2 dead, nearly 30 wounded in bomb blast at Philippine mall -AP

international News, Terrorism

COTABATO, Philippines (AP) — Suspected Muslim militants remotely detonated a bomb near the entrance of a mall in the southern Philippines on Monday as people did last-minute shopping ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations, killing at least two and wounding nearly 30, officials said.

The bomb went off near the baggage counter at the entrance of the South Seas mall in Cotabato city, wounding shoppers, vendors and commuters. Authorities recovered another unexploded bomb nearby as government forces imposed a security lockdown in the city, military and police officials said.

Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said by phone that an initial investigation showed the design of the bomb was similar to those used in the past by local Muslim militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Government forces launched an offensive against the militants belonging to a group called Daulah Islamiyah last week and at least seven of the militants died in the fighting, Sobejana said.

“This is a part of the retaliation, but the problem is they’re victimizing innocent civilians,” he told reporters.

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr., the deputy police director of Cotabato, said witnesses saw a man leave a box in a crowded area near the mall’s entrance where vendors and shoppers were milling. The explosion shattered glass panels and scattered debris to the street fronting the mall.

Two of the roughly 30 people hit by the blast died while being brought to a hospital, Sobejana said.

Cotabato Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi condemned the bombing and called on residents to help fight terrorism.

“This is not just another terroristic act but an act against humanity. I cannot fathom how such evil exists in this time of merry making,” she said.

“It is unimaginable how some people can start the new year with an act of cruelty but no matter how you threaten us, the people of Cotabato are resilient. … We will stand up against terrorism,” she told reporters.

The bombing, the latest in a number of attacks blamed on militants in the volatile region, occurred despite on-and-off military assaults against pockets of militant groups operating in the marshlands and hinterlands not far from Cotabato and outlying provinces.

Hundreds of militants aligned with the Islamic State group laid siege in the southern Islamic city of Marawi in May last year, sparking five months of intense fighting and military airstrikes that left more than 1,100 mostly militants dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers.


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Chemical weapons team kept from reaching alleged Syria attack site

Middle East, Politics, Power, SYRIA

AFP and AP

© Hasan Mohamed, AFP | A child runs along a street in front of clouds of smoke billowing following a reported air strike on Douma, the main town of Syria’s rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 20, 2018.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-04-16

Independent investigators were prevented by Syrian and Russian authorities Monday from reaching the scene of an alleged chemical attack near the Syrian capital, an official said.

The incident comes days after the USFrance and Britain bombarded sites they said were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The lack of access to the town of Douma by inspectors from the watchdog group, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has left questions about the April 7 attack unanswered.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Syrian and Russian officials cited “pending security issues” in keeping its inspectors from reaching Douma.

“The team has not yet deployed to Douma,” two days after arriving in Syria, Uzumcu told an executive council of the OPCW in The Hague.

Syrian authorities were offering 22 people to interview as witnesses instead, he said, adding that he hoped “all necessary arrangements will be made … to allow the team to deploy to Douma as soon as possible”.

Heather Nauert

✔@statedeptspox

Chemical weapons were used on Syrian men, women, and children in . Reports that  weapons inspectors require special @UN passes are completely false.  and  need to stop the disinformation and allow unfettered access to the attack sites.

France accuses Russia of trying to cover up Syria poison gas attack saying ‘essential evidence’ is vanishing as investigators are blocked from site — The Sun

international News, Middle East, Military, Politics, Power, SYRIA

FRANCE has accused Russia of trying to cover up the Syrian poison gas attack claiming “essential evidence” has vanished. At least 70 people were killed, many of whom were little children, after aircraft’s dropped barrel bombs full of toxic chemicals in Douma on April 7. AFP or licensors France has accused Russia of trying to…

via France accuses Russia of trying to cover up Syria poison gas attack saying ‘essential evidence’ is vanishing as investigators are blocked from site — The Sun

France accuses Russia of trying to cover up Syria poison gas attack saying ‘essential evidence’ is vanishing as investigators are blocked from site — The Sun

international News, Middle East, Military, Politics, Power, SYRIA

FRANCE has accused Russia of trying to cover up the Syrian poison gas attack claiming “essential evidence” has vanished. At least 70 people were killed, many of whom were little children, after aircraft’s dropped barrel bombs full of toxic chemicals in Douma on April 7. AFP or licensors France has accused Russia of trying to…

via France accuses Russia of trying to cover up Syria poison gas attack saying ‘essential evidence’ is vanishing as investigators are blocked from site — The Sun

