Tagged: aid

0

Military Families And SNAP Benefits

NPR’s Scott Simon talks with Amy Bushatz, reporter at Military.com, about how the White House’s proposed budget cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program might affect military families.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week the White House proposed a $17 billion budget cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps millions of low-income Americans feed themselves and their families. An estimated 23,000 U.S. military families are among those who receive SNAP benefits. Amy Bushatz has covered food assistance and military families for Military.com. She joins us now from Palmer, Alaska. Thanks so much for being with us.

AMY BUSHATZ: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: I think a lot of people are wondering how could it be that the families of people who are serving their country in the U.S. armed forces need food assistance.

BUSHATZ: So when you come into the military, that compensation system has not kept up with how the force has changed and how military families have changed. You’re no longer looking at, say, a 17 or 18 year old kid right out of high school with no family who’s receiving that base-level pay, right? You’re looking at, say, somebody in their late 20s who might have a couple of kids. Well, that income compared to his family size or her family size puts them at a place where they qualify for this food assistance.

SIMON: What would the change in, as you see it, SNAP benefits mean for military families that receive that kind of assistance?

BUSHATZ: What the president has proposed is to really cut the amount of money people receiving food stamps receive. That’s a benefit that they can take to the grocery store and use it to buy food. So what the president is proposing is to instead replace that with a box of really what are shelf-stable food items. Now I think it’s important to mention they didn’t actually release really any major details about this – how you would request this box, what would be in it, if you could change what’s in it based on your dietary needs or really anything like that.

SIMON: Have you been hearing from people who read your stories?

BUSHATZ: Yeah, I hear from a lot of advocacy organizations who can’t believe that this is happening. I think people are surprised to find how many military families access food banks. There are food banks in or around most military bases nationwide. I think people are surprised that military families struggle just like anybody else. You know, I’ll tell you. It’s – it can be more of a struggle. Our society relies on a two-income household system. That’s sort of an expectation now. Military spouses have a terrible time finding consistent employment. Military families often move every two to three years.

SIMON: I understand some military families have to deal with the complications of what’s called the Basic Allowance for Housing that can wind up affecting how much food aid they might need or even can receive. Can you explain that to us.

BUSHATZ: A Basic Allowance for Housing is what’s known as an entitlement. It’s essentially a paycheck plus-up that military families receive that’s based on the zip code in which they live. By the way, where you live is ordered by Uncle Sam, right? So you don’t have any say in this matter really. So this amount of money that’s based on where you live is counted as your income when they look at whether or not you qualify for the SNAP program. OK, so why does that matter? Well, if you qualify in Kansas, where your BAH might be a $1,000, you certainly should qualify in San Diego where – because of cost of living your BAH is much, much higher – but because they look at that as a part of your income, you don’t. So there are a lot of advocates who are working very hard to get this allowance discluded from that income.

SIMON: Amy Bushatz is spouse and family editor for Military.com Thanks so much for being with us.

BUSHATZ: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use[1] and permissions[2] pages at www.npr.org[3] for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc.[4], an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

References

  1. ^ terms of use (www.npr.org)
  2. ^ permissions (www.npr.org)
  3. ^ www.npr.org (www.npr.org)
  4. ^ Verb8tm, Inc. (www.verb8tm.com)
0

German defense minister slams Trump's military-heavy approach to …

MUNICH — German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen denounced President Trump’s military-heavy approach to global affairs Friday, saying the United States is shortchanging diplomacy and soft power in favor of a dangerous overreliance on its military.

The tough criticism, made to an audience of the world’s security elite, including an unsmiling Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, was a European riposte to Trump’s ongoing push for Europe to spend more on defense. Even as von der Leyen acknowledged her nation’s need to boost defense spending, she said that Trump’s proposed deep spending cuts to diplomacy, development aid and the United Nations could threaten international security just as much as a failure to invest enough in weaponry.

Von der Leyen’s comments at the Munich Security Conference, which were echoed by French Defense Minister Florence Parly, came amid a deepening rift in the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe that helped underpin the post-World War II global order. At a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week, Mattis criticized many allies for failing to create plans to meet their military spending commitments, and said he was worried that European Union efforts to bolster security cooperation could lead to wasteful duplication.

“It is a point of concern to us that some of our partners continue to roll back spending on diplomacy, international aid and the United Nations,” von der Leyen said, without mentioning Trump by name.

[NATO allies boost defense spending in the wake of Trump criticism[1]]

It was one of the most forceful recent European rejoinders to Trump’s global spending priorities. In the 13 months since Trump took office, Europe has moved to boost defense spending, but also to improve its ability to fight alone without the support of the United States, if need be.

“Transatlantic burden-sharing cannot consist of a model where some are responsible for the sharp end of the stick and some of us are responsible for humanitarian issues and reconstruction,” von der Leyen said. “This must become a guiding principle on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Trump’s proposed 2019 budget, released Monday, would chop funding for the State Department by 26 percent, even as it proposes significant increases for the Pentagon.

German defense spending falls well below NATO goals, which push members to spend at least 2 percent of their economic output on defense every year. Despite Berlin’s manufacturing might, its military spending lags at 1.2 percent. The shortfall has made Europe’s biggest economy a frequent target of criticism for Trump and other U.S. officials. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats campaigned in September elections on a pledge to reach the NATO goal. But a coalition agreement the party reached this month to govern with the center-left Social Democrats made no specific mention of the goal and offered no timeline for hitting it.

The agreement — which must still be approved by the Social Democrats’ rank-and-file before Germany can form a government after a record-long delay — did earmark surplus government funds for defense and development.

Meanwhile, Germany’s military is in a derelict state. The country’s parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces said last month that the German military, the Bundeswehr, was effectively “not deployable for collective defense.” 

Germany’s Die Welt newspaper reported Thursday that the nation’s military has only nine operational Leopard 2 tanks, even though it has pledged to have 44 ready for a NATO rapid-reaction force it is slated to lead early next year. The report cited leaked Defense Ministry documents.

Von der Leyen said Friday that the country is fixing the deficiencies in its military, but that it will take time after 25 years of defense cuts that followed the end of the Cold War.

[Germany’s army is so underequipped that it used broomsticks instead of machine guns[2]]

France’s defense minister echoed the push for Europe to stand on its own.

Europe must develop its security capabilities so that it can act autonomously in military conflicts “without having to call the United States to rush to our sick bed,” Parly said, even as she described the alliance with the United States as “indispensable.”

Europe’s efforts to better integrate its military operations received an endorsement from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who said during a panel discussion at the conference that he had long opposed the idea as an unnecessary competitor to NATO, but had recently changed his mind. 

Defense cooperation, he said, “may be the antidote to this nationalist fever.” He argued that it was also a way to keep Britain in the European fold while deterring Russian aggression.

