Strikes on ISIS Continue As New Recruits Arrive, Democracy Protests in Hong Kong Take a Violent Turn and Police Mistrust Corroding America

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Through the weekend, U.S. and British airstrikes continues to bombard ISIS installations in Syria as new recruits arrived to fight with ISIS. On Saturday, Bassem Mroue reports, US-led planes strike fighters attacking Syria town, that for the first time U.S. led coalition warplanes struck the Islamic State fighters in Syria attacking a town near the Turkish border and in the country’s east, according to activists and a Kurdish official. The Islamic State’s attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani that caused 100,000 refugees to flee to Turkey in recent days has caused Kurdish fighters from Iraq and Turkey to join the fight to defend the town. Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said the strikes targeted Islamic State positions near Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, destroying two tanks resulting in jihadi fighters later shelling the town and wounding a number of civilians. The united States was joined by five Arab allies to launch an aerial campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria early Tuesday to try and roll back the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border. During their campaigns for control the militants have massacred captured Syrian and Iraqi troops, terrorized minorities in both countries and beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker. Syria’s Foreign Minister Waid al-Moallem told the Lebanon based Al-Mayadeen TV that the airstrikes alone “will not be able to wipe out” the Islamic State group and on Saturday said the U.S. should work with Damascus to win the war. HOwever, the U.S. has ruled out any coordination with President Bashar Assad’s government who is at war with the Islamic State group as well as Western-backed rebels. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the coalition’s strikes near Kobani came amid heavy fighting between the Islamic State group and members of the Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPK. The Observatory reported Friday that 13 civilians have been killed by the strikes since they began. The Observatory said other coalition airstrikes targeted Islamic State compounds in the central province of Homs and the northern regions of Raqqa and Aleppo. The group said 31 explosions were heard in the city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, and its suburbs. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the strikes in the east hit the province of Deir el-Zour as well as Raqqa. The LCC also said the coalition targeted grain silos west of Deir el-Zour city. Max Blumenfeld, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said the U.S. airstrikes are aimed at specific Islamic State targets such as command and control centers, transportation and logistics, and oil refineries, “but not food that could have an impact upon the civilian population.” In recent days coalition warplanes had struck oil-producing facilities in eastern Syria aiming to cut off the group’s main revenue stream which generate $2 million a day in black market oil sales. The coalition striking Syria includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan, and the strikes are an extension of the U.S. campaign in neighboring Iraq launched in August. Meanwhile in Washington, a week after the U.S. led airstrikes in Syria began, in a televised interview Sunday, Obama echoed James Clapper’s (head of U.S. intelligence) sentiments regarding ISIS by saying the government “underestimated what had been taking place in Syria” during its civil war, allowing Syria to become “ground zero for jihadists around the world,” according to a CNN report, Obama admits ISIS threat was misjudged as U.S. splits emerge. Speaking to CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Obama said, “Over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.” Additionally, Obama said the U.S. later overrated Iraq’s security forces, which were quickly overrun by ISIS when it took over the northern city of Mosul this summer. Obama told “60 minutes,” “This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they are able to take care of their business. If we do our job right and the Iraqis fight, then over time our role can slow down and taper off.” On Friday, Danica Kirka reported, Britain joins fight against Islamic State group, Britain, Belgium and Denmark joined the fight by committing warplanes to the struggle against the Islamic State group in Iraq. British Prime Minister David Cameron made a passionate plea for action in drastic terms: “This is about psychopathic terrorists that are trying to kill us and we do have to realize that, whether we like it or not, they have already declared war on us. There isn’t a `walk on by’ option. There isn’t an option of just hoping this will go away.” British lawmakers voted 524-43 for action after being urgently recalled from a recess. Belgian also overwhelmingly approved, voting 114-2 to take part, despite widespread concerns that more terrorism may follow in their homeland as a result. Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said her government would send four operational planes and three reserve jets along with 250 pilots and support staff for 12 months. Lawmakers in Denmark must also approve, but that is considered a formality. The British resolution does not include Syria, but lawmakers feel this is the next logical step. No European nation has yet agreed to join the U.S. and some Arab states in strikes in Syria. Unfortunately, 200 fighters have joined ISIS in Syria’s northern Aleppo province since U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States would strike the group in Syria, according to a monitoring group on Friday. At least 162 have joined the radical al-Qaida offshoot in northeast and eastern Aleppo in the week following Obama’s speech on Sept. 10, according to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human rights. Another 73 men have joined on Sept. 23 and 24 in the northeast Aleppo countryside since the strikes started, bringing the total to 235, the Observatory reports. Additionally, the new men come from al Qaida’s Syrian wing, the Nusra Front, were mostly Syrian and included 15 nationalities. On Monday, activists reported that U.S. led warplanes bombed Islamic State positions overnight across four provinces in northern and eastern Syria, hitting a gran silo and the country’s largest gas plant, the Associated Press reported,
US-led airstrikes hit 4 Syrian provinces.

