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“Oooh, it was so anticipated! It was the iPhone 6 of wars: It’s expensive, a little bigger, a little more unwieldy than you thought it was gonna be, (and) it’s gonna be at least a two-year commitment.”

JON STEWART, responding to a CNN anchor excitedly saying “we’ve been anticipating” U.S. air strikes on ISIS “for weeks,” on The Daily Show.

Heh.

The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.

The strikes are a major turning point in President Obama’s war against the Islamic State and open up a risky new stage of the American military campaign. Until now, the administration had bombed Islamic State targets only in Iraq, and had suggested it would be weeks if not months before the start of a bombing campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria.

Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took part in the strikes, American officials said, although the Arab governments were not expected to announce their participation until later Tuesday. The new coalition’s makeup is significant because the United States was able to recruit Sunni governments to take action against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State. The operation also unites the squabbling states of the Persian Gulf.

The strikes came less than two weeks after Mr. Obama announced in an address to the nation that he was authorizing an expansion of the military campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Unlike American strikes in Iraq over the past month, which have been small-bore bombings of mostly individual Islamic State targets — patrol boats and trucks — the salvo on Tuesday in Syria was the beginning of what was expected to be a sustained, hourslong bombardment at targets in the militant headquarters in Raqqa and on the border.

The strikes began after years of debate within the Obama administration about whether the United States should intervene militarily or should avoid another entanglement in a complex war in the Middle East. But the Islamic State controls a broad swath of land across both Iraq and Syria.

Defense officials said the goal of the air campaign was to deprive the Islamic State of the safe havens it enjoys in Syria. The administration’s ultimate goal, as set forth in the address Mr. Obama delivered on Sept. 10, is to recruit a global coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militants, even as Mr. Obama warned that “eradicating a cancer” like the Islamic State was a long-term challenge that would put some American troops at risk.

The New York Times, "Airstrikes by U.S. and Allies Hit ISIS Targets in Syria"

“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles. Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time. The decision to conduct theses strikes was made earlier today by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate.”

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. JOHN KIRBY.

Waiting to hear if these airstrikes have been authorized by Bashar al-Assad. That would be quite the development.

(via NBC News)

The Obama administration said Friday that the United States and its allies had formed a coalition to fight Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, unveiling a military and political campaign that officials said could serve as a model for combating extremist groups around the world.

In a hastily organized meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit meeting here, diplomats and defense officials from the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark conferred on what they called a two-pronged strategy: working to bolster allies on the ground in Iraq and Syria, while attacking Sunni militants from the air. They said the goal was to destroy the Islamist militant group, not to contain it.

“There is no containment policy for ISIL,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the beginning of the meeting, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “They’re an ambitious, avowed, genocidal, territorial-grabbing, caliphate-desiring quasi state with an irregular army, and leaving them in some capacity intact anywhere would leave a cancer in place that will ultimately come back to haunt us.”

But he and other officials present made clear that at the moment, any ground combat troops would come from either Iraqi security forces or Kurdish pesh merga fighters on the ground in Iraq, or from moderate Syrian rebels opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. “Obviously I think that’s a red line for everybody here: no boots on the ground,” Mr. Kerry said.

For President Obama, assembling a coalition to fight ISIS is critical. The president is loath to be viewed as going it alone in Iraq now that the United States has been dragged back into a combat role there. And even as Mr. Obama weighs expanding airstrikes into Syria, both he and his administration have been questioning what might happen after launching those strikes, especially as targeting ISIS in Syria would help the government of Mr. Assad, who President Obama has said must yield power.

An administration official on Friday said there were concrete reasons for assembling a coalition that went beyond the political cover that such an alliance might offer the president from a war-weary American public. For one thing, the official said, certain countries bring specific expertise, like Britain and Australia in special operations, Jordan in intelligence, Turkey in border control and Saudi Arabia in financing.

“Sure, the American military can handle airstrikes,” the official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic and military negotiations. “But it’s always nice to have help from your friends.”

The New York Times, "U.S. and Allies Form Coalition With Intent to Destroy ISIS."

Get these murderous bastards.

Islamic State militants released a video on Tuesday purporting to show the beheading of American journalist James Wright Foley, who has been missing since he was kidnapped in northwest Syria on November 22, 2012. Foley was abducted by unknown gunmen outside a cafe in Binesh, along with his translator, who was later released.

Another captive is shown at the end of the video. He is identified as Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who has been missing since August 2013.

