US test fires SM-6 interceptor, practices ‘smart defense’ with allies off Scotland

By ethan / October 16, 2017

The US has test-fired one of its most advanced missile interceptors, the Standard Missile-6, off the Scottish coast. It comes amid the Formidable Shield drills conducted in the region to defend against the potential ballistic threat from “rogue states.”

“US Navy sailors aboard USS ‘McFaul’ (DDG 74) successfully test fired a Standard Missile-6 (SM-6),” the Sixth Fleet said in a statement, stressing that the test was not part of the Formidable Shield drills. 

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© U.S. Missile Defense Agencgy

The test supervised by the US Missile Defense Agency “demonstrated the successful performance of an SM-6 launched from an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense capable DDG and was conducted as part of the system’s flight certification process,” the statement added.

Raytheon’s SM-6 missile is designed to intercept ballistic projectiles descending towards targets from the upper atmosphere at extreme speeds. It can be deployed at land-based Aegis Ashore launching installations or at Aegis-equipped warships. According to the manufacturer, it is the “only missile” which can be used in anti-air and anti-surface warfare, while maintaining its use for “sea-based terminal ballistic missile defense.”

That means the missile could be used to counter the rising threat from the North Korean nuclear and missile programs, as Pyongyang continues to rapidly advance its ballistic missile technology.

Sunday’s test was conducted following the latest stage of the Formidable Shield drills, where the US and its allies practiced “live-fire integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) scenario” which focused on defending against a “ballistic missile target as well as three anti-ship cruise missiles.”

Approximately 3,300 servicemen from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK are participating in the US-led drills on the Western Isles of Scotland.

More than 14 ships and 10 aircraft are also taken part in the drills.

During Sunday’s session of the ongoing naval maneuvering, the US Navy boasted about demonstrating what it called a “smart defense” concept, where naval vessels served as “air defense units protecting naval ballistic missile defense units.”

Part of the exercise involved USS ‘Donald Cook’ successfully detecting, tracking and intercepting a medium-range ballistic missile target using the Standard Missile-3 Block IB guided missile.

While the US Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer was busy intercepting its target, Spanish frigate fired an Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) against an incoming anti-ship cruise missile.

Simultaneously, a Dutch frigate fired ESSMs against a pair of incoming anti-ship cruise missiles, the US Navy said.

”Both the joint exercise and the Navy test launch truly demonstrate the capabilities the US and our allies are developing to defeat complex, cruise and ballistic missile threats,” said US Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves.

“The exercise scenarios are designed to test our limits and give us a unique opportunity to truly practice how we would fight together as an alliance,” added Capt. Shanti Sethi, commander, Task Group IAMD for Formidable Shield.

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A long-rage ground-based missile silo, at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. © Kacper Pempel

Formidable Shield 2017 began September 24, and is scheduled to conclude October 18. At the start of the US-led Formidable Shield exercise, London made it clear that NATO and its allies are perfecting their means of tackling the North Korean threat.

“North Korean tests have shown the danger of rogue states developing longer-range missiles. By hosting this cutting-edge exercise in anti-missile defense with allied navies Britain is at the forefront of developing a more effective response to this growing threat,” UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said on September 24.

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on September 3, forcing the UN Security Council to introduce new sanctions. The UN actions, however, did not stop Pyongyang from launching a series of ballistic missiles later in September, while vowing to destroy the US and its allies with nuclear weapons if attacked.

With Pyongyang and Washington whipping up tensions, Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly called on both parties to remain calm. Russia and China have called for the implementation of the so-called “double freeze” initiative that envisages North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile program in exchange for the US and South Korea abandoning their military exercises in the region. The initiative has been rejected by Washington.

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ISIS moral police ‘whipped, beat & jailed’ defiant Al-Mayadeen residents, survivors tell RT

By ethan / October 16, 2017

Islamic State terrorists’ efforts to whip, beat and torture people into submission for the tiniest violations of their perverted laws failed, locals in recently-liberated Al-Mayadeen in Syria told RT, recalling their disturbing experiences.

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists captured the city of Al-Mayadeen, located just 45km southeast of Deir ez-Zor, in July 2013. Raising their black standard, the Salafi jihadist group went on to impose a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam, violations of which were punished under Sharia law.

