YEREVAN, November 30. /ARKA/. Azerbaijani armed forces violated the ceasefire in the eastern and northeastern directions of the line of contact in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) on November 29 with the use of small arms, the Artsakh defense ministry reported.
“The Armenian side has no losses. The command of the Russian peacekeeping forces has been informed about the ceasefire violation,” the ministry said.
It also denied Azerbaijani defense ministry’s allegations that on November 29 at about 6:10 p.m. the Artsakh Defense Army opened fire at Azerbaijani positions located in the occupied territories of the Askeran region of Artsakh.
As of 10:00 a.m. November 30, the situation on the line of contact was relatively stable, the ministry said.
Fighters affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army fire rounds while standing above a dirt barrier near Azaz in the rebel-held north of the Aleppo province, on Nov. 29, 2022. AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images –
Concerns are running high in the Pentagon over Turkey’s threats to launch yet another military incursion against Syria’s Kurdish-led forces, officials said Tuesday, after warning last week that such a move would threaten the safety of American troops and efforts to contain the Islamic State.
“We do remain concerned about a potential Turkish ground operation in Syria,” Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder told reporters today.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said last week it had halted operations against IS amid preparations to resist a possible assault from Turkey. That has forced the US military to reduce its patrols alongside the SDF, Ryder acknowledged today.
Yet Ryder assured the military is still fully able to keep the lid on IS, and none of the roughly 900 American troops in Syria have been redeployed thus far.
“We would hope that there will be restraint, and that we can again as a coalition focus on the bigger threat at hand here, which is defeating ISIS,” Ryder said.
Turkey is a member of the US-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State, but sees the SDF — the coalition’s main partner force on the ground — as a terrorist organization inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkish officials have urged US counterparts for years to end their partnership with the Syrian Kurdish force to no avail. The US does not consider the SDF to be a terrorist organization, though its leadership has ties with — and shares the left-wing political ideology — of the PKK.
Earlier this month the Turkish government accused the SDF of being behind a Nov. 13 bomb blast in a crowded Istanbul market, a charge which Syrian Kurdish officials have squarely denied. The SDF says it poses no threat to Turkey and seeks dialogue to prevent the expansion of the conflict.
Al-Monitor first reported today that US civilian officials have relocated from northeast Syria to neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan amid Ankara’s stated plans to launch another assault.
SDF commander Mazlum Kobane said earlier on Tuesday that he had intelligence indicating Turkey has begun amassing forces across from the northeast Syrian border cities of Manbij and Kobani, as well as between Manbij and al-Bab. Kobane also said Syrian opposition factions backed by Turkey had begun preparations between Tel Rifaat and Manbij.
Those areas lie outside the normal area of US military operations against IS and within the Russian military’s sphere of influence in Syria. Such a move could send hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing and is likely to to destabilize the delicate battlefield balance between the US, Turkey, Russia, Syria, Kurdish forces, Iran-backed militias and the Islamic State.
Why it matters: US defense officials have declined to comment on potential Turkish preparations, refusing to acknowledge any intelligence they may have.
But a phone call planned for later this week between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar suggests the apprehension in Washington has not abated.
That strike landed within 130 meters of American personnel, Al-Monitor reported last week. No other close calls with US troops have occurred since, a coalition spokesperson told Al-Monitor on Tuesday, but Turkish strikes on SDF sites and critical civilian infrastructure have continued.
“We have not seen signs of de-escalation,” the spokesperson wrote via email.
“CJTFOIR maintains critical de-confliction protocols with Turkey to protect coalition forces,” the spokesperson said, using an acronym for the US-led coalition in Syria and Iraq.
In a teleconference with Kobane earlier this week, coalition commander US Army Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane underscored concerns that the SDF chief’s plan to redirect forces to defend areas threatened by Turkey leaves IS camps and detention centers particularly vulnerable, Al-Monitor has learned.
Kobane’s response was not reassuring, according to two US officials briefed on the conversation.
“The SDF commander, Gen. Mazlum, has been clear that anti-ISIS missions are not the SDF’s priority at this time,” the coalition spokesperson said.
What’s next: Turkey has launched three prior ground assaults to push the SDF away from its southern border. In each case, the Pentagon has refused to directly assist its partner force against its NATO ally.
It remains unclear what pressure Washington will bring to bear on Ankara to prevent another incursion.
