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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    Vladimir Putin

    Geopolitical risk is creeping back into the markets.

    The Russian ruble and markets fell after US President Donald Trump's surprise strike on Syria, and US stocks retreated after the US bombed Afghanistan with its largest non-nuclear bomb.

    Meanwhile, the Korean won and markets tumbled as tensions remain elevated around North Korea and the spread between French and German 10-years have widened as we near the French elections.

    This emotional response to political shocks and risks is typical of investor (or, more broadly, human) behavior. Geopolitical events tend to make traders and investors nervous, which then sometimes leads to volatility in financial markets.

    However, as history has shown time and time again, these events generally do not have a sustained impact on markets.

    Reviewing data on major geopolitical events in the past 100-plus years, Credit Suisse's former head of research and deputy global CIO Giles Keating and his team previously found that stocks generally bounced back after such shocks.

    "The large majority of individual major events — ranging from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand 100 years ago through to 9/11 and recent events in Iraq and Ukraine — impact major stock markets by around 10% or less, with the effect being fully reversed within a month or so," he wrote in a note to clients. "This suggests that the most profitable strategy has usually been the contrarian one of buying into price falls caused by such incidents."

    To get a better sense of what this actually looks like in the markets, we pulled a few charts of various geopolitical shocks.

    The first chart shows what the Hang Seng looked like in the immediate and long term after the Tiananmen Square protests, from a note shared by a Credit Suisse research team led by Andrew Garthwaite last year.

    "In our experience, markets tend to over-react to political shocks, as was seen in the example of Tiananmen Square — where the Hang Seng fell 22% in a single day, losing 37% from its peak over the entirety of the protest period, before steadily recovering back to previous peak over the following year," the team wrote.

    screen shot 2016 06 27 at 7.53.40 am

    The next chart from Charles Schwab's Jeffrey Kleintop shows that stocks followed similar trajectories after the Cuban Missile Crisis (left hand side) and the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 (right hand side).

    "While the [geopolitical] events are often unpredictable and the countries involved vary, the markets' reactions are often predictable," he wrote. "Our analysis of 37 geopolitical developments since 1980 reveals that stocks have not always declined in response to developments that heighten geopolitical conflict. But when they have, the global stock market averaged a 3% decline with an average duration of just seven days."

    "While a regional military conflict with significantly negative market impact is plausible, the long history of market response to military strikes and operations along with diplomatic efforts to contain the North Korean threat suggest most likely outcome is a negligible market impact," he added.


    And finally, although markets were in meltdown mode shortly after Britons voted to leave the European Union last June, stocks bounced back then, too, as you can see in the chart below.


    To be fair, there have been a several times that markets didn't recover as quickly after seismic geopolitical events such as the invasion of France in 1940 and the Yom Kippur War (which led to a complete realignment of control over global oil), according to the Credit Suisse team led by KeatingBut even then stocks saw recoveries within 2-3 years.

    Notably, Warren Buffett also champions the stay-calm-when-all-hell-breaks-loose strategy. At the height of the financial crisis, in October 2008, he wrote in a New York Times op-ed article:

    "Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497."

    As an interesting side note on the geopolitical side of things, Napoleon defined "military genius" as "a man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy."

    As some have pointed out, the same can be said of investing.

    markets cotd april 23

    SEE ALSO: 'Asia trades as if North Korea wasn’t a problem': How top bankers think about the Hermit kingdom

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    Donald Trump

    WASHINGTON — Can threatening war crimes charges persuade Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power? What about guaranteeing his safety in exile? These long-shot proposals are at the center of the Trump administration's new effort to resolve Syria's six-year civil war.

    Though still evolving, President Donald Trump's plans for Syria have come into clearer view since he ordered cruise missiles fired on a Syrian air base to punish Assad for a chemical weapons attack. The strategy breaks down into three basic phases: defeating the Islamic State group, restoring stability in Syria region-by-region and securing a political transition in which Assad ultimately steps down.

    The approach is little different than one that failed under the Obama administration, and arguably faces greater challenges.

    Assad has violently resisted all attempts to end his rule, fueling a conflict that has killed as many as a half-million people. The opposition fighting Assad is far weaker after a series of battlefield defeats. And any U.S. plan for Assad will need the cooperation of key Syria ally Russia. Trump last week said U.S.-Russian relations "may be at an all-time low."

    Still, several U.S. officials said Trump's national security team is using this month's instability in Syria to try to refocus conversations with Moscow.

    Trump's cruise missile response to Syria's chemical weapons attack bolstered U.S. arguments that Russia is backing a potential war criminal in Assad, and restored America's ability to threaten military action if more atrocities occur. The officials said they hoped instead to rejuvenate cooperation with Russia on Syria, which could help begin repairing fractured ties between Washington and Moscow.

    Trump's emerging plan includes these elements, according to several U.S. officials who weren't authorized to discuss internal policy considerations and demanded anonymity:

    Islamic State Flag

    Phase one: Defeat ISIS

    Trump's airstrikes marked the first U.S. attack against Assad's forces, but there's no appetite for using America's military to depose Assad. Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Sunday the U.S. wasn't planning to send in more ground troops.

    "Our priority remains the defeat of ISIS," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week, using another acronym for the militant group.

    The group has lost much of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria. The major exception is Raqqa, the group's self-declared capital in Syria, which the U.S. and allied rebel groups are preparing to attack in coming weeks.

    Phase two: Stabilization

    After IS is defeated or its threat neutralized, the administration will try to broker regional cease-fires between Assad's government and rebels. Such truces have rarely held.

    The Trump administration has spoken about "interim zones of stability." These would be different than the "safe zones" the Obama administration considered but never opted for because they would have required a U.S. military presence to enforce, potentially putting American aircraft in conflict with Syria's air force.

    Under Trump's plan, the Assad government would be party to the stability zones and U.S. or Arab aircraft could ostensibly patrol them without clashing with Syrian warplanes.

    With security restored, the administration hopes local leaders who were forced to flee can return and lead local governments. They could help restore basic services and police Syria. The basic idea would be Sunni forces policing predominantly Sunni areas, Kurdish forces policing Kurdish areas and so on.

    At the national level, the aim is to set up a transitional authority to govern Syria temporarily. U.N.-sponsored peace talks have striven and failed for years to establish such an authority.

    bashar al-assad

    Phase three: Transition

    Though Trump officials have made conflicting public statements about Assad's future, the emerging plan envisions a peaceful transfer of power. Assad's departure could occur in various ways.

    One possibility foresees elections held under a new constitution, with Assad barred from running.

    A grimmer possibility involves Assad going the way of former dictators Moammar Gadhafi in Libya or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, who were killed after being deposed.

    A third option aims to use the threat of war crimes charges as leverage. While the administration believes Syria's government is culpable, the key is connecting the war crimes to Assad himself.

    Successfully prosecuting Assad would be difficult for legal and geopolitical reasons.

