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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    MARSOC

    • Evidence suggests that US troops may have played a more active role in fighting ISIS than previously admitted.
    • Citations that were awarded to a number of US troops show that they were in the direct line of fire with ISIS militants on more than one occasion.
    • The citations, which were somewhat redacted, were obtained after a Freedom of Information Act request to Marine Special Operations Command.


    U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria sent in for the so-called “advise and assist” mission against the Islamic State have engaged in direct combat with the terror group more often than you’d think, according to individual award citations obtained by Code Red News.

    “I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” President Barack Obama said in Sep. 2014. “It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”

    As Obama and Pentagon leaders often explained, the battle against ISIS was to be waged by and through regional partners, with U.S. troops staying in the background safely behind the lines, with the exception of occasional special operations raids.

    But, as the award citations show, the advisory role Americans were engaged in — at least during the spring of 2016 — was plenty dangerous.

    marines

    In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Marine Special Operations Command provided me a number of somewhat-redacted citations for service-members who received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Award (with combat distinguishing device) for actions during Operation Inherent Resolve.

    Three such award citations mentioned similar actions during the period of Jan. 2016 to July 2016. I assume the awards were all given to members of the same unit, but MARSOC declined to confirm this.

    Although lower-tier awards such as these are hardly every reported on, they are quite interesting since they tell the story of what Americans were really doing in Iraq and Syria at a time of minimal Pentagon transparency and independent reporting.

    So what were grunts on the ground in Iraq doing in the spring of 2016?

    We already know they were hitting ISIS with thousands of rounds of artillery. But some Marines were finding themselves even closer to the fight, engaging in small arms battles and tit-for-tat engagements with 81 and 120mm mortars, which boast effective ranges between 3 and 5 miles.

    During an operation named Phoenix Storm, for example, as coalition and Peshmerga forces were under sustained “heavy indirect and machine-gun fire,” an unnamed MARSOC Element Member disregarded his own safety and exposed himself to enemy rounds that were impacting within 30 meters of his position, according to one citation.

    He fired back over 12 fire missions on the 120mm mortar, killing 10 enemy fighters, destroying one enemy mortar position, and neutralizing one tactical vehicle.

    MARSOC

    Another award for a MARSOC Canine Handler sheds light on the unit’s apparent operational tempo: He and his military working dog performed more than 350 counter-IED sweeps in the area over that six-month period — an average of twice a day.

    Since military working dog teams are most often attached to larger units, this suggests the MARSOC operators (or their Iraqi and Peshmerga partners) were patrolling outside the wire quite often.

    The handler also employed indirect fire and unmanned aerial surveillance assets, according to his citation. As an 81mm mortar gunner during one operation, it says, he “fired 6 fire missions while rounds were impacting within 75 meters of his position,” killing three enemy fighters and destroying two mortar positions.

    Then later as a 120mm mortar gunner, his position received “effective, sustained enemy artillery fire within 30 meters,” but he unhesitatingly conducted multiple fire missions and killed 10 enemy fighters.

    Meanwhile, the MARSOC team’s Element Leader (typically a staff sergeant), while serving as the subordinate ground force commander, and under “sustained and accurate enemy indirect fire impacting his position,” provided fires in support of the Peshmerga.

    During one such operation as the Peshmerga took casualties and were pinned down by enemy fire, the citation says, “he expertly led his team’s fire direction center and gun line while employing 81mm and 120mm mortars to destroy enemy positions.

    These devastating fires reinvigorated the assault and enabled the main effort to seize their objectives.”

    What can we learn from such awards? Although it’s pretty clear claims that American troops in 2016 were not operating on the “front line” were bunk, at least now we know a little more of what they really faced, and can shed light on their incredible bravery during the period.

    View the award citations below:

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    SEE ALSO: A US Army aviator explains the 3 biggest problems facing military aviation

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    putin netanyahu

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and warned against further airstrikes in Syria.
    • Russia accused Israel of leading a recent aerial attack in Syria, an allegation Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.
    • Netanyahu and Putin have maintained positive ties in the past, however a US-led retaliation effort in Syria could put a major divide in their relationship.


    Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and warned the country against airstrikes in Syria.

    The Kremlin released a statement verifying the call, and said Putin "emphasized the importance of respecting Syria’s sovereignty" and called on the Israeli Prime Minister to "refrain" taking action to that could "further destabilize the situation in the country and threaten its security."

    The two leaders discussed the recent aerial attack on military airbase in Homs,Syria, which reportedly killed at least 14 people. Russia has accused Israel of leading the strike, an allegation that Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.

    Israeli officials confirmed the phone call, reported Haaretz, adding that Netanyahu said Israel would act to prevent Iran's military presence in Syria. News of the phone call came as Netanyahu delivered a speech for Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Hashoa) in which he brazenly threatened Iran not to "test Israel's resolve."

    On Wednesday, Netanyahu reportedly told his security officials in a closed-door meeting that he believes the US will order a military strike against Syria in retaliation for a suspected gas attack on Saturday that killed dozens of civilians.

    Russia has aligned itself with Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad and his government forces, and Israel is trying to curb Iran's growing influence in Syria and prevent Iranian fighters from attacking Israel's border.

    Netanyahu and Putin have maintained positive relations in the last few years, and have discussed preventing a military confrontation between their armies in Syria. But the recent call between the two leaders likely signals a growing divide in their approach to the regional conflict.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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


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    Theresa May

    • Theresa May's government will today decide whether to take military action against the Syrian regime.
    • A "barbaric" chemical attack, believed to be carried out by President Assad, left over 40 dead last week.
    • Prime Minister May does not legally need parliamentary approval before launching an attack.
    • A new poll shows public opposes Syrian airstrikes by two to one.
    • A Western attack on Syria could have dire ramifications for relations with Russia.

     

    LONDON — Theresa May will today hold a crunch Cabinet meeting in which she and her ministers will decide whether to join military action in Syria.

    The prime minister will seek her Cabinet's approval to join with Donald Trump's US in launching airstrikes against the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad, the war-torn country's disgraced president.

    May wants to launch airstrikes without first securing parliamentary approval, the BBC reports, in a move which would be opposed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and numerous other opposition MP across the House of Commons.

    This means Britain is on the cusp of joining the US in another military foray in the Middle east. Here's how we got here.

    "Abhorrent" chemical attack shocks the world

    The West is preparing to respond to a chemical attack which left at least forty people dead and hundreds more receiving treatment in the Syrian city of Douma on Saturday. Douma is just a few miles outside the country's capital, Damascus, and is controlled by rebels who want to overthrow President Assad.

    The attack was the latest chapter in a civil war which has ravaged Syria since 2011. The conflict has left over 500,000 Syrians dead and around 6.1 million displaced, according to UN and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights data.

