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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    Vladimir Putin

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian military transport plane crashed in Syria on Tuesday, killing all 32 people on board, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying, an incident that sharply raises the death toll from the Kremlin's Syria operation.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is running for re-election later this month, ordered "a significant part" of Moscow's military contingent there to start withdrawing in December, declaring their work largely done.

    But casualties continue to mount.

    The defense ministry was cited as saying that the plane, an An-26, crashed at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province and that initial information suggested the crash may have been caused by a technical fault.

    Twenty-six passengers and six crew members were on board, and all were killed in the crash, the news agencies quoted the ministry as saying.

    In December 2016, a plane carrying a Russian military orchestra to Syria crashed in the Black Sea, killing all 92 people on board.

    There have also been deaths and injuries among Russian forces in Syria. In one incident, in February this year, Syrian rebels shot down a Russian warplane and killed its pilot on the ground after he ejected.

    About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria last month when their column was attacked by U.S.-led coalition forces, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

    Russian officials said a handful of Russian citizens may have been killed in that incident, but said they were not members of Russia's armed forces.

    (Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Polina Nikolskaya and Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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    T-50 PAK FA

    • Russia is struggling to fund its new Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet, and have only ordered 12 of the jets while the US ramps up its sales and production of the F-35 — a direct competitor.
    • Specifically, the US and India have engaged in some preliminary talks about selling the F-35, when India was initially a key investor in the Su-57 project.
    • Russia's Su-57 is still in a theoretical stage with few airframes built and new engines and weapons integration sorely lacking, but the F-35 is ready to sell.

    Russia recently grabbed a bunch of publicity for its new Su-57 fifth-generation jet by sending a pair of the supposedly stealth fighters to practice dropping bombs in Syria — but it looks like the F-35 could squash the program in its infancy.

    Multiple experts recently told Business Insider that Russia's program to acquire and field the Su-57 desperately needs an infusion of cash from an international investor like India. 

    Initially, India was a partner in the Su-57 program, and intended to help develop, build, and eventually buy scores of the advanced fighter jet pitched as a rival to the US F-22 and F-35, but those talks soured and Russia never saw the money.

    Experts now allege that Russia's deployment of the underdeveloped, underpowered fighters to Syria, a combat zone where they're hardly relevant as air-superiority fighters not facing any real air threats, was a marketing ploy to get more investment.

    But while Russia rushes off the Su-57s for a deployment that lasts mere days and demonstrates only that the supposedly next-generation fighters can drop bombs, the US has made real inroads selling the F-35 to countries that might have looked at the Su-57.

    The US sent F-35s to the Singapore Air Show in February as part of an international sales pitch. President Donald Trump's administration has loosened up regulations on who the US can sell weapons to, and the F-35, once a troubled program, finally seems to have hit its stride.

    "The Russian economy is a mess," retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, now head of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Business Insider. "One of the things they can actually get money for is the advanced tech in their weapons systems."

    But with the Su-57 seeming like a long shot with trouble ahead, and the F-35 now ready to buy, the Trump administration's expressed strategy of punishing the Kremlin's cash flow with military sales might bear fruit.

    Asked if the F-35's export to countries like India posed a threat to Russia's Su-57 program, Deptula gave a short answer: "Yes."

    The Su-57's death blow could fall in a boardroom in New Delhi

    f-35 f-16 f 35

    Japan and South Korea are both thinking about buying more F-35s, but most importantly, The Diplomat rounded up several reports indicating that India's Air Force formally requested a classified briefing on the F-35A, and it may buy up to 126 of the jets.

    At around $100 million per airframe, such a purchase would likely leave little room in the budget for India to buy Su-57s, which would require vastly different support infrastructure than the US jet. 

    "Having been to India and met with their Air Force leadership, while they are a neutral country, their culture is one that fits very well with English speaking nations around the world," said Deptula, who said the US trying to sell F-35s to India would be "worthwhile."

    If India decided to buy F-35s, or really any Western jet, Russia would have it's struggling Su-57 and one fewer customer for it. Meanwhile, Russia has only ordered 12 of the Su-57s, not even enough for a full squadron.

    So while jet enthusiasts have long debated who would win in a fight between the F-35 and the Su-57, we may never find out.

    The US's F-35 is a real jet — three real jets actually — that has significant money behind it to keep it flying in air forces around the globe for decades to come. Russia's Su-57 has no such security.

    SEE ALSO: The US Navy has put to sea the first-ever F-35 aircraft carrier — and it's a big warning to China and North Korea

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    north korea under the sun

    If you feel like you want to binge on some Netflix documentaries but broaden your knowledge of politics at the same time, we've got you covered.

    Netflix has an array of political documentary shows and films — many of which are among some of the best ever made.

    The documentaries on the platform will sharpen your wit about everything from life inside North Korea and how President Donald Trump rose to power, to the politics of high-powered corporate greed and corruption.

    Here are the 13 best documentaries about politics streaming on Netflix right now:

    SEE ALSO: The 24 best science movies and shows streaming on Netflix that will make you smarter

    DON'T MISS: Here are all the confirmed original shows coming to Netflix in 2018

    "13th" (2016)

    What it's about: At the end of the Civil War in 1865, the 13th amendment officially abolished slavery  — but there was a catch. People who had committed a crime could theoretically be enslaved as part of their punishment. "13th" is a stunning documentary that explores the implications of this in the modern American penal system, building on the work of scholars like Michelle Alexander who wrote the landmark book on modern-day segregation in the criminal justice system, "The New Jim Crow.""13th" paints a vivid and disturbing picture of modern American institutionalized racism, and does so with testimony from those who found themselves caught in the system.

    Why you should see it: The film tackles a broad issue, but presents compelling details, stories, and historical examples that help drive its grim point home. Although institutional racism easily fades from the national discourse, "13th" is important simply because it reminds us of the struggle African Americans still face every day.

    "Dirty Money" (2018)

    What it's about: "Dirty Money" is a TV show all about corruption, corporate fraud, and the ways banks, companies, and individuals contribute to illicit activities around the world. From infamous pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli's antics to bank-financed drug and terror operations, this documentary series dives into a number of high-profile and disturbing financial crimes.

    Why you should see it: This series educates viewers about how US law makes white collar crime possible, but feels like an action movie. At a time when government and business ethics are under renewed scrutiny, "Dirty Money" is an important watch for anyone hoping to understand the vast world of institutional corruption.

    "Get Me Roger Stone" (2017)

    What it's about: On the surface, this film is about Roger Stone, Trump's former political adviser who left the campaign in 2015. But it's about so much more — Trump's rise to power, Washington's political culture, and America's pivot to a post-truth existence. "Get Me Roger Stone" features interviews with Stone himself, Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and many others. It offers a stunning look at how one man's career helped create Trump, the politician.

    Why you should see it: This film is essential viewing if you hope to understand the transformative politics of the 2016 election and the central role Stone played in setting the stage for it. It is also wildly entertaining — Stone is a compelling if frustrating anti-hero, who lights up the screen with witty, cynical banter.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Al Qaeda Nusra Front Lebanon

    • ISIS has dominated headlines and preoccupied national security officials for the past four years.
    • It appears that al-Qaeda is rebuilding and has benefited from the Arab Spring’s tumult.
    • From northwestern Africa to southeastern Asia, al-Qaeda has knit together a global movement of more than two dozen franchises.

    While the self-proclaimed Islamic State has dominated the headlines and preoccupied national security officials for the past four years, al-Qaeda has been quietly rebuilding.

    Its announcement last summer of another affiliate—this one dedicated to the liberation of Kashmir—coupled with the resurrection of its presence in Afghanistan and the solidification of its influence in Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, underscores the resiliency and continued vitality of the United States’ preeminent terrorist enemy.

    Although al-Qaeda’s rebuilding and reorganization predates the 2011 Arab Spring, the upheaval that followed helped the movement revive itself. At the time, an unbridled optimism among local and regional rights activists and Western governments held that a combination of popular protest, civil disobedience, and social media had rendered terrorism an irrelevant anachronism. The longing for democracy and economic reform, it was argued, had decisively trumped repression and violence.

    However, where the optimists saw irreversible positive change, al-Qaeda discerned new and inviting opportunities.

    The successive killings in 2011 and 2012 of Osama bin Laden; Anwar al-Awlaki, the movement’s chief propagandist; and Abu Yahya al-Li bi, its second-in-command, lent new weight to the optimists’ predictions that al-Qaeda was a spent force. In retrospect, however, it appears that al-Qaeda was among the regional forces that benefited most from the Arab Spring’s tumult.

    Seven years later, Ayman al-Zawahiri has emerged as a powerful leader, with a strategic vision that he has systematically implemented. Forces loyal to al-Qaeda and its affiliates now number in the tens of thousands, with a capacity to disrupt local and regional stability, as well as launch attacks against their declared enemies in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Russia.

    Indeed, from northwestern Africa to southeastern Asia, al-Qaeda has knit together a global movement of more than two dozen franchises. In Syria alone, al-Qaeda now has upwards of twenty thousand men under arms, and it has perhaps another four thousand in Yemen and about seven thousand in Somalia.

    The Arab Spring’s big winner

    al Qaeda Graphic

    The thousands of hardened al-Qaeda fighters freed from Egyptian prisons in 2012–2013 by President Mohammed Morsi galvanized the movement at a critical moment, when instability reigned and a handful of men well-versed in terrorism and subversion could plunge a country or a region into chaos.

    Whether in Libya, Turkey, Syria, or Yemen, their arrival was providential in terms of advancing al-Qaeda’s interests or increasing its influence. The military coup that subsequently toppled Morsi validated Zawahiri’s repeated warnings not to believe Western promises about either the fruits of democracy or the sanctity of free and fair elections.

    It was Syria where al-Qaeda’s intervention proved most consequential. One of Zawahiri’s first official acts after succeeding bin Laden as emir was to order a Syrian veteran of the Iraqi insurgency named Abu Mohammad al-Julani to return home and establish the al-Qaeda franchise that would eventually become Jabhat al-Nusra.

    Al-Qaeda’s blatantly sectarian messaging over social media further sharpened the historical frictions between Sunnis and Shias and gave the movement the entrée into internal Syrian politics that it needed to solidify its presence in that country. Al-Qaeda’s chosen instrument was Jabhat al-Nusra, the product of a joint initiative with al-Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, which had rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

    But as Nusra grew in both strength and impact, a dispute erupted between ISI and al-Qaeda over control of the group. In a bold power grab, ISI’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the forcible amalgamation of al-Nusra with ISI in a new organization to be called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

    Julani refused to accede to the unilateral merger and appealed to Zawahiri. The quarrel intensified, and after Zawahiri’s attempts to mediate it collapsed, he expelled ISIS from the al-Qaeda network.

    Although ISIS—which has since rebranded itself the Islamic State—has commanded the world’s attention since then, al-Qaeda has been quietly rebuilding and fortifying its various branches. Al-Qaeda has systematically implemented an ambitious strategy designed to protect its remaining senior leadership and discreetly consolidate its influence wherever the movement has a significant presence.

    Accordingly, its leaders have been dispersed to Syria, Iran, Turkey, Libya, and Yemen, with only a hard-core remnant of top commanders still in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Advances in commercial digital communication tools, alongside successive public revelations of U.S. and allied intelligence services’ eavesdropping capabilities, have enabled al-Qaeda’s leaders and commanders to maintain contact via secure end-to-end encryption technology.

    The importance of Syria

    Syria Ghouta bomb

    The number of top al-Qaeda leaders sent to Syria over the past half-dozen years underscores the high priority that the movement attaches to that country.

    Among them was Muhsin al-Fadhli, a bin Laden intimate who, until his death in a 2015 U.S. air strike, commanded the movement’s elite forward-based operational arm in that country, known as the Khorasan Group. He also functioned as Zawahiri’s local emissary, charged with attempting to heal the rift between al-Qaeda and ISIS.

    Haydar Kirkan, a Turkish national and long-standing senior operative, was sent by bin Laden himself to Turkey in 2010 to lay the groundwork for the movement’s expansion into the Levant, before the Arab Spring created precisely that opportunity. Kirkan was also responsible for facilitating the movement of other senior al-Qaeda personnel from Pakistan to Syria to escape the escalating drone strike campaign ordered by President Barack Obama. He was killed in 2016 in a U.S. bombing raid.

    The previous fall marked the arrival of Saif al-Adl, who is arguably the movement's most battle-hardened commander. Adl is a former Egyptian Army commando whose terrorist pedigree, dating to the late 1970s, includes assassination plots against Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 terrorist campaigns in Saudi Arabia and South Asia.

    He also served as mentor to bin Laden’s presumptive heir, his son Hamza, after both Adl and the boy sought sanctuary in Iran following the commencement of U.S. and coalition military operations in Afghanistan  in late 2001. The younger bin Laden’s own reported appearance in Syria this past summer provides fresh evidence of the movement’s fixation with a country that has become the most popular venue to wage holy war since the seminal Afghan jihad of the 1980s.

    Indeed, al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria is far more pernicious than that of ISIS. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the latest name adopted by al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, is now the largest rebel group in the country, having extended its control last year over all of Idlib Province, along the Syrian-Turkish border. This is the culmination of a process al-Qaeda began more than three years ago to annihilate the Free Syrian Army and any other group that challenges al-Qaeda’s regional aspirations.

