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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    Israel Missile David's Sling

    • Israel reportedly launched missiles at a military airport near Homs in Syria on Thursday. 
    • Al-Qusayr is an Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah stronghold.

    Syrian state media said a military airport near Homs had come under missile attack, which was repelled by its air defense systems, on Thursday.

    "One of our military airports in the central region was exposed to hostile missile aggression, and our air defense systems confronted the attack and prevented it from achieving its aim," state news agency SANA said.

    Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, tweeted that there were reports of "possible #Israel airstrikes underway targeting the Al-Dhaba’a Airbase near Al-Qusayr in #Homs, #Syria."

    Al-Qusayr is an Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah stronghold, Lister tweeted. 

    "Some local users said #Israel strikes," Joyce Karam, a reporter at The National, also tweeted

    SANA earlier reported sounds of explosions heard near the Dabaa airport near the city of Homs.

     

    SEE ALSO: Russian air defenses were caught on video getting beaten badly by Israeli forces in Syria — here are Russia's excuses

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    US_troops_Syria

    • Roughly 40 US commandos held off about 500 forces loyal to the Syrian government — including Russian mercenaries — in an intense firefight in early February, The New York Times reports.
    • No US troops were harmed, but hundreds of pro-government forces were killed, according to The Times.
    • The firefight took place at an outpost next to a Conoco gas station in eastern Syria on February 7. 

    Roughly 40 US commandos held off about 500 forces loyal to the Syrian government and President Bashar Assad — including Russian mercenaries — in an intense firefight in early February, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing interviews and newly obtained documents.

    According to the report, the February 7 battle lasted four hours, and by the end 200 to 300 of the pro-government forces had been killed, while all the US troops involved emerged unharmed.

    The Russian government says only four of its citizens were killed in the battle, but other reports suggest dozens died.

    Most of the forces the US commandos faced in the firefight, which took place at an outpost next to a Conoco gas station in eastern Syria, were Russian mercenaries thought to be linked to the Wagner Group, The Times reported.

    The report says that when US military officials noticed the forces amassing near the outpost, they were nervous about a potential clash between Russian and US troops, which could have major geopolitical implications and lead to a larger conflict between the two world powers.

    Through surveillance of radio transmissions, the US discovered that at least some of the pro-government forces were speaking Russian, stoking the fears, according to The Times. But the Pentagon contacted Russia, which did not claim the troops.

    "The Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people," Defense Secretary James Mattis told senators in April. Mattis said he then directed Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the pro-Syrian-government forces to be "annihilated."

    "And it was," Mattis added.

    The pro-Syrian-government force also included Russian-made tanks and armored vehicles. During the attack, the US commandos faced a mixture of tank fire, large artillery, and mortar rounds, according to The Times.

    Reaper drones, F-22 stealth fighter jets, F-15E strike fighters, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships, and AH-64 Apache helicopters ultimately came to the assistance of the US troops at the outpost, hitting the pro-government forces hard from the air, the report says.

    At first, the outpost was guarded by about 30 Delta Force soldiers and rangers from the Joint Special Operations Command, but a team of Marines and Green Berets eventually came to their aid as well, The Times reported, adding that a small number of Kurdish and Arab forces, allied with the US, were also there.

    Facing attacks from the air and the fierce firefight on the ground, the pro-government forces retreated, though some returned to collect the dead not long after the fighting ceased, according to The Times. No US troops were harmed, but one allied Syrian fighter was wounded, the report said.

    The US has roughly 2,000 troops in Syria as part of its efforts to defeat the terrorist group ISIS. In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has been said to have considered taking US troops out of Syria, but the complicated array of factors surrounding the conflict there have led him to put aside such a move for the time being.

    SEE ALSO: Trump's troubled Syria policy gets unexpected help from Putin

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why Russia may not be as strong as most people think


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    Syria war Syrian conflict displaced

    • Syria has estimated 511,000 deaths since war began in 2011.
    • The Bashar al-Assad regime has gained power, and outside involvement from other countries suggests the conflict will only get worse. 
    • Yet, there's one area in Syria that remains comparatively stable — the Quneitra province and the adjacent part of  Daraa province.
    • These regions have seen significantly less fighting, extremist groups do not have the upper hand, and consistent aid is delivered by NGOs and civic organizations. 

    The last few months in Syria have been the latest in a string of awful months. After an estimated 511,000 deaths since the war began in 2011, the Bashar al-Assad regime has recently gotten the upper hand and is applying maximum pressure on opposition-held areas across the country. Civilians have been under attack, including with chemical weapons, and humanitarian aid routes have been cut off. Growing outside involvement — from Russia, Turkey, Israel, and the United States, among many others — suggests the conflict will, if anything, grow larger and worse.

    Yet there is one pocket in Syria that has remained comparatively calm, despite the surrounding turbulence. Southwest Syria — in particular Quneitra province on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, and the areas close to it in the northwest part of Daraa province — has seen significantly less fighting than other regions. The moderate opposition has been stronger here in Quneitra and its surrounding areas, extremist groups although present do not have the upper hand, and the humanitarian conditions are considerably better than in most other regions of Syria. This region is also strategically important, as it is where Israel and Iran are engaged in a competition for control over the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which is a pivotal site for both sides to have mastery over in the event of a wider conflict between them.

    Given the stakes involved in ensuring that Quneitra and its surrounding area in Daraa stay outside the control of Iran, and the rarity of its existing success for moderate opposition governance in Syria, this region deserves study to see what lessons can be learned from it.

    There are a few potential factors that make this region of Syria unique. There is the relative proximity to Israel, which makes the Assad regime more cautious in intervening. Jordan, the United States, and Russia have also succeeded in establishing a de-escalation zone in the region last July. Quneitra and its surrounding area in Daraa is also one of the few places in Syria where the moderate armed opposition forces still receive outside support, particularly with salaries and periodic shipments of ammunition, which provide an additional layer of security against extremist actors trying to seize power.

    But there’s an additional factor that has been critical to the relative stability here: The consistent aid delivered through an unprecedented partnership between Israel and Syrian nongovernmental organizations, including medicine, medical equipment, food, and clothing, serves as a lifeline for the civilian population in this region of the country and empowers NGOs and civic organizations. It also goes well beyond humanitarian assistance, making it more difficult for extremist organizations to recruit.

    Syria war Syrian conflict displaced 2

    Even as the Trump administration seriously considers cancelling stabilization funding that could make opposition communities more resilient in southwest Syria, the Israeli military has partnered with Syrian NGOs and the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees on the humanitarian relief effort Operation Good Neighbor, through which the alliance has facilitated the delivery of more than $94 million worth of food, medicine, clothing, and other essentials. (Full disclosure: one of the authors works for the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees.) The aid passes through the Israel-Syria border and is distributed to local NGOs, which in turn distribute it to a larger region of 1.5 million people in southwest Syria. Although most of the recipients of this assistance are vulnerable people who are native to this region, there are also tens of thousands of internally displaced Syrians from other regions of western and central Syria who benefit from this assistance.

