Trump: ‘I now have responsibility’ when it comes to Syria

Story highlights

  • Trump made the comments alongside King Abdullah of Jordan
  • Trump spoke in the Rose Garden

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, said the chemical attack against Syrian civilians “crossed a lot of lines for me” and changed the way he views Syria and leader Bashar al-Assad.

“I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly,” Trump said responding to a question about a White House statement Tuesday that blamed the attack in part on President Barack Obama.
“It is now my responsibility. It was a great opportunity missed,” Trump said.
Trump did maintain that Obama’s failure to respond to his red line threat “was a blank threat (that) set us back a long ways, not only in Syria but in many other parts of the world.”
The President condemned the attack as “heinous.”
“Yesterday’s chemical attack, a chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies, their deaths were an affront to humanity,” Trump said from the Rose Garden. “These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack and all other horrific attacks, for that matter.”
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Video shows gas attack aftermath 01:23
World leaders expressed shock and outrage Tuesday at reports of the suspected targeted attack in northwestern Syria that killed scores of civilians, with one UK official suggesting the incident amounted to a war crime.
Activists said the Syrian regime was responsible for killing dozens of people, including many children, leading the United Nations to replace a scheduled Security Council session for Wednesday morning with an emergency meeting.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military denied using chemical weapons and blamed rebels for the carnage. Russia, Syria’s strong ally, said it had no warplanes in the vicinity.
Earlier in the day, Trump had left the door open to new action in Syria in his first on-camera comments in response to a deadly suspected chemical attack in the Middle East.
“You will see,” Trump said when asked if he would take new action, according to pool reporters present when Trump welcomed Jordan’s King Abdullah to the Oval Office.
“These are very troubled times in the Middle East, and we see what happened just recently yesterday in Syria — horrible. Horrible, horrible thing. Unspeakable,” Trump said, later calling it a “terrible affront to humanity.”

Netanyahu’s honeymoon with Trump ends abruptly

Story highlights

  • Trump walked back his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and criticized the settlements
  • In addition to the political pressure Netanyahu faces, he is under criminal investigation

Jerusalem (CNN)This was supposed to be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory lap.

After a combined 10 years leading the government, he finally had a Republican president in the White House, with a Republican House and Senate to boot. It should have been the perfect match for Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.
The prime minister would be free of the condemnation of construction in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements that became routine under former President Barack Obama, the right wing believed. President Donald Trump would allow Israel to build and build freely.
Within 10 days of Trump’s inauguration, Israel approved plans for more than 6,000 housing units in settlements as well as the first brand-new settlement municipality in the West Bank in nearly two decades.
Heaping praise upon Trump at their first news conference together in Washington, Netanyahu said: “There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” Vice President Mike Pence is expected to also receive a warm reception when he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at its large annual conference in Washington, which begins on Sunday.
And the settlement movement rejoiced at the new White House leadership.
“I think (Trump) loves Israel,” said Chaim Silberstein, spokesman for the Beit El settlement outside of Ramallah. “I think he loves the biblical heartland of Israel, which is here.” Some even spoke in messianic terms.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party and one of the most outspoken Israeli opponents of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declared after the elections, “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”
But for Netanyahu, the honeymoon period lasted less than two months.
Trump quickly walked back his oft-repeated campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and he criticized Israeli settlements as “not good” for peace.
At their joint White House appearance, Trump told Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a bit.” Trump wanted a chance to conclude what he called “the ultimate deal”: peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
On Thursday, after two rounds of talks spanning the US and the Middle East, the White House put out a statement saying that the American delegation “reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement,” adding, “The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”
Netanyahu now finds himself walking a tight-rope between a new president interested in a peace deal and an empowered right-wing determined to sink the two-state solution once and for all. In the face of this political pressure and a corruption investigation, it is increasingly possible that the Israeli leader may soon have to face elections.
Ever the cautious politician, Netanyahu had previously warned his governing coalition — which includes Jewish Home and Netanyahu’s own Likud Party — not to celebrate too much over Trump’s victory. He even forbade his ministers, Bennett included, from speaking to Washington officials without his approval, especially about settlements and annexation.
But after Trump’s inauguration, Israel’s right-wing felt there was no reason to hold back. The pressure on Netanyahu from Jewish Home and even those within Likud kept growing.
For Netanyahu, building in the settlements isn’t just a promise he’s made to the approximately 420,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank; it is also about long-term political survival, as Netanyahu and Bennett battle for the same right-wing constituency.
Netanyahu has boasted that there is no government that will be more pro-settlement than the current one, and he can’t afford to be outflanked on the right by his own coalition partners. At the same time, no Israeli leader — on the right or left — would risk angering Israel’s primary international ally.
“I think we can say now what is clear is that if the right in Israel thought that Mr. Trump is going to join Mr. Bennett’s party, it made a very grave mistake,” Yehuda Ben Meir, a principal research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies told CNN. “As I think any intelligent person can realize, Donald Trump is President of the United States. The United States has interests throughout the world.”
Ben Meir continued, “To a certain degree, Mr. Netanyahu has really locked himself into this dilemma, and we will have to see how he maneuvers through it. … It depends on what is the position of President Trump. It’s not clear yet.”
The tension was evident in mid-March in Netanyahu’s first meeting with Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations.
Greenblatt, who served as Trump’s business attorney before becoming an adviser on Israel, may have seemed likely to be in sync with the Israeli Prime Minister. Before the elections, he wrote an op-ed for CNN insisting that Trump would recognize Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Those moves, warned the Palestinian leadership that sees East Jerusalem as its capital in any future Palestinian state, would essentially sink the process of forging a two-state solution.
In a meeting that lasted more than five hours, Greenblatt and Netanyahu reaffirmed the strong bond between the United States and Israel, with the former emphasizing Trump’s commitment to Israel’s security. But the statement addressing the settlements issued Thursday made clear that the US is looking for Israel to rein in construction.
So far, the parties have not found a framework for settlement construction acceptable to Trump and Netanyahu. After marathon meetings between Greenblatt, Netanyahu Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, the two sides still had not finalized an agreement. Trump’s “concerns regarding settlement activity” remained. So did Netanyahu’s desire to keep building.
One day after Netanyahu’s first meeting with Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. According to a readout of that meeting, Abbas stressed the Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution, while Greenblatt emphasized Trump’s desire for peace through direct negotiations.
The statement mentioned the possibility of a meeting in Washington between Abbas and Trump — which would only ratchet up the pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions if Abbas presents himself as a partner for peace, willing to compromise for the sake of an agreement.
Israel’s right, however, wants to move in the other direction. During Greenblatt’s visit earlier in the month, politicians from Jewish Home and Likud had planned to introduce a bill to annex Ma’ale Adumim, a West Bank settlement just outside Jerusalem.
Israel has never annexed any part of the West Bank it captured in the 1967 war outside of East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements there are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this on historical and religious grounds.
“Trump is genuinely interested in making peace. He’s been very consistent about that. I think he sees it as a personal challenge,” said Chemi Shalev, a senior columnist with Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper. “And he had to get over bad relations with Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and part of that is that the Saudis have made it clear to him that if he’s thinking of creating (a regional) anti-Iranian bloc, at least part of that has to be a semblance of a peace process with the Palestinians.”
To some degree, President Barack Obama’s deep opposition to settlements helped Netanyahu navigate the thorny politics of the issue. It gave him the political cover to satisfy the right wing with only small steps on settlements — making the case that he could do not more — so that he didn’t face major blowback from the US, international community and Israeli center and left.
Trump is making some signs that he’s no fan of settlements either, but the right doesn’t see his opposition as stiff enough to warrant Netanyahu caving in and therefore is unlikely to be satisfied with small steps. (For one thing, both the President and his pick for ambassador to Israel have given money to the Beit El settlement’s schools.)
The current term of Israel’s government runs until late 2019. Few think it will last that long.
In addition to the political pressure Netanyahu faces, he is under criminal investigation in a corruption probe, suspected of receiving gifts from overseas businessmen. So far, he has been questioned by police four times, though police and the attorney general’s office have been guarded with information about the investigation.
Netanyahu has sworn the investigations will lead to nothing, as they did when he was investigated in his first term as prime minister in the late ’90s. But an indictment would put political and public pressure on him to step down despite his promise not to do so. Under Israeli law, he has to step down only if he is convicted and if that conviction is upheld through the appeals process.
As the investigation inches along, election fever is in the air. Three parties have called for early primaries.
Netanyahu’s former defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, announced he has split off from the Likud to form his own party. Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid centrist party and one of Netanyahu’s primary rivals, has been running even with Netanyahu’s party in recent polls. Right-wing Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel has promised to leave Netanyahu’s coalition if the premier agrees to any limitation on settlement construction.
“Even though (the coalition) doesn’t want elections, there’s a growing sense that elections may be around the corner in any case, and in that case the Jewish Home will press on with the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim and will attack whatever arrangements Netanyahu has with Trump,” said Shalev. “It’ll go from bad to worse from the point of view of the stability of the coalition.”
Netanyahu himself threatened elections one week ago, despite strenuous objections from his coalition and his own party. Critics have pointed out that calling an election would also, under Israeli law, freeze the criminal investigation of Netanyahu. It may also be a way of keeping the smaller parties in the coalition in line.
It is a sign of the instability in a government that was supposed to be reinforced by Trump’s victory, not undermined. Netanyahu finds himself trying to balance the demands of his own coalition with the unpredictable expectations of a president who is not the partner Israel’s right wing thought it was getting.

WHO readies emergency plan after Mosul ‘chemical attack’

WHO readies emergency plan after Mosul 'chemical attack'
The UN-run World Health Organization is preparing an emergency response plan to treat Mosul residents injured in what appears to be the first chemical weapon attack in the assault on Islamic State’s Iraqi stronghold.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with local health authorities in the Iraqi city of Erbil to provide support in treating at least 12 people said to have respiratory symptoms and blistering. Four of them “are showing severe signs associated with exposure to a blister agent,” the agency said in a statement.

It is not immediately clear who launched the attack, but media reports indicate that the mortar shells came from western Mosul, which is still controlled by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants. The terrorist group is believed to be capable of manufacturing and using crude chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria.

Since the outbreak of the battle of Mosul, the WHO has been developing the capacities to respond to the use of chemical weapons. According to the statement, the organization has trained over 120 clinicians and provided field decontamination equipment to local hospitals.

It also said the use of chemical weapons had deteriorated the humanitarian situation in western Mosul, “where innocent civilians are already facing unimaginable suffering as a result of the ongoing conflict.”

The chemical weapons attack was also confirmed and condemned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The symptoms of the patients treated at Rozhawa hospital in Erbil included “blisters, redness in the eyes, irritation, vomiting, and coughing,” the ICRC said, adding that its medical teams dispatched to hospitals around Mosul have trained local staff on how to decontaminate and treat patients exposed to chemical agents.

READ MORE: Civilian death toll grows amid ISIS attempts to disrupt Mosul siege, UN figures show

“The ICRC condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons during fighting around the Iraqi city of Mosul,” the organization’s statement said.

“The use of chemical weapons is absolutely prohibited under international humanitarian law. We are deeply alarmed by what our colleagues have seen, and we strongly condemn any use of chemical weapons, by any party, anywhere,” the ICRC’s regional director for the Middle East, Robert Mardini, said

While the attack appears to be the first recorded use of chemical weapons in the battle for Mosul, there have been other cases in both Iraq and Syria. Earlier in January, Iraqi forces uncovered a mustard agent and missiles in a storage area formerly controlled by Islamic State near the historic Nineveh ruins, AP reported.

In September last year, the US military said IS militants fired a rocket containing mustard gas at US troops at an air base outside Mosul. Last August, the Russian Air Force destroyed an IS chemical weapons factory in the terrorist stronghold Raqqa in Syria.

Islamic State militants are also suspected of launching chemical attacks on Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.

The Iraqi forces’ offensive to recapture western Mosul began after the eastern half of the city, separated from the Islamic State-held west by the Tigris river, was liberated earlier in January, after nearly 100 days of intense fighting. Recently, the troops seized some important spots on the outskirts of western Mosul, making a slow advance into the area.

Western Mosul, with its narrow streets, is believed to be an extremely difficult area to capture. The densely populated western half is expected to see numerous civilian casualties due to fierce urban fighting, humanitarian organizations say.

According to UN estimates, between 750,000 and 800,000 civilians are trapped in Mosul’s western half. Meanwhile, the United Nations believes up to 400,000 people may have to leave their homes during the new offensive as food and fuel runs out.

Palmyra: Syrian forces ‘enter’ IS-held town

Related Topics

Media captionA look inside the ruins after they were recaptured from so-called Islamic State in March 2016

Syrian government forces have entered the ancient city of Palmyra, pushing back militants from so-called Islamic State (IS), activists say.

The troops and their allies, backed by Russian air strikes, have reportedly seized part of a neighbourhood in the west of the city.

The jihadists recaptured the Unesco-listed archaeological site in December from government forces.

