TIME France

Anti-ISIS Coalition Meets in Paris to Formulate Battle Plan

France Iraq Diplomacy
Iraq President Fouad Massoum, center, followed by Iraq Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, left, arrive with Iraqi officials at Orly airport south of Paris, on Sept. 14, 2014 . Francois Mori—AP

Delegates from more than 20 countries have descended on the French capital to discuss how best to tackle the Islamist terrorist group

Representatives from across the Middle East and Western nations are convening Monday in Paris, where an emerging coalition will begin formulating a strategy to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Before flying to France on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry canvassed American allies in the Middle East, aiming to rustle up support for military operations targeting the extremist Islamist group that continues to hold sway over large areas of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq.

“I can tell you right here and now that we have countries in this region, countries outside of this region, in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance, in actual strikes, if that is what it requires,” Kerry told CBS’s Face the Nation from Cairo on Sunday.

Kerry’s interview appeared to be part of an all-out media blitz by the Obama Administration following the U.S. President’s pledge last Wednesday to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS.

However, after issuing plenty of tough talk earlier this week, the White House has continued to remain adamant that no major deployment of U.S. combat troops will be used against the radical Sunni militants on the ground.

Instead, the Administration hopes to recruit and bolster Sunni proxy forces in the Middle East, including opposition groups currently fighting inside Syria.

“Ultimately, to destroy [ISIS], we do need to have a force, an anvil against which they will be pushed, ideally Sunni forces,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. This was the thinking, he said, behind the “proposal that the President has sent to Congress to authorize us to train and equip the Syrian opposition that’s on the ground fighting [ISIS] today.”

During an address on Sunday, President Barack Obama called for “a targeted, relentless counterterrorism campaign against [ISIS] that combines American airpower, contributions from allies and partners, and more support to forces that are fighting these terrorists on the ground.”

However, the President’s critics in Congress blasted the White House for failing to mobilize the necessary force to confront ISIS.

“You cannot create an army to destroy [ISIS] without an American component,” said Senator Lindsey Graham during an interview on Fox News. “This is war.”

Meanwhile, ISIS posted another video over the weekend showing the third brutal execution of a Western hostage, British aid worker David Haines.

Following the release of the video, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the murder of Haines — calling ISIS the “embodiment of evil.” Cameron went on to vow to “hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice, no matter how long it takes.”

TIME georgia

The U.S. Will Help Georgia Join NATO in Face of Putin’s ‘Dangerous Actions’

Georgia's Defence Minister Alasania and U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi
Georgia's Defence Minister Irakly Alasania (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014. David Mdzinarishvili —Reuters

The Kremlin's incursions in Ukraine have brought the U.S. and Georgia "closer together,” says Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Georgia over the weekend to beef up military ties and help the country join NATO.

Hagel’s visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, follows on the heels of the NATO summit in the U.K. last week, where Georgia was made a “NATO enhanced-opportunities partner,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.

At a press conference in the Georgian capital on Sunday, Hagel said the country’s new standing will allow for more participation in more joint training exercises with NATO and boost cooperation.

“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin,” said Hagel.

During a round of talks with the Georgian Minister of Defense, Irakli Alasania, Hagel also laid down conditions that would pave the way for the sale of Blackhawk choppers to Georgia.

The Secretary of Defense’s arrival in Georgia comes days after a tenuous cease-fire was signed in Belarus between Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending armored columns into Ukraine to reinforce the rebels, forcing the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe to close ranks.

“Russia’s actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Hagel. “But President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”

During a joint press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian Defense Minister warned that his country’s experience with Russia led to concerns that the Ukraine cease-fire would not last.

“We have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fires, so we better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania told reporters.

In 2008, Georgian forces were routed during a five-day war against Russia — resulting in what Tbilisi says is the continued military occupation of the separatist territory of South Ossetia by Moscow.

While the uneasy truce appears to be largely holding in Ukraine, there were reports of scattered fighting in the war-weary southeast over the weekend.

