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Years Of U.S. Government Lies Could Soon Result In A Kurdish Massacre

WASHINGTON ― The Trump administration is doubling down on a lie the U.S. government has promoted since it first began cooperating with the Syrian Kurds against the Islamic State group in 2014: that the Kurds it is working with in Syria differ from those that are anathema to NATO ally Turkey.

American officials designed that fiction to enable the anti-ISIS strategy adopted under President Barack Obama and continued under President Donald Trump. Now it’s taking its most serious toll yet: Turkey is bombarding Afrin, a Kurdish enclave in northwest Syria, with airstrikes and artillery fire and the U.S. is refusing responsibility. Extending the Obama-era logic, team Trump maintains that Afrin is totally distinct from the Kurdish regions in Syria’s northeast that are home to American bases and thousands of U.S. troops.

escalate an already dire humanitarian crisis; and cede more space in Syria to actors Trump is ostensibly committed to challenging ― Russia, Iran and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. There’s little clear benefit to the U.S. in return.” data-reactid=”7″>Dozens of civilians have died in the campaign’s initial assault on smaller villages around the main city. Over a million more are at risk, as are Turkish civilians facing rockets in response. And Trump’s choice has boosted bitterness toward the U.S. among Washington’s most effective partners in Syria. In the weeks ahead, it could torpedo U.S.-brokered cooperation between Kurds and the country’s majority Arab community, tempting more Arabs to join radical groups like the powerful local al Qaeda affiliate or what’s left of ISIS; escalate an already dire humanitarian crisis; and cede more space in Syria to actors Trump is ostensibly committed to challenging ― Russia, Iran and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. There’s little clear benefit to the U.S. in return.

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Foreign Fantasies Versus Local Realities

Squaring U.S. policy in Syria with the country’s increasingly assertive neighbor Turkey is a goal that’s eluded Washington for years. Since the Obama era, the U.S. campaign against ISIS has relied on a Kurdish militia in northern Syria called the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Turkey views that group as inseparable from an internationally blacklisted Kurdish separatist movement called the PKK that it has fought for years. The Obama administration’s solution was to speak of a difference between the two forces as often as it could.

That position fails to account for the two groups’ mutual history, leftist ideology and recruiting pools, but it’s one the Kurds can live with. Their respective officials say they sympathize for fellow Kurds across the countries they live in (Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran) but have distinct command-and-control structures. And to further assuage Turkey and Syria’s Arabs, the YPG subsumed its fighters under a larger anti-ISIS battalion without an explicit Kurdish flavor ― a two-year-old construct called the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes thousands of Arabs and Assyrians.

But that fig leaf never quite satisfied Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He used his military and allied Syrian Arab groups to carve out Turkey’s own area of influence in northern Syria in the summer of 2016, noting that the Kurds were expanding beyond previously agreed-on borders, and pushed increasingly dramatic anti-Kurd rhetoric as he sought nationalist support at home for his growing authoritarianism and as the YPG grew visibly stronger thanks to American help.

Isolated from the other main Kurdish regions in the northeast, Afrin was an easy target for Turkish saber-rattling. By the tail end of 2017, Turkish officials began frequently speaking of an operation there to teach the Kurds a lesson. When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month projected a long-term U.S. presence in Syria, implying a long-term relationship with the YPG, Turkey declared that an operation by Turkish forces and Arab militants would come within days. Erdogan sought and received approval from Russia, which controls most airspace in northwestern Syria as part of its operation to defend the Syrian regime, and used the Turkish threat to tell the Kurds they should simply hand Afrin to Assad ― something they could never accept given his brutality and Kurds’ painful memories of his rule, two Kurdish officials told HuffPost.

Faced with the Turkish-Kurdish showdown analysts have warned of for years, Washington decided reality was simply too complex to deal with.

The official U.S. line is that all parties should remain focused on ISIS. That admonition caused the trouble in the first place, of course. The U.S. focus on ISIS meant the YPG was an essential partner, and frustration with Turkey’s long reluctance to crack down on the group dominated planners’ thinking, making it easy to punt on questions like how the two would coexist once Americans changed the power balance in the Kurds’ favor and what Washington owed them in return for their anti-ISIS success.