    Attributing exact causation for anything in a war zone is a difficult matter. That said, there is reason to think that humanitarian aid is contributing to the stability witnessed in southwest Syria. Take distribution of aid. Whoever provides lifesaving aid on the ground in a war zone improves their standing and reputation with residents. At least anecdotally, that is the exact dynamic we’re seeing in southwest Syria. Civic organizations, rather than terrorist ones, have become the provider of last (and, frankly, first) resort for desperate people.

    This service area in southern Syria — especially in Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights and the areas close to it in Daraa — is surrounded by regime-held areas, making this the only aid keeping civilian authority, civil society, and the rule of law from complete collapse. Elected local councils, which are representative of the local population of the municipalities in this region, and which operate independently from and in competition with more extremist opposition actors, are the conduits for the flow of assistance into this region of Syria. The alternative to Operation Good Neighbor would be the rapid collapse of the opposition communities, either to be ruled by extremist actors or to Assad’s forces, spearheaded by Iran.

    Syria war Syrian conflict Syrians Quneitra

    Finally, the aid provides a semblance of normal day-to-day life, as well as the seeds of self-sufficiency, which the Syrians will need to maintain if the region is to keep the peace after a more lasting stability finally returns. For instance, Operation Good Neighbor has helped establish and maintain hospitals, bakeries, thrift stores, and work farms. These are the establishments that the Syrian economy in this region will need in both the short and long term.

    It is important to emphasize that this is a Syrian-driven process, not directed by the Israelis, and although Israel provides the territorial link for the assistance to flow into Quneitra, it is the Syrians who make everything work on the ground. What is key in this region of Syria is the close coordination between the Syrians operating on the ground themselves once the assistance has safely been distributed from Israel into Quneitra and its surrounding areas. The local Syrians, in the moderate armed opposition and local security forces, civilian organizations, and the local councils, all work relatively effectively together to ensure that assistance is distributed efficiently, and in a way that it does not end up in the hands of extremist actors.

    The claim that humanitarian aid is critical to stability isn’t controversial. The failure to exercise soft power, such as humanitarian aid, can leave voids that extremist actors will ultimately fill. In 2013, now-Defense Secretary James Mattis, then the ranking U.S. general in the Middle East, concluded that proposed cuts to the foreign aid budget would simply mean that, “I need to buy more ammunition, ultimately.” He was correct that the failure to help simply risks prolonging and intensifying conflict. The Trump administration should learn from Operation Good Neighbor that stabilization funding — which includes support for organizations such as the “White Helmets” that support local communities with emergency services — should be a vital component of the U.S. strategy toward Syria.

    In Syria, there are no guarantees, of course. Building stability in Syria will take the provision of resources to local communities, patience, and an eye on the larger strategic objective, which is to make Syrian communities better-functioning and resilient against extremist infiltration. Yet with all that’s at stake in Syria and other conflict zones, it seems obvious that U.S. interests would be better served if the Trump administration acknowledged the role that such funding can play in preserving the unique stability of southwest Syria. The alternative would be to allow the slow-motion collapse of opposition areas, the return of the Assad regime, and the likely installation of Iran as the dominant power in southwest Syria.

    SEE ALSO: This is how humans could live in a world without war, according to a conflict expert who used to be in the British Army

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    NOW WATCH: Ian Bremmer: Why the American dream doesn't exist anymore


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    john bolton american flag

    • US National Security Adviser John Bolton will reportedly meet with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabat, in Washington on Tuesday. 
    • Sources said the two officials will be ratifying an existing agreement between Israel and the US on how to deal with Iran.
    • Changes will reportedly be made to the agreement to reflect the "new reality" now that the US is no longer bound to the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will discuss Iran with several European leaders next week. 


    US National Security Adviser John Bolton will reportedly meet with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabat, in Washington on Tuesday to discuss a joint approach to Iran. 

    Sources briefed on the trip told Israel's Channel 10 reporter Barak Ravid that the two officials will be ratifying an existing agreement between Israel and the US on how to deal with Iran. The agreement was reportedly reached in December last year and seeks joint coordination to counter Iran's missile program and its proxy network across the Middle East.

    Sources said the two national security advisers will make changes to the agreement that reflect the "new reality" of the US no longer being party to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.

    Earlier this month, the US formally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. President Donald Trump said the deal had "serious flaws" and would not prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    Sources added that Bolton and Ben-Shabat will also discuss joint military cooperation in countering Iran's presence in Syria. 

    The move comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to discuss Iran with several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, next week.

    The three countries remain parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and are scrambling to save the deal's framework.

    Iran has laid out its conditions for remaining in the deal with Europe, but is not yet known whether Europe's leading powers would be likely to concede the demands.

    SEE ALSO: Israel launched a barrage of air strikes on 50 Iranian targets in Syria — a massive escalation that could lead to all-out war

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    NOW WATCH: Why some countries are more corrupt than others


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    Donald_Trump

    • President Donald Trump reportedly boasted about how US forces performed in a classified battle in Syria during a recent closed-door fundraiser, even as the White House has worked to keep details about the skirmish under wraps. 
    • The battle occurred in early February and involved a clash between US forces and a pro-Syrian government force that reportedly included Russian mercenaries. 
    • There are roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria. 

    President Donald Trump boasted about how US forces performed in a classified battle in Syria during a recent closed-door fundraiser, Politico reported, even as the White House has worked to keep details about the skirmish under wraps. 

    Details about the battle recently emerged in an article from The New York Times, which alleged hundreds of Russian mercenaries fighting alongside Syrian troops were killed by roughly 40 US commandos who also had significant air support. The battle took place in early February near a gas station in eastern Syria and no US troops were harmed by the end of it, according to the report. 

    The US military has long feared a clash between US and Russian troops, but the Kremlin has not claimed the forces involved in the battle in February. The mercenaries involved in that bloody encounter were reportedly associated with the Wagner Group.

    At the recent fundraiser, Trump reportedly bragged about how quickly US F-18 pilots took out hundreds of Russian mercenaries, stating the strikes may have only lasted about "10 minutes" in total and took out 100 to 300 Russians in the process. 

    The presence of US troops in Syria, a country America is not technically at war with, remains controversial and Trump has at times signaled a desire to pull them out.

    The Pentagon's official stance on the roughly 2,000 troops stationed in Syria is that they are there to combat the terrorist group ISIS. But the fact that they've clashed with pro-Syrian government forces and Russian mercenaries reveals how complicated the situation is on the ground in terms of the varying players and alliances associated with the conflict in Syria. 

    SEE ALSO: About 40 US soldiers held off hundreds of Russian mercenaries in a brutal firefight in Syria

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: What will probably happen with the North and South Korean peace treaty


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

    • President Bashar al-Assad said the United States should learn the lesson of Iraq and withdraw from Syria, and promised to recover areas of the country held by U.S.-backed militias.
    • Assad said the government had "started now opening doors for negotiations" with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish dominated militia alliance that controls parts of northern and eastern Syria where U.S. forces are stationed.
    • Responding to U.S. President Donald Trump's description of him as "Animal Assad", the Syrian leader said: "What you say is what you are."