Given the opportunity to criticize Europe for not spending more on defense, Graham demurred.   

“I want you to get to 2 percent so Trump will be quiet,” he said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking late Friday, took aim at both Trump’s White House and Russia, saying he worries that “phony populism” is driving the world back to the conflicts of the 20th century. He said he hoped an international commission could examine the way Russia is trying to influence Western political systems.

“I never thought I’d live to see this naked, naked nationalism be given legitimacy in so many parts of the world,” Biden said.

            Read more:         

Facing Russian threat, NATO boosts operations for the first time since the Cold War[3]  

Afraid of a major conflict? The German military is currently unavailable.[4]  

            Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world[5]            

            Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news[6]         

0

German defense minister slams Trump's military-heavy approach to security

MUNICH — German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen denounced President Trump’s military-heavy approach to global affairs Friday, saying the United States is shortchanging diplomacy and soft power in favor of a dangerous overreliance on its military.

The tough criticism, made to an audience of the world’s security elite, including an unsmiling Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, was a European riposte to Trump’s ongoing push for Europe to spend more on defense. Even as von der Leyen acknowledged her nation’s need to boost defense spending, she said that Trump’s proposed deep spending cuts to diplomacy, development aid and the United Nations could threaten international security just as much as a failure to invest enough in weaponry.

Von der Leyen’s comments at the Munich Security Conference, which were echoed by French Defense Minister Florence Parly, came amid a deepening rift in the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe that helped underpin the post-World War II global order. At a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week, Mattis criticized many allies for failing to create plans to meet their military spending commitments, and said he was worried that European Union efforts to bolster security cooperation could lead to wasteful duplication.

“It is a point of concern to us that some of our partners continue to roll back spending on diplomacy, international aid and the United Nations,” von der Leyen said, without mentioning Trump by name.

[NATO allies boost defense spending in the wake of Trump criticism[1]]

It was one of the most forceful recent European rejoinders to Trump’s global spending priorities. In the 13 months since Trump took office, Europe has moved to boost defense spending, but also to improve its ability to fight alone without the support of the United States, if need be.

“Transatlantic burden-sharing cannot consist of a model where some are responsible for the sharp end of the stick and some of us are responsible for humanitarian issues and reconstruction,” von der Leyen said. “This must become a guiding principle on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Trump’s proposed 2019 budget, released Monday, would chop funding for the State Department by 26 percent, even as it proposes significant increases for the Pentagon.

German defense spending falls well below NATO goals, which push members to spend at least 2 percent of their economic output on defense every year. Despite Berlin’s manufacturing might, its military spending lags at 1.2 percent. The shortfall has made Europe’s biggest economy a frequent target of criticism for Trump and other U.S. officials. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats campaigned in September elections on a pledge to reach the NATO goal. But a coalition agreement the party reached this month to govern with the center-left Social Democrats made no specific mention of the goal and offered no timeline for hitting it.

The agreement — which must still be approved by the Social Democrats’ rank-and-file before Germany can form a government after a record-long delay — did earmark surplus government funds for defense and development.

Meanwhile, Germany’s military is in a derelict state. The country’s parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces said last month that the German military, the Bundeswehr, was effectively “not deployable for collective defense.” 

Germany’s Die Welt newspaper reported Thursday that the nation’s military has only nine operational Leopard 2 tanks, even though it has pledged to have 44 ready for a NATO rapid-reaction force it is slated to lead early next year. The report cited leaked Defense Ministry documents.

Von der Leyen said Friday that the country is fixing the deficiencies in its military, but that it will take time after 25 years of defense cuts that followed the end of the Cold War.

[Germany’s army is so underequipped that it used broomsticks instead of machine guns[2]]

France’s defense minister echoed the push for Europe to stand on its own.

Europe must develop its security capabilities so that it can act autonomously in military conflicts “without having to call the United States to rush to our sick bed,” Parly said, even as she described the alliance with the United States as “indispensable.”

Europe’s efforts to better integrate its military operations received an endorsement from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who said during a panel discussion at the conference that he had long opposed the idea as an unnecessary competitor to NATO, but had recently changed his mind. 

Defense cooperation, he said, “may be the antidote to this nationalist fever.” He argued that it was also a way to keep Britain in the European fold while deterring Russian aggression.

Given the opportunity to criticize Europe for not spending more on defense, Graham demurred.   

“I want you to get to 2 percent so Trump will be quiet,” he said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking late Friday, took aim at both Trump’s White House and Russia, saying he worries that “phony populism” is driving the world back to the conflicts of the 20th century. He said he hoped an international commission could examine the way Russia is trying to influence Western political systems.

“I never thought I’d live to see this naked, naked nationalism be given legitimacy in so many parts of the world,” Biden said.

            Read more:         

Facing Russian threat, NATO boosts operations for the first time since the Cold War[3]  

Afraid of a major conflict? The German military is currently unavailable.[4]  

            Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world[5]            

            Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news[6]         

0

US Military Mission In Syria Endures As ISIS Nears Defeat

A soldier with the Syrian Democratic Forces looks out on the front-line with ISIS in Eastern Syria. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The Kurdish soldiers stand watch at this rustic outpost, nothing more than sand bags and hardened earth, like some sort of prehistoric fortress. Some of the fighters carry AK-47s, others hold machine guns. And all are looking to the south and the front line with ISIS in northeast Syria.

It’s a vast open plain.

Gen. Hassan commands these troops. He’s a short, squat man with salt-and-pepper hair, and he points out in the distance where the enemy is located, just a couple of mud huts on the horizon.

“That place. That village farm is the place for ISIS,” says Hassan. “A couple of kilometers. After this there are many villages controlled by ISIS.”

Hassan knows that at some point his troops will have to leave their base and take on ISIS.

But that may have to wait. Because right now some of his fighters are leaving, heading to the northwest part of Syria to a place called Afrin.

The Turkish army is battling their Kurdish comrades there. Why? Because Turkey considers the Kurdish forces terrorists, linked to the deadly Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

But the Americans say the Kurds are the best fighters against ISIS, and they plan on supporting them well after ISIS is defeated, in an estimated two to six months.

Loading…

A battle on multiple fronts

Hassan also is sending some of his reserve forces south to counter attacks by pro-Syrian regime forces that include Russian mercenaries. The U.S. military attacked those forces and killed at least 100 with withering airstrikes just last week.

The Russians are supporting the Syrian regime and are supposed to coordinate any military activity with the Kurds and the Americans, in order to prevent unintended engagement. It’s called “deconfliction.”

Hassan said he reached out to the Russians when some 500 of those mercenaries were seen massing.

Some of the devastation caused by the fight to remove ISIS from Raqqa, Syria. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The Russians denied anything was happening, and repeated the denials even when those mercenaries were shelling a Kurdish base that included American special operations advisers. The mercenaries’ artillery fire came within 500 yards of the base, officials said. And that’s when the U.S. launched its airstrikes.

Hassan said it was only then that the Russians acknowledged the attack. They asked if they could collect the dead.

The multiple fronts have splintered Hassan’s forces. Some are heading north, others south.

“That worries me,” Hassan says. “These two forces, if I have availability under my control, I will defeat ISIS more.”

The outpost can only wait to take on ISIS, even though ISIS fires an occasional rocket or mortar at them.

One officer who is not worried is Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, who commands the U.S. special operations forces both in Syria and Iraq. His troops are assisting the Kurds and he’s here for a visit to this outpost.

He says ISIS is on the ropes.

“What we characterize this currently is a little bit of a transient area,” he says, looking out over the desert. “There’s no significant terrain, there’s no significant urban area that they desire to hold onto permanently. This is not where they wanted to be.”

The caliphate’s capital in ruins

Piles of rubble and debris are everywhere in Raqqa. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

Where ISIS wanted to be is 100 miles west of here along the Euphrates River in the city of Raqqa. It was their de facto capital for three years, until they were defeated in October. They’re no longer a threat but today Raqqa is little more than a pile of rubble with traffic.

Imagine those black-and-white photos from World War II. The German cities of Dresden or Hamburg that were flattened by allied airstrikes. Driving along, every so often there’s movement in the debris: a man shoveling plaster. Another man and his son walking from the skeleton of a house. Children filling buckets at a humanitarian water station.

Abu Basr commands the local security forces here. Behind him is the crumpled building that once was the headquarters of the Islamic State caliphate. He recalls what life was like when ISIS fighters patrolled these streets. Smoking was prohibited. So too was wearing brightly colored clothes. Women would be beaten for not having their faces covered. Businesses had to close for prayer.

He says mostly people spent the three years of ISIS control at home, rarely venturing out.

“We were not able to leave our house,” he says. “And if we had to, we would have to check ourselves because if ISIS saw something they didn’t like, they would immediately have put us in jail. Immediately.”

Abu Basr’s son was detained for a month. His crime? Smoking a cigarette. More serious crimes — like working with Kurdish forces or helping the U.S. coordinate airstrikes — meant certain execution, often a beheading next to the nearby clock tower in the center of the city.

Abu Basr says those memories will linger.

“They showed us what terrorism really is,” he said. “Revenge was taken for anything. There was no justice. They would immediately grab a person, the citizen, place him in a crowded area and take revenge.”

A child walks through a section of Raqqa that is being rebuilt. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

Now the focus is on rebuilding. The U.S. military says it could take at least another year until this part of Syria is stabilized. The U.S. is spending one billion dollars a year in the liberated areas on humanitarian aid and small projects, like fixing water pipes and electric substations and cleaning out irrigation canals so farming can resume.

One immediate job is removing the thousands of explosive booby traps that ISIS laid before they fled Raqqa. They’re everywhere. In front doors. Chairs and couches. Cooking pots.

Abu Basr says residents are told not to return home until their houses can be screened for bombs. Many don’t listen. So there are dozens of casualties each week.

“The vast majority are adult men but we do see some women and about 10 percent kids,” says Christina, a surgeon with the American special operations forces, who can only use her first name for security reasons. “Whoever you talk to, everyone is kind of touched by this. Their brothers have been killed, or their father has been killed.”

Christina says about 95 percent of the people she treats survive. But the wounds can be horrific, and at times include the loss of at least one limb.

Normal life fitfully returns to Raqqa

Amid all the devastation and horror is an oasis. It’s the Royal Restaurant, and it’s reputed to serve the best shawarma sandwiches in the city. It’s a small storefront with a long narrow corridor of tables and chairs. A large hunk of lamb cooks and spins out front on a spit.

A member of the U.S. Military stands watch at an observation post outside Manbij, near the front-line with Turkish backed forces. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The owner, Muhammad Jabara, stayed open during the Islamic State caliphate. He’s a heavy-set man, wearing a black leather coat and weary look. He says ISIS fighters would often come in for lunch.

Was he nervous?

“Once you see an ISIS you want to make sure, just do whatever they want,” he says, “make them just leave your place as soon as possible so you don’t get in trouble.”

Jabara says ISIS jailed a relative and threatened to behead him, but he was eventually released. Still, he knew some that weren’t so lucky and were executed. Everyone was in fear. Jabara is a heavy smoker and he would snuff out his cigarette when ISIS members approached. He recalls, they could smell it on his clothes — and warned him.

Farther north is the city of Manbij, and it seems like it’s in full recovery.

Syrian Democratic Forces stand guard at an observation post outside Manbij- near the front-line with Turkish backed forces. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

It was liberated from ISIS 16 months ago. There’s a bustling market with plenty of fruits and vegetables, clothing, gold jewelry and baked goods. One baker showed off a large bowl of sweet fried dough balls, something like doughnut holes. Bite into one and it explodes in your mouth with a blast of honey. For that reason, they’re called “bombs.”

ISIS fighters liked those, too.

Nearby is a kiosk with a man selling perfume and cologne, all set in aluminum jars behind him. He’s been open for two decades and ISIS would come by and shop for cologne, he recalls. Their favorite? An earthy concoction called “al Misk.”

“It’s very Arabian,” says the shop owner. “It’s an Eastern type of cologne, it’s just for men. It stays very long.”

But even in this seemingly normal scene there are hints of the brutality of ISIS rule. There’s a man with his right hand gone, the stump covered in green fabric. ISIS fighters accused him of a theft he says he didn’t commit. He was jailed for 20 days, strung up by his hands and one leg like a marionette.

This man says ISIS cut off his hand after accusing him of a theft which he says he did not commit. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

Then he was flogged, and told he would lose a hand. His wife and children knew he was being held but were too afraid to ask where. Now the man says he is forced to beg. He can’t work to support his family. Still, he says he’s lucky.

“Thanks to God, my head was not cut off,” he says.

ISIS is gone, but now there’s a new problem facing Manbij. The U.S. is backing Kurdish fighters here. But Turkey sees them as terrorists, linked to militants in Turkey. And so Turkey and their local allies are attacking the Kurds just a few miles away. Turkey has even threatened to invade Manbij.

The U.S. wants Turkey to stop, so the focus can remain on defeating ISIS. And American officers — echoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — say they are here to stay, to prevent a return of ISIS, to help the Kurds and to help stabilize this area so it’s not a breeding ground for terrorists.

The problem is no one can say how long that will be.

These girls are happy to be back in school in Manbij, Syria. When ISIS ruled the city, they were unable to attend school. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

Despite all the tensions, there is hope. It can be found inside a classroom at a girls’ high school, a building recently used as an ISIS prison. The two dozen girls are smiling and joking when visitors appear. They wear colorful pink and purple and red hijabs that were banned by an ISIS force that demanded only black could be worn.

They didn’t attend school under ISIS and rarely saw their friends. Now they talk about attending university, about studying English, about a better future.

“This is very happy and exciting to back to school in this year,” says one student in halting English. Another adds, “There isn’t any worry because we are now in the peaceful.”

Peaceful. At least for now.

NPR producer Greg Dixon contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  2. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  3. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  4. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  5. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
0

US Military Mission In Syria Endures As ISIS Nears Defeat

A soldier with the Syrian Democratic Forces looks out on the front-line with ISIS in Eastern Syria. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The Kurdish soldiers stand watch at this rustic outpost, nothing more than sand bags and hardened earth, like some sort of prehistoric fortress. Some of the fighters carry AK-47s, others hold machine guns. And all are looking to the south and the front line with ISIS in northeast Syria.

It’s a vast open plain.

Gen. Hassan commands these troops. He’s a short, squat man with salt-and-pepper hair, and he points out in the distance where the enemy is located, just a couple of mud huts on the horizon.

“That place. That village farm is the place for ISIS,” says Hassan. “A couple of kilometers. After this there are many villages controlled by ISIS.”

Hassan knows that at some point his troops will have to leave their base and take on ISIS.

But that may have to wait. Because right now some of his fighters are leaving, heading to the northwest part of Syria to a place called Afrin.

The Turkish army is battling their Kurdish comrades there. Why? Because Turkey considers the Kurdish forces terrorists, linked to the deadly Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

But the Americans say the Kurds are the best fighters against ISIS, and they plan on supporting them well after ISIS is defeated, in an estimated two to six months.

Loading…

A battle on multiple fronts

Hassan also is sending some of his reserve forces south to counter attacks by pro-Syrian regime forces that include Russian mercenaries. The U.S. military attacked those forces and killed at least 100 with withering airstrikes just last week.

The Russians are supporting the Syrian regime and are supposed to coordinate any military activity with the Kurds and the Americans, in order to prevent unintended engagement. It’s called “deconfliction.”

Hassan said he reached out to the Russians when some 500 of those mercenaries were seen massing.

Some of the devastation caused by the fight to remove ISIS from Raqqa, Syria. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The Russians denied anything was happening, and repeated the denials even when those mercenaries were shelling a Kurdish base that included American special operations advisers. The mercenaries’ artillery fire came within 500 yards of the base, officials said. And that’s when the U.S. launched its airstrikes.

Hassan said it was only then that the Russians acknowledged the attack. They asked if they could collect the dead.

The multiple fronts have splintered Hassan’s forces. Some are heading north, others south.

“That worries me,” Hassan says. “These two forces, if I have availability under my control, I will defeat ISIS more.”

The outpost can only wait to take on ISIS, even though ISIS fires an occasional rocket or mortar at them.

One officer who is not worried is Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, who commands the U.S. special operations forces both in Syria and Iraq. His troops are assisting the Kurds and he’s here for a visit to this outpost.

He says ISIS is on the ropes.

“What we characterize this currently is a little bit of a transient area,” he says, looking out over the desert. “There’s no significant terrain, there’s no significant urban area that they desire to hold onto permanently. This is not where they wanted to be.”

The caliphate’s capital in ruins

Piles of rubble and debris are everywhere in Raqqa. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

Where ISIS wanted to be is 100 miles west of here along the Euphrates River in the city of Raqqa. It was their de facto capital for three years, until they were defeated in October. They’re no longer a threat but today Raqqa is little more than a pile of rubble with traffic.

Imagine those black-and-white photos from World War II. The German cities of Dresden or Hamburg that were flattened by allied airstrikes. Driving along, every so often there’s movement in the debris: a man shoveling plaster. Another man and his son walking from the skeleton of a house. Children filling buckets at a humanitarian water station.

Abu Basr commands the local security forces here. Behind him is the crumpled building that once was the headquarters of the Islamic State caliphate. He recalls what life was like when ISIS fighters patrolled these streets. Smoking was prohibited. So too was wearing brightly colored clothes. Women would be beaten for not having their faces covered. Businesses had to close for prayer.

He says mostly people spent the three years of ISIS control at home, rarely venturing out.

“We were not able to leave our house,” he says. “And if we had to, we would have to check ourselves because if ISIS saw something they didn’t like, they would immediately have put us in jail. Immediately.”

Abu Basr’s son was detained for a month. His crime? Smoking a cigarette. More serious crimes — like working with Kurdish forces or helping the U.S. coordinate airstrikes — meant certain execution, often a beheading next to the nearby clock tower in the center of the city.

Abu Basr says those memories will linger.

“They showed us what terrorism really is,” he said. “Revenge was taken for anything. There was no justice. They would immediately grab a person, the citizen, place him in a crowded area and take revenge.”

A child walks through a section of Raqqa that is being rebuilt. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

Now the focus is on rebuilding. The U.S. military says it could take at least another year until this part of Syria is stabilized. The U.S. is spending one billion dollars a year in the liberated areas on humanitarian aid and small projects, like fixing water pipes and electric substations and cleaning out irrigation canals so farming can resume.

One immediate job is removing the thousands of explosive booby traps that ISIS laid before they fled Raqqa. They’re everywhere. In front doors. Chairs and couches. Cooking pots.

Abu Basr says residents are told not to return home until their houses can be screened for bombs. Many don’t listen. So there are dozens of casualties each week.

“The vast majority are adult men but we do see some women and about 10 percent kids,” says Christina, a surgeon with the American special operations forces, who can only use her first name for security reasons. “Whoever you talk to, everyone is kind of touched by this. Their brothers have been killed, or their father has been killed.”

Christina says about 95 percent of the people she treats survive. But the wounds can be horrific, and at times include the loss of at least one limb.

Normal life fitfully returns to Raqqa

Amid all the devastation and horror is an oasis. It’s the Royal Restaurant, and it’s reputed to serve the best shawarma sandwiches in the city. It’s a small storefront with a long narrow corridor of tables and chairs. A large hunk of lamb cooks and spins out front on a spit.

A member of the U.S. Military stands watch at an observation post outside Manbij, near the front-line with Turkish backed forces. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The owner, Muhammad Jabara, stayed open during the Islamic State caliphate. He’s a heavy-set man, wearing a black leather coat and weary look. He says ISIS fighters would often come in for lunch.

Was he nervous?

“Once you see an ISIS you want to make sure, just do whatever they want,” he says, “make them just leave your place as soon as possible so you don’t get in trouble.”