Know more: US officials in Ankara and in Washington approached Turkish counterparts last week after the strike on Kobane’s headquarters near Hasakah, Al-Monitor previously reported. Read that story here.
(POC) — Obtaining a security clearance depends on their mission and role in national security, many federal agencies require security clearances. Only federal agencies can grant security clearances. Examples of agencies that may require higher levels of clearance include:
The intelligence community (e.g., Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency)
Federal law enforcement agencies (e.g., Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Naval Criminal Investigative Service)
Diplomatic agencies (e.g., State Department, United States Agency for International Development)
Civilian military agencies (e.g., Defense Intelligence Agency, Defense Security Service)
Companies with contracts or grants with the federal government may require employees to have a security clearance to access sensitive information. No company without a contract with the federal government can independently give or seek a security clearance, and no individual who is not hired by the federal government or a contract organization can get a security clearance.
Once the agency selects a candidate to hire, the applicant will receive a job offer contingent upon successfully obtaining a security clearance. The extensive background investigation takes place after the offer has been accepted and the required forms have been completed.
The type of background investigation depends on the position’s requirements as well as the level of security clearance needed for the position. This process can take several months or up to a year depending on the backlog, the need for more information, the depth of the investigation process, and other factors.
The Background Investigation
A background investigation begins after an applicant has received a conditional offer from an agency and has completed the forms required to begin the process. The Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, is usually required.
Human resources submit the completed security package to the State Department’s Office of Personnel Security and Suitability.
The security package is reviewed for completeness and is formally entered into a case management system.
National agency record checks and scanned fingerprint checks are then conducted.
A case manager is assigned to direct the background investigation to cover key events and contacts from the applicant’s past and present history.
Applicants are contacted by an investigator for an in-person interview (This interview usually occurs within a few weeks of an individual submitting a complete security clearance package.)
The investigator verifies the information supplied in the security package, such as where the applicant lived, went to school, and worked. Investigators talk to current and former neighbors, supervisors, co-workers, and classmates, as well as the references included in the package. Investigators also contact law enforcement agencies in each of the places an individual has lived, worked, or attended school.
The applicant is informed whether a security clearance has been granted. There are complicating factors that may delay a decision or result in a denial of a security clearance.
To help accelerate the process, begin to gather relevant information now so you can submit the relevant forms and information once you are offered a position. You can view the forms for background checks (SF-85: Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions) and security clearances (SF-86: Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions) on the Office of Personnel Management’s website.
Once you have submitted the documentation, the designated agency will proceed with the investigation, depending on the backlog and priority.
Types of Security Clearances
Positions in the federal government are classified in three ways:
Public trust positions
National security positions
Each of these positions requires some form of a background investigation, which may vary depending on the necessary level of clearance for a position. For lower levels of security clearances, background investigations typically rely entirely on automated checks of an applicant’s history. For a secret clearance in a national security position, the investigation requires agents to interview people who have lived or worked with the applicant at some point in the last seven years (or more).
There are four main types of security clearances for national security positions. These are confidential, secret, top-secret, and sensitive compartmented information.
This type of security clearance provides access to information that may cause damage to national security if disclosed without authorization. It must be reinvestigated every 15 years.
This type of security clearance provides access to information that may cause serious damage to national security if disclosed without authorization. It must be reinvestigated every 10 years.
This type of security clearance provides access to information that may cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if disclosed without authorization. It must be reinvestigated every five years.
The Interim Security Clearance
If a hiring office requests an interim security clearance, an applicant may be granted an interim security clearance within a few weeks after submitting a complete security package. Final clearances usually are processed and adjudicated in less than 90 days. With an interim clearance, classified work can be performed but in a temporary capacity until a background investigation has been completed.
On November 21, 2022, Mali’s interim Prime Minister Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga posted a statement on social media to say that Mali has decided “to ban, with immediate effect, all activities carried out by NGOs operating in Mali with funding or material or technical support from France.” A few days before this statement, the French government cut official development assistance (ODA) to Mali because it believed that Mali’s government is “allied to Wagner’s Russian mercenaries.” Colonel Maïga responded by saying that these are “fanciful allegations” and a “subterfuge intended to deceive and manipulate national and international public opinion.”