    Filling the ISIS vacuum

    A member of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) stand guarded in front of a ISIS flag in the border town of Jarablus

    ISIS can no longer compete with al-Qaeda in terms of influence, reach, manpower, or cohesion. In only two domains is ISIS currently stronger than its rival: the power of its brand and its presumed ability to mount spectacular terrorist strikes in Europe.

    But the latter is a product of Zawahiri’s strategic decision to prohibit external operations in the West so that al-Qaeda’s rebuilding can continue without interference. The handful of exceptions to this policy—such as the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and the 2017 St. Petersburg Metro bombing in Russia—provide compelling evidence that al-Qaeda’s external operations capabilities can easily be reanimated. Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s capacity to commit acts of international terrorism—especially the targeting of commercial aviation—was recently the subject of a revealing New York Times story.  

    Al-Qaeda’s success in resurrecting its global network is the result of three strategic moves made by Zawahiri. The first was to strengthen the decentralized franchise approach that has facilitated the movement’s survival. Over the years, the leaders and deputies of al-Qaeda’s far-flung franchises have been integrated into the movement’s deliberative and consultative processes. Today, al-Qaeda is truly “glocal,” having effectively incorporated local grievances and concerns into a global narrative that forms the foundation of an all-encompassing grand strategy.

    The second major move was the order issued by Zawahiri in 2013 to avoid mass casualty operations, especially those that might kill Muslim civilians. Al-Qaeda has thus been able to present itself through social media, paradoxically, as “moderate extremists,” ostensibly more palatable than ISIS.

    This development reflects Zawahiri’s third strategic decision, letting ISIS absorb all the blows from the coalition arrayed against it while al-Qaeda unobtrusively rebuilds its military strength. Anyone inclined to be taken in by this ruse would do well to heed the admonition of Theo Padnos (née Peter Theo Curtis), the American journalist who spent two years in Syria as a Nusra hostage.

    Padnos related in 2014 how the group’s senior commanders “were inviting Westerners to the jihad in Syria not so much because they needed more foot soldiers—they didn’t—but because they want to teach the Westerners to take the struggle into every neighborhood and subway station back home.”

    A parallel thus exists between the U.S. director of national intelligence’s depiction of the al-Qaeda threat today as mainly limited to its affiliates and the so-called Phoney War in western Europe between September 1939 and May 1940, when there was a strange lull in serious fighting following the German invasion of Poland and the British and French declarations of war against Germany.

    Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited British forces arrayed along the Franco-Belgian border that Christmas. “I don’t think the Germans have any intention of attacking us, do you?” he asked Lieutenant General Bernard Law Montgomery, the commander of an infantry division defending the front. The Germans would attack when it suited them, Montgomery brusquely replied.

    It is a point worth keeping in mind as al-Qaeda busily rebuilds and marshals its forces to continue the war against the United States it declared twenty-two years ago.

    SEE ALSO: These were the 50 most violent cities in the world in 2017

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    • UN Ambassador Nikki Haley slammed Russia for its support of Syria's Assad government, which she accuses of gaming the UN system to continue to kill civilians, possibly with chemical weapons.
    • French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France would launch attacks on any Syrian facilities used to launch chemical weapons attacks.
    • Haley ended her statement by saying that if the UN couldn't stop violence in Syria, then the US would act on its own.

    The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, slammed Russia and laid down a heavy warning for the UN Security Council on Monday, saying that if the international community can't come together to stop the bloodshed in Syria, the US will.

    Haley's statement follows French President Emmanuel Macron's statement on Monday that France would launch attacks on any Syrian facilities used to launch chemical weapons attacks, much as the US did in April 2017.

    Haley's statement was especially scathing towards Russia, a permanent member of the security council. Russia, Haley claimed, negotiated loopholes into a ceasefire deal struck by the Security Council in February.

    Haley went on to say that Russia had used those loopholes to carry out premeditated attacks, possibly with chemical weapons, on civilian populations it knowingly mis-categorized as terrorists.

    "With that vote Russia made a commitment to us, to the Syrian people, and the world to stop the killing in Syria," Haley said of February's UN Security Council ceasefire in Syria. "Today we know Russians did not keep their commitment. We see their actions don't match their commitment as bombs continue dropping on the children of east Ghouta."

    Hell on earth in eastern Ghouta

    Man with a child are seen in hospital in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 25, 2018. Picture taken February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam KhabiehOne of the last pockets of Syrian rebels has been holding out in eastern Ghouta against a furious onslaught of Russian and Syrian airstrikes that have killed 1,160 people since February 18, according to a war monitor.

    The roads in and out of eastern Ghouta, where the UN Security Council intended to send aid, have been peppered with airstrikes, making aid convoys' journey treacherous.

    A Reuters report on Monday stated that the pace and volume of airstrikes had grown so thick that it was no longer safe to leave shelter to bury the dead. Haley called Russia and Syria's air and artillery strikes "a brutal bombardment of civilians in Syria."

    In the Security Council resolution, the UN called on Russia to use its influence to stop the bloodshed and allow aid and medical evacuations from east Ghouta, but Haley challenged that assumption in her speech by asking if it was Russia, once Syria's powerful ally and savior, that was subservient to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    "Has the situation reversed and Russia is now the tool of Assad, or worse, Iran?" Haley asked.

    Haley cited reports of Russians bombing medical clinics and hospitals while declaring the strikes successful missions against terrorist targets.

    "Every minute we delayed meant more people were killed, but the Russian delegation stalled and drew out the talks."

    "The Russian and Syrian regimes insist they're targeting terrorists" with airstrikes in Syria, Haley said. But according to Haley, Russia maintains that "the hospitals are full of terrorists, the schools are full of terrorists," while outside monitors report heavy civilian deaths.

    Russia insists that its targets have been exclusively terrorists, and that it has allowed evacuation. It claims that terrorist attacks have shut down UN convoys and thwarted attempts to evacuate Syrians in medical need.

    But it's unclear how rebels or terrorists, who live among Syrian civilians in east Ghouta, could retain sufficient territory to stage mortar or artillery attacks against medical evacuations or aid convoys under such heavy bombardment.

    On Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British war monitor, said about 511,000 people had been killed in the Syrian war since it began in 2011, with 85% of those being killed by Assad's government.

    Haley says Russia makes a 'mockery' of the UN, and the US may strike again

    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on after arriving to watch a training of the COBRAS, Honduras National Police Special Forces, at their base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

    Haley described Russia and Syria's continued subversion of a peace process a "mockery," and concluded her speech with a warning, and recalled the US's April 7, 2017, naval strike on Syrian air bases thought to have participated in a sarin gas attack on its own people.

    "When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action," Haley said.

    "We also warn any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhumane suffering, most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the US remains prepared to act if we must," she said.

    "It's not the path we prefer, but it's a path we've demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again," Haley concluded.

    SEE ALSO: Putin describes Russian 'doomsday' nuclear weapon in a wild speech to the nation

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    "Last Men in Aleppo" director Feras Fayyad explains how Russia has launched a smear campaign against the Syria Civil Defense aka the White Helmets. Following is a transcript of the video.

    Feras Fayyad is a Syrian filmmaker. He's been arrested and tortured by the Syrian government multiple times for making films and teaching others how to document their lives. Fayyad's latest film follows the Syrian Civil Defense aka the White Helmets.

    Feras Fayyad: They are like the first responders in New York who helped the victims of 9/11. The people who have the bravery and the responsibility to help the others. Because this is their neighborhood, their city, their village.

    They're started by people who feel like they are responsible for saving their children, their neighbors, their friends. And most of them are well-known in their community and respected because they have access to the victim's bodies. That means they need a lot of trust.

    The Assad regime in Syria is heavily influenced by Russia.

    Fayyad: The Syrian regime is controlled by Russians. Obviously for us in Syria we saw pictures of Putin next to Assad, they try to show you that nobody can, whatever they did in this country, nobody can change anything.

    Russia and Syria have launched a smear campaign against the White Helmets and Fayyad's film. They claim the White Helmets are a terrorist organization.

    Fayyad: All of this is propaganda that attacks them, which is very strange. There's ISIS and there's many terrorist groups, they're interested more in attacking the White Helmets more than the other terrorist groups. They make the group of people who have saved more than 100,000 lives their enemy.

    Every comment about the film, there's the Russian hackers coming and writing something against this film and showing different pictures that manipulate the story. When you search about  "Last Men in Aleppo" you see 80% against the film, 20% it shows some positive comment.

    And that's impactful actually, impactful with many people. They come to you and ask you, "How can I believe this? I heard this could be made in Hollywood or made for the Americans or made for different Western parties?" Now we are "fake news maker" or whatever because we are just telling the truth.

    Generally, if you ask any Syrian what he wants, he'll say, "I want justice, I want freedom, and I want equality, and I want to be respected for my dignity, and I want to live safely." Nobody wants to take this journey and drown in the Mediterranean, nobody wants to sacrifice himself, and nobody wants to keep doing it.

    The Syrian Civil War began in 2011. The UN Envoy for Syria estimates 400,000 Syrians have been killed.

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    tomahawk cruise missile

    • A top Russian general has threatened to retaliate against the US if it makes good on its promise to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for bombing Syrian civilians.
    • The US said on Monday it would attack Syria again if unacceptable levels of violence continued, and the Russian general said that if that attack endangered Russian servicemen, Russia would fight back.
    • The US has plenty of military options for striking Syria, some of which would be harder to retaliated against, and Russia's aggressive foreign policy may be more about signaling intentions than actually fighting.

    A top Russian general has threatened to retaliate against the US if it makes good on its promise to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for his alleged role in bombing his own people.

    General Valery Gerasimov was reported by multiple Russian news outlets as saying he had information that rebel groups in Syria would carry out a chemical weapons attack on civilians and then blame that attack on the Syrian government as pretense for another military strike.

    Gerasimov went on to say that if the US attacked Syria, and any Russian servicemembers' lives were at risk, Russia would retaliate against any missiles or launchers used in the attack.

    The last time the US attacked Syria, it was in response to a massive sarin gas attack that killed civilians and linked to government airstrikes. The US used guided-missile destroyers to pull off the attack.

    Now, the US has a considerable and heavily-armed presence in Syria, but in the country's east, not where the Assad government's main targets are in the west. It's likely the US would again have to line up naval assets to strike Syria again.

    If the US feared Russian reprisal for the attack, it could simply use a submarine that can fire missiles while submerged and then speed off.

    US called out Russia and threatened to strike Syria

    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on after arriving to watch a training of the COBRAS, Honduras National Police Special Forces, at their base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge CabreraGerasimov's threat comes a day after US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley trashed Russia as she alleged they negotiated loopholes into a UN ceasefire agreement that allowed them to continue bombing civilian targets like hospitals and schools when aid convoys were meant to reach a besieged Syrian town.

    International war monitors support Haley's assertion that Russian and Syrian jets have struck civilian targets. 

    Haley concluded her speech by saying that Russia made a mockery out of the UN, and that the US was prepared to strike Syria if the behaviors continued.

    Russia has placed air defenses around key Syrian airfields, and air assets represent a likely target for any US strikes looking to punish chemical weapons or human rights violators.

    Russia's air defenses in Syria are regarded as very capable, and if the US tries to attack sites protected by Russian defenses, it could meet the conditions Gerasimov set for a counter attack.

    Despite the uptick in tensions lately, the US and Russia have operated near each other in Syria since October 2015. Experts tell Business Insider that Russia, a militarily strong but economically weak state, would not enter outright fighting with the US over Syria.

    In February, the US reportedly killed as many as 300 Russian paramilitary officers and blew up a Russian-made tank in fighting between pro-Syrian government forces, that Russia backs, and rebel forces, that the US backs. 

    SEE ALSO: US slams Russia at the UN and warns it will strike Syria again if airstrikes against civilians continue

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    Turkey air force

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Three Turkish air strikes hit a checkpoint held by pro-Syrian-government Shi'ite militiamen on the road to Afrin in northwestern Syria on Wednesday, killing five fighters, a pro-government commander told Reuters.

    The Shi'ite militias, which control the nearby villages of Nubl and Zahraa, recently assumed control of the position in agreement with the Kurdish YPG militia -- the stated target of a Turkish offensive in the Afrin region, the commander said.

    The air strike also wounded two Kurdish fighters.

    SEE ALSO: Russia just announced it will test its allegedly unstoppable new 'Satan 2' nuclear missile

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    Admiral Grigorovich russia navy

    • Russia was seen sending anti-submarine warfare ships to the Mediterranean after threatening to retaliate against a hypothetical US strike on Syria's Assad regime.
    • The US struck Syria, Russia's ally, in April 2017 using Navy destroyers. It could make sense for the US to send a submarine to attempt another strike in the future.
    • Tensions between Russia and the US have reached a fever pitch after the UK accused Russia of carrying out a chemical weapons attack on its soil.

    The US and Russia have become engaged in an increasingly hot war of words over the warfare and suffering in Syria, and Russia was seen sending heavy naval firepower to the region around the same time it threatened to retaliate to any US strikes.

    Russia has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad for years during his country's seven-year-long civil war. Russia provides military support and airpower to help Assad cling to power as he fights off Islamist insurgents and a popular uprising in a war where his forces have reportedly killed the wide majority of the half million now dead.

    Russia agreed to remove Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons in 2013, but international inspectors concluded in 2017 that Syria had used sophisticated chemical weapons in a massive attack on civilians.

    The US responded with a naval strike that destroyed much of the airbase the Pentagon alleges carried out the attack. The next day, Russia vowed to retaliate if the US struck Syria, by destroying any missiles or launchers used.

    After verbally sparring with Russia at the UN, the US on Monday said in no uncertain terms that if Russia could not hold to the UN-backed ceasefire, as multiple reports indicate it had not, the US would strike Syria again.

    On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Devrim Yaylali, the man behind and the popular Bosphorus Naval News, spotted Russian navy frigates transiting the Bosphorus Strait into the Mediterranean.

    The frigates specialize in anti-submarine warfare, according to Yaylali, who told Business Insider that the deployments may or may not be routine, as sometimes Russian ships continue on past the Suez canal.

    But tensions between Russia and the West are peaking after Russia's threats to fight back against the US in Syria and the UK accused the Russian state of carrying out a nerve agent attack on a former spy in the British countryside. 

    Sub hunting in the Mediterranean? Or routine deployment

    USS Michigan loading Tomahawk

    When the US attacked Syria as punishment for the chemical weapons attack in April 2017, it did so with Navy destroyers firing 59 cruise missiles.

    The US also has submarines that can mount a similar attack, and if the US wanted to repeat the assault, it may be wiser to send a submerged vessel. A submarine would likely not create the obvious red flag of US destroyers returning to the shores where they once laid waste to a significant portion of Assad's air force.

    But the US has plenty of options to strike Russia in Syria if they chose, including air power and ground systems.

    Additionally, it's standard practice for any military to move supporting platforms into an area where it bases troops, so Russia's introduction of naval power into the Mediterranean may be simple protocol for protecting Russian servicemen in Syria. 

    SEE ALSO: Russia responds with veiled nuclear, death threats to UK nerve agent attack

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    Omar Alloush Syria Kurdish

    • Omar Alloush, a senior Kurdish official who played a key role in the US' policy in Syria, has been found dead in his apartment. 
    • Alloush death is a blow to the post-IS efforts in the region, as he played a key role in mediating between Arabs and Kurds.
    • The main Kurdish party in Syria said Thursday the death of Alloush is under investigation, and officials suspect foul play.

    A senior Kurdish official who played a key role with the United States in implementing its post-Islamic State group policy in northern Syria has been found dead in his apartment, Kurdish officials said Thursday.

    Omar Alloush's death is a blow to the post-IS efforts in the region, as he played a key role in mediating between Arabs and Kurds and in shaping the U.S. policy in the area.

    The main Kurdish party in Syria said Thursday the death of Alloush is under investigation, and officials suspect foul play.

    Alloush was found dead in his apartment in Tal Abyad, a majority Arab town in northern Syria where he helped set up a joint Arab-Kurd administrative council after it was liberated from IS in 2015.

    Alloush moved on to play a key role in forming the U.S-backed civil council for Raqqa, also a majority Arab town which was also the de-facto capital of IS. Raqqa was cleared of the militants last year after months of fighting.

    Kurdish fighters

    Alloush and other Arab tribal leaders were instrumental in negotiating a deal with the remnants of IS to evacuate the city after they were squeezed into a small sliver of land.

    The October evacuation deal allowed a number of IS fighters to leave Raqqa in a convoy of vehicles, sparking criticism that the militants were let off the hook. The U.S.-led coalition said it was not involved in the negotiations, which aimed to save lives.

    Another Arab mediator who played a key role in an evacuation deal of IS militants from Tabqa, a town near Raqqa, was also found killed last month in Syria.

    Top Kurdish official Fawza Yousef said Alloush's killing is a blow to joint Arab-Kurdish action and social peace following the defeat of IS.

    "Omar Alloush had a key role in forming the Raqqa city council and in developing the concept of coexistence in Tal Abyad, Raqqa and Tabqa," she said, naming also another major town west of Raqqa that was recaptured from IS.

    Those who killed him "want to incite sedition between ethnic groups and ignite internal infighting," she said.

    Yousef accused Turkey of being behind the assassination of Alloush, saying he received threats before. Turkey views the dominant Kurdish militia, which is the U.S. partner in the fight against IS in Syria, as a terrorist group.

    FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan looks on ahead of a meeting at the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

    Ankara had sent troops into Syria to push the Kurdish militia away from its borders and prevent it from linking up areas it controls in west and east Syria. The U.S. support for the Kurdish-led forces was a reason for souring relations with Ankara.

    Nadim Houry, director of the counter-terrorism program for Human Rights Watch, called Alloush's death "terrible news," describing him as a "cornerstone" of Kurdish-Arab relations in the area.

    "Whoever killed him wants to destabilize the area," Houry wrote on his Twitter account.

    U.S. officials had no immediate comment on Alloush's death.

    Nicholas Heras, a Middle East Security Fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, said Alloush's suspected killing was a "terrible blow" to the U.S. efforts to stabilize Raqqa and therefore U.S. strategy in Syria. The Kurdish-led forces have "a big bulls eye on its back and the road ahead will not be easy."

    SEE ALSO: The Air Force released new videos of A-10 Warthogs striking Taliban drug labs — and it shows why the US strategy is a game of 'whack-a-mole'

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    Syrian Civil War

    Thursday marks the seven-year-anniversary of the start of the Syrian Civil War.

    The conflict has reportedly claimed the lives of as many as half a million people, caused the worst refugee crisis since WWII, and destroyed so many cities and so much infrastructure that the cost to rebuild is an estimated $200 billion

    What started as street protests turned into a civil war, and has now erupted into a war that involves dozens of nations (directly or indirectly), hundreds of armed groups, and four main sides.

    Despite all that, the war continues — and shows no real signs of stopping anytime soon.

    Take a look here at how the conflict unfolded:

    Veronika Bondarenko contributed to a previous version of this story.

    SEE ALSO: US Marines traveled to Israel to train in a mock Middle East village — and learned the harsh realities of urban warfare

    In the spring of 2011, a series of pro-democracy protests known as the Arab Spring were rocking countries across the Middle East. In Syria, people peacefully protested in the streets after President Bashar Assad's government arrested and tortured teenagers for writing pro-revolution graffiti on their school wall.

    Source: BBC

    To quell the protests, government forces started opening fire during marches and sit-ins. With hundreds of people now killed by Assad's government, the protesters who initially called for more civil liberties started demanding a total overthrow of Assad's regime.