“We encourage all parties to avoid escalation and to focus on the most important task of defeating ISIS,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway wrote to HuffPost on Monday. “The armed Kurdish groups in Afrin are not defeat-ISIS coalition partners.”

building and defending, that distinction is meaningless. And they see Turkey’s desire to quash the region as the canary in the coal mine. Just as the epic battle to defend the town of Kobani from ISIS in 2014 became a seminal moment for Kurdish identity and dignity, the struggle over Afrin is dominating the thinking of the community’s leaders, as well as millions of Kurds outside Syria ― and they’re closely watching the Western response for portents of their future. ” data-reactid=”22″>For Kurdish officials who treat Afrin as an integral part of the society they’re building and defending, that distinction is meaningless. And they see Turkey’s desire to quash the region as the canary in the coal mine. Just as the epic battle to defend the town of Kobani from ISIS in 2014 became a seminal moment for Kurdish identity and dignity, the struggle over Afrin is dominating the thinking of the community’s leaders, as well as millions of Kurds outside Syria ― and they’re closely watching the Western response for portents of their future.

“Turkey is not only attacking and targeting Afrin. They want to target all of north Syria, including Arabs and Assyrians,” Sinam Mohamad, an international representative for the government of the YPG-controlled areas, argued at a recent event at the Washington Kurdish Institute.


Syrian Kurds wave the Kurdish flag and flags bearing the logos of the People’s Protection Units and Women’s Protection Units as they chant slogans in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, during a demonstration on Feb. 2, against the military operation by the Turkish army against the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria’s Afrin. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Even the American-crafted proxy force in Syria is defying the Trump administration line, not going so far as to threaten a major rift but warning that the crisis could force it to define its priorities differently from those of the U.S.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces in their meetings with the U.S. officials and the [anti-ISIS] coalition officials have been very clear that although they will be seeking support in Afrin, they will not be waiting for that to respond and to resist this aggression,” Renas Xan, a local teacher who’s an adviser to the U.S.-backed group’s media team, told HuffPost this week, noting that could mean some forces get redirected toward Afrin and away from recently captured, still vulnerable ISIS strongholds. “There is a general mobilization … that everyone above 18 years old available to support the resistance of any sort should take up arms or help in any way possible to defend their people.”

The reaction shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Americans who have been talking to and working with the Kurds for close to four years. The YPG first consolidated its power in the Kurdish areas ― which they call Rojava ― after Assad effectively ceded control in 2012 to focus on fighting Arab rebels. As the militia gained fighting experience, recruits and eventually American support, the goal of connecting Afrin with Kurdish regions further east was a constant.

“I remember when they liberated the Tal Abyad territory between Kobani and Jazira, they were telling me back then that they were planning to go to Afrin,” said Amy Austin Holmes, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and professor at American University in Cairo who has interviewed scores of fighters in the region. (Kobani and Jazira are the two other mainly Kurdish areas in northern Syria; Tal Abyad is a largely Arab area that lies between them that the Kurds captured from ISIS in 2015.)

But the U.S. wanted the Kurds to prioritize taking ISIS territory. So they did, turning their focus to Arab-majority areas farther south. Implicit in that bargain was that the U.S. would ― eventually ― respect the Kurds’ own priorities. It’s hard to know how costly the breaking of that promise will be.

“Afrin is such a hugely symbolic matter,” said Nick Heras, a Middle East Security fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank. “The stovepiping of Afrin from the main counter-ISIS campaign in eastern Syria by the U.S. is a risky line of action.”

Taking Credit ― And Responsibility

The Trump administration seems to know what it wants ― an end to the fighting ― but not how to get it.

Its most serious move so far was an apparently harsh call between Erdogan and Trump on Jan. 24. The readout said Trump repeatedly praised the U.S.-Turkey partnership but warned that Erdogan was proceeding down a path that could result in ”conflict between Turkish and American forces.”

another strategic area under Kurd-dominated rule that Erdogan has threatened, the Manbij region east of Afrin.” data-reactid=”45″>U.S. officials have also said they will defend another strategic area under Kurd-dominated rule that Erdogan has threatened, the Manbij region east of Afrin.

