Showing posts with label War -Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label War -Syria. Show all posts

November 4, 2016

Russian Ghost Soldiers Dying for Real in Syria






The start of this year proved deadly for one unit of about 100 Russian fighters supporting President Bashar al-Assad's troops in northern Syria.

On Feb. 3, 38-year-old Maxim Kolganov was killed in a firefight with rebels near Aleppo when a bullet pierced his body armor and heart. Then, on March 9, the same unit came under shell-fire near Palmyra, and Sergei Morozov, also 38, was hit and died on the way to hospital.

Back in southern Russia, medals were delivered to their families: the order of bravery, with certificates signed by President Vladimir Putin. The medals, seen by Reuters, were intended to honor the sacrifice they had made for their country.

Except Kolganov and Morozov were not employed by the Russian state. They were in Syria as private contractors, a small part of an army of such people who are being deployed secretly by the Kremlin in Syria.

The deaths of Kolganov and Morozov, and others like them, have not been made public. Families say they were given little information and told not discuss the cases. In at least one case that Reuters uncovered, the family of a fighter killed in Syria received a payout of around $100,000 in compensation.

Officially, Russia is participating only in an air war over Syria with a small number of special forces on the ground. Moscow denies that its troops are involved in regular ground combat operations.

However, in interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of these deployments, Reuters has established that Russian fighters are playing a more substantial role in ground combat than that the role the Kremlin says is being played by the regular Russian military.

The sources described the Russian fighters as contractors or mercenaries, hired by a private company, rather than regular troops. But despite their unofficial status, according to these accounts, they operate in coordination with the Russian military and are given privileges back home normally available only to serving soldiers.

They fly to Syria on board Russian military aircraft which land at Russian bases. When they are injured, they are treated in hospitals reserved for the Russian military and get state medals, people interviewed by Reuters said.

Reuters was not able to determine the precise number of such Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria, nor the total number of casualties they have sustained, but three people familiar with the deployments said there were many units of a similar size to the one that included Kolganov and Morozov.

Neither the Kremlin nor the defense ministry responded to questions from Reuters. Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Syrian officials on the question of Russian mercenaries.

Reuters was not able to identify the company or companies that hired the fighters, or the source of any payments to the fighters or their families.

 

THE KREMLIN'S BIDDING

Under Russian law, it is illegal to work as a private military contractor in another country. However, Russian citizens have participated in wars across the former Soviet Union throughout the 25 years since it broke up in 1991.

In 2014, large numbers of Russians fought openly on behalf of pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine. Western countries say those rebel units were organized, paid and armed by Moscow; the Kremlin says any Russians there were independent volunteers.

Last year, Russia joined the war in Syria, its first conflict outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the Cold War. Word got out among veterans of the Ukraine conflict that mercenaries were needed.

According to three people who knew Morozov and Kolganov, both had fought in Ukraine as part of the same unit that would eventually take them to Syria. It was led by a man who goes by the nomme de guerre "Vagner", who has become a leader of Russian mercenary forces in Syria, one of the sources said.

Little is known of his real identity. Two of Vagner's comrades say he had already traveled to Syria as a mercenary in 2013, before commanding his group of Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine. He then headed back to Syria, where Russia began its intervention in Sept. 2015.

A Russian-language website, Fontanka, has published what it says is the only known photo of him, a picture of a bald man in military fatigues striding near a helicopter. The website said his name was Dmitry Utkin. Reuters could not verify the image or the name.

One Ukrainian rebel commander who was close to the Vagner group in eastern Ukraine said many of the fighters there were tempted to fight in Syria because they had found it difficult to return to civilian life.

"I meet them now and see how much they have changed. I simply have nothing to discuss with them. They can't imagine any other life but war. That's why they go fight in Syria."

Morozov, the fighter who was killed near Palmyra, had returned from Ukraine to his home in southern Russia and dabbled in local politics.

He served as an aide to a member of parliament originally from his native city of Samara, Mikhail Degtyaryov. Degtyaryov told Reuters Morozov was a friend and confirmed that he had died in combat during the battle for Palmyra.

"Kapa", a former Russian officer and volunteer in the Ukraine conflict who asked to be identified only by a nomme de guerre, was friends with Morozov and also knew Kolganov and several other Russians who fought in Ukraine and went on to fight in Syria with the Vagner group. He is still in contact with some of them.

He said Morozov became frustrated when he attended a meeting of the far-right LDPR party, and no one listened to him. Morozov gave up lucrative business ventures to rejoin his Vagner comrades in Syria, Kapa said.

According to Kapa, Russian veterans of the Ukraine fighting were recruited for ground combat in Syria when it became clear that Syrians would not be able to hold ground without help, despite Russian air support.

"The Arabs are not warriors by nature, but are thrown together and told to storm high ground. They don't know how to storm it let alone conquer their instincts and move towards the bullets. How can you make them do it? Only by setting yourself as an example," Kapa said. "That's why our guys reinforced their units."

Asked if fighters in the group coordinated with the Russian defense ministry, Kapa said: "Of course".

According to two people who knew different fighters, they arrive in Syria via ships that land in the port of Tartous, leased by the Russian navy, or in military aircraft that land at Russia's Hmeymim air base in western Syria.

A doctor at a Russian military hospital told Reuters the wounded are evacuated to Russia on board military cargo planes and then treated in military hospitals.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared losing his job, said he had personally treated contractors injured in Syria, whose role there was clear from their conversations.

His hospital is officially meant to admit only serving military personnel, their family members or veterans who have served long careers in the military, a category his patients were too young to fit, the doctor said. 

When Morozov and Kolganov were killed, their bodies were flown to Russia aboard military aircraft and delivered to a morgue used by the military in the southern city of Rostov, according to relatives and Morozov's friend Kapa.

