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Syria air strikes on IS ‘capital’ kill 63 people

Posted by pakin On November - 26 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

BEIRUT – A string of Syrian regime air strikes on the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed capital Raqa on Tuesday killed at least 63 people, more than half of them civilians, a monitor said.

The air strikes were the deadliest by President Bashar al-Assad’s air force against Raqa since the Sunni extremist IS seized control of the city last year.

“Among the 63 killed were at least 36 civilians,” said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“There were also 20 unidentified victims who could be civilians or jihadists, as well as the disfigured remains of at least seven other people,” he said.

The director of the Britain-based monitoring group said previously that “most of the casualties were caused by two consecutive air strikes” on Raqa’s main industrial zone.

“The first strike came, residents rushed to rescue the wounded, and then the second raid took place,” Abdel Rahman, whose group relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria for its information, told AFP.

Amateur video footage distributed by activists in Raqa showed several bloodied bodies laid out on a street near an apparent bombing site, as an ambulance rushed to the scene.

Aid workers in red overalls bearing the Red Crescent symbol could be seen placing the corpses into white body bags.

Activists from the city meanwhile denounced the raids as a “massacre”.

– Regime strikes ‘most feared’ –

The Islamic State organisation emerged in Syria’s war in spring 2013.

It took over Raqa, the only provincial capital to fall from government control since the outbreak of a 2011 revolt, and turned it into its bastion.

Most of the city’s civil society activists, as well as rebel fighters who expelled Assad’s troops, have either been killed, kidnapped or forced to flee for other parts of Syria or neighbouring Turkey.

For many months, Assad’s regime only rarely targeted Raqa city, apparently reserving most of its firepower for areas under rebel control.

But late this summer, the government intensified its air strikes against IS positions in northern and eastern Syria.

On September 6, 53 people were killed in air raids on Raqa, among them at least 31 civilians, according to the Observatory.

The US-led military coalition that has been carrying out air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria has also targeted the jihadist group in Raqa.

Activists say Raqa’s residents fear the government’s strikes far more than those of the coalition because most of the casualties from the regime’s attacks have been civilians.

There are now 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria and 3.2 million others have fled the country, mostly to bordering nations.

Some 12.2 million Syrians are in need of aid, up from 10.8 in July.

The UN Security Council will move to allow cross-border deliveries of relief supplies to Syria for another year, the president of the council said, as new figures showed more Syrians were in need of aid.

The Council in July agreed in a resolution to allow truckloads of much-needed aid to cross into rebel-held Syrian territory without the consent of the Damascus regime.

Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan, whose country chairs the 15-member council this month, said his country along with Luxembourg and Jordan would move quickly to seek a 12-month extension of the aid deliveries.

– Brutal, highly-organised system –

Strategically located on the river Euphrates near the border with Turkey, Raqa had a pre-war population of about 220,000 but it is now home to 300,000-350,000 people, including many displaced by the conflict, according to the Observatory.

Since the jihadists first started moving into the city, they have been gradually imposing a brutal yet highly-organised system with all the trappings of a state, experts say.

Elsewhere in Syria, IS members stoned to death two men in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Tuesday after claiming they were gay, the Observatory said.

And in the central province of Homs the jihadists beheaded a member of the minority Ismaili community, accusing him of “apostasy,” said the monitoring group.

US bombs IS jihadists in Syria: Pentagon

Posted by pakin On September - 23 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

WASHINGTON – The United States and its “partners” have launched a barrage of bombs and Tomahawk cruise missiles on Islamic State extremists in Syria, the Pentagon said.

US media reported five Arab states took part in the air raids as part of a new international coalition formed to attack the Islamic State group, which has seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

The US-led air assault in Syria marked a turning point in the war against the IS group, which Western governments fear could eventually stage terror attacks in Europe or the United States.

“I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL (Islamic State group) terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

The decision to conduct the air strikes was undertaken earlier on Monday by the head of US Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, “under authorization granted him by the commander in chief,” Kirby said.

“We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate.”

The strikes focused on IS positions in Raqa, a stronghold for the Sunni extremists, according to the New York Times, citing US officials. Other targets struck were along the Iraq-Syria border, the newspaper said.

– ‘No safe haven’ –

The strikes — including Tomahawk missiles fired from naval warships at sea– came less than two weeks after Obama warned that he had approved an expansion of the campaign against the Islamic State group to include action in Syria.

“I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said on September 10 in a speech to the nation.

“This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

Washington began air strikes against IS targets in Iraq on August 8, with about 190 raids carried out against the extremists there.

Obama has however repeatedly insisted the campaign would not involve a combat mission for US ground troops

Last week, the US Congress passed Obama’s plan to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels to battle the IS militants – part of his strategy to smash the movement that has beheaded two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Lawmakers wary of triggering another war in the Middle East have vowed to hold broad use-of-force debates later this year following the November 4 midterm elections.

The air strikes in Syria came as Kurdish militia fought to defend a key border town in northern Syria, after 130,000 terrified residents fled to Turkey to escape an advance by the IS militants.

France is the only country to have joined the US air strikes against the IS in Iraq, where it emerged Monday that the jihadists attacked an army base west of Baghdad with six suicide bombers at the weekend, killing 40 soldiers and capturing at least 70.

Pressure also has mounted on Turkey, where security forces clashed with locals angry at being blocked from joining fellow Kurds battling an IS advance towards Ain al-Arab, or Kobane, Syria’s third-largest Kurdish town.

Arab nations rallied behind US President Barack Obama’s call to expand operations against jihadists in Iraq and Syria, as Damascus warned it would consider any action on its territory as an attack.

Ten states, including heavyweight Saudi Arabia, “agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight” against Islamic State, said a statement after a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Arab counterparts.

Iraq’s new unity government and the Syrian opposition welcomed Obama’s plan, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and powerful ally Russia condemned it.

“Any action of any kind without the consent of the Syrian government would be an attack on Syria,” National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said.

Obama said Wednesday he had ordered the US military to expand its operations against IS, which has seized a swathe of Iraq and Syria and committed horrifying atrocities.

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” Obama said, using an alternative acronym for the group.

“I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.”

He said he was sending another 475 military personnel to help train Iraqi forces, but stressed that the campaign would not be a repeat of the exhausting ground wars fought by US troops in the past decade.

Instead, Washington is looking to empower partners on the ground like Iraqi and Kurdish forces, as well as Syrian rebels.

US combat aircraft will soon start flying out of a base in the Kurdish region of Iraq as part of the campaign, the Pentagon said.

– Broadening the coalition –

Obama called on Congress to swiftly authorise an operation to train and equip moderate fighters, but several House Republicans said after a caucus meeting Thursday that a quick vote on that was unlikely.

House Speaker John Boehner said they were worried that the broader strategy was insufficient.

“If our goal is to eliminate ISIL, there’s a lot of doubt whether the plan that was outlined by the president… is enough to accomplish that mission,” he said.

Along with the Saudis, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon were Arab parties to the agreement.

A final statement declared a “shared commitment to stand united against the threat posed by all terrorism, including the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”.

Participation will include “as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign against ISIL”.

The fight will include “stopping the flow of foreign fighters through neighbouring countries, countering financing of ISIL and other violent extremists, repudiating their hateful ideology, ending impunity and bringing perpetrators to justice”.

It will also include humanitarian relief, aiding reconstruction and rehabilitation of communities “brutalised by ISIL” and “supporting states that face the most acute ISIL threat”.

Kerry told reporters that Arab partners will play a “leading role” in the coalition.

On Friday, he heads to Ankara after Turkey refused to allow its air bases to be used in the campaign or to take part in combat.

A US official in Jeddah said Turkey had its reasons for staying out of the coalition. IS militants hold 49 Turks hostage, including diplomats and children, abducted from the Turkish consulate in Mosul in Iraq in June.

“Turkey remains an important partner on counterterrorism, and we will continue to consult closely as we work together to address the threat from ISIL,” the official said.

Syria’s opposition urged Washington to take action against Assad as well as jihadists.

The opposition National Coalition said it had “long called” for action against IS and “warned time and again of the growing threat of this extremist group”.

The US announcement was praised by Baghdad, where a unity government was formed Monday to address grievances that contributed to the rise of the jihadists.

– ‘Violation of international law’ –

“Iraq welcomes Obama’s strategy about standing with it in its war against (IS) and the terrorist groups,” Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s office said.

French President Francois Hollande arrived in Iraq Friday to support the new government.

Hollande’s plane was carrying 15 tonnes of humanitarian aid to be delivered in the Kurdish capital of Arbil later Friday, after talks in Baghdad with his counterpart Fuad Masum, Speaker Salim al-Juburi and the prime minister.

But Russia said unilateral action would be a blatant violation of international law.

“In the absence of an appropriate decision of the UN Security Council, such a step would become an act of aggression, a crude violation of the norms of international law,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Kerry retorted that he was “really rather surprised that Russia would dare to assert any notion of international law after what has happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine”.

The growing IS threat was made clear after the group seized large parts of Iraq in a lightning June offensive, sweeping aside ineffective Iraqi forces.

It declared a “caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq it controls and has committed widespread atrocities, including beheadings, crucifixions, rapes and selling women into slavery.

Two captive US journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, were beheaded in recent weeks, videos released by the jihadists showed.

What will the US-led war against jihadists look like?

Posted by pakin On September - 11 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s vow to take the fight to jihadists in Syria and Iraq will expand a US-led air war already underway and likely require deploying more special forces to help local troops.

This is a breakdown of current military operations and what a larger effort might entail:

Strikes in Syria

Bombing IS jihadists in Syria represents the biggest gamble in Obama’s war plan. With no viable moderate rebel forces on the ground capable of taking advantage of US air power, the strikes are likely to be more limited than those carried out in neighboring Iraq.

Any air raids in Syria would probably focus on IS-controlled territory in eastern Syria, experts and former officials say, possibly resembling drone strikes carried out under Obama’s watch against Al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

It remains unclear if Obama will rely solely on unmanned drones or risk sending in manned fighter jets and bombers, exposing pilots to the danger of being shot down or crash landing in territory controlled by the jihadists or by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Bombing targets in Syria would also require better intelligence on the militants there, a challenge for Washington, which has struggled to gain an accurate picture of events on the ground.

More Air Power

The US air campaign launched on August 8 in Iraq has been limited so far, with less than a dozen strikes a day on average, compared to previous conflicts that saw hundreds of US air raids a day.

But after Obama’s speech the pace of strikes is expected to pick up, and some European allies are ready to join in. France said it was prepared to take part and Britain could be next.

The number of sorties by US and allied aircraft and the list of possible targets will likely expand to pile pressure on the jihadists, whose momentum in Iraq has been stalled by the strikes.

The wider air operation will require Washington to secure access to more runways in the region — always a delicate issue for governments in the Middle East.

Over the past month, US aircraft have reportedly relied on al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Ali al-Salem Air Base in Kuwait and al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which is also home to a US air combat command center for the region.

It remains unclear if Turkey will be ready to allow the Americans to fly combat missions out of its base in Incirlik.

US fighter jets bombing IS targets have also been flying off an aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush.

Training, arming local forces

Along with air power, the Obama administration hopes to build up local forces on the ground that can ultimately roll back the jihadists.

The Americans already have nearly 300 military “advisers” in Iraq to help local security forces regroup after their devastating losses to the militants.

More training and weapons are expected to flow to Iraqi government and Kurdish peshmerga forces, from the United States and other governments.

In Syria, training and arming moderate rebel forces will also be a priority but officials acknowledge it could take years for that effort to bear fruit, given the myriad of groups on the ground and the multi-faceted civil war there.

Moderate opposition forces have suffered heavy losses against the Assad regime as well as the IS extremists.

More special forces, support troops

Expanding the air campaign will likely mean Obama will send more small teams of special operations forces, and possibly CIA officers, to help direct bombing raids and guide Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

“If you are going to expand this air campaign in Iraq, the likelihood is you are going to see some small number of additional troops brought in to help do the spotting and marking of those targets,” said David Barno, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank and a retired US Army lieutenant general.

Other conventional troops could be needed to help provide logistical or other support, either in Iraq or at bases in the region. There are currently about 35,000 US troops stationed around the Middle East.