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad said the United States should learn the lesson of Iraq and withdraw from Syria, and promised to recover areas of the country held by U.S.-backed militias through negotiations or force.

    In an interview with Russia Today, Assad said the government had "started now opening doors for negotiations" with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish dominated militia alliance that controls parts of northern and eastern Syria where U.S. forces are stationed.

    "This is the first option. If not, we're going to resort to ... liberating those areas by force. We don't have any other options, with the Americans or without the Americans," he said. "The Americans should leave, somehow they're going to leave".

    "They came to Iraq with no legal basis, and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore," he said.

    Responding to U.S. President Donald Trump's description of him as "Animal Assad", the Syrian leader said: "What you say is what you are". Trump called Assad an animal after a suspected poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus in April.

    Assad reiterated the government's denial that it carried out the attack in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, saying that the government did not have chemical weapons and it would not have been in its interest to carry out such a strike.

    The Douma attack triggered missile strikes on Syria by the United States, Britain and France which they said targeted Assad's chemical weapons program.

    Assad has recovered swathes of Syrian territory with military backing from Russia and Iran and is now militarily unassailable in the conflict that began in 2011.

    Large areas however remain outside his control at the borders with Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. These include the SDF-held parts of the north and east, and chunks of territory held by rebel forces in the northwest and southwest.

    Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Tehran's influence in Syria, earlier this month said it destroyed dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time.

    Iran-backed militias including Lebanon's Hezbollah have played a big role in support of Assad during the conflict. Iran's Revolutionary Guards have also deployed in the country.

    Assad said Iran's presence in Syria was limited to officers who were assisting the Syrian army. Assad, apparently referring to the May 10 attack, by Israel said "we had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers, not a single Iranian" casualty.

    Asked if there was anything Syria could do to stop Israeli air strikes, Assad said: "The only option is to improve our air defense, this is the only thing we can do, and we are doing that". He said that Syria's air defenses were now much stronger than before thanks to Russia.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: What will probably happen with the North and South Korean peace treaty


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    Donald Trump

    • President Donald Trump has a lot of trouble keeping certain secrets and is basically a "yenta," a Yiddish word for a female who is a gossip, according to one of his former 2016 campaign aides. 
    • Trump was criticized on Friday after boasting about a jobs report in a tweet before its official release.
    • Trump's propensity for boasting has some worried he's not capable of protecting vital information in his role as president, including classified intelligence linked to national security.

    President Donald Trump has a lot of trouble keeping certain secrets, according to one of his former 2016 campaign aides. 

    "He’s good at keeping secrets that involve him," Sam Nunberg told Politico. "On the other hand, the guy’s a f---ing yenta," which is the Yiddish word for a female who is a gossiper.

    This comes after Trump was criticized on Friday for boasting about a jobs report in a tweet before its official release, breaking presidential protocol and possibly violating a federal directive. 

    The president has long been known for being decidedly braggadocious, often reminding people of his wealth or proudly stating things such as, "I have the best words." But Trump's loose lips have some worried he's not capable of protecting vital information in his role as president, including classified intelligence linked to national security.

    Trump came under fire roughly a year ago when he reportedly offered classified Israeli intelligence about a counterterrorism operation in Syria to two Russian diplomats during an Oval Office meeting. More recently, when the president attended a private fundraiser, he allegedly bragged about a classified battle between US forces and Russian mercenaries in eastern Syria, even as the White House worked to keep details of the clash a secret. 

    Members of previous presidential administrations expressed concern to Politico about Trump's antics.

    Ari Fleischer, who served as the White House press secretary under President George W. Bush and is a frequent Trump critic, told the outlet, "I’m very uncomfortable when the president wings it on matters that are sensitive or deal with intelligence."

    Similarly, Ben LaBolt, a deputy spokesman from the Obama administration, said, "Trump’s premature announcements may be his way of showing off, but if you’re a service member in the middle of an operation, a shareholder that expects fair play in the market, or a diplomat trying to quietly close a deal, they’re dangerous and destructive."

    SEE ALSO: Trump reportedly bragged about a classified battle in Syria in which hundreds of Russian mercenaries were seemingly killed by US forces

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why some countries are more corrupt than others


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    Bashar al Assad

    • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he plans to travel to North Korea to meet with the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, according to North Korean state media.
    • The meeting would be the first between Kim and another head of state to take place in North Korea.
    • United Nations monitors have accused North Korea of cooperating with Syria on chemical weapons, a charge the North denies.


    SEOUL (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar Assad said he plans to visit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, North Korean state media reported on Sunday, potentially the first meeting between Kim and another head of state in Pyongyang.

    "I am going to visit the DPRK and meet HE Kim Jong Un," Assad said on May 30, North Korea's KCNA news agency reported, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

    There was no immediate comment from the Syrian president’s office.

    Assad reportedly made the remarks as he received the credentials of North Korean Ambassador Mun Jong Nam.

    Pyongyang and Damascus maintain good relations, and United Nations monitors have accused North Korea of cooperating with Syria on chemical weapons, a charge the North denies.

    Both countries have faced international isolation, North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, and Syria over its tactics during a bloody civil war.

    Since the beginning of the year, however, North Korea's Kim has launched a flurry of diplomatic meetings with leaders in China and South Korea, and is scheduled to hold a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

    Since taking power in 2011, Kim has not publicly met with another head of state in North Korea.

    "The world welcomes the remarkable events in the Korean peninsula brought about recently by the outstanding political caliber and wise leadership of HE Kim Jong Un," Assad said, according to KCNA. "I am sure that he will achieve the final victory and realize the reunification of Korea without fail."

    According to South Korea's foreign ministry, North Korea established diplomatic relations with Syria in 1966, opening its embassy in Damascus. Syria opened its mission in Pyongyang in 1969.

    Close military cooperation between the two countries began when North Korea sent some 530 troops including pilots, tank drivers and missile personnel to Syria during the Arab-Israeli war in October 1973. 

    "The Syrian government will as ever fully support all policies and measures of the DPRK leadership and invariably strengthen and develop the friendly ties with the DPRK," Assad said, as quoted by KCNA.

     

    (Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Ellen Francis in Beirut, editing by Larry King)

    SEE ALSO: Mattis says he's predicting a 'bumpy road' to nuclear negotiations with North Korea this month — and that allies must stay vigilant

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    obama rhodes kerry power

    • Former President Barack Obama's trusted and long-time adviser Ben Rhodes has given a detailed account of the administration's most embarrassing foreign policy blunder — the Syrian "red line."
    • Obama threatened to use military force against Syria if it used chemical weapons, but then after more than 1,000 died in a chemical weapons attack, Obama found plenty of reasons not to.
    • Rhodes cites German Chancellor Angela Merkel's disapproval, a "hangover" from the Iraq war of 2003, and opposition in Congress as stopping him.