Jabara says ISIS jailed a relative and threatened to behead him, but he was eventually released. Still, he knew some that weren’t so lucky and were executed. Everyone was in fear. Jabara is a heavy smoker and he would snuff out his cigarette when ISIS members approached. He recalls, they could smell it on his clothes — and warned him.

Farther north is the city of Manbij, and it seems like it’s in full recovery.

Syrian Democratic Forces stand guard at an observation post outside Manbij- near the front-line with Turkish backed forces. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

It was liberated from ISIS 16 months ago. There’s a bustling market with plenty of fruits and vegetables, clothing, gold jewelry and baked goods. One baker showed off a large bowl of sweet fried dough balls, something like doughnut holes. Bite into one and it explodes in your mouth with a blast of honey. For that reason, they’re called “bombs.”

ISIS fighters liked those, too.

Nearby is a kiosk with a man selling perfume and cologne, all set in aluminum jars behind him. He’s been open for two decades and ISIS would come by and shop for cologne, he recalls. Their favorite? An earthy concoction called “al Misk.”

“It’s very Arabian,” says the shop owner. “It’s an Eastern type of cologne, it’s just for men. It stays very long.”

But even in this seemingly normal scene there are hints of the brutality of ISIS rule. There’s a man with his right hand gone, the stump covered in green fabric. ISIS fighters accused him of a theft he says he didn’t commit. He was jailed for 20 days, strung up by his hands and one leg like a marionette.

This man says ISIS cut off his hand after accusing him of a theft which he says he did not commit. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

Then he was flogged, and told he would lose a hand. His wife and children knew he was being held but were too afraid to ask where. Now the man says he is forced to beg. He can’t work to support his family. Still, he says he’s lucky.

“Thanks to God, my head was not cut off,” he says.

ISIS is gone, but now there’s a new problem facing Manbij. The U.S. is backing Kurdish fighters here. But Turkey sees them as terrorists, linked to militants in Turkey. And so Turkey and their local allies are attacking the Kurds just a few miles away. Turkey has even threatened to invade Manbij.

The U.S. wants Turkey to stop, so the focus can remain on defeating ISIS. And American officers — echoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — say they are here to stay, to prevent a return of ISIS, to help the Kurds and to help stabilize this area so it’s not a breeding ground for terrorists.

The problem is no one can say how long that will be.

These girls are happy to be back in school in Manbij, Syria. When ISIS ruled the city, they were unable to attend school. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

Despite all the tensions, there is hope. It can be found inside a classroom at a girls’ high school, a building recently used as an ISIS prison. The two dozen girls are smiling and joking when visitors appear. They wear colorful pink and purple and red hijabs that were banned by an ISIS force that demanded only black could be worn.

They didn’t attend school under ISIS and rarely saw their friends. Now they talk about attending university, about studying English, about a better future.

“This is very happy and exciting to back to school in this year,” says one student in halting English. Another adds, “There isn’t any worry because we are now in the peaceful.”

Peaceful. At least for now.

NPR producer Greg Dixon contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  2. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  3. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  4. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  5. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
0

US Military Mission In Syria Endures As ISIS Nears Defeat

A soldier with the Syrian Democratic Forces looks out on the front-line with ISIS in Eastern Syria. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The Kurdish soldiers stand watch at this rustic outpost, nothing more than sand bags and hardened earth, like some sort of prehistoric fortress. Some of the fighters carry AK-47s, others hold machine guns. And all are looking to the south and the front line with ISIS in northeast Syria.

It’s a vast open plain.

Gen. Hassan commands these troops. He’s a short, squat man with salt-and-pepper hair, and he points out in the distance where the enemy is located, just a couple of mud huts on the horizon.

“That place. That village farm is the place for ISIS,” says Hassan. “A couple of kilometers. After this there are many villages controlled by ISIS.”

Hassan knows that at some point his troops will have to leave their base and take on ISIS.

But that may have to wait. Because right now some of his fighters are leaving, heading to the northwest part of Syria to a place called Afrin.

The Turkish army is battling their Kurdish comrades there. Why? Because Turkey considers the Kurdish forces terrorists, linked to the deadly Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

But the Americans say the Kurds are the best fighters against ISIS, and they plan on supporting them well after ISIS is defeated, in an estimated two to six months.

Loading…

A battle on multiple fronts

Hassan also is sending some of his reserve forces south to counter attacks by pro-Syrian regime forces that include Russian mercenaries. The U.S. military attacked those forces and killed at least 100 with withering airstrikes just last week.

The Russians are supporting the Syrian regime and are supposed to coordinate any military activity with the Kurds and the Americans, in order to prevent unintended engagement. It’s called “deconfliction.”

Hassan said he reached out to the Russians when some 500 of those mercenaries were seen massing.

Some of the devastation caused by the fight to remove ISIS from Raqqa, Syria. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The Russians denied anything was happening, and repeated the denials even when those mercenaries were shelling a Kurdish base that included American special operations advisers. The mercenaries’ artillery fire came within 500 yards of the base, officials said. And that’s when the U.S. launched its airstrikes.

Hassan said it was only then that the Russians acknowledged the attack. They asked if they could collect the dead.

The multiple fronts have splintered Hassan’s forces. Some are heading north, others south.

“That worries me,” Hassan says. “These two forces, if I have availability under my control, I will defeat ISIS more.”

The outpost can only wait to take on ISIS, even though ISIS fires an occasional rocket or mortar at them.

One officer who is not worried is Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, who commands the U.S. special operations forces both in Syria and Iraq. His troops are assisting the Kurds and he’s here for a visit to this outpost.

He says ISIS is on the ropes.

“What we characterize this currently is a little bit of a transient area,” he says, looking out over the desert. “There’s no significant terrain, there’s no significant urban area that they desire to hold onto permanently. This is not where they wanted to be.”

The caliphate’s capital in ruins

Piles of rubble and debris are everywhere in Raqqa. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

Where ISIS wanted to be is 100 miles west of here along the Euphrates River in the city of Raqqa. It was their de facto capital for three years, until they were defeated in October. They’re no longer a threat but today Raqqa is little more than a pile of rubble with traffic.

Imagine those black-and-white photos from World War II. The German cities of Dresden or Hamburg that were flattened by allied airstrikes. Driving along, every so often there’s movement in the debris: a man shoveling plaster. Another man and his son walking from the skeleton of a house. Children filling buckets at a humanitarian water station.

Abu Basr commands the local security forces here. Behind him is the crumpled building that once was the headquarters of the Islamic State caliphate. He recalls what life was like when ISIS fighters patrolled these streets. Smoking was prohibited. So too was wearing brightly colored clothes. Women would be beaten for not having their faces covered. Businesses had to close for prayer.

He says mostly people spent the three years of ISIS control at home, rarely venturing out.