    Prime Minister May, President Trump and other western leaders believe Assad is almost certainly behind the attack. May described the attack as a "shocking, barbaric act" which cannot go "unchallenged" by Britain and its allies. The Assad regime denies being responsible for the attack.

    British submarines are reportedly being moved within "missile range" of Syria with military action set to begin as early as Thursday night if May secures the backing of her government ministers.

    Bashar al Assad

    Doesn't May need the permission of MPs?

    Contrary to what many believe, the UK prime minister is not legally obliged to seek parliamentary approval before launching military action. In fact, they don't even need to inform them.

    The root of this misconception is the 2003 Iraq invasion. The then-prime minister Tony Blair asked Parliament to vote in favour of invading Iraq. This created an informal convention which was followed by David Cameron, who a decade later decided against taking action in Syria after MPs voted it down. Prime ministers may decide to look for parliamentary support to give their military action political authority. After all, going to war is one of the riskiest and most controversial decisions a prime minister can make.

    However, this is nothing more than a convention. In 2011, for example, MPs didn't get to vote on intervening in Libya until after the intervention had already got underway, meaning it was too late to vote it down anyway.

    Does the public want another war?

    If May does intend on ignoring convention, it will not be with the broad support of the British public. A YouGov poll released today finds that just 22% of Brits support military action in Syria, while 43% oppose it.

    British public against Syria airstrikes poll

    Labour leader Corbyn previously told the BBC he supported a parliamentary vote before any action. It "should always be given a say on any military action," Corbyn said. "We don't want bombardment which leads to escalation and a hot war between the US and Russia over the skies of Syria."

    Speaking today, Corbyn questioned how airstrikes would improve the situation in Syria. "More bombing, more killing, more war will not save life," he told reporters. 

    Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, signaled he supports military action against Assad but said it would require the support of MPs with "some strong conditions around it."

    The SNP's defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald, has warned that airstrikes "will not provide the long-term solutions needed to end the war."

    What would the ramifications be?

    The Syrian conflict is one of the greatest challenges facing the world, not least because it is so fiendishly complex.

    President Assad may be opposed by Britain, the US, France and other western nations, but is supported by Iran and Vladimir Putin's Russia. This means Syria has effectively become a proxy battleground for tensions between the West and Russia, which have been at the worst since the height of the Cold War.

    trump and putin

    A war of words is already underway. On Wednesday, President Trump told Putin to "get ready" for US missiles.

    "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'"Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. "You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

    Russia had warned the US that any missiles fired into Syria would be shot down and its launch sites targeted.

    Worryingly for Britain, one of the launch sites pinpointed by Russia could be a British military base in Cyprus, The Times reports. Eight cruise missile-armed Tornado fighter-bombers located at RAF Akrotiri, on the southern coast of Cyprus. These bombers are set to contribute to airstrikes and could be at risk of Russian retaliation.

    Russia has already moved war vessels from to a base on the Mediterranean coast, within range of a US warship, according to satellite imagery of the region.

    What is clear is that risk of war between nuclear-armed states is now at its highest for a generation. The decisions May's government makes in next few days could be among the most important made by any UK government.

    SEE ALSO: The UK is sending strong signs a military strike on Syria could come as soon as Thursday

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    putin trump g20 hamburg

    • A Russian newspaper reports that President Donald Trump is planning to tip off Russia's military before launching any attacks.
    • The US tries hard to avoid killing Russians in Syria, despite the president's recent hostile rhetoric toward Moscow.
    • Russia is Syria's ally but does not approve of all of its behavior.
    • Moscow seems willing to let the US hit some Syrian targets as punishment for suspected chemical weapons use.
    • Experts say it's possible for the US to hit Syrian targets while dodging Russian troops and avoiding a major escalation.

    President Donald Trump is said to be preparing to tip off the Russian military before launching any missile strike on Syria, so that Moscow can get its forces out of the way.

    The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on Wednesday that the US would give the Russian military a list of targets it intends to hit. The report said no high-value Russian assets like ships or planes were in the crosshairs.

    The site also reports that Russia has spoken with US military leaders and with NATO (via Turkey) to avoid an escalating conflict as the West prepares to punish the Syrian government for a suspected chemical weapons attack Saturday on a rebel-held town.

    Coordination between Russia and the US, the world's two greatest military and nuclear powers, would have positive implications for avoiding a massive escalation.

    But it also raises questions of how significant a US strike can be without ruffling Russia's feathers and of how committed Russia is to protecting the Syrian government from Western attacks.

    Trump is planning a big strike, but not World War III

    USS Michigan loading Tomahawk

    Trump did warn Russia before the US struck a Syrian air base in April of last year. He is thought to be exploring a much larger strike this time, as the strike in April 2017 didn't meaningfully hamper Syria's air operations. The air base the US hit with sea-based cruise missiles began launching aircraft again within 24 hours of the strike.

    On Wednesday, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said "all options are on the table," suggesting the US may strike Russian assets in Syria.

    Experts told Business Insider, however, that such a confrontation was unlikely.

    "The Americans take pains to avoid striking targets that are Russian regulars," said Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at the geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor. He distinguished between official, enlisted soldiers — known as regulars — and military contractors, whom the US has engaged in the past.

    Additionally, Bohl said Syria's suspected chemical weapons facilities were far enough away from Russian bases that they could be hit without upsetting Russian forces.

    The idea of a coordinated, punitive strike on Syria runs counter to the narrative put forth by a Russian diplomat, who on Wednesday said Russia would shoot down any US missiles headed for Syria and potentially retaliate.

    "I think that in the Syrian theater, Russia is unlikely to interfere with the coming US operation or take military steps to prevent it or in retribution, despite their comments," Cliff Kupchan, a former US State Department official who is now chairman of the Eurasia Group, told Business Insider.

    "Russia's not spoiling in any sense for a military conflict," he continued, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin was "ruthlessly rational in weighting cost-benefits."

    Kupchan attributed Trump's tough rhetoric, in which he has called out Putin by name over Saturday's attack, to politics.

    Russia may know Syria has gone too far

    syria chemical attack Douma

    Russia has largely staked its credibility in the Middle East on saving Syrian President Bashar Assad's government from collapse during its bloody, seven-year civil war.

    Kupchan and others, however, told Business Insider it was an open secret that Russia didn't like Assad much.

    Kupchan said the Kremlin may once have held influence over Assad, when there was a chance he could lose the ongoing civil war. But now that Assad's forces are dominant, Kupchan says, Russian has little influence over Assad, who brings negative attention to the alliance through his attacks on civilians, including with chemical weapons.

    Justin Bronk, an air-combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, said chemical weapons killed fewer people than regular bombs but did so in a "particularly terrifying" way.

    In Bronk's view, Russia most likely pressures Syria not to use chemical weapons, on the grounds that they raise the risk of a US strike and aren't needed militarily. But Assad uses them anyway, Bronk said, to "depopulate" rebel areas, as the fumes from the weapons seep into shelters where regular bombs can't reach — and where civilians including children often take refuge.

