Bombs Slam Into Islamic State Stronghold on Iraq-Syria Border

RABIA, Iraq – Cheers erupted as the bomb dropped.

Whistling rang out here on the Syrian border from the earthen mounds built up by Kurdish peshmerga bulldozers as everyone stared at the billowing smoke, waiting for it to clear so they could assess the damage.

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) had bombed the Islamic State’s last position in the Syria-Iraq border town of Rabia: an unfinished hospital where 30 militants are holed up, Alamo-style. Surrounded by 1,500 Kurdish troops, these are the remnants of an alleged 400-man force IS had sent to Rabia.

According to Kurdish fighters, 50 IS members had been killed during the past day of fighting while the rest fled across the border to Syria or moved east towards their stronghold of Mosul. Over the past twenty-four hours, airstrikes from the US-led coalition have given cover to the Kurds as they began a push to retake a swath of land, including Rabia, snaking across the ever-important Northern Iraq-Syria border.

On the ground, however, the airstrike quickly became a source of confusion.

Not long after the dust had quite literally settled on the RAF bombing witnessed by USA Today Wednesday, Colonel Abdel Jaber Jamal, a deputy commander for one of the two infantry divisions deployed to Rabia, and Captain Dilshad Dawud, a scout for airstrike locations, disagreed over the provenance of the strike.

“It was the Americans,” insisted Col. Jamal, based on a hunch.

“It was the British,” countered Capt. Dawud, going off a rumor.

Neither had spoken directly to anyone from the coalition forces, and neither was quite sure whether what they said was true. Nor could anyone else offer much certainty. Brigadier Hamid Hashim, the lead commander of Col. Jamal’s division, for instance, claimed that, not only was this a British strike, but he had been in contact with a pilot who “had a woman’s voice.”

The building the 30 IS militants are trapped in sits in the center of town, which was rocked by the explosion. Within the next hour, a fire-fight broke out between the peshmerga – which literally means “those who confront death” and is the term used by Kurds to refer to their fighters – and what jihadis who remained in the unfinished hospital complex. Occasionally, the thud of a tank shell can be heard.

As of Wednesday evening, IS was still in control of the hospital. “They refuse to surrender,” says Col. Jamal, “They will shoot, they will fight, or they will die, those are their only options.”

Casualties have been quite high during the short 24 hr battle so far. At a peshmerga staging area near the town entrance, armored transports pull in with the injured and dying.

One man is lowered slowly out of the back with his jaw partially blown off. As he walks towards a waiting car, he keeps his left arm pressed up against his chin so as to keep the right side of his mouth in place. He stops to spit up some blood as he’s ushered into a car for a fifteen minute ride to a Red Crescent checkpoint, bleeding profusely.

Still on the transport lies a motionless body. By the count of Hashiar Esse, the head of the Red Crescent’s Dohuk office, these are just two of about 64 wounded and at least 11 deaths from the fighting in Rabia that he had tallied by late Wednesday afternoon.

This fight is “very important,” notes Lieutenant Colonel Sharkar Rashid of the 1st Artillery Division as he watches the chaotic scene of the injured. “It’s the border between Syria and Iraq. If the peshmerga doesn’t control the towns [along the border] they [IS] will go deep into Iraq again,” says one of Lt. Col. Rashid’s men, butting into the conversation.

And Rashid’s soldier isn’t wrong. Known for its history as a smuggling town, Rabia is a key border crossing that has become a major part of IS’ supply route between Syria and Iraq. If the peshmerga can finish taking the town, it’ll spell some much needed good news for the beleaguered North of Iraq.

How long IS can keep their last bit of Rabia inside the hospital is anyone’s guess. “Only God knows. And IS knows,” says Brigadier Hashim, with a hearty laugh.

Assyrian International News Agency

Fighting Intensifies Around Key Syrian Town Near Turkish Border

Fighting is reported to have intensified between Islamic State militants and Kurdish fighters near Kobani, a key Syrian town near the border with Turkey.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, IS militants are getting closer to Kobani, which sits on a strategic road linking north and northwestern Syria.

The report on October 2 comes a day after US-led forces carried out at least five air strikes against Islamic State militants besieging Kobani.

There have been fierce clashes around Kobani since mid-September, when Islamic State militants launched an assault to seize the area.

Their advance has caused more than 150,000 Kurds to flee to Turkey.

On October 1, the Britain-based Observatory said nine Kurdish fighters — including three women — captured in clashes near Kobani had been beheaded by Islamic State militants.

Based on reporting by dpa and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kurds Outraged as Turkey Closes Border

Kurdish activists expressed outrage as the Turkish military began preventing any young person from crossing the border to fight Islamic militants in Syria, where Kurdish forces have been fighting to save the city of Kobane.

Turkish troops were out in force in Mursitpinar, on the Turkish-Syrian border that abuts Kobane.

“Kobane’s fall means Kurdistan’s fall,” said Ferhat Encu, a 29-year-old Turkish-Kurd from Sirnak.

”We can’t sit here and just watch. I’m trying to get into Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), but the Turks have blocked the border,” said Encu, who was a frontier guard before leaving to fight for Kobane earlier this month. He returned for a break, and now cannot go back.

The Turkish government fears young Kurds returning with military and weapons skills, after fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG), the main protection force in Rojava. That is because of the group’s links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a 30-year war in Turkey for greater rights.

Selahattin Demirtas, a leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) crossed the border into Kobane on Tuesday in a visit of solidarity. He later called on the Turkish government to support the fight of Syrian Kurds against the IS. He said this was an opportunity to strengthen Turkey’s peace process with its own Kurdish population.

“I want to go to Kobane and fight the IS, which is right now butchering my people, but I can’t,” complained Hamo Sen, a 30-year-old Turkish-Kurd from Urfa.

Media reports say that hundreds of young Kurdish men and women from Turkey are believed to have crossed the border to fight. “Many young people want to go to Rojava to join YPG against IS,” Encu claimed.

Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, a fortnight ago urged Kurds to “mass mobilize” against IS.

“Not only the people of Rojava, but also everyone in the North (Turkey) and other parts of Kurdistan should act accordingly,” he said in a message sent through his lawyers.

The Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet recently reported that 30-year-old Serdar Macit, a former Turkish archery champion, is among those who have taken to Rojava to fight with the YPG against the militants.

“It is an honor to be a part of YPG, who are fighting against injustice,” Macit told Turkish media.

Many locals are convinced that Turkey – which has for years turned a blind eye to Islamic militants using its territory for ”jihad” in Syria — is actively supporting IS with heavy weaponry, medical care and money.

Sen accused the Turkish authorities of double standards.

“They turn a blind eye to jihadists crossing into Rojava, while we can’t go there to fight for our people,” Sen complained.

In New York last week for the UN General Assembly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied backing the jihadis. Any support for “any terrorist group is out of the question, as Turkey is a country which has suffered heavily from terrorism in the past,” he was quoted as saying.

The US-led anti-IS coalition launched airstrikes targeting militant strongholds on the outskirts of Kobane for the first time early Saturday.

Tens of thousands have fled the IS assaults on Kobane that began about 10 days ago, many washing across the Turkish border.

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IS Jihadists Close in on Key Syria Border Town

Syrian Kurds stand on a hill looking down on clashes between Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish fighters, near the Turkey-Syria border, on September 28, 2014.Damascus (AFP) — Islamic State group fighters closed in Monday to within only a few kilometres of a key Kurdish town on Syria’s border with Turkey, despite continued air strikes by the US-led coalition.

NATO member Turkey’s government meanwhile said it would ask parliament to debate joining the coalition against the jihadists operating on the country’s doorstep from as early as Thursday.

The alliance carried out fresh raids against IS positions in Syria overnight, but the jihadists still managed to advance within five kilometres (three miles) of the strategic Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane to the Kurds, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitoring group said it was the closest the militants had come to the town since they began advancing toward it nearly two weeks ago.

The jihadists fired at least 15 rockets at the town centre, killing at least one person, as they advanced, the Observatory said, adding that other rockets hit the Syrian-Turkish border.

In Ankara, parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek was quoted by NTV television as saying motions for discussions on Turkey joining the coalition could land with lawmakers on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the motions would be debated on Thursday.

Turkey had refused to join the coalition while dozens of its citizens — including diplomats and children — were being held by IS after being abducted in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

After they were freed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s position had changed, signalling a more robust stance towards the group.

“We will hold discussions with our relevent institutions this week. We will definitely be where we need to be,” Erdogan said on Sunday.

“We cannot stay out of this.”

Fresh strikes in north Syria

The coalition has been carrying out strikes against jihadists inside Syria for nearly a week, with US and Arab aircraft participating in the raids.

On Monday, the Observatory reported fresh overnight strikes in two northern provinces, Raqa and Aleppo.

In Raqa, which has become the de facto headquarters of IS, the strikes hit outside the provincial capital, with a checkpoint among the targets, the group said.

The coalition also carried out strikes around the town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey, hitting a school used as a local headquarters by IS militants, the Observatory said.

But in Aleppo, raids hit a civilian-run mill and grain silos outside the IS-held town of Minbej, the Observatory said, adding that civilians were believed to have been killed.

The strikes also hit a local headquarters belonging to IS outside Minbej, the Observatory added.

Washington began its aerial campaign in Syria on September 23, expanding strikes that began in August against IS positions in Iraq.

So far, the coalition has attracted dozens of countries, though only a handful of Arab allies — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan — are participating in the strikes on Syrian soil.

US underestimated IS: Obama

In an interview with CBS News, President Barack Obama acknowledged his administration had underestimated the opportunity that the three-and-a-half year-old Syrian civil war would provide for jihadist militants to regroup and stage a sudden comeback.

“I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said, referring to his director of national intelligence.

He also admitted Washington had placed too much faith in Iraqi security forces trained and supplied by the United States, which collapsed in the face of a lightning offensive led by IS in June.

The strikes in Syria have targeted both IS headquarters and military installations, but also focused on oil refining facilities in an apparent bid to slash a key source of funds for the group.

The swathe of territory that IS controls straddling northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria includes most of Syria’s main oilfields.

Experts say the jihadists were earning as much as $ 3 million (2.4 million euros) a day from black-market oil sales before the US-led air campaign began.

On Sunday night, the coalition also struck the entrance of the country’s main gas plant in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor — in an apparent warning to IS militants to abandon the facility.

The plant feeds a key power station in regime-held Homs province and several provinces would be left without electricity if it stopped functioning, the Observatory said.

Assyrian International News Agency

ISIL closes in on border town with Turkey

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have closed in on a key Kurdish town in Syria, right next to the border with Turkey, prompting the government in Ankara to deploy tanks to protect its territory.

The news comes as activists reported early on Tuesday that US warplanes attacked ISIL in Syria overnight, killing at least two civilians as well as an unknown number of rebel fighters.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, in an area controlled by ISIL.

Strikes on a building on a road leading out of the town also killed a number of ISIL fighters, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the observatory, which gathers information from sources in Syria.

Earlier on Monday, activists told Al Jazeera that ISIL fighters were within five kilometres of Kobane, another town on the border with Turkey.

Intensified shelling in and around Kobane has angered Kurds on the Turkish side of the border, who said the government of President Recep Tayip Erdogan was not doing enough to stop the assault.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the Turkish border, said mortar shells have landed in Turkey, but the Turkish military has so far refrained from responding, even as more tanks have been deployed.  

Our correspondent also reported that in some areas, ISIL positions were visible from the Turkish side of the border.

Turkish tanks have been sent to hills overlooking Kobane, while a US-led coalition intensified its bombing of ISIL in northern and eastern Syria.

At least 15 tanks were positioned, some with their guns pointing towards Syrian territory. 

Dekker added that shells hit at least three homes and a school in Ain al-Arab, a largely-Kurdish town known to its residents as Kobane. “There were no reports of injuries, as the targets were vacant,” she said.

More than 150,000 Syrian Kurds have streamed into Turkey since last week, as ISIL fighters pressed towards Kobane.

Airstrikes

Meanwhile, US-led coalition air raids targeted towns and villages in northern and eastern Syria controlled by ISIL. 

The observatory reported that 10 air raids targeted various parts of the province of Idlib, killing at least one child and six others, including five members of the same family.

Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the reports.

The purported civilian casualties would add to the 19 civilians that the Observatory says have already been killed in raids against the group.

According to Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beirut, Zeina Khodr, anti-West sentiments are increasing as more civilians are killed.

An activist in an ISIL-held town, who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera: “These air strikes are causing an economic crisis. Winter is around the corner and people need heating oil. Most of the oil facilities are not operational – even those which haven’t been hit because people are scared.”

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch said that it had confirmed the deaths of at least seven civilians – two women and five children – from apparent US missile strikes on September 23 in the village of Kafr Derian in Idlib province. 

It based its conclusions on conversations with three local residents.

The US military said on Monday that an American air strike targeted ISIL vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility near Manbij, but it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Turkish Tanks Face ISIL Near Syria Border

Turkish tanks have been sent to hills overlooking the Syrian border town of Ain al-Arab besieged by ISIL, while a US-led coalition intensified its bombing of the group in northern and eastern Syria.Turkish tanks have been sent to hills overlooking the Syrian border town of Ain al-Arab besieged by ISIL, while a US-led coalition intensified its bombing of the group in northern and eastern Syria.

Their deployment of Monday came after ISIL fired shells near a refugee camp on Turkish soil. At least 15 tanks were positioned, some with their guns pointing towards Syrian territory.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the Turkish border town of Suruc, said that three shells fell in Turkey, “very close to a refugee camp, security forces and a number of protesters who had gathered to express anger at what they say was limited support provided to Kuridsh fighters battling ISIL”.

“There has been no response from the Turkish side, so far,” our correspondent said. The military said earlier it had fired back on Sunday after two mortar bombs crossed the border.

Dekker added that shells hit at least three homes and a school in Ain al-Arab, a largely-Kurdish town known to its residents as Kobane. “There were no reports of injuries, as the targets were vacant,” she said.

More than 150,000 Syrian Kurds have streamed into Turkey since last week, as ISIL fighters pressed towards Ain al-Arab.

“Things are intensifying. This doesn’t mean ISIL are advancing, because they have long-ranging artillery, but it shows that the fighting is ongoing,” Dekker said.

Air strikes

Meanwhile, US-led coalition air raids targeted towns and villages in northern and eastern Syria controlled by ISIL.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the violence in Syria, said the coalition targeted grain storage areas in the ISIL stronghold of Manbij, east of Aleppo, killing workers and not fighters.

The observatory reported that 10 air raids targeted various parts of the province of Idlib, killing at least one child and six others, including five members of the same family.

Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the reports.

The purported civilian casualties would add to the 19 civilians that the Observatory says have already been killed in raids against the group.

According to Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beirut, Zeina Khodr, anti-West sentiments are increasing as more civilians are killed.

An activist in an ISIL-held town, who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera: “These air strikes are causing an economic crisis. Winter is around the corner and people need heating oil. Most of the oil facilities are not operational – even those which haven’t been hit because people are scared.”

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch said that it had confirmed the deaths of at least seven civilians – two women and five children – from apparent US missile strikes on September 23 in the village of Kafr Derian in Idlib province.

It based its conclusions on conversations with three local residents.

Assyrian International News Agency

Turkish tanks face ISIL near Syria border

Turkish tanks have been sent to hills overlooking the Syrian border town of Ain al-Arab besieged by ISIL, while a US-led coalition intensified its bombing of the group in northern and eastern Syria.

Their deployment of Monday came after ISIL fired shells near a refugee camp on Turkish soil. At least 15 tanks were positioned, some with their guns pointing towards Syrian territory. 

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the Turkish border town of Suruc, said that three shells fell in Turkey, “very close to a refugee camp, security forces and a number of protesters who had gathered to express anger at what they say was limited support provided to Kuridsh fighters battling ISIL”.

“There has been no response from the Turkish side, so far,” our correspondent said. The military said earlier it had fired back on Sunday after two mortar bombs crossed the border.

Dekker added that shells hit at least three homes and a school in Ain al-Arab, a largely-Kurdish town known to its residents as Kobane. “There were no reports of injuries, as the targets were vacant,” she said.

More than 150,000 Syrian Kurds have streamed into Turkey since last week, as ISIL fighters pressed towards Ain al-Arab.

“Things are intensifying. This doesn’t mean ISIL are advancing, because they have long-ranging artillery, but it shows that the fighting is ongoing,” Dekker said.

Air strikes

Meanwhile, US-led coalition air raids targeted towns and villages in northern and eastern Syria controlled by ISIL. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the violence in Syria, said the coalition targeted grain storage areas in the ISIL stronghold of Manbij, east of Aleppo, killing workers and not fighters.

The observatory reported that 10 air raids targeted various parts of the province of Idlib, killing at least one child and six others, including five members of the same family.

Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the reports.

The purported civilian casualties would add to the 19 civilians that the Observatory says have already been killed in raids against the group.

According to Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beirut, Zeina Khodr, anti-West sentiments are increasing as more civilians are killed.

An activist in an ISIL-held town, who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera: “These air strikes are causing an economic crisis. Winter is around the corner and people need heating oil. Most of the oil facilities are not operational – even those which haven’t been hit because people are scared.”

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch said that it had confirmed the deaths of at least seven civilians – two women and five children – from apparent US missile strikes on September 23 in the village of Kafr Derian in Idlib province. 

It based its conclusions on conversations with three local residents.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Belarusian Border Guards Detain Ethnic Polish Leaders

Two leaders of the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), which is unrecognized by Belarusian authorities, have been detained by Belarusian border guards during a trip to Poland.

ZPB Chairman Meczislaw Jaskiewicz and ZPB Council Chairwoman Andzelika Borys were stopped by the guards as they drove to the Bruzgi border checkpoint on September 29.

ZPB spokesman Andrzej Pisalnik told RFE/RL the border guards took several personal items from Jaskiewicz and Borys, including notebooks.

In 2005, Belarusian authorities deregistered the ZPB — a nonpolitical organization set up to promote Polish culture and language — and established a Minsk-controlled organization called the Union of Belarusian Poles.

The Polish government recognizes the ZPB as the only legal representative of ethnic Poles in Belarus.

About 4 percent of Belarus’s 9.7 million people are ethnic Poles.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Why Islamic State Wants to Conquer a Kurdish Border Town

On Thursday morning, the shelling around the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab could be heard from the Turkish side of the border. For a week, the forces of Islamic State, the radical fundamentalist Sunni Muslim army, had swept through the northern edge of Syria, pushing more than a hundred thousand refugees into neighboring Turkey. By late Wednesday, they were within a few miles of Ayn al-Arab, besieging it from the east, west, and south. In an attempt to relieve the city’s defenders, the U.S. and its allies have been staging airstrikes on Islamic State installations 20 miles outside the town.

Ayn al-Arab is the town’s official Arabic name. The locals, practically all of them ethnic Kurds, call it Kobane. It is defended not by the Syrian forces of President Bashar al-Assad in faraway Damascus, which has left the Kurds of the north to their own devices, but by the People’s Protection Units (YPG, after its Kurdish initials), a local militia. The Kurds, who number up to 30 million people living in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, are said to be the largest ethnic group without a state of its own. In almost every country, they have their own fighters, including the YPG in Syria, the Peshmerga in the autonomous Kurdish province in Iraq, and the PKK guerrillas in Turkey. They serve as more kindling for the ongoing conflagration. These are the only forces on the ground to have held their own against Islamic State.

For the leaders of Islamic State, capturing Kobane would be a major victory. “Removing the threat they perceive from Kurdish forces in Kobane would be useful to secure the northern road from the east to Manbij, an Islamic State stronghold east of Aleppo,” says Aron Lund, editor of Syria in Crisis, a website run by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It would help firm up Islamic State control of an enormous section of eastern Syria that stretches toward Iraq, improving command and logistical links with the jihadists’ headquarters in Raqqa on the Euphrates River. “Seizing border crossings,” explains Lund, “controlling trade, aid shipments, and smuggling will help Islamic State control society and stabilize their rule.”

Capturing Kobane and its surroundings would also give Islamic State new bases from which to intercept aid and ammunition intended for rival, more moderate groups opposed to the Assad regime, says Lund.

The Kurdish militias in the region have a formidable reputation. But the YPG in Kobane is on the verge of collapsing under Islamic State’s onslaught. Even if his fighters outnumbered the jihadists, said Ismet Hesen, the YPG’s resident defense chief, they lack the heavy weapons needed to stave off the attack.

On Wednesday, YPG commanders, fighters, and activists in Kobane described the situation in and around the city, only a few hundred feet from the Turkish border, as increasingly desperate. After an early morning offensive, the jihadists had moved to within four to six miles of the town, Hesen said in a phone call with Businessweek and two other reporters. The most intense clashes were taking place on the southern front, he said, where the Kurds were trying to hang on to a key stronghold, a hill overlooking the city.

A series of allied airstrikes, which hit targets in several areas of the Kobane region, had not managed to displace Islamic State, Hesen said. He complained that the planes had hit buildings in outlying areas, many of them already vacated, doing nothing to stem the advance of the jihadists’ convoys. Islamic State forces were blitzing villages with tanks and pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, with fighters on foot streaming in from behind, he said. He noted that there now appeared to be an increasing urgency to the attacks. “They’re trying to capture Kobane before the airstrikes start making a difference.”

As the town braced for a final, potentially decisive assault. Hesen, the defense official, seesawed between defiance and desperation. “We will turn Kobane into Islamic State’s graveyard,” he pledged. He also prepared for the worst. “They’re planning to do in Kobane what they did in Sinjar,” he said, referring to the jihadists’ massacre of hundreds of Yazidi Kurds in Iraq. “I’m ready to be executed by Islamic State, but I won’t leave my town.”

If Kobane were to fall, the U.N. warned, the refugee wave into Turkey could reach 400,000. Since Sept. 19, more than 140,000 Kurds from the city and nearby villages have entered Turkey, the biggest mass exodus in Syria’s nearly four-year-long civil war. Turkey, which already plays host to more than 1.3 million Syrians, has been unable to keep pace with the sudden influx. As the country’s relief agency scrambled to raise tent cities along the border, thousands of the displaced slept on the streets of nearby towns, in the open desert, or inside mosques.

At the border gate, there was some traffic in the opposite direction. After dropping their families off in Turkey, thousands of Kurdish men were returning home to take up arms against Islamic State. “There’s enough guns here to arm all of them, but not enough to defend us against Islamic State,” said Mustafa Bahi, a writer and activist, speaking over the phone from Kobane.

Assyrian International News Agency

U.S. Strikes Upset Syrian Kurds on Turkish Border

U.S. Strikes Upset Syrian Kurds on Turkish Border

SURUC, Turkey — The chaos in a town near Turkey’s Syrian border intensified after U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets Tuesday, prompting Kurdish leaders to call on Washington to give them a role in coordinating the fight against the jihadists.

Kurdish leaders said that after U.S. warplanes hit Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State, the insurgents redeployed men and heavy weaponry closer to Kurdish areas. The officials said the jihadist onslaught around the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, known in Kurdish as Kobani, continued through Tuesday, as shells fell on the city and surrounding villages were seized.

Turkey’s government said on Tuesday that the number of refugees fleeing the jihadist advance rose to 150,000, while the United Nations relief agency warned the number could reach 400,000.

Panic over Islamic State’s advance led to fresh clashes at the border between Turkish security forces and angry Kurdish protesters who cursed the absence of Turkey–a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member with a major U.S. air base–from the Washington-led coalition. Speaking to reporters in New York, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could give military or logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition, but stopped short of offering any firm commitments.

The Syrian Kurdish militia, which fights under the banner of the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, on Tuesday asked to join President Barack Obama’s coalition.

“We welcome the airstrikes but they didn’t help Kobani. The U.S. should coordinate with us,” said Redur Xelil, a YPG spokesman. “We fear that the airstrikes may even push their fighters to concentrate on Kobani, endangering the city even more.”

The Syrian Kurdish plea underscored the complexity of mounting an air-power operation to alter battlefield dynamics in a rapidly shifting conflict. It poses a thorny policy challenge for the Obama administration as it considers working with a Syrian Kurdish militia that is closely tied to a guerrilla force listed as a terror organization by the U.S. and Turkey.

Those links also spotlight a key concern for Turkey, caught between Islamic State’s rapid advance and an emboldened Kurdish militia with strong support from its own restive Kurdish population.

“This is just the opening strike of what the U.S. says will be a very long campaign,” said Aaron Stein, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank. “The U.S. is also limited because of the Kurds’ difficult relationship with Turkey. This is a three-way chess game.”

The Syrian Kurdish militia YPG has close links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, classified as a terrorist organizations by the U.S. and Turkey. That listing poses a diplomatic problem for the U.S., which envisions Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq as the vanguard of a possible ground campaign against Islamic State.

U.S. officials met a Syrian Kurdish militia representative in France this summer to discuss military cooperation. Administration officials said they informed Turkey of the meeting.

In a statement on Tuesday, jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan called for a mass mobilization of all Kurds to fight Islamic State, an intervention likely to raise tensions on the border where Kurds have clashed with Turkish security forces.

Syrian Kurdish refugees kept streaming across Turkey’s border on Tuesday. At a makeshift crossing point set up for refugees near the Turkish village of Yumurtalik, people lined up for aid and recounted tales of the jihadists advance. In nearby Suruc, the epicenter of the refugee exodus, thousands more arrived on foot, with many taking shelter in gas stations, local residents’ homes schools and mosques. The town was visibly calmer on Tuesday, as refugees said Ayn al-Arab was now virtually deserted.

“Today they were shelling no further than 15 kilometers from us,” said newly arrived Hamo Ali, a 23-year-old Kurdish student from a village called Dadali. “When we saw their fighters bringing their rocket launchers to the field of the neighbouring village, all we could do was to run.”

The spillover has put pressure on Turkey’s government to take stronger action against the insurgents. In a U.S. television interview Monday, Mr. Erdogan said the world should act against the “terrorist” Islamic State, but cautioned that airstrikes were “only one dimension” of the fight. “If we do not have a comprehensive approach, then the job will be half done because you bomb a place, and that’s where you leave it,” he said.

In towns close to Turkey’s border, where thousands of Syrian Kurds have been forced to take shelter in schools and mosques, refugees welcomed the strikes, but also cast doubt on whether the military effort would succeed in destroying the group.

Ahmad Zakariya, who last week arrived in the border city of Sanliurfa, said he was worried that Islamic State could emerge stronger if the U.S.-led strikes didn’t deliver a knockout blow.

“Daesh invaded our village and took our house, so I’m happy about the strikes,” said Mr. Zakariya, using the derogatory Arabic slang term for Islamic State. “But if they don’t completely destroy them, they will become even stronger.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Kurds Say They Have Halted ISIS Advance Near Syria-Turkey Border

Kurds Say They Have Halted ISIS Advance Near Syria-Turkey Border

By Scott Neuman

Posted 2014-09-22 19:22 GMT

Kurdish fighters claim to have halted an advance by self-described Islamic State militants in an area of the Turkish-Syria border region that has seen masses of refugees fleeing the fighting in recent days.

Reuters quotes a spokesman for the YPG, the main Kurdish peshmerga group in the region, as saying “fierce clashes” were still underway with ISIS, but that the extremist group had been halted in its advance just east of the town of Kobani in northern Syria. The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirms that the group calling itself the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have not made any substantial gains in the past 24 hours, Reuters says.

NPR’s Deborah Amos reports that Kobani “had been a safe enclave for Syria’s Kurds about 10 miles from the Turkish frontier, but since June, ISIS has been attacking it and stepped up these attacks with tanks and artillery over the past couple of days.”

The intense fighting, she says, is what has caused an “exodus of people” across the border into neighboring Turkey. The estimate of the number of refugees that have crossed over in recent days varies, but Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus has put the number at 130,000.

Assyrian International News Agency

Lebanese Christians Near Syrian Border Keep Eye on ISIS Threat

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Saydet el Ghassalet Church in Qobayat (Wikimedia commons/Bassam Khattar).DABABIYA, Lebanon — Elie’s mother sits on her terrace every morning in the predominantly Christian town of Dababiya in northern Akkar, a few kilometers from the Syrian border, and invites her neighbors for a coffee and a chat about the latest gossip.
Assyrian International News Agency

Second Russian Aid Convoy Reaches Ukrainian Border

The first 35 vehicles in a second Russian aid convoy headed to areas in separatist-held eastern Ukraine have cleared the Russian customs checkpoint.

Rayan Farukshin, spokesman for Russia’s Southern Customs Department, said late September 12, “Russian customs officers and border guards were through with inspecting the first group of 33 trucks [and] the vehicles left the border checkpoint to enter Ukrainian territory.”

Farukshin added two technical support vehicles accompanied the convoy through.

Russian television channel Rossiya 24 reported the entire convoy of more than 300 trucks was due to reach the border by the morning of September 13.

Last month, the first Russian convoy waited on the border for several days before entering Ukrainian territory without permission from authorities in Kyiv, sparking a protest from the Ukrainian government who called it a “direct invasion.”

The aid is intended for the populations in areas in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran-Iraq Cooperation on Border Security

The Iranian Defense Minister, Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, confirmed that Iraqi and Iranian security forces have been coordinating their border security efforts.
The coordination is aimed at preventing militants from the Islamic State (IS) from crossing the Iran-Iraq border.
Dehghan added that the threat of the Islamic State (IS) is not limited to Iraq and Syria, but is a regional issue.

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Turkish Border Smuggling Thrives Under IS

Locals walk past trucks lined up at the Oncupinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern city of Kilis, Sept. 5, 2013 (photo: REUTERS/Umit Bektas).The security crisis that peaked with the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State (IS) has also negatively affected Turkey’s trade, especially with Iraq. Turkey has lost most of its regional market due to the war in Syria, including about 50% of its exports with Iraq. Exports to the Kurdistan Regional Government have decreased by 40%, and investments there have practically ceased. At $ 12 billion [in annual trade] and 700,000 truck trips a year, Iraq was Turkey’s No. 2 export market before the IS threat.

Although Turkey’s official trade with Iraq and Syria has been badly hit, an increase in trade with IS-controlled regions has drawn attention. The Syrian town of Azaz, located opposite Turkey’s Kilis, came under IS control in September 2013. The volume of trade at the area’s Oncupinar border crossing doubled after IS imposed its rule.

Monthly export figures at this crossing before the IS takeover were: January, $ 46,815,000; February, $ 61,994,000; March, $ 69,616,000; April, $ 75,258,000; May, $ 62,436,000; June, $ 57,446,000; July, $ 60,819,000; and August, $ 434,384,000.

Corresponding figures for 2014 under IS control increased by 79%, including: January, $ 96,808,000; February, $ 112,050,000; March, $ 138,280,000; April, $ 106,506,000; May, $ 113,313,000; June, $ 111,193,000; July, $ 100,489,000; and August, $ 778,639,000.

Read the full story here.

Assyrian International News Agency

Four Wounded In Tajik-Kyrgyz Border Shooting Incident

Kyrgyz border guards have reportedly fired at a group of Tajik villagers protesting Kyrgyz plans to build a highway and a bridge in a disputed area, wounding four of them.

Local residents told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service that the incident took place in the Tajik district of Bobojon Gafur on August 25.

One of the four wounded protesters was said to be in critical condition.

Meanwhile, Interfax news agency quoted eyewitnesses as saying Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards exchanged fire in the neighboring Kyrgyz district of Leilek in Batken region.

Kyrgyzstan’s border service said the shooting erupted after Tajik border guards attempted to set up a border post in unmarked territory located at the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

There was no casualty reported in this incident.

Previous shooting incidents along the border left several Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards injured.

With reporting by Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Indian-Pakistani Border Fire Causes Casualties In Kashmir

Pakistani officials have accused Indian troops of killing two civilians after firing across the border in its eastern province of Punjab.

The officials said the latest incident occurred in the Sialkot region, which faces the southern part of India’s autonomous Jammu and Kashmir state.

Indian paramilitary official Dharmendra Pareek said Indian forces returned fire after Pakistani forces fired guns and mortar shells on Indian border posts and at least three villages.

He said one Indian border guard and three civilians were injured.

Last month, Indian police accused the Pakistani Army of killing a soldier and wounding seven other people during firing along the border in the same region.

India and Pakistan often accuse each other of violating a 2003 cease-fire agreement in Jammu and Kashmir.

The two countries have fought three wars, two of them over the disputed Kashmir region.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian Aid Trucks Poised At Border As Ukraine Toll Mounts

The first trucks in what Russia says is a humanitarian aid convoy are poised to cross into eastern Ukraine after days of delays, as more than 10 people were killed in persistent fighting.

A convoy of more than 250 trucks has been halted near the border amid Ukrainian concerns it could be used to supply pro-Russian rebel fighters who oppose Ukrainian rule.

Moscow says the trucks are carrying aid for civilians in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the United Nations says more than 2,000 people have been killed in months of fighting following the ouster of a Ukrainian president sympathetic to Russia in February and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in April.

Fighting has prompted thousands of people to flee the affected regions of eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said three refugees, including a 5-year-old child, were killed on August 21 when rebel gunfire hit their car near Luhansk, a separatist stronghold that is without water or regular power supplies.

Lysenko said five Ukrainian servicemen were also killed overnight.

Authorities in the city of Donetsk, the rebels’ main stronghold, said at least two civilians were killed by artillery fire and prison officials said four inmates in the nearby city of Makyivka were killed when a shell hit their prison.

Lysenko said government troops were still fighting separatists in and around Ilovaysk, a town near Donetsk where fighting raged earlier this week, even though he said Ilovaysk was under government control.

Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of orchestrating the rebellion and equipping the rebels with weaponry.

Ukraine’s military said on August 21 that its forces near Luhansk had captured two Russian armored vehicles with documents linking them to an elite Russian paratrooper unit that had earlier been linked to the seizure of Crimea.

Russia rejected allegations that it had sent vehicles into Ukraine.

When the Russian truck convoy left the Moscow region on August 12 and headed for the Ukrainian border, it deepened concerns in Kyiv about intervention by Russia.

Kyiv has demanded security guarantees from all sides including the rebels before allowing the convoy into Ukraine, where it is to distribute aid under the aegis of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Some of the white trucks moved into the border area on August 21 and Ukrainian authorities said border guards and customs officials had begun operations to clear the shipment.

“The processing of Russian humanitarian aid has begun,” senior border-service official Serhiy Astakhov said.

ICRC head of operations for Europe and Central Asia Laurent Corbaz told a news conference in Moscow on August 21 that “the convoy could start its operations — hopefully tomorrow.”

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ukraine Inspects Convoy Amid Reports Russian APCs Cross Border

Ukrainian authorities have begun inspecting a Russian convoy carrying what Moscow says is humanitarian aid destined for eastern Ukraine, amid a continuing government offensive against pro-Russian rebels.

The inspections could ease tension over the more than 250-truck convoy, but reports that Russian military vehicles have crossed into Ukraine could add to Western concerns about Moscow’s motives.

Russia says the trucks are carrying water, food, and other aid for people in eastern Ukraine, while Western officials have voiced concern the mission could be a pretext for a military incursion.

Pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions for months in a conflict that has badly damaged Moscow’s ties with the West. Russia denies involvement in the conflict.

Officials say dozens of Ukrainian border guards and customs officers crossed into Russia to inspect the convoy, which halted in the Rostov Oblast town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky and was joined on August 15 by dozens of Russian armored personnel carriers (APCs). 

Reporters for “The Guardian” and “The Telegraph” reported on August 14 seeing about 23 Russian APCs cross into Ukraine, and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said on August 15 that he had reports that 70 pieces of Russian military equipment had crossed into Ukraine overnight.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was very alarmed by reports that Russian military vehicles may have crossed the border.

A regional representative of the Russian border guards service, part of the Federal Security Service (FSB), denied Russian forces had crossed the border.

The representative said rapid-reaction units had been established to travel to areas where shelling or fighting in border areas is reported, but that they operate only on Russian territory.

Russia says humanitarian aid is badly needed in parts of eastern Ukraine affected by fighting that has killed more than 2,000 people in about four months and driven more than 250,000 from their homes. 

Authorities in Donetsk, the main separatist stronghold, said 11 civilians were killed in shelling over the previous 24 hours.

The city council said fighting raged overnight in central and western districts of the industrial hub, where authorities said on August 14 that 74 residents had been killed in 72 hours.

The Ukrainian military said fierce fighting had also taken place near Luhansk, closer to the area where the Russian convoy was parked in a field across the border.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told Bloomberg TV on August 15 that Kyiv was ready for a bilateral cease-fire if several “critical conditions” were met.

He indicated those conditions included Ukrainian control over the border area, progress on hostages, and the establishment of an Organization for Security and Cooperation for Europe team to monitor the truce, suggesting there would be no decision on a cease-fire soon.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, AP, ITAR-TASS and Interfax 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ukraine Inspects Convoy Amid Reports Russian APCs Cross Border

Ukrainian authorities have begun inspecting a Russian convoy carrying what Moscow says is humanitarian aid destined for eastern Ukraine, amid a continuing government offensive against pro-Russian rebels.

The inspections could ease tension over the more than 250-truck convoy, but reports that Russian military vehicles have crossed into Ukraine could add to Western concerns about Moscow’s motives.

Russia says the trucks are carrying water, food, and other aid for people in eastern Ukraine, while Western officials have voiced concern the mission could be a pretext for a military incursion.

Pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions for months in a conflict that has badly damaged Moscow’s ties with the West. Russia denies involvement in the conflict.

Officials say dozens of Ukrainian border guards and customs officers crossed into Russia to inspect the convoy, which halted in the Rostov Oblast town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky and was joined on August 15 by dozens of Russian armored personnel carriers (APCs). 

Reporters for “The Guardian” and “The Telegraph” reported on August 14 seeing about 23 Russian APCs cross into Ukraine, and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said on August 15 that he had reports that 70 pieces of Russian military equipment had crossed into Ukraine overnight.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was very alarmed by reports that Russian military vehicles may have crossed the border.

A regional representative of the Russian border guards service, part of the Federal Security Service (FSB), denied Russian forces had crossed the border.

The representative said rapid-reaction units had been established to travel to areas where shelling or fighting in border areas is reported, but that they operate only on Russian territory.

Russia says humanitarian aid is badly needed in parts of eastern Ukraine affected by fighting that has killed more than 2,000 people in about four months and driven more than 250,000 from their homes. 

Authorities in Donetsk, the main separatist stronghold, said 11 civilians were killed in shelling over the previous 24 hours.

The city council said fighting raged overnight in central and western districts of the industrial hub, where authorities said on August 14 that 74 residents had been killed in 72 hours.

The Ukrainian military said fierce fighting had also taken place near Luhansk, closer to the area where the Russian convoy was parked in a field across the border.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told Bloomberg TV on August 15 that Kyiv was ready for a bilateral cease-fire if several “critical conditions” were met.

He indicated those conditions included Ukrainian control over the border area, progress on hostages, and the establishment of an Organization for Security and Cooperation for Europe team to monitor the truce, suggesting there would be no decision on a cease-fire soon.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, AP, ITAR-TASS and Interfax 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

More Warnings South Of The Afghan-Turkmen Border

The situation in Afghanistan’s northern Jowzjan Province continues to deteriorate, with one official claiming an increasing number of ethnic Turkmen are taking up arms, fighting with and against the Taliban, and that the lack of any government force capable of maintaining order has led to the resurgence of local warlords.

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, has received new information from areas across Turkmenistan’s southern border, indicating the situation in Jowzjan and Faryab provinces is growing more complex and less stable.

Jowzjan provincial police chief Pakyrmuhammet Jowzjany admitted to Azatlyk there had been 45 recent “special operations” in the Akja and Murdiyan districts against people Jowzjany said were Taliban fighters. Despite these operations, Jowzjany said there were still villages where Taliban militants were riding around the streets openly on motorbikes.

Jowzjany said the number of Taliban fighters in his province had been increasing, but he dismissed any suggestion that would have any effect on Turkmenistan, across the border.

Nazary Turkmen, an ethnic Turkmen member of the Afghan parliament from Jowzjan, assessed the seriousness of the threat differently. He said the more powerful the Taliban becomes in Jowzjan, the more dangerous the situation along the border with Turkmenistan will be. “The Taliban don’t recognize any borders,” Turkmen said. “They think every patch of ground is Allah’s property, so they can seize it.”

The lawmaker also claimed part of the reason the Taliban militants are growing in number in Jowzjan is because increasingly more ethnic Turkmen are joining them. “In Akja, Sheberghan, and Ankhoi districts 90 percent of the Taliban are ethnic Turkmen,” he said.

He added that as a result of the growing Taliban presence in the province, villages and districts have responded by forming local militias, the “Erbaqi,” sometimes led by former warlords.

Nazary Turkmen is in a position to know, because he fought as part of an Erbaqi force in the Gunduz area. Turkmen claimed his all-ethnic Turkmen unit killed 11 Taliban and captured another in recent fighting in Konduz.

Returning To Battle

It was not difficult for Azatlyk to find evidence to support the claim of former warlords taking up the sword again.

Emir Allaberen Karyad, 65, is a village elder and a former warlord who has picked up his weapons and joined the fight. Allaberen said he had prayed to live out his twilight years in peace. But the people of his area implored him to lead a force to protect them and when the Taliban killed Allaberen’s brother, the village elder returned to combat.

His force of some 70 to 80 men chased the Taliban from the Kokal Dash district and now Allaberen’s fighters have established a series of fortified checkpoints around the area to prevent the Taliban from returning.

Allaberen pledged he would defend the border and Turkmenistan but he said he would better be able to protect his area and the frontier with Turkmenistan if Turkmenistan’s government would help him and his fellow villagers.

It is a story “Qishloq Ovozi” has heard before.

We already reported on the civil militia in the Qarqeen district of Jowzjan Province, led by a man in 60s named Gurbandurdy, who returned to war when the people of his region called on him to lead them.

Earlier postings from “Qishloq Ovozi” noted the problems in northern Afghanistan extend all along the border with Turkmenistan: in Baghdis, Faryab, and Herat provinces. In Faryab and Baghdis these reports keep coming. The intelligence chief of Faryab’s Sherin Tagab district was killed in an ambush on August 8. It’s unclear who was responsible but local officials blame the Taliban.

The governor of Faryab Province, Mahmadulla Vatas, told Azatlyk that Taliban activity in his province and in the neighboring Baghdis Province was increasing as were the number of militants. Vatas claimed that, unlike the situation in Jowzjan, many of the militants in Faryab were Chechens and fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He did not mention ethnic Turkmen.

But he said their presence was bound to have an effect on Turkmenistan. “Their activity can hurt Turkmen-Afghan relations and the situation along the border in particular,” Vatas said.

What Is Turkmenistan Doing?

And while Vatas said government forces in his province were doing their best to keep the militants from operating along the Turkmen frontier, the Turkmen government had done nothing militarily to help Afghan forces across the border.

That Turkmenistan’s government has done so little is surprising. Three of Turkmenistan’s border guards were killed along the Afghan frontier in late February and three of the country’s soldiers killed at a different section of the Afghan border in late May.

Officials from Turkmenistan have promised help to ethnic Turkmen in Afghanistan, not militarily of course, but to date there has not been evidence these pledges have been fulfilled.

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan’s media continue to ignore the problem on the border with Afghanistan. The pro-government website Turkmenistan.ru reported on August 13 about a visit of an Afghan delegation led by Minister of Trade and Industry Mohammad Shaker Kargar. The report said the Afghan delegation expressed “gratitude for the constant help Turkmenistan has rendered in the restoration of Afghanistan highly valuing the active participation of Turkmenistan in the stabilization and establishment of a peaceful and happy life in the neighboring state.”

– Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Toymyrat Bugayev of RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Tajik, Kyrgyz Officials Discuss Latest Shooting Incident At Border

Kyrgyz and Tajik officials are meeting over the killing of a Kyrgyz citizen in a Tajik district near the border between the two countries.

The Kyrgyz State Border Service said the meeting is taking place in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh on August 11.

The Kyrgyz man was reportedly killed in a shooting incident between Tajik border guards and three alleged Kyrgyz hunters in the eastern district of Jirgatol on August 9.

Tajik officials say Tajik border guards demanded that the men surrender their weapons but that they “started shooting at the guards, and one of the men was killed in the incident.”

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have for months been locked in a tense border dispute over Tajikistan’s Vorukh exclave.

However, the situation has been largely stable at the Jirgatol border area.

A majority of those living in Jirgatol are ethnic Kyrgyz.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Fierce Ukraine border battles leave 15 dead

Fierce battles on Ukraine’s porous eastern border left have 15 seven soldiers and eight border guards dead in the past 24 hours as fears of a possible Russian invasion continued despite NATO urging Moscow to withdraw its troops along the frontier.

The latest deaths mean the number of government forces killed in fighting in the east has passed 400.

Relations between Moscow and the West are at a post-Cold War low, with NATO saying Russia has massed 20,000 troops near the border with Ukraine.

International tensions also rose as Western countries slammed a Russian food embargo imposed as revenge for sanctions slapped on Moscow over its  backing for separatist fighters in Ukraine.

The renewed violence came after NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Moscow to “pull back from the brink” and as Western countries warned that Russia could be preparing to send troops across the border in the guise of a humanitarian mission.

Late on Friday, Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary, said that he was deeply concerned by reports of an increased flow of heavy weapons crossing into Ukraine from Russia and by reports of Russian armed forces exercising for a “humanitarian intervention” in a third country. 

He was responding to Ukrainian military reports on Friday that Russian military vehicles have crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine.

“We have consistently called on Russia to stop the flow of weapons across the border and made clear that the international community will increase the cost to Russia if it fails to take steps towards de-escalation,” Hammond said.

On a possible Russian intervention in Ukraine, he said: “The conditions for such an intervention in eastern Ukraine manifestly do not exist. In these circumstances, such an intervention would be unjustified and illegal.”

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said this week he suspected the threat of a direct intervention by Russia’s military in Ukraine had increased recently.

Western countries accuse Russia of stoking the conflict between the separatists and Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine and have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Moscow.

Moscow denies arming the rebels and has retaliated by restricting food imports from many Western countries.

US warning

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his national security council on Friday to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine, especially the “massive humanitarian catastrophe” in the region.

The US government said it would see any bid by Russia to deliver humanitarian aid into Ukraine as an invasion after Russia offered to send a convoy of aid across the border for displaced civilians.

“Given that Ukraine has allowed international humanitarian groups to deliver aid within its territory, there is no logical reason why Russia should seek to deliver it,” US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Friday.

“Therefore, any further unilateral intervention by Russia into Ukrainian territory, including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid, would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming.

“And it would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine,” Power told the 15-member body.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Friday it had finished military exercises in southern Russia which various Western countries criticised as a “provocative” step amid the Ukraine crisis.

“Aircraft taking part in exercises have been redeployed from temporary to their permanent air bases, anti-aircraft missile units … have started to load their equipment to depart to their permanent positions,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted the ministry’s news service as saying.

The ministry added that the drills in the southern Astrakhan region, located 1,000km from the border with Ukraine, had shown a “high level of cohesiveness” among troops.

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OSCE Monitors Reportedly Vacate Ukrainian-Russian Border Post

OSCE monitors at the Gukovo checkpoint in Russia’s Rostov region near the border with Ukraine reportedly have vacated the area due to safety concerns.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Vasily Malayev says the OSCE mission left the site on August 4 amid continuing military operations by Ukrainian government forces against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Malayev added that more than 400 Ukrainian troops, including some 160 Ukrainian border guards, had entered Russian territory on August 4, after the Russian side allowed them to cross the border at the Gukovo check point.

According to Malayev, the Ukrainian troops will be transferred to the control of the Ukrainian government at the Matveyev Kurgan checkpoint in the near future.

It was not immediately clear why the Ukrainian soldiers crossed into Russian territory.

Based on reporting by RIA Novosti ITAR-TASS and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Tunisia seals Libya border after violence

Tunisia has closed its main border crossing with Libya after thousands of stranded Egyptian and foreign nationals, fleeing ongoing fighting and violence in Libya, tried to break through the passage, the Tunisian news agency said.

The unrest erupted on Friday when thousands of Egyptians, barred from entering Tunisia because they had no visa, held a protest then broke through part of a fence at the Ras Ajdir crossing, Tunisian security officials said.

The news comes as Tunisia urged its estimated 50,000 to 60,000 nationals living in Libya to leave “as soon as possible” because of violence that has raged there since mid-July.

“The ministry of foreign affairs urges Tunisians who find themselves in Libyan territory to return home as soon as possible,” a ministry statement said.

The border clashes on Friday was the second incident at the border in as many days, as thousands of Libyans stream into neighbouring Tunisia, along with foreign nationals.

The police responded by shooting in the air and firing tear gas. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press.

Tunisia is the only escape route as fighting escalates in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, where rival armed groups have been battling for weeks for control over the airport.

An Associated Press reporter at the crossing said no one managed to make it to the other side and security forces used vehicles to physically block access.

After a Tunisian police officer was wounded by gunfire from the Libyan side of the border, authorities closed the crossing, the official Tunisian news agency TAP said.

A day earlier, two Egyptians were killed during a similar protest demanding to be let through. Tunisian officials say thousands of Libyans have been crossing the border each day the past week.

‘Worst factional violence’

Libya is witnessing its worst factional violence since the downfall of the longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 civil war.

The Tripoli violence erupted in early July when armed groups originally from the western city of Misrata, which are allied to some politicians, carried out a surprise attack on militias from the western town of Zintan who control the airport.

Along with the fighting in Tripoli, which the Health Ministry said has killed 214 people and wounding more than 980 others, armed group had overrun army bases in Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, and claimed control of the city over the last few days.

On Friday, a powerful explosion ripped through the main police headquarters in Benghazi, nearly flattening it, witnesses said. The blast shook nearby houses and echoed across the eastern city.

The intensity of the fighting prompted foreign diplomats to flee the country along with thousands of Libyans and foreign workers.

But with Tripoli International Airport closed by fighting, there are few options besides the Tunisian crossing.

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Gunmen Kill Egyptian Military Border Guards

Gunmen have killed 21 Egyptian military border guards near the frontier with Libya.

Security officials said the assailants were smugglers. 

But an army spokesman said on his Facebook page that “terrorists” — the term authorities use to describe Islamist militants — were behind the attack.

He said a weapons storage facility was blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade in an exchange of fire, killing the soldiers and wounding four others.

The attack took place on July 19 in Wadi al-Gadid governorate, which borders both Sudan and Libya. 

Two smugglers were killed in clashes with the guards, security officials said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly expressed concerns about militants who have capitalized on the chaos in Libya and set up operations along the border.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Egypt border guards killed in western desert

Armed men have killed 21 Egyptian military border guards near the frontier with Libya, highlighting a growing threat from an area that authorities say has become a haven for fighters seeking to topple the Cairo government.

Security officials said on Saturday the assailants were smugglers. But the army spokesman said on his Facebook page that “terrorists” – the term authorities use to describe armed fighters – were behind the attack.

He said a weapons storage facility was blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade in an exchange of fire, killing the soldiers and wounding four others.

The attack took place in Wadi al-Gadid governorate, which borders both Sudan and Libya.

Two smugglers were killed in clashes with the guards, security officials said.

Five Egyptian border guards were killed in a similar attack in the same area a few months ago.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has repeatedly expressed concerns about fighters who have capitalised on the chaos in Libya and set up operations along the border.

Security officials say those fighters pay smugglers to transport weapons, including machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades, to comrades in Egypt, which is already facing an insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula near Israel.

Sinai fighters have stepped up attacks against policemen and soldiers since then-army chief Sisi toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer and launched a fierce attacks on Islamists.

Hundreds have been killed in shootings and bombings.

Security officials say fighters operating from Libya are trying to forge ties with others in the Sinai, an alliance that could prolong Egypt’s instability and scare away investors that are badly needed to help fix the economy.

Tribal smugglers told Reuters news agency they charge up to one million Egyptian pounds ($ 140,000) to move weapons in 4×4 vehicles along desert routes.

Egypt considered launching a cross-border offensive several months ago in a bid to crush the fighters, according to two Egyptian national security officials.

Security officials say fighters along the Libyan border harbour ambitions similar to the al-Qaeda breakaway group that has seized a large expanse of Iraq: they want to topple Sisi and create a caliphate in Egypt.

Sisi, who has said that armed groups stalking the Middle East pose a threat to everyone, has said Egypt will not allow Libya’s turmoil to threaten Egypt’s national security.

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Border With Russia Helps Luhansk Republic Hang On

Since the Ukrainian government reestablished control over the eastern city of Slovyansk on July 5, the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic has been on the defensive.

Ukrainian forces have been pushing to isolate the city of Luhansk and to cut the insurgents off from access to the border with Russia. But the going has been slow, the authorities say, because of increased supplies of weapons and volunteers coming across the frontier.

In the middle of June, Ukrainian government forces entered the city of Shchastya and established control over part of the border with Russia. On July 14, the army took control over Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, and other towns in the vicinity of Luhansk.

At present, the separatists control only the southern part of Luhansk Oblast, including the city of Luhansk.

It is a far cry from the heady days of April, when militants seized the local headquarters of the state security service. Three weeks later, on April 28, the loosely organized fighters proclaimed the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), and on the next day they seized other government buildings in the city.

Two weeks after that, on May 11, 96 percent of locals — according to results released by the separatists — voted in a disputed referendum to support LNR’s independence.

‘Military Junta’

Although the LNR is usually lumped together with the other breakaway region in eastern Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), and the two have signed an agreement forming the Novorossia confederation, they are quite different, analysts say.

The leadership of the LNR is “more centralized,” says local political analyst Oleksiy Blyuminov. Although there are factions as there are in the DNR, the LNR has a dominant president in Valery Bolotov. Blyuminov says the governing structure there is “a military junta in the best sense of the word.”

Yuliy Fedorovskiy, another local political observer in Luhansk, tells RFE/RL’s Russian Service that LNR is a “military democracy.” He notes that Bolotov and his inner circle are all veterans of the Union of Paratroopers of Luhansk Oblast. They are more “leftist” than their comrades in Donetsk, and Bolotov’s statements often have a distinctly Soviet feel.

In June, Bolotov formed a State Security Committee (KGB), with a counterespionage arm called SMERSH, after the Stalin-era antispying program.

Bolotov’s power is balanced to some extent by a group surrounding Aleksey Mozgovoi, a local commander who is formally subordinate to Bolotov in the political hierarchy and simultaneously to Novorossia military commander Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, militarily and operationally. He opposed Bolotov at a demonstration on April 21 at which gathered protesters “elected” the LNR leadership.

Fedorovskiy also notes that the Cossacks from Russia’s Don River region have considerable influence in the LNR. The group of Don Cossacks is headed by Russian Nikolai Kozitsyn. Fedorovskiy says Kozitsyn controls the stretch of the Russian-Ukrainian border that remains in militant hands and “does not want to recognize Bolotov as the sole leader.”

‘Less Russian Influence’

Blyuminov says that, apart from the Cossacks, Russian citizens have less influence in the LNR than in the DNR and have managed to secure fewer high-level official posts. However, Russian political strategist Marat Bashirov was named LNR acting prime minister earlier this month. He is a well-known Russian spin doctor with ties to Putin-connected oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

LNR Deputy Prime Minster for finances Dmitry Semyonov is also a Russian, as are about 10 senior people in the so-called power ministries (defense, interior, emergency situations, etc.).

By all accounts, local Ukrainians control the so-called Luhansk Army of the Southeast. Ukrainian military expert Oleksiy Orestovych estimates the force consists of several thousand fighters, of whom some 30-40 percent are Russian volunteers or mercenaries. Blyuminov, on the other hand, puts the total force at 12,000-15,000, of whom about 10-15 percent are Russians.

Bolotov’s political dominance of the region means that there is no single military commander of the stature of Strelkov, which often translates into a lack of tactical coordination.

The region’s main advantage — or lifeline — is its physical connection with Russia. Military analyst Orestovych estimates that the number of separatist fighters in the area has increased, rather than decreased, since the Ukrainian government began its offensive there. He believes the government’s “antiterrorism operation” has been less effective than Kyiv claims.

“The situation is not improving,” he says. “[The government] does not have sufficient forces or power.”

The intensified fighting has made the situation inside the city of Luhansk more tense for local residents.

“It is dangerous to walk around the city,” says a young man who identified himself only as Ihor. “Not only for activists, but for ordinary people as well During the curfew, men found out on the streets are often forced to go into the Army of the Southeast.”

Another local named Petro told RFE/RL that he has heard of at least 30 people who have been abducted by militants.

Ihor used to run a local art center and exhibition space. He says that during one event, militants came and said it was a curfew violation.

“They started shooting into the paintings,” Ihor says. “But some of the girls spoke with them, gave them a drink, and they settled down.”

Shortly afterward, Ihor closed the space because most of his colleagues and clients had fled Luhansk.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Blowback on the Border: America’s Child Refugee Crisis

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Although the U.S. government is not solely at fault for the child migrant crisis, we’re seeing the cumulative effect of years of policy failure. (Image: FoxNews.com)

After three years of relative silence, the U.S. press has finally “discovered” the crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors piling up on the U.S. border. Although the coverage often began with moving stories of the hardships these young migrants faced, it soon turned ugly. For right-wing pundits and politicians, the “humanitarian crisis” has become a crackdown on kids.

The dominant narrative has been that foolish parents, perhaps duped by scheming criminal bands, are sending hapless children north to take advantage of loopholes in U.S. immigration practices.

This is just plain wrong. On every count.

Knowing the Risks

First, parents and migrating youth are not naive. They usually know the dangers, which include injury, rape, extortion, kidnapping, and even death. Parents carefully consider the risks before making the decision to spend thousands of dollars to send their children away.

The three countries responsible for the increase in child migrants are Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with El Salvador and Guatemala in fourth and fifth place, respectively. In certain neighborhoods in these countries, the homicide rate is far higher than the already high national rate, and young people are the most at-risk of all.

That’s why many Central American parents have concluded that the greatest risk is keeping their kids at home.

Consider the case of David Ernesto Orellana, who lived with his grandmother in El Salvador. Both David’s parents live in the United States, where they had hoped to bring their son up due to the violence in his neighborhood.

Salvadoran gangs had been hounding the boy to join them. Sometime after he refused, his body was found decapitated in a vacant lot on July 12. He was 10 years old. Family members were afraid even to go to his funeral for fear of retaliation.

A study by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that more than half of the child migrants had reported fleeing violence and threats, and were likely eligible for international protection. If they’re deported, many could face the same fate as David.

Family Reunification

An under-reported fact is that many parents are not sending their children north to be on their own. They are sending south for their children to join them in the United States.

I asked Father Alejandro Solalinde, who runs the Ixtepec migrant center in southern Oaxaca, about the sudden increase in minors migrating out of Central America. He replied that the increasing number of Central American children filling his shelter were the last link in a “chain of desperation.” The fathers migrated to support the families, then older brothers and sisters left to join the fathers, and finally mothers are leaving with the younger ones—or if the mother is already gone, they send for the children.

Children have a right to grow up with parents. Something is deeply wrong with economic integration and immigration policies that force them apart. Generations will carry the scars of separation, yet the issue of family reunification has scarcely surfaced in the current debate.

Rather than take any of this into account, the U.S. government has undertaken a propaganda campaign to convince Central Americans to stay put, as though the decision to migrate were a mere whim. While billboards popping up in Central America emphasize the risks of the journey, the State Department is focusing its efforts on “dispelling the misguided notion that these children will not face deportation proceedings.”

The Border Security Myth

There is a perception that “lenient” U.S. immigration policies—and false promises from scheming human smugglers—have encouraged new generations of Central Americans to take their chances at the U.S. border.

But the UN survey of some 400 child migrants and families found that only two listed permissive U.S. immigration practices as their reason for migrating. And if anything, the U.S. border is more militarized than ever, with record deportation rates.

Moreover, while human trafficking and organized crime are indeed established problems on the border, it’s actually a result of border control that is too strict, not too lenient. Tighter U.S. border security measures have made it nearly impossible for migrants to cross alone.

As with drug prohibition, policies to criminalize migration have created a black market that real criminals have eagerly claimed as their own. Today, the cost of migration has skyrocketed, and drug cartels earn millions taking migrants north. This leaves migrants extremely vulnerable to extortion and abuse, since when they are defined as “criminals” or “illegals,” they have no recourse to defend themselves.

Blowback

The steady increase in child migrants dates back to 2011. Although the U.S. government is not solely at fault, what we’re seeing is the cumulative effect of years of policy failure.

Take trade policy. Since the North American and Central American Free Trade Agreements went into effect, millions of Mexicans and Central Americans have been economically displaced and forced to emigrate.

NAFTA pushed the Mexican migration rate up to half a million a year. In the first year of CAFTA alone, 11,457 jobs were lost in El Salvador, while the number of Salvadorans leaving for the United States increased from 507 per day to 740 per day. In Guatemala, transnational extractive projects are displacing indigenous and rural populations.

Honduras is the most dramatic case of a policy disaster. Following the country’s 2009 coup, which deposed the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, the U.S. government blocked a return to constitutional order by normalizing relations with the coup government. Post-coup Honduran governments have presided over rampant violations of human rights, a huge rise in organized crime, and a breakdown in the social fabric, leading to widespread delinquency.

The U.S.-funded drug war also accounts for much of the violence. Every war has its refugees. The war on drugs has proven to be no exception.

When counternarcotics efforts targeted drug lords in Mexico, they splintered traditional cartels and created violent rogue groups that spread throughout Mexico and into Central America. By fortifying abusive security forces in nations barely emerging from decades of military dictatorships, the drug war has meant a setback for both democracy and public safety.

The Best Interests of the Child

As the Obama administration and the right wing focus on how to keep the child refugees out of the country, too few have any concern for what domestic relations law calls “the best interest of the child.”

The House Progressive Caucus position, by contrast, has called on the U.S. government to uphold the children’s rights to due process and asylum, to provide adequate facilities for their care, and to review policies that contribute to forced migration, such as neoliberal trade policies and U.S. support for the drug war in Mexico and Central America.

The refugee crisis on the border is blowback for years of short-sighted policies that failed to consider the human consequences for the people of the region. If we fail to address these root causes, we will fail to solve the problem—no matter how much taxpayer money or Border Control we throw at it.

But most of all, we will fail the children.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Malaysian Plane Crashes In Ukraine Near Russia Border

A Malaysian passenger plane has crashed in eastern Ukraine where government forces are fighting pro-Russian separatists, amid claims the aircraft was shot down. 

Malaysia Airlines said there were 295 people on board the plane which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. 

Correspondents at the scene say there was no sign of survivors. 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the plane crash was the result of a “terrorist act.” 

The separatists denied shooting down the plane and blamed the Ukrainian military.

Poroshenko said the Ukrainian armed forces “did not take any action against any targets” in the area where the plane came down on July 17.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has ordered an investigation.

A Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser, Anton Herashchenko, earlier claimed the plane had been shot down by a BUK ground-to-air missile.

He said the plane was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters when it was hit. 

Black Box

The separatists said they did not have weapons that could shoot down aircraft flying at such a high altitude.

The self-styled prime minister of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Aleksandr Borodai, claimed the Ukrainian air force shot down the plane. 

The separatists later said they had found the “black box” flight recorder of the downed plane.

Shortly before reports surfaced that a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 had crashed in eastern Ukraine, a social media site purported to belong to a separatist leader claimed that insurgents had shot down an aircraft.

In a post on VKontakte, Russia’s largest social media site, which has since been taken down, separatist leader Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, wrote that the separatists had downed an AN-26 transport plane used by the Ukrainian Army. 

Earlier on June 17, Kyiv accused Russia’s military of shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet, but Russia rejected the claim as “absurd.”

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said on Twitter there’s no confirmation that the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam was shot down. 

The Malaysian government said it was launching an immediate investigation.

Russia’s Emergencies Ministry has offered to help with rescue work at the site of the crash.

With reporting by Interfax, ITAR-TASS, Reuters, Al-Jazeera

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

America’s Border Fascism

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According to the ACLU, two-thirds of Americans now live in “constitution-free zones” where the Border Patrol reserves the right to grossly violate civil rights and liberties. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr)

Shena Gutierrez was already cuffed and in an inspection room in Nogales, Arizona, when the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent grabbed her purse, opened it, and dumped its contents onto the floor right in front of her. There couldn’t be a sharper image of the Bill of Rights rollback we are experiencing in the U.S. borderlands in the post-9/11 era.

Tumbling out of that purse came Gutierrez’s life: photos of her kids, business cards, credit cards, and other papers, all now open to the official scrutiny of the Department of Homeland Security. There were also photographs of her husband, Jose Gutierrez Guzman, whom CBP agents beat so badly in 2011 that he suffered permanent brain damage. The supervisory agent, whose name badge on his blue uniform read “Gomez,” now began to trample on her life, quite literally, with his black boots.

“Please stop stepping on the pictures,” Shena asked him.

A U.S. citizen, unlike her husband, she had been returning from a 48-hour vigil against Border Patrol violence in Mexico and was wearing a shirt that said “Stop Border Patrol Brutality” when she was aggressively questioned and cuffed at the CBP’s “port of entry” in Nogales on that hot day in May. She had no doubt that Gomez was stepping all over the contents of her purse in response to her shirt, the evidence of her activism.

Perhaps what bothered Gomez was the photo silkscreened onto that shirt — of her husband during his hospitalization. It showed the aftermath of a beating he received from CBP agents. His head had a partially caved-in look because doctors had removed part of his skull. Over his chest and arms were bruises from Tasering. One tooth was out of place, and he had two black eyes. Although you couldn’t see them in the photo, two heavily armed Homeland Security agents were then guarding his hospital door to prevent the father of two, formerly a sound technician and the lead singer of a popular band in Los Angeles, from escaping — even in his comatose state.

Jose Gutierrez Guzman’s has become an ever more common story in an age of mass expulsions. Although he had grown up in the United States (without papers), he was born in Mexico. After receiving a letter requesting his appearance, he went to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Los Angeles and was promptly arrested and deported. Customs and Border Protection agents later caught him crossing the border in San Luis, Arizona, near Yuma, in an attempt to reunite with his wife and children.

“Stop… stepping… on… the… pictures,” Shena insisted.

As she tells the story, Agent Gomez looked at her shirt for a second, then looked up at her and said, “You have that mentality about us. You think we go around abusing.” His tone remained faux-friendly, but his boots didn’t — and neither did those cuffs another CBP agent had put on her. Forcing her hands behind her back, they cut uncomfortably into her wrists. They would leave deep red circular marks.

On display was a post-9/11 world in which the usual rights meant to protect Americans from unreasonable search and seizure and unwanted, as well as unwarranted, interrogation were up for grabs.

While such constitutionally questionable intrusions into people’s privacy have been increasing at border crossings in the post-9/11 years, this type of hardline border policing has also moved inland. In other words, the sort of intrusions that once would have qualified as unconstitutional have moved in startling numbers into the interior of the country.

Imagine the once thin borderline of the American past as an ever-thickening band, now extending 100 miles inland around the United States — along the 2,000-mile southern border, the 4,000-mile northern border, and both coasts — and you will be able to visualize how vast the CBP’s jurisdiction has become. This “border” region now covers places where two-thirds of the U.S. population (197.4 million people) live. The ACLU has come to call it a “constitution-free zone.” The “border” has by now devoured the full states of Maine and Florida and much of Michigan.

In these vast domains, Homeland Security authorities can institute roving patrols with broad, extra-constitutional powers backed by national security, immigration enforcement, and drug interdiction mandates. There, the Border Patrol can set up traffic checkpoints and fly surveillance drones overhead with high-powered cameras and radar that can track your movements. Within 25 miles of the international boundary, CBP agents can enter a person’s private property without a warrant. In these areas, the Homeland Security state is anything but abstract. On any given day, it can stand between you and the grocery store.

“Border Patrol checkpoints and roving patrols are the physical world equivalent of the National Security Agency,” says attorney James Lyall of ACLU Arizona puts it. “They involve a massive dragnet and stopping and monitoring of innocent Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing by increasingly abusive and unaccountable federal government agents.”

Before she was so unceremoniously stopped and held, Shena Gutierrez shared the story of her husband at that 48-hour vigil. It was another story of the kind of pervasive abuse reported by people in the 100-mile zone. There were no cameras that night to record how 11 agents “subdued” Jose Gutierrez Guzman, as the CBP put it in its official report on the incident. Its claim: that Jose “struck his head on the ground,” a way perhaps of accounting for the hospital’s eventual diagnosis of “blunt force trauma.”

Considering the extent of Jose’s injuries, that CBP report is questionable indeed. Many Border Patrol agents now use the term “tonk” — the sound a flashlight supposedly makes when it bangs against someone’s head — as their way of describing border-crossers. Jose was also repeatedly “shot” with an “electronic control device,” aka a Taser. He was so badly beaten that, more than three years later, he still suffers seizures.

“Stop stepping on my pictures!” Gutierrez insisted again. But much like the CBP’s official complaint process, the words were ignored. The only thing Gomez eventually spat out was, “Are you going to get difficult?”

When Shena Gutierrez offered me a play-by-play account of her long day, including her five-hour detainment at the border, her voice ran a gamut of emotions from desperation to defiance. Perhaps these are the signature emotions of what State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren has dubbed the “Post-Constitutional Era.” We now live in a time when, as he writes, “the government might as well have taken scissors to the original copy of the Constitution stored in the National Archives, then crumpled up the Fourth Amendment and tossed it in the garbage can.” The prototype for this new era, with all the potential for abuse it gives the authorities, can be found in that 100-mile zone.

A Standing Army

The zone first came into existence thanks to a series of laws passed by Congress in the 1940s and 1950s at a time when the Border Patrol was just an afterthought with a miniscule budget and only 1,100 agents. Today, Customs and Border Protection has more than 60,000 employees and is by far the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country. According to author and constitutional attorney John Whitehead, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created in 2002, is efficiently and ruthlessly building “a standing army on American soil.”

Long ago, President James Madison warned that “a standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty.” With its 240,000 employees and $ 61 billion budget, the DHS, Whitehead points out, is militarizing police units, stockpiling ammunition, spying on activists, and building detention centers, among many other things. CBP is the uniformed and most visible component of this “standing army.” It practically has its own air force and navy, an Office of Air and Marine equipped with 280 sea vessels, 250 aircraft, and 1,200 agents.

On the border, never before have there been so many miles of walls and barriers, or such an array of sophisticated cameras capable of operating at night as well as in the daylight. Motion sensors, radar systems, and cameras mounted on towers, as well as those drones, all feed their information into operational control rooms throughout the borderlands. There, agents can surveil activity over large stretches of territory on sophisticated (and expensive) video walls. This expanding border enforcement regime is now moving into the 100-mile zone.

Such technological capability also involves the warehousing of staggering amounts of personal information in the digital databases that have ushered in the Post-Constitutional Era. “What does all this mean in terms of the Fourth Amendment?” Van Buren asks. “It’s simple: the technological and human factors that constrained the gathering and processing of data in the past are fast disappearing.”

The border, in the post 9/11 years, has also become a place where military manufacturers, eyeing a market in an “unprecedented boom period,” are repurposing their wartime technologies for the Homeland Security mission. This “bring the battlefield to the border” posture has created an unprecedented enforcement, incarceration, and expulsion machine aimed at the foreign-born (or often simply foreign-looking).

The sweep is reminiscent of the operation that forced Japanese (a majority of them citizens) into internment camps during World War II, but on a scale never before seen in this country. With it, unsurprisingly, has come a wave of complaints about physical and verbal abuse by Homeland Security agents, as well as tales of inadequate food and medical attention to undocumented immigrants in short-term detention.

The result is a permanent, low-intensity state of exception that makes the expanding borderlands a ripe place to experiment with tearing apart the Constitution, a place where not just undocumented border-crossers, but millions of borderland residents have become the targets of continual surveillance. If you don’t see the Border Patrol’s ever-expanding forces in places like New York City (although CBP agents are certainly present at its airports and seaports), you can see them pulling people over these days in plenty of other spots in that Constitution-free zone where they hadn’t previously had a presence.

They are, for instance, in cities like Rochester, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, as well as in Washington State, Vermont, Florida, and at all international airports. Homeland Security officials are scrutinizing people’s belongings, including their electronic devices, from sea to shining sea. Just ask Pascal Abidor, an Islamic studies doctoral student whose computer was turned on by CBP agents in Champlain, New York.

When an agent saw that he had a picture of a Hezbollah rally, she asked Abidor, a U.S. citizen, “What is this stuff?” His answer — that he was studying the modern history of the Shiites — meant nothing to her and his computer was seized for 10 days. Between 2008 and 2010, the CBP searched the electronic devices of more than 6,500 people. Like many of us, Abidor keeps everything, even his most private and intimate conversations with his girlfriend, on his computer. Now, it’s private no longer.

Despite all this, the message politicians and the media generally offer is that the country needs more agents, new techno-gadgets, and even more walls for our “safety.” In that context, President Obama on July 7th asked Congress for an additional $ 3.7 billion for “border security.”

Since last October, in what officials have called a “humanitarian crisis,” 52,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have been apprehended by Border Patrol agents. News about and photos of some of those children, including toddlers, parentless and incarcerated in warehouses in the Southwest, have led to a flood of articles, many claiming that border security is “strained.” A Border Patrol Union representative typically claimed that the border is “more porous than it’s ever been.” While such claims are ludicrous, all signs point to more money being packed aboard what Whitehead has called a “runaway train.”

Make no bones about it, every dollar spent this way works not just to keep others out of this country, but to lock U.S. citizens into a border zone that may soon encompass the whole country. It also fortifies our new domestic “standing military force” and its rollback of the Bill of Rights.

Resistance Inside the 100-Mile Zone

The first thing Cynthia (a pseudonym) asks the supervisory agent with the green Border Patrol hat and wrap-around sunglasses who stops her car is: “Can I have your name and agent number please?” She’s been halted at a checkpoint approximately 25 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border on a road running east-west-running near the small town of Arivaca, Arizona, where she lives.

The agent pauses. He looks like he’s swallowed a hornet before he barks, “We ask the questions here first, okay? Do you have some ID on you?”

This starts a tense exchange between the two of them that she videotaped in its entirety. She is only one of many challenging the omnipresence and activities of the Border Patrol in the heart of the 100-mile zone. Like many locals in Arivaca, she is sick of the checkpoint, which has been there for seven years. She and her neighbors were fed up with the obligatory stop between their small town and the dentist or the nearest bookstore. They were tired of Homeland Security agents scrutinizing their children on their way to school. So they began to organize.

In late 2013, they demanded that the federal government remove the checkpoint. It was, they wrote in a petition, an ugly artifact of border militarization; it had, they added, a negative economic impact on residents and infringed on people’s constitutional rights. At the beginning of 2014, small groups from People Helping People in the Border Zone — the name of their organization — started monitoring the checkpoint several days a week.

This Arivaca Border Patrol road barricade, one of at least 71 in the southwest, functions as a de facto enforcement zone away from the border. In Border Patrolese, it’s “an additional layer in our Defense in Depth strategy.” This particular checkpoint isn’t exactly impressive — just a portable trailer with an attached tarp for shade, but it still qualifies, according to one of the Patrol’s informational brochures, as “a critical enforcement tool for securing the nation’s borders against all threats to our homeland.”

The agents manning it stop every car on the road, do a quick visual check of its interior, and ask the driver and passengers their citizenship. There are also dogs available to sniff each car for traces of drugs or explosives. “Our enforcement presence along these strategic routes reduces the ability of criminals and potential terrorists to easily travel away from the border,” the brochure explains.

The Homeland Security surveillance gaze in the Southwest is, in fact, so pervasive that it has even nabbed singer Willy Nelson in Texas for marijuana possession. It detained 96-year-old former Arizona governor Raul Castro and made him stand in 100-degree heat for more than 30 minutes because a dog detected the radiation from his pacemaker. In the past three years in the Tucson sector, the Patrol has made more than 6,000 arrests and confiscated 135,000 pounds of narcotics at checkpoints.

But this is no longer just a matter of inland areas near the Mexican Border. A Border Patrol agent forced Vermont’s senior senator Patrick Leahy from his car at a checkpoint 125 miles south of the New York State border. The ACLU of Vermont unearthed a prototype plan for CBP to operate checkpoints to stop southbound traffic on all five highways through that New England border state.

On Sunday afternoons in Sodus, New York, about 30 miles east of Rochester, green-striped Border Patrol vehicles can sometimes be found parked in front of a laundromat which farmworkers (many undocumented) use. In Erie, Pennsylvania, agents wait at the Greyhound bus terminal or the Amtrak station to question people arriving in town. These are all places where the Border Patrol was all but unknown before 2005. In Detroit, simply being at a bus stop at four in the morning en route to work or fishing in the Detroit River is now “probable cause” for an agent to question you.

Or perhaps it is simply the color of your skin. Arrest records from both bus terminals and railway stations in Rochester, New York, show that of the 2,776 arrests agents made between 2005 and 2009, 71.2 percent were of “medium” complexion (likely of Latino or Arab background) and 12.9 percent “black.” Only 0.9 percent of those arrested were of “fair” complexion.

Back in Arivaca, the agent with the wraparound sunglasses tells Cynthia that she needs to get out of her car. Much like Senator Leahy, she responds that she doesn’t “understand why.”

“You don’t have to understand,” he says. “It’s for my safety. And yours. Do you understand that?”

Then his tone gains an angry edge. He clearly doesn’t like having his authority challenged. “We don’t have time for this. We have criminals here, okay? If you have a political or an emotional situation here” — he makes an emphatic chopping motion with his hand — “I don’t want to hear about it. I want to see your ID.” He pauses. “Now!”

The adrenaline is obviously pumping and he is about to edge up on the limits of what an agent can do, even with extra-constitutional powers. He thrusts his hand through the open window and into the car and unlocks it. With a yank, he pulls the door open from the inside. When Cynthia is out of the car, he asks, his voice rising, “What do you think we’re looking for here?”

“I don’t know,” Cynthia responds.

“That’s where I’m gonna educate you a little bit. Okay?”

“Okay,” she says.

“What happens through this checkpoint is that we catch smugglers of aliens, smugglers of drugs, child molesters, murderers, and everything else. Okay? Does that make sense?”

This rural area of Arizona, he insists as they stand under a vast cloudless blue sky, is infested with bandits, criminals, and drug dealers. “We have methamphetamine being made and manufactured,” the agent explains. “Do you think methamphetamine is a good thing?”

“Personally, no,” she says.

“Personally, I don’t think so either. I think they’re poisoning our world, okay? So when we ask you just to do something simple, like uncover something, do it! It’s a relief for us that it’s not something dangerous or something else.” By now, the agent is making the full-blown case for Homeland Security’s rollback of the Bill of Rights: the world’s a dangerous place, too dangerous for us not to have a free hand searching wherever we want whenever we want — and it’s your job to understand that new twenty-first-century American reality. He ends with a final dig at her for her initial resistance: “You’re destroying your rights, because what happens is, is that the criminals take your rights away, okay? Not us. We’re here to protect you.”

According to the ACLU’s Lyall, the fact is that the abuses of Customs and Border Protection in that Constitution-free zone are “massively underreported” and “far more prevalent than anyone has been able to document.” Many people, according to him, are simply afraid to come forward; others don’t know their rights.

In Shena Gutierrez’s case, she returned to the same Nogales “port of entry” with two other activists to lodge a complaint about the purse incident. When she refused to leave federal property (for which she now faces charges), the CBP arrested and detained her for hours. This time they did what she described as “an invasive body search.”

“I told them that I had not given my consent to be touched.” They nonetheless made her take off her wedding ring “for safety.” When she resisted, they said that they “would force it off her.” Again, the handcuffs cut into her wrists. This time, an agent kicked her in the ankle from behind. A female agent searched her thoroughly, from head to toe and in her private parts, because she “might have drugs or contraband or documents.”

As the agent groped her, she told me, she began to think yet again about what her husband had gone through. If this can happen to a U.S. citizen, she told me, “Imagine what happens to a person without documents.”

Imagine what can happen to anyone in a realm where, increasingly, anything goes, including the Constitution.

Tumbling out of that purse came Gutierrez’s life: photos of her kids, business cards, credit cards, and other papers, all now open to the official scrutiny of the Department of Homeland Security. There were also photographs of her husband, Jose Gutierrez Guzman, whom CBP agents beat so badly in 2011 that he suffered permanent brain damage. The supervisory agent, whose name badge on his blue uniform read “Gomez,” now began to trample on her life, quite literally, with his black boots.

“Please stop stepping on the pictures,” Shena asked him.

A U.S. citizen, unlike her husband, she had been returning from a 48-hour vigil against Border Patrol violence in Mexico and was wearing a shirt that said “Stop Border Patrol Brutality” when she was aggressively questioned and cuffed at the CBP’s “port of entry” in Nogales on that hot day in May.  She had no doubt that Gomez was stepping all over the contents of her purse in response to her shirt, the evidence of her activism.

Perhaps what bothered Gomez was the photo silkscreened onto that shirt — of her husband during his hospitalization. It showed the aftermath of a beating he received from CBP agents. His head had a partially caved-in look because doctors had removed part of his skull. Over his chest and arms were bruises from Tasering. One tooth was out of place, and he had two black eyes. Although you couldn’t see them in the photo, two heavily armed Homeland Security agents were then guarding his hospital door to prevent the father of two, formerly a sound technician and the lead singer of a popular band in Los Angeles, from escaping — even in his comatose state.

Jose Gutierrez Guzman’s has become an ever more common story in an age of mass expulsions. Although he had grown up in the United States (without papers), he was born in Mexico. After receiving a letter requesting his appearance, he went to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Los Angeles and was promptly arrested and deported. Customs and Border Protection agents later caught him crossing the border in San Luis, Arizona, near Yuma, in an attempt to reunite with his wife and children.

“Stop… stepping… on… the… pictures,” Shena insisted.

As she tells the story, Agent Gomez looked at her shirt for a second, then looked up at her and said, “You have that mentality about us. You think we go around abusing.”  His tone remained faux-friendly, but his boots didn’t — and neither did those cuffs another CBP agent had put on her. Forcing her hands behind her back, they cut uncomfortably into her wrists. They would leave deep red circular marks.

On display was a post-9/11 world in which the usual rights meant to protect Americans from unreasonable search and seizure and unwanted, as well as unwarranted, interrogation were up for grabs.

While such constitutionally questionable intrusions into people’s privacy have been increasing at border crossings in the post-9/11 years, this type of hardline border policing has also moved inland.  In other words, the sort of intrusions that once would have qualified as unconstitutional have moved in startling numbers into the interior of the country.

Imagine the once thin borderline of the American past as an ever-thickening band, now extending 100 miles inland around the United States — along the 2,000-mile southern border, the 4,000-mile northern border, and both coasts — and you will be able to visualize how vast the CBP’s jurisdiction has become. This “border” region now covers places where two-thirds of the U.S. population (197.4 million people) live. The ACLU has come to call it a “constitution-free zone.” The “border” has by now devoured the full states of Maine and Florida and much of Michigan.

In these vast domains, Homeland Security authorities can institute roving patrols with broad, extra-constitutional powers backed by national security, immigration enforcement, and drug interdiction mandates. There, the Border Patrol can set up traffic checkpoints and fly surveillance drones overhead with high-powered cameras and radar that can track your movements. Within 25 miles of the international boundary, CBP agents can enter a person’s private property without a warrant. In these areas, the Homeland Security state is anything but abstract. On any given day, it can stand between you and the grocery store.

“Border Patrol checkpoints and roving patrols are the physical world equivalent of the National Security Agency,” says attorney James Lyall of ACLU Arizona puts it. “They involve a massive dragnet and stopping and monitoring of innocent Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing by increasingly abusive and unaccountable federal government agents.”

Before she was so unceremoniously stopped and held, Shena Gutierrez shared the story of her husband at that 48-hour vigil. It was another story of the kind of pervasive abuse reported by people in the 100-mile zone. There were no cameras that night to record how 11 agents “subdued” Jose Gutierrez Guzman, as the CBP put it in its official report on the incident. Its claim: that Jose “struck his head on the ground,” a way perhaps of accounting for the hospital’s eventual diagnosis of “blunt force trauma.”

Considering the extent of Jose’s injuries, that CBP report is questionable indeed. Many Border Patrol agents now use the term “tonk” — the sound a flashlight supposedly makes when it bangs against someone’s head — as their way of describing border-crossers. Jose was also repeatedly “shot” with an “electronic control device,” aka a Taser. He was so badly beaten that, more than three years later, he still suffers seizures.

“Stop stepping on my pictures!” Gutierrez insisted again. But much like the CBP’s official complaint process, the words were ignored. The only thing Gomez eventually spat out was, “Are you going to get difficult?”

When Shena Gutierrez offered me a play-by-play account of her long day, including her five-hour detainment at the border, her voice ran a gamut of emotions from desperation to defiance. Perhaps these are the signature emotions of what State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren has dubbed the “Post-Constitutional Era.” We now live in a time when, as he writes, “the government might as well have taken scissors to the original copy of the Constitution stored in the National Archives, then crumpled up the Fourth Amendment and tossed it in the garbage can.” The prototype for this new era, with all the potential for abuse it gives the authorities, can be found in that 100-mile zone.

A Standing Army

The zone first came into existence thanks to a series of laws passed by Congress in the 1940s and 1950s at a time when the Border Patrol was just an afterthought with a miniscule budget and only 1,100 agents. Today, Customs and Border Protection has more than 60,000 employees and is by far the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.  According to author and constitutional attorney John Whitehead, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created in 2002, is efficiently and ruthlessly building “a standing army on American soil.”

Long ago, President James Madison warned that “a standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty.” With its 240,000 employees and $ 61 billion budget, the DHS, Whitehead points out, is militarizing police units, stockpiling ammunition, spying on activists, and building detention centers, among many other things. CBP is the uniformed and most visible component of this “standing army.” It practically has its own air force and navy, an Office of Air and Marine equipped with 280 sea vessels, 250 aircraft, and 1,200 agents.

On the border, never before have there been so many miles of walls and barriers, or such an array of sophisticated cameras capable of operating at night as well as in the daylight.  Motion sensors, radar systems, and cameras mounted on towers, as well as those drones, all feed their information into operational control rooms throughout the borderlands. There, agents can surveil activity over large stretches of territory on sophisticated (and expensive) video walls. This expanding border enforcement regime is now moving into the 100-mile zone.

Such technological capability also involves the warehousing of staggering amounts of personal information in the digital databases that have ushered in the Post-Constitutional Era. “What does all this mean in terms of the Fourth Amendment?” Van Buren asks. “It’s simple: the technological and human factors that constrained the gathering and processing of data in the past are fast disappearing.”

The border, in the post 9/11 years, has also become a place where military manufacturers, eyeing a market in an “unprecedented boom period,” are repurposing their wartime technologies for the Homeland Security mission.  This “bring the battlefield to the border” posture has created an unprecedented enforcement, incarceration, and expulsion machine aimed at the foreign-born (or often simply foreign-looking).

The sweep is reminiscent of the operation that forced Japanese (a majority of them citizens) into internment camps during World War II, but on a scale never before seen in this country. With it, unsurprisingly, has come a wave of complaints about physical and verbal abuse by Homeland Security agents, as well as tales of inadequate food and medical attention to undocumented immigrants in short-term detention.

The result is a permanent, low-intensity state of exception that makes the expanding borderlands a ripe place to experiment with tearing apart the Constitution, a place where not just undocumented border-crossers, but millions of borderland residents have become the targets of continual surveillance.  If you don’t see the Border Patrol’s ever-expanding forces in places like New York City (although CBP agents are certainly present at its airports and seaports), you can see them pulling people over these days in plenty of other spots in that Constitution-free zone where they hadn’t previously had a presence.

They are, for instance, in cities like Rochester, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, as well as in Washington State, Vermont, Florida, and at all international airports. Homeland Security officials are scrutinizing people’s belongings, including their electronic devices, from sea to shining sea. Just ask Pascal Abidor, an Islamic studies doctoral student whose computer was turned on by CBP agents in Champlain, New York.

When an agent saw that he had a picture of a Hezbollah rally, she asked Abidor, a U.S. citizen, “What is this stuff?” His answer — that he was studying the modern history of the Shiites — meant nothing to her and his computer was seized for 10 days. Between 2008 and 2010, the CBP searched the electronic devices of more than 6,500 people. Like many of us, Abidor keeps everything, even his most private and intimate conversations with his girlfriend, on his computer. Now, it’s private no longer.

Despite all this, the message politicians and the media generally offer is that the country needs more agents, new techno-gadgets, and even more walls for our “safety.” In that context, President Obama on July 7th asked Congress for an additional $ 3.7 billion for “border security.”

Since last October, in what officials have called a “humanitarian crisis,” 52,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have been apprehended by Border Patrol agents. News about and photos of some of those children, including toddlers, parentless and incarcerated in warehouses in the Southwest, have led to a flood of articles, many claiming that border security is “strained.” A Border Patrol Union representative typically claimed that the border is “more porous than it’s ever been.” While such claims are ludicrous, all signs point to more money being packed aboard what Whitehead has called a “runaway train.”

Make no bones about it, every dollar spent this way works not just to keep others out of this country, but to lock U.S. citizens into a border zone that may soon encompass the whole country.  It also fortifies our new domestic “standing military force” and its rollback of the Bill of Rights.

Resistance Inside the 100-Mile Zone

The first thing Cynthia (a pseudonym) asks the supervisory agent with the green Border Patrol hat and wrap-around sunglasses who stops her car is: “Can I have your name and agent number please?” She’s been halted at a checkpoint approximately 25 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border on a road running east-west-running near the small town of Arivaca, Arizona, where she lives.

The agent pauses.  He looks like he’s swallowed a hornet before he barks, “We ask the questions here first, okay? Do you have some ID on you?”

This starts a tense exchange between the two of them that she videotaped in its entirety. She is only one of many challenging the omnipresence and activities of the Border Patrol in the heart of the 100-mile zone. Like many locals in Arivaca, she is sick of the checkpoint, which has been there for seven years. She and her neighbors were fed up with the obligatory stop between their small town and the dentist or the nearest bookstore. They were tired of Homeland Security agents scrutinizing their children on their way to school. So they began to organize.

In late 2013, they demanded that the federal government remove the checkpoint. It was, they wrote in a petition, an ugly artifact of border militarization; it had, they added, a negative economic impact on residents and infringed on people’s constitutional rights. At the beginning of 2014, small groups from People Helping People in the Border Zone — the name of their organization — started monitoring the checkpoint several days a week.

This Arivaca Border Patrol road barricade, one of at least 71 in the southwest, functions as a de facto enforcement zone away from the border.  In Border Patrolese, it’s “an additional layer in our Defense in Depth strategy.” This particular checkpoint isn’t exactly impressive — just a portable trailer with an attached tarp for shade, but it still qualifies, according to one of the Patrol’s informational brochures, as “a critical enforcement tool for securing the nation’s borders against all threats to our homeland.”

The agents manning it stop every car on the road, do a quick visual check of its interior, and ask the driver and passengers their citizenship. There are also dogs available to sniff each car for traces of drugs or explosives. “Our enforcement presence along these strategic routes reduces the ability of criminals and potential terrorists to easily travel away from the border,” the brochure explains.

The Homeland Security surveillance gaze in the Southwest is, in fact, so pervasive that it has even nabbed singer Willy Nelson in Texas for marijuana possession. It detained 96-year-old former Arizona governor Raul Castro and made him stand in 100-degree heat for more than 30 minutes because a dog detected the radiation from his pacemaker. In the past three years in the Tucson sector, the Patrol has made more than 6,000 arrests and confiscated 135,000 pounds of narcotics at checkpoints.

But this is no longer just a matter of inland areas near the Mexican Border.  A Border Patrol agent forced Vermont’s senior senator Patrick Leahy from his car at a checkpoint 125 miles south of the New York State border. The ACLU of Vermont unearthed a prototype plan for CBP to operate checkpoints to stop southbound traffic on all five highways through that New England border state.

On Sunday afternoons in Sodus, New York, about 30 miles east of Rochester, green-striped Border Patrol vehicles can sometimes be found parked in front of a laundromat which farmworkers (many undocumented) use. In Erie, Pennsylvania, agents wait at the Greyhound bus terminal or the Amtrak station to question people arriving in town. These are all places where the Border Patrol was all but unknown before 2005. In Detroit, simply being at a bus stop at four in the morning en route to work or fishing in the Detroit River is now “probable cause” for an agent to question you.

Or perhaps it is simply the color of your skin. Arrest records from both bus terminals and railway stations in Rochester, New York, show that of the 2,776 arrests agents made between 2005 and 2009, 71.2 percent were of  “medium” complexion (likely of Latino or Arab background) and 12.9 percent “black.” Only 0.9 percent of those arrested were of “fair” complexion.

Back in Arivaca, the agent with the wraparound sunglasses tells Cynthia that she needs to get out of her car. Much like Senator Leahy, she responds that she doesn’t “understand why.”

“You don’t have to understand,” he says. “It’s for my safety. And yours. Do you understand that?”

Then his tone gains an angry edge. He clearly doesn’t like having his authority challenged. “We don’t have time for this. We have criminals here, okay? If you have a political or an emotional situation here” — he makes an emphatic chopping motion with his hand — “I don’t want to hear about it. I want to see your ID.” He pauses. “Now!”

The adrenaline is obviously pumping and he is about to edge up on the limits of what an agent can do, even with extra-constitutional powers. He thrusts his hand through the open window and into the car and unlocks it. With a yank, he pulls the door open from the inside. When Cynthia is out of the car, he asks, his voice rising, “What do you think we’re looking for here?”

“I don’t know,” Cynthia responds.

“That’s where I’m gonna educate you a little bit. Okay?”

“Okay,” she says.

“What happens through this checkpoint is that we catch smugglers of aliens, smugglers of drugs, child molesters, murderers, and everything else. Okay? Does that make sense?”

This rural area of Arizona, he insists as they stand under a vast cloudless blue sky, is infested with bandits, criminals, and drug dealers. “We have methamphetamine being made and manufactured,” the agent explains. “Do you think methamphetamine is a good thing?”

“Personally, no,” she says.

“Personally, I don’t think so either. I think they’re poisoning our world, okay? So when we ask you just to do something simple, like uncover something, do it! It’s a relief for us that it’s not something dangerous or something else.”  By now, the agent is making the full-blown case for Homeland Security’s rollback of the Bill of Rights: the world’s a dangerous place, too dangerous for us not to have a free hand searching wherever we want whenever we want — and it’s your job to understand that new twenty-first-century American reality.  He ends with a final dig at her for her initial resistance: “You’re destroying your rights, because what happens is, is that the criminals take your rights away, okay?  Not us. We’re here to protect you.”

According to the ACLU’s Lyall, the fact is that the abuses of Customs and Border Protection in that Constitution-free zone are “massively underreported” and “far more prevalent than anyone has been able to document.” Many people, according to him, are simply afraid to come forward; others don’t know their rights.

In Shena Gutierrez’s case, she returned to the same Nogales “port of entry” with two other activists to lodge a complaint about the purse incident. When she refused to leave federal property (for which she now faces charges), the CBP arrested and detained her for hours. This time they did what she described as “an invasive body search.”

“I told them that I had not given my consent to be touched.” They nonetheless made her take off her wedding ring “for safety.” When she resisted, they said that they “would force it off her.” Again, the handcuffs cut into her wrists.  This time, an agent kicked her in the ankle from behind. A female agent searched her thoroughly, from head to toe and in her private parts, because she “might have drugs or contraband or documents.”

As the agent groped her, she told me, she began to think yet again about what her husband had gone through. If this can happen to a U.S. citizen, she told me, “Imagine what happens to a person without documents.”

Imagine what can happen to anyone in a realm where, increasingly, anything goes, including the Constitution.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Deaths in Ukraine as Russia shuts border

Pro-Russia rebels have fired missiles at government troops near the Russian border, killing at least 19 soldiers, Ukraine’s Defence Ministry says.

It said on Friday that another five troops were killed in other clashes.

President Petro Poroshenko summoned security officials in Kiev to discuss Friday’s pre-dawn attack at the Zelenopole border post near Luhansk, and declared that the perpetrators would be punished.

“For every life of our soldiers, the militants will pay with tens and hundreds of their own. Not one terrorist will evade responsibility, everybody will get what is coming to them,” he said.

Vladislav Seleznev, a Defence Ministry spokesman, gave the figure of 19 deaths on his Facebook account and reported four other troop deaths.

The ministry said 93 soldiers were injured in the base clash.

The other four soldiers and five other people were killed in Dovzhansky, which is also near Ukraine’s border with Russia.

Two soldiers and at least one border guard were killed after their armoured vehicle drove over a mine.

The Russian news agency Interfax also reported that another Ukrainian soldier was killed in attacks near Aleksandrovsk in the Luhansk region.

Vladyslav Seleznyov, a military spokesman, said a soldier was also killed in an incident near the town of Karlovka in the region of Donetsk, the main city where rebel fighters are holding out against the government forces.

He said at least 50 separatist fighters had been killed in the last few days following air attacks against rebel positions near the border with Russia.

The dead also included five coal miners who were killed on Friday after the bus they were travelling in came under mortar fire, Ukrainian television reported a doctor as saying, in the region of Chervonopartizansk near the border with Russia.

There was no immediate comment from the rebels.

The shelling of the bus forced energy and coal processing company DTEK, which employed the miners, to suspend operations at four mines in the economically depressed industrial province of Luhansk, Interfax news agency quoted the company’s general director as saying.

The government forces have gained the upper hand in the three-month-old conflict in the Russian-speaking eastern regions in which more than 200 government troops have been killed as well as hundreds of civilians and rebel fighters.

Meanwhile, Russia closed three major border crossings with Ukraine.

Russian news agencies on Friday quoted Vasily Malayev, a spokesman for the security services in the Rostov region, as saying that three crossings east of Donetsk were temporarily closed late on Thursday night because of fighting on the other side.

Ukraine said it regained control of one crossing which had been controlled by rebels.

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Israel sends troops to border with Gaza

Israeli military says troop reinforcements are being sent to the border with the Gaza Strip, raising the possibility of an expanded operation in the Palestinian territory in response to intensifying rocket fire.

Thursday’s movement of tanks and artillery forces came after 11 Palestinians were wounded in Israeli air raids on Gaza, as Palestinians prepared for the funeral of a teenager who was killed in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Gaza raids began as residents were preparing their pre-dawn Ramadan meal, known as suhoor, on Thursday.

“Eleven people were wounded during the night, including one who is in serious condition,” a spokesman for the Gaza Health Authority said, adding seven were hurt in Beit Lahiya in the north and four in Gaza City.

The Israeli military said the air force struck 15 “terror sites” in Gaza. ”The targets included weapons manufacturing sites as well as training facilities,” a military spokesman said.

The raids came after at least 15 rockets struck southern Israel, two of which were intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile system, the army said.

The rockets struck two houses in the southern border town of Sderot. Police said that one of the rockets caused a power cut. The Israeli army reported no injuries.

Israel’s last major operation in Gaza, a territory controlled by the Palestinian group Hamas, took place in late 2012.


RELATED: East Jerusalem clashes follow teen’s murder


The tensions have heightened following the abduction and killing of three Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Israel has accused Hamas of being behind the deaths, and arrested about 600 suspected Hamas activists as part of a broad manhunt in the largest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade.

The Palestinians have, for their part, accused Israelis of abducting and killing 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair, a teenage boy, in East Jerusalem in a revenge attack, and stone-throwing youths clashed with Israeli police throughout the day on Wednesday.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on Thursday night once again condemned the killing of Khudair while addressing a Fourth of July function at the US ambassador’s Jerusalem residence.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Jerusalem, said it appeared Netanyahu was attempting to calm the situation.

But in Gaza, concerns were growing about the tanks and troops assembling around the border, Al Jazeera’s John Hendren said.

“They [Palestinians] also have heard that Israel has said if the rocket attacks coming out of Gaza do not stop within 48 hours, they will attack,” Hendren reported. 

The weeks since the young settlers disappeared have seen Palestinians in Gaza fire scores of rockets at Israel, which has responded with air strikes against alleged militant targets.

Two Palestinian fighters were killed in an air raid last week, and a young Palestinian girl was killed by an errant rocket attack. There have been no serious casualties on the Israeli side.

Responsibility claim

The armed wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades said in a statement that had they fired rockets.

They said they were “in response to the ongoing Israeli escalation against our people in Gaza and West Bank” – a reference to clashes in East Jerusalem after the murder of  early on Wednesday.

According to figures from Dr Amin Abu Ghazali, the head of field operations for the Red Crescent in East Jerusalem, 232 people were wounded during the clashes, 178 of them in Shuafat alone.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said it was clear that Abu Khdair was killed by Jewish settlers and called on Israel to bring the killers to justice.

An investigation into the disappearance and murder of the teenager was launched by Israeli police after Netanyahu demanded a swift probe into what he called a “reprehensible murder”. 

Khdair’s family said he was abducted on Wednesday shortly before a charred body was found in a Jerusalem forest. Police were still attempting to identify the body on Thursday and a funeral was expected to be held after protests on Friday afternoon.

Al Jazeera’s Dekker reported that the Israeli police were planning to deploy reinforcements to East Jerusalem on Friday. 

With additional reporting from Fares Akram.

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Reports: Saudi troops deployed to Iraq border

Saudi Arabia has sent 30,000 soldiers to its border with Iraq after Iraqi soldiers withdrew from the area, Al Arabiya television says.

The country aims to guard its 800km border with Iraq, where Islamic State fighters and other Sunni Muslim rebel groups seized towns and cities in a lightning advance last month.

King Abdullah has ordered all necessary measures to protect the kingdom against potential “terrorist threats”, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.

The Dubai-based Al Arabiya said on its website that Saudi troops fanned into the border region after Iraqi government forces abandoned positions, leaving the Saudi frontier unprotected, the Reuters news agency reported.

The satellite channel said it had obtained a video showing about 2,500 Iraqi soldiers in the desert area east of the Iraqi city of Karbala after pulling back from the border.

An officer in the video aired by Al Arabiya said that the soldiers had been ordered to quit their posts without justification.

The authenticity of the recording could not immediately be verified and the Iraqi government denied the reports. Lieutenant General Qassim Atta, an Iraqi army spokesman, said: “This is false news aimed at affecting the morale of our people and the morale of our heroic fighters.”

Iranian aid

Iraq is in the midst of a conflict with Sunni fighters in the north and west of the country, and has launched an offensive in Tikrit to recapture territory it lost during a rebel advance in June.

Thousands of soldiers, backed by tanks, artillery and aerial cover, have made limited progress in retaking the city, the AFP news agency reported.

The Iraqi government has asked allies for help in tackling the rebellion, but has received a limited response from the US.

Washington has sent 300 military advisers to Baghdad, falling short of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s request for weapons, including to speed up delivery of F-16 jets due for delivery later this year.

The Iraqis have instead turned to Russia and reportedly, Iran.

Russia sold Iraq a dozen Sukhoi-25 jets.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies has said three Sukhoi jets shown landing in Iraq in a video released by the defence ministry were probably from Iran.

Iran has pledged to aid Iraq against the rebels, who are motivated, in part, by Iran’s alleged influence on the Iraqi government.

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Armenia Says Two Soldiers Killed In Fresh Border Skirmishes

Armenia’s Defense Ministry says two Armenian soldiers were killed in the latest skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani military forces.

According to the ministry, one soldier was killed near the border with Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh on June 19, while another one died in a shoot-out near Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan’s Naxcivan Autonomous Republic.

Meanwhile, media reports in Azerbaijan say two Azerbaijani women and a girl were wounded after being shot by Armenian solders in Tovuz district near Nagorno-Karabakh.

Baku and Yerevan remain locked in hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh, which was seized from Azerbaijan by Armenian-backed separatists during a war in the early 1990s.

At least 16 soldiers from both sides have been killed in shooting incidents so far this year.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence has not been recognized by any country.

Based on reporting by apa.az, Interfax, and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Syrian Forces Expel Rebels From Christian Town on Turkish Border

A church in the Armenian Christian town of Kessab (Reuters/Stringer).The Syrian military has recaptured the strategically important border town of Kessab. The predominantly Christian-Armenian town was overrun by jihadist rebels in March, with much blame placed on Turkey for reportedly allowing the crossover to happen.

Syrian armed forces have been carrying out systematic assaults on the Al-Nusra Front and associated rebel positions across several provinces, including northern Lattakia, where control was reestablished on Saturday. The army seized weapons and ammunition and took out dozens of terrorists in the operation, mostly non-Syrians, according to SANA news agency.

The jihadists withdrew from Kessab “leaving behind only a small number of men,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Tanks were deployed in the surrounding areas and government forces eventually closed in on militants’ positions.

The jihadist groups were reportedly pushed back toward the Jabal al-Akrad area.

On March 21, extremists affiliated with Al-Qaeda seized the town of Kessab after clashes with Syrian government troops and local self-defense squads. This was to become part of a long-winded diplomatic crisis involving Turkey, Syria, and Armenia, as the jihadists had reportedly crossed into Syria from Turkey.

The Armenian government called on the UN to protect Kessab, evoked the Armenian genocide of 1915, and accused Turkey of allowing jihadists to cross the border to attack Kessab, blaming it for the civilian deaths. Moscow also joined calls at the UNSC to evaluate the situation and offer solutions on how to protect the some 2,000 Christian Armenians that inhabit Kessab.

Ankara slammed any accusations of its complicity and condemned the allegations as “confrontational political propaganda,” although Turkey downed a Syrian military jet on March 23, just ahead of an escalation in tensions between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Syrian government. Turkey claimed the jet was violating its airspace.

In response, Damascus accused Ankara of “blatant aggression,” saying the fighter jet had been over Syria. The Syrian pilot said a Turkish aircraft fired a missile at him while he was pursuing jihadist militants within Syrian territories, SANA news agency reported.

Although the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has been caught several times in the past in the act of supporting the rebels and largely taking up a stance against the Syrian government, it likewise disagreed with the statement released by Ankara in the aftermath of the downing of the Syrian jet.

Finally, on March 27, a leaked phone conversation between top Turkish officials discussing the options for manufacturing a pretext for a military invasion of Syria appeared on YouTube, leaving little doubt as to how little Turkey was willing to hold back when it came to engaging the Assad government.

Theories on the invasion of Kessab by terrorists center largely on Erdogan allowing the border crossover to take place. It is a strategically important area because of its geographical location near the only border crossing with Turkey in the shaky Lattakia province, which is the heartland of the Alawite sect, of which Assad is a member.

March violence brought with it the loss of the last functioning border crossing with Turkey, when jihadists won it over from the Syrian government.

Assyrian International News Agency

Militants Storm Karachi Airport, Pilgrims Killed Near Iran Border

Heavily armed gunmen have attacked one of Pakistan’s busiest airports, with reports early on June 9 saying at least seven people had been killed as a fierce battle continued.

Meanwhile, in southwestern Pakistan, 23 Shi’ite Muslims were killed by suicide attackers shortly after they had returned from a pilgrimage in Iran.

The dead in the attack at Karachi’s international airport reportedly include four security officers, one flight attendant, and two of the attackers.

The attackers stormed the airport’s old terminal building on June 8, shortly before midnight (local time), throwing hand grenades and firing assault rifles in a building now used mostly for cargo and the transit of VIP passengers.

A fire was raging in the old terminal building in the early morning hours of June 9.

Pakistan’s army has surrounded the airport and incoming flights were being diverted.

But some flights also were stranded on the ground as the battle raged nearby.

Commandos reportedly boarded at least one of those planes, and panicked passengers were being told to stay on board.

As the attack at the airport was underway, suicide bombers in southwestern Pakistan killed 23 Shi’ite pilgrims who were staying at a hotel near the border with Iran.

Baluchistan Province’s Home Minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti says four attackers targeted the pilgrims in the border town of Tuftan.

Bugti said one of the attackers was killed by security guards who were traveling with the pilgrims.

But he said the other three managed to get inside the hotel where they blew themnselves up.

That attack also wounded 10 people.

It was not immediately clear whether there was a connection between the attack in Tuftan and the attack by militants on Karachi’s international airport.
 

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Militants Storm Karachi Airport, Pilgrims Killed Near Iran Border

Heavily armed gunmen have attacked one of Pakistan’s busiest airports, with reports early on June 9 saying at least seven people had been killed as a fierce battle continued.

Meanwhile, in southwestern Pakistan, 23 Shi’ite Muslims were killed by suicide attackers shortly after they had returned from a pilgrimage in Iran.

The dead in the attack at Karachi’s international airport reportedly include four security officers, one flight attendant, and two of the attackers.

The attackers stormed the airport’s old terminal building on June 8, shortly before midnight (local time), throwing hand grenades and firing assault rifles in a building now used mostly for cargo and the transit of VIP passengers.

A fire was raging in the old terminal building in the early morning hours of June 9.

Pakistan’s army has surrounded the airport and incoming flights were being diverted.

But some flights also were stranded on the ground as the battle raged nearby.

Commandos reportedly boarded at least one of those planes, and panicked passengers were being told to stay on board.

As the attack at the airport was underway, suicide bombers in southwestern Pakistan killed 23 Shi’ite pilgrims who were staying at a hotel near the border with Iran.

Baluchistan Province’s Home Minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti says four attackers targeted the pilgrims in the border town of Tuftan.

Bugti said one of the attackers was killed by security guards who were traveling with the pilgrims.

But he said the other three managed to get inside the hotel where they blew themnselves up.

That attack also wounded 10 people.

It was not immediately clear whether there was a connection between the attack in Tuftan and the attack by militants on Karachi’s international airport.
 

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ukraine says 15 rebels killed in border clash

Fifteen pro-Russian rebels have been killed in clashes with government troops at a border crossing with Russia, according to an aide to the Ukrainian interior minister. 

Speaking on a television programme late on Thursday, Anton Herashchenko said Ukrainian border guards clashed earlier in the day with armed men who came from Russia in trucks and an infantry vehicle, and tried to cross the border at the village of Marynivka in eastern Ukraine.

Herashenko said the attackers were supported by about 100 rebels who came from the Ukrainian side of the border.

He said five Ukrainian troops were injured and 15 rebels were killed. Their bodies were taken to a nearby town.

Government troops have for weeks been clashing with pro-Russian rebels who dismiss the Kiev government as illegitimate.

G7 warning

In a seperate development, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday that he expected Vladimir Putin to attend the Group of Twenty (G20) summit this year in Brisbane, despite the Russian president being banned from this week’s Group of Seven (G7) meeting.

Russia was axed from the G7 meeting in Brussels over its annexation of  Crimea, with Putin cold-shouldered by the United States and its allies since the March seizure of the peninsula.

Australia is the current holder of the rotating G20 presidency and hosts the leaders’ summit in Brisbane in November.

Abbott said that while he shared serious concerns over Russia’s role in Ukraine, there was no indication Putin would not be invited.

“The G20 is an economic meeting whereas the G7 or the G8 has tended to have a very strong security component,” he told Australian media in France late on Thursday, where he will attend the 70th D-Day commemorations, alongside Putin.

“Obviously there are very grave concerns about the behaviour of Russia in Ukraine and I can understand why the G7 leaders were reluctant to sit down with President Putin at this time.”

The G7 group is comprised of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and the US.

US President Barack Obama said on Thursday that Russia had to recognise Ukraine’s president-elect Petro Poroshenko.

He also said Moscow must withdraw troops from Ukrainian borders and stop backing the pro-Moscow rebels destabilising eastern Ukraine.

In a statement after their summit, G7 leaders warned of tougher sanctions if the conditions set out by Obama were not met.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Pakistani Troops Kill 14 Militants Near Afghan Border

Pakistani military officials say 14 militants have been killed in a clash near the Afghan border in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region.

The officers said a group of insurgents ambushed a military checkpoint early on May 31, killing a soldier and wounding two others.

The military, backed by helicopter gunships, responded to the attack in the restive Bajaur tribal area.

The officers said the gunbattle was still under way hours later. The claims cannot be independently verified.

Bajaur is one of seven semiautonomous tribal regions hit by insurgency.
 

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

NATO Says Around Two-Thirds Of Russian Troops Withdrawing From Ukraine Border

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that Russia is withdrawing around two-thirds of the troops it had near the Ukrainian border. 

Rasmussen, speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on May 30, said there are “signs of at least a partial withdrawal.”

The estimate is far higher than previous estimates made by NATO of the extent of a Russian withdrawal, which Russia has pledged a number of times, most recently this week.
 
Rasmussen also said that NATO and Russia would meet in the framework of a cooperative body, the NATO-Russia Council, on June 2 but gave no further details.

Earlier, Ukraine’s government said it will press on with an offensive to restore peace and order in the separatist-controlled east, as a second team of OSCE monitors was detained by pro-Russian gunmen in the region. 

Acting Defense Minister Mykhaylo Koval said government forces have “completely cleared” pro-Russian rebels from parts of the separatist east. 

Koval was speaking to reporters in Kyiv on May 30, one day after at least 12 government troops, including a general, were killed when rebels shot down an army helicopter. 

“Our armed forces have completed their assigned missions and completely cleared the southern and western parts of the Donetsk region and the northern part of the Luhansk region from the separatists,” Koval said. 

“Our given task is to bring peace and order to the region,” he added. 

Koval also repeated charges that Russia was carrying out “special operations” in eastern Ukraine. 

He said Ukrainian forces would continue with military operations in border areas “until these regions begin to live normally, until there is peace.” 

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the pan-European rights and security body, said a team of four international monitors and a Ukrainian language assistant was stopped by gunmen in the town of Severodonetsk, 100 kilometers north of Luhansk.

The OSCE said it lost contact with the team late on May 29.

It said the detained team is in addition to another group of monitors still missing in eastern Ukraine, which was last heard from on May 26.
 
The OSCE says members of that team — Danish, Turkish, Swiss, and Estonian nationals — were on a routine patrol east of Donetsk.

A rebel leader confirmed on May 29 that those four monitors were in their custody. The rebels assured journalists that they would “deal with this and then release them” but did not give a specific time frame.

The OSCE teams are in Ukraine to monitor the security situation following the rise of a pro-Russia separatist insurgency.

In a separate development, one faction of pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine has reportedly evicted another faction from the regional administration building in Donetsk, which has served as the separatists’ headquarters.

Western media reports said heavily armed fighters of the so-called Vostok Battalion flooded into Donetsk last weekend. 
 

ALSO READ: Vostok Battalion, A Powerful New Player In Eastern Ukraine

Many are believed to be from Chechnya and other areas in the Caucasus. 

The U.S. State Department said on May 29 that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had raised concerns about foreign fighters entering Ukraine — particularly Chechens — with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. 
 

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

ISIS Accused of Massacring Kurdish Villagers Near Border

Beirut — Militants from the Al-Qaeda breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) were accused Thursday of massacring 15 Syrian Kurds, nearly half of them children, amid an uptick in violence in Syria’s three eastern provinces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and several Kurdish media outlets said the attack took place in a village near the town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border, after militants stormed the village.

It said of the 15, seven were children, one a young man, and three were women.

Video footage of the aftermath, circulated by activists, showed a man carrying the corpse of a young girl, and shouting, “They are criminals, not Muslims!”

ISIS militants have been accused of committing repeated atrocities against civilians as well as rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Separately, the Observatory said that leaders from the Kurdish YPG militia denied having set off a car bomb in the city of Raqqa earlier this week in an attack that reportedly targeted a high-level meeting of ISIS figures.

The Observatory said the attack, against the Lazord Hotel, killed at least 10 ISIS militants and wounded an unspecified number of others.

“These accusations are wrong — the YPG does not engage in such criminal acts, even if it is in a state of war with ISIS,” a Kurdish militia leader was quoted by the Observatory as saying.

In the city of Hassakeh, a roadside bomb attack Thursday targeted a patrol belonging to a local Kurdish police force, the Observatory added, wounding two policemen.

In Deir al-Zor, fighters from ISIS seized one village and part of another in the western part of the province, it said. The development came after ISIS fighters skirmished with fighters from the Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and Islamist militias from the region.

A number of casualties were sustained by both sides in the clashes, the Observatory said, while two civilians were also killed in the battle.

It said that a rebel commander died of his wounds sustained a few days earlier in clashes with ISIS, while the extremist group’s shelling of the village of Ibriha in Deir al-Zor led to fires that swept large tracts of agricultural land.

Assyrian International News Agency

More Turkmen Troops Killed Along Afghan Border

This latest attack again highlights the fragile and often tense situation along the Afghan-Turkmen border. (file photo)

For the second time in three months Turkmen troops along the Afghan border have suffered losses.
 
Three Turkmen soldiers were killed on May 24 by a small armed group that crossed the border from the Ghormach region of Afghanistan’s Faryab Province.
 
The motive for this latest attack is unclear.
 
But RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, reported that the acting head of Afghanistan’s Ghormach district, Asyl Khan, said information he received from security officials in the area where the shooting took place indicated that the intruders took weapons — two Kalashnikovs and a heavy-caliber machine gun — from the slain soldiers and brought them back to Afghanistan.
 
Khan added that, according to his information, Turkmenistan’s forces did not react to the attack on their territory.
 
It was unclear who the attackers were. Qishloq Ovozi has previously reported that there are militant groups in northern Afghanistan who are allied with the Taliban but are led by ethnic Uzbeks.
 
These militants reportedly include both ethnic Uzbeks and Turkmen.
 
Khan said the group that crossed into Turkmenistan on May 24 was led by someone named Ghulam Destghir Topan.
 
Three Turkmen border guards were also killed just across the border from Afghanistan’s Baghdis Province at the end of February.
 
That attack, it was learned later, was revenge for Turkmen guards killing one militant and capturing two others after they crossed into Turkmenistan around February 10.
 
A threat from those militants to attack the Turkmen border guards led to the captive militants being freed and the body of the dead militant being returned. The three Turkmen border guards were killed after they had freed the militants and returned the body.
 
This latest attack again highlights the fragile situation along the Afghan-Turkmen border as the bulk of foreign forces prepare to depart Afghanistan at the end of this year.
 
Militant groups, particularly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have been gathering in northern Afghanistan for months, raising fears on the northern side of the Afghan-Central Asian border about what will happen after 2014.
 
– Bruce Pannier with contributions from Muhammad Tahir (RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service) and RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan
 
* Azatlyk is conducting a round table discussion about the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan on May 29. Qishloq Ovozi will post a full report of proceedings the following day.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russia Says Ukraine Border Withdrawal Will Take Weeks

Russian military officials now say their promised withdrawal of 40,000 troops from Ukraine’s borders will not be completed until weeks after Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election.

They say the withdrawal is likely to be completed around the time that a second round vote would take place if no single candidate wins an outright majority in the May 25 vote.

The acknowledgment came two days before the scheduled first round of voting in Ukraine.

U.S. and European officials have expressed concerns that the Russian troop presence on the border is destabilizing the election by emboldening pro-Russian separatists who are battling against government forces after seizing government buildings in several towns and cities in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed on three separate occasions that he ordered a complete withdrawal of Russian forces away from border regions where they were deployed when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region earlier this year.

The Pentagon on May 23 confirmed small scale movements of Russian troops away from the border, but said it is too early to say whether a full scale withdrawal is underway.

Speaking at an international business forum in St. Petersburg on May 23, Putin said Russia also wants “some calming of the situation, and we will respect the choice of Ukrainian people.”

But Putin stopped short of declaring the May 25 election legitimate.

U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf on May 23 called on Russia to use its influence with separatists and urge them “to cease their violent activities and lay down their arms” ahead of the May 25 vote.

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement that a successful presidential election in Ukraine will be a major step toward reducing tensions and restoring political stability there.

Ashton said: “Election authorities must be allowed to conduct elections without hindrance throughout the country and domestic and international observers must be allowed to fully fulfill their function.”

Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said in an official video statement on May 23 that Ukraine’s “enemies have done everything they could to destabilize the situation and disrupt the elections” during the last three months.

“But,” Turchynov said, “Ukrainians are stronger and wiser.”

It was at a security conference in Moscow on May 23 that General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s general staff, announced that it will take 20 days for Russian troops in regions bordering Ukraine to return to their permanent bases.

Earlier on May 23, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonovay had said that all forces would leave the border regions “within days.”

Candidates vying to become Ukraine’s next president held their final campaign rallies on May 23, one day after the Ukrainian Army suffered heavy losses to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

The election pits front-runner Petro Poroshenko, a 48-year-old confectionary magnate, against nearly 20 other challengers — including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Political analysts are predicting a second round vote between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko on June 15.
 

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and ITAR-TASS

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kyrgyzstan Beefs Up Security Along Border With Tajikistan

Kyrgyzstan has reinforced its troops along the Tajik border in the wake of violence in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region.

Kyrgyz Border Guarding Service chief Raiymberdi Duishonbiev told reporters on May 22 that two major checkpoints along the Tajik border have been enforced due to events in Gorno-Badakhshan’s capital, Khorugh.

Several people were killed and injured in both a police attack against suspected criminals and ensuing clashes between police and local residents in Khorugh on May 21.

Duishonbiev also said Kyrgyz border guards are in “permanent contact” with their colleagues in the neighboring Xinjiang province of China, where at least 31 people were killed in a terrorist attack on May 22.

In January, Kyrgyz border guards killed 11 armed men from Xinjiang who were suspected of murdering a Kyrgyz forest ranger after illegally crossing the border.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Jihadists Seek Islamic State on Syria-Iraq Border

BEIRUT — Jihadists have launched a fresh bid to take over the Syria-Iraq border area and set up a so-called Islamic state they can control, rebels, activists and a monitoring group say.

“Their name is the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Their goal is to link together the two areas (Syria, Iraq) to set up their state and then to continue spreading,” said activist and citizen journalist Abdel Salam Hussein.

Speaking from Albu Kamal on the Iraq border, Hussein said ISIS seeks to crush Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, and control the eastern, energy-rich province of Deir Ezzor bordering Iraq.

“ISIS is trying to end Al-Nusra Front’s power in the area, and if they do they will take over” the whole province, he said.

ISIS’s long-time ambition of creating an area under its control stretching across Syria and Iraq was undermined by a massive January offensive against it by rival Islamist rebels.

The campaign cornered ISIS fighters in Raqqa province, its bastion in northern Syria.

Once welcomed into the rebellion against President Bashar Assad, ISIS’s aim to dominate and its horrific abuses of civilians and rival fighters sparked the wrath of much of Syria’s opposition, including former ally Al-Nusra.

Rooted in Al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS split from the network after overall Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered it to stop fighting Al-Nusra.

In February, ISIS withdrew from most of Deir Ezzor after pitched battles with Al-Nusra and other Islamist groups, said rebel spokesman Omar Abu Layla.

But ISIS has since deployed “3,000 fighters from Raqa to Deir Ezzor”, Abu Layla told AFP.

“Most of them are foreigners, including Europeans, Tunisians and Saudis,” he said.

“ISIS have orders from their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to focus on Deir Ezzor, to take it over. It’s their main gateway to Iraq.”

Activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said violence is escalating in Deir Ezzor, with daily battles pitting ISIS rebels against Al-Nusra fighters, and a spike in car bombings.

One such attack by ISIS on Friday killed 12 people, including three children, the Observatory said.

The watchdog’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman, confirmed ISIL was expanding.

“They are pressing their bid by pushing tribes to swear oaths of loyalty to them, and by fighting rival factions in an attempt to ensure they emerge the strongest,” he said.

“ISIS have oil, money and weapons,” he added.

Over the past year ISIS fighters have seized regime weapons depots even after they were captured in joint battles with other groups, said Abdel Rahman.

Both the Observatory and activist Hussein say ISIS now holds sway in much of the area east of the Euphrates river in Deir Ezzor province.

Hussein said the tribal nature of the area means the war there is more over oil and loyalty than ideology.

He also said some rebel commanders in Albu Kamal, a key crossing point between Iraq and Syria still beyond ISIL control, “have sworn oaths of loyalty to ISIS”.

Hussein added that anti-ISIS rebels and jihadists are fighting back, but that they have suffered heavy losses.

“And with all the oil money coming in to Deir Ezzor, ISIS is able to keep its ammunition supplies well stocked,” he added.

The group has distributed food to families in flashpoint areas to try to gain popular support in an area impoverished by decades of marginalisation and three years of conflict and displacement.

“The other day they were giving out fruit to families. It’s a tactic to win support,” Hussein said.

But rebel spokesman Abu Layla, who opposes both ISIS and the Assad regime, said he believes ISIS has no future in Deir Ezzor.

“They want to use force to set up a brutal, extremist state that has nothing to do with Islam, and people reject that,” he said.

“Every day we are fighting ISIS and the regime, without a single bullet or dollar of support from the outside world,” Abu Leyla said.

“They can never claim real, grassroots support. Nobody in Syria wants ISIS.”

Assyrian International News Agency

One Killed In Tajik Security Operation On Afghan Border

Police say one suspected member of a criminal group was killed and two of his associates were injured during a security operation in Tajikistan’s eastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan.

The region’s deputy governor, Amrihudo Damdor, told RFE/RL that the incident took place on May 21 in the regional capital, Khorugh.

The two injured suspects have been arrested.

Dozens of local citizens gathered in the center of Khorugh, demanding their release.

Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region, which borders Afghanistan, has been restive for years.

In the summer of 2012, Tajik government forces conducted a military operation in the region against local armed groups after a top security official was murdered there.

Authorities say 13 security officers and 30 militants were killed in that operation, which lasted for several weeks.

Local citizens say that at least 70 people were killed during the 2012 operation.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kurdistan in the Dark about Iran Border Opening

HALABJA, Kurdistan Region – Iran announced the opening of the Shoshme border crossing with celebrations and festivities, but officials on the other side of the border in the Kurdistan Region said they were in the dark about the opening.

“The Shoshme border crossing is open officially, and starting tomorrow people can come and go,” said Nematollah Manuchehri, a member of the Kermanshah provincial council for the towns of Paveh, Ravansar and Javanrud.

Hundreds in the Iranian border areas responded to the news with celebrations, hoping that the new crossing could provide employment and better economic opportunities.

But the excitement did not echo on Kurdistan’s side of the frontier, where local officials said they had not heard officially from Iran about the opening.

“To open the border crossing the Kurdistan Region has been waiting for a response from the Iranian side, but they (Iranians) have not notified us officially,” said Nukhsha Nasih, the female mayor of the small town of Biara in Halabja, which was newly designated as a province.

There was also some skepticism on the Iranian side by residents who complained that the announcement of the border opening had been premature.

“They have not taken concrete measures, and have not even stationed police for passport checks,” said a resident, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Unlike the Iranian side, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has already set up passport control services on the Kurdish side of the border in preparation for the official opening. “We have passport control on our side, but we will need more employees so that we can keep the border running 24 hours,” said Nasih.

The KRG, in particular the officials from Halabja, have been in contact with Tehran and Baghdad over the past few years to make the border opening official.

The Shoshme border crossing has been unofficially operating between the Kurdistan Region and Iran for limited trade since 1991. The official opening is expected to provide a lifeline to Halabja, providing jobs, trade and other economic opportunities.

Once the Shoshme border is officially running, the Kurdistan Region will have three official crossings with its eastern neighbor.

Trade between Iran and the Kurdistan Region is pegged at $ 4 billion, but earlier this month KRG and Iranian officials vowed to double that amount over the next few years.

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Kyrgyz-Tajik Border Situation ‘Tense’ But Stable

Border guards and police on both sides of the frontier were reportedly out in force on May 8 to keep the peace.

One day after at least 25 people were injured in a clash between villagers in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, officials in both countries described the situation along their common border as “tense” but stable.
 
Border guards and police on both sides of the frontier were reportedly out in force on May 8 after some 1,500 residents of the Kok Tash village in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s Vorukh exclave fell into conflict during the evening of May 7 and started throwing stones at each other.
 
It took border guards and police from both countries several hours to restore order in the area.
 
Kyrgyz authorities say 17 of its citizens were injured and Tajik authorities say eight of its citizens were also hurt.
 
Tajikistan’s independent news agency Asia-Plus cited a source in the administration of Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region, which borders Kyrgyzstan, as saying a group of young Kyrgyz citizens were throwing stones at the vehicle of a resident of Tajikistan’s Vorukh exclave.
 
“A big crowd gathered from both sides,” the source said, and after exchanging insults, started throwing rocks at each other.
 
Kyrgyzstan’s privately-owned AKIpress website reported that Tajik citizens were throwing stones at a vehicle owned by a Kyrgyz citizen who was traveling along the Batken-Isfara road, which connects the two countries.
 
Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry summoned Tajikistan’s ambassador to protest an incident during the clash when Kyrgyzstan says citizens of Tajikistan torched a petrol station, a store, and two trucks near the Kyrgyz settlement of Kok-Terek.
 
Several hundred residents of Kok Tash demonstrated on May 8, demanding that the border between the two countries be demarcated as soon as possible.
 
Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Abdyrakhman Mamataliev and State Border Service Deputy Chairman Abdikarim Alimbaev have gone to the scene of the clash as has the head of the Sughd internal affairs directorate General Sharif Nazarov.
 
There have been sporadic clashes between villagers on either side of the border for several years.
 
The largest road in the area winds back and forth between the two countries and their exclaves. Large stretches of the border are not delimitated and water and farmland ownership issues have sparked tensions between the two communities.
 
In January, when Kyrgyzstan attempted to construct a detour around Tajikistan’s Vorukh exclave, shooting broke out between border guards of the two countries.
 
Several border guards on both sides were wounded.
 

With reporting by Asia-Plus, AKIpress and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty