iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSUL, Iraq) -- The U.S. military undertook two more airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets near the Mosul Dam on Tuesday.
According to United States Central Command, one of the airstrikes successfully destroyed an ISIS checkpoint. The second airstrike, CENTCOM said, was unsuccessful.
The U.S. military said that the airstrikes were conducted to, "support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces" while they battle ISIS, and to, "protect critical infrastructure, U.S. personnel and facilities, and support humanitarian efforts."
The strikes came one day after the Department of Defense confirmed that the Iraqi forces had retaken the Mosul Dam.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GAZA CITY, Gaza) -- Despite optimism and another extension to the Gaza cease-fire on Monday, rockets were launched by both sides on Tuesday, including one rocket that struck an open area in Tel Aviv, an area that hadn't been targeted in over a week.
The Israeli military said it launched air strikes in Gaza as a response to a series of rockets that were allegedly fired at the Israeli communities bordering Gaza. The Israeli Iron Dome intercepted a number of rockets.
Palestinian health officials, however, say that several people in Gaza have been killed.
Earlier Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said that the latest rocket-fire was another example of, "terrorists [breaching] the cease-fire and [renewing] fire at Israeli civilians from Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip." The IDF then said that it would retaliate by, "striking terror infrastructure, pursuing terrorists, and eliminating terror capabilities in the Gaza Strip."
ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A disturbing video posted online appears to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped while covering the Syrian conflict in 2012.
In the video, a man who appears to be Foley, dressed in orange, kneels beside an armed man clad in black. Foley delivers a statement condemning U.S. action in Iraq and says that the U.S. government is his “real killers.”
“For what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency and criminality,” Foley says in halting speech. “I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope of freedom of seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed. I guess all in all, I wish I wasn’t American.”
Seconds later, the figure dressed in black brandishes a knife and identifies himself as with the Islamic State, the name the brutal terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria took on after its leader declared himself the leader of all Muslims.
“Today your military air force has attacked us daily… Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims,” the figure in black says. He then addresses President Obama directly, saying “any attempt… to deny the Muslims their right to live in safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.”
Foley is then killed. The video continues, showing American Steven Sotloff, who has written for national publications like Time, also dressed in orange and on his knees.
“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” the figure in black says.
U.S. intelligence officials said they are aware of the video but declined to comment further.
New Hampshire Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, from the state where Foley's parents live, each released statements on Tuesday offering thoughts and prayers to Foley's family. While each awaited confirmation of the video's authenticity, Ayotte said that if the video is confirmed, it would represent a "barbarous and heinous act."
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The images of conflict coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, often look more like a restless Middle East capital than a Midwest town.
Police aggression. Detention of journalists. A call for respect for minority populations. They’re the type of issues the United States is usually scolding other countries about. This time, however, the criticism is coming the other direction.
Iran’s Grand Ayatollah tweeted about the “brutal treatment” of black people in the United States using the #Ferguson hashtag; China’s official mouthpiece wrote about America’s “human rights flaw”; and the Egyptian government called for “restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”
The condemnation is not only limited to countries who may be gloating about the chance to slam the United States about its internal affairs for a change.
On Monday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, through a spokesman, called on authorities “to ensure that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are protected.”
“He calls on all to exercise restraint, for law enforcement officials to abide by U.S. and international standards in dealing with demonstrators," Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman said.
Amnesty International, the global human rights organization, said it had sent observers to Ferguson. It’s the first time the group has deployed such a team within the United States.
The killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer and the police response to the protests that followed have raised tough, and for many Americans often uncomfortable, questions about the militarization of police, the treatment of press, and brought simmering racial tensions to the front burner.
Yet they have also afforded America’s foes the opportunity to point their fingers at the country that holds itself up as the beacon of freedom, justice and equality.
The United States has frequently denounced Iran’s suppression of dissent, including violent responses to political protests in recent years. But Iran’s Supreme Leader said the Ferguson violence was an example of American hypocrisy about human rights.
“Today like previous years, African-Americans are still under pressure, oppressed and subjected to discrimination. #Ferguson,” a Twitter account attributed to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, wrote on Sunday.
“Racial discrimination is still a dilemma in the U.S. #Ferguson,” he added. “Look at how US govt treats black community! It's not about 50-100 years ago but it's about today!”
Egypt, a country that has been criticized by the U.S. and others for its brutal police response to the Arab Spring uprising and persecution of minority sects, also weighed in.
The Foreign Ministry reportedly said it was “closely following the escalation of protests” in Ferguson and called on authorities to show “restraint.”
China’s official Xinhua news agency published a commentary saying that Ferguson is an example of how “racial divide still remains a deeply-rooted chronic disease that keeps tearing U.S. society apart.”
“The Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that even if in a country that has for years tried to play the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home,” the commentary said.
