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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    ISIS

    • President Donald Trump said in an interview on Tuesday that ISIS had been defeated.
    • He's made similar statements before, but military officials have been more circumspect.
    • While ISIS has lost the territory it once controlled, the group remains a potent terror threat that can strike globally.

    President Donald Trump told the Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday that ISIS, the terrorist group that swept over Iraq and Syria in 2014, has been defeated.

    US military leaders have said the group has been rolled back and denied control of territory, but they've stopped short of pronouncements like Trump's and noted that coalition forces are still fighting them in their last strongholds.

    Asked why more US troops are now abroad in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Africa, despite Trump's campaign pledges to bring troops home, the president said his priority was national security.

    "I have to see safety at home and — not a vast difference, by the way — but a little bit more. But it’s not a lot more, it’s a little bit more. I have to see safety at home. And if I think people are likely to do some very bad things in faraway places to our homeland, I’m going to have troops there for a period of time," Trump told the AP.

    Trump with Airmen at Joint Base Andrews

    "But we’ve done an excellent job. We’ve defeated ISIS. ISIS is defeated in all of the areas that we fought ISIS, and that would have never happened under President Obama," Trump added. "In fact, it is going the other way. And I think we fought extremely effectively on everything I’ve wanted to do. Now there will be a certain point where that takes place."

    Trump has made similar claims before.

    During his address to the UN General Assembly at the end of September, he said that because of the US military and its partners, the "bloodthirsty killers known as ISIS have been driven out from the territory they once held in Iraq and Syria."

    The day before that speech, during an appearance with Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Trump said, "if you look at various parts of the Middle East, you look at Syria, we’ve wiped out ISIS. We're in the very final throes."

    US military officials have promoted the progress they and partner forces have made against the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. But they've noted that while the group is a husk of its former self, it remains a potent enemy in the territory it once controlled and still has the ability to inspire attacks abroad.

    A man cries as he carries his daughter while walking from an Islamic State-controlled part of Mosul towards Iraqi special forces soldiers during a battle in Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File photo

    "Overall, ISIS is territorially defeated, but until we achieve an enduring defeat, we will continue to fight," Army Col. Sean J. Ryan, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led anti-ISIS task force, told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

    Iraq soldiers and security forces ejected ISIS from Mosul, the country's second-largest city, in August 2017, after eight months of grinding fighting. But ISIS fighters, many of whom hid out in Iraq's mountainous areas, remain in the country, operating like guerrillas.

    Encounters with ISIS militants have become daily occurrences in the northeast provinces of Kirkuk, Salahuddin, Diyala, and Sulaimaniyah, according to a report by The Intercept. The fighters operate with relative ease in rural areas and at night, pressuring civilians for food and water and calling their cellphones to demand information about Iraqi security forces.

    Iraq's military and federal police are "working to contain and eliminate ISIS, who still pose a threat," Ryan said on Tuesday, adding that security forces are still mopping up "small pockets of ISIS" that threaten stability.

    In Syria, ISIS has also been beaten back. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces recaptured Raqqa, ISIS' self-proclaimed capital, in October 2017. But pockets of resistance persist, and US-backed fighters are still battling ISIS holdouts who often fight to the death.

    Syrian Democratic Forces SDF Fighters Raqqa Syria

    "The Syrian Democratic Forces continue to clear the last stronghold of ISIS resistance in the Middle Euphrates River Valley," Ryan said on Tuesday, referring to a region in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border. "The SDF is making gains despite booby-trapped buildings, IEDs, and repeated attacks."

    Ryan described ISIS as a "resilient enemy," and, as in Mosul, fighters in the valley are making increasing use of tunnels. Many there are foreign fighters who can't blend in among locals in Iraq or Syria. "They have nowhere to go," Ryan said. "They are either here to fight to the death or get killed."

    While SDF's advances are eroding ISIS' capabilities, Ryan said, the terrorist group "remains a deadly adversary."

    "The remaining fighters in the MERV are hardened and have shown every indication of being willing to fight until the end," he said.

    Operation Roundup, a campaign to free the river valley of ISIS, began in May, when the US estimated ISIS had just 2% of the territory it once controlled. The SDF has cleared a few towns, but that estimate hasn't changed.

    Ryan and other US officials have stressed there is no timetable for clearing the valley. "It's not about the land mass; it's about taking away ISIS capabilities," like weapons and support, Ryan said. "We're degrading them every day."

    ISIS

    Even with ISIS gone, the sentiment the group exploited and the means it used to spread its influence are likely to remain open to another extremist group.

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said Tuesday that the US and its partners have worked on the internet as they've worked on the ground to counter ISIS.

    "Much as we have worked over the last few years to deny them sanctuary in the physical space we’ve done the same thing to deny them freedom of movement in cyberspace," Dunford told reporters during a meeting of national defense chiefs at Andrews Air Force Base.

    "Among the many things we need to think about as we look at violent extremism into the future, their ability to leverage technology, cyber capabilities, information operations … is one of the things we need to anticipate and be out in front of," Dunford said.

    Moreover, Dunford said, conditions that could make the public amenable to another ISIS-like group endure.

    "Little progress has been made in addressing the underlying conditions that lead to violent extremism," Dunford said.

    "Challenges remain in our political, our military, our intelligence, and our law-enforcement cooperation," he added. "Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us today is the danger of complacency."

    SEE ALSO: Jeff Sessions just named these 5 groups as the top transnational organized-crime threats to the US

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: What the US needs to do to prevent a new ISIS in Iraq


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    People walk past debris in Arhab, north of Sanaa, Yemen in January 2013 after a Houthi bomb was dropped during a fight against Sunni tribesmen.

    Planning for safe travel usually includes leaving contact information and knowing whether it is safe to drink the water — but for some countries, the US State Department suggests more dramatic measures be taken. 

    For some countries, travelers may want to consider drafting a will and designating beneficiaries. And for the most dangerous destinations, State even suggests leaving a DNA sample with a medical provider — just in case.

    Drum-Cussac, a risk assessment and management company, recently published its 2019 World Risk Map, which compiles data in five categories to assess travel risks. 

    The main factors include political, security, medical, infrastructural, and environmental risks. Within these categories, countries are assessed for threats such as terrorism, access to medical care and clean water, violence and crime, and political stability. 

    The map provides an overall assessment for every country in the world; here's a look at the top ten.

    10: Burundi

    Sharing its borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania, Burundi is considered politically unstable and vulnerable to disease outbreaks.