READ MORE: ISIS releases moms’ guidebook to raising ‘jihadi babies’

While many civilians left the city prior to the jihadists’ arrival, those who stayed were forced into following IS law and social conduct. A veil of prosecution and torture descended on Al-Mayadeen for over four years, until the Tiger Forces commanded by Syrian Army Brigadier General Suheil Salman al-Hassan pierced through IS defenses last Saturday, liberating the city from the Islamists’ yoke.

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© RT

Many locals that an RT Arabic crew spoke with recalled that the militants went on to seize people’s properties before instituting a religious police force that was responsible for implementing their social morals in people’s daily lives.

“ISIS took away homes that belonged to my brothers. They confiscated them…to live there,” one Al-Mayadeen native said.

“They had such an agency as the moral police called ‘Hisbah,’” the man said, explaining that it patrolled the city and punished the locals for violating Sharia law. The Islamic doctrine of Hisbah, which translates as “accountability,” empowers the leadership to intervene in the daily conduct of people to forcefully “enjoin good and forbid wrong.”

Force was used widely by the IS Hisbah units, who detained people for the slightest of infractions such as smoking cigarettes or shaving their face.

“Nobody wanted to cooperate with ISIS. I spent six days in prison for smoking one cigarette,” one of the survivors told RT, explaining that people were detained even if they smelled of tobacco.

Showing stubble on his face, the man also told RT that people were held in prison for days for any attempts to shave their facial hair. Explaining that IS demanded all beards to “grow naturally,” the man says he was arrested several times because his facial hair failed to meet their standards.

“They arrested me, then whipped me, tormented me and gave me spoiled food,” another man recalled, explaining that he was imprisoned twice because of his beard, and once because he wore pants instead of traditional jalabiya – an ankle-length, long-sleeved Arab garment.

READ MORE: Pancakes for jihadists: ISIS shares new online cooking tips

The stories documented by RT are just a tiny glimpse into the brutality of Islamic State’s justice system. Over the years, thousands of people have suffered for any alleged infractions that were met with punishments including flogging, beheading and burning.

Locals are relieved just to be alive, having suffered IS rule. It ended in a massive retreat of the jihadist forces, despite replenishments with ammo and fighters from Iraq. Even a week after the Syrian Army first entered the city, it continues to discover huge stockpiles of weapons.

“We searched the whole area, which served as the main military ISIS depot,” a Syrian Army soldier told RT. “The neighborhood has underground tunnels and was full of weapons.”

A number of abandoned warehouses full of weapons, left behind by IS fighters as they fled to the east side of the Euphrates River, were filmed by the RT crew embedded with the Syrian forces.

The Syrian Army, supported by the Russian Air Force, meanwhile continues to advance on the remaining pockets of terrorist resistance between Al-Mayadeen and Deir ez-Zor city. 

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Iraqi military deployed to ‘impose security’ in Kirkuk clashes with Kurdish Peshmerga – reports

By ethan / October 16, 2017

Baghdad has deployed its military and pro-government militias to secure Kurdish Peshmerga-controlled bases and federal installations in Kirkuk, urging them to “avoid confrontations” and “protect all civilians” in the multi-ethnic, oil-rich region.

Early Monday morning, Iraqi government troops supported by the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-loyal umbrella organization composed of some 40 militias, have started advancing towards Peshmerga (military force of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan) frontlines from Taza, just south of the city of Kirkuk.

READ MORE: Kurdistan accuses Baghdad of planning oil field seizure

The troops were ordered to “impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with Kurdish Peshmerga,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on live television. Under the orders, the army should “secure bases [and] federal installations in Kirkuk province.” The troops were also advised “to cooperate with Peshmerga and avoid confrontations, and to protect all civilians.”

Iraqi state TV reported that Counter-Terrorism Service, the federal government and the 9th division of the Iraqi Army, have already secured “large areas” without any resistance from the Kurdish command.

Kurdish news channel, Rudaw, however, reports that clashes between Kurdish and government-led forces have erupted on the Taza Khurmatu front.

Iraqi security sources told Reuters that gunfire was heard in Kirkuk while the Peshmerga were urging the locals to resist. Kurdish sources meanwhile told the agency that clashes took place in the industrial zone of Kirkuk, while an artillery exchange took place south of the city.

As tensions rise the US Department of Defense urged “all sides to avoid additional escalatory actions.”

Earlier, the Kurdistan Security Council stated that Baghdad is trying to secure the K-1 military base, the Kirkuk airport and the oilfields which are under the control of the Kurdish fighters.