    "I think the Russians have limited control over Assad," said Kupchan, who has met Putin several times. "That's why they don't like him so much."

    Unanimously, experts who spoke with Business Insider agreed the US and Russia had a heavy interest in avoiding war between the two of them. Deconfliction lines between the US and Russia help.

    If the US can strike Syria without hitting Russian troops and equipment, it could be as successful politically as the one last April, which went virtually unpunished and won Trump wide praise for his foreign-policy boldness.

    SEE ALSO: Trump appears on the verge of striking Syria — here's a look at US firepower in the region

    Join the conversation about this story »

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


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    US Syria missile strike

    • President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that the US will strike Syria.
    • But he left the timing a mystery, saying it "could be very soon, or not so soon at all."
    • Since Trump tweeted about striking Syria, Syrian forces have moved around assets to shield them from US missiles, possibly blunting the potential effect of the strike.
    • Trump also said that the US deserve the world's thanks for its actions against ISIS, which has lost almost all its territory.


    President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that the US will strike Syria, but kept the timing a mystery.

    "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!," Trump tweeted.

    Trump's tweet follows a threat he issued on Wednesday for Russia to "get ready" because the US would soon strike Syria, regardless of Russian claims that such a strike would be met with a Russian counter-attack.

    Since Trump's warning, the Syrian military has moved assets around in an attempt to shield them from US missiles, possibly by putting them under Russian protection.

    But Trump reportedly also followed up the warning with communications to Russia to help avoid US missiles hitting Russian targets in Syria, despite the White House's statement that the US wasn't afraid to hit them.

    Russian media reported on Wednesday that the US would provide Russia with a list of its targets for the Syria strike.

    By avoiding hitting Russian forces in Syria, experts told Business Insider the US runs a much lower risk of a conflict escalating. 

    Trump's tweet also addressed US action against ISIS, who were until recently one of the biggest threats in Syria.

    After mentioning the strike, Trump's tweet said: "In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our 'Thank you America?'"

    The US has been in Syria fighting against ISIS since 2014 in a mission centered around providing air support, equipment, and training for local forces to defeat the terror army.

    As of 2018, ISIS has lost about 98% of its territory within Iraq and Syria, and the terror group's foreign attacks have greatly decreased in number and scale. 

    SEE ALSO: These maps show how drastically ISIS territory has shrunk since its peak

    Join the conversation about this story »

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


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    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 Khabieh

    • The Russian military announced on Thursday that the Syrian government is now in full control of the last rebel-held town on the outskirts of Damascus.
    • The town was the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack that the US has promised to respond to with military force.
    • Syria and Russia deny the attack took place.

    BEIRUT (AP) — The Russian military announced on Thursday that the Syrian government is now in full control of the last rebel-held town on the outskirts of Damascus that was the site of a suspected chemical attack over the weekend.

    The development would mark a major victory for the Syrian President Bashar Assad as the United States and allies consider punitive military attacks against Syria following the suspected chemical attack that killed 40 people.

    However, there was no official announcement by Damascus, and no indication that Syrian government forces had entered the town of Douma on Thursday. One government flag was raised in the town, a war monitoring group said.

    Syrian TV stations showed civilians in vehicles carrying the Syrian flag crossing from Damascus into Douma.

    Douma and the enclave of eastern Ghouta, just east of Damascus, was a significant rebel stronghold during Syria's civil war, now in its eighth year. Its effective surrender to government forces comes after years of siege by Assad's troops and a months-long, intense military offensive.

    Meanwhile, Syrians are bracing for a possible U.S. attack in retaliation for Saturday's alleged chemical assault in Douma. The Foreign Ministry in Damascus has denounced President Donald Trump's threat to attack the country as "reckless" and a danger to international peace and security.

    Under an evacuation deal for eastern Ghouta that was mediated by Russia, Assad's top ally, no Syrian troops are expected to enter Douma, only police. Another police force, incorporating former rebels, is also to be formed and deployed in Douma.

    Evacuation of armed gunmen and civilians who refuse the deal is still underway. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through activists on the ground, there were still rebel fighters inside Douma on Thursday.

    But the leaders of Jaish al-Islam, or Army of Islam, the strongest rebel group in eastern Ghouta that controlled Douma, have all evacuated. It is not clear if any of the remaining rebel fighters will evacuate or hand in their weapons and take part in the new policing force.

    The Russian Defense Ministry statement followed a chaotic day in Douma that saw rebels there open fire as opposition fighters were leaving with families under the deal. It appeared designed to quell the tension and ensure the deal, which has been fraught with bumps, remains on track.

    The Russian ministry said the situation in Douma was "normalizing." The Observatory said the Russian military is deploying to reassure thousands of remaining civilians in Douma.

    Wednesday's turmoil in Douma came during the evacuation of the latest batch of civilians and rebels after pro-government supporters attempted to raise government flags over buildings and chanted in support of Assad.

    Some Russian journalists who had entered the town with a reconciliation delegation were wounded in the melee. The Observatory said more evacuations would take place on Thursday.

    Amid earlier disagreements, a truce collapsed last week and the Syrian government pressed ahead with its offensive.

    Then came Saturday's suspected chemical attack in Douma, followed by international condemnation and threats of military action. Syria and Russia deny the attack took place.

    The evacuation deal called for the formation of a local council to administer Douma. Thousands of civilians are staying in Douma, and some fighters are also expected to stay, on condition that they hand in their weapons. More than 13,500 Syrian rebel fighters and their families left Douma this month.

    SEE ALSO: Trump will reportedly warn Russia in advance where in Syria the US will strike

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Shayrat Airfield in Homs, Syria is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image released by the U.S. Defense Department on April 6, 2017 after announcing U.S. forces conducted a cruise missile strike against the Syrian Air Force airfield.

    • Forces loyal to the Assad government are abandoning facilities which could be targeted in a US strike.
    • It comes after days of military posturing and threats by Donald Trump.
    • Trump has previously criticised the practice giving advance warning of attacks, because it lets everyone get out of the way.
    • His recent statements have done just that — but it could be for good reason.


    Syrian forces and their allies are withdrawing from military bases likely to be targeted in a potential US airstrike.

    Pro-Assad militants, and some Syrian government forces, are moving people and equipment out of the way ahead of an impending attack by the United States.

    The movements were reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO, and also by The New York Times.

    Satellite imagery also showed ten Russian warships and a submarine leaving a port in western Syria.

    The clear-out came after President Donald Trump warned his foes to "get ready" for a US missile strike, apparently contradicting his former opinion that telegraphing military action is a big mistake.

    On Sunday, the US president warned of a "big price" to pay and agreed with France's Emmanuel Macron to coordinate a "strong, joint response" to Assad over the attacks.

    In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump warned Russia that US missiles "will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'"

    There are potential advantages to telegraphing your actions — the main one being that it helps avoid accidental escalation in a busy conflict zone where Russia is also active.

    On Thursday Trump also reintroduced some ambiguity, saying that the attack "could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

    SEE ALSO: Here's what's happened over 7 years of conflict in Syria

    Join the conversation about this story »

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


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    FILE PHOTO - French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump confer at the start of the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/John MacDougall/Pool

    • Macron said Paris had established that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons, including chlorine, on April 7 in the town of Douma.
    • He will will decide whether to strike back when all the necessary information has been gathered.
    • Macron said France wanted to remove the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capabilities. When asked whether those would be the targets of French strikes he said he'd see about that.

    PARIS (Reuters) - France has proof the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack last week and will decide whether to strike back when all the necessary information has been gathered, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

    "Our teams have been working on this all week and we will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective," Macron told broadcaster TF1 when asked whether a red line had been crossed.

    Macron said Paris had established that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons, including chlorine, on April 7 in the town of Douma. He did not provide any details on the evidence or how it was acquired.

    France is expected to join the United States and Britain in carrying out air strikes or some other form of attack in response for the chemical weapons' use, but it remains unclear when that might happen or even if it definitely will.

    U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday morning: "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

    Macron said France wanted to remove the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capabilities. When asked whether those would be the targets of French strikes he said:

    "When we decide it, and once we have verified all the information."

    He said the priority was to avoid an escalation across the region.

    "France will not allow any escalation that could harm the stability of the region as a whole, but we can't let regimes that think they can do everything they want, including the worst things that violate international law, to act," he said.

    SEE ALSO: Trump will reportedly warn Russia in advance where in Syria the US will strike

    Join the conversation about this story »

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


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    trump white house

    • President Donald Trump is increasingly acting on his own impulses, rather than in accordance with any strategic plan or the advice of his top aides, The Washington Post reported Thursday. 
    • "It's just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them," one West Wing aide told The Post.

    President Donald Trump is increasingly acting on his own impulses, rather than in accordance with any strategic plan or the advice of his top aides, according to a Thursday Washington Post report

    The president has been consumed by foreign policy concerns, including possible US military action in response to the Syrian government's recent alleged chemical weapons attack, an ongoing trade war with China, and the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. 

    And administration officials and aides are constantly scrambling to respond to his unpredictable announcements. 

    "It's just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them," one West Wing aide told The Post. "Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen’s office. Oh, my God, we're going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to, and there is no proactive strategic thinking."

    Top White House officials were reportedly caught off guard by Trump's tweets about Syria (in which he warned that missiles "will be coming" to Syria), which one senior official called "alarming" and "distracting." 

    The Post report, informed by interviews with 21 administration officials, external advisers, lawmakers, and confidants (mostly anonymous), paints a picture of a White House with little strategic plan or organization and few controls on the president's behavior.

    The president was particularly infuriated by Monday's FBI raids of his personal attorney and confidant Michael Cohen's home, office, and hotel room and reportedly yelled for several hours on Monday about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who approved the raids, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Trump has spent the days since weighing whether to fire Rosenstein, and aides say they are uncertain about what the president might do next and are instead preparing to justify any action he might take. 

    SEE ALSO: Trump reportedly ordered the Justice Department to hire a controversial aide previously ousted from the White House

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    putin arctic

    • Russia's navy left port in Syria out of concern for its safety after President Donald Trump threatened a strike against Syria.
    • Russia says the US has been in contact with Russia, and a Russian report says the US will let it know ahead of time where it will strike to avoid Russian casualties.
    • But the move of Russia's navy suggests they have no idea where, or when the US will strike, and that Russia has yet to figure out Trump.


    President Donald Trump's threat to bomb Syria despite Russia's ally ship and protection of Syrian forces has yielded an immediate and tangible result — Russian warships docked in Syria have left port for fear for their safety.

    "This is normal practice" when there is the threat of an attack, Vladimir Shamanov, the head of Russia's defense committee in its lower house of parliament, told Russian media

    Satellite images on Wednesday captured 11 ships leaving, including a submarine and some offensive ships, in the immediate aftermath of Trump's threat. With the ships at sea and moving, they can better situate themselves to avoid fighting on land, and spread themselves out.

    As the ships were in port, a single pass of a few US bombers could have easily decimated the fleet. 

    Trump's threat scrambles Russia, Syria's militaries

    su 24 frogfoot syria

    Trump's promised military strike on Syria has yet to materialize, though the US, its allies, Syria, and Russia all seem to have moved their assets around in preparation for battle.

    Syria relocated its air assets to Russian bases, likely to put them under Russian protection, and the US has dispatched an aircraft carrier to the region.

    According to Dimitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at Harvard's Davis Center for Russia and Eurasian studies, Russia has also flown in aircraft that specialize in anti-submarine warfare, as speculation that the US or its allies might fire submarine-launched missiles at Syrian targets builds.

    While Trump has done nothing militarily to respond to the recent chemical weapons attack the US blames on Syrian forces, the president has rallied US allies and Russia on the defensive by promising action Moscow can't hope to stop.

    "Putin is not interested in a shooting war with the West," Gorenburg said. Due to the extreme risk of war escalating into a nuclear conflict between the world's two greatest nuclear powers, and the fact that "the Russian conventional forces just aren't as strong as the US forces," such a fight "would not be a good outcome for Russia."

    Trump will reportedly warn Russia before the strike, but does Putin trust him?

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

    A report from Russian media said that the US had been coordinating with Russia to avoid Russian casualties in a US strike on Syria, and that the US would inform Russia of the targets before the strike. The Kremlin's spokesperson also said that Russia and the US had actively been using an established hotline to avoid military clashes.

    Russia's move to send their ships from port may reveal that they don't know really know what's going on, and either can't predict or can't trust how Trump will approach the strike.

    Russia "really did not respect Obama and felt that they had not figured out US foreign policy," Gorenburg said. "From that point of view, dealing with Trump is a little bit more fraught."

    SEE ALSO: Syrian military bases are emptying after Trump gave warning after warning of a US airstrike

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


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    Jim Mattis

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress on Thursday he believes there was a chemical attack in Syria, adding that the United States wants inspectors on the ground soon since the job of collecting evidence becomes more difficult as time passed.

    Mattis, addressing a hearing of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, declined to discuss U.S. military planning on Syria.

    But he acknowledged two main concerns as Washington mulls potential action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces: protecting civilians and avoiding triggering a military escalation that gets "out of control."

    Fears of confrontation between Russia and the West have been running high since U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that missiles "will be coming" after the suspected chemical weapons assault in the town of Douma on April 7, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Assad.

    Mattis, in some of his strongest comments on Syria to date, said he had been convinced of a chemical attack in Syria.

