Posts Tagged The Islamic State

Carson Revamps Campaign Team Amid Resignations

Ben Carson LogoThree of Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s top aides resigned Thursday, causing a big shake-up in the campaign just a month out from the nation’s first voting in the Iowa caucuses.

Sources said Thursday that Carson’s campaign manager Barry Bennett and communications director Doug Watts gave Carson their notice.

Watts confirmed the news in a statement: “Yes, Barry Bennett and I have resigned from the Carson campaign effective immediately. We respect the candidate and we have enjoyed helping him go from far back in the field to top tier status. Having just announced raising $23 million for the fourth quarter, more than any other Republican candidate, and passing one million contributions and over 600 million unique donors. Since March, we are proud of our efforts for Dr. Carson and we wish him and his campaign the best of luck.”

Later Thursday, Deputy Campaign Manager Lisa Coen said that she has resigned because of Bennett and Watts’ departures. “I am deeply concerned about the campaign’s ability to move forward successfully without them,” Coen said. She said she wishes Carson “all the best going forward.”

Carson once led the polls in Iowa but has seen his popularity slide in the wake of questions about his foreign policy experience. The shake-up is likely to further disrupt the campaign’s equilibrium just as it was about to launch its final 30-day strategy plan before the Feb. 1 caucuses. Bennett and Watts had been planning to move to Iowa during the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, along with about 20 other campaign staffers and hundreds of mostly college-aged volunteers.

Ryan Rhodes, Carson’s Iowa campaign director, said the volunteers will still be pouring into Iowa to campaign for Carson in the final month.

“I’m excited for January,” Rhodes told the Register. “Ben Carson has personally guaranteed me the campaign will have the resources to be successful in Iowa.”

Carson’s national senior strategist Ed Brook over is the new campaign manager, replacing Bennett, aides said.

Sources said the Bennett and Watts quit because of tensions with Armstrong Williams, a conservative radio personality and long-time friend of Carson’s who has been advising him in an unpaid role. Williams has described himself as Carson’s business partner and a long-time friend. The two met in the 1990s when Williams interviewed Carson for a TV show, The Hill has reported.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, may have hit his summit in the polls in Iowa with 28% support in October.

Since then, he has plunged 15 percentage points, according to an early December Iowa Poll of likely GOP caucus goers conducted by the Register and Bloomberg Politics.

National security became a weakness for him, the polling shows. It’s a top issue in the GOP race, but very few likely caucus goers think Carson would be best to combat Islamic terrorism, just 5% when compared with the new Iowa front-runner Ted Cruz (32%) and Donald Trump (35%). Carson also measured low on the question about who’d make the best commander in chief, only 12% think he’d be best in that role. Carson’s image numbers also fell dramatically between October and December. The number who look at him “very” favourably plunged 25 percentage points — from 53% to 28%.

In mid-November, in a national television interview, Carson couldn’t name a country or leader he would call to form an international coalition to counter terrorists with the Islamic State, despite being asked three times by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. Carson made other missteps, including mispronouncing the name of the Palestinian group Hamas as “hummus” during a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington.

And Carson began to get pushback from evangelical Christians, a dominant voting bloc in the Iowa caucuses, after he said in an interview with The Washington Post published in early December that he doesn’t believe in the “Rapture” or a physical hell.

Another religious conservative, Cruz, a Texas U.S. senator, has taken the lead in Iowa, siphoning votes from Carson. Faith leaders will stump for Carson in January, drawing contrasts with Cruz, Carson aides said.

“We’re going to provide a clear message and show the real Dr. Carson,” Rhodes said.

 

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Carson Hints At Staff Shake-Up Then Not So Much

Ben CarsonRepublican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday morning he is moving toward a major shake-up of his struggling campaign, with less than six weeks to go until early voting begins to select party nominees.

Yet by Wednesday evening, he tried to steer away from that message, announcing that all is well in the Carson camp

In a Wednesday morning interview at his Maryland home, conducted without the knowledge of his own campaign manager, Carson said “personnel changes” could be coming, suggesting he would consider sidelining his top aides.

“Everything. Everything is on the table,” he said of potential changes. “Every single thing is on the table. I’m looking carefully.”

Carson’s longtime business adviser Armstrong Williams put it more bluntly: “Dr. Carson is back in charge, and I’m so happy to see that,” he said. Williams himself has publicly feuded with the paid political professionals brought in to run Carson’s campaign.

Following an afternoon meeting with some of his paid advisers Wednesday – a group that did not include Williams – Carson said in a statement that while he has 100 percent confidence in his campaign team, “we are refining some operational practices and streamlining some staff assignments to more aptly match the tasks ahead.”

The statement added that his senior team “remains in place with my full confidence, and they will continue to execute our campaign plan.”

Campaign manager Barry Bennett was not aware of Carson’s statements about potential changes until later. He later texted: “No staff shake-up.”

The apparent rift between Carson, Williams and the paid campaign staff comes after his weeks-long slide in polls. The political newcomer – a celebrated pediatric neurosurgeon – briefly surged to the top of the GOP field in October, riding public appeal for more anti-establishment candidates, while making headway with Christian and conservative voters.

With the spotlight came scrutiny. Carson publicly lashed out at media reports questioning details of his celebrated autobiography.

Terrorist attacks in Paris and California shifted the focus of the race to foreign policy and national security, sometimes highlighting Carson’s lack of experience. Another challenge: He is soft-spoken in a race dominated by media-savvy, tough-talking figures including real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I certainly don’t expect to get through a campaign without some scratches and bruises,” Carson said. “That’s the nature of the beast.”

Then came the internal disarray.

Carson had raised $31 million by the end of September, more than any other Republican in the race, but he’s outpaced the competition on spending – mostly on fundraising costs rather than critical political infrastructure.

“I recognize that nothing is perfect,” Carson said. “And, yes, we’ve had enormous fundraising, but that requires that you be efficient in the way you utilize the funds. And, yes, we are looking at all those things.”

Carson acknowledged that some of his difficulties were of his making.

He said he must prove to voters that he is up to the challenge to be commander-in-chief.

“I think I have to directly address the issue,” he said, sitting in his basement game room, where the walls around him are covered in decades’ worth of accolades.

People think that “because you are soft-spoken and nice, you can’t possibly be tough, you can’t have the strength to deal with the incredible security problems we now face,” Carson said. That “is not true, but I’m now talking about it.”

In recent campaign stops, Carson has started offering more specifics on foreign policy, such as detailing how U.S-led coalition forces can work to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group’s so-called caliphate.

Carson said he plans to put emphasis on his strategy for Libya when he returns to the trail after Christmas. He maintains that too many U.S. leaders, including some of his GOP rivals, have zeroed in on the Islamic State group’s activities in Iraq and Syria, while failing to acknowledge that they pose a threat beyond those borders.

“They have a global strategy,” Carson said of the militant group, arguing that the U.S. must counter it.

Carson said the rough-and-tumble nature of the 2016 race has not outweighed his favorite campaign moments. “The patients,” he said with a smile, explaining that he often meets former patients on the campaign trail who are eager to share their stories with him.

He recalled meeting one patient to whom he’d given a hemispherectomy – removing half the brain – as an infant. “He had graduated from college number one in his class – with half a brain,” Carson said. “These are incredible stories.”

Carson said a retooled campaign will not involve personal attacks on his Republican rivals, though he said he will look to place greater emphasis on their differences in policy and experience. He repeated his pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee if he does not win the nomination, explaining he’d respect the voters’ wishes.

Besides, Carson said, he likes his opponents – including bombastic Trump.

“There isn’t anybody there who is unpleasant,” Carson said. As an example, he noted that Trump had complimented him during the most recent GOP debate in Las Vegas.

“Then he came up to me during the break,” Carson recalled, “and said, ‘I really meant it.'”

 

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Terror Threat Rises As Number of European Jihadi’s Doubles in a Year

Jihadi'sThe number of fighters from Western Europe pouring into Syria has more than doubled since last year, swelling the ranks of the Islamic State and other extremist groups by more than 30,000 despite efforts by the U.S. and other Western countries to cut off the flow, according to a new report by an international security firm.

There is also mounting evidence that significant numbers of these fighters — an average of between 20 percent and 30 percent — are starting to return to their home countries, posing threats that became a grisly reality in the November 13 attacks in Paris, which were coordinated by an ISIS recruit who returned to France, the authors of the report warn.

“All of our assumptions about our ability to monitor these people have been proven faulty,” said Patrick Skinner, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and one of the authors of the report prepared by the Soufan Group.

“When you look at France or Belgium, they have a massive problem,” Skinner added. “It’s clear they haven’t been able to stop people from going and it’s painfully clear they haven’t stopped people from coming back. It’s the round-trip nature of this that is really worrisome.”

The report also suggests that the motivation for those joining the fight is often more personal than political, and may well be immune to the “countering radical extremism” messaging that U.S. and other officials have touted as a potential solution to the problem.

“A search for belonging, purpose, adventure and friendship appear to remain the main reasons for people to join the Islamic State, just as they remain the least-addressed issues in the international fight against terrorism,” the report states.

The report with detailed, country-by-country breakdowns on the flow of foreign fighters, offers a sobering and in some cases more downbeat perspective on the state of the war against ISIS than the one President Obama offered the country in a nationally televised speech Sunday night.

Before U.S. officials began calling attention to the problem, the Soufan Group was among the first to highlight the threat posed by foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq in a major report it released in June 2014. Basing its figures on open-source reporting, official government estimates and private interviews with U.S. and allied intelligence officials, the consulting firm estimated at the time that about 12,000 foreign fighters from 81 countries had flocked to Syria and Iraq.

The new report puts the figure at between 27,000 and 31,000 from at least 86 countries. That is consistent with current U.S. intelligence estimates, updated in just the last few weeks, of about 30,000.

The Soufan Group accepts official U.S. estimates that about 250 of these have come, or attempted to come, from the United States, up from about 120 last year.

The numbers from Western Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Republics are far more pronounced — and rapidly accelerating. It estimates, for example, that about 5,000 fighters from European Union countries have flocked to the conflict, up from 2,500 in June 2014, with more than two- thirds of them coming from just four countries. The number from France is estimated at 1,700 (up from 700 last year); from the U.K. 760 (up from 400 last year); from Germany, 760 (up from 270 last year; and from Belgium, 470 (up from 250 last year.)

One huge source of the flow has been Russia, a major reason cited by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent decision to begin military strikes in Syria. The report estimates that about 2,400 fighters have come from Russia, up from 800 last year. The largest sources, however, remains Tunisia about 6,000 (twice the estimate from last year); Turkey, between 2,000 and 2,200 (up from 400 last year); and 2,500 from Saudi Arabia (the same number as last year.)

In his talk from the Oval Office Sunday night, President Obama promised an intensification of air strikes and special operations forces against the ISIS. But he offered no major change in U.S. strategy and again vowed to avoid sending a large influx of U.S. ground troops to dislodge ISIS from the territory it now holds.

But Skinner of the Soufan Group said it is increasingly clear that the flow of fighters will not stop until the ISIS suffers a decisive defeat on the ground. “Until the Islamic State is demonstrably defeated, militarily, until they get toppled from Mosul and Raqqa, they will continue to be a magnet,” he said. “They need to have an undeniable loss.”

 

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Republican Presidential Contenders Attack Radical Islam

Rick SantorumRepublican presidential contenders used the South Carolina GOP Convention this weekend to declare war on radical Islam.

The most aggressive cry came from former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who said the Islamic State wants to bring back an ancient form of Islam that promotes the beheading of Christians and Jews.

“I have a suggestion,” he said. “Let’s bomb them back to the 7th Century.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz slammed President Barack Obama for being “unable to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’” Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said the country’s “enemies need to fear us again.”

More doom came from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who said radical Islam is “running wild.” Former Texas Governor Rick Perry warned that the struggle with violent Islamic extremists will last a long time and require “the same resolve that we [had] to defeat Soviet Communism.”

The speeches on Saturday and a dinner Friday night gave South Carolinians a close-up look at five candidates among a crowded field of Republicans likely to seek the party’s 2016 presidential nomination. The state is the first Southern primary stop and until 2012 predicted the eventual nominee.

Of the candidates that showed up in South Carolina, Cruz was the only declared candidate in attendance. Bush reiterated that he is considering a run. Santorum and Perry also may run. At Friday’s Silver Elephant fundraising dinner, Graham all but announced he’ll soon get in the race.

“I’ve never seen so many threats to our homeland as I see today,” Graham said Saturday to the loudest applause of his otherwise subdued speech. “There are more terrorist organizations with more safe havens, more capability, more weapons, more men, than hit us on any time before 9/11.”

Cruz, dressed in a suit, talked up his stalled legislation that would revoke the citizenship of any American who joined the Islamic State.

“We need a president who’s not an apologist for radical Islamist terrorism, suggesting that it’s just like the Crusades and the Inquisition,” he said. “We need a president who says ISIS is the face of evil and we will stop it.”

Santorum, also in a suit and wearing boots, said he and others were correct four years ago when they said radical Islam was on the rise, even as the country celebrated the decline of Al-Qaeda.

“You can’t defeat ISIS unless you define the enemy for who it is,” he said. “This is an enemy that wants to bring back a version of Islam that was popular in the 7th Century, a radical idea about beheading and crucifixions.”

Bush, dressed the most casual of the candidates in a tieless button-down shirt, said the U.S. is no longer feared. An important step back would be to restore the U.S. relationship with Israel, he said. The U.S. also needs to step in when Christians are persecuted in countries like Libya and Kenya, he said.

Perry said the U.S. and its western values of freedom are now pitted against a totalitarian world view of Islamic fanatics.

“The great lesson in history is that strength and resolve bring peace,” he said, “and order and weakness and vacillation invite chaos and conflict.”

 

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Warns Congress Over DHS Funding

Jeh JohnsonA top Obama administration official warned several times Sunday about the potential, far-reaching perils of Congress allowing the Department of Homeland Security to run out of funding in several days and got some Republican support in the Capitol Hill stalemate.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over legislation that will fund the agency through late September but also roll back President Obama’s executive action on immigration.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said allowing the agency to lose its federal funding after Friday could jeopardize the U.S efforts to thwart a domestic terror attack by the Islamic State and will result in 30,000 employees being furloughed.

“It including people I depend on every day to stay one step ahead of” the Islamic State, he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

He also appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and the three other major Sunday shows, arguing that failing to reach a deal would go beyond cutting off funding for the president’s efforts to defer deportation for millions of illegal immigrants to include cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency while parts of the country are still dealing with severe winter weather.

The legislation has already been passed by the GOP-controlled House but is stalled in the Senate.

Johnson disagreed with the argument that Senate Democrats have blocked the bill by filibustering, saying the problem is the legislation should be presented “clean” of any immigration language.

“I’m talking to every member of Congress who will listen,” Johnson told NBC. “It’s absurd that we’re even having this conversation about Congress’ inability to fund Homeland Security in these challenging times.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that the House pass a bill on which Senate Democrats can agree.

However, the leaders of the lower chamber have been steadfast for weeks about having already done their job.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, repeated that message Sunday by saying in an email: “The House has acted to fund the Homeland Security Department. Now it’s time for Senate Democrats to stop blocking legislation that would do the same.”

GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina, and John McCain, Arizona, said Sunday they would oppose linking the two issues in one bill.

Graham told ABC’s “This Week” that he was “willing and ready” to pass a funding bill, then let the immigration issue play out in court.

Last week, a federal district court judge in Texas temporarily blocked the administration’s plans to protect immigrant parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents from deportation. The decision came as part of a lawsuit filed by 26 states claiming Obama had overstepping his authority in taking the executive action.

Johnson repeated Sunday that the administration will appeal the ruling.

Even if Congress fails to fund their agency, the remain roughly 200,000 Homeland Security employees would continue to work.

However, they would receive no pay until Congress authorizes funding.

It’s a reality that was on display during the 16-day government-wide shutdown in the fall of 2013, when national parks and monuments closed but essential government functions kept running, albeit sometimes on reduced staff.

Johnson on Sunday also linked the purported Mall of America warning from the Africa-based al-Shabaab terror group and other recent terror alerts to what he described as a “new phase” of challenges by extremist groups abroad that have used alarming Internet videos and social media to gain adherents in the U.S. and potentially prod some to action.

“This new phase is more complex, less centralized, more diffuse,” he said, adding: “It encourages independent actors who strike with very little notice.”

 

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Susan Rice Unveils Updated Obama Administration National Security Strategy

US National Security Advisor Rice speaks at Brookings Institution in WashingtonPresident Obama unveiled a national security strategy on Friday that called for “strategic patience” and warned against American “overreach,” an approach that drew criticism as some lawmakers say the rising threat from the Islamic State demands a more urgent response.

The 29-page document is meant to serve as a blueprint for Obama’s final two years in office. The strategy cast the U.S. as an indispensable force in combating global challenges, including terrorism, climate change and cyber threats.

“American leadership remains essential,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said at a Brookings Institution event where she detailed the plan.

Yet the long-awaited security agenda included no major course changes in the military campaign against Islamic State militants or in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The document acknowledged serious threats abroad – and reiterated that, for the Islamic State, the goal is to “ultimately defeat” the terror group – but was imbued with a sense of restraint.

“America leads from a position of strength. But, this does not mean we can or should attempt to dictate the trajectory of all unfolding events around the world,” the document said. “As powerful as we are and will remain, our resources and influence are not infinite. And in a complex world, many of the security problems we face do not lend themselves to quick and easy fixes.”

The strategy said the U.S. has to make “hard choices” and “resist the over-reach that comes when we make decisions based upon fear.”

“The challenges we face require strategic patience and persistence,” the document said.

That line drew a rebuke from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who suggested the approach will only embolden America’s rivals.

“I doubt ISIL, the Iranian mullahs, or Vladmir Putin will be intimidated by President Obama’s strategy of ‘strategic patience.’ From their point of view, the more ‘patience’ President Obama practices the stronger they become,” he said in a statement. “The Obama Doctrine, or ‘strategic patience,’ has led to a world in chaos.  … Applying more ‘patience’ to President Obama’s failed foreign policy just prolongs failure.”

The National Security Strategy was released a day after Obama made controversial remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast appearing to draw comparisons between Islamic State atrocities and bloody acts committed by Christians – hundreds of years ago.

“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” Obama said. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. …So this is not unique to one group or one religion.”

The administration faced a storm of criticism for the comments. Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal on Friday ripped the president’s “history lesson,” saying the issue today “is the terrorism of radical Islam, the assassination of journalists, the beheading and burning alive of captives.”

Jindal said: “We will be happy to keep an eye out for runaway Christians, but it would be nice if he would face the reality of the situation today. The Medieval Christian threat is under control Mr. President. Please deal with the Radical Islamic threat today.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz defended the comments on Friday, saying the president believes in American exceptionalism but also believes “we need to be honest with ourselves” when America falls short on holding to its values.

Some are concerned Obama’s rhetoric does not match the urgency of the challenge at hand, as the Islamic State holds a wide swath of territory across Iraq and Syria while seeking to attract followers from around the world. Its brutal execution by fire of a captured Jordanian pilot rallied the Jordan government this week to launch a new wave of airstrikes against the terror group.

In the National Security Strategy, the administration said the U.S. would continue to support Iraq’s government against ISIS, while working to train and equip a “moderate Syrian opposition” to battle terrorists in their country.

The document acknowledged that the terror threat “persists” and has spread to a range of countries and continents. At the same time, it claimed “the threat of catastrophic attacks against our homeland by terrorists has diminished.”

To that end, Rice said Friday that the danger does not rise to the level of past challenges America has faced.

“While the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War. We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism and a nearly instantaneous news cycle,” Rice said.

She spoke to how the terror threat has spread into a network of Al Qaeda affiliates, local militias and groups like ISIS. “This diffusion may for now reduce the risk of a spectacular attack like 9/11 but it raises the probability of the types of attacks that we have seen in Boston, and Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris,” she said.

The president is required by law to send Congress a national security strategy annually. However, most presidents, including Obama, have done so only sporadically. Obama’s only previous memo to lawmakers came in 2010 and formalized his desire to broaden U.S. national security posture beyond anti-terror campaigns.

Obama’s critics have accused the president of putting his desire to keep the U.S. out of overseas conflicts ahead of the need for more robust action against the world’s bad actors. Some members of Congress have called for Obama to send more American ground troops to the Middle East to combat the Islamic State group, while also pushing for the White House to authorize shipments of defensive weapons to Ukraine to help its beleaguered military in the fight against Russian-backed separatists.

Administration officials have said that Obama is reconsidering his opposition to giving Ukraine lethal aid, though he continues to have concerns about the effectiveness of that step.

For much of his presidency, Obama has sought to recalibrate the focus of U.S. foreign policy away from the Middle East and toward fast-growing regions like Asia and Africa. He’s made numerous trips to Asia, in particular, and Rice announced Friday that Obama would be hosting state visits this year for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In one area where Obama has overlap with Republicans, he reaffirmed his support for free trade agreements with Asia, as well as Europe.

The president also addressed the risks of climate change and infectious diseases like the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

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Peshmerga and Syrian Kurds makes Important gains in Fight for Kobane

KobaneSyrian Kurds backed by fighters from northern Iraq have gained ground towards breaking the siege of the Syrian border town of Kobane but are drawing heavy fire from Islamic State insurgents and have yet to win back control.

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, or “those who face death”, arrived with armoured vehicles and artillery more than a week ago to try to repulse a more than month-old siege that has tested a U.S.-led coalition’s ability to halt the Islamist insurgents.

Known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab, the town is among a few areas in civil war-ridden Syria where the coalition can coordinate air strikes against Islamic State with operations by an effective ground force.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce overnight clashes between Kurdish and Islamic State forces along Kobane’s southern front, combined with heavy artillery fire by peshmerga, yield new gains for the Kurds.

The Observatory quoted sources around Kobane as saying the radical Sunni Muslim insurgents had been surprised by the resilience of the Kurdish forces and that the battle for the town had killed hundreds of Islamic State combatants.

Kurdish forces have retaken some villages around Kobane but a correspondent on the Turkish side of the border said the front lines in the town itself appeared little changed, with the insurgents still controlling its eastern part.

Mortar bombs launched from Islamic State positions hit the center of town on Tuesday and there were exchanges of machinegun fire as jets flew overhead. The Observatory said coalition planes launched three air strikes south of Kobane overnight.

Idris Nassan, a local official in Kobane, estimated that Islamic State now controlled less than 20 percent of the town and that heavy artillery salvoes by peshmerga had helped the Kurds to advance to the south and east.

Peshmerga fighters, positioned on a hill on the western side of the town, launched rockets at a building where Islamic State had raised its black flag, according to a witness.

A video on YouTube distributed by Islamic State supporters showed fighters purportedly in Syria’s northern province of Raqqa promising to reinforce Kobane.

“God’s servants have prepared the explosives and bombs … We are coming with the sword and the Koran … We tell our brothers in (Kobane) that we’re coming to support you,” one of the insurgents said in the video.

 

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