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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    Red Cross syria

    • The Red Cross is visiting the families of ISIS militants to ensure their safety under Iraqi control.
    • The group says it is a neutral intermediary and is only trying to protect women and children from being tortured or even killed by Iraqi forces.
    • After the fall fo Raqqa, the Islamic State's formerly declared capital, a Red Cross team said it entered the "chaotic" city to help innocent civilians.

    GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it had access to more than 1,300 foreign wives and children of suspected Islamic State militants following concerns expressed for the safety of the families held by Iraqi forces near Mosul.

    The neutral aid agency called on all sides in the wars in Iraq and Syria to treat detainees in line with international law that prohibits torture or executions and enshrines the right to a fair trial.

    More than 300 of the detained foreign families in Iraq came from Turkey, many others from former Soviet states, such as Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Russia, according to preliminary figures from the Iraqi army.

    "Currently we visit and provide humanitarian assistance to some 1,300 women and children of several dozen nationalities who are detained in Iraq near Mosul," Patrick Hamilton, ICRC deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, told a news briefing.

    Last month, foreign aid agencies in Iraq said they were "gravely concerned" about the fate of the families. The women and children have been in Iraqi custody since August 30 following the fall of the city of Tal Afar.

    It is the largest group of foreigners linked to Islamic State to be held by Iraqi forces since they began driving the militants from Mosul and other areas in northern Iraq last year.

    The ICRC denounced some authorities and militias in the Iraq and Syria wars against Islamic State who have vowed to "annihilate" the enemy, but declined to name names.

    Such "dehumanization" of the enemy could lead to unlawful torture or executions, Hamilton warned. "Talk of annihilation or extermination contributes to perpetuating the problem rather than solving it."

    International humanitarian law protects civilians and former combatants, he said.

    isis child fighter soldier

    The ICRC has a "good level of dialogue" with Iraqi authorities and has visited detention facilities in Iraq holding 44,000 people so far this year, Hamilton said.

    Thousands of foreigners have been fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and an unknown number of them are now detained. Hamilton said the ICRC was already in talks about potential repatriation of foreign fighters.

    "We are ready to play the role of a neutral intermediary to assist these states in carrying out that, the return of their individual citizens," he said.

    "Indeed we have been in dialogue with a number of different states and the Iraqi authorities in relation to this over recent weeks, he said.

    Hamilton, asked about media reports of executions by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the fall of the jihadist capital in Raqqa, Syria, said that an ICRC team had been in the "chaotic" northeastern city last week.

    "No, we frankly don't have first-hand information in regards to extrajudicial killings or any such like ... clearly we remain concerned in the aftermath of Raqqa as we do after Mosul, Hawija, Tal Afar and so forth," he said.

    SEE ALSO: 2 Red Cross members released in Afghanistan after being held captive for seven months

    SEE ALSO: Don't give money to the Red Cross — here's why we need a new kind of disaster relief

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    hala al nufi syria

    • This photo shows two-year-old Hala al-Nufi, who weighs just 12 pounds.
    • She lives in eastern Ghouta, which is besieged by Syrian government troops.
    • She is one of many children suffering from malnutrition in the city.
    • There is still no end in sight for Syria's six-year civil war.

    If you look closely, you can see her ribcage, veins, and bloated stomach, covered by a thin layer of sallow skin.

    This shocking image, captured by Reuters photographer Bassam Khabieh, depicts two-year-old Hala al-Nufi, one of hundreds of children suffering from malnutrition in eastern Ghouta amid Syria's civil war.

    Eastern Ghouta is held by one of the rebel groups against President Bashar al-Assad, and has been surounded by Syrian government forces for the past four years, according to al Jazeera. It's located near Damascus, Syria's capital.

    Food, fuel, and medicine used to be smuggled into the 300,000-person-strong city via underground tunnels, but those routes were cut off by government forces earlier this year, Reuters reported.

    hala al nufi metabolic disorder

    Hala suffers from a metabolic disorder, and a scarcity of food has exacerbated her illness, Reuters said. She weighs around 5 kilograms (12 pounds).

    Her mother, Um Said, says she is too hungry to breastfeed any of her six children.

    "I put the child to the breast, but there is no milk. I am not eating," she told Reuters.

    "Sometimes I hit myself against the wall. For God's sake, open the road. In the name of the prophet, I kiss your hands and feet, open the road for us.

    "We are going to die of hunger. We are eating from the trash bins."

    hala al nufi syria uncle

    At least 1,200 children in eastern Ghouta alone suffer from malnutrition, a UNICEF spokeswoman told Reuters.

    Paediatrician Amani Ballar also said: "The child that we consider normal in Ghouta is the child whose weight is on the lowest end of the normal weight scale. We don't have fully healthy children."

    Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, the UN's human rights commissioner, said on Friday the images were "shocking" and that the "deliberate starvation of civilians as a method of warfare constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law, and may amount to a crime against humanity and/or a war crime."

    Some 470,000 people have been killed since the start of the civil war in March 2011, the independent Syrian Center for Policy Research reported last year. There appears to be no end in sight.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Six-month-old twins Safa and Marwa, who suffer from malnutrition, are held by their mother in the Hazzeh area, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    EASTERN GHOUTA (Reuters) - A tightening siege has pushed people to the verge of famine in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, residents and aid workers say, bringing desperation to the only major rebel enclave near the Syrian capital.

    Cases of malnutrition among children have almost doubled in the last two months at one clinic in the suburbs, which have been under siege by Syrian government forces since 2013 but come under new pressure this year as tunnels used to smuggle in food have been cut off.

    "The child that we consider normal in Ghouta is the child whose weight is on the lowest end of the normal weight scale. We don't have fully healthy children. The main reason is the lack of food and nutrition," said Dr Amani Ballour, a paediatrician.

    "There are children who we previously classified as at risk of malnutrition, who are now classified as medium-level acute malnutrition or extreme-level acute malnutrition cases."

    At two and a half years old, Hala al-Nufi weighs less than five kilos (12 pounds). She suffers from a metabolic disorder, but a lack of adequate food has made the case extreme.

    Hala, her eyes hollow and her translucent skin stretching over her tiny bones, had gotten sicker in recent months, her parents said. They worry she will not survive the siege.

    A man rides his bicycle after shelling on the rebel held besieged town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    Um Said, a mother of six, says she is too hungry to breast feed her six-month-old twins, Marwa and Safa.

    "I put the child to the breast, but there is no milk. I am not eating. I slept without supper last night," she said.

    "Sometimes I hit myself against the wall," she said. "For God’s, sake open the road. In the name of the prophet, I kiss your hands and feet, open the road for us. We are going to die of hunger. We are eating from the trash bins."