“We were not able to leave our house,” he says. “And if we had to, we would have to check ourselves because if ISIS saw something they didn’t like, they would immediately have put us in jail. Immediately.”

Abu Basr’s son was detained for a month. His crime? Smoking a cigarette. More serious crimes — like working with Kurdish forces or helping the U.S. coordinate airstrikes — meant certain execution, often a beheading next to the nearby clock tower in the center of the city.

Abu Basr says those memories will linger.

“They showed us what terrorism really is,” he said. “Revenge was taken for anything. There was no justice. They would immediately grab a person, the citizen, place him in a crowded area and take revenge.”

A child walks through a section of Raqqa that is being rebuilt. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

Now the focus is on rebuilding. The U.S. military says it could take at least another year until this part of Syria is stabilized. The U.S. is spending one billion dollars a year in the liberated areas on humanitarian aid and small projects, like fixing water pipes and electric substations and cleaning out irrigation canals so farming can resume.

One immediate job is removing the thousands of explosive booby traps that ISIS laid before they fled Raqqa. They’re everywhere. In front doors. Chairs and couches. Cooking pots.

Abu Basr says residents are told not to return home until their houses can be screened for bombs. Many don’t listen. So there are dozens of casualties each week.

“The vast majority are adult men but we do see some women and about 10 percent kids,” says Christina, a surgeon with the American special operations forces, who can only use her first name for security reasons. “Whoever you talk to, everyone is kind of touched by this. Their brothers have been killed, or their father has been killed.”

Christina says about 95 percent of the people she treats survive. But the wounds can be horrific, and at times include the loss of at least one limb.

Normal life fitfully returns to Raqqa

Amid all the devastation and horror is an oasis. It’s the Royal Restaurant, and it’s reputed to serve the best shawarma sandwiches in the city. It’s a small storefront with a long narrow corridor of tables and chairs. A large hunk of lamb cooks and spins out front on a spit.

A member of the U.S. Military stands watch at an observation post outside Manbij, near the front-line with Turkish backed forces. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The owner, Muhammad Jabara, stayed open during the Islamic State caliphate. He’s a heavy-set man, wearing a black leather coat and weary look. He says ISIS fighters would often come in for lunch.

Was he nervous?

“Once you see an ISIS you want to make sure, just do whatever they want,” he says, “make them just leave your place as soon as possible so you don’t get in trouble.”

Jabara says ISIS jailed a relative and threatened to behead him, but he was eventually released. Still, he knew some that weren’t so lucky and were executed. Everyone was in fear. Jabara is a heavy smoker and he would snuff out his cigarette when ISIS members approached. He recalls, they could smell it on his clothes — and warned him.

Farther north is the city of Manbij, and it seems like it’s in full recovery.

Syrian Democratic Forces stand guard at an observation post outside Manbij- near the front-line with Turkish backed forces. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

It was liberated from ISIS 16 months ago. There’s a bustling market with plenty of fruits and vegetables, clothing, gold jewelry and baked goods. One baker showed off a large bowl of sweet fried dough balls, something like doughnut holes. Bite into one and it explodes in your mouth with a blast of honey. For that reason, they’re called “bombs.”

ISIS fighters liked those, too.

Nearby is a kiosk with a man selling perfume and cologne, all set in aluminum jars behind him. He’s been open for two decades and ISIS would come by and shop for cologne, he recalls. Their favorite? An earthy concoction called “al Misk.”

“It’s very Arabian,” says the shop owner. “It’s an Eastern type of cologne, it’s just for men. It stays very long.”

But even in this seemingly normal scene there are hints of the brutality of ISIS rule. There’s a man with his right hand gone, the stump covered in green fabric. ISIS fighters accused him of a theft he says he didn’t commit. He was jailed for 20 days, strung up by his hands and one leg like a marionette.

This man says ISIS cut off his hand after accusing him of a theft which he says he did not commit. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

Then he was flogged, and told he would lose a hand. His wife and children knew he was being held but were too afraid to ask where. Now the man says he is forced to beg. He can’t work to support his family. Still, he says he’s lucky.

“Thanks to God, my head was not cut off,” he says.

ISIS is gone, but now there’s a new problem facing Manbij. The U.S. is backing Kurdish fighters here. But Turkey sees them as terrorists, linked to militants in Turkey. And so Turkey and their local allies are attacking the Kurds just a few miles away. Turkey has even threatened to invade Manbij.

The U.S. wants Turkey to stop, so the focus can remain on defeating ISIS. And American officers — echoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — say they are here to stay, to prevent a return of ISIS, to help the Kurds and to help stabilize this area so it’s not a breeding ground for terrorists.

The problem is no one can say how long that will be.

These girls are happy to be back in school in Manbij, Syria. When ISIS ruled the city, they were unable to attend school. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

Despite all the tensions, there is hope. It can be found inside a classroom at a girls’ high school, a building recently used as an ISIS prison. The two dozen girls are smiling and joking when visitors appear. They wear colorful pink and purple and red hijabs that were banned by an ISIS force that demanded only black could be worn.

They didn’t attend school under ISIS and rarely saw their friends. Now they talk about attending university, about studying English, about a better future.

“This is very happy and exciting to back to school in this year,” says one student in halting English. Another adds, “There isn’t any worry because we are now in the peaceful.”

Peaceful. At least for now.

NPR producer Greg Dixon contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  2. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  3. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  4. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  5. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
0

US Military Mission In Syria Endures As ISIS Nears Defeat

A soldier with the Syrian Democratic Forces looks out on the front-line with ISIS in Eastern Syria. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The Kurdish soldiers stand watch at this rustic outpost, nothing more than sand bags and hardened earth, like some sort of prehistoric fortress. Some of the fighters carry AK-47s, others hold machine guns. And all are looking to the south and the front line with ISIS in northeast Syria.

It’s a vast open plain.

Gen. Hassan commands these troops. He’s a short, squat man with salt-and-pepper hair, and he points out in the distance where the enemy is located, just a couple of mud huts on the horizon.

“That place. That village farm is the place for ISIS,” says Hassan. “A couple of kilometers. After this there are many villages controlled by ISIS.”

Hassan knows that at some point his troops will have to leave their base and take on ISIS.

But that may have to wait. Because right now some of his fighters are leaving, heading to the northwest part of Syria to a place called Afrin.

The Turkish army is battling their Kurdish comrades there. Why? Because Turkey considers the Kurdish forces terrorists, linked to the deadly Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

But the Americans say the Kurds are the best fighters against ISIS, and they plan on supporting them well after ISIS is defeated, in an estimated two to six months.

Loading…

A battle on multiple fronts

Hassan also is sending some of his reserve forces south to counter attacks by pro-Syrian regime forces that include Russian mercenaries. The U.S. military attacked those forces and killed at least 100 with withering airstrikes just last week.

