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Daily Archives: May 13, 2020

Trump says schools should ‘absolutely open’ this fall, says Fauci did not give ‘acceptable answer’ – USA TODAY

  1. Trump says schools should ‘absolutely open’ this fall, says Fauci did not give ‘acceptable answer’  USA TODAY
  2. Trump calls Fauci’s caution on schools reopening ‘not an acceptable answer’  CNN
  3. GOP Sen. Alexander pushes back on Rand Paul’s criticism of Fauci: He’s not claiming to be ‘omniscient’  Fox News
  4. Opinion | Fauci Is Not the Villain  POLITICO
  5. Senators voice concerns over states reopening too quickly  CBS News
  6. View Full Coverage on Google News

Robots Reduce Spread of Infection, but Are They Threat to Jobs?

Retailers are turning to robots to perform essential tasks that employees are no longer able to do because of social distancing regulations. The robots are cutting costs and helping to reduce the spread of infections. But as VOA correspondent Mariama Diallo reports, some fear the growing use of automation threatens jobs just as unemployment soars.

Reporter’s Credentials Yanked in Northeast Syria for ‘Offending Martyrs’ 

Authorities in northeast Syria have temporarily suspended a local reporter’s press credentials after she used the word “killed” instead of “martyred” in her work.  

The media office of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said in a statement Sunday that Vivian Fatah, a reporter for Rudaw TV, would be barred from working for 60 days for “offending the martyrs and their families.” 

The semiautonomous region is largely seen as friendly to international journalists, but local reporters occasionally have been persecuted, detained and harassed for critical reporting on the local administration, according to local news reports.  

The Syrian Journalists Association reported that Kurdish authorities in April had suspended the credentials of two other journalists in the region.  

Reporters blocked for 90 days

The media office at the time said Naz al-Sayid, a reporter for the Cairo-based al-Ghad TV, and freelance reporter Badirkhan Ahmed “committed a host of violations that harm the press.” The two journalists were blocked for 90 days.  

Fatah confirmed to VOA that she had been suspended but declined to give details.  

The order was related to Fatah’s reporting last week for Rudaw on fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 

Since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2012, Kurdish forces have been in control of the northeastern part of the country. The SDF has been a major U.S. partner in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.  

“The decision is contrary to the real understanding of media work and against the principles of freedom of the press,” Rudaw said in a statement Monday. “The justification in the order, and the accusations against Vivian Fatah for insulting the martyrs, has no valid basis.” 

Worked for Kurdish network

Rudaw is a pan-Kurdish news network based in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, and funded by the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).  

Amir Murad, co-chair of the media office that issued the statement, said journalists should respect the “principles of society” when reporting on sensitive matters. 

“Our decision to suspend Vivian Fatah’s credentials wasn’t only because she used the word ‘killed’ instead of ‘martyred,’ but because society is sensitive to such a word,” he told VOA. 

Murad said that use of “martyred” could be unprofessional in the media, but “our society has embraced this term to call those who have lost their lives in the fighting.”  

Actions based on complaints 

The media office has the authority to act against journalists based on complaints. In Fatah’s case, the office received comments from “families of martyrs.”  

Explaining the earlier suspensions, Murad said al-Sayid “used her press credentials to mock a disabled individual” and Ahmed “falsely reported that a woman in Qamishli had contracted the coronavirus, although health officials later said that she had tested negative.” 

Both were offered amnesty on April 22, which is Kurdish Press Day, according to a news release from local authorities.  

Journalists in the Kurdish-held region rely on accreditation to travel. Without the government-issued credentials, reporters cannot work in certain locations, especially areas formerly held by Islamic State militants.  

The CPJ on Monday called on Kurdish authorities to reverse its decision on Fatah’s case.  

“No reporter should be suspended from work over a word that is widely used around the world to describe fallen soldiers,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado said in a statement.  

Local journalists say that compared with other parts of Syria, they are able to work in the Kurdish-majority region, albeit with some restrictions.  

‘Certain red lines’

“There are certain red lines that we can’t cross as reporters,” Ivan Hassib, a freelance journalist based in Qamishli, told VOA. 

“For example, financial and military matters are topics that we can’t report on freely,” he said. “Only those who are close to the local authorities have access to certain information in these fields.” 

Murad, of the media office, denied that was the case. 

“If a journalist wants to write on something supported with documents and evidence, nobody could prevent them from doing so,” he said.  

Syria ranks 174th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 press freedom index, where 1 is the most free.  

Since the start of Syria’s conflict in 2012, media watchdogs say more than 200 journalists have been killed, mostly by government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and radical militant groups. 

Data on Islamic State Attacks Could be Masking Growing Problem, Some Fear

Across Iraq and Syria there is a growing sense of unease that when it comes to the Islamic State terror group, data showing the jihadist force on its heels should not be trusted. 

While the U.S.-led military coalition argues Islamic State is a shadow of its former self, some officials with U.S. partner forces argue the terror group has actually become more powerful and more dangerous. 

“This year they have systematic attacks,” a source close to the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria told VOA, noting that last year IS attacked many of the same areas repeatedly. “Now they are spread like cancer.” 

At issue is not just the number of attacks IS has carried out in recent weeks, but the choice of targets, the tactics and the ferocity of the terror group’s latest offensive. 