    Former President Barack Obama's trusted and long-time adviser Ben Rhodes has given a detailed account of the administration's most embarrassing foreign policy blunder — the Syrian "red line."

    Rhodes, a who started his career attempting to become a novelist before flocking to Obama's campaign, gave an insider's account of the historic decision the president made not to enforce his own threat when chemical warfare broke out in Syria. 

    "We have been very clear to the Assad regime," Obama said in August 2012, "that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus."

    A year later, Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime had done just that. A sarin gas attack killed more than 1,000 people outside Damascus. The dead included women and children.

    Chemical weapons like sarin gas are designed to seep into shelters, making them incredibly efficient at killing civilians, who bore the brunt of Assad's attack.

    But Obama's "red line" was never enforced. According to Rhodes, Obama wanted to follow through, but found plenty of reasons not to and eventually struck a deal with Russia to remove Assad's chemical weapons.

    In an excerpt from his new book "The World As It Is"posted on The Atlantic, Rhodes details what happened behind the scenes after the sarin attack that called Obama's bluff.

    Why he didn't back it up

    LIBYA 2011

    According to Rhodes, Obama did not strike Syria for a mixture of the following reasons: A "hangover from the Iraq War" that caused the whole of the US government establishment to dread the thought of another war in the Middle East; congressional approval for the strike seemed unlikely; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned against it. 

    Rhodes described Republican members of Congress as simultaneously bashing Obama's response to Syria as weak and refusing to grant him the authority to strike. However, two years earlier, Obama had ordered the US Navy to strike Libya without congressional approval. 

    Still unsure over whether or not to strike after Merkel suggested taking action at the United Nations and trying to gain support from European allies, Obama had a "big idea," according to Rhodes. Obama would seek congressional approval for the strike, even knowing he was unlikely to get it.

    But while pushing Congress to approve a strike and make good on a presidential red line gave every appearance of operating above board, Rhodes admits that Obama only did so while maintaining he had the right to strike Syria even if Congress voted against it. 

    Rhodes wrote candidly on the Obama administration's wish to cash in on "the public dynamic" in the wake of the horrible images of the gas attack coming out of Syria. But a meeting between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit gave them an out before they ever had to mobilize public opinion toward a war with Syria.

    "Four days after we got back to Washington, the Syrian government announced they would give them up. Five days later, on September 10, Obama addressed the nation and announced that we would pursue this diplomatic opportunity," writes Rhodes. "Thousands of tons of chemical weapons would be removed from Syria and destroyed, far more than could have been destroyed through military action."

    In hindsight...

    tomahawk uss laboon syria strike

    "Russia failed in its responsibility to deliver on this 2013 commitment," President Donald Trump's former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would say in April 2017 after another devastating sarin gas attack in Syria. "It is unclear whether Russia failed to take this obligation seriously or Russia has been incompetent, but this distinction doesn't much matter to the dead."

    The Syrian civil war continues to this day with no end in sight. A staggering number of dead and displaced Syrians underline the failure of the US and international community to decrease protracted and blatant suffering. 

    But under Trump, the US has struck Syria twice for chemical weapons use, and didn't ask for congressional approval in either instance. While Rhodes paints a picture of a US ready for a massive military campaign against Syria that he often compares to Iraq in 2003, Trump simply hit a few targets in punitive strikes which went virtually unpunished.

    SEE ALSO: A German far-right leader compared the Nazi era to 'a speck of bird s---' on German history, triggering a massive backlash

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    NOW WATCH: Ian Bremmer: Why the American dream doesn't exist anymore


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    Syria_War

    • The world is less peaceful now than at any point in the past 10 years as the number of refugees worldwide reached the highest level in modern history, according to a new report
    • Refugees now account for about 1% of the global population.
    • The economic cost of the decline in peace across the world was estimated to be roughly $14.8 trillion in 2017, the report found, which is equivalent to 12.4% of the world’s economic activity or roughly $2,000 for every person.

    The world is less peaceful than at any point in the past 10 years as the number of refugees worldwide reached the highest level in modern history, according to a new report.

    The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 12th annual Global Peace Index on Wednesday, which ranks 163 independent states and territories on their level of peacefulness.

    The study looks at three factors to measure the state of peace in a state or territory: safety and security in society, extent of ongoing domestic or international conflict, and the degree of militarization.

    The research found the world became 0.27% less peaceful over the course of 2017, which marked the fourth consecutive year global peace declined. Overall, 92 countries became less peaceful while 71 saw improvement over the past year. 

    Steve Killelea, the founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, told Bloomberg, "Increased numbers of refugees, terrorism, and heightened political tensions were behind the deterioration."

    "Refugees on their own would make one of the world's biggest nations," Killelea added. 

    Refugees now account for about 1% of the global population. There are approximately 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including roughly 22.5 million refugees, according the UN's refugee agency

    This year's Global Peace Index also found the US became less peaceful in the last year and ranked 121st overall. Comparatively, it ranked at 114th in 2017 and 103rd in 2016. 

    According to the study, the five most peaceful countries in the world are Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark. Meanwhile, the five least peaceful countries in the world are Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia.

    The economic cost of the decline in peace across the world was estimated to be roughly $14.8 trillion in 2017, the report found, which is equivalent to 12.4% of the world’s economic activity or roughly $2,000 for every person.

    SEE ALSO: At least 100 drowned off Tunisian coast in deadliest migrant disaster this year

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    NOW WATCH: Why some countries are more corrupt than others


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    us marines in syria

    • U.S. Marines, attached to special operations forces in Syria, often found themselves in direct-fire gunfights with Islamic State fighters earlier this year between January and April of 2018.
    • Marines initially joined with Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) teams advising Syrian Democratic Forces, providing indirect fires and anti-tank fires.
    • The engagements increased over time, with SDF fighters sometimes getting overstretched, and Marines found themselves in various direct and indirect engagements.

    U.S. Marines, attached to special operations forces in Syria, often found themselves in direct-fire gunfights with Islamic State fighters earlier this year, according to the commander of the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response for Central Command.

    The unit, designed with capability to launch combat forces within six hours anywhere in the CENTCOM theater, sent two rifle companies to support Special Operations Command units operating in Northern Syria between January and April, Marine Col. Christopher Gideons, commander of the task force, said Friday at the Potomac Institute.

    "When Marines deploy, they want to get involved," he said. "When there is a gunfight out there ... they want to find that opportunity to feel like they are making a meaningful contribution. We did exactly that."

    Gideons initially deployed a platoon-size element that linked up with ArmySpecial Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) teams.

    US Marines howitzers Syria

    "They were integrated with [special operations forces], absolutely integrated. We were providing Marine infantry, we were providing indirect fires, and we were providing anti-tank fires," he said.

    The SOF elements would push forward, advising Syrian Democratic Forces, "the ones that were primarily engaged in the direct firefights with ISIS," Gideons said.

    "You would have Marines integrated with those ODAs ... providing fires down at that lower tactical level," he said.

