Daily Archives: June 13, 2014

Obama: We Will ‘Do Our Part’ in Iraq, But Won’t Send Troops

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The U.S. will not send troops to Iraq amid the deteriorating situation there, President Obama reiterated Friday, but America will “do our part” to help the troubled nation.

Obama spoke as radical Sunni fighters continued their rapid advance across Iraq, raising fears of a sectarian civil war.

“Over the last couple of days, we’ve seen significant gains by the ISIL terrorist organization that operates in both Iraq and Syria,” Obama said. “Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend in a number of cities.”

“Now Iraq needs additional support to break the momentum of these extremist groups,” he said.

But that support won’t come in the form of sending combat troops back to Iraq. Obama said he has asked his national security team to “prepare a range of other options” for the U.S. to consider that he will look at over the next several days.

“Over the past decade, American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices,” he said. “Any actions that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces have to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq.”

The chaos “should be a wakeup call to Iraq’s leaders,” he said, and “could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.”

The president’s remarks came a day after he told reporters “I don’t rule out anything” when it comes to a U.S. response to the violence.

“This is an area we’ve been watching with a lot of concern, not just over the last days but the last several months,” Obama said Thursday. “What we’ve seen indicates Iraq’s going to need more help, from us and from the international community.”

Iraq asked the U.S. for air assistance in tempering the militant uprising, U.S. officials said earlier this week. The Iraq ambassador to the United States repeated that call Friday, saying the Americans had the experience and the will to respond to the “terrorist threat.”

The developments in Iraq have prompted leading Republicans to call for action. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voiced security concerns, urging U.S. involvement as militants encroached on the capital.

“I have never been more worried about another 9/11 than I am right now,” Graham said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., echoed that worry, calling this “the gravest threat to our national security since the end of the Cold War.”

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US airstrikes to support Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s offensive in Iraq?

F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft

Iran deployed its Revolutionary Guard to help Iraq battle insurgents from a group inspired by Al-Qaeda, according to a recent report. In the meantime, the US is mulling airstrikes to support the Iraqi government.

On Wednesday, Al-Qaeda affiliate insurgents from the armed group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) conquered former dictator Saddam Hussein‘s hometown of Tikrit, marking the second major loss for the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Earlier this week, insurgents captured Mosul, the second-largest city in the country. With jihadists threatening Baghdad and security forces unable resist the Sunni Islamists’ assault, Maliki turned to foreign powers for help, getting responses from two unlikely allies, Iran and the US.

Two battalions of the Quds Forces, which is the overseas branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, moved to Iraq on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported. There they worked jointly with Iraqi troops to retake control of 85 percent of Tikrit, security forces from both countries told the Journal. Iranian forces are also helping guard the Iraqi capital of Bagdhad, as well as two Shiite holy cities that the Sunni jihadists are threatening.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Meanwhile, on Thursday morning, US President Barack Obama declared that he doesn’t rule out any options with regards to the ISIS takeover of cities in the northern region of Iraq. The administration and its national security team are discussing military options.

“We do have a stake in ensuring these jihadists don’t get foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” Obama said.

Later in the day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney clarified that US will not send ground troops to Iraq, but is seriously considering airstrikes that would help to drive jihadist militants out of their strongholds.

Iraq has privately indicated to the Obama administration that it would welcome airstrikes with either drones or manned aircraft that target ISIS militants in Iraqi territory, US officials said Wednesday.

If so, US may find itself assisting its archnemesis in the Middle East to fight against Sunni militias that enjoy support from one of America’s closest allies in the region, Saudi Arabia. The ruling family of the kingdom has long been accused of supplying jihadists all over the region with arms and financial support, the New York Times reported.

The US and Iran severed diplomatic relations in 1979, after Islamic militants following Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized the government and deposed the American-backed shah. Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran, leading to the 444-day Iran hostage crisis. Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran was in a state of heavy international isolation. The US has led the world in debilitating sanctions against the Islamic Republic that have increased as the Middle Eastern country has developed its nuclear program.

Under Hussein’s dictarorship, Sunnis dominated the Iraqi political landscape, even though over 60 percent of Iraqis are Shia. In Iran, over 95 percent of the population is Shia. The two countries are the only majority-Shiite nations in the Middle East. (Over 1.1 billion Muslims around the world are Sunni, while less than 200 million Muslims are Shia.)

From 1980 to 1988, the two nations battled in a deadly war in which both sides deployed chemical weapons. The US sided with Hussein during that war, but turned against the dictator when he invaded American ally Kuwait in 1990, leading to the first Gulf War. Hussein stayed in power until the second Gulf War began in March 2003.

Once Hussein was captured by American forces in December 2003, the Shia majority regained political power. Al-Maliki is a Shiite Muslim and has become unpopular with Iraq Sunni minority, which has accused the government of discrimination. Since 2005, Iran and Iraq have had a flourishing relationship, and are now considered to be each other’s strongest allies.

Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waving the trademark Islamists flag after they allegedly seized an Iraqi army checkpoint in the northern Iraqi province of Salahuddin on June 11, 2014.

Quds Forces have been active in Iraq for years, creating, training and funding Shiite militias that battled the US military after the 2003 invasion. Iran sees the battle for Iraq as “an existential sectarian battle between the two rival sects of Islam-Sunni and Shiite—and by default a proxy battle between their patrons Saudi Arabia and Iran,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The US still sees Iraq as vital to its national interests, despite having pulled its troops out of the country at the end of 2011.

“What we’ve seen over last couple of days indicates degree to which Iraq is going to need more help,” Obama said, calling recent events a “wake-up call for the Iraqi government.”

“The next 9/11 is in the making,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said of the danger of the Iraqi insurgency.

‘Unprecedented ’: 13 aircraft mysteriously disappear from radars in heart of Europe

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A total of 13 aircraft suddenly vanished off radars for about 25 minutes on two occasions over Austria and neighboring countries, Austria’s flight safety monitor said, calling for an EU probe into the “unprecedented” incidents.

The flights vanished from air traffic controllers’ screens in Austria on June 5 and June 10 for 25 minutes each time, Marcus Pohanka of Austro Control – Austria’s flight safety organization – said Thursday.

Air traffic control in neighboring regions of Germany and the Czech Republic also reported similar problems.

Pohanka said the location, height, and identity of the 13 aircraft vanished over Austria both times, in what he called “unprecedented” incidents, AP reported.

He added that some neighboring countries had experienced similar problems. The daily Kurier, based in Vienna, elaborated that similar problems were experienced by flight controllers in Munich and Karlsruhe in Germany and in Prague, Czech Republic.

Poahanka declined to say which airlines and planes were involved, but suggested that some may have been passenger jets, which fly at high altitudes. The EU’s Eurocontrol and European Aviation Safety Agency will investigate the incidents.

Poahanka stressed that at no time were any of the planes in danger, as extra air traffic controllers were immediately called to their posts and emergency measures were brought in, which included immediately establishing voice contact with the pilots and the widening of flight corridors.

The Kurier cited an unnamed expert as saying that the problem was most likely to do with interference between the aircraft transponders and the ground.

Sources : DOD memo sent after Benghazi attack listed suspects with Al Qaeda ties

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A targeting memo sent to the State Department by the Defense Department’s Africa Command two days after the Benghazi attack listed 11 suspects with ties to Al Qaeda and other groups, counter-terrorism and congressional sources confirmed to Fox News.

This is significant because it arrived two days before then-UN ambassador Susan Rice appeared on television shows blaming the assault on an inflammatory video. It also came nearly a day before presidential aide Ben Rhodes sent an email also suggesting the video – and not a policy failure – was to blame for the Sep, 11, 2012 attack that claimed four American lives.

The memo, which was referred to in passing during recent congressional testimony, was drawn up by the Defense Department’s Africa command, known as Africom, and was sent to the State Department as the best available intelligence in the early morning hours of September 14, 2012.

It included the names of 11 suspects, four connected to the Al Qaeda affiliate in North Africa known as AQIM, and seven connected to Ansar al-Sharia, a group with ties to the terrorist network.

“They knew from the get-go that Al Qaeda was involved in the attack so the idea that the Obama administration didn’t know that early on or they suspected it was something else entirely basically is willful blindness,”said counter-terrorism analyst Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“You have to look at the facts and what the intelligence says and that intelligence was clear that known Al Qaeda personalities were involved in this attack.”

In her new book, “Hard Choices,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed the administration made new information available as soon as it was received.

“Every step of the way, whenever something new was learned, it was quickly shared with Congress and the American people,” she wrote. “There is a difference between getting something wrong, and committing wrong.”

While the contents of the email are stamped classified, an attachment including a flow chart showing the relationship among the suspects, is not classified, according to a leading Republican on the House Government Oversight Committee who has seen the memo and wants the administration to release it.

“This is a document from military intelligence widely distributed to the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon, the intelligence community,”said Rep.Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

“This was not buried in the bowels of some email chain. This was a widely distributed document. It demonstrated that Ansar al-Sharia and specifically Al Qaeda were involved in this attack. It should have been something that was put out immediately, not nearly two years after the fact.”

The memo was among some 3,000 documents recently released by the State Department to the oversight committee. With the House Speaker establishing a select committee to investigate Benghazi, all documents from the relevant House committee investigations were handed over.

Asked about the memo, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she was not familiar with it, adding “We described the perpetrators as terrorists from the beginning, we’ve discussed this fact over and over again of course from the podium and again that hasn’t changed.”

But a review of the State Department transcripts in the first week after the attack shows then-spokeswoman Victoria Nuland resisted the terrorism description, instead telling reporters on Sep.17, 2012 that the government was still investigating.

Asked by a reporter if the administration regarded the attack as “an act of terrorism,” Nuland replied, “I don’t think we know enough. I don’t think we know enough. And we’re going to continue to assess… We’re going to have a full investigation now, and then we’ll be in a better position to put labels on things, okay?”

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

After stealing $425 million, ISIS is being called the ‘world’s richest terrorist group’

A provincial governor in Iraq says that insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) went into Mosul‘s central bank and took off with 500 billion Iraqi dinars, or $425 million.

The Washington Post reports that Atheel al-Nujaifi shared that the militants also took millions from other banks in Mosul, as well as a “large quantity of gold bullion.” With its new fortune, ISIS has more money than several small nations, including Tonga and the Marshall Islands, and can “buy a whole lot of Jihad,” Brown Moses, a regional analyst, wrote on Twitter. “For example, with $425 million, ISIS could pay 60,000 fighters around $600 a month for a year.”

The International Business Times has declared ISIS the “World’s Richest Terror Force,” but as the Post points out, it’s difficult to determine if that’s true — not everyone agrees on which organizations should be labeled “terrorist,” and it’s also hard to know the exact amount of money each group has on any given day. For some perspective, The New York Times reported that at one time, the Taliban had an annual operating budget between $70 million and $400 million, and Hezbollah worked with between $200 million and $400 million. Around Sept. 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda had an operating budget of $30 million.