While last week ISIS became a greater concern to country’s around the world, a long standing debate also took center stage as people marched and rallied for change in Hong Kong. Kevin Chan reports, Pro-Democracy protests expand in Hong Kong, pro-democracy protestors expanded their rally throughout Hong Kong Monday defying calls to disperse in a major push back against Beijing’s decision to limit democratic reforms in the Asian financial hub. Police officers tried to negotiate with protestors camped out on a busy highway near the Hong Kong government headquarters that was the scene of tear gas fueled clashes that erupted the previous night. An officer with a bullhorn tried to clear the way for commuters, but was met with a protestor who responded by saying that they want Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to demand a genuine choice for the territory’s voters. China has called the protest illegal and endorsed the Hong Kong’s government’s crackdown, while Beijing has taken a hard line against threat’s to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. The mass protests are the strongest challenge yet to Beijing’s decision last month to reject open nominations for candidates under proposed guidelines for the first-ever elections for Hong Kong’s leader, promised for 2017. Instead, candidates must continue to be hand-picked by Beijing – a move that many residents viewed as reneging on promises to allow greater democracy in the semi-autonomous territory. Lueng said, “I hope the public will keep calm. Don’t be misled by the rumors. Police will strive to maintain social order, including ensuring smooth traffic and ensuring the public safety. When they carry out their duties, they will use their maximum discretion.” The protest has been spearheaded largely but student-age activists but has gathered momentum among a broad range of people from high school students to the elderly. Protestors are also occupying streets in other parts of Hong Kong Island such as the upscale shopping area of Causeway Bay and across the harbor in densely populated Mong Kok on the Kowloon peninsula. In addition, the city’s transport department said roads in the area are closed and more than 200 bus routes have been canceled or diverted int he city dependent on public transportation as well as Subway exits that have been closed or blocked near the protest area. Authorities said some schools in areas near the main protest site would be closed. To ward off tear gas, demonstrators improvised with homemade defenses such as plastic wrap, which they used to cover their face and arms, as well as umbrellas, goggles and surgical masks. The protests began with a class boycott last week by students urging Beijing to grant genuine democratic reforms to this former British colony. Beijing’s insistence on using a committee to screen candidates on the basis of their patriotism to China – similar to the one that currently hand-picks Hong Kong’s leaders – has stoked fears among pro-democracy groups that Hong Kong will never get genuine democracy. Students and activists had been camped out since late Friday on streets outside the government complex. Sunday’s clashes arose when police sought to block thousands of people from entering the protest zone. Protesters spilled onto a busy highway, bringing traffic to a standstill. Although students started the rally, leaders of the broader Occupy Central civil disobedience movement joined them early Sunday, saying they wanted to kick-start a long-threatened mass sit-in demanding Hong Kong’s top leader be elected without Beijing’s interference. Occupy Central issued a statement Monday calling on Leung to resign and saying his “non-response to the people’s demands has driven Hong Kong into a crisis of disorder.” The statement added that the protest was now “a spontaneous movement” of all Hong Kong people. Police said they had arrested 78 people. They also took away several pro-democracy legislators who were among the demonstrators, but later released them. According to the Hong Kong Information Services Department on Monday, at least 41 people have been injured or taken to the hospital along with six police officers. The Associate Press reports, Hong Kong leader says Beijing won’t back down, that a brief statement from the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement set a Wednesday deadline for a response from the government to meet their demands for reforms after spending another night blocking the streets of Hong Kong. The requirements for ending the protest is for the city’s unpopular chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, to meet their demands for genuine democracy and for him to step down as Hong Kong’s leader. Even larger crowds are expected to flood the streets Wednesday, China’s National Day holiday. The government said it was canceling a fireworks display to mark the day. By Tuesday morning, the crowd, mostly students, continued to occupy a six-lane highway next to the local government headquarters. The encampment was also edging closer to the heart of the city’s financial district. Police said they used 87 rounds of tear gas Sunday in what they called a necessary but restrained response to protesters pushing through cordons and barricades. Officials announced that schools in some districts of Hong Kong would remain closed Tuesday because of safety concerns. The protests have been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” by some, because the crowds have used umbrellas to not only block the sun, but also to stop the police from hitting them with pepper spray. Political slogans calling for freedom have also been written on the umbrellas.