The Russian government, which rarely misses an opportunity to criticize the United States these days, has not said anything official about the Ferguson unrest, but RT, the Kremlin-funded network, has covered the protests closely.
Some opposition figures in Russia have lamented that the police response in Ferguson will give President Vladimir Putin, who often uses Western precedents to justify his own actions, an excuse the next time he wants to crack down.
“Dear American gvrnmnt [sic],you can't imagine how those who fight for freedom in Russia hate you these days. Putin saw this,” Maria Baronova, an activist who was arrested and jailed during an anti-Putin protest in 2012, wrote on Twitter.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf responded to criticism from countries with mixed human rights records over the heavy-handed tactics of police in response to the Ferguson protests.
"When we have problems and issues in this country, we deal with them openly and honestly. We think that’s important, and I would encourage the countries you named particularly to do the same thing," Harf said, responding to a reporter who asked about reactions coming from countries including Egypt, China, Russia and Iran.
She rejected "any sort of comparison" between the U.S. urging Egypt not to jail journalists and opposition protesters and U.S. authorities’ handling of the protests in Ferguson.
Purestock/Thinkstock(ERBIL, Iraq) -- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a statement on Tuesday announcing a push for increased humanitarian aid via air, land and sea.
The aid operation will begin with a four-day airlift utilizing Boeing 747s sent from Jordan to Erbil, Iraq. Following the airlift, road convoys from Turkey and Jordan and sea and land shipments from Dubai via Iran will arrive in the next two weeks. Included in these initial aid shipments, the U.N. Refugee Agency says, are 3,300 tents, 20,000 plastic sheets, 18,500 kitchen sets and 16,500 jerry cans.
The U.N. agency notes that approximately 200,000 people have fled from the city of Sinjar and neighboring areas when they were seized by armed groups in early August. The number of refugees has slowed in the last week, but still require support, according to UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.
Many refugees are living in schools, mosques, churches, unfinished buildings or within family tents pitched by the UNHCR.
In total, the U.N. agency says, about 1.2 million Iraqis may have been displaced in 2014, including about 600,000 displaced from the recent conflicts in Mosul and Sinjar.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that helping the Iraqis retake control of the Mosul dam fell squarely within President Obama’s authorization for the mission, and pushed back against the notion that the airstrikes are a sign of “mission creep.”
“Mission creep refers to the growth or expansion of the golden objectives of a military operation, that the golden objectives change, morph into something bigger than they were at the outset. It doesn’t talk about -- mission creep doesn’t refer to numbers of sorties, numbers of troops, numbers of anything. It doesn’t refer to timelines. It doesn’t even refer to intensity. It’s about the mission itself. Nothing has changed about the mission that -- and the missions that we’re conducting inside Iraq,” said Kirby.
“Airstrikes are authorized under two mission areas: humanitarian assistance and the protection of U.S. personnel and facilities. The airstrikes that we conducted in and around Mosul dam over the last 72 hours or so fit into both those categories,” he said.
Kirby would not get into specific intelligence, but said that the U.S. decided that ISIS controlling the largest dam in Iraq was not an acceptable risk.
“We believed that should the dam remain in control of [ISIS], whose intentions are obviously not perfectly clear and certainly not in the best interests of the people of Iraq, if that dam were to blow or they were to open and flood the gates, that it could have an effect as far south as Baghdad. That’s where we have people,” he said.
Kirby also had harsh words for ISIS, calling the group “barbaric” when asked about reports that members were executing children.
“The barbarism doesn’t seem to know any limits here, and while I can’t point to a specific child, we do have information that would lead us to believe that they have conducted atrocities, killed women, children, men alike,” he said. “If you don’t believe in their twisted view of reality and their extreme barbaric version of Islam, you appear to be fair game to them.”
iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- Some Air France crews won't fly to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria -- the African nations hit hardest by the deadly Ebola virus.
According to AFP, while some of Air France's employees have refused to fly to these countries, all of the airline's flights have had their usual number of crew members onboard.
The Ebola outbreak is already the deadliest on record and has shown no signs of slowing. About 42.5 percent of Ebola deaths since the virus was discovered in 1976 have occurred since March 2014, according to the World Health Organization.
According to data released by the WHO, as of Saturday, in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, there have been 2,240 cases of Ebola and 1,229 Ebola-related deaths.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(ROME) -- Pope Francis received sad news on Tuesday: Three of his family members died in a car crash.
The wife and two small children of the pope's 38-year-old nephew, Emanuel Bergoglio, were killed when their car collided with a corn truck northeast of the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires. Bergoglio himself was badly injured and is in critical condition.
The pope's spokesperson, Federico Lombardi, said Francis was "profoundly saddened" by the news, which he received by telegram in his Vatican residence.