    At least 1,200 children in eastern Ghouta suffer from malnutrition, on the rise with 1,500 others at risk, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said.

    "We could be at the doors of starvation, of a medical catastrophe," said health worker Mahmoud al-Sheikh. He said children were not yet dying of hunger but could be soon. "God help the people in the coming time."

    Smuggling routes cut

    The army's advances in recent months have shrunk the rebel-held pocket in the densely populated area of satellite towns and farms east of the capital.

    Food, fuel and medicine once traveled across frontlines into the suburbs through a network of underground tunnels. But early this year, an army offensive nearby cut smuggling routes that provided a lifeline for around 300,000 people in the enclave.

    A man receives treatment inside the dialysis center in the rebel-held town of Douma, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, Syria March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    Supplies have barely entered in months. Shortages have sent prices soaring even higher. Residents and local aid workers say they fear the worst if nothing changes when the cold arrives and stocks run out.

    A kilogram of sugar now costs more than 5,000 Syrian pounds ($10.81 dollars), roughly 14 times the state-regulated price in nearby Damascus.

    Two malnourished babies died this week after the siege aggravated their illnesses, a local official said. Photos of one of them — a skeletal baby girl — brought widespread attention to a crisis that has been growing there for months.

    Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) in Syria, said the one-month-old girl, Sahar, had congenital abnormalities. Hunger worsened her condition, and the baby died of pneumonia.

    At any price

    Through a series of offensives and evacuation deals, the Damascus government has defeated opposition pockets around the capital. Eastern Ghouta has held out, but residents say there is now talk for the first time of agreeing to evacuate.

    "People are under pressure, they will erupt. There is no baby milk at all. Mothers and fathers are watching their children go hungry. They want a solution in any way, at any price," said Adnan, 30, who runs a local aid group.

    Families relied on crops they harvested in the summer, and meagre food distributions from warehouses run by the opposition government based in Turkey, he said. Adnan's group had preserved and dried vegetables that it will distribute to 1,500 families next week, but besides that, its food aid has halted.

    "Even if I get funding, there are no goods to buy," he said. "The eastern Ghouta has shut down. There is a state of paralysis."

    FILE PHOTO: Children walk past rubble of damaged buildings at Ain Tarma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh/File Photo

    The Wafideen crossing at the outskirts, where checkpoints allowed some goods to enter, has also been heavily restricted or shut, the U.N. and residents said. Only two aid convoys have reached the Ghouta since July, each with food and medicine for about 20 percent or less of the population.

    In July, Moscow and rebels in the Ghouta signed a ceasefire that had sparked hopes of opening crossings and aid flowing into the suburbs. But residents say none of that has materialized.

    The "de-escalation" deal reduced the barrage of air strikes and artillery, but the siege only got harsher, they said. Fierce ground battles also rage on in some frontline districts.

    When people in the Ghouta learned of the deal and thought it would bring relief, many began using up their food reserves at home, said Khalil Aybour, head of the local council in the town of Douma. "After they saw it was all rumors," he said, "the misery grew immensely."

    (Reporting by Beirut bureau, a reporter in eastern Ghouta, and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Peter Graff)

    SEE ALSO: Here's how many foreign ISIS fighters have returned home from the battlefield

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    Smoke rises as Syrian army soldiers stand near a checkpoint in Deir al-Zor, Syria September 21, 2017.  REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

    AMMAN (Reuters) - The Syrian army, supported by Russian jets and Iranian-backed militias, escalated bombing on Sunday of areas of the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor still held by Islamic State.

    Former residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were heavy aerial strikes on eastern Syria's largest city as troops pushed towards the Hay al Umal area, which overlooks some of the remaining militant-held neighborhoods where an estimated 1,500 civilians are trapped.

    The Syrian army has gradually tightened the noose around the militants after it opened a land route into the city in September with the help of Russian air strikes and Iran-backed militias, breaking a siege that had lasted nearly three years.

    "The situation is catastrophic, there are families under the rubble and others who fled have no shelter," said Sheikh Awad al Hajr, a tribal leader, referring to the plight of those remaining inside the city and in cities, towns and farms in the fertile strip along the Euphrates bordering Iraq.

    Fighting and relentless air strikes in Deir al-Zor province, the last stronghold of the Islamic State, have prompted tens of thousands of civilians to flee, former residents and aid workers say.

    FILE PHOTO: A man walks along a deserted street filled with debris in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo

    Relatives of some civilians and Syrian opposition figures accuse the Russian army of bombing boats and dinghies carrying families fleeing the western banks of the Euphrates. Moscow denies it targets civilians in its military operations in Syria and says it hits only militant hideouts and facilities.

    Russia has thrown its military weight behind the Syrian army campaign to regain the strategic oil-rich province which has become the focus of Syria's more than six-year long civil war. They are racing with U.S- backed forces to grab territory from Islamic State.

    While the Syrian army appeared to make more gains inside Deir al-Zor city, the militants made a surprise offensive in the last 24 hours that pushed back pro-government and Iranian-backed militias from Albu Kamal, the last border post on the Syrian Iraqi border still in militant hands.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and former residents said the jihadists recaptured the strategic towns of al Qwaira and Makhan on Saturday in several deadly ambushes that inflicted heavy casualties on pro-government and Iranian Shi'ite militias.

    A still image, taken from video footage and released by Russia's Defence Ministry on August 18, 2016, shows a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber based at Iran's Hamadan air base dropping off bombs in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS TV

    The latest jihadist assault pushed back the army to the city of Mayadeen, further north along the Euphrates river that the militants lost earlier this month.

    "The Islamic State was able to push back the regime and its Iranian-backed militias to the heart of the city of Mayadeen," said Amer Huweidi, an activist from the city in touch with locals and residents.

    Mayadeen is a strategic city that has been a base for the militants after they were driven out of their de facto Syrian capital in Raqqa city.

    The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State is waging a separate campaign against the group in Deir al-Zor, focused on areas to the east of the Euphrates River which bisects the province.

    The coalition secured the Omar oilfield, Syria's largest oilfield, this month.

    (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Susan Fenton)

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    kurds syria ypg

    • Russia has asked Kurdish forces in Syria to attend a proposed congress to help resolve the ongoing civil war. 
    • Kurdish officials have largely been left out of peace talks thus far since Turkey views Kurdish forces as terrorists. 
    • The congress would potentially take place in Sochi, Russia. 

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Russia has invited the Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria to its proposed congress of Syria's rival parties, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters on Tuesday.