Meanwhile, in the United States, protests and rallies continue to surround Ferguson where a black unarmed teenager was shot by a white police officer, causing racial tensions to simmer and boil over repeatedly this past month. On Friday, the Department of Justice and officials said they personally observed Ferguson police officers not wearing name plates which is in direct conflict with Ferguson Police Department policy, but on duty officers in Ferguson were wearing wristband in support of the cop who shot and killed an unarmed teen last month, according to what the DOJ told police in St. Louis County and reported by AOL, DOJ Gets Ferguson, St. Louis County Cops To Ban ‘I Am Darren Wilson’ Wristbands. A photo posted on social media during demonstrations in Ferguson on Tuesday night appears to show an officer working crowd control wearing a wristband that reads “I am Darren Wilson.” The slogan and campaigns associated with it are in support of the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown and whom protestors want arrested. A grand jury currently is weighing the evidence against Wilson, and the FBI has launched a separate civil rights investigation into the case. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said the wristbands were “not a statement of law enforcement” and that he would have conversations with law enforcement agencies about officers wearing the wristbands. Christy Lopez, deputy chief of the special litigation section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, sent a letter to Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson on Friday indicating that Jackson had agreed to prohibit Ferguson officers from wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets while in uniform and on duty. The letter said Jackson had said he would make sure the other municipal agencies working in Ferguson would prohibit their officers from wearing the bracelets as well. Lopez said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and Missouri Highway Patrol Ron Replogle had indicated to Justice Department officials they also would ban the bracelets. According to letter Lopez wrote: “These bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.” In a separate letter that DOJ sent to Jackson this week that was released on Friday, Civil Rights Division officials asked him to make sure his officers were wearing name tags while on duty. The letter to Jackson states: “Officers wearing name plates while in uniform is a basic component of transparency and accountability. It is a near-universal requirement of sound policing practices and required under some state laws. Allowing officers to remain anonymous when they interact with the public contributes to mistrust and undermines accountability. The failure to wear name plates conveys a message to community members that, through anonymity, officers may seek to act with impunity.” Protests have heated up in Ferguson this week, six weeks after Brown was killed after Wilson stopped him and a friend because they were walking in the middle of the street. Jackson apologized to the Brown family and protestors this week in a video released by a public relations firm working for the city. Another component of the Justice Department, the Community Relations Service, also held meetings with Ferguson residents this week in an attempt to sooth tensions in the area. The Associated Press reports, AP Interview: Browns unmoved by chief’s apology, the parents of Michael Brown want the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot their unarmed 18 year old son arrested and charged with murder and the police chief fired. In a wide-ranging interview, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden said yes when asked if Chief Tom Jackson should be fired, and his father, Michael Brown Sr., said he wanted the officer who shot his son to be in handcuffs for the Aug. 9 death. Brown said, “An apology would be when Darren Wilson has handcuffs, processed and charged with murder.” McSpadden added, “There’s going to continue to be unrest until they do what should be done.” Brown’s parents are in the nation’s capital to meet with lawmakers and lobby Congress to pass a law requiring police officers to wear cameras during their interactions with the public. They also called on the Justice Department to take over the investigation into whether there should be criminal charges against the officer. The parents were invited to the annual awards dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, where President Barack Obama spoke of the mistrust between local residents and law enforcement in many communities following these episodes like Brown’s death. He said, “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement – guilty of walking while black, driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.” The parents were also angry over Ferguson police wearing bracelets in support of Wilson. Obama at the Saturday dinner said: “It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them. And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children. That is not the society we want. It’s not the society that our children deserve. Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement – guilty of walking while black or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. Back in Ferguson, Jack Gillum reports, Ferguson demands high fees to turn over city files, Bureaucrats responding to requests under the state’s Sunshine Act to turn over government files about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees’ salaries before they will agree to release any records. The move discourages journalists and civil rights groups from investigating the shooting and its aftermath. While the city under Missouri law can give away copies of records for free if determined that the material was in the public’s interest to see, the city has decided to charge high fees with little explanation of the cost breakdown. Price-gouging for government files is one way that local, state and federal agencies have responded to requests for potentially embarrassing information they may not want released. Open records laws are designed to give the public access to government records at little or no cost, and have historically exposed waste, wrongdoing and corruption. According to Gillum, since the death and ensuing protest, news organizations, nonprofit groups and everyday citizens have submitted records requests to Ferguson officials, asking for police reports, records about Brown and the personnel files of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown Aug. 9.

