Obama’s war on Islamic State militants finally has a name: Operation Inherent Resolve By Olivier Knox12 hours agoTwo months after American bombs and missiles began pounding fighters of the so-called Islamic State, President Barack Obama’s undeclared war in Iraq and Syria finally has a name: Operation Inherent Resolve.Related Stories
The Wall Street Journal had reported on Oct. 3 that the name had been considered and rejected, with one unnamed military officer saying “it is just kind of bleh.”The long search for a name had sparked a flurry of jokes on Twitter, where one leading tongue-in-cheek suggestion was that it be called “Operation Hey Wasn’t That My Humvee” – a reference to U.S. airstrikes hitting Islamic State fighters using American equipment captured from Iraqi troops.The Obama Administration announced the moniker a day after the president attended a meeting of defense chiefs from some 20 partners in the coalition trying to beat back the rampaging extremist group, which has captured broad swaths of Iraqi territory. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted the gathering at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, best known for being home to the blue-and-white liveried airplane that serves as Obama’s Air Force One.Veterans groups had complained that the lack of a formal name could shortchange Americans risking their lives to fight IS by leaving them unable to claim the recognition of a combat medal. One American, a Marine, has lost his life in the operations.Formally naming large-scale military operations has a long history ― the D-Day landings that helped defeat Nazi Germany were code-named Operation Overlord. But using the process to try to score public relations victories is a more recent phenomenon.Smoke rises following a strike in Kobani, Syria while fighting continued between Syrian Kurds and th …A previous Iraq war remains arguably the best example: American forces deployed to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield to keep Saddam Hussein’s troops from invading the kingdom in the same way that they had taken neighboring Kuwait. They unleashed Operation Desert Storm when the mission changed to booting Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait.A previous Iraq War also provides one of the most painful how-not-to-do-this examples. The March 2003 invasion of Iraq to topple Hussein briefly carried the name Operation Iraqi Liberation – or OIL. A hasty rewrite turned it into Operation Iraqi Freedom.The invasion of Panama, Operation Just Cause, was known among some junior military officers at the Pentagon as Operation Just ‘Cause (as in „Just Because”).The U.S.-led response to Ebola in West Africa has been known as Operation United Assistance, while the war in Afghanistan, now America’s longest, will change in December from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Resolute Support.That conflict’s original name had given Pentagon planners a headache, former Defense Department spokeswoman Torie Clarke recalls in her new book.“Some knuckleheads had decided to call the military operations in Afghanistan ‘Infinite Justice,’” Clarke recalls. “That name turned out to be very finite, as Muslims around the world told us how insulting it was to suggest that we, rather than Allah, would decide infinite justice for anyone.”Reboot. Officials responsible for naming big operations “swore they used computers and algorithms and such stuff,” Clarke writes. “I’m pretty sure they scrawled words on a white board and threw darts until they came up with Operation Enduring Freedom.”OFFICE OF THE ESTONIAN PRESIDENT / AP
‘Rogue rebels’ surround Ukraine troops near Lugansk 15 hours agoA Ukrainian serviceman mans a checkpoint in the eastern region of Lugansk, on October 7, 2014 (AFP Photo/Anatolii Boiko)Kiev (AFP) – A „rogue” band of pro-Russian rebels was surrounding more than 100 Ukrainian troops in the eastern Lugansk region on Wednesday, the local governor said.Related Stories
Several injured soldiers have been captured by the fighters, who do not answer to the main separatist leadership in Lugansk, the pro-Kiev governor Gennadiy Moskal said in a statement on his website.”Battles are ongoing at Bakhmutka” on a road that lies west of separatist-controlled Lugansk where Ukrainian forces have several checkpoints, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists.He denied that the Ukrainian forces were surrounded.However, Moskal said: „We know this morning that 112 soldiers and National Guard fighters have been surrounded.”Several injured soldiers have been captured… the situation can be characterised as critical,” he added.Moskal said attempts by representatives of the pan-European security group the OSCE to try to agree with leaders of the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) about ceasing fire have not brought any result.”The attackers are fighters of the so-called Donskoy army which does not obey the LNR,” he said.The „Donskoy army” is made up of Cossacks commanded by Pavel Dremov, who told AFP late last month that he answers only to a Russian Cossack chief, not separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine.Dremov described the September 5 truce between the separatists and Kiev as a sham and said he would not abide by the accord.Ukrainian media accuse him of being a Russian agent.Lysenko meanwhile also said Ukrainian forces had repelled several attacks over the past 24 hours on Donetsk airport and near the village of Debaltseve — two constant flashpoints in the conflict in recent weeks.Kiev and the rebels have repeatedly accused each other of violating the ceasefire agreement, with more than 300 people killed since September 5, most of them civilians.
Offering an unusually detailed description of the fighting, Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters that all but „hundreds” of civilians have evacuated the city and that increasing numbers of Islamic State group fighters are flowing in.”One of the reasons why you’re seeing more strikes there is because there is more ISIL there,” Kirby said, using a common acronym for the extremist group. Their greater numbers are providing more targets for U.S. bombs, he said.”It’s hard to give an exact number, but we believe that we have killed several hundred ISIL fighters,” he added. He did not specify a time period; airstrikes there began Oct. 1, according to U.S. Central Command, which announced Wednesday that it had launched 18 airstrikes near Kobani over the previous 24 hours, following a barrage of 21 strikes there the previous 24 hours.Kirby said Kobani remains in danger of falling to the Islamic State fighters, who are intently focused on the city.”These guys want to grab ground. They want territory,” he said. „Kobani is a territory they want.”Central Command said the latest airstrikes by American bombers and fighter jets destroyed multiple Islamic State fighting positions in the Kobani area. It said the strikes also hit 16 buildings there occupied by the militants.John Allen, the retired Marine general who is President Barack Obama’s coordinator of the coalition campaign against the Islamic State group, described the intensification of U.S. airstrikes in Kobani as a humanitarian move.”There was a need for additional fire support to go in to try to relieve the defenders” and to buy time and space for them to get better organized, Allen said.Activists and officials in the region said the airstrikes, which have been joined in some cases by coalition partners including Saudi Arabia, have bolstered the Kurdish militiamen fighting pitched battles in the city and making small advances.Kirby said the combined effects of U.S. and coalition airstrikes in Kobani and other areas in Syria over the past three weeks have taken a toll on the Islamic State militants. But he added that no one should expect decisive results there or elsewhere in Syria anytime soon.”We all need to be in this for a matter of years,” he said, even as airstrikes make it harder for the Islamic State group to resupply its fighters and reconstitute important resources, such as mobile oil refineries, that have been targeted.The Paris-based International Energy agency said in a report that U.S.-led airstrikes have significantly weakened the Islamic State’s ability to produce, operate oil fields and smuggle oil — a major source of income for the militants.Kirby attributed this week’s increased U.S. airstrikes in Kobani to several factors: an influx of Islamic State fighters; a near-total civilian evacuation of Kobani that makes it less risky to drop bombs in the area; and weather-related limitations on airstrikes in Iraq. He said weather issues in central Iraq have limited flights of surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, whose intelligence-collection efforts are crucial to identifying targets for bombers and fighter aircraft.Central Command said U.S. warplanes launched five airstrikes in Iraq overnight Wednesday but only one the day before._AP National Security writer Lara Jakes contributed to this report.
U.S. troops found nearly 5,000 abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq from 2004 to 2011: report By Dylan Stableford15 hours ago New York Times Chemical Secrets of the Iraq WarNew York Times Chemical Secrets of the Iraq War American troops found nearly 5,000 abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq from 2004 to 2011, but their discoveries were kept secret by the U.S. government, the New York Times reports.According to the 10,000-word, eight-part interactive report („The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons„) by C.J. Chivers published on the paper’s website late Tuesday, at least 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers were exposed to nerve or mustard agents in Iraq after 2003.On at least six occasions, American troops and American-trained Iraqi troops were wounded by the abandoned munitions, but news of the encounters was neither shared publicly nor widely circulated among the troops, the victims told the Times. Others said they were told to be vague or deceptive about what they found.”‘Nothing of significance’ is what I was ordered to say,” Jarrod Lampier, a retired Army major, said of the 2006 discovery of 2,400 nerve-agent rockets at a former Republican Guard compound, the largest chemical weapons discovery of the war.The paper also published heavily redacted intelligence documents it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.Among the reasons for the secrecy? „The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale,” Chivers writes. „After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, [President George W.] Bush insisted that [Iraqi leader Saddam] Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world’s risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims.”A U.S. soldier watches as a statue of Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein falls in central Baghdad April …The discovery of pre-Gulf War chemical weapons — most of them „filthy, rusty or corroded” — did not fit the narrative.“They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds,” Lampier said. “And all of this was from the pre-1991 era.”“I love it when I hear, ‘Oh there weren’t any chemical weapons in Iraq,’” Jarrod L. Taylor, a former Army sergeant, told the paper. “There were plenty.”The troops began encountering the munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs.The paper recounted a harrowing 2004 discovery in Baghdad by two explosives-disposal technicians in detail. Staff Sgt. James F. Burns and Pfc. Michael S. Yandell were transporting what they thought was the remains of a makeshift bomb back to the base when they began experiencing symptoms of sarin gas exposure:Sergeant Burns noticed a bitter smell and thought, he said later, that “it was rotten vegetables.”Then he felt the onset of a headache. He told Private Yandell, who was driving, that he did not feel right Nauseated and disoriented, Private Yandell had quietly been struggling to drive. His vision was blurring. His head pounded. “I feel like crap, too,” he replied .Dread passed over Sergeant Burns. Maybe, he wondered aloud, they had picked up a nerve agent shell.The chemical shell Sergeant Burns and Pfc. Michael S. Yandell found that day was on the highway to Baghdad’s international airport, called „Death Street” at the time because of frequent insurgent attacks.Neither man remembers the drive’s last minutes. At the base entrance, they did not clear the ammunition from their rifles and pistols — forgetting habits and rules.As they arrived at their building, Sergeant Burns was sure. In the back of the truck, the shell had leaked liquid. Illumination rounds, he knew, do not do that.“They put a gag order on all of us — the security detail, us, the clinic, everyone,” Burns said. “We were briefed to tell family members that we were exposed to ‘industrial chemicals,’ because our case was classified top secret.”The paper also reported that as a result of the secrecy, military doctors were not prepared to treat the soldiers exposed to chemicals, preventing troops „from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.”Rear Adm. John Kirby, spokesman for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, declined to address specific incidents detailed in the Times investigation but said that the military’s health care system and awards practices were under review.“The secretary believes all service members deserve the best medical and administrative support possible,” Kirby said. “He is, of course, concerned by any indication or allegation they have not received such support. His expectation is that leaders at all levels will strive to correct errors made, when and where they are made.”The news of abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq comes as a U.S.-led coalition continues drone strikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. While there is no evidence of munitions falling into the hands of the terror group, the possibility is nonetheless „worrisome,” Chivers writes.
Kosovo frees 8-year-old from Syria captivity By VISAR KRYEZIU7 hours ago SLATINA, Kosovo (AP) — An 8-year-old boy from Kosovo was reunited with his mother late on Wednesday after intelligence and security forces brought him back from Syria where he was taken by his jihadi father and kept for 5 months, officials said.Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in a statement that Kosovo’s Intelligence Agency „successfully located, found and returned” Erion Zena to Kosovo. He said the operation was „complicated and dangerous,” but didn’t give any further details. It was authorized by Thaci and the country’s President Atifete Jahjaga.An Associated Press reporter witnessed when the boy was ushered into a waiting room at Pristina’s international airport by two men in civilian clothes where his mother Pranvera Zena waited.”It feels like a dream,” Pranvera Zena told the AP minutes after the reunion. „It feels as if I am waking up and I fear he’s still not there.”The boy appeared confused as his mother approached him and hugged him. He then sat on her lap and showed her his toy soldiers and a toy tank, as she caressed him and tried to hold back her tears.The boy was taken to Syria in June 2014 by his father Arben Zena against his mother’s will. The case received wide attention in Kosovo after the boy’s mother made a public appeal to her husband to return her son. A Facebook page was also opened in support of Pranvera Zena and she made appearances in Kosovo and Albania from where a growing number of youths have joined Islamic radicals in Iraq and Syria.Hundreds of Kosovo Albanians have joined the ranks of Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq in recent years.Kosovo is secular but its population of some 1.8 million is overwhelmingly Muslim.
Russia rattles nuclear saber at U.S. over hostile economic sanctions Use your key for the next article Next: As ‘secret Saudi deal’ increases harm to Russian currency, China intervenes October 15, 20143:33 PM MSTKenneth Schortgen Jr Finance ExaminerRussian President Vladimir Putin Photo by Pool/Getty Images In an interview on Oct. 15 with Serbian newspaper, Politika, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his anger at the continuing sanctions and hostile aggressions being waged by the U.S. against the Eurasian state over conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, and emphasized the consequences that might occur when one nuclear nation threatens another with escalating economic and political actions.President Putin’s statements come at a time when Russia is experiencing increasing pain to their economy and currency which is tied to the rapid decline in oil prices that appear to be instigated from a ‘secret deal‘ made between the United States and OPEC’s leader, Saudi Arabia. And with oil touching just below $80 per barrel in intra-day trading, the decline in price will have a devastating effects on more than just Russia, but also on countries such as Britain, Norway, and even the Bakken region of North Dakota, and drive economies that are on the brink of recession into full blow negative territory.It’s futile for the U.S. and its allies to “blackmail” Russia over the Ukraine crisis, President Vladimir Putin said in a newspaper interview today.Russia’s partners should remember the risks involved in disputes between nuclear powers, Putin said. He accused Barack Obama of adopting a “hostile” approach in naming Russia as a threat to the world in the U.S. president’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24.“We hope that our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability,” Putin told Serbia’s Politika newspaper on the eve of his visit to the Balkan nation today.“Together with the sanctions against entire sectors of our economy, this approach can be called nothing but hostile,” Putin said – Politika Putin’s veiled threats in which he points to his nation’s nuclear power as a position of strength signifies just how important ending the current proxy war between Russia and the West is, and how history validates just how quickly conflicts can turn critical, as in 1963 with the Cuban Missile Crisis.But even more so, the world is too inter-twined financially today for one powerful nation to impose their economic will upon another without there being global consequences, as seen by how the sanctions the U.S. is impressing upon Russia over the civil war in Ukraine is causing extreme chaos toEurope and America’s primary allies.Unlike the Cold War of just three decades ago, most conflicts are now economic in nature, and fought for control over oil and other vital resources. And just as America’s attacks on Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine have been done to either halt Russian oil expansion into these countries, or to chastise leaders who threaten the petro-dollar by selling energy in currencies other than the dollar, Russia’s responses have to date been economic in nature, rather than military. But as Putin assured his allies in Serbia today, the world cannot forget that Russia is a military superpower by nature of their nuclear arsenal, and that accidents and events can trigger disastrous consequences when two nuclear powers escalate geo-political confrontations.
U.S.-led air strikes intensify as Syria conflict destabilizes Turkey By Humeyra Pamuk and Daren ButlerOctober 14, 2014 9:58 PM Reuters Videos Away from Kobani, Syria’s other civil war rages onNews Away from Kobani, Syria’s other civil war rages on By Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler Related Stories
MURSITPINAR Turkey/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – American-led forces have sharply intensified air strikes in the past two days against Islamic State fighters threatening Kurds on Syria’s Turkish border after the jihadists’ advance began to destabilize Turkey.The coalition had conducted 21 attacks on the militants near the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani over Monday and Tuesday and appeared to have slowed Islamic State advances there, the U.S. military said, but cautioned the situation remained fluid.U.S. President Barack Obama voiced deep concern on Tuesday about the situation in Kobani as well as in Iraq’s Anbar province, which U.S. troops fought to secure during the Iraq war and is now at risk of being seized by Islamic State militants.”Coalition air strikes will continue in both of these areas,” Obama told military leaders from coalition partners including Turkey, Arab states and Western allies during a meeting outside Washington.The fight against Islamic State will be among the items on the agenda when Obama holds a video conference on Wednesday with British, French, German and Italian leaders, the White House said.War on the militants in Syria is threatening to unravel a delicate peace in neighboring Turkey where Kurds are furious with Ankara over its refusal to help protect their kin in Syria.A U.S.-led coalition aircraft flying over Kobanii, as seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing …The plight of the Syrian Kurds in Kobani provoked riots among Turkey’s 15 million Kurds last week in which at least 35 people were killed.Turkish warplanes were reported to have attacked Kurdish rebel targets in southeast Turkey after the army said it had been attacked by the banned PKK Kurdish militant group, risking reigniting a three-decade conflict that killed 40,000 people before a ceasefire was declared two years ago.Kurds inside Kobani said the U.S.-led strikes on Islamic State had helped, but that the militants, who have besieged the town for weeks, were still on the attack.”Today there were air strikes throughout the day, which is a first. And sometimes we saw one plane carrying out two strikes, dropping two bombs at a time,” said Abdulrahman Gok, a journalist with a local Kurdish paper who is inside the town.”The strikes are still continuing,” he said by telephone, as an explosion sounded in the background.”In the afternoon, Islamic State intensified its shelling of the town,” he said. „The fact that they’re not conducting face-to-face, close-distance fight but instead shelling the town from afar is evidence that they have been pushed back a bit.”Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Tu …Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the dominant Kurdish political party in Syria, PYD, said the latest air strikes had been „extremely helpful”. „They are hitting Islamic State targets hard and because of those strikes we were able to push back a little. They are still shelling the city center.”It was the largest number of air strikes on Kobani since the U.S.-led campaign in Syria began last month, the Pentagon said. The White House said the impact was constrained by the absence of forces on the ground but that evidence so far showed its strategy was succeeding.CEASEFIRE THREATENED The Turkish Kurds’ anger and resulting unrest is a new source of turmoil in a region consumed by Iraqi and Syrian civil wars and an international campaign against Islamic State fighters.The PKK accused Ankara of violating the ceasefire with the air strikes, on the eve of a deadline set by its jailed leader to salvage the peace process.”For the first time in nearly two years, an air operation was carried out against our forces by the occupying Turkish Republic army,” the PKK said. „These attacks against two guerrilla bases at Daglica violated the ceasefire,” the PKK said, referring to an area near the border with Iraq.Unidentified people gather in the Syrian town of Kobani, as seen from near the Mursitpinar border cr …Obama, who ordered the bombing campaign that started in August against Islamic State fighters, told the meeting of military leaders from 22 countries to expect a „long-term effort” in the battle against Islamic State militants.”There will be days of progress and there are going to be some periods” of setbacks, he said.A U.S. military official told Reuters after the talks there was an acknowledgement that Islamic State was making some gains on the ground, despite the air strikes. But there was also a sense that the coalition, working together, would ultimately prevail, the official said.”In the short term, there are some gains that they have been able to make. In the long term, that momentum will be reversed,” the official said, adding the coalition would adjust its tactics as Islamic State fighters increasingly blend into the population and become harder to target.Washington has faced the difficult task of building a coalition to intervene in Syria and Iraq, two countries with complex multi-sided civil wars in which most of the nations of the Middle East have enemies and clients on the ground.In particular, U.S. officials have expressed frustration at Turkey’s refusal to help them fight against Islamic State. Washington has said Turkey has agreed to let it strike from Turkish air base. Ankara has said that is still under discussion.Turkish Kurds watch the Syrian town of Kobani from near the Mursitpinar border crossing, on the Turk …NATO-member Turkey has refused to join the coalition unless it also confronts Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a demand that Washington, which flies its air missions over Syria without objection from Assad, has so far rejected.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday there was no discrepancy between Ankara and Washington over the strategy for fighting Islamic State in Kobani and that Ankara would define its role according to its own timetable.The fate of Kobani, where the United Nations says thousands could be massacred, could wreck efforts by the Turkish government to end the insurgency by PKK militants, a conflict that largely ended with the start of a peace process in 2012.The peace process with the Kurds is one of the main initiatives of President Tayyip Erdogan’s decade in power, during which Turkey has enjoyed an economic boom underpinned by investor confidence in future stability.The unrest shows the difficulty Turkey has had in designing a Syria policy. Turkey has already taken in 1.2 million refugees from Syria’s three-year civil war, including 200,000 Kurds who fled the area around Kobani in recent weeks.‘PROVOCATIONS COULD BRING MASSACRE’Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Tu …Jailed PKK co-founder Abdullah Ocalan has said peace talks between his group and the Turkish state could come to an end by Wednesday. After visiting him in jail last week, Ocalan’s brother Mehmet quoted him as saying: „We will wait until October 15. … After that there will be nothing we can do.”A pro-Kurdish party leader read out a statement from Ocalan in parliament on Tuesday in which the PKK leader said Kurdish parties should work with the government to end street violence.”Otherwise we will open the way to provocations that could bring about a massacre,” Ocalan said in the statement, which the party said he wrote last week.Turkish attacks on Kurdish positions were once a regular occurrence in southeast Turkey but had not taken place for two years. The PKK said the strikes took place on Monday, although some Turkish news reports said they happened on Sunday.Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Turkish military had retaliated against a PKK attack in the border area, without referring specifically to air strikes.Hurriyet newspaper said the air strikes caused „major damage” to the PKK. „F-16 and F-4 warplanes which took off from (bases in the southeastern provinces of) Diyarbakir and Malatya rained down bombs on PKK targets after they attacked a military outpost in the Daglica region,” Hurriyet said.TOO LATE FOR US’ The battle for Kobani has ground on for nearly a month, although Kurdish fighters on Monday managed to replace an Islamic State flag in the West of the town with one of their own. The fighters, known as Popular Protection Units (YPG) want Turkey to allow them to bring arms across the border.In the Turkish town of Suruc, 10 km (6 miles) from the Syrian frontier, a funeral for four female YPG fighters was being held. Hundreds at the cemetery chanted: „Murderer Erdogan”.At least six air strikes, gunfire and shelling could be heard from Mursitpinar on the Turkish side of the border on Tuesday, where Kurds, many with relatives fighting in Kobani, have maintained a vigil, watching the fighting from hillsides.In Iraq, Kurdish forces and government troops have rolled back some Islamic State gains in the north of the country in recent weeks, but the fighters have advanced in the west, seizing territory in the Euphrates valley within striking distance of the capital, Baghdad.Members of Iraq’s Shi’ite minority have been targeted by recent bomb attacks in Baghdad, some claimed by Islamic State. On Tuesday, 25 people were killed by a car bomb, including a Shi’ite Muslim member of Iraq’s parliament.(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff, Oliver Holmes and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by David Stamp, Toni Reinhold and Peter Cooney)
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Leaders from China and the European Union agreed to step up cooperation to counter extremism and terrorism in the Middle East and Africa, the EU said on Thursday.Chinese Premier Li Keqiang held talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on Wednesday evening on the sidelines of a gathering of Asian and European leaders known as the Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan.”They reviewed the situation in the Middle East, northern Africa and the Sahel (region of Africa) and agreed to increase cooperation to counter the common threat of extremism and terrorism in these regions,” an EU statement issued after the talks said, without specifying what kind of cooperation.China responded cautiously to a call by U.S. President Barack Obama last month for a broad coalition to root out Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, saying the world should fight terror but that the sovereignty of countries must be respected.However, Chinese state media reported last month that Chinese militants from the western region of Xinjiang had fled the country to get „terrorist training” from Islamic State fighters for attacks at home.Several EU countries are taking part in air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.The EU and Chinese leaders agreed on the importance of reestablishing peace and stability in Ukraine in accordance with UN principles, the EU statement said.Both sides also reaffirmed their commitment to finalize as soon as possible negotiations on an ambitious bilateral investment agreement. Talks on the agreement began in January.(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Ken Wills)
Could Putin’s Russia push neutral Finland into NATO’s arms? Finland has avoided conflict with its giant neighbor for decades by keeping NATO at arm’s length. But Russia’s recent actions – including its intervention in Ukraine and a series of overflights of Finnish territory – have some Finns rethinking their neutrality.By Gordon F. Sander, Contributor / October 15, 2014A Finnish Air Force handout shows a Russian AN-72 transport plane, taken by a Finnish aircraft pilot in August. Finland’s Defense Ministry said it suspects Russian military aircraft of violating Finnish airspace three times in six days in August.Lehtikuva/Finnish Air Force/AP/FileAbout these ads HELSINKI, FINLAND Seven months ago, when Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, Finns seemed relatively unconcerned. The world’s northernmost country shares some 800 miles of border with its huge neighbor, but just a quarter of Finns said they felt threatened by Moscow. And a similar number told pollsters their country should consider joining NATO in interest of self-defense.Since then, Russia’s behavior has become more provocative, and not just in eastern Ukraine. During one week in August, Russian military aircraft conducted three unauthorized overflights of Finnish airspace. The Finnish public reacted accordingly. A poll last month by Finnish daily Aamulehti showed that 43 percent of those polled perceived Russia as a danger, an increase of nearly 20 percent from March.But support for Finland joining NATO remained almost unchanged: a mere two percent higher, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (YLE) found. Why hasn’t Finnish wariness translated into stronger support for NATO membership? And what, if anything, would persuade Finns to join the defense pact? Sochi, Soviets, and tsars: How much do you know about Russia?Defense Minister Carl Haglund says that the foundation for the Finnish public’s aversion to NATO membership stems from its complicated, and oft-misunderstood relationship with Russia. “This [reluctance] goes back to [our] history,” he says, “especially the end of the Second World War and the cold war.”“Put it this way,” says Pekka Ervasti, political editor of YLE. „Finnish neutrality dies hard.” ‘Finlandization’The 1948 treaty which Finland signed with the USSR – which defeated Finland in two wars during World War II – codified its enforced rapprochement with the Kremlin. Finland agreed not to join or assist NATO, which was established the following year. The treaty laid the basis for the peaceable – and mutually beneficial – relationship between Finland and the USSR which followed, along with half a century of Finnish military non-alignment. “Active neutrality,” Helsinki called it.About these ads Critics had another term for it: “Finlandization” – the process by which a democracy such as Finland avoided provoking Moscow, in return for independence and trading privileges. It’s a policy that served Finns well for decades, and many are reluctant to abandon it.A dose of anti-Americanism is also at play, adds Ervasti. “People feel that NATO is run by Americans and they fear that the US will drag us into foreign wars, like Iraq. Others worry that nuclear weapons will be stationed here.”Then there’s the bottom line for business. “I’m not sure whether joining NATO is such a great idea in the long run,” says Ami Hasan, head of Hasan & Partners, a leading Helsinki ad agency. “Russia with its 150 million people is a huge potential trading partner for Finland and we have 1,300 kilometers of shared border. I doubt that Russia would be thrilled to share it with NATO.”Governmental divides Despite the generally warm relationship between the two countries in recent years, Russian officials have explicitly warned Finland against joining NATO. In June 2012, Russian Chief of Staff Nikolai Makarov, sounding much like the Soviet bear of yore, said that cooperation between NATO and Finland, which joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace “affiliate” program in 1994, threatened Russia’s security.The debate was rekindled in September, when Finland signed a new agreement with NATO that allows it and Finland to hold joint exercises on Finnish soil and permits assistance from NATO members in situations such as “disasters, disruptions, and threats to security.”To some, the agreement seemed to draw Finland closer to the alliance. “It’s obvious that the memorandum takes us one step closer to NATO,” said Finnish legislator Annika Lapintie. “There’s no other way to look at it.”Finland’s foreign minister, Erkki Tuomija, disagrees. „The memorandum doesn’t oblige Finland or NATO to provide or receive assistance or to permit transit,” he says. For his part, Mr. Tuomija is opposed to NATO membership, as is his party, the Social Democrats. “Finland’s security policy should be to strengthen and secure long-term organization and national security through the EU.”The ruling five-party coalition is split – two of the parties support joining NATO, while the other three, including the Social Democrats, are opposed – and has ruled out any debate on NATO membership. President Sauli Niniisto has said that a national referendum would be required before Finland could apply to join NATO. ‘Bet on continuity’ Still, NATO is bound to arise in the run-up to the next Finnish parliamentary elections in April. And some may be rethinking their views. One of those who has is Panu Laturi, former secretary general of the Green League, an opposition party. “Russia has clearly developed in an ‘uncertain’ way and Finland cannot defend itself,” Mr. Laturi says. “I have come to see that Finland needs NATO’s security guarantee and the protection of Article Five,” referring to the treaty’s mutual defense clause.Recent polls suggest that Finns’ opposition to NATO membership may also be similarly changeable. A majority says that they would support NATO membership if the nation’s political leadership came out wholeheartedly for it, according to a TNS Gallup survey.Still, many Finns fear that joining NATO would trigger Russian reprisals that Finland would face alone, as it did during the 1939-40 Winter War with the USSR. “One thing we can’t change is geography,” says Mr. Hasan, the ad executive.Others say that they are waiting to see what neighboring Sweden will do. The Swedes have an even longer history of military non-alignment than Finland, and are just as conflicted about joining NATO.”My guess is that the [Finns’] wariness is a legitimate desire not to rock the boat,” says Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former US deputy secretary of State who has written widely on the subject of NATO enlargement. „If, however, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was reckless enough to test NATO’s commitment to its member states Estonia or Latvia, there might be a change of attitudes in Finland.”For his part, Tuomas Forsberg, professor of international relations at Tampere University, is skeptical that Finland will join NATO anytime soon.“If one were to bet, it might be better to bet on continuity,” he says. “The security environment has changed, but psychology remains more entrenched.”
Netherlands says OK for biker gangs to fight Islamic State October 14, 2014 11:51 AMMembers of the ‘No Surrender’ biker gang are fighting against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq (AFP Photo/Olaf Kraak)The Hague (AFP) – The Dutch public prosecutor said on Tuesday that motorbike gang members who have reportedly joined Kurds battling the Islamic State group in Iraq are not necessarily committing any crime.Related Stories
„Joining a foreign armed force was previously punishable, now it’s no longer forbidden,” public prosecutor spokesman Wim de Bruin told AFP.”You just can’t join a fight against the Netherlands,” he told AFP after reports emerged that Dutch bikers from the No Surrender gang were fighting IS insurgents alongside Kurds in northern Iraq.The head of No Surrender, Klaas Otto, told state broadcaster NOS that three members who travelled to near Mosul in northern Iraq were from Dutch cities Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Breda.A photograph on a Dutch-Kurdish Twitter account shows a tattooed Dutchman called Ron in military garb, holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle while sat with a Kurdish comrade.Video footage apparently from a Kurdish broadcaster shows an armed European man with Kurdish fighters saying in Dutch: „The Kurds have been under pressure for a long time.”Many countries including the Netherlands have been clamping down on their nationals trying to join IS jihadists who have taken over swathes of Iraq and Syria.Measures include confiscating would-be jihadists’ passports before travelling and threatening prosecution should they return.”The big difference with IS is that it’s listed as a terrorist group,” said De Bruin.”That means that even preparing to join IS is punishable.”Dutch citizens could not however join the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as it is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and much of the international community, De Bruin said.Dutch citizens fighting on the Kurdish side would of course be liable to prosecution if they committed crimes such as torture or rape, De Bruin said.”But this is also happening a long way away and so it’ll be very difficult to prove,” said De Bruin.
AU slams Madagascar ex-leader’s ‘unacceptable provocation’ By Tsiresena Manjakahery15 hours agoMarc Ravalomanana (centre), former president of Madagascar who was in exile in South Africa since 2009, is greeted by supporters while returning to his home in Antananarivo on October 13, 2014 (AFP Photo/Rijasolo)Antananarivo (AFP) – The African Union on Wednesday decried an „unacceptable provocation” by exiled Madagascar president Marc Ravalomanana whose cloak-and-dagger return to the crisis-racked island threatened to spark fresh instability.Sixty-four-year-old Ravalomanana — who was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour — returned unannounced to Madagascar on Monday, five years after a coup forced him to flee frist to Swaziland then South Africa.He was promptly arrested by a phalanx of heavily armed special forces, but not before telling supporters that he still held „lots of power” and that his presidential successor is „not the people’s choice”.The African Union warned that Ravalomanana’s stance could undermine successful 2013 elections, which were designed to resolve a crisis that brought international isolation and trashed the Malagasy economy.AU commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma „firmly condemned” Ravalomanana’s comments and called on all parties to do their part to guarantee Madagascar’s „long and difficult transition”.”Calling into question the legitimacy of Malagasy institutions, resulting from free and democratic elections recognised by the international community, is an unacceptable provocation,” the statement said.Ravalomanana has been taken to the idyllic but remote military town of Antsiranana in the far north of the country.In a statement, Prime Minister Roger Kolo told AFP that the government „received reliable information about the existence of threats” to Ravalomanana’s life and to public order.”He is in a place worthy of his standing and is in good health, with a doctor accompanying him,” Kolo said.Ihanta Randroamandranto, a member of Ravalomanana’s party, told AFP the former president’s family „has left to visit him at Diego-Suarez (Antsiranana).”Ravalomanana’s ouster, exile and fierce personal rivalry with his immediate successor Andry Rajoelina polarised the Indian Ocean island nation, which is highly dependent on coffee, vanilla and other agricultural products.The military remains largely beyond civilian control and the coup-prone country of 20 million people lost $8 billion (6.2 billion euros) and tens of thousands of jobs as a result of the most recent crisis.Since the election, international donors have signalled their willingness to do business with the new government, an important step if the island is to realise untapped gas and oil wealth.The United States recently allowed Madagascar back in to a lucrative trade pact that gives preferential access to US markets.- ‘Peace or trouble’ -President Hery Rajaonarimampianina has toured the world seeking to bring investors and jobs to Madagascar.But that drive may now be on hold.”It looks like the crisis is not really over,” said author and political analyst Toavina Ralambomahay.”We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. No one can predict what will happen, will there be peace or will there be trouble.”Much will now depend on the government’s response, according to political analyst Serge Zafimahova.”They have two options. If they insist on shutting out the ex-president we can expect that the weeks to come will bring crisis that leads to his return (to power).”The second option would be that the government acknowledges the need for national reconciliation. That’s the only way out of this crisis.”
NATO chief: no big Russian withdrawal near Ukraine By ELENA BECATOROS15 hours agor THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — NATO’s top military commander said Wednesday that the alliance would welcome the withdrawal of Russian troops from a Russian region bordering Ukraine, but that it has seen no „major movement” so far.Related Stories
On Saturday Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered about 17,600 Russian troops to return to their bases from Rostov. The region in Russia borders east Ukraine, where pro-Russian insurgents have been battling government troops since April.”We would welcome withdrawal of troops on that border, and we are anxiously watching what is happening,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a NATO conference in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.”We have not seen major movements yet,” he said. „Now we will watch to see if there is delivery on the promise.”Russia has consistently denied Ukrainian and Western claims that it has supported the insurgency in eastern Ukraine with weapons, expertise and fighters, saying troops stationed in Rostov are participating in drills.NATO has countered previous Russian claims of troop withdrawals. In the spring, the U.S. and NATO said Russia had deployed about 40,000 troops near the border, though Putin ordered the troops back to their home bases in late May. While the U.S. and NATO did confirm those moves, in August they said Moscow was again bolstering its forces in the region and that Russia had allowed troops and vehicles to cross the border to assist the separatists.U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove speaks during a NATO conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Wed …”Actions speak louder than words,” another top NATO military commander, Gen. Frank Gorenc, who heads the alliance’s air command and the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, told the AP. „And the fact of the matter is, in today’s environment strategic messaging without action are just words. And so their actions remain to be seen.”Breedlove noted it was important for the West to comprehend the possible motives for Russia’s actions in Ukraine.”We have to understand in the West that Mr. Putin may actually have felt threatened along the lines of Ukraine leaning to the West, both in the European union and in the NATO alliance,” Breedlove said.Putin has repeatedly accused the U.S., the EU and NATO of stonewalling Moscow’s economic and security concerns and trying to pull Ukraine into the Western orbit. He accused the West of encouraging the ouster of Ukraine’s former president in February, and cast the annexation of Crimea the following month as a necessary move to protect Russian speakers there.Breedlove also said he thinks Putin wants to maintain its influence in the eastern part of Ukraine as it is of economic importance to Russia.U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove looks on during a NATO conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, on W …Before the crisis erupted, Russia and Ukraine had maintained close economic ties. In particular, Russian industrial plants, including many arms makers, have relied on Ukrainian-built components. Ukraine has provided Russia with helicopter engines, air-to-air missiles, navy turbines and many other items. Some of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Russian inventory were built in Ukraine during the Soviet times, and the Russian military has relied on Ukrainian expertise in maintaining them.Breedlove wouldn’t speculate about whether Russia posed a threat.”Let’s just look at capability and capacity. There is still a very, very large force and a very, very capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine,” he said. „And so rather than guess about intentions, let’s just point out that Mr. Putin maintains on that border the capability to go into Eastern Ukraine should he choose to.”_Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
Egypt warplanes hit Libya militias, officials say By MAGGIE MICHAEL and OMAR ALMOSMARI9 hours ago BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Egypt deepened its involvement in the fight against Islamist militias who have taken over key parts of Libya on Wednesday, with officials saying Egyptian warplanes have bombed their positions in the eastern city of Benghazi.Related Stories
The two officials, who have firsthand knowledge of the operation, said the use of the aircraft was part of an Egyptian-led campaign against the militiamen that will eventually involve Libyan ground troops recently trained by Egyptian forces.The operation, they said, was requested by the internationally recognized Libyan administration based in the eastern city of Tobruk. That elected administration was thrown out of the capital, Tripoli, by rival militias allied with Islamic political factions.”This is a battle for Egypt not Libya,” one of the senior officials said. „Egypt was the first country in the region to warn against terrorism and it is also the first to fight it.”The officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the operation would last three to six months and involve the use of an Egyptian navy vessel as a command center off the Mediterranean coast near Tobruk. Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Hiftar, who has vowed to wipe out the Islamist militias, is not leading the operation, they added, with Cairo dealing directly with a newly appointed Libyan chief of staff who has visited Egypt several times in recent weeks.In a televised statement on Tuesday, Hifter, who was an army chief under Gadhafi before joining his opponents decades ago, said that he will resign and transfer power to a young army leadership.A fighter with forces led by renegade Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter stands by the body of an Ansar al-S …Tobruk-based Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni told Dubai-based Sky News Arabia that all troops involved in the battles in Benghazi are under the command of the new chief of staff and are instructed to restore state institutions and combat terrorism.”After the appointment of the chief of staff for the Libyan army, all military operations are under the umbrella of the state and its military leadership,” he said.Al-Thinni met Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi during his last visit to Egypt on Oct. 9. During the visit, Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Sedki Sobhi said that Egypt is ready to offer „all support” to the Libyan army, especially in „combating terrorism.”Libyan lawmaker Tareq al-Jorushi confirmed to the AP that Egyptian warplanes were taking part in the ongoing operation in Benghazi, but said that they were being flown by Libyan pilots. He says the planes were „rented” by the Libyan administration from Egypt. Al-Jorushi is awaiting confirmation of his appointment on the Tobruk-based parliament’s national security committee, which is responsible for such issues. He is also the son of the head of Libya’s air force, Gen. Saqr al-Jorushi. He said he learned that the planes are Egyptian from the new chief of staff.In an official statement posted on Egypt’s state-run news agency however, presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef denied that Egyptian planes were striking targets in Libya.The body of an Ansar al-Shariah militiaman lies on the ground in Benghazi, Libya, Wednesday, Oct. 15 …Libya has been mired in turmoil since Gadhafi’s ouster in 2011, with militias operating with impunity and the government unable to rein them in. In recent months, Islamist militias swept through Libya’s two main cites of Tripoli and Benghazi, defeating anti-Islamist forces, setting up their own government and reviving an old parliament.Egypt, which has publicly stated its support of the elected administration based in Tobruk, views the presence of hard-line extremists near its western border as a direct national security threat. It had made no secret of its willingness to offer military support to the Tobruk-based government, saying it would train and arm its forces.Egypt’s direct military involvement, however, reinforces the notion that Libya has become a proxy battleground for larger regional struggles, with Turkey and Qatar backing the Islamist militias while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates support their opponents.Earlier on Wednesday, a top Islamic militia commander based in Benghazi said Egypt sent its warplanes to hit his group’s positions.”We have photographs of the Egyptian warplanes and Egyptian naval forces stationed in eastern cities,” he told the AP. He said the planes were taking off from an airport in Libya’s eastern city of Bayda.FILE – In this Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 file photo, Libyan militias from towns throughout the country& …”The Egyptians are bombing us day and night and only want to seed divisions among us here,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.It is unclear what Egypt’s involvement can accomplish.The Libyan army and police have been in shambles since the collapse of Gadhafi’s regime, and attempts by successive governments to disarm and integrate former rebels into the army have failed.U.S. officials confirmed in the summer that Egypt and the UAE were involved in airstrikes against militia positions in and near Tripoli. Egypt denied involvement, while the UAE said nothing publicly.Speaking to reporters in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she was not in a position to confirm the strikes, but that such a move would raise concerns for the United States.FILE – In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 file photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press confe …”Broadly speaking, we would be concerned about outside interference in Libya, which is consistent with the communiques we’ve signed onto,” she said.Wednesday’s airstrikes preluded what many believe to be a concerted push against the Benghazi militias, and Hifter has described the fighting as a „turning point” in the war against the Islamists.Residents contacted by telephone said they saw warplanes striking camps of several Islamist militias fighting under an umbrella group called the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. Armed men have set up checkpoints and cordoned off their neighborhoods to prevent militias from using their districts as staging ground for attacks army forces, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.As night fell, there were conflicting reports over who controlled several military barracks after fighting in Benghazi.An Islamist militia commander said that his group’s forces took over army barracks housing tanks and a second commander said that three people have been killed in the fighting so far, without saying which side had suffered the losses. He says the takeover of the barracks came after an Islamist suicide bomber blew himself up at the camp gates. The commanders also spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the press.A Benghazi hospital official said that the death toll had reached nine, mostly civilians.A security official allied to Hifter denied the claim, saying that the general’s troops „liberated” one of the barracks controlled by „extremists,” killing a leading member of the Ansar al-Shariah militia.Ansar al-Shariah was implicated in the deadly assault on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in 2012 which left four Americans dead, including the ambassador.”I am in the street right now, with my colleagues, and Hifter’s forces are deployed to the center and engaged in fierce clashes,” said the official, who is a member of Benghazi’s official security body. He and the hospital official also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution._Michael reported from Cairo. With reporting from Matthew Lee in Washington.