“In Diyala and Salahaddin [Iraq], things are so bad that some Sunni tribes are carrying weapons,” said the source, who once fought alongside U.S. forces. 

‘I don’t believe it’

Pressed about the data showing IS attacks, while trending up in recent weeks, are not as substantial as they were at the same time last year, he said simply, “I don’t believe it.” 

The terror group’s activity has likewise made an impression on Jordan’s King Abdullah II, a key partner in the anti-IS coalition. 

“ISIS is increasing attacks in Iraq … threatening to undo years of global efforts,” he told a special operations forces conference Tuesday, using an acronym for Islamic State. 

The observations are a stark contrast to what has been described by U.S. and coalition officials. 

“Over the past few months we’ve seen notable successes in the fight against Daesh,” the coalition’s commander, Lieutenant General Pat White, told reporters on a call last week from Baghdad, using another acronym for the terror group. 

“They are lacking in financing, they are lacking in fighters and they are lacking in support by the populace in most areas,” he said. “The attacks that we’ve been witnessing here over the past weeks are inconsistent with an organization [IS] that we knew of in the past.” 

According to the coalition’s data, IS claimed 151 attacks in April, an increase over previous months, but on par with the 152 attacks claimed in April 2019. 

FILE – Airstrikes target Islamic State positions on the edge of the Old City a day after Iraq’s prime minister declared “total victory” in Mosul, Iraq. July 11, 2017.

Records kept by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a U.S.-based nonprofit research group, reveal a similar trend. 

ACLED data show IS carried out 53 attacks in Iraq and Syria in March, 103 attacks in April and 40 attacks so far this month. 

Year-on-year, though, attacks are down — 330 attacks so far this year compared with 776 for the same period in 2019. 

US assessment: IS operating on the margins 

At the same time, ongoing U.S. assessments continue to classify IS’s efforts in Iraq and Syria as a “low-level insurgency” increasingly reliant on small arms as the group appears to be unable to manufacture or acquire the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that it once favored. 

The assessments from U.S. Central Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S.-led coalition, shared in a report Wednesday by the Defense Department inspector general, also see IS as a group still operating mostly on the margins, both in Iraq and Syria. 

FILE – A woman reacts at a grave of her daughter, an SDF fighter killed during fighting with Islamic State militants, at a cemetery in Kobani, Syria, April 4, 2019.

In both countries, U.S. officials say IS fighters continue to prefer remote, sparsely populated areas, often with difficult terrain. 

Officials also believe IS, especially in Syria, lacks the financial resources to mount large-scale attacks. 

And even if IS has managed to increase the frequency of its attacks over the past month, U.S. defense intelligence officials contend the terror group lacks the capabilities to sustain that pace over several months. 

But there are concerns that, increasingly, the U.S.-led coalition is unable to see key changes on the ground. 

“With the consolidation of forces in both Iraq and Syria since October 2019, the DoD OIG has observed a decrease in visibility for the OIR mission,” acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell wrote in Wednesday’s report, which also noted difficulties in getting information from U.S. partner forces. 

IS still formidable threat 

Counterterrorism officials also point out there is no shortage of worrisome indicators. 

At the top of the list, they note that even after losing control of all the territory it once ruled in Iraq and Syria, IS still boasts a force ranging from 14,000 to 18,000 fighters across Iraq and Syria. 

FILE – Iraqi security forces secure the Iraq-Syria border around Rabiaa border crossing, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2019. Iraq’s defense minister said members of the Islamic State group were able to flee northern Syria and cross into Iraq.

Additionally, despite the U.S. raid that killed former IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October of last year, IS has maintained command and control under new leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi

The group’s finances, while not what they once were, also still give IS leaders access to hundreds of millions of dollars, with new money coming in from extortion rackets, kidnappings for ransom, looting and the use of front companies. 

So, too, there is a growing possibility IS could benefit from reinforcements in the form of new recruits, both in parts of Iraq and Syria where it has maintained ties to the local populations and, perhaps, from the children of former fighters held in displaced-persons camps in Syria.  

The U.S. estimates the al-Hol camp alone has 10,000 foreign IS family members, two-thirds of them children younger than 12. Defense intelligence officials say many have held on to the IS ideology and that those with no ties to the group are constantly targeted for recruitment. 

Then there are the 10,000 IS fighters being held in makeshift prisons run by the SDF. 

Some non-U.S. intelligence assessments have also been more reluctant to dismiss the IS threat. 

IS “has begun to reassert itself in both the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, mounting increasingly bold insurgent attacks,” a United Nations report concluded this past January. 

IS moving uncontested in some areas 

There is also a question of reach, something that may be helping to skew the data. 

“Sure, attacks may be down in the areas where coalition forces operate. However, ISIS has prioritized operating at the seams and in places where coalition forces cannot readily target those ISIS cells,” said Jennifer Cafarella, research director at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. 

She said that makes IS’s increasingly sophisticated operations, like a three-pronged attack in Salahaddin, Iraq, this month that resulted in the deaths of 10 Iraqi militia members, all the more effective. 

“At what point does the will of the [local] population start to break?” Cafarella said. “We had seen renewed civilian flight away from ISIS, people picking up again and leaving their homes in parts of northeastern Iraq as early as early 2018. 

“That underlying problem hasn’t been solved and we’re actually seeing it widened now where there’s more and more areas where ISIS is moving in pretty much uncontested in any serious sense,” she said. 

VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.