    The congress would focus on looking for "compromise solutions towards the political settlement" more than six years into Syria's conflict, a Russian negotiator has said.

    "We are studying the issue and our stance has been positive so far," said Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the administration that governs Kurdish-led autonomous regions of northern Syria.

    They received the invitation at meetings with Russian officials in northern Syria last month and favor the idea as it strives for a political end to the conflict, he said.

    Throughout the war, the main Syrian Kurdish parties have been left out of peace talks at the request of Turkey, which views the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as a security threat on its border.

    Since 2011, the YPG and its allies have carved out cantons in the north and now hold at least a quarter of the country. They have seized much ground by fighting Islamic State militants with the help of the United States.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a signing ceremony following the talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Chirikov/PoolMoscow, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has sought to lead diplomatic efforts between various warring Syrian factions over the past year.

    Russia may host a congress in mid-November to bring together all of Syria's groups for national dialogue and work on a new constitution, the RIA news agency said on Monday.

    It remains unclear which other groups or combatants in the multi-sided war would take part.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, who first mentioned the congress this month, has said it would include "all ethnic and religious groups, and the government, and the opposition".

    The congress may take place at Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, RIA said.

    Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria also might be used, said Alexander Lavrentyev, a senior Russian negotiator on Syria. The proposal has received backing from the United Nations, Lavrentyev told reporters in Kazakhstan on Monday.

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    Deir al-Zor Syria

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian government declared victory over Islamic State in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Friday, a big blow to the jihadists as their last stronghold in Syria crumbles.

    Deir al-Zor, on the west bank of the Euphrates River, is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria, and is the center of the country's oil production.

    "The armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces, liberated the city of Deir al-Zor completely from the clutches of the Daesh terrorist organization," the military source said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

    The army, backed by Russian bombers, Iran and Shi'ite militias, is advancing toward the last significant town held by Islamic State in Syria, Albu Kamal, which is also located on the western bank of the Euphrates.

    A rival offensive by Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US-led coalition with air strikes and special forces, is pressing Islamic State on the eastern bank.

    A man stands near military vehicles that belong to the Syrian army in Deir al-Zor, Syria September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

    Iraqi forces on Friday said they had begun their own final offensive against Islamic State on the Iraqi side of the jihadist territory that straddles the border between the two countries, entering the city of al-Qaim.

    Islamic State had for years besieged a government enclave in Deir al-Zor until an army advance relieved it in early September, starting a battle for jihadist-held parts of the city.

    The army captured al-Hamidiya, Sheikh Yassin, al-Ardhi and al-Rashidia districts in recent attacks and the al-Hawiqa district was the last to be held by the jihadists, a military media unit run by the army's ally Hezbollah reported.

    Engineering units were searching streets and buildings in those districts for mines and booby traps left by Islamic State, the military source said. 

    (Reporting By Angus McDowall, editing by Tom Perry and Gareth Jones)

    SEE ALSO: Here's how many foreign ISIS fighters have returned home from the battlefield

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    Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory in Raqqa, Syria, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

    ISIS' territorial control in Iraq and Syria is eroding.

    In Syria, the fall of its self-declared capital in Raqqa and its last military bastion in Deir ez-Zor have forced ISIS toward the Iraqi border.

    In Iraq, the liberation of Mosul and Tal Afar have ISIS fighters retreating toward the Syrian border, where they are being hunted down in a final push by Iraqi forces.

    On October 21, President Trump said"the end of the ISIS caliphate is in sight."

    This week, Vladimir Shamanov, a former military officer who leads the Defense Committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said that by the end of this year ISIS "won’t exist anymore as an organized military structure."

    While ISIS is losing large swaths of its home turf, it still operates in a number of countries. Here are nine places where the fight against ISIS is not slowing down.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how many foreign ISIS fighters have returned home from the battlefield


    The Egyptian government has been fighting Islamist insurgents since the military took power in 2013. Most of the fighting has happened in the Sinai Peninsula, where ISIS proclaimed a province in 2014.

    Egypt has been under an official state of emergency since April, after a attack killed dozens of members of Egypt's minority Christian population.

    Hundreds of Egyptian police and military servicemen have been killed in battles with jihadists. In an ISIS attack on an army outpost in Sinai in July 2016, 23 soldiers were killed and at least 26 were wounded.

    In late October, at least 54 policemen and conscripts, including several officers, were killed in what appeared to be a well-planned ambush. Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, authorities have not ruled out ISIS.

    The latest attack took place in the Giza governorate, which means the insurgency is spreading beyond the Sinai Peninsula — a worrisome sign that may have led President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to reorganize his security leadership.


    Libya became a safe haven for terrorist groups after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011. It currently has three different governments claiming authority over the country, and the lack of a strong central authority and a unified security force has allowed militias to fill the void.

    ISIS seized the coastal city of Sirte — Gadhafi's hometown — in 2015. At its peak, ISIS was thought to have over 5,000 militants in Libya. In addition to causing chaos there, they were aiding jihadist groups in Egypt and other parts of North and West Africa.

    Though ISIS lost control of Sirte in December 2016, they still have what officials have described as a "desert army" operating in the regions south of the city. That army has shown signs of trying to gain ground in the country.

    The US launched its first airstrike in Libya under President Donald Trump in September, 150 miles south of Sirte, reportedly killing 17 militants.

    A major concern among European officials is that as ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, its fighters could relocate to Libya. Among those fighters may be Westerners who could use Libya's role as a transit point for migrants to return home.


    Yemen has long been a battleground in the fight against Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. While the Saudi-led military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in country has received much of the attention, ISIS' presence there has gotten the notice of the US.

    ISIS created its Yemen branch in 2014, during the chaos that followed the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012. Since then, its attacks have killed hundreds.

    US forces launched more than 100 airstrikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen this year, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. October saw the first US airstrikes against ISIS in Yemen. According to US Central Command, the three strikes on ISIS training camps reportedly killed 60 militants.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Syria US Marines

    • US-backed forces announced they had recaptured Raqqa from ISIS fighters in mid-October.
    • The US-led coalition was supporting them with intense artillery fire by US Marines and airstrikes by coalition aircraft.

    US Marines arrived in Syria in March to support the effort to retake Raqqa with artillery fire.

    The Marines, from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, came with M-777 Howitzers that can fire powerful 155 mm shells. The 11th MEU returned to the US in May, turning the operations over to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

    US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said they recaptured the city in mid-October, and, according to Army Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the Marine fire supporting them was so intense that the barrels on two of the Howitzers burned out, making them unsafe to use.

