Follow us on social

Shutterstock_1098435338-scaled

US sanctions Syrian rebel group for crimes against Kurds

The move highlights the many contradictions of US policy in the war-torn country.

Reporting | Middle East

The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on Syrian rebels for their involvement in the Turkish occupation of northern Syria on Wednesday.

The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control announced that Ahrar al-Sharqiya would be added to the “specially designated nationals” list, imposing economic sanctions on the Syrian militia.

The United States has rarely sanctioned Syrian insurgents, and has never sanctioned Turkey’s Syrian proxy army. Many of the other groups in the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army have received U.S. weapons and training. Ahrar al-Sharqiya fought alongside these groups but never received U.S. assistance.

“Ahrar al-Sharqiya has committed numerous crimes against civilians, particularly Syrian Kurds, including unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and seizures of private property,” the U.S. Treasury noted in a statement. “The group has also incorporated former Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) members into its ranks. These horrific acts compound the suffering of a population that has repeatedly endured mass displacement.”

One of Ahrar al-Sharqiya’s most infamous crimes was the execution-style murder and mutilation of Syrian Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf in October 2019. At the time, then-U.S. special envoy James Jeffrey reportedly blocked a statement condemning the murder.

“It is good to sanction the groups that committed crimes,” Syrian Kurdish diplomat Sinam Mohamad wrote in a text message to Responsible Statecraft.

Turkey has launched several incursions against the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which Ankara says are linked to Kurdish rebels inside Turkey. The Trump administration gave a tacit green light to the 2018 operation, and an explicit one to the October 2019 campaign.

The Turkish military has used Syrian fighters to maintain control over occupied areas. Those fighters have been accused of war crimes, from looting property to holding civilians hostage in torture prisons.

The militias have also profited from the occupation, stealing from and extorting Afrini farmers whose olives were sold to American supermarkets.

Many of the rebel groups involved in the occupation used to receive weapons and training from the United States before joining the Turkish proxy force. Ahrar al-Sharqiya, which never received U.S. support, once threatened U.S. special forces deployed alongside Turkish-backed rebels in an infamous 2016 incident.

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department added Turkey to the list of countries that use child soldiers, the first time a NATO ally was added to the list. The State Department accused the Sultan Murad Division — a formerly U.S.-backed, now Turkish-backed rebel group — of recruiting children to fight as mercenaries in Libya.

U.S. law allows Treasury to sanction entities that “threaten the peace, security, stability, or territorial integrity of Syria,” under an October 2019 executive order signed by then President Donald Trump in response to the Turkish invasion.

The order was used to sanction some Turkish officials, but those sanctions were lifted a week later. The executive order was also used to sanction the Syrian regime, which has committed atrocities against Syrian civilians but was not involved in the Turkish invasions.

However, the order was never used against the Turkish-backed militia groups. Mohamed, the Kurdish diplomat, had called for the U.S. government to designate those groups in an interview with Al-Monitor last week.

She told Responsible Statecraft on Wednesday that the United States should continue to sanction “many others” responsible for war crimes. Mohamed hails from Afrin, and her family olive business was looted during the Turkish occupation.

She said that she is “looking forward” to accountability for those “who robbed my property in Afrin.”

Turkish Army and Free Syrian Army operating in Syria 23 February 2018, Afrin - Syria (Photo: quetions123 via shutterstock.com)
Reporting | Middle East
US inks deal to build up to 5 bases in Somalia

Somali National Army soldiers march during the 57th Anniversary of the Somali National Army held at the Ministry of defence in Mogadishu on April 12, 2017. AMISOM Photo / Ilyas Ahmed. Original public domain image from Flickr

US inks deal to build up to 5 bases in Somalia

Africa

On February 15, the U.S. government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Somalia to construct up to five military bases for the Somali National Army in the name of bolstering the army’s capabilities in the ongoing fight against the militant group al-Shabaab.

This is a troubling development that not only risks further militarizing Somalia and perpetuating endless war, but comes with the potential of exacerbating geopolitical rivalries at the expense of the needs and interests of ordinary Somalis.

keep readingShow less
We didn't forget you: US to send 5 aircraft carriers to the Pacific

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 9, 2021) The Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups steam in formation on scheduled deployments to the 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt/Released)

We didn't forget you: US to send 5 aircraft carriers to the Pacific

Asia-Pacific

The U.S. will have almost half of its aircraft carriers deployed in the Pacific in the coming weeks.

The South China Morning Post reported on February 14 that five of America’s 11 aircraft carriers would all likely soon be deployed there at the same time. Two of the carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and USS Theodore Roosevelt have been participating in a military exercise with Japan in the Philippine Sea, the USS Ronald Reagan is in port at Yokosuka, the USS Abraham Lincoln departed San Diego earlier this month, and the USS George Washington is expected to relieve the Reagan in a few weeks.

keep readingShow less
Foreign aid vote shows stark generational divide in GOP

Left-to-right: Senator-elect Ted Budd (R-N.C.); Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Minority Leader; Senator-elect Katie Britt (R-AL); and Senator-elect J.D. Vance (R-OH) pose for a photo before meeting in Leader McConnell’s office, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)

Foreign aid vote shows stark generational divide in GOP

Washington Politics

The so-called GOP “civil war” over the role the United States should play in the world made headlines earlier this week when the Senate finally passed a national security supplemental that provides $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel.

The legislation, which was supported by President Joe Biden and the overwhelming majority of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, proved more controversial among Republicans. Twenty-two GOP Senators voted in favor of the legislation, while 27 opposed it.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest