US mil: 18 ISIS leaders killed in airstrikes in past month//500-800k refugees expected in Mosul

By Lucas Tomlinson

18 ISIS leaders have been killed in Iraq and Syria in the past month, a Baghdad-based US military spokesman told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday. 

Fox News had reported last week on Special Report that over a dozen ISIS leaders had been killed in Mosul ahead of the expected ground operation next month in Iraq’s second largest city. Some of the ISIS leaders are Chechens who hold a “special place” with the terror group, said Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led coalition.

One of the critical tasks facing the Iraqi government in retaking Mosul from ISIS is the handling the expected 500-800,000 refugees expected to pour out of Mosul after ISIS is defeated, said Dorrian. He said the screening of the refugees is one of the most important components of the Mosul operation, saying it’s a conversation the US-led coalition has with the Iraqis “every day.”   Dorrian said the screening process must be done under the “command and control” of the Iraqi government.

In June, following the liberation of Fallujah by Iraqi forces, hundreds of Iraqi Sunni refugees fleeing the city were reportedly abducted and later killed by Iranian-backed forces outside the city, including Kataaib Hezbollah, which was designated a terrorist organization by the State Department in 2009 for attacking US forces in Iraq. 

The United Nations said in July that 900 Iraqi refugees who left Fallujah were missing and at least 50 had been executed and blamed Iraqi Shia militias, many backed by Iran.

Some of these Iranian-backed forces are now located on the outskirts of Mosul, according to US officials.  

Dorrian said the 615 troops going to Iraq that the defense secretary announced Wednesday would be the last increase needed to help the Iraqis take Mosul.

“We believe this is all the force we will need to liberate Mosul,” he said.

Dorrian said a sizable number of the new US troops going to Iraq are intelligence personnel that will be needed to sift through terabytes of information ISIS is expected to leave behind when they either flee the city or are killed.  

When the ISIS supply hub of Manbij was liberated near Syria’s border with Turkey, 20 terabytes of information was recovered by US-backed forces, said Dorian calling it a “treasure trove” of information about ISIS that has since been shared with western intelligence agencies including those in Europe.

When asked why some troops are going to a remote airbase in western Iraq’s Anbar province, Dorrian said the goal is to turn al-Asad airbase located northwest of Ramadi into a 24/7 airport to fly drones and support Iraqi military aircraft.  At the moment, the airbase can only support day time operations, he said.

Pentagon wants 500 more US troops for Iraq

By Lucas Tomlinson

The US military is seeking to add another 500 US troops to Iraq in addition to the 400 that arrived over Labor Day Weekend, two military officials tell Fox News.

In July, the Pentagon received approval to raise the troop number in  Iraq to 4,647 troops in Iraq from a previous authorization of 3,870 in January.

If President Obama signs off on the military’s plan for more troops, the number would grow beyond 5,000.   There are other US troops inside Iraq that the Pentagon claims are on “temporary” assignments, although some of these deployments last up to one year in country.  Counting these troops, the new forces going to Iraq will push the number of American forces on the ground in Iraq to over 6,000 troops unofficially.

The new US troops in Iraq will remain in an “advisory” capacity officials say, but US troops have increasingly found themselves in danger in Iraq.

In addition to the rocket attack suspected of containing a “mustard agent,” earlier this week, nearly 500 US troops at a base 25 miles south of Mosul have been attacked four times in the past week in conventional rocket attacks, normally one to two rockets at a time, Fox News is told.

An official with knowledge of one of the attacks said one rocket landed “real close” to US troops.  “There is a real danger,” US troops face in Iraq right now, the official said.

Three US service members have been killed in Iraq fighting ISIS.

Officials said the planned deployment 500 additional troops would not be going Qayyarah Airfield, the base 25 miles south of Mosul, but elsewhere in the country as the US military ramps up efforts to support Iraqi forces in a ground assault on Mosul expected to kick off in the next few weeks.

A senior defense official confirmed to Fox News that Iraqi forces had successfully made it to the center of Shirqat, a key supply hub for ISIS forces 60 miles south of Mosul. 

