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US to deploy unique force to expand fight against Islamic State

Posted December 02, 2015 05:53:09

The United States says it will deploy a new force of specific operations troops to Iraq that will be capable to conduct raids, free of charge hostages, capture Islamic State leaders and carry out “unilateral operations” in Syria.

Key points

  • US defence secretary announces plan to deploy new expeditionary group to Iraq
  • Troops would be utilized to conduct raids against Islamic State leaders and carry out ‘unilateral operations’ in Syria
  • Force to be deployed in Iraq, official says
  • US ‘eager’ to do far more to help nearby forces combat the Islamic State group

US defence secretary Ash Carter offered couple of particulars on the new expeditionary group.

It is separate from a previously announced deployment of up to 50 US unique operations troops in Syria to coordinate on the ground with US-backed rebels fighting in a civil war raging given that 2011.

Mr Carter said the new force would be bigger than the a single getting sent into Syria, but did not specify how many troops it would include.

The Pentagon chief said the new deployment of this “specialised expeditionary targeting force” was being carried out in coordination with the government of Iraq and would help Iraqi government security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

“These unique operators will over time be able to conduct raids, cost-free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders,” Mr Carter told the US Property of Representatives Armed Solutions Committee, utilizing an acronym for Islamic State.

“This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria.”

A US defence official, speaking on situation of anonymity, stated the new force would be primarily based in Iraq.

US president Barack Obama is under stress to accelerate a US-led coalition’s efforts to combat Islamic State, in distinct following the November 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 folks.

Mr Obama has been reluctant to commit large numbers of American ground troops, instead deploying restricted numbers of advisors and elite forces.

Ash Carter testifies before House Armed Services Committee Photo: US defence secretary Ash Carter (L) stated the force would be capable to carry out “unilateral operations” in Syria. (Reuters: Gary Cameron)

Critics, including Republicans in Congress, accuse Mr Obama of moving also slowly against Islamic State, which controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and claimed duty for the Paris attacks.

The leading US military officer, Marine Corps Basic Joseph Dunford, mentioned the new elite force would significantly accelerate the collection of intelligence, which “will make our operations significantly more successful”.

“We’re fighting a campaign across Iraq and Syria so we’re going to go where the enemy is, and we’re going to conduct operations exactly where they most effectively degrade the capabilities of the enemy,” General Dunford testified.

Mr Carter stated all coalition members should do far more. He cited gaps along the Turkish-Syrian border that Islamic State makes use of to smuggle goods and fighters to and from the battlefield.

“Turkey have to do more to handle its typically-porous border,” he stated.

“Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states joined the air campaign in the early days, but have because been pre-occupied by the conflict in Yemen.”

Reuters

Topics: unrest-conflict-and-war, iraq, syrian-arab-republic, united-states

Agen Sabung Ayam

Brussels Remains on Highest Alert Level as Manhunts Expand

Photo

Belgian soldiers patrolled the Grand Place in Brussels on Sunday. The United States Embassy continued to advise citizens to “remain at home” and avoid public gatherings. Credit Yves Herman/Reuters

BRUSSELS — The Belgian authorities for a second day on Sunday maintained the highest possible alert level, virtually locking down the capital as they extended their hunt for a widening number of suspects linked to the Paris massacres and who were poised, they feared, to carry out an imminent new attack.

“We fear an attack similar to the one in Paris,” Prime Minister Charles Michel told a news conference on Sunday evening. “A number of individuals could launch an attack on several locations in Brussels simultaneously.”

“We have indications that the targets of such an attack will be areas that attract large crowds like commercial centers,” he added.

Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, said that the threat was wider than that posed by Salah Abdeslam, a suspected Paris attacker who is still at large, suggesting that the Paris attacks may have involved a far broader network than originally thought.

“There are a number of suspects,” Mr. Jambon earlier told a Sunday program on the Belgian broadcaster VRT. “That’s why we’ve put in place such a concentration” of security measures, he added. “We are following the situation minute by minute. There’s no point in hiding it, there is a real threat.”

A former French intelligence official close to the investigations said that the Belgians were now looking for eight to 10 people who are heavily armed with weapons and explosives, in addition to Mr. Abdeslam, a resident of the heavily immigrant Molenbeek district of Brussels that was home to several of the Paris attackers.

Several Belgian media outlets reported that the police had arrested four people on Saturday evening, one wearing a suicide belt. Geert Schoorens, a magistrate at the federal prosecutor’s office, said on Sunday that he could “neither deny nor confirm” those reports because investigations were ongoing.

