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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    hollande PutinFrance has declared war on the Islamic State, and it is looking for partners.

    "We must combine our forces to achieve a result that is already too late in coming," French President Francois Hollande said in a rousing speech at the Palace of Versailles on Monday, days after France suffered the deadliest attack on its soil since World War II, at the hands of assailants linked to the Islamic State.

    France has long resisted going harder against ISIS in Syria for fear of undermining or eliminating a principal rival of its longtime enemy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    But on Monday, Hollande made it clear that the Paris attacks had forced French officials to reassess their priorities — and accept that Russia, a longtime ally of Assad, may have an important role to play.

    "The lack of Syrian fighters on the ground that look like acceptable partners is as true today as it was before the France bombings," geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, told Business Insider in an email on Saturday. "And there won't be enough support for [Western] troops to get it done alone."

    "This puts Russia — and Iran — in a stronger position," Bremmer added. "And the French are much more likely to take the lead in working with them than the Americans, especially now."

    Bremmer's predictions, so far, are panning out.

    'Our enemy is Daesh'

    Though France continues to oppose any role for Assad in a "political solution" for the crisis in Syria, "our enemy is Daesh (Islamic State)," Hollande said on Monday. In doing so, he implied that France's priority now, above all, is to fight ISIS.

    Place de la Republique ParisTo this end, Hollande announced that he will seek to form a single coalition against ISIS that includes Russia and the US — and, implicitly, Iran, which has been funneling fighters and weapons to the Assad regime since 2011. Such a move would seemingly unite the countries' counterterrorism operations in Syria for the first time.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking advantage of this shift in focus away from Assad and toward ISIS, echoed Hollande's sentiment on Monday. 

    “It is clear, that to effectively fight this evil we need real joint efforts by the entire international community,” Putin said in a statement.

    To its point, Russia launched airstrikes against the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa on Tuesday in what amounted to its first significant effort to target the jihadist group since it began its bombing campaign in late September. 

    It is unclear whether the trend will continue. The airstrikes coincided with Russian cruise-missile attacks in Aleppo and the Idlib province — where government forces, aided by Iran-backed Shia militias, have been battling predominantly non-ISIS rebels. 

    Syria control map oct 2015

    But it undoubtedly plays into Russia's desire to position itself as a leader in the region — a role which, up until now, had been facilitated largely by Moscow's partnership with Tehran.

    "Russia and Iran were always going to leverage Sunni jihadi terrorism to suit their own objectives on the ground in Syria — namely, shutting down support for Sunni opposition forces and getting the issue of an Assad transition completely taken off the table," Tony Badran, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider on Tuesday.

    "But the Russians are pushing up against a door left open by the Obama administration, which has from day one been framing its efforts in Syria as a battle against [Sunni] ISIS so as to not upset [Shia] Iran," Badran continued.

    "Russia has simply taken that narrative and expanded it to define terrorism in Syria as a Sunni variety of extremism, in the hopes of backing the few remaining supporters of the Syrian revolution — such as France — into a corner."

    'Assad is the root cause'

    On Monday, US President Barack Obama effectively ruled out a dramatic shift in the US' ISIS strategy, saying that putting more American troops on the ground in Syria "would be a mistake."

    As Bremmer sees it, this is the right approach — for France and for the US.

    "The US is going to need to work with Moscow and back away from the 'Assad must go' rhetoric," Bremmer said in an email. "The rebels aren't credible proxies and the Americans aren't going to get the job done themselves."

    obama putin g20Bremmer pointed to a piece he wrote in The Financial Times shortly after Russia intervened in Syria, where he claimed that if the US and its partners want to defeat ISIS — while limiting their involvement in the region — it will mean "swallowing the idea that Iran ... is now a regional powerbroker, that Mr. Assad will remain in power, and that Russia will play a larger and lasting role in the Middle East."

    But the problem with stepping back from the Middle East and relinquishing Syria as an Iranian and Russian sphere of influence, some experts say, is that it will give the person fueling the terror groups a new lease on life.

    "The big winner from the Paris attacks: Bashar al-Assad," Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted on Monday.

    "Barely mentioned among the causes of the Syria war or the flood of refugees," he added of Assad.

    Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, went one step further, asserting that working with Assad and his allies will allow ISIS to tighten its grip on the areas it already controls. 

    "If you work with Assad [against] ISIS, you lose the rebels' greater manpower, intelligence, legitimacy among populations living in ISIS areas," Hokayem said on Twitter.

    syrian refugeesIn an op-ed in The Guardian, a former French hostage of ISIS echoed Hokayem's sentiment.

    "The Syrian people need security or they themselves will turn to groups such as ISIS," Nicolas Henin, who spent 10 months in captivity, wrote on Monday.

    "After all that happened to me, I still don’t feel ISIS is the priority. To my mind, Bashar al-Assad is the priority. The Syrian president is responsible for the rise of ISIS in Syria, and so long as his regime is in place, ISIS cannot be eradicated."

    And Rabe Alkhuder, a Syrian refugee living in Washington, DC, concurred.

    "The Syrian people already hate ISIS," Alkhuder told Business Insider in an email. "Fighting and defeating the group will be much easier and more achievable when Assad is no longer barrel bombing his own people into oblivion."

    He added: "There is a root cause for every problem. Assad is the root cause of this mess, and world leaders must take serious steps to take him down."

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: US governors want to stop the relocation of Syrian refugees to the US

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    su 30 escorting tu 160

    Between Nov. 19 and 20, two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack bombers launched from northwest Russia for a 13,000km journey around Europe, to launch cruise missiles against ground targets in Syria.

    During the mission, the aircraft were identified and escorted off UK by RAF Eurofighter Typhoons; however, the British interceptors in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) were not the only aircraft they met during their long mission: over the Mediterranean Sea they were intercepted and escorted by at least three Su-30SM Flankers launched from Latakia.

    And here’s a really interesting footage showing the rendez-vous between the bombers and their escorts and the subsequent launch of cruise missiles (that seem to be KH-555s).



    SEE ALSO: ISIS claims to reveal 'evidence' of how it brought down the Russian plane with an IED

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    NOW WATCH: A giant US military blimp broke loose and traveled 130 miles

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    Russian Russia Air Strike Syria

    A hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders near the Syrian capital of Damascus was hit by missiles during an air strike on November 19, according to a statement on the organization's website.

    "Approximately 30 minutes after the town of Erbin came under aerial attack at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, two missiles struck the entrance of a makeshift hospital in the area, just as seven wounded people arrived for urgent treatment," the statement reads.

    They are reporting two deaths and six injuries, with two doctors among them.

    "The situation was chaotic," the director of Erbin Hospital, who wished to remain anonymous, told Doctors Without Borders.

    "We were just starting to treat the first influx of wounded when suddenly other missiles hit in front of the hospital. It took us a moment to realize that two of our colleagues who had been assisting the wounded at the entrance were severely injured. A dramatic situation suddenly became doubly dramatic," The director continued.

