TIME Libya

U.S. Captures Suspected Ringleader of Benghazi Attack

Ahmed Abu Khatallah is suspected in the 2012 attack

American authorities have captured a suspected “key figure” in the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, officials confirmed on Tuesday, during a covert raid in Libya that gives a welcome foreign policy victory for the Obama Administration.

U.S. Special Forces and law-enforcement personnel apprehended Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a senior leader of the militant group Ansar al-Shari’a, on Sunday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

“He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya,” Kirby said. “There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

American officials wouldn’t yet say where Khatallah will be transferred to, though he is expected to be turned over to law enforcement for trial in the U.S. in the coming days. The Department of Justice filed charges against Khatallah in a sealed indictment in federal court last year.

Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed during the Sept. 11, 2012 attack. It became a rallying cry for conservative critics of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record in the run-up to the 2012 elections, and congressional Republicans have continued to probe the Administration’s handling of the incident and its aftermath.

“The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans,” Obama said in a statement. “Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans. I recently authorized an operation in Libya to detain an individual charged for his role in these attacks, Ahmed Abu Khatallah. The fact that he is now in U.S. custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel.”

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham quickly said on Twitter that “Khattala should be held at Guantánamo as a potential enemy combatant.” But Obama made clear his Administration is taking another route.

“This individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system,” Obama said.

“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans,” he added. “We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Khatallah was added to the State Department’s designated list of terrorists in January. He was living relatively openly in Libya after the attacks, sitting for several interviews with Western reporters last year. Khatallah is the first suspect to have been captured for suspected involvement in the attack. His capture was first reported by the Washington Post.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the apprehension doesn’t end the U.S. investigation into the attack, “but marks an important milestone.”

TIME Archaeology

Relics of ‘End of World’ Plague Excavated in Egypt

The plague is believed to have claimed the lives of 5,000 people a day in Rome alone

A new archaeological discovery in Egypt includes traces of an ancient disease that some in the Roman Empire considered a harbinger of the apocalypse.

The discovery was made in Luxor by members of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor, LiveScience reports. Researchers uncovered the remains of bodies covered with lime, presumably used to disinfect the diseased, as well as three kilns in which the lime was made. They also found human remains scattered throughout a site that bears traces of a bonfire —likely a place where many disease victims were incinerated.

An analysis of pottery remains in the kilns indicates that the findings date from the 3rd century A.D., when a vicious plague claimed the lives of thousands living in the Roman Empire, including at least two emperors. The epidemic, which Carthaginian bishop Cyprian wrote signaled the end of the world, struck around 250 A.D. It is now considered to have significantly contributed to the empire’s decline.

The disease has been dubbed “the plague of Cyprian,” as the bishop wrote extensively about its effects on the human body. The “intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting, [and] the eyes are on fire with the injected blood,” he wrote in Latin in his De mortalitate. Most modern-day scientists believe the deaths were caused by smallpox.

TIME Iran

UK Plans to Reopen Embassy in Iran

Iranian Demonstrators Break In To British Embassy In Tehran
A large number of protesters prepare to break in to the British Embassy during an anti-British demonstration on November 29, 2011 in Tehran, Iran. FarsNews/Getty Images

Foreign Secretary William Hague said "circumstances were right" to reopen Britain's embassy in Tehran some two years after Iranian protesters ransacked the building

The UK foreign secretary said Tuesday that the country would re-open its embassy in Tehran as a sign of “increasing confidence” in Iran’s new administration.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said that “circumstances were right” to restore full diplomatic relations with Iran. Britain evacuated its embassy in Tehran and suspended full diplomatic relations with Iran after hardline protesters raided the building in November 2011, the BBC reports.

But bilateral relations between the two countries have improved since the election of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, the arrangement of an interim nuclear deal and most recently, the makings of a fragile alliance against a common enemy, extremist Sunni militias flooding into Iraq.

“Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the UK’s global diplomatic approach,” he said in a speech before Parliament.

Hague rebutted critiques that Britain was “softening” its approach to Tehran, saying that he would continue uphold its demands on Iranian leaders to “cease support for sectarian groups across the Middle East and reach a successful conclusion to nuclear negotiations.”

[BBC]

TIME energy

The Indian Example

While Americans question climate change, global competitors like India are leading the fight to combat its challenges, according to a global TIME survey

Americans may still be skeptical about climate change. But around the world, global warming is not only settled science; it’s a reality that our international counterparts are taking varying steps to combat. And India is leading the way.

In a new global survey conducted for TIME about attitudes toward energy, Indians were the most committed to conservation and the most optimistic about their ability to reduce emissions.

Of the six countries polled, Indians were the likeliest to express deep concerns about energy and consumption. More than 9 in 10 Indians reported that conservation issues were “very important” to them, compared to 68% overall. Indians were more than twice as willing to pay more for clean energy as residents of Brazil, Germany, Turkey, South Korea or the U.S.

Each of these countries has moved to minimize their environmental footprint in different ways. Germans are in the habit of powering down their computers. Brazilians are assiduous about switching off lights. The U.S. leads the way in recycling.

But Indians reported the most comprehensive approach to energy conservation, with 8 in 10 Indians reporting that they have altered their personal habits to curb consumption. Those changes include several simple tasks that go a long way toward shaving both costs and carbon emissions. Indians are the likeliest of the six nations surveyed to carpool, take public transportation, and walk rather than ride in a vehicle. They unplug appliances from the socket when not using them more frequently than anyone else.

Part of this is a culture of fiscal restraint. Among their peers polled by TIME, Indians were the likeliest to say they stick to a monthly budget, as well as the most committed to setting aside money for retirement. In a nation with a strict caste system, and endemic poverty interspersed with pockets of colossal wealth, the lure to save may have spurred good energy habits. Conservation correlates with financial discipline across the six countries in the survey; in each, the most fiscally responsible respondents were also the most likely to engage in energy-conscious behavior.

But India is also unique. It is a burgeoning superpower with stark energy challenges. Its billion-strong population is rapidly growing, expected to surpass China’s for the world’s largest within the next 15 years. With that growth comes surging demand that will further strain creaky infrastructure. India is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and foreign imports. Its faltering energy grid often leaves large swaths of the nation baking in sweltering heat. Up to 40% of India’s rural households lack electricity.

These systemic challenges appear to have shaped attitudes toward energy, driving both social consciousness and innovation. In some of India’s urban slums, startups are swapping out dirty and dangerous kerosene lamps for new solar lanterns. The government has gotten in the game by implementing a series of conservation policies, such as requiring state government buildings to have energy-efficient designs. This month, the Modi government began work on a plan that offers incentives for investment in renewables, and hopes to have half the homes in Indian cities fueled by solar or wind energy within five years. And the public grasps the importance of the project: asked what concern guides their energy habits, Indians cited minimizing their environmental footprint (46%) over curbing costs (34%) or maximizing comfort (21%).

The efforts have spurred confidence. Though Indians are widely cognizant of climate issues, they’re more optimistic than their peers about the world’s ability to cope with the challenges. More than 60% of Indians say they believe the world can slash carbon emissions 80% by 2050, compared to 37% of respondents overall. Of the six nations surveyed by TIME, India was only one in which a majority was optimistic about the potential to achieve that level of cuts.

The survey was conducted among 3,505 online respondents equally divided between the U.S., Brazil, Germany, Turkey, India and Korea. Polling was conducted from May 10 to May 22. The overall margin of error overall is 1.8%.

TIME China

China’s Military Reduces Requirements to Allow Shorter, Wider Recruits

Chinese People's Liberation Army's honor
Chinese People's Liberation Army's honor guards line up during a welcome ceremony for Turkish President Abdullah Gul at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 25, 2009. Liu Jin—AFP/Getty Images

China's military has reduced its requirements to allow shorter, heavier recruits as well as those with mental illnesses to join the army

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has eased physical standards, removed exclusions banning people with mental illnesses and promised ramped up entertainment facilities for soldiers—all in an effort to enlist more highly educated recruits.

During an annual recruitment drive on Monday, the Chinese military introduced new height requirements, which have been reduced by 2 cm to a minimum height of 160 cm for men and 158 cm for women. Weight restrictions have also been loosened to reflect the general weight gains across the nation. According to China Daily, the PLA also reduced eyesight requirements, noting that nearly 70% of Chinese students are nearsighted. In addition, soldiers with tattoos will now be able to join up.

The PLA has also lifted a ban on recruiting those with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, dissociative disorder and schizophrenia.

Recruiting officials told China Daily that the looser requirements would attract better quality recruits, allowing the military to be more efficient and stronger. Meanwhile, the office said that only recruits with high school diplomas would be accepted in the municipalities of Beijing, Tianjin, Chongqing and Shanghai. The number of recruits without diplomas in other areas will also be greatly reduced.

Increased pay is another carrot, with new soldiers in the eastern province of Jiangsu to earn at least 159,200 yuan ($25,600) in the first two years of their service if they have graduated from a university or were studying prior to enrollment. “We hope that more talented people can join the military and serve the country,” a recruit officer told China Daily.

The PLA also promised to double its budget on jukeboxes, musical instruments and other entertainment for the soldiers. The military said the new standards would “satisfy the spiritual and cultural needs of the soldiers,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Looser standards come at a time when the world’s largest army has expanded its weapons program to update warships, missiles, drones and jets. The Pentagon reported that China’s military spending exceeded $145 billion in 2013.

TIME Australia

Families of Asylum Seekers Who Died in a Shipwreck Are Suing Australia

Funerals Held For Victims Of Christmas Island Shipwreck
A mourner is comforted at a Christian funeral service for the victims of the Christmas Island asylum-seeker shipwreck at Castlebrook Memorial Park on Feb. 15, 2011, in Sydney. Mark Kolbe—Getty Images

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison called the suit an "offensive claim to be bringing"

Survivors and relatives of asylum seekers who died in a shipwreck off Christmas Island in 2010 are suing the Australian government. While 42 people were rescued after their boat crashed against rocks in the Indian Ocean, some 50 of the immigrants, who were mostly from Iraq and Iran, went missing and are presumed drowned.

George Newhouse, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement that under the Migrant Act the Australian Commonwealth was responsible for ensuring the immigrants’ safe passage once the ship was 12 miles offshore. Newhouse added that government officials should have been aware of the passengers, but “took insufficient steps to look out for them.”

An eight-month investigation by coroner Alastair Hope blamed the crash on human traffickers and also criticized the Australian government for not providing enough rescue boats. Ali Khorram Heydarkhani, an Iranian people-smuggler who organized the trip, was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment in 2012 for supplying unseaworthy ships.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison objected to the lawsuit, saying it was tantamount to “someone who has been saved from a fire suing the firemen,” the BBC reported. He praised the rescue teams for their efforts in the rescue, calling the suit an “offensive claim to be bringing.”

TIME Burma

These Aren’t Refugee Camps, They’re Concentration Camps, and People Are Dying in Them

Rohingya Refugees Face Health Crisis As Myanmar
Rosheda Bagoung holds her malnourished child inside the tent at the Dar Paing refugee camp in Sittwe, Burma, on May 10, 2014 Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

Confined to squalid camps, supposedly for their own "protection," Burma's persecuted Rohingya are slowly succumbing to starvation, despair and disease. Some are calling it a crime against humanity

Several days before he was born, Mohammad Johar’s family escaped the Buddhist mobs that attacked their Muslim neighborhood, leaving bodies and burned homes in their wake. The threat of renewed violence has since kept the family and tens of thousands of fellow ethnic Rohingya confined to a wasteland of camps, ringed by armed guards, outside this coastal town in western Burma. But enforced confinement has spawned more insidious dangers. Last week, 2-year-old Mohammad Johar died of diarrhea and other complications, contracted in a camp that state authorities claim was made to safeguard him. The local medical clinic was empty and the nearest hospital too far — perhaps impossible to reach, given that his family would have to secure permission to go outside the wire. “Only in death will he be free,” sighed his 18-year-old brother, Nabih, moments after wrapping the toddler’s body in a cotton shroud.

Two years after the outbreak of communal violence, a deepening humanitarian crisis is claiming more lives by the day. Malnutrition and waterborne illnesses in the camps, aggravated by the eviction of aid groups and onset of monsoon rains, have led to a surge of deaths that are easily preventable. In a country that’s still being hailed in the West for its tilt toward democracy, the ongoing blockade on critical aid to more than 100,000 displaced Rohingya around Sittwe — and thousands elsewhere in Rakhine state — amounts to a crime against humanity, rights groups say.

For years, the Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Burma, and have faced severe restrictions on marriage, employment, health care and education. Now, it seems, the Burmese authorities are determined to starve and sicken the Rohingya out of existence.

“Aid is still being obstructed by the authorities in a variety of ways, and this appears to be symptomatic of the shared feeling among government officials at all levels that the Rohingya don’t belong in Rakhine state,” says Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based group that released a February report highlighting long-standing government policies targeting the ethnic minority. “The increasingly permanent segregation of the Rohingya is wholly inconsistent with the dominant narrative that democracy is sweeping the nation. The Rohingya are facing something greater than persecution — they’re facing existential threats.”

The vice grip shows no signs of loosening. Construction is now under way for a sprawling, walled-off police base inside the camp’s perimeter. Doctors Without Borders, the international aid agency that was evicted by the government in February, has not been allowed back. Although some foreign aid groups have resumed operations since late March, when radical Buddhists ransacked more than a dozen offices, the U.N. says much more should be done. The World Food Programme continues to provide rations of rice, chickpeas, oil and salt, but aid workers insist they are not enough to stem the gathering problem of acute malnutrition. Indeed, several interned Rohingya tell TIME they were brutally beaten by Burmese security forces in recent weeks for attempting to supplement their diet by fishing beyond the boundaries of the camps.

Burma’s government refuses to recognize its 1.3 million Rohingya as citizens. Though Rohingya have lived in the Buddhist-majority country for generations, they are widely, and affectedly, referred to as Bengalis, to convey the false impression that they are intruders from neighboring Bangladesh. “There is no such thing as ‘Rohingya,'” insists U Pynya Sa Mi, the head of a monastery in Sittwe. “The Rakhine people are simply defending their land against immigrants who are creating problems.”

Burmese officials downplay the health crisis, noting provisions of water and medical services. But the misery in the camps tells another story. Just off the road that leads inside, naked children with extended bellies loiter near a makeshift clinic that serves hundreds of families living in tarp-and-sheet-metal barracks. A line of mothers awaits the attention of Chit San Win, a former nurse who, out of necessity, has become a mobile doctor to the displaced. He sees an average of 40 patients a day and says conditions have become “much worse” since Doctors Without Borders was ousted, citing the dearth of government services and supplies. A 1-year-old boy under his care coughs with symptoms of tuberculosis, a growing scourge due to a lack of vaccinations. HIV and malaria are also a concern. However, without a lab to run tests or international aid agencies to provide hospital referrals, he’s left giving out hopeful assurances and second-rate medicine. “I do what I can,” says Chit San Win.

While the death toll is not clear because of the restrictions against aid groups, desperate conditions have driven scores of Rohingya to risk their lives at sea on boats bound for Thailand and Malaysia. Originally, traffickers packed dozens of refugees onto rickety craft that often sank. These days, the smaller boats ferry travelers to larger vessels that come up from the Burma-Thailand border; once full, with 300 to 500 passengers, they set off on the three-day voyage to Thailand. On arrival, the Rohingya must pay $2,000 to traffickers who brought them. If they fail to pay up, they may be imprisoned in jungle camps for ransom or sold into debt bondage. Those caught by the authorities hardly fare better: the Thais corral them in grim detention centers, where they fester as officials wait for a third country to take them.

Abul Bassier, a 36-year-old schoolteacher whose brother and father were killed when a mob razed their home in Sittwe’s Bu May quarter, says his younger brother took his chances on a boat trip in March. About two weeks later, Abul Bassier received a phone call from a man in Thailand demanding money for his brother’s release. With six children of his own to look after and no freedom to work, he is overcome by his own helplessness. “What can I do here, a prisoner with no rights, no humanity?” he exclaims, breaking into tears. Each time Abul Bassier calls the number stored on his cell phone, he says a Thai man asks whether he has the money, then hangs up when the invariably negative answer is given.

And yet, with scant relief on the horizon, some Rohingya are still mustering everything they can to get out, selling their own food rations, scrap metal, even their own clothing to raise funds. One of them, Muhibullah, 54, says he made the journey overland to Malaysia in 1988, back when the ruling military junta had all but sealed off Burma from the world. He was caught and spent 18 months in prison in Malaysia before being deported home. Over the past year, he says five of his friends have made the boat trip successfully; three have died en route. “But I’m not afraid,” he says, getting nods of support from a group of hard-bitten men seated with him under the shade of a banyan tree, waiting.

An hour later, the funeral procession for Mohammad Johar glides by and the men’s conversation falls silent. Trailed by a gaggle of boys in knitted white caps, a volunteer carries the tiny blanketed corpse on a banana leaf, far past the sun-beaten barracks and empty government-built health clinic. The group finally stops at a grass clearing in earshot of the sea, where lines of bamboo pens mark the freshly dug graves. In short order the little boy is buried and a prayer offered. Another day, another life gone.

This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

TIME indonesia

The ISIS Extremists Causing Havoc in Iraq Are Getting Funds and Recruits From Southeast Asia

Militants from Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, are being lured by ISIS's hard-line Sunni extremism

Men in balaclavas are cradling Kalashnikovs as they look into a camera, somewhere in Syria. They are university students, businessmen, former soldiers and even teenagers. One by one, they urge their fellow countrymen to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the jihadist group so extreme that it has been denounced by al-Qaeda. But these aren’t Syrians, or Uzbeks, or Chechens. They are Indonesian.

“Let us fight in the path of Allah because it is our duty to do jihad in the path of Allah … especially here in Sham [the Syrian region] … and because, God willing, it will be to this country that our families will do the holy migration,” says one in Bahasa Indonesia peppered with Arabic phrases. “Brothers in Indonesia, don’t be afraid because fear is the temptation of Satan.”

A fellow jihadist, a former Indonesian soldier, calls on those in the police and armed forces to repent and abandon the defense of their country and its “idolatrous” state ideology, Pancasila.

The video of the Indonesian men in Syria emerged shortly before ISIS seized the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, in landmark victories on June 10 and 11. It reflects the growing attraction that the Sunni extremist group holds for the most militant jihadists from Indonesia — the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population, and one that has long battled threats of terrorism.

“Like in Syria, the Sunni jihadi movement is split in Indonesia,” Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, tells TIME. Some Indonesian jihadists, including many senior leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah (the group behind the Bali bombings in 2002 and other terrorist attacks) are loyal to the alliance around the al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda, she says, “while most of the more militant, non-JI groups are supporting ISIS.”

According to a recent report, the Syrian conflict has lured an estimated 12,000 foreign fighters, mostly from neighboring Middle Eastern countries, but also from Europe, Australia, the U.S. — and Southeast Asia. In January, Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency reckoned about 50 Indonesians had gone to fight in Syria, though it is not known how many of them joined ISIS. A Malaysian security official said more than 20 Malaysians are known to have entered Syria to fight Bashar Assad’s regime.

On Saturday, Malaysian media reported that Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, who bombed an Iraqi military headquarters, earned “the dubious honor of being Malaysia’s first suicide bomber linked to” ISIS. Some months earlier, in November, reports emerged that Riza Fardi, who studied at the infamous Ngruki Islamic boarding school in Central Java — the same school attended by the Bali bombers — became the first Indonesian jihadist to die in Syria.

While terrorist threats have waned in Southeast Asia, thanks to imprisonment and deaths of senior jihadist figures, the civil war in Syria, and now in Iraq, has raised the specter of fighters returning home with the terrorist know-how and a militant outlook — not unlike the returnees from the Afghan war in the 1980s. “Returning fighters will have deeper indoctrination, more international contacts and perhaps a deeper commitment to the global jihad,” says Jones.

The three-year Syrian war has attracted even more foreign fighters than the Afghan war. One possible reason is a prophecy, popular among global jihadists, about the final battle before Judgment Day. “There are hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, that predict an apocalyptic war of good vs. evil, and according to one hadith, it would start in Syria,” says Solahudin, a Jakarta-based terrorism expert.

Indonesia has a different approach to jihadism than its neighbors. Though terrorist attacks are punishable by death, it is not illegal to raise money for or join a foreign jihadist group. In contrast, in late April, Malaysia arrested 10 militants — eight men and two women — who planned to travel to Syria to take part in the war. In March, Singapore said it was investigating the departure of a national to join the Syrian jihad.

Emboldened by Indonesia’s more tolerant attitude, ISIS supporters there have become more visible and openly solicit funds. They held a collection in February at an Islamic state university on the outskirts of Jakarta and held a rally in the capital’s central business district in March. On June 15, a Sunday morning when one of the main streets in the Central Javanese city of Solo is transformed into a weekly car-free zone for strolling families, militants from Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, a JI splinter cell, paraded in ISIS insignia, waved ISIS flags and wreaked havoc on a music performance.

They are also quite active on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Iqbal Kholidi, who tracks and observes Indonesian ISIS supporters on social media, has culled photos of them training and posing with the signature black flags from across the country — in Jakarta, Central Java, South Kalimantan and Poso, Central Sulawesi. They have become bolder in recent months, Iqbal says, and that is likely “because there is an impression that the authorities are just keeping quiet all this time.”

TIME Iraq

Bleeding Indicators: Piercing the Fog of War in Iraq

140306-N-BD629-032
V-22s shown aboard the USS Mesa Verde. The ship sailed into the Persian Gulf on Monday, where its tilt-rotor aircraft could used be used to rescue U.S. diplomats in extremis in Baghdad. MC2 Shannon M. Smith / Navy photo

What you can't see is often more important than what you can

Peering through the fog of war, which is what happens when two sides, more or less organized, begin firing at one another, is always a challenge. So like the beleaguered British in World War II, let’s use radar instead to try to figure out what’s happening as war revisits Iraq:

—Be leery of offers of Iranian help to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nourti al-Malaki. Or, more critically, any statement that they’re not helping.

There have been unconfirmed reports of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fighting in Iraq alongside the Shi’a-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But on Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denied them.

Why wouldn’t he deny them? Confirming them would only fuel what is beginning to look like a Shi’s-Sunni death match, and encourage the Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia, to increase their own involvement in the fight. Better to send your troops in secretly and make it appear that Maliki’s Iraq forces are regaining the edge on their own, without encouraging wider Sunni involvement.

—In modern war, especially where one side is a non-state actor, watch out for exaggerated boasts of success. The ISIS “has resorted to spreading many rumors in its own favor and in order to stage a psychological war against the Iraqi government,” the Iranian state-controlled Fars News Service, which seems primed to rebut any ISIS claim, reported Monday, based on chats with friendly Iraqi generals.

Cable TV has been filled with videotaped executions purportedly conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Such actors—often terrorists—need to cast bigger shadows than reality, and such displays often fit the bill.

The good news, from the videographer’s side: it shows their ruthlessness, scaring the enemy while revolting much of the world.