For a second day, the government put the country’s threat level at 4, the highest possible. The United States Embassy in Brussels continued to advise citizens to “remain at home” and avoid public gatherings. The authorities announced that schools and subways in Brussels would remain closed on Monday as well.

A railway station under the headquarters of the European Union’s executive remained sealed off on Sunday and all traffic on the Brussels metro system was suspended. Soldiers with automatic weapons patrolled shopping malls. Several big stores stayed closed. A massive Sunday market near the Brussels-South railway station that usually draws as many as 50,000 shoppers was canceled.

Prime Minister Michel said on Saturday that the threat level had been raised because of “information, relatively precise, of a risk of an attack similar to the one that unfolded in Paris.”

Bernard Clerfayt, the mayor of Schaerbeek, a commune of Brussels, was more loose-tongued. On Sunday, he told the Belgian television network RTBF that “there are two terrorists on the ground in the Brussels region.”

Brussels was under such high alert that Mr. Jambon said he requested some football matches be canceled so that the reserve federal police, who usually enforce the security during matches, could be deployed in the capital.

At the same time, the French authorities on Sunday published a new call for witnesses related to the attacks in Paris and the raid in Saint-Denis last week, appealing for more information about the suicide bomber who was the second of three attackers to detonate explosive vests outside the Stade de France.

The call for witnesses, published by the French national police on Twitter, included a picture but not a name, and asked anybody who had information on the individual to contact the French authorities. The second suicide bomber detonated his vest near Gate H of the stadium, killing no one.

The first detonated his explosives near Gate D, killing one person. A Syrian passport for a 25-year-old individual named Ahmad al-Mohammad, from Idlib, Syria, was found near his body, but the French authorities believe that the passport may have been stolen.

On Friday, the Paris prosecutor’s office said that fingerprints for both the first and second bombers were taken at the same check for migrants in Greece on Oct. 3. The third bomber, identified as Bilal Hadfi, a 20-year-old French citizen living in Belgium, detonated his explosives on the nearby Rue de la Cokerie but did not kill anybody.

The appeal for help and the extraordinary security measures in Brussels came amid fresh revelations around another suspect, Abraimi Lazez, a 39-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent, who was arrested on Thursday and charged with helping Mr. Abdeslam after his return to Belgium following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

The authorities arrested Mr. Lazez after finding a handgun and an unspecified amount of blood in his car, his lawyer, Sokol Vljahen, said. Mr. Lazez, who grew up in the same Molenbeek neighborhood as some of the Paris attackers, denied any link to the attacks, his lawyer said.

Mr. Abdeslam was stopped by French police officers on Nov. 14 during a routine traffic check as he drove back to Brussels with two friends, both of whom have since been arrested, a few hours after the Paris attacks. He had a criminal record, but no warrant linked to his file, and he had not yet been linked to the attacks, so he was allowed to drive on.

One of the two men traveling with him and now under arrest has since told police that Mr. Abdeslam had been wearing a big jacket, “with something underneath,” according to the suspect’s lawyer, Carine Couquelet. While he did not know what it was, the lawyer said, the sight of it “made him scared.”

According to Mr. Lazez’s lawyer, his client never met Salah nor Ibrahim Abdeslam, his brother who died in Paris when he detonated a suicide vest. Mr. Lazez was not friends with Abdelhamid Abaaoud either, he said. Mr. Abaaoud, another Molenbeek resident, was the presumed ringleader of the Paris attacks and killed in a police raid just north of the French capital on Wednesday.

Mohamed, a third brother of the Abdeslams who was detained briefly after the attacks but released, appealed for Salah to turn himself in.

“We wish for him to turn himself in,” he told RTBF television in an interview on Sunday. “To answer us. For our family, for the family of victims, for all the others. We prefer to see him in prison than in a cemetery.”

He denied any knowledge of his brothers’ plans, even though he said that all three “got along well” and had the usual “banal conversations you have with brothers.”

He said he had not paid attention when the attitudes of his two brothers began to change six months ago. “They started praying,” Mohamed said. “Or they stopped drinking alcohol, but it’s not a radical change. For me it’s the sign of people who wanted to chasten themselves, and to be more respectful of their religion.”

When asked whether his brother, Salah, may have been reluctant to participate in the attacks, Mohamed said: “It is my hope that he stepped back at the last minute.”

“Maybe he saw or heard something that made him turn back. After, did he kill victims? Was he at the exact location? Was he there until the end? We don’t know.”

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