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Islamic State loss affirms Pentagon plan — but the end game vague as US pulls out

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Now that the Islamic State group has officially lost its geographic “caliphate,” the Pentagon is marking a historic moment in its years-long campaign to defeat the jihadists.

From a military perspective at least, the United States can claim significant success in its strategy of working “by, with and through” local proxy forces, where a Kurdish militia in Syria and security forces in Iraq bore the brunt of the fighting — and dying.

But IS still has thousands of battle-hardened fighters across several countries, and questions loom over whether the group’s territorial loss can be parlayed into an enduring defeat — or whether President Donald Trump’s decision to pull most troops from Syria is premature, and risks ruining the end game.

“I’d be hesitant to use the term winning,” General Raymond Thomas, who heads US Special Operations Command, told lawmakers recently.

The objective is “to be able to maintain persistent capabilities so that an external threat cannot emanate from that in the future.”

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Asked if he was satisfied the United States was at that point, Thomas said: “I do not think we’re there yet.”

How much the United States can influence things will only diminish after the Pentagon withdraws all but 200 of the 2,000 or so special forces from Syria that have been helping the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Trump in December declared victory over IS, saying the US had “beaten them badly” as he announced the pullout.

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John Spencer, a scholar at the Modern War Institute at West Point, said things were not so simple.

IS “is a terrorist organization, all they have to do is put down their weapons and try to blend in with the population and just escape,” he told AFP.

“They’re not gone, and they’re not going to be gone,” he said.

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– Started under Obama –

The US-led mission began in late 2014 under president Barack Obama, after IS fighters seized an area the size of Britain across Iraq and Syria.

In an effort to “degrade and ultimately defeat” the black-flag-flying jihadists, the United States formed a coalition that grew to more than 70 nations, several of which started bombing IS positions in 2014.

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In the years since, the coalition has conducted about 34,000 air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

Instead of committing large numbers of troops, the coalition combined its air campaign with training and advising to local forces.

The decision stemmed partly from the Iraq War, which saw more than 4,400 US troops die.

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An American public wary of additional deployments did not want Obama recommitting more combat troops.

The strategy paid off fastest in Iraq, where a national military that had neared collapse in the face of the IS advance morphed into an army that ousted the jihadists from one city after another until retaking their stronghold of Mosul in 2017.

When Trump took office, he essentially continued Obama’s strategy, albeit with tougher talk and looser constraints on air strikes.

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“Overall, the US strategy was effective at pushing back the Islamic State,” Daniel Byman, a senior Fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told AFP.

However, he noted, it has not solved the problem of local governance in Syria, where the grueling civil war gave rise to the conditions that allowed IS to blossom in the first place.

“So the Islamic State is remaining active — hundreds of killings this month alone — as an insurgency,” Byman said.

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The toll on US-backed local forces has been brutal, with thousands of Syrian and Iraqi fighters killed.

– ‘It’s just no’ –

Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria has left Kurdish partners scrambling for safeguards, and they are hoping a “safe zone” in the north can provide them cover.

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A US departure makes Kurdish fighters more vulnerable to attack by neighboring Turkey, which considers them to be “terrorists,” and dashes their dreams of autonomy.

The New York-based Soufan Group, which compiles security assessments, cautioned against claims of beating IS.

That would “only serve to offer a false sense of security while showing that the United States remains out of touch with realities on the ground,” Soufan said.

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General Joseph Votel, who heads the US military’s Central Command, said the military cannot take its eye off IS.

“The coalition’s hard-won battlefield gains can only be secured by maintaining a vigilant offensive against a now largely disbursed and disaggregated (IS) that retains leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts,” said Votel, who is about to retire, adding that Trump never checked in with him about a Syria withdrawal.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has tried to convince skeptical allies to help secure Syria.

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But “it is totally out of the question to have French troops on the ground without the Americans there,” one French government source told AFP.

“It’s just no.”


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This explains why Trump picked a fight with the four Congresswomen of color: analysis

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On one hand, President Donald Trump almost certainly chose to mark out Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) because of his own deep-seated racism.

But there is likely another reason he is doing it, wrote Aaron Blake of the Washington Post's "The Fix" on Wednesday: because his core voters hate them as much as he does.

Blake cited a new The Economist/YouGov poll of 2016 Trump voters' opinions on several politicians. "As you peruse it, it becomes clear that the conventional wisdom about why Trump picked these targets is right: They were ripe for motivating the GOP base ... All of them are better known among Republicans than Democrats, which suggests that a steady stream of coverage in conservative media has elevated them as potential Democratic bogeywomen. Trump is tilling fertile soil. And in fact, they might already be his most effective foils."

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REVEALED: Jeffrey Epstein used his fake passport to enter multiple countries

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Prosecutors revealed that the fake passport Jeffrey Epstein had among the items seized by investigators had been used.

According to NBC News, he used the passport to enter multiple countries in the 1980s, including the U.K, Spain and Saudi Arabia.

The passport was found in the safe of his New York home along with $70,000 in cash and 48 diamonds. There was a different name used on the passport and it had already expired, but it listed the residence in Saudi Arabia.

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Robert Hooke: The ‘English Leonardo’ who was a 17th-century scientific superstar

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Considering his accomplishments, it’s a surprise that Robert Hooke isn’t more renowned. As a physician, I especially esteem him as the person who identified biology’s most essential unit, the cell.

Like Leonardo da Vinci, Hooke excelled in an incredible array of fields. The remarkable range of his achievements throughout the 1600s encompassed pneumatics, microscopy, mechanics, astronomy and even civil engineering and architecture. Yet this “English Leonardo” – well-known in his time – slipped into relative obscurity for several centuries.

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