Putin declares US-led Syria strike an ‘act of aggression’

Politics, Power, War

Putin declares US-led Syria strike an ‘act of aggression’

Russian officials warned of “consequences” after President Donald Trump announced his approval of U.S.-led military strikes in Syria against the Russian-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Early Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement saying the Western coalition’s “act of aggression” would only exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

Putin called the strike a “destructive influence on the entire system of international relations” and said Moscow would call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. To match Special Report RUSSIA-FLIGHTS/ Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/ via REUTERS/File Photo  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1DE7734AA0

Russian President Vladimir Putin alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria on Dec. 11, 2017.  (Reuters)

Immediately following Trump’s televised address Friday night, announcing the U.S.-led strikes, loud explosions and thick smoke were reported in the Syrian capital city, Damascus.

Syrian air defense units shot down 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the U.S., Britain and France, the Russian military claimed Saturday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry had earlier asserted that none of the missiles launched by the U.S. and its allies entered areas protected by Russia’s missile defense.

Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi attends a news briefing in Moscow, Russia, September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin - D1BEUCEWLEAA

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s General Staff.  (Reuters)

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s General Staff said Saturday that the Syrian military used a Soviet-made missile defense system to shoot down all the missiles targeting four key Syrian air bases. He added that there were no casualties from the strike and its targets suffered only minor damage.

Rudskoi said Russian air defense assets in Syria monitored the strike, but didn’t engage. He also noted that while Russia had refrained from supplying Syria with its state-of-the-art S-300 air defense missile systems, that could be reconsidered now.

Prior to Putin’s statement, other Russian officials issued grim reactions to the Western military effort.

“The worst apprehensions have come true,” Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., tweeted Friday. “Our warnings have been left unheard.

ant99

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.  (Reuters)

“A pre-designed scenario is being implemented,” Antonov said. “Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.

“Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible,” he said. “The U.S.—the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons—has no moral right to blame other countries.”

“Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible. The U.S. — the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons — has no moral right to blame other countries.”

– Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, denounced the U.S. in a Facebook post Friday for the strikes on Syria — a country that, she wrote, “for many years has been trying to survive terrorist aggression.”

zak99

Maria Zakharov, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry.  (Reuters)

“The White House stated that its assuredness of the chemical attack from Damascus was based on ‘mass media, reports of symptoms, video, photos as well as credible information,’” she wrote. “After this statement the American and other Western mass media should understand their responsibility in what is happening.”

Russia and the U.S. had disagreed over a proper response in Syria after a suspected chemical attack by the regime last weekend in rebel-held Douma, a town about 10 miles east of Damascus, killed at least 40 people and injured more than 500, mostly women and children. The attack occurred amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce.

Earlier Friday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters in Moscow that the claims of the suspected gas attack were a fabrication.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens for a question during a shared news conference with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini following their talks n Moscow, Russia, Monday, April 24, 2017. Lavrov has vowed to use Moscow's influence to get Ukraine's separatist rebels to comply with a cease-fire deal. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov  (Associated Press)

“Intelligence agencies of a state that is now striving to spearhead a Russo-phobic campaign were involved in that fabrication,” Lavrov said, without elaborating or naming the state.

A Russian lawmaker claimed the strikes were aimed at disrupting the work of international investigators looking into whether Syria used chemical weapons in the town of Douma.

“The airstrikes were carried out by the U.S.-led coalition consciously to spoil the investigation,” Russian parliament member Dmitry Sablin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

The United States, France and the United Kingdom hit the Syrian capital in response to the use of chemical weapons; Jennifer Griffin shares latest details.

Alexander Sherin, deputy head of the State Duma’s defense committee, likened Trump to Adolf Hitler, and considered the strikes to be a move against Russia.

Trump “can be called Adolf Hitler No. 2 of our time — because, you see, he even chose the time that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union,” state news agency RIA-Novosti quoted Sherin as saying.

The strike came hours after Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that “the United States estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times.”

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. says she is proud of President Trump's response to the chemical attack in Syria.

“Did a chemical weapons attack happen? Yes,” Haley told reporters before the meeting. “The U.S. has analyzed, yes, it has happened. The U.K. has analyzed, yes, it has happened. France analyzed, yes, it has happened. Three separate analysis all coming back with same thing. There is proof that this happened.”