    Currently, a crowd of over a dozen nations in a US-led coalition, Russia, and Iran, are all flying war planes above Syria. The coalition's air strikes have focused in Western Syria on ISIS targets, but others, such as Russia and Iran, have been bombing in the Eastern stretch of the country near Erbin where the Doctors Without Borders hospital was located.

    Russian Airstrikes 04   05 NOV Updated 01_6In early October, the US came under heavy scrutiny for bombing a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The US maintains that they were working with faulty information, and did not know they were bombing a hospital.

    Of course, knowingly bombing a hospital would be a war crime. It is currently unknown who is responsible for the bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Erbin.

    Read the full statement from Doctors Without Borders here.

    SEE ALSO: Survivors of US attack on 'Doctors without Borders' hospital: 'It was like doomsday, nothing I could ever imagine.'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How Republican rhetoric on Muslims has changed since George W. Bush was president

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    isis militants

    Disputes between different groups of foreign fighters could undermine ISIS, according to a defector from the group who was interviewed by The Daily Beast.

    The ISIS defector, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Khaled, spoke with Michael Weiss at length in Istanbul, Turkey, about ISIS and its internal operations.

    According to Abu Khaled, although ISIS relies upon foreign fighters, its leaders still fear that those militants might not be entirely loyal and are concerned that ISIS could fracture along national or ethnic lines.

    Previously, Khaled told Weiss, foreign fighters would be organized into battalions based upon their origin for ease of communication and control. But this practice has been halted following the dissolution of a 750-member-strong Libyan brigade, known as al-Battar, that was deemed to be insufficiently loyal to ISIS's overall hierarchy.

    "Its men, ISIS found, were more loyal to their emir than they were to the organization," Weiss writes. "So al-Battar was disbanded."

    This distrust of foreign fighters has now led ISIS to create battalions with fighters of mixed origin, even when some of those fighters aren't Arabic speakers.

    Abu Khaled told Weiss that ISIS officials in Raqqa, Syria, denied his request to form a French-speaking battalion due to the earlier experience with the Libyans.

    "They told me, 'We had a problem before with the Libyans. We don't want the French in one katiba [battalion],'" Abu Khaled said.

    Syria control map oct 2015

    Abu Khaled's description meshes with earlier reporting that battlefield setbacks have exposed fissures within the group. Chechen and Uzbek militants clashed after ISIS failed to take the strategic border city of Kobane in January, for example, with each blaming the other for the siege's failure, The Telegraph reports.

    Two senior ISIS officials were apparently killed during the infighting.

    Tensions are also reportedly emerging between ISIS foreign fighters and local Syrians. These divisions undermine a key propaganda concept within ISIS — namely, the unity of all practicing Muslims within its "caliphate."

    Foreigners in the organization can earn twice as much pay as local fighters. Foreign fighters also receive better living accommodations in ISIS-controlled cities and are less frequently deployed to the frontline than their Syrian or Iraqi counterparts, The Wall Street Journal reports.

    "We're seeing basically a failure of the central tenet of ISIS ideology, which is to unify people of different origins under the caliphate," Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told The Washington Post in March. "This is not working on the ground. It is making them less effective in governing and less effective in military operations."

    Kurds Kurdish Fighters PKK Sinjar Iraq ISIS

    Allegedly preferential treatment for foreign fighters has bred resentment within ISIS, as Syrians feel that they take a larger share of the group's military risk. The disparity has also sparked violence between the groups within ISIS. Foreign fighters and Syrian militants waged a shootout in the town of Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border following an order that deployed the Syrians to the Iraqi front line in March, The Post reports.

    When disputes arise within ISIS, Abu Khaled told Weiss, they escalate quickly — and often violently. In one case, Abu Khaled described the extreme lengths an ISIS leader in Raqqa went to in order to protect himself from jihadists who were purportedly under his control.

    "I was in Raqqa once, and there was five or six Chechens. They were mad about something. So they came to see the emir of Raqqa," Abu Khaled said. "He was so afraid, he ordered ISIS to deploy snipers to the roofs of buildings. He thought the Chechens would attack. The snipers stayed there for two hours."

    ISIS's ground-level setbacks in Syria and Iraq and failure to take significant additional territory are likely to further tensions among the various groups fighting under the terrorist organization's umbrella.

    French jets have pounded ISIS positions in its de facto capital of Raqqa, the Syrian military broke a year-long ISIS siege of an airbase outside Aleppo, and US-backed Kurdish forces just retook Sinjar, Iraq, from ISIS, cutting off a supply route for the militants stretching between Iraq and Syria.

    Such losses may eventually add to the discontent within the organization. But in the near term, ISIS may continue to plan major attacks around the world in an attempt to distract supporters from its failures within the "caliphate's" borders.

    SEE ALSO: Russia could be ISIS's next front

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: NATO is flexing its muscles with its largest military exercise in a decade

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    ISIS Islamic StateAs ISIS faces a stepped-up air and ground campaign in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, there is a good chance the group will lose more territory in Iraq and Syria.

    But if history is any guide, ISIS will resort to more terrorist attacks in the West as it loses ground, potentially making it a more dangerous and unpredictable enemy in the months to come.

    During the past year, ISIS has lost between 15 to 25 percent of its territory in Syria and Iraq from its peak levels in mid-2014, according to some U.S. estimates. That includes parts of Erbil, Kirkuk, Diyala, Ninawa, Salah ad Din, and Al Anbar provinces in Iraq. It also includes Al Hasakah, Raqqa, and Halab in Syria.

    Earlier this month, Kurdish and Yazidi fighters, backed by American air power and special operations forces, conducted a major offensive to retake Sinjar, Iraq.

    They cut off a crucial ISIS supply route between Raqqa, Syria, the group’s capital, and Mosul, the largest ISIS-controlled city in Iraq. Iraqi forces and Shiite militias, aided by U.S. airstrikes, also retook the Baiji oil refinery from ISIS.

    In northern Syria, the United States has deployed special operations forces to work with Kurdish militias and their Arab partners to fight ISIS. The American and Turkish militaries announced a joint plan to remove ISIS militants from a 60-mile strip along the Turkish border. The deal allowed the United States to base A-10s, F-15s, and other warplanes in southern Turkey to carry out airstrikes against ISIS positions.

    Russian planes have also bombed Raqqa and other Syrian cities with renewed vigor since the explosion of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 on Oct. 31, allegedly at the hands of ISIS’s affiliate in Egypt.

    In the aftermath of Friday’s Paris attacks, which killed 129 people, France has now ramped up its bombing campaign in Syria. Earlier this week, French warplanes targeted Raqqa in the country’s most aggressive offensive against ISIS in Syria thus far.

    While France has conducted scores of airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, it has been more cautious in Syria, perhaps wary of strengthening the hand of President Bashar al-Assad by killing his enemies.

    U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with French President Francois Hollande during the Group of Seven (G7) Summit in the Bavarian town of Kruen, Germany June 8, 2015.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    French President François Hollande also pledged that French fighter jets would intensify their assaults and said he would urge U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin to pool their resources. “We must combine our forces to achieve a result that is already too late in coming,” Hollande said, referring to the defeat of ISIS.