The accident occurred just as the pope arrived back in Rome from a five-day trip to South Korea.
(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) -- Israel Defense Forces is targeting "terror sites" in Gaza after confirming renewed rocket attacks from the area.
"Yet again, terrorists breach the ceasefire and renew fire at Israeli civilians from Hamas ruled Gaza Strip. This continued aggression will be addressed accordingly by the IDF; we will continue striking terror infrastructure, pursuing terrorists, and eliminating terror capabilities in the Gaza Strip, in order to restore security for the State of Israel," said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.
Until midnight Tuesday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had agreed late Monday that a cease-fire between the two sides would continue, but now Israel says the militant group Hamas has violated the deal. The 24-hour extension of the truce would have allowed for the two sides to hammer out a long-term agreement to end hostilities that led to the invasion of Gaza and 2,000 deaths, nearly all of them Palestinians.
Al Jazeera reported that the Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to more serious talks within a month to discuss such issues as building a Gaza seaport, one of the demands made by Hamas.
The plan discussed by negotiators also includes the reconstruction of Gaza following weeks of bombardment by Israeli war jets and rockets. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would oversee this project.
There was no word about Israel's chief demand -- that is, the demilitarization of Hamas to guarantee the security of the homeland.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images(MOSUL, Iraq) -- Late Monday night the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that the Mosul Dam had been retaken from militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, noting that 35 U.S. airstrikes "eliminated [ISIS] positions in and around the Mosul Dam complex."
In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that more than 90 targets were destroyed, including vehicles, equipment and fighting positions. The airstrikes also allowed Iraqi forces to successfully clear the dam and work to expand their area of control.
Kirby also reiterated that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was "extraordinarily proud of the men and women serving on land and sea who conducted these operations."
Kirby's statement also noted that the way in which Iraqi forces worked during the operation "reflects the growing determination of Iraqis to fight back against [ISIS]."
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GENEVA) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) activated a Travel and Transport Task Force on Monday that will monitor the ongoing outbreak of Ebola and provide prompt information to the travel and tourism sector and to travellers.
The WHO maintains that airborne spread of the disease is extremely unlikely, and that travelling on an airplane and contracting Ebola is also small, as most people suffering from the disease do not feel well enough to travel, as well as the required direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected individual.
Still, the WHO is asked all affected countries to conduct exit screening of all individuals at international airports, seaports and major land crossings to prevent the international spread of the disease. The only way an infected individual is to be allowed to cross borders, the organization says, is if that travel is part of a medical evacuation.
The WHO did not, however, recommend a ban on international travel or trade, and that exit screenings or travel restrictions are not recommended for non-affected countries that do not share borders with the nations currently impacted by the Ebola outbreak.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Pope Francis said on Monday that he has been invited to travel to the United States next year and hinted that he may be interested in visiting three major American cities.
The pope was questioned by journalists on a number of topics during his flight home from South Korea. Speaking on the topic of a United States trip, the pope said that he, "would like to go to Philadelphia, for the meeting of the families," in 2015, referring to the World Meeting of Families. He also noted that he has been invited by President Obama to visit Congress and by the United Nations Secretary General to visit the U.N. Secretariat in New York.
The pope also said that there is a possibility he could continue on to Mexico following his U.S. trip, but that those plans are "not certain."
Stock photo via Digital Vision/Thinkstock(GIOIA TAURO, Italy) -- The Pentagon has announced the completion of the destruction of the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons aboard the American ship MV Cape Ray. Since early July the ship has been in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea destroying 600 tons of a nerve gas precursor and 20 tons of mustard agent.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the ship’s crew on Monday to congratulate them on a job well done in a process that seems to have taken 41 days, far ahead of early estimates.
Hagel spoke with Navy Captain Rich Dromerhauser and “expressed his gratitude for the crew’s service, dedication, and expertise, noting that with the world watching, they performed flawlessly every step of the way,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.
Kirby said Hagel told him that he had “commended the crew for conducting every aspect of the mission in a highly professional manner, with strict adherence to safety and with no impact to the surrounding environment, and said that they should all be very proud of what they’ve accomplished to help reduce the threat posed by chemical weapons.”
“The secretary said that by ridding the world of these materials, they – as part of an ongoing international effort to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal – have helped make an important and enduring contribution to global security,” said Kirby.
He added the destruction of the chemicals is “clear demonstration of what can be achieved when diplomacy is backed by a willingness to use military force. The United States will remain vigilant in our efforts to deter future use of chemicals as weapons, and in ensuring that all questions about the extent of Assad’s chemical weapons program are answered in full.”
Last September, Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated a deal with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons that averted potential U.S. military strikes on Syria. At the time tensions were high with anticipation that airstrikes might target Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in the wake of a sarin gas attack in Damascus that it is believed killed 1,000 civilians.
