ISIS Fight Club: France is in, Germany and Britain not so willing

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France may take part in the US bombing campaign in Iraq aimed at crippling the Islamic State militants if it is asked to do so. The US is now calling for an international coalition to defeat IS, but the UK and Germany are reluctant to join in the strikes.

“In Iraq… we support the formation of an inclusive government. We will participate if necessary in an aerial military action,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday in a speech in Paris.

He added that several hundred French jihadists have joined the IS, formerly known as ISIS, and pose a domestic threat that the French government regards as serious.

The minister added that while Paris is working close with the government in Baghdad, a similar cooperation cannot happened with President Bashar Assad of Syria, “because he has an established link” with IS.

“That is why we will continue to help the moderate Syrian opposition, which is fighting both” the Islamic State and the Assad regime, he said.

It’s not clear what Fabius’ allegation is based on, considering that the Assad government has been battling for months against IS militants, who grew to become the strongest of the armed groups opposing Damascus as they capitalized on the weakness of the Syrian authorities amid the ongoing civil war there.

The statements came hours before US President Barack Obama delivered a much-anticipated security speech pledging to ramp up military action against the extremists, who took over large swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territories with the goal to build a fundamentalist Sunni Islamist state there.

In the meantime, the foreign ministers of Germany and Britain said Thursday that their countries would not take part in airstrikes against the Islamic State.

“To quite clear, we have not been asked to do so and neither will we do so,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a news conference in Berlin.

Steinmeier’s British counterpart, Philip Hammond, said the UK “supports entirely the US approach of developing an international coalition” and it has “ruled nothing out.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R) and his British counterpart Philip Hammond arrive for a news conference after talks in Berlin on September 11, 2014. (AFP Photo / Tobias Schwarz)German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R) and his British counterpart Philip Hammond arrive for a news conference after talks in Berlin on September 11, 2014. (AFP Photo / Tobias Schwarz)

However, when asked by Reuters, he clarified his remarks: “Let me be clear: Britain will not be taking part in any airstrikes in Syria. We have already had that discussion in our parliament last year and we won’t be revisiting that position.”

If the US goes ahead with airstrikes in Syria without a UN Security Council mandate, this would be an act of aggression, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned.

“The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against ISIL positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said. “This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”

The same stance was shared by Syria, which said that any foreign intervention would be an act of aggression unless it is approved by Damascus.

“Any action of any type without the approval of Syrian government is an aggression against Syria,” Ali Haidar, Minister for National Reconciliation, told reporters in Damascus.

“There must be cooperation with Syria and coordination with Syria and there must be a Syrian approval of any action whether it is military or not,” he said.

Washington is building an international coalition, which would give a fight to the Islamic State in Iraq and possibly Syria.

France is already taking part in the Western anti-IS action by sending arms to Kurdish militias in Northern Iraq, who have been playing a key role in halting the advancement of the militants.

Fabius will be among the French delegation headed by President Francois Hollande, which is to arrive in Baghdad on Friday. Next week France will host an international conference on the Iraq situation.

NATO stages massive military drills in Latvia

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The exercises in Latvia will be followed by other drills in Germany, Norway, Ukraine, and Poland later this autumn

As seven-day NATO military exercises continue to take place in Latvia, the organization says the drills are aimed at showing its commitment to Baltic member states in the face of an “assertive” Russia.

Exercise Steadfast Javelin 2, which kicked off on September 2, simulates the deployment of NATO soldiers and equipment during a crisis situation. A total of around 2,000 soldiers from nine different countries are taking part in the maneuvers, which will carry on until Monday.

On Friday night, around 500 paratroopers landed at Lielvarde airport, located about 60 km from Latvia’s capital, Riga.

“We want to assure our people that we are able to protect them. Certainly on top of this we send a clear message to everyone who wants to threaten NATO, that it’s not a thing you should do. NATO will always defend and protect its people,” General Hans-Lothar Domrose, commander of the NATO military command in Brunssum, Netherlands, told reporters.