Haley said during the meeting that should the U.S. and its allies decide to act in Syria, it would in the defense of “a bedrock international norm that benefits all nations” from the use of chemical weapons.

Russia’s military on Friday again refuted the claim that chemical weapons had been used in Douma, citing a lack of evidence.

En esta imagen cortesía de los Cascos Blancos de la Defensa Civil Siria, cuyos contenidos han sido autenticados por AP, se muestran las columna de humo después de un ataque aéreo de las fuerzas del gobierno sirio en la localidad de Duma, en la región de Ghouta oriental, al este de Damasco, Siria el sábado 7 de abril de 2018. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Smoke rising after Syrian government airstrikes hit in the town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta region east of Damascus, Syria, on Saturday, April 7, 2018.  (Associated Press)

“According to the results of a survey of witnesses, studying samples and investigating locations undertaken by Russian specialists and medical personnel in the city of Douma, where chemical weapons purportedly were used, the use of poisonous substances was not shown,” said Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria.

Yevtushenko also said the Russian military would supply security for investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons as they worked to determine whether chemical weapons had been used.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said earlier Thursday that Douma was under the control of Syrian forces and that some 1,500 fighters of the Army of Islam group had left the city.

Yevtushenko said that the action was to “prevent provocations, guarantee security, for the support of law and order and organize aid for the local population.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Warship Ruse, New Stealth Missiles: How They Attacked Syria

international News, Military, Politics, Power, SYRIA
Bloomberg  Toluse Olorunnipa, Jennifer Jacobs, Tony Capaccio and Margaret Talev

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

French Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian and French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly make an official statement in the press room at the Élysée Palace in Paris, France, on April 14. “We cannot tolerate the recurring use of chemical weapons, which is an immediate danger for the Syrian people and our collective security,” said the French government’s statement.

Gallery by photo services(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump’s outrage over another apparent chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was clear. And for the second time in his presidency, the U.S. commander-in-chief demanded retaliation.

As images of sick or dying children flooded global media all week, the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Winston Churchill churned toward the Mediterranean to join a flotilla of allied warships, including another U.S. destroyer, the USS Donald Cook.

It was a ruse.

While both vessels carry as many as 90 Tomahawk missiles — the main weapon used in the Friday evening strike on Syria — neither ship in the end fired a shot. Instead, according to a person familiar with White House war planning, they were part of a plan to distract Russia and its Syrian ally from an assault Assad’s government could do little to defend itself against.

It worked. Pentagon officials on Saturday said they faced little resistance to their targeted attack on what they said were three Syrian chemical weapons facilities. Most of the Syrian countermeasures, including defensive ballistic missiles, were fired after U.S. and allied weapons hit their targets, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters on Saturday.

“No Syrian weapon had any effect on anything we did,” McKenzie said. He described the joint U.S., French and U.K. strike as “precise, overwhelming and effective.”

Read a QuickTake on whether the world can really stop chemical weapons

Brazen as it was perceived to be, the Assad regime’s decision to again use chemical weapons on own people didn’t by itself spur the U.S. to act. The Trump administration was also motivated by how closely the attack followed the use of a nerve agent to poison a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in England in March, an action the U.K. government and its allies blamed on Russia.

a close up of a person: "To confront those who really fight international terrorism on the ground in Syria is criminal," Vassily Nebenzia said.© Provided by AFP “To confront those who really fight international terrorism on the ground in Syria is criminal,” Vassily Nebenzia said.The English incident added to concerns held by Trump, his top aides, and leaders in the U.K. and France that not responding might encourage proliferation of chemical weapons, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations.

As the strategy of how to respond took shape, Trump appeared to telegraph his intentions to the world with a tweet on April 11: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!”’

Analysts suggested Assad’s regime would respond to Trump’s threats by protectively moving weapons and personnel away from likely targets. An already difficult battle plan — which required hitting Assad without provoking Russian reprisals or injecting the U.S. further into Syria’s seven-year civil war — was getting harder.

‘Big Price’

In the White House, Trump met with military officials and made several calls to his French and British counterparts, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May, with the goal of following through on a threat to impose a “big price’’ on Syria — a vow made in an earlier tweet, on April 8.

During a meeting with the National Security Council and top military leaders early in the week, Trump had been presented five large target options — called sets — for potential strikes, according to the person familiar with the plans. The president largely listened as Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps General Joe Dunford and other military leaders did most of the talking. New National Security Adviser John Bolton — who started work on April 9 — and Vice President Mike Pence were also on hand.

