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U.S. Considers Total Withdrawal of Forces from Syria

A U.S. withdrawal could open Trump up to criticism if Islamic State reemerged.

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Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, Nov. 4, 2018. VOA

The United States is considering a total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria as it nears the end of its campaign to retake all of the territory once held by Islamic State, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Such a decision, if confirmed, would upend assumptions about a longer-term U.S. military presence in Syria, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior U.S. officials had advocated to help ensure Islamic State cannot reemerge.

Still, President Donald Trump has previously expressed a strong desire to bring troops home from Syria when possible.

The timing of the withdrawal was not immediately clear and U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity did not disclose details about the deliberations, including who was involved. It was unclear how soon a decision could be announced.

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Syrian children, evacuated from rebel-held areas in the Eastern Ghouta, are seen playing at a shelter in the regime-controlled Adra district, on the northeastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, March 20, 2018. VOA

The Pentagon and White House declined to comment.

The United States still has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.

The partnership with the SDF over the past several years has led to the defeat of Islamic State in Syria but outraged NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG forces in the alliance as an extension of a militant group fighting inside Turkey.

The deliberations on U.S. troops come as Ankara threatens a new offensive in Syria. To date, U.S. forces in Syria have been seen as a stabilizing factor in the country and have somewhat restrained Turkey’s actions against the SDF.

A complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria would still leave a sizeable U.S. military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq.

Much of the U.S. campaign in Syria has been waged by warplanes flying out of Qatar and other locations in the Middle East.

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Displaced Syrian children look out from their tents at Kelbit refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib province, Syria, Jan. 17, 2018. VOA

Still, Mattis and U.S. State Department officials have long fretted about leaving Syria before a peace agreement can be reached to end that country’s brutal civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced around half of Syria’s pre-war population of about 22 million.

In April, Mattis said: “We do not want to simply pull out before the diplomats have won the peace. You win the fight — and then you win the peace.”

Islamic State is also widely expected to revert to guerilla tactics once it no longer holds territory.

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A U.S. withdrawal could open Trump up to criticism if Islamic State reemerged.

Trump has previously lambasted his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq that preceded an unraveling of the Iraqi armed forces. Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of Islamic State’s advance into the country in 2014. (VOA)

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Fresh Telecom War between Reliance Jio and Older Operators, Airtel and Vodafone-Idea

One of our competitors has imposed a rate of 6 paise for all off net calls made to other operators to cover the termination charge

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Telecom, War, Reliance
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chairman R.S. Sharma did not respond to calls for queries on Jio' s contention that it has been forced to take the step due regulatory undertainty created by Trai issuing a consultation paper to review whether the regime timeline needs. Flickr

A fresh telecom war between Reliance Jio and older operators — Airtel and Vodafone-Idea — erupted on Wednesday after the Mukesh Ambani-led Jio said it would charge 6 paise per minute for making calls to other networks, even as Airtel described it as pressure tactics by Jio to reduce interconnection charges.

On account of taking a hit of Rs 13,500 crore due to network connection charges, or interconnet usage charges (IUC), Reliance Jio on Wednesday said it will charge customers 6 paise per minute for voice calls made to rival networks till IUC charges are eliminated. This is the first time that Jio users will pay for voice calls which has been free so far since September 2016.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chairman R.S. Sharma did not respond to calls for queries on Jio’ s contention that it has been forced to take the step due regulatory undertainty created by Trai issuing a consultation paper to review whether the regime timeline needs to be extended.

In a statement here, Airtel said: “One of our competitors has imposed a rate of 6 paise for all off net calls made to other operators to cover the termination charge of Interconnect Usage Charge (IUC). They have gone on to suggest that Trai has re-opened this issue”.

Telecom, War, Reliance
On account of taking a hit of Rs 13,500 crore due to network connection charges, or interconnet usage charges (IUC), Reliance Jio on Wednesday said it will charge customers 6 paise per minute for voice calls made to rival networks till IUC charges are eliminated. Flickr

“On 19th September, 2017, when Trai reduced the IUC from 14 paise to 6 paise and proposed a move towards Bill and Keep (zero IUC) with effect from January 1, 2020, they had specifically mentioned that the Authority shall keep a close watch on developments in the sector, particularly with respect to the adoption of new technologies and their impact on termination cost.

“The Authority, if deems it necessary may revisit the scheme of Termination charge applicable on Wireless-to-Wireless calls after one year from the implementation of the regulation”, the statement said.

Trai had, in 2017, slashed the IUC to 6 paise per minute from 14 paise, and had said that the regime would end by January 2020. Last month, however, Trai weighed the option of deferring the date for scrapping IUC.

The regulator a floated a fresh consultation paper to see if there is a need to revise the applicable date for scrapping the IUC, given the continuing imbalance in inter-operator traffic.

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The paper also sought to discuss with stakeholders what parameters should be considered to decide on an alternate date, if any. At the time Trai decided to scrap the IUC, Airtel, Vodafone and Idea had resisted the change, while Jio was in favour.

Jio said that the possible change of timeline for eliminating IUC, has led to uncetainity about the IUC phase-out deadline and it cannot continue to be at a loss of Rs 13,500 crore on acocunt of IUC by offering free voice calls to rivals’ networks from its own.

“The consultation paper has created regulatory uncertainty and therefore Jio has been compelled, most reluctantly and unavoidably, to recover this regulatory charge of 6 paise per minute for all off-net mobile voice calls so long as IUC charges exist,” the Jio statement said.

Trai’s aim was to evaluate two factors – the adoption of VoLTE, which TRAI assumed would bring the cost down and that the growth of smaller-sized operators would result in symmetry of traffic would ensue. Both these factors have not materialised.

Telecom, War, Reliance
This is the first time that Jio users will pay for voice calls which has been free so far since September 2016. Pixabay

There are still over 400 million 2G customers from the poorest sections of society living in rural areas paying less than Rs 50 per month who still cannot afford to buy a 4G device. Second, there is still significant asymmetry of traffic.

Accordingly, Trai issued a consultation paper in September 2019 to reassess the timeline of the shift from 6 paise to a zero charge.

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The telecom industry is in a state of deep financial stress since the last three years with several operators having gone bankrupt and thousands of jobs lost. Given the massive 2G customer base in India the cost of the call at 6 paise is already significantly below the real cost of the call. (IANS)