Earlier Baghdad and the command of PMF issued a list of demands calling on Peshmerga forces to leave a number of positions south and west of Kirkuk so that those outposts can be transferred under the control of Baghdad. The Kurds were reportedly given a deadline of 2am to comply with the ultimatum, Rudaw News reported.

The Kurdish leadership said on Saturday that they would not comply and leave all of the outposts mentioned in a list of demands, provincial Governor Najmaldin Karim told reporters.

“The places that they have demanded, as mentioned in those points, have so far all been rejected,” Karim was quoted as saying by Rudaw.

However, ahead of the deadline Kurdish forces have voluntarily left Bashir and Taza, but remained at Kirkuk airport and K-1 military base, which are now the primary targets for Baghdad.

According to Peshmerga commander who spoke with Rudaw news, Kirkuk now has around 9,000 Kurdish troops that can be used to defend the city.

Tensions between Baghdad and the regional Kurdish government have been tense in the wake of Kurdistan’s independence referendum late last month where some 92.7 percent of voters chose to leave Iraq.

Baghdad immediately denounced the move as “unconstitutional.” Turkey, Iran and Syria also expressed their opposition to the creation of an independent Kurdistan over concerns that it may spur separatist sentiment in their own Kurdish-populated areas.

Ahead of the launch of the military operation, the Iraqi government accused Kurdish authorities of harboring Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Kirkuk, calling it “a declaration of war against other Iraqis and legal security forces.”

Addressing the issue of the alleged presence of PKK in Kirkuk, Iraqi National Security Council warned of a “dangerous escalation” in the region.

“The central government and regular forces will carry out their duty of defending the Iraqi people in all its components, including the Kurds, and of defending Iraq’s sovereignty and unity,” the council said a statement as quoted by Al Jazeera reports.

The Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry quickly dismissed the allegations. Kurdish leaders also rejected a call by Baghdad to cancel the results of the September 25 independence vote.

“The outcome of the referendum will not be nullified,” the Kurdish region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said after consulting Kurdistan’s two main political parties. “Talk of canceling these results is out of the question and will not address the problems.”

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‘I’m fully intact’: Tillerson dismisses claim he was ‘castrated’ by Trump

By ethan / October 16, 2017

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has dismissed a prominent Republican senator’s claim that President Donald Trump is trying to “publicly castrate” him by undermining his political efforts.

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© Jonathan Ernst

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Tillerson rubbished Tennessee Senator Bob Corker’s assertion that he has been neutered because Trump undermined his diplomatic initiatives with North Korea.

“I checked, I’m fully intact,” Tillerson told host Jake Tapper in a deadpan manner.

The former ExxonMobil CEO revealed that President Trump has instructed him to continue his diplomatic efforts on the Korean Peninsula.

“I want to make it clear that the president has made it clear to me he wants to solve this diplomatically… he is not seeking to go to war,” he said. “The diplomatic effort will continue until the first bomb drops.”

He then praised Trump, calling him “a very unique president.”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that everyone sees him as the most unique president in modern history,” Tillerson said.

The secretary of state also repeatedly declined to deny reports he called Trump a “moron.”

“I’m not playing,” Tillerson said when Tapper asked about the alleged comment.

“These are the games of Washington. These are the destructive games of this town. I’m not dignifying the question with an answer, Jake, and I’m a little surprised that you want to spend so much time on it when there are so many issues around the world.”

READ MORE: Two Trumps confirmed? Donald says he met Virgin Islands ‘president’

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By / October 16, 2017

Raging wildfires kill 2, trigger panic & evacuations in Galicia, Spain (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

By ethan / October 16, 2017

Two people have died in the latest wildfires to hit Galicia, Spain. The blazes have sparked panic, with people rushing to evacuate their homes.

Two bodies were found inside a burned-out vehicle in Nigrán in Pontevedra on Sunday, El Pais reports. A university in Vigo has been evacuated, and the City Council has asked people to leave their homes. The Civil Guard and National Police have begun moving people from neighboring areas.

Firefighters face a mounting challenge with strong and changing winds further carrying the flames. Hurricane Ophelia’s approach has resulted in increased winds in the region.

There have been 80 fires in the area since Saturday, and 17 remain active. Thirteen of those fires were Level 2 alerts, meaning they pose a risk to the population.