    "I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence," Mattis told lawmakers, adding he wanted inspectors in Syria "probably within the week."

    "As each day goes by -- as you know, it is a non-persistent gas -- so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it."

    At the United Nations, Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters that two teams of investigators from the global chemical weapons watchdog are due to arrive in Syria on Thursday and Friday to look into the Douma incident.

    Mattis also accused Russia of being complicit in Syria's retention of chemical weapons, despite a 2013 deal requiring Syria to abandon them that Moscow helped broker.

    He noted that Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, sought to address Syria's use of chemical weapons by striking that deal -- which averted U.S. military action against Syria.

    In doing so, Obama was "enlisting the Russians, who now, it shows, were complicit in Syria retaining those weapons – Assad retaining them."

    "And the only reason Assad is still in power is because of the Russians' regrettable vetoes in the U.N., and the Russian and the Iranian military," he said.

    (Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Alistair Bell)

    SEE ALSO: Trump appears on the verge of striking Syria — here's a look at US firepower in the region

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    USS Harry Truman

    • The US has sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East amid bubbling tensions with Russia and Syria.
    • The last time the US struck Syria, it used US Navy ships.
    • Russia has threatened to sink US ships that participate in a strike on Syria.
    • Experts tell Business Insider Russia's navy doesn't stand a chance against the US's carrier strike groups.


    The US dispatched the USS Harry S. Truman, a massive Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, to a tour of Middle East on Wednesday as tensions between the US, Russia, and Syria reach a boiling point over a pending US strike. 

    "The strike group, including aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1, USS Normandy (CG-60), several destroyers of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 28 and German frigate FGS Hessen (F 221), is scheduled to conduct operations in the U.S. Navy’s 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility," a US Navy statement read.

    Though the specifics of the deployment haven't been revealed, the presence of an aircraft carrier in the US Navy's 5th and 6th fleets will pose a massive challenge to Russia and Syria. 

    Rear Adm. Eugene Black said at the ship's departure, "We're ready for any mission, anywhere, any time ... The president can send us wherever he wants, with whatever mission he's got, and we're ready to go."

    The US previously used navy destroyers when it struck Syria in April 2017. This time, experts expect the strike to be bigger. Russia has threatened to shoot down US missiles and the ships that fire them, but the US has a massive advantage over Russia's forces, should they try to fight back.

    Once the Truman carrier strike group arrives, "the US will be able to clean up the eastern Mediterranean in a conventional fight any day," Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at the geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, previously told Business Insider.

    Russia, for its part, has not left its navy dormant, and mobilized 11 ships for fear for its safety as the threat of Trump's strike looms. 

    The Truman's strike group should arrive in the region by early May. 

    In the video below see how the US Navy sailors in Norfolk, Virginia set off the Truman:

    SEE ALSO: Russian warships have left port in Syria out of fear for their safety after Trump's missile threat

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


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    Apache_Helicopter_Firing_Rockets_MOD_45154922 1024x573 (DC)

    • Mike Pompeo, the head of the CIA and President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, confirmed on Thursday that the US military killed hundreds of Russians in an intense fight in Syria.
    • The US had previously only confirmed killing 100 or so pro-Syrian regime forces, but multiple outlets reported the number was as high as 300 and that the soldiers were Russian military contractors.
    • Russian military contractors aren't official Russian troops, but volunteers to private military firms.
    • Reports on the firms' communications indicate they were badly humiliated by the lopsided loss. 


    Mike Pompeo, the head of President Donald Trump's CIA and his nominee for secretary of state, just confirmed that the US killed hundreds of Russians in an intense battle in Syria in February.

    Asked about what steps Pompeo would take as secretary of state to hold Russia accountable for its interference in the 2016 US election, he said that more work was to be done on sanctions to send Russian President Vladimir Putin a message. But, he said, Putin may have gotten another, clearer message already. 

    "In Syria now, a handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match," said Pompeo. "A couple hundred Russians were killed."

    The US had previously only confirmed killing 100 or so pro-Syrian regime forces, but multiple outlets reported the number was as high as 300 and that the soldiers were Russian military contractors.

    Russia has used military contractors, or unofficial forces, in military operations before as a possible means of concealing the true cost of fighting abroad in places like Ukraine and Syria.

    The February battle was reportedly incredibly one-sided, as a massive column of mostly-Russian pro-Syrian regime forces approached an established US position in Syria and fired on the location.

    The US responded with a massive wave of airstrikes that crippled the force before it could retreat, and then cleaned up the remaining combatants with strafing runs from Apache helicopters.

    Phone calls intercepted by a US-funded news organization allegedly captured Russian military contractors detailing the humiliating defeat. "We got our f--- asses beat rough, my men called me ... They're there drinking now ... many have gone missing ... it's a total f--- up," one Russian paramilitary chief said, according to Polygraph.info, the US-funded fact-checking website.

    France 24 published an interview in February with a man it described as a Russian paramilitary chief who said more Russians were volunteering to fight in Syria for revenge after the embarrassing loss.

    SEE ALSO: Russian warships have left port in Syria out of fear for their safety after Trump's missile threat

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


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    China naval parade south china sea

    • In a surprise move, Beijing announced on Thursday that it would hold live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait next week.
    • The drills are both a message to Taipei and a show of geopolitical support for Russia during its time of friction with the United States, military observers said.
    • The live-fire drill is expected to take place on April 18, making it the first naval exercises in the waters since September 2015.


    In a surprise move, Beijing announced on Thursday that it would hold live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait next week - something that is both a message to Taipei and a show of geopolitical support for Russia during its time of friction with the United States, military observers said.

    The announcement came just hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also chairs the powerful Central Military Commission, was on the southern island of Hainan to inspect the biggest naval parade in the country’s history, a massive flexing of naval muscle amid China’s growing rivalry with the US.

    Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said military conflict between the US and Russia in Syria could “break out at any time” and the drill in the Taiwan Strait was meant to be a show of support to China’s strategic partner Russia, diverting attention from the crisis in Syria after US President Donald Trump threatened a strike against Syrian forces.

    “It’s very likely that as Russia’s strategic partner, China [is using its] navy to show its political support to Russia at such a sensitive moment,” Wong said.

    Liaoning aircraft carrier china

    “The People’s Liberation Army Navy was ordered to move their drills to the Taiwan Strait to test their emergency response in combat.” 

    The live-fire drill is expected to take place on April 18, making it the first naval exercises in the waters since September 2015, leading up to the self-ruled island’s presidential election. 

    The election was won by the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate Tsai Ing-wen, who has yet to recognise the “1992 consensus”, which Beijing says is the foundation for cross-strait dialogue. 

    Thursday’s parade involved China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, about 50 other warships as well as more than 10,000 troops and nearly 80 aircraft, including jets, bombers and early-warning planes.

