Bill Weinberg

US Marines back to Afghanistan's opium heartland

US Marines this month returned to Helmand province, now the epicenter both of Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency and opium production. Ostensibly, the mission is to train Afghan forces struggling to stem the insurgency, but the Marines certainly have the power to fire if fired upon. Many of the 300 Marines coming to Helmand under NATO's Resolute Support training mission are veterans of previous tours in the province—where almost 1,000 coalition troops (mostly US and British) were killed fighting the Taliban before they pulled out in 2014. When they left, as part of that year's supposed US "withdrawal" from Afghanistan, they handed over the sprawling desert base they dubbed Camp Leatherneck to the Afghan army, hoping not to return. Now they have.

Syria: Trump approves plan to arm Rojava Kurds

President Donald Trump on May 9 announced approval of a plan to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the anti-ISIS coalition led by the Rojava Kurds. The aid—including heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, armored cars and engineering equipment—will boost the prowess of the People's Protection Units (YPG), territorial defense militia of the Rojava autonomous zone and the central pillar of the SDF. "The Syrian Democratic Forces, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future," said a Pentagon statement. The move is being taken over strenuous Turkish objections to arming the Syrian Kurds, and will certainly be a contentious point when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Trump in Washington next week. (ANF, NYT, May 9) 

Philippines: legal challenge to deadly drug war

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remains intransigent on his ultra-murderous "drug war," which has unleashed police and paramilitary terror on low-level dealers and users across the archipelago. But, hearteningly, courageous dissent and resistance to the blood-drenched crackdown persists. Al Jazeera on April 24 features a profile of the legal team at Manila's Center for International Law, which has been going to bat for the targets of Duterte's terror—despite the threat of reprisals.

Sessions pledges crackdown on Latin gangs

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) on April 18, pledged that the Trump administration will have "zero tolerance for gang violence" from "transnational criminal organizations"—particularly singling out MS-13, the Central American narco-network that has its roots on the streets of Los Angeles. Citing a February executive order in which President Trump directed the Justice Department "to interdict and dismantle transnational criminal organizations," Sessions promised "concrete ideas to follow through" on the directive.

Syria: a No-Fly Zone for Rojava?

Following last week's Turkish air-strikes on Kurdish forces in northern Syria, the autonomous administration in the region is said to have issued a call for a "no-fly zone." Tev-Dem, the self-governance structure for Syria's Kurdish autonomous zone, reportedly issued the call after Turkish raids killed at least 20 fighters of its militia force, the People's Protection Units (YPG). Because US-backed Kurdish forces are basically calling for international protection from US ally Turkey, this development further heightens the contradictions that Washington faces in northern Syria. It is telling that the Tev-Dem statement is aggressively touted by Kremlin mouthpiece Sputnik. It has also been reported by Syria Deeply and UPI.

Iraq: Turkish air-strikes heighten contradictions

The Turkish military carried out air-strikes overnight on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) forces both in Iraq's Sinjar mountains and in northeastern Syria, ostensibly to prevent these regions from being used as a staging ground for attacks within Turkey. "To destroy these terror hubs which threaten the security, unity and integrity of our country and our nation and as part of our rights based on international law, air-strikes have been carried out….and terrorist targets have been struck with success," the Turkish army said in a statement. (Reuters) US State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded: "We are very concerned, deeply concerned that Turkey conducted air-strikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper co-ordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat IS.... We have expressed those concerns to the government of Turkey directly." The US continues to back the YPG Kurdish-led militia in Syria, which is allied with the PKK guerillas in Turkey—placing Washington in an increasingly contradictory position. (BBC News)

Anti-protest bills give motorists license to kill

A maddening account on CNN April 24 informs us of the "anti-protest" bills now pending in several states around the country, and contains this utterly harrowing line: "Under a bill in the Tennessee state legislature, drivers who injure protesters blocking traffic would be exempt from civil liability..." The escape clause is "so long as they were 'exercising due care.'" But the article describes an incident in Nashville earlier this year, in which Spencer DesAuteles, working as a volunteer to keep anti-Trump protestors safe from traffic, was thrown onto the hood of a car that drove through the intersection where he was standing. Miraculously, he was not hurt—and says he had the right of way when the motorist assualted him. DesAuteles blames the pending legislation. Perhaps too generously, he says: "The sponsor was very clear that the wording of the bill is not to say that it's OK to go and hit people with your car. But that's the way that people are reading it. The only way it's being read by the vast majority of people is: 'I can hurt protesters and get away with it.'" The bill's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Matthew Hill, did not respond to a request for comment.

Syria: Russia and Assad dropping Rojava Kurds?

Recent comments by the Assad regime's ambassador to Russia, Riyad Haddad, appear to indicate that Damascus and Moscow are preparing to cut loose the Rojava Kurds, who they have heretofore been attempting to cultivate as proxies. At issue, predictably, is the Kurdish demand for regional autonomy and a federal solution for Syria. "The Kurds are an integral part of the Syrian people, they have the same rights and obligations as the rest of the Syrian people," Haddad said in comments before the Russian Federation Council, quoted by Kremlin state media outlet Sputnik. "I would like to stress that many Kurds are actually strongly opposing any form of division, either a federation, or cantons, or other forms. That is why we keep on saying that Syria is capable and ready to settle the crisis alone, without interference from the outside." Of course the invocation of non-interference is hilariously ironic in light of massive Russian military intervention in Syria. And the "many Kurds" who supposedly oppose autonomy are conveninently left unnamed.

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