    ISIS faces an uphill battle in the long run. It has to deal with a reinvigorated military campaign by the world’s major powers, neighboring states like Turkey and Jordan, local allies such as Kurdish militias, and the Iraqi and Syrian regimes. While ISIS has made some gains in such areas as Homs and Damascus, the trend lines are straightforward: ISIS is losing ground, and this decline will likely continue.

    Territorial control, of course, is the raison d’être for ISIS. Its goal remains establishing a loose Islamic caliphate that extends from Africa through the Middle East, South Asia, and parts of the Pacific.

    “Rush O Muslims to your state. Yes, it is your state,” said its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a recent announcement. “We make a special call to the scholars, fuqaha’ [experts in Islamic jurisprudence], and callers, especially the judges, as well as people with military, administrative, and service expertise, and medical doctors and engineers of all different specializations and fields.”

    ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

    Territory is critical for ISIS to operate the “state” its leaders envision, making it more like an insurgent group than a purely terrorist organization. It needs to govern local populations, establish an extreme version of sharia in areas that it controls, and finance itself through the local economy.

    ISIS has its own governance structure with committees that cover the media, administrative issues, military operations, Islamic law, and other matters. It raises money from such activities as smuggling oil, selling stolen goods, kidnapping, and seizing bank accounts—all of which require territory.

    But watch out if ISIS’s stronghold continues to shrink in Iraq and Syria. The history of insurgent groups is sobering: Most increase terrorist activity when they lose territory.

    One of the most recent examples is the al Qaida-affiliated group al-Shabab in Somalia. In the spring of 2010, al-Shabab controlled more than 50 percent of Somalia, including the capital city, Mogadishu, and major ports such as Kismaayo along the Indian Ocean.

    By 2015, however, al-Shabab had lost virtually all of its territory thanks to internal divisions, lackluster support, effective ground operations by Kenya and Ethiopia, and aggressive U.S. military operations.

    ISIS Islamic State Raqqa Syria

    As al-Shabab lost territory, it also lost fighters, weapons, local supporters, and finances. Al-Shabab’s coastal losses, for example, diminished the group’s revenue base, which benefited from port operations and taxes on goods. In cities like Baardheere and Diinsoor, which the group lost in July, al-Shabab had derived most of its funding from taxation of trade and other forms of business occurring in, or passing through, its area of control.

    Yet despite its loss of territory, al-Shabab significantly increased terrorist attacks across Somalia and the region. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of al-Shabab attacks tripled as it orchestrated a gruesome wave of attacks.

    In September 2013, al-Shabab operatives grabbed international headlines by conducting a deadly attack at the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 59 people and wounding nearly 200 others. In April, al-Shabab perpetrated another deadly attack, this time at Garissa University in southeastern Kenya. And in October, al-Shabab called for expanded attacks against a range of targets, from the Russian government to Jews across the globe.

    Numerous other groups have shifted to gruesome terrorist attacks as they lost territory. The Armed Islamic Group waged an increasingly ruthless terrorist campaign in the late 1990s as it began to lose in Algeria. So did al-Qaida in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 as it ceded territory in western Iraq, even orchestrating a series of spectacular attacks in Amman, Jordan.

    Groups have generally ramped up terrorist attacks for several reasons.

    paris mourning

    First, they sometimes attempt to coerce the withdrawal of foreign forces by punishing their civilians. In Spain, Islamic extremists conducted the March 2004 terrorist attacks in part to force the withdrawal of Spanish forces from Iraq. It likely worked.

    The attacks occurred three days before the Spanish general elections, which the Popular Party government appeared likely to win. But the swarm of media reports blamed the attacks on Spain’s involvement in Iraq. On March 14, voters turned out en masse and elected the Socialist Party.

    Asked if the attacks caused Spaniards to change their vote, 9 percent said yes. Most of those 9 percent said they switched to the Socialist Party, whose narrow margin of victory (43 percent to 38 percent) suggested that the bombing may have tipped the elections.

    Second, groups may resort to terrorism to bait foreign governments into overreacting. The hope is that governments and their security forces may be so appalled at the killing of their civilians that their response is excessive. Governments may unfairly target communities at home or overseas, further contributing to radicalization.

    ISIS Islamic State

    In Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army used terrorism in the 1970s to bait British forces into overreacting, which they did during Bloody Sunday, the Falls Road Curfew, and internment operations like Demetrius. British practices sparked an upsurge in violence and a wave of support for the IRA.

    Third, groups that hold territory need to use some of their personnel, finances, equipment, and security forces to establish law and order.

    But when they lose ground, it frees up some of these resources to conduct terrorist attacks. After losing most of its territory in Somalia, al-Shabab shifted some of its focus to attacking those countries engaged in military operations in Somalia.

    The lesson with ISIS is straightforward. Western populations should be prepared for an upsurge in violence if ISIS continues to lose territory.

    There has already been a growth in attacks and plots across the West with operational or inspirational ties to ISIS. These include the attacks in Paris last week; Garland, Texas, in May;Copenhagen in February; Paris in January; Sydney in December; Ottawa, Canada, in October 2014; and Brussels in May 2014.

    ISIS leaders have now threatened the United States that it could be next. “I swear to God, as we struck France in its stronghold Paris, we will strike America in its stronghold, Washington,” an ISIS fighter declared in a video released this week. Chances are they mean it.

    SEE ALSO: An ISIS defector explained a key reason people continue joining the group

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: An Iranian actress who posted Instagram photos of herself without a hijab was forced to flee the country

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    isis militants islamic state

    Despite ISIS's claims of ruling over a Islamic "caliphate" in line with Sharia law, a large number of the group's fighters joined for reasons having little to do with religion, according to a defector from the group that The Daily Beast's Michael Weiss interviewed in Istanbul, Turkey.

    Instead, people are joining the organization because they are desperate for money and are struggling to find a way to survive in Syria, where four years of civil war have decimated the economy. 

    The ISIS defector, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Khaled, spoke with Weiss about the group's internal dynamics, and what it was like to live under ISIS's rule.

    According to Abu Khaled, a large number of people are joining ISIS because they need money. After joining the militants, people are paid in US dollars instead of Syrian liras. Abu Khaled said that ISIS also runs its own currency exchanges.

    ISIS members receive additional incentives to fight for the group. “I rented a house, which was paid for by ISIS,” Abu Khaled, who worked for ISIS's internal-security forces and "provided training for foreign operatives,"told Weiss. “It cost $50 per month. They paid for the house, the electricity. Plus, I was married, so I got an additional $50 per month for my wife. If you have kids, you get $35 for each. If you have parents, they pay $50 for each parent. This is a welfare state.”

    And those financial benefits are not just limited to the organization's fighters. According to Abu Khaled, any member of ISIS, ranging from construction workers to doctors, receives similar compensation. In war-torn Syria, these salaries are a powerful lure for people who might not otherwise be able to support their families — or for people just hoping to get rich.