    On board the Liaoning for the first time since the vessel was declared combat-ready, Xi urged the troops to stay vigilant and be ready to defend China’s sovereignty and national interests, as well as safeguard regional peace and stability, according to the defence ministry.

    The display in the South China Sea followed exercises by Chinese and US strike groups in the contested waters.

    On Tuesday, the USS Theodore Roosevelt staged what it described as a routine training exercise en route to the Philippines in the waters, with 20 F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets performing a take-off and landing exercise.

    China naval parade South China sea submarines

    Military experts said the parade, which involved most of the Chinese navy’s advanced warships and aircraft, sent a strong message to the outside world that the PLA was on alert for growing challenges in the waters, where China has territorial disputes with several neighbours.

    Song Zhongping, a former member of China’s Second Artillery Corps, said all branches of the military had ramped up live-fire drills since Xi presided over another large-scale military parade at the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base in Inner Mongolia last year. 

    “The drill near the waters of Sanya in the South China Sea also declare the PLA’s firm determination to defend its sovereignty in the contested area, and the navy’s capacity to protect China’s interests along the belt and road,” Song said, referring to the country’s ambitious international infrastructure and energy initiative.

    SEE ALSO: China parades aircraft carrier, nuclear submarines through the South China Sea in a massive show of force

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    F-22

    • President Donald Trump is said to have nailed down eight potential targets to strike in Syria, including two airfields, a research facility, and a chemical weapons facility, according to a CNBC report.
    • It's possible the locations lie far from Russian forces in the region and therefore would carry a low risk of escalating tensions with Russia — but the White House has indicated it's not afraid to target Russian assets.
    • Any strike on Syria, Russia's ally, runs the risk triggering a massive Russian response that could lead to war between the world's biggest nuclear powers.

    As President Donald Trump has cryptically hinted at looming action on Syria, a new report says he may have nailed down eight potential locations to strike.

    Citing an unnamed source, CNBC reported on Thursday that the US had selected eight possible targets in Syria, including two airfields, a research facility, and a chemical weapons facility.

    Such a strike would amount to punitive action against Syria for what the US and its allies consider a blatant use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. But it would still carry the risk of sparking a war with Russia.

    Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at the geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider that though Syria's chemical weapons facilities lay under the umbrella of Russia's air defenses, they were not actually close enough that a strike on the facilities would endanger Russian troops.

    Russia has threatened to use its air defenses against US missile strikes, and Russian officials have threatened to counterattack if US missiles fly over Syria, potentially by attacking US Navy ships or submarines.

    Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, told Business Insider that Russia had flown aircraft specializing in anti-submarine warfare to Syria. Russia has also moved its warships out of a naval base in Syria out of concern for their safety after Trump threatened strikes.

    Russia operates out of airfields in Syria, but it's unclear whether the US would target those. Syria has moved most of its jets to bases with Russian protection for fear of a strike, the CNBC report said.

    The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, indicated on Wednesday that the US wasn't afraid to target Russian assets in a strike on Syria. But a Russian newspaper reported that the US had been coordinating with Russia to avoid hitting its troops and would provide a list of targets before a strike to avoid escalating conflict between the world's two largest nuclear powers.

    Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, urged the US on Thursday to avoid military action, saying the "immediate priority is to avert the danger of war."

    Asked whether he was referring to a war between the US and Russia, Nebenzia said: "We cannot exclude any possibilities, unfortunately, because we saw messages that are coming from Washington — they were very bellicose. They know we are there. I wish there was dialect through the proper channels on this to avert any dangerous developments."

    He added: "The danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria because our military are there ... So the situation is very dangerous."

    Trump is trying to punish Syria, not start World War 3

    putin and assad

    Several experts have told Business Insider that despite Russia's tough talk, Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want a war with the US.

    "Putin is not interested in a shooting war with the West," Gorenburg said.

    Gorenburg said that because a war could escalate into a nuclear conflict between the US and Russia, and because "the Russian conventional forces just aren't as strong as the US forces," such a fight "would not be a good outcome for Russia."

    So far, Trump has played coy about the timing of a strike on Syria.

    "We're looking very, very seriously, very closely at that whole situation, and we'll see what happens, folks," he said Thursday, adding that a strike could happen "fairly soon."

    Meanwhile, France and the UK have been openly considering participating in a strike and sending forces to the region.

    The US, with or without allies, has enough military presence across the Middle East to crush Russian forces in Syria — but a direct attack on Russian forces carries a risk of escalating a conflict into nuclear war.

    SEE ALSO: Watch the US send an aircraft carrier to the Middle East while the US and Russia feud over Syria

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


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    hassan airport stranded malaysia

    • A Syrian man says he has been trapped at a Malaysian airport for over a month but cannot leave or travel to other countries because of restrictions placed on Syrian nationals.
    • The man has attempted to leave the Kuala Lumpur airport but has overstayed his visa and has been rejected from other countries.
    • Several agencies have reached out to find a solution but so far he remains trapped in the international terminal.

    It sounds like the plot of a Tom Hanks movie.

    A Syrian man says he has been trapped at a Malaysian airport for over a month but cannot leave or travel to other countries because of restrictions placed on Syrian nationals.

    Hassan al-Kontar left Syria in 2006 to avoid being drafted into the army and moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for work, according to the BBC, who has spoken to Kontar.

    But Kontar's situation drastically changed following the outbreak of Syria's civil war in 2011.

    Kontar lost his work permit in the UAE 2016, and was deported by UAE authorities to a holding center in Malaysia in January 2017. Malaysia is one of the few countries that offers visas on arrival to Syrian nationals.

    He was given a three-month tourist visa, and attempted to save money to travel onwards to Ecuador, which does not require a visa. He booked a flight with Turkish Airways to the South American country, but was rejected at the gate and was not allowed to board. His ticket had apparently been cancelled. 

    "I found myself back at square one," he told the BBC.

    With limited resources and shrinking options, Kontar booked a flight to Cambodia, which grants Syrians visas on arrival in most cases. When he arrived he was prohibited from entering and had his passport confiscated, he told the BBC. Cambodian officials told the Phnom Penh Post that Syrians could be turned away if they did not meet government "requirements."

    Kontar was forced to return to Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2), the low-cost carrier terminal, on March 7. He says Malaysia made him pay a fine for "overstaying" his tourist visa and was then "blacklisted," meaning he cannot leave the terminal to enter the country.

    He has been stuck in diplomatic limbo ever since, documenting his struggles on Twitter.

    Kontar says he's surviving on a limited diet of airline food and sleeps on the floor of the terminal. He says he cannot return to Syria because it has a warrant out for his arrest.

    "I'm desperate for help. I can't live in this airport any longer. The uncertainty is driving me crazy. It feels like my life hit a new low,” he told the BBC.

    Kontar told the BBC that airport customer service officials and UN officials had been in touch, and Malaysia's deputy home minister said on Friday the country will vet Kontar for a spot in its Syrian Refugee Programme.