Liberia Ebola Crisis Worsens, Ukraine Faces New Challenges, Gaza Talks Collaspe into Chaos and Islamic State Militants Up the Pressure

On Wednesday, acting on their president’s orders, riot police and soldiers used scrap wood and barbed wire to quarantine 50,000 people inside their Liberian slum in order to contain the Ebola outbreak that has killed 1,350 people and counting across West Africa, according to Jonathon Paye-Layleh and Wade Williams, Liberia Seals Off Slum To Control Ebola, Angry Residents Clash With Troops. The World Health Organization said the death toll has risen quickly in Liberia accounting for 576 of the fatalities, while 2,473 people have been sickened across West Africa making this outbreak larger than the caseloads of all the previous two dozen combined. The U.N. health agency warned of food shortages, water shortages, and other essential supplies in West Africa’s population centers. In West Point, a densely populated slum surrounded by floating sewage, suffers from government neglect in the best of times and mistrust of authorities with open defecation being a major problem. Drinking water is carried in wheelbarrows and people need the market for their food. Mohamed Fahnbulleh, a resident, said: “Why are you ill-treating people like this? How can we take this kind of government to be peaceful? It is not fair — We are human.” Days earlier, residents ransacked a screening center where people in contact with Ebola victims were being monitored causing dozens of potential carriers to be taken somewhere else in the city. In a national address late Tuesday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf imposed a nighttime curfew and ordered the quarantine of West Point and Dolo Town adding: “There will be no movements in and out of those areas. We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government. Fellow citizens, these measures are meant to save lives … May God bless us all and save the State.” Via telephone, Deputy Police Chief Abraham Kromah said, “Please remain law-abiding; throwing stones at police officers and security officers is not the best way out.” While counties and districts have been sealed off in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guinea has imposed internal travel restrictions. The agency responded to shortages of food, fuel and basic supplies, by saying: “WHO is working with the U.N. World Food Program to ensure adequate food and supplies, but calls on companies to make business decisions based on scientific evidence.” Nigeria’s heath minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person has died of Ebola, but all reported cases have been people in direct contact with a Liberian American man who arrived already infected. On Monday, Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported, 17 who fled Liberia Ebola clinic still missing, authorities were looking for the dozen or so patients who abandoned the Ebola quarantine center in Liberia’s capital during looting last weekend, even though several were still being tested and under observation. During the raid, 37 patients left possibly to return to their own communities, according to Information Minister Lewis Brown, however, 20 have been brought back to two hospitals. Meanwhile, the experimental drug from California based pharmaceutical company, ZMapp, was given to three Liberian health workers who contracted the virus are showing signs of recovery, officials reported Tuesday, Jonathon Paye-Layleh and John Heilprin report, Liberia: 3 receiving untested Ebola drug improving. In addition, two infected American received the treatment and are improving, while a Spaniard who also received the treatment died.

Turning our attention to a different kind of war, on Thursday, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, 5 Ukrainian troops killed; fierce battles reported, five troops and two civilians were killed in the past 24 hours in rebel held areas of eastern Ukraine as government forces try to regain territory from pro-Russian separatists. So far, the conflict has claimed 2,000 lives and displaced 340,000 people from their homes. Ukraine celebrates Independence Day on Sunday, while government forces aim to achieve a breakthrough by that date. On Monday Ukraine accused rebels of killing dozens of civilians in an attack ear on a convoy fleeing a besieged rebel held city, according to Vasilyeva, Refugee Convoy In Ukraine Hit By Rocket Fire, Dozens Reportedly Killed. The rebels denied any attack, while the U.S. confirmed the shelling of the convoy but did not know who was responsible. Col. Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s National Security Council spokesman, told reports: “Many people were killed, among them women and children” between the towns of Khryashchuvate and Novosvitlivka adding: “We are not able to count the death toll at this point.” Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky, a Ukrainian government’s military operation spokesman, told the Associated Press 15 bodies had been recovered from the smoldering vehicles and servicemen were collecting the body parts of at least 10 more people. Donetsk rebel chief Alexander Zakharchenko said no attack took place and Andrei Purgin, his deputy, said he had no information either: “If someone was killed, it wasn’t us but the Ukrainian military.” The U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told report in Washington: “We strongly condemn the shelling and rocketing of a convoy that was bearing internally displaced persons in Luhansk and express our condolences to the families of the victims. All sides must take every precaution to protect innocent lives. We are unable to confirm reports of who was responsible for the shelling and rocketing.” Residents of Luhansk have had no running water, electricity or phone connections for 16 days as fighting continues around the city and food is short in supply making it harder to secure food. Tensions have increased as Russia over the past week said it plans to send a massive aid convoy to help rebel held eastern Ukraine. A Red Cross spokeswoman in the region told the Associated Press that they are still waiting for security guarantees as 200 Russian aid trucks.

