Posts Tagged ‘special forces’

Spotlight falls on Russian threat to undersea cables

June 18, 2018

The Trump administration’s new sanctions on Russia are casting light on the threat posed to the undersea cables that carry the world’s electronic communications between continents.

The Treasury Department sanctioned five Russian firms and three Russian nationals this week for aiding the Kremlin’s domestic security service, the FSB. One of the companies is alleged to have provided support for Moscow’s “underwater capabilities” – including producing diving systems and a submersible craft for the FSB.

The Treasury Department alleged that Russia has been “active” in tracking underwater fiber optic cables that transmit communications across continents.

BY MORGAN CHALFANT AND OLIVIA BEAVERS – 06/17/18 08:14
The Hill

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The threat to undersea cables is multifaceted. Foreign adversaries could track their whereabouts to sabotage them and cut rivals off from communications.

Or they could be motivated by espionage. There has long been suspicion that Moscow is actively targeting these cables for spying purposes.

More recently, Russia’s assertive maneuvers at sea have spurred concerns that Moscow might be looking to sabotage the systems through physical means – an effort that, if successful, could have debilitating economic and security impacts.

“A Russian submarine plus special forces undersea divers, they could create chaos in the world … by disrupting critical Internet infrastructure,” said Kenneth Geers, a former NSA official and cyber and national security expert at Atlantic Council.

Geers said the technology is “highly vulnerable” to physical sabotage.

The cables carry 97 percent of all cross-continent electronic communications, including everything from personal communications, sensitive national security data and financial transactions.

The New York Times reported in October 2015 that aggressive Russian naval operations near those cables triggered worries among some U.S. officials that Moscow could be plotting to attack them in the event of a conflict.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), a member of the House Armed Services and the House Homeland Security committees, said if Russians or other foreign nations targeted the cables in a time of war, the attack would be “high-cost and high-impact.”

“Underwater cables are an important part of critical infrastructure,” Langevin told The Hill on Friday. “Were those ever to be cut, there would be significant damage to our economy and to our everyday lives.”

One instance that alarmed officials involved a Russian spy ship, the Yantar, moving slowly off the U.S. East Coast toward Cuba, the location of one undersea cable near the Guantanamo Bay naval facility.

U.S. officials have since cited an increase in Russian naval activity. Those moves come with relations between Washington and Moscow at a low, despite President Trump’s desire to cultivate a positive relationship with Vladimir Putin.

“We’ve seen activity in the Russian Navy, and particularly undersea in their submarine activity, that we haven’t seen since the ’80s,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti testified before the House Armed Services Committee in March.

Overall, the evolution of Russia’s naval capabilities has created a new challenge for the U.S.

“They’re producing maritime enhancements to existing ships and a new submarine that is … definitely more modern and more challenging,” Scaparrotti said in March.

Officials are taking action.

The Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned a Russian company, Divetechnoservices, for procuring “a variety of underwater equipment and diving systems” for agencies of the Kremlin, including the FSB. The company was also allegedly contracted to develop a $1.5 million submersible craft for the security service in 2011. Three Russian individuals were also sanctioned for acting on behalf of the company.

Divetechnoservices as well as the Russian Embassy in D.C. did not respond to requests for comment.

Some former officials doubt that Russia would go so far as to disrupt critical cables outside of an actual war. Still, Russia could be searching for vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

“All potential adversaries such as Russia and China understand that we are dependent on information enabled technologies and they see it as an asymmetric vulnerability of the United States,” said Frank Rose, a former State Department official and senior fellow for security and strategy at the Brookings Institution.

The espionage threat to the cables, meanwhile, has loomed since the Cold War. What is different now is the massive and growing amounts of data they carry – a highly valuable target for foreign spies.

The cables, most of which are owned by private telecommunications firms, run under the sea and come ashore at various locations throughout the globe, with sites in the U.S. and in other countries, like Japan.

“If you want to engage in signals intelligence, being able to tap into these landing points … gives you tremendous access to data,” said Jim Lewis, a former State Department official and expert in technology and foreign policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I can either tap 160 million phones or tap one cable.”

Other officials cautioned that sabotage is more likely than espionage, in part because it would require the hackers to tap into the cables and extract information from the open ocean.

“It is much more likely that sabotage would be something that could potentially damage or exploit these cables, than espionage,” said Robert Anderson, a former national security executive at the FBI and now a security expert with the Chertoff Group.

“It is a lot harder to have the ability to tap into these [cables] without anybody finding out about it and then gleaning off intelligence over time,” added Anderson. He said the threat lingers in areas where the cables are in shallower waters or make landfall.

The threat of foreign adversaries targeting these systems for intelligence has been compounded as more countries build up their capabilities.

