US-backed Kurdish Fighters on Alert for Turkish Attack

The Turkish Army General Staff announced the start of the operation from 5:00 pm on Saturday. Among the arguments to defend the operation, the right to “legitimate defense” and different resolutions of the UN. The General Staff has also clarified that it will respect the territorial integrity of Syria. According to the ANHA agency, close to the Kurdish organization, a Turkish detachment consisting of “ten tanks, five (light armor) and a large number of soldiers “tried to penetrate by land in Afrin to the height of the border village of Balia, but was” repelled “by local forces.

Various sources reported exchanges of fire and skirmishes at other points on the Turkish-Syrian border. Likewise, Islamist rebel factions allied with Turkey attacked Kurdish positions east of Afrin from inside Syrian territory in a battle in which there would have been at least 4 dead. The CNN-Türk chain also reported the bombing of eight Turkish F-16 fighters to the Kurdish positions in the mountains that form the border between Turkey and Syria.

For months, the Turkish Army has concentrated tanks and artillery pieces in the vicinity of the border between Turkey and Syria. Military camps have been established in at least seven points in the area and the machinery digs ditches and builds protection walls, reports the Haberturk newspaper. In the days before the ground intervention, the Turkish artillery fired numerous howitzers at the Kurdish positions in the Afrin canton, as confirmed by a YPG commander with whom could speak on Friday. The source said that the bombing had only produced “material damage”, although the command of the Turkish Armed Forces claimed to have destroyed several “shelters” of the Kurdish organization.

The beginning of the Turkish offensive has been preceded by an intense war campaign in the Turkish media and is that the operation has a high internal policy component: Erdogan has been trying for months to increase its base of support in the face of the crucial elections to which will face next year through a decidedly nationalist policy. And the fight against the PKK and its Syrian extension arouse broad consensus in Turkey. Not in vain, this week 500 people showed up at a military base in Istanbul chanting slogans such as “All Turkish is born a soldier” or “If the country is at stake, the rest does not matter” and asking to be enlisted in the military operation.

The Turkish president stressed on Saturday that the Turkish forces will not stop at the Afrin operation and pointed out that the next target would be Manbij, Syrian town that disputes Allied rebellious militias of Ankara and allied Arab and Kurdish militias of the United States. Later, Erdogan said, “we will continue step by step to the Iraqi border to clean up the area of this terrorist garbage that seeks to encircle our country.”

The spokeswoman for the US State Department, Heather Nauer, warned Turkey on Friday not to act against Afrin: “We do not want them to get involved in more violence, we want them focused on (the fight against) Daesh (Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State) “. But Erdogan’s answer leaves no doubt about the poor state of relations between Washington and Ankara: “Anyway, we no longer care what they say. It does not matter to us that a terrorist organization changes its name,

Turkey and the United States have been in turmoil since the Obama Administration chose the YPG as a strategic ally in Syria in order to end the Islamic State despite knowing the ties of the Kurdish-Syrian organization with the PKK, a group that Washington has cataloged as a terrorist. In just over three years, the Kurdish militia has revealed itself to be a good military election since, allied with various Arab factions, it has managed to reconquer most of the territory occupied by the jihadists.

However, this war victory has been at the cost of damaging, practically irremediably, relations with Ankara, one of Washington’s oldest allies in the Middle East. And the recent announcement that the US will train a border surveillance force of 30,000 troops, half of them Kurds, has only made the Turkish Government even angrier. “How is it possible for an ally to establish a surveillance force on the border of another NATO partner?” They ask in Ankara.

The choice of Afrin to attack the Kurdish-American alliance is not trivial: the Kurdish canton is the weakest link because it is isolated from the rest of the territory controlled by the YPG and surrounded by Turkey to the north and west and by rebel forces favorable to Ankara to the east and to the south, areas in which the Turkish Army also has deployed some 2,000 troops from Operation Euphrates Shield and its rapid intervention in the Syrian province of Idlib . There is also no US presence in Afrin, although according to the Turkish intelligence services, US arms have arrived at the YPG forces deployed there.