The bad news: they ensure that the enemy will fight to the death rather than surrender.

—The U.S. embassy staff is shrinking. This is significant because it means the U.S. isn’t betting on Iraq’s U.S.-trained army to defend the U.S. embassy. Saturday’s Pentagon statement about ships moving into the Persian Gulf was all about offensive firepower atop the carrier USS George H.W. Bush, and the land-attack Tomahawk cruise missiles aboard the USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun.

Two days later, on Monday morning, the Pentagon entered a defensive crouch as it ordered the amphibious USS Mesa Verde into the gulf, as well, with 550 Marines aboard. Such a force can’t win a war, but it’s ideal to rescue U.S. diplomats from the grounds, or the roof, of a besieged U.S. embassy with the help of its V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft.

In the second defensive move of the day, on Monday evening the White House announced the President has informed Congress “that up to approximately 275 U.S. military personnel are deploying to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.”

—A voice from the past sounds off. “Those Americans who have pressed in the past for dividing Iraq should be careful: They might get what they wished for. The price would be very high: a regional war on top of an Iraqi civil war. American action now would be considerably less difficult than later,” L. Paul Bremer, U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq in 2003-04, wrote in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. “It is time for both American political parties to cease their ritualistic incantations of `no boots on the ground,’ which is not the same as `no combat forces.’ Of course Americans are reluctant to re-engage in Iraq. Yet it is President Obama’s unhappy duty to educate them about the risks to our interests posed by the unfolding drama in Iraq.”

It is time for both American political parties to cease their ritualistic incantations of “no boots on the ground,” which is not the same as “no combat forces.”

Imagine that: war on the cheap.

h/t: NightWatch

TIME Military

Obama Deploys Troops to Protect Embassy in Iraq, as American and Iranian Officials Meet

An attempt to de-escalate the crisis and protect U.S. interests

President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of up to 275 military personnel “equipped for combat” into Iraq to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Monday, as American and Iranian diplomats met briefly to discuss whether the two countries can work together to defuse the crisis exploding in Iraq.

Obama informed Congress of the military deployment; the Pentagon said 170 servicemembers are already on the ground, while another 100 are prepared to go in as needed. The Obama Administration has so far resisted Republican calls for airstrikes and more military involvement, while also speaking of the need to protect U.S. interests on the ground. Amid growing violence by Sunni militants from the group ISIS, who have already captured several towns and have their sights set on Baghdad, the State Department on Sunday withdrew some American diplomats from the embassy there to safer locations.

The meeting between American and Iranian diplomats came on the margins of the so-called P5+1 talks in Geneva about ending Iran’s nuclear program, a senior State Department official said. Many Republican lawmakers have opposed engaging with Iran over the Iraq crisis.

“These engagements will not include military coordination or strategic determinations about Iraq’s future over the heads of the Iraqi people,” the State Department official said in a statement. “We will discuss how [ISIS] threatens many countries in the region, including Iran, and the need to support inclusivity in Iraq and refrain from pressing a sectarian agenda.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama would meet with his national-security team Monday evening, after having directed them last week to prepare a range of options for U.S. intervention for him to consider. Obama has ruled out deploying American forces on the ground as part of any effort to counter the offensive , but Administration officials are contemplating other options, including air strikes.

Over the weekend, the Sunni extremist group ISIS claimed credit for massacring Iraqi air force recruits near Tikrit. The Iranian government deployed forces to Iraq over the weekend to bolster the Iraqi government’s defenses. Meanwhile, American officials are pressuring the Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to begin reconciliation efforts to ease sectarian tensions.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said Boehner supports the deployment of military personnel but wants Obama to present a broader strategy for Iraq. “The Speaker supports the ongoing steps to secure U.S. personnel and facilities in the midst of a fluid situation, but he still expects a comprehensive strategy to protect America’s national security interests in Iraq,” spokesman Michael Steel said. “We hope the President will offer such a plan in coming days. Too many Americans sacrificed too much to allow Iraq to slip back into chaos.”

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