U.S. officials have said little publicly about the particular threat Russia and others might pose to these cables. It’s a sensitive topic, partly because the U.S. government also tapped undersea cables for intelligence purposes, as revealed in 2013 by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

The Office of Director of National Intelligence did release a joint public-private sector report last September on the rising risks to undersea communications cables. The report partly blamed the risk on vulnerability to remotely controlled networks, the growing threat of cyberattacks, and concerns among foreign nation states interfering with the system.

ODNI declined to offer additional information when contacted by The Hill.

British officials and some former U.S. officials have argued publicly that these cables have minimal protections at sea and at their landing sites – and warrant more protections from potential sabotage.

“The arteries upon which the Internet and our modern world depends have been left highly vulnerable. Whether from terrorist activity or an increasingly bellicose Russian naval presence, the threat of these vulnerabilities being exploited is growing,” Rishi Sunak, a British member of Parliament, wrote in paper published last December.

“A successful attack would deal a crippling blow to Britain’s security and prosperity. The threat is nothing short of existential.”

The Treasury sanctions announced Monday were issued under a law passed by Congress last year to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 presidential election and other malign activities. It’s part of a growing effort by the Trump administration to call out and punish Russia for its behavior in cyberspace and elsewhere.

“The entities designated today have directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States is committed to aggressively targeting any entity or individual working at the direction of the FSB whose work threatens the United States.”

The penalties, though, clearly highlight the worries among U.S. officials.

“These are fundamentally critical to the modern economy and national security,” said Rose. “It’s clear from this that the Trump administration is concerned about this issue, as the Obama administration was.”

http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/392577-spotlight-falls-on-russian-threat-to-undersea-cables

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More troops sent to west Afghanistan as Taliban step up attacks

March 14, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Afghan troops (shown firing artillery during an anti-Taliban operation in Farah in late January) regularly come under attack in the remote province
FARAH (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – Afghanistan has deployed more troops to a restive western province where a multi-billion-dollar pipeline is planned after the Taliban launched multiple attacks against security forces, causing heavy casualties, officials said Wednesday.The latest assault in Farah, which borders Iran, happened in the early hours of Wednesday when Taliban militants stormed a checkpoint manned by police and intelligence officers on the outskirts of the provincial capital of the same name, killing seven security forces.

It came as the Taliban face growing pressure to take up Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks to end the 16-year insurgency, but so far the group has given only a muted response

 Image result for Anar Dara district, afghanistan, photos

“When commando forces were deployed they (the militants) retreated,” Jamila Amini, a member of the Farah provincial council, told AFP.

Four members of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s spy agency, and three police were killed, she added.

The incident and death toll were confirmed by fellow provincial council member Gul Ahmad Faqiri.

“We have sent more troops and commando forces to Farah to contain the situation,” defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP, adding the army chief of staff had also visited the province.

“The situation will soon come under control,” he said.

Taliban fighters on Monday briefly took control of the administrative building of Farah’s Anar Dara district, killing eight police, before they were beaten back by security forces, officials said.

That came after an attack on soldiers in Bala Buluk district over the weekend that resulted in multiple casualties.

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A February 24 raid on an army base in the same district killed at least 18 soldiers, officials said, in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.

Farah is a poppy-growing province in a hard to reach part of Afghanistan which a section of the multi-billion-dollar TAPI gas pipeline will traverse.

The conduit is named for the four countries involved: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Despite security concerns, the Taliban have pledged to cooperate with the project.

Farah has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years. In 2017 insurgents tried to overrun the capital three times, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

“The security situation has been deteriorating day by day in Farah,” Faqiri confirmed, estimating around a dozen security forces are killed in the province every day.

Former Farah governor Mohammad Aref Shah Jahan resigned in January after days of protests in the provincial capital over rising insecurity.

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Farah’s Anar Dara on Verge of Collapse: Officials

Provincial council members calls for reinforcements to the deployed to the district.

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Anar Dara district of western Farah province is on the verge of collapse, provincial council officials warned on Monday.

Dadullah Qane, a member of the provincial council said that the Taliban attacked the center of Anar Dara early Monday and took control of the police headquarters.

He warned that “if reinforcements are not deployed to the district, Anar Dara will fall completely to the Taliban.”

Image result for Anar Dara district, afghanistan, photos

Until now, Anar Dara was one of the peaceful districts of the province.

However, local officials have not yet commented over the attack.

This comes after about 15 security force members, including eight Special Forces, were killed on Friday night in Bala Blok district of the province, according to local officials.

Head of Farah provincial council Farid Bakhtawar said the forces had gone to Fararod area in Bala Blok district on Friday night to launch an operation, but were ambushed by Taliban while on their way. Fifteen of them were killed and a number of them were captured by Taliban fighters.

According to the provincial council members, eight of the soldiers killed were Special Forces members.

“In total there are 18 persons of whom three have been captured and the rest including eight Special Forces have been killed,” said Bakhtawar.

“The Special Forces had launched a clearing operation, but they suffered losses in this operation,” said Dadullah Qane, a member of the provincial council.

Afghan defense ministry officials refused to comment on the incident on camera but they did confirm the death of four Special Forces members in the ambush.

Insecurity has increased in Farah province in recent months. Last month, more than 10 national army personnel were also killed in a Taliban attack on a military base.

Farah provincial council chairman said in this incident Taliban also suffered heavy casualties.

The group, however, said in a statement that they had killed dozens of security force members.

https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/farah%E2%80%99s-anar-dara-verge-collapse-officials

East Libya Elite Force of Khalifa Haftar Refuses International Criminal Court Order To Arrest Mahmoud al-Werfalli For Possible War Crimes

August 16, 2017

BENGHAZI, Libya — An elite forces unit linked to the army that controls much of eastern Libya has snubbed international efforts to bring to justice one of its senior officers for allegedly executing dozens of prisoners.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday for Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a commander in the Special Forces of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).

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Mahmoud al-Werfalli

The accusations against him relate to incidents in and near Benghazi in spring and early summer, towards the end of a three-year LNA campaign against Islamists and other opponents in Libya’s second city.

Videos circulated on social media appear to show Werfalli executing or overseeing the execution of masked and handcuffed prisoners

“The Special Forces strongly reject the arrest warrant,” spokesman Milad Al-Zwai said.

Zwai said the ICC should instead focus on arresting “those who killed and displaced men, women and children, and the people who meted out torture and killing and destruction.”

“We will continue our struggle against this oppressive faction,” he said without further explanation. His statement mentioned neither the videos nor the accusations against Werfalli.

In May, Werfalli announced his resignation from the Special Forces, but this was rejected by the unit’s top commander. The following month a U.N. panel of experts reported he was involved in running secret detention centers outside Benghazi.

The LNA has previously said it would investigate war crimes allegations in eastern Libya, where it is the main military force.

The Special Forces is an elite unit nominally under LNA control that joined the Benghazi campaign in its early stages.

Since announcing victory in the campaign in July, the LNA has extended its presence in the center and south of the divided country as it has vied for control with forces linked to the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and other rivals.

GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and Haftar last month committed to a conditional ceasefire and to work towards holding elections next spring in talks brokered by France.

Several previous attempts at peace deals have been scuttled by internal divisions between the myriad of competing armed groups that have emerged in oil-producing Libya since rebels toppled strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In July, the United Nations said it was deeply concerned that people detained by the LNA might be at risk of torture or summary execution.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said she “will not hesitate to bring new cases” in Libya, where evidence dictates.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ahmed Elumami, additional reporting and editing by Aidan Lewis; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Philippines says foreign fighters part of Islamic State ‘invasion’ — Amid simmering disbelief — “Beware of manufactured evidence.”

May 26, 2017

Reuters

Fri May 26, 2017 | 2:35am EDT

By Romeo Ranoco and Neil Jerome Morales | MARAWI CITY/DAVAO, PHILIPPINES

Indonesians and Malaysians were among foreign Jihadists battling the military after laying siege to a southern Philippine city, the government said on Friday, in a rare admission of what it said was an Islamic State “invasion”.

The army has deployed attack helicopters and special forces to drive rebels of the Islamic State-linked Maute group out of Marawi City and Malaysians and Indonesians and other foreigners were among six guerrillas killed on Thursday.

The announcement elevates the threat of what experts and the military say are moves by Islamic State to exploit the poverty and lawlessness of predominantly Muslim Mindanao island to establish a base for extremists from Southeast Asia and beyond.

“What’s happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens,” Solicitor General Jose Calida told a news conference.

“It has transmogrified into invasion by foreign terrorists, who heeded the call of the ISIS to go to the Philippines if they find difficulty in going to Iraq and Syria,” he said, using the acronym for Islamic State.

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Government soldiers on military vehicles patrol after a continued assault on fighters from the Maute group who have taken over large parts of Marawi city, southern Philippines May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

President Rodrigo Duterte has delivered on his threat to impose martial law on Mindanao, the country’s second-largest island, to stop the spread of radical Islam. He has been pleading with Mindanao governors and religious leaders to work with the government to keep extremists at bay.

Duterte recently warned that Islamic State fighters driven from Iraq and Syria would end up in the southern Philippines and his country was at risk of “contamination”.

The Maute, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, held its positions on bridges and buildings on Friday as ground troops launched early morning offensives to flush out the remaining gunmen after unrest that has killed 11 soldiers and 31 militants.

The White House on Thursday said it backed the Philippines in its fight against “cowardly terrorists”.

Few of Marawi’s 200,000 inhabitants remained after militants ran amok, seizing and torching schools, a college and a hospital. They freed more than 100 prisoners and took a priest and churchgoers hostage at the city’s cathedral.

