U.S.-backed SDF to let Syrian Islamic State fighters leave Raqqa

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AIN ISSA, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian Islamic State fighters are set to abandon Raqqa in a withdrawal agreed with U.S.-backed Syrian militias that have them surrounded, a militia spokesman said on Saturday, as the jihadists’ defeat in their former Syrian capital edged closer.

Officials gave conflicting accounts on whether foreign fighters would also be leaving the city, where the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been battling to defeat Islamic State since June.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the foreign fighters would be left behind “to surrender or die”, without saying when the evacuation of Syrian fighters would take place.

But Omar Alloush, a member of Raqqa’s Civil Council, said the evacuation would include foreign fighters. He said it would take place overnight into Sunday. The jihadists would be taking some 400 civilians with them as human shields, he said.

The final defeat of IS at Raqqa would be a milestone in efforts to roll back the theocratic “caliphate” the group declared in 2014 in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year it was driven from the city of Mosul.

IS used Raqqa as a base to plan attacks against the West.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which dominates the SDF, told Reuters earlier on Saturday that Islamic State was on the verge of defeat in Raqqa, and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists on Saturday or Sunday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said a convoy was due to leave Raqqa on Saturday, in an arrangement agreed by local parties. It described the arrangement as “a civilian evacuation” and said it would not condone any arrangement that allowed “terrorists to escape Raqqa without facing justice”.

Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said the coalition’s stance was that IS fighters must surrender unconditionally, but added that he could not comment on who would be in the convoy. He said difficult fighting was expected in the days ahead.

The coalition statement said the arrangement brokered by the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders on Oct. 12 was “designed to minimise civilian casualties and purportedly excludes foreign Daesh terrorists”.

The coalition believed the arrangement would “save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqa with less risk of civilian casualties”, it said.

Children play inside a truck at a refugee camp for people displaced because of fightings between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants in Ain Issa, Syria October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Tribal leaders from Raqqa said the SDF had agreed to allow safe passage out of the city for Syrian Islamic State fighters still inside, and they were organising a “mechanism” for them to leave.

Its statement made no mention of the fate of Islamic State’s foreign jihadists, but said the remaining fighters in the city were only “a small number besieged in one or more positions in the city, who have no choice but surrender or death”.

Alloush earlier told Reuters that the IS fighters would go to remaining territory held by the group in Syria.

BUSES ARRIVE

Negotiated withdrawals of combatants facing defeat have become a common feature of the six-year-long Syrian war.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight Friday from the countryside to the north.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that reports on the war, said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had already left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families.

The Syrian army, which is supported by Iran-backed militias and the Russian air force, declared another significant victory over Islamic State on Saturday, saying it had captured the town of al-Mayadin in Deir al-Zor province.

The eastern province is Islamic State’s last major foothold in Syria, and it is under attack there from the SDF on one side and Syrian government forces supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air strikes on the other.

Islamic State fighters had previously agreed to an evacuation last August, from an area on the Syrian-Lebanese border.

But as their convoy moved towards Islamic State-held territory in eastern Syria, coalition planes blocked its route by cratering roads, destroying bridges and attacking nearby Islamic State vehicles.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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US military bombers, fighters fly over Korean Peninsula in show of force

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The U.S. military flew two B-1B supersonic bombers and two F-35 fighter jets over South Korea on Thursday in a show of force following North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch, a South Korean defense official said.

The U.S. aircraft were participating in training with South Korean F-15 fighter jets, the South Korean official said. He didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.

Such flyovers are common when animosity rises on the Korean Peninsula, which is technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

North Korea on Tuesday flew a potentially nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missile over northern Japan and later called it a “meaningful prelude” to containing the U.S. territory of Guam.

A day later, The U.S. Defense Agency announced it had shot down a medium-range ballistic missile off the coast of Hawaii in a new test of its missile defense system at sea.

The test came after North Korea fired the missile from its capital Pyongyang that flew over Japan before plunging into the northern Pacific Ocean, an aggressive test-flight over the territory of a close U.S. ally that sent a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby.

Thursday’s U.S. show of force followed a tweet from President Trump, suggesting he was growing impatient with North Korea after earlier expressions of hope for a dialogue with the communist country.

On Tuesday, Washington and its allies called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, but seemed to fall short on new ideas for stopping North Korea’s nuclear and missile advances, which are increasingly putting the U.S. mainland within range.

“Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world,” Trump said after the North’s missile soared almost 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) into the Pacific Ocean, triggering alert warnings in northern Japan and shudders throughout Northeast Asia. “All options are on the table.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych

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After 100 days, Philippine army says ‘last stand’ near for Marawi fighters

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MANILA (Reuters) – One hundred days after militants loyal to Islamic State took over parts of a southern Philippine city, the military is confident the end is in sight for what has been its biggest security crisis in years.

After a lightning strike on May 23 on Marawi City, the Dawla Islamiya rebel alliance has held out against daily artillery bombardment and air strikes by jets and bombers, and its snipers remain placed in the rubble of the city’s business district.

But now, says Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the military’s Marawi task force, rebel-held areas are shrinking, and there are signs the fighters are low on food and ammunition, and starting to flag.

“Hopefully, the Marawi siege is going to be over within the next few weeks,” he told reporters.

“Their strength continues to decline. We are inflicting casualties on them almost every day.”

The military has, however, missed repeated targets and deadlines to crush the rebels, whose strength and resolve it accepts it has under-estimated. The conflict in the southern region of Mindano has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and killed nearly 800 by government count – 133 soldiers and police, 45 civilians and an estimated 617 militants.

Residents say they fear the bodies of many more civilians could be in the rubble of the lakeside city. Estimates of civilians trapped in the fighting at one point were over 2,000, although authorities say 1,728 have been rescued.

The Red Cross says it is investigating the whereabouts of 179 missing people.

The protracted occupation has heightened concerns that Islamic State’s radical ideology may have gained a deeper foothold in the southern Philippines than was previously imagined, and raised questions about whether the military can contain a wider rebellion.

The presence of foreigners among the fighters is fanning fears that Mindanao could become a draw for extremists from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and those being pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

Armed forces chief Eduardo Ano said strategic gains had been made against the Islamist militants in the past week, including retaking the police headquarters and the city’s central mosque.

All routes in and out of Marawi had been sealed off, he said on Tuesday, and the hard core of about 50 rebels were preparing for their “last stand” and would have to decide whether to surrender, or be martyred.

    

NO WAY OUT

Government troops stand on guard in front of damaged buildings and houses after 100 days of intense fighting between soldiers against insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over parts of Marawi city, southern Philippines August 30, 2017.Froilan Gallardo

“That’s our main goal: No way out, no way in,” Ano said.

“If they want to go to heaven as they declared, we will give them the chance.”

The Marawi fighting has been the biggest security crisis of the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, who declared martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year, and has urged lawmakers to approve funds to beef up the army by 20,000 troops.

On Wednesday, he said the conflict was by no means “the beginning and the end” of an extremism problem that stemmed from decades of separatist unrest.

Experts say the ability of two hardline groups from different parts of Mindanao – the relatively new Maute group, and the more established Abu Sayyaf – to carefully plan each step of the takeover of a city illustrates the ease in which extremists could organise and rally around Islamic State’s agenda.

The military says key to countering that will be whether it can kill or capture the main leaders, who it believes are still inside a conflict zone of about half a square kilometre (0.2 sq miles) in size.

One challenge will be securing what are believed to be dozens of hostages. Failure to do that could be a disaster for a military already criticised for the massive destruction caused by air strikes that have had mixed results. In two instances, the bombs have hit ground troops.

Duterte said the reason why the battle had gone on so long was because of the government’s desire to keep hostages safe and to avoid bombing a mosque where rebel leaders were believed to be taking shelter.

“It would have just created more animosity and outright hostility against the government,” he said.

Rodolfo Biazon, a former lawmaker and military chief, said that after Marawi is retaken, the government should seek more than a military solution and try to stop rebels from regrouping, by targeting recruitment and tackling radical ideology at the grassroots level.

“Remove the community support, and it will not last long. This should be the primary effort,” Biazon said.

“All Islamic radical groups should be targeted not physically alone, but psychologically by removing the water from the fish.”

 

Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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U.S. send extra fighters to police Baltic skies during Russian exercise

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SIAULIAI AIR BASE (Reuters) – The United States has sent a reinforced detachment of fighter planes to police the skies over NATO members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during a major Russian military exercise in the Baltic region next month.