The international agreement that followed laid out strict timetables for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons for eventual destruction.
Syria turned over its declared chemical stockpile in a slow and deliberate process it blamed on the civil war raging within its borders. That in turn led to delays that forced the Cape Ray to remain in a Spanish port for months as it waited for all of Syria’s chemical weapons to be transferred out of the country.
The destruction of the chemicals aboard the Cape Ray began on July 7 shortly after they were transferred aboard at the Italian port of Gioia Tauro.
The ship then headed into international waters in the Mediterranean to begin the hydrolysis of the chemicals. The exact location of where the ship was in the Mediterranean was never made public, but Greek press reports indicated it was west of Crete.
The ship used a field hydrolysis system to neutralize 600 metric tons of DF, a precursor for sarin gas and other nerve agents, and 19 tons of HD, or sulfur mustard, into a residue product.
Original expectations were that the destruction of the chemicals might take at least 60 days, but it appears to have taken 41 days.
The ship now heads to Finland where it will drop off the “effluent” liquid that is the waste product created by the hydrolysis process. That effluent itself is not harmful, but it will be disposed of in a landfill.
Earlier this year, international investigators determined that Syria had probably used industrial chlorine gas in rebel held areas, long after it turned over its declared chemical weapons stockpile. Under the international agreement worked out last year Syria was not required to declare chlorine as part its chemical stockpile as it has many peaceful uses.
iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- U.S.-backed Kurdish forces have recaptured parts of the Mosul Dam from Islamist extremists, Kurdish and Iraqi military officials said Monday, in a battle for what is effectively a potential weapon of mass destruction in Iraq.
Gen. Karim Fatah, commander of a Kurdish peshmerga battalion near the dam, told ABC News Kurdish forces have taken control of both ends of the dam, but fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still control some positions near the western end of the structure. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying large parts of the dam had been retaken.
The Kurdish offensive has been aided by U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes on ISIS targets, including 15 U.S. strikes Monday, according to the U.S. military.
ISIS managed to take control of the dam last week, an eventuality about which a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department had previously said the U.S. government was “extremely concerned.”
On Sunday, President Obama sent a letter to Congress notifying lawmakers that he had authorized airstrikes against ISIS targets at the dam “in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”
“The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” the letter said.
The stark language actually may have downplayed the danger posed by the dam, according to prior U.S. estimates of the damage that could be caused should the dam be breached -- or even if it is simply left alone to degrade on its own without the constant repair work that has been critical to keeping the dam right side up for the past 30 years.
The Mosul Dam was built in the mid-1980s on what reports indicate was a terrible spot to build a sprawling dam.
“Mosul Dam, the largest dam in Iraq, was constructed on a foundation of soluble soils that are continuously dissolving, resulting in the formation of cavities and voids underground that place the dam at risk for failure,” said an urgent letter sent from David Petraeus, then commanding general of the U.S. Army, and Ryan Crocker, then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2007.
The dam requires “extraordinary engineering measures” -- namely constant grouting operations -- to fill in the holes and “maintain the structural integrity and operating capability of the dam,” according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) report from the same year.
For 30 years –- and through several periods of violent conflict -- the Iraqi government has managed to keep the dam upright by continuously pumping in literally tons of grout like an industrial version of the little Dutch boy, as a geotechnical expert who worked on the dam put it.
But the U.S. says any failure of the dam could be “catastrophic.”
“[T]he most severe impact of a dam failure would be [for] the City of Mosul, located 50 kilometers [31 miles] downstream of the dam,” Petraeus’ and Crocker’s 2007 letter said. “Assuming a worse [sic] case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave over 20 meters [65 feet] deep at the city of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of life and property.”
Mosul is estimated to be home to more than 1.5 million people. Flood waters, albeit at a lower level, could reach all the way to Baghdad, more than 200 miles further down the Tigris.
A 2011 report written by an USACE official and published in Water Power magazine estimated failure “could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths.”
Recently, a U.S. official confirmed that the dire 2007 estimate still stands. After Mosul, flood waters would travel for eight to 10 days before reaching Baghdad, where the U.S. Embassy there could see one to four meters of water, the official said.
The U.S. State Department said earlier this month that control of the dam was one of ISIS’ goals in Iraq. Late last week, the extremist group got its wish, took control of the dam and immediately inherited the urgent grouting problems.
On Friday, an Iraqi government official said that the lead dam engineer and his team were still on site and operating the dam at ISIS’ behest. Supplies to continue grouting operations were available and the water level was also being kept lower than normal to reduce the risk of a breach, the official said then.
ISIS may not necessarily want the dam to fail, considering the extremist group controls portions of the land that would be flooded. The dam is also a “key source” of power and water for the surrounding area, making it a vital piece of infrastructure either way for whoever is in control, another State Department spokesperson told ABC News last week.