    “I knew a mason who worked construction. He used to get 1,000 lira per day. That’s nothing," Abu Khaled told Weiss. "Now he’s joined ISIS and gets 35,000 lira—$100 for himself, $50 for his wife, $35 for his kids. He makes $600 to $700 per month. He gave up masonry. He’s just a fighter now, but he joined for the income.”

    Syria control map oct 2015Other Syrians who have fled from ISIS's rule have corroborated Abu Khaled's reports, confirming that one of the only ways to accumulate wealth and status under ISIS's rule is by joining the organization. Yassin al-Jassem, a Syrian refugee from near ISIS's de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, shared his experience with The Washington Post.

    "There is no work, so you have to join them in order to live," al-Jassem told the Post. "So many local people have joined them. They were pushed into Daesh by hunger."

    According to Newsweek, there is a widening gap in living standards for those under ISIS rule. Members of the organization have access to food, free medical care, and desirable housing. In contrast, people who aren't ISIS members suffer under a barely functioning economy with rapidly increasing prices.

    ISIS can afford to pay people seeking to join its ranks through four main sources of income: oil, the sale of looted antiquities, taxation, and kidnapping ransoms.

    The militant group either controls or has an operational presence around a number of oil wells in Iraq and in the majority of oil-producing areas in Syria. This allows the group to earn a steady income from oil production and smuggling that helps it to continue its daily operations.

    The New York Times estimates that ISIS can make upward of $40 million a month through oil-related activities. In a bid to cut the group's income, the US conducted its first airstrikes against ISIS oil trucks on November 16.

    ISIS Islamic State Raqqa SyriaISIS's main source of income is significantly more difficult for the US and other coalition partners to target by air. According to Foreign Policy, ISIS makes the majority of its money through extortion and taxation of people living under the group's rule.

    ISIS taxes nearly every possible economic activity, with the revenue ultimately covering the expenses of waging continuous war along multiple fronts. Foreign Policy notes that taxes are put in place for militants who loot archaeological sites. Non-Muslims must pay religious taxes, and all ISIS subjects pay a base welfare and salary tax in support of the fighters. All vehicles passing through ISIS territory — which may carry the only food available to those living under ISIS control — must pay taxes often totaling hundreds of dollars.

    This ad hoc war economy means that ISIS has little money to spend on improving the lives of those who are forced to live under its rule. But as Abu Khaled's account confirms, it still finds the money for conducting military operations and incentivizing militants to join the group.

    That money and the other benefits that ISIS fighters receive means that Syrians join ISIS out of desperation — and not necessarily out of religious or ideological conviction. 

    Pamela Engel contributed to this report.

    SEE ALSO: An ISIS defector just revealed how the group could start to fracture

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    NOW WATCH: President Obama: Syrian refugee rhetoric is a 'potent recruitment tool for ISIL’

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    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen during an interview in Damascus with the magazine, Literarni Noviny newspaper, in this handout picture taken January 8, 2015 by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Bashar Assad's presidency looks likely to outlast Barack Obama's.

    As the United States has turned its attention to defeating the Islamic State group, it has softened its stance on the Syrian leader. More than four years ago, Obama demanded that Assad leave power. Administration officials later said Assad did not have to step down on "Day One" of a political transition. Now, they are going further.

    A peace plan agreed to last weekend by 17 nations meeting in Vienna says nothing about Assad's future, but states that "free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months." To clarify the timeline, the State Department said this past week that the clock starts once Assad's representatives and opposition figures begin talks on a constitution. The vote would determine a new parliament, though not necessarily a new president.

    Getting to constitutional talks will be difficult. It implies that Syria's warring parties first reach a cease-fire and establish a transition government — something unattainable so far. Neither Syria's government nor its fractured opposition has endorsed the strategy yet or done much to advance it.

    "Nothing can start before defeating the terrorists who occupy parts of Syria," Assad recently told Italian state television. Assad considers anyone fighting him, including moderate rebels, to be terrorists.

    Obama countered: "I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power. ... Even if I said that was OK, I still don't think it would actually work. You could not get the Syrian people, the majority of them, to agree to that kind of outcome. And you couldn't get a number of their neighbors to agree to that outcome, as well."

    Syria Barrel Bomb DebrisSyria was the focus for Secretary of State John Kerry, who was heading to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for talks with government leaders. Many more discussions with Arab officials are planned over the next months.

    The uncertainty of the new peace process, particularly as it pertains to Assad, points to Washington's evolution from early in the civil war, when Obama and other officials boldly stated the Syrian president's days were "numbered" and sought his immediate departure.

    The focus of Washington — and much of the world — has shifted now to IS, whose most recent attack killed at least 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13. As a result, the U.S. is cooperating with Russia and Iran, countries it once tried to ostracize because of their support for Syria.

    The hope is peace between Assad's forces and moderate rebels will allow everyone to work together to defeat IS.

    The U.S. and its allies say Assad remains responsible for far more Syrian deaths than IS. His military has used chemical weapons and continues to drop barrel bombs that indiscriminately hit foes and civilians alike.

    Syria Syrian Army Troops Soldiers Bashar AssadBut for all their brutality, Assad's forces are not directing attacks in European capitals, beheading American journalists or downing Russian passenger jets. Unlike IS, Assad has powerful patrons in Moscow and Tehran. Russian airstrikes since September have helped stiffen the Syrian government's defenses, while Iranian forces and proxy Hezbollah militants have added muscle to its ground operations.

    The U.S. is trying to take all these considerations into account as it refines a common strategy with partners in Europe and the Arab world that see Syria's conflict differently. The Europeans are mostly concerned about the refugee crisis across their continent, and they fear more deadly attacks. Saudi Arabia and others backing the rebels want foremost to defeat Iran, which they would see in Assad's downfall.

    The U.S. says both sets of goals are connected. To defeat IS, the president said last month there has "got to be a change a government," rejecting any approach that returns Syria to the "status quo ante." The war has killed more than 300,000 people and uprooted some 12 million.

    The Nov. 14 statement from the Vienna talks, involving the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and more than a dozen other governments, avoids the most critical questions to achieve that. It does not outline which opposition groups can negotiate with Assad and which are considered terrorist groups. Assad isn't even mentioned.

    viennaIn one way, vagueness is the statement's strength, allowing Iran and Russia to make common cause in the search for peace. But it may not satisfy everyone's idea of a "transition."

    By itself, the plan offers no clear path for Assad's departure, raising the prospect of the embattled Syrian leader still in office when Obama's presidency ends on Jan. 20, 2017.

    Western diplomats described a poker game being played between the U.S. and its own allies. U.S. officials said that while they accept the idea that Assad won't leave office immediately, the plan for his exit will have to be clarified as part of the diplomatic process.

    Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are being counted on to persuade the Syrian opposition to support the plan, but will only do so if they get a guarantee on Assad. The U.S. and its European partners cannot offer that guarantee, according to the diplomats, who were not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Syrian rebelsIf the opposition rejects talking, Assad will not resign as a result. The rebels would not gain sufficient strength to defeat him on the battlefield, and Russia and Iran would not stop supporting him.

    Even if the plan is accepted by all and works to the best of expectations, Assad would be appear locked in for a transition process that could extend deep into 2017 or longer.