Tensions between France and Mali have increased over the course of 2022. The former colonial power returned to Mali with a military intervention in 2013 to combat the rise of Islamist insurgency in the northern half of Mali; in May 2022, the military government of Mali ejected the French troops. That decision in May came after several months of accusations between Paris and Bamako that mirrored the rise of anti-French sentiment across the Sahel region of Africa.
A new burst of anti-colonial feeling has swept through France’s former colonies, where the debates are now centered around breaking with France’s stranglehold on their economies and ending the military intervention by French troops. Since 2019, the countries that are part of the West African Economic and Monetary Union and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa have been slowly withdrawing from French control over their economies (for example, in 2020, the French officially announced that for West Africa, it would end the requirement for countries to deposit half their foreign exchange reserves with the French Treasury through the old colonial instrument of the CFA franc). According to a story that circulated in West Africa and the Sahel—given credence by an email sent by an “unofficial adviser” to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—one of the reasons why France’s then-president Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 was because the Libyan leader had proposed a new African currency instead of the CFA franc.
France denies that the reason for this tension with Mali is due to the new anti-colonial mood. The French government says that it is entirely due to Mali’s intimacy with Russia. Mali’s military has increasingly been establishing closer ties with the Russian government and military. Mali’s Defense Minister Colonel Sadio Camara and Air Force Chief of Staff General Alou Boï Diarra are considered to be “the architects” of a deal made between the Malian military and the Wagner group in 2021 to bring in several hundred mercenaries into Mali as part of the campaign against jihadist groups.
Wagner soldiers are in Mali, but they are not the cause of the rift between Paris and Bamako. The anti-colonial temper predates the entry of Wagner, which France is using as an excuse to cover up its humiliation.
At the Mitondo gold mine in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), it’s easy to know who is in charge: They’re wearing red.
The Mitondo mine in South Kivu is officially operated by local authorities and the DRC government. But residents and workers know who is profiting — the Mai Mai Yakutumba, one of the many violent rebel groups that have operated in the region for decades.
Rebel activity has been funded by the illicit trade in gold scraped from the earth by men, women and children. The gold from Mitondo and other mines is typically smuggled through Uganda and Rwanda to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), from where it eventually finds its way into the global market.
Rebel groups like the Mai Mai Yakutumba benefit from the DRC’s gold mining in several ways. They force the miners to pay a “tax” each month to work in the stifling heat and meter-wide tunnels of the mines. They raid the mines and trade gold directly for weapons. They work with smugglers to transport the illicit gold out of the country where it can be laundered through the international market.
The rebels’ system of extortion and criminality supports attacks that are often directed at the Banyamulenge ethnic group. The rebels say the Tutsi group doesn’t belong in the DRC. They attack and burn villages, often raping and killing innocent people.
Esther Nanduhura, a Banyamulenge woman, knows personally how the illicit gold trade in eastern DRC fuels violence. Mai Mai Yakutumba rebels killed her 80-year-old father-in-law and injured his wife before removing Nanduhura, her husband and their eight children from their hiding place and forcing them to march for days with no food.
Nanduhura told dw.com that the rebels took her husband away. She eventually learned he had been hacked to death with machetes.
For Nanduhura, the DRC’s illicit gold market comes down to a simple equation:
“The Mai Mai sell gold to white people to buy weapons — that’s why they sell the gold,” she said. “I want to tell these white people to stop buying from them. So, they stop killing us with these weapons.”
Companies that trade in gold from the DRC are required to certify that it is conflict-free — not coming from conflict regions where the sale supports rebel groups. However, certificates are easily forged, and trading companies have few mechanisms for tracing the gold back to its source.
DRC law actually bans the export of gold from artisanal mines that are not certified as conflict-free. However, according to the U.N., only 60 of an estimated 1,500 gold mines are certified conflict-free. That means a large majority of gold miners are working in mines that fund conflict and nearly all the gold leaving the DRC does so illegally.
The United Nations estimates that between $300 million and $600 million in gold is smuggled out of the DRC each year. While some Belgian companies are involved in the DRC’s gold industry, much of the smuggled gold ends up in the UAE, which imported $37 billion in gold in 2020, making it one of the biggest players in the market.
Meanwhile, miners like Patrice Michael struggle to provide for their families knowing that their work is fueling the rebel groups that drive the violence around them.
“They take over what is most lucrative,” Michael told dw.com. “They know exactly which mine is producing most gold, down to which tunnel.”