The Zapad war games from Sept. 14 to 20 in Belarus, western Russia and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad, have caused unease in the region, though Russia has said the large-scale exercise will rehearse a purely defensive scenario and will not be a springboard for invasion.

Seven U.S. F-15C fighters landed at Siauliai airfield this week to patrol skies over the Baltic countries, three more than normally used since the NATO policing mission was upgraded after the Crimean crisis in 2014.

The three Baltic states do not operate their own fighter aircraft and rely on their NATO allies for patrols.

“We are reinforcing the air police mission for the period (of Zapad). And we are glad to also have additional land troops here,” Lithuanian Deputy Defence Minister Vytautas Umbrasas told reporters at Siauliai, referring to 600 extra U.S. airborne troops being deployed during Zapad in the Baltic states.

“This is very helpful in a situation like this,” he said.

U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighters deployed to NATO Baltic air policing mission are parked in the military air field in Siauliai, Lithuania August 30, 2017.Ints Kalnins

Tod Wolters, the top U.S. Air Force commander in Europe, said fighter numbers had been increased due to “training opportunities” in Lithuania, without mentioning Russia during the news conference in Siauliai.

“The air policing mission will remain as it has been. And the purpose of the air policing mission is to protect the sovereign skies of the three Baltic nations,” said Wolters.

Moscow says almost 13,000 Russian and Belarussian servicemen will take part in Zapad, as well as around 70 planes and helicopters and 700 pieces of military hardware including tanks, artillery and rocket systems.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the U.S. Army’s top general in Europe, told Reuters last month that U.S. allies in eastern Europe and Ukraine were worried the exercises could be a “Trojan horse” aimed at leaving behind military equipment brought into Belarus.

A Russian deputy defence minister said on Tuesday there was no truth in allegations Russia would use the exercise as a cover to invade and occupy Lithuania, Poland or Ukraine.

Suggestions that Russia posed a threat were “myths”, the deputy minister, Alexander Fomin, said.

Three U.S. exercises will be underway at the same time as Zapad, in Sweden, Poland and Ukraine, and a U.S. armoured brigade has already deployed in Europe.

Reporting By Andrius Sytas; Editing by Richard Balmforth

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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10 UFC Grapplers Fighters Don’t Want To Mess With



Top 10 Best Grapplers in the MMA Subscribe to TheSportster http://goo.gl/mZKUfd For copyright matters please contact us at: david.f@valnetinc.com Grappling …

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Eleven Hezbollah fighters, seven Syrian soldiers killed in border battle against IS – Nasrallah

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – Eleven Hezbollah fighters and seven Syrian soldiers were killed in an offensive against Islamic State in Syria’s western Qalamoun region, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Monday.

After a week-long battle, a convoy of Islamic State fighters began to depart the Syria-Lebanon border region on Monday under Syrian military escort, leaving for eastern Syria.

A ceasefire had halted the fighting in an Islamic State enclave at the border, where the militants had been battling the Lebanese army on one front and Shi’ite Hezbollah with the Syrian army on the other.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Alison Williams

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Fighters withdraw after clashes in Yemen capital – officials

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DUBAI (Reuters) – Gunmen from both groups in a strained civil war alliance withdrew from streets in the Yemeni capital on Sunday after trading fire in unprecedented violence, officials from the two groups said.

The clash late on Saturday between members of the Houthi movement and loyalists of a powerful former president killed at least three combatants and marked a breakdown within the main political gathering confronting a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen’s 2 1/2-year-old war.

“The situation has been contained and armed men have been withdrawn. A commission to investigate the incident has been formed,” a Houthi official told Reuters.

Residents of the upscale Hadda district where the fighting raged for several hours said traffic was picking up as people began morning commutes to work.

The two fighting groups together rule northern Yemen and have maintained an uneasy alliance throughout the largely stalemated conflict that has killed at least 10,000 people and unleashed hunger and disease.

Ali Abdullah Saleh ran Yemen for 34 years, and a mass rally to commemorate his former ruling party’s anniversary last week aroused the ire of the Houthis, who viewed it as a show of force meant to undermine them.

The tensions boiled over on Saturday night when Houthi fighters set up a security checkpoint near the home of Saleh’s son and his media office.

Two Houthi fighters were killed and Yemeni media reported that an army colonel who served as a senior official in Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party also died.

Houthi-run state news agency Saba reported that neutral forces intervened to stop the fighting and that an investigation had been launched.