La Voz de Galicia reports more than 4,000 hectares have been destroyed as a result of the weekend’s blazes.

“We are in a very difficult situation,” Galician President Alberto Núñez Feijoo said. “We are in a critical situation.”

Feijoo warned people against starting trips on country roads and urged, “Don’t try to protect the house, try to protect the people.”

A number of roads have been cut off as a result of the flames, and the Civil Guard asked drivers to turn around as the Folgoso tunnel was inaccessible, La Voz de Galicia reports.

Neighboring Portugal has also been battling wildfires, with high temperatures making the fire spread more quickly.

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Bedlam over books: Left- & right-wing activists face off at Frankfurt fair (VIDEO)

By ethan / October 15, 2017

Scuffles and fistfights have been reported between left- and right-wing activists at the Frankfurt Book Fair, after protesters interrupted an event held by a member of the AfD party and a conservative publishing house.

The standoff first began on Saturday afternoon at an event organized by right-wing publishing house Antaios, during a reading held by politician Bjoern Hoecke of the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party. The session was disrupted by left-wing activists shouting “Nazis out!” and holding up signs, one of which read “Still loving books, still not loving hate.”

The confrontation between the two groups escalated to pushing and shoving, while some of Hoecke’s supporters tried to rip up the signs. Around 400 people were involved in the ruckus before police arrived to separate the two sides.

READ MORe: Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ becomes bestseller in Germany, 85K copies sold in 2016

Things then seemed to calm down until early evening, when a presentation by two authors from the Identity Movement, also affiliated with Antaios, was met with loud boos and whistles, causing it to finish early. Several people were detained.

During the commotion, Nico Wehnemann of Frankfurt City Council claims he was struck down by a private security officer, whom he described as a “Nazi.” Wehnemann also said that some of the guests had shouted “Sieg Heil” during a previous meeting.

In a statement, the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Juergen Boos, condemned violence as a means of fighting ideas. He also defended the presence of right-wing publishers at the event, citing freedom of expression.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the largest literary events of its kind in the world, hosting around a thousand authors and over 280,000 visitors. There had already been a tense atmosphere in the days leading up to Saturday, as several stalls run by right-wing authors and publishers were damaged or vandalized. On Friday, a left-wing executive of the Trikont Musikverlag music label was punched in the face, leaving him with a bloody lip.

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‘A special victory’: Sharapova revels in first title win since return from doping ban

By ethan / October 15, 2017

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova claimed her first WTA title since her return from a 15-month doping ban when she beat Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to win the Tianjin Open in China on Sunday.

Sharapova earned a hard-fought 7-5 7-6 victory over her 19-year-old Belarusian opponent to win her first title since her return in April of this year, and her first WTA tour victory since May 2015.

The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion was made to battle hard for the victory, fighting back from 4-1 down in both sets before overcoming the young Belarusian.

After the win, Sharapova said it was a “special” moment considering it had been such a long wait since her last title.

It is a special title, a special victory,” Sharapova said, reported.

“It has been a couple of years since I have held the winner’s trophy. It is a great feeling, a team effort,” she added.“You have to appreciate those moments, never take them for granted.”

Sharapova went into the tournament – for which she was given a wildcard entry – ranked 86th in the world, but now climbs to number 57.

It was the 30-year-old Russian’s 36th WTA tour victory.

Sharapova returned from a doping ban in April of this year, having been suspended after testing positive for banned substance meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

The Russian said she had been taking the drug for 10 years on the advice of a family doctor, and had overlooked the fact that it had recently been added to the list of banned substances.

Her initial ban was shortened from two years to 15 months on appeal.

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© Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

She missed the French Open earlier this year after being refused a wildcard by tournament organizers, and was forced to miss Wimbledon through injury. She was granted a wildcard to the US Open in late August-early September, but went out in the fourth round at the hands of 16th-seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.

Sharapova will be boosted by her win in China, and will next turn her sights on her home Kremlin Cup tournament in Moscow, which begins next week.

“I am really looking forward to playing in my home country as the last event of the year,” Sharapova said, according to

“Obviously coming there with the title already means a lot, but I do really want to finish strong, even though it is a very fast turnaround, and I don’t remember the last time that I played three events in a row. But I will give it everything I have got and I know I have so many amazing fans there.”