The Russians are supporting the Syrian regime and are supposed to coordinate any military activity with the Kurds and the Americans, in order to prevent unintended engagement. It’s called “deconfliction.”

Hassan said he reached out to the Russians when some 500 of those mercenaries were seen massing.

Some of the devastation caused by the fight to remove ISIS from Raqqa, Syria. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The Russians denied anything was happening, and repeated the denials even when those mercenaries were shelling a Kurdish base that included American special operations advisers. The mercenaries’ artillery fire came within 500 yards of the base, officials said. And that’s when the U.S. launched its airstrikes.

Hassan said it was only then that the Russians acknowledged the attack. They asked if they could collect the dead.

The multiple fronts have splintered Hassan’s forces. Some are heading north, others south.

“That worries me,” Hassan says. “These two forces, if I have availability under my control, I will defeat ISIS more.”

The outpost can only wait to take on ISIS, even though ISIS fires an occasional rocket or mortar at them.

One officer who is not worried is Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, who commands the U.S. special operations forces both in Syria and Iraq. His troops are assisting the Kurds and he’s here for a visit to this outpost.

He says ISIS is on the ropes.

“What we characterize this currently is a little bit of a transient area,” he says, looking out over the desert. “There’s no significant terrain, there’s no significant urban area that they desire to hold onto permanently. This is not where they wanted to be.”

The caliphate’s capital in ruins

Piles of rubble and debris are everywhere in Raqqa. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

Where ISIS wanted to be is 100 miles west of here along the Euphrates River in the city of Raqqa. It was their de facto capital for three years, until they were defeated in October. They’re no longer a threat but today Raqqa is little more than a pile of rubble with traffic.

Imagine those black-and-white photos from World War II. The German cities of Dresden or Hamburg that were flattened by allied airstrikes. Driving along, every so often there’s movement in the debris: a man shoveling plaster. Another man and his son walking from the skeleton of a house. Children filling buckets at a humanitarian water station.

Abu Basr commands the local security forces here. Behind him is the crumpled building that once was the headquarters of the Islamic State caliphate. He recalls what life was like when ISIS fighters patrolled these streets. Smoking was prohibited. So too was wearing brightly colored clothes. Women would be beaten for not having their faces covered. Businesses had to close for prayer.

He says mostly people spent the three years of ISIS control at home, rarely venturing out.

“We were not able to leave our house,” he says. “And if we had to, we would have to check ourselves because if ISIS saw something they didn’t like, they would immediately have put us in jail. Immediately.”

Abu Basr’s son was detained for a month. His crime? Smoking a cigarette. More serious crimes — like working with Kurdish forces or helping the U.S. coordinate airstrikes — meant certain execution, often a beheading next to the nearby clock tower in the center of the city.

Abu Basr says those memories will linger.

“They showed us what terrorism really is,” he said. “Revenge was taken for anything. There was no justice. They would immediately grab a person, the citizen, place him in a crowded area and take revenge.”

A child walks through a section of Raqqa that is being rebuilt. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

Now the focus is on rebuilding. The U.S. military says it could take at least another year until this part of Syria is stabilized. The U.S. is spending one billion dollars a year in the liberated areas on humanitarian aid and small projects, like fixing water pipes and electric substations and cleaning out irrigation canals so farming can resume.

One immediate job is removing the thousands of explosive booby traps that ISIS laid before they fled Raqqa. They’re everywhere. In front doors. Chairs and couches. Cooking pots.

Abu Basr says residents are told not to return home until their houses can be screened for bombs. Many don’t listen. So there are dozens of casualties each week.

“The vast majority are adult men but we do see some women and about 10 percent kids,” says Christina, a surgeon with the American special operations forces, who can only use her first name for security reasons. “Whoever you talk to, everyone is kind of touched by this. Their brothers have been killed, or their father has been killed.”

Christina says about 95 percent of the people she treats survive. But the wounds can be horrific, and at times include the loss of at least one limb.

Normal life fitfully returns to Raqqa

Amid all the devastation and horror is an oasis. It’s the Royal Restaurant, and it’s reputed to serve the best shawarma sandwiches in the city. It’s a small storefront with a long narrow corridor of tables and chairs. A large hunk of lamb cooks and spins out front on a spit.

A member of the U.S. Military stands watch at an observation post outside Manbij, near the front-line with Turkish backed forces. Greg Dixon/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Dixon/NPR

The owner, Muhammad Jabara, stayed open during the Islamic State caliphate. He’s a heavy-set man, wearing a black leather coat and weary look. He says ISIS fighters would often come in for lunch.

Was he nervous?

“Once you see an ISIS you want to make sure, just do whatever they want,” he says, “make them just leave your place as soon as possible so you don’t get in trouble.”

Jabara says ISIS jailed a relative and threatened to behead him, but he was eventually released. Still, he knew some that weren’t so lucky and were executed. Everyone was in fear. Jabara is a heavy smoker and he would snuff out his cigarette when ISIS members approached. He recalls, they could smell it on his clothes — and warned him.

Farther north is the city of Manbij, and it seems like it’s in full recovery.

Syrian Democratic Forces stand guard at an observation post outside Manbij- near the front-line with Turkish backed forces. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

It was liberated from ISIS 16 months ago. There’s a bustling market with plenty of fruits and vegetables, clothing, gold jewelry and baked goods. One baker showed off a large bowl of sweet fried dough balls, something like doughnut holes. Bite into one and it explodes in your mouth with a blast of honey. For that reason, they’re called “bombs.”

ISIS fighters liked those, too.

Nearby is a kiosk with a man selling perfume and cologne, all set in aluminum jars behind him. He’s been open for two decades and ISIS would come by and shop for cologne, he recalls. Their favorite? An earthy concoction called “al Misk.”

“It’s very Arabian,” says the shop owner. “It’s an Eastern type of cologne, it’s just for men. It stays very long.”

But even in this seemingly normal scene there are hints of the brutality of ISIS rule. There’s a man with his right hand gone, the stump covered in green fabric. ISIS fighters accused him of a theft he says he didn’t commit. He was jailed for 20 days, strung up by his hands and one leg like a marionette.

This man says ISIS cut off his hand after accusing him of a theft which he says he did not commit. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

Then he was flogged, and told he would lose a hand. His wife and children knew he was being held but were too afraid to ask where. Now the man says he is forced to beg. He can’t work to support his family. Still, he says he’s lucky.

“Thanks to God, my head was not cut off,” he says.

ISIS is gone, but now there’s a new problem facing Manbij. The U.S. is backing Kurdish fighters here. But Turkey sees them as terrorists, linked to militants in Turkey. And so Turkey and their local allies are attacking the Kurds just a few miles away. Turkey has even threatened to invade Manbij.

The U.S. wants Turkey to stop, so the focus can remain on defeating ISIS. And American officers — echoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — say they are here to stay, to prevent a return of ISIS, to help the Kurds and to help stabilize this area so it’s not a breeding ground for terrorists.

The problem is no one can say how long that will be.

These girls are happy to be back in school in Manbij, Syria. When ISIS ruled the city, they were unable to attend school. Tom Bowman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Tom Bowman/NPR

Despite all the tensions, there is hope. It can be found inside a classroom at a girls’ high school, a building recently used as an ISIS prison. The two dozen girls are smiling and joking when visitors appear. They wear colorful pink and purple and red hijabs that were banned by an ISIS force that demanded only black could be worn.

They didn’t attend school under ISIS and rarely saw their friends. Now they talk about attending university, about studying English, about a better future.

“This is very happy and exciting to back to school in this year,” says one student in halting English. Another adds, “There isn’t any worry because we are now in the peaceful.”

Peaceful. At least for now.

NPR producer Greg Dixon contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  2. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  3. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  4. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
  5. ^ Enlarge this image (media.npr.org)
0

Ex-Iran military leader: Western nations use lizards to spy

Iran’s former military leader leveled a cold-blooded charge Tuesday — that Western spooks used lizards to “attract atomic waves” as part of their espionage on his country’s nuclear program.

Hassan Firuzabadi, top military adviser to leading mullah Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was responding to questions from local journalists on the recent arrest of environmentalists.

He said Western nations had often used tourists, scientists and environmentalists to spy on Iran.

“Several years ago, some individuals came to Iran to collect aid for Palestine… We were suspicious of the route they chose,” he told the reformist ILNA news agency, the Times of Israel reported[1].

“In their possessions were a variety of reptile desert species like lizards, chameleons… We found out that their skin attracts atomic waves and that they were nuclear spies who wanted to find out where inside the Islamic Republic of Iran we have uranium mines and where we are engaged in atomic activities,” he said.

Firuzabadi, who noted that the spies “failed every time,” made his comments amid reports that Iranian-Canadian environmentalist Kavous Seyed Emami had committed suicide in prison after he was arrested along with other members of his wildlife group last month.

Several spying allegations involving wildlife have been made against Israel in the past few years.

In January 2016, Lebanese civilians captured a griffon vulture wearing an Israeli tracking device, but released it when they realized the gadget was meant for scientific research rather than espionage.

Several months earlier, Hamas claimed to have caught a dolphin wearing Israeli spying equipment.

Turkish media also have reported about allegations that birds tagged with Israeli university tracking devices were on spy missions.

In 2012, an eagle with an Israeli tag was captured in Sudan and alleged to be a on a mission for the Jewish state’s Mossad spy agency.

Two years earlier, an Egyptian official claimed sharks somehow controlled by Israel may have been involved in several attacks on tourists in the Red Sea.

Share this:

References

  1. ^ the Times of Israel reported (www.timesofisrael.com)
0

Myanmar's presence downplayed at Thai-US military exercise

U-TAPAO AIR BASE, Thailand –  Thailand and the United States downplayed the presence of a Myanmar military officer at the opening Tuesday of the largest annual joint military exercise in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar’s military has been accused of massive human rights violations in its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority, who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring Bangladesh. U.S. lawmakers had demanded Myanmar’s exclusion from the exercise.

“The truth is Myanmar is not a participant nation,” U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davies told reporters at in the Cobra Gold exercise in eastern Thailand. “They’re not part of the exercises here.” He did not explain the Myanmar officer’s attendance.

Thai Gen. Thanchaiyan Srisuwan acknowledged inviting Myanmar to the opening ceremony. However, Myanmar’s flag was not flown at the ceremonial opening. It’s believed the Thais invited Myanmar to send three personnel though only one appeared to be attending.

In Washington last week, both Republican and Democrat members of congress criticized the invitation to Myanmar. Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press “militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside U.S. troops,” a reference to accounts of atrocities committed by Myanmar troops.

A U.S. statement said 11,075 service members from 29 countries are taking part in this year’s exercise, with Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia the seven main participants.

It said the aims of the exercise are to enhance security cooperation, develop peacekeeping forces and maintain readiness for humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.

The exercise includes humanitarian components, such as evacuation drills, as well as traditional military exercises such as amphibious landings.

Disaster relief has assumed a high profile in recent years, especially after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. Multinational forces mobilized for relief efforts after that crisis, as they did again on a more limited scale after 2008’s Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar, killing upward of 130,000 people.

Davies, in an indirect reference to such crises, told reporters that “It’s very important that everyone from around the region have an eye on what’s happening here and to some extent to be part of it, but I’ll come back to what I said earlier that Burma is not a participating nation.” Burma is the old name for Myanmar before it was changed by the country’s previous military government, and is still used by the governments of the U.S. and several other nations.

0

Myanmar's presence downplayed at Thai-US military exercise

U-TAPAO AIR BASE, Thailand –  Thailand and the United States downplayed the presence of a Myanmar military officer at the opening Tuesday of the largest annual joint military exercise in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar’s military has been accused of massive human rights violations in its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority, who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring Bangladesh. U.S. lawmakers had demanded Myanmar’s exclusion from the exercise.

“The truth is Myanmar is not a participant nation,” U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davies told reporters at in the Cobra Gold exercise in eastern Thailand. “They’re not part of the exercises here.” He did not explain the Myanmar officer’s attendance.

Thai Gen. Thanchaiyan Srisuwan acknowledged inviting Myanmar to the opening ceremony. However, Myanmar’s flag was not flown at the ceremonial opening. It’s believed the Thais invited Myanmar to send three personnel though only one appeared to be attending.

In Washington last week, both Republican and Democrat members of congress criticized the invitation to Myanmar. Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press “militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside U.S. troops,” a reference to accounts of atrocities committed by Myanmar troops.

A U.S. statement said 11,075 service members from 29 countries are taking part in this year’s exercise, with Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia the seven main participants.

It said the aims of the exercise are to enhance security cooperation, develop peacekeeping forces and maintain readiness for humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.

The exercise includes humanitarian components, such as evacuation drills, as well as traditional military exercises such as amphibious landings.

Disaster relief has assumed a high profile in recent years, especially after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. Multinational forces mobilized for relief efforts after that crisis, as they did again on a more limited scale after 2008’s Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar, killing upward of 130,000 people.

Davies, in an indirect reference to such crises, told reporters that “It’s very important that everyone from around the region have an eye on what’s happening here and to some extent to be part of it, but I’ll come back to what I said earlier that Burma is not a participating nation.” Burma is the old name for Myanmar before it was changed by the country’s previous military government, and is still used by the governments of the U.S. and several other nations.