TIME Syria

The U.S. Is Worried That Assad May Still Have Chemical Weapons

German Company To Destroy Syrian Chemical Weapons
Destroyed ammunition is stored in a container during a press day at the GEKA facility on March 5, 2014 in Munster, Germany. GEKA is federally-funded and its sole function is the destruction of chemical weapons from military arsenals. Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons last August. Nigel Treblin—Getty Images

Questions remain over “discrepancies and omissions” in Syria’s original chemical-weapons declaration

The U.S. expressed concern on Thursday that the Syrian government may still have chemical weapons, violating its agreement with the international community last September.

Following a meeting at the U.N. Security Council, U.S. envoy Samantha Power told reporters that doubts about existing “discrepancies and omissions in Syria’s original declaration” on its chemical arsenal have yet to be cleared up.

“I want to stress that much more work still needs to be done on Syria’s chemical-weapons program,” Power told reporters. “We must ensure that the Syrian government destroys its remaining facilities for producing chemical weapons within the mandated time frames and without the repeated delays by the Assad regime that plagued earlier removal efforts.”

Power also expressed fears that the myriad rebel groups in Syria could potentially get their hands on chemical weapons, and chided President Bashar Assad’s regime for its apparently continued use of chlorine gas against insurgents.

“It is still our belief that the Assad regime — its brutality, the barrel-bomb attacks, the possible chlorine use now, the previous chemical-weapons attacks — these are recruiting tools that extremists have used to attract foreign terrorist fighters to Syria,” she said.

Power’s statement came after Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator on the joint mission to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical-weapons program, briefed the Security Council.

According to Kaag, all of Syria’s primary chemical weapons have been destroyed. However, 12 weapons-production facilities have yet to be decommissioned. She also agreed that long-standing questions remain over Damascus’ original declaration.

“There are still some discrepancies or questions that are being asked,” Kaag told reporters. “It’s a discussion that’s continuing in Damascus as well as the Hague.”

The U.N.’s joint mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons wrapped up earlier this summer — more than year after the Assad regime fired sarin nerve gas into a rebel-held enclave in the suburbs of Damascus, killing hundreds of people.

The Syrian government was able to stave off retaliatory U.S. air strikes by agreeing to a Moscow-brokered plan to surrender the nation’s chemical arsenal to international authorities.

TIME Ukraine

Obama Says It’s ‘Too Early to Tell’ What the Ukraine Ceasefire Means

ESTONIA-US-OBAMA-DIPLOMACY
US President Barack Obama and the Estonian President (not in picture) review an honor guard during an arrival ceremony prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia on Sept. 3, 2014. SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

News of the truce broke shortly after the president's arrival in Estonia

President Barack Obama has adopted a cautious approach to the ceasefire announced Wednesday between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s too early to tell what this cease-fire means,” said Obama, explaining that he had not seen full details but “only wire reports.”

News of the ceasefire broke shortly after Obama’s arrival in Estonia, where he is showing support to a Baltic ally before traveling to a crucial NATO summit in the U.K. at which the Ukrainian situation feature high on the agenda.

Obama promised to address the Ukrainian ceasefire more fully during a speech later in the day. In the meantime, he noted that Russia’s forceful incursion into Ukraine served as a stark reminder of the importance of the NATO alliance.

“Obviously what’s happened in Ukraine is tragic but I do think it gives us an opportunity to look with fresh eyes and understand what it is that’s necessary to make sure that our NATO commitments are met. And that’s one of the reasons I’m here in Estonia today.”

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said “I just did hear that President Poroshenko and President Putin have agreed on a ceasefire. I just hope it holds.”

Speaking ahead of Obama’s arrival, at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia, Ilves said that the situation in Ukraine showed “that the principle of collective territorial defense hasn’t gone away,” according to the AP.

His remarks came a day after Mikhail Popov, a Kremlin security adviser, stated in Moscow that NATO remained Russia’s biggest threat.

TIME celebrities

Duck Dynasty Phil: It’s Time to Convert ISIS or Kill Them

Phil Robertson
Phil Robertson addresses the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, La. on Thursday, May 29, 2014. Bill Haber — AP

The controversial patriarch of the Robertson clan wants to show ISIS “the errors of their ways”

Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson says the only way to respond to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is to either “convert them or kill them.”

