TIME isis

Kayla Mueller’s Family Says Bergdahl Deal Hurt Her Chance for Freedom

Kayla Mueller
Matt Hinshaw—The Daily Courier/AP Kayla Mueller is seen after speaking to a group in Prescott, Ariz. on May 30, 2013.

ISIS claims the American aid worker was killed in a Jordanian air strike earlier this month

The family of an American aid worker who died while in ISIS captivity said the prisoner swap deal that freed Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban last year hurt efforts to secure the release of their daughter.

Relatives of Kayla Mueller told NBC on Monday that her captors’ demands, which started with a $6.2 million ransom, increased after the White House exchanged five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl, who had spent five years in captivity, Reuters reports.

“That made the whole situation worse, because that’s when the demands got greater,” Mueller’s brother Eric said. “They realized that they had something. They realized that, ‘Well, if they’re going to let five people go for one person, why won’t they do this? Or why won’t they do that?'”

The United States does not negotiate or pay ransoms to terrorist groups holding Americans hostage, like the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. U.S. officials say the circumstances surrounding Mueller’s death are unclear; ISIS claims she was killed in a Jordanian air strike earlier this month. She was kidnapped 18 months before in northern Syria.

“The president is confident his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy, using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence, to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said.

[Reuters]

TIME energy

Russian Gas Flows to Eastern Ukraine in ‘Humanitarian’ Gesture

eastern-europe
Getty Images

Ukraine’s state gas company cut off gas to the rebel-held region as of Feb. 18

Russia says it has begun supplying gas to the war-ravaged area of eastern Ukraine, now that the government in Kiev says it can no longer deliver fuel there because of heavy fighting and damage to fuel-supply networks.

Ukraine’s state gas company, Naftogaz, said Feb. 19 that it cut off gas to the rebel-held region the day before “[d]ue to the extensive damage of the gas transport networks, the supply of gas … [and] the ongoing hostilities in the region.” It includes the self-described republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Within hours in Moscow, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of his cabinet that he had directed the Energy Ministry and the Russian gas giant Gazprom to draw up “proposals of humanitarian aid in delivering gas for the needs of these regions, unless of course [Kiev] doesn’t take any action to supplying gas according to the normal schedule.”

Read more: As IMF Extends $17.5 Billion Credit To Kiev, Gazprom Demands Debt Repayment

Gazprom said it immediately began supplying gas to eastern Ukraine through two pumping stations on the two countries’ shared border. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said his company was pumping the fuel at a rate of 12 million cubic meters per day. This was in addition to the 30 million cubic meters of gas per day that Ukraine already was receiving, according to Sergei Kupriyanov, a Gazprom spokesman.

Gazprom’s fuel deliveries to Ukraine – and their occasional interruptions – have been just one sore spot in the sour relations between Moscow and Kiev. Ukraine receives most of its gas from Russia, and at the same time pipelines transiting Ukraine provide Western Europe with about 30 percent of its gas, which comes from Russia.

In February 2014, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who favored continued cordial relations with Russia, was confronted by a popular uprising of citizens demanding closer ties with the European Union. He fled to Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Russia is now suspected of providing weapons and even manpower to a heavily armed pro-Russian separatist movement in Ukraine. In response, the EU, the United States and, most recently, Canada have imposed strict economic sanctions on Russia.

Because of its reliance on Russian gas, Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk says he’s ready to find other sources of energy by getting more gas from its European neighbors and increasing oil and gas exploration in his own country.

Read more: Could Turkey Become the New Ukraine?

“We have proved that we are able to get rid of Russian gas dependence,”Yatsenyuk said on the Ukrainian 1+1 channel on Sunday. He noted that in 2013 Ukraine bought 95 percent of its gas from Russia, but reduced that to only 33 percent in 2014, with the balance provided by Europe.

The state-run gas supply and transit company Ukrtransgaz reports that Ukraine imported 5.1 billion cubic meters of gas from Europe in 2014, a 59 percent increase over 2013. It said that is attributable to the new Voyany-Uzhgorod pipeline.

Since the pipeline opened in September 2014, it has accepted 0.6 billion cubic meters of gas from Hungary and 3.6 billion cubic meters from Slovakia, while imports from Russia plunged by 80 percent to 14.5 billion cubic meters. As a result, Ukraine saved about $1.5 billion in 2014 by buying less costly fuel from its neighbors.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME Military

An Extraordinary Pentagon ‘Bull Session’ Over ISIS

DOD Chief Ashton Carter Travels To Middle East
Jonathan Ernst—Pool/Getty Images New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter begins Monday's anti-ISIS strategy session in Kuwait.

New defense chief convenes Kuwait confab to confirm war plans

College, where new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has spent as much time as at the Pentagon, loves bull sessions. That’s just what Carter did Monday, summoning U.S. military and diplomatic brainpower to an unusual closed-door session in Kuwait where some of America’s finest Middle East minds gathered to debate how to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Sure, the more than two dozen attendees sat at a government-issue T-shaped table, complete with their names on placards, instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. But, at the start of his second week on the job, Carter made clear he is as interested in listening as he is in talking. “This is team America,” he declared, before reporters were ushered out of the room.

At the end of the six-hour session, Carter declared ISIS “hardly invincible,” and gave no hint of any major change in U.S. policy, despite calls from some congressional Republicans for more robust military action. “Lasting defeat of this brutal group,” Carter said, “can and will be accomplished.”

No revamped war plan was expected to surface during the session, although Carter said the U.S. needs to step up its social-media duel with ISIS, and that certain unnamed allies need to do more. Rather, aides said, Carter was seeking to dive deeply into the current U.S. strategy, understand its logic and see if it can be improved.

While such sessions often happen without public notice in Washington, convening one abroad — and publicly detailing its purpose and attendees — marks a shift in how the Pentagon is conducting business under its new chief.

Those at the session included Army General Lloyd Austin, who as head of U.S. Central Command, oversees the anti-ISIS campaign, and Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s military chief. Diplomats attending included retired Marine general John Allen, now the White House’s envoy responsible for ISIS, and U.S. ambassadors in the region.

The Pentagon instructed those attending to leave their PowerPoint presentations at home and be ready to face questions from Carter. These kinds of sessions — especially when senior officials are visiting from the capital — often turn into subordinates’ show-and-tell rather than tough questions with frank answers. “We had an incisive, candid, wide-ranging discussion—there were no briefings,” Carter said afterward. “It was the sharing of experience and ideas and expertise and it made me very proud of the American team here in this region.”

Carter, a physicist by training, has spent much of his career lecturing on college campuses, including at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford. Between academic gigs, he also has served tours inside the Pentagon, including as deputy defense secretary from 2011 to 2013.

Carter plainly wants the war on ISIS to end differently than the wars the U.S. launched in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003), where battlefield successes turned into nation-building quagmires. “If we are to have a defeat of [ISIS] … it needs to be a lasting defeat,” he told U.S. troops at Kuwait’s Camp Arifjan before Monday’s session began. “What we discuss here, and what I learn here, will be important to me as I formulate our own direction in this campaign and as I help the President to lead it.”

Assuming Carter heard something that could help turn the tide against ISIS, getting the White House to listen to his advice could prove challenging. President Obama’s first two defense chiefs, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, made no secret of their disdain for White House interference in Pentagon planning, and Pentagon officials cited such micromanagement as a problem during Chuck Hagel’s recently concluded tenure.

TIME

US Jury Finds Palestinian Groups Liable for Terror Attacks

The scene of a bombing in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2002.
Quique Kierszenbaum—Getty Images The scene of a bombing in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2002.

(NEW YORK) — The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority backed a series of terrorist attacks in the early 2000s in Israel that killed or wounded several Americans, a U.S. jury found Monday in awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in damages at a high-stakes civil trial.

In finding the Palestinian entities liable in the attacks, jurors awarded the victims $218.5 million in damages for the bloodshed in attacks that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more — damages their lawyers said would automatically be tripled under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.

The case in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn have been viewed as the most notable attempts by American victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to use U.S. courts to seek damages that could reach into the billions of dollars.

The Palestinian Authority, which had argued that the attackers acted on their own, said it would appeal.

“The charges that were made against us are baseless,” Deputy Minister of Information Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa said in a statement.

None of the victims or their relatives was in the courtroom Monday for the verdict, but their lawyers called it a victory in the fight against terrorism.

“It’s about accountability. It’s about justice,” attorney Kent Yalowitz said. He and an attorney with the Shurat HaDin Law Center, also called the Israel Law Center, vowed to collect the damages by pursuing Palestinian Authority and PLO bank accounts, securities accounts, real estate and other property that may be in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere.

“Now, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority know there is a price” for supporting terrorism, Israel Law Center attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said.

Palestinian officials have been anxiously watching the case. The verdict could hamper their campaign for international recognition of their independence in the absence of a peace deal with Israel, and the damages could be a financial blow to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank.

“The decision is a tragic disservice to the millions of Palestinians who have invested in the democratic process and the rule of law in order to seek justice and redress their grievances, and to the international community” in working toward a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Khalifa said.

The suit against the PLO and Palestinian Authority — as well as the Brooklyn case against the Jordan-based Arab Bank — had languished for years as the defendants challenged the American courts’ jurisdiction. Recent rulings found that they should go forward under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a more than 2-decade-old law that allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other hardship.

The Palestinian case concerned attacks in 2002 and 2004, during the second Palestinian uprising, a decade ago. They included suicide bombings, shootings on busy streets and a bombing at a packed cafeteria at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Overall, the second uprising killed around 3,000 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis.

Jurors heard dramatic testimony from relatives of people killed and survivors who never fully recovered. One, Rena Sokolov, described how a family vacation to Israel in 2002 turned to tragedy with a bomb blast outside a Jerusalem shoe store.

The Long Island woman testified that she felt like she “was in a washing machine,” and blood flowed so quickly from a broken leg she thought she would die.

“I looked to my right and saw a severed head of a woman about 3 feet from me,” she said.

The plaintiffs also relied on internal records showing the Palestinian Authority continued to pay the salaries of employees who were put behind bars in terror cases and paid benefits to families of suicide bombers and gunmen who died committing the attacks. Yalowitz put up a photo of Yasser Arafat on a video screen, telling the jury that the Palestinian leader had approved martyrdom payments and incited the violence with anti-Israeli propaganda.

“Where are the documents punishing employees for killing people?” asked Yalowitz, who had urged jurors to award $350 million, tripled. “We don’t have anything like that in this case.”

Defense attorney Mark Rochon had argued there was no proof Palestinian authorities sanctioned the attacks as alleged in the lawsuit, brought by 10 American families, even though members of Palestinian security forces were convicted in Israeli courts on charges they were involved.

“What they did, they did for their own reasons … not the Palestinian Authority’s,” he said, arguing that it was illogical to conclude that payments made after the attacks motivated the attackers in the first place.

“You know a lot about prisoner payments and martyr payments,” he said. “Do you have any evidence that they caused these attacks? No.”

Last year, a Brooklyn jury decided that Arab Bank should be held responsible for a wave of Hamas-orchestrated suicide bombings that left Americans dead or wounded based on claims the financial institution knowingly did business with the terror group.

A separate phase of the Brooklyn trial dealing with damages, set to begin in May, will feature testimony from victims.

TIME Egypt

Christians Mourn Their Relatives Beheaded by ISIS

Men mourn over Egyptian Coptic Christians who were captured in Libya and killed by militants affiliated with ISIS, inside the Virgin Mary Church in the village of Al-Aour, Egypt, Feb. 16, 2015.
Hassan Ammar—AP Village residents inside the Virgin Mary Church in al-Our, Egypt, on Feb. 16, 2015, mourn Egyptian Coptic Christians who were captured in Libya and killed by ISIS militants

The 21 men have been declared martyrs by the Coptic Church

In the yard of the Coptic church in the village of al-Our, dozens listen to the words of a preacher speaking into a microphone. His words rise and fall as he says: “The life we live is but numbered days that will quickly pass, the Bible says.”

His words were intended to comfort a congregation mourning 13 of its members who were among the 21 men slaughtered on a Mediterranean beach in a video released last week by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Al-Our is in Egypt’s Minya province, 150 miles south of Cairo, a farm community of some 6,000 Muslims and Christians living in brick, mud and stone houses. Following the spectacular murders of its residents, the town was thrust to the center of the crisis emanating from Libya, where ISIS has established a foothold in the chaos of a civil war.

“I felt peace knowing that they died as martyrs in the name of Christ,” says Bashir Estefanous Kamel, 32, whose two younger brothers and one cousin were among the victims. Kamel says he watched the video depicting the men’s execution as soon as it was available. “Of course, the first reaction was sadness at being separated from family.”

In Christianity, a person is considered a martyr if they are killed because of their faith. Christian martyrs include many early Christians such as St. Peter and St. Paul and more recent examples are priests and nuns killed in German concentration camps or during the Spanish Civil War. Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up between 10% and 20% of Egypt’s population of 80 million, are among many of the recent Christian martyrs. In two recent attacks by Muslim gunmen and mobs, eight Copts were shot in Nag Hammadi in 2010 and 21 killed in rioting in Kosheh in 2000. The ISIS victims are depicted next to the throne of Jesus on banners, which are suspended inside and outside the church in al-Our.

Like tens of thousands of other Egyptians, Kamel’s brothers, Bishoi Estefanous Kamel, 25, and Samuel Estefanous Kamel, 22, had gone to Libya in search of work they could not find at home. Even in recent years of turmoil, Libya’s oil-based economy continued to draw workers, especially from Egypt’s poorer regions. In al-Our, average residents earn between $3 and $4 a day. “It’s a hard life,” says Bashir Kamel. “If you don’t work all day, you don’t eat at night.”

Both brothers had completed two years of university, earning diplomas in industry and agriculture respectively, but could not find gainful employment in Minya. A few months after completing his mandatory military service, Samuel followed his older brother to Libya, where they worked as laborers in the city of Sirt, living among other Egyptian workers.

In December, the murder of an Egyptian Coptic doctor and his wife in Sirt punctured the workers’ sense of security. According to their older brother, Bishoi and Samuel Kamel had planned to return home to Egypt as soon as possible. Then, on Dec. 29, seven Copts were kidnapped from a minibus taking them back to Egypt. A second group was seized from their lodgings in Sirt days later. Bashir Kamel speculates that members of the first group of hostages disclosed the location of the workers’ housing under torture.

The night of the release of the execution video, the village priest, Father Makar Issa went from house to house in an attempt to comfort the families. “There was wailing in every street, every alleyway,” he says. “People were shocked.”

According to Issa, his congregants’ sorrow gave way, within days, to a kind of joy expressed at the men’s martyrdom. On the third day after the video, people gathered in the church. “The women were congratulating each other,” he says. As they left the church, women ululated.

“I am certain it had a positive effect, not a negative effect,” says Issa. “In the month and a half when the people were kidnapped, the whole congregation was coming to the church to pray for their return, but in their prayers later on, they asked that if they died, they die for their faith, and that’s what happened. The congregation is actually growing, psychologically and spiritually.”

Several relatives of the victims applaud Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to bomb ISIS targets in eastern Libya within hours of the release of the execution video. “It’s an honor to us that our government did not let their blood be spilled cheaply,” says Bashir Kamel. “We feel proud.”

Egypt remains polarized in the wake of the military takeover, led by al-Sisi, in which elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was deposed in July 2013. But a powerful coalition stands behind al-Sisi, who has vowed to combat militancy.

Bebawi Yousef, 35, a teacher at a local private school whose two brothers were also killed, echoes Kamel’s sentiment. “We feel proud of our President Sisi. We feel he is keeping us safe.”

Sobhi Ghattas Hanna, whose cousin was killed, says he wants the world to stand with Egypt. “We feel comforted by Sisi’s stance. He ordered the military to strike Libya directly after the video was published,” he says. “We want the whole world to stand beside Sisi in his fight against terrorism.”

TIME energy

Is Oil Returning to $100 Or Dropping to $10?

dawn-petroleum-pump
Getty Images

As with most things in life it is unlikely that the truth lies at either extreme

If you have been following the price of oil over the last few months, the chances are you’re a little confused. On the one hand you have the likes of A. Gary Shilling who, in this Bloomberg article, loudly trumpets the prospect of oil at $10/Barrel, and on the other there is T. Boone Pickens, who, at the end of last year was predicting a return to $100 within 12-18 months. Pickens prediction has moderated somewhat as WTI and Brent crude have continued to fall, but in January he was still saying that oil would return to $70 or $80/barrel in the near future. So, who is correct?

The answer is neither one. As with most things in life it is unlikely that the truth lies at either extreme. Pickens, and Shilling and other commentators suggesting that oil will fall to levels not seen since 1998, purport to have sound reasons for saying what they do, but the real reasons for such comments are most likely the two oldest human motivations in the book, greed and hubris. “Talking your book” is nothing new in financial markets and, while Pickens has an insider’s knowledge of the oil business, he also has a massive stake in driving oil higher however he can. Shilling is in the business of garnering eyeballs and clicks, hence the competition for the most outrageous prediction among the bears.

Read more: Why The Stock Market Likes Cheap Oil

I know it isn’t sexy and it probably breaks some unwritten rule of internet hackery to say it, but the most likely scenario is that WTI futures will bounce around current levels for a while before gradually recovering to the $60-$70/Barrel level. It could even reach Pickens’ revised $70 or $80 level before too long, but we are unlikely to see $100 in the near future without some major external influences.