"We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers," said a message posted on the Free James Foley Facebook page. "Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers."

The video has not yet been independently verified. The video and images were released on Twitter by user @mujahid4life. The account has since been suspended.

"We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of US citizen James Foley by ISIL," Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement. "The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity. If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available."

A freelancer known for his work covering conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, Foley had contributed work to GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse, and various other outlets. In 2011, he was kidnapped and held by pro-Qaddafi forces in Libya before being released after 45 days.

"Captivity is the state most violently opposite his nature," his friend Clare Morgana Gillis, a journalist who had been kidnapped with him in Libya in 2011, wrote in a piece last year for Syria Deeply. "But when we were detained in Tripoli, Jim automatically turned his energies to keeping up our strength and hope."

Vice News, "Islamic State Militants Claim to Have Beheaded American Journalist James Wright Foley.

Cowards who murder, supposedly in the name of religion.

President Obama said Monday that Iraqi special forces and Kurdish fighters, backed by American war planes, had retaken a strategically critical dam near Mosul, the latest in what he described as a string of positive steps in halting the march of Islamic extremists across the country.

“This operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together to take the fight” to the extremists, Mr. Obama said in remarks at the White House. “If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic.”

Still, Mr. Obama said, “This is going to take time; there are going to be many challenges ahead.” He said that the American military campaign would continue for the foreseeable future.

The president interrupted a family vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., to meet with his national security team on the crisis in Iraq. After receiving an update on the military operation and political developments there, he emerged to deliver a cautiously optimistic status report.

Mr. Obama said that recapturing the dam, along with breaking the siege on Mount Sinjar and the departure of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had generated a sense of momentum.

“This peaceful transition of power will mark a major milestone in Iraq’s political development,” Mr. Obama said, “but as we’re all aware, the work is not done.”

The New York Times, "Obama Confirms Iraqi Dam Is Retaken From Militants"

President Obama on Thursday announced that he had authorized targeted American airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, scrambling to avert the fall of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and returning the United States to a significant battlefield role in Iraq for the first time since the last American soldier left the country at the end of 2011.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday night, Mr. Obama also said that American military aircraft had dropped food and water to tens of thousands of Iraqis trapped on a barren mountain range in northwestern Iraq, having fled the militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, who threaten them with what Mr. Obama called “genocide.”

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help,” Mr. Obama said in a televised statement delivered from the State Dining Room. “Well, today America is coming to help.”

The president insisted the twin military operations did not amount to a full-scale re-engagement in Iraq. But the relentless advance of the militants, whom he described as “barbaric,” has put them within a 30-minute drive of Erbil, raising an immediate danger for the American diplomats, military advisers and other citizens who are based there.

“As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq,” said Mr. Obama, who defined himself during his run for the presidency in large part around his opposition to the war in Iraq.

While Mr. Obama has authorized airstrikes, there had not yet been any as of late Thursday. But a senior administration official said after the speech that as conditions in Iraq deteriorated in recent days, the United States had worked with Iraqi security forces and Kurdish fighters to coordinate the response to ISIS advances. The official said the cooperation had included airstrikes by Iraqi forces against ISIS targets in the north.

Kurdish and Iraqi officials said that airstrikes were carried out Thursday night on two towns in northern Iraq seized by ISIS — Gwer and Mahmour, near Erbil. The New York Times on its website Thursday quoted Kurdish and Iraqi officials as saying that the strikes were carried out by American planes.

The New York Times, "Obama Allows Limited Airstrikes On ISIS"

A newly agreed cease-fire in the Gaza conflict collapsed soon after it came into effect on Friday with the Israeli military announcing that two soldiers were killed and a third appeared to have been captured by Palestinian militants who emerged from a tunnel near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Gaza health officials said that 35 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded as Israeli forces bombarded the area. Palestinian witnesses said by telephone that Israeli tank shells hit eastern Rafah as residents returned to inspect homes they had evacuated.

Hamas blamed Israel for violating the truce, saying in a statement that the announcement about the capture of one of its soldiers was “to cover up the barbaric massacres, especially in Rafah.”

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said that government forces were moving to destroy a tunnel, as the terms of the cease-fire allowed for, when several militants came out of the ground.

Colonel Lerner said the militants included at least one suicide attacker, that there was an exchange of fire on the ground and that initial indications were that a soldier was apparently dragged back into the tunnel. He was unable to offer details about the soldier’s condition. He said the episode began at around 9:30 a.m., roughly 90 minutes after the 72-hour cease-fire came into effect.

