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ISIS Concerns Remain After Trump Announces Leader’s Death

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  • President Donald Trump announced that U.S. special operations forces killed the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  • While Baghdadi’s death is generally viewed as a symbolic hit for ISIS, many experts are worried it will not impact the group’s operations.
  • The leader’s death also comes as Trump has moved to withdraw U.S. troops from Northern Syria, prompting concerns of an ISIS resurgence in the region.

Trump’s Announcement

President Donald Trump announced Sunday that United States forces had killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 

“Last night the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. He was the founder and leader of ISIS, the most ruthless and violent terror organization anywhere in the world,” Trump said speaking at a press conference.

“U.S. special operations forces executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style,” he continued.

“The U.S. personnel were incredible. I got to watch much of it. No personnel were lost in the operation, while a large number of Baghdadi’s fighters and companions were killed with him.” 

Trump went on to say that Baghdadi died by exploding a suicide vest after he was cornered in a dead-end tunnel, also killing three of his children.

“Baghdadi’s demise demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Our reach is very long,” the president added.

While Trump’s announcement is certainly significant, Baghdadi’s death has left many wondering: what does this mean for ISIS?

Implications for ISIS in Northern Syria

There are a couple of key issues at play here. First, and perhaps the most relevant geopolitical question, is the situation in Northern Syria.

Several weeks ago, the White House announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing troops from Northern Syria and stepping aside to let Turkey launch a military operation. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the operation was necessary to clear Syrian Kurdish groups Turkey considers terrorists, and that the U.S. considers key allies who have done the majority of fighting against ISIS on the ground.

Many world leaders and politicians in the U.S., including some of Trump’s biggest supporters, condemned the move. They argued that not only was the U.S. abandoning an ally but that the move also could lead to a resurgence of ISIS in the region for two reasons.

First of all, with U.S. forces gone and Syrian Kurdish forces busy fighting a military attack from Turkey, ISIS could feel emboldened to attack and take over areas of Syria that the U.S. and the Kurds had fought to reclaim.

Second, Syrian Kurdish forces who had been guarding camps holding tens of thousands of captured ISIS fighters and their families would be short-staffed, again because many of them would have to shift to fight the Turkish invasion, making it easy for the captured fighters and their families to break out of the camps.

Already there have been reports that ISIS prisoners have broken free from the camps. 

Although there are conflicting reports of how many exactly have escaped, last week, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey said in a testimony before the Senate that “over 100” ISIS militants had escaped, and that it was unclear where they were.

Even though Turkey and Syria agreed to a ceasefire last week, Kurdish forces on the ground guarding the prisons have said that they are still understaffed. As one guard told The Washington Post, “Half of our guards were transferred to the front line.”

With the U.S. withdrawing forces in Northern Syria, the power vacuum that they have created has been filled by the Syrian government and Russia, who the Kurdish forces have allied with for military and tactical support.

While the Trump administration has generally supported this move, many experts have argued that Russia and Syria do not have the ability to organize and command the same kind of coalition that the U.S. did to drive ISIS out of the region.

In short, if ISIS were to reemerge, those actors would not be equipt to deal with it.

“There is nobody else in the area that we’re talking about right now,” William Wechsler, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism told the Post.

Wechsler also added that if there were anyone in the area who had the ability to counter ISIS, “ISIS would not have emerged in the first place.”

Will Bahgdadi’s Death Hurt ISIS?

Another big question for the future of ISIS is how much the loss of their leader will impact them.

While many have said this is certainly a huge symbolic blow for the organization, a lot of experts have basically argued that the net impact will not really hurt ISIS.

“When you think about the impact it will have on ISIS going forward, this is more like the close of a chapter, but by no means the end of the story,” Nick Rasmussen, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center told the Post.

Others have also pointed out that Baghdadi was obsessed with security and keeping himself safe, and as a result, he gave ISIS a lot of power to act on their own.

In fact, American and Iraqi officials told The New York Times that the elusive leader largely limited his communications with the outside world, meaning ISIS mostly operated with little leadership on his part.

“Baghdadi was a figurehead. He was not involved in operations or day-to-day,” one anonymous regional intelligence officer told Newsweek. “All Baghdadi did was say yes or no—no planning.”

Sam Heller, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group also told reporters that the autonomy of ISIS agents under Baghdadi prompted the group to become much more decentralized in both decision-making and financing, especially in Syria and Iraq.

Some have also pointed out that U.S. covert action against Islamist extremists have killed a number of militant leaders and the groups still lived on.

“In the annals of modern counterterrorism so far, what history has shown is these types of strikes do not lead to the strategic collapse or organizational defeat of a terrorism organization,” Javed Ali, a former White House counterterrorism director told the Post.

Other analysts and experts have even said that Baghdadi’s death could embolden ISIS cells to re-invent themselves, grow in recruits, or even band together to make bigger cells.

As the Times noted, two successors were killed before Baghdadi became the leader of ISIS, significantly expanding the group’s influence and reach. 

“In the face of the kind of pressure and the mutual threats that they’ve experienced, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more cooperation, even if it doesn’t mean a public alliance,” Tricia Burton, a former State Department counterterrorism official told the Post.

Others, however, have been more optimistic about ISIS’s inability to re-group following Baghdadi’s death. 

 “Their recovery has been very slow, their organization is fragile and the killing of Baghdadi is bad timing for them,” Hassan Hassan of the Center for Global Policy said. “Even though they have likely prepared for this moment, it will be hard for them to ensure the organization remains intact.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Anti-Bullying Video Goes Viral and Starts Conversation Online

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  • A mother posted a video of her nine-year-old son Quaden Bayles, who was born with achondroplasia dwarfism, crying after being bullied in school and expressing suicidal thoughts. 
  • Many stars, like Hugh Jackman, rallied behind the child and expressed support for him. Comedian Brad Williams set up a GoFundMe to help both him and anti-bullying charities.
  • While many supported Quaden, others took to debunked conspiracy theories online about his age. Some believed Quaden’s mother was exploiting him for online attention.
  • In addition to the many anti-bullying messages being spread online, the story also started a conversation about whether or not it is okay to for parents to share videos of their kids on social media, especially ones that show kids in such a vulnerable state.

Video Goes Viral

After a mother took a now-viral video of her son after he was bullied at school, conversations about bullying and child privacy lit up social media sites. 

Yarraka Bayles posted the video of her nine-year-old son Quaden to Facebook, where it gained online traction before being picked up by news.com.au, an Australian news site. Quaden was born with achondroplasia dwarfism and regularly gets bullied at school and in other public spaces. 

The video, which may be hard to watch for viewers sensitive to content about bullying and suicide, shows Quaden in the car crying, expressing suicidal thoughts. His mom suggests that he actually has attempted suicide and urges parents to educate their children about the harmful consequences bullying has on children like her son.

Support for Quaden

Many celebrities spoke out in support of Quaden. Academy Award-nominated actor Hugh Jackman shared a video on Twitter telling him “you got a friend in me.”

So everyone, let’s please be kind to each other, bullying is not okay,” the Wolverine star added. 

Country-pop singer Kacey Musgraves and Walking Dead actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan also shared sympathy and words of encouragement on Twitter.

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Brad Williams, a comedian who has the same form of dwarfism as Quaden, started a GoFundMe for the Bayles family. 

“I’m setting up this GoFundMe to let Quaden know that bullying will not be tolerated, and that he is a wonderful human being who deserves joy,” he wrote. “I want to fly Quaden and his mother to America, get them a nice hotel, and bring them to Disneyland.”

“This isn’t just for Quaden, this is for anyone who has been bullied in their lives and told they weren’t good enough,” Williams added. “Let’s show Quaden and others, that there is good in the world and they are worthy of it.”

As of Monday morning, the GoFundMe had well exceeded the $10,000 goal and raised close to $470,000 from over 20,000 donors. Williams says that the excess money will go to anti-bullying charities. 

Conspiracy Theories 

Along with sympathy for Quaden came Internet users spreading conspiracy theories. Some alleged that he was not nine-years-old, but was actually an 18-year-old actor. They claimed the video was part of a scam.

Others also shared videos where it appears Quaden is showing off money and other expensive looking things. They implied that he came from money and was not being bullied. 

The theory that he is an actor scamming people for money is not true, as several reports have confirmed that he is nine-years-old. He has appeared on news segments with his mother promoting awareness for dwarfism in the past. 

Those who claim to know the family maintain that they are honest. 

Rapper Cardi B posted an Instagram Live video defending Quaden.

“I really don’t think that he’s lying on his age,” she said. “And just because there’s videos of him flossing money and acting all gangsta and acting all cool and everything, it doesn’t mean that kids do not pick on him. Come on now.” 

Is it Okay to Share Vulnerable Videos of Your Kids Online?

Still, some questioned Yarraka’s intentions in posting the video, thinking that she could have been exploiting her son’s condition and situation. She has actually since deleted the video from her Facebook page and removed her Instagram account, as well as Quaden’s, from the site.