A Syrian military officer records a video inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018.© REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki A Syrian military officer records a video inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018.The president asked Bolton and the military leaders to justify each potential target, and was particularly focused on limiting the risk of escalation by Russia. There was unanimity among Trump’s top national security staff about conducting strikes but debate about how hard to hit the Syrians, the person said.

Haley’s Voice

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley was especially blunt in her assessment of the Syrian regime during meetings with Trump, the person said.

Haley told the UN Security Council on Friday that Assad and his Russian backers were to blame for the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians. In a private meeting with Trump and national security officials earlier in the week, Haley was a leading voice pushing for a robust military response to the chemical weapons attack on humanitarian grounds, the person said.

Dunford told reporters Friday that the U.S. sought targets that would limit any involvement with Russian military forces in Syria and reduce the risk of civilian casualties.

Trump, who just a week earlier said he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Syria “very soon,” didn’t want to become drawn into the civil war there and instead focused the military response on deterring the use of chemical weapons, according to the official.

Missile Barrage

With the allies on board and the USS Winston Churchill arriving in the Mediterranean region, the attack was nearly under way.

As the president addressed the nation at 9 p.m. Washington time, on Friday, a barrage of 105 U.S., U.K. and French missiles converged on Syria. They came from the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean, homing in from three directions to overwhelm whatever missile defenses Assad’s regime might deploy. Russia’s more advanced air defense system didn’t engage the allied weapons.

According to the Pentagon, the allied weaponry included 19 new “Extended-Range” stealthy Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Attack Munitions launched by two B-1B bombers based out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and six Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the Virginia-class USS John Warner submarine. The bomber-launched missiles, build by Lockheed Martin Corp., had never been used in combat.

Red Sea Attack

The cruiser USS Monterey fired 30 Tomahawks and the destroyer USS Laboon fired seven Tomahawks from the Red Sea. The destroyer USS Higgins fired 23 Tomahawks from the North Arabian Gulf, according to McKenzie.

The weapons also included French SCALP-EG cruise missiles and British Storm Shadow standoff missiles launched by Tornado and Typhoon jets. Nine SCALP missiles were fired at what the Pentagon said was a chemical weapons storage complex at Hims-Shinshar, along with two SCALPS, nine Tomahawks and eight Storm Shadows.

The morning after the barrage, Trump tweeted “Mission Accomplished!”, a phrase closely associated with President George W. Bush. The 43rd U.S. president prematurely declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq in 2003 while standing on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham, in front of a large banner bearing those words.

Trump, like Bush, may live to regret using the phrase. The latest U.S.-led operation was narrow in scope, with little damage done to Assad’s war-fighting capabilities. The country remains a toxic brew of foreign forces, militias and terrorist groups. Haley, the UN ambassador, said this week that Assad has used chemical weapons dozens of times since war broke out in 2011. He might well use them again.

(Updates with background on strike from paragraph seven.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Toluse Olorunnipa in Washington at tolorunnipa@bloomberg.net, Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net, Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net, Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Bernard Kohn, Ros Krasny

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

SYria Bombing Update: 105 missiles were launched in strikes against Syria

international News, Military, Politics, Power, SYRIA

105 missiles were launched in strikes against Syria

In a briefing on Saturday morning, the Pentagon provided the following breakdown of the military weapons used to strike Syrian targets overnight.

 

From the Red Sea:

USS Monterey (Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser) – 30 Tomahawk missiles

USS Laboon (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 7 Tomahawk missiles

From the North Arabian Gulf:

USS Higgins (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 23 Tomahawk missiles

From the eastern Mediterranean:

USS John Warner (Virginia class submarine) – 6 Tomahawk missiles

A French frigate ship (could not understand name) – 3 missiles (naval version of SCALP missiles)

From the air:

2 B-1 Lancer bombers – 19 joint air to surface standoff missiles

British flew a combination of Tornado and Typhoon jets – 8 storm shadow missiles

French flew a combination of Rafales and Mirages – 9 SCALP missiles

A US Defense Department photo of the missile strikes against Syria conducted on April 14. The guided missile cruiser USS Monterey fired a Tomahawk missile in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. 

Pentagon: Clear message to Syrian regime

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, said that the strikes on Syria overnight by US and allies were “a powerful show of allied unity.”