    Source: The Guardian

    With no end to the violence, some former government officers formed the Free Syrian Army to support the opposition. Other armed groups with various ideologies and loyalties would also be created. As sides battled for control over major cities such as Homs and Aleppo, the fighting escalated into a full-blown civil war by the end of 2011.

    Source: BBC

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    pave hawk helicopter

    • A US military Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk reportedly crashed in western Iraq.
    • Seven crew members were believed to have been onboard.
    • Rescue forces have been dispatched and an investigation is ongoing.

    A US military Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk reportedly crashed in western Iraq on Thursday, according to multiple newsreports.

    Seven US Air Force airmen are believed to have been onboard during the incident.

    An investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing, but initial reports indicate the airmen were not on a combat mission and no hostile fire was taken, according to US Defense Department officials.

    "Rescue teams are responding to the scene of the downed aircraft at this time," a statement from Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said, according to ABC News. "Further details will be released when available."

    The primary role of the HH-60 is to conduct search and rescue operations. As a modified UH-60 Black Hawk, the capabilities of the HH-60 includes various communications and search tools to provide medical evacuations disaster response, and humanitarian assistance.

    This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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    A rescue worker holds an injured girl in the rebel held besieged town of Hamouriyeh, eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the Russian military and the Syrian government are extending a cease-fire in Damascus' rebel-held suburbs as long as it takes to allow all the civilians to leave the area.

    Lavrov spoke in Kazakhstan on Friday, saying the cease-fire will be extended "until all (civilians) leave" the enclave known as eastern Ghouta.

    The Russian Defense Ministry said that 2,000 people had exited the rebel-held suburbs by early morning.

    Thursday saw the largest single-day exodus of civilians in Syria's civil war. Tens of thousands emerged from Hamouria and other opposition towns to escape the onslaught.

    The civilians were fleeing as Syrian government troops, backed by Russian aircraft, pushed further into eastern Ghouta.

    Elsehwere, Turkish forces are pushing their way into the northern Kurdish-held town of Afrin.

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    su 24 frogfoot syria

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday Russian air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held village of Kafr Batna in eastern Ghouta killed 12 civilians and wounded more than 100 others.

    "The bodies are completely burned by the Russian war plane air strikes," Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the UK-based war monitor, said.

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    US Marines howitzers Syria

    • US troops in Syria are digging in and preparing for future attacks after a massive battle played out in the country's east
    • The US Brig. Gen. in charge of the US-led fight against ISIS confirmed that around 300 Russian mercenaries were killed in a massive battle with US forces on February 7, though the Kremlin denies it.
    • Russian websites have been seen as advertising jobs for more mercenaries, and a recruiter reportedly said Russians were now joining up to take revenge on the US after losing the fight in February. 

    US troops in Syria are digging in and preparing for future attacks after a massive battle played out in the country's east that ended with up to 300 Russian mercenaries killed by US artillery and airpower.

    Reporting from the ground in Syria, NBC News' Richard Engel and Kennet Werner spoke to Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga, whose forces beat back the pro-Syrian government advance on a well known US position near valuable oilfields.

    The Pentagon said the pro-Syrian forces, including many Russians hired by private military contractors, made an "unprovoked attack" on their positions with artillery fire. The US response included airstrikes and artillery shelling that sources say wiped out much of the advancing column in just minutes.

    "Those artillery rounds could have landed and killed Americans, and that's why we continue to prepare our defenses,"  Braga, who directs the US-led operations against ISIS, told NBC News.

    Braga also confirmed that it was largely Russian nationals that took part in the fighting, though the Kremlin denies this.

    But despite the overwhelming victory that saw zero casualties on the US side, Braga said he's "absolutely concerned" about further clashes in the future.

    After the massive battle, Russian job listing sites were seen as advertising security work in Syria, in what is likely a recruitment play for more mercenaries. A man claiming to recruit Russians to work as private military contractors said that the recruits he now met were joining up to take revenge on the US, after the battle shook their national pride. 

    Possible round two

    AH-64D Apache attack helicopter

    Now, according to NBC News, the forces that once attacked the US sit just three miles away, and Braga is uneasy.

    "There is no reason for that amount of combat power to be staring at us this closely," Braga said. "I don't think that's healthy for de-escalation."

    As a result Braga's forces are digging in and preparing for what could be a future clash.

    Russia stands accused of using military contractors, or Russian nationals without proper Russian military uniforms, to conceal the true cost of fighting in places like Ukraine and Syria. 

    But when the Russian mercenaries were crushed by US airpower, they reportedly had no anti-aircraft weaponry.

    It's unclear how the Russian mercenaries and pro-Syrian government forces expect to stand a chance against the US without the involvement of the proper Russian military, or at least weapons that can take down the US Apache helicopters that are said to have strafed and mopped up the mercenaries towards the end of the battle.

    SEE ALSO: Why Putin's new 'doomsday' device is so much more deadly and horrific than a regular nuke

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    • Vladimir Putin now has a stronger hold on Russia — and stronger place in the world — thanks to an overwhelming mandate for yet another term as president.
    • Relations between Russia and the West are already at their lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union 26 years ago.
    • Russia is unlikely to pull out of Syria, where it constantly butts heads with the West, anytime soon. He will likely keep up his aggressive foreign policies.
    • But Putin faces a tough question of how to step down from power, as he is getting old and has no apparent successor.

    MOSCOW (AP) — Vladimir Putin now has a stronger hold on Russia — and stronger place in the world — thanks to an overwhelming mandate for yet another term as president.

    His domestic opponents are largely resigned to another six years in the shadows. His foreign opponents are mired in their own problems, from Britain's messy exit from the European Union to chaos and contradiction in the Trump administration.

    Even widespread voting violations are unlikely to dent Putin's armor. And accusations that he meddled in the U.S. election and sponsored a nerve agent attack in Britain have only bolstered his standing at home.

    Here's a look at what to expect from Putin's next six years in power, for Russia's rivals, neighbors and its own 147 million citizens.

    New Cold War? 

    trump and putin

    Relations between Russia and the West are already at their lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union 26 years ago.

    Despite a friendly-ish relationship with President Donald Trump, Putin's new mandate gives him little incentive to seek entente with Washington, especially as the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election intensifies.

    Putin-friendly leaders have made gains in recent Italian and German elections. Western countries are likely to see more Russia-linked hacking and propaganda aimed at disrupting elections or otherwise discrediting democracy — including the U.S. midterm elections in November.

    Since Putin's domestic popularity bumps whenever he stands up to the West, expect more tough talk from Putin the next time he faces threats at home, and bolder Russian vetoes at the U.N. Security Council of anything seen as threatening Moscow's interests.

    His claim several weeks ago that Russia has developed new nuclear weapons that can evade missile defenses clearly showed Putin's adamant determination to boost Russia's power to intimidate.

    Syria and the extremist threat

    su 24 frogfoot syria

    Russian-backed Syrian forces helped rout the Islamic State group from Syria, and Putin argues that Russia saved the day in a conflict that had confounded U.S.-led forces fighting against IS.

    Now those Russian-backed Syrian forces are closing in on the last strongholds of Western-backed rebel forces.

    Viewing that as a geopolitical and military victory over an illegal Western-led intervention, Russia is unlikely to pull out of Syria anytime soon.

    An emboldened Putin could position the resurgent Russian military as a peacemaker in other regional conflicts — for example in Libya, where Russia has oil interests and where a disastrous Western invasion seven years ago left a lawless state now seething with extremists.

    Russia's neighbors

    Crimea war 2014

    To Russians, Putin's biggest victory in 18 years in power was annexing Crimea and crushing Ukraine's ambitions to move closer to the EU and NATO.

    Putin is frustrated at the resulting U.S. and EU sanctions but appears unwilling to make concessions that would bring them to an end. Ukraine is split between a volatile government in Kiev and a Russia-backed separatist region stuck in a frozen but still deadly conflict that serves Putin's interests.

    Moscow's actions in Ukraine sent a warning signal to other countries in Russia's orbit that reaching westward is dangerous. And former Soviet bloc states within the EU are increasingly drifting back toward Moscow, from Hungary and Poland to the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

    Fellow Russians 

    Putin supporters

    Putin's new mandate could theoretically hand him the power to make bold reforms that Russia has long needed to raise living standards and wean itself from its oil dependence.

    But Putin has convinced Russian voters that drastic change is dangerous, and that protecting the country from threats takes precedence over improving daily life.

    Experts predict he may enact some changes like expanding affordable housing and fighting corruption on a local level.

    But less likely are bigger changes such as overhauling the pension system, which is unpopular among a strong Putin voting base, or spending cuts in the security sector, unpopular among the ex-KGB friends in Putin's entourage.

    Russia has weathered a two-year recession, and inflation and the deficit are low. But personal incomes have stagnated, the health care system is crumbling and corruption is rife.

    His own future 

    putin presidential campaign

    The biggest question for Russians over the next six years is what happens after that.

    Putin is constitutionally required to step down in 2024, but he could change the rules to eliminate term limits, or anoint a malleable successor and continue to run things behind the scenes.

    Asked at an impromptu news conference Sunday night if he would seek the presidency again in 2030, when he would be eligible again, the 65-year-old Putin snapped back: "It's ridiculous. Do you think I will sit here until I turn 100?"

    Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin's most serious foe, will face further pressure from authorities as he works to expose corruption and official lies.

    Other Putin rivals such as candidate Ksenia Sobchak and oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky will try to gain a foothold through upcoming local elections and the parliament.

    And members of Putin's inner circle will be jockeying for position for the day when he is no longer in the picture.

    Putin may revive efforts to promote artificial intelligence and other innovation as part of a focus on the younger generation, whose loyalty he needs to ensure his legacy outlives him.

    SEE ALSO: Russia says it snuck nuclear attack submarines near US bases undetected

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    Anna campbell

    • A British woman has died fighting alongside an all-female Kurdish militant group in Syria.
    • Anna Campbell, a qualified plumber from east Sussex, was 26.
    • She is the first British woman to die fighting alongside Kurdish forces.
    • Campbell persuaded her commanders to let her fight Turkish forces in Afrin, and even dyed her hair from blonde to black to look less conspicuously Western.

    A British woman who travelled to Syria to fight against ISIS alongside Kurdish forces has died.

    Anna Campbell, 26, spent months opposing ISIS in the besieged city of Deir Ezzor; but ultimately died in action against Turkish forces, who have been attacking Kurdish fighters inside Syria.

    The native of Lewes, east Sussex, volunteered for the US-backed Kurdish Women's Protection Units (YPJ), the all-female affiliate army of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

    The convoy she was travelling in near the city of Afrin was struck by a Turkish missile, The Guardian reported.

    She is believed to be the first British woman to die fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria. Several men, including 24-year-old Jac Holmes, have died fighting for the Kurds over the past few years.

    Campbell, who was a plumber in the UK, travelled to Syria in 2017, the BBC reported. While there she was given the nom-the-guerre Helîn Qerecox, The Guardian said.

    She originally went to fight ISIS in Deir Ezzor, but later persuaded her commanders to send her to Afrin to fight against Turkey — and dyed her blonde hair black to convince them.

    An unnamed YPJ source told The Guardian: "They refused at first, but she was adamant, and even dyed her blonde hair black so as to appear less conspicuous as a westerner. Finally they gave in and let her go."

    Turkish forces launched a ground and air offensive against Kurdish militants in Afrin, which is near the Turkish border, alongside the Free Syrian Army in January. Turkey considers the YPJ and YPG an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), whom they see as terrorists. The EU and US also consider the PKK a terrorist organisations.

    The YPG withdrew from Afrin on early Sunday morning after Turkish and Syrian rebel forces besieged the city. Some 150,000 civilians also fled over the weekend.

    Dirk Campbell, Anna's father, told the BBC's "Today" radio programme on Monday:

    "She was determined to live in a way that made a difference to the world. She was determined to act on that and do whatever it took. She was prepared to put her life on the line, actually. There aren't many people who do that.

    "It's hard to understand but you have to realise that people who are young are very idealistic and very passionate. That is the age of idealism, the age that Anna was, and there are a lot of people like her."

    He added: "In retrospect I think that I probably should have done more to dissuade her, but I knew that she would never have forgiven me if I had actively tried to prevent her from going. I couldn't affect or try to influence her own perceived destiny — it was the most important thing to her."


    The YPJ said in a statement to The Guardian:

    "[Campbell’s] martyrdom is a great loss to us because with her international soul, her revolutionary spirit, which demonstrated the power of women, she expressed her will in all her actions.

    "On behalf of the Women’s Defence Units YPJ, we express our deepest condolences to [her] family and we promise to follow the path she took up.

    "We will represent her in the entirety of our struggles."

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    NOW WATCH: Why Russia is so involved in the Syrian Civil War

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    A Turkish soldier waves a flag on Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria January 28 ,2018. REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - More than 200,000 people who fled a Turkey-led offensive on the Kurdish town of Afrin are without shelter or access to food and water in nearby areas, a Syrian Kurdish official from Afrin told Reuters on Monday.

    "The people with cars are sleeping in the cars, the people without are sleeping under the trees with their children," Hevi Mustafa, a top member of the Kurdish civil authority in the Afrin area, told Reuters by phone.

    Turkish forces backed by Syrian rebel groups swept into Afrin town on Sunday, raising their flag in the town center and declaring full control after an eight-week campaign to drive out Kurdish YPG fighters. Mustafa said civilians still in Afrin town were facing threats from the Turkey-backed groups.

    SEE ALSO: US troops in Syria prepare for more Russian attacks after crushing up to 300 mercenaries in February battle

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    Russia has played a major role in the Syrian Civil War and has garnered controversy over its airstrikes along with Syrian government forces against terrorist organizations and other rebel groups. Andrew Parailiti, RAND director of the Center for Global Risk and Security, explains why Russia decided to intervene in the war, which includes its willingness to aid an ally, and challenge the US' role in the world. Following is a transcript of the video.  

    Andrew Parasiliti: Russia takes a broader view of what it considers to be terrorist groups than the United States does.

    Why Russia is so involved with the Syrian Civil War.

    Parasiliti: I tend to find that Russia's interests in Syria are pretty clear and they are as follows: One, they're supporting an ally. Bashar al-Assad's government is under attack. First by popular uprisings, and then by terrorist groups, and other armed groups backed by countries in the region. And they're not gonna let him fall. The Russians are concerned that if Assad fell, that you would either have a group in power that included jihadists who would be inimical to US and Russian, and other interests, actually. Or you would have a continually destabilized state that allowed these terrorist groups to continue.

    Two, there's a counter-terrorism piece. This is what the Russians tell the Americans when we talk about Syria with them. They say Moscow shares Washington's interests in combating terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. That's true to a certain extent. Although, Russia takes a broader view of what it considers to be terrorist groups than the United States does. It is more inclined towards Assad's definition, which is any armed group which opposes him, rather than the strict UN definition which would be Islamic State, Al-Qaeda. But it is correct to say that Russia also supports counter-terrorism activity.

    Third, is challenging the US role. In a kind of lesson learned from the previous era, Russia went along with the UN resolution which allowed what was then called the Right to Protect Use of Force in Libya during the Obama administration. And that ended up leading to the downfall of Gaddafi, and we saw what happened there. Russia is not ever going to let that happen again. They're going to try to prevent, actually, any US or other military intervention that could destabilize a friendly state.

    It's kind of a demonstration effect to the rest of the Middle East. Russia stands by its allies in the region. People take note of that. When Assad was on the ropes, Russia stepped up with a substantial military power to keep him in power. The Iranians too, but it was the Russian initiative and Russian airpower which has been instrumental in Assad's ability to hang on.


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    USS Theodore Roosevelt

    • 2,000 or so US forces remain in control of Syria's rich western oil fields.
    • Iran, Syria's government, and Russia openly oppose the US presence, but there's not much they can do about it.
    • An expert explains why it would be a losing battle to take on the US.

    Since the US-led effort against ISIS has destroyed almost all of the terror group's territorial sovereignty in Syria, 2,000 or so US forces remain in control of the country's rich oil fields— something that Iran, Syria's government, and Russia openly oppose.

    But unfortunately for Russia, pro-Syrian government forces, and Iranian militias, there's not much they can do about it.

    A small US presence in a western town called Der Ezzor has maintained an iron grip on the oilfields and even repelled an advance of hundreds of Russian mercenaries and pro-Syrian government forces in a massive battle that became a lopsided win for the US.

    Russia has advanced weapons systems in Syria, pro-Syrian militias have capable Russian equipment, and Iran has about 70,000 troops in the country. On paper, these forces could defeat or oust the US and the Syrian rebels it backs, but in reality it would likely be a losing battle, according to an expert.

    US forces at risk, but not as much as anyone who would attack them

    US Marine artillery syria

    "They have the ability to hurt US soldiers, it's possible," Tony Badran, a Syria expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. But "if they do that they'll absolutely be destroyed."

    According to Badran, even if Russia wanted a direct fight against the US military in Syria, something that he and other experts seriously doubt, the Syrian government-aligned forces don't stand much of a chance. 

    "I think the cruise missile attack in April showed, and the ongoing Israeli incursions show, the Russian position and their systems are quite vulnerable," said Badran, referring to the US's April 2017 strike on a Syrian airfield in response to a chemical weapons attack in the country. Though Russia has stationed high-end air defenses in Syria to protect its assets, that did not stop the US when President Donald Trump's administration decided to punish the Syrian air force with 59 cruise missiles.

    Russia has just a few dozen jets in Syria, mostly suited for ground-attack roles with some air supremacy fighters. The US has several large bases in the area from which it can launch a variety of strike and fighter aircraft, including the world's greatest fighter jet, the F-22. 

    Iran has a large inventory of rockets in and around Syria, according to Badran, but an Iranian rocket attack on US forces would be met by a much larger US retaliation.

    "It's vulnerable," Badran said of Iran's military presence in Syria. "It's exposed to direct US fire, just like it's exposed to direct Israeli fire."

    If Iran fired a single missile at US forces, "then the bases and depot and crew will be destroyed after that," said Badran, who added that Iranian forces in Syria have poor supply lines that would make them ill-suited to fighting the US, which has air power and regional assets to move in virtually limitless supplies. 

    Badran noted that before the US entered the Syrian conflict, ISIS fighters, whose training and equipment pales in comparison to the US's forces, had good success in disrupting Iranian-aligned militias' supply lines "even though they're under bombardment."

    "Imagine what it would be like" if Iranian militias had to fight against the full power of the US military, Badran added.

    Syria's military has struggled for years to take territory from Syrian rebels, some of whom do not receive any funding and backing from the US. With Syria's government focused on overcoming the civil war in the country's more populous east, it's unlikely they could offer any meaningful challenge to US forces in the country's west.

    The US defending itself is a given, and Russia, Iran, or Syria would be too bold to question that

    An F-15E Strike Eagle sits on the flightline at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Nov. 12, 2015.

    "Everybody poses this question as though the US is Luxembourg," Badran said, comparing the US, which has the most powerful military in the world, to Luxembourg, which has a few hundred troops and only some diplomatic or economic leverage to play with while conducting foreign policy.

    For now, the US has announced its intentions to stay in Syria and sit on the oil fields to deny the government the funds to reconstruct the country. Syria's government has ties to massive human rights violations throughout the seven-year-long civil war and its ruler, Bashar Assad, clings to power in the face of popular uprisings. 

    While the US has failed to oust Assad or even meaningfully decrease the suffering of Syrian people, it remains a force incredibly capable of defending itself.

    SEE ALSO: US troops in Syria prepare for more Russian attacks after crushing up to 300 mercenaries in February battle

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    NOW WATCH: Why Russia is so involved in the Syrian Civil War

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