The United States launched at least one airstrike against Islamic State militants near Baghdad on Monday, marking the expansion of the US military campaign against the extremist group. The airstrike was reportedly requested by Iraqi forces under attack.
According to US officials cited by the Associated Press, the airstrike was authorized after Iraqi security forces requested air power support as they engaged Islamic State (IS) fighters south of Baghdad.
An unnamed defense official, meanwhile, told NBC News that the most recent air attack near Baghdad was an “offensive” strike, and there was no suggestion that militants were making headway towards the country’s capital.
US Central Command confirmed the air strike and affirmed that it was part of a new phase in the battle against IS.
Previous airstrikes in Iraq were characterized by the US as “defensive” in nature, as they were used to protect American diplomatic sites as well as crucial Iraqi facilities like the Mosul Dam.
By directly supporting Iraqi forces from the air as they participated in what ABC News described as a “firefight,” officials say the US is beginning to act on President Barack Obama’s strategy to actively engage the Islamic State (IS). As Obama announced last week, his plan is to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the group through expanded airstrikes and by forming a coalition against it.
Additionally, the US also launched at least one airstrike near Sinjar Mountain in northwestern Iraq, where ethnic minorities like the Yazidis were previously cornered by militants and faced starvation.
The offensive strike comes as the US attempts to cobble together an international coalition in order to fight the militants in Iraq and Syria. Countries including France and Australia have committed themselves to taking part in the aerial campaign, according to CNN. France is currently carrying out reconnaissance flights over Iraq, while Australia is sending aircraft to the United Arab Emirates for potential deployment.
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, has said it would arm the Kurds in northern Iraq and continue offering humanitarian aid.
So far, most US allies, including those in the region – Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia – have ruled out deploying ground forces to fight IS militants. Saudi Arabia has said it would train Syrian rebels on its soil in light of Washington’s proposal to arm factions that will fight against the extremists.
Meanwhile, Iran – considered a critical player in the Middle East’s latest conflict – has turned down an American offer to join an international effort to fight IS, according to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The American ambassador in Iraq asked our ambassador [to Iraq] for a session to discuss coordinating a fight against Daesh [Islamic State],” he said.
“Our ambassador in Iraq reflected this to us, which was welcomed by some [Iranian] officials, but I was opposed. I saw no point in cooperating with a country whose hands are dirty and intentions murky."
Militants for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have traveled to Mexico and are just miles from the United States. They plan to cross over the porous border and will “imminently” launch car bomb attacks. And the threat is so real that federal law enforcement officers have been placed at a heightened state of alert, and an American military base near the border has increased its security.
As the Obama administration and the American public have focused their attention on ISIS in recent weeks, conservative groups and leading Republicans have issued stark warnings like those that ISIS and other extremists from Syria are planning to enter the country illegally from Mexico. But the Homeland Security Department, the F.B.I. and lawmakers who represent areas near the border say there is no truth to the warnings.
“There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border,” Homeland Security officials said in a written statement, using an alternative acronym for the group.
Democrats say opponents of President Obama are simply playing on concerns about terrorism as part of their attempt to portray Mr. Obama as having failed to secure the border against illegal immigration.
“There’s a longstanding history in this country of projecting whatever fears we have onto the border,” said Representative Beto O’Rourke, Democrat of Texas, who represents El Paso and other areas near the border. “In the absence of understanding the border, they insert their fears. Before it was Iran and Al Qaeda. Now it’s ISIS. They just reach the conclusion that invasion is imminent, and it never is.”
At a congressional hearing last week, Representative Jeff Duncan, Republican of South Carolina, pushed back strongly against the testimony of Homeland Security Department officials and Mr. O’Rourke, saying they were ignoring a gathering threat.
“Wake up, America,” Mr. Duncan said before storming out of the hearing. “With a porous southern border, we have no idea who’s in our country.”
Judicial Watch said intelligence officials had “picked up radio talk and chatter indicating that the terrorist groups are going to ‘carry out an attack on the border.’ “ It quoted a “high-level source” saying that the attack was “coming very soon.”