The New York Times, "Gaza Cease-Fire Collapses; Israeli Soldier Is Captured"

Militant rockets can be seen launching from crowded neighborhoods, near apartment buildings, schools and hotels. Hamas fighters have set traps for Israeli soldiers in civilian homes and stored weapons in mosques and schools. Tunnels have been dug beneath private property.

With international condemnation rising over the death toll in Gaza exceeding 650 in the war’s 16th day, Israel points to its adversaries’ practice of embedding forces throughout the crowded, impoverished coastal enclave of 1.7 million people.

“Hamas uses schools, residential buildings, mosques and hospitals to fire rockets at Israeli civilians,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Canadian counterpart in a call over the weekend, according to a statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office. “Hamas uses innocent civilians as a human shield for terrorist activity.”

Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare. There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack — the legal definition of a human shield under international law. But it is indisputable that Gaza militants operate in civilian areas, draw return fire to civilian structures, and on some level benefit in the diplomatic arena from the rising casualties. They also have at times encouraged residents not to flee their homes when alerted by Israel to a pending strike and, having prepared extensively for war, did not build civilian bomb shelters.

Israel, for its part, says it takes precautions to avoid killing civilians, but has also accepted as inevitable that there will be large numbers of civilian casualties when it strikes at certain targets, like Hamas members in their houses, or offices, or mosques.

“It’s a bit of a fluid concept,” said Bill Van Esveld, a lawyer and senior researcher in the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch. “If you have any choice in the matter, you should not be fighting from an apartment building full of civilians.”

Some of Hamas’s tactics mirror those of other insurgent groups, like the Irish Republican Army and Nicaraguan contras.

“Hamas knows that it works to its advantage, politically and diplomatically, as the civilian death toll mounts, there is increasing pressure to end the war immediately, and what that typically entails, if past is precedent, is making some concessions to Hamas,” said Nathan Thrall, co-author of a recent International Crisis Group report on Gaza. “Hamas deliberately buries the weapons in populated civilian areas hoping that will reduce the chance that those weapons will be taken out from the air — that’s a pretty clear-cut case.”

Experts in international law say that even as Hamas is legally obligated to minimize its operations near civilians — and is committing a war crime by firing rockets indiscriminately — so, too, is Israel obligated to identify specific military targets and keep the risk to civilians proportionate to the threats the targets pose.

The New York Times, "Civilians as Human Shields? Gaza War Intensifies Debate"

As civilian casualties mounted on Monday in the Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military reminded the world that it had warned people living in targeted areas to leave. The response from Palestinians here was unanimous: Where should we go?

United Nations shelters are already brimming, and some Palestinians fear they are not safe; one shelter was bombed by Israel in a previous conflict. Many Gaza residents have sought refuge with relatives, but with large extended families commonly consisting of dozens of relatives, many homes in the shrinking areas considered safe are already packed.

Perhaps most important, the vast majority of Gazans cannot leave Gaza. They live under restrictions that make this narrow coastal strip, which the United Nations considers occupied by Israel, unlike anywhere else.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain in 2010 called Gaza “an open-air prison,” drawing criticism from Israel. But in reality, the vast majority of Gazans are effectively trapped, unable to seek refugee status across an international border. (Most are already refugees, those who fled from what is now Israel and their descendants.)

A 25-mile-long rectangle just a few miles wide, and one of the most densely populated places in the world, Gaza is surrounded by concrete walls and fences along its northern and eastern boundaries with Israel and its southern border with Egypt.

Even in what pass for ordinary times here, Israel permits very few Gazans to enter its territory, citing security concerns because suicide bombers and other militants from Gaza have killed Israeli civilians. The restrictions over the years have cost Palestinians jobs, scholarships and travel.

Egypt has also severely curtailed Gazans’ ability to travel, opening its border crossing with the territory for only 17 days this year. During the current fighting between Israel and the Hamas militants who control Gaza, only those with Egyptian or foreign passports or special permission were allowed to exit.

Even the Mediterranean Sea to the west provides no escape. Israel restricts boats from Gaza to three nautical miles offshore. And Gaza, its airspace controlled by Israel, has no airport.

So while three million Syrians have fled their country during the war there, more and more of Gaza’s 1.7 million people have been moving away from the edges of the strip and crowding into the already-packed center of Gaza City.

The New York Times, "Havens Are Few, If Not Far, for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip"