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U.S’s SDF Arrests Five IS Agents, Five More Deported From Syria

Syrian Kurdish officials last September told VOA they were holding in their prisons 514 IS foreign fighters, along with 534 wives and 1175 children of IS foreign members

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Syria, SDF
FILE - Suspected Islamic State members sit inside a small room in a prison south of Mosul, July 18, 2017. (VOA)

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Monday confirmed the arrest of five Islamic State foreign fighters and the handover of five more to their governments in efforts to rid eastern Syria of the jihadists.

In an interview with VOA, SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali confirmed the five IS fighters, two Americans, two Pakistanis, and one Irish, were arrested on Dec. 30 during a special operation in eastern Deir el-Zour province.

He said the operation saved dozens of displaced civilians from being targeted.

“Our special anti-terror forces obtained information that IS thugs were planning an attack against civilians who are fleeing the war zone,” Bali told VOA. “We conducted that operation based on the information and arrested five of them who are in our prisons now.”

Syria, SDF
Deir el-Zour (VOA)

 

In a statement, the SDF identified the American men as Warren Christopher Clark, 34, nicknamed Abu Mohammad al-Ameriki, and Zaid Abed al-Hamid, 35, nicknamed Abu Zaid al-Ameriki. It said the other two men, Fadel al-Rahman Cad, 48, nicknamed Abu Enam al-Muhajir, and Abed al-Azem Rajhoud, 19, nicknamed Abu Omea al-Pakistani, travelled from Pakistan. The fifth man, Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev, 45, is originally from Dublin,Ireland.

Spokesperson Bali said an investigation is under way to obtain more details about the men and their activities in eastern Syria, adding that more jihadists could be arrested as the U.S.-backed forces make further advances in the days to come.

The SDF said the arrests are part of their Jazeera Storm operation, supported by the U.S.-led global coalition against IS, to remove the terror group from its last bastions in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

“ISIS, which is now cornered in a small area after being cleared from large swathes of territory it once held, is suffering heavy losses due to operations of our forces,” the SDF said in its statement Saturday, using another acronym for IS.

SDF
Families and relatives of Islamic State militants are seen after they surrendered themselves to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in al-Ayadiya, northwest of Tal Afar, Iraq, Aug. 30, 2017. (VOA)

IS families

Meanwhile, the SDF said Monday it also handed over five IS fighters, along with 11 wives and 30 children of IS fighters, from Kazakhstan to Kazakh authorities following months of preparation for their transfer.

The SDF did not disclose the identities of the IS fighters and their family members but said the move was part of a formal protocol with Kazakhstani government, meditated by the U.S.

Also Read: US Troops Would Be Withdrawing From Syria Over A Period of Time: Donald Trump

“The reason that made the handing over of those people got late was technical reasons. The agreement was applied on 5 Jan 2019, where they were formally handed over to their country with American mediation,” the SDF said in the statement.

Syrian Kurdish officials last September told VOA they were holding in their prisons 514 IS foreign fighters, along with 534 wives and 1175 children of IS foreign members, from 44 countries. The officials said they were overwhelmed by the burden and asked the relevant countries to retake their nationals. (VOA)

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Afghanistan Elections Conclude, IEC Criticized For Mismanagement

The presidential vote, scheduled for July 20, is also under scrutiny because of the lack of serious reforms to prevent a repetition of previous fraud-marred Afghan elections.

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Afghanistan
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks to journalists after arriving to register as a candidate for the presidential election at the Independent Elections Commission, in Kabul, Jan. 20, 2019. (VOA)

The process of submitting nomination papers for the upcoming presidential vote in Afghanistan concluded Sunday, with President Ashraf Ghani and his ruling coalition partner Abdullah Abdullah among the candidates seeking the country’s top office.

Ghani and Abdullah, who was appointed chief executive in a deal mediated by the United States after the disputed 2014 election, filed their nomination papers just hours before the Independent Election Commission (IEC) closed the proceedings.

The election activity comes as an early morning suicide car bombing of a government convoy in eastern Afghan province of Logar killed at least eight security forces, underscoring serious security challenges facing the country in the wake of a raging Taliban insurgency.

The presidential vote, scheduled for July 20, is also under scrutiny because of the lack of serious reforms to prevent a repetition of previous fraud-marred Afghan elections.

IEC officials, however, dismiss concerns and insist their rescheduling of the polls from the original April 20 date has given them enough time to fix the problems and to lay the ground for a better organized vote.

“Our [candidates’] goal should be to work toward ensuring this election process results in a strong government and nation. Whatever consensus regarding any reforms is required must be achieved now to remove any doubts about the election outcome,” Ghani said in televised comments after formally registering his candidacy with IEC.

Afghan
Afghan security forces inspect the site of a car bomb blast in Kabul, Jan. 15, 2018.(VOA)

The IEC was heavily criticized for failing to prevent mismanagement and alleged rigging in the October parliamentary election. The final results are still awaited, fueling traditional mistrust and suspicions among voters about the upcoming election.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former ethnic Pashtun warlord accused of war crimes and once listed as terrorist by the U.S., has also joined the presidential race.

Hekmatyar stopped his Hizb-i-Islami group from waging insurgent attacks against foreign forces and returned to Kabul from years of hiding in 2016 after signing a U.S.-backed peace deal with President Ghani’s government.

Hekmatyar’s fighters have been blamed for committing atrocities during the Afghan civil war that enabled the Taliban to capture most of Afghanistan in 1996.

Several former officials of the Ghani-led National Unity government are also among the contestants. They include Hanif Atmar, former national security adviser; Rahmatullah Nabil, ex-chief of the Afghan intelligence agency; Zalmai Rassoul, a former foreign minister who came third in the last presidential election; and Shaida Abdali, a former diplomat.

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Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, center, shakes hands with his supporters after arriving to register as a candidate for the presidential election, in Kabul, Jan. 20, 2019.

Peace talks with Taliban

The United States, meanwhile, has intensified efforts to seek a politically negotiated settlement to the 17-year-old conflict with the Taliban, which control nearly half of the country and maintain battlefield pressure on U.S.-backed Afghan forces to capture more territory.

Chief American peace negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team spent several days in neighboring Pakistan, where authorities tried to arrange the next round of U.S.-Taliban talks.

Also Read:U.S. Determined To Address ‘Legitimate Concerns’ To Achieve Peace in Afghanistan

A U.S. Embassy statement announced Sunday said Khalilzad visited Islamabad from January 17-20 where he met with Pakistani civilian and military leaders. It said that “both sides reaffirmed their commitment to advance the Afghan peace process.”

Khalilzad highlighted that all countries in the region will benefit from peace in Afghanistan, the statement concluded, though it was not clear whether Pakistani efforts to bring the two sides to the negotiating table succeeded. (VOA)