    "I don't know what to do. I have no-one to advise me on where I can go. I really need help because I believe the worst is yet to come," he told the BBC.

    Business Insider has reached out to Kontar for comment.

    SEE ALSO: A rogue suitcase was caught making a graceful escape across the tarmac at Atlanta airport

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    Theresa May

    • The UK says the world must "take action" against Syria following a suspected chemical weapons attack.
    • The British government believes it is "highly likely" the Assad regime was behind the attack that left 75 people dead.
    • Prime Minister Theresa May says the UK will work with the US and France to coordinate a response.


    Theresa May's government has called on the world to "take action" against the Assad regime in Syria over a chemical weapons attack — clearing the path for the UK to join the US and its allies in military action.

    May's Cabinet agreed it was "highly likely" that the Assad regime in Syria was behind the attack which has left 75 people dead. 

    "Following a discussion in which every member present made a contribution, Cabinet agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged," a spokesperson said.

    "Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Cabinet agreed the Prime Minister should continue to work with allies in the United States and France to coordinate an international response."

    May's Cabinet met for over two hours in Downing Street before coming to a final agreement. A Downing Street source told BI that the Cabinet were "unanimous" in the need for action with the foreign secretary Boris Johnson making a passionate case for an intervention.

    The agreement means Britain could take part in strikes against Syria within days, potentially without a vote in Parliament.

    Downing Street's statement came as President Trump rowed back from his earlier suggestions that America would launch an imminent attack on Syria, tweeting that any strikes "could be very soon or not so soon at all!".

    He later told reporters that a decision would be made "fairly soon," adding that "we're looking very seriously and very closely at that whole situation and we'll see what happens folks".

    The US defence secretary, James Mattis also indicated that the US is still considering its options, telling the House armed services committee that the administration' main concern about a military response was to prevent the Syria conflict "escalating out of control".

    UK opposition to Syria attack

    Any military action by May would be highly divisive in both the UK parliament and among the UK public.

    One opinion poll released on Monday found that just one in five members of the public supported an attack.

    The YouGov poll found that 22% of Brits support military action in Syria, while 43% oppose it.

    <British public against Syria airstrikes poll

    Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also today all but ruled out backing UK military action against Syria, saying that "more bombing, more killing, more war will not save life" in Syria.

    Corbyn warned that any attack could trigger a wider conflict with Russia.

    "The dangers of bombing now, which could escalate the conflict beyond belief … Just imagine the scenario if an American missile shoots down a Russian plane or vice versa. Where do we go from there?”

    He added that he was "not in favour of increasing military action in Syria; what I’m in favour of is a political process to bring about peace."

    Here's the full statement from the Cabinet meeting:

    This afternoon Cabinet met and received an update on the attack against innocent civilians in Douma, Syria, on Saturday.

    The Prime Minister said it was a shocking and barbaric act which killed up to 75 people, including children, in the most appalling and inhumane way.

    Cabinet agreed that the Assad regime has a track record of the use of chemical weapons and it is highly likely that the regime is responsible for Saturday's attack.

    The Prime Minister said it was a further example of the erosion of international law in relation to the use of chemical weapons, which was deeply concerning to us all.

    Following a discussion in which every member present made a contribution, Cabinet agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged.

    Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

    Cabinet agreed the Prime Minister should continue to work with allies in the United States and France to coordinate an international response.

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    ISIS Islamic State recruitment fighter

    • A notebook written in English that may have belonged to an ISIS fighter was found reportedly found in a jail in Raqqa.
    • The notebook reportedly details the inner workings of the militant group, including their future plans, military shortcomings, and issues foreign fighters faced within the group. 
    • Experts said there were notable similarities between the strategies laid out in the book and the strategies taught in western military training.
    • The notebook also reveals the innermost thoughts of what appears to have been a foreign ISIS fighter, with the author asking himself: " Who am I?" and "Why am I here?"


    A notebook written in English that may have belonged to an ISIS fighter was found reportedly found in a jail in Raqqa, according to the National, which exclusively obtained the notebook from an unnamed source. 

    The notebook reportedly details the inner workings of the militant group, including their future plans, military shortcomings, and issues foreign fighters faced within the group. 

    According to pictures of the purported notebook provided by the National, the pages appear to be written in English by one author who used American spelling of words and numbers. A second author wrote in French, and Arabic was used in some of the text as well.

    The author details ISIS's core strategies for maintaining control in the region.

    On one page, the author describes how to prevent defectors from leaving ISIS territory: "We should push civilians who want to flee to our centers of gravity in Mosul and Raqqa." The author added: "The enemy might try to break our control over an area and allow civilians to escape." 

    ISIS women

    The notebook describes a solution, written in large letters "THE BIG SOLUTION" which explains that ISIS should not use "conventional military power against a much stronger foe," and suggests the group focus on "insurgency" until their "political situation allows for a more conventional approach."

    Another page compares several types of guns and their cost in dollars using hand drawn pictures. 

    The author also discusses expanding efforts to other countries, including Saudi Arabia. A page reportedly questions: "How to make Saudi like Syria? Can we get people to hate Their [sic] rulers?"

    The author continues: "Mecca and Medina are a priority for the [caliphate] to actually influence world Muslims. But to get there we need to destabilize Al-Saud. Direct action against Al-Saud from Iraq will likely fail militarily and attract US ground troops so the best way to do this is internally, with the support for Yemen and Iraq." 

    ISIS foreign fighters

    The writings also appear to show that ISIS fighters kept up with international news, and often monitored global political cycles. 

    The author offers suggestions on how to pull "the USA to another major war to exhaust its economy." The writer also extensively followed the US presidential elections, and said key decisions would depend on US political action.

    "The US decisions are very important, and they depend on the Presidential elections."

    "However, if democrats lose, a Republican administration would be more likely to bring US boots on the ground, and cooperation with Iran will likely stop," the author reportedly wrote.

    The journal also reportedly layed out a strategy for confronting the US on the battlefield: "Fighting the USA might be more dangerous militarily, but it will grant IS respect in muslim [sic] eyes."

    The notebook also reveals the innermost thoughts of what appears to have been a foreign ISIS fighter. At the bottom of a page detailing "important" military issues "to study," the author asks himself: "Who am I? What should I do? Why am I here? How did I reach this place?"

    According to the report, the author bemoans several limitations within the group, including lack of training time to militant fighters and notes there were "problems created by different languages."

    Associate Professor at the Naval War College Monterey, Dr. Craig Whiteside, told the National that there were notable similarities between the strategies laid out in the book and the strategies taught in western military training.

    "The author has studied topics we study in a war college, such as the differences between policy and strategy."

    “If this is a foreign fighter, not studying their own country for military facilities but instead learning about Iraq and Syria, the goal is to encourage them to stay," he added.