    Troxell, who is senior enlisted adviser to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, said last week that US-led coalition forces were firing on ISIS in Raqqa "every minute of every hour" in order to keep pressure on the terrorist group.

    US Marines Syria

    "What we have seen is the minute we take the pressure off of ISIS they regenerate and come back in a hurry," Troxell said, according to Military Times. "They are a very resilient enemy."

    The M-777 Howitzer is 7,500 pounds — 9,000 pounds lighter than its predecessor. It is highly maneuverable, and can be towed by 7-ton trucks or carried by MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft or by CH-53E Super Stallion or CH-47 Chinook helicopters. It can be put in place and readied to fire in less than three minutes.

    Its sustained rate of fire is two rounds a minute, but it can fire four rounds a minute for up to two minutes, according to its manufacturer, BAE Systems. While it's not clear how many rounds the Marine M-777s fired or the period over which they fired them, burning out two barrels underscores the intensity of the bombardment used against ISIS in and around Raqqa.

    "I've never heard of it ― normally your gun goes back to depot for full reset well before that happens," a former Army artillery officer told Military Times. "That’s a s---load of rounds though."

    US Marines Syria

    The M-777's maximum range is 18.6 miles (though it can fire Excalibur rounds accurately up to 25 miles, according to Video that emerged this summer showed Marines firing 155 mm artillery shells with XM1156 Precision Guidance Kits, according to The Washington Post.

    The kit is a type of fuse that turns the shell in to a semi-precision-guided munition that, on average, will hit within 100 feet of the target when fired from the M-777's maximum range. The XM1156 has only appeared in combat a few times.

    The number of rounds it takes to burn out a howitzer barrel depends on the range to the target as well as the level of charge used, which can vary based on weight of the shell and the distance it needs to be fired.

    If the howitzers were being fired closer to their target, "the tube life might actually be extended some," the former Army officer told Military Times. Open-source imagery reviewed this summer indicated that Marines were at one point within 10 miles of Raqqa.

    SEE ALSO: Step aboard the USS Kearsarge, the US Navy workhorse that takes Marines to war

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    Paris climate change agreement

    • Syria, the world's last holdout, just announced it would join the Paris agreement.
    • The agreement set a goal to keep the average global temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius.
    • The US is now alone in rejecting the historic climate accord.

    The United States is now the only country not on board with the Paris agreement.

    Syria, which has been engaged in a bloody civil war for six years and was the world's last holdout, announced it would sign up to the 2015 climate accord, delegates at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, said Tuesday.

    The US signed the agreement under President Barack Obama in December 2015 alongside 194 other nations and remains part of it, but the Trump administration has pledged to withdraw the US from it.

    The Paris agreement set a goal to keep the planet from warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, with 2 degrees Celsius as the upper limit for global temperature rise.

    Nicaragua initially rejected the agreement because the country's government thought it didn't go far enough, but last month Nicaraguan leaders announced their decision to join.

    If the US does withdraw from the agreement, the earliest it could do so is November 4, 2020— one day after the next presidential election.

    Trump has said the deal isn't "fair" to the US, even though the country has contributed more to climate change than any other nation. Just last week, federal scientists in the US sounded the alarm once again, releasing an exhaustive report cautioning that global warming was accelerating — with human activity to blame.

    The Trump administration's plan to withdraw was unpopular globally. An official in France said Trump was "for the time being"not being invited to the climate-change summit in Paris next month.

    SEE ALSO: Bonn talks test global resolve to fix climate, without Trump

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    Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory in Raqqa, Syria, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

    • The Islamic State has lost its caliphate. Although the group still remains active and controls some small, scattered villages in Syria, it is essentially stateless. 
    • ISIS has suffered major defeats in 2017, including itz de facto capital city, Raqqa in Syria. 

    BEIRUT (AP) — The withdrawal of the Islamic State group from the last town under its control caps a series of major defeats in recent months that have virtually eliminated its self-styled caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

    The group still controls some small villages and scattered pockets of territory in Syria, but the border town of Boukamal, retaken by Syrian and Iraqi troops on Thursday, was the last major, built-up area held by the extremists.

    The group's media arm remains intact, allowing it to recruit supporters and inspire attacks, and the militants are expected to continue carrying out bombings and other assaults in Syria and Iraq. But the caliphate they declared in 2014, which once took in more than 8 million people, is no more.

    A look at the group's major defeats over the last year:


    Iraqi forces' last conventional military fight against IS played out in Qaim, on the western edge of Anbar province, just across the border from Boukamal. On Nov. 3, Iraq announced that it was in control of the town and the nearby border crossing, once part of a crucial militant supply line.

    Deir el-Zour

    The Syrian government assumed full control of the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, the hub of Syria's main oil-producing region, earlier this month.

    IS had captured most of the city in 2014 and laid siege to government enclaves for nearly three years, forcing tens of thousands of people to rely on government airlifts and U.N. airdrops.

    Syrian troops, backed by Iran-supported militias and Russian aircraft, punched through the blockade in September in what the government portrayed as a watershed moment in the war.

    IS militants are still present in the countryside outside the city. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group, captured the nearby Al-Omar oil field, the country's largest.


    FILE PHOTO: Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) dance along a street in Raqqa, Syria October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro/File photo
    Raqqa, the onetime capital of the caliphate, fell to the Syrian Democratic Forces on Oct. 17 after four months of heavy fighting. The city was once home to senior IS leaders, as well as the plotters behind terror attacks in Paris and Brussels.

    The group had carried out beheadings and other massacres in Raqqa's main public square, and had killed Western captives in the city, all of which featured prominently in the group's many propaganda videos.


    Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces drove IS from the northern town of Hawija on Oct. 10 after nearly three weeks of fighting. Hundreds of IS fighters and their families surrendered.

    It was the last major unified operation by Iraqi federal forces and Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga. Shortly after the fighting ended, the two allies clashed over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other disputed territories, a sign that longstanding tensions were once again surfacing in the absence of a common threat.


    Mosul Iraqi forces ISISIraqi and Kurdish forces declared victory in Mosul on July 10 after a grueling nine-month campaign to retake Iraq's second largest city.

    Mosul was the largest city ever held by the extremists, who set up bomb-making factories in crowded residential areas to try to shield them from coalition airstrikes.

    The battle for Mosul killed thousands of civilians and Iraqi forces, as IS defended nearly every street with armored car bombs and snipers. The militants launched sneak attacks from a vast tunnel network, and used civilians as human shields.

    Entire neighborhoods were flattened by the fighting, and hundreds of thousands of people have yet to return to their homes.