‘NOT REAL MUSLIMS’

Convoys of vehicles packed with evacuees and protected by heavily armed soldiers streamed into nearby Iligan City. One Christian resident, Mark Angelou Siega, described how students fled amid fears rebels would take over their university campus.

“We were preparing for exams and we could hear the gunfire and bombs,” he told Reuters.

“We were so scared and so were our Muslim brothers and sisters. We were sure they would get to us.

“These terrorists are not real Muslims.”

Solicitor general Calida said the Maute group and Islamic State had a dream to create their own “ISIS province” in Mindanao and the government was not the only target of their aggression.

“People they consider as infidels, whether Christians or Muslims, are also targets,” he said. “What it worrisome is that the ISIS has radicalized a number of Filipino Muslim youth.”

Duterte has dealt with separatist unrest during his 22 years as mayor of Davao, Mindanao’s biggest city, but the rise of the Maute and signs that it has ties to another network, the Abu Sayyaf, present one of the biggest challenges of a presidency won on promises to restore law and order.

Philippine intelligence indicates the two groups from different parts of Mindanao are connected, through Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of a radical faction of Abu Sayyaf.

He was the target of Tuesday’s failed raid by troops on Maute hideout in Marawi and Calida said Islamic State had declared Hapilon its “emir” in the Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf is notorious for piracy and kidnappings and beheading captives, among them Westerners. Though less known, the Maute group has proven itself a fierce battlefield opponent for the military with its ability to sustain days of air and artillery bombardments and regroup after incurring heavy losses.

Duterte started warning of a spread of radicalism last year after a bombing in Davao City in September killed 14 people and wounded dozens. The Maute was also blamed for a failed bombing near the U.S. embassy in Manila in November.

(Additional reporting by Tom Allard in ILIGAN and Enrico dela Cruz in MANILA; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Former Philippine military and intel officers have told Peace and Freedom that it is unclear how many and how dedicated these foreign fighters may be, if any. They suspect some tricky work by the Duterte administration and believe that when more outside media arrives “a more clear light will be shed upon the truth.”

“Beware of manufactured evidence,” a retired Philippine general told us.

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US-backed Syria force advances against IS in Tabqa

April 30, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces stand on the Tabqa dam partially recaptured during their drive on the Islamic State group’s stronghold in nearby Raqa

BEIRUT (AFP) – A US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance is advancing against the Islamic State group in the key town of Tabqa near the jihadist bastion of Raqa in northern Syria, a monitor said Sunday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces now control at least 40 percent of the town of Tabqa, and more than half of its heart, the Old City, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said fighting was continuing in the town on Sunday morning.

The SDF entered Tabqa on Monday as part of their offensive against Raqa, IS’s de facto Syrian capital.

Supported by US-led coalition air strikes and special forces advisers, the SDF surrounded Tabqa in early April.

The town sits on a strategic supply route about 55 kilometres (34 miles) west of Raqa, and served as an important IS command base, housing the group’s main prison.

It is also adjacent to the Tabqa dam, another important strategic prize which remains under IS control.

The assault on Tabqa began in late March when SDF forces and their US-led coalition allies were airlifted behind IS lines.

The city was home to around 240,000 residents before 2011, and more than 80,000 people have fled to it from other parts of the country.

IS has put up fierce resistance, including using weaponised drones, a tactic the group perfected in neighbouring Iraq.

The group is also fighting street-to-street and using suicide attackers and car bombs to slow the SDF’s advance, according to the Observatory.

The assault on Raqa, dubbed “Wrath of the Euphrates,” was launched in November and has seen SDF fighters capture large swathes of countryside around the city.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country’s war began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Partners Recaptured Six Districts of Eastern Mosul — “Inflicting heavy losses on militant fighters”

November 4, 2016

Fri Nov 4, 2016 | 6:32am EDT

Reuters

Iraqi security forces launch a rocket towards Islamic State militants during clashes at the frontline in Ali Rash village, southeast of Mosul, Iraq, November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
By Michael Georgy and Babak Dehghanpisheh | ALI RASH/ERBIL, IRAQ

Iraqi special forces recaptured six districts of eastern Mosul on Friday, a military statement said, expanding the army’s foothold in the Islamic State stronghold a day after its leader told his jihadist followers there could be no retreat.

An officer in the elite Counter Terrorism Service said CTS troops launched a major operation against the militants, who are now almost surrounded in their last major urban redoubt in Iraq.

CTS special forces took over the neighborhoods of Malayeen, Samah, Khadra, Karkukli, Quds and Karama, the statement said, inflicting heavy losses on the militant fighters and raising the Iraqi flag over buildings.

One special forces officer told Reuters the CTS units may try to push all the way to the Tigris river, which runs through the center of Mosul.