    Figures from October 2017 show more than 40,000 fighters from more than 110 countries flocked to Syria and Iraq after its establishment in 2014. Reports indicate that roughly 129 US nationals joined the caliphate. Of those foreign fighters, at least 5,600 citizens or residents from 33 countries who have returned home. 

    SEE ALSO: ISIS made millions from taxes that it then used to run garbage collections and even a DMV

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


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    Aircraft carrier

    • The prospect of Western military action in Syria that could lead to confrontation with Russia hung over the Middle East.
    • International chemical weapons experts were traveling to Syria to investigate an alleged gas attack by government forces on the town of Douma which killed dozens of people.
    • Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said international relations should not depend on one person's morning mood, in apparent reference to Trump's tweets.

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The prospect of Western military action in Syria that could lead to confrontation with Russia hung over the Middle East on Friday but there was no clear sign that a U.S.-led attack was imminent.

    International chemical weapons experts were traveling to Syria to investigate an alleged gas attack by government forces on the town of Douma which killed dozens of people. Two days ago U.S. President Donald Trump warned that missiles "will be coming" in response to that attack.

    The allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were eager on Friday to lay blame for the crisis not with him but with Trump.

    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said international relations should not depend on one person's morning mood, in apparent reference to Trump's tweets.

    "We cannot depend on what someone on the other side of the ocean takes into his head in the morning. We cannot take such risks," said Dvorkovich, speaking at a forum.

    Russia has warned the West against attacking Assad, who is also supported by Iran, and says there is no evidence of a chemical attack in Douma, a town near Damascus which had been held by rebels until this month.

    Vassily Nebenzia, Moscow's ambassador to the United Nations, said he "cannot exclude" war between the United States and Russia.

    "The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war," he told reporters. "We hope there will be no point of no return."

    Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria: "The conditions do not point to a total war happening...unless Trump and (Israeli leader Benjamin) Netanyahu completely lose their minds."

    U.S. allies have offered strong words of support for Washington but no clear military plans have yet emerged.

    British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers on Thursday to take unspecified action with the United States and France to deter further use of chemical weapons by Syria.

    Trump was also expected to speak with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said on Thursday France had proof the Syrian government carried out the Douma attack and would decide whether to strike back when all necessary information had been gathered.

    Assad tightens grip

    putin and assad

    Trump himself appeared on Thursday to cast doubt on at least the timing of any U.S.-led military action, tweeting: "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

    He met his national security team on the situation in Syria later in the day and "no final decision has been made," the White House said in a statement.

    "We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies," it said.

    A team of experts from the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was traveling to Syria and will start its investigations into the Douma incident on Saturday, the Netherlands-based agency said.

    The capture of Douma has clinched a major victory for Assad, crushing what was once a center of the insurgency near Damascus, and underlines his unassailable position in the war.

    He has cemented his control over most of the western, more heavily populated, part of the country, with rebels and jihadist insurgents largely contained to two areas on Syria's northern and southern borders.

    They still control the northwestern province of Idlib, near Turkey, and a southern region around Deraa, on the border with Jordan. Turkish forces and rebel allies control territory in northern Syria, while U.S.-backed Kurdish forces hold wide areas of the northeast, and pockets of Islamic State fighters remain.

    But none of those any longer directly threaten Assad's grip on power, which has been reinforced by Russian air power and Iran-backed fighters on the ground.

    SEE ALSO: Trump reportedly has 8 targets in mind for a Syria missile strike — and Russia said war could be coming

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    aircraft carrier

    • President Donald Trump threatened to shoot missiles at Syria despite Russia's intention to counterattack the US, but he hasn't yet ordered the strike.
    • Instead, Trump has been working behind the scenes to strategize with allies and Russia, and he may have cooked up a strike that could avert further escalation.
    • Russia doesn't have the conventional military strength to stand up to the US and its allies, so if attacked, it may feel the need to respond asymmetrically or even brandish its nuclear force in a way that could bring about World War III.
    • If the US can manage to strike only Syrian targets involved in suspected gas attacks on civilians, the US may well pull of a strike that would go unpunished, as it did in April 2017.


    President Donald Trump rattled the world on Wednesday by telling Russia to prepare for a US missile strike on Syria, despite Moscow's threats to retaliate against the US.

    But by Friday, fears of a major conflict have largely abated.

    For the US, the path to punishing Syrian President Bashar Assad for what it sees as repeated gas attacks against civilians could easily veer into a massive conflict with Russia.

    Russia, Syria's ally, has troops on the ground in the country and powerful air defenses to protect its own assets, and because Syria is a small country and Russian systems are long range, much of the country is under Russia's protection.

    But despite what experts have unanimously classified to Business Insider as Russian bluster about counter-attacking the US if it strikes Syria, all-out war seems unlikely.

    The Kremlin says the US and Russia are regularly talking on a deconfliction hotline, which has the express purpose of avoiding US military activity from impacting Russian forces, and vice versa.

    Now, the Kremlin's official line seems to have softened.

    Whatever Trump is doing behind the scenes, it's calmed people down

    Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron

    "I rule out a scenario in which the United States will intentionally strike a facility in Syria where Russian servicemen are located," Military Sciences ­Academy Vice President Sergei Modes tov said in Thursday's edition of the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Washington Post notes

    In Lebanon, Syria's neighbor, Iran-backed Hezbollah also doubts a US-Russia clash or an escalation into all out war, according to its deputy leader.

    "The conditions do not point to a total war happening ... unless Trump and Netanyahu completely lose their minds," Sheikh Naim Qassem told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria, referring to the US president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Reuters notes.

    Potentially the source of the new confidence on the part of the US's rivals in the Middle East comes from the fact that Trump will reportedly warn Russia of the targets it intends to hit in advance of any strike on Syria.

    If a US strike on Syria doesn't kill any Russians, and simply punishes targets thought to participate in gas attacks on civilians, it could very well pass without much blowback.

    In fact, that exact scenario played out in April 2017, when the US last struck Syria. 

    The US has options, Russia doesn't really

    su 24 frogfoot syria

    Meanwhile, the US has been rallying allies and putting together a joint strategy with France and the UK. If France, and not the US, carry out the strike, it's unclear if Russia's threats to down US platforms would transfer over to the French, who have better relations with Moscow.

    If the US killed Russian servicemen who were invited into the country by Syria — but do not threaten US forces — Russia could be justified in launching a counterattack, though experts don't give them a good chance in fighting with the US military.

    With a weak conventional army, an offended Russia may see its only recourse as asymmetrical escalation via offensives elsewhere, and possibly even brandishing its considerable nuclear deterrent.

    In Syria, all the makings of World War III are there, but despite inflammatory tweets, Trump may be cautiously taking action to avert such a catastrophe. 

    SEE ALSO: Trump reportedly has 8 targets in mind for a Syria missile strike — and Russia said war could be coming

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