Mr. O’Rourke said that immediately after that report was posted he called the F.B.I. and Homeland Security Department. They told him they had no intelligence about such an attack. Mr. O’Rourke said he spent the rest of his day arguing with members of the news media in Texas about why the Judicial Watch report was not a story. He largely failed to convince them, and the article was widely reported.
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, said the Obama administration had a history of looking the other way on national security threats, particularly ones involving the border.
- The Obama administration said late Monday night that the U.S. military will set up a command post in Monrovia, Liberia, the Ebola outbreak's epicenter
- 'This effort ... will involve an estimated 3,000 U.S. forces,' according to the White House
- Pentagon official says military will 'be the lead dog, and that will make a lot of people nervous. ... No one wants U.S. personnel enforcing someone else's martial law if things go south and the entire region is at risk'
- U.S. Africa Command warns servicemen and women: 'Avoid nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia'
- Pentagon is drawing flak for sending 25-bed 'field-deployable hospital' that is meant to treat health care workers, not civilian victims
- The U.S. president will travel to the CDC in Atlanta on Tuesday for a briefing about his government's efforts to stem the tide overseas
The United States government is sending thousands of military troops to the west African nation of Liberia as part of the Obama administration's Ebola virus-response strategy, the White House said late Monday night.
'U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force Command headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, to provide regional command and control support to U.S. military activities and facilitate coordination with U.S. government and international relief efforts,' a statement from the White House press office said.
'A general from U.S. Army Africa, the Army component of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), will lead this effort, which will involve an estimated 3,000 U.S. forces.'
Liberia is the hardest-hit of the four west African nations that have confirmed Ebola cases, accounting for more than one-half of the fatalities. The others are Sierra Leone, Guinea and, to a lesser extent, Nigeria.
And the Defense Department is concerned, one Pentagon official told MailOnline, about the public perceptions aroused when American G.I.s patrol ground zero in a disease outbreak that could plunge three or more countries into chaos if it worsens significantly.
Combat soldiers and Marines 'will be on hand and ready for anything,' said the official, who has knowledge of some, but not all, of the Ebola-related planning. 'But hopefully it will be all logistics and hospital-building.'
'The president has ordered us to help, and we're eager to do it,' he said. 'Now it looks like we're going to be the lead dog, and that's bound to make a lot of people nervous. It's understandable.'
'But no one wants U.S. personnel enforcing someone else's martial law if things go south and the entire region is at risk.'
The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the Ebola crisis on Thursday to find ways to scale up the global response to the epidemic, according to the United States UN ambassador.
"It is crucial that council members discuss the status of the epidemic, confer on a coordinated international response and begin the process of marshalling our collective resources to stop the spread of the disease," US ambassador Samantha Power said.
Airlines have halted many flights into and around West Africa, where governments have closed some borders and imposed travel restrictions in a bid to fight an Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 2,400 people.
Experts have warned such moves are counter-productive as economies are crippled by the lack of trade and it becomes harder to move aid workers and supplies to fight the virus around the region.
"Now that we have a clearer understanding of the disease and how it spreads and all of the ramifications, we should not, in panic, take measures that will isolate the countries that are affected by this outbreak," Mr Mahama said while in Liberia, on the first leg of a tour of Ebola-affected countries.
A council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would only be the second public health crisis to be discussed by the 15-member body, which met on HIV/AIDS in 2000.
Mr Mahama said Ghana is prepared to be the hub for moving supplies and people into Ebola-affected countries but he stressed donors must deliver quicker on their promises.
"We have received a lot of response and promises of resources. Those resources are very slow in coming," he said.
The WHO said some $600 million is needed to fight the outbreak.
Organisations like medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres have called for civilian and military bio-disaster response teams.
But former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told news agency Reuters he was "bitterly disappointed" with the international response to the Ebola outbreak and called for the rapid deployment of specialised units, including military personnel.
"What is a bit surprising here is that many people have died and are dying ... and yet we have not acted and responded in a manner that will have a real impact on the ground," he said.
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