Philippines crisis ‘transmogrified into invasion by foreign terrorists’

Philippines crisis ‘transmogrified into invasion by foreign terrorists’
The Maute group confronting the Philippine army in Marawi City is no longer considered a local terrorist organization as it has been reinforced by jihadists of Malaysian, Indonesian and “other nationalities,” the country’s authorities have announced.

“Before it was just a local terrorist group. But now they have subscribed to the ideology of ISIS. They want to make Mindanao as part of the caliphate,” Solicitor General Jose Calida told a news conference, according to Reuters.

READ MORE: Russia & Philippines sign defense cooperation agreement, reaffirm unity against terrorism

He added that Indonesians and Malaysians are among the Islamist radicals who are fighting the army. Meanwhile, an army spokesman said six foreigners were killed in Mindanao on Thursday, including militants of Malaysian, Indonesian and “other nationalities.”

“What’s happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens” but “has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign terrorists who heeded the clarion call of the ISIS to go to the Philippines if they find difficulty in going to Iraq or Syria,” Calida added, as cited by InterAksyon news.

The terrorist group is aiming to create an Islamic State “province” in Mindanao and will target anyone to achieve their objective, Calida warned.

“People they consider as infidels, whether Christians or Muslims, are also targets of opportunity,” he said. “What it worrisome is that ISIS has radicalized a number of Filipino Muslim youth.”

Duterte deploys commandos, attack helicopters to retake Marawi from ISIS-linked fighters (VIDEO) 

Photo published for Duterte deploys commandos, attack helicopters to retake Marawi from ISIS-linked fighters (VIDEO) —...

Duterte deploys commandos, attack helicopters to retake Marawi from ISIS-linked fighters (VIDEO) —…

Philippines special forces launched an attack on Islamist militant positions in Marawi City early Thursday morning in a bid to retake the city from the ISIS-affiliated Maute group. The operation…

On Thursday, Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) announced that, since Tuesday, at least 31 fighters of the IS-linked Maute group were killed in Marawi City.

“As of this report, 31 terrorists were already neutralized and 6 high-powered firearms were recovered by the troops,” said Brig. Gen. Rolly Bautista, head of Joint Task Force ZamPeLan.

At least 13 government troops and police officers lost their lives since Tuesday.

“Our troops are doing deliberate operations in areas we believe are still occupied or infested with the terrorists’ presence. I specifically ordered our soldiers to locate and destroy these terrorists as soon as possible,” Bautista added.

On Tuesday night, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law for 60 days after battles between government troops and the Maute in Marawi escalated. On Wednesday, Duterte warned that he will not hesitate to declare martial law throughout the entire country if terrorism spills beyond Mindanao.

The Philippines leader also promised to resign if extremists prove him incapable of maintaining peace in his country.

“As president, if I cannot confront them, I will resign,” Duterte said Wednesday. “If I am incompetent and incapable of keeping order in this country, let me step down and give the job to somebody else.”

ISIS rigged explosives to home where 100 civilians died in US-led airstrike, military says


The Islamic State lured the U.S.-led forces into conducting an airstrike in March that killed over 100 civilians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a top American military official said Thursday.

An investigation into the March bombing found that the terror groups rigged a house with over 1,000 pounds of explosives, put civilians in the basement, and employed two ISIS snipers on the roof to bait the U.S.-led coalition to attack.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler, the investigating officer for US Central Command, told Pentagon reporters that the bomb used by the American jet, a GBU-38 (500-lb bomb), would not have caused the type of damage associated with the destruction of the building.

The probe found that the U.S. bomb triggered secondary explosions from devices clandestinely planted in the lower floors of the concrete building, Isler said. He said neither the Iraqi troops nor the Americans who authorized and conducted the airstrike knew civilians were in the building or that the explosive materials were present.

More on this…

Isler added that the home’s 30-inch concrete walls were “completely pulverized,” but the GBU-38, which has a 192-pound warhead, could not have caused such destruction.  The GBU-38 is designed to take out enemy combatants on roof tops, not collapse entire structures.

The American bomb “wouldn’t even dent any of the surrounding walls,” he added.

How ISIS managed to smuggle in half a ton of explosives remains in question, but Isler said bad weather over two days prior to the airstrike hampered the U.S. military’s ability to conduct drone reconnaissance over the target area in Mosul and that the weather combined with intense fighting led to “multiple opportunities” for ISIS to smuggle in both the explosives and the civilians into the building.

