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#syria

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.

A senior American diplomat met with his Iranian counterpart in Vienna on Monday to explore whether the United States and Iran could work together to create a more stable Iraqi government and ease the threat from Sunni militants.

The initial meeting took place after Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that the Obama administration was open to cooperating with Iran on Iraq, raising the possibility of seeking help from a country that the United States has often described as a state sponsor of terrorism that must be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The incentive for the United States is clear. Iran also has the ability to frustrate the Obama administration’s strategy of pressuring Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and his Shiite-dominated government to reach out to Sunnis and Kurds. President Obama made clear last week that no American military aid would be forthcoming unless that effort was made.

The meetings would also provide an opportunity for American officials to compare notes with Iran over the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which last week made startling military gains, routing the Iraqi Army and even threatening Baghdad.

Mr. Kerry said in an interview with Yahoo! News on Monday morning that the United States was “open to discussions if there’s something constructive that can be contributed by Iran.”

“I think we need to go step by step and see what, in fact, might be a reality, but I wouldn’t rule out anything that would be constructive,” he said.

The New York Times, "U.S. Is Exploring Talks With Iran on Crisis In Iraq"

Sunni militants consolidated and extended their control over northern Iraq on Wednesday, seizing Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, threatening the strategic oil refining town of Baiji and pushing south toward Baghdad, their ultimate target, Iraqi sources said.

As the dimensions of the assault began to become clear, it was evident that a number of militant groups had joined forces, including Baathist military commanders from the Hussein era, whose goal is to rout the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. One of the Baathists, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was a top military commander and a vice president in the Hussein government and one of the few prominent Baathists to evade capture by the Americans throughout the occupation.

“These groups were unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form the Sunni Region,” said Abu Karam, a senior Baathist leader and a former high-ranking army officer, who said planning for the offensive had begun two years ago. “The decisive battle will be in northern Baghdad. These groups will not stop in Tikrit and will keep moving toward Baghdad.”

The sudden successes of the militant forces sent hundreds of thousands of people running, some literally, from the new outbursts of violence, panicked leaders in Turkey and Syria and revived memories of bloody American struggles to wrest the same places — Mosul and Tikrit — from jihadist fighters a decade ago.

By late Wednesday, the Sunni militants, many aligned with the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, were battling loyalist forces at the northern entrance to the city of Samarra, about 70 miles north of Baghdad. The city is known for a sacred Shiite shrine that was bombed in 2006, during the height of the American-led occupation, touching off a sectarian civil war between the Sunni minority and Shiite majority.

Militant commanders were reportedly threatening to destroy the shrine if its defenders refused to lay down their arms, while hundreds of Shiite fighters were said to be heading north from Baghdad to confront the attackers.

As Iraqi government forces crumbled in disarray before the assault, there was speculation that they may have been ordered by their superiors to give up without a fight. One local commander in Salahuddin Province, where Tikrit is located, said in an interview Wednesday: “We received phone calls from high-ranking commanders asking us to give up. I questioned them on this, and they said, ‘This is an order.’ ”

The New York Times, "Iraq Militants, Pushing South, Aim at Capital."

George W. Bush’s legacy.  Terrifying, and sad, but not totally unexpected.

A woman comforted her baby Sunday at a hospital in the Sakhour district of Aleppo, Syria, after both were injured by what activists said was a barrel bomb.  From the New York Times: 

The Syrian civil war’s impact on the health of Syria’s children is far more insidious than has been widely understood, a leading children’s advocacy group reported Sunday, with large numbers dying or at risk from chronic and preventable diseases that have flourished because the country’s public health system has basically collapsed.
In a report timed to coincide with the start of the fourth year of the conflict, the group, Save the Children, said the effects of untreated illnesses on Syrian children were only partly reflected in the documented statistics. They show that at least 1.2 million children have fled to neighboring countries, that 4.3 million in Syria need humanitarian assistance and that more than 10,000 have died in the violence.
“It is not just the bullets and the shells that are killing and maiming children,” said the report, “A Devastating Toll.” The conflict, which began in March 2011, has left a “shattered health system resulting in brutal medical practices that have left millions of children suffering,” the report said.
The report asserted that “several thousands of children” had died because of greatly reduced access to treatment for diseases including cancer, epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and kidney failure.
The basic lack of medical care, including routine vaccinations, the report said, means “increasing numbers of children are suffering and dying from diseases that would previously either have been treated or prevented from taking hold in the first place.”
The report is based partly on conclusions drawn from data that has been issued by other organizations, including the United Nations and the World Health Organization, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Doctors Without Borders, and other medical research, as well as from the Syrian government.
But the report also draws on Save the Children’s own research, including interviews with Syrian children, parents and medical providers who painted what amounted to a portrait of medieval health conditions.

(Photo: Hosam Katan / Reuters via NYT)

A woman comforted her baby Sunday at a hospital in the Sakhour district of Aleppo, Syria, after both were injured by what activists said was a barrel bomb.  From the New York Times: 

The Syrian civil war’s impact on the health of Syria’s children is far more insidious than has been widely understood, a leading children’s advocacy group reported Sunday, with large numbers dying or at risk from chronic and preventable diseases that have flourished because the country’s public health system has basically collapsed.

In a report timed to coincide with the start of the fourth year of the conflict, the group, Save the Children, said the effects of untreated illnesses on Syrian children were only partly reflected in the documented statistics. They show that at least 1.2 million children have fled to neighboring countries, that 4.3 million in Syria need humanitarian assistance and that more than 10,000 have died in the violence.

“It is not just the bullets and the shells that are killing and maiming children,” said the report, “A Devastating Toll.” The conflict, which began in March 2011, has left a “shattered health system resulting in brutal medical practices that have left millions of children suffering,” the report said.

The report asserted that “several thousands of children” had died because of greatly reduced access to treatment for diseases including cancer, epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and kidney failure.

The basic lack of medical care, including routine vaccinations, the report said, means “increasing numbers of children are suffering and dying from diseases that would previously either have been treated or prevented from taking hold in the first place.”

The report is based partly on conclusions drawn from data that has been issued by other organizations, including the United Nations and the World Health Organization, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Doctors Without Borders, and other medical research, as well as from the Syrian government.

But the report also draws on Save the Children’s own research, including interviews with Syrian children, parents and medical providers who painted what amounted to a portrait of medieval health conditions.

(Photo: Hosam Katan / Reuters via NYT)

BVT News Roundup 20 January 2014.

(Photo: Robert Michael / AFP-Getty via NY Daily News)

BVT News Roundup 5 January 2014.

BVT News Roundup 4 January 2014.

Evening News Wrap 17 December 2013.

Evening News Wrap 16 December 2013.

(*Just kidding.  Photo illustration: The Atlantic)

Afternoon News Read 11 December 2013.

(File photo: Baz Ratner / Reuters via Newsweek)

Evening News Wrap 3 December 2013.