A US military convoy was spotted headed back into Syria from Iraqi territory—just days after the US withdrawal from northern Syria, which precipitated the Turkish aggression there, had been completed. The convoy was traveling toward the Deir ez-Zor area, presumably to "guard" the oil-fields there, now under the precarious control of Kurdish forces. (Rudaw) Following up on President Trump's pledge to secure the oil-fields, Defense Secretary Mark Esper now tells USA Today that the troops being mobilized to Deir ez-Zor "will include some mechanized forces." USA Today also reports that Esper broached sending armored vehicles now based in Kuwait to defend the Syrian oil-fields.
Last week we were treated to the perverse spectacle of the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China's "re-education camps." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (whose hypocrisy on this matter we have noted before) on July 18 called China's treatment of the Uighurs the "stain of the century," and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. (Reuters) At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. (SCMP)
The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as the government of President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the protest movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accord, tweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France."
In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)
The Pentagon is dispatching some 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait, from where they are expected to be mobilized to back up forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The deployment includes elements of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Bragg, NC. About 1,700 troops from the same unit are already overseas, spread between Iraq and Kuwait. (Army Times, March 9) The US currently has only some 500 troops authorized to operate in Syria, predominantly Special Forces, and it is unclear if this new deployment breaches that threshold. However, the US Special Forces in Syria are increasingly tasked with keeping peace between Kurdish and Turkish forces rather than actually fighting ISIS. Special Forces are currently deployed at Manbij in what the Pentagon calls a mission to "reassure and deter"—interpreted as providing a buffer between Kurdish-led and Turkish-led forces, to prevent open conflict between them. (Military Times, March 6)
The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a decree to dissolve the parliament on Oct. 16. The decision was made due to "mounting security challenges as well as volatile regional developments." As of late, tension has been rising between the government and parliament, as parliament members sought to question government leaders regarding a decision to increase petrol prices and other alleged financial and administrative violations. Kuwait has been under increasing pressure as global oil prices have dropped, forcing the country to cut back on numerous subsidies, causing civil unrest. In addition, Kuwait has faced threats of attack by ISIS.
Kuwait's Supreme Court on March 7 upheld the four-year prison sentence against an activist found guilty of insulting judges on Twitter. Ahmad Fadhel was convicted for writing comments considered offensive to a number of judges in Kuwait. Three top judges sued Fadhel for defamation, and a lower court issued the four-year sentence in October 2014. The appeals court upheld the sentence last February, and now the ruling by the Supreme Court is final.
The last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, Faiz Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari, has been repatriated to his home country, the US Department of Defense announced Jan. 8. The Periodic Review Board (PRB) determined in September that "continued law of war detention of Al-Kandari does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States." Al-Kandari was captured by unnamed Afghans and arrived at Guantánamo in May 2002 after being accused of serving as Osama bin Laden's "advisor and confidant." Kuwaiti authorities said the release showed progress in bilateral relations with the US. The release of all 12 Kuwaiti detainees followed strong efforts by Kuwait and high-profile Washington lawyers to secure their freedom. Al-Kandari is the third detainee to be resettled this week; 104 detainees remain at the detention center.