Middle East Ticker

International Fallout from Trump’s Immigration and Refugee Order, U.S. Raid Targets AQAP in Yemen, Greece-Turkey Tensions Escalate over Coup Extradition

By J. Dana Stuster
Tuesday, January 31, 2017, 10:30 AM

Chaos from Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration and Refugees Creates International Fallout

President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees, signed last week, has created a series of crises in its implementation. A partial list: the order and the federal court rulings staying it in several states have been enforced unevenly; the White House has wavered on whether the order includes green card holders; a woman and her two children were held in bureaucratic limbo for 20 hours without food and others have been summarily removed from the country; a U.S. citizen bringing his 12-year-old daughter to the United States from Yemen on a valid visa is now stranded in Djibouti; in Chicago, a Jordanian citizen was denied entry to the United States despite not being a resident of one of the seven countries banned under the order.

Lawfare’s editors and contributors have covered the order in detail: Benjamin Wittes analyzed the order at length, concluding that it does not serve its stated purpose of contributing to national security, and Adham Sahloul raised concerns about the effects this will have not just on the refugees it targets directly, but also humanitarian organizations that operate abroad.

The order is having ripple effects abroad that could have a direct effect on the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State. As Joseph Trevithick wrote for War Is Boring, the ban will prevent Iraqi fighter pilots from attending a training program in Arizona to prepare them to participate in the air campaign against the Islamic State; on Monday morning the U.S. Defense Department said it is preparing a list of Iraqis that it would like exempted from the executive order’s ban. The ban also may prevent Vian Dakhil, the only Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament, from attending a ceremony in Washington, DC, next week to receive the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize.

The Iraqi parliament voted in favor of a reciprocal ban on visas to U.S. citizens today; the decision will now advance to the Iraqi cabinet for review but is unlikely to enter force due to the effect it would have on U.S. personnel involved in the campaign against the Islamic State. Instead, the Iraqi government has asked the Trump administration to reconsider the order. Influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who supported insurgency against U.S. forces during the occupation and has since threatened to renew attacks against U.S. troops, called the U.S. order arrogant and issued a threat on Twitter: “So get out U.S. citizens from Iraq before you expel communities from U.S.” Iran is preparing a reciprocal visa ban similar to the one proposed by the Iraqi parliament, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, though he drew a contrast with the U.S. ban and noted that it will not apply retroactively to previously issued visas. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also condemned the ban in a statement, but many countries in the Middle East, particularly those left off the list, have been conspicuously quiet about the policy.

Many analysts have noted that the executive order could prove counterproductive in the long term. “Trump is also sending a message to Muslims at home and around the world—America does not like you,” Daniel Byman writes here at Lawfare. “This vitriol makes it easier for the Islamic State and other groups to recruit.” Jihadists agree, according to extremist forums surveyed by the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick; militants online are calling the order a “blessed ban” that will rally Muslims to their cause and say it could prefigure a new war in the Middle East. Daniel Serwer, on his Peacefare blog, writes bluntly, “I have no doubt but that some of these idiocies will in due course be corrected. The Congress and courts, respectively, are not going to go along with them. As in other cases, the President will yield to pressure: people who worked for the US government and Muslims will get into the US, after long and entirely unnecessary delays that put their lives at increased risk. That is little comfort. The damage will already have been done.”

 

U.S. Navy SEAL Killed in Raid Targeting AQAP Senior Official in Yemen

U.S. Navy SEALs, supported by helicopter gunships and armed Reaper drones, raided the location of a senior official of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday in Bayda province, Yemen. AQAP media has confirmed that Abdulrauf al Dhahab was killed in the attack. Dhahab was a senior leader of AQAP’s political front, Ansar al-Sharia, and a member of an influential family deeply embedded in the organization. Three of Dhahab’s brothers have also held leadership roles in the organization, and the family is related by marriage to Anwar al-Awlaqi, the U.S.-born cleric who produced influential English-language propaganda from Yemen until he was killed in a drone strike in 2011.

The operation had been in planning stages for months, but had not been given the greenlight until last week. One Navy SEAL was killed in a shootout, and three others were wounded; a U.S. aircraft was also severely damaged in a “hard landing” and destroyed on site. U.S. military sources said that 14 AQAP militants were killed, and a White House statement issued on Sunday added that “important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world” was seized in the raid. Medical personnel and local media in Yemen have reported that at least 10 women and children were also killed in the attack, including Awlaqi’s 8-year-old daughter. A local resident who witnessed the operation told the New York Times that he saw airstrikes hit at least three buildings before he fled the area.

The United States has been hunting Dhahab for years. A U.S. airstrike in September 2012 targeting a truck believed to be carrying Dhahab killed 11 civilians; three months later, the Washington Post reported that “since the attack, militants in the tribal areas surrounding Radda have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States.” AQAP analyst Gregory Johnsen suggested that two more strikes in December 2012 also targeted Dhahab.

The raid is a rare glimpse of U.S. military operations in Yemen. The United States does not have an overt military presence in the country, but it has provided intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi-led intervention against the coalition of Houthis and loyalists to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh that forced the internationally-recognized government into exile in early 2015. The United States has also continued its air campaign against AQAP targets, but there have been few Special Operations missions in the country; the New York Times notes that there have been two in recent years, in November and December 2014, both efforts to rescue hostages held by AQAP. In a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday, President Trump suggested deeper cooperation in Yemen, including the implementation of a “safe zone” in the country.

 

Tensions Rising between Greece and Turkey

A Turkish court began the trial of 270 people accused of plotting the July 2016 attempted coup on Monday. Among those on trial is Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric that Turkish authorities say masterminded the plot; he and 117 others are being tried in absentia. The trial is the largest to date on charges related to the attempted coup, though tens of thousands of people remain in custody in connection to the coup. The United States has so far declined Turkey’s requests to extradite Gulen, but the Trump administration has indicated that it may be more receptive to Turkish requests. In particular, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn advocated his extradition during the presidential campaign; reports at the time noted that Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, was contracted by a Dutch business with ties to the Turkish government.

The trial is pushing ahead after a Greek court decided last week that it would not extradite eight Turkish soldiers who fled Turkey by helicopter to seek asylum in Greece after the coup attempt. The soldiers deny any role in the coup but say they fear they would not receive a fair trial. Turkish officials accused Greece of playing politics in the “fight against terrorism” after the decision, and on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu demanded that the soldiers be retried. “This is a political decision, Greece is protecting and hosting coup plotters,” he said. The eight soldiers remain in Greek custody but have filed an appeal for their release.

Tensions escalated again on Sunday when a Turkish missile boat and two special forces rafts approached Greek territorial waters near the contested Imia islets. Disputes over the border in the area nearly escalated to armed conflict in 1996. The Greek coast guard shadowed the Turkish ships for several minutes before they returned to Turkish waters.