Did Obama just carry out an experimental execution?

Reuters reports: U.S. President Barack Obama approved the drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour because the Taliban leader was overseeing plans for new attacks on American targets in Kabul, the Afghan capital, U.S. officials said on Monday. [Continue reading…]

Drone strikes are always carried out in the name of necessity. From the president on down, everyone wants to be able to claim that the decision to launch a deadly attack was driven by an imminent threat, there being no legal basis for indiscriminate killing or vengeance.

In the case of the assassination of the Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in Pakistan over the weekend, Obama’s comments on the killing suggest that this actually had less to do with preventing an imminent attack, than it was a kind of experiment.

No one knows what the consequence of killing Mansour will be, but Obama apparently thought that the potential benefits outweighed the risks.

An otherwise risk-averse president always seems confident about the bets he places when they involve Hellfire missiles.

The Wall Street Journal reports: Mr. Obama, speaking Monday during a visit to Hanoi, said the drone strike against Mr. Mansour did not constitute a “shift” in the U.S. mission. “We are not re-entering the day-to-day combat operations that are currently being conducted by Afghan forces,” he said.

He stressed Saturday’s airstrike was an opportunity for the Taliban to shift direction in favor of reconciliation talks, because Mr. Mansour for months has been against those talks.

Whether Mr. Mansour’s death changes things remains to be seen, according to those who track the group. Some believe his death could lead to a power struggle, accelerating the Taliban’s breakup. A main breakaway group already is being funded by the Afghan government as part of an effort to splinter the movement, The Wall Street Journal reported.

It was disclosed last year that the former Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died two years earlier.

However, the infighting is unlikely to encourage the group to negotiate with the Afghan government, according to those familiar with its operations. Mr. Mansour’s death actually may make it difficult for moderates among the Taliban to negotiate. [Continue reading…]

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My son the ISIS executioner

BuzzFeed reports: When El Shafee Elsheikh was a little boy, after his father had left, his mother would find him at the workbench by the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden in White City, west London, tinkering endlessly with engine motors, bicycle parts, and old computers. Elsheikh was slight and elfin-featured, with wide almond eyes and pointed ears under a cloud of dark curls. He cut a sombre figure, intently turning the parts over in his small hands, finding out what made things work, how to fix them when they got broken. On warm nights, his mother says, he liked to sleep alone down here, in the makeshift old wooden summerhouse with a sheet drawn over the door.

Years later, in 2011, when Elsheikh had a grown into a striking young man in his early twenties, his mother found him here skulking with his CD player, listening to a torrent of hate. The words streaming out of his headphones, when she snatched them from him, were those of the notorious al-Qaeda-affiliated west London preacher Hani al-Sibai. By now Elsheikh had qualified as a mechanical engineer and was earning his living fixing cars and fairground rides. He was quiet, studious, and devoted to his family, and he made his mother proud. But on that day in the garden, she says, she feared for the first time that she was losing him to an ideology she did not understand.

Now, five years on, Maha Elgizouli stands down here by the summerhouse, struggling to conceive of how the son she still calls her “little one” turned into one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. Elsheikh has just been identified by BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post as a member of the notorious ISIS execution cell of four British guards known as the “Beatles” and responsible for beheading 27 hostages and torturing captives with electric shocks, waterboarding, and mock executions. He is the fourth and final member of the terror cell to be named, following the unmasking of the group’s knife-wielding executioner “Jihadi John” as Mohammed Emwazi, and the two other guards as fellow west Londoners Alexanda Kotey and Aine Davis. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS ‘destroys Syria airbase’ used by Russia

BBC News reports: A strategically significant Syrian airbase, used by Russia, appears to have been almost completely destroyed – according to new satellite imagery exclusively seen by the BBC.

The Tiyas facility – near the recently re-captured city of Palmyra in Syria – was repeatedly hit – with the so-called Islamic State presumed to be behind the attack. [Continue reading…]

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The humanitarian system: ‘A mammoth machinery losing track of what it is for’

Heba Aly writes: The number of people affected by humanitarian crises has more than doubled over the past decade. The frequency, scale, and severity of humanitarian crises are set to continue rising. Yet time and again, the traditional international humanitarian relief apparatus has been unable to respond adequately. Syria is only the latest example of this.