    During its 243-day deployment, the unit had to conduct several "rapid planning processes" to deploy forces on short notice, he added.

    Over time, more support was needed in Syria, so Gideons deployed more Marines to grow the platoon-size element to "two infantry [companies minus]" that were located in two separate locations in Northern Syria.

    "We anticipated that that requirement would grow with a need for Marine Corps capabilities, and it did," he said.

    Soon the fighting intensified.

    "On a number of different occasions, there would be various engagements, some direct, some indirect," Gideons said. "As the SDF would close in sometimes, they would outstretch particularly what our mortar fires could provide.

    Watch this eerie video of US Marines firing artillery in Syria:

    "We would displace out of our small [forward operating bases] we were operating out of, move closer in behind the SDF and then provide fires -- a lot of times mortar fire ... and of course as you were getting into an engagement, there is the potential for stuff to come back at you," he said.

    Marines operated in both mounted and dismounted roles. F/A-18s coming out of Bahrain provided close-air support when needed, Gideons said.

    Despite the action Marines saw, there were no casualties.

    "I am very happy and proud to say that we brought everybody home," Gideons said.

    He described the deployment as "dynamic."

    "What was unique on our watch is over our 243 days in theater ... from our perspective, we were more distributed than any other SPMAGTF up until that point," he said. "We had Marines operating in 10 different countries and 24 separate locations. I had Marines from Egypt to Afghanistan.

    "I didn't own missions in Iraq or Syria, but I had capabilities that could augment and support that mission's successful accomplishment."

    SEE ALSO: The untold stories of Marine Corps special ops 'getting some' against ISIS

    SEE ALSO: This is the huge M777 howitzer that US Marines burned out while fighting ISIS in Syria

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    NOW WATCH: How a $9 billion startup deceived Silicon Valley


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    netanyahu nuclear iran

    • Israel has attacked Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militias in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
    • He cast such actions as potentially helping to stem a Syrian Sunni Muslim refugee exodus to Europe.
    • Netanyahu accused Iran, which has been helping Damascus beat back a seven-year-old rebellion, of bringing in 80,000 Shi'ite fighters from countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan to mount attacks against Israel and "convert" Syria's Sunni majority.
    • He said Iran's actions could bring about a religious war that would send more refugees abroad. 

    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has attacked Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militias in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, casting such actions as potentially helping to stem a Syrian Sunni Muslim refugee exodus to Europe.

    Israeli officials have previously disclosed scores of air strikes within Syria to prevent suspected arms transfers to Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah guerrillas or Iranian military deployments.

    But they have rarely given detail on the operations, or described non-Lebanese militiamen as having been targeted.

    Netanyahu accused Iran, which has been helping Damascus beat back a seven-year-old rebellion, of bringing in 80,000 Shi'ite fighters from countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan to mount attacks against Israel and "convert" Syria's Sunni majority.

    "That is a recipe for a re-inflammation of another civil war - I should say a theological war, a religious war - and the sparks of that could be millions more that go into Europe and so on ... And that would cause endless upheaval and terrorism in many, many countries," Netanyahu told an international security forum.

    "Obviously we are not going to let them do it. We'll fight them. By preventing that - and we have bombed the bases of this, these Shi'ite militias - by preventing that, we are also offering, helping the security of your countries, the security of the world."

    Netanyahu did not elaborate. About half Syria's pre-war 22 million population has been displaced by the fighting, with hundreds of thousands of refugees making it to Europe.

    Syria’s population is mostly Sunni Muslim. President Bashar al-Assad is from the Alawite religious minority, often considered an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

    Under recent deals between Assad's government and mainly Sunni rebels, insurgents have left long-besieged areas sometimes in exchange for Shi'ite residents moving from villages surrounded by insurgents.

    The political opposition to Assad says the deals amount to forced demographic change and deliberate displacement of his enemies away from the main cities of western Syria. The Damascus government says the deals allow it to take back control and to restore services in the wrecked towns.

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    FILE PHOTO: Cossacks stand guard on a street next to the official mascot for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, Zabivaka in Rostov-on-Don, Russia June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo

    ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (Reuters) - Russian paramilitary units providing security for the soccer World Cup included among their members Cossack fighters who took part in clandestine campaigns in Ukraine and Syria that Kiev and Washington condemn as backed by Moscow.

    More than 800 members of at least six local Cossack organizations will patrol the streets, fan zones and team bases during the five-week tournament starting on Thursday, according to Cossack leaders and regional officials.

    In some places in Russia they will also work on match days as stewards or volunteers, the Cossack commanders said.

    At least 19 members of these groups have been identified by Reuters as having fought either alongside Moscow-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine or as Kremlin-backed private military contractors in Syria in support of Moscow’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad.

    Reuters identified the fighters and confirmed they belonged to the paramilitary groups through relatives, friends and their fellow Cossacks after they died or were captured. The number would likely be much higher if those who are still alive could be included.

    The Ukraine government views anyone who fought with the separatists as criminals. The European Union and the United States also treat the separatist uprising as unlawful and have imposed travel bans and financial freezes on dozens of people involved in the fighting or aiding the separatists.

    The Kremlin denies providing military support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. It also says it has nothing to do with Russian private military contractors in Syria. Working as an armed mercenary abroad is illegal under Russian law.

    Russia Cossack World Cup guards police

    Self-governing and semi-military communities mainly in southern Russia and Ukraine, Cossacks traditionally guarded the borders of the Russian Empire but were repressed in the Soviet era. Today many Cossack militia units are registered and funded by the central government in return for their loyalty. The 19 fighters identified by Reuters were all members of officially-registered Cossack units.

    Cossack groups say that any members taking part in armed conflicts do so as private individuals.

    But there is evidence that Cossack organizations have been supportive of those deployments. For one thing, they often organize burials with full honors for people killed in combat in Syria and Ukraine, and publish eulogies about them.

    Speaking in his office decorated with flags of pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, Cossack leader Alexander Anishchenko told Reuters about 200 members of the Great Don Army Cossack organization will guard areas outside the Rostov stadium during the World Cup matches.

    At a time of fierce fighting in early 2015, a commander in the Great Don Army, Svyatoslav Borisov, posted pictures from rebel-held eastern Ukraine on his social network account, including two of him posing in front of a burnt-out tank.

    Borisov told Reuters this week he only delivered humanitarian aid to pro-Russian rebels and did not fight.

    "Every person decides for himself. If he likes fighting, he fights," Borisov said of Cossacks who have fought in Ukraine. "I am a man of peace."

    Roman Zabolotny, a Rostov Cossack who is a member of the Great Don Army, was captured by Islamic State in Syria last year while fighting there as a private military contractor, according to fellow Cossacks.

    Fifa's premier event

    Russia's organizing committee for the Cup referred questions about the Cossack units' role to the Interior Ministry, saying the ministry was responsible for tournament security. The ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

    Oleksandr Turchynov, Secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, expressed outrage over their involvement in football's premier tournament.

    "The use of Cossack paramilitary groups is, on the one hand, evidence of the inability of the Russian leadership to ensure law and order during the 2018 soccer World Cup using state agencies, and on the other hand, it compromises an official FIFA event," Turchynov said in a statement to Reuters.

    "I believe that it is unacceptable on the part of the international community to consent to these actions."

    Russian Cossacks Patrol Streets

    The statutes of FIFA, global football's governing body, state that it "is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights."

    "For FIFA, these groups’ involvement represents an outrageous betrayal of the organization’s charter," US Congressman Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters.

    "I fear that rather than providing security at a peaceful, multinational gathering, these forces will instead silence government critics, beat protesters, and crack down on anyone who doesn’t conform to (President Vladimir) Putin’s standards," he said in a statement.

    Asked about the Cossacks' role, a FIFA spokesperson said the organization has "complete trust in the security arrangements and comprehensive security concept" developed by the Russian authorities and local organizers of the tournament.

    Sochi, the Black Sea resort which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, will see the biggest deployment of Cossacks with 538 members of the local Kuban Cossack Army taking part, the group's spokeswoman told Reuters.

    Five members of the Kuban Cossack Army have been killed in combat in eastern Ukraine and Syria since 2014, according to local Cossack commanders and people who knew the dead men.

    (By Maria Tsvetkova; additional reporting by Anton Chekrygin in Bataisk, Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Olesya Astakhova in Rostov and Christian Lowe in Moscow; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

    SEE ALSO: Air Force A-10 Warthogs are back in the Baltics, practicing for rough landings close to the Russian border

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    NOW WATCH: A global intelligence analyst explains why Russia isn't as strong as people think


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    Syria Air Strike Damascus

    • The US military denied reports that it carried out recent strikes in eastern Syria. 
    • Syrian state media reported Monday that US-led coalition aircraft had bombed “one of our military positions” in al-Harra, southeast of Albu Kamal.
    • The US-led coalition is supporting an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish militia fighting Islamic State northeast of Albu Kamal.


    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian state media, citing a military source, reported on Monday that U.S.-led coalition aircraft had bombed “one of our military positions” in eastern Syria, leading to deaths and injuries, but the U.S. military denied carrying out strikes in the area.

    The strike took place in al-Harra, southeast of Albu Kamal, Syrian state media said. There were no immediate details on casualties.

    A commander in the military alliance backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also told Reuters that drones, “probably American,” had bombed positions of Iraqi factions between Albu Kamal and Tanf and Syrian military positions.

    “No member of the U.S.-led coalition carried out strikes near Albu Kamal,” Major Josh Jacques, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, told Reuters.

    The U.S.-led coalition is supporting an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish militia fighting Islamic State northeast of Albu Kamal.

    The Syrian army, alongside allied Iran-backed militias including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iraqi groups, drove Islamic State from Albu Kamal and its environs last year, but the jihadists have since staged attacks in the area.

    U.S. forces are also based in Tanf, southwest of Albu Kamal in the Syrian desert near the borders of Iraq and Jordan.

     Last week, Assad said he regarded the United States as an occupying power in Syria and that the position of his state was to “support any act of resistance, whether against terrorists or against occupying forces, regardless of their nationality.”

    Reporting By Laila Bassam and Angus McDowall, additonal reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis

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    NOW WATCH: This $530 Android phone is half the price of an iPhone X and just as good


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    IBM refugeeBy Rana Novack, Offering Owner, IBM Refugee & Migration Predictive Analytics

    “Do you really think we would do anything differently?”

    It’s a question I’m asked repeatedly, and one that I’ve struggled with often as war’s veil of grief and destruction has slowly, cruelly fallen over my family in Syria.

    As my relatives have dispersed to whichever corner of the world they could safely reach, I’ve hoped and prayed that people – policy makers, immigration officers, the whole world, sometimes even my relatives themselves – would have done things differently. It’s a question I’ve asked myself in hindsight when I’ve been disappointed, time and time again.

    I am a first-generation Syrian American, and since the war began I’ve realized that almost everything I thought I knew about refugees and how the world responds to them was wrong. Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve had to re-think what it means to be displaced by conflict — and what we can do about it. 

    1. It’s not them — it’s us. My first mistake was thinking everything would be fine. Maybe I was just hopeful. When the protests began, I thought the unrest would pass quickly. When it turned violent, I was worried, but I thought, “It’s isolated to a few far away areas.” Then, the violence spread, and it became clear that it wasn’t just going to go away. I also realized that what was happening in Syria, to people I loved, could happen anywhere to anyone. For so long, I had thought of refugees as them. Now, it was us.

    2. There’s no place like home. My second mistake was thinking anyone would want to leave. One night, when the violence had been intense near my family’s neighborhood, I was speaking with my aunt in Syria, tearfully pleading with her to leave. I’ll never forget what she said next: that she couldn’t because her daughter had a doctor’s appointment.

    I was speechless. Was it worth risking your life for a doctor’s appointment? But then, something shifted, and I understood in a way I hadn’t before: It wasn’t as simple as just getting out. How do you make the choice to take your children and go, not knowing when they would next see a doctor? How do you leave the only place, the only life, you have ever known? There I was, asking her to leave, from the safety of my home without the slightest understanding of what I was suggesting in asking her to leave her own. 

    Because there wasn’t a safe way out, in many ways leaving had become a greater risk than staying. And while millions have left, they have done so at great personal risk and sacrifice.  

    3. We’re confined by our own constructs. My third mistake was thinking they could go, even if they wanted to. When my relatives did finally make the impossible choice to leave, every visa they applied for was denied. I realized it wasn’t the conflict keeping them confined; it was the rest of the world that had closed their doors. There was no plan, no established pathway to safety  — and people were dying either because of the conflict or on the way out.

    Reimagining a refugee crisis

    At the time, I was working at IBM and learning about predictive modeling, analytics, and cognitive computing. I began wondering if there might be a way to apply predictive technology to a refugee crisis. What if we had seen this coming? What could we have done differently? 

    Clearly, we would have had an opportunity. In a connected, cognitive world, we could analyze trends in data, learn from past migrations, and respond proactively, making policy decisions ahead of time, deploying humanitarian resources early, and establishing safe exit routes.

    That vision became the basis of IBM’s Refugee & Migration Predictive Analytics Solution prototype. It’s a tool to determine where people are going and how they are getting there, and to look for trends and correlations in data to help identify the drivers of a migration to empower government agencies and humanitarian organizations with the right information ahead of time. The IBM Foundation is now working with the Danish Refugee Council to refine the solution in support of future humanitarian crises.

    I can hear it now: "But even if we had perfect information … do you really think we would do anything differently?”

    And my answer is: Of course I do.

    Isn’t that what technology is for? It exists to make our world smarter, to help solve tough, complex challenges, to enable insight, and more informed decision making. But building technology-based solutions is only part of the answer. It’s up to us to act on the information and insights they provide. It’s up to us to be responsible, decent, and human. 

    In the age of technological disruption, we have the tools to disrupt displacement. We can evolve our measure of success for a refugee crisis response from basic survival and expand our focus to other diaspora-related issues  — pandemics, climate, famine, the global economy — exponentially driving technology to serve humanity. 

    In honor of World Refugee Day on June 20, let’s rethink how we support populations in crisis. Let’s commit to making a concerted effort to applying technology responsibly for the more than 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and the millions who may soon follow them. Then, maybe we won’t do anything differently – we’ll do everything differently.

    Watch the video below to learn more.

    This post is sponsor content from IBM and was created by IBM and Insider Studios.

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    Syria airstrike

    • Syrian state news agency SANA said two Israeli missiles hit in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport early Tuesday. 
    • Rights groups said the strike targeted "weapons depots and warehouses belonging to non-Syrian militias loyal to the Syrian regime."
    • Israel would not comment on the report, as is its policy.


    CAIRO (Reuters) - Syrian state news agency SANA said two Israeli missiles hit in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport in the early hours of Tuesday morning, without giving further details.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian air defense systems failed to intercept the missiles.

    The Britain-based war monitor said an explosion heard at 1 a.m. near the airport was caused by missiles fired by Israeli planes from the direction of Golan Heights.

    "It targeted weapons depots and warehouses belonging to non-Syrian militias loyal to the (Syrian) regime," the Observatory said, adding it had no information about casualties or damage.

    Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and backs a number of militias, including Lebanon's Hezbollah, fighting in support of Assad.

    Israel, concerned that Iran's growing presence in Syria is a threat to its safety, has struck dozens of Iranian and Iran-backed positions in Syria over the course of the seven-year conflict.

    Asked about the report, an Israeli military spokesman said: "We do not comment on foreign reports."

    (Reporting by Nayera Abdullah in Cairo and Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; editing by Diane Craft, Stephen Coates and Michael Perry)

    SEE ALSO: Israel launched a barrage of airstrikes on 50 Iranian targets in Syria — a massive escalation that could lead to all-out war

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    NOW WATCH: Trump pitched peace to Kim Jong Un with this Hollywood-style video starring Kim as the leading man


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    putin trump g20 hamburg

    • US and Russian officials said Wednesday that an upcoming summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will take place in a "third country," likely Finland.
    • The summit will take place during Trump's trip to Europe in July, which will include attending the NATO summit and visiting the UK.
    • Trump favors using his personal brand of one-on-one diplomacy when meeting with foreign leaders, but so far, the US has come out with few victories while making major concessions.
    • Foreign-policy experts anticipate the same outcome, with potentially massive consequences, when Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month.
    • Russia may even score a major win related to sanctions following the Trump-Putin meeting.

    Sign up for the latest Russia investigation updates here»


    The US is pulling out all the stops ahead of a highly anticipated July summit between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    US and Russian officials said Wednesday the summit will be held in a third country, likely in Helsinki, Finland.

    National security adviser John Bolton is in Moscow this week and met with Putin and other top Russian officials at the Kremlin to discuss US-Russia relations and to pave the way for the summit.

    When Putin greeted Bolton, he said he did not want to escalate tensions with the US and was willing to discuss how to "restore full-fledged relations based on equality and mutual respect."

    Bolton said he wanted to discuss "how to improve Russia-US relations and find areas where we can agree and make progress together."

    He later told the Russian leader: "We are most appreciative of your courtesy and graciousness."

    Last week, secretary of state Mike Pompeo also told MSNBC that the US is "trying to find places where we have overlapping interests [with Russia], but protecting American interests where we do not."

    Based on Trump's track record, however, it's unclear how successful he'll be in meeting that goal.

    The president has come to rely heavily on his personal brand of one-on-one diplomacy, a technique he employed when he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this month in Singapore. While the White House applauded the meeting as a historic achievement, foreign-policy veterans noted that outside of bolstering Trump's own self-image, the US gained little from the summit and made significant concessions to North Korea.

    Experts say they expect the same outcome, with potentially massive consequences, when Trump meets with Putin in July.

    'Trump is ours!'

    trump G7

    The topics on the agenda will include Russia's aggression toward Ukraine; Russia's meddling in the 2016 US election; the conflict in Syria, and denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

    A date for the summit has not been formally announced, but Russian state media said it will take place on July 15, shortly after the NATO summit in Belgium and Trump's visit to the UK.

    Mark Simakovsky, a former Department of Defense official who focused on Russia policy, said the timing alone of the Trump-Putin meeting will likely set off alarm bells with US allies.

    "There are already questions about Trump's commitment to NATO," Simakovsky said. "The fact that Trump is likely to meet with Putin so close to the NATO summit seems like a purposeful step to signal his displeasure toward the alliance, while showcasing himself as a kingmaker, someone who makes big deals with big leaders, irrespective of the interests of our closest allies."

    Tensions between the US and its NATO partners were exacerbated by Trump's calls during the G7 summit this month for Russia to be readmitted to the alliance. Russia was kicked out of the G7 in 2014 after it invaded Ukraine and annexed the territory of Crimea.

    BuzzFeed also reported that Trump told G7 leaders that Crimea is part of Russia because people in the territory speak Russian — a major acknowledgement of one of Putin's main foreign policy goals.

    News of Trump's reported remarks immediately prompted Russian state media to celebrate, with one host declaring, "Crimea is ours! Trump is ours!"

    A 'green light' for Putin

    Vladimir Putin

    "Putin has a clear idea of what he wants," said William Pomeranz, the deputy director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "He may not be able to get it all, but he has a firmly thought out plan and he's a very disciplined negotiator. One does not get the same impression about President Trump."

    On the other hand, experts say Trump's haphazard approach to diplomacy and lack of a clear stated goal raise questions about what commitments the president may be able to get from Putin.

    Trump's affinity for Putin, his endorsement of Putin's election victory against the advice of aides, and his willingness to let Russia slide on hot-button issues are also complicating factors.

    "If the North Korea summit is any indication, anything Trump and Putin discuss will be portrayed as a personal triumph for Trump at establishing the personal relationship with Putin he's always wanted," said Richard Kauzlarich, a former deputy assistant secretary of state.

    Meanwhile, Russian media has floated the theory that Trump and Putin will enter into a "secret verbal agreement" that Trump will look the other way on Ukraine.

    In order for Trump to counteract that, he will need to emphasize that "the US will not turn a blind eye to Moscow's malign influence around the globe," said Edward Price, who served as senior director of the National Security Council under President Barack Obama.

    "Anything less would be taken by Putin to be a green light," he added.

    An unraveling of sanctions?

    Donald Trump Vladimir Putin

    Trump's coziness with Putin could also hand Moscow a victory on its most important issue: sanctions.

    Since 2014, the US and the UK have urged the European Union to sanction Russia as a penalty for invading Ukraine.

    The EU does significantly more trade with Russia than the US does, and it has more energy interests in the region.