    If after 18 months or two years, IS is defeated and calm is restored, opposition groups would risk reigniting Syria's conflict by reasserting demands for Assad's ouster. World and regional powers would face the same quandary.

    For these reasons, some Western diplomats have begun talking about the possibility of Assad staying on indefinitely as a ceremonial president, though stripped of his control over the nation's security and intelligence apparatuses.

    It's unclear whether any of the sides in the fighting would see that as an acceptable compromise.

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    donald trump sitting

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Republican presidential candidates insisted Syrian refugees pose a potential danger to America and should not be allowed into the country, despite growing criticism within and outside their party for some of their statements.

    The debate about accepting Syrian refugees has grown since the Nov. 13 attacks by Islamic State in Paris that killed 130 people.

    Appearing on Sunday on ABC's "This Week" Donald Trump was asked if he was "unequivocally" ruling out a database to track all Muslims.

    "No, not at all," he said. 

    But then he suggested the database would focus more on refugees than all Muslim Americans. 

    "I want a database for the refugees," Trump said. "We have no idea who these people are. When the Syrian refugees are going to start pouring into this country, we don't know if they're ISIS, we don't know if it's a Trojan horse. And I definitely want a database and other checks and balances."

    Ohio Governor John Kasich, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press", continued his days-long attack against Trump's database comments, calling the idea nonsense.

    "I flat out condemned the idea that we were going to have Muslims register," he said. "The idea that we're going to repel an entire group of people on the basis of their religion, it's nonsense."

    An audience member holds up an anti-refugee sign during a campaign rally with U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Worcester, Massachusetts November 18, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian SnyderRepublican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended his argument that the administration can't be trusted to vet refugees, adding "orphans under the age of five" shouldn't be admitted to the country because there is no one to care for them.

    "The FBI director himself said they can't vet these folks," Christie said in an interview on CNN when asked about his comments regarding children. "The FBI director sat before Congress last week and said they cannot vet these folks."

    Trump did back away from comments on closing mosques. In an interview on Tuesday, Trump said the United States was "going to have no choice" but to close mosques. 

    But on Sunday, Trump said: "I don’t want to close mosques; I want to surveil mosques."

    Trump also repeated his support for renewing the use of waterboarding, calling the torture technique "peanuts" compared to beheadings conducted by ISIS. 

    Ben Carson, who faced criticism this week for comparing Syrian refugees to "rabid dogs", wouldn't say whether he would reinstate the use of waterboarding.

    "I'm not real big on telling them what we would or would not do," Carson said.

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    Paris France Place de la Republique Police

    Within 48 hours of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, France had already mobilized its air force to strike back at ISIS.

    French President François Hollande immediately declared the Paris attack "an act of war."French Prime Minister Manuel Valls echoed the sentiment, vowing to "annihilate the enemies of the republic."

    France has one of the most forward-deployed militaries in the world, with around 3,000 troops across Africa. France is the only country other than the US with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and is one of only nine countries with nuclear weapons.

    Leaders around the world, including US President Barack Obama, have pledged to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with France.

    But France has plenty of muscle of its own, too.

    SEE ALSO: 2 reasons the Paris attacks were especially alarming

    France has over 215,000 active-duty troops across all branches of its military.

    France has a network of military bases across Africa.

    For more information, here's a recent history of French military interventions in Africa.

    France's navy is 42,100 strong, with 103 surface vessels and 10 submarines.


    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    putin assad

    DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad says his forces are advancing on "almost" all fronts thanks to Russian airstrikes that began nearly two months ago and have tipped the balance in his favor in some parts of the country.

    In remarks published Sunday, Assad told China's Phoenix Television that the Russians depend on Syrian ground forces and "cooperate with us." He added that Syrian troops had achieved victories in some areas before the strikes began but "could not be present everywhere in Syria."

    Russia, which has conducted an air campaign in Syria since Sept. 30, sharply raised its intensity in recent days on President Vladimir Putin's orders after Moscow said it had confirmed that a bomb brought down a Russian plane over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

    The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

    "Following the participation of Russian air force in fighting terrorism, the situation improved well. I can say that the army now is advancing almost on every front," Assad said in the interview, which was also carried by Syrian state media.

    Assad said the Russian airstrikes are more effective than those of the U.S.-led coalition because Moscow is coordinating with his government, saying "you cannot fight terrorism with airstrikes alone."

    Syrian troops have captured dozens of villages in northern and western Syria since the Russian airstrikes began. Their biggest victory so far has been lifting a three-year siege imposed on the military air base of Kweiras by extremist groups in the northern province of Aleppo.

    The Russian strikes have not only targeted the Islamic State group, but also Syrian insurgents battling to overthrow Assad, including some Western-backed groups.

    syrian rebelsAsked if he is going to run for president again if early elections are held, Assad said: "It is my right but it is early to say whether I will run or not." He added that "I will not say that I will not run if I see that this is needed."

    A peace plan agreed to last weekend by 17 nations meeting in Vienna says nothing about Assad's future, but states that "free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months."

    To clarify the timeline, the U.S. State Department said last week that the clock starts once Assad's representatives and opposition figures begin talks on a constitution. The vote would determine a new parliament, though not necessarily a new president.

    More than 250,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria's 2011 uprising, which began as a series of mostly peaceful protests but escalated into an armed revolt against Assad after a harsh government crackdown. Syrian rebels have demanded that Assad step down as part of any agreement to end the fighting.

    Russian Airstrikes 9 19 NOV fixed 01

    On Sunday, a motorcycle rigged with explosives blew up in the northern Syrian town of Tal Abyad near the Turkish border, killing at least two people and wounding more than 20, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees. The two groups track Syria's civil war based on reports from activists inside the country.

    Kurdish fighters captured Tal Abyad from IS militants in July.

    The Observatory said Sunday that airstrikes believed to be carried out by Russian warplanes have struck near oil fields in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. Moscow last week announced the targeting of oil facilities and tanker trucks to try and deprive IS of one of its main sources of income.

    In the central province of Hama, meanwhile, the militant Jund al-Aqsa group handed over the bodies of 30 Syrian soldiers in exchange for six female prisoners held by Syrian authorities, according to the Observatory and opposition activist Hadi Abdallah.

    Abdallah posted a video on his Facebook page showing the exchange, which was carried out by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

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    ISIS Islamic State graffiti

    A powerful backlash against asylum-seekers from the Middle East in the wake of the Paris attacks culminated last week in the US House of Representatives, which passed a bill that would stifle the flow of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the US.

    The legislation — passed after more than two-dozen governors announced they would not allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states — effectively bars Syrian and Iraqi asylum-seekers from entering the US unless the director of the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence personally certify to Congress that they do not pose a national-security threat. 

    It was a significant blow to the agenda of President Barack Obama, who in September put forward a plan to accept up to 10,000 refugees over the next fiscal year. But, much like the anti-Islamic rhetoric dominating the discourse among Europe's far-right, it's a propaganda win for the Islamic State. 

    "IS has utilized its propaganda apparatus in an effort to dissuade Syrians from fleeing to Europe," Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Thursday at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

    "One theme that emerged in this propaganda was the idea that Muslim refugees who flee to Europe will suffer oppression at the hands of secular and Christian governments, and will be forced to abandon their faith."

    internally displaced girl Syria

    The topic has reverberated on the campaign trail, where the opposition among the GOP field to accepting new Syrian refugees has taken center stage.

    Last weekend, presidential candidate and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suggested to reporters that Muslims pose a "meaningful risk" to national security in a way that Christians simply do not. 

    "There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror," Cruz said at a press conference in South Carolina. "If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation."

    Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), another presidential hopeful, said Monday that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) should resign if he does not "reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East."

    And Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has made headlines over the past few days by suggesting an openness for creating a "database" of Muslim-Americans. Previously, the billionaire real-estate mogul had said that he thinks "certain mosques" in the US should be surveilled

    anti refugee groupsBut as many critics of the charged rhetoric will note, non-Muslim extremists have been responsible for a majority of lethal assaults in the US since 9/11. 

    "Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim ... compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists," The New York Times reported in June, citing a count by the Washington research center New America.

    In inflating the risk that radical Islamic extremists might try to infiltrate Europe and the US by posing as refugees — and ignoring the reality that Syrians are the most heavily vetted group of people currently allowed into the US — anti-refugee groups now share a common interest with the terrorist group they purport to reject.

    Namely, stoking fear so that Muslim refugees are demonized and turned away — into the waiting arms of the so-called caliphate. 

    'We are not terrorists' 

    As geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer noted to Business Insider, the demonization of Muslims in the West is far from the most-valuable recruiting tool ISIS has at its disposal. 

    "There's no question that ISIS would prefer the West turn away refugees than accept them. the refugees embarrass them by voting with their feet; they don't want the West championing their cause," Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group, said in an email.

    "But I think it's a marginal issue when we look at why ISIS has become so effective at recruiting. that's because of the violence and broken states in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. And more broadly, because millions of young Muslim men across the Middle East and North Africa don't feel they have any opportunities — either economically or socially — and are disenfranchised from their local governments."

    A Syrian refugee shows his passport after he and 30 other Syrians were rescued by a Greek coast guard patrol boat while attempting to cross from Turkey to Greece on a dinghy during a storm in Kos island, Greece, early May 29, 2015. But, as Gartenstein-Ross said in his testimony before Congress, the backlash against refugees remains a valuable propaganda tool for ISIS because it reinforces the group's claims that Muslims can only be safe in the caliphate.

    "IS believes that if it can drive a wedge between Muslim populations in Europe and the rest of European society, it can present itself as a protector of European Muslims, thus building its base of support in Europe," he said.

    He added: "This strategy — in which the group carries out attacks to accelerate societal schisms, then steps in to defend the group against whom its attacks triggered discrimination — is one that IS utilized to great effect in Iraq in the mid-2000s."

    The world witnessed this strategy at work earlier this month, when ISIS-affiliated extremists killed at least 130 people in Paris and renewed fears that Europe's open-door policies had allowed Islamic extremists to infiltrate France.

    But at least five out of the eight known attackers were French nationals living in Belgium. (One assailant who detonated himself was found with a Syrian passport, but it it was reported to have been stolen or fake, and two others have yet to be identified.)

    Nevertheless, the attacks have spurred old fears and given fuel to those who sought to politicize the refugee crisis in the first place — from Europe's far-right, to American policymakers, to the Islamic State. 

    Passengers among them migrants and refugees, exit the German ferry terminal in Goteborg, Sweden, September 11, 2015. REUTERS/Adam Ihse/TT News AgencyMost Muslim refugees arriving from Syria and Iraq are seeking little more than physical safety from Syrian President Bashar Assad's relentless barrel bombs and the Islamic State's brutality. Indeed, homegrown terrorism has proven more of a problem for France and other European nations than infiltration by foreign extremists. 

    "We are not terrorists or extremists," Rabe Alkhuder, a Syrian refugee living in Washington, DC, who left the city of Aleppo in 2011, told Business Insider. "Syrian refugees are kind and hard-working people, and they are just seeking safe haven for themselves and their families."

    'Widows and orphans'

    So far, most Western leaders have resisted calls to dramatically limit or end their refugee programs. 

    Last week, US President Barack Obama denounced the "political posturing" that had led to the backlash before mocking Republicans for being afraid of the refugees. 

    "We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic,” Obama told reporters from the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila. “We don't make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks."

    "Apparently, they [Republicans] are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America," Obama added. "At first they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of 3-year-old orphans. That doesn't seem so tough to me."

    Obama has said he will veto any anti-refugee legislation that reaches his desk.

    obama malaysiaGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel, who promised to accept up to 800,000 refugees into Germany over the next year, has also remained steadfast.

    “We believe in the rights of every individual to seek his fortune, in respect for others and in tolerance,” Merkel said in her first public statement after the attacks last Saturday.

    "Let us reply to the terrorists by resolutely living our values and by redoubling those values across all of Europe — now more than ever.”

    During opening remarks at the G-20 summit in Turkey last Sunday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was similarly resolute. 

    There is "no need for an overall review of the European policy on refugees," he said.

    And in his weekly address, US Vice President Joe Biden echoed Obama, imploring Americans to remember "who the vast majority of these refugees are: women, children, orphans, survivors of torture, people desperately in need of medical help."

    "To turn them away and say there is no way you can ever get here would play right into the terrorists’ hands," he added. "We know what ISIL – we know what they hope to accomplish. They flat-out told us."

    SEE ALSO: Democrats just delivered a stunning blow to Obama's Syrian refugee plan

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    “Game of Thrones” series writer George R.R. Martin took time off finishing his latest novel “Words of Winter” to write a post on his LiveJournal in favor of letting in Syrian refugees to the United States.

    “Donald Trump and thirty-one governors have it wrong, wrong, wrong,” Martin writes in his post, which now has nearly 300 comments. “The Syrian refugees are as much victims of ISIS as the dead in France.”

    The post comes after leaders from Texas, South Carolina, Michigan, Indiana, and others demanded the Obama administration suspend plans to resettle Syrian refugees in their states, with some going as far as to say they would independently block the resettlement.

    In his post, Martin prominently references the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus that’s printed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. He said the statue, which was given to the United States by France, is an important symbol, especially given the recent terrorist attacks in France.

    Here’s the poem in full, originally created to support the initial fundraising to get the statue erected:

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

    "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

    With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    Statue of Liberty

    Martin called out specifically the line “her beacon hand, glows world-wide welcome” and wondered if the governors and congressmen speaking out against taking in the refugees had read what’s at the base of the statue.

    “For me, Lady Liberty and the words on her base represent the best of what this nation of immigrants is all about,” Martin wrote. “One has to wonder if all the governors (including our own governor here in New Mexico, I am ashamed to say) and congressmen voting to keep out the Syrian refugees have ever visited the Statue, or read the words on her base. If so, they surely failed to understand them.”

    While many people on Twitter are congratulating Martin for his views, some of his LiveJournal commenters are less than thrilled.