Now that the dust has settled somewhat, the reasons for the big drop are becoming clearer, and it is clear that supply was not the only factor. It was obvious for a while that as fracking unlocked oil deposits in shale and sand that had previously been thought unreachable, supply, particularly in the U.S. would grow considerably. That wasn’t seen as too much of a problem by the market, though, until questions about slowing global economic growth and a rapidly appreciating Dollar were added to the mix in the middle of last year. Once that happened and OPEC made it clear that they would not immediately cut supply and hand power to the upstart U.S. shale producers, the collapse began.

The drop halted at a logical level. In 2008 and 2009 when a complete global economic collapse looked on the cards oil was trading in the mid $40s and that is where support was eventually found. According to EIA data, global oil production in 2008 was an average 74.016 million barrels per day and in the first 10 months of 2014 averaged 77.427 million barrels, an increase of around 5%. Consumption in 2008 was 86.045 million barrels per day and in 2014 was 92.13 million, an increase of 1.2%.

Read more: EIA Inventory Announcement Scuppers Oil Rally Hopes

Put simply, supply has increased faster than demand, so a rapid return to oil over $100/Barrel looks extremely unlikely. That said though, in order to believe that the price will fall much further you have to believe that the economic outlook today is worse than it was at the beginning of the deepest recession since 1929. That too seems like a bit of a stretch.

The only logical conclusion then is that in the near term oil will trade in an approximate range of $50-$70. Incidentally, the bottom end of that range represents the inflation adjusted 100 year average price, according to one Morgan Stanley analyst quoted in another Bloomberg article. We shouldn’t, therefore, be shocked that oil is here any more than we should be shocked that publicity hungry columnists and heavily invested oilmen are predicting further wild swings.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME Turkey

Turkish Men Are Wearing Miniskirts to Fight for Women’s Rights

Turkey Protest
Emrah Gurel—AP Some men wear skirts to show solidarity with women who have been protesting against violence against women since the recent murder of Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old woman, during a march in Istanbul on Feb. 21, 2015.

They launched an online protest following the murder of a 20-year-old student

Men throughout Turkey and neighboring Azerbaijan are donning miniskirts to honor Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old student who was allegedly murdered after fighting off a sexual assault by a minibus driver.

After Aslan’s burned body was found by a riverbed, the BBC reports, young people in Turkey were galvanized to protest violence against women. And these protests took place both on the streets and on the Internet:

On Wednesday, a group of men in Azerbaijan are believed to have started the hashtag #ozgecanicinminietekgiy, which translates to “wear a miniskirt for Ozgecan.” Since then, the hashtag has become viral.

A related Facebook page for participants explains, “If a miniskirt is responsible for everything, if [wearing] a miniskirt means immorality and unchastity, if a woman who wears a miniskirt is sending an invitation about what will happen to her, then we are also sending an invitation!”

Turkish lawyer and activist Hulya Gulbahar told CNN that the protest is “very effective.”
“People try to find excuses for rapes and killings,” she said. “But they didn’t find any in this case, because Aslan was very innocent, purely innocent. The protest shows that a short skirt is not an excuse for rape.”

[BBC]

Read next: ISIS Uses Social Media to Lure British Muslim Girls, Think Tank Says

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Sends Out Child Suicide Bomber as It Loses Ground to Nigeria

Chadian soldiers on top of a truck, left, speak to Cameroon soldiers, right, standing next to the truck, on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria as they form part of the force to combat regional Islamic extremists force's including Boko Haram, near the town of Gambarou, Nigeria, Feb. 19, 2015.
Edwin Kindzeka Moki—AP Chadian soldiers on top of a truck, left, speak to Cameroon soldiers, right, standing next to the truck, on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria as they form part of the force to combat regional Islamic extremists force's including Boko Haram, near the town of Gambarou, Nigeria, Feb. 19, 2015.

The Nigerian military regains a key town lost to Boko Haram, but the insurgent group stoops to even bloodier tactics

Victory in battle is rarely a straight shot. So it goes in Nigeria, where the fight against the militant Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram, progresses in fits and starts. Victory one day is eclipsed by defeat the next. On Saturday Feb. 21, Nigeria’s military spokesman tweeted that the army had retaken the border town of Baga after a fierce battle with the group’s fighters.

https://twitter.com/DefenceInfoNG/status/569145288818102272

But even as soldiers continued with the “mopping up” operation, residents elsewhere in the area reported scores of deaths at the hands of Boko Haram militants. And a day later, on Feb. 22, a suicide bomber killed five and wounded dozens in the northeast town of Potiskum, about 210 miles away. Though Boko Haram has yet to claim responsibility for the attack, the devastation was caused by what is rapidly becoming the group’s signature calling card: a female bomber, who, according to witnesses speaking to Reuters, looked to be no more than eight years old.