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Tony Blair regrets siding with Israel on Hamas boycott

By ethan / October 15, 2017

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he was wrong to side with George W Bush and Israel to boycott Hamas after it won the 2006 Palestinian elections.

“We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its election win,” Blair said in an interview reported in the Guardian.

Blair now realizes it may have been a better idea for the international community to enter “into a dialogue” with Hamas. Instead, then-Prime Minister Blair supported Bush’s decision to cut aid and relations with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) after its election victory in 2006.

Hamas was given an ultimatum, either go against its charter by recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and promising to continue agreements made between its predecessors, Fatah, and Israel, or face an aid blockade.  

Blair, along with Israel and the rest of the Middle East Quartet consisting of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the US, then sanctioned and cut aid to the PA.

The group resumed ties with the PA in 2007, after it split from Hamas following a conflict that ended with Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip, and has continued to boycott Hamas since then.  

A UN report warned in 2015 that Gaza will be “uninhabitable” by 2020 should the effects of the decade-long blockade and three Israeli military offensives since then continue.  

“In retrospect I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull [Hamas] into a dialogue and shifted their positions,” Blair said. “I think that’s where I would be in retrospect.”

“But obviously it was very difficult, the Israelis were very opposed to it,” he continued. “But you know we could have probably worked out a way whereby we did – which in fact we ended up doing anyway, informally.”

Blair’s comments were made in an interview for a new book, ‘Gaza: Preparing for Dawn’.

The book features Department for International Development minutes from 2006 warning of the danger of ignoring Hamas. It details how it would be a challenge for Hamas to change its stance on Israel in the short term, even though the two parties had been working together on a municipal level. “Ultimately Hamas’s participation in the realities of political responsibility might bring about Hamas’s transformation to a political rather than terrorist organization,” the document predicted.

The book also contains comments by Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, who described the Hamas strategy as a “terrible mistake,” explaining that negotiating with both Hamas and Fatah resulted in double the negotiations and concessions made.

Blair’s comments have been published as Hamas and Fatah are in the midst of a reconciliation agreement penned in Cairo last week, which will see the PA resume control of Gaza by December, and lift electricity restrictions on the area.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his nation is against “any reconciliation in which the terrorist organization Hamas does not disarm and end its war to destroy Israel.”

Since leaving Downing Street, Blair embarked on a career as special envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East until 2015, and is now as a consultant and owner of various foundations.

Blair was prime minister from 1997 to 2007. During his time in office, he followed the geopolitical footsteps of Bush, fully supporting the US leader’s decision to invade Afghanistan and later Iraq. He has since been accused of war crimes due to the argument for the Iraq invasion being based on lies about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. The Chilcot Inquiry found the invasion to be unjustified and unnecessary last year.

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Pentagon accidentally adds reporter to emails on spinning Puerto Rico response

By ethan / October 15, 2017

The Pentagon’s efforts to spin news of its response to the emergency in Puerto Rico in a positive light were revealed when a reporter was erroneously added to its internal email list.

Bloomberg climate reporter Christopher Flavelle claimed he was  added to an internal email list in September, which revealed the government’s efforts to frame its response to the disaster in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria in a good way.

Although Flavelle alerted officials to the mishap, for five days he continued to receive the unclassified emails, which he said offer “a glimpse into the federal government’s struggle to convince the public that the response effort was going well.”

After the government began getting heat for failing to respond to the emergency, an email from September 28 advised spokespeople to avoid speaking about waiting on instructions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as “that goes against the teamwork topline message,” Bloomberg reports.

It told staff to highlight the “coverage of life-saving/life-sustaining operations.”

When news broke of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz’s speech criticizing the government, and US President Donald Trump, for spinning the reality on the ground in Puerto Rico, the government advice on FEMA talking points was to ignore the mayor’s comments, and instead say, “the federal government’s full attention is on Hurricane Maria response.”

When President Trump then attacked Cruz’s “poor leadership ability,” the Pentagon expressed concern that his statements were becoming the story and that people were “criticizing his lack of empathy.”

The government message was for FEMA to stress its success in reaching “all municipalities” in Puerto Rico.

After Trump described critics of the response as “politically motivated ingrates,” the government told spokespeople to say, “I am very proud of our DoD forces,” and to concede “there are some challenges to work through.”

Following the massacre in Las Vegas on October 2, government communications pointed to the fact that the tragedy had “drawn mainstream TV attention away from Puerto Rico response.”

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