More than 20 shepherds were killed Jan. 4 in eastern Syria, with pro-opposition activists claiming that Iran-backed militias were responsible. The shepherds were slain in the Maadan area, on the border of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces, and also near the line between territory held by the Assad regime and that held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The regime is being massively backed by Iranian forces, and Iran-backed militia units had established checkpoints along the border of the zones of control. The media-activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently claimed the shepherds were shot and stabbed in retaliation for the US assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq a day earlier. Damascus state media blamed the massacre on ISIS. Soleimani's elite Quds Force intervened in Syria to prop up the Assad regime along with Russia in 2015. (EA Worldview)
Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination on Jan. 3, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. And, in fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a "dirty war" in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad over the past months. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani also provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. As overall commander of Iranian forces in Syria backing up Assad's genocidal counter-insurgency campaign (and by no means just against ISIS and jihadists, but the secular opposition as well) Soleimani is probably responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives.
Before Donald Trump left the London NATO summit in a huff, he made the startling claim at a press conference that the United States can do "what we want" with the oil-fields now under its control in northeast Syria. The Dec. 2 remarks are provided via White House transcript: "And I wanted to say that, in keeping the oil, ISIS was trying to, as you know, regain control of the oil. And we have total control of the oil. And, frankly, we had a lot of support from a lot of different people. But, right now, the only soldiers we have, essentially, in that area, are the soldiers keeping the oil. So we have the oil, and we can do with the oil what we want." This faux pas, jumped on by the British tabloid press, recalls Trump's 2016 campaign trail boast of his plans for Syria: "I'll take the oil"—and turn the seized fields over to Exxon!
A spokesman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Nov. 19 that he is "very concerned" by President Donald Trump's pardons of two US army officers and the restoration of rank of a Navy SEAL. The president last week granted full pardons to Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, and restored Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher to his previous rank of chief petty officer. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the OHCHR, said the pardons sent "a disturbing signal to militaries" around the globe, noting that international law requires the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, and that the pardons "simply void[ed]" the legal process. Colville was "particularly troubled" by the pardon issued to Golsteyn, who was still awaiting trial on charges of murdering an unarmed Afghan man during his deployment in 2010.
Human Rights Watch said on Oct. 31 that US Central Intelligence Agency-backed Afghan forces have committed summary executions, disappearances, attacks on medical facilities, and other "grave" offenses. These paramilitary forces are officially under the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS), but have been recruited, trained, equipped and overseen by the CIA. The CIA provides logistical support, as well as intelligence and surveillance for targeting during "kill-or-capture" operations. US special forces personnel, usually Army Rangers, often are deployed alongside the paramilitary forces.
The Yazidi village of Bara in northern Iraq was struck by Turkish warplanes for the second time in two days Nov. 5, injuring at least three. There were also strikes on the nearby village of Khanasor, targeting a base of the Shingal Protection Units (YBS), a Yazidi militia. The YBS played a key role in liberating the area from ISIS after the Islamic State's genocide against the Yazidis in 2014. Turkey believes the YBS to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and justifies its strikes by claiming the area is host to PKK positions. The area of Shingal, also known as Sinjar, was subject to a spate of air-strikes in 2018, which killed YBS commander Zaki Shingali as well as four fighters. (Provisional Government of Ezidikhan)
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo was sworn in for a second term Oct. 20 amid an official ban on protests, and Jakarta's streets flooded with 30,000 police and military troops. The inauguration was preceded by a wave of mass protests in September, mostly led by students. The demonstrations were sparked by a new law that weakens Indonesia's anti-corruption agency, and another that instates such moralistic measures as a ban on extramarital sex—the latter a play to cultural conservatives who accuse Widodo of being insufficiently Muslim. But protesters' anger was also directed at plans for a tough new criminal code, at troops mobilized to put down the unrest in Papua region, and at the failure to stem forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that are causing toxic haze across Southeast Asia.
A US military convoy was spotted headed back into Syria from Iraqi territory—just days after the US withdrawal from northern Syria, which precipitated the Turkish aggression there, had been completed. The convoy was traveling toward the Deir ez-Zor area, presumably to "guard" the oil-fields there, now under the precarious control of Kurdish forces. (Rudaw) Following up on President Trump's pledge to secure the oil-fields, Defense Secretary Mark Esper now tells USA Today that the troops being mobilized to Deir ez-Zor "will include some mechanized forces." USA Today also reports that Esper broached sending armored vehicles now based in Kuwait to defend the Syrian oil-fields.