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Battle of Cambrai: 100 years ago first U.S. doughboys enter WWI combat

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The first American units saw action in World War I during the battle of Cambrai, France, Nov. 20-Dec. 7, 1917. The same battle also showcased the first large-scale effective use of combined arms, marking an evolution in warfare, said Brian F. Neumann, a historian and World War I subject matter expert with the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

The battle began with a successful British offensive against the Germans, Neumann said.

The success of the offensive, he said, was due to the effective coordination of combined arms, which included infantry, artillery, tanks and combat air support. All were used to overrun the German trench lines in the vicinity of the northern French town of Cambrai.

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The use of combined arms gave the battlefield more of a three-dimensional look, with air, tanks and artillery all supporting infantry, along with some cavalry support, he said.

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The British employed several hundred tanks, which were used to overrun the German trenches and tear holes through their lines, he said. It was the most significant utilization of tanks to date.

The Americans

The Army’s role in the fighting was fairly limited, he said, noting that it consisted of soldiers from the 11th, 12th and 14th Engineer Regiments, who were engaged in railway construction work behind the trench lines in support of the British.

Although America’s role in the battle was limited, the news that soldiers were finally engaged in a major battle for the first time since war was declared in April made headlines and boosted morale on the home front, he said.

By Nov. 30, the British had essentially outrun their supply lines and artillery support, and that’s when the Germans mounted a successful counterattack, Neumann said.

Luck for the Army engineers ran out on that day as well, when the Germans overran their area, resulting in 28 U.S. casualties.

The survivors regrouped and were reorganized into reserve infantry with their main effort being to build trenches and help the British to stabilize their lines, he said.

The Battle of Cambrai, though heralded for successful use of combined arms, was actually a fairly typical World War I battle in that a successful offensive was then met by a successful counteroffensive, with the lines between friend and foe not shifting that much and a lot of casualties taken on both sides: around 45,000 on each side, he said.

Although America had declared war against Germany seven months earlier, the American Army wasn’t yet ready for large-scale combat operations, Neumann said.

While the roughly four U.S. combat divisions in France were still in training in late 1917, he said, they would see plenty of action in 1918.

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Turkey Human Rights, Crackdown on Press Freedom Comes Under Renewed Scrutiny in Geneva

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Last week, the UK-based International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR)and the Press Emblem Campaign held an information meeting in Geneva, to coincide with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Turkey over hate crimes, minority, and LGBT rights, and press freedoms with a specific focus on the nation’s crackdown on these rights during the failed 2016 coup and the emergency rule that followed during which the government allegedly used its security powers to arrest thousands of people who opposed it.

Turkey’s human rights record was last reviewed in 2015 during the UPR. This was the third time in 10 years that Turkey’s record has come under review

Diplomats, minister, prominent members of Turkish media and human rights defenders – including those who have been forced into exile – were present at the event. Also in attendance was former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice Ambassador Stephen Rapp. Louise Pyne Jones, head of research, International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) moderated the event. Two panels were held. The first was called “Press Freedom” and included Yavuz Baydar, editor-in-chief of Ahval; Evin Baris Altintas, journalist and blogger; and Massimo Frigo; senior Legal Advisor for International Commission for Jurists (ICJ). The second panel, “Human Rights Defenders,” included Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci; president of the Human Rights Foundation in Turkey; Nurcan Baysal, award-winning Turkish Human Rights Defender and Journalist; and Anne van Wezel, former co-chair EESC EU-Turkey Joint Consultative Committee.

Following an attempted, and failed, “coup” against the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party in 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused many of his opponents and naysayers, including journalists who were critical of him and his government, of supporting terrorism and prosecuted many of them. Erdogan also suggested that the attempted coup was the work of exiled Imam Fethullah Gulen and his movement, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Turkey has asked for the United States to extradite Gulen. Gulen has been living in the United States in a self-imposed exile since 1999. Over 250 people died as a result of the failed coup attempt.

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Soon after the coup, Turkey implemented a state of emergency (SOE) which it said: “was put into effect in order to ensure the continuity of effective implementation of the measures for the protection of the rights and freedoms of our citizens, democracy and the rule of law.” However, the AK Party’s critics have maintained that the AK Party used the umbrella of its broader emergency powers and continuously postponed ending that state of emergency, in an attempt to destroy its political opposition.

Many journalists were apprehended under this state of emergency until it was lifted on July 19, 2018. As such, for three straight years, and up until 2019, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Turkey as the worst jailer of journalists in the world. According to Turkish, English, and Arabic-language news site Ahval, when China jailed 48 journalists to Turkey’s 47.

Nurcan Baysal, an award-winning Kurdish Human Rights Defender, Journalist, and contributor to Ahval, said she was even cautious with the words she used on the panel discussion for fear of punishment by the Turkish government. “We are censoring ourselves because of these fears,” Baysal said. “For example, before coming here I asked myself if I should use certain words, should I use the word invasion, or should I use the word war, because today in Turkey even to say war is forbidden,” she said. “Everything that I say has an effect on not only my life but of the lives of my children and family.”

Ahval editor in chief Yavuz Baydar said, “No state or power can decide who is a journalist, it is the domain for professional organizations and should always be separate from power.”

According to the IOHR, “In the previous UPR cycle of Turkey, the Turkish government officially supported 14 recommendations related to strengthening the legal framework on freedom of expression and 5 recommendations specifically related to bringing terrorism legislation in line with international human rights standards.

Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch recently said, “The huge number of journalists, politicians, and perceived government critics in prison and on trial flies in the face of the Turkish government’s public statements about the state of human rights in the country “Turkey’s disregard of human rights is a disservice to its citizens, who deserve to live with dignity and freedom.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s state-run pro-government newspaper the Daily Sabah put out propaganda about the Erdogan government writing, “U.N. Human Rights Council highlighted Turkey’s achievements in the fields of judiciary, human rights and humanitarian causes on Tuesday during a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meeting in Geneva.”

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