Fox News Electoral Scorecard Map - Clinton Maintains Electoral Lead

We have certainly seen a tightening race over the last month, but Clinton still maintains an electoral lead. Clinton remains ahead in enough states to give her an electoral victory even though her grip on several states has weakened.

Since late August, Trump has trimmed Clinton’s polling leads in states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Virginia. However, Clinton maintains sufficient polling average leads in those states for us to think they are still leaning in her direction. We’ll continue to watch for further tightening in the polls before we rate any of those as Toss Up contests. Wisconsin might be the first of these to slip back to being a Toss-Up state, but it’s not quite there yet.

We’ve avoided bouncing back and forth on Florida and Ohio by maintaining our Toss Up ratings on those states over the last month, expecting the polling margins to tighten, as they have, compared to what we were seeing in August.

And you might see others rating them as Lean Republican or even Toss Ups, but we still see South Carolina and Texas as being solidly Republican at this time.

2016 Scorecard

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If Clinton were to win the states we’ve rated Solid Clinton along with the states we see as leaning in her direction she’d have 273 electoral votes. A presidential candidate needs only 270 Electoral Votes to win the presidency. If Trump wins the Solid Trump states along with the states currently seen as leaning in his direction he’d come away with 164 electoral votes. The Toss-Up states, not currently in either candidate’s column, hold another 101 electoral votes.

The 2016 Scorecard map shows whether we think the state is solidly in a candidate’s column, leaning toward one candidate, or currently a toss-up state.  The solid states are not currently thought to be competitive, the leaning states are still competitive but one candidate appears to have an edge, and the toss-up states are races where neither candidate has a clear advantage.

Confirmed: Russian jet buzzes US Navy spy plane today in Black Sea

Per Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News Pentagon Producer

A Russian jet buzzed a US Navy spy plane today over the Black Sea, a senior defense official tells Fox News.

A Russian Su-27 flew dangerously close to a US Navy P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft used primary for anti-submarine warfare while on routine patrol in the Black Sea.

The incident occurred Wednesday, but the official did not offer specifics on timing or how close the Russian jet managed to come to the US Navy plane.

In April, Russian jets buzzed a US Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea, coming within 30 feet of the US Navy ship. 

This latest provocation comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is negotiating a cease-fire with Russia in Syria.

Earlier today, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Russia is “trying to play by their own rules” and making the situation in Syria “more violent”  while speaking at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Carter added, "Russia's actions in recent years - with its violations of Ukrainian and Georgian territorial integrity, its unprofessional behavior in the air, in space, and in cyber-space, as well as its nuclear saber-rattling - all have demonstrated that Russia has clear ambition to erode the principled international order.”

The Russian jet flew within 10 feet of the US Navy spy plane, a defense official with knowledge of the incident tells Fox News.

There is a classified photo of the incident, but a decision has not been made about releasing it yet, the official added.

“[The Russian jet] takes up the whole photo,” said the official describing how close the Russian jet came to the US Navy plane.

Navy Captain Jeff A. Davis, a Pentagon spokesman issued the following statement regarding the incident: “Earlier today (Sept. 7) a Russian SU-27 Flanker fighter jet made an unsafe close-range intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft while it conducted routine operations in international airspace over the Black Sea.  The intercept lasted about 19 minutes.  U.S. Navy aircraft and ships routinely interact with Russian units in the area and most interactions are safe and professional.  However, we have concerns when there is an unsafe maneuver like this.  These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident.”

Jeh Johnson to Fox: A lot of confidence in the security of electoral infrastructure

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger held a press conference at Reagan National Airport Wednesday morning. 

Asked by Fox News about recent suspected Russia-based hacking activity that targeted two different state electoral systems, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said the Department has “a lot of confidence” in the security of electoral infrastructure in the United States leading up to the November 8 elections.

Secretary Johnson would not comment directly on the Russia allegations, instead citing the FBI investigation into the matter which he said “is not complete.” Johnson added that he continues to urge state and local election officials to consult DHS for ways to secure their systems and to prevent cyber intrusions, noting that “the Department of Homeland Security is in a position to sure up electoral infrastructure.”