    The CIA has noted the nation's "non-democratic transfers of power," pointing to a history marred with assassinations, a brutal 12-year civil war, and controversial 2015 election that included a failed coup. 

    Travelers to Burundi face risks of malaria and cholera with limited access to healthcare and the threat of petty crime, according to Drum-Cussac. The US State Department urges travelers to reconsider Burundi as a destination, noting "crime and armed conflict."



    9: Democratic Republic of Congo

    Democratic Republic of Congo ranks as Drum-Cussac's most environmentally risky travel destination.

    Armed groups have littered the nation with landmines and unexploded ordnance, and the country suffers from flooding and landslides during its rainy season.

    The US State Department also warns travelers to reconsider traveling to DRC due to "crime and civil unrest."



    8: Iraq

    The US State Department recommends not to travel to Iraq due to "terrorism and armed conflict."

    Drum-Cussac also points out the country's crumbling infrastructure, a devastating result of decades of war and sanctions.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    U.S. personnel provide security during an independent patrol outside Manbij, Syria, Aug. 11, 2018. These independent, coordinated patrols are conducted with Turkish military forces who stay on the opposite side of the demarcation line.

    • A U.S. patrol came under fire in the Syrian region of Manbij, allegedly from Turkey’s local proxy forces. 
    • Earlier this year, Inherent Resolve confirmed to Military Times that coalition forces have received fire from suspected Turkish-supported groups sporadically over the time they have been patrolling near Manbij.
    • Since June, troops from the two countries have been conducting “coordinated independent patrols” along the demarcation line north of Manbij.
    • And training for actual joint patrols between U.S. and Turkish troops is also underway.

    A U.S. patrol came under fire in the Syrian region of Manbij, allegedly from Turkey’s local proxy forces.

    American officials with Operation Inherent Resolve confirmed to Military Times that coalition forces exchanged fire with an unknown armed group on Oct. 15 near Manbij — a region in northern Syria that has stoked tension between the U.S. and Turkey, both NATO allies, over the past year.

    “Troops were on a patrol with Manbij Civil Council and received gunfire from an unknown source," Army Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the Inherent Resolve coalition to defeat the Islamic State, told Military Times.

    "It was over quickly and a reminder to stay vigilant,” he added.

    Ryan said the coalition patrols in Manbij do not often receive fire. He also did not confirm whether those firing at the Americans were Turkey’s proxy forces.

    “Manbij has been relatively safe but it is still Syria, and a lot of malign actors are looking to cause trouble,” he said.

    The Syrian Kurdish journalist Hosheng Hesen posted a video of the skirmish on his Twitter account. He wrote a caption stating that the video shows a clash between U.S. troops and armed rebel factions sponsored by Turkey.

    Earlier this year, Inherent Resolve confirmed to Military Times that coalition forces have received fire from suspected Turkish-supported groups sporadically over the time they have been patrolling near Manbij.

    Regardless, Ryan said he didn’t expect this incident to derail efforts to cool tensions between Turkey and the U.S.

    Manbij has been a flash point in relations between the U.S. and Turkey, with coalition troops caught in the middle of a geopolitical rivalry between the two NATO allies.

    Inherent Resolve coalition forces, including U.S. and French troops, have been patrolling Manbij over the past year, amid Turkish demands for the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Kurdish militia that dominates the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and helped expel ISIS from the area in 2016.

    Turkey views YPG fighters as terrorists because of their links to the ongoing Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

    In order to defuse tensions with Turkey, U.S. officials reached an agreement on a Manbij roadmap to determine how the area would be governed that involves the departure of YPG fighters.

    Since June, troops from the two countries have been conducting “coordinated independent patrols” along the demarcation line north of Manbij. And training for actual joint patrols between U.S. and Turkish troops is also underway, Pentagon officials told reporters this month.

    Turkey’s proxy force — ethnically Syrian Arab and Syrian Turkmen rebels who are known as the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, or TFSA — have been used in the past by the Turkish military during operations in northern Syria, such as the battle to uproot Kurdish fighters from Afrin.

    TFSA rebels have also threatened to retake Manbij.

    However, Ryan confirmed U.S. troops would not be conducting joint patrols with TFSA fighters. Instead, they will directly work with Turkish uniformed soldiers.

    “The patrols will be with the Turkish Army and should start soon,” Ryan said.

    Despite the roadmap, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continued to accuse the U.S. of not pushing the YPG hard enough to depart.

    “America has not kept up with the roadmap and schedule for Manbij,” Erdogan told Turkish media in September. “The [YPG] has not left the region.”

    SEE ALSO: A US base in Syria is a huge thorn in Russia and Iran's side — but they can't do much more than complain about it

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    p8 poseidon

    • A Russian defense official said a January drone swarm attack on a Russian military base in Syria had been commanded from a US Navy P-8A Poseidon.
    • A swarm of 13 drones on January 5 and January 6 targeted Hmeymim air base and Tartus Naval Facility, but Russia repelled the attacks, it said at the time.  
    • The US's P-8 can communicate with drones, but Russia provided no evidence to back its claims that the US Navy tried to attack and kill its servicemen in a thwarted strike.

    Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said a January drone swarm attack on a Russian military base in Syria had been commanded from a US Navy P-8A Poseideon, Russian media reported.

    A swarm of 13 drones on January 5 and January 6 targeted Hmeymim air base and Tartus Naval Facility, but Russia repelled the attacks, it said at the time.  

    Russia's Ministry of Defense released photos of fixed-wing, unsophisticated drones that the US doesn't acknowledge as part of its inventory. 

    Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, described the allegation as "very alarming,"Radio Free Europe reported.

    "Any suggestion that U.S. or coalition forces played a role in an attack on a Russian base is without any basis in fact and is utterly irresponsible," the Pentagon responded at the time.

    The Poseidon P-8A does have the capability to communicate with drones, but it's entirely unclear if it can command a fleet of 13 drones. Russia initially displayed the drones after the attack, but did not produce any hard evidence that they communicated with the US Navy. 

    russia syria drone

    Russia has some of the world's best air defenses around its bases in Syria, which Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of Russia's National Defense journal, told Russian media contributed to the attack. 

    The US "pursued several goals," with the alleged attack, said Korotchenko. 

    "There were three such goals: uncovering the Russian air defense system in Syria, carrying out radio-electronic reconnaissance and inflicting actual harm to our servicemen in Syria," he said.

    Without citing evidence or sources, Korotechenko alleged the US carried out the attack to uncover "the strong and weak points in our air defense system in Syria."

    In April, the US would attack targets in Syria suspected of participating in chemical weapons attacks on civilians, but Russian air defenses stood down. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales: There's going to be an 'enormous backlash' against Donald Trump's lies


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    russia syria

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Groups representing Russian military veterans plan to ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Russia's secret deployment of civilian contractors in Syria, Ukraine and Africa, a paramilitary leader said on Friday.

    The recruitment of civilians to fight abroad is illegal in Russia, and the Kremlin has repeatedly denied reports of thousands of Russian private contractors fighting alongside government forces in Syria. Over 100 Russian civilians were killed during the campaign, according to people familiar with the mission.

    However, the ICC has no jurisdiction over Syria and has never handled any cases like this before.

    More than a dozen Russian veteran organizations plan to write to Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the Hague-based ICC investigating war crimes, according to Yevgeny Shabayev, a paramilitary Cossack group leader who says he personally knows dozens of people who have been on such assignments.

    It is unclear how big the organizations on the list are and they may not represent a significant majority of veterans — of whom there are hundreds of thousands in Russia following its intervention in Afghanistan and the conflict in Chechnya.

    Hmeymim base russia syria

    A letter of appeal from the groups will urge Bensouda to initiate a probe into recruitment of the Russian mercenaries.

    "The Russians fight abroad as 'volunteers' and without an official recognition from the Russian government," said Shabayev, who has once served as a representative of one of self-proclaimed pro-Russian separatist republics in eastern Ukraine.

    The veterans, some of whom are close to the mercenaries, say in the letter they are unhappy with the fact that private contractors operate illegally and enjoy no social benefits or protection afterwards.

    "In fact Russian civilians ... are being sent out of their country of residence to be illegally used for military purposes." 

    The ICC, the Kremlin and the Russian Defence Ministry did not reply immediately reply to requests for comments.

    Several hundreds delegates plan to discuss the document at a forum on Nov. 18 in Moscow and mail it to the ICC the next day, Shabayev said adding that they have worked on the document for several months.

    ukraine crimea russia

    Russian citizens were seen in large numbers taking part in the fighting in eastern Ukraine on the side of pro-Russian separatists. Moscow said they went there on their own will as volunteers.

    The Kremlin officially deployed 170 civilian instructors in the Central African Republic and plans to send 60 more to reinforce them — a mission which Moscow says has been approved by the UN Security Council.

    Last year, a Russian private security company said it carried out a demining mission in Libya.

    The veteran organizations said in the letter of appeal that Russian contractors also worked in Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen and Gabon.

    The authors said in the document they would assist the ICC if it launched an investigation. Shabayev said some former Russian private military contractors who had fought abroad would be ready to testify if the offered them protection.

    "It will depend on whether the West is really interested to examine the situation," Shabayev said.

    (Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; editing by Olzhas Auyezov, Raissa Kasolowsky, Richard Balmforth)

    SEE ALSO: Finland and Norway are telling airline pilots to be ready to fly without GPS, and some think Russia is up to something

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


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    Austin Tice

    By Jonathan Landay

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Trump administration envoy on Tuesday urged Syria's ally Russia to push for the release of Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist kidnapped in Syria six years ago.

    Robert O'Brien, U.S. President Donald Trump's special envoy for hostage affairs, said Trump would take measures necessary to facilitate Tice's freedom if it would help. He did not elaborate on the measures.

    "We are continuing to call on the Russians to exert whatever influence they have in Syria to bring Austin home," he said. The Syrian government says it is unaware of Tice's whereabouts.

    O'Brien came to Trump's defense when asked why the president has made no public pronouncements on Tice but had spoken out in the cases of Americans held in Turkey, North Korea and Iran. He said Trump and his top aides are closely tracking the case.

    O'Brien spoke at a news conference called to announce a National Press Club drive for private donations to match a $1 million FBI reward for information leading to Tice's freedom.

    Tice was 31 years old when he was abducted in August 2012 while reporting in Damascus on the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    He has not been heard from publicly since a video posted online weeks after he disappeared showed him in the custody of armed men. O'Brien said the United States believes Tice is alive but did not elaborate on the journalist's condition.

    Washington has declined to identify who it believes is holding Tice but has sought the help of Russia, Assad's main foreign backer in the civil war, and other countries.

    Tice's father, Marc Tice, said that he and his wife will travel to Beirut later this year on at least their seventh trip to apply for visas to enter Syria to seek their son's release.

    (Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Mary Milliken and Howard Goller)

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    A Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-57 jet flies over Red Square during the Victory Day military parade to celebrate 73 years since the end of WWII and the defeat of Nazi Germany, in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 9, 2018.

    • Russia has been using war-torn Syria as a testbed for its most advanced stealth fighter — the Su-57.
    • The aircraft has flown ten sorties over Syria, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Monday in a statement accompanying the first official video of the aircraft's activities in Syria.
    • The Russian fifth-generation fighter, which is still in development, is meant to rival the proven US F-35 and F-22 stealth fighters.

    A new video from the Russian defense ministry shows the country's most advanced stealth fighter flying sorties in Syria.

    Fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters have flown 10 sorties over war-torn Syria, the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement accompanying the footage, the first official video to publicly highlight the aircraft's activities in Syria.

    WATCH:

    Satellite images from February first indicated that Russia had deployed Su-57 fighters to Khmeimim Air Base in Latakia, Syria. The Ministry of Defense later confirmed the deployment. The Russians are admittedly using the bloody civil war in Syria to test some of their latest weapons. The plane has a "need to be tested in combat conditions, in conditions of resistance," Russian officials previously explained.

    The defense ministry said Monday that "the flights were performed to confirm the stated capabilities of the newest plane in a real combat environment."

    The aircraft is said to have participated in the bombing of Syrian rebels and Islamic State forces in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ground war, which is a rather poor test of the aircraft's combat capabilities.

    In comparison, an American F-35, a Su-57 rival, conducted its first combat mission in late September, carrying out an airstrike against Taliban forces. While some hailed the operation as a success, others characterized the combat mission as a waste of resources given the F-35's superior combat capabilities compared to the warfighting capabilities of the Taliban.

    Still technically an experimental aircraft, the Su-57, like some of its fifth-generation counterparts, has faced setbacks in development. Nonetheless, the advanced multipurpose fighter built for air superiority and complex attack operations is expected to enter service next year, but only in limited numbers. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    syria doctors

    • A Syrian official and the state news agency say more than 100 people have been treated at hospitals after a suspected poison gas attack by rebels in the northern city of Aleppo.
    • Rebel commanders and opposition figures denied carrying out a chemical attack and accused the government of trying to undermine a cease-fire.
    • Syrian warplanes attacked rebel-held areas for the first time in weeks Sunday in the most serious violation of a truce between Russia and Turkey.

    DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A Syrian official and the state news agency say more than 100 people have been treated at hospitals after a suspected poison gas attack by rebels in the northern city of Aleppo, updating an earlier toll.

    Forensic Medicine General Director Zaher Hajo told The Associated Press Sunday that those wounded the night before were taken to two hospitals in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

    Hajo says all but 15 of the 105 people who were treated have been discharged. He says two people who were in critical condition have improved.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 94 people were treated, with 31 remaining in hospitals.

    Syria's Arab News Agency, SANA, said the alleged chemical attack late Saturday was carried out by "terrorist groups positioned in Aleppo countryside" that fired shells containing toxic gases on three neighborhoods in Syria's largest city.

    Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian chemical weapons specialists have been dispatched to Aleppo. Russia is a close ally of President Bashar Assad and has intervened in recent years to turn the tide of the civil war in his favor.

    "According to preliminary data, particularly the symptoms shown by the victims, the shells that bombarded residential areas of Aleppo were filled with chlorine gas," Konashenkov said.

    In the past, rebels have accused the government of using chlorine gas to attack opposition-held areas. Rebel commanders and opposition figures denied carrying out a chemical attack and accused the government of trying to undermine a cease-fire.

    Rebel commander Abdel-Salam Abdel-Razak says the opposition doesn't possess poisonous gases or the capabilities to lob them, tweeting "These are lies" soon after reports assigning blame emerged.

    Hours after the suspected attack, Syrian warplanes attacked rebel-held areas in northern Syria for the first time in weeks Sunday in the most serious violation of a truce reached by Russia and Turkey.

    Albert Aji and Bassem Mroue contributed reporting for The Associated Press.

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    U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James Gordon, a machine gunner with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, fires at his target with an M240B machine gun during a live fire demonstration near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, Sept. 7, 2018.

    • US Ambassador James Jeffrey told the Russian media that US forces have engaged Russian troops on more than one occasion in Syria.
    • The special representative for the Syria conflict was asked about a widely publicized clash in February involving Russian mercenaries.
    • Jeffrey would not reveal specific details about the attacks, but stated that US troops have exercised self-defense "about a dozen times in one or another place in Syria."

     

    American forces have clashed with Russian fighters in Syria on more than one occasion.

    The details come from an interview Ambassador James Jeffrey, U.S. special representative for Syria engagement, did with Russian media outlets last week.

    The interview transcript was subsequently published on the U.S. Embassy in Moscow website.

    Jeffrey was asked by the Russian journalists to verify details of a February incident involving a mix of Russian mercenaries and pro-regime Syrian fighters who attacked U.S. and local partner forces in eastern Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province. The Pentagon said the U.S. troops called for close-air support to defend their outpost, allegedly killing up to 200 enemy fighters.

    There were no American casualties, but one partner force fighter was wounded.

    “Can I ask you for some details on that firefight? Did it actually happen and how many casualties were recorded?” a journalist from Kommersant asked Jeffrey.

    “There have been various engagements, some involving exchange of fire, some not,” Jeffrey said. “Again, we are continuing our mission there and we are continuing to exercise our right of self-defense.”

    The Russian journalist then asked Jeffrey to provide details on the other dozen incidents, but he would not, citing operational security concerns.

    “We don’t comment on specific military actions of that nature. U.S. forces are legitimately in Syria, supporting local forces in the fight against Daesh," Jeffrey said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State terror group. "As appropriate — and this has occurred about a dozen times in one or another place in Syria — they exercise the right of self-defense when they feel threatened. That’s all we say on that.”

    The February attack was the most widely publicized one involving a clash between U.S. and Russian forces.

    Although the Russians were reportedly mercenaries working for Wagner Group, a private military company, the fighters have been accused of acting as an expendable paramilitary unit for the Kremlin. They have been documented fighting in both the Syrian Civil War and the War in the Donbass in Ukraine.

    Prior to conducting airstrikes on the Russian and Syrian mixed unit in February, the Pentagon said its local commanders had deconflicted the strikes with their Russian counterparts.

    “Coalition officials alerted Russian officials of the [partner force] presence in Khusham [Deir ez-Zor province] via the de-confliction line well in advance of the attack,” a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Syria said at the time.

    Russian officials had reportedly assured U.S. commanders they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity of that area, the spokesman said.

    The Russian mercenary and pro-regime assault involved T-55 and T-72 main battle tanks with support from multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars, as well as an approximately battalion-sized dismounted formation.

    The U.S. contingent on the ground called in airstrikes that reportedly killed hundreds of enemy fighters.

    The attack occurred in eastern Syria’s oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province.

    “We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain [U.S.-backed fighters] had liberated from Daesh in September 2017,” Col. Thomas Veale, a spokesman assigned to the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Iraq, said in February. “[Pro-regime forces] were likely seeking to seize oil fields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for Daesh from 2014 to 2017.”

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Hassan Al Kontar

    • Syrian refugee, Hassan al Kontar, was stranded at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 for about six months.
    • His story first took social media by storm in March, when he started posting videos of himself living in the Malaysian airport's transit area.
    • However, reports indicate that Canadian sponsors had his case expedited and have since made arrangements for him to fly to Canada as a refugee.


    The Syrian man who was stranded at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) for about six months is now Canada-bound.

    Hassan Al Kontar had been working in the UAE until he was deported in 2016 when war broke out in Syria and his work permit could not be renewed.

    As he refused to comply with mandatory military service, he needed to seek asylum in another country but was refused entry into Cambodia, and was not allowed back into Malaysia after being barred from a flight to Ecuador.

     

    Read more: A Syrian man who has been trapped in an airport for two months explains how he survives day-to-day

     

    His situation made headlines when he began posting regular videos of himself living in the transit zone of Kuala Lumpur's airport on his Twitter profile

    In October, Hassan was arrested for being in a forbidden zone of the airport, and placed in a detention centre.

    The 36-year-old's plight drew the attention of people all over the world.

    According to a report by the BBC, Canadian sponsors — namely the British Columbia Muslim Association and Canada Caring Society — sought to have his case expedited and made arrangements for him to fly to Canada as a refugee.

    On Monday November 26, Hassan posted yet another video on Twitter — this time, from Taiwan International Airport.

    Apologising for not being in touch for two months, he said that he would be reaching his final destination — Vancouver, Canada — on November 27 (the BBC later confirmed he touched down earlier, late on November 26).

     

    In the video, he said vaguely: "For now, it's not important where I have been or what went on. The past is no longer with us. What's important is today and tomorrow; the present and the future."

    He added that the past eight years had been a "hard and long" journey, with the last ten months "very hard and cold".

    Read more: The Syrian asylum-seeker who was stranded in a Malaysian airport was arrested after spending six months there

    He expressed gratitude to his "Canadian friend's family", his family, his lawyer, and his supporters.

    "I could not do it without support and prayers from all of you… Thank you all, I love you all," he said, adding that he would keep everyone updated.

    He also urged the public to pray for "those who still need it the most"— in refugee camps and detention camps all over the world.

    SEE ALSO: Russian FM says US pursues 'hidden agenda' in Syria

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    Members of 5th Special Forces Group (A) conducting 50. Cal Weapons training during counter ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.

    • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered U.S. troops to set up observation posts in northern Syria.
    • The observation posts will help warn Turkey of threats, and to stop the Turkish military from attacking US-backed forces. 
    • The observational posts will also serve to help "crush what's left of the geographic caliphate," Mattis said. 

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered U.S. troops to set up observation posts in northern Syria with a dual purpose — to warn Turkey of threats and to stop the Turkish military from attacking U.S.-backed opposition forces.

    In an informal session with Pentagon reporters last Wednesday, Mattis said the personnel at the observation posts would come from the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops already in Syria on train, advise and assist missions and would not require bringing in additional forces.

    "We are putting observation posts in several locations up along the northern Syrian border because we want to be the people who call the Turks and warn them if we see something coming out of an area that we're operating in," Mattis said, referring to the U.S. troops working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to eliminate the last remnants of the Islamic State in Syria around the town of Al-Tanf near the Iraqi border.

    "We are going to track any threat we can spot going up into Turkey," he said. "That means we'll be talking to Turkish military across the border."

    US Marines engage targets during a live-fire demonstration near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, Sept, 7, 2018.

    But he also acknowledged that the observation posts would give a measure of protection to the SDF. "What this is designed to do is make sure that the people we have fighting down in the MERV [Middle Euphrates River Valley] are not drawn off that fight and that we can crush what's left of the geographic caliphate," Mattis said.

    The Turkish military has occasionally shelled the SDF. Last month, the SDF halted offensives against Al-Tanf out of concerns that Turkey was moving against elements of the group in Manbij on the Turkish border. The U.S. has begun joint patrols in Manbij with the Turks to ease tensions.

    Turkey has maintained that the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units), considered the most effective fighting force within the SDF, is linked with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), which has been labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey and the U.S.

    Mattis said the Turks "don't like our relationship" with the YPG. "I understand where they're coming from. But we do not say that YPG is the same as PKK."

    Turkey's concerns about the YPG are also distracting the SDF from the final push against ISIS, Mattis said.

    He said the SDF has lost thousands of troops in the effort to drive ISIS from the region, but they "got distracted by the instability up around Afrin and Manbij, and so they were not staying fully focused."

    SEE ALSO: A US base in Syria is a huge thorn in Russia and Iran's side — but they can't do much more than complain about it

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    Hassan Al Kontar

    • Hassan Al-Kontar, a 37-year-old refugee from Syria, had been living in the transit area of Kuala Lumpur International Airport for about seven months and was stuck in diplomatic limbo.
    • Al-Kontar vlogged often about the struggles of being trapped on his own with little access to the outside world.
    • But on Monday night, he was finally free.
    • Al-Kontar touched down in Vancouver, Canada, where citizens had raised money and worked for months to secure his release from Malaysia.
    • He now heads to Whistler, British Columbia, in order to begin his new life. 

    Hassan Al-Kontar had been trapped in the transit area of Kuala Lumpur International Airport for about seven months, vlogging often about the struggles of being stuck on his own with little access to the outside world. 

    Al-Kontar arrived at KLIA2 after years of fighting to secure a better life abroad as a Syrian citizen. He had spent time working in the UAE for over a decade, but eventually lost his work visa and was later unable to renew his passport. 

    The ordeal sent him to a holding facility in Malaysia in January 2017. He tried to save money and leave Malaysia on two occasions in 2017 — once to Ecuador, another time to Cambodia — but was rejected each time and sent back to a country he did not choose to live in.

    In March this year, after being blacklisted by Malaysia for overstaying his visa, he was confined to the airport's transit zone, trapped in diplomatic limbo. 

    But on Monday night, that all finally turned around.

    "They came to me on Sunday and said 'you're going to Canada.' I did not believe them until they showed me the ticket," Al-Kontar told CBC News after touching down in Vancouver airport. 

    The 37-year-old told Business Insider that during his time in the airport, he spent his days reaching out to government agencies, volunteers, NGOs and media to get assistance in the hopes of eventually leaving the airport and finding residency in a country that accepted refugees. 

    Read more: A Syrian man who has been trapped in an airport for two months explains how he survives day-to-day

    He faced several obstacles as he tried to figure out a long-term solution. He claims Malaysia only offered him temporary visas without the guarantee of work-rights; in October, he was arrested and sent to a detention center in the country for two months

    Still, he says he never lost hope for a better future. 

    "Deep inside I had full faith, even when I was in detention," he told CBC after his emotional homecoming on Monday. Laurie Cooper — a Canadian volunteer who worked with lawyers, the B.C. Muslim Association, and others to lobby for Al-Kontar's long-awaited release — gave him the first hug during an emotional homecoming.

    "I just feel so grateful that he's here and that he's safe," she told CBC. "I never doubted for a moment that we would get him here." 

    Cooper, a resident of Whistler, British Columbia, raised the money required to sponsor his arrival. According to CBC, Al-Kontar will initially be living with Cooper, and has also been offered a full-time job at a Whistler hotel.

    "In Canada, here you have something very special, you have an amazing group of people who believe they can make a difference, and they can," he said. 

    Check out footage of his arrival here: 

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    Peter Kassig

    • A U.S air strike in Syria has taken out Abu al-Umarayn, an ISIS leader responsible for the 2014 murder of former Army Ranger Peter Kassig.
    • The strike also killed “several other ISIS members,” Army Col. Sean Ryan told Reuters.
    • Kassig, 26, was working as an aid worker to provide medical support in Syria when we was abducted by ISIS in 2013.
    • Kassig was murdered in Nov. 2014, according to an ISIS video release.

    A U.S. precision air strike in the desert of southeastern Syria has taken out Abu al-Umarayn, a senior ISIS leader responsible for the 2014 murder of former Army Ranger Peter Kassig.

    The strike was announced on Twitter by U.S. Envoy Brett McGurk, who said al-Umarayn was “responsible for the murder of several ISIS prisoners,” to include Kassig.

    The strike also killed “several other ISIS members,” Army Col. Sean Ryan told Reuters.

    “Al Umarayn had given indications of posing an imminent threat to Coalition Forces and he was involved in the killing of American Citizen and former U.S. Army Ranger, Peter Kassig,” Ryan said.

    “He has been linked to and directly involved with executing several other prisoners as a senior ISIS member. Coalition airstrikes continue to disrupt ISIS command and control on the battlefield as we remove key figures from their ranks.”

    Kassig, 26, was working as an aid worker to provide medical support in Syria when we was abducted by ISIS in 2013. A trained EMT, Kassig had previously served with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and had deployed to Iraq.

    He was medically discharged from the Army in 2007, Military Times reported.

    His kidnapping was not confirmed until he appeared at the end of an a video released by ISIS in 2014, which showed the murder of aid worker Alan Henning before a masked ISIS executioner threatened a kneeling Kassig with death if the U.S.-led coalition did not stop its bombing campaign.

    Kassig’s parents, Ed and Paula, tried to appeal to his captors for their son’s release in a video of their own. His father said that Peter had converted to Islam and had changed his name to Abdul-Rahman after he “grew to love and admire the Syrian people and felt at home there.”

    “Our hearts ache for you to be granted your freedom so that we can hug you again and then set you free to continue the life you have chosen, the life of service to those in gravest,” he added.

    Kassig was murdered in Nov. 2014, according to another ISIS video release. His actual beheading was not shown on video, leading some to suggest that he may have defied his captors and refused to cooperate in making a propaganda statement before his death.

    SEE ALSO: A US base in Syria is a huge thorn in Russia and Iran's side — but they can't do much more than complain about it

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    US Marine Corps motor Syria

    A Marine infantry battalion shouldered a large chunk of responsibility for US military operations across the Middle East as it covered down on three war zones.

    From small fire bases in Syria and Iraq, to Helmand province, Afghanistan, and a show of force exercise aimed at countering Russian provocations near a small US garrison at al Tanf, Syria — Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines were spread across a large swath of terrain during their 2018 deployment to the US Central Command area of operations.

    Part of the unit’s thin but vast footprint across the Middle East was detailed in a series of charge sheets obtained by Marine Corps Times via a Freedom of Information Act Request, which listed the locations and outposts where various misconduct occurred.

    The misconduct reports provide a unique glimpse into a Marine deployment cycle across the CENTCOM theater as US military operations continue to battle against ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria and a Taliban onslaught in Afghanistan.

    US Marine Corps motor Syria

    The Corps says 3/7’s deployment in support of CENTCOM was relatively normal for a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

    “It is not uncommon for SPMAGTF-CR-CC [Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command] to provide support for and respond to multiple contingencies and standing mission requirements simultaneously,” Maj. Joseph Reney, a spokesman with Marine Force Central Command, told Marine Corps Times. “Currently, operations have SPMAGTF Marines spread across several countries, serving in a range of these capacities.”

    “During its deployment with SPMAGTF-CR-CC, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines filled many of these missions. Their Marines contributed directly to operations across the Central Command area of responsibility.”

    The Marines with 3/7 operated from major Iraqi air bases like al Asad in Anbar province and Taqaddum in central Iraq, according to details provided in the charge sheets.

    And they took on ISIS militants from a remote outpost near Dashisha, Syria, to a small fire base in Iraq named Um Jorais.

    Some Marines with 3/7 were also supporting operations in Afghanistan at Camp Jadeed, located in the volatile Helmand province, where a small Marine unit known as Task Force Southwest is advising Afghan security forces to beat back Taliban gains in the region.

    US Marine Corps vehicle Syria

    During the summer, a contingent of Marines with 3/7 loaded onto MV-Ospreys and carried out an air assault to help establish a new small fire base for US Army and Iraqi artillery.

    That firebase provided artillery support to Syrian partner forces fighting to clear out ISIS pockets in Dashisha, Syria.

    Marines with 3/7 also were operating out of a small outpost in Syria located in the vicinity of Dashisha, a charge sheet detailed.

    And in September, a company size element of 3/7 conducted an air assault live fire exercise near a small US garrison at al Tanf, not far from the Iraq-Syria border, following statements from Russian forces they would breach a 55 km deconfliction bubble around the base to pursue terrorists.

    The exercise was largely described in the media as a show of force by US forces to deter any potential moves by Russian or proxy sponsored troops around the U.S. base housing American troops training anti-ISIS fighters.

    The Corps says its CENTCOM MAGTF “is instrumental in providing the right force in the right place at the right time.”

    SEE ALSO: 'We can do better': The Navy's newest fleet commander says US ships and sailors got 'beat up' during NATO's biggest exercise since the Cold War

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    BestVacation2018 Cyprus (21 of 29)

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday warned authorities in Cyprus not to allow the US military to deploy on their territory, saying such a move would draw a Russian reaction and result in "dangerous and destabilizing consequences" for the Mediterranean island.

    Maria Zakharova, a spokesman for Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Moscow had become aware of what she called "anti-Russian plans" involving Cyprus and the US military which she said was eyeing setting up forward operating bases for its troops there.

    "We're getting information from various sources that the United States is actively studying options to build up its military presence on Cyprus," Zakharova told a news briefing in Moscow.

    "The aim is not being hidden — to counter growing Russian influence in the region in the light of the successful operation by the Russian military in Syria."

    There was no immediate US response to her comments.

    Cyprus 1 6

    Zakharova said a US delegation had inspected potential sites for the bases and that Washington was engaged in intensive talks with Nicosia on expanding military cooperation.

    Cyprus is a popular destination for Russian tourists and capital and many wealthy Russian business people bank or own property there. The island, a former British colony, hosts two British military bases. The United States is not known to have any bases there but does have an embassy in Nicosia.

    Cypriot media said the island had recently appointed a military attache to Washington.

    Zakharova said Russia had repeatedly warned Cypriot authorities against allowing the island to be further militarized.

    "It being drawn into US and NATO plans in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East will inevitably lead to dangerous and destabilizing consequences for Cyprus itself," she said.

    "In Moscow we can't ignore the anti-Russian element in these (US) plans and in the event that they are implemented we will be forced to take countermeasures."

    (By Andrew Osborn; editing by Vladimir Soldatkin)

    SEE ALSO: 'We're getting a lot better': The head of the US Navy's newest fleet says it can counter one of Russia's favorite tactics

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    syria doctors

    • The US is accusing forces backed by the Syrian government and Russia of firing tear gas at civilians and falsely claiming it was a rebel chemical weapons attack.
    • A US State Dept. spokesman said Russian and Syrian personnel were involved and are using the attack to undermine confidence in a cease-fire in rebel-held Idlib province. 

    The US is accusing forces backed by the Syrian government and Russia of firing tear gas at civilians and falsely claiming it was a rebel chemical weapons attack.

    The incident occurred Nov. 24 amid fighting near the government-held city of Aleppo and reportedly left dozens injured.

    A State Department spokesman says the government of President Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd) and Russia had falsely accused opposition groups of a chlorine attack. Robert Palladino says the U.S. has "credible information" that pro-government forces likely fired tear gas.

    He says Russian and Syrian personnel were involved and are using the attack as an opportunity to undermine confidence in a cease-fire in Idlib, an anti-government stronghold.

    He says officials have prevented an investigation of the site.

    Rebels have dismissed accusations they used poison gas.

    SEE ALSO: Russia keeps saying the West is planning chemical attacks in Syria — and it's a sign Assad may be about to use them again

    SEE ALSO: A compelling theory explains the latest chemical attack in Syria — and it looks like Assad got what he wanted

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    Iraq Syria border Al-Qaim

    Al-QAIM, Iraq (Reuters) - From a desert hillside guarded by Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitaries, commander Qasim Muslih can spot Islamic State hideouts across the frontier in Syria. But he also keeps a wary eye on US warplanes soaring overhead.

    "The Americans are spying on us," he said, squinting skywards. "But we can hold the borders. We'll fight whoever lays a finger on Iraq and its holy shrines."

    The fighters Muslih commands are part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a grouping of mostly Shi'ite militias backed by Iran, which the United States regards as the biggest threat to security in the Middle East.

    The PMF has been deploying in growing numbers at the border, fearing hundreds of Islamic State militants who fled Iraq are trying to cross back into Iraqi territory.

    Iraq Syria border Al-Qaim Popular Mobilization Forces PMF

    The deployment is strengthening the PMF's de facto control over large stretches of the frontier while its leaders are calling for a formal, permanent role securing the border.

    But with fewer Sunni militants to contend with on the Iraqi side a year after Baghdad declared victory over IS, many Shi'ite paramilitaries now see the United States as a bigger threat.

    The White House has indicated the US military presence is as much about countering Iran's influence as fighting IS, which is also known as ISIS. Asked about the suggestion of spying on the PMF, a coalition spokesman said: "The Coalition is concerned with the enduring defeat of ISIS."

    As the battle against a mutual foe rumbles on, Washington and Tehran are keeping a close eye on each other in this part of the region, raising the risk of new violence.

    The PMF officially became part of Iraq's security forces this year after playing an important role fighting IS.

    FILE PHOTO: Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) celebrate on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani/File Photo

    Factions including Iran-backed groups that fight inside Syria have concentrated their recent build-up around the town of Al-Qaim, which was recaptured from IS in November 2017 and was the last IS bastion in Iraq to fall last year.

    The PMF control movement in and out of the town near the border with Syria. One commander, Abu Seif al-Tamimi, said the PMF now held a 240-km (150-mile) stretch of frontier in the area.

    "We're ready to take over security," Muslih said in Al-Qaim. "We liberated these areas and didn't need help from the Americans."

    Military commanders in units not allied with Iran say US air power was crucial to the defeat of IS in a three-year campaign involving the military, Iraqi Kurdish fighters and the PMF.

    US forces have kept their bases in place. On the road to Al-Qaim, US armored vehicles passed PMF pickup trucks with masked fighters behind machine guns.

    'Wild West situation'

    Iraq Syria border Al-Qaim tank Popular Mobilization Forces PMF

    South of the town there are signs of growing PMF control and an increasingly crowded battlefield. The watchtowers of Iraq's border guard which nominally polices the frontier disappear, and the paramilitaries are the only force. Flags of Shi'ite factions fly at outposts a short drive from a one of the US bases.

    In Syria, the US coalition supports Kurdish-led forces who control areas east of the Euphrates and have been fighting off a new IS offensive. In Iraq it supports the Iraqi military.

    Fighting the militants on the other side of the river is the Syrian army, backed by Iran, Russia and the PMF, whose elite factions straddle the frontier.

    A fighter at one outpost said a US warplane recently made a low pass over their position. "They're trying to scare us," he said.

    Tension rose in June when the PMF blamed the United States for the deaths of 22 of its fighters in an air strike near the border and threatened to retaliate. The US coalition denied involvement in the strike.

    Members of Iraqi army are seen during the war between Iraqi army and Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) against the Islamic State militants in al-Ayadiya, northwest of Tal Afar, Iraq August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

    A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "outright" aggression was not expected by Shi'ite militias before IS was fully defeated. "The question is what are they going to do once things are done," the official said.

    The build-up of forces already risks a clash even if both sides wish to avoid it, said Philip Smyth, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    "Nearly every major Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia has forces deployed near Al-Qaim ... that is the glowing hot dot on the map," he said. "The danger is always there (and) the Americans clearly don't have the forces to handle that. We only have a couple of thousand guys in the area. If the militias want to turn on the problems, they can. It's a Wild West situation."

    Muslih said there were 20,000 fighters deployed near the border under his command, from Al-Qaim to areas to the southwest near Jordan, and more reinforcements were ready. The PMF is estimated to have a total of about 150,000 fighters.

    Iran is seeking to secure its growing sway over a corridor of territory from Tehran to Beirut.

    Washington says it is prepared to counter that with force. "We're not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies," White House national security adviser John Bolton said in September.

    Powerful political allies

    Iraq Syria border Al-Qaim Popular Mobilization Forces PMF

    The US coalition says it is focused on defeating Islamic State militants who analysts estimate number thousands along the frontier.

    "The Coalition has an outstanding relationship with the Iraqi security forces and all decisions are made with close coordination with our partners," coalition spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan said.