    Beyond Russia, Assad is supported by Iran. And the Trump administration hasn't said anything yet about working with Tehran to promote peace in Syria.
    Still, it believes the threat of a war crimes investigation and an offer of safe exile somewhere outside Syria, possibly Iran or Russia, could be potentially persuasive.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told President Vladimir Putin and Russia's foreign minister last week in Moscow that such an offer and Assad's voluntary departure is the administration's preferred path, officials said.

    "The longer time goes by, it's possible that the case will be made," Tillerson said during a news conference. "And there are certain individuals who are working to make that case."

    putin assad


    Despite differences, Trump officials insist Russia's involvement is critical to resolving the war, given the influence it gained in Syria after helping Assad retake Syria's largest cities.

    It seeks Russian support by guaranteeing Russian access to the Tartus naval base and Latakia air base in any post-Assad scenario. Yet it's unclear how the U.S. could make such an assurance given the uncertainty of who would be running Syria at that point.

    Tillerson conveyed the outlines of this plan to Putin and Russian officials in Moscow, officials said, while requesting Russia to clarify its essential interests. He didn't seek an immediate response, telling Russia to think it through. It's unclear when Russia will respond, the officials said.

    SEE ALSO: Eric Trump says his 'heartbroken and outraged' sister Ivanka helped persuade their father to strike Syria

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    al jinah syria airstrike

    US forces failed to take necessary precautions before launching a lethal drone strike in northern Syria last month that hit a mosque full of worshippers, three separate investigations have revealed.

    Research by Human Rights Watch (HRW), London-based Forensic Architecture and open-source investigative unit Bellingcat reveal that US air strikes hit a western Aleppo mosque on March 16, killing at least 38 people and injuring dozens of others.

    US Central Command (CENTCOM) claimed they targeted "an al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location", killing "dozens of core al-Qaeda terrorists" after thorough surveillance. 

    But interviews with locals, coupled with photographs and video of the building, show it was a well known mosque in the village of al-Jinah that hosted lectures every Thursday evening, according to the investigation. 

    Researchers also allege that the US launched Hellfire missiles at civilians as they fled the mosque.

    Ole Solvang, lead researcher on the HRW investigation, told Al Jazeera that: "US forces failed to take the necessary precautions to minimise civilian casualties. Based on statements from US military personnel, they didn't know this was a mosque, which reflects poorly on their intel."

    HRW interviewed by phone 14 people with first-hand knowledge of the attack, including four who were in the mosque at the time of the attack.

    In carrying out the investigation, HRW used research provided by Bellingcat, which analysed video footage and photographs from the attack, and Forensic Architecture, which created models of the mosque and a reconstruction of the attack.

    The three organisations conducted "separate but complementary" investigations into the attack, said Solvang.

    "Our analysis reveals that contrary to US statements, the building targeted was a functioning, recently built mosque containing a large prayer hall, several auxiliary functions and the Imam's residence," according to Forensic Architecture.

    Witnesses told HRW that the attack began about an hour after the Maghrib (sunset) prayer and roughly 15 minutes before the Isha'a (night) prayer. 

    "Even if there were armed group members in the mosque, understanding the nature of the targeted building and the pattern of life around the building would be crucial to assess the risk to civilians and take necessary precautions to minimise civilian casualties," HRW's report said.

    "Striking a mosque just before prayer and then attacking people attempting to flee the area without knowing whether they were civilians or combatants may well have been disproportionate and a violation of the laws of war even if there were armed group members in the mosque."

    Four witnesses that researchers at Human Rights Watch spoke with estimated there were 300 people attending a religious lecture at the mosque when the attack began.

    After the drone destroyed the northern segments of the building with two 500lb bombs, worshipers who fled where then targeted with what researchers from Forensic Architecture and HRW identified as likely Hellfire missiles.

    syria map

    US forces often use "double tap" tactics when targeting al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and it would appear that they were operating on this premise in al-Jinah as well. 

    "We can't say that they deliberately targeted civilians, but ... nonetheless, they were civilians according to the information that we have," said Solvang.

    "People who attend the mosque and locals both said it was run by peaceful people, and first responders told us they did not find any weapons amidst the rubble."

    Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said at the time of the strike that US surveillance of the target area indicated evening prayers had concluded before the attack.

    He said the building that was struck was a "partially constructed community meeting hall" that al-Qaeda leaders used to gather and "as a place to educate and indoctrinate al-Qaeda fighters".

    HRW has called for a full and transparent investigation into the attack, and has asked that all findings be released in as much detail as possible. 

    "When viewed in the context of increasing civilian casualties, both in Syria and Iraq ... we are concerned that these are signs of less stringent procedure and verification of targets," said Solvang. 

    The US is leading a coalition of nations in the fight against ISIL in both Syria and Iraq. 

    Coalition air strikes on Monday killed at least 13 civilians in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Az Zor, according to a UK-based monitor.

    Last month, US strikes in neighbouring Iraq killed as many as 200 civilians in one day.

    According to a recent report by Airwars, a group that monitors US-led coalition air strikes, March was the deadliest month yet in the coalition's 32-month-long campaign in Iraq an Syria.

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    A view shows damaged buildings in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria February 19, 2014. Picture taken February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - A war monitor said air strikes, thought to be by planes from a U.S.-led military coalition, killed at least 23 people in two parts of the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor on Monday.

    There was no immediate comment from the coalition which has said it tries to avoid civilian deaths in its bombing campaigns against Islamic State militants in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

    Jets "believed to belong to the international coalition" struck the town of al-Bukamal in the south of the province near the Iraqi border, killing three militants and 13 civilians including children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

    The Britain-based war monitoring group said air strikes also killed seven civilians in the town of al-Husainiyah further north along the Euphrates river.

    Islamic State militants control most of Deir al-Zor province, which links territory they hold in Syria and Iraq, and parts of the provincial capital, which has the same name.

    The Syrian government still controls some parts of Deir al-Zor city, including a nearby military air base, where Islamic State has besieged about 200,000 people lacking food and medicine for around two years.

    Syrian government forces and their allies, backed by Russian air power, have been fighting back against Islamic State assaults in the area.

    (Reporting by Ellen Francis; editing by Andrew Heavens)

    SEE ALSO: Trump seems to be delivering on his campaign promise to ‘bomb the hell out of ISIS’

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    NOW WATCH: PUTIN: The US is planning false-flag attacks in Syria to frame Assad for using chemical weapons

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    Stephen Colbert Trump easter cbs

    "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" had been on hiatus for the last 10 days, so there was a lot to catch up on when the host returned in full force on Monday night.

    He tackled not only the festivities at the White House Easter Egg Roll that happened earlier that day, including the First Lady Melania Trump nudging her husband so he would put his hand over his heart during the playing of the National Anthem, and the official White House Snapchat account misspelling "education" in a post showing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reading to children. He also gave time to Trump's interview last week with Fox Business, in which he talked about what he was doing when he gave the order to bomb Syria, and made an embarrassing and awkward mistake.