In the Middle East on Tuesday, Egyptian attempts to make a deal to end the month long conflict between Israel and Hamas has collapsed into heavy fighting Tuesday as Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets and Israeli responded with airstrikes across Gaza killing two people, Ibrahim Barzak reports, Egyptian cease-fire efforts collapse. The violence erupted hours before the temporary truce ended as Israel withdrew its delegation from Cairo Tuesday afternoon and quickly resumed its airstrikes following rocket fire. The two fatalities were the first since a temporary truce last Wednesday started. An Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said, “The Cairo talks were based on an agreed premise of a total cessation of hostilities. When Hamas breaks the cease-fire, they also break the premise for the Cairo talks. Accordingly, the Israeli team has been called back as a result of today’s rocket fire.” No one knows if the team will return to Cairo or whether Israel will continue to talk as Egyptian security officials are still pressing the two sided to agree to a ceasefire. So far, more than 2,000 Palestinians mostly civilians have been killed, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, with tens of thousands displaced compared to 64 Israeli solider, two Israeli citizens and a guest workers dying.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, U.S. officials said military planners were weighing the possibility of sending a small number of additional U.S. troops into Baghdad as insurgents threaten to kill a second American captive in retribution for airstrikes that have pounded Islamic state militants, Lolita C. Baldor and Lara Jakes reports, Military Considering Sending Additional Troops To Iraq, Officials Say. The strike came hours after militants released a gruesome video Tuesday showing U.S. journalist James Foley being beheaded and underscored President Barack Obama’s promise Wednesday to continue attacks against the group. According to senior U.S. officials the number would be fewer than 300 additional troops. The militants threatened to kill Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who is being held captive, if the U.S. continues to conduct airstrikes. According to Baldor and Jakes: “Currently there are about 748 U.S. forces in Iraq, in addition to the approximately 100 troops that have routinely been assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation in Baghdad. Under the current war powers resolutions sent to Congress, Obama authorized up to 775 U.S. troops for security assistance, assessment teams, and advisers at two joint operations centers in Baghdad and Irbil.” Foley, a 40 year old journalist from Rochester, New Hampshire, went missing in northern Syria while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013 and freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine. Larak Jakes reports, Obama: US won’t stop confronting Islamic State, while the execution of journalist James Foley drew international condemnation as western nations stepped up their efforts to counter the militants, in capitals across the Middle East, Foley’s death was met with silence even in Syria and Iraq. On social media, people condemned Foley’s killing, but stressed the Islamic State has been committing atrocities against Iraqis and Syrians for years. On Wednesday, outside their home in Rochester, New Hampshire, Diane and John Foley addressed reporters: “We are just very proud of Jimmy and we are praying for the strength to love like he did and keep courageous and keep fighting for all the people he was fighting for. We pray for all the remaining Americans.” Obama, from Martha’s Vineyard, said: “Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim,” Obama said. “All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss.” Since August 8, 84 airstrikes have been carried out in Iraq on Islamic State targets including security checkpoints, vehicles and weapons caches. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalist said more than 80 journalist have been abducted in Syria and estimates 20 are still missing. On Monday, Pope Francis endorsed the use of force to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities in Iraq but said the international community not one country should decide how to intervene, Nicole Winfield reports, Pope Francis Endorses Use Of Force In Iraq To Stop Persecution Of Religious Minorities. Francis responded as follows to whether or not he approved of U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State militants: “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.” However he said, in history, such excuses to stop an unjust aggressors has been used by world powers to justify a war of conquest in which entire people have been taken over. He added, “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor. After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about: It’s there that you must discuss ‘Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?’ Just this. Nothing more.” The Associated Press reported Wednesday, US mission to rescue hostages in Syria failed, that the administration disclosed that President Barack Obama sent special operations troops to Syria this summer on a secret mission to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, held by Islamic State extremists, but they did not find them. Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, said in a statement: “The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens. Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”

The Middle East Crisis Deepens as Militants Gain Ground

AP Photo/Jaber al-Helo

Last Friday, Pentagon officials announced that the U.S. had started to fly armed drones over Baghdad to protect U.S. civilians and military forces in the Iraqi capital, according to the Associate Press. The senior defense official under anonymity confirmed that a handful of Predators armed with Hellfire missiles are being used in the mission. The drones are assisting manned and unmanned aircraft in the collection of data as well as provide protection for U.S. interests since President Obama has not authorized airstrikes against Sunni militants who have overrun parts of the country. The Pentagon on Thursday said that four teams of Army special forces had arrived in Baghdad bringing the number of American troops there to 90 of the 300 Obama promised to send. The Americans will advise and assist in the Iraqi counterterrorism efforts.