A Reuters reporter saw the Order of Courage which was given posthumously to Kolganov. It was delivered to his family home in Togliatti, a city on the Volga river, by someone in civilian clothes who did not identify himself, according to relatives. Reuters has also seen a photograph of Morozov's Order of Courage, dated Sept. 7, 2016.

 

SECRECY

Kolganov never told his relatives where he was deployed, but pictures he sent contained clues. One of them, in which he posed under an orange tree, is now on the wall of his parents' house.

The family got proof he was in Syria only after his death, when they saw his passport with a Syrian stamp in it.

The people who informed the family by phone of his death, and the people who turned over the body in the Rostov morgue, did not explain where he was killed or who he had been working for, the relatives said. The people they interacted with did not identify themselves and told the family not to talk to reporters, the relatives said.

In another case, a 55-year-old Russian woman said her husband was killed this year while working as a military contractor in Syria. She did not want her name, or her husband's, to be published because she feared reprisals.

"They only told me about it after his death. A young man ... phoned and told me. And he also threatened me, so I would never tell anyone about it," she said. "They are scary people."

By contrast, Russian authorities do acknowledge some combat deaths among serving military personnel, though often with a delay and without keeping an official tally.

Reuters was unable to determine how many Russians have died in Syria. According to Kapa, the small unit that included Kolganov and Morozov has lost four fighters since the start of the Russian campaign in Syria, including its commander, killed in the same firefight as Morozov. Dozens have been wounded.

Reuters earlier reported that Russian major Sergei Chupov was killed in Syria on Feb. 8 He also belonged to the Vagner group, a person who knew him told Reuters.

The doctor at the military hospital who spoke to Reuters said that the surgical department where he works had treated six or seven Russian fighters back from Syria with combat injuries who were not serving Russian servicemen.

The overall number of wounded contractors treated at his hospital could be a few times higher, the doctor said. He also says he knows of at least two more hospitals in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg where contractors are treated.

 Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev | TOGLIATTI, RUSSIA

October 3, 2016

US Suspends Diplomatic Relations with Russia Over Syria


 Syrians in Aleppo try to evacuate child as the city is bombed by Assad’s/Russians Forces


In a sharp deterioration of relations, the U.S. on Monday suspended diplomatic contacts with Russia over Syria, while Moscow halted cooperation on a joint program for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.

The U.S. move followed a threat last week from Secretary of State John Kerry after new Russian and Syrian attacks on the city of Aleppo. The State Department said Russia had not lived up to the terms of an agreement last month to restore the cease-fire and ensure sustained deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged cities.

"This is not a decision that was taken lightly," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments ... and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed."
"Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course, inconsistent with the Cessation of Hostilities, as demonstrated by their intensified attacks against civilian areas, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need, including through the September 19 attack on a humanitarian aid convoy," he said.

An airstrike last month hit a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy, killing 20 people. The United States has accused Russia of hitting the convoy, but both Russia and Syria deny it.

 U.S. deal on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, in a move that also underscored rising tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Putin's decree cited Washington's "unfriendly actions" and the United States' inability to fulfill its obligations under the 2000 deal as reasons for the move. Under the agreement, which was expanded in 2006 and 2010, Russia and the U.S. each were to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said patience had run out with Russia.

"What is clear is that there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about with regard to stopping the ongoing violence in Syria and that is unfortunate," he told reporters.

He said the U.S. would withdraw personnel that it had dispatched to take part in the creation of a joint U.S.-Russia center that was to have coordinated military cooperation and intelligence had the cease-fire taken hold. The suspension will not affect communications between the two countries aimed at de-conflicting counter-terrorism operations in Syria.

Last week, amid the deteriorating conditions, Kerry threatened to suspend contacts with Russia unless "immediate" action was taken to ease the situation. Despite no improvements, however, he did not order the suspension until Monday.



photo:adamfoxie* file

September 10, 2016

Agreement Reached with US-Russia to Reduce Violence


 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that the U.S. and Russia have finalized a plan to reduce violence in war-torn Syria and allow humanitarian access.

Kerry called it a possible "turning point" in the five-year civil war.

The deal calls for a nationwide ceasefire to begin at sunset on Sept. 12. If the ceasefire holds for 7 days, it could lead to Russian and U.S. military coordination, Kerry said.

"If this arrangement holds, then we will see a significant reduction in violence across Syria," Kerry said in an address in Geneva.

The agreement also pullbacks from both sides in a major road in the war-torn city of Aleppo and the creation of a demilitarized zone, and unhindered humanitarian access.

Under the agreement the U.S. would work with opposition groups and the Russians with the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad to make sure the cease fire holds.

"I want to emphasize: These measures can only be implemented effectively if all the parties live up to their obligations," Kerry said.
 
Kerry said that if "legitimate opposition groups" want to be considered legitimate parties they "need to distance themselves in every way possible" from the terror groups al-Nusra Front and ISIS.

"And we expect that Russia will ensure that the Syrian government will adhere to all of its requirements about its air activities and about the access for humanitarian deliverance," Kerry said.

The agreement would involve a joint center to share initial information and delineate territories controlled by opposition groups as part of the broader peace effort, Kerry said.

Eventually, U.S. and Russian experts would work together to defeat ISIS and al-Nusra in the country, he said.

The deal looked like it might not occur earlier Friday. ussian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was considering "calling it a day" and blamed Washington for an impasse.

Shortly before midnight Geneva time (7 p.m. ET), Lavrov appeared with several boxes of pizza, saying: "This is from the U.S. delegation." A few minutes later he returned with two bottles of vodka, adding: "This is from the Russian delegation."

Kerry and Lavrov said two weeks ago that the two countries were "close" to a deal but that technical details remained and there was more work to do.

A nationwide ceasefire was declared in February, but it collapsed after frequent violations.

PHIL HELSEL

July 22, 2016

US Backed Syrian Fighters Give IS Ultimatum of 48 hrs To Get OUT Manbij


U.S.-backed fighters in Syria Thursday gave Islamic State jihadists 48 hours to evacuate their stronghold in the northern city of Manbij. The forces surrounded the city last month and have been slowly closing in on it.

