’s 500-pound bombs.

A 500-pound bomb was dropped on a single building as a “self-defence” strike. As civilians “staggered out of the partly collapsed building, some missing limbs, some dragging the dead,” the operator allegedly ordered a follow-up strike.

The US Army has not registered any civilian killings at Karama. Airwars has estimated that seven to 14 residents died on the day of that strike, including six children.

Bahrain’s King, Egyptian President officially open Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal

Bahrain’s King, Egyptian President officially open Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal
Updated 29 June 2022

Bahrain’s King, Egyptian President officially open Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal

Bahrain’s King, Egyptian President officially open Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal
  • Passenger terminal is considered largest infrastructure project in the civil aviation sector in Bahrain
  • Construction started in April 2016 and was completed in 2020

DUBAI: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi inaugurated the new passenger terminal at the Bahrain International Airport on Wednesday.
In the presence of Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, King Hamad and El-Sisi were welcomed by the airport’s Board of Directors Chairman Kamal bin Ahmed bin Mohammed, Transportation and Telecommunications Minister, Mohammed bin Thamer Al-Kaabi, and senior officials.
The new passenger terminal is considered the largest infrastructure project in the civil aviation sector in the kingdom and represents a qualitative leap in the field of services and airport facilities, Mohammed said.
Mohammed added the project was implemented in a record period of time that’s considered the fastest in building airports in the world.
The construction started in April 2016 and was completed in 2020.
“We have invested in national competencies and cadres during the implementation period, and we are proud today that they are the ones who operate and maintain the airport,” he said.
Mohammed pledged to spare no efforts in order to continue enhancing the kingdom’s status regionally and internationally.
The King and El-Sisi unveiled a commemorative plaque, thus officially opening the new passenger terminal at the Bahrain International Airport.
King Hamad, El-Sisi and Prince Salman toured the departure hall building and were informed about its various facilities.
The King expressed delight at El-Sisi’s participation in the inauguration of the new Bahrain International Airport, which confirms the depth of the solid Bahraini-Egyptian relations.
He affirmed that the new Bahrain International Airport will consolidate the kingdom’s status as a pioneering regional and international aviation sector hub, as well as support the national economy.
Moreover, the King congratulated the Chairman and members of the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Airport Company after naming the Bahrain International Airport as the ‘World’s Best New Airport’ at the Skytrax 2022 World Airport Awards held at the Passenger Terminal EXPO in France.

Poll shows decline in popularity of Fatah movement

Poll shows decline in popularity of Fatah movement
Updated 29 June 2022

Poll shows decline in popularity of Fatah movement

Poll shows decline in popularity of Fatah movement
  • 33 percent of respondents said that they believe Hamas is more appropriate than Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian public opinion poll in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah between June 22-25, has indicated a significant decline in the popularity of the Fatah movement and its leadership.

Similarly significant decreases in support for the two-state solution and the one-state democratic solution were also recorded, and an increase in support for a return to an armed intifada and support for the recent armed attacks inside Israel.

The majority of respondents, meanwhile, still see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a national struggle over land and sovereignty, rather than a religious conflict.

The poll results indicate a shift in the internal balance of power in favor of Hamas and its leadership; 33 percent of respondents said that they believe Hamas is more appropriate than Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, to represent and lead the Palestinian people. In comparison, 23 percent said they think that Fatah is more appropriate.

Thirty-three percent say that if new presidential elections were held today and only two candidates, Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, stood, they would elect Abbas, while 55 percent said they would elect Haniyeh. 

If the competition was between Marwan Barghouti and Haniyeh, though, Barghouti would receive 61 percent and Haniyeh 34 percent, and if President Abbas did not run for elections, Barghouti was the preferred candidate, as 30 percent chose him, followed by Haniyeh with 16 percent, then Mohammed Dahlan with 6 percent, then Yahya Al-Sinwar with 4 percent, then Hussein Al-Sheikh with 3 percent.

Twenty-three percent said they are satisfied with President Abbas’ performance, while 73 percent are dissatisfied, and 77 percent say they want the president to resign. Just 18 percent say they want him to stay in office.