Iraqi television footage from the east of the city showed grey smoke rising, and a Reuters reporter in the village of Ali Rash, 7 km (4 miles) to the south east, heard helicopter gunships and cannon fire. Volleys of automatic rifle fire, possibly from the militants, were also audible.

A senior officer in the village said Iraqi troops had also taken two thirds of another Mosul district, Intisar, in the same eastern section of the city.

Islamic State fighters “are trying to get away”, Lieutenant-General Qassem Jassim Nazzal told Reuters.

In a sign of the fierce resistance which soldiers have encountered since entering the city on Monday, Nazzal said they blew up six bomb-laden cars, killed two suicide bombers, and killed 30 other people.

In the village of Ali Rash, retaken by Iraqi forces sweeping toward Mosul from the south and the east, the bloated and blackened bodies of three Islamic State fighters, dressed in khaki trousers and military boots, were left out in the open.

“They’re criminals, let the dogs eat them,” another officer said.

SPECIAL FORCES

Iraqi regular troops and special forces, Shi’ite militias, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and other groups backed by U.S.-led air strikes launched their campaign to retake Mosul nearly three weeks ago.

Winning back the city would crush the Iraqi half of a cross-border caliphate declared by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from a Mosul mosque two years ago.

Islamic State also holds large parts of neighboring Syria, but Mosul is by far the largest city under control of the ultra-hardline militants in either country, and the campaign to retake it is the most complex in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein and unleashed a decade of turmoil.

In a speech released on Thursday Baghdadi – whose whereabouts are unknown – said there could be no retreat in a “total war” against the forces arrayed against Islamic State, telling fighters they must remain loyal to their commanders.

Mosul is still home to nearly 1.5 million people, who risk being caught up in brutal urban warfare. The United Nations has warned of a potential humanitarian crisis and a refugee exodus, although Iraqi officials say Islamic State is holding the civilian population as human shields.

The United Nations says 22,000 people have been displaced since the start of the Mosul campaign. That figure excludes thousands from outlying villages forced to head back to Mosul by retreating Islamic State fighters who used them as human shields.

ROCKET LAUNCHERS

Mosul residents, speaking to Reuters by telephone, said Islamic State fighters were deploying artillery and rocket launchers in and near residential areas.

Some were hidden in trees near the Wahda district in the south, while others were deployed on the rooftops of houses taken over by the militants in the Ghizlani district close to Mosul airport, they said.

“We saw Daesh (Islamic State) fighters installing a heavy anti-aircraft machine gun alongside a rocket launchpad, and mortars as well,” one Mosul resident said.

People in southern and eastern neighborhoods reported on Thursday night that their houses had been shaken by artillery and rocket barrages launched from their districts toward the advancing troops.

As well as the Islamic State resistance in Mosul itself, the militants have launched diversionary attacks across the country since the start of the offensive.

In the town of Shirqat, about 100 km (60 miles) south of Mosul, militants stormed a mosque and several houses early on Friday, a local police officer said, killing seven soldiers and fighters from the Shi’ite Popular Mobilisation force.

The insurgents crossed from the eastern bank of the Tigris into the town at 3 a.m., taking over al-Baaja mosque and fanning out into alleyways. Security forces imposed a curfew and said reinforcements from the Popular Mobilisation, or Hashid Shaabi, forces were being sent to the town.

In their drive toward Mosul, Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have closed in from the north, from the eastern Nineveh plains and up the Tigris from the south.

The Hashid Shaabi forces of mainly Shi’ite militias joined the campaign on Saturday, launching an offensive to cut off the west.

A Hashid spokesman said they had made progress but had not completely closed off the western flank, and their fighters had seen some cars leaving Mosul on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Erbil and Saif Hameed in Baghdad; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Giles Elgood)

Kurds launch ‘large-scale’ offensive near Mosul, Iraq

October 20, 2016

AFP

A member of the Iraqi forces stands on an armoured vehicle as smoke billows from the Qayyarah area, some 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Mosul. AFP Photo

BBC News

Kurdish fighters say they have launched a large-scale operation east and north of Mosul, as an offensive to oust so-called Islamic State (IS) militants from the Iraqi city continues.

The Kurds say the operation aims to tighten the noose around the militants’ last major stronghold in Iraq.

The Iraqi army has been moving from the south, and special forces have now joined the offensive.

There are signs that IS leaders have fled Mosul, the US military says.

There are thought to be up to 5,000 IS fighters still in the city.

The Kurdish fighters said their operation was on three fronts, and followed recent gains by both the Kurds and the Iraqi security forces in the area.

Mosul — People flee during clashes between Iraqi security forces and Isis in Mosul on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. Photograph by AP

“The objectives are to clear a number of nearby villages and secure control of strategic areas to further restrict Isil’s [IS] movements,” the statement said.

Image copyrightTWITTER
‘Victories made in blood’ – By Orla Guerin, BBC News, outside Mosul

Under cover of darkness we joined a long convoy of vehicles setting out from a Kurdish base on Bashiq Mountain, about 15km (9 miles) from Mosul.

We snaked towards areas under IS control, along a route that had been checked for roadside bombs. There were hundreds of pick-up trucks with troops and some with vehicle-mounted machine guns. Along the way we saw some American special forces.

The aim is to clear the town of Bashiqa and 20 surrounding villages, most of which are deserted apart from IS. The offensive includes some veteran Kurdish fighters, who previously fought against Saddam Hussein.

Before leaving the base senior commander Shex Jaffar Shex Mustafa told us they were ill equipped for the battle, and did not even have enough body armour. “All of our victories are made by our blood,” he said.

The general in charge urged his men to go slowly, to avoid casualties. “We hope to survive this battle,” one fighter told me, “but we are facing an enemy that hopes to die.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi special forces joined the offensive on Thursday with a pre-dawn advance on the nearby town of Bartalla, Iraqi Maj-Gen Maan al-Saadi was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

They were being supported by air strikes carried out by a US-led coalition.

Earlier, Gen Gary Volesky said: “We’ve seen movement out of Mosul; we’ve got indications that leaders have left.”

But the American general did not specify who had fled, nor did he say where they had gone.

The whereabouts of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are unknown. Some reports say he is in Mosul, but others say he has fled the northern Iraqi city.

Map showing areas of control in Iraqi city of Mosul

It is possible that any fighters leaving the city had simply been going to man front line areas, which still lie beyond the outskirts, the BBC’s Middle East analyst Alan Johnston says.

Nobody has any doubt that a hardcore of IS militants will stay in the city and fight for it, perhaps very fiercely indeed, our correspondent adds.

Gen Volesky, who heads the land component of the US-led coalition fighting IS, said that foreign fighters were likely to form the bulk of the force who would hold out.

An Iraqi soldier holds a rifle as smoke billows from the Qayyarah area,

Iraqi forces are advancing on Mosul from the south. AFP photo

A man takes a selfie in front of flames south of Mosul

Despite gains for Iraq and its allies progress is likely to be slow. AFP

The British charity Save the Children says 5,000 people from the conflict area have fled to a refugee camp over the border in Syria in the last 10 days, with another 1,000 waiting at the border.

Camps are being built in the south, east and north of Mosul in preparation for a flood of people fleeing the city. The UN says it expects at least 200,000 in the coming weeks.

Up to 1.5 million civilians are thought to still be in Mosul, with those inside reporting that IS was preventing them from leaving and that they were running out of basic supplies.

Iraqi forces fire shells on a village near Mosul

IS fighters are reportedly putting up stiff resistance. AFP photo

Smoke is seen in this satellite image of the city of Mosul in Iraq

Satellite images show burning tyres along a road leading to Mosul. STRATFOR, ALLSOURCE ANALYSIS, DIGITAL GLOBE

Mosul has been in the hands of IS since 2014 and is the militants’ last major Iraqi stronghold.

The offensive to retake it began on Monday, with the advancing forces seizing a number of villages on the city’s outskirts ahead of a final push into the city.

But progress is expected to be slow, with IS fighters appearing to be putting up stiff resistance in places.

There are warnings the group could use human shields or chemical weapons.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37709970

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BAGHDAD (AFP) – A wide array of Iraqi and international forces are involved in the fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State jihadist group, which overran the country’s second city in 2014.Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of the much-awaited operation on Monday and anti-IS forces have already retaken several villages and significant swathes of land from the jihadists.

These are the main forces that are operating in the wider Mosul theatre or may do so. Not all will play a role in the fighting inside the city:

– Islamic State group –

Heavily armed jihadists who have had years to prepare their defences in Mosul, which IS seized before sweeping through cities and towns to the south in 2014.

Iraqi forces have since regained significant ground, and Mosul is the last city the jihadists hold in the country.

– Counter-terrorism service –

Iraq’s elite force which have spearheaded most key battles against IS. But constant reliance on these troops over the past two years has taken a toll.

– Army –

The Iraqi army has begun playing a more successful role in operations against the jihadists since it was revitalised by US-led training after several of its divisions collapsed during the IS offensive two years ago.

– Police –

Includes special forces units, paramilitary federal police and provincial police. Many Iraqi police forces have played roles more akin to those of soldiers in the war against IS.

– US-led coalition –

A US-led international alliance is carrying out air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria, and providing training, arms and equipment to forces opposing the jihadists.

There are more than 7,500 coalition military personnel deployed in Iraq, over half of them from the United States.

Most are in advisory or training roles, but special forces soldiers who have fought the jihadists on the ground have been deployed and coalition forces near Mosul have also targeted IS with artillery.

– Kurdish forces –

The peshmerga are the armed forces of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. They nominally answer to the federal government but in practice operate independently, battling IS along a long front in the country’s north.