According to a statement from the Manbij Military Council, the IS fighters would be afforded the opportunity to leave the city with light weapons, without interference.

"This initiative is the last remaining chance for besieged members of Daesh [IS] to leave the town," said the Manbij Military Council, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance.
The SDF is allied with the U.S.-led coalition of forces fighting against IS in northern Syria. The statement from the military council comes at the same time as tensions are flaring in the country following the reported deaths of dozens of civilians in air raids carried out by coalition forces.
Heavy civilian toll

Air raids near Manbij Tuesday killed at least 56 civilians, including children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Activists are planning protests across Syria and opposition government leaders are now calling on Western countries to halt airstrikes.

Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters man a checkpoint as civilians on pick-up trucks evacuate from the southern districts of Manbij city after the SDF advanced into it in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, July 1, 2016.

Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters man a checkpoint as civilians on pick-up trucks evacuate from the southern districts of Manbij city after the SDF advanced into it in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, July 1, 2016.

By Thursday, activists had taken to social media to organize protests and ask people from around the world to take to the streets to call attention to the casualties. One Syrian news page on Facebook encouraged its followers to demonstrate in opposition to “the massacres carried out by coalition warplanes.”
“We ask all Syrians, whatever their affiliations or sects, and all free people of the world and especially the people of Manbij to stand in solidarity with our devastated city on Sunday, July 24," wrote one page that publishes local news about Manbij.

Several other local news pages from Manbij posted photos from protests that took place Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition leader has called for the air strikes to be halted until a full investigation can be conducted into Tuesday’s civilian deaths.

“It is essential that such investigation not only result in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also inform accountability for those responsible for such major violations," Syrian National Coalition President Anas al-Abdah wrote in a letter to foreign leaders.

The UN has also condemned the raids, which it said caused the deaths of more than 20 children.
“Such horrific incidents confront parties to this conflict with their shared responsibility to respect international humanitarian laws that protect children in war," said UNICEF's Syria representative, Hanaa Singer.

In a statement, the U.S.-led coalition said that it had conducted the air strikes and it was gathering information about the reports of civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition leader has called for the air strikes to be halted until a full investigation can be conducted into Tuesday’s civilian deaths.

“It is essential that such investigation not only result in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also inform accountability for those responsible for such major violations," Syrian National Coalition President Anas al-Abdah wrote in a letter to foreign leaders.

The U.N. has also condemned the raids, which it said caused the deaths of more than 20 children.
"Such horrific incidents confront parties to this conflict with their shared responsibility to respect international humanitarian laws that protect children in war," said UNICEF's Syria representative, Hanaa Singer.
In a statement, the U.S.-led coalition said that it had conducted the air strikes and it was gathering information about the reports of civilian casualties.

Voice of America

February 12, 2016

Putin Trying to Destroy E.U. Killing as Many Woman and Children as ISIS in Syria


                                                                        


Relations between Russia and Turkey have been dismal since late November, when a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber on the border with Syria, killing its pilot. That began a war of words between Moscow and Ankara that ought to concern everyone, since the former has several thousand nuclear weapons and the latter is a member of NATO.

Kremlin propaganda against Ankara has increased of late, setting the stage for further confrontation. As I explained here last week, Russian media outlets initially blamed the Sinai crash of Metrojet 9268 last autumn on the Islamic State, an atrocity which killed 224 innocents, nearly all of them Russians—a quite plausible claim. However, the Kremlin has abruptly shifted course and now blames the mass murder on Turkish ultranationalist terrorists, without any evidence provided to support that explosive assertion.

Where things may be going between Russia and Turkey, ancient enemies who have warred many times over the centuries, was evidenced this week, when the Kremlin announced large-scale surprise military exercises in the regions of the country that are close to Turkey. Troops were moved to full combat readiness, the last stage before a shooting war, with Sergei Shoygu, the Russian defense minister, announcing on TV: “We began our surprise check of the military preparedness in the Southwest strategic direction.”

That would be the direction of Turkey. These snap exercises involve the Southern Military District and the navy’s Black Sea Fleet, which are deeply involved in Russia’s not-so-secret secret war in eastern Ukraine. However, they also involve the navy’s Caspian Sea flotilla, which is nowhere near Ukraine.

It’s difficult to see how Turkey could stand idly by as an ancient city of two million is crushed just fifty miles from its frontier.

This implies that the snap exercises, which have been prominently featured in Kremlin media, are about Turkey, not Russia. This goes back to recent events on the ground in Syria, where the Kremlin-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad is slowly crushing its opponents, thanks to prodigious military help from both Russia and Iran. Regime forces are closing in on Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, and 50,000 civilians have already fled the city in panic.

The Russian military displays scant regard for civilian casualties. Mr. Putin’s air force killed almost 700 Syrian civilians last month (to compare, the Islamic State killed less than a hundred Syrian civilians in January), and if the crushing of the Chechen capital of Groznyy in 1994-95, when Russian forces killed roughly 35,000 Chechens, mostly civilians, in just six weeks, is any guide, residents of Aleppo are wise to get as far away as they can.

Needless to add, such a bloody siege of Aleppo would set off a humanitarian crisis that the world could not fail to notice. It’s difficult to see how Turkey could stand idly by as an ancient city of two million is crushed just fifty miles from its frontier.

That is precisely the scenario that has seasoned analysts worried. In Pentagon circles, among those who are watching the budding war between Moscow and Ankara, citations of this famous movie clip are now commonplace. Distressingly, smart Russian analysts are thinking along similar lines.

Today Pavel Felgenhauer published his analysis under the alarming title, “Russia has begun preparations for a major war,” and he marshals a convincing case that the snap exercises in the country’s southwest are really a cover for a shooting war with Turkey—and therefore with NATO too, if Ankara is perceived as defending itself and can assert its right to Article 5, collective self-defense, which obligates all members of the Atlantic Alliance to come to Turkey’s aid.