In all, 79 percent of the public said that the Palestinian government does not play an influential role in addressing high prices and their effects. In comparison, 57 percent objected to President Abbas’s internal decisions, such as transferring powers to the General Secretariat of the Legislative Council for the Presidency of the National Council.

In addition, 71 percent said that they want to hold general Palestinian legislative and presidential elections soon in the Palestinian Territories. A majority of 54 percent, though, say they do not believe that elections will take place soon.

Just over a quarter of the Palestinian public say they want to emigrate due to the current political, security and economic conditions, and 86 percent believe there is corruption in the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. In comparison, 71 percent say that there is corruption in the institutions run by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and 59 percent believe that the PA has become a burden on the Palestinian people.

Forty-two percent of the population of the West Bank say that people can criticize the PA without fear. In comparison, 54 percent say that this is not possible. In contrast, in the Gaza Strip, 62 percent say criticism of Hamas is not possible.

Meanwhile, 73 percent believe that the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh will not succeed in achieving reconciliation and uniting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In comparison, 21 percent think that it will succeed. Twenty-three percent believe the government will succeed in holding legislative and presidential elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In comparison, 69 percent say it will not succeed, and 75 percent expect that the government will not succeed in improving economic conditions.

Fifty-nine percent believe that individual shootings inside Israel by Palestinians not affiliated with political movements contribute to ending the occupation, and 50 percent believe armed struggle is the best way to establish an independent state. In comparison, 22 percent said it would be done through negotiations, and 21 percent said it would happen through peaceful popular resistance.

Seventy percent believe the two-state solution is no longer feasible due to settlement expansion, but 27 percent believe it is still achievable. Likewise, 77 percent say that the chances of establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel during the next five years are slim or very small, and 19 percent say that the chances are medium or high.

Sixty-nine percent say that under the current circumstances, they do not support the return of the Palestinian side to negotiations with Israel without preconditions. In comparison, 22 percent say they support this, 65 percent oppose returning to dialogue with the US, and 29 percent are in favor.

Seventy-five percent say that the PA should remain neutral in the war between Russia and Ukraine, with 14 percent backing Russia and 6 percent Ukraine.

Thirty-two percent said that the biggest problem facing the Palestinians is the occupation, while 23 percent said it was corruption. A further 17 percent said it was unemployment.

Ibrahim Melhem, the spokesperson for the PA, told Arab News: “Citizens’ satisfaction with the performance of the Palestinian government in particular stems from circumstances; sometimes there are good conditions that allow the government to provide the best services, and therefore it is fortunate to obtain citizens’ satisfaction, but sometimes the government faces a multi crisis, so the percentage of people satisfied by its performance declines.

“We make every effort to obtain reasonable satisfaction and provide the best services to citizens within what the government's available capabilities allow,” he added.

Amer Hamdan, a human rights activist, told Arab News: “I think the percentage in the poll results is logical and reasonable, because frankly, there is resentment against the performance of the PA, and people want to hold elections so that the factions can participate in the political process, but the PA continues to arrest political activists and continues to normalize with Israel.

“People in the PA in the West Bank enjoy economic, political and security privileges for themselves and their children. Therefore, it is not in their interest to organize elections,” Hamdan added.

Sale puts Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back in West Bank, kind of

Sale puts Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back in West Bank, kind of
Updated 29 June 2022

Sale puts Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back in West Bank, kind of

Sale puts Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back in West Bank, kind of
  • Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry’s, sold its business interest in Israel to a local company that would sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream throughout Israel and the West Bank.