Robertson made the remarks during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday evening as the two discussed ISIS’s brutal tactics, which includes delivering ultimatums to communities to convert to Islam or be killed.

“In this case, you either have to convert them, which I think would be next to impossible,” Robertson explained to Hannity. “I’m just saying convert them or kill them — one or the other.”

The reality TV star, a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian, said he would rather participate in a Bible study with ISIS members and “show them the errors of their ways.” However, Robertson added he would have no problem killing the militants if he was engaged in a gunfight with them.

Tuesday’s comments were not the first of Robertson’s to stir controversy. The duck call guru had his reality show temporarily suspended by A&E, and was publicly panned, for espousing homophobic comments during an interview with GQ in January.

TIME Ukraine

NATO Unveils Rapid-Response Force to Counter Russian Troops in Ukraine

Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014 in Brussels.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014, in Brussels John Thys—AFP/Getty Images

The alliance plans to tackle “Russia’s aggressive behavior” with a new expeditionary force

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Monday that the organization was planning to assemble a “spearhead” force that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed” in the face of Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior in eastern Ukraine.

The new outfit would be manned by several thousand rotating allied troops who would be ready to respond by air or sea with the aid of special forces, explained Rasmussen.

“The Readiness Action Plan responds to Russia’s aggressive behavior,” he told reporters in Brussels. “It equips the alliance to respond to all security challenges, wherever they may arise.”

NATO representatives gathering for the Wales summit later this week are preparing a Readiness Action Plan to make the organization more agile.

Analysts said the announcement represents the strongest response yet from the military alliance since Russia began to forcefully intervene in Kiev’s affairs following the fall of the nation’s pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year.

“Actually, what has been announced seems to be quite significant in that NATO will start stationing troops quite close to Ukraine—not in the form of permanent bases but actually they will be rotating them in the form of temporary bases,” Clara Portela, assistant professor of political science at Singapore Management University and a sanctions specialist, told TIME.

“This is the first step that Western Europe has taken, in military terms, since the crisis started,” Portela said.

On Tuesday, Mikhail Popov, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said the transatlantic alliance’s recent maneuvers demonstrate it remains among Moscow’s principal adversaries.

“I have no doubts that the issue of NATO military infrastructure encroaching on our borders, including through the expansion of the alliance, will remain among the biggest military threats to the Russian Federation,” Popov told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Popov’s remarks came as Ukrainian forces continued to engage in heavy firefights with pro-Kremlin insurgents, who NATO claims are being buttressed by Russian hardware and troops.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military reportedly withdrew from the international airport at the rebel stronghold of Luhansk after suffering heavy fire from a Russian tank battalion, according to Reuters.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the Ukrainian military is now assuming a much more defensive posture throughout the country’s southeast in order to beat back what Kiev fears is an all-out invasion of the country by the Russian military.

The tactical battlefield shift represents a sizable reversal in combat fortunes; Kiev looked poised to crush the separatist insurgency just weeks ago after forging large-scale inroads into rebel territory throughout the summer.

Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Valeriy Heletey described the conflict this week as the most serious military engagement in Europe since the Second World War, one that could cost tens of thousands of lives.

“A great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II,” he said in a Facebook post.

According to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 4,445 people had been wounded and 1,830 people killed in eastern Ukraine as of Aug. 27.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week chided both government forces and insurgents for “contributing to rising civilian casualties” in and around Luhansk by unleashing artillery barrages that appear to be indiscriminate.

“Local residents are subjected to terrifying daily shelling, much of it apparently unlawful, and that the number of civilian casualties is steadily rising,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, in a statement.

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Says It’s Time to Arm Ukraine

Robert Menendez
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., questions State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 29, 2014. Susan Walsh — AP

“We have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves” says Sen. Robert Menendez

The Senate’s top foreign policy official was unequivocal on Sunday: Ukraine needs weapons from the West to defend itself against Russian aggression.

During an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez said Kiev needed both sophisticated weapons and stronger sanctions to help repulse Moscow’s incursions.

“We should be providing the Ukrainians with the type of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon Putin for further aggression,” Menendez told CNN from Kiev, where he is on a fact-finding mission. “We have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves.”

Menendez went on to describe the Kremlin’s incursions in Ukraine as a “direct invasion.”

The Democrat from New Jersey stopped short of suggesting that American or NATO troops should be deployed in Ukraine.

The senator’s words come as President Barack Obama prepares to visit Estonia next week, before heading to the U.K. for a NATO summit, where the alliance’s representatives will discuss the increasingly violent conflict in Ukraine.

The Obama administration continues to advocate for the isolation of Russia through targeted economic sanctions, while providing the embattled government in Kiev with non-lethal aid.

On Aug. 6, Obama said that if Russia were to launch an invasion of Ukraine, the White House’s calculus might change.

“Now if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that’s obviously a different set of questions. We’re not there yet,” Obama told reporters at the time.

However, last week NATO published satellite images that appeared to show Russian armored columns fighting in Ukrainian territory in a bid to prop up the pro-Moscow insurgency that has been taking place since April.

In the face of mounting evidence, more politicians are advocating that the U.S. take firmer action against the Kremlin.

“I think it is appropriate to up that level of aid, to make them a more capable fighting force to resist this incursion and to make it as painful as possible for Putin to make any progress in the Ukraine,” Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistani Protesters Storm State TV Station as Fresh Clashes Erupt

PAKISTAN-UNREST-POLITICS
Pakistani supporters of politician-cleric Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri and cricket turned politician Imran Khan shout antigovernment slogans after storming the headquarters of the state-owned Pakistani Television in Islamabad on Sept. 1, 2014 Aamir Qureshi—AFP/Getty Images

The attack comes just hours after the military calls for a peaceful solution to the political stalemate

Protesters stormed the headquarters of Pakistani Television (PTV) in Islamabad on Monday, taking it off air and beating up the station’s journalists, according to Reuters. The attack follows a bloody weekend in the Pakistani capital.

“They have stormed the PTV office,” an anchor said just before the transmission abruptly ended, Reuters reported. “PTV staff performing their journalistic duties are being beaten up.”

Paramilitary forces and soldiers later secured the station, which resumed broadcasting. Protesters left peacefully.

The storming of PTV came as fresh clashes erupted between stick-wielding protesters and police on Monday morning, just hours after the nation’s powerful military called for a peaceful solution to the political stalemate, according to Agence France-Presse.

Demonstrations against the government have been led for weeks by cricket icon turned opposition politician Imran Khan and outspoken politician-cleric Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, in a bid to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from power.

Khan insists that Sharif’s government finagled its way into office through rigged elections last year, and insists that the Prime Minister must resign, and fresh elections set, before the protests end.

The demonstrations that commenced in normally sleepy Islamabad on Aug. 15 have increasingly turned violent.

At least three people were reportedly killed over the weekend as protesters attempted to move deeper into the so-called red zone, where Parliament and executive offices, along with the Prime Minister’s residence and several embassies, are located.

On Monday, Khan urged his supporters to refrain from further violence in the wake of the recent bloodshed, according to Reuters.

“I call upon my workers to remain peaceful,” said Khan, addressing crowds from the top of a shipping container serving as a makeshift stage. “Do not carry out any acts of violence. God has given us victory.”

Domestic news outlet Dawn reports that the embattled Prime Minister and Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif are meeting in Islamabad to discuss the crisis.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Brings Back Conscription as Russia Appears to Launch All-Out Invasion

Servicemen sit atop an armoured vehicle as they travel through the steppe near the village of Krasnodarovka in Rostov region
Servicemen sit atop an armored vehicle as they travel near the village of Krasnodarovka in Rostov region, Russia, on Aug. 28, 2014 Reuters

Moscow slammed at emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s national security council has ordered the reinstatement of mandatory conscription in response to what seems to be a full-scale Russian invasion of the country. The draft, affecting able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 25, is the latest indication that the Ukrainian conflict is rapidly intensifying.