‘It’s clear that there has to be some actual ‘redline’ for Mr. Obama, something that the United States cannot tolerate Russia doing – but where is it? If I don’t know, I’m sure the Kremlin doesn’t either.’

As The New York Times dryly noted of the Kremlin, “The [Defense] Ministry has ordered surprise maneuvers over the last three years as tensions between the East and West have worsened. The maneuvers have at times come as combat escalated in Ukraine and Syria.” In fact, using large-scale military exercises as a cover for aggression is old hat in Moscow. It was used during the August 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which explains why NATO always got jumpy when Moscow held military exercises anywhere NATO territory, while snap exercises like this week inevitably caused Cold War panic.

Mr. Felgenhauer paints an alarmingly plausible scenario. As rebel forces defend Aleppo in Stalingrad fashion, the Syrian military, with Russian help, commences a protracted siege of the city, employing massive firepower, which becomes a humanitarian nightmare of a kind not seen in decades, a tragedy that would dwarf the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo. However, any Turkish move to lift that siege, even with international imprimatur, would quickly devolve into all-out war.

Mr. Felgenhauer minces no words about this: “Russia has begun the deployment of forces and resources for a major war with Turkey.” Mr. Putin has decided to let his client, the Assad regime, win its bloody civil war, first in the north around Aleppo, and any moves by Turkey or NATO to stop them will be met with force. So far, President Barack Obama has let Mr. Putin do whatever he likes in Syria, no matter the cost in innocent lives, so the Kremlin has no reason to think that will change.

The Yom Kippur War of October 1973, when the United States and the Soviet Union came alarmingly close to great power war, is cited as an ominous precedent by Mr. Felgenhauer—albeit one that ended happily when nuclear war was averted thanks to wise diplomacy. There is no reason to think the befuddled Obama administration is that diplomatically deft.

But who is Pavel Felgenhauer? Regrettably, he is not a guy in furry slippers in someone’s basement spouting weird conspiracy theories. Instead, he is one of Russia’s top defense analysts with solid connections in that country’s military. He is a frequent critic of the Russian military and the Putin regime; it’s noteworthy that he published his analysis in Novoe Vremya (New Times), a Ukrainian newsmagazine, not a Russian outlet, perhaps because this sort of truth-telling is unwelcome at home. His prognostications are often correct, for instance his prediction of the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, which he called two months before it happened.

That is NATO’s top concern right now: that after years of weakness and vacillation, the Obama administration may find itself backed into a corner by aggressive Russian action.

Is Mr. Felgenhauer’s alarmism warranted? Many Western insiders think along similar lines. By letting Mr. Putin get away with whatever he likes in Syria, Mr. Obama has created a deeply dangerous situation in the region. By abandoning his infamous Syria “redline” in September 2013, the White House in effect outsourced American policy there to Mr. Putin, as I warned you at the time, and which the Obama administration, powerless to influence terrible events in Syria, is slowly realizing.

“Are we heading for our ‘Sarajevo moment’?” a senior NATO official bluntly asked: “It’s clear that there has to be some actual ‘redline’ for Mr. Obama, something that the United States cannot tolerate Russia doing – but where is it? If I don’t know, I’m sure the Kremlin doesn’t either.”

That is NATO’s top concern right now: that after years of weakness and vacillation, the Obama administration may find itself backed into a corner by aggressive Russian action. Particularly if coupled with intemperate Turkish reactions, that could create a nightmare of historic proportions around Aleppo. Although the White House has foresworn any military intervention in Syria’s fratricide, it’s worth noting that Mr. Obama led NATO to war in Libya exactly five years ago to prevent possible slaughter in Benghazi, a far smaller humanitarian threat than the terrifying sword of Russian artillery and airpower that’s hanging over Aleppo right now.

For their part, the Russians are upping the ante, with regime media publishing claims by the Defense Ministry that air attacks on Aleppo yesterday that killed civilians, including the bombing of a hospital, were actually perpetrated by U.S. Air Force A-10s, a war crime that they say the Pentagon has tried to pin on Moscow. In fact, American intelligence knows this was the work of the Russian Air Force: “We have intercepts of the Russian pilots talking during the attack,” explained a Pentagon official, “as usual, the Russians are lying.” Yet this sort of dishonest Kremlin propaganda, what spies term disinformation, is exactly what the Obama administration has refused to counter, as I’ve explained in this column, in a futile effort to keep the Kremlin happy.

Mr. Putin instead has taken his measure of Mr. Obama and has doubled down, saving his client regime in Syria. Russia has won in Syria and NATO and the West are stuck with that outcome, as are the unlucky residents of Aleppo. “I hope Obama doesn’t decide to get a backbone now,” suggested a retired American general who knows the Russians well, “since the Kremlin is in ‘drive’ in Syria and isn’t about to do ‘reverse’.”

There seems to be little chance of this White House taking on the Russians in Syria. However, there are no guarantees that Ankara is equally inclined to let the Kremlin do whatever it wants on its southern border, and that is how NATO could get embroiled in World War III over the Levant. Cooler heads may prevail, and all sensible people should hope they do here.

By letting Putin get away with whatever he likes in Syria, Obama has created a deeply dangerous situation.

[Not Since WWII] NATO Orders Warships to Aegen to Ease Deadly Smuggling of Refugees





BRUSSELS — In a dramatic response to Europe's gravest refugee crisis since World War II, NATO ordered three warships to sail immediately Thursday to the Aegean Sea to help end the deadly smuggling of asylum-seekers across the waters from Turkey to Greece.

"This is about helping Greece, Turkey and the European Union with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees and coping with a very demanding situation ... a human tragedy," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Yet even after the ships were told to get underway, NATO officials acknowledged uncertainties about the precise actions they would be performing — including whether they would take part in operations to rescue drowning migrants.