Forces from Iran’s Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) are embedded in some peshmerga operations. It is separate from other Iranian Kurdish rebels groups that have also been active on the Iraqi side of the border such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK).

– Hashed al-Shaabi –

An umbrella organisation created in 2014, which includes a dizzying array of paramilitary forces who vary widely in skill and in the degree to which they are actually under government control.

The main groups are Iranian-backed Shiite militias, including Ketaeb Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Badr. The Hashed has played a major role in the anti-IS fight in Iraq but forces within it have also carried out abuses.

It includes recently trained Sunni tribal forces sometimes referred to as “tribal mobilisation” or “national mobilisation”.

– Iranian advisers –

Iranian forces have provided advice and other assistance, including funding for various militias fighting IS in Iraq.

Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards foreign operations wing, has been repeatedly pictured in Iraq during the war.

Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

– Turkish troops –

Deployed at a base near Mosul from which they have carried out artillery strikes against IS. Turkish troops are also present inside Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

The federal government has demanded their withdrawal, with the prime minister vowing that they will not take part in the operation to recapture Mosul, but Turkey has declined to do so.

Bangladesh: Special Forces Raid Suspected Militant Hideouts, Killing 4 Islamist Extremists

October 8, 2016

AFP

Police have conducted a series of raids on suspected militant hideouts since extremists stormed a posh Dhaka cafe in July and slaughtered 22. AFP photo

DHAKA (AFP) – Bangladeshi forces killed four suspected Islamist extremists during raids near Dhaka Saturday, security officials said, the latest clashes in the country’s ongoing crackdown on militants.

Police have conducted a series of raids on suspected militant hideouts since extremists stormed a posh Dhaka cafe in July and slaughtered 22 mostly foreign hostages.

The elite Rapid Action Battalion launched two separate operations Saturday after being tipped off about the presence of Islamist extremists in a building in Gazipur, just outside Dhaka, and a three-storey structure in the northern district of Tangail.

“Two extremists were shot dead during a gunfight with the RAB in Gazipur. Weapons and explosives have been recovered,” RAB spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan told AFP.

Two more suspected extremists were killed after RAB forces raided another building in Tangail, local RAB chief Mohiuddin Faruqe told AFP.

“They fired at our officers suddenly as we raided their hideout. We fired back and two extremists were shot dead,” he said, adding that two RAB officers were also injured during the raid.

The RAB did not elaborate on the operations and there was no immediate comment about what group the gunmen were affiliated with.

Private television broadcaster Jamuna TV said the RAB launched the raid in Gazipur after receiving intelligence that the “Dhaka coordinator” of the banned Islamist extremist group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) was at the hideout.

It remained unclear whether the extremist leader was among the dead.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the July 1 attack on the upscale cafe in Dhaka, posting pictures of the attackers holding IS flags online.

However, Bangladesh officials have rejected the claims, saying the JMB led by a Canadian citizen of Bangladesh origin, Tamim Chowdhury, was responsible for the massacre.

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In August police shot Chowdhury dead along with two of his associates after they stormed an extremist hideout in Narayanganj city near Dhaka.

Since the cafe carnage, Bangladeshi security forces have killed at least 32 suspected Islamist militants, including a US citizen of Bangladesh descent.

Long dormant after their top leaders were executed in March 2007, the JMB has recently regrouped with young, university-educated extremists taking the helm.

Bangladesh has been reeling from a deadly wave of attacks in the last three years, including on foreigners, rights activists and members of the country’s religious minorities.

Related:

 

Munich shooter was a ‘demented individual with no political motive’ — Investigation Continues But No Known Ties to the Islamic State

July 23, 2016
  • AFP

© Sven Hoppe / dpa / AFP | A policeman stands guard at the Marienplatz square in Munich, southern Germany, on July 22, 2016.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-07-23

The teenage gunman who killed nine people in a shooting spree in Munich, Germany on Friday was obsessed with mass shootings and had no known links to the Islamic State group, according to city police.

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Police chief Hubertus Andrae told a press conference on Saturday “no evidence” of links to the Islamic State (IS) group has been found in the home and room of the Munich shooting suspect. He said the killing was “a classic act by a deranged person”, adding that the suspect had been obsessed with articles and a book on police operations ”following attacks by mentally disturbed people”.

The shooter was a “demented individual with no political motive”, added the Munich prosecutor’s spokesman, Thomas Steinkraus-Koch, during this same press conference.

The investigation established that the 18-year-old dual Iranian-German citizen, who was born and raised in Munich, was armed with 9mm Glock pistol and shot 300 rounds during the shooting. He then shot himself in the head.


German newspaper Bild, July 23, 2016 — Reporting “Bloodbath in Munich.”

The Munich prosecutor’s spokesman also said the suspect – whose name has been withheld for the time being – had been followed by a psychiatrist and had no criminal record.

Friday evening’s attack at the Olympia shopping mall left 27 people injured, of whom 10 are in a critical condition. Three of the victims were from Kosovo.

 

Previous reports on Munich mall attack:

 Axe Attack on Train:
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Munich Terror Attack Is Over After At Least Nine People Killed — Third attack on civilians in Western Europe in eight days — No immediate evidence of an Islamist motive

July 23, 2016
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Reuters

Sat Jul 23, 2016 1:53am EDT

An 18-year-old German-Iranian gunman who apparently acted alone opened fire near a busy shopping mall in Munich on Friday evening, killing at least nine people in the third attack on civilians in Western Europe in eight days.

The pistol-wielding attacker, identified by Munich Police Chief Hubertus Andrae as a dual national from Munich, was later found dead of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Authorities said it was too early to say whether it was a terrorist attack, and said they had no immediate evidence of an Islamist motive.

Special force police officers stand guard at an entrance of the main train station, following a shooting rampage at the Olympia shopping mall in Munich.
REUTERS/MICHAEL DALDER

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and a host of intelligence officials on Saturday to review the incident.

Police, citing witnesses, had initially said they were looking for up to three suspects and were treating the incident as a suspected terrorist attack.

But authorities told a news conference early on Saturday the shooter was believed to have staged the attack alone, opening fire in a fast food restaurant before moving to the mall.

Andrae said authorities did not see similarities to an attack in southern Germany last Monday in which an axe-wielding 17-year-old asylum-seeker killed five people in an incident claimed by the Islamic State group.

Andrae said it was premature to say whether the Friday incident was a terrorist attack, as French President Francois Hollande said, or the work of a deranged person.

Police said they were investigating a video in which the gunman is seen and heard exchanging racial slurs and profanities with another man. “We are trying to determine who said what,” a police spokesman said.

There was no known motive for the shooting in Germany’s third largest city, which went into lockdown with transport halted and highways sealed off immediately after the attack.

U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial reports from their German counterparts indicated no apparent link between the shooter and Islamic State or other militant groups.

It was the third major act of violence against civilians in Europe in eight days. Previous attacks in France and Germany were claimed by Islamic State.

At least 16 people, including several children, were in hospital and three were in critical condition, Andrae said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but supporters of Islamic State celebrated on social media.

“The Islamic state is expanding in Europe,” read one tweet.

The gunman, whose body was found on a side street near the mall, was not identified but Andrae said he was not previously known to police.

Police commandos, armed with night vision equipment and dogs, raided an apartment in the Munich neighborhood of Maxvorstadt early on Saturday where the German newspaper Bild said the gunman lived with his parents.

“He lived right next to me,” Bild quoted a neighbor as saying. “A friend of mine went to school with him and said he was rather a quiet guy. He recognized him from the videos from the scene.”

The men had notified police about their suspicion three hours before the police raid.

RELATED VIDEO

A police spokesman said police did not release names of suspects, even if they were killed, due to privacy concerns.

ANNIVERSARY

The mall is next to the stadium where the Palestinian militant group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes hostage and later killed them during the 1972 Olympic Games.

Friday’s incident snarled traffic as authorities blocked highways, closed the main railway station, and shut down public transport.

A police spokesman initially said up to three gunmen were on the run after the shooting. The Bavarian capital was placed under a state of emergency as police hunted for them and special forces were deployed.

Two individuals were seen driving quickly away from the scene, but they were later cleared of any wrongdoing, the police chief said.

Nearly three hours after the shooting, authorities found a body about 1 km (0.6 miles) from the scene that was later determined to be the gunman.

German radio station Bayerischer Rundfunk said the man had a red backpack similar to one used by a gunman seen at a McDonald’s restaurant where the attack reportedly began. It said police were using a robot to investigate the backpack.

German news magazine Focus said the man had shot himself in the head.

Friday was also the fifth anniversary of the massacre in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people. Breivik is a hero for far-right militants in Europe and America.

Thousands of people had been crowding the streets and squares in Munich’s city center on Friday for a beer festival.

“There were a few people who came running towards us who were screaming and in panic. But mostly it was surprisingly calm,” said Elena Hakes, wearing a blue traditional dress, who had been with a friend in the Odeonsplatz square.

The incidents in Germany follow an attack in Nice, France, in which a Tunisian drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day, killing 84. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

The Munich assault was also reminiscent of militant attacks in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013, and in Mumbai, India, in 2008.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said on Twitter: “Horrible killings in Munich. Taking place on the same day as we mourn & remember the appalling terror that hit Norway so hard five years ago.”

(Additional reporting by Michelle Martin, Joseph Nasr, Tina Bellon, Andrea Shalal, Christina Amann; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Tom Brown, Robert Birsel)

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Previous reports on Munich mall attack:

 Axe Attack on Train:
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