All in all, the Turkish military operation is very risky. The Turkish Social Democratic opposition, which initially supports the attack, has asked to explore diplomatic channels and ensure that Russia allows the participation of Turkish aviation in the military campaign (the Damascus Government warned that it could shoot down Turkish aircraft if they violated its airspace but, today, whoever commands in the Syrian skies is Moscow).

A security expert consulted by this journalist explained that without support from aerial bombings, Turkey will have very difficult to advance. Even with the support of aviation, Afrin could become a trap for the Turks as it is “hostile territory”, with an important density of urban population (more than 170,000 inhabitants) and where there could be numerous civilian casualties. According to Kurdish analyst Mutlu Civiroglu,

Germany asks European Union to Stop Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia

Germany sent message to its European partners this Monday. Berlin thinks that a measure of pressure against Saudi Arabia as the suspension of arms sales will only take effect if the European countries act in unison in response to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on day 2 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “Only if all the European countries agree will it have an effect on the Riyadh Government,” German Economic Minister Peter Altmaier told the public television ZDF in the morning.

Spain has avoided adopting the most critical European line with Riyadh while from Brussels they only agree on a conviction and the demand for an investigation.

“It is a purely national decision”, said from the department of Federica Mogherini, high representative of Foreign Policy of the EU, in reference to the suspension of arms sales. The German Economy Minister considered, however: “It will not have positive consequences if only we are the ones that stop exporting and other countries are covering that gap”.

On Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia due to the disappearance of Saudi journalist Khashoggi, a critic of crown prince Mohamed bin Salman, and the alleged involvement of Riyadh in his death. “Arms exports cannot happen under the current circumstances,” Merkel said at an election for regional elections on Sunday.

Altmaier reiterated yesterday that his government has agreed ” that it will not approve new arms contracts at the moment because we want to know what happened “.

Berlin has raised a determined voice in the international context, in favor of reprisals against Riyadh, hoping that others will follow its example.

At the same time, it is about to see how those words become reality within the German borders. Because as he hastened to denounce the opposition on Monday, in recent months the Berlin Executive has continued to approve sales to Riyadh, despite having pledged not to do so. In addition, it is not clear what will happen to the contracts already signed and pending execution, which in principle would go ahead.

“It is not the first time that they fail to comply with the promise of not exporting and may fail to comply with it again,” warns Omid Nouripour, who is responsible for foreign policy at the Los Verdes parliamentary group. “It is not just about suspending future sales, but also about canceling projects that have already been approved,” he adds. “The case of Jamal Khashoggi is just the tip of the iceberg in a country responsible for the war in Yemen and that is responsible for continued violations of human rights,” says Nouripour.

In a response to a parliamentary question earlier this month, the government explained that they are carrying out “a restrictive export policy” in which they analyze case by case sales. The breakdown of the figures indicates that Saudi Arabia is the second country to which the highest arms sales were approved between January and September 2018, after Algeria. In total, the German government approved sales totaling 416.4 million euros.

The internal political pressure for the German government to remain firm in its announcement of suspension will intensify. The Greens, the emerging political force that according to the polls already surpasses the Social Democracy (SPD), have made this issue a banner. The debate also arises at the door of regional elections, those of Hesse, in which the conservative party of Merkel and its partner in the government of grand coalition, the SPD, could suffer new losses of votes.

Both parties had already committed in March to stop the sale of arms to countries active in the war in Yemen. So it appears in a clause in the so-called coalition contract that the big German parties signed in March and that serves as the government program of the current Executive. This prohibits the export of arms “to countries involved in the war in Yemen.” They extend the ban to “joint European projects” and advocate “developing a common position of the EU” on this issue.