The arrival of more than a million people in Europe in 2015 — mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — has plunged the 28-nation European Union into what some see as the most serious crisis in its history.
  
Despite winter weather, the onslaught of refugees crossing the Aegean has not let up. The International Organization for Migration said this week that 76,000 people — nearly 2,000 per day — have reached Europe by sea this year and 409 of them have died trying, most drowning in the cold, rough waters.

The number of arrivals in the first six weeks of 2016 is nearly 10 times as many as the same period last year. Most come from Turkey to Greece and then try to head north through the Balkans to the EU's more prosperous countries such as Germany and Sweden.

The decision Thursday by NATO defense ministers in Brussels came in response to a joint request by three members — Turkey, Germany and Greece — for alliance participation in an international effort targeting the smugglers.

"This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats," Stoltenberg stressed at a news conference. "NATO will contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks."

In a related effort, the military alliance will also step up its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities on the Turkish-Syrian border, Stoltenberg said.

The vessels of NATO Standing Maritime Group 2 "will start to move now" on orders from U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's top commander in Europe, Stoltenberg said.

Breedlove said the ships should be at their Aegean destinations by Friday. NATO's website says the flotilla is composed of a German navy flagship, the Bonn, and two other ships, the Barbaros from Turkey and the Fredericton from Canada.

"(Until now) NATO has been mainly focused on how we can address the root causes, to try to stabilize the countries where many of the refugees are coming from," Stoltenberg said, mentioning Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia and Jordan. "The new thing now is ... providing different kinds of military capabilities ... to provide direct help, direct support, to Turkish authorities, to Greek authorities, and to the European Union."

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in Brussels for two days of discussions with his Canadian and European colleagues, said NATO military authorities will draw up plans for how the alliance might further throttle human smuggling operations across the Aegean.
 
"There is now a criminal syndicate, which is exploiting these poor people," Carter told a news conference. "Targeting that is the greatest way an effect could be had."

Stoltenberg said once the NATO brass makes its recommendations, the alliance will talk to the EU and decide how to proceed.

Breedlove said the mission specifics were still being written.

"This mission has literally come together in about the last 20 hours," Breedlove told journalists. "I have been tasked now to go back and define the mission, define the rules of engagement, define all of what we call special operation instructions — all of the things that will lay out what we are going to do."

He said it was too early to say whether the NATO crews will be rescuing migrants in sinking or non-seaworthy boats — something the Greek and Turkish coast guards have been doing nightly for months.

"I really can't talk to you about what is a core task and what is not ... we had some really rapid decision-making and now we've got to go out and do some military work," Breedlove said.

The NATO commander hailed the fast reaction to the joint request as an example of the streamlined decision-making the alliance has put into place since 2014.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose country has a fraught relationship with neighbor and NATO ally Turkey, said the agreement "will finally solve the issue of migration."

"Greece, until now, has paid too high a price — during a financial crisis — on migration, a price that is disproportionate relative to the other countries of Europe and NATO," Kammenos said. "It is perfectly clear from the joint declaration that the purpose of this force is to stop the criminal activities of those who traffic in human beings."

Kammenos said the presence of NATO forces along the Turkish coastline will "ensure that any migrants who are arrested will be sent straight back to Turkey." In a later stage, the Greek minister said, the EU's border agency, Frontex, could broaden its operations from Greek islands of the Aegean to the Turkish coast.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials.

An official with the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders, however, said the NATO and EU actions "miss the point."

"More than 300 men, women and children have drowned in the Aegean in their desperate attempts to reach Europe this year alone," said Aurelie Ponthieu, the group's humanitarian adviser. "In this context, NATO's involvement in the "surveillance of illegal crossings" is dangerously shortsighted. People will continue to risk their lives in search of safety and protection, no matter the obstacles that the EU - and now the leaders of the NATO alliance - put in their way."

"How many deaths will it take before Europe, Turkey and others focus their energy on providing humanitarian solutions rather than deterrence measures that clearly miss the point?" she asked.

A former British Navy officer gave a measured assessment of the NATO flotilla's impact.

Peter Roberts, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said "the ships will show where the people are moving to and from, but will provide no information about the criminal networks."

"That type of information requires presence on shore and investigative powers of police forces, not military ones," Roberts said.

___New York Times
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.

February 5, 2016

Some ISIS Running Away to Libya




                                                                       


Eyes, guns and missiles are aimed at Iraq and Syria, with allied and Russian airstrikes mounting pressure against Islamic State’s so-called caliphate. But as the West doubles down and the militants’ territorial losses rack up, the jihadists may simply be moving on to Plan B. When the going gets tough — for the tough guys themselves — will they head for the hills or simply move the fight … to Libya?

For many, the going got tough in Syria and Iraq, and they got going. Millions have escaped and continue to flee, braving treacherous maritime crossings — often dying — and months in freezing European camps in the hope of carving out a better life. But now the militants are also feeling the heat, and possibly taking more advantage of Libya’s instability. Already, experts say, they’ve lost up to 25 percent of their territory in Iraq, along with some key oil refineries, and pressure’s mounting, thanks to allied and Russian airstrikes. Combined, it’s getting harder for ISIS to protect the areas they “govern” and keep their machine running by collecting taxes without expanding into other areas. Meanwhile, says Joshua Meservey, the Heritage Foundation’s policy analyst for Africa and the Middle East, Libya has become a “backup plan” or “haven” for if and when things turn sour in Iraq and Syria.

Of course, ISIS isn’t on its back heels. The caliphate model of gaining territory and taxing local populations is still going strong, and the militants are putting more resources into the Maghreb. And while the group has had a presence in Libya since 2014, it’s increasingly shifting eggs from one basket — Syria and Iraq — to the late Moammar Gadhafi’s homeland, where two governments are now vying ineffectively for control. That leaves loads of groups duking it out in a vacuum that ISIS has proven all too effective at monopolizing before, especially in Syria.

