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India, United States likely to strengthen cooperation and intensify Intelligence sharing on Terrorism

The governments also agreed on a "joint cyber framework to reduce cybercrime," according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

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Barak Obama and Narendra Modi. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

August 31, 2016: The United States and India announced on Tuesday that they are strengthening cooperation on fighting terrorism.

The two democracies will intensify intelligence sharing and specifically “work for the early operationalization of an agreement on exchanging information on known or suspected terrorists,” India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, told reporters in New Delhi.

The governments also agreed on a “joint cyber framework to reduce cybercrime,” according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Overall, ministers and officials of India and the United States are touting a significantly expanded strategic and economic relationship, which Kerry said, “couldn’t come at a more important moment.”

Students in Agartala, India, show solidarity with victims of a terrorist attack on a Bangladeshi café in early July. On Tuesday, Indian and U.S. officials announced plans for greater cooperation in combatting terrorism (VOA)
Students in Agartala, India, show solidarity with victims of a terrorist attack on a Bangladeshi café in early July. On Tuesday, Indian and U.S. officials announced plans for greater cooperation in combatting terrorism (VOA)

The wide-ranging second U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue is the latest in a series of significant meetings and agreements that have moved traditionally non-aligned New Delhi into a significantly closer relationship with Washington amid rising concerns in both capitals about a more assertive China.

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“The bilateral relationship is gradually entering a phase where India can certainly look forward to being regarded as a close ally or partner of the U.S.,” said Reshmi Kazi, an associate fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, an autonomous research institution funded by India’s defense ministry. “There might be rising apprehensions in China about deepening of strategic ties between the U.S. and India for obvious reasons.”

The “intensity of the bilateral relationship is unprecedented,” said Swaraj, as she initiated the dialogue held at her ministry.

Issues under discussion range from U.S. quotas for temporary work visas to American assistance for upgrading India’s power grid.

India, the world’s largest democracy, in recent years has kicked aside numerous trade barriers. New Delhi has set a goal with Washington to expand bilateral trade five-fold to $500 billion annually.

To reach that goal, participants in the current dialogue need to “think bigger, act bolder,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, the other Cabinet-level official attending from Washington.

“We must make it easier for Indian and American companies to buy from each other, to invest in each other, and to create with each other.”

CEO forum
Kerry met Tuesday with India’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval. He is scheduled to hold talks Wednesday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While the Pentagon would welcome a much more comprehensive defense relationship with India, some analysts in India say they believe New Delhi will only stray so far from its traditional policy of eschewing alliances.

“There has been no rush, and bilateral defense ties are being forged only when India has felt the need for greater cooperation with the U.S.,” Kazi, who is also a visiting fellow at the Stimson Center, told VOA. “Hence, there is no abrogation of India’s traditional diplomatic stance of being non-aligned.”

Joint military drills

The dialogue in New Delhi comes a day after the two countries, at the Pentagon, signed a watershed agreement to allow their military forces access to each other’s bases for repairs and to replenish supplies; however, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) stops short of allowing each nation to set up bases and access to military facilities in the respective countries will only occur when they agree to operate together.

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“India’s deepening military cooperation could possibly be interpreted as a signal to China not to disturb India’s maritime security in the Indian Ocean region,” Kazi said.

U.S. and Indian forces are now also conducting significant annual joint drills, something else unimaginable a generation ago when the United States was a critical military backer of India’s archrival, Pakistan.

Next month’s joint drill, in the mountains of northern India, will include integration of both armies “working together down at the platoon level,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, who commands the U.S. Army’s I Corps. (VOA)

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U.S.-Backed Syrian Democratic Forces Celebrate The Death Of Self-Declared “Caliphate”

“The threat remains,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. “The fight against terrorist groups must continue.”

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Syria
Smoke rises from a strike on Baghuz, the last of the Islamic State group's holdouts in Syria, March 22, 2019. VOA

For consecutive nights, bombs rained down on the last scraps of Islamic State-held territory, lighting up the night sky over the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz.

By Saturday morning, all that remained was a landscape littered with burned-out vehicles, abandoned campsites and other provisions the last of the terror group’s fighters and their families left behind.

On one of the few buildings that still stood, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces raised their flag and celebrated the death of a self-declared caliphate that inflicted terror and death on the people it tried to rule.

“After five years of fighting, we stand here to declare the physical defeat of ISIS and the end of its public challenge over all humanity,” SDF Director General Mazloum Kobani told officials and coalition partners at a ceremony to mark the long-awaited victory, using an acronym for the group.

FILE - Mazloum Kobani, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), speaks during an interview in the countryside outside the northwestern Syrian city of Hasakah, in a province of the same name, Jan. 24, 2019.
Mazloum Kobani, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), speaks during an interview in the countryside outside the northwestern Syrian city of Hasakah, in a province of the same name, Jan. 24, 2019.. VOA

“We announce today the destruction of the so-called Islamic State organization and the end of its ground control in its last pocket in Baghuz region,” he said.

Yet in between the applause and the music of a marching band, SDF commanders and coalition officials paid tribute to the SDF forces, which paid for the victory in blood and treasure — an estimated 11,000 killed in the campaign to roll back IS, which at its height controlled nearly a third of Syria and almost as much of Iraq.

And even until the end, sometime Friday night into Saturday morning, IS put up a vicious defense, using suicide bombers and even children as human shields in an attempt to cling to one last scrap of land over which they could fly their black flag.

The fate of the last of the IS fighters, perhaps several hundred of the terror group’s most hardened and devoted followers, was not clear Saturday.

Observers on the ground said some appeared to have surrendered following the airstrikes that began Thursday night, targeting IS positions next to the Euphrates River and another sliver where IS fighters were backed up against a cliff overlooking the town.

By early Saturday, the airstrikes seemed to focus solely on the area by the cliff, where SDF and coalition officials said the IS fighters might have access to an extensive system of tunnels that helped to hide tens of thousands of people, the last of whom surrendered earlier in the week.

The first indications the fight against IS in Baghuz had ended came early Saturday, said SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali, using Twitter to announce the “total elimination of so-called caliphate.”

Only about 12 hours earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump made a similar declaration, telling reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One that IS had been “100 percent defeated.”

But Trump’s announcement was quickly rejected by U.S. defense officials and the SDF, who said fighting had not yet ended and more airstrikes were being called in.

On Saturday, Trump again hailed the victory over the terror group in Baghuz.

“ISIS’s loss of territory is further evidence of its false narrative, which tries to legitimize a record of savagery that includes brutal executions, the exploitation of children as soldiers, and the sexual abuse and murder of women and children,” he said in a statement.

“While on occasion these cowards will resurface, they have lost all prestige and power,” he added. “They are losers and will always be losers.”

On Saturday, the SDF’s Kobani was careful to note that while IS’s caliphate had finally been brought down, the danger was far from over, with numerous IS “sleeper cells, which continue to present a great danger in our region and the wider world.”

Top U.S. defense and intelligence officials repeatedly have warned that the terror group had long been planning for the demise of its caliphate, and that a clandestine insurgency already had taken root.

“While this is a critical milestone in the fight against ISIS, we understand our work is far from complete,” acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a statement. “We will continue our work with the Global Coalition to deny ISIS safe haven anywhere in the world.”

One senior defense official warned IS still has, at minimum, “tens of thousands” of fighters and supporters across Syria and Iraq, and that much of the group’s senior leadership, including self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large.

FILE - Men suspected of being Islamic State fighters wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 27, 2019.
Men suspected of being Islamic State fighters wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 27, 2019. VOA

There also are concerns that IS has thousands more supporters and sympathizers — including upward of 60,000 people who have surrendered since the SDF and coalition launched their final assault last month.

So, too, there are concerns about more than 1,000 foreign fighters being held by the SDF, which has asked repeatedly that they be taken back and prosecuted by their home countries.

“These folks are unrepentant,” the official said. “The seeds for a future caliphate or certainly a persistent clandestine insurgency exist in these large numbers of people who … are looking to reposition for future perpetuation of ISIS in some form or fashion.”

Speaking Saturday at the victory ceremony near Baghuz, the U.S. adviser to the coalition pledged Washington would not abandon the SDF or its other partners, even though Trump has said most of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria will be leaving.

“We will continue to support the coalition’s operations in Syria to ensure this enduring defeat,” William Robak said. “We will do what is necessary in the region, including here in Syria and across the globe, to ensure the defeat of this threat.”

France and Britain also reaffirmed their commitment, though disagreements with the U.S. over the next steps remain.

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“The threat remains,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. “The fight against terrorist groups must continue.”

“We will continue to do what is necessary to protect the British people, our allies and partners from the threat Daesh poses,” said Prime Minister Theresa May, using an alternate acronym for IS. (VOA)