“We deployed 105 weapons against three targets that will significantly impact the Syrian regimes ability to develop, deploy and use chemical weapons in the future. It’s been said before but I want to emphasize again that by compassion, this strike was double the size of the last strike in April 2017.”

CNN

@CNN

Pentagon says that by comparison, this strike in Syria was “double the size” of the last strike in April, 2017 https://cnn.it/2HAL1rA 

Pentagon: Strikes will set back Syria’s chemical weapons “for years”

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, said that the coordinated strikes which struck targets in Syria overnight will set the country’s chemical weapons capability back “for years.”

He added that “none of our aircraft or missiles in this operation were successfully engaged” by Syrian regime.

Map of US-led airstrikes in Syria provided by the US Department of Defense.

Britain says we had to attack Syria, strikes were highly successful – Reuter

Politics, SYRIA, War
Prime Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman visitsLONDON (Reuters) – British had no alternative but to take military action to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons capability, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Saturday after ordering air-launched cruise missile strikes along with the United States and France.

Four Royal Air Force Tornado jets from the Akrotiri base in Cyprus fired Storm Shadow missiles at a military facility near Homs where it was assessed that Syria had stockpiled chemicals, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.

May cast the strike as “limited and targeted” and came after intelligence indicated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for an attack using chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Douma a week ago.

May said the missile strike, designed to minimise civilian casualties, was aimed at deterring further use of chemical weapons and was not an attempt to topple the Syrian government.

“This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change,” May said in statement made from her country residence at Chequers just minutes after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the strikes from the White House.

may 2Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the mission had been highly successful and implied that no further action was imminent.

“We don’t expect that we’ll be a position where we’re having to make further strikes,” he told LBC radio. “We believe that the strikes we have taken last night had a significant impact in terms of what the Syrian regime can do in the future.”

By launching strikes without prior approval from parliament, May dispensed with a non-binding constitutional convention dating back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. She said speed was essential and that military action was in the national interest.

May, whose government is propped up by a small Northern Irish party, said Britain and the West had an obligation to deter both Assad and others from using chemical weapons after the poison gas attack in Douma near Damascus killed up to 75 people, including children, last Saturday.

However, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a fervent anti-war campaigner, called the strikes “legally questionable” and said May should have recalled parliament from a holiday and “not trailed after Donald Trump”.

“Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace,” he said in a statement. “Britain should be playing a leadership role to bring about a ceasefire in the conflict, not taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm’s way.”

Britain has accused Russia of being behind last month’s nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England – a charge Moscow has denied.

“While this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity,” May said.

“We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – within Syria, on the streets of the UK, or anywhere else in our world.”

May said Britain and its allies had sought to use every diplomatic means to stop the use of chemical weapons, but had been repeatedly thwarted, citing a Russian veto of an independent investigation into the Douma attack at the U.N. Security Council this week.

“So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime,” she said.

The Western missile strikes demonstrate the volatile nature of the Syrian civil war, which started in March 2011 as an anti-Assad uprising but is now a proxy conflict involving a number of world and regional powers and a myriad of insurgent groups.

Trump said he was prepared to sustain the response until the Assad government stopped its use of chemical weapons.

Russia, which intervened in the war in 2015 to back Assad, has denied there was a chemical attack and has accused Britain of helping to stage the Douma incident to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.

“TARGETED STRIKES”

Britain’s defence ministry said “very careful scientific analysis” had been applied to maximise the destruction of stockpiled chemicals while minimising any risk of contamination to surrounding areas.

Many politicians in Britain, including some in May’s own Conservative Party, had called for parliament to be recalled to give authority to any military strike.

Slideshow (9 Images)

Former Prime Minister David Cameron lost a parliamentary vote on air strikes against Assad’s forces in 2013 when 30 Conservative lawmakers voted against action, with many Britons wary of entering another conflict after intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya failed to bring stability to the region.

A YouGov poll for The Times newspaper this week indicated that only a fifth of voters believed that Britain should launch attacks on Syrian military targets and more than two-fifths opposed action.

Williamson said Britain had had to act swiftly and added May would update parliament when lawmakers returned on Monday.

Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill and William James; Writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff

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U.S., France, U.K. Launch Strikes on Syria After Chemical Attack

Military, Politics, Power, SYRIA, War

U.S. launches missile strikes in Syria

usaa

In Moves that could lead to the beginning of the Third World War, President Trump ordered a military attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, joining allies Britain and France in launching missile strikes in retaliation for what Western nations said was the deliberate gassing of Syrian civilians.

In a speech monitored from the White House and following the path of the United States’  political undertones in recent days, the President maintained that the strike was against areas where supposed chemical agents were manufactured and the US does not seek any permanent engagement in Syria.

The coordinated strike marked the second time in a little over a year that Trump has used force against Assad, who U.S. officials believe has continued to test the West’s willingness to accept gruesome chemical attacks.

Trump, speaking from the White House late Friday, said the attack last weekend was “a significant escalation” of Assad’s use of chemical weapons and warranted a stepped-up international response. Russia, the Syrian regime’s most powerful ally, harshly criticized the airstrikes but did not respond militarily.

The alleged chemical weapons use was not the work of “a man,” Trump said. It was “the crimes of a monster instead.”

Trump said the mandate for an allied attack was open-ended, but Pentagon chiefs later said the strikes Friday would be repeated only if Assad took further action that warranted a response.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. military, in conjunction with British and French forces, struck three sites — a scientific research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a storage facility and command post also near Homs.

Dunford said that unlike the unilateral U.S. strike in Syria last year, in which only one site was attacked, the United States worked with two allies and hit the three sites in an operation that he said would result in the long-term degradation of Syria’s ability to research, develop and deploy chemical weapons.

The attack involved munitions fired from aircraft and naval vessels, including about 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to a Defense Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details. The Pentagon also employed the B-1 strategic bomber.

The assault came despite the lack of a definitive independent finding that chemical weapons were used or who had deployed them. An initial team of inspectors had only arrived in Syria on Friday.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declined to say whether he thought the attack would prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again.

“Nothing is certain in these kinds of matters. However, we used a little over double the number of weapons this year than we used last year,” he said. “It was done on targets that we believed were selected to hurt the chemical weapons program. We confined it to the chemical weapons-type targets.”

Mattis said that to his knowledge there were no U.S. or allied losses from the strikes Friday.

Dunford said that the only communications that took place between the United States and Russia before the operation were “the normal deconfliction of the airspace, the procedures that are in place for all of our operations in Syria.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting and condemned the U.S.-led strike as an act of aggression that would “have a destructive effect on the entire system of international relations.”

“The staged use of poisonous substances against civilians was used as a pretext” for the missile strike, Putin said in a statement. “With its actions, the United States further intensifies the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, causes suffering for civilians, in essence indulges the terrorists who for seven years have bedeviled the Syrian people, and provokes a new wave of refugees from this country and the region as a whole.”

The Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, warned that “such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the airstrikes represented the latest blow to the Syrian people “from those who claim to have moral leadership in this world.”

Russia seemed keen, however, to keep military tensions from escalating further. The Defense Ministry said that Russian air defense systems were not used to ward off the strike because the attacking cruise missiles did not enter the Russian systems’ “zone of responsibility” in the skies above Syria. The Russian Embassy in Damascus said it was not aware of any Russian casualties, Interfax reported.

It was not immediately clear how the Syrian military responded to the attack. Russia said that Soviet-made Syrian air defenses succeeded in shooting down a significant number of cruise missiles. Dunford said that Syrian forces fired surface-to-air missiles but that he did not have a full picture of the response. He said the Pentagon would provide more details Saturday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement saying the attacks were a response to “circumstances of pure horror.”

In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Our response has been limited to the Syrian regimes facilities enabling the production and deployment of chemical weapons.”

The European Union voiced support for the allies. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, “The EU will stand with our allies on the side of justice.”

Vice President Pence left the opening ceremony of the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, to place calls to all four congressional leaders in advance of the airstrikes, speaking directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that he was also notified just prior to Trump’s statement.

The assault followed repeated threats of military action from Trump, who has been moved by civilian suffering to set aside his concerns about foreign military conflicts, since the reported chemical attack that killed civilians in a rebel-held town outside Damascus last weekend.

The operation capped nearly a week of debate in which Pentagon leaders voiced concerns that an attack could pull the United States into Syria’s civil war and trigger a dangerous conflict with Assad ally Russia — without necessarily halting chemical attacks.

Both Syria and Russia have denied involvement in the attack, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov alleged had been staged.

The episode is the latest illustration of the hazards arising from a conflict that has killed an estimated half-million people and drawn in world powers since it began as peaceful protests in 2011.

The attack raised the possibility of retaliation by Russia or Iran, which also provides military support to Assad, threatening in particular to increase the risks facing a force of 2,000 Americans in Syria as part of the battle against the Islamic State. While the United States has not been at war with the Syrian government, U.S. troops often operate in proximity to Iranian- or Russian-backed groups.

In the wake of last weekend’s gruesome attack, some U.S. officials advocated a larger, and therefore riskier, strike than the limited action Trump ordered in April 2017, also in response to suspected chemical weapons use.

That attack involved 59 Tomahawk missiles fired from two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea. It fulfilled Trump’s vow that chemical weapons are a “red line” that he, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, would not allow Assad to cross. But the airfield targeted by the Pentagon resumed operations shortly after the attack and, according to Western intelligence assessments, chemical attacks resumed.

Assad’s defiance presented Trump with a choice of whether to make a larger statement and incur a larger risk this time. Planning for these strikes focused on ways to curb Assad’s ability to use such weapons again.

Risks of the renewed attack include the possibility of a dangerous escalation with Russia, whose decision to send its military to Syria in 2015 reversed the course of the war in Assad’s favor. Since then, Russia has used Syria as a testing ground for some of its most sophisticated weaponry.

Since last year’s strike, multiple chemical attacks have been reported in opposition areas, most of them involving chlorine rather than the nerve agent sarin, as was used in 2017, suggesting the government may have adjusted its tactics.

Earlier Friday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused Russia of lying and covering up for the Assad government, which had used chemical weapons at least 50 times in the past seven years of warfare, Haley claimed.

“Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its coverups,” she said. “Russia was supposed to guarantee Assad would not use chemical weapons, and Russia did the opposite.”

Russia had called for the emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria as military action seemed likely.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, had accused the United States, France and Britain of saber-rattling.

“Why are you seeking to plunge the Middle East into such difficulties, provoking one conflict after another, pitting one state against another?” he said at the United Nations in New York on Friday, claiming that anti-government militias had received “instructions” to begin an offensive as soon as an act of force begins. “Is the latest wave of chaos being unleashed only for the sake of that?”

Russia has deployed thousands of troops and military advisers, as well as air defense systems, in Syria.

Russia’s military threatened to shoot down any U.S. missiles that put Russian lives at risk. Russia could also fire at the launch platforms used — potentially U.S. planes or ships. Russian officials had said U.S. and Russian military staffs remained in contact regarding Syria, even as Russian media carried stories in recent days about the potential outbreak of “World War III” as a consequence of a U.S. airstrike against Assad.

Putin warned Macron in a phone call Friday that the situation remained tense, the Kremlin said in a statement.

“Most important, it is imperative to avoid badly planned and dangerous actions that would be crude violations of the U.N. Charter and would have unpredictable consequences,” the Kremlin said. “Both leaders directed the ministers of defense and foreign affairs to maintain close contact with the goal of de-escalating the situation.”

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told the Security Council that he feared events could escalate rapidly into a regional and even global conflict, and he urged all states “to act responsibly in these dangerous circumstances.”

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Karen Pierce, noted that May’s cabinet had “agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”

Announcement of that approval Thursday did not specify that the response should be military, although that was the expectation.

The Washington Post.

A look at the region’s firepower shows who would win if the US and allies fought Russia and Syria today

international News, Politics, SYRIA, War

Business Insider reviewed an Institute of International Strategic Studies report on the military balance in Syria to give a breakdown of who has the edge.

The US, France, and the UK, appear on the verge of combat with Syria, and possibly its ally Russia, over suspected chemical weapons use against civilians — and it could easily spiral into one of the most complicated, advanced military skirmishes of all time.

But the US has a ton of firepower in the Middle East, though the stock has been depleted since ISIS’s all but total defeat caused the US to send some assets home, and some assets elsewhere.

Business Insider reviewed an Institute of International Strategic Studies report on the military balance in Syria to give a breakdown of what countries have what assets in striking range of Syria.

Find out how the forces stack up, and who has what below:

planes

The US has the air superiority fighters in place and ready to go. (US Air Force)

The US has the air superiority fighters in place and ready to go.

The US has a squadron of F-15E Strike Eagles in Jordan and a half-strength squadron of F-22 Raptor fighter jets in the United Arab Emirates for air supremacy.

In Qatar, the US has B-1B Lancers replacing the old deployment of B-52 Stratofortresses, and B-2 Spirit stealth bombers are never far away, thanks to refueling and bases around the world.

Elsewhere in the region, the US has A-10s and nine US Marine Corps F/A-18A+ Hornets.

Source: IISS

 

The US two destroyers in the region and tons of power under the waves.

The USS Florida.playThe USS Florida.

(Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Lynn Friant)

At sea, the US has two Arleigh-Berke class guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook and the USS Winston S. Churchill, which hold up to 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles, the very same type the US used in its last strike on Syria in April 2017.

But underwater, the IISS estimates the US has one fast-attack nuclear submarine with up to 40 Tomahawks, and possibly another former nuclear-missile submarine converted to carry 154 Tomahawks, greatly upping the ante.

Source: IISS

 

US ground forces also can’t be underestimated.

US ground forces also can't be underestimated.playUS ground forces also can’t be underestimated.

(Wikimedia Commons)

The US has ground-launched missiles that could riddle Syrian or Russian defenses, but would carry a high risk of counter attack as they’re less mobile.

Source: IISS

 

France has jets and a ship already sailing with the US.

A Dassault Rafale combat aircraft performs during the inauguration ceremony of Aero India 2013 at Yelahanka air force station near Bangalore, February 6, 2013.playA Dassault Rafale combat aircraft performs during the inauguration ceremony of Aero India 2013 at Yelahanka air force station near Bangalore, February 6, 2013.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

France, whose President Emmanuel Macron has been coordinating a response with Trump for the better part of a week, has 10 Rafale multirole fighters in the region, as well as a navy destroyer deployed alongside the USS Donald Cook.

The French destroyer, the Aquitaine, is equipped with new Missile De Croisière Naval cruise missiles.

Source: IISS

 

The UK has jets nearby and a ship capable of air defense for the allied fleet.

ts and ground crew prepare combat aircraft Panavia Tornados at RAF Marham on December 2, 2015 at RAF Marham, United Kingdom.playts and ground crew prepare combat aircraft Panavia Tornados at RAF Marham on December 2, 2015 at RAF Marham, United Kingdom.

(Getty)

The UK, which has also decided to participate in the strike, has the HMS Duncan in Eastern Mediterranean as the flagship of NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, though it does not have any land-attack capacity, and can only contribute to air defenses.

In the air, the UK has a mix of Tornado and Typhoon jet fighters in Cyprus.

Source: IISS

 

UK and French jets can conduct standoff attacks on Syria.

Two French F-2 Rafales aircraft fly over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Jan. 8, 2016. US Air Force.playTwo French F-2 Rafales aircraft fly over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Jan. 8, 2016. US Air Force.

(Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

The UK and French jets can conduct standoff attacks on Syria from outside its airspace with Storm Shadow and Scalp EG cruise missiles.

Source: IISS
Russian and Syrian air defenses offer stiff resistance.

Russian and Syrian air defenses offer stiff resistance.playRussian and Syrian air defenses offer stiff resistance.

(Russian Defense Ministry)

On the side of the Russia and Syria, sophisticated air defenses would keep US and allied forces on their toes.

Russian-made Pantsir-S1 and Buk-M2E operated by Syria pose a threat, and batteries of S-400 and S-300V4 long-range surface-to-air missiles protecting Russian air and naval bases haveconsistently given NATO planners pause.

Source: IISS

Russia’s air force in Syria is no joke.

Russia's air force in Syria is no joke.playRussia’s air force in Syria is no joke.

(Russian Ministry of Defense)

Russian fighter aircraft in Syria, like Su-34s and Su-30SMs, can pose a real threat to allied aircraft, but the F-22, the world’s most deadly combat plane with a combination of stealth and dogfighting ability, could likely run cover for US air operations.

Source: IISS
So who would win?

A US soldier in the town of Darbasiya, Syria in 2017.playA US soldier in the town of Darbasiya, Syria in 2017.

(Rodi Said/Reuters)

Since Trump announced that US missiles would soon hit Syria, Business Insider spoke to several experts in different fields who all unanimously responded that Russia’s military in Syria would lose a conventional fight to the US forces in the region alone.

For that reason, they all said it’s unlikely Russia actually wants a fight with the US, and may simply be blustering with some of its more direct threats.

While the US regards Russia’s air defenses as potent, and experts say even F-22 stealth jets wouldn’t have an easy time taking them out, the US can just overwhelm any defenses with a massive volley of cruise missiles.

Source: IISS

 

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