It’s going to become increasingly important to focus on Libya.
Right now, ISIS has anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 fighters in Libya, experts estimate. That’s a relatively small number when looking at the country as a whole, though it’s significant if ISIS members are concentrated in a town or specific area because “they can run little areas,” says Professor Daniel Byman of Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. And this piecemeal grabbing of land, and then exploiting resources and local bank accounts, is exactly how the militants roll.

Indeed, the militants have carved out a beachhead in the coastal city of Sirte and are upping attacks against oil fields in a bid to secure lucrative resources in the north. So far these efforts have been fairly amateur, says Madeleine Moreau, a strategic media analyst for Global Risk Insights based in Beirut. But she notes that high-level ISIS leaders are leaving Syria and going to Libya to take advantage of the chaos, especially in the north, fueling fears that over the next six months, “it’s going to become increasingly important to focus on Libya.”

January 30, 2016

Russian Airstrikes Killed 200 Civilians in Syria No Outcries from the Usual People When is the US


When the US has drone collateral damage it makes the newspapers and there demonstrations around the world. The silence after Russia does the same thing is very loud. May be the people Russia kills are less people?? I don’t know.



Amnesty International added to the criticism of Russia's air campaign in Syria with a new report Wednesday saying the bombings have killed at least 200 civilians in Homs, Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
The rights group said the Russian airstrikes have hit homes and hospitals, and that its research showed there were no fighters or military targets nearby.
"Some Russian airstrikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians," Amnesty Middle East and North Africa Program Director Philip Luther said. "Such attacks may amount to war crimes."
Amnesty also said it had evidence Russia used banned cluster munitions and unguided bombs.
FILE In this photo taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, Russian military support crew inspect missiles attached to their jet at an air base in Syria. at an air base Hmeimim in Syria.
 Oct. 6, 2015, Russian military







A Russian defense  spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, denied the Amnesty allegations. He said nothing new or concrete was published, "only cliches and fakes that we have already repeatedly exposed."
Syrian campaign
Russia launched a major military air campaign over Syria in late September as part of an effort to support President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has said it is targeting Islamic State, but it has faced widespread criticism that its strikes have focused largely on opposition group sites.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday stepped up his criticism of Russia for targeting civilians sites and moderate opposition fighters.  During a meeting with lawmakers, he condemned what he said were deadly Russian airstrikes Sunday in the rebel-held northwest city of Idlib.
Tensions between Russia and Turkey mounted late last month after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet that Ankara said had strayed into its territory near the Syrian border. Russia denies the charge.
Syrian opposition groups also blamed Russia for the strikes in Idlib, which they said killed more than 40 people, many of them civilians.
A separate U.S.-led coalition, which includes Turkey, has been targeting Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
In reference to Russia’s alleged responsibility for Sunday’s deadly strikes in Idlib, a senior State Department official said it was not for the U.S. or the U.S. coalition to investigate claims of collateral damage by Russian aircraft.
“The Russians should speak to what they are doing, what they are hitting, what they are missing,” the official said.
'Credible allegations'
The official added that U.S. authorities had evidence showing that some Russian airstrikes had not been “as precise” and had received “credible allegations” of Russian strikes hitting facilities such as hospitals and schools and killing or wounding innocent people.
“I assume that the Russians would not intentionally target a civilian site. That is a war crime,” said Daniel Serwer, a conflict management professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He said, however, that Russia was less concerned about collateral damage in Syria.
“I think the long and short of it is that they just don’t worry as much about hitting civilians [in Syria] as Americans do,” Serwer said.
Although Russia and the United States are involved in separate air campaigns over Syria, both countries are part of the International Syria Support Group, which has been working to foster a political transition in Syria. 
Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council endorsed a plan by the group. It includes U.N.-mediated talks between the Syrian government and moderate opposition, a cease-fire, and the establishment of a transitional government followed by elections within 18 months.
Russian airstrikes, such as what may have occurred in Idlib, could slow this U.N.-led process, said Mark Katz, of George Mason University’s School of Policy, Government and International Affairs.
“If they are behind it or if they are even perceived to be behind it, then I think that other parties are going to question the seriousness of Russia’s commitment to the U.N. process,” Katz said.
Russia reaction
Last week, the Russian Defense Ministry addressed criticism about its air campaign in Syria.
In a statement last Wednesday, the Ministry said it had constantly faced criticism from "several representatives of the so-called 'anti-ISIS coalition.' "
It said, the more “precise” the Russian strikes, the more “clamor” had been observed in foreign mass media sources.

voanews.com
Mike Richman and Chris Hannas contributed to this report from Washington.

January 23, 2016

Berlin’s LGBT Group Gets Help for Abused Gay Refugees



                                                                          


We all know that through all those thousands of Syrians asylum seekers there most be a good percentage of LGBT. As a matter of fact when gays have to disclose who they are they also need to disclose their sexual orientation so they could would be considered for qualification under the asylum program. 
The LGBT in Germany has taken steps to help those refugees. I don’t have to tell you what happens when all those so called religious people in line to be interviewed and they hear someone is gay the news spreads among homophobes like wild fire. 

For those that look weaker or smaller there is rape and possible pushed to to be pimped and for the others there is vocal abuse and gang beatings. The gay community in Germany is a strong smart bunch of people that not only complaint but they also get their hands dirty in demonstrations and pushing the government to be fair in the way they are treated. These community remembers the days in which they were tagged with a pink triangle and hung or sent to the gas camps to be gassed and burnt. They take no prisoners when they see their rights violated.

The Jerusalem Post reported what steps this community is taken to help some of these refugee seekers.
They have gotten the ok to open a center that accommodates 125 in Berlin.
 
                                                                      -*-

There are an estimated 3,500 LGBT asylum seekers in Berlin, many experiencing abuse in shelters where they are staying with other people seeking asylum, according to Schwulenberatung, a Berlin-based gay rights organization which will run the center.