On Saturday of last week, the Iraqi government took steps to retake the northern city of Tikrit back from Sunni militants using soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, reported Ryan Lucas and Qassim Abdul Zahra (Iraq Launches Push For Militant-Held Tikrit). Reports coming from the city were conflicting as residents said the militants were still in control of the city by nightfall, while Iraqi officials said the troops had reached the outskirts and even made it as far as the heart of Tikrit itself. What has become very clear was the government’s desire to portray their efforts as a significant step in the right direction after two weeks of defeats at the hands of the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The series of defeats across the northern and western regions of Iraq has lead to the deepest crisis since the U.S. exited in December of 2011 threatening the stability of the country as the militants threaten to cleave the  nation in three along sectarian and ethnic lines. If successful, according to Lucas and Abdul Zahra, the Tikrit operation could restore some faith in the security forces and save Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s job. Many residents of the city have fled in anticipation of a government assault turning Tikrit into a ghost town. The city has been without power or water since last Friday night, according to one resident, Muhanad Saif al-Din. Early Saturday, the military carried out three airstrikes on the insurgent held city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the initial target of the Islamic State’s offensive in the country. The Islamic State, which has seized control of large parts of northern and eastern Syria, aim to create a state straddling Syria and Iraq governed by Islamic law. Al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has failed to unite the Shiite and Sunni groups allowing militants to tap into the deep seated discontent among Iraq’s Sunni community fueling their anger. The Unites States and other world leaders have told al-Maliki to reach out to the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities and have called for more inclusive government to address longstanding grievances, according to Lucas and Abdul Zahra. Al-Maliki has refused to step aside and will seek a third consecutive term as prime minister as his bloc won the most seats in the April election.

On Sunday of last week, the al-Qaida breakaway group declared the establishment of a new Islamic state demanding allegiance from Muslims worldwide, according to the Associate Press article Al-Qaida splinter declares new Islamic caliphate. The spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, made the announcement in an audio statement posted online on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Al-Adnanai declared the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the new leader, or caliph, calling for jihadi groups everywhere to swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi and support him. Al-Adnani states,”The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas. Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day.” The Islamic state’s territory runs from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala, according to Al-Adnani. With the establishment of the caliphate, the group changed its name to the Islamic State. In email comments, Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, explains that:”This announcement poses a huge threat to al-Qaida and its long-time position of leadership of the international jihadist cause. Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of (the Islamic State), largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality.” Al-Baghdadi has long been at odds with al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri and the two have had a very public falling out after al-Baghdadi ignored al-Zawahri’s demands that the Islamic State leave Syria. In February, al Zawahri formally disavowed al-Baghdadi. The declarations comes as the Iraqi government tries to take back some of its territory lost in recent weeks to jihadi groups and Sunni militants. The fighting continued on Sunday as Iraqi helicopter gunships took out suspected insurgent positions for the second day in the northern city of Tikrit. However, the insurgent were able to repel the military effort and remain in control of the city with clashes continuing to take place in the northern neighborhood of Qadissiyah, according to two residents.So far, Washington has sent 180 of the 300 American troops President Obama promised to help Iraqi forces, in addition, to flying unmanned and manned aircraft over Iraq.

President Obama has become increasingly concerned that the battle hardened militants who have spent time in Iraq and Syria could pose a threat to U.S. security due to the fact they could enter the country without visas on European passports, the Associate Press reports Obama: Battle-Hardened Militants Pose Threat To U.S. In an interview last Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”, Obama said,”They’re gaining strength in some places. We’ve seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause traveling into Syria and now may travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened. Then they come back.”  The POTUS believes that the U.S. must improve surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering to neutralize the risk, in addition, possible military strikes against these organizations that could do us harm. As of Monday, officials confirmed that the U.S. will be sending another 300 troops to Iraq to beef up security at the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in Baghdad to protect U.S. citizens and property, the HuffPost and Associated Press report (Obama Orders More Troops To Iraq). This addition brings the count to 750 total U.S. troops present in Iraq. The State Department has announced it will temporarily move unspecified embassy staffers in Baghdad to U.S. consulates in the northern city of Ibril and the southern city of Basra. On Sunday and Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that 200 troops have arrived to reinforce security at the embassy, its support facilities and Baghdad International Airport as requested by the POTUS. In a written statement, the Pentagon’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, had this to say: “The presence of these additional forces will help enable the embassy to continue its critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraq on challenges they are facing as they confront Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” Obama notified House and Senate leaders in a letter Monday of the additional forces. Obama has ruled out sending combat troops and insists the extra troops will stay in Iraq until security improves and reinforcement are no longer needed. Kirby said 100 additional troops who are on standby in the Middle East since the mid June will move to Baghdad to provide security and logistics support.