The aid sector is aware of deficiencies, but often frames the challenges it faces in terms that downplay its own responsibility. Needs are rising quickly, its leaders argue, and the scale of financing to respond to them is lagging behind. In reality, the problems facing the sector are much more fundamental. It has become a mammoth machinery that has, in many ways, lost track of what it stands for.

Irin reported in 2015 on focus groups conducted as part of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) process with refugees and other people affected by crises in the Middle East. [Continue reading…]

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William Hartung: How to disappear money, Pentagon-style

Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), recently made a startling disclosure to Voice of America (VOA)AFRICOM, he said, is currently mulling over 11 possible locations for its second base on the continent.  If, however, there was a frontrunner among them Cheadle wasn’t about to disclose it.  All he would say was that Nigeria isn’t one of the countries in contention.

Writing for VOA, Carla Babb filled in the rest of the picture in terms of U.S. military activities in Africa.  “The United States currently has one military base in the east African nation of Djibouti,” she observed. “U.S. forces are also on the ground in Somalia to assist the regional fight against al-Shabab and in Cameroon to help with the multinational effort against Nigeria-based Boko Haram.”  

A day later, Babb’s story disappeared.  Instead, there was a new article in which she noted that “Cheadle had initially said the U.S. was looking at 11 locations for a second base, but later told VOA he misunderstood the question.”  Babb reiterated that the U.S. had only the lone military base in Djibouti and stated that “[o]ne of the possible new cooperative security locations is in Cameroon, but Cheadle did not identify other locations due to ‘host nation sensitivities.’”

U.S. troops have, indeed, been based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti since 2002.  In that time, the base has grown from 88 acres to about 600 acres and has seen more than $600 million in construction and upgrades already awarded or allocated.  It’s also true that U.S. troops, as Babb notes, are operating in Somalia — from at least two bases — and the U.S. has indeed set up a base in Cameroon.  As such, the “second” U.S. base in Africa, wherever it’s eventually located, will actually be more like the fifth U.S. base on the continent.  That is, of course, if you don’t count Chabelley Airfield, a hush-hush drone base the U.S. operates elsewhere in Djibouti, or the U.S. staging areas, cooperative security locations, forward operating locations, and other outposts in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda, among other locales.  When I counted late last year, in fact, I came up with 60 such sites in 34 countries.  And just recently, Missy Ryan of the Washington Post added to that number when she disclosed that “American Special Operations troops have been stationed at two outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015.”

To be fair, the U.S. doesn’t call any of these bases “bases” — except when officials forget to keep up the fiction.  For example, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a $50 million request for the construction of an “airfield and base camp at Agadez, Niger.”  But give Cheadle credit for pushing a fiction that persists despite ample evidence to the contrary.

It isn’t hard, of course, to understand why U.S. Africa Command has set up a sprawling network of off-the-books bases or why it peddles misinformation about its gigantic “small” footprint in Africa.  It’s undoubtedly for the same reason that they stonewall me on even basic information about their operations.  The Department of Defense, from tooth to tail, likes to operate in the dark. 

Today, TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung reveals another kind of Pentagon effort to obscure and obfuscate involving another kind of highly creative accounting: think slush funds, secret programs, dodgy bookkeeping, and the type of financial malfeasance that could only be carried out by an institution that is, by its very nature, too big to fail (inside the Beltway if not on the battlefield).

Rejecting both accurate accounting and actual accountability — from the halls of the Pentagon to austere camps in Africa — the Defense Department has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to keeping Americans in the dark about the activities being carried out with their dollars and in their name.  Luckily, Hartung is willing to shine a bright light on the Pentagon’s shady practices. Nick Turse

The Pentagon’s war on accountability
Slush funds, smoke and mirrors, and funny money equal weapons systems galore
By William D. Hartung

Now you see it, now you don’t. Think of it as the Department of Defense’s version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle.  In any case, the Pentagon’s budget is as close to a work of art as you’re likely to find in the U.S. government — if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.  

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.  And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total.  As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting. 