Rogue Rocket spoke to author and motivational speaker Brandon Farbstein, who said he could specifically relate to Quaden’s pain, having dwarfism himself. He thinks that even though Yarraka may have had good intentions, the video was still counter-productive.

“She wants to do absolutely everything and anything she can to not only make this better but, she says, to try and raise awareness for the situation,” he said. “I personally don’t believe this is the way to do it. I believe that it is kind of digital exploitation of his, like I mentioned, darkest moment.”

Journalist and historian David Perry wrote an editorial for CNN saying that this video highlights huge problems we face in the digital age when it comes to the privacy of children online. Perry believed that Yarraka did this out of love, but should have refrained from sharing this vulnerable moment online.

“However loving the intention behind posting this video was (and I can well understand this mother’s desperation), the fact is that for the rest of the boy’s life his name will likely always be associated with it,” Perry wrote. “What’s more, the viral video is likely to encourage other parents to try to emulate it, continuing to break down the privacy rights of children.”

“Remember that your kids are going to grow up. They will Google their names,” Perry added. “You want them to be happy with what they find. So please stop sharing photos and videos of your child’s worst moments on the internet.”

Farbstein echoed that this video will now follow Quaden from places like school, to his first date, to his first job. He thinks that instead of a video like this, people who want to help kids in Quaden’s situation should turn to the people and places around them. 

“Start with your own community, whether you’re in school, you are part of a company, a religious institution, whatever it is, see what they’re doing to prevent bullying,” Farbstein said. “Using what you’ve been given to do what you can is the most that all of us can do.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (People Magazine) (Insider)

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Protesters Storm Latin America’s Largest Music Festival in Chile Over Economic Inequality

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  • On Sunday, Chile hosted Viña 2020, a yearly event that is Latin America’s largest music festival.
  • Before it began, protesters stormed the area near the festival, looting businesses and trying to storm a hotel where many of the performers were staying.
  • The protesters’ actions briefly delayed the concert before Ricky Martin, who was not scheduled to open the show, took the stage.
  • Sunday’s protest was a result of a series of protests that have been raging since October and that have claimed the lives of 31 people.

Music Festival Protests

Thousands of protesters and police clashed outside of Latin America’s largest music festival on Sunday night in a protest over economic inequality in Chile.

The festival, commonly known as Viña 2020, took place in the seaside city of Viña del Mar and is one of the most-watched television events each year in Chile; however, Sunday evening’s protests were fueled by months of unrest over the rising cost of living prices.

As the event began, fans at the concert already faced increased security measures, including metal detectors, turnstiles, and high barriers.

Nonetheless, those measures did not stop people from protesting outside of the event or from trying to enter the festival grounds. After realizing they could not break in, many then resorted to attacking shops and the hotel where many of the performers for the festival had been staying.

According to the BBC, about 150 masked individuals set at least seven cars on fire in front of the O’Higgins Hotel. They then tried to get in the hotel, but hotel staff fought them off with fire extinguishers.

Protesters also clashed with police, who threw tear gas. Reportedly, tear gas then drifted into the hotel, forcing some guests to flee. Around 8 p.m., the hotel began to evacuate guests.

Around the same time, police began to deploy water cannons.

Despite not breaking into the actual festival grounds, the protests at the hotel ended up delaying the concert because the festival’s opening acts were caught up in those evacuations. 

After the hotel, protesters then moved to municipal offices. There, they reportedly smashed windows, broke down doors and looted shops. They also targeted two car dealerships and set more cars on fire.

One video shows protesters at one of those dealerships driving a car out of a second-story window and flipping it.

By the end of the night, 15 people had been arrested and 23 officers had been injured.

Back on stage at Viña 2020, headliner Ricky Martin opened the show by telling Chileans that it’s “important to let the leaders of our countries know what we need, provided we do so in an orderly manner.”

Martin also told the crowd and viewers that he was “with you Chile, never silent, always with love and peace.”

What Has the Reaction to These Protests Been?

Several politicians have since denounced the protests, with the region’s governor, Jorge Martínez, calling protesters part of “radical groups which are very much in the minority.”

“They want anarchy, they want disorder and violence,” he added.

Viña del Mar’s mayor, Virginia Reginato criticized the protesters’ actions, saying, “You can have demonstrations but this is criminal and will be treated as such.”

Monday morning, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera called for Chileans to “live in peace.”

What’s Next?

Piñera’s call for peace is especially relevant because the government is expecting a fresh wave of protests in March.

Those will likely come despite Piñera’s attempts to try to stop the protests. In November, after the Chilean government agreed to hold a national referendum to change Chile’s constitution, Piñera signed off on the measure.

Currently, Chile’s constitution still dates back to the time of the country’s military rule in the 70’s and 80’s.

While that referendum is scheduled to be held in April, its announcement has done little to please a nation that is calling for more than just a change to the constitution. In fact, many have said they feel like their government isn’t listening to them.

How Did These Protests Start?

The protests began in October when subway fares in Chile’s capital, Santiago, increased. Following that move, hundreds of college students swarmed subway stations and hopped turnstiles to protest the hike.

From there, the protests only got worse. While they started over the subway fare hike, they quickly became about a whole host of other issues, including healthcare, education, and many utilities like gas and electricity, which have also seen rising costs.

At the same time, many poor and middle-class families had not seen wage increases. 

In October, Chile President, Sebastián Piñera, declared a state emergency in multiple cities. He then placed the city under curfew and placed the military in charge of the city’s security. 

Later that same month, Piñera reversed the fare hike, but the move did little to stop the protests, which have now morphed into an all-encompassing public censure on rising living costs in Chile.

Since October, 31 people have been arrested, with thousands more injured and arrested.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (US News & World Report) (Jakarta Post)

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Cambodian PM Orders Action Against Women For Revealing Clothing

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  • Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called for authoritative action to be taken against women who wear revealing clothing in online posts. 
  • He said that these posts are offensive to Cambodian culture and said this behavior contributes to sexual violence in the country.
  • Several rights groups have condemned Hun Sen’s comments, arguing that the women have not actually broken any laws and that he is perpetuating the problem of sexual violence by blaming victims.

Controversial Remarks

In a speech given on Monday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered authorities to take action against women who wear revealing clothing in Facebook Live streams. 

Hun Sen was addressing the Cambodian National Council for Women when he made his remarks. He said that these fashion choices are offensive to Cambodian culture and values and that this kind of behavior is to blame for sexual violence in the country. It is a popular trend for women across the country to wear revealing clothing to sell items like clothes and beauty products online, according to Reuters.

“Go to their places and order them to stop live-streaming until they change to proper clothes,” Hun Sen said on Monday. 

The prime minister also seemed to suggest that these women will be tracked down through their online activity when he ordered authorities to locate and then “educate” them.  

On Wednesday, police in Phnom Penh posted a video to Facebook of a young woman apologizing for the clothing she wears during her online streams upon being brought into their station. In the caption, the police wrote that the woman’s frequent posting in provocative clothing marred the customs and traditions of Cambodian women. 

The police commissionary posted later in the day that shortly after her release, the woman had posted another revealing image online. On their Facebook page, they wrote that she had been arrested and brought in again for pornography charges. 

“When we educate them and they still do not listen, we will implement the law,” a spokesman for the Cambodian National Police told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many expect women in Cambodia to be quiet and submissive, an expectation that stems from an oppressive conduct code for women called the Chbab Srey that was part of school curricula until 2007.  

Backlash to the Crackdown

Upon news of the “education” orders and the Facebook video from the police force, several rights groups condemned Hun Sen’s comments. 

Nicholas Bequelin, Regional Director of Amnesty International, responded with a statement on the organization’s website. He called the prime minister’s remarks “dangerous” and accused them of “victim-blaming.” 

“This rhetoric only serves to perpetuate violence against women and stigmatize survivors of gender-based violence,” Bequelin said.

He went on to warn that Hun Sen’s orders display how the government is abusing their surveillance systems to push a discriminatory agenda and said that Facebook must refuse any requests to block profiles of women for these reasons. 

“These developments underscore the dire state of freedom of expression in Cambodia,” Bequelin added. “In recent years, the Cambodian authorities have increasingly weaponized internet surveillance to target human rights defenders and opposition supporters based on their Facebook posts and communications.” 

Bequelin also argued that none of the women engaging in these online behaviors are breaking any laws and the police are responding solely to the whim of Hun Sen. 

Also on Wednesday, several other rights groups released a separate open letter echoing Bequelin’s sentiments. The groups—which included the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and Gender and Development for Cambodia— accused Hun Sen of blaming victims and admonished his orders against women posting online in revealing clothing. 

“Punishing women for their choice of clothing is therefore part of the root cause of violence, rather than its cure, and must be rejected,” the letter said. “We appeal to the Cambodian government to acknowledge that Cambodia Needs to Respect Women’s Rights to Self-Determination, Expression, and Bodily Integrity in order to achieve gender equality and end gender-based violence in Cambodia.”

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Radio Free Asia) (Voice of America)

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