White House Says Trump ‘Monitoring’ Reports Of Attack On Base In Iraq

 

The White House said Tuesday President Donald Trump was “monitoring” reports of a rocket attack on an airbase in western Iraq where US and coalition forces are based.

“We are aware of the reports of attacks on US facilities in Iraq. The president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

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At least nine rockets slammed into the Ain al-Asad airbase late Tuesday, security sources told AFP, after pro-Tehran factions in Iraq had vowed to “respond” to a US drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last week.

Five Dead, Dozens Hurt In ‘Horrible’ US Highway Crash

 

 

Five people died and dozens were injured in a “horrible” crash involving a tour bus and three tractor-trailers on a major US highway Sunday.

Pennsylvania State Police said the pre-dawn crash on the busy Pennsylvania Turnpike — billed as America’s “First Superhighway” — happened at about 3:40 am (0840 GMT) in Westmoreland County, east of Pittsburgh.

“There are five fatalities,” the police said on Twitter, adding that 39 people were taken to hospitals.

But Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said “probably dozens of patients, about 60 patients” were transported to local hospitals after the “horrible crash.”

“I personally haven’t witnessed a crash of this magnitude in 20 years,” he told Pittsburgh’s Action 4 News.

Aerial images broadcast by the station showed a bus overturned. “New York” and “Ohio,” it read on its visible side.

A FedEx trailer was nearby, ripped open to expose its load of brown packages, while two other trucks had come to rest against a snow-dusted embankment.

Police said the tour bus “was traveling on a downhill curve and struck an embankment” before the commercial vehicles behind it then hit the bus.

A passenger vehicle was also involved, police said, without giving a cause of the crash.

Asked if weather conditions were a factor, DeFebo replied: “We just can’t say.”

The Pennsylvania Turnpike, which opened in 1940, was closed in both directions, he said.

US military Says Three Killed In Kenya Jihadist Attack

 

A jihadist attack on a military base in Kenya killed three people Sunday, including a US service member and two civilian defense contractors, the American military said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our teammates who lost their lives today,” General Stephen Townsend, the head of US Africa Command (Africom), said after jihadists from Somalia’s Al-Shabaab group stormed a base in the Lamu region.

Two other Department of Defense personnel were wounded in the attack on Camp Simba, Africom added in a statement which gave no details on the identity of those killed.

Trump’s Threat To Target Iran Cultural Sites Sparks Backlash

 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Sunday that any US military action against Iran would conform to international law after President Donald Trump was accused of threatening a war crime by declaring cultural sites as potential targets.

Tehran’s foreign minister drew parallels with the Islamic State group’s destruction of the Middle East’s cultural heritage following Trump’s tweets that sites which were “important to… Iranian culture” were on a list of 52 potential US targets.

And as Twitter was flooded with photos of revered Iranian landmarks in ancient cities such as Isfahan under the hashtag #IranianCulturalSites, leading US Democrats said the president would be in breach of international protocols if he made good on his threat.

“You are threatening to commit war crimes,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the top Democrats hoping to challenge Trump in November’s election, wrote on Twitter.

“We are not at war with Iran. The American people do not want a war with Iran.”

“Targeting civilians and cultural sites is what terrorists do. It’s a war crime,” added fellow Senator Chris Murphy.

In a flurry of interviews on the Sunday talk shows, Trump’s top diplomat said the US would not hesitate to hit back hard against Iran’s “kleptocratic regime” if it came under attack, but pledged that any action would be consistent with the rule of law.

“We’ll behave lawfully. We’ll behave inside the system. We always have and we always will,” Pompeo told the ABC network’s “This Week” program.

“The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission, of protecting and defending America,” he added.

His comments came after his opposite number in Tehran Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME”.

“A reminder to those hallucinating about emulating ISIS war crimes by targeting our cultural heritage: Through MILLENNIA of history, barbarians have come and ravaged our cities, razed our monuments and burnt our libraries,” said Foreign Minister Zarif.

“Where are they now? We’re still here, & standing tall.”

Threat ‘Un-American’

Nicholas Burns, who served as US ambassador to NATO under president George W. Bush, said the Trump administration would be guilty of hypocrisy given it was part of international efforts to deter IS from destroying countless pre-Islamic artefacts, including in the Syrian UNESCO-listed site of Palmyra.

“Donald Trump’s threat to destroy Iranian cultural sites would be a war crime under UN Security Council resolution 2347 – supported by the Trump Administration itself in 2017 to warn ISIS+Al Qaeda of similar actions.

“His threat is immoral and Un-American,” said Burns who is now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Others drew comparisons with the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in central Afghanistan

Pompeo refused to give any details on the 52 potential targets which Trump said had been drawn up to represent each and every hostage held in the standoff at the US embassy in Tehran four decades ago.

But one former official expressed skepticism that military planners would agree to target cultural sites.

“For what it’s worth, I find it hard to believe the Pentagon would provide Trump targeting options that include Iranian cultural sites,” said Colin Kahl who was National Security Adviser to former vice president Joe Biden.

“Trump may not care about the laws of war, but DoD (Department of Defense) planners and lawyers do… and targeting cultural sites is war crime.”

Pompeo Sees ‘Real Likelihood’ Iran Will Try To Hit US Troops

In this file photo taken on December 11, 2019 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC. AFP

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran will probably try to attack American troops after a US strike killed a top Iranian commander.

“We think there is a real likelihood Iran will make a mistake and make a decision to go after some of our forces, military forces in Iraq or soldiers in northeast Syria,” he told Fox News in remarks aired Sunday.

His comments came as the military advisor to Iran’s supreme leader said there would be a “military” response “against military sites” by Tehran after the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the powerful commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of its Revolutionary Guards.

“It would be a big mistake for Iran to go after them,” Pompeo told Fox.

The US has about 60,000 troops in the region, including around 5,200 in Iraq. Washington ordered thousands more soldiers to the region on Friday after Soleimani’s killing.

“We’re preparing for all kinds of various responses,” including cyber attacks, Pompeo told Fox.

Pentagon Says Sending 750 Troops To Mideast After Embassy Attack In Iraq

 

The United States is sending around 750 more troops to the Middle East immediately, following an attack by pro-Iranian demonstrators on the US embassy in Baghdad, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

More troops from a rapid response unit of the 82nd Airborne Division are prepared to deploy over the next several days, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement.

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“This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today,” he said.

“The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world.”

Trump Calls For End To Killing In Syria Rebel Bastion

 

on Thursday called for the governments in Moscow, Damascus and Tehran to stop the bloodshed that has displaced thousands in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib.

Heightened regime and Russian bombardment has hit the country’s last major opposition bastion since mid-December, as regime forces make advances on the ground despite an August ceasefire and United Nations calls for a de-escalation.

“Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands” of civilians in jihadist-held Idlib, Trump tweeted, adding: “Don’t do it!”

Nearly 80 civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery attacks in the last two weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which estimates that more than 40,000 people have been displaced.

Turkey called Tuesday for the attacks to “come to an end immediately,” after sending a delegation to Moscow to discuss the flare-up.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara was pressing for a new ceasefire to replace the August agreement.

Trump praised Turkey’s efforts, tweeting that Ankara “is working hard to stop this carnage.”

In a statement earlier this week, the Syrian army said it had seized 123 square miles (320 square kilometers) from its rivals in recent days.

It has pledged to continue its push until it recaptures all of Idlib, calling on civilians to exit areas under jihadist control.

Idlib is dominated by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Years of violence

The head of the group has urged jihadists and allied rebels to head to the front lines and battle “the Russian occupiers” and the regime.

Their “ferocious” campaign “requires us to exert more effort,” HTS chief Abu Mohammed al-Jolani said Tuesday in a statement.

Idlib, in northwestern Syria, hosts some three million people, including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of the country.

The Damascus regime, which now controls 70 percent of Syria, has repeatedly vowed to take back the area.

Backed by Moscow, Damascus launched a blistering offensive against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people.

Despite a ceasefire announced in August, the bombardment has continued, killing hundreds of civilians and fighters.

The latest spike in violence comes after Russia and China on Friday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended for a year cross-border aid deliveries to four million Syrians, many of them in Idlib.

The move raised fears that vital UN-funded assistance could stop entering opposition-held parts of Syria from January unless an alternative agreement is reached.

Syria’s war has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

US Welcomes Saudi Khashoggi Verdicts As ‘Important Step’ – Official

In this file photo taken on December 15, 2014, general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH / AFP

 

 

The United States on Monday welcomed death sentences issued by Saudi Arabia against five people over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Today’s verdicts were an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable,” a State Department official told reporters after the ruling, which was lambasted as a travesty by Turkey, rights groups, and The Washington Post, to which Khashoggi contributed.

The court, however, exonerated two top aides to Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the United States Senate considers responsible for Khashoggi’s murder in October last year at Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul.

The United States “encouraged Saudi Arabia to undertake a fair and transparent judicial process,” the official added.

“We’re pressing them for more transparency and for holding everybody accountable.”

Riyadh has described the murder as a “rogue” operation, but both the CIA and a United Nations special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.

The government of US President Donald Trump has been careful to not attribute such blame to the prince, giving priority to maintaining good relations with the kingdom which is a major arms buyer and ally against Iran.

Key Dates In The Boeing 737 MAX Crisis

A Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplane test its engines outside of the company’s factory on March 11, 2019, in Renton, Washington. AFP

 

 

From its first flight to ceasing production and ouster of the CEO on Monday, below are the key dates in the life of the Boeing 737 MAX and the twin crashes that sparked a crisis.

Two deadly disasters

The Boeing 737 MAX, a narrow body aircraft that can transport up to 230 passengers depending on the model (7, 8, 9 and 10), was certified to fly on March 8, 2017 by the US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). It was put into service in May of that year.

On October 29, 2018, a 737 MAX 8 from budget airline Lion Air crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing 189 passengers and crew members.

Less than five months later, on March 10, 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8, flying to Nairobi, crashed near Addis Ababa, claiming 157 lives.

Grounded worldwide

China is the first country to ban the aircraft, on March 11. Regulators worldwide follow suit, but the American officials initially said there was “no basis” for grounding the 737 MAX.

US President Donald Trump intervened on March 13 announcing the planes would be grounded “effective immediately.” The FAA issued the official decree shortly after his statement.

– Crash investigations –
Indonesian authorities published its preliminary report on the Lion Air crash on November 28, 2018 — months before the second disaster — citing nine factors that contributed to the accident, including inadequate pilot training, and flawed design and certification of the MCAS flight control software.

The MCAS, which lowers the aircraft’s nose if it detects a stall or loss of airspeed, was developed specifically for the 737 MAX, which has heavier engines than its predecessor in the 737 family. But it relied on a single sensor which made it vulnerable to failure.

On March 17, 2019, Ethiopian Transportation Minister Dagmawit Moges revealed “clear similarities” between the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 and Lion Air flight 610.

The MCAS anti-stall system was activated automatically in both disasters after receiving erroneous information indicating that the aircraft was stalling. The pilots were not aware of the existence of this software since it was not in the flight manuals.

Boeing comes under scrutiny of American and international regulators, as well as the US Congress, which is investigating complaints from American pilots about the MCAS, and the close ties between the FAA and the company.

Production stopped

After the aircraft is grounded, Boeing is forced to suspend deliveries on March 14, 2019, but the company initially maintains MAX production at 52 planes a month.

Output is later cut to 42 a month for the popular plane, which represented nearly 40 percent of Boeing sales in 2018.

But on December 17, after the FAA made it clear the MAX would not return to the skies anytime soon, Boeing announces it will halt production of its flagship aircraft in January 2020, for an indefinite period.

Leadership shakeup

The company had continued to express confidence that the MAX would return to the skies by the end of 2019, as it addressed software modifications and improved pilot training, but was criticized for putting pressure on regulators to rush the plane back into service.

Airlines were forced to push back the expected date for returning their Boeing 737 MAX fleet to service.

A week after announcing the production halt, Boeing on December 23 ousted Dennis Muilenburg, who has been at the helm of Boeing since July 2015. The company already stripped him of his title of chairman of the board in October.

Boeing named board Chairman David Calhoun as chief executive and president, saying the company needed to “restore confidence” and “repair relationships with regulators, customers and all other stakeholders.”

Trump Warns N-Korea Has ‘Everything’ To lose Through Hostile Acts

US President Donald Trump addresses the Israeli American Council National Summit 2019 at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida on December 7, 2019. Mandel NGAN / AFP

 

 

President Donald Trump warned Sunday that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had “everything” to lose through hostility towards the United States after Pyongyang said it had carried out a major new weapons test.

“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump tweeted in response to the unspecified test at the Sohae space launch center.

The announcement of Saturday’s test came just hours after Trump said he would be “surprised” by any hostile action from the North, emphasizing his “very good relationship” with Kim.

Trump and Kim engaged in months of mutual insults and threats of devastation in 2017, sending tensions soaring before a diplomatic rapprochement the following year.

The pair have met three times since June 2018 but with little progress towards denuclearization. Pyongyang has set Washington a December 31 deadline to make new concessions to kickstart stalled talks.

“North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised,” Trump tweeted. “NATO, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!”

Writing that Kim had “signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement” at their June 2018 summit in Singapore,” Trump warned: “He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November.”

A spokesman for North Korea’s Academy of the National Defense Science said Saturday’s “very important test” would have an “important effect” on changing the “strategic position” of North Korea, in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The statement did not provide further details on the test.

A senior US administration official earlier said Washington had seen reports of a test and was “coordinating closely with allies and partners.”

Trump indicated that military action was still possible when he was asked about Pyongyang on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Britain this week.

North Korea fired back that if the United States used military force it would take “prompt corresponding actions at any level.”

UN diplomats fear that North Korea will resume long-range nuclear or ballistic tests if no progress is made soon in talks with the United States.

Sohae, on North Korea’s northwest coast, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit.

But Pyongyang has carried out several rocket launches there that were condemned by the US and others as disguised long-range ballistic missile tests.

Following the Singapore summit, Trump said Kim had agreed to destroy “a major missile engine testing site” without naming the facility.

Kim then agreed to shutter the Sohae site during a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of trust-building measures.

US First Lady Wades Into Impeachment Fight To Defend Teen Son

US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania waves as he arrives on board Airforce 1. LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

 

US First Lady Melania Trump on Wednesday publicly rebuked a scholar who used her 13-year-old son’s name to make a point during a hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into the president.

Constitutional law professor Pamela Karlan invoked Barron Trump, the son of Donald and Melania Trump, to demonstrate how the Constitution imposes distinctions between a monarch’s power and that of a president.

“The constitution says there can be no titles of nobility,” Karlan told lawmakers during the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on impeachment, which featured four constitutional scholars.

“So while the president can name his son ‘Barron,’ he can’t make him a baron.”

The pun led to chuckles in the congressional hearing room, but Melania Trump made clear it was no laughing matter.

“A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics,” the first lady tweeted shortly afterwards.

“Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”

President Trump retweeted his wife’s message to his 67 million followers.

As the row snowballed, Karlan quickly tried to stem the damage by expressing her regret.

“I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son,” she told the panel.

“It was wrong of me to do that,” she said, before adding that she also wished “the president would apologize, obviously, for the things that he’s done that’s wrong.”

For years, members of both political parties have agreed that the minor children of US politicians, particularly presidents, are off-limits.

During the hearing, Republican congressman Matt Gaetz snapped at Karlan, telling her that invoking Trump’s son “does not lend credibility to your argument. It makes you look mean.”

‘Unhinged, petty kook’

The incident quickly brought an onslaught of criticism from corners far beyond the hearing room, as Republicans and members of Trump’s re-election campaign voiced grave disapproval.

“Democrats have disgraced themselves by giving a platform to this unhinged, petty kook,” the campaign wrote on Twitter, while its deputy director of communications, Matt Wolking, called Karlan an “unhinged liberal professor” over the comments.

Lawmakers and Trump administration officials followed suit, echoing scathing assessments of Karlan’s words.

“Democrats are so desperate that one of their biased witnesses is now attacking the President’s 13-year-old son. Absolutely disgraceful,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wrote on Twitter.

Republican Congressman Markwayne Mullin, meanwhile, called the episode “reprehensible” while Trump Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway questioned why “Hunter Biden is off-limits but Barron Trump is not?”

The Trump impeachment investigation is looking into pressure Trump placed on Ukraine’s president to investigate 2020 election rival Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

During a speech Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence told an audience that “one of the Democrats’ witnesses actually used the president and first lady’s 13-year-old son to justify their partisan impeachment. Democrats should be ashamed.”

Melania Trump has taken up the cause of youth wellness in America, and last year launched a public awareness campaign to counter youth cyberbullying and drug use.

Plane Crash Kills Nine, Injures Three In South Dakota

 

A plane crash in the US state of South Dakota killed nine people, including two children, and injured three others on Saturday while a winter storm warning was in place, officials said.

The Pilatus PC-12, a single-engine turboprop plane, crashed shortly after take-off approximately a mile from the Chamberlain airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said.

Among the dead was the plane’s pilot, Brule County state’s attorney Theresa Maule Rossow said, adding that a total of 12 people had been on board.

The three survivors had been taken to the hospital in Sioux Falls, she told US media.

The flight left the airport just before noon local time, with a destination of Idaho Falls Regional Airport in the western state of Idaho.

The FAA said investigators were en route to the crash site and that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would be in charge of the investigation.

The NTSB tweeted that it was “investigating today’s crash of Pilatus PC-12 near Chamberlain, SD.”

South Dakota is located in the Northern Plains, a region facing blizzard conditions as a storm blows eastward across the United States.

A winter storm warning remains in effect in Brule County until midday Sunday, the National Weather Service said, potentially including blowing snow that “could significantly reduce visibility.”

“The men and women of law enforcement, first responders and medical professionals should be commended in their heroic actions to rescue the victims in extreme weather conditions,” the state’s attorney office said.