Parts of the ancient city have been destroyed by the militants.

There were clashes and heavy shelling across the historic city as the offensive unfolded, the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A media unit run by the allied Lebanese Hezbollah movement said earlier that the pro-government forces had reached the citadel, which sits on a hill overlooking the famous Roman-era ruins.

The Syrian government troops also seized a strategic area known as the “Palmyra triangle”, the official Sana news agency reported.

INTERACTIVESee the damage to the ancient ruins

10 January 2017

Satellite image of Palmyra

26 December 2016

Satellite image of Palmyra

IS held the ruins and the nearby city, known locally as Tadmur, for 10 months after seizing it for the first time in May 2015. It blew up temples, burial towers and the Arch of Triumph, believing shrines and statues to be idolatrous.

They also destroyed the Temple of Bel – the great sanctuary of the Palmyrene gods – which had been one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st Century AD in the East.


Ancient city of Palmyra

  • Unesco World Heritage site
  • Site contains monumental ruins of great city, once one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world
  • Art and architecture, from the 1st and 2nd centuries, combine Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences
  • More than 1,000 columns, a Roman aqueduct and a formidable necropolis of more than 500 tombs made up the archaeological site
  • More than 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year before the Syrian conflict

The militants were then forced out by a Russian-backed government offensive in March 2016, but regained control while pro-government forces where focused on battling for the city of Aleppo late last year.

In January, satellite images revealed that the group destroyed the tetrapylon – a group of four pillared structures which were mainly modern replicas – and part of the Roman Theatre.

Palmyra sites graphic

Meanwhile, the US said positions held by the their allies of the Syrian Arab Coalition were bombed by Russian and Syrian aircraft near the IS-held town of al-Bab, in northern Syria.

“I believe they thought were held by ISIS, yet they were actually – on the ground – were some of our Syrian Arab coalition forces,” Lt Gen Stephen Townsend told reporters, using an acronym for IS.

Syria war: Russia and China veto sanctions

 

Related Topics

A UN chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a bag containing samples from a site of an alleged chemical weapons attackImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionUN investigations have said that the Syrian government carried out three chemical weapons attacks

Russia and China have vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons.

It is the seventh time Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to protect the Syrian government.

China has also vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the civil war began in 2011.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under an agreement negotiated between Russia and the US.

What is Syria accused of?

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad is accused of carrying out chemical attacks on its own civilians – a charge it denies.

However, investigations by the UN and international chemical weapons watchdog have found that Syrian government forces carried out three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015.

A boy who activists say was affected by a gas attack receives treatment at Bab al-Hawa hospitalImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionChlorine irritates people’s eyes and skin and can burn the lungs

The reports said that Syrian air force helicopters had dropped chlorine gas on rebel-held areas, twice in March 2015 and once in April 2014.

The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Islamic State (IS) militants had also used sulphur-mustard gas in an attack, the watchdog found.


Read more:

Syria blamed for chemical weapons attack

Why is Russia engaged in Aleppo?

Syria: The story of the conflict


What did the UN resolution say?

Tuesday’s resolution had been drafted by the US, the UK and France.

It would have banned the sale of helicopters to Syria and would have led to sanctions against 11 Syrian commanders or officials, and 10 groups linked to the chemical attacks.

Nine Security Council members supported the resolution, while three – China, Russia and Bolivia – voted against it.

The final three members – Egypt, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia – abstained.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov raises his arm to vote against a United Nations Security Council resolutionImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRussia vetoed the resolution, saying the vote was “based on the anti-regime doctrine of western states”

A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in support, and no vetoes from the five permanent members (the US, France, Russia, UK and China) in order to pass.

Why did Russia and China veto the resolution?

Russian President Vladimir Putin had said sanctions against Syria would be “totally inappropriate”, saying “it would only hurt or undermine confidence” in peace talks.

Moscow has long-standing links to Syria, with many Syrian military officers trained and equipped by Russia.

An undated handout photo from the Russian military appears to show Russian troops in an armoured vehicle in Aleppo, SyriaImage copyrightAP
Image captionRussia has had troops deployed in Syria

Moscow says its military and political support for the Syrian government has helped the fight against IS militants.

But Western critics accuse Moscow of targeting opposition groups backed by the West.

Meanwhile, China’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said Beijing opposed the use of chemical weapons but that it was too soon to impose sanctions as investigations were still ongoing.