    "Obviously, when you are bombing another country, that is a decision you take very seriously, so he did it in the Situation Room with all available intel — just kidding," Colbert said.

    He then explained that Trump was eating dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Florida resort Mar-o-Largo. Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo asked Trump when he told Jinping about the bombing — before dessert?

    "When did you bomb those people, before dessert?" Colbert said. "What's the proper wine pairing with a cruise missile? Is it a Merlot?"

    In fact, Trump said, he and Jinping were eating "the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you've ever seen" when Trump informed the Chinese leader that "we just launched 59 missles heading to Iraq."

    At that point, Bartiromo corrected the president, telling him that the missiles were launched at Syria.

    "Whoopsie, I got the wrong country!" Colbert said, mocking Trump. "It's adorable."

    Watch Colbert look back at the White House Easter Egg Roll and Trump's blunder about Syria below:


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    Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters stand with their weapons north of Raqqa city, Syria March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    U.S.-allied militias in northern Syria announced on Tuesday the formation of a civilian council to govern Raqqa after their planned capture of the city from Islamic State militants.

    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include a large contingent from the powerful Kurdish YPG militia, has advanced toward Raqqa with the help of air strikes and special forces from the U.S.-led coalition.

    The SDF - made up of both Kurds and Arabs waging a military campaign against Islamic State - said local officials had been setting up the council for six months.

    Reuters reported last month that the political wing of the SDF was helping to install a civilian council to run the eastern Syrian city, Islamic State's base of operations in Syria.

    A preparatory committee met "with the people and important tribal figures of Raqqa city to find out their opinions on how to govern it", the SDF said in a statement.

    Spokesman Talal Selo said the SDF would "provide all the support" and had already turned over some towns around Raqqa city to the council after driving out Islamic State militants.

    The extent of Kurdish control in Raqqa's future is sensitive both for residents and for Ankara, which has fought a three-decade Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey and fears growing YPG ascendancy just over the border in northern Syria.

    us special forces raqqa syria

    The United States says a final decision has yet to be made on how and when Raqqa will be captured. But the SDF is pressing its assault near the city to isolate and ultimately take Raqqa while plans for civilian rule take shape.

    The establishment of a local council allied to the SDF in Raqqa could expand a sphere of Kurdish influence that has grown in northern Syria during the six-year, multi-sided conflict. It would mirror governing arrangements put in place in the Manbij area after the SDF repelled Islamic State.

    SEE ALSO: US-backed Syrian forces are a 'few weeks' away from ISIS-held Raqqa

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    A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

    PARIS (Reuters) - French intelligence services will provide proof in the coming days that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons in an attack on April 4, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Wednesday.

    "There is an investigation underway (by) the French intelligence services and military intelligence ... it's a question of days and we will provide proof that the regime carried out these strikes," Ayrault told LCP television.

    "We have elements that will enable us to show that the regime knowingly used chemical weapons," he said.

    (Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Ingrid Melander)

    SEE ALSO: Trump's policy on Syria emerges after he ordered a military strike on the Assad regime

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    FILE PHOTO: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Croatian newspaper Vecernji List in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 6, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS  The United States warned Israel two hours before two US warships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against the Syrian regime’s Al Shayrat Airbase, a senior IDF official said on Wednesday.

    Following the strikes, the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit put out a statement saying that Israel’s military had been briefed in advance and expressed their support for the strikes and speaking to military journalists at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, the senior official confirmed that the IDF had been warned ahead of time of the US strike against the base where warplanes that carried out the deadly Khan Sheikhoun chemical gas attack were based. 

    While the Syrian military continues to deny responsibility for the attack against Khan Sheikhoun, blaming the rebels and stating that it would never use chemical weapons, "it is hard to imagine that Assad did not know about the attack in advance. And the price he’s paid for it is severe. He’s lost all legitimacy," the senior official said.

    The Assad regime agreed to dismantle the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles in a 2013 deal brokered by the United States and Russia following the deadly regime attack on East Ghouta near the capital of Damascus where over 1,400 people were killed, including 426 children.

    While the regime did comply with destroying much of their stockpiles as well as the infrastructure to produce them, removing over 1,290 metric tons of chemical weapons – including sarin, VX and sulfur mustard, a precursor to mustard gas – according to the senior official, the Assad regime has residual amounts of between 1-3 tons of the deadly chemical agent.

    According to him, the Assad regime had carried out the Sarin gas attack against the town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing close to 100 civilians, out of frustration that despite the significant help Syria is getting from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, regime troops are unable to make any serious advances on the ground. 

    While two years ago there may have been an Iranian hegemony in Syria, there was now Russian hegemony in West Syria, he said, but "even with support from the Russians and Hezbollah, Assad cannot control the entire country.  His forces are gaining ground in Western Syria but it is hard to see him controlling the entire country."

    The senior IDF official stated that it was unlikely that a political settlement to the conflict in Syria will be agreed to in the near future.

    "The Syria we once knew is gone and will never be again."

    SEE ALSO: ISIS troops reportedly targeted US advisers with a mustard agent in Iraq

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    US bombing in war in Afghanistan

    Make no mistake: After 15 years of losing wars, spreading terror movements, and multiplying failed states across the Greater Middle East, America will fight the next versions of our ongoing wars.

    Not that we ever really stopped. Sure, Washington traded in George W. Bush’s expansive, almost messianic attitude toward his Global War on Terror for Barack Obama’s more precise, deliberate, even cautious approach to an unnamed version of the same war for hegemony in the Greater Middle East.

    Sure, in the process kitted-up 19 year-olds from Iowa became less ubiquitous features on Baghdad’s and Kabul’s busy boulevards, even if that distinction was lost on the real-life targets of America’s wars — and the bystanders (call them “collateral damage”) scurrying across digital drone display screens.

    It’s hardly a brilliant observation to point out that, more than 15 years later, the entire region is a remarkable mess. So much worse off than Washington found it, even if all of that mess can’t simply be blamed on the United States — at least not directly.

    It’s too late now, as the Trump administration is discovering, to retreat behind two oceans and cover our collective eyes. And yet, acts that might still do some modest amount of good (resettling refugees, sending aid, brokering truces, anything within reason to limit suffering) don’t seem to be on any American agenda.

    So, after 16 years of inconclusive or catastrophic regional campaigns, maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about how to make things better in the Greater Middle East and try instead to imagine how to make things worse (since that’s the path we often seem to take anyway). Here, then, is a little thought experiment for you: What if Washington actually wanted to lose? How might the U.S. government go about accomplishing that? Let me offer a quick (and inevitably incomplete) to-do list on the subject:

    As a start, you would drop an enlarged, conventional army into Iraq and/or Syria. This would offer a giant red, white, and blue target for all those angry, young radicalized men just dying (pardon the pun) to extinguish some new “crusader” force. It would serve as an effective religious-nationalist rallying cry (and target) throughout the region.

