House Republicans just won a major, unexpected victory in a battle with Obama By Brett LoGiurato5 hours ago(AP) US Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), speaker of the House (right), and US President Barack Obama (center) at a White House ceremony June 24, 2014. Republicans in the US House of Representatives have standing to proceed with a lawsuit against US President Barack Obama’s administration over his signature healthcare law, a federal judge said Wednesday, handing them a significant and somewhat unexpected victory in the ongoing legal battle.US District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled Wednesday against the Obama administration’s motion to dismiss the case. Collyer said House Republicans do have the standing to pursue their challenge, which argues that the Obama administration violated the US Constitution by spending money on the law that had not been appropriated by Congress.That was a key question in the lawsuit, which the White House and House Democrats have continually dismissed as a „political stunt.”In her ruling, Collyer rejected that argument, calling the House’s challenge valid.”Despite its potential political ramifications, this suit remains a plain dispute over a constitutional command, of which the Judiciary has long been the ultimate interpreter,” she wrote.The case centers on the more than $175 billion the administration will spend over the next decade under a cost-sharing program with health-insurance companies. The Obama administration has said it’s spending previously allocated money.The attorney for the House, Jonathan Turley, called Collyer’s decision „historic and profound.”(Thomson Reuters) Obama delivers remarks on a nuclear deal with Iran at American University in Washington. „The ruling today means that the United States House of Representatives now will be heard on an issue that drives to the very heart of our constitutional system: the control of the legislative branch over the power of the purse,” he wrote in a statement posted to his website. „We are eager to present the House’s merits arguments to the Court and remain confident that our position will ultimately prevail in establishing the unconstitutional conduct alleged in this lawsuit.”House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who’s leading the lawsuit against the president, said he was „grateful” for the court’s ruling.”The president’s unilateral change to Obamacare was unprecedented and outside the powers granted to his office under our Constitution,” Boehner said in a statement. „I am grateful to the court for ruling that this historic overreach can be challenged by the coequal branch of government with the sole power to create or change the law. The House will continue our effort to ensure the separation of powers in our democratic system remains clear, as the Framers intended.”NOW WATCH: Meet the real people who want Donald Trump to be presidentMore From Business Insider It’s going to be a wild September in Congress — and the odds of a shutdown are now astoundingly high A salmon spawned on Obama’s shoes during his trip to Alaska The knives are starting to come out for one of the GOP’s surging candidates
Russian military buildup continues in Syria: US officials By Thomas Watkins5 hours agoWashington (AFP) – Russia is pressing ahead with its military buildup in Syria, US officials said on Wednesday, though Moscow’s intentions in the war-ravaged nation remain unclear.Related Stories
Aerial imagery shows Russia is focusing on Bassel al-Assad International Airport, south of Latakia on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, and on the Russian naval facility in Tartus.One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that two tank-landing ships have recently arrived at Tartus and about a dozen Russian armored personnel carriers are now at the Bassel al-Assad airport, named after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s older brother.The official said dozens of Russian naval infantry had arrived in Syria, but their role was likely to protect incoming military hardware rather than a boots-on-the-ground deployment.”We’ve seen scores there,” the official said. „There certainly are some troops there.”In addition, another giant Antonov-124 Condor military transporter had flown into the airport, bringing the total number of transport flights to at least four in recent days.AFP reported Tuesday that Russia has also installed modular housing units — enough for „hundreds” of people — at the airport, as well as portable air traffic control equipment.The developments further complicate the deadly crisis in Syria, where the conflict has claimed nearly 250,000 lives since 2011 and triggered a massive outflow of refugees — many of whom are fleeing to Europe.Syrian government forces drive a tank on a road in the Maysar neighbourhood of Aleppo on July 29, 20 …Moscow insists it is bringing humanitarian aid to a stricken nation, but the United States, which is attacking Islamic State jihadists in Syria, is worried Russia is preparing to assist militarily and strike rebel groups to help prop up long-time ally Assad.”There’s not consensus in the intelligence community about what it means,” another US official said, again speaking on condition of anonymity.”You have to take what Russia says with a grain of salt because they haven’t always been transparent and honest about their intentions,” the official added, referring to Russia’s continued denials that it is supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.- ‘Unconscionable’ to support Assad -Syria has denied reports of increased military activity by Russian troops on its soil and Russia insists any arms deliveries are in keeping with traditional links to the Assad regime.White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz on Wednesday said the United States would welcome any Russian contributions to the fight against the Islamic State group.But „it would be unconscionable for any party, including the Russians, to provide any support to the Assad regime,” Schultz told reporters.Despite the buildup of military equipment, officials noted there was no immediate indication Russia had sent in any ordnance or heavy weaponry. A US military official said „under 50” Russian troops had arrived in Syria in recent days.Russia is facing logistical difficulties in getting its hardware to Syria by air.Bulgaria said it refused permission late last week to an unspecified number of Russian aircraft to cross its airspace between September 1 and 24, angering Moscow.But on Wednesday, Bulgaria said it would allow Syria-bound Russian planes over its airspace if Moscow agrees to let it inspect the cargo.In the event Bulgaria closes its skies to Russian overflights, Moscow could route its planes over Iran and then Iraq.When questioned whether the United States had asked Iraq to block Russian overflights, State Department spokesman John Kirby said America wanted regional partners — including Iraq — to ask some „pretty tough questions” about Russia’s intent in Syria.