    What is left

    IS still controls a string of villages along the border and pockets of Syria's sparsely populated central deserts. It also has a small foothold near the capital, Damascus.

    The group still likely has cells of supporters operating in secret in both countries, and boasts affiliates in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, the Philippines and the African Sahel.

    It can also still inspire attacks through its online propaganda. Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbekistan-born attacker who drove a truck down a bike path in Manhattan earlier this month, killing eight people, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.

    SEE ALSO: The 2 biggest forces in the fight against ISIS are now fighting each other — here's why

    SEE ALSO: ISIS' loss of its caliphate signals the end of one type of ISIS — and the beginning of a new one

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    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria’s army declared victory over Islamic State on Thursday, saying its capture of the jihadists’ last town in the country marked the collapse of their three-year, hardline reign in the region.

    The army and its allies are still fighting Islamic State in desert areas near Albu Kamal, the last town the militant group had held in Syria, near the border with Iraq, the army said.

    But the capture of the town ends Islamic State’s era of territorial rule over the so-called caliphate that it proclaimed in 2014 across Iraq and Syria and in which millions suffered under its hardline, repressive strictures.

    Yet after ferocious defensive battles in its most important cities this year, where its fighters bled for every house and street, its final collapse has come with lightning speed.

    Instead of a battle to the death as they mounted a last stand in the Euphrates valley towns and villages near the border between Iraq and Syria, many fighters surrendered or fled.

    “There’s some fighters left but they’re few. Small numbers is all I can say,” said a Syrian army commander of the remaining militants near Albu Kamal. “Some were killed and some ran away. They went towards eastern or northern villages.”

    In Albu Kamal, the jihadists had fought fiercely, said a commander in the pro-Syrian government military alliance. But it was captured the same day the assault began.

    This sealed “the fall of the terrorist Daesh organisation’s project in the region,” an army statement said, using an Arabic term for Islamic State.

    Syrian flag Aleppo

    The fate of its last commanders is still unknown — killed by bombardment or in battle, taken prisoner but unidentified, or hunkered into long-prepared hideouts to plot a new insurgency.

    The last appearance of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself caliph and heir to Islam’s historic leaders from the great medieval mosque in Iraq’s Mosul, was made in an audio recording in September.

    “Oh Soldiers of Islam in every location, increase blow after blow, and make the media centres of the infidels, from where they wage their intellectual wars, among the targets,” he said.

    Mosul fell to Iraqi forces in July after a nine-month battle. Islamic State’s Syrian capital of Raqqa fell in October to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, after four months of fighting.

    But all the forces fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq expect a new phase of guerrilla warfare, a tactic the militants have already shown themselves capable of with armed operations in both countries.

    Western security chiefs have also said its loss of territory does not mean an end to the “lone-wolf” attacks with guns, knives or trucks ploughing into civilians that its supporters have mounted around the world.

    Middle East chaos

    As it did after previous setbacks, Islamic State’s leadership may now stay underground and wait for a new opportunity to take advantage of the chaos in the Middle East.

    It might not have long to wait. In Iraq, a referendum on independence in the northern Kurdish region has already prompted a major confrontation between its autonomous government and Baghdad, backed by neighbouring Iran and Turkey.

    In Syria, two rival campaigns raced across the country’s east this year driving back Islamic State — the Syrian army backed by Russia, Iran and Shi‘ite militias, and an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by the United States.

    Syrian officials and a senior advisor to Iran have indicated the Syrian army will now stake its claim to Kurdish-held territory. Washington has not yet said how it would respond to a protracted military campaign against its allies.

    Naim square raqqa

    Aggravating tensions — and raising the possibility of turmoil from which Islamic State could benefit — is a contest for power between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

    It has developed a religious edge, pitting Shi‘ite groups supported by Iran against Sunni ones backed by Saudi Arabia, infusing the region’s wars with sectarian hatred.

    A senior Iranian official this week spoke from Syria’s Aleppo of a “line of resistance” running from Tehran to Beirut, an implicit boast of its region-wide influence.

    In recent days the rivalry has again escalated as Riyadh accused Lebanese Hezbollah of firing a missile from the territory in Yemen of another Iranian ally, the Houthi movement.

    Hezbollah is a critical part of the Tehran-backed alliance helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah fighters played the key role in ousting Islamic State from Albu Kamal, a commander in that alliance told Reuters.

    Islamic State's fallen 'state'

    Baghdadi’s declaration of a caliphate in 2014 launched a new era in jihadist ambition. Instead of al Qaeda’s strategy of using militant attacks against the West to spur an Islamist revolution, the new movement decided to simply establish a new state.

    It led to a surge in recruitment to the jihadist cause, attracting thousands of young Muslims to “immigrate” to a militant utopia slickly realised in propaganda films.

    Raqqa Syria ISIS

    Islamic State’s leadership ranks included former Iraqi officials who well understood the running of a state. They issued identity documents, minted coins and established a morality police force.

    Unlike previous jihadist movements that relied on donations from sympathisers, Islamic State’s territorial grip gave it command of a real economy. It exported oil and agricultural produce, levied taxes and traded in stolen antiquities.

    On the battlefield, it adapted its tactics, using heavy weaponry captured from its enemies during its first flush of military success, adding tanks and artillery to its suicide bombers and guerrilla fighters.

    It imprisoned and tortured foreigners, demanding ransoms for their release and killing those whose countries would not pay in grotesque films posted online.

    The number of those treated in this way was as nothing to the multitude of Syrians and Iraqis Islamic State killed for their behaviour, words, sexuality, religion, ethnicity or tribe. Some were burnt alive, others beheaded and some dropped from the roofs of tall buildings.

    Captured women were sold as brides at slave auctions. But as Islamic State was pushed from territory in recent months, there were pictures of women pulling off face veils and smoking previously banned cigarettes.

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    NOW WATCH: Here’s what it was like to live in a city controlled by ISIS

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    • A Hezbollah-run news outlet says ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been seen in Syria.
    • Baghdadi has been reported dead several times.
    • ISIS is on the wane in Syria, but still present.

    FILE PHOTO: A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi making what would have been his first public appearance, at a mosque in the centre of Iraq's second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet on July 5, 2014, in this still image taken from video.  REUTERS/Social Media Website via Reuters TV/File Photo  BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Hezbollah-run news outlet said on Friday that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reported present in the Syrian town of Albu Kamal during the Syrian army and its allies' operation to clear it.

    The report, carried by a military news service run by Hezbollah, did not say if Baghdadi was captured in the town, which the Syrian army and its allies said they had taken this week.