Though Boko Haram reportedly has enough firepower to successfully raid several Nigerian military garrisons, its ability to wreak terror is just as important in an asymmetric war like this one. United States intelligence officials estimate that Boko Haram has only 4000-6000 “hardcore” fighters, but a succession of attacks across Nigeria’s northeast and across the borders of its neighboring countries has nonetheless demonstrated the group’s seeming ability to be everywhere at once. The Nigerian military has a hard time keeping up, leaving many civilians caught in the middle. Few support Boko Haram, which has left a trail of massacres and abductions as it seeks to impose on the region its interpretation of Islamic law, but even fewer dare stand up to the group without a military to protect them.

Help is on the way: the African Union has pledged 8,750 soldiers, police and humanitarian officials to the fight. Already Nigeria’s neighbors Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, have entered the fray, defeating the insurgents in border areas and denying Boko Haram the sanctuary it once enjoyed. But Nigeria’s military is faced with an uncompromising deadline. National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki has pledged that Boko Haram will be defeated before the March 28 presidential election, which was postponed from February for security reasons. That gives the army six weeks to do what it hasn’t been able to achieve in the six years since the insurgency launched.

Regaining Baga is a start. Strategically speaking, the fishing town offers little military advantage. Symbolically, it packs a punch. Boko Haram took Baga on January 3, in a surprise raid that sent soldiers tasked with protecting a nearby military garrison fleeing for their lives. Over the course of the next few days Boko Haram methodically rampaged through neighboring villages, killing and burning everything in its path. At the time, local officials estimated that up to 2000 residents had been killed; a government assessment put the number at 150. With access to the area limited and phone coverage all but cut off, it was impossible to establish which number was closer to the truth. Satellite imagery released by Amnesty International a few days later showed widespread devastation that gave credence to the higher count, though it is also possible that many residents fled before Boko Haram arrived.

Still, the discrepancy was largely interpreted as a government effort to downplay the insurgency’s strength, and the military’s failure. Now that Baga has been re-taken, investigators will be able to get closer to the truth of what actually happened. That may be of little comfort to those who lost loved ones and property in the massacre, but in the battle of messaging, it’s a start.

TIME Terrorism

Read an American ISIS Hostage’s Last Letter to Her Family

Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Ariz.
Mueller Family—Reuters Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Ariz.

Kayla Mueller said she was "remaining strong"

An American who died while held captive by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) wrote in her final letter to her family that she was “OK, healthy, remaining strong and being treated kindly.”

“Do not worry… I love you all,” Kayla Mueller wrote in the letter, revealed Monday on NBC’s Today show. “My heart longs to be with you all as… I have never felt before, but praise be to God you are in my dreams almost every evening and for just those brief moments in my sleeping conscious that we are together I am given a warmth.”

The Obama Administration confirmed earlier this month that Mueller, an aid worker who was 26, had died. ISIS said she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials haven’t confirmed that.

Read the full letter at NBC

Read next: What Kayla Mueller’s Life Reveals About Her Generation

TIME North Korea

North Korea Said to Ban Foreigners From Marathon

Regime reportedly cites Ebola as a concern

North Korea has banned foreigners from participating in the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon, citing concerns over Ebola, a company that facilitates foreign travel to the isolated country said Monday.

“We are sorry to announce that our North Korean partners contacted us this morning with news that the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon has — as of today — been closed to amateur and professional foreign runners,” Koryo Tours said in a statement on its website.

The marathon, scheduled this year for April 12, typically draws a large foreign contingent. Koryo Tours alone had planned to take 500 people to the country for the event, according to Reuters. The company said it planned for March tours to proceed as previously scheduled.

North Korean authorities also reportedly cancelled the annual Mass Games—a gymnastics festival that typically drew a foreign crowd—without providing an explanation.

The North Korean government offered no apparent explanation for its Ebola concerns. The disease has killed thousands of people around the world, but none of the deaths have been in Asia. The country’s government has claimed through state television that Ebola was created by the U.S. government.

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