    “The words on the Statue of Liberty were written before we had a welfare state,” one commenter wrote. “If you want them so much, why don't you let them stay at your house and you can pay for their medical bills. I'm sure you can afford it."

    “Surprised that a writer so good at teasing out the moral complexity of complicated situations in his books has such a simplistic view of a real world issue, where real lives are at steak [sic],” another person said. “Surprised and disappointed.”

    Martin responded to some of these comments, arguing, “Real lives are at stake. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees driven from their homes by war. Many of them women and children. That's the whole point. There's a moral imperative here.”

    You can read the whole LiveJournal post here.

    h/t Mashable

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    Prime Minister David Cameron has announced he will ask Parliament this week to approve a bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria. Speaking alongside  French President Francois Hollande in Paris, Cameron outlined his "firm conviction" that the UK should join in the US-led air campaign and said he will put his plans to a parliamentary vote.

    It's a massive risk for Cameron to ask parliament to approve military action at the moment because he can't be certain that he won't be defeated.

    The big problem Cameron faces is that about twenty of his MPs will almost certainly not approve military action. With a majority of only twelve, the Conservatives might need some votes from other parties to get the plans approved. It is very unlikely that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will approve the plans and it's still not clear whether he will allow his MPs a free vote on the issue. A small number of Labour MPs would probably rebel against their leader, but Cameron can't simply can't be certain of the support he would receive.

    It was really embarrassing for the Cameron-led coalition government when it lost a similar vote in 2013 to take part in an air campaign against the Syrian regime. It was bad for Cameron to lose a vote on bombing Syria once, if he loses another one people will start to question his judgement and possibly even his suitability to be leader.

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    A still image taken from video footage, released by Russia's Defence Ministry on November 19, 2015, shows a Russian Tupolev TU-22 long-range strategic bomber conducting an airstrike at an unknown location in Syria. REUTERS/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via Reuters

    Iraq closed its northern airspace to commercial flights on Monday for at least two days due to military traffic from Russia's air campaign in neighboring Syria, a spokesman for Erbil International Airport said.

    The closure was expected to affect domestic routes to Erbil and Sulaimaniya as well as international flights from Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf and Austria.

    Iraq's civil aviation authority said in a statement that flight suspensions had been made "to protect travelers and because of the crossing of cruise missiles and bombers in the northern part of Iraq launched from the Caspian Sea".

    Russia began launching cruise missiles and long-range bombers from warships in the Caspian last month, passing over Iran and Iraq and covering a distance of some 1,500 km (900 miles) to reach their targets.

    The Erbil airport spokesman said a change in the missiles' route brought them "uncomfortably close" to the airport, without providing more details.

    A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, which conducts some operations near Erbil airport, said he was not aware of the cause for the shutdown. The coalition has been bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria for more than a year separately from the Russian campaign.

    The director of Erbil airport said in a statement the suspension could last longer than the initial 48 hours. Emirates Airlines said it had canceled flights to Erbil until Thursday.

    Erbil International Airport

    Moscow also uses bombers from Russian air bases to launch air strikes it says have been requested by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It contends its main target is Islamic State militants who control large swathes of Syria and Iraq, but it has been accused of hitting other targets, including territory occupied by Western-backed rebels.

    U.S. officials said last month four missiles launched from Russian warships in the Caspian Sea had crashed in Iran, but Moscow insisted they had reached their targets in Syria.

    russia missiles syria

    The terrain-hugging Kalibr cruise missiles, which NATO has codenamed Sizzler, fly at an altitude of 50 meters (164 feet) and are accurate to within three meters, the Russian Defense Ministry says.


    SEE ALSO: The intense backlash to Syrian refugees 'plays right into' ISIS’ hand

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    In what would come to be called the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot, 96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs faced off against 100 Syrian fighters backed up by 19 surface-to-air missile launchers in 1982. It was one of the largest jet battles ever fought.

    israeli air force formation blue flag israel

    Israel has a history of conflict with its neighbors, especially from the 1960s through the 1980s. A series of small battles with Egypt resulted in some hard lessons learned for the Israeli Air Force after it lost numerous fighters to surface-to-air missiles.

    But the IAF learned its lessons, and on June 9, 1982, it attacked 19 Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries deployed near the border. In the first two hours of fighting, the IAF destroyed 17 of the missile batteries with no losses. Then things really went nuts.

    Two F 15I israel air force f 15

    The Syrians sent up 100 MiGs to intercept the 96 F-15s, F-16s, and F-4s that were attacking the SAM sites. The Israelis were flying an E-2C Hawkeye airborne warning and control system aircraft that picked up the incoming fighters. It began feeding instructions to the IAF fighters.

    The more advanced Israeli fighters, firing both Sidewinder heat-seeking and Sparrow radar-guided missiles, destroyed 29 of the Syrian fighters.

    mig 21

    But the IAF wasn't done. There were still two missile sites it wanted gone. So it returned June 10. Again, the bulk of Syria's air force lifted off to greet the fighters, and the IAF proved overwhelming, downing another 35 Syrian aircraft with no Israeli losses.

    The stunning victory was due to numerous factors. The Israeli pilots had benefited from great training and a lot of combat experience, but the Syrians had also screwed themselves.

    The Syrians fed their pilots instructions from a ground control station that couldn't communicate because of Israeli jamming. In an Air Power Journal article, a Western military observer of the battle says, "I watched a group of Syrian fighter planes fly figure-eights. They just flew around and around and obviously had no idea what to do next."

    Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots, director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency at the time, trashed the lazy deployment of Syrian missile sites. "The Syrians used mobile missiles in a fixed configuration; they put the radars in the valley instead of the hills because they didn’t want to dig latrines–seriously."

    The conflict between the two countries continued through July 1982. In over a month of fighting, Israel lost only two jets, while Syria lost at least 87.

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    tu 22 bomber bombs

    Beginning on Nov. 17, the Russian Air Force has started pounding Islamic State (as well as rebel forces) in Syria with its Stategic Bomber Fleet.

    Tu-22M Backfire, Tu-95MS Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack bombers have carried out long round-trip missions from bases in mainland Russia dropping a wide variety of guided and unguided weapons over terrorists targets: from the FAB-250 iron bombs, to the KH-555 and KH-101 air launched cruise missiles.

    On Nov. 20, for the first time ever, two Tu-160s carried out their mission taking off from a deployment base in Kola Peninsula: they flew around western Europe, through the Mediterranean Sea and, after meeting the Su-30SMs departed from Latakia, launched some ALCMs (Air Launched Cruise Missiles). Then, they entered the Syrian airspace and returned home via the eastern corridor: Iraq-Iran-Caspian Sea. A 13,000km journey.

    On the same day, Su-34 Fullbacks launched 16 sorties against ground targets in Syria taking off from Krimsk airbase, in Russia.

    Interestingly, during their transit across Middle East, the Russian strategic bombers were escorted by Islamic Republic ofIran Air Force F-14 Tomcat, Mig-29 Fulcrum andF-4 Phantom jets whose prior mission to visually observe activity of Russian bombers inside the Iranian airspace, from their entry point to the exit point.