Liu Jieyi at the United NationsImage copyrightAP
Image captionMr Liu said it was too early to reach a final conclusion on who carried out the chemical attacks

China has said in the past that it has a long-standing policy of non-intervention in other countries’ affairs.

Analysts say China may be worried that some of its Muslim populations in western Xinjiang have joined militant groups fighting in Syria.

China’s stake in the Syria stand-off

What do sanctions supporters say?

Nikki Haley at the UNImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe US has accused Russia of “babysitting” the Syrian government

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said: “It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people.

“They put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security… the world is definitely a more dangerous place.”

UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said: “Not taking action against chemical weapons’ use undermines confidence in the international community’s ability to tackle flagrant violations of international law – and undermines the trust of Syrians affected by these horrific attacks.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia bore a “heavy responsibility toward the Syrian people and humanity as a whole”.

US military will retain core strategy against Isis as Trump mulls escalation

  • Central Command indicates reliance on proxies for lion’s share of fighting
  • Defense secretary to present options for expanding conflict next week
US soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division gather around an artillery at a military base north of Mosul, Iraq, on 14 February.
US soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division gather around an artillery at a military base north of Mosul, Iraq, on 14 February, where they are supporting local forces. Photograph: Khalid Al-Mousily/Reuters

The US military command responsible for fighting the Islamic State has signaled it will retain one of the cornerstones of the Obama administration’s approach to the war, even as Donald Trump considers an escalation of the conflict.

With Iraqi forces, aided by American airstrikes and artillery, closing in on the Isis redoubt of western Mosul and an anticipated battle for Isis’s Syrian capital of Raqqa looming in the near future, the command indicated on Wednesday that it expects to hew toward relying on local proxies on the ground for the lion’s share of the fighting.

That approach, known as “By, With and Through”, has limited direct US combat to the hundreds of special operations troops, mostly in Syria, whom Barack Obama formally designated as “advisers” – and accordingly has kept US troop deaths low.

But it has also come under criticism for outsourcing the pacing of the war to Iraqi soldiers, Iranian-supported militias and fractious groups of Syrian rebels, some of whom have alarmed Nato ally Turkey and whose agendas can diverge from those of the United States.

While James Mattis, the US defense secretary, is expected to deliver to Trump a set of options for expanding the conflict against Isis as early as next week, the Baghdad-based military command conducting the war indicated that By, With and Through will remain a keystone of the war’s conduct.

“One of the things that General [Stephen] Townsend has been very clear on is that we’re working by, with and through the Iraqi security forces in Iraq and then our partners in Syria. That fundamental principle isn’t going to change,” Colonel John Dorrian, the chief spokesman for the war, said on Wednesday.

Townsend, Dorrian said, would not hesitate to ask for new troops, new hardware or new authorities as necessary.

Dorrian confirmed that Townsend had made recommendations for accelerating the war against Isis to Gen Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, who has relayed them to Mattis for deliberation. But he did not provide any detail on what Townsend had requested.

Votel, speaking from Jordan on Wednesday, said that one option to speed up a long-signaled attack on Raqqa was to “take on a larger burden ourselves”. Shouldering more of the task would mean US forces, conventional as well as special operations, bringing more artillery and logistics options to the fight. Votel did not indicate that Americanizing the fight for Raqqa was an option under active consideration.

Andrew Exum, a senior Pentagon Middle East policy official during the final years of the Obama administration, said it was more likely that conventional US forces would aid an impending Kurdish-led assault on the city than that the US would restructure its approach to the war wholesale.

“By, With and Through wasn’t something the civilians in the Obama administration came up with. It’s the core principle of the US military’s coalition campaign plan. This is something the military leadership is invested in, and even though the Obama administration has departed, the uniformed military leadership is still there,” Exum said.

In western Mosul, the final stronghold Isis possesses in Iraq, the fight is already under way – led by Iraqis and assisted by airstrikes and powerful Himars mobile artillery from their US allies. Dorrian said that US troops in the city have come under fire from Isis, where he estimated between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters remain, and returned it.

On the campaign trail, Trump falsely claimed that he had a secret “foolproof” plan to defeat Isis and that he knew more about the group than did US generals. Upon his election, the secret plan vanished and gave way to an executive order in late January instructing the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and relevant cabinet departments to undertake a 30-day review of the war effort in order to construct a new plan.

Christopher Harmer, a former navy officer and defense analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said the US had few options for conducting the war outside of By, With and Through.