    Then you would create a news-magnet of a ban (or at least the appearance of one) on immigrants and visitors of every sort from predominantly Muslim countries coming to the United States.

    It’s hardly an accident that ISIS has taken to calling the president’s proposed executive order to do just that “the blessed ban” and praising Donald Trump as the “best caller to Islam.” Such actions only confirm the extremist narrative: that Muslims are unwelcome in and incompatible with the West, that liberal plurality is a neo-imperial scam.

    U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

    Finally, you would feed the common perception in the region that Washington’s support for Israel and assorted Arab autocrats is unconditional.

    To do so, you would go out of your way to hold fawning public meetings with military strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and suggest that, when it came to Israel, you were considering changing American policy when it comes to a two-state solution and the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine.

    Such policies would feed another ISIS narrative: U.S. support for illiberal despots and the failure of the Arab Spring is proof that practicing Muslims and peaceful Islamists will never successfully gain power through the democratic process.

    Key to such a losing strategy would be doing anything you could to reinforce ISIS’s twisted narrative of an end-of-days battle between Islam and Christendom, a virtuous East versus a depraved West, an authentic caliphate against hypocritical democracies.

    In what amounts to a war of ideas, pursuing such policies would all but hand victory to ISIS and other jihadi extremist groups. And so you would have successfully created a strategy for losing eternally in the Greater Middle East. And if that was the desired outcome in Washington, well, congratulations all around, but of course we all know that it wasn’t.

    Let’s take these three points in such a losing strategy one by one. (Of course “losing” is itself a contested term, but for our purposes, consider the U.S. to have lost as long as its military spins its wheels in a never-ending quagmire, while gradually empowering various local “adversaries.”)

    Just a few thousand more troops will get it done …

    fallujah iraq us marinesThere are already thousands of American soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Syria, to say nothing of the even more numerous troops and sailors stationed on bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, and other states ringing America’s Middle Eastern battlefields.

    Still, if you want to mainline into the fastest way to lose the next phase of the war on terror, just blindly acquiesce in the inevitable requests of your commanders for yet more troops and planes needed to finish the job in Syria (and Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Yemen, and so on).

    Let’s play this out. First, the worst (and most plausible) case: U.S. ground forces get sucked into an ever more complex, multi-faceted civil war — deeper and deeper still, until one day they wake up in a world that looks like Baghdad, 2007, all over again.

    Or, lest we be accused of defeatism, consider the best case: those endlessly fortified and reinforced American forces wipe the floor with ISIS and just maybe manage to engineer the toppling of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime as well. It’s V-Day in the Middle East! And then what? What happens the day after? When and to whom do American troops turn over power?

    The Kurds? That’s a nonstarter for Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, all countries with significant Kurdish minorities.

    The Saudis? Don’t count on it. They’re busy bombing Houthi Shias in Yemen (with U.S.-supplied ordnance) and grappling with the diversification of their oil-based economy in a world in which fossil fuels are struggling.

    Russia? Fat chance. Bombing “terrorists”? Yes. Propping up an autocratic client to secure basing rights? Sure. Temporary transactional alliances of convenience in the region? Absolutely. But long-term nation-building in the heart of the Middle East? It’s just not the style of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a country with its own shaky petro-economy.

    So maybe leave Assad in power and turn the country back over to what’s left of his minority, Alawite-dominated regime? That, undoubtedly, is the road to hell. After all, it was his murderous, barrel-bombing, child-gassing acts that all but caused the civil war in the first place.

    You can be sure that, sooner or later, Syria’s majority Sunni population and its separatist Kurds would simply rebel again, while (as the last 15 years should have taught us) an even uglier set of extremists rose to the surface.

    ISIS Iraq Mosul civilian refugeeKeep in mind as well that, when it comes to the U.S. military, the Iraqi and Afghan “surges” of 2007 and 2009 offered proof positive that more ground troops aren’t a cure-all in such situations.

    They are a formula for expending prodigious amounts of money and significant amounts of blood, while only further alienating local populations.

    Meanwhile, unleashing manned and drone aircraft strikes, which occasionally kill large numbers of civilians, only add to the ISIS narrative.

    Every mass casualty civilian bombing or drone strike incident just detracts further from American regional credibility.

    While both air strikes and artillery barrages may hasten the offensive progress of America’s Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian allies, that benefit needs to be weighed against the moral and propaganda costs of those dead women and children. For proof, see the errant bombing strike on an apartment building in Mosul last month.

    After all, those hundred-plus civilians are just as dead as Assad’s recent victims and just as many angry, grieving family members and friends have been left behind.

    In other words, any of the familiar U.S. strategies, including focusing all efforts on ISIS or toppling Assad, or a bit of both, won’t add up to a real policy for the region. No matter how the Syrian civil war shakes out, Washington will need a genuine “what next” plan.

    Unfortunately, if the chosen course predictably relies heavily on the military lever to shape Syria’s shattered society, America’s presence and actions will only (as in the past) aggravate the crisis and help rejuvenate its many adversaries.

    "The Blessed Ban"

    The Trump administration’s proposed “travel ban” quickly became fodder for left-versus-right vitriol in the U.S. Here’s a rundown on what it’s likely to mean when it comes to foreign policy and the “next” war.

    First, soaring domestic fears over jihadi terror attacks in this country and the possible role of migrants and refugees in stoking them represent a potentially catastrophic over-reaction to a modest threat. Annually, from 2005 to 2015, terrorists killed an average of just seven Americans on U.S. soil. You are approximately 18,000 times more likely to die in some sort of accident than from such an attack. In addition, according to a study by the conservative Cato Institute, from 1975 to 2015 citizens of the countries included in Trump’s first ban (including Iraq and Syria) killed precisely zero people in the United States. Nor has any refugee conducted a fatal domestic attack here. Finally, despite candidate and President Trump’s calls for “extreme vetting” of Muslim refugees, the government already has a complex, two-year vetting process for such refugees which is remarkably “extreme.”

    Those are the facts. What truly matters, however, is the effect of such a ban on the war of ideas in the Middle East. In short, it’s manna from heaven for ISIS’s storyline in which Americans are alleged to hate all Muslims. It tells you everything you need to know that, within days of the administration’s announcement of its first ban, ISIS had taken to labeling it “blessed,” just as al-Qaeda once extolled George W. Bush’s 2003 “blessed invasion” of Iraq. Even Senator John McCain, a well-known hawk, worried that Trump’s executive order would “probably give ISIS some more propaganda.”

    Remember, while ISIS loves to claim responsibility for every attack in the West perpetrated by lost, disenfranchised, identity-seeking extremist youths, that doesn’t mean the organization actually directs them. The vast majority of these killers are self-radicalized citizens, not refugees or immigrants. One of the most effective — and tragic — ways to lose this war is to prove the jihadis right. 

    ISIS Iraq Fighters

    The hypocrisy trap

    Another way to feed the ISIS narrative is to bolster perceptions of diplomatic insincerity.

    Americans tend to be some of the least self-aware citizens on the planet. (Is it a coincidence that ours is about the only population left still questioning the existence of climate change?) Among the rare things that Democrats and Republicans agree on, however, is that America is a perennial force for good, in fact the force for good on Earth. As it happens, the rest of the world begs to differ.

    In Gallup global polls, the United States has, in fact, been identified as the number one threat to world peace! However uncomfortable that may be, it matters.

    One reason many Middle Easterners, in particular, believe this to be so stems from Washington’s longstanding support for regional autocrats. In fiscal year 2017, Egypt’s military dictator and Jordan’s king will receive $1.46 and $1 billion respectively in U.S. foreign aid — nearly 7 percent of its total assistance budget.

    After leading a coup to overturn Egypt’s elected government, General Sisi was officially persona non grata in the White House under the last administration (though President Obama reinstated $1.3 billion in military aid in 2015). Sisi’s recent visit to the Trump White House changed all that as, in a joint press conference, the president swore that he was “very much behind” Egypt and that Sisi himself had “done a fantastic job.”

    In another indicator of future policy, the State Department dropped existing human rights conditions for the multibillion-dollar sale of F-16s to Bahrain’s monarchy. All of this might be of mild interest, if it weren’t for the way it bolstered ISIS claims that democracy is just an “idol,” and the democratic process a fraud that American presidents simply ignore.

    benjamin netanyahuThen there’s Israel, already the object of deep hatred in the region, and now clearly about to receive a blank check of support from the Trump administration.

    The role that Israeli leaders already play in American domestic politics is certainly striking to Arab audiences.

    Consider how unprecedented it was in 2015 to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticize a sitting president before a joint session of Congress in an Israeli election year and receive multiple, bipartisan standing ovations.

    Even so, none of this prevented the Obama administration, domestically labeled “weak on Israel,” from negotiating a record $38 billion military aid deal with that country.

    While violent Palestinian fighters are far from blameless, for 40 years Israel has increasingly created facts on the ground meant to preclude a viable Palestinian state. Netanyahu and his predecessors increased illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories, built an exclusion wall, and further divided the West Bank by constructing a network of roads meant only for the Israeli military and Jewish settlers.

    Although most world leaders, publics, and the United Nations see the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a major impediment to peace, the current U.S. ambassador to Israel was once the president of a fundraising group supporting just such an Israeli settlement. The notion that he could be an honest broker in peace talks borders on the farcical.

    All of this, of course, matters when it comes to Washington’s unending wars in the region. Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis, soon after leaving the helm of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), recognized that he “paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.” So, you want to lose? Keep feeding the ISIS narrative on democracy and Israel just as the Trump administration is doing, even as it sends more troops into the region and heightens bombing and drone raids from Syria to Yemen.

    Send in the cavalry …

    polish cavalryIf the next phase of the generational struggle for the Middle East is once again to be essentially a military one, while the Trump administration feeds every negative American stereotype in the region, then it’s hard to see a future of anything but defeat.

    A combination of widespread American ignorance and the intellectual solace of simplistic models lead many here to ascribe jihadist terrorism to some grand, ethereal hatred of “Christendom.”

    The reality is far more discomfiting. Consider, for instance, a document from “ancient” history: Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the United States.

    At that time, he described three tangible motives for jihad: U.S. occupation of Islam’s holiest lands in the Middle East, U.S. attacks on and sanctions against Iraq, and American support for Israel’s “occupation” of Jerusalem. If ISIS and al-Qaeda’s center of gravity is not their fighting force but their ideology (as I believe it is), then the last thing Washington should want to do is substantiate any of these three visions of American motivation — unless, of course, the goal is to lose the war on terror across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa.

    In that case, the solution is obvious: Washington should indeed insert more troops and set up yet more bases in the region, maintain unqualified support for right-wing Israeli governments and assorted Arab autocrats, and do its best to ban Muslim refugees from America. That, after all, represents the royal road to affirming al-Qaeda’s, and now ISIS’s, overarching narratives. It’s a formula — already well used in the last 15 years — for playing directly into the enemy’s hands and adhering to its playbook, for creating yet more failed states and terror groups throughout the region.

    syrian refugees

    When it comes to Syria in particular, there are some shockingly unexamined contradictions at the heart of Washington’s reactions to its war there. President Trump, for instance, recently spoke emotionally about the “beautiful babies cruelly murdered” in Idlib, Syria. Yet the administration’s executive order on travel bans any Syrian refugees — including beautiful babies — from entering this country. If few Americans recognize the incongruity or hypocrisy of this, you can bet that isn’t true in the Arab world.

    For ISIS, today’s struggle in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere is part of an unremitting, apocalyptic holy war between Islam and the West. That narrative is demonstrably false. The current generation of jihadis sprang from tangible grievances and perceived humiliations perpetrated by recent Western policies. There was nothing “eternal” about it. The first recorded suicide bombings in the Middle East didn’t erupt until the early 1980s. So forget the thousand-year struggle or even, in Western terms, the “clash of civilizations.” It took America’s military-first policies in the region to generate what has now become perpetual war with spreading terror insurgencies.

    Want a formula for forever war? Send in the cavalry… again.

    SEE ALSO: The US just dropped the 'mother of all bombs' on ISIS in Afghanistan — here's what the blast looks like

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    Syria Victim Chemical Weapons Idlib

    PARIS (AP) — France says it will provide proof within days that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime carried out the April 4 chemical attack in Syria that killed at least 90 people.

    Speaking Wednesday evening on French TV, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: "We will provide proof that the regime did indeed organize these strikes with chemical weapons."

    He said he couldn't provide evidence now because analysis is still underway but added: "In a few days I'll be able to provide proof."

    Assad has denied that he was behind the attack. Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal in 2013.

    Speaking Thursday, French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon called on the United Nations to punish those behind the attack and said "whoever uses chemical weapons should be condemned."

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    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with AFP news agency in Damascus, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 13, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

    JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli defense officials said on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad still has up to three tons of chemical weapons.

    The assessment, based on Israeli intelligence, was revealed to reporters two weeks after a chemical attack in Syria killed at least 90 people. Israel, along with much of the international community, believes that Assad's forces carried out the attack.

    A senior military official told reporters that the Israeli intelligence estimates that Assad has "between one and three tons" of chemical weapons.

    The assessment was confirmed by two other defense officials. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity under military briefing rules.

    Assad has denied the allegations that he was behind the April 4 attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhun in Syria's southern Idlib province.

    The United States and many other nations have called the attack a chemical weapons attack and accused the Syrian government of responsibility. In response, the United States fired nearly 60 missiles at a Syrian air base it suspected of being the launching pad for the attack. Israel, which welcomed the U.S. strike, was notified two hours ahead of time, the military official said.

