Category: International Politics

French jets bomb Syria in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa

PARIS – French fighter jets bombed a series of ISIS sites in Raqqa, Syria, on Sunday in what officials described as a major bombardment.

The airstrikes came two days after a series of terrorist attacks in Paris. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which France’s President described as “an act of war.”

ISIS claims Raqqa as the capital of its so-called caliphate. The targets in Sunday’s airstrikes included a command center, a recruitment center, an ammunition storage base and a training camp for the terror group, said Mickael Soria, press adviser for France’s defense minister.

Twelve aircraft, including 10 fighter jets, were involved in the airstrikes, Soria said. Twenty bombs were dropped, he said, and all of the targets were destroyed.

A pro-ISIS news agency claimed the sites had been abandoned before they were hit.

Military analyst: Strikes are ‘symbolic’

France has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria since September as part of a U.S.-led coalition.

The timing likely was no coincidence, analysts said.

“Clearly, it’s a military activity, but it really sends a very strong political message, and it’s all for internal consumption within France,” said retired Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, a CNN military analyst. “This is very visceral. The types of targets they strike right now really are symbolic. From the French perspective, something has to be done.”

Read more about the Paris terror attacks here.

It’s not just difficult to know what’s going on inside the ISIS stronghold, said Janine di Giovanni, Newsweek’s Middle East editor. It’s also hard, she said, to gauge the best strategy for fighting back.

“I think that it’s very complicated, launching airstrikes like this as a retribution, but also as a way of wiping out ISIS,” she said. “Because, the other thing is, that you can’t wipe out an ideology. You might be able to suppress them militarily, or you might be able to cut off some of their lines, but you can’t suppress the key message they’re spreading.”

What impact did airstrikes have?

It’s hard to know what’s happening on the ground inside Raqqa. Since ISIS took over, the city has become increasingly isolated — with an activist group known as Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently providing outsiders with a harrowing glimpse of the city’s transformation.

On Sunday, the activist collective said that the city appeared to be bracing for an attack even before the French airstrikes began.

ISIS fighters appeared to have deserted many areas, a member of the group said. Streets were empty, the group said, markets were less crowded than usual and sheikhs in mosques said they expected the city to be struck.

Streets were empty, the activists said, markets were less crowded than usual and sheikhs in mosques said they expected the city to be struck.

The airstrikes hit several ISIS headquarters, according to Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, but it was unclear what the damage was. So far, the group said, there have been no reports of civilian casualties.

France Announces Airstrikes, Major Bombardment of Islamic State Group Targets in Syria

French military planes bombed a series of ISIS sites in Raqqa, Syria, on Sunday in what officials described as a major bombardment.

The targets included a command center, a recruitment center, an ammunition storage base and a training camp for the terror group, said Mickael Soria, press adviser for France’s defense minister.

ISIS claims Raqqa as the capital of its so-called caliphate. The airstrikes come two days after ISIS claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday. France’s President described those attacks as “an act of war.”

Twenty bombs were dropped and 12 aircraft were involved in Sunday’s airstrikes, Soria said.

All of the targets were destroyed, he said.

North Korean upheaval hits Asian tech markets

Several large publicly trading technology companies in Asia have seen a drop in share value today following the announcement of the death of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader.

Smartphone giant Samsung saw a drop of 3.6 percent in large cap stocks. Stocks in LG Electronics also dropped 4.7 percent, and LG Display fell 5.3 percent on the Korean Exchange.

The two South Korean companies account for over 50 percent of the global LCD Panel market.

Overall, South Korean shares have fallen as much as five percent today following the death of North Korean leader.

The South Korean Won also fell 1.8 percent following the announcement, made this morning at 12 noon Pyongyang local time.

The sudden drop in shares stems from fears about the stability of the region following Jong-il’s death; a potential consequence of the leadership transition in North Korea.

South Korean companies are not the only ones that might be affected by Jong-il’s death, with Japan’s Nikkei shares average also falling to a three-week low.

“The risk or fear that the death of Kim Jong-il will lead to provocation from North Korea is pressuring selling,” said Hiroyuki Fukunaga, chief executive of Tokyo-based Investrust. “Right now, there’s going to be a sell off as part of a risk off”, he added.

Japan’s finance minister Jun Azumi also expressed concern over the drop, saying that he was monitoring the financial market after the news.

He added that the news has put regional powers on edge over the potentially tumultuous leadership transfer, as the countries collapsing economy, and nuclear ambitions could pose a big threat to north-east Asia.

The Eurozone financial crisis has already been causing instability in stocks, and has been pushing down the price of commodities under the pressure.

Gold, often considered a safe asset in unsteady financial times dropped 0.7 percent this week. The Euro also fell 0.5 percent.

With credit downgrades anticipated in Europe, it’s a bad time for further instability.

Obama Arrives In Iraq

President Obama arrived in Baghdad on his unannounced visit. He hopes to meet  in person with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Bad weather will prevent that and they plan to take place by telephone.

This is President Obabmas first visit to Iraq since taking office. He did visit on a couple occasions while campaigning.

Fatal Crash Was Deliberate

Zimbabwe’s prime minister believes the truck driver that struck his car, killing his wife, deliberately drove toward them.

Morgan Tsvangirai left hospital Saturday, a day after his wife, Susan, was killed in the accident, officials said.

The couple, who were married in 1978, have six children.

The crash, on a two-lane highway between Tsvangirai’s hometown Buhera and the capital Harare, comes only weeks after the start of a power-sharing agreement between Tsvangirai and his political rival, President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai’s political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said Friday that it was too early to tell whether the crash was anything other than an accident.

But on Saturday, MDC members told CNN that Tsvangirai thought the crash was deliberate.

Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general, speaking during a tearful press conference, said Tsvangirai should have had better security.

Police escort would have warned oncoming vehicles of a VIP arriving. I think authorities must understand the omission.

“We hope that this omission will be rectified, that the prime minister must be given the protection that ought to be accorded to a prime minister.”

“God willing, Bush has gone to hell.”

Well we all knew we hadnt heard the last of the Iranian tyrant, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he was yet again ranting in a speech on live Iranian TV.

BBC News, Tehran

By Jon Leyne

President Barack Obama, in his first foreign interview earlier this week, offered what he called the hand of friendship if Iran “unclenched its fist”

In response, Mr Ahmadinejad jumped back in the boxing ring and resumed a verbal volley of punches.

First he wished former US President George W Bush on his way: “God willing, he has gone to hell.”

Then Mr Ahmadinejad laid before his audience the ever-growing list of grievances Iran holds against the US:

* American support for the coup that unseated a democratically elected Iranian government in 1953
* American backing for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war
* Support for the “Zionist regime” [Israel]
* Launching the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under the pretext of 9/11 – an incident as questionable as the Holocaust, he suggested.

Americans had kept Iran away from scientific progress and injected the country with poverty, ignorance and illiteracy, he said. They had turned their embassy in Tehran into a “nest of spies”, Mr Ahmadinejad continued.

The US needed to stop talking down to the rest of the world, to change its language and act respectfully, he went on. All American troops should return home. And Washington should apologise for its crimes against Iran.

Election platform

It was an exceptionally long and angry tirade, even by the standards of Mr Ahmadinejad.

It was tempered only by a few slightly more encouraging words. If there really was a fundamental change in American policy, said Mr Ahmadinejad, then Iran would welcome it.

Tough talk indeed from the man who sent an unprecedented message of congratulations to the new American president after Mr Obama’s election victory in November.

So have the hardliners won the policy battle in Tehran? Or is this Mr Ahmadinejad’s eccentric way of opening a diplomatic dialogue?

Most observers in Iran believed Mr Ahmadinejad wanted some moves towards reconciliation with Washington, in order to help his bid for re-election in June.

But with a long silence from Tehran on policy towards Mr Obama, it was already clear that a fierce battle was going on behind the scenes.

In theory, it is the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who is in charge of foreign policy, though in practice decisions seem to emerge from among a small group of senior officials, military officers and clergy.

When there are differences over policy, the default is always to return to the old certainties: “Death to Israel! Death to America!”

What a lovely man ‘Eh? Sure wish his mom would have given him a hug more often.

Now Comes Obama’s War Takeover

I have been reading many blogs that in the first three days US citizens were already shifting blame of G.W Bushes war onto the shoulders of President Obamas.

Yes, its now his responsibility to clean up after G.W’s nightmare, but for crisis sake, give the man a chance!

There are too many people out there that are acting like children going on a family vacation. “Are we there yet?” seems to be the most infamous line. “Dad, you SAID we were going to Disney World TODAY!”.

A car load of five whinny kids and a bitchy wife, and each want a different outcome. That’s when Dad has to pull the car over and rap their heads together and do whats best for the family. It may not be what everyone wants to do or see, but in the long haul, everyone comes out with a good feeling.

As we complain Robert Gates and our new President are making the NEW plan to get out of the mess that Bush got us into. And remember it was Bush that led us into a cluster fump, not Obama! And, no, I’m not all glossy eyed over the new Administration, there are a few things I would change, but ya know, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, and don’t feel I’m qualified to make these decisions, so I hold strong and support my country and the majority vote for our new President.

Here’s what is going on in Washington:

WASHINGTON – Congress is eager to hear from Defense Secretary Robert Gates how the Obama administration plans to salvage the war in Afghanistan and hold a relative peace in Iraq — all the while reducing the stress on a force stretched thin by years of combat.

Lawmakers, set to question Gates on Tuesday, also want to hear details on the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, with some members of Congress concerned that their state might become the next location to house the nation’s most dangerous terrorist suspects.

“There are a lot of questions as to what victory and the redeployment out of Iraq means,” as well as plans to bolster forces in Afghanistan, said Rep. John McHugh of New York, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

President Barack Obama has vowed to shift military resources away from Iraq and move them toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he says is the central front in the struggle against terrorism and extremism. In a plan initiated during the Bush administration and endorsed by Obama, the Pentagon is planning to double the 34,000 contingent of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

But expectations in the troubled region may have to be tempered as top military advisers focus on showing even small security gains and development progress quickly.

“That’s clearly the message I’m getting is, `what are the near-term goals going to be?'” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said when asked about Obama’s agenda for Afghanistan.

While lawmakers mostly support the plan to send more troops, several Democrats have expressed the need for a clearer strategy.

Without an idea of when the commitment would end, “we tend to end up staying in different places and not necessarily resolving problems in a way that fits our national interest,” said Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a Senate Armed Services Committee member.

Gates, the only Republican Cabinet member asked by Obama to stay on, oversaw the same buildup of military forces in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 that Obama opposed. Gates also at one point urged caution against setting a firm timeline for troop withdrawals as Obama campaigned on the promise to bring U.S. forces home within 16 months.

But in recent months, the two are believed to have found much common ground, including Obama’s desire to step up diplomatic efforts

Last week, in a meeting with Gates and other national security advisers, Obama reiterated his plans to execute a “responsible military drawdown from Iraq,” according to a White House statement.

There was no mention in the statement of the 16-month deadline Obama frequently cited while campaigning for president. A current U.S.-Iraq agreement calls for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities by the end of June, with all troops gone by 2012.

Also in his first week in office, Obama ordered the eventual closure of Guantanamo Bay prison. With many of the details yet to be worked out, lawmakers are wondering where the detainees will go and how they will be tried. Mostly, members of Congress want to know if they’ll be consulted before the administration makes any decisions.

“These perplexing questions confounded the previous administration and will also test the new administration, but our duty calls us to set policies which keep America safe and conform to American values,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Another issue likely to arise at Tuesday’s hearing is defense spending and whether Gates expects the Pentagon budget to decline considering Obama’s increased focus on domestic spending.

The Obama administration is not expected to complete its review of the defense budget until this spring. Meanwhile, Gates has already estimated that the Pentagon needs another $70 billion in war costs to continue operations through September.

Israeli troops complete Gaza withdrawal

JERUSALEM (CNN) — Israeli troops have completed their withdrawal from Gaza after a three-week military campaign against Hamas militants, the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday.

“The forces are now redeployed outside the Gaza Strip, and are prepared for any development,” a military statement read.

During their withdrawal, Israeli troops warned Gaza residents to avoid unexploded bombs or shells left behind and report their location to Israeli authorities.

Israel said it had achieved its goal to halt Hamas’ firing of rockets into southern Israel from Gaza. Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that has controlled the territory since 2007, also declared victory in the conflict during a rally in Gaza City on Tuesday.

Israeli troops began to withdraw Sunday following tentative, separate cease-fire declarations by Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Hamas.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited the territory Tuesday, criticized both sides and the international community for what he called their “collective political failure” in settling the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I have condemned from the outbreak of this conflict the excessive use of force by Israeli forces in Gaza. I view the rocket attacks into Israel as completely unacceptable. We need to restore basic respect for civilians,” he said.

The conflict, which began December 27, has left more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Confirmation of the Israeli withdrawal came within a day of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the new president of the United States, replacing George W. Bush, whose administration was among the most supportive of Israel in decades. Ban said he hoped Obama would consider settling the conflict “a matter of priority.”

Speaking during a visit to Sderot, the southern Israeli city that has endured rocket fire from Hamas for years, Ban said the Bush administration was “leading and heavily engaged” in the region, but added, “Unfortunately, we have not achieved the goals.”

Obama has vowed to move swiftly and has said he was assembling a strong team to be “immediately engaged” on “day one.” In a statement welcoming the new U.S. president, Olmert said Israel and the United States would remain “full partners in advancing peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Palestinians agree to weeklong cease-fire

Palestinian militants agreed today to a one-week cease-fire against Israel, Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a unilateral cease-fire in the country’s assault on Hamas in Gaza. The Palestinians demand that Israel remove all troops from Gaza, said Taha, in Cairo, Egypt.       full story

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