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. 

Indiana Governor Race

Now that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has accepted the vice presidential  nod from Donald Trump and has officially filed his paperwork to get off the ballot in Indiana in the race for Governor, Republican sources tell Fox News that former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is being heavily recruited to run again for his old seat. 

Daniels, the current President of Purdue University, is said to be seriously considering another run. 

Why is this important beyond Indiana?   Because when Democrat Even Bayh announced that he was going to run for the US Senate seat to challenge Republican Congressman Todd Young Republicans in Washington worried that they may have a very tough race against a big name like Bayh in Indiana running.   

If Mitch Daniels decides to make another run for Governor Republicans believe it would bring out voters in droves.  Daniels was a very popular Governor and left office with a 65% approval rating in his final year in 2012 and it was higher than 70% at one time. 

If Daniels can bring out Republican voters as expected then Republicans in Indiana and in Washington believe it directly helps Young in his race and thereby helps Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who believes every Senate race is crucial for Republicans to be able to hold on to control of the US Senate.       

Democrats only have to pick up 4 or 5 seats to take control depending on whether or not they win the White House.   They are defending 24 seats.  Democrats are defending 10.

 

More US Troops Headed to Iraq, US General Says

By Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News Producer

BAGHDAD- More US troops will be going to Iraq in the months ahead to help local forces defeat ISIS, the top America military commander in charge of operations in the Middle East told Fox News Thursday. This is in addition to the 560 US forces President Obama ordered to Iraq this week.

"There will probably be some additional capabilities we will need to bring in to complete our objectives," said Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads the U.S.. Central Command.

"As the leadership has told me, if we need something, we need additional capabilities, we need additional people, we should ask for those things and I've been encouraged to do that," Votel added.

The 560 troops deploying to Iraq in the days ahead will help secure an air base 40 miles south of Mosul, recently captured by Iraqi forces supported by US-led coalition airstrikes. America military logistics personnel, engineers ad force protection units will compost the bulk of troops headed to Iraq.

The British government said this week they would send 250 more troops to Iraq as well.

The base will be used to stage Iraqi forces making the assault on Mosul, defense officials say.

Iraqi forces want to build on their momentum following their victory over ISIS in Fallujah, backed by hundreds of coalition airstrikes.

General Votel traveled to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as well as top Iraqi defense officials to discuss upcoming operations against ISIS.

Votel made previous stops in Afghanistan, Bahrain to visit a US Navy warship transiting the Strait of Hormuz, and Jordan beige arriving in Iraq for the final leg of his visit o the region.

It is not immediately clear what type of forces will be headed to Iraq to help prepare for the long awaited ground operation to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city located more than 250 miles north of Baghdad. The majority of ISIS fighters in Iraq are located in Mosul since conquering the city more than two years ago.

Votel said the role of US forces would not change going forward--they will continue to train and advise Iraqi forces away from the front lines.

As the former commander of US special forces, Fox News asked Votel if he had a desire to ramp up attacks using American special ops forces.

"I'm satisfied that we are doing things...to accomplish the objectives that were laid out for us," Votel answered.

Votel said his forces continue to hunt for ISIS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"We are all trying to move this as quickly and effectively as we can," he added. "That timeline has to take in consideration the capabilities of our [Iraqi] partners as well."

When asked how close the Iraqi forces were to taking Mosul, seen by many as a critical step in defeating ISIS, Votel suggest it was still a ways off.

"We're probably sometime away from actually going to Mosul," sad Votel, but added, "[Iraqi forces] are definitely moving in the right direction."

Fox News spoke to Gen. Votel before the horrific attach in Nice along the French Riviera killing more than 80 people celebrating Bastille Day.

When asked why Americans care about the war against ISIS, Votel offered this assessment:

"Certainly, when they have sanctuary or they control terrain, it makes it easier for them to do the things they want to do."

 

 

Fox News Reporting - Takeover - The Trump Convention

Premieres July 16th at 8PM ET 

Political conventions are usually where parties unite, but there's nothing "usual" about the big Republican meeting get together in Cleveland.

In Donald Trump, they’ve got an unprecedented candidate—a man who’s never held office and shoots from the hip.  He’s brought a lot of people into the party, people who will fight for him. But he’s also turned off some party regulars -- and some are hoping to take away the presumption from this presumptive nominee.