    The Syrian government has been locked in a six-year civil war against an array of opposition forces. The fighting has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced half of Syria's population.

    Assad agreed in 2013 to declare and dispose of all his chemical weapons under U.N. supervision, but his forces have repeatedly been accused of using them since then.

    The disarmament, which was carried out amid a chaotic conflict, has always been the subject of some doubt, and there is evidence that the Islamic State group and other insurgents have acquired chemical weapons.

    A fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog, is investigating the incident and is expected to issue a report within two weeks.

    Turkish and British tests also have concluded that sarin or a substance similar to the deadly nerve agent was used in the Idlib attack.

    syria chlorine gas attack

    Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal to avert U.S. strikes in September 2013, following a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs in August that year that killed hundreds of people and sparked worldwide outrage.

    Ahead of disarmament, Assad's government disclosed it had some 1,300 tons of chemical weapons, including sarin, VX nerve agent and mustard gas.

    The entire stockpile was said to have been dismantled and shipped out under international supervision in 2014 and destroyed. The chemical weapons were shipped outside Syria and destroyed abroad, with the most toxic material disposed of at sea aboard a U.S. ship. But doubts began to emerge soon afterward that not all such armaments or production facilities were declared and destroyed.

    Earlier this week, Assad's former chemical weapons research chief told Britain's The Telegraph that Syria had "at least 2,000 tons" of chemical weapons before the war and only declared 1,300.

    Former Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat said the Syrian government still possessed hundreds of tons of chemical weapons.

    Israel has largely stayed out of the civil war raging in its northern neighbor. But it has carried out a number air strikes against suspected arms shipments bound for Assad's ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in retaliation to errant fire into the Golan Heights.

    SEE ALSO: A lawyer who provided legal assistance to the alleged 9/11 mastermind says even al Qaeda operatives are 'disturbed' by ISIS

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    A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Sarin or a similar banned toxin was used in an attack in Syria's Idlib province on April 4 that killed nearly 90 people, the global chemical weapons watchdog said on Wednesday.

    The finding supported earlier testing by Turkish and British laboratories.

    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said results of the analysis "indicate that sarin or a sarin like substance was used".

    "While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible," Uzumcu said. 

    The finding was based on tests on bio-medical samples collected from three victims during their autopsies that were analyzed at two OPCW-designated laboratories, the OPCW said.

    "Bio-medical samples from seven individuals undergoing treatment at hospitals ... (also) indicate exposure to sarin or a sarin like substance," Uzumcu said.

    The US launched 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat airfield and nearby military infrastructure controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad in response to the attack earlier this month. 

    "No child of god should suffer such horror," US President Donald Trump said, following the strike. "It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons."

    (Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alison Williams)

    SEE ALSO: US launches more than 50 cruise missiles at Assad regime airfield over Syrian chemical attack

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    NOW WATCH: Former State Department official: Here's the biggest mistake the US made with Syria

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    U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk

    After having as many as 24 of its planes destroyed in a salvo of 59 cruise missiles from US Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea on April 7, Syria has repositioned its jets to bases protected by Russian missile defenses, according to CNN.

    "The Syrian air force is not in good shape," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon, according to CNN. "It's been worn down by years of combat plus some ... significant maintenance problems."

    Still, combined with the dozens of planes from his Russian backers, Syrian President Bashar Assad has an asymmetrical air advantage over his adversaries — rebel groups that have little more than a few anti-aircraft missile launchers.

    The move to bases near Russian missile defenses provides Syria with a clear deterrent against further US strikes. Experts say Russia's S-300 and S-400 anti-air defenses can knock down Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were used in the April 7 strike.

    Additionally, Russia has moved three warships to Syria's coast, further complicating the US's options should it launch another strike.

    US officials have repeatedly stressed that they are "prepared to do more" against Assad's regime should more evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria appear, but the recent developments on the battlefield mean an engagement would be much more dangerous.

    Russia S 400 Triumph Missile Systems

    Igor Sutyagin of the Royal United Services Institute an expert on Russian missile defense systems and strategic armaments, told Business Insider that the presence of Russian defenses didn't guarantee the safety of Syria's planes.

    "One air defense battalion with an S-300 has 32 missiles," Sutyagin said. "They will fire these against 16 targets — maybe against cruise missiles they would fire a one-to-one ratio — but to prevent the target from evading, you always launch two ... but what if there are 50 targets?"

    To further avoid detection, the US could use stealth aircraft like F-22s currently stationed in the theater.

    f-22 f22 raptor inherent resolve arabian sea

    Although the US could still carry out an attack against Syrian and Russian military targets, it would run a huge risk of killing Russian service members. The US warned Moscow ahead of the April 7 strike on Shayrat air base.

    In this situation, where the target is Russian air defenses or planes on Russian bases, it's unclear if the Russians would back away from their hardware, and killing Russian service members would risk massive escalation.

    SEE ALSO: Russia and the US seem to be edging closer to war over the Syrian chemical-weapons attack

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    Bashar al Assad

    Syrian President Bashar Assad has been widely accused of war crimes for the mass torture and killings carried out by his military throughout more than six years of civil war. 

    Assad has managed to cling to power thanks to a brutal scorched earth campaign on Syrian rebel groups and civilians, with the help of Russian warplanes and Iranian proxy militias.

    The embattled president's rise to power was initially met with optimism in the west, where it was believed the younger Assad would not rule with as heavy a hand as his father. But when protests inspired by the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, Assad responded with force.

    Here is a look at Assad's rise and continued stronghold on Syria, which has been gripped by one of the most catastrophic conflicts in decades.

    SEE ALSO: The US just attacked Assad for the first time — here’s how Syria's six-year civil war has unfolded

    Born on September 11, 1965, Bashar Assad is the third child of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad and his wife Anisa.

    Source: CNN

    As the second son of a president who came to power after a coup, Assad was never expected to take over the presidency from his father.

    Source: CNN

    Assad received a medical degree from the University of Damascus and moved to study ophthalmology at the Western Eye Hospital in London.

    Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Avigdor Lieberman James Mattis

    TEL AVIV, Israel — Syria still possesses chemical weapons, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in Israel on Friday, warning against the banned munitions being used again.

    At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Mattis also said that in recent days the Syrian Air Force had dispersed its combat aircraft. The implication is that Syria may be concerned about additional US strikes following the cruise-missile attack earlier this month in retaliation for alleged Syrian use of sarin gas.

    Mattis spoke alongside Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. "There can be no doubt in the international community's mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all," Mattis said. He said he didn't want to elaborate on the amount Syria had to avoid revealing sources of intelligence.

    "I can say authoritatively they have retained some, it's a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it's going to have to be taken up diplomatically, and they would be ill advised to try to use any again — we made that very clear with our strike," he said.