JERUSALEM: A new agreement in Israel will put Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back on shelves in annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank despite the ice cream maker’s protest of Israeli policies, according to Unilever, the company that owns the brand.
But it’s unclear if the product, which would only be sold with Hebrew and Arabic lettering, would still appeal to Ben & Jerry’s fans or have the support of the Vermont company, which has long backed liberal causes.
Israel hailed the move as a victory in its ongoing campaign against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS aims to bring economic pressure to bear on Israel over its military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 but distanced itself from the ice cream maker’s decision last year to halt sales in the territories, said Wednesday that it had sold its business interest in Israel to a local company that would sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream under its Hebrew and Arabic name throughout Israel and the West Bank.
When Ben & Jerry’s was sold, the companies agreed that the ice cream maker’s independent board would be free to pursue its social mission, including longstanding support for many liberal causes, including racial justice, climate action, LGBTQ rights and campaign finance reform.
But Unilever would have the final word on financial and operational decisions.
Unilever said it has “used the opportunity of the past year to listen to perspectives on this complex and sensitive matter and believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.”
In its statement, Unilever reiterated that it does not support the BDS movement. It said it was “very proud” of its business in Israel, where it employs around 2,000 people and has four manufacturing plants.
Unilever sold the business to Avi Zinger, the owner of Israel-based American Quality Products Ltd, who had sued Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s in March in a US federal court over the termination of their business relationship, saying it violated US and Israeli law.
Zinger’s legal team said the decision by Unilever was part of a settlement. He thanked Unilever for resolving the matter and for the “strong and principled stand” it has taken against BDS. “There is no place for discrimination in the commercial sale of ice cream,” Zinger said.
There was no immediate comment from Ben & Jerry’s. A spokeswoman pointed to the Unilever announcement.
But reaction to the new agreement arrived quickly.
Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said Unilever seeks to undermine Ben & Jerry’s “principled decision” to avoid complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, which his organization says amount to apartheid, an allegation Israel adamantly rejects.
“It won’t succeed: Ben & Jerry’s won’t be doing business in illegal settlements. What comes next may look and taste similar, but, without Ben & Jerry’s recognized social justice values, it’s just a pint of ice cream.”
Israel hailed the decision and thanked governors and other elected officials in the United States and elsewhere for supporting its campaign against BDS. It said Unilever consulted its Foreign Ministry throughout the process.
“Antisemitism will not defeat us, not even when it comes to ice-cream,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said. “We will fight delegitimization and the BDS campaign in every arena, whether in the public square, in the economic sphere or in the moral realm.”
BDS, an umbrella group supported by virtually all of Palestinian civil society, presents itself as a non-violent protest movement modeled on the boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa. It does not adopt an official position on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved, and it officially rejects antisemitism.
Israel views BDS as an assault on its very legitimacy, in part because of extreme views held by some of its supporters. Israel also points to the group’s support for a right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees — which would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state — and BDS leaders’ refusal to endorse a two-state solution to the conflict.
Ben & Jerry’s decision was not a full boycott, and appeared to be aimed at Israel’s settlement enterprise. Some 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed and considers part of its capital. Israel captured both territories in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Palestinians want them to be part of their future state.
Most of the international community views the settlements as a violation of international law. The Palestinians consider them the main obstacle to peace because they absorb and divide up the land on which a future Palestinian state would be established. Every Israeli government has expanded settlements, including during the height of the peace process in the 1990s.

Egypt and Oman agree to establish joint investment fund

Egypt and Oman agree to establish joint investment fund
Updated 29 June 2022

Egypt and Oman agree to establish joint investment fund

Egypt and Oman agree to establish joint investment fund
  • Two countries also sign agreements in multiple sectors, including the environment and education
  • Agreement comes during Egyptian President El-Sisi’s official visit to Oman 

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq have agreed on a study to establish a joint investment fund between their two countries, focused on feasible projects in various vital sectors.

In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the two leaders confirmed, during the official visit of the Egyptian president to Oman, that all relevant authorities would discuss investment opportunities in fields including energy and renewables, industry, healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

During El-Sisi’s visit, Egypt and Oman signed two agreements, six memoranda of understanding, three executive programs and letters of cooperation in promoting competition, combating monopolies, promoting investment, developing exports, establishing and managing industrial zones, and protecting the environment, in addition to the mutual recognition of marine qualification certificates for navigators.

The governments of the two countries also signed a cooperation agreement in maritime transport and ports, and a cooperation agreement between Sultan Qaboos University and the Egyptian National Institute for Astronomical and Geophysical Research.