Johnson alluded to the complex nature of electoral infrastructure security given that it stretches several different jurisdictions at the state and local levels, but threw water on any notion that the U.S. government wants to federalize the electoral process.

“That’s not what we do. That’s not our mission,” Johnson added. “What we do in the Department of Homeland Security is offer assistance to anyone who comes forward and asks for it.”

US military conducts 8 airstrikes against ISIS in N Syria, Sr. defense official

By Lucas Tomlinson

The US military has conducted eight airstrikes against ISIS in northern Syria in support of a Turkish operation that began Wednesday, according to a senior defense official.

US military airstrikes are “still ongoing,” and there could be additional strikes in the hours ahead, a second US defense official added.

US Air Force A-10 attack aircraft from nearby Incirlik Air Base in Turkey as well as F-16s took part in the strikes in northern Syria, the official said.

The Turkish military launched an operation with tanks and ground forces into ISIS-held Jarabulus in northern Syria located on the border Wednesday.  There are an estimated 100-200 ISIS fighters in the city according to the official.  Turkish officials claimed Wednesday afternoon the city was secured by Turkish-backed fighters.  

“This is a crucial location because of [ISIS] foreign fighter flow,” one official said.

There are “no US boots on the ground in Jarabulus,” in the Syrian-Turkish border town, one official said.  But added that the US military had provided intelligence information with their Turkish counterparts.  It was “planned and coordinated” before the operation started the official said.

The US warplanes destroyed ISIS fighters, fighting positions and mortar positions, according to the official.

An unknown number of moderate Syrian opposition fighters trained by the US military are also taking part in the ground operation in northern Syria, the US senior defense official said.

When asked if there was any concern the Turkish military would expand their operation in northern Syria to include Kurdish forces, some aligned with the United States, the official said the US support to the Turks is to strike ISIS only.

“We are partnering with [Turkey] in counter-ISIL operations,” he said using another acronym for ISIS.

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan said the Turkish army will target ISIL and a US-backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria known as the YPG, in a move that could further escalate tensions in the region.  Erdogan called both the YPG and ISIS terrorist organizations in remarks Wednesday.

The YPG is seen as a key US ally on the ground against ISIS in Syria.  US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes the YPG, routed ISIS fighters from Manbij, located 24 miles south of Jarabulus in the past few weeks. 

 

US Army confirms Hillary Clinton photo used in training slide for handling classified information

The US Army confirms that a soldier used a photo of Hillary Clinton in an official training slide over a year ago about proper handling of classified information.

Clinton’s photo was listed alongside Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, Navy Yard shooter Alex Alexis, and General David Petraeus.

Maj. Thomas G. Campbell III, a US Army spokesperson confirmed the incident in an email to Fox News:

"We have confirmed that the slide was developed 18 months ago and used locally as a part of a training presentation on best practices for handling classified material and maintaining operational security.  As is common with Army training requirements, the local unit was given latitude to

develop their own training products to accomplish the overall training objective.  This particular presentation had not been reviewed or approved by the unit's leadership, and does not reflect the position of the Army. The training presentation has since been removed."

 

US officials: Up to 100,000 Iran-backed fighters now in Iraq

As many as 100,000 Iranian-backed fighters are now on the ground in Iraq, according to American military officials -- raising concerns that even if the Islamic State falls, it may only be replaced by another anti-American force which fuels more sectarian violence in the region.

The ranks have swelled inside a network of Shiite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces. Since the rise of Sunni-dominated ISIS fighters inside Iraq more than two years ago, the Shiite forces have grown to 100,000 fighters, Col. Chris Garver, a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman, confirmed in an email to Fox News. The fighters are mostly Iraqis.

Garver said not all the Shia militias in Iraq are backed by Iran, adding: “The [Iranian-backed] Shia militia are usually identified at around 80,000.”

According to some experts, this still is an alarmingly high number.

“The effect of the Obama administration’s policy has been to replace American boots on the ground with the Iranian’s. As Iran advances, one anti-American actor is being replaced with another,” Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in a recent phone interview.