"We have heard a lot of stories about discrimination and crimes against LGBT people in the last two years," Stephan Jakel, Schwulenberatung manager in charge of refugee affairs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

"They were frightened and scared after being beaten or spat on, and one survived a murder attempt. We heard a lot of horrible stories," he said by phone from Berlin.

Germany has borne the brunt of Europe's biggest refugee influx since World War Two with over one million people arriving in the country in 2015, most of them fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Between August and December 2015, there were 95 cases of violence against LGBT people, mainly in accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers, according to the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD).

They involved physical violence, sexual assaults, insults, threats and coercion.

Jakel said there was a shortage of cheap or free apartments in Berlin and many asylum seekers were forced to remain in centers for a long time, often facing abuse.

"Refugees have been coming to our center over the last few years asking for help," Jakel said.

LGBT asylum seekers will be offered accommodation in the new center during their asylum-seeking process and will be allowed to stay for as long as they need, he said.

December 11, 2015

US Gay Attitudes in Afghanistan and Now in Syria Seems to be Unsupportive of Gays



                                                                           
Afghan Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud

Although the U.S. government seems to support gay rights domestically, it might be pursuing an opposite approach in its foreign affairs. Perhaps the earliest indication of this during the beginning of the Islamic revolution was the failure of the U.S. to wholeheartedly support the Afghan Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. The “Lion of Panjshir,” named after the valley in Northern Afghanistan where Massoud was born, seemed to be quite tolerant of homosexuality among his troops in Afghanistan who fought against the Soviets and the Taliban in the 1980s and 1990s, unlike most of the Arab world.

As a glaring example of this prejudice by the United States, it was widely believed the crucial factor in winning the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was putting American-made Stinger missiles into the hands of the Afghan mujahideen. Massoud’s forces, though considered among the best, received none of those missiles while the war against the Soviet Union’s military was still going on.

More recently, the same pattern seems to be emerging in the Syrian war, wherein the U.S.-supported Syrian rebels might be almost as intolerant of homosexuality as ISIS and the Taliban are. Major news outlets reported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, though wanting above all else to stay in power and willing to do almost anything to accomplish this, has relatively benign attitudes toward gay rights and other lifestyle choices. Whether this is true or not, or whether he is at least better than the rebel forces, why aren’t matters like this being investigated beforehand, before the United States goes off half-cocked in support of, or opposition to, some foreign power?

“The fear of a horrific death [throwing people off of high buildings] among gay men under Islamic State rule is further compounded by their isolation in a deeply conservative society that largely shuns them,” wrote Associated Press reporter Bassem Mroue. “Even among IS opponents, gays find little sympathy. Some in the public who might be shocked by other IS atrocities say killings of gays is justified. Syrian rebel factions have killed or abused gays as well.”

Mroue continues, “In mid-2013, IS had just started to spread from neighboring Iraq into Syria. It didn’t yet hold the large stretches of territory across both countries that it would capture the next year. Instead, its fighters pushed into rebel-held areas in Syria and tried to dominate other rebels, often clashing with them for control and imposing the group’s strict law wherever they could.
“In September 2013, IS fighters besieged … [an] Aleppo neighborhood … trying to wrest it from the rebel Free Syrian Army. The two sides negotiated over an end to the siege and during the talks, IS gave the rebels a list of people [including gays] they demanded be handed over to them.”
Whether the Free Syrian Army complied with ISIS’s demand, Mroue does not state.

Mroue then writes: “Life for gays in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, was always hidden, [Daniel Halaby, a gay Syrian man] said. When the secular-led peaceful protests erupted against al-Assad in 2011, he said he quickly joined, sure they would lead to a democratic government ‘that will respect everyone no matter their religion, ethnicity, sect or sexuality.’

“‘We were very naive’, he said. ‘What happened was exactly the opposite.’”
Was this hidden life of gay men in Aleppo primarily the fault of al-Assad, or was it the result of the conservatism of the Syrian people that will continue on unabated, even if Assad is ousted, the Free Syrian Army wins and a democratic regime is established in Syria?

Jonathan Miller is a graduate student studying geography. He can be reached at jsmiller@umd.edu.

diamondbackonline.com [DBK]



                                                                   
 Gays and heroes come in all colors and nationalities. Massoud is seen as abandoned by the Bush administration. Now the gay supportive Obama administration needs to be seen in supporting gay supportive people even if they are in the Syrian camp. Many times in a civil war is not the side you choose but the one that chooses you. Adam Gonzalez




December 9, 2015

History Repeats: WWII, Japanese-2015 Trump, Muslims



                                                                             


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, comparing his plan to the World War Two detainment of Japanese-Americans and others in dismissing growing outrage from around the world.

The White House called on Republicans to say they would not support Trump, currently the party's front-runner for the November 2016 election. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his comments could undermine U.S. security.

The prime ministers of France and the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and Muslim residents of Asian countries all denounced the real-estate mogul's comments.

But Trump said his ideas were no worse than those of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who oversaw the internment of more than 110,000 people in U.S. government camps after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"What I'm doing is no different than FDR," Trump said on ABC's "Good Morning America" program.

"We have no choice but to do this," he said. "We have people that want to blow up our buildings, our cities. We have to figure out what's going on."

Trump on Monday called for blocking Muslims, including would-be immigrants, students, tourists and other visitors, from entering the country following last week's California shooting spree by two Muslims who authorities said were radicalized.

It was the most dramatic response by a presidential candidate following the San Bernardino, California, shooting rampage, even as other Republicans have called for a suspension of President Barack Obama's plan to allow in some refugees from Syria.

Homeland Security Secretary Johnson said Trump's proposal could thwart U.S. efforts to connect with the Muslim community, and Secretary of State John Kerry said his ideas were not constructive.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman, asked for comment on U.S. officials' reactions, did not address their criticism.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Trump's comments disqualify him from being president and said other Republican candidates should disavow him "right now."

