With a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan approaching but a final peace deal stalled, the White House is said to be considering an extension beyond this date for removal of its 2,500 troops remaining in the country. The Washington Post writes that the Biden administration "is likely to postpone a full withdrawal—potentially with Taliban acquiescence—to buy more time to advance a power-sharing proposal they hope can break an impasse in talks between the militants and the Afghan government."
A March 5 missile attack on an oil refinery at al-Hamaran, near Jarabulus in Syria's rebel-held northern pocket, was launched from Russian warships off the country's coast, according to a monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least one person is known to have been killed in the the three-missile strike, which also hit a nearby market, possibly as "collateral damage." In a similar strike on Feb. 10, rockets fired from the Russian military base at Hmeimim, in Syria's coastal Latakia province, struck an oil refinery in the town of Tarhin, also within the rebel-held pocket of Aleppo province. The pocket is in the hands of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), and the strikes appear aimed at preventing SNA forces from resuming oil production in the region for black-market export to Turkey.
Internecine fighting among collaborationist militia in the Turkish-occupied northern Syrian town of Afrin left at least two civilians dead in the crossfire last month. Clashes broke out Feb. 13 between Jabha al-Shamiya (Levant Front) and the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam)—two armed groups affiliated with the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA). Shops and civilian homes were also damaged in the clashes. Witnesses and local sources told the independent Syrians for Truth & Justice that the fighting began when Levant Front militants attempted to arrest a member of the Army of Islam who they suspected of smuggling people across border into Turkey.
Turkey's Court of Cassation on Feb. 19 upheld the two-and-a-half-year prison sentence given to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights activist and MP belonging to the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), on charges of "making propaganda for a terrorist organization." In 2016, Gergerlioğlu raised alarm in parliament and on social media platforms about detained women being subjected to unlawful strip searches by police in the city of Uşak for "security reasons." He was later accused by the Uşak Police and several members of the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) of being involved in terrorist activities. Gergerlioğlu was initially sentenced by the Kocaeli 2nd High Criminal Court in February 2018, and the decision was affirmed on appeal by the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice. Following this, an appeal was made to the Court of Cassation.
Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government. The $80 million operation, dubbed "Project Opus," included a shipment of aircraft from South Africa. It also included plans to form a hit squad to hunt down and kill Libyan commanders opposed to Haftar. The accusation exposes Prince to possible UN sanctions, including a travel ban. Prince did not cooperate with the UN investigation, and his lawyer declined to comment to the Times. (Al Jazeera, Daily Sabah)
The 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on Feb. 15 sentenced four former employees of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, shut down by a Turkish court order in 2016, to imprisonment on "terrorism" charges. Former editor Eren Keskin, who is also a prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, received a six-year sentence for "membership of an armed terrorist organization." Özgür Gündem's former publisher, Kemal Sancılı, and former managing editor, İnan Kızılkaya, received sentences of six years and three months on the same charge. Former editor-in-chief Zana Kaya was sentenced to two years and one month for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization."
Iraqi Kurdistan saw simultaneous air attacks Feb. 15—from Turkish warplanes on a mountain supposedly harboring PKK guerillas, and (in a far more audacious move) from an Iran-backed militia on the regional capital Erbil. In the latter attack, a barrage of rockets targetted a US airbase outside Erbil's airport. A foreign "civilian contractor" was killed, and nine others, including US personnel, were wounded. It is being called the worst attack in a year on the US-led military coalition in Iraq. A nearby apartment complex and market were also damaged, and some reports indicate the Chinese consulate was hit by either a stray rocket or debris.
On Jan. 22, two days after President Biden's inauguration, a large convoy of US military vehicles reportedly entered northern Syria from across the Iraqi border. The convoy, consisting of some 40 trucks and armored vehicles accompanied by helicopters, was reported by Syrian state news agency SANA, citing sources on the ground. (i24News, Israel) The putative sighting has raised speculation that Biden is reversing the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, which had been ordered by Trump in October 2019.