And that’s just what’s going on inside the convention. Outside may be even more explosive.  There’s certain to be high levels of protest on the streets, and more than a few people who may be spoiling for trouble.  

In Fox News Reporting - Takeover - The Trump Convention we look at the Republican convention—who will be there, how it will be run, how it will effect the election.  Will they be throwing a big party, or will they destroy the Grand Old Party?

 

 

US Navy: Some sailors "did not meet code of conduct" after being detained by Iranian forces

The Navy’s top officer said the performance of 10 of his sailors leading up to and following their capture by Iranian forces in January did not meet the high standards expected of them.

“Those sailors clearly know our actions on that day in January, and this incident did not live up to our expectations of our Navy,” said Admiral John Richardson during a press briefing with reporters Thursday announcing the findings of an investigation into the incident.  

One of Richardson’s top deputies said some of the sailors violated the long standing “code of conduct” that requires all service members to “I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country,” among the five articles. [read the code here]

According to the report, some of the Navy sailors gave up their passwords to their laptops, cellphones and sensitive data about their ships to their Iranian captors.

“The investigation also found that some crew members did not meet code of conduct standards while in custody,” said VICE ADMIRAL CHRIS AQUILINO (USN), DEPUTY FOR OPERATIONS, PLANS AND STRATEGY

Aquilino said the rules of engagement dealing with Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf “may not have been understood by the crews.”

Among the findings of the investigation was the crews failed to report they were off track after beginning their transit from Kuwait to Bahrain four hours behind schedule. To make up the time, the two Navy patrol boats decided to take a short cut, taking them inside Iranian territorial waters near Farsi Island, centrally located in the Persian Gulf.

Richardson said that Iran violated international law in their treatment  of his sailors by taking the sailors at gunpoint.

“The investigation concluded that Iran violated international law by impeding the boats' innocent passage transit, and they violated sovereign immunity by boarding, searching and seizing the boats and by photographing and videotaping the crew,” he said.

Richardson said when the boat crew was reported missing “alert launches” of F-18s from the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman as well as US Air Force F-15s launched from bases on land nearby.  A US Navy cruiser, USS Anzio was dispatched near Farsi Island where the US sailors were taken.

Richardson said the task force commander for Task Force 56, who oversaw the two patrol boats has been relieved.  Richardson also said the commanding officer of the riverine squadron has been relieved. 

Another officer in charge of the boat detachment in Kuwait was also let go. Six other people face punishment as well, Richardson says.

“Big incidents like this are always the result of the accumulation of a number of small problems.  And so it's just the nature of these things,” said Richardson describing the incident.

Richardson said the lessons learned from the incident would be taught to sailors around the fleet and also to future generations of officers and enlisted sailors.

“So this will be something that we can mine for a lot of lessons,” said Richardson.

Admiral Richardson said he had not spoken to his Iranian counterpart to voice his displeasure over the incident.

Ted Cruz & Jeh Johnson Square Off Over "Islamic Extremism" "Jihad" Characterizations

A contentious exchange took place between DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Texas Senator Ted Cruz Thursday during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into DHS oversight.

Cruz went after Secretary Johnson over the administration’s alleged “scrubbing” of any references to Islamic extremism or the term “jihad” from DHS counterterrorism literature. Cruz also alleged that references to “Islamic extremism” and the term “jihad” were stricken from FBI counterterrorism manuals as well.

Speaking for the DHS side of the house, Johnson said he had “no idea” what Cruz was alluding to. He pushed back saying that while the broader conversation over terrorism characterizations is “very interesting” and “makes for good political debate,” in practical terms, if the administration were to start giving credence to the so-called Islamic State it would hinder efforts to build bridges within the Muslim community.

Johnson added that while he was legal advisor to the Pentagon’s drone program, when deciding whether to strike an individual he “didn’t care if the baseball card said violent extremist or Islamic extremist.” 

Cruz fired back saying that the scrubbing of that terminology essentially changes law enforcement behavior when responding to terror attacks and accused the administration of “willful blindness” in its efforts to erase these references calling upon missed red flags prior to the Nidal Hasan Fort Hood attack as well as red flags on the Tsarnaev brothers prior to the Boston Marathon bombings. 

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A federal court has ordered the State Department to review newly found Clinton emails and turn over records by September 13 to show which emails are government related.

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