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US setting up ‘observation posts’ along Turkey-Syria border

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The United States is setting up “observation posts” along parts of the border between Turkey and Syria to help keep the focus on defeating Islamic State militants in Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday.

The observation posts would not require additional U.S. troops being sent to Syria, Mattis told reporters. The Pentagon says it has about 2,000 troops in Syria.

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The United States has long been complained that tensions between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, have at times slowed down progress on fighting Islamic State militants.

The observation posts are aimed at ensuring that Turkey and the SDF remain focused on clearing final Islamic State strongholds.

“We are putting in observation posts in several locations up along the Syria border, northern Syria border, because we want to be the people who call the Turks and warn them if we see something coming out of an area that we’re operating in,” Mattis said.

“What this is designed to do is to make sure that the people we have fighting down in the (middle Euphrates River Valley) are not drawn off that fight, that we can crush what’s left of the geographic caliphate,” Mattis said, referring to areas controlled by Islamic state.

Turkey has been infuriated with Washington’s support for the YPG, which it views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) waging a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.

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Islamic State is still present in eastern Syria in a pocket east of the Euphrates River near the border with Iraq.

President Donald Trump’s administration hopes that the U.S.-backed fight against Islamic State in its last foothold in northeastern Syria will end within months but a top U.S. diplomat recently said American forces will remain to ensure the “enduring defeat” of the militant group.

Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Frances Kerry

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FBI official facing criminal investigation for allegedly altering surveillance document in Russia probe: report

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On Thursday, CNN reported that John Durham, the U.S. Attorney tasked by Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the 2016 Russia probe, has opened a criminal investigation into an FBI official accused of altering a document pertaining to the original surveillance efforts.

It is unclear how the document was altered, or whether it played any significance in the FBI's efforts to obtain warrants to surveil members of the Donald Trump's presidential campaign, including adviser Carter Page.

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Fiona Hill’s attorney rips the administration: Trump ‘co-opted’ US foreign policy for his own ends

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On Thursday's edition of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," National Security Council official Fiona Hill's attorney, Ambassador Lee Wolosky, broke down the implications of his client's testimony.

"The phrase that she used to describe [E.U. Ambassador Gordon] Sondland's mission, a 'domestic political errand,' a lot of people have said that was a big takeaway from today, that sort of encapsulated what was going on here," said Cooper. "Does she agree?"

"Well, yeah," said Wolosky. "As she testified to, I think that what she began to notice is that, in fact, this really wasn't an irregular or shadow foreign policy effort, as some people have called it. It was actually domestic politics. She was doing national security, as were others, and foreign policy, and Sondland and Giuliani were taking steps to advance the political interests of the president. And I think that what she crystallized is how pernicious it can be when our national security and when our foreign policy decision making is basically co-opted or held hostage to the individual political interests of one individual."

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Lev Parnas was ‘at the table’ when Giuliani pressured Ukraine for Biden dirt during Madrid meeting

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The Daily Beast published a bombshell report on Thursday evening that put indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas in the room when the former NYC mayor pressured the Ukraine for political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden's family.

"When Rudy Giuliani met with a senior Ukrainian official in Madrid earlier this year and urged him to investigate the Bidens, Lev Parnas was at the table, according to Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian official. Parnas’ presence at the meeting, which has not been previously reported, indicates that he may have significant visibility into Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Kyiv to investigate a company linked to one of President Donald Trump’s political rivals," The Beast reported. "That pressure campaign is a central focus of congressional Democrats’ impeachment inquiry."

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