The exercises in Latvia will be followed by other drills in Germany, Norway, Ukraine, and Poland later this autumn.

Steadfast Javelin 2 was reinforced by a NATO summit in Wales, where the bloc officially announced it was creating a new rapid reaction force. The spearhead of any such force would consist of 4,000-5,000 troops who would be able to deploy to any NATO member country within 48 hours.

“It needs to be a relatively light force. It needs to be a force that succeeds, builds upon intelligence and agility, and precision as opposed to weight of military force. It is an agile, precise, intelligence-led rapidly deployable force,” Lieutenant General Ed Davis, NATO deputy land commander, told Reuters.

After 10 years of placing emphasis on military activity in Afghanistan, the alliance is now refocusing on what it refers to as the defense of its members.

The UK has agreed to provide up to 1,000 personnel in the multi-national force, which will be based in Eastern Europe. There are already 1,500 British troops involved in exercises in Baltic countries and an extra 2,000 will be deployed over the next two years.

Baltic states have been seeking backup from NATO, claiming they fear that Russia could use the same rationale as it did in Crimea to justify an attack on them. Large Russian speaking minorities live in Baltic the region – in Latvia, for instance, they account for some 26 percent (over 520,000 people) of the total population.

The announcement was met with dismay in Moscow, which said that NATO was using the crisis in Ukraine to push its military presence closer to Russia’s borders.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the new force would sabotage the fragile peace process in eastern Ukraine.

“Together with the rhetoric at the summit, and the planned military exercises before the end of the year, this will increase tension, destabilization the nascent peace process, and further widen the division in Ukraine,” the ministry’s statement said.

As tensions remain high in Ukraine, a US Navy destroyer, a Canadian fregate and, reportedly, a French frigate have entered the Black Sea. A Spanish warship is reportedly on its way there as well.

UK to send NATO fences from Wales to France to deter immigrants

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Britain has announced plans to erect a huge fence in the French port city of Calais. The steel fencing was previously used at a NATO summit. The move is part of the UK’s campaign to deter illegal immigrants from entering the British Isles.

Dubbed the “ring of steel,” the barrier – which measures more than 12 miles long and nine feet high – was previously used at a NATO summit in South Wales. It was first erected around Celtic Manor in Newport, as well as around summit venues in Cardiff. It was aimed at protecting dozens of world leaders and ministers from potential terrorist threats.

According to British Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, the fencing will now protect the country from illegal migrants entering the country by crossing the English Channel from Calais “which has been the access point to Britain from the continent for centuries.”

 

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“These [fences] could replace and enlarge the inadequate fencing at Calais, which is too easy for illegal immigrants to scale,” the minister told The Telegraph.

 

Recently, the port has become a growing makeshift camp for an estimated 1,300 migrants from countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, and other troubled states in the Middle East and North and East Africa. According to authorities, the number of illegal immigrants has risen by 50 percent in recent months and continues to increase.

In an attempt to reach the shores of Britain, people flock to Calais and many groups regularly climb over the existing fences – measuring five meters high – to get to trucks and ferries. Eurotunnel passengers and drivers have been warned to search their cars for people possibly hidden inside.

“You can get on a truck and only later you find it is going the wrong way and you might be in Paris or Germany,” a migrant named Johnny told the Daily Mail, adding that “you are never arrested, so you just keep trying.”

 

Amid rising tensions in the area, extreme-right activists demonstrated to “save” Calais from homeless migrants on Sunday. Some 250 people, including a group called ‘Save Calais’ and skinheads with “white power” flags took part in the anti-immigration rally on the streets of the French city.

Read more on the French port immigration crisis

To help deal with the trouble, French officials have made a direct appeal to the UK. Claiming the town has been “taken hostage” by migrants with a goal to cross the channel, Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart has threatened to blockade the port should Britain fail to address the issue.

“We really want the UK Government to think about the English rules, which are possibly the best for immigrants in Europe. We want the Government to make it less attractive, to be less soft,” the mayor of the French city said.

The UK immigration minister said it was France’s responsibility to maintain security of its port, “but we want to do what we can to help.”

“Millions of pounds have already been invested in improving security and upgrading technology in Calais,” James Brokenshire said.

The minister highlighted that the move to install the fencing is only part of a “very clear message” that “Britain is no soft touch when it comes to illegal immigration.”

“Whatever security we install, people will still want to come to Britain. That is why they should be under no illusion about what awaits them if they arrive here illegally…Illegal immigrants will be unable to rent homes, open bank accounts, or obtain driving licences,” Brokenshire warned.

He also promised that a “high-level delegation of civil servants will travel to Paris” for emergency talks.

Meanwhile, other experts think the problem of migrants in Calais is “essentially irresolvable” without better patrolling of the Mediterranean and increased cooperation with transit countries. The fence “might be hard to scale, but people will just try another way,” Tim Finch, director of migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research, told The Independent.

British politician Michael Howard said it was France that needed to deal with asylum seekers, rather than blaming Britain. In the 1990s, when Howard was in office as home secretary, there was “an agreement with France under which if people came to the UK from France and claimed asylum we returned them to France and France dealt with their claim…That is what really ought to happen,” he told BBC Radio 4.

Obama: We are readying new sanctions on Russia despite peace agreement in Ukraine

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United States President Barack Obama said Friday that the US and European Union are still prepared to impose sanctions against Russia if the crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate following the signing of a ceasefire agreement.

Speaking in Newport, Wales at the close of a major NATO alliance summit, Pres. Obama expressed skepticism over a pact signed only hours earlier in Minsk during a meeting of representatives from Kiev, Lugansk and Donetsk, and said the US intends to go ahead with new sanctions revealed by the White House on Thursday this week.

“Obviously we are hopeful,” Obama said of the ceasefire, “but based on past experience, also skeptical that, in fact, the separatists will follow through and the Russians will stop violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“Pro-Russian separatists must keep their commitments,” Obama told the crowd.

The terms of the agreement have to be “tested,” the president added, and that he expects to “move forward based on what is currently happening on the grounds with sanctions, while acknowledging that, if in the fact the elements of the plan that’s been signed are implemented, then those sanctions could be lifted.”

Taking that approach, Obama said, “is a more likely way to ensure that there is a follow through” on the part of Russia.

One day earlier, a White House spokesperson said that the US is readying a new wave of sanctions to impose against Russia as a result of Moscow’s perceived role in the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine, and the EU was expected to do the same, targeting both the federation’s energy and defense sectors.

From the NATO summit, Obama said the ceasefire agreed upon only hours earlier was a result of “both the sanctions that have already been applied and the threat of further sanctions, which are having a real impact on the Russian economy and have isolated Russia in a way we have not seen in a very long time.”

Speaking on behalf of the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that the latest sanctions being threatened against Moscow by European powers could be rescinded if the ceasefire deal is a success.

“Everything is in flux,” Merkel said. “Therefore we should expect that these sanctions could indeed be put into force, but with the provison that they can be suspended again if this process really takes place,” she said, Reuters reported.

According to Pres. Obama, this week’s talks among NATO partners yielded the decision that all 28-member states will now provide security assistance to Ukraine by means of supplying non-lethal supports, including body armor, fuel and medical care, as well as assistance intended to modernizing Ukrainian forces through improved logistics and command and control capabilities.

Petro Poroshenko, the recently elected president of Ukraine, said “The highest value is human life, and we must do everything possible to stop the bloodshed and put an end to suffering.”

The United Nations estimated last month that roughly 2,600 people have died in eastern Ukraine since fighting intensified in April.

US, EU preparing new round of economic sanctions against Russia

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The United States is planning a new round of sanctions aimed at the Russian Federation over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the White House said on Thursday, and the European Union is reportedly on the verge of doing the same.

Reuters reported on Thursday that the White House is working on a new wave of sanctions against Russia, which may be imposed in tandem with embargoes expected to be announced by European Union representatives later this week. The newswire made the announcement as the White House participated in a conference-call with reporters.

According to Reuters, Deputy White House national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that the new penalties were being finalized, but neglected to give details concerning what specific sectors will be targeted.

“The key point is that Russia must continue to face costs for its own escalation,” Rhodes said. “If Russia escalates we can escalate our pressure.”

Previously, sanctions imposed by the US and EU have targeted some of the largest banks in Russia, as well as the country’s largest oil producer, Rosneft.

Moments before it was reported that the US is working on a new round of sanctions, the Telegraph reported from the UK that its journalists were shown a confidential three-page document suggesting “all state-controlled Russian oil and defense companies will be banned from raising funds in European capital market.”

“[To] prohibit debt financing (through bonds, equities and syndicated loans) to defense companies and to all companies whose main activity is the exploration, production and transportation of oil and oil products and in which the Russian state is the majority shareholder,” the paper quoted from the EU document. “This extension would significantly increase the burden placed on the Russian state to finance its companies.”

Bruno Waterfield of the Telegraph reported from Brussels that both the US and EU will agree to impose the sanctions tomorrow, Friday, “unless Russia withdraws its military.”

“Tomorrow at the European Council … we will announces anctions and put them into action if there is no progress [on Ukraine], but everything will depend on the coming hours,” French President Francois Hollande was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Western powers allege that the Kremlin has a direct role in the escalating hostilities in eastern Ukraine, where the Kiev-based military has for weeks now been engaged in combat against separatists presumed to be supported by Russian forces. Moscow has adamantly denied this claim.

“It is an extension of the financial sanctions that are already in place,” Neil Shearing, the chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, told The Moscow Times of the EU’s expected maneuver. “The previous sanctions have set a precedent.”

US President Barack Obama is currently in Wales, where NATO alliance members are meeting throughout this week to weigh further options concerning the current situation in eastern Ukraine, as well as the international threat posed by Islamic State militants and other issues.

Untraceable returning jihadists pose ‘serious threat’ to US

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US jihadist fighters returning from conflict zones pose a “very serious threat” to US national security alongside British and Canadian nationals that also fought oversees as they can freely enter the American soil, top politicians say.

It is impossible to track every single person who might have visited a conflict zone such as Syria or Iraq, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers said, expressing concerns over American, British and Canadian jihadist fighters who potentially can pose a very serious threat to the US.

“I’m very concerned because we don’t know every single person who has gone and trained and learned how to fight,” Rogers told Fox News Sunday, urging the White House to aggressively prosecute Americans who had trained overseas.

Hundreds of US citizens had gone overseas, Rogers said, in addition to some 500 British citizens and hundreds more from Canada.

“The chances of error are greater than our ability to track every single area. It’s a very serious threat,” he said.

Meanwhile, he noted, the US is tracking “pretty serious” threats of planned attacks in the West by al-Qaeda.

Another member of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, echoed Rogers’ assessment.

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“The biggest threat that I see to the United States right now are Americans and Brits who have passports that have the ability to come into our country without getting a visa,” Ruppersberger told CNN’s State of the Union program.

“We had the suicide American bomber who was radicalized, came home to visit his parents, went back and then killed himself. Now, that could have happened in the United States,” Ruppersberger said, referring to a man who became first known US suicide bomber after blew himself up in an attack in Syria in May.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called for an international coalition to combat the Islamic State and its “genocidal agenda” on a larger scale, as the US continues to hit jihadist positions in Iraq in limited airstrikes.

Over in Europe, Germany, which estimates to have at least 400 of its nationals fighting alongside extremist forces announced that it is facing an “increased abstract threat” while the government approved $70 million budget for arming Kurdish forces deterring IS in Iraq.

In Britain, meanwhile on Friday, authorities raised the terror alert level from “substantial” to “severe” over fears of possible jihadist attacks. A response is needed urgently, said British PM David Cameron, as the UK and its allies “could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean bordering a NATO member.”