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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.

Obama, Poroshenko to meet as peace deal hopes rise

Posted by pakin On September - 18 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

MOSCOW – Ukraine’s leader Petro Poroshenko will meet with US President Barack Obama Thursday, amid hopes Kiev’s conflict with pro-Russian rebels may end after Moscow hailed an offer of self-rule for the separatists.

The autonomy offer was drawn up under a peace plan backed by both Kiev and Moscow 12 days ago that has eased — but not halted — deadly violence around insurgent strongholds in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow, echoing comments by both Washington and the European Union, said it was a “step in the right direction” towards ending a conflict that has killed almost 2,900 people and sent East-West tensions spiralling.

“All of this lays the foundation for the launch of a substantial constitutional process in Ukraine including the start of dialogue with a view to facilitating national reconciliation and agreement in the country,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

Ukraine’s lawmakers unanimously approved the “regional status” law on Tuesday just moments before ratifying a landmark EU pact that steers Ukraine away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

President Poroshenko will cast Russia as a global menace Thursday when he meets Obama in Washington, in the hope of winning a “special status” guaranteeing his troubled nation’s security.

It is the pro-West president’s first tour of the White House since his May election.

Yet Obama has been saddled with too many simultaneous crises to draw the United States into a military standoff with a nuclear-armed Russia over a country with which it is sympathetic but is not part of its strategic concerns.

“We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine,” Obama told US television just days after Russia completed its annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March.

The United States has approved shipments of non-lethal equipment such as night vision goggles and bullet proof vests — a welcome but limited addition to Ukraine’s drastically underfunded and outdated fighting force.

– Capitulating to Moscow? –

Ukraine’s peace overture to the rebels appears to fit with what analysts see as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy of splintering the country to create a Russian-speaking zone that would depend more on Moscow than Kiev.

Nationalist leaders have already accused Poroshenko of capitulating in the face of Russian “aggression” that suddenly turned the tide against Ukrainian forces last month.

Deadly fighting erupted again on Wednesday around the flashpoint city of Donetsk, scene of almost daily shelling despite the ceasefire deal signed on September 5.

Donetsk city hall said two civilians were killed near a market that lies just a few kilometres away from the airport frontline and was left in ruins by another bout of deadly shelling earlier this week.

Nevertheless Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking during a visit to Addis Ababa, said “the ceasefire is holding”.

– ‘Child of war’ –

Many residents of the war-battered region remain deeply pessimistic that any political deals will bring an end to the bloodletting.

“I was born in 1941, a child of war, and now I will die during war. What’s it all for?” said 73-year-old Tatiana Semenchenko after a rocket smashed into a building in the working class district of Kievsky.

Since the truce, around 30 civilians and Ukrainian servicemen have been killed, mostly around Donetsk, with both sides accusing the other of repeated truce violations.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk — who has accused Putin of seeking to eliminate Ukraine — declared that the armed forces would remain on “full combat readiness”.

The new legislation gives three years of limited self-rule to the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk known collectively as Donbass, calls for local polls in December, and grants amnesty to rebel fighters.

It also guarantees the right for Russian to be used in all state institutions and for the regions to establish closer ties with local authorities across the border — two clauses that won Moscow’s particular approval.

Both the United States and Europe hailed the legislation as a sign of Kiev’s commitment to peace but demanded that Russia and the rebels live up to their side of the bargain.

Moscow has been hit by waves of punishing EU and US sanctions since its annexation of Crimea in March.

But it further unnerved its neighbours Tuesday by boosting troop numbers in the Black Sea peninsula because of the “worsening” crisis in Ukraine and the buildup of foreign troops on its border — an apparent reference to US-led war games in western Ukraine.

Pro-Moscow rebels gave the self-rule initiative a cautious welcome but also defiantly insisted it would not stop their fight for full independence as part of “Novorossiya” (“New Russia”).

Donetsk “prime minister” Alexander Zakharchenko bluntly said it was up to the local authorities not Kiev to “decide what elections to hold and when”.

Poroshenko’s visit to Washington comes just two days after the European and Ukrainian parliaments held simultaneous votes to ratify a political and economic pact whose rejection by the former government last year set in motion the current crisis.

The Ukrainian leader said the adoption of the deal was his country’s first step towards EU membership.

Obama to announce major Ebola effort

Posted by pakin On September - 16 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama will on Tuesday seek to “turn the tide” in the Ebola epidemic by ordering 3,000 US military personnel to West Africa and launching a major health care training and hygiene program.

The White House said Obama will travel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to meet US health chiefs and make the announcement, meant to spur a global effort to fight an outbreak that has already killed 2,400 people.

The announcement comes amid increasing alarm about the worst-ever outbreak of the disease which has spread through Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Most of the new US effort will be concentrated in impoverished Liberia — the most badly affected nation.

Obama will announce that US Africa Command will set up a headquarters in Monrovia to act as a regional command and control center to coordinate US military and international relief programs. The effort will involve an estimated 3,000 American military personnel, senior officials said. Many of the forces will be positioned at a staging base to expedite the transit of equipment and personnel.

– 500 health workers a week –

US advisors will also train up to 500 health care providers per week in Liberia, in a bid to improve the direct medical care and the crippled health infrastructure in the country.

In addition, Washington will send 65 public health service corps to Liberia to manage and staff a previously announced US military hospital to care for health workers who become sick with Ebola.

The United States will also, working in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, immediately send Ebola prevention kits, including disinfectant and advice to 400,000 of the most vulnerable families in Liberia.

“What is clear is in order to combat and contain the outbreak at its source, we need to partner and lead an international response,” said one senior US official, on condition of anonymity.

– Turn the tide –

The official said the Obama administration believes its latest emergency action could help “turn the tide” and slow the spread of the epidemic.

The White House however still believes that there is no realistic threat to the United States from the Ebola epidemic. It considers that any cases that do materialize on the US mainland among travelers, would be quickly isolated.

The United States has so far spent $100 million on fighting the Ebola epidemic and the US Agency for International Development plans to allocate another $75 million to increase the number of Ebola treatment units and protective gear for health providers.

In addition, the administration has asked Congress for a further $88 million to fund the fight against Ebola in the coming months.

The money is contained in a short term bill to fund the government until mid-December which could pass Congress as soon as this week.

More than 100 CDC workers are already at work in West Africa, and many more staff are coordinating their work at the agency’s Atlanta headquarters.

It was unclear how many of the new US government personnel being sent to West Africa would be deployed in direct contact with patients. The number however appears limited.

Obama first said last week that he was going to use a major military deployment to step up US efforts to fight the Ebola epidemic.

His remarks, and a recent YouTube message from the president offering guidance to the people of Africa on halting infections, highlight increasing White House concern about the national security and humanitarian implications of the rapid spread of the disease.

The Pentagon had already announced it would send a 25-bed field hospital Liberia.

The new effort will also see the United States construct 17 Ebola treatment centers with 100 beds in each.

Officials said meanwhile that the effort to train 500 health workers per week to meet the shortage in demand in affected nations would go on for at least six months.

The US effort is intended to control the epidemic at its source in West Africa, blunt the social and economic cost of the disease and to repair regional health infrastructure.

Paris conference to plan fight against Islamic State

Posted by pakin On September - 15 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

PARIS – Senior figures from a US-led coalition are to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss how to defeat Islamic State jihadists, as the latest shocking beheading of a Western hostage strengthened their resolve.

Prime Minister David Cameron vowed on the eve of the conference that Britain will hunt down those responsible for the gruesome killing of hostage David Haines, describing them as the “embodiment of evil”.

Haines was the third Western hostage to be beheaded by the militants in less than a month. Islamic State (IS) released a video Saturday showing his killing and issued a death threat against another British captive, Alan Henning.

President Barack Obama offered US support for its “ally in grief”, after two Americans were killed by the jihadists, while the UN Security Council condemned the “heinous and cowardly murder.”

Obama has set out a strategy to defeat IS that would include air strikes in Syria and expanded operations in Iraq, where US aircraft have carried out more than 160 strikes since early August.

The US leader also foresees training “moderate” Syrian rebels to take on IS and to reconstitute the Iraqi army, parts of which fled an IS blitzkrieg across northern and western Iraq.

– ‘All bases are covered’ –

Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been touring the Middle East to drum up support for the coalition before travelling to Paris for the talks, said “all bases are covered” regarding the US-led international coalition.

He told CBS’s Face the Nation that there were allies willing to join the United States in air strikes. Some had offered to put troops on the ground, he said in the interview aired Sunday, adding: “But we are not looking for that at this moment anyway.”

“Every single aspect of the president’s strategy, and what is needed to be done in order to accomplish our goal, has been offered by one country or multiple countries, and all bases are covered,” Kerry said.

Opposition forces would do the fighting on the ground in Syria, augmented by US and allied air support, he said. Washington would not coordinate air attacks with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, but would ensure their forces do not come into conflict.

Representatives of 20 nations will take part in the Paris conference, including Iraqi President Fuad Masum and Kerry’s Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, in talks aimed at defining the role each member will play in the fight to destroy IS.

Australia is among the latest to make a concrete commitment to the growing coalition, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying Canberra would deploy 600 troops to the United Arab Emirates, a regional Washington ally.

Ten Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, are among the countries backing the coalition.

Speaking in Paris, a US official said the number of countries signing on was “going up almost every hour,” from Europe and the Middle East right across to Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

– ‘Heinous killing’ –

Britain has begun sending weapons to Kurdish fighters battling the militants in northern Iraq, but has faced accusations of confusion over its strategy.

Cameron is facing growing pressure at home to take military action against IS, but he made no commitment to joining the United States in launching air strikes.

The office of French President Francois Hollande, who will host Monday’s talks, said the “heinous killing” of Haines was another reason why a global push was needed.

Haines, 44, who was taken hostage in Syria last year, had previously been shown alive in the video of US journalist Steven Sotloff’s killing.

Haines’ attacker — apparently the same man in the videos showing the killing of the US hostages — told Britain the alliance with the US will “accelerate your destruction” and will drag the British people into “another bloody and unwinnable war”.

Haines’ brother Mike paid tribute to a man who was “most alive” when doing aid work. He had worked in conflict zones in the Balkans, Libya, South Sudan and Syria.