    Syria's army declared victory over Islamic State on Thursday, saying its capture of the jihadists' last town in the country marked the collapse of their three-year, hardline reign in the region.

    The capture of Albu Kamal, a border town on the Iraqi border and Islamic State's last stronghold in Syria, sealed "the fall of the terrorist Daesh organization's project in the region", an army statement said on Thursday, using an Arabic term for Islamic State.

    An audio message purported to be from Baghdadi was released in September. Baghdadi declared himself caliph and heir to Islam's historic leaders from the great medieval mosque in Iraq's Mosul in 2014.


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    Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and Russia are nearing an agreement on Syria for how they hope to resolve the Arab country’s civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated, officials said Thursday.

    If clinched, the deal was expected to be announced by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vietnam on Friday, four US officials said.

    The United States has been reluctant to schedule a formal meeting for the leaders unless they have a substantive agreement to announce.

    But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that they won’t hold a formal meeting due to scheduling conflicts on “both sides.” Still, Sanders said it was possible Trump and Putin could have a less formal encounter while in Vietnam.

    The potential understanding comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of IS, the extremist group that once controlled vast stretches of both Iraq and Syria.

    Fighting the group is no longer top priority, shifting the focus back to Syria’s intractable conflict between President Bashar Assad’s government and rebels — and to concerns that foreign powers such as Iran will now dominate the country’s future.

    SDF/YPJ celebrating

    The US-Russian agreement being discussed would focus on three elements, officials said: “deconfliction” between the US and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating UN-led peace talks.

    The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the deliberations and requested anonymity.

    The US and Russian militaries have maintained a “deconfliction” hotline for years to avoid unintended collisions and even potential confrontations as they each operate in Syria’s crowded skies.

    A heavy air campaign by Russia has been credited with shoring up the position of Assad, a close ally of Moscow.

    With IS nearing defeat, the US and Russia are losing their common enemy in Syria and will remain in a proxy battle in which Russia backs Assad and the US lends at least rhetorical support to armed opposition groups fighting the government.

    That has increased the need for close communication between the two powers about where their forces are operating at any given time, officials said.

    The agreement also seeks to build on progress in establishing “de-escalation zones” in Syria that have calmed some parts of the country.

    In July, when Trump held his first meeting with Putin in Germany, the US and Russia announced a deal that included Jordan and established a cease-fire in southwest Syria. The United States has said that cease-fire has largely held and could be replicated elsewhere in the country.

    Syrian government soldiers and rebels

    A key US concern, shared by close ally Israel, is the presence of Iranian-backed militias in Syria that have exploited the vacuum of power. The United States and Israel have been seeking ways to prevent forces loyal to Iran — Israel’s archenemy — from establishing a permanent presence. One idea hinges on a “buffer zone” along Israel’s border with Syria.

    A third element of the deal would reaffirm support for the United Nations effort being run out of Geneva to seek a political transition in Syria and resolve the civil war.

    The United States and Russia have been at odds for years over whether Assad could be allowed to remain in power in a future Syrian government.

    The UN talks, which have come in fits and starts without yielding significant progress, aren’t the only discussions about Syria’s future. Russia, Turkey and Iran have been brokering their own process in Astana, Kazakhstan. The US views those talks warily because of Iran’s involvement, though they’ve led to local cease-fire deals that have reduced violence, too.

    “We believe that the Geneva process is the right way to go,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday. “Unfortunately, it is a long way off, but we’re getting a little bit closer.”

    Russian soldiers in syria

    The US-Russia deal may also seek to expand the mandate of a joint “monitoring center” established this year in Amman, Jordan, to watch for cease-fire violations and other developments on the ground. It has focused on southwest Syria, where the cease-fire is in place, but could be used to monitor broader stretches of the country.

    Although Moscow has sought a formal meeting between Trump and Putin while both are in Vietnam this week, the US hasn’t committed to such a meeting.

    Washington’s concern is that it would not serve US interests unless there’s progress between the countries to announce — on Syria or something else. Putin’s aides have said a meeting will likely occur Friday and that the time, place and format are being worked out between the governments.

    “We have been in contact with them, and the view has been if the two leaders are going to meet, is there something sufficiently substantive to talk about that would warrant a formal meeting?” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday in Beijing.

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    • The map shows the largest group of refugees in each state since 2002.
    • The map reveals several trends, like the fact that in the early 2000s most refugees in the US were from eastern Europe.

    The source of refugees to the US has shifted dramatically over the years.

    A map from Pew Research Center, which shows the top countries of origin for refugees in each US state from 2002 to 2017, reveals that while the largest refugee groups in most states currently come from Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia, most refugees arriving in the early 2000s were from eastern Europe.

    In 2002, the largest refugee group in most states was either from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Ukraine. Conflicts in the Balkans were likely the main contributors to this influx.

    The presence of large groups of eastern European refugees continued into the mid-2000s, when refugees from Africa, Myanmar, and the Middle East overtook them as the largest refugee groups in most states. Burmese refugees continued to be the most prevalent group in most states until the 2010s, when Middle Eastern and African refugees, particularly from Iraq, again began to arrive in large numbers.

    Although Syrian and Iraqi refugees have frequently taken the limelight in recent discussions about refugee resettlement, in 2017, the largest groups of refugees in most states don't come from these countries. Most hail from sub-Saharan Africa. 

    The map show several other interesting trends. In nearly all years, Cuban refugees have been the largest resettled group in Florida ever since 2002. In addition, since 2008, in several states the largest group has been refugees from Bhutan.

    SEE ALSO: The Trump administration will drop the refugee cap to 45,000 — the lowest in decades

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    NOW WATCH: The Secret Service may have been 'impaired' the day JFK was assassinated

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    U.S. Secretary for Defense, Jim Mattis, sits opposite Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, before a meeting at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in central London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The US military will fight Islamic State in Syria "as long as they want to fight," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday, describing a longer-term role for US troops long after the insurgents lose all of the territory they control.

    As US-backed and Russian-backed forces battle to retake the remaining pockets of Islamic State-held terrain, Mattis said the US military's longer-term objective would be to prevent the return of an "ISIS 2.0."

    "The enemy hasn't declared that they're done with the area yet, so we'll keep fighting as long as they want to fight," Mattis said, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon about the future of U.S. operations in Syria.

    He also stressed the importance of longer-term peace efforts, suggesting US forces aimed to help set the conditions of a diplomatic solution in Syria, now in its seventh year of civil war.

    "We're not just going to walk away right now before the Geneva process has traction," he added.

    US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed joint efforts to stabilize Syria as its civil war wanes, including with the expansion of a July 7 truce in the southwestern triangle bordering Israel and Jordan.

    US soldiers Syria

    Mattis said he believed the southwestern zone was working, and spoke hopefully about additional areas in the future that might allow for more refugees to return home.

    "You keep broadening them. Try to (demilitarize) one area then (demilitarize) another and just keep it going, try to do the things that will allow people to return to their homes," he told reporters at the Pentagon.

    He declined to enter into specifics about any future zones.

    Russia, which has a long-term military garrison in Syria, has said it wants foreign forces to quit the country eventually. Turkey said on Monday the United States had 13 bases in Syria and Russia had five. The US-backed Syrian YPG Kurdish militia has said Washington has established seven military bases in areas of northern Syria.

    The US-led coalition says it does not discuss the location of its forces.

    One key aim for Washington is to limit Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq, which expanded during the war with Islamic State.

    (Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Peter Cooney)

    SEE ALSO: US Marines are returning to 'old stomping grounds' in Iraq to fight an evolving enemy

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    NOW WATCH: Here’s what it was like to live in a city controlled by ISIS

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    • The US reportedly knew about a deal to evacuate thousands of ISIS members out of the terrorist group's capital of Raqqa, Syria before US allies stormed the town.
    • The ISIS fighters are now on the loose, and some have vowed to return to France for a "day of reckoning."
    • But ISIS is on the run and mostly defeated, and when a US jet passed overhead to observe them, it badly scared the terror group.

    A deal between US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces in Syria and ISIS sent thousands of fighters and families belonging to the terror group on a convoy out of harm's way and deeper into the so-called caliphate where the fighters can regroup or smuggle themselves into other countries.

    A group of truckers in Syria reportedly got called out to Raqqa, ISIS's former Syrian capital, for what they thought would be a small job moving a few hundred people around. But it ended up as ISIS's mass exodus from its former stronghold, according to a BBC investigation.

    The truckers met around 4,000 ISIS fighters and their families armed to the teeth and strapped with explosives. The terrorist group boarded the convoy of trucks, along with their own vehicles, and reportedly beat and threatened the drivers for the duration of the trip. The ISIS fighters brought so many weapons and so much ammunition, the weight broke a trucker's axel, according to the BBC.

    Why the US and its allies let ISIS escape

    The US not only knew about the deal — they reportedly kept a close watch on the the convoy as it drove through the desert towards Iraq's border.

    "When the last of the convoy were about to cross, a US jet flew very low and deployed flares to light up the area. IS fighters s--- their pants," one of the drivers told the BBC.

    Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIS, explained to the BBC why the US knowingly accepted the deal.

    "We didn't want anyone to leave," Dillon said. "But this goes to the heart of our strategy, 'by, with and through' local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations."

    The US-led coalition has met criticism over its airstrikes killing civilians, but ISIS tactics include hiding among civilian populations and using them as human shields. The massive human cost of continuing the bombing campaign on Raqqa may have swayed the decision makers to allow so many ISIS fighters to leave with their weapons.

    The escaped fighters now pose a threat to the outside world

    The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish and Arab alliance that has fought ISIS for years, allowed ISIS to leave Raqqa to salvage what was left of the city.

    But in doing so, they may have allowed thousands of terrorists to smuggle themselves across borders and launch terror attacks in support of ISIS.

    ISIS territory

    Some of the fighters stayed in Syria, while others have been caught trying to cross the border into Turkey, according to the BBC. Members of an almost exclusively French group within ISIS numbered among the terrorists who got away, and now they pose a threat to Europe.

    "There are some French brothers from our group who left for France to carry out attacks in what would be called a 'day of reckoning,'" a young ISIS fighter from France told the BBC.

    The retreating ISIS fighters reportedly threatened the drivers and the others they met, saying that they would return and bring with them Sharia law. But ISIS today is a far cry from its heyday, and members of the group that was once bent on martyrdom have now begun to surrender en masse.

    Read the full report at the BBC here.

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    Russian fake satellite images Syria

    • The Russian Ministry of Defense posted on social media on Monday "irrefutable evidence" that the US was aiding ISIS in Syria.
    • The pictures turned out to be screenshots from a video game and old videos shot in Iraq.
    • The Russian Ministry of Defense has since deleted the posts.

    Moscow has for months been accusing the US of aiding ISIS in Syria, and on Monday, the Russian Ministry of Defense finally tweeted out "irrefutible evidence" of the collusion.

    But it turns out the evidence was just screenshots of a video game and old videos from Iraq, according to Bellingcat.

    "#Russian_Mod shows irrefutable evidence that #US are actually covering ISIS combat units to recover their combat capabilities, redeploy, and use them to promote American interests in Middle East," the Russian Ministry of Defense tweeted, in a now-deleted tweet.

    One of the pictures in the tweet of the US supposedly covering an ISIS convoy leaving the Abu Kamal region was actually a screenshot from an AC-130 gunship simulator video game, Bellingcat reported.

    Below is a side by side screenshot provided by Bellingcat of the Russian screenshot and the video game screenshot:

    Russia fake satellite images

    The other three images were also not what Russia claimed, but instead from videos shot in Iraq in 2016.

    Russian citizens themselves even called out their Ministry of Defense for the mistake, according to Newsweek.

    "Do not humiliate yourselves and do not humiliate Russia," one Russian tweeted at the Ministry of Defense.

    "Won't you comment on how a screenshot from a game appeared in your evidence file connecting the U.S. with ISIS,” another Russian tweeted.

    On Tuesday, Russian state-owned media outlet TASS blamed the ordeal on a "civil service employee."

    "The Russian Defense Ministry is investigating its civil service employee who erroneously attached wrong photo illustrations to its statement on interaction between the US-led international coalition and Islamic State militants near Abu Kamal, Syria," the ministry said, according to TASS.

    The Russian Ministry of Defense has since deleted the tweets of the false images. However, some images are still up, including the one below, which is actually pinned to their page.

    But Michael Kofman, a senior research analyst at CNA, told Business Insider that while the images still up are not from the video game or old videos from Iraq, "they are really blurry and incredibly difficult to verify."

    "It's impossible to tell, but I suspect none of this footage is real," Kofman said, adding that even if they were images of ISIS convoys in Syria, it doesn't prove that the US is aiding the terrorist group in any way.

    "The claim itself is actually ridiculous," Kofman said, with a laugh.

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    ISIS Somalia bombing

    • Terrorism-related deaths around the world are down for the second straight year.
    • The number of countries experiencing terrorism-related deaths, however, rose in 2016.

    Terrorism-related deaths around the world are down for the second straight year, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace's annual Global Terrorism Index.