    Military aviation historian and journalist Babak Taghvaee has prepared an interesting infographic that provides lots of details about the Russian strategic bombers missions to Syria as well as about the Iranian chase planes.

    Click below for a higher resolution version of the file.

    russia strategic bomber fleet syria

    SEE ALSO: This Infographic shows all the submarines operated in Europe and the Mediterranean

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    syria gas attack

    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Recent attacks with chlorine and mustard gas on the battlefield in Syriashow that the use chemical weapons in the civil war is becoming routine, a U.S. official said on Monday.

    A confidential report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Oct. 29 provided the first official confirmation of use of sulfur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas, in Syria since it agreed to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, two years ago.

    While the OPCW did not specifically say which of the many sides in the war used the chemical, diplomatic sources said it had been used in clashes between Islamic State and rebel fighters in the town of Marea in August, as well as in rebel-held areas under attack by Syrian government forces.

    That raised the possibility, diplomatic sources said, that Islamic State had gained the ability to make it themselves, or that it may have come from an undeclared stockpile.

    "The sad reality is that chemical weapons use is becoming routine in the Syrian civil war," Rafael Foley, representing the United States, told a special session of the OPCW's Executive Council, in remarks sent to Reuters.

    "There is no greater threat at this time to the Convention and the international norm againstchemical weapons than the continuing use of such weapons to harm and kill the Syrian people."

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015.  REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin Foley said the reports showed that "the Syrian regime has continued to use chemical weapons on its own people despite its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention".

    The comments were made at a closed meeting by the 41-country Executive Council called in response to the OPCW findings that toxic agents, including the mustard gas, had been used between March and August of this year.

    "In sum, ominously hanging over the entire discussion in the Council is the fundamental question of whether Syria is prepared truly to renounce chemical weapons," Foley told delegates.

    The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to give up its chemical weaponsstockpile in 2013 after a large scale sarin attack killed hundreds of people in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

    About 250,000 Syrians have been killed in 4-1/2 years of civil war, with 11.5 million driven from their homes.

    SEE ALSO: The French and British air forces are hunting for a Russian submarine off the Scottish coast

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    NOW WATCH: US governors say they don't want to accept Syrian refugees, but one that made it to the US describes the horrors he fled

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    ISIS Baiji oil refinery

    The US-led military coalition against ISIS has been rapidly increasing its pace of operations against militant targets in both Syria and Iraq.

    On Monday, US planes destroyed an estimated 280 ISIS oil trucks near the border between Syria and Iraq, NBC reported, citing unnamed US officials. The strike was carried out by A-10 Warthogs and AC-130 Specter Gunships.

    In a statement, the US-led coalition said that near the cities of Al-Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor, one attack destroyed 283 ISIS vehicles.

    The warplanes used precision-guided bombs and strafing runs with cannon fire to destroy the tankers. Strafing runs are when low-flying aircraft attack ground targets with mounted automatic weapons.

    To limit civilian casualties, the US dropped leaflets over the tankers before the attack that said "run immediately or you will be killed," the officials told NBC.

    The destruction of the ISIS oil trucks follows a major weekend of strikes against the militants. According to the statement from the Combined Joint Task Force responsible for carrying out operations against ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State or ISIL, coalition forces carried out a series of heavy strikes over the past two days.

    On Sunday, US-led coalition forces struck five ISIS positions in Syria and 11 positions in Iraq. The targets included a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device facility — one of ISIS' most damaging weapons— and earthen bridges the group constructed and various ISIS tactical units and fighting positions.

    And on Saturday, coalition forces carried out two strikes against ISIS oil facilities in Syria.

    The US carried out its first strike against ISIS' oil trucks on November 16. The strike destroyed 116 ISIS oil trucks and marked a shift in US strategy from attacking only military targets to new attempts to disrupt ISIS' cash flow.

    ISIS controls the vast majority of oil fields and refineries in Syria and a number in Iraq. According to The New York Times, ISIS is estimated to be able to earn $40 million a month through the production and sale of oil on the black market.

    SEE ALSO: An ISIS defector explained a key reason people continue joining the group

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    Syria Bashar Assad Idlib

    The terrorist group ISIS — aka the Islamic State — frequently twists Islamic scripture to fit its needs.

    But justification for the militants' brutality doesn't stop with the Quran.

    The New York Times spoke to three ISIS defectors from Raqqa, Syria, who worked for a female "morality police" brigade before they fled to Turkey. After they joined ISIS, they were married to fighters, who provided them with some insight into how the group defends its violence.

    Here's what the women's husbands told them, according to The Times:

    They had to be savage when taking a town to minimize casualties later, the men insisted. [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's forces were targeting civilians, sweeping into homes in the middle of the night and brutalizing men in front of their wives; the fighters had no choice but to respond with equal brutality, they said.

    This likely isn't surprising to experts, who have said that the atrocities the Assad regime has committed against Syrians are the most effective recruiting tool for ISIS — even better than the slick online propaganda the group pumps out to lure in foreign fighters and brainwash the populace it controls.

    The strategic security firm The Soufan Group noted earlier this year that the Assad regime's brutal treatment of civilians encourages people inside and outside Syria to support alternate groups that are fighting for power in the country, including ISIS.

    The Syrian regime has been credibly accused of carrying out mass torture, deploying sarin nerve gas, dropping explosive steel barrels full of shrapnel and chlorine out of helicopters, encouraging starvation through sieges, and committing mass rape since the uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2011.

    "There is no justifying the actions of a group like the Islamic State or al-Nusra ... but the Assad regime's wholesale slaughter of civilians provides the groups with radicalized supporters far faster than Assad's military can then fight them," The Soufan Group said.

    Assad's atrocities also give power to ISIS's message that it can protect Syrians from the regime.

    Many are also motivated to join ISIS for protection from the group itself. When ISIS took Raqqa last year, "those who resisted, or whose family or friends had the wrong connections, were detained, tortured or killed," according to The Times.

    The women who talked to The Times said that they joined ISIS to survive and "keep life tolerable." Marrying fighters kept their families in good standing with ISIS. And joining the morality police — known as the Khansaa Brigade — allowed them some freedom of movement after ISIS implemented rules that said women could not leave their homes without a male relative to escort them.

    ISIS also offers a better quality of life for those who join the group.

    "For me, it was about power and money, mostly power," said Asma, a pseudonym for one of the women who spoke to The Times. "Since my relatives had all joined, it didn't change a great deal to join. I just had more authority."

    Read the full story at The New York Times.

    SEE ALSO: Inside the app that's become ISIS's biggest propaganda machine

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    NOW WATCH: Stadium security prevented one of the bombers from entering with an explosive vest, WSJ reports

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    Turkey reported seizing nearly 11 million pills of Captagon after two raids along its Syrian border.

    Experts say the highly addictive drug is fueling the conflict in Syria, as both ISIS militants and Syrian rebels are using the stimulant on the battlefield.

    Produced by Lamar Salter. Narration by Graham Flanagan. 

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