    But those partners do not include the PMF, and this complicates coordination and Washington's relations with Baghdad. The PMF has powerful political allies, some of whom have seats in Iraq's parliament and say they seek an end to the US military presence in Iraq.

    "The army coordinates with the US but doesn't understand the threat posed by the American presence," Muslih said.

    Iraqi army with Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) gather during fighting with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Tal Afar, Iraq, August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

    Qais al-Khazali, a powerful militia leader whose political wing counts 15 parliamentary seats, told Reuters in an interview there was no reason for US combat troops to remain.

    Formed in 2014 as an unofficial umbrella group for Shi'ite fighters battling Islamic State, the PMF has always been dominated by factions close to Iran, and now reports to Iraq's prime minister.

    A recent wage increase from the government brought PMF pay into line with that of Iraqi soldiers. Many PMF commanders say they are now funded only by the Iraqi state, but praise Iran for support that has included weapons and advisers.

    "Iran sent everything when we needed help," Muslih said. "America is an enemy."

    (By John Davison; additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali in Washington; editing by Timothy Heritage)

    SEE ALSO: H.R. McMaster reportedly called Trump out for asking about taking Iraq's oil

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    A U.S. Marine with Task Force Southwest moves through a village during a patrol near Bost Kalay, Afghanistan.

    • The US military gave or took fire in some form or another in at least seven countries in 2018: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya.
    • At least 15 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in 2018 in a war that entered its 18th year in October.
    • The US military also continues to be active in Iraq and Syria in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group, conducting airstrikes and advising local forces on the ground.
    • Under Trump, the US has also dramatically increased the number of drone strikes in places the US is not currently at war. 

    The US military gave or took fire in some form or another in at least seven countries in 2018: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya.

    Here's a breakdown of America's military involvement in each country. 

    Read more: Trump inherited Obama's drone war and he's significantly expanded it in countries where the US is not technically at war

    Read more: The most elite US-trained forces in Afghanistan routed by the Taliban, another sign the war is a lost cause

    SEE ALSO: America's 'war on terror' has cost the US nearly $6 trillion and killed roughly half a million people, and there's no end in sight

    The war in Afghanistan

    At least 15 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in 2018 in a war that entered its 18th year in October.

    The deadliest incident of the year occurred in late November, involving a roadside bomb that ultimately claimed the lives of four US service members. This marked the largest loss of life in a single incident for the US in Afghanistan since 2015.

    There are currently roughly 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan. 



    The fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria

    The US military also continues to be active in Iraq and Syria in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group, conducting airstrikes and advising local forces on the ground.

    At least 10 US service members were killed in Iraq in 2018, though none of the deaths were a direct result of enemy action.

    Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar was killed by a roadside bomb in Syria in late March

    Human rights groups have accused the US-led coalition of reckless behavior and "potential war crimes" in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

    While civilian casualties are still being assessed for 2018, a report from the monitoring group Airwars said the US and its allies may have killed up to 6,000 civilians via strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2017 alone.

    The US has been waging a campaign against the Islamic State group since August 2014. 

    In April, President Donald Trump also authorized missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, targeting chemical weapons facilities in concert with the French and British. 



    Missile strikes on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

    In April, President Donald Trump also authorized missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, targeting chemical weapons facilities in concert with the French and British.

    The US fired more than 118 missiles, more than twice the number it used in an attack on Syria's Sharyat Airbase on April 7, 2017.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    A U.S. Marine with 3d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, fires at a target with an M240B machine gun during a live fire demonstration near At Tanf Garrison, Syria September 7, 2018.

    The United States is considering a total withdrawal of US forces from Syria as it nears the end of its campaign to retake all of the territory once held by Islamic State, US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

    The decision would upend assumptions about a longer-term US military presence in Syria, which US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior US officials had advocated to help ensure Islamic State cannot reemerge.

    Planning is underway for a "full" and "rapid" withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 troops stationed in Syria, US officials told CNN Wednesday. The decision to withdraw was reportedly made by President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly expressed a desire to pull out of Syria.

    "I want to get out, I want to bring the troops back home," Trump said in August, adding that "our primary mission" of defeating ISIS is "almost completed."

    US officials have, according to The Wall Street Journal, already began informing partners in northeastern Syria. US forces will remain in Iraq, where there are 5,000 US troops ready to launch strikes in Syria if necessary.

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    U.S. Marines with 3d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, prepare to board an MV-22 Osprey on to a site near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, Sept. 7, 2018.

    • President Donald Trump announced Wednesday morning that the US has defeated ISIS, which he says was the only reason US troops are in Syria.
    • His declaration of victory comes amid multiple reports, citing US officials, claiming that the Department of Defense has been ordered to "move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible."
    • The abrupt move comes just days after the US-led coalition in Syria stated that the "mission in northeast Syria remains unchanged."
    • The defense secretary and other senior defense officials have pushed for a persistent military presence in Syria to prevent the resurgence of ISIS, as well as the advancement of Russian, Iranian, and the Syrian regime interests.

    President Donald Trump declared that the US has defeated ISIS in a tweet Wednesday as the US reportedly prepares to pull all 2,000 troops out of Syria.

    "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump tweeted.

    The president's tweet comes amid multiple reports, attributed to US officials, that the Trump administration is preparing to rapidly withdrawal US troops from Syria.

    The move contradicts a statement released by the US-led coalition just a few days ago stressing that the "mission in northeast Syria remains unchanged."

    "We remain committed to working with our partners on the ground to ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS," the coalition statement explained on Saturday. "Any reports indicating a change in the U.S. position with respect to these efforts is false and designed to sow confusion and chaos."

    Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and other senior defense officials have advocated for a long-term military presence in Syria to prevent the resurgence of ISIS, which could still have as many as 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq.

    US-backed forces in Syria claimed over the weekend to have taken control of the last ISIS-occupied town, but they added that there is still work to be done. "There are still villages to be taken," the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) explained.

    The Department of Defense said in an emailed statement Wednesday that "at this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region," with the key phrase being "at this time." The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that US officials have already begun informing their partners of US plans to leave northeastern Syria.

    "The Pentagon has an order to move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible," US officials told TheWSJ.

    The decision to withdraw troops from Syria was reportedly made by the president, who has long expressed a desire to pull troops out of the war-torn country, a move that critics suggest would advance the interests of Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime.

    SEE ALSO: The Trump administration is reportedly preparing for a 'rapid' withdrawal of all 2,000 American troops in Syria

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