Sunday January 19, 2020
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West must admit its mistakes and act swiftly to curtail European refugee crisis

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By Hank Stillwell

In the year 2015, scientists have made staggering discoveries about distant galaxies, their contents, and Planets that could potentially harbor life right now.  Doctors are using viruses not to treat, but to cure cancer.  Computers are near universal, and we are not far from being able to provide every human being access to the internet at some level.  The human species is at its most evolved point in history, and human brains have learned keys to some of the natural world’s most puzzling secrets.  However it is clear we still have yet to learn one quintessential trait: basic humanity.

LibyaAs I write today, authorities have confirmed over 100 have died, and many more are feared dead in a tragic sinking of a refugee smuggling boat off the coast of Libya.  Death tolls have been staggering in the Mediterranean, having already broken the record set in 2014.  And for those who do complete the journey, most are met with horrifying conditions.  Close quartered housing, lack of access to medical resources, and often, little to no food is what refugees who do manage to complete the journey suffer through.

Where do refugees come from?

In what human rights groups have called the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, refugees hail from war torn nations like Syria, Afghanistan, and Sudan.  Many in Libya, a war torn nation in its own right, have made use of such desperation and attempted to traffic refugees in dangerous missions across the Mediterranean.  Refugees have also been reported fleeing from Iraq, and other African nations.  Most have attempted to sail to Italy or Greece via Libya, however many have made land routes through Turkey, in to Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Where are refugees going?

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne

Refugees, having landed usually in either Italy or Greece, are then housed in horrible conditions, while families devise plans to escape their landing spots and eventually make it to countries like Germany, Sweden, or the United Kingdom as these countries have the resources to provide some assistance to refugees.  Refugees attempting to make it to Europe via land usually make it to Bulgaria or Macedonia and are housed in decrepit conditions until they can devise a plan to flee to a wealthier nation.   However, as of this year, even some of the worlds wealthiest nations, like Germany, have refused to take in refugees and instead, deported them.

How has the West been involved in creating this crisis?

At a time where war affects so many different nations for so many differing reasons, whether it is sectarian, nationalistic, religious, or any other reason, the West cannot be held accountable for every violent act taking place in Africa and the Middle East today.  However, there is no doubt that the West played a major role in creating some of the worst conflicts happening today.  Civil wars in Iraq and Syria have long roots in the United States and its allies’ invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The conflict in Yemen involves US and Israeli ties to Saudi Arabia.  And civil war in Libya has direct links to US airstrikes that took down Muammar Gaddafi.  The West has not directly or purposefully created these conflicts, however the West has not done all it could to prevent such situations.   Furthermore, many human rights groups have often stated that the United Nations and wealthy nations have not done enough to provide aid and assistance for refugees displaced by these conflicts, as well as civilians who have not managed to flee such conflicts.

What will happen now?

 A few facts must be observed from the outset.  First, the civil wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and many across Africa do not appear to be ending any time soon.  The situation is that no army or fighting force is great enough to crush it’s opponent once and for all.  As such, these wars will likely go on and on for months, if not years.  Secondly, the amount of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean does not appear to be decreasing any time soon.  As these wars rage on, likely many more refugees will be faced with the decision: flee to Europe or die.  So it is likely to assume more and more will attempt these perilous journey.

Some nations in Europe have reacted by doubling down their efforts to keep immigrants out.  Increased funding for border patrol officers, fences and walls, and politicians who demonize immigrants have began to rise to prominence in countries like Bulgaria and Greece.

Syria-civil warA tipping point was reached a few days ago in Macedonia.  Thousands of refugees had lined up at Macedonia’s border with Greece.  The state of Macedonia reacted by sending their military to the border to keep immigrants out.  Troops fired stun grenades and rubber bullets in attempt to keep the refugees out until on Saturday August 22, troops lowered their weapons and allowed the refugees to pass.  There is no question that this gesture was a humanitarian victory and worthy of much praise.  Furthermore, Italy has begun to launch rescue operations in the Mediterranean for in-danger vessels, a move that has and will continue to save hundreds of lives.  However many questions remain.  If more and more refugees are expected, how will Europe react?  With increased security, or increased compassion.  Many countries in Southern Europe are dealing with debt crisis, so these countries are not likely to begin accepting refugees.  However wealthy EU nations could potentially do better with setting up displacement camps and providing aid and assistance to refugees.  And if this is to be the case, the United States must step up its involvement, admit mistakes, and take part in helping to alleviate the crisis.