El-Sisi affirmed “Egypt’s keenness during the coming period to develop economic and commercial cooperation relations with the Omani business community and companies, and develop joint investments, to contribute to supporting economic development … to maximize mutual interests and optimal utilization of available opportunities.”

During his meeting with representatives of the business community and heads of major companies in Oman, with the participation of a number of senior Omani officials and representatives, he stressed that “the qualitative leap that Egypt has witnessed recently in the various development sectors reflects the strong will of the state, with its governmental and popular components to achieve sustainable development, which will have positive repercussions on the strengthening of bilateral relations between Egypt and the Sultanate of Oman by opening doors to maximize existing Omani investments in various sectors.

“The distinguished fraternal relations between the two brotherly countries are the real umbrella for supporting efforts to develop joint cooperation in various economic fields through the availability of the necessary political will,” El-Sisi said.

The Egyptian leader also discussed the various investment opportunities in Egypt, foremost of which is the development axis of the Suez Canal Zone, which includes a number of major industrial and logistical areas, and which provides promising opportunities for Omani companies wishing to benefit from Egypt’s strategic location.

El-Sisi arrived in Oman on Monday and an official reception ceremony was held for him. 

Talks between the two leaders were held at Al-Alam Palace in the Omani capital Muscat and included delegations from both countries.

El-Sisi affirmed Egypt’s “pride in the depth and strength of strategic relations with the Sultanate of Oman,” and its desire to “strengthen and diversify the frameworks of joint bilateral cooperation, and explore mechanisms to push them to broader horizons in various political, security, economic and commercial fields.”

He also praised “the existing level of coordination and unity of visions between the two brotherly countries on issues of common interest,” as well as the “Omani-Egyptian consensus on all regional and international issues.”

Ambassador Bassam Radi, official spokesman for the Presidency of the Republic, said El-Sisi and Sultan Haitham held an expanded session of talks, during which the sultan praised the “close and historical brotherly ties that unite the two countries.”

Egyptian president meets Bahraini king on 2nd stage of Gulf tour

Egyptian president meets Bahraini king on 2nd stage of Gulf tour
Updated 29 June 2022

Egyptian president meets Bahraini king on 2nd stage of Gulf tour

Egyptian president meets Bahraini king on 2nd stage of Gulf tour
  • Following his visit to Oman, El-Sisi met the Bahraini monarch to discuss regional issues and strategic cooperation
  • Egypt’s leader reiterated his country’s “keenness to develop cooperation with the Kingdom of Bahrain in all fields”

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi held talks with Bahrain’s King Hamad on the second stage of his Gulf tour.

Following his visit to Oman, El-Sisi met the Bahraini monarch to discuss regional issues and strategic cooperation.

During their meeting — that was also attended by Bahrain’s Prime Minister Crown Prince Salman Al-Khalifa — at Sakhir Palace, in Manama, Egypt’s leader reiterated his country’s “keenness to develop cooperation with the Kingdom of Bahrain in all fields.”

Welcoming El-Sisi to the capital city, King Hamad said: “(Your visit) reflects the uniqueness of the distinguished bilateral relations and embodies the keenness of the two leaderships to communicate, coordinate, and consult on regional issues of common concern to serve the interests of the two countries and the issues of the Arab nation,” the Bahrain News Agency reported.

The king hailed the “efficiency” and contribution of the Egyptian community in his country toward the development of Bahrain and noted that the two nations had “a long history and a developed present,” while sharing a “constant aspiration to advance bilateral cooperation toward broader horizons.”

King Hamad pointed out that, due to El-Sisi’s approach, Egypt was witnessing, “a pioneering development renaissance and vital projects, and the qualitative achievements it has achieved in all fields.”

He also praised Egypt’s, “pivotal and firm role as a fundamental pillar of security and stability in the region and its appreciated efforts in supporting the nation’s causes and strengthening the course of work for the common Arab in facing the current challenges in the region.”

El-Sisi’s foreign tour comes after it was recently announced that US President Joe Biden will visit Saudi Arabia in mid-July and while there would be attending a joint summit with Gulf state leaders.

The official spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, said: “The current stage requires concerted efforts to protect Arab national security and confront attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of Arab countries and destabilize them.”