    Israeli defense officials said this week that Syria still had up to 3 tons of chemical weapons in its possession. It was the first specific intelligence assessment of President Bashar Assad's weapons capabilities since a deadly chemical attack earlier this month.

    Lieberman also refused to go into detail but said, "We have 100% information that Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebels."

    Assad has strongly denied he was behind the attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria's northern Idlib province, and he has accused the opposition of trying to frame his government. Russia, a top Assad ally, has asserted a Syrian government airstrike hit a rebel chemical-weapons factory, causing the disaster.

    In response to the April 4 attack, the US fired 59 missiles at a Syrian air base it said was the launching pad for the attack.


    The Syrian government has been locked in a six-year civil war against an array of opposition forces. The fighting has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced half of Syria's population.

    Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting, though it has carried out numerous airstrikes on suspected Iranian weapons shipments it believed were bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah, both bitter enemies of Israel, along with Russia have sent forces to support Assad.

    Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal to avert US strikes following a chemical weapons attack in opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 that killed hundreds of people and sparked worldwide outrage.

    Ahead of that disarmament, Assad's government disclosed it had some 1,300 tons of chemical weapons, including sarin, VX nerve agent, and mustard gas.

    The entire stockpile was said to have been dismantled and shipped out under international supervision in 2014 and destroyed. But doubts began to emerge soon afterward that not all such armaments or production facilities were declared and destroyed. There also is evidence that the Islamic State group and other insurgents have acquired chemical weapons.

    Later Mattis was meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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    turkey syria

    Two Turkish soldiers died and two more were wounded in a clash with Kurdish militants in a rural area of southeast Turkey near the Iraqi border on Friday, the armed forces said.

    The military later said six militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) had been "neutralized" in the ensuing operation in the region, which it said was still underway.

    The firefight occurred in the Uludere district of Sirnak province, a military statement said.

    The latest violence followed a week of clashes between the Turkish military and PKK militants in which more than 45 PKK fighters have been killed, state news agency Anadolu said.

    A ceasefire between the Turkish state and the militants broke down in July 2015 and the southeast subsequently saw some of the worst violence since the PKK launched its insurgency in 1984.

    More than 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed in the conflict. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.


    SEE ALSO: MATTIS: 'No doubt' Syria still has chemical weapons

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    putin assadSyrian President Bashar Assad says he is not considering asking Russia to send in the troops to help the government fight the Islamic State group.

    Russia, a key backer of the Assad regime, has been providing air cover for government operations since 2015 but has not provided boots on the ground.

    Asked about the possibility of expanding Russia's role in Syria, Assad said in an interview with the RIA Novosti news agency on Friday that "what has been done so far is good and sufficient."

    He added, however, that Russia troops "might be needed" in the future "if more terrorists from all over the world are brought" to Syria.


    SEE ALSO: Syria put its jets under Russian protection, and the US risks all-out war if there's another strike

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    Jeremy Corbyn

    LONDON — A Labour government would suspend British air strikes against targets in war-torn Syria, leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Sunday.

    Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Corbyn said that if elected prime minister he would urge US President Donald Trump to stop launching attacks on Syrian targets and instead focus on renewing international peace talks.

    RAF warplanes are currently engaged in hitting ISIS targets in Syria and other countries in the region but UK government has decided not to follow Trump's lead by launching attacks the Assad regime.

    Asked about whether Britain would continue to take part in strikes under his leadership, Corbyn said: "I would say to President Trump 'Listen, it's nobody's interests for this war to continue. Let's get the Geneva process going quickly.

    "In the meantime, no more strikes. Have the UN investigation into the war crime of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and take it on from there."

    He added: "I want us to say 'Listen, let's get people around the table quickly'. A way of achieving that – suspend the strikes? Possibly. The point has to be to bring about a political solution."

    Corbyn, who has been a lifelong opponent of military intervention overseas, also refused to confirm whether he would be willing to authorise a drone strike on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi if British intelligence learnt his whereabouts.

    "What is the objective here? Is the objective to start more strikes which may kill many innocent people, as has happened, or is the objective to get a political solution in Syria? Approach it from that position," he told Marr.

    "I think the leader of Isis not being around would be helpful. I am no supporter or defender in any way whatsoever of ISIS. But I would also argue that the bombing campaign has killed a large number of civilians who are virtually prisoners of ISIS, so you have got to think about these things."

    Tory party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin said the country would be at greater risk of terrorist attack if governed by the Labour leader as he is "not suitable" to make "uncomfortable decisions" relating to terrorism and security. 

    Corbyn pledges to 'transform the lives' of the Scottish public

    Corbyn is currently campaigning around the country head of the general election on June 8. Today he is in Scotland, where he will tell voters that a Labour government will "transform the lives" of the Scottish public.

    He is set to pledge a pay rise for half a million Scots by raising the national minimum wage to £10 an hour, a Brexit deal that will "protect working people," and the repeal of the Trade Unions Act to give workers greater protections.

    Corbyn is set to tell the Scottish Trades Union Congress on Monday: "While the timing of the election was unexpected, the choice is clear and the stakes are high. Let no-one be in any doubt — we are in this election to win it and we will fight for every seat in every corner of these isles.

     "The choice facing the country is clear. It's the people versus the powerful. Labour will challenge the rigged system that is holding our country back. And just like trade unions, we will stand for the many not the few," he will say.

    "Labour will never, ever apologise for the closeness of our relationship with the trade union movement – you are our family."

    Current polling indicates Theresa May's Conservatives are heading for a landslide victory at the snap general election.

    An ICM poll published on Sunday gave the Tories a 22-point lead over Corbyn's Labour with the government set to return to office with an increased majority and considerably stronger grip on the House of Commons.

    Over the weekend, Corbyn said a Labour government would introduce four new bank holidays to celebrate the diversity of British history. They would fall on the patron saint's day of each of the home nations and apply to the whole of the UK: St George's Day, St David's Day, St Andrew's Day and St Patrick's Day.

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    BEIRUT (AP) — Many don't speak Arabic and their role in Syria is little known to the outside world, but the Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria are organized, battled-hardened and have been instrumental in ground offensives against President Bashar Assad's forces in the country's northern regions.

    Thousands of Chinese jihadis have come to Syria since the country's civil war began in March 2011 to fight against government forces and their allies.

    Some have joined the al-Qaida's branch in the country previously known as Nusra Front. Others paid allegiance to the Islamic State group and a smaller number joined factions such as the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham.

    But the majority of Chinese jihadis are with the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, whose vast majority are Chinese Muslims, particularly those from the Turkic-speaking Uighur majority native to Xinjiang in China. Their growing role in Syria has resulted in increased cooperation between Syrian and Chinese intelligence agencies who fear those same jihadis could one day return home and cause trouble there.

    The Turkistan Islamic Party is the other name for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement that considers China's Xinjiang to be East Turkistan.