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Here’s Everything you Need to Know About the Increasing Islamic State Terror Activity in Syria

Surge of IS Violence and Terrorism Seen in Syria

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Smoke Syria
Smoke rises while people gather at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border, Syria. VOA

By Sirwan Kajjo

Islamic State militants have increased their terror activity in recent weeks in Syria, carrying out deadly attacks against Syrian regime troops and U.S.-backed forces.

Since early December, the terror group has conducted at least three major attacks on Syrian government forces and their allied militias in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, local sources said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has reporters across the country, recent attacks claimed by IS against Syrian military forces have killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others.

Last week, at least three fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in what local military officials described as a suicide attack carried out by IS militants in the province of Raqqa, IS’s former de facto capital before it was freed in 2017 by the SDF and its U.S.-led allies.

Islamic State Syria
Islamic State militants clean their weapons in Deir el-Zour city, Syria. VOA

‘Threat to our forces’ 

IS “terrorists still pose a threat to our forces, especially in the eastern part of Syria,” an SDF commander told VOA.

“They have been able to regroup and reorganize in some remote parts of Deir el-Zour, where there is a smaller presence of our forces or any other forces,” said the commander, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.

He added that despite the declaration of the physical defeat of the terror group in March 2019, IS “still has hundreds of sleeper cells that have the capability to wage deadly attacks on civilians and combatants alike.”

In the town of Tabqa, in western Raqqa, local news reports this week said a suspected IS sleeper cell assaulted a family, killing three of its members, including a child. The reports did not say why the family was attacked, but IS has in the past targeted people whom it suspected of having ties to or working for the government or U.S.-backed local forces.

While most of the recent activity has been in areas IS once controlled as part of its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been particularly active in Syria’s vast desert region.

The Syrian Observatory reported at least 10 IS-claimed attacks in December that originated from the mostly desert eastern part of Homs province in central Syria.

Baghdadi’s death

Islamic State Syria
The Islamic State group’s leader extolled militants in Sri Lanka for “striking the homes of the crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz,” a reference to IS’ last bastion in eastern Syria, which was captured by U.S.-backed fighters. VOA

Despite the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October in a U.S. operation in northwestern Syria, IS still represents a major threat in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, experts say.

“As ISIS returns to its original decentralized structure, members of the group are trying to show ISIS still poses a threat, even after the defeat of its caliphate and the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Kaleigh Thomas, a Middle East researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, using another acronym for IS.

Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows Islamist militancy, echoed Thomas’ views.

“IS is now living a period of stability, so to speak. After the death of Baghdadi, their objective is clearer now. They try to stay focused on carrying out assassinations, ambushes and suicide attacks, and they have been successful at that,” he told VOA.

Kinno said IS “really believes in a recurrent cycle of violence, so for them the territorial defeat they experienced this year is just a phase of their ongoing jihad.”

US withdrawal 

U.S. vehicles Syria
A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced a withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was followed by a Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed SDF fighters in northeast Syria.

Some experts say the U.S. troop pullout allowed IS to regroup, and thus its terror attacks have increased.

“The U.S. decision sent a signal to [IS] that the U.S. is not interested in a long-term presence in Syria,” said Azad Othman, a Syrian affairs analyst based in Irbil, Iraq.

IS “now feels that its low-level insurgency in Syria could be even more effective as long as the Americans don’t have a significant military presence in the country,” he told VOA.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in November that “ISIS has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”

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“The withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops has also affected the fight against ISIS, which remains a threat in the region and globally,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in the report.

But the U.S. has decided to keep about 500 troops to secure oil fields in Syria to prevent IS militants and the Syrian regime forces from accessing them. (VOA)