Garver said other Popular Mobilization fighters also consist of Sunni tribal fighters from Anbar and Nineveh provinces in Iraq.

Whether the force size is 80,000 or 100,000, the figures are the first-known estimates of the Iranian-backed fighters. The figure first surfaced in a recent Tampa Bay Times article and  marks the latest evidence of Tehran’s deepening involvement in the war against ISIS, with the U.S. military also confirming that Russian bombers are now flying into Syria from a base in Iran. The growth also could create greater risk for Americans operating in the country, as at least one Iran-backed group vowed earlier this year to attack U.S. forces supporting the Iraqis.

Even more troubling to the U.S. military are reports that Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general who commands the the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, is now on the ground outside Mosul ahead of an expected ground operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city which has been under ISIS control for the past two years.

According to the Long War Journal, a spokesman for the Iranian-backed forces said earlier this month that Soleimani is expected to play a “major role” in the battle for Mosul.  

When asked about Shia militias participating in the liberation of Sunni-dominated Mosul, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said last week, “The government of Iraq is in charge of this war. We're here to support them. So, who they [want in] the campaign is really their decision.” 

A U.S. military official could not confirm Soleimani’s presence in Mosul, but said Soleimani had been seen throughout Iraq and Syria in the past two years coordinating activities.

Garver stressed Tuesday there is no coordination between the U.S. and Iranians. “We are not coordinating with the Iranians in any way, we are not working with them in any way,” he said during a press conference, adding: “However the government of Iraq comes up with the plan, we are supporting [their] plan for the seizure of Mosul.”

Last August, Fox News first reported Soleimani’s visit to Moscow 10 days after the landmark nuclear agreement in July to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and top Russian officials to plan Russia’s upcoming deployment to Syria in late September.

Soleimani is banned from international travel through United Nations Security Council resolutions. He was first designated a terrorist and sanctioned by the U.S. in 2005. In October 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department tied Soleimani to the failed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C. Soleimani’s Quds Force is the special forces external wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, responsible for supporting terrorist proxies across the Middle East.

At his confirmation hearing last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford was asked how many Americans were killed by Iranian-backed forces under the command of Soleimani. 

"The number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren't always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn't necessarily have the forensics to support that," Dunford said.  

The threat to American troops remains. Last month, firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr -- responsible for attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq a decade ago – once again called for his supporters to kill American troops.

“[U.S. forces] are a target for us,” he said on his website.  

In March, one Iranian-backed group said it would attack U.S. forces after the Pentagon announced that hundreds of U.S. Marines were supporting Iraqi forces with artillery fire.  

"If the U.S. administration doesn't withdraw its forces immediately, we will deal with them as forces of occupation," said Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), said on its TV channel.

The Iranian-backed group has claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq since 2006 and operates under the supervision of Soleimani, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War.

Meanwhile, there are more indications that Russia and Iran are expanding their military ties. The U.S. military has confirmed that Russian bombers flying from a base in Iran have bombed three areas in Syria.

In addition to the up to 100,000 Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, there are thousands of Iranian-backed forces in Syria as well in support of President Bashar al-Assad.  Some of these Iranian-backed forces come from as far as Afghanistan and hundreds have recently died fighting Syrian rebels in the city of Aleppo, according to recent reports.  

 

 

DC Area Transit Police Officer Charged With Attempting to Support ISIS

By Matt Dean, Fox News Producer

A Washington, DC Metro Transit Authority police officer has been charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS – the first ever law enforcement officer arrested for supporting the terror group.

In a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday against Virginia resident Nicholas Young, authorities allege he attempted to send money to ISIS through a mobile-based gift card over an unnamed messaging service the terror group utilizes for recruiting purposes. The transaction, which was redeemed by the FBI for $245, was made in July 2016.

Despite Wednesday’s arrest, the Department of Justice said there was never any threat to the public or a plot by Young to target the public transit system he was hired to protect.

Young, a 13-year veteran of the capital region’s transit police department, was arrested by FBI agents at his office Wednesday morning without incident.

Court documents paint the story of an individual with ties to suspicious individuals and with terrorist aspirations abroad.

The criminal complaint connects 36-year-old to two convicted Washington, DC-area terrorist sympathizers, Zachary Chesser and Amine El Khalifi.

Chesser was sentenced in federal court in 2011 to 25 years in prison for aiding Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabaab. Chesser is famously known for threatening the creators of South Park for its depiction of the prophet Mohamed. Khalifi was arrested in 2012 for attempting to detonate an explosive vest in the U.S. Capitol Building.

Court document show federal investigators also questioned Young about trips he had taken to Libya in 2011. Nicholas Young told FBI agents during an interview that he traveled twice to the North African nation to assist rebels attempting to overthrow the Qaddafi regime.

A baggage search by Customs and Border Protection on one of Young’s outbound trips revealed he had traveled with body armor, a Kevlar helmet, and “several other military-style items,” according to the criminal complaint.

Young is also alleged to have been in possession of a large cache of firearms, including numerous rifles and handguns at his home.

His terrorist leanings came blatantly into the spotlight in 2015 when he admitted to interviewers at the Metro Transit Authority Police Department that he dressed up as Jihadi John for Halloween in 2014. According to the criminal complaint, as part of his costume, “Young stuffed an orange jumpsuit with paper to portray a headless hostage, and he carried that around with him through the party.”

In that same interview, the Muslim convert admitted to having previously dressed up as a Nazi and collecting Nazi memorabilia as well as possessing a tattoo of a German eagle on his neck.

Young makes his initial appearance in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia Wednesday afternoon. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. 

Pentagon: "No endpoint" to US airstrikes in Libya, pace set by Libyian government

By Lucas Tomlinson

The Pentagon said Monday that a new round of airstrikes against ISIS in Libya today are being conducted at the request of the Libyan government, and the Libyans will tell the US military when to conduct airstrikes going forward.

“They'll be determining the pace and the success of this campaign,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in a press briefing Monday.

“We don't have an end point at this particular moment in time.  But we'll be working closely with the [Libyan government] and we certainly hope that this is something that does not require a lengthy amount of time,” he said.

Cook told reporters that one tank and two vehicles belonging to ISIS in the coastal town of Sirte were struck in the US airstrike today.  Cook would not readout what type of US military aircraft were used or where the aircraft were based.

Cook said US airstrikes in the future would be limited to the area of Sirte and be done only at the request of and in “close coordination” with the new UN-backed Libyan government, known as the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Cook said the number of ISIS fighters has been “reduced” in Libya, but did not offer any numbers to support the claim. 

He said the number of ISIS fighters in the ISIS stronghold of Sirte has been reduced to under 1,000, but did not have an estimate for the entire country.

Estimations vary, but the intelligence community has assessed ISIS to have more than 5,000 fighters inside Libya, double the number from a year ago.  Some estimates range as high as 6,000 ISIS fighters inside Libya.

Future airstrikes in Libya will be determined by the commander of the US military’ Africa command based in Stuttguart, Germany.

A Pentagon statement announcing the new airstrikes against ISIS in Libya released before the briefing said President Obama had authorized the strikes today.  

For months, top Pentagon officials have said they would wait for a new government in Libya before ramping up operations against ISIS in Libya.

Cook said no US troops participated in the strikes against ISIS today in Libya, but would not rule out the presence of US troops elsewhere in the country.

Pentagon officials confirmed recently that teams of special operations forces had been going in and out of Libya in the past few months to meet local forces on the ground.

The US airstrikes in Libya today were the third since November.

In February, US Air Force F-15s flying out of the United Kingdom bombed an ISIS training camp outside the Libyan capital of Tripoli killing up to 50 ISIS fighters.

In November, one day after the horrific Paris attacks  that killed over 125 people, American jets killed the top ISIS leader in Libya, Abu Nabil in the port city of Darnah (also spelled “Derna”)

Asked about the potential for an increase in the number of strikes in Libya going forward, Cook said, “We are prepared to carry out more strikes.”

Cook said the 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) was the legal authority used to launch the strikes today.

Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee,  has long sought a new authorization against ISIS and has introduced bipartisan legislation to make one, but the bill stalled in Congress. 

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