But none of that has halted the Turkish bombing and slow advance.

Critics are already eager to assign blame.

“My general sense on Afrin is that it shows the dysfunction of Trump’s national security process,” Colin Kahl, one of the top Obama-era officials managing the relationship with Turkey, wrote in an email this week to HuffPost.

telling Erdogan, in November, that the U.S. would cut off heavy weapons to the YPG, and officials then talking about an extended U.S. presence alongside the YPG-dominated forces less than two months later. ” data-reactid=”49″>He pointed out that the administration set the stage for the clash by Trump first telling Erdogan, in November, that the U.S. would cut off heavy weapons to the YPG, and officials then talking about an extended U.S. presence alongside the YPG-dominated forces less than two months later.

piece last year in which he said Erdogan created the risk of Turkish-Kurd violence by backing Arab militants, including extremists, more interested in fighting Assad than ISIS, therefore forcing Washington to rely on and strengthen the YPG.” data-reactid=”50″>But the reality is that both administrations made the pattern of choices that’s resulted in this breaking point ― and that it originated under Obama, whose aides made little progress on preventing Erdogan from being a spoiler other than complaining about him. Kahl described the Obama administration’s view in an extensive piece last year in which he said Erdogan created the risk of Turkish-Kurd violence by backing Arab militants, including extremists, more interested in fighting Assad than ISIS, therefore forcing Washington to rely on and strengthen the YPG.

Now, officials say the response is the responsibility of the State Department ― a bad sign, given that the agency just lost its No. 3 official, is facing unprecedented morale and staffing challenges, and counts as its top diplomat on such issues the special counter-ISIS envoy, Obama holdover Brett McGurk, who is deeply distrusted by both the Turks and Kurds. A State Department official contacted by HuffPost did not address multiple specific questions about the agency’s response, simply saying it discourages the fighting and respects Turkish concerns.

And the absence of a clear strategy makes the Washington conversation ripe for distortion. Turkey is already running “a slick disinformation campaign” on Capitol Hill to prevent the Kurds’ concerns even getting a fair hearing, said Sarah Stern of the Endowment for Middle East Truth advocacy group, which is helping set up congressional meetings for the Kurdish region’s representatives.

What U.S. officials are sure of is how much is at stake. ”Increased violence in Afrin distracts from efforts to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS,” Rankine-Galloway of the Pentagon told HuffPost. “It also has significant potential to increase civilian displacement, refugee flows and casualties.”

Mohamad, the Kurdish official who’s still in Washington, listed other worries: more power for radical Turkey-backed groups and broader distrust that could cause conflict between Kurds and Arabs all across the areas the U.S. has delivered from ISIS.

For her, the issue is personal ― her husband and children are still in Afrin.

But ever the diplomat, she pushes loftier arguments.

“The U.S.,” Mohamad said, “has a moral obligation.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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Years Of U.S. Government Lies Could Soon Result In A Kurdish Massacre

Nassar Reportedly Abused Over 2 Dozen Girls And Women During Sluggish FBI Investigation

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a new Saturday report from The New York Times. ” data-reactid=”8″>At least 27 girls and women said disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sexually assaulted them while he was under FBI investigation for similar behavior, according to a new Saturday report from The New York Times.

Nassar first came under FBI suspicion in July 2015 after the agency received complaints from three top-tier female athletes, including two Olympic gymnasts. He was permitted to continue practicing medicine until September 2016, when the Indianapolis Star published damning accusations against him.

The sluggish pace of the FBI investigation ― split between agents in three cities ― allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue unnecessarily, the Times suggested. In a statement, the FBI responded, saying its investigation “transcended jurisdictions,” pointing to bureaucratic inefficiency as a possible explanation for the slow pace. (Bureaus in Indiana, Michigan and Texas were involved in the case.)

currently stands at 265. Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison on seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in January, and he is currently awaiting sentencing on another three counts.” data-reactid=”11″>The list of young women accusing the now-convicted doctor of sexual abuse currently stands at 265. Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison on seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in January, and he is currently awaiting sentencing on another three counts.

furious questions from accusers and their family members demanding to know why Nassar’s abuse continued for more than two decades. ” data-reactid=”12″>His case has prompted furious questions from accusers and their family members demanding to know why Nassar’s abuse continued for more than two decades.

The FBI investigation was slow from the start. USA Gymnastics officials first alerted agents about Nassar’s behavior 41 days after they were told a coach overheard a conversation between gymnast Maggie Nichols and Olympian Aly Raisman about the doctor’s uncomfortable techniques. Nassar was then a respected sports physician who worked at Michigan State University and traveled with USA Gymnastics.

A third gymnast, Olympian McKayla Maroney, then emerged as a “central complainant,” per the Times.

The information was quickly shared with the gymnasts’ parents and officials at USA Gymnastics, but it took more than a month for it to land at the FBI. Nichols’ mother told the Times that now-former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny repeatedly asked her to keep the matter quiet as the organization figured out what to do.

The investigation into Nassar’s abuse accelerated with the 2016 Indianapolis Star report, containing accusations from two women not involved in the FBI’s probe. Nassar is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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Nassar Reportedly Abused Over 2 Dozen Girls And Women During Sluggish FBI Investigation

Egypt says 4,400-year-old tomb discovered outside Cairo

CAIRO (AP) — Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a 4,400-year-old tomb near the country’s famed pyramids at the Giza plateau just outside Cairo, the Antiquities Ministry said Saturday, the latest discovery that authorities hope will help revive the country’s staggering tourism sector.

The tomb was found in a wider area of Giza’s western necropolis, which is known to be home to tombs from the Old Kingdom.

It likely belonged to a woman known as Hetpet, who archaeologists believe was close to ancient Egyptian royals of the 5th Dynasty.

The tomb, unveiled to the media on Saturday, is made of mud brick and includes wall paintings in good condition depicting Hetpet observing different hunting and fishing scenes.

Other scenes also depict a monkey — in pharaonic times, monkeys were commonly kept as domestic animals — picking fruit. Similar scenes have been found in other tombs belonging to the later 12th dynasty, according to the ministry’s statement. Another scene shows a monkey dancing before an orchestra.

According to the ministry, the archaeological mission behind the discovery started excavation work last October. Archaeologists have been making discoveries near the site since the 19th century, and Mostafa al-Waziri, who led the mission, believes there is still more to be found.

“This is a very promising area. We expect to find more,” Al-Waziri told reporters at the site. “We have removed between 250-300 cubic meters of layers of earth to find the tomb.”

“What we see above the earth’s surface in Egypt doesn’t exceed 40 percent of what the core holds,” he added.

Al-Waziri believes Hetpet had another tomb in Giza’s western necropolis and said that excavation work is underway to find that one too.

Hetpet is a previously known figure in Egyptian antiquity though her mummy has not been discovered yet. Fragments of artefacts belonging to Hetpet were found in the same area back in 1909, and were moved to a museum in Berlin at the time, Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani said Saturday, speaking at the site to reporters and Western diplomats.

Despite all the discoveries already made about ancient Egypt, experts say they hope to find much more — in part thanks to modern technology — treasures still buried under the vast desert.

The area of the latest discovery is close to a new museum under construction that will house some of Egypt’s most unique and precious artifacts, including many belonging to the famed boy King Tutankhamun.

The first phase of Grand Egyptian museum is expected to be opened later this year while the grand opening is planned for 2022.

In January, Egypt placed the ancient statue of one of its most famous pharaohs, Ramses II at the museum’s atrium, which will include 43 massive statues.

Throughout 2017, the Antiquities Ministry made a string of discoveries across Egypt — including some in the southern city Luxor known for its spectacular temples and tombs spanning different dynasties of ancient Egyptian history.

Egypt hopes the inauguration of the new museum, along with the recent discoveries, will draw back visitors to the country where tourism has been hit hard by extremist attacks and political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak and the authorities’ struggles to rein in an insurgency by Islamic militants.

The government has tightened security around archaeological and touristic sites and spent millions of dollars to upgrade airport security especially following the 2015 downing of a Russian airliner over the restive Sinai Peninsula by the Islamic State group, killing 224 people on board.

The bombing dealt Egypt’s vital tourism sector a hard blow after Russia suspended flights to and from Egypt.

In December, Cairo and Moscow signed a security protocol and announced plans to resume Russian flights to the Egyptian capital, due to start this month.

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Egypt says 4,400-year-old tomb discovered outside Cairo

Russia says one of its warplanes downed in Syria, pilot killed: TASS

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian Su-25 warplane was brought down in Syria’s Idlib province on Saturday, and the pilot was killed during “a fight” after ejecting by parachute, the TASS news agency quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying.

Syrian rebels said previously on Saturday they had brought down the Russian plane.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that the aircraft was downed by a MANPAD portable surface-to-air missile during a flight around the de-escalation zone in the province. The pilot had reported that he ejected by parachute in the area, controlled by Al Nusra.

“The pilot died in a fight with terrorists,” the ministry said.

Russia and Turkey, which is in charge of the Idlib de-escalation zone, are “taking measures” to return the body of the pilot, it added.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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Russia says one of its warplanes downed in Syria, pilot killed: TASS

Woman who cut baby from pregnant neighbour's womb weeps as she apologises in court: 'There is no excuse. There is nothing'

A woman who killed her pregnant neighbour by cutting the baby from her womb has apologised for the crime as she was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Brooke Crews, who was convicted of murder, told a court she wished she could take the pain away from the victim’s family.

North Dakota.” data-reactid=”12″>The details of how 22-year-old Savanna Greywind bled to death after Crews cut her were revealed for the first time at a hearing in North Dakota.

Crews, 38, had pleaded guilty to the crime, which officials had previously described as a “cruel and vicious act of depravity”.

In tears, Crews read out a statement in court, which said: “There is no excuse. There is no rationalisation. There is nothing.”

Ms Greywind, who is of Native American descent and lived in Fargo, disappeared on 19 August when she was eight months pregnant after leaving her family home to visit a neighbour.

Native Americans from nearby areas, helped to search for the missing woman.” data-reactid=”16″>Hundreds of people, including groups of Native Americans from nearby areas, helped to search for the missing woman.

After an eight-day search, the nursing assistant’s body was found wrapped in plastic in a river by kayakers, without the baby.

The infant was found at Crews’s house in good health. DNA confirmed it was Ms Greywind’s daughter.

The father of the baby expressed his grief at discovering how his girlfriend, who had lived in Fargo, had died. Ashton Matheny said the facts “tore me apart”.

The victim’s mother said she was pleased that her killer had received the toughest possible sentence.

Norberta Lafontaine-Greywind called the acts against her daughter “beyond evil” in a statement in court, adding that she has suffered nightmares since.

Her husband, Joe Greywind said they were finding it “near impossible” to heal, after the tragic events.

Defence attorney Steven Mottinger had asked for a lesser sentence for Crews, pointing out that she admitted guilt without any promise of leniency.

“Acceptance of responsibility is important,” Mr Mottinger said in court. “It has to mean something.”

Crews initially claimed that Ms Greywind gave up her newborn daughter, but later admitted taking advantage of the woman to get the child, according to court documents.

Crews’s boyfriend, William Hoehn, also faces a trial in May. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors had cited his pending trial in withholding public details of Ms Greywind’s death earlier.

Mr Hoehn told police he came home on 19 August to find Crews cleaning up blood in their bathroom. He said Crews presented him with an infant girl and told him: “This is our baby. This is our family.”

Mr Hoehn told police he took garbage bags containing bloody shoes and his bloody towels and disposed them away from the apartment complex.

A bill in Congress aimed at protecting Native American women and girls from violence, abduction and human trafficking is being named after Ms Greywind.

Savanna’s Act, introduced by Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, would improve tribal access to certain federal crime information databases and create standardised protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans.

Woman who cut baby from pregnant neighbour's womb weeps as she apologises in court: 'There is no excuse. There is nothing'

Lasers on planes used to reveal massive massive complex of Mayan ruins

With the high-tech help scientists have found that Maya civilization was more advanced and populous than previously imagined.

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Alaskan copper mine proposal sparks concern about wild salmon fishery

The permitting process for the copper mine is underway with the blessing of the Trump administration, which could prove risky to the Dillingham fishery.

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