A GPC official said forces on both sides were leaving the area after the Houthi checkpoint was dismantled.

Houthi and Saleh forces fight side-by-side in nationwide battlefronts against the country’s internationally recognised government, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition.

It intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to restore the government to Sanaa after the Houthis seized it and entered into their alliance with Saleh.

Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Potter

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor: Fighters go head-to-head at weigh-in

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Floyd Mayweather Jr and Conor McGregor both weigh in under the 154lb limit for Saturday’s fight, before going face to face on stage in Las Vegas.

Follow coverage of the build-up and live coverage of the fight across BBC Sport all week.

READ MORE: McGregor shouts the odds, Mayweather backs himself

WATCH MORE: ‘Kazakh Conor McGregor’ cashing in on the hype

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Foo Fighters’ VMA Nomination Is Way More Meaningful Than You Might Think

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The VMA Best Rock category is a complete breakfast this year, with the five nominees offering a healthy dose of the diverse modern definitions of rock — including everything from youth culture to legacy acts. You’ve got Coldplay representing rock’s electro-dancey side, Twenty One Pilots on the punk-rap side (or whatever you call their amalgamation of goodness), Fall Out Boy representing the anthemic, stadium side, Green Day on the legendary pop-punk side, and Foo Fighters, who are probably the best examples of rock stars ever, tying everything together. Hey, uh, people who declared “Rock is dead” (ahem, Gene Simmons; ahem, Flea), take that!

The Best Rock category not only symbolizes a scrumptious dissection of the 2017 mainstream rock scene; it signifies a milestone specifically for the Foo Fighters, who, 20 years ago, were nominated in the exact same category. While other awards shows celebrate the best in the current pop-culture landscape, this year, Best Rock is recognizing the staying power of bands who have paved the way for younger acts while still maintaining relevancy.

In 1997, Foo Fighters were nominated for the Grohl-directed “Monkey Wrench” video from their The Colour and the Shape album, a hallmark of the late-grunge era. The clip finds the band — Grohl, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, and then-new drummer Taylor Hawkins — trying to break into an apartment, where, inside, a different version of them are performing (meta). When the band inside the room escapes through the window, the new Foo Fighters take their place. In the end, the camera pans out to find that another version of the Foos are peering through the peephole at them.

If you try to analyze the “Monkey Wrench” video, you might come to the conclusion that the Foos were trying to outdo themselves, that every version of their band would be better, that they could never be replaced.

Before Foo Fighters found out that they lost Best Rock Video to Aerosmith at the 1997 VMAs, they played atop the marquee at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. After MTV News’ Kurt Loder introduced them, Smear announced his departure from the band on live television, passing the baton to new guitarist Franz Stahl. It’s as if another version of Foo Fighters morphed right before our eyes, just as they did in the “Monkey Wrench” video.

Now, it’s 20 years later, and Foo Fighters have assumed yet another model of themselves. This year, they’re nominated for “Run,” which Grohl also directed. With the help of pounds of prosthetic makeup, the band transformed into geriatric nursing home patients, bored with the end of life. When old-man Foo Fighters take the “stage” during the facility’s rec hour, they lead a sort of rebellion — grandpas stage-dive, grandmas whip out their saggy boobs, and they all run for freedom.

The “Run” video is the Foos’ way of saying that they’re never to old to rock, and in fact, they’re going to do it better than any other act — perhaps even better than the younger version of themselves. After they escape from the nursing home, the elderly gang are seen throwing young kids out of the car, ripping off a dude’s man bun and stealing a vape pen — it’s just as if Foo Fighters are tossing our “youth culture” aside, showing us they have just as much a place at spectacles like the VMAs as anyone else. If you call them “old,” then hey, that might as well be a compliment.

“Run” also features the OG “Monkey Wrench” crew, cementing Smear as a central member after he returned in 2005. In 20 years, Foo Fighters have seen some new additions, too, with Chris Shiflett joining in ’99 and Rami Jaffee entering more recently.

Perhaps at the 2037 VMAs, the Foos will return with another Best Rock-nominated video. Perhaps they’ll look like their “Run” characters, even without the help of makeup. No matter the version, however, Foo Fighters have proven with their “Run” video that they will forever be at their best — no matter how old they get.

The 2017 VMAs touch down at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Sunday, August 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. See the full list of nominees and vote for Best New Artist now!

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