    For that reason, European countries often disagree with the US's requests for them to extend sanctions. But so far, they've complied.

    The EU's reluctance to punish Moscow has increased since Trump took office, fueled in part by his pro-Russia rhetoric.

    Pomeranz highlighted just how sensitive the optics of the Trump-Putin meeting are in light of the EU's concerns.

    "All it takes is one [EU] country to decide that they no longer want to extend sanctions, and they'll go away," Pomeranz said. "And if European sanctions unravel, I anticipate President Trump would demand or at least voice strong support for reducing US sanctions on Russia as well."

    SEE ALSO: The DOJ has turned over additional FISA records to Republicans, and former intelligence officials say the implications could be 'catastrophic'

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    NOW WATCH: Why the North Korea summit mattered even if it was 'mostly a photo op'


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    john bolton vladimir putin russia

    • National security adviser John Bolton once said Russia's election interference was "truly an act of war" against the US, and that a policy based on trusting Russia was "doomed to failure."
    • Bolton's tune changed completely after he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
    • He also dramatically departed from previous US policy when he said that the Trump administration would not recognize Russia's invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
    • When confronted by a reporter about his shift on Russia, Bolton said he would not address the discrepancy.

    Sign up for the latest Russia investigation updates here»


    US national security adviser John Bolton once said that Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election was "an act of war" against the US and warned that the US could not trust Russia.

    On Wednesday, he told the Russian leader: "We are most appreciative of your courtesy and graciousness."

    Bolton's comments came after he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of a highly anticipated summit between Putin and US President Donald Trump in July.

    Citing Kremlin spokesperson Yury Ushakov, the Russian state media outlet TASS reported Putin and Bolton discussed "strategic stability in the world, control over nuclear weapons and, in general, a disarmament dossier." Ushakov said they also discussed the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, North Korea, and the Iran nuclear deal.

    Bolton and the Kremlin did not say whether he and Putin discussed Russia's election meddling. The Kremlin said the two men did not broach the subject of sanctions or the diplomatic spat between the US and Russia.

    At a press conference held later in Moscow, Bolton said Moscow and Washington would announce the time and place of the Trump-Putin summit on Thursday. The presser was broadcast from the headquarters of the Russian state media outlet Interfax, instead of from the US embassy in Moscow.

    Bolton reverses course on Ukraine and Crimea

    Vladimir Putin

    The biggest moment from Wednesday's presser came when Wall Street Journal reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev asked Bolton whether Trump recognizes Russia's annexation of Crimea.

    "That's not the position of the United States," Bolton replied.

    The comment marks a dramatic departure from the US's previous stance on the matter, which is rooted in punishing Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

    In addition to raising questions about whether the Trump administration's stance on Ukraine will impact its sanctions on Russia, Bolton's comment could also mean Trump will double down on his calls for Russia to be readmitted to the G7. Russia was kicked out of the alliance after it invaded Ukraine in 2014.

    Trump first brought up his proposal during the annual G7 summit in Canada earlier this month, also reportedly suggesting Crimea was part of Russia because the people there spoke Russian. Bolton said Wednesday that Trump and Putin will likely discuss the matter when they meet in July.

    Another reporter asked Bolton whether he felt it was appropriate for Trump and Putin to meet given that Russia has not changed any of its behavior in the past.

    He was also asked whether Trump would broach Russia's election interference and allegations that a Russian missile was responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.

    john bolton american flagBolton responded that "there are a wide range of issues ... where both [Trump and Putin] think they'd like to find constructive solutions. I'd like to hear someone say that's a bad idea."

    "You yourself said a national security policy based on faith that regimes like Russia will honor their commitments is doomed to failure," the reporter replied.

    Bolton said that he would not address previous statements he had made and reiterated that Trump will "raise the full range of issues" between the US and Russia when the presidents meet in July.

    A Bloomberg News reporter later asked Bolton whether he was "suspicious" that Putin arrived on time to the meeting and treated Trump's emissary "with more respect" than he gives other world leaders.

    "That's the hardest question I've been asked here today," Bolton quipped. "I could either agree with you that he wasn't late, or I could tell you when he actually arrived and be accused of saying that he was late."

    As for "the meaning of [this meeting] with respect to ... anyone else that you mentioned, I think I'll just duck the question," Bolton added.

    SEE ALSO: The US is pulling out all the stops ahead of a highly anticipated Trump-Putin summit in a 'third country,' but Putin may eat Trump's lunch anyway

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    aleppo


    The battle for Aleppo raged for over five years, coming to an end in December 2016 and marking a major milestone in a bloody civil war that has transformed Syria from a bustling country to a devastating warzone.

    The war, which was born out of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, left 6.1 million internally displaced and left 5.6 million people as refugees out of Syria as of April, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

    Death tolls from the conflict are hard to calculate, but in 2016 the Syrian Center for Policy Research estimated that 470,000 people had been killed.

    The city was left a shell of its former self after the bloody war between rebels and government forces. While the Syrian civil war continues, looking at photos of the city of Aleppo before and after the battle took place on its streets serves as a sobering reminder of the catastrophic consequences of the conflict.

    This is Aleppo in December 2016, when the battle in the city was declared over. For the previous five years, the Syrian city was the target for conflict and intense shelling from Russian-backed government forces and rebels fighting against President Assad's regime. Airstrikes left ancient mosques and homes under blankets of dust and rubble.



    Hundreds of thousands of people were trapped in the besieged city. Hospitals and schools were destroyed.



    But life in Aleppo wasn't always this way. The city had spent centuries evolving into the country's largest industrial and commercial hub and is one of the oldest inhabited cities in human history. It was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1986.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    C 17 take off Northern Syria

    CENTCOM has just published some interesting photographs of U.S. assets supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. In particular, the images depict U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J operating from an austere runway at what the official captions refer to as an “undisclosed location”.

    However, the new images, taken between Jun. 20 and 23, 2018 and released by CENTCOM Public Affairs earlier today, were immediately geolocated by the OSINT investigator and famous Twitter user Samir (@obretix).

    Therefore, those you can find in this post are, to our knowledge, the very first photographs showing operations at a new U.S./Coalition military base in Syria’s northeastern province of Al-Hasakah whose construction works were exposed by OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) analysis of satellite pictures in 2017 and completion appeared to be imminent or just finished at the end of April 2018:

    Here are some of the images:

    SEE ALSO: Check out these photos of the US military drills in Europe that have Russia spooked

    A U.S. Marine Corps C-130 Hercules departs from an undisclosed location, June 22, 2018.



    The C-130 was transporting personnel and supplies to another location in Combined Joint Task Force’s area of operations.

    The KC-130J Hercules supports expeditionary operations by providing air-to-air refueling, rapid ground refueling and logistic support to operating forces. Tactical transportation of personnel or cargo includes aerial delivery or austere landing zone operations.



    A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster readies for departure from an undisclosed location, June 23, 2018.

    C-17s can airdrop both cargo and personnel, and is able to land on small, austere runways as short as 3,000 feet with a full load.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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