The pressure had also come in recent days to Joe Kaeser, head of Siemens, not to go to the so-called Davos del Desierto, which is held in Saudi Arabia, after numerous politicians and investors canceled their attendance last week. This Monday, Kaeser informed that he will not attend the economic meeting.

The announcement of Germany to paralyze future arms sales to Saudi Arabia has called into question the main European partners and has brought to light the deep division over possible reprisals against the Arab country. The European Commission has ensured that “consultations are held at all levels and in all contexts,” but has turned away from the Berlin proposal.

Since 1998, the European Union has established a code of conduct on arms exports, converted in 2008 into a common position. This position provides for the denial of sale licenses when there is a clear risk that the weapons will be used to commit human rights violations. human rights or international humanitarian standards. And Saudi Arabia has been the object of denials of licenses, especially in the wake of the war in Yemen.

Riad has become an essential client for the arms industry. Its imports increased 225% between 2013 and 2017. And although the United States takes the bulk, the United Kingdom and France are the second and third suppliers, respectively. The two countries have refused, for now, to support the German proposal.

Spain only accounts for 3% of Saudi Arabian imports. But the kingdom has become “the fourth foreign client by volume of business in the period 2008-2016,” says Alberto Bueno, a researcher at the University of Granada, in an analysis for Public Agenda. The jump, explains Bueno, has been spectacular since 2013 because a decade ago Saudi Arabia occupied the 61st place among the clients of the Spanish armament industry.

The political temperature is expected to continue rising in the coming hours. The European Parliament will hold a debate on Tuesday on “the murder of Khashoggi”, according to the title agreed by the parliamentary groups. And on Thursday it is expected to vote a joint resolution of condemnation, which could obtain the support of the main parliamentary groups. However, there seems to be resistance to requesting an arms embargo.

The draft resolution of the socialist group, promoted by the Spanish MEP Elena Valenciano along with two other MEPs, condemns the “alleged murder of the State” and calls, among other things, sanctions against the Saudis involved in the case and the suspension of membership from Saudi Arabia to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. But the sale of weapons is not mentioned.

Serial Bomber Suspected in Austin Blasts

The police are investigating the explosion of three bomb packages in the space of 10 days in the city of Austin (Texas) and do not rule out the possibility that they are hate crimes, since the victims of the first two cases were African-American and the third of Hispanic origin.

On Monday, a 17-year-old boy was killed and a woman was wounded by an explosion that bore similarities to the one that killed a 39-year-old man on March 2. In addition, shortly after this second event, also this Monday, the authorities received the warning that another explosion of a package in another point of the city had seriously injured an elderly Hispanic woman.

The police chief, Brian Manley, said at a press conference that the first two detonations seem related. Both in the case of March 2 and in the first hour of this morning of Monday, a package was deposited during the night before the entrance door of the attacked houses, without having used the mail or any other type of messaging services for your shipment.

“We know that the two homes where those packages were placed belong to African-Americans, so we can not rule out hate crimes at the center of everything, but we’re not saying that’s the cause,” Manley said. They are investigated as homicides and have not detected immediate signs of “terrorism”.

A second package was discovered in the area where the first explosion occurred this morning, causing some residents, journalists and bystanders to be evacuated while the police determined whether it was another explosive or simply the carelessness of someone.

The deflagrations have occurred in different parts of Austin. In this Monday, the woman, about 40 years old, took the package from the entrance of her house and took it to the kitchen, where it exploded. The house is located near a park called Windson, only about 20 kilometers from where a few days ago another man, Anthony Stephan House, died of another explosion.

The events occurred at seven in the morning on March 2. The security forces investigated him as a “suspicious death” because they considered the possibility that the deceased had built an explosive by himself and unintentionally detonated it while manipulating him. Now it is seen as a case of homicide and the police believe that it is linked to the other events, which occurred at a time of great influx of visitors to the city,

The latest FBI report on hate crimes in the United States, presented in November, shows that in 2016 a total of 2,220 African-Americans suffered some incident because they were black, a figure similar to 2,201 in 2015.