    Like most jihadi groups in Syria, their aim is to remove Assad's secular government from power and replace it with strict Islamic rule. Their participation in the war, which has left nearly 400,000 people dead, comes at a time when the Chinese government is one of Assad's strongest international backers. Along with Russia, China has used its veto power at the U.N. Security Council on several occasions to prevent the imposition of international sanctions against its Arab ally.

    UN security council

    Beijing has blamed violence back at home and against Chinese targets around the world on Islamic militants with foreign connections seeking an independent state in Xinjiang. The government says some of them are fleeing the country to join the Jihad, although critics say the Uighurs are discriminated against and economically marginalized in their homeland and are merely seeking to escape repressive rule by the majority Han Chinese.

    Abu Dardaa al-Shami, a member of the now-defunct extremist Jund al-Aqsa group, said the TIP has the best "Inghemasiyoun," Arabic for "those who immerse themselves." The Inghemasiyoun have been used by extremist groups such as IS and al-Qaida's affiliate now known as Fatah al-Sham Front. Their role is to infiltrate their targets, unleash mayhem and fight to the death before a major ground offensive begins.

    "They are the lions of ground offensives," said al-Shami, who fought on several occasions alongside TIP fighters in northern Syria.

    Xie Xiaoyuan, China's envoy to Syria, told reporters in November that the two countries have had normal military exchanges focused on humanitarian issues, although Chinese officials have repeatedly rejected the possibility of sending troops or weapons.

    Boys play on a wrecked car in the rebel held besieged Douma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria April 1, 2017. Picture taken April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    In the last year, however, Chinese and Syrian officials have begun holding regular, once-a-month high-level meetings to share intelligence o militant movements in Syria, according to a person familiar with the matter. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to reveal military secrets.

    "These people not only fight alongside international terrorist forces in Syria, but also they will possibly return to China posing threat to China's national security," said Li Wei, terrorism expert at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations and Director of the CICIR Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies.

    Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there are about 5,000 Chinese fighters in Syria, most of them with the TIP fighters in northern Syria who along with their families make about 20,000. Li, the terrorism expert, said Abdurrahman's numbers are way too high, adding that he believes the number are about 300 Chinese fighters in Syria who brought with them about 700 family members.

    "As the control of the passage along the borders between Turkey and Syria is being tightened, it is becoming more difficult for them to smuggle into Syria," Li said.

    Turkish Tanks Syrian Border

    Syrian opposition activists and pro-government media outlets say dozens of TIP fighters have carried out suicide attacks against government forces and their allies and for the past two years have led battles mostly in the north of the country.

    The suicide attackers include one known as Shahid Allah al-Turkistani. He was shown in a video released by TIP taken from a drone of an attack in which he blew himself up in the vehicle he was driving near Aleppo late last year, allegedly killing dozens of pro-government gunmen.

    In 2015, members of the group spearheaded an attack on the northwestern province of Idlib and captured the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour on the edge of Assad's stronghold of Latakia region. They reportedly damaged a church in the town and raised their black flag on top of it.

    In late 2016, TIP was a main force to briefly break a government siege on the then rebel-held eastern parts of the northern city of Aleppo.

    The role of the Chinese jihadis in Syria was a topic that Assad spoke about last month in an interview with Chinese PHOENIX TV, saying "they know your country more than the others, so they can do more harm in your country than others."

    Unlike other rebel groups, TIP is a very secretive organization and they live among themselves, according to activists in northern Syria. They are active in parts of Idlib and in the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, as well as the Kurdish Mountains in the western province of Latakia.

    Abdul-Hakim Ramadan, a doctor who was active in Idlib province, said one of his teams was trying to enter a northwestern village to vaccinate children when TIP fighters prevented them from entering, saying only Chinese can go into the area.

    Ramadan said unlike other fighters who have come to Syria, the Chinese have not merged into local communities and the language has been a major barrier.


    Shih reported from Beijing.

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    NOW WATCH: 'The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end': Tillerson says Russia must choose to align with the US

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    President Donald Trump often said on the campaign trail that he'd likely "get along" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but a recent cruise missile strike in Syria seems to have put a wrench in those plans.

    Soon after Trump ordered the strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad's air field on April 7, Assad's ally in Moscow has reacted in a number of ways that indicate a "cold war-like" posture will continue for some time.

    On Thursday night, the US detected Russian military planes off the coast of Alaska for the fourth time in four days.

    US fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers off Alaska's Kodiak Islands on Monday, flying alongside them for 12 minutes, until they turned around. NORAD again spotted the Russian bombers on Tuesday about 36 miles from Alaska's coast.

    A pair of Russian spy planes also flew near the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea on Wednesday, staying in the US Air Defense Zone for a few hours before returning. 

    Russian Tu-95 bombers

    Pentagon officials said they believed Russia was testing the US Air Force’s response to their bomber flights.

    "We haven't seen this sort of level of activity for a couple of years," John Cornelio, a NORAD spokesperson, told CNN. But he emphasized that this was not "unprecedented" or "unusual."

    Russia hasn't conducted these kinds of flights since 2015. 

    "This kind of cat-and-mouse stuff has been going on for a while now," Howard Stoffer, a former State Department staffer told CNN. Putin "is trying to put the US on notice that the Russians are everywhere and are back to expanding their military power."

    The reasons for Russia's support for the Assad regime are many. Its only naval base connected to the Mediterranean is located in Tartus, on the western coast of Syria, and Russia sells large quantities of arms, such as jets and cruise missiles, to Assad. 

    Putin also uses this show of strength to bolster support at home and project strength abroad.

    Meanwhile in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the new Ukrainian government since 2014, two soldiers were killed on Thursday in the town of Avdiivka, and eight more were wounded elsewhere. 

    While casualties have decreased this month due to a new ceasefire announced on April 1, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski recently said that Russia would respond to the US strike in Syria by intensifying the war in Ukraine. 

    It remains to be seen if this surge in fighting will continue. 


    Back in Syria, Assad has moved his jets to bases protected by Russian missiles to further deter any future US strikes. The US could still strike these bases — even with the presence of Russia's anti-air defenses that can knock down Tomahawk missiles — but it could end up killing Russian soldiers, risking all-out war

    Moscow has recently ordered mercenary forces from Central Asia, and South and North Caucasus, dubbed the "Spetznaz of the USSR," to fight under Assad. 

    The Kremlin also recently announced that it plans to build the "biggest aircraft carrier in the world" to compete with the US's 11 full-sized Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. 

    Russia has longed claimed that many of its actions in Syria, as well as support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, are to fight terrorism — an argument that has some merit, given the attacks in Russia over the years.

    But its long-term conflict with the west, with which it's intent on spying, influencing and meddling, is undeniable. Only time will tell if it gets worse. 

    SEE ALSO: A new report says Russia is intensifying its spy game in Eastern Europe

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