    "There was a 22% decrease to 25,673 deaths [in 2016] compared to the peak of terror activity in 2014 when over 32,500 people were killed," the IEP said in a statement.

    Still, as the total number of terrorism-related deaths has decreased in the last two years, the number of countries experiencing terrorism-related deaths increased in 2016.

    More countries experienced at least one terrorism-related death in 2016 than in any other year since 2001, with 77 countries affected — 11 more than in 2015.

    94% of all terrorism-related deaths happened in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

    Four of the five countries most affected by terrorism — Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria — recorded an improvement. Nigeria saw an 80% reduction in terrorism-related deaths, as Boko Haram has been hit hard by the Multinational Joint Task Force.

    Iraq was the only country of the five most affected by terrorism to record an increase in deaths, as ISIS increased suicide attacks to make up for lost territory.

    The past year also had more terrorism-related deaths in OECD countries than in any other year since 1988.

    Conversely, Central America and the Caribbean experienced only 12 deaths — less than 0.4% of the total number.

    There may be a reason for the low number in those regions — 99% of all terrorism-related deaths in the past 17 years have happened in countries that have an ongoing conflict or high levels of political terror.

    "Although these gains are encouraging, there are still serious areas of concern. The future stability of Syria and Iraq will play a critical role in determining the impact of terrorism in the years ahead," Steve Killelea, executive chairman of the IEP, said in the statement.

    Here's a map of how terrorism spiked across the world in the past year:

    BI Graphics_Global Terrorism Index 2017

    SEE ALSO: It turns out Russia's 'evidence' of the US helping ISIS was just video game screenshots

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    NOW WATCH: Here’s what it was like to live in a city controlled by ISIS

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    us military helicopter

    • The US military has drastically underreported the number of civilian casualties in its fight against ISIS.
    • A recent investigation found the rate of civilian deaths in Iraq to be 31 times higher than what has been reported by US-led coalition forces.
    • News of underreported civilian casualties comes as President Donald Trump loosens rules of engagement abroad, which many human rights organizations say will lead to more innocent lives lost.

    An 18-month investigation by The New York Times revealed that the US-led coalition fighting ISIS repeatedly recorded civilian deaths as enemy casualties.

    The Times' journalists scanned the locations of nearly 150 coalition airstrikes across northern Iraq and found the rate of civilian deaths to be more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition.

    Such negligence — a combination of simply flawed and outdated intelligence — amounted to what the Times noted "may be the least transparent war in recent American history."

    Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Department of Defense agency overseeing the US-led coalition, said "US and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes." He told the Times that the US has been "conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history."

    The reality on the ground reportedly tells a much different story.

    Data from coalition forces reported Iraqi civilian deaths have resulted in about one of every 157 airstrikes. The Times found that civilians were killed in one out of every five.

    Basim Razzo was almost one of the victims, according to the Times. In September 2015, Razzo was sleeping in his bed in Mosul — then under ISIS control — when a US coalition airstrike reduced much of his home to a heap of rubble. He awoke drenched in blood. The roof of his house had been torn apart. Worst of all, he didn't know if his family had been hurt. He soon discovered his wife, daughter, brother, and nephew had been killed.

    Later that day, the US coalition uploaded a video to YouTube entitled, "Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul Iraq 20 Sept 2015." The military claimed it had successfully demolished an ISIS car-bomb factory, but it now appears they actually struck the homes of Razzo and his brother, killing four innocent civilians in the process.

    Human rights concerns

    us military iraq

    In July, the Iraqi Army liberated Mosul from ISIS forces, but people like Razzo couldn't move on. Many still live with the fear of being misidentified as ISIS sympathizers, and the tragedy of losing innocent loved ones.

    "We're not happy with it, and we're never going to be happy with it," Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for the Central Command, told the Times regarding civilian casualties. "But we're pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things."

    That's not enough for human rights organizations, who often criticize coalition forces for poor reporting procedures that leave dozens, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of dead civilians unaccounted for. Human Rights Watch also called on President Donald Trump to do more to protect civilians abroad as news surfaced that he was modifying US military rules of engagement with suspected terrorists.

    "Trump's reported changes for targeting terrorism suspects will result in more civilian deaths with less oversight and greater secrecy," Letta Tayler, a HRW researcher, said earlier this month. "The US should be increasing civilian protections off the battlefield, not dismantling them."

    SEE ALSO: Here's how the US-led coalition decides when and where to hit ISIS targets in Iraq

    DON'T MISS: ISIS' loss of its caliphate signals the end of one type of ISIS — and the beginning of a new one

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    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon

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    Riad Hijab, chief coordinator of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee (HNC), attends a joint statement with French President Francois Hollande (not seen) following their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, December 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

    • Senior Syrian opposition leader Riyad Hijab quit his post as head of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee on Monday without explanation. 
    • In his statement, Hijab made reference to Russian-led ceasefire talks done "without consulting the Syrian people."
    • His resignation comes amid intense violence in Damascus suburbs and the capital.

    A senior Syrian opposition leader quit his post Monday, a week before a new round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

    Riyad Hijab said in a statement that he is stepping down as head of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee after two years in the post.

    Hijab, a former prime minister under President Bashar Assad, did not give a reason for his decision but referred in the statement to attempts by foreign powers to carve up Syria into zones of influence "through side deals made without consulting the Syrian people," a reference to Russian-led cease-fire talks.

    Hijab's resignation comes as preparations are underway to host a two-day Syrian opposition conference in Saudi Arabia starting Wednesday, ahead of the Geneva talks scheduled for Nov. 28.

    The resignation also comes amid intense violence in Damascus suburbs and the capital, which continued for days despite a truce brokered between the government and armed rebels there by Russia, Turkey and Iran. The week-long fighting has claimed dozens of lives, as government forces conducted airstrikes and shelling on the besieged eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Rebels responded with shells, and a group of insurgents attacked a military base.

    On Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory and the Ghouta Media center said they documented the death of a woman and four children in Kfar Batna village in the rebel-held eastern suburb. Eastern Ghouta suburbs have been largely under a tight blockade by pro-government forces, despite the August "de-escalation" agreement that was supposed to allow in humanitarian aid. The U.N. estimates there are around 350,000 people trapped by the blockade. The recent fighting as killed at least 87 civilians in the suburbs, according to the Observatory.

    Also on Monday, The state news agency SANA said two Judo players were killed and more than 12 other players were injured, some critically, when a rebel-lobbed mortar round hit a sports hall they were training inside it in Damascus. The agency earlier reported six people were killed, including a child, when shells hit two Damascus neighborhoods.

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