[Read more…]

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Why pro-Israel Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton could have a fight about Israel

The Washington Post reports: The only Jewish candidate in the 2016 presidential race, who calls himself “100 percent pro-Israel,” and one of Israel’s strongest U.S. defenders are nearing a fight over what being a pro-Israel Democrat means.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont plans to push for revisions in the Democratic Party position about relations with Israel, with a focus on elevating Palestinian rights as a U.S. priority, people involved in discussions over potential changes to the Democratic Party’s platform said.

Sanders wants revisions in wording about U.S. relations with Israel and commitment to seeking peace between the U.S. ally and the Palestinians while preserving the commitment to Israel’s security, those people said. They requested anonymity to discuss ideas for the platform that are still being developed. The platform is drafted by a Democratic National Committee panel and presented at the party convention in July.

The proposed new language on Israel is expected to seek what Sanders has elsewhere called a more even-handed U.S. approach to Israeli occupation of land Palestinians claim for a future state. [Continue reading…]

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Iraq begins assault on ISIS in Fallujah

The Wall Street Journal reports: Iraqi forces have begun their assault on Islamic State in Fallujah, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said late Sunday, an operation that aims to evict the extremists from one of their last major territorial holdings in Iraq.

“The moment of real victory has come, and Daesh has no option but to flee,” Mr. Abadi told state TV, using an Arabic acronym for the Sunni extremist group.

The operation follows months of planning and preparation in coordination with a U.S.-led military coalition that is backing Iraqi forces with airstrikes.

Iraqi forces have long had the city surrounded, but a major buildup of forces became evident in recent days as Shiite militias working alongside the Iraqi army moved military equipment to the area and officials suggested an operation was imminent.

Before the start of operations Sunday, the Iraqi government appealed to residents of Fallujah to prepare to leave, even urging them to raise white flags at their houses if they couldn’t.

The military’s Joint Operations Command said that civilian families would be allowed to leave the city through designated safe passages, though it didn’t specify how departures from the city would be arranged.

The Iraqi army, counterterrorism forces, police, tribal fighters and Shiite militias were taking part in the operation, according to the military.

Eissa al-Issawi, the exiled mayor of Fallujah, said Islamic State militants were retreating from the outskirts to the center of the city Sunday as the operation drew nearer.

Civilians inside were eager for any relief from isolation, 74-year-old resident Mohessen Hossam said. Many people have died of starvation in the city since Iraqi forces imposed a blockade last year, residents have said, although the precise toll is impossible to measure.

“There’s no food, no fuel and no services, so what is left for us to live for?” Mr. Hossam said, adding that he could hear warplanes flying overhead on Sunday. “We want someone to help us — anyone.” [Continue reading…]

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Death of Mullah Mansoor highlights Taliban’s links with Iran

The Guardian reports: The killing of the Taliban chief on the main highway leading from the Iranian border shines new light on the movement’s complicated relationship with Tehran.

Although it is Pakistan that has traditionally been condemned for secretly supporting Afghan insurgents, analysts say Iran also provides weapons, cash and sanctuary to the Taliban. Despite the deep ideological antipathy between a hardline Sunni group and cleric-run Shia state the two sides have proved themselves quite willing to cooperate where necessary against mutual enemies and in the pursuit of shared interests.

Mullah Mansoor first entered Iran almost two months ago, according to immigration stamps in a Pakistani passport found in a bag near the wreckage of the taxi he was travelling in when he was killed by a US drone strike.

The passport, in the name of Wali Muhammad, also showed he had only just returned to Pakistan from the border crossing of Taftan, some 280 miles (450km) away from the site where he was killed, an area called Ahmed Wal, where he had stopped for lunch. [Continue reading…]

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Afghan government secretly fosters Taliban splinter groups

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Afghan government is giving financial and military support to a breakaway Taliban faction, according to some Afghan and U.S. coalition officials, in an effort to sow rifts within the insurgency and nudge some of its leaders toward peace talks.

The effort comes as the U.S. military conducted an airstrike inside Pakistan that American officials said likely killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, potentially setting the stage for another leadership struggle that could fragment the group further in the coming days. The Taliban, which usually respond promptly to requests for comment, hadn’t issued a statement by late Sunday.