Previous attempts at mandatory conscription have led to protests. But during a meeting with the council Thursday, Poroshenko urged his countrymen to “keep a cold mind” as Ukrainians geared up for a broader conflict.

NATO has provided satellite images that appear to show Russian armored vehicles fighting in Ukrainian territory, CNN reports. British intelligence says it has similar evidence, while U.S. officials say there are now up to 1,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to taunt Kiev by calling on separatist forces to open a humanitarian corridor in southeast Ukraine so that demoralized Ukrainian troops could flee home to their “mothers, wives and children.” He also claimed that “a large number” of Ukrainian troops were not “in the military operation of their own volition” but were simply “following orders.”

Vox reported that in his statement Putin referred to Ukraine’s embattled Donbass region by the politically loaded term Novorossiya, literally “New Russia.” Novorossiya is the old czarist name for the parts of Russia and Ukraine around the Black Sea and is a designation favored by separatists wishing to confer a historical integrity on the areas for which they are fighting.

“A counterfactual equivalent might be if a disturbingly post-Gestapo government in Germany began referring to the Netherlands as Western Germany or to western parts of the Czech Republic as Sudetenland,” John Besemeres, professor and adjunct fellow at the Australian National University’s Center for European Studies, tells TIME.

Responding to the incursions, Western envoys lambasted Russia on Thursday at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York City. The U.S. representative, Samantha Power, said “Russia has come before this council to say everything except the truth. It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied. So we have learned to measure Russia by its actions and not by its words.”

The British envoy Mark Lyall Grant described Moscow’s incursions as a “brazen” violation of the U.N. Charter and international law.

Moscow’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin admitted there were Russians fighting in the Ukraine but claimed they were volunteers. He then went on to raise questions about the presence of U.S. military advisers in the country.

“A message must be sent to Washington — stop interfering in the internal activities of sovereign states and restrain your geopolitical ambition,” Churkin said, according to a U.N. statement.

Earlier on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm about the escalating conflict and urged Moscow and Kiev to follow up on talks held in Minsk earlier this week to forge “a peaceful way out of the conflict.”

Reports have meanwhile surfaced that separatist forces have succeeded in opening a third front after seizing the port city of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov in the wake of days of shelling. Analysts continue to speculate whether the move is designed to draw troops away from heavy fighting near the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, or is part of a strategic maneuver to forge a corridor to the Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula farther west.

TIME History

Obama to Award Civil War Hero With Posthumous Medal of Honor

Alonzo Cushing
This undated photo provided by the Wisconsin Historical Society shows First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing AP

The young lieutenant died repelling Confederate forces during arguably the most decisive battle of the American Civil War

Alonzo Cushing, who died aged 22 during the American Civil War, will receive the nation’s highest military honor for conspicuous gallantry and unbridled valor as displayed on the killing fields of Gettysburg 151 years ago.

The White House announced this week that President Barack Obama approved the awarding of the Medal of Honor to the young first lieutenant, who “distinguished himself during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863.”

Cushing’s death came during the battle’s climatic third day when Confederate General Robert E. Lee, against the wishes of his top lieutenant, hurled three infantry divisions against entrenched Union forces in an ill-fated thrust, later coined Pickett’s Charge.

The maneuver was arguably the greatest military blunder in the course of the Civil War and led to the gratuitous slaughter of thousands of young Virginians by the well-positioned bluebacks.

The defeat would serve as the beginning of the North’s reversal of the war’s tide following a string of brazen victories by Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Cushing was killed in action as he manned the last remaining serviceable piece of field hardware from his unit’s battery. As Confederate forces lurched closer to his position, he refused to retreat and continued to fire into the enemy despite suffering multiple injuries.

“With the rebels within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand,” read a statement released by the U.S. Army. “His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the Confederate assault.”

Cushing was later buried with full military honors at his alma mater West Point.

Following the defeat at Gettysburg, the conflict, which began as a campaign to subdue rebellion but later evolved into a war of conquest and emancipation, would grind on for two more bloody years.

General Ulysses S. Grant took the fight to the South and Lee eventually surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.

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