“The only way for us to have success in Iraq is if we work by, with and through the established Iraqi security forces. The US military spent a tremendous amount of time and effort establishing the post-Saddam Iraqi security construct, so we have to work through them if we ever expect the Iraqi government to be seen as even nominally self-sufficient,” Harmer said.

In Syria, he said, “the only viable option for maneuver warfare for the foreseeable future is Kurdish militia, and Turkey would rather see the Syrian civil war continue than Kurdish forces get credit for defeating Isis in Syria.”

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Mosul offensive: Iraqi army battles for outskirts of IS city

Media captionQuentin Sommerville: Iraqi forces “within sight” of Mosul

Iraqi government forces have moved closer to the southern outskirts of western Mosul, on the second day of a fresh offensive against so-called Islamic State.

The outlying village of Abu Saif, which overlooks Mosul, has been hit by air strikes and helicopter gunships as the military advanced.

Iraqi forces have now entered Abu Saif.

The eastern part of Mosul was liberated from IS fighters last month after heavy fighting.

Abu Saif, which overlooks Mosul’s airport, is seen as a key IS stronghold on the southern approach to western Mosul.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who is embedded with government troops, said Iraqi forces had faced stiffer resistance inside the village, coming under rocket fire in their first advance.

The bodies of some IS fighters had been seen by the roadside to the village, apparently hit by mortar fire or other artillery.

An army vehicle with its front ruined an smoking from an explosion is seen at the front of a convoy, as soldiers examine the damage.
Image captionOur correspondent said this vehicle was hit by a rocket attack as troops entered the town

Progress has been slowed down by improvised bombs planted by IS along the route of the offensive, he said. But the army seized several villages on Sunday, when it launched its fresh offensive.

No civilians had been spotted until the army reached Abu Saif – when a small group waving a white flag was seen, our correspondent added.

Other government forces have been moving towards the Ghazlani military base, which they plan to use as a staging post for the attack on western Mosul itself.

On Monday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit.

Mosul map of lines of control

He told reporters the US military was “not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil”, seemingly to allay concerns after Donald Trump said last month that the US “should have kept the oil” when it pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011.

Thousands of Iraqi troops, backed by artillery and air power, are involved in the assault to retake Mosul.


On the ground with Iraqi forces

Soldier carries a portable artillery cannon to the top of a ruined building
Image captionMosul airport lies just two miles beyond Abu Saif

The embedded Quentin Sommerville is tweeting updates as his convoy attempts to move forward in Mosul.

14:55 GMT: A colleague spotted the first civilians outside Abu Saif in the distance. They were carrying a white flag.

13:51 GMT: The day ends as it begins … bomb disposal team dealing with a roadside bomb.

13:00 GMT: Abandoned sports pitch. In two days of these operations I haven’t seen a single civilian. Everyone has fled. Above, helicopter gunship continues to attack Abu Saif town.

12:44 GMT: Just passed two IS fighter corpses in a ditch. Looks like they were hit by a mortar.

A soldier looks through the site of a mortar, set up on a rooftop
Image captionSoldiers set up artillery on the vantage point of a ruined palace, formerly belonging to Saddam Hussein’s brother

12:27 GMT: Federal policeman, Ali Lazim Lafta, was injured by an IS drone which dropped a grenade on his unit.

11:57 GMT: Coalition air strike on western Mosul. We can see the landmark Nineveh Hotel from here.

Follow Quentin Sommerville on Twitter


Iraqi forces have now all but surrounded the western part of Mosul.

Concern has been voiced by the UN about the welfare of civilians trapped in the city, amid reports that they could number up to 650,000.

Leaflets warning residents of an imminent offensive were earlier dropped over western parts.

Military officials say west, with its narrow, winding streets, may prove a bigger challenge than the east.

Although slightly smaller than the east, it is more densely populated and includes districts that are seen as pro-IS.

All bridges from there to the west of the city, across the Tigris river, were destroyed.

A ruined building, right, stands stop a small rise - overlooking the city of Mosul in the distance
Image captionIraq’s Federal Police are now within sight of Mosul, the BBC’s correspondent says

The offensive against the east was launched on 17 October, more than two years after jihadists overran Mosul before seizing control of much of northern and western Iraq.

The UN said in late January that almost half of all the casualties in Mosul were civilians.

At least 1,096 have been killed and 694 injured across Nineveh province since the start of October.