Senior Afghan and U.S. diplomatic, military and intelligence officials, including several who had roles in creating the program, described its details and said that resources provided by the U.S. were used to support it.

The Afghan intelligence agency is leading the drive to recruit new Taliban assets, Afghan and U.S. officials said. The agency relies on the U.S. for most of its funding and is still mentored by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA declined to comment for this article.

Despite billions invested in reconstruction, Afghanistan still relies on aid for most of its funding and the U.S. pays more than $4 billion a year for its security forces.

The program’s goal, Afghan and U.S. officials said, is to exploit divisions that emerged after the Taliban’s longtime leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was revealed last July to have been dead for years, a disclosure that stunned local Taliban leaders and threw the group into disarray.

It targets southern Zabul, Helmand, eastern Paktika and western Farah and Herat provinces, where groups of insurgents and their commanders, unhappy with the Taliban’s leadership, have defected to a commander named Mullah Mohammad Rasool.

Afghan and U.S. officials said Mullah Rasool’s faction and other fractious Taliban groups have been receiving cash, ammunition and weapons from the Afghan government. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. takes war back to Pakistan with drone strike aimed at Taliban leader

The Washington Post reports: The U.S. drone strike that killed Taliban chief Akhtar ­Mo­hammad Mansour represents another escalation of U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan by trying to cripple an insurgent group that has for years found refuge on Pakistani soil.

The strike early Saturday marks the most aggressive U.S. military action in Pakistan since the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. It is also thought to be the first time that the U.S. military has directly targeted the top leader of the Afghan Taliban, a potentially destabilizing action that could leave the group violently lashing out as it seeks to find a new leader.

President Obama called Mansour’s death “an important milestone.”

“We have a high-profile leader who has been consistently part of operations and plans to potentially harm U.S. personnel and has been resistant to the kinds of peace talks and reconciliation that could ultimately bring an end to decades of war in Afghanistan,” he said during a visit to Vietnam.

While Obama denied that the attack represented a shift in the U.S. approach, analysts see it as an escalation.

“This is an unprecedented move to decapitate the Taliban leadership in its safe haven of Pakistan,” said Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the Brookings Institution. “It exposes Pakistan’s role in promoting and protecting the Taliban, and will provoke a crisis in U.S.-Pakistan relations.”

But unlike the bin Laden raid, which prompted outrage in Pakistan, the reported strike on Mansour drew a fairly muted reaction Sunday from Pakistani government and military leaders, even as Afghan officials cheered and described the attack as proof of the Afghan Taliban’s deep presence in Pakistan. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The killing of Mansoor represents a remarkable expansion of the programme because it happened well outside the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan where nearly all known strikes have taken place, usually focusing on al-Qaida and allied groups.

US officials said the attack took place near Ahmad Wal, suggesting it was the first ever known strike in the vast southern province of Balochistan, where the insurgency’s “Quetta Shura” leadership council is thought to be based, and one of very few to target a senior member of the Afghan Taliban.

The drones were described as having been piloted by US special forces – suggesting it was not a CIA operation, as is usually the case with attacks inside Pakistan. [Continue reading…]

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Far-right candidate narrowly defeated in Austrian presidential election

The Guardian reports: A leftwing, independent candidate has narrowly prevented Austria from becoming the first EU country to elect a far-right head of state after a knife-edge contest ended with his opponent conceding defeat.

Alexander Van der Bellen, a retired economics professor backed by the Green party, defeated Norbert Hofer of the anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic Freedom party a day after polling closed and only once more than 700,000 postal ballots – about 10% of available votes – were taken into account.

In a post on Facebook, Hofer wrote: “Dear friends, I thank you for your fantastic support. Of course today I am sad. I would have liked to have watched out for you as president of our wonderful country.”

The Austrian interior ministry confirmed that after postal votes were counted, Hofer’s final score was 49.7%, against 50.3% for his rival Van der Bellen, a former Green party leader and the son of two wartime refugees.

The two were separated by just 31,000 votes out of more than 4.6 million ballots cast after finishing neck and neck in Sunday’s elections, when Van der Bellen collected 48.1% of direct votes and Hofer 51.9%. [Continue reading…]

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Snowden calls for whistleblower shield after claims by new Pentagon source

The Guardian reports: Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing.

The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media.

Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence. [Continue reading…]

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How Kosovo was turned into fertile ground for ISIS

The New York Times reports: Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.

The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.

Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.

Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.

It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.

After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.

But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.

“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.”

Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.

Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.

All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.

The Balkans, Europe’s historical fault line, have yet to heal from the ethnic wars of the 1990s. But they are now infected with a new intolerance, moderate imams and officials in the region warn.

How Kosovo and the very nature of its society was fundamentally recast is a story of a decades-long global ambition by Saudi Arabia to spread its hard-line version of Islam — heavily funded and systematically applied, including with threats and intimidation by followers. [Continue reading…]

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Local leaders warn top U.S. commander, ‘very useless’ support means fight against ISIS will drag on for decades

The Associated Press reports: On a secret trip to Syria, the new commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Saturday he felt a moral obligation to enter a war zone to check on his troops and make his own assessment of progress in organizing local Arab and Kurd fighters for what has been a slow campaign to push the Islamic State out of Syria.

“I have responsibility for this mission, and I have responsibility for the people that we put here,” Army Gen. Joseph Votel said in an interview as dusk fell on the remote outpost where he had arrived 11 hours earlier. “So it’s imperative for me to come and see what they’re dealing with — to share the risk they are dealing with.”

Votel, who has headed U.S. Central Command for just seven weeks, became the highest-ranking U.S. military officer known to have entered Syria since the U.S. began its campaign to counter the Islamic State in 2014. The circumstance was exceptional because the U.S. has no combat units in Syria, no diplomatic relations with Syria and for much of the past two years has enveloped much of its Syria military mission in secrecy.

Votel said he brought reporters with him because, “We don’t have anything to hide. I don’t want people guessing about what we’re doing here. The American people should have the right to see what we’re doing here.”

Syrian Arab commanders who were made available for interviews at the U.S. camp Saturday said their forces are gaining battlefield momentum but also need a lot more help. They were quick to say the U.S.-led coalition should pitch in more.

Qarhaman Hasan, the deputy commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, said he has given the Americans a list of his most pressing needs. Atop his list: armored vehicles, heavy weapons like machine guns, as well as rocket launchers and mortars.

“We’re creating an army,” he said through an interpreter, and have had to rely on smuggling to get weapons.

“You can’t run an army on smuggling,” he said.

Tribal leaders said in interviews that they also want to see the U.S. do more, both militarily and with humanitarian aid.

“America has the capabilities,” said Sheik Abu Khalid as he puffed on a cigarette under the shade of pomegranate and pine trees.

Talal Selo, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, was especially strong in his criticism of the U.S. for providing too little assistance and for giving the SDF “very useless” support. He said that if this continued the Syrians opposing the Islamic State will have to fight for another 50 years. [Continue reading…]

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Yazidi escapees of ISIS’s youth training camps tell their harrowing stories

The National reports: In a bustling office in the suburbs of the Kurdish city of Dohuk, 11-year-old Raed quietly begins to recount his ordeal at the hands of ISIL. It does not take long for his eyes to well up.

The diminutive, soft-spoken Yazidi boy had been earmarked as a future jihadist and potential suicide bomber by ISIL, which is grooming the next generation of fighters for its self-proclaimed caliphate in camps set up for this purpose.

Hundreds of Yazidi boys have been forced to undergo the brutal training after being taken from their parents when ISIL attacked Iraq’s northern Sinjar region in August 2014. Raed struggles to hold back his tears as the memories come flooding back.

“I forgot about some things, but other things are more difficult to forget. I can’t get them out of my head,” he says.

Raed spent eight months in a camp called Farouk near Raqqa, ISIL’S main stronghold in Syria, where about a hundred boys were subjected to a gruelling daily routine aimed at forging the model jihadi. He says roughly half of them were fellow Yazidis who had been forced to convert to Islam. The others were children of ISIL members sent there by their parents. [Continue reading…]

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