In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill providing payments and apologies for Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War Two.

Trump leads the Republican pack seeking the White House in 2016 with 35 percent of support in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. His rivals nearly all criticized Trump's proposal on Monday.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the Washington Examiner that the United States must combat terrorism "but not at the expense of our American values."

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said Trump's proposal was "not conservatism." Republicans also warned that if Trump is the nominee, his stance could hurt in a general election against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton's Christmas gift wrapped up under a tree," Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said on Twitter.

Democrats, meanwhile, blamed Republicans for Trump's extreme language and warned it could help him with primary voters.

"Unfortunately, Trump is leaning into the kind of fear of progress that very well could help him win the nomination," Huma Abedin, a top aide to Clinton, said in a fundraising email declaring her own Muslim faith.

Polls have shown a stark divide between Republicans and Democrats in how they view Muslims. And Trump's proposal reflects fear and insecurity after attacks in California and in Paris, where shootings and suicide bombings killed 130 people last month, rattled the world. Some conservative commentators such as pundit Ann Coulter came to Trump's defense.

Trump's campaign dismissed criticism that his plan would likely be unconstitutional for singling out people based on their religion. Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told MSNBC that the U.S. Constitution does not apply to non-citizens.

The reaction from abroad was largely one of outrage. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Twitter, "Mr Trump, like others, is feeding hatred and misinformation."

A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump's comments "divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong." A group started a petition to revoke Trump's honorary degree from Robert Gordon University in Scotland.

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rejected Trump's comments, and Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia also denounced him.

Trump warned repeatedly that an attack on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, could happen again if officials do not act first. He said that he did not know how long a ban would remain in place and that Muslim Americans would be allowed into the country after overseas trips.

Trump told MSNBC that people would be asked about their religion at U.S. borders and that the ban would extend to Muslim leaders of other nations. He said he would not support internment camps.

Some observers poked fun at Trump. British author J.K. Rowling wrote on Twitter that Voldemort, the archvillain of her popular Harry Potter series, "was nowhere near as bad" as Trump.

The Democratic mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, Rick Kriseman, said in a tongue-in-cheek tweet that he was barring Trump from visiting the city.

"I am hereby barring Donald Trump from entering St. Petersburg until we fully understand the dangerous threat posed by all Trumps,” Kriseman wrote.
 [Reuters]

November 21, 2015

This Morning French and Russian Jets Raid Syrian(Jihadists) Targets



                                                                     


The raids came a day after Moscow said it was a "terrorist attack" that brought down a Russian passenger jet over Egypt last month, killing all 224 people on board. 
Those deaths and the shootings and suicide bombings in Paris were claimed by the Islamic State, which declared a self-styled "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria last year.
Since Sunday, Russian and French raids have struck arms depots, barracks and other areas in Raqa city, the jihadists' bastion in northern Syria. 
"This is where we must hit Daesh, in its lifeblood," said French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, using the Arabic acronym for the group in comments late Wednesday.
A preliminary death toll by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 72 hours of strikes "have left 33 dead and dozens wounded in IS ranks."
"The limited number of deaths can be explained by the fact that the jihadists had taken precautions," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, who relies on a network of activists, medics and other sources inside Syria.
"There were only guards around the depots and barracks and most of those killed were at the checkpoints," he said.
The families of foreign fighters in IS, which number thousands, had left Raqa for Mosul, IS's relatively "safer" Iraq bastion. 
The Pentagon said Moscow warned Washington of its impending attacks on Raqa. This was to avoid any US planes in the area being endangered, spokesman Peter Cook said, which "wasn't necessary in this case".
- IS based in 'civilian homes' -
Aktham Alwany, a journalist and activist from Raqa, said civilians in the city were "only moving around when necessary."
"No one knows when the next strike is, whichever the nationality -- Russian, regime, coalition," and many are considering moving to the city's outskirts which are bombed less frequently, he said. 
"Unfortunately, it's no secret that IS's bases are inside civilian homes. There are some bases that look like they're for IS, but in reality they're empty fakes, while civilian homes are teeming with them," Alwany told AFP. 
Raqa city was Syria's first provincial capital lost by the government, seized by rebels in 2013 then overrun by IS in January 2014.
When the jihadist group captured Mosul in neighbouring Iraq in June 2014, its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a "caliphate" across Iraq and Syria.
The group's speedy expansion sparked a US-led coalition to begin carrying out air strikes on it in both Iraq and Syria. France began striking the latter as part of the coalition in September. 
And Moscow began its own air war in Syria, in coordination with embattled President Bashar al-Assad, on September 30.
But after the attacks in Paris and the downing of the Russian civilian airliner, France and Russia agreed to coordinate their military and security services to fight IS. 
On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin instructed his military to work with France "as allies," and agreed in a phone call with French President Francois Hollande on "closer contact and coordination" of operations in Syria. 
- Assad a 'lesser evil' -
And US President Barack Obama praised Russia as a "constructive partner" in international talks in Vienna aimed at reaching a solution to Syria's bloody conflict, which has left 250,000 dead. 
The US and France have been firm backers of Syria's uprising, while Russia and Iran have remained staunch allies of Assad. 
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday it would be "simply unacceptable" to set Assad's departure as a precondition to "fight against terror." 
Although profound differences in policies remain, IS's attacks have shifted international focus on to the jihadist group. 
Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu said Wednesday Ankara "has plans" for a joint operation with the United States to root out IS's presence along its border with Syria. 
And Spain's foreign minister said engaging with Assad was a "lesser evil." 
"If you want peace, you are going to have get along with Assad at least on a temporary basis," Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said. 
Late Tuesday, Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate and key IS rival, Al-Nusra Front, said it had downed two Russian reconnaissance drones over an airbase it controls in northwestern Syria.
If confirmed, the incident would be the first time the armed opposition down a Russian aircraft in Syria.

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