Russia sends ships, aircraft and forces to Syria: U.S. officials 12 hours agoRussian President Vladimir Putin (R), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Syrian Foreign Minister …WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia has sent two tank landing ships and additional aircraft to Syria in the past day or so and has deployed a small number of forces there, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, in the latest signs of a military buildup that has put Washington on edge.Related Stories
The two U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the intent of Russia’s military moves in Syria remained unclear.U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that Moscow may be laying the groundwork for an air combat role in Syria’s conflict to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.Assad, a longtime Russian ally, has seen the area he controls whittled down to a fifth or less of Syria’s territory after more than four years of grinding civil war.An official with the Russian defense ministry declined to comment.A traditional arms supplier to Damascus, Moscow has supported Assad throughout the war that has fractured Syria and has said it strongly opposes Islamic State, a militant group that is also the target of a U.S.-led air campaign.One of the U.S. officials said initial indications suggested the focus was on preparing an airfield near the port city of Latakia, a stronghold of Assad.The officials estimated that dozens of the naval infantry forces had recently arrived at the airfield, possibly to help provide security.Reuters has previously reported on the transport of prefabricated housing units for hundreds of people to the Syrian airfield. The two officials said additional Russian prefabricated housing units had arrived as well.The Russian tank landing ships arrived in the past day or so at the port city of Tartus, just south of Latakia, the officials said, without providing information on the cargo. Additional cargo aircraft had also arrived at the airfield near Latakia.The United States and Russia have long been at loggerheads over Syria. Russia has backed Assad, while the United States advocates a political transition to end his rule.On Tuesday, the Pentagon said Russian support for Assad risked „further escalating the conflict.””If there are further efforts to support the Assad regime from a military standpoint on the part of the Russians, we would again see that with concern,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing.(Reporting by Phil Stewart, additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington and Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow; Editing by Doina Chiacu)
Ex-rebel chief in eastern Ukraine: ouster due to ‘intrigue’ By YURAS KARMANAU8 hours ago KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A former rebel chief in eastern Ukraine, who has lost his job in a sudden reshuffling, on Wednesday attributed his downfall to unspecified „intrigue.”Related Stories
Andrei Purgin said in a telephone interview that he had spent four days under arrest at the local security agency headquarters in the rebel-held city of Donetsk before being released.He refused to discuss the reasons behind his arrest and his ouster from the post of speaker of the separatist legislature.Purgin said he would continue his political activities even if he loses his lawmaker’s seat.Some observers see Purgin’s dismissal as part of Moscow’s efforts to bring the rebel leadership to heel to observe a February peace deal.The Minsk accord, brokered by Germany and France, requires that Ukraine and the rebels coordinate on holding local elections, but the rebels have set a vote for October without reaching agreement with Kiev.Thousands of Ukrainian servicemen and civilians lay flowers at the site where three officers were ki …Ukraine’s government and the rebels have blamed each other for the failure to fulfill the accord.Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kiev-based independent political analyst, said Purgin was pushing Russia to annex the rebellious territories in the east, something Moscow doesn’t want.Fesenko described Purgin’s successor, Denis Pushilin, as a follower of Vladislav Surkov, a Kremlin aide who helps set course on Ukraine. He said that Pushilin is „always ready to precisely follow Kremlin orders.”A separatist rebellion erupted in eastern Ukraine weeks after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, following the ouster of the country’s former Moscow-friendly president. At least 7,962 people have died in fighting between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian government forces since April 2014, according to the United Nations.The Minsk deal has helped reduce hostilities, but clashes have continued. At least 105 civilians have been killed and 308 others wounded by fighting from mid-May to mid-August, according to the U.N. human rights agency.
‘Unlawful’ vote in rebel-run areas would breach Ukraine peace deal: PM9 hours agoUkraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (L) shakes hands with his Polish counterpart Ewa Kopacz during their meeting in Warsaw on September 9, 2015 (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)Warsaw (AFP) – Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned Wednesday that any attempt to hold „unlawful” elections in rebel-run areas in the country’s east would constitute a breach of a February peace deal.Related Stories
Yatsenyuk was speaking after talks with his Polish counterpart Ewa Kopacz in Warsaw, in the run-up to local elections being organised by pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions.”It’s hard for me to understand how you can go to the polls at Russian gunpoint. That’s a sham,” Yatsenyuk told reporters.”Elections in all of Ukraine and in Ukraine’s regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as Crimea, should only take place in accordance with international standards and OSCE criteria. In other words, they need to be transparent and fair elections,” he said.Yatsenyuk said Ukraine had asked the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) — which is monitoring a shaky peace deal between the government and the separatists — whether it believed the conditions existed for holding fair elections in the breakaway regions.”Holding any unlawful elections in these areas would mean a complete and total breach of the Minsk agreements,” he said.Under the agreements signed in the Belarussian capital in February, the separatist regions must conduct local elections by the end of the year „in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and the law of Ukraine”.The rebels, however, want to hold local elections on their own terms, which include barring all pro-Ukrainian candidates and holding the polls on days that that do not correspond to local elections planned in the rest of Ukraine on October 25.October 18 has been set for the vote in Donetsk and November 1 for Lugansk, a move that has irritated Kiev and its Western allies.Yatsenyuk drew a line between the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has forced over a million people from their homes, and the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, Asia and Africa to the 28-member European Union by land and sea.”Why do we understand you (EU members) like no one else? Because as a result of Russia’s military aggression, 1.5 million people here (in Ukraine) were displaced from their homes,” Yatsenyuk said.”And we have to give them shelter, a salary, a job. They have to survive the winter and eat something.”
Turkey deploys forces into Iraq to hunt down PKK rebelsBy SUZAN FRASERSeptember 8, 2015 4:12 PM ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey deployed ground forces across the border into northern Iraq on Tuesday for the first time since 2011, stepping up its battle against Kurdish rebels who have stung the Turkish military with a string of attacks in recent weeks.Related Stories
The move, however, could frustrate the U.S.-led alliance’s efforts against the Islamic State group because Turkey is now hunting down the very fighters who are trying to hold back the militant group from taking more territory in Syria and Iraq.Turkish authorities haven’t given a specific timeframe for the operation in northern Iraq, although one official said it was a „short-term” offensive to root out rebels. Turkish jets also carried out more airstrikes against rebel camps in the region.The cross border operations came amid a wave of attacks by the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, that killed at least 31 soldiers and police since Sunday.Turkey, a NATO ally, signed up for a more active participation in the U.S.-led coalition, after a deadly suicide bombing in July blamed on IS. It has allowed U.S. warplanes and drones to take off for missions against IS in Syria and its jets have struck IS targets near its border, in Syria.But the country’s main focus has been its fight against the PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency for Kurdish autonomy. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said in comments reported by the Turkish media that IS is a lesser threat to Turkey than the PKK.Turkish soldiers prepare the coffins of fallen comrades, including Lt. Col. Ilker Celikcan, front, b …Turkey’s ground and aerial incursions against the PKK pose a difficult situation for the U.S.-led coalition. The Kurds are doing much of the fighting against IS across the border in Syria and in northern Iraq. The PKK, which maintains bases in northern Iraq, has fought alongside Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, notably in Shingal, a predominantly Kurdish town which was taken by IS during last year’s blitz.”Turkey could not have helped Daesh more if it had tried,” said Nazmi Gur, a former legislator who is in charge of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party’s foreign relations, in reference to Tuesday’s ground incursion in pursuit of the PKK. He was using an alternative acronym for IS.Critics accuse Erdogan of re-igniting the fighting with the Kurds, after more than two years of peace efforts, for electoral gains. Opponents say he aims to rally nationalist votes around the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and discredit a pro-Kurdish party whose electoral gains in an election in June deprived the AKP which he co-founded of its parliamentary majority. Erdogan denies the accusation.However, the Turkish leader has also suggested that strong single-party rule after a new election called for Nov. 1 would help end the turmoil.The Turkish troops crossed the border as part of a „hot pursuit” of the PKK rebels, who were involved in a roadside bomb attack that killed 16 soldiers on Sunday, the government official said.Forensic officers investigate after a roadside bomb killed 14 policemen in Igdir in eastern Turkey, …”This is a short-term measure intended to prevent the terrorists’ escape,” the official said on condition of anonymity in line with government rules that bar officials from speaking to reporters without prior authorization.The official didn’t say how many troops crossed into Iraq, or exactly how long the operation would last.Turkey’s military has carried out numerous airstrikes and ground incursions into Iraqi territory in pursuit of the PKK over the past decades, but Tuesday’s raid was the first since 2011.The private Dogan news agency, citing unnamed military sources, said two battalions from Turkey’s special forces crossed the border. A PKK spokesman, Bakhtyar Dogan, told The Associated Press that the Turkish forces entered from the Zagros mountains area in the Iraqi Dahouk province. Dogan, the PKK spokesman, said no clashes had erupted.On Tuesday, the rebels detonated a bomb in the eastern province of Igdir as a police vehicle escorting a group of customs officials to a border gate was passing by, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Fourteen police officers were killed while others were wounded in the attack. Another policeman died in a shooting in the nearby province of Tunceli.Thousands of people march and shout slogans to denounce terrorism in Bursa, Turkey, late Monday, Sep …The 16 soldiers were killed in a similar attack by the PKK on Sunday. It was the deadliest assault on Turkish security forces since the renewed fighting erupted in July, derailing a peace process with the Kurds.The state-run news agency said 53 Turkish jets had carried out airstrikes against a group of Kurdish rebels as well as six militant camps in northern Iraq. It said up to 40 rebels died in the overnight aerial operations.Protests denouncing the PKK erupted in several cities across Turkey after the military announced the 16 soldiers’ deaths. The pro-Kurdish political party said several of its local branches were vandalized during the demonstrations.On Tuesday, protesters attacked the party’s headquarters in Ankara, breaking its windows and starting a fire on the ground floor. The fire was extinguished and three people inside were safely evacuated, the party said.More than 200 people have been killed in the renewed fighting between the PKK and the security forces since July, including around 100 soldiers and police officers._Associated Press writer Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.
Exclusive: Russia building major military base near Ukrainian border By Anton Zverev10 hours agoAn excavator is seen at a construction site for Russia’s new military base near the Russian-Ukrainian …By Anton Zverev SOLOTI, Russia (Reuters) – Russia has started to build a huge military base housing ammunition depots and barracks for several thousand soldiers near the Ukrainian border, a project that suggests the Kremlin is digging in for a prolonged stand-off with Kiev.The base, when completed, will even have its own swimming pool, skating rink and barber shop, according to public documents. This week workmen were erecting a fence in a cornfield outside the village of Soloti to mark out the perimeter, and told a Reuters reporter to leave, accusing him of being an Ukrainian spy.In almost the same spot there was a flurry of military activity in April last year that coincided with intense fighting across the Ukrainian frontier that lies about 25 km (15 miles) away. A squadron of Mi-24 attack helicopters was seen there at the time, as well as army tents and trucks.NATO has accused Russia of using makeshift bases for sending soldiers and hardware into Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists fighting Kiev.Russia denies its military is in Ukraine. The defense ministry did not reply to written questions from Reuters about the purpose of the base it is building and whether there was any connection to the Ukraine conflict.Workers install a fence at a construction site for Russia’s new military base near the Russian-U …According to tender documents published on the Russian government website zakupki.gov.ru, the ministry is building the military base on a 300-hectare site near Valuyki, a small town not far from Soloti.The ministry intends to build nine barracks for 3,500 soldiers, warehouses for rockets, artillery weapons, and other munitions with a total area of over 6,000 square meters.The documents also stated there would be a large training complex, and an infirmary for 50 beds, which can be expanded in case of „massive influx of wounded”.They did not give the exact location of the base, but local residents in Soloti said they believed it would be on their doorstep. „They are building a military town,” said Alexander Panchenko, a local resident whose house overlooks farmland where preparatory work is underway for a big construction project.„SECRET FACILITY”Workers install a fence at a construction site for Russia’s new military base near the Russian-U …A Reuters reporter saw workers at the site on Monday installing a metal fence and paving the road to the construction site, in a large cornfield near the village. Also there were several construction trailers, an excavator and heaps of rubble behind the fence.A man in Soloti, who called himself a representative of the Federal Afency for Special Construction – which overseas construction of defense installations – refused to talk about the work, saying only that „a secret facility” was being built.A builder at the site accused the reporter of being a Ukrainian spy, while his superior stopped the reporter’s car, photographed his documents and said he would call the Federal Security Service, the main counter-intelligence agency.The field where the work was underway is near a railway line that links Soloti with Moscow and Luhansk, the adjacent Ukrainian region that is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.Russia has pulled out of the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, a post-Cold War pact that limits the deployment of troops in Europe, so it is free to move extra troops and hardware to its western border.Workers use an auger to drill a hole for a stake to build a fence at a construction site for Russia& …According to the procurement documents, the defense ministry plans to use the base to train soldiers on artillery and army air defense, as well as in driving tanks and armored personnel carriers.The plan includes a site for studying the tactics of the U.S. Army, which was called a „likely enemy” in the document.On top of that, the base will include a headquarters with a communications node, a dining room for 2,000 soldiers, a recreation center with the skating rink, sports complexes with a swimming pool, tennis and badminton courts, and a residential complex of more than 1,000 apartments.The document, seen by Reuters, requires the completion of the first stage – the base design and initial construction and installation works – by April 29, 2016.Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions has killed almost 8,000 people since it flared in mid-April 2014.The violence has almost subsided since Sept. 1 when the Ukrainian parliament backed giving more autonomy to rebel-held areas, in line with a peace deal.However, the truce is under threat because the sides have not fully agreed on the withdrawal of weapons from the conflict area, and the separatists are preparing local elections without coordination with Kiev.(Additional reporting Elena Fabrichnaya; editing by David Stamp)
Exclusive: Russian troops join combat in Syria – sources By Gabriela Baczynska, Tom Perry, Laila Bassam and Phil Stewart6 hours agoElection poster of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and a photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin …By Gabriela Baczynska, Tom Perry, Laila Bassam and Phil Stewart Related Stories
MOSCOW/BEIRUT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian forces have begun participating in military operations in Syria in support of government troops, three Lebanese sources familiar with the political and military situation there said on Wednesday.The sources, speaking to Reuters on condition they not be identified, gave the most forthright account yet from the region of what the United States fears is a deepening Russian military role in Syria’s civil war, though one of the Lebanese sources said the number of Russians involved so far was small.U.S. officials said Russia sent two tank landing ships and additional cargo aircraft to Syria in the past day or so and deployed a small number of naval infantry forces.The U.S. officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the intent of Russia’s military moves in Syria was unclear. One suggested the focus may be on preparing an airfield near the port city of Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that Russia may want to use the airfield for air combat missions.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to his Russian counterpart for the second time in four days to express concern over reports of Russian military activities in Syria, warning that it could fan more violence.The White House said it was closely monitoring the situation.Russia says the Syrian government must be incorporated into a shared global fight against Islamic State, the Islamist group that has taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq. The United States and Assad’s regional foes see him as part of the problem.”We would welcome constructive Russian contributions to the counter-ISIL effort, but we’ve been clear that it would be unconscionable for any party, including the Russians, to provide any support to the Assad regime,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, using an acronym for Islamic State.A poster showing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Leba …SYRIAN TROOPS PULLING BACK Assad’s forces have faced big setbacks on the battlefield in a four-year-old multi-sided civil war that has killed 250,000 people and driven half of Syria’s 23 million people from their homes.Syrian troops pulled out of a major air base last Wednesday, and a monitoring group said this meant government soldiers were no longer present at all in Idlib province, most of which slipped from government control earlier this year.Moscow confirmed it had „experts” on the ground in Syria, its long-time ally in the Middle East.But Russia has declined to comment on the scale and scope of its military presence. Damascus denied Russians were involved in combat, but a Syrian official said the presence of experts had increased in the past year.Reflecting Western concern, Germany’s foreign minister warned Russia against increased military intervention, saying the Iran nuclear deal and new U.N. initiatives offered a starting point for a political solution to the conflict.NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said reports of growing Russian military activity in Syria were a cause for concern, while France said it made finding a political solution to the crisis more complicated.Two of the Lebanese sources said the Russians were establishing two bases in Syria, one near the coast and one further inland which would be an operations base.”The Russians are no longer just advisors,” one of the sources said. „The Russians have decided to join the war against terrorism.”Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Syrian Foreign Minister …RUSSIAN NAVAL BASE Moscow’s only naval base in the Mediterranean is at Tartous on the Syrian coast in territory held by Assad, and keeping it secure would be an important strategic objective for the Kremlin.Another of the Lebanese sources said that so far any Russian combat role was still small: „They have started in small numbers, but the bigger force did not yet take part … There are numbers of Russians taking part in Syria but they did not yet join the fight against terrorism strongly.”The Syrian official said: „Russian experts are always present but in the last year they have been present to a greater degree.”Officials in the United States, which is fighting an air war against the Islamist militant group Islamic State in Syria and also opposes Assad’s government, have said in recent days that they suspect Russia is reinforcing to aid Assad.Washington has put pressure on countries nearby to deny their air space to Russian flights, a move Moscow denounced on Wednesday as „international boorishness”.Russia has set out the case for supporting Assad in the most forthright terms yet in the past few days, likening the Western approach to Syria to failures in Iraq and Libya.Part of the diplomatic quarrel has centered around use of air space for flights, which Moscow says bring humanitarian aid but U.S. officials say may be bringing military supplies.U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Wednesday that multiple Russian flights have passed over the airspace of Iran and Iraq to reach Syria.RUSSIAN OVERFLIGHTS The State Department said Russian use of Iranian airspace would not be surprising, given Tehran’s past support for Assad.Spokesman John Kirby said the United States had advised „partners and our friends to ask the Russians tough questions about” overflight requests. He did not elaborate, saying only: „I’m not gonna detail diplomatic conversations.”To avoid flying over Turkey, one of Assad’s main enemies, Russia has sought to fly planes over Balkan states, but Washington has urged them to deny Moscow permission.On Tuesday, Bulgaria refused a Russian request to use its airspace citing doubts about the cargo on board. It said on Wednesday it would allow Russian supply flights to Syria to use its airspace only if Moscow agreed to checks of their cargo at a Bulgarian airport.Turkey has not officially confirmed a ban on Russian flights to Syria but says it considers any requests to fly over its air space to Syria on a case by case basis.Thus far in the war, Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah have been Assad’s main sources of military support. The momentum turned against Assad earlier this year.In the latest setback, state television reported government troops had surrendered an air base in northwestern Syria to a rebel alliance after nearly two years under siege.This meant the last government troops had withdrawn from central Idlib province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the conflict.(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Mark Hosenball and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Tom Perry, Sylvia Westall, Peter Graff and Phil Stewart; Editing by Giles Elgood, David Storey, Grant McCool)
Confident China moves to challenge U.S. in Beijing’s backyard By Ben Blanchard6 hours agoChinese President Xi Jinping stands in a car on his way to review the army as military band members play …By Ben Blanchard Related Stories
BEIJING (Reuters) – It is the near future, and China prepares to strike back after being attacked, loosing off ballistic missiles to take out an aircraft carrier and destroying an airfield as a fighter jet takes off.The enemy is not named in the animation, released late last month by Chinese internet giant Tencent, but the ship looks a lot like a U.S. Nimitz-class carrier, while the destroyed fighter is clearly a Lockheed Martin Corp F-22.It may be fantasy, but the clip – viewed more than 60 million times so far – reflects a mood of rising nationalism and confidence among the Chinese public and military.An assertive China under President Xi Jinping now believes its military has the technology to at the very least make the United States think twice before undertaking any military adventures in what China sees as its backyard.”Can the United States be certain of getting the upper hand in the event of a showdown with China?” retired Major-General Luo Yuan, now a widely followed military commentator, wrote in June. „China is preparing every day to win a modern war.”Xi visits the United States at end of this month.Analysts see three potential arenas for such a showdown – the South China Sea, where China has a series of overlapping territorial disputes with its neighbors, the East China Sea, where remote islets are a source of friction between Beijing and U.S. ally Japan, and any conflict over self-ruled Taiwan.Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China look towards their president at the Tian …The United States remains by far the world’s most powerful military nation and has pledged to keep sailing in what it regards as international waters off China, dedicating some of its most advanced assets to the region.But China’s ostentatious display of some of its latest military hardware at a parade in Beijing last week to mark the end of World War Two underlined its growing might.A senior U.S. official said that, while the Chinese military build-up of recent years had been of ongoing concern, last week’s parade was „more for a showcase effect and not something that has anybody in Washington overly worried”.MISSILES ON SHOW Among the weapons unveiled for the first time at the parade was an anti-ship ballistic missile, the Dongfeng-21D, a still untested weapon designed to destroy an aircraft carrier with one hit.Also on show were several intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the DF-5B and the DF-31A as well as the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile, dubbed the „Guam killer” by defense media because it bolsters China’s ability to threaten the U.S. Pacific Ocean base.Airfields and ports under construction on newly reclaimed Chinese islands in the disputed South China Sea will help China project power far into South East Asian waters.Chinese President Xi Jinping waves as he reviews the army, at the beginning of the military parade m …”We’ve already basically broken through the first island chain,” retired rear admiral Zhang Zhaozhong said in state media this year, referring to the ability to confront the United States close to home around Taiwan.”Now we need to break through the second and third island chains,” he added, meaning being able to challenge the U.S. Navy in the rest of East Asia and then out as far as Hawaii.Richard Bitzinger, a regional security analyst at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said while there was nothing technologically new on show last week, he was concerned at potential Chinese military over-confidence.”Just because they are developing capabilities that are complicating operations, especially for the Americans, doesn’t mean they have won the war already,” he said.PACIFIC POWER The United States, which under President Barack Obama has pursued a strategy of „rebalancing” towards Asia, is not about to give up its position as the leading naval power in the western Pacific any time soon.The U.S. Navy says about 58 percent of all of its forces – ships, aircraft, sailors and Marines – are deployed to or home-ported in the Pacific Fleet, including in Japan, Guam and Singapore.The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier is on its way to Japan and three more American aircraft carriers are home-ported on America’s Pacific coast.A recent Pentagon report also noted significant gaps in Chinese defenses, saying it lacked, for example, a robust anti-submarine warfare capability.”Having these missiles and being able to use them effectively in a conflict are two very different things,” said a Western official in Beijing, citing internal assessments of the missiles on show at the parade, adding it was not clear whether the newest models had even been deployed yet.Still, China’s advances are already causing major headaches in democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring under its control. The United States is obligated by law to help Taiwan defend itself.An unpublished Taiwan Defense Ministry report, seen by Reuters, warned that China’s upgraded H-6 bomber, when equipped with anti-ship missiles, would enable China to project power even deep into the Indian Ocean.The same aircraft type appears in the Tencent animation, firing off missiles that end up taking out the carrier.”The message China is giving these days is ‘we’re here and you’d better get used to it’,” said one senior Beijing-based Asian diplomat. „The aim is to push the Americans as far away as possible. There can only be one big brother in this region.”(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING, Greg Torode in HONG KONG, J.R. Wu in TAIPEI, Phil Stewart and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON and Matt Siegel in SYDNEY; Editing by Alex Richardson)