“We don’t know when it was moved to the residence,” Isler said.  “No one saw ISIS move explosives into that area.”

Isler said Iraqi forces suffered casualties hours after the strike as they attempted to recover Iraqi civilians killed in the strike and rescue others wounded and trapped under the rubble. Some 101 civilians in the building were killed, and another four died in a nearby building, while 36 civilians remain unaccounted for.

The airstrike was likely the largest single incident of civilian deaths since the U.S. air campaign against ISIS began in 2014. The deaths represent about a quarter of all civilian deaths associated with U.S. airstrikes since the air campaign began in 2014.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this piece.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

Social media reveals chaos in Philippines as ISIS battle government forces (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Social media reveals chaos in Philippines as ISIS battle government forces (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
Photographs and videos shared across social media platforms are revealing utter chaos in the Philippines city of Marawi as government forces and militants linked to Islamic State battle for control.

Marawi, which is colloquially known as the ‘Islamic city’ is the focal point of a dramatic outbreak of violence on the archipelago’s southern island of Mindanao.

Heavily armed insurgents laid siege to a prison, seized hostages in a church and paraded through the streets in Marawi in a show of force.

The crisis spurred Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to invoke martial law on the entire island of Mindanao and the city was subject to a blackout Tuesday as government forces engaged with militants and snipers patrolled the streets.

A photo posted on Twitter shows a mosque, the Saduc Masjid, silhouetted by a fire in the background, which the user says is “allegedly” the nearby prison in the aftermath of the attack.

My cousin saw this from their home; allegedly the Marawi City jail. All detainees were freed by ISIS.

Another photo, widely shared Wednesday, shows a man clad in black raising a black flag on a building beside the same mosque.

Photos posted to Facebook and Twitter show the Islamic State-linked fighters, many clad all in black, parading through neighborhoods in flat bed trucks and on foot.

The militants seized fire engines and government vehicles and decked them out with the Black Standard, the flag associated with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Photos also show them operating checkpoints in the city.

A video of militants attacking the prison – originally posted on a Twitter account associated with jihadists – was also widely shared. The account has since been suspended by the platform however copies are in circulation.

READ MORE: Gunmen take priest, churchgoers hostage in Philippines, vow to kill captives

The video shows the heavily armed insurgents firing guns as they travelled in a truck waving black flags.

Marawi resident Chico Dimaro Usman described the situation in a Facebook post. “The Truth of what happen [sic] in Marawi City will never be covered up by anybody,” he said before claiming that the militants took control of most of the city.

“Let us accept that ISIS controlled the center of the city (80 to 90%). Government Fire trucks are driven by them with ISIS Flag, Police Car also and even Ambulance. In our street… the ISIS is everywhere.”

Long lines of vehicles, and people on foot, attempting to leave the city were pictured Wednesday, with the images widely shared online.

#PrayForMarawi is trending on Twitter following news of the disturbing situation.

READ MORE: ‘Don’t f**k with me about ISIS’: Duterte invokes Eastwood, Jesse James in anti-militia pledge

Duterte made an passionate and forceful speech in which he warned that the country could “implode” if the threat from militants is not squashed immediately.

“I have always said do not force my hand into it because if I start to declare martial law, I will solve all the problems of Mindanao connected with law and order,” he stated.

“The remaining five years of my time, it will be remembered as an administration that did nothing in the face of violence… I will not accept that kind of s**t.”

US & Saudi Arabia say it’s necessary to maintain Syria whole & united – White House

Published time: 23 May, 2017 20:00

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US & Saudi Arabia say it's necessary to maintain Syria whole & united – White House
The Syrian conflict must be solved through political means with the country’s unity and territorial integrity maintained, the US and Saudi Arabia has said in a joint statement released by the White House on Tuesday.

Washington and Riyadh “emphasized the importance of reaching a permanent solution to the conflict in Syria based on the Geneva declaration and Security Council resolution 2254, in order to maintain the unity and integrity of Syrian territory,” the statement read.

The announcement, which summed up the discussions of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia last weekend, said that after the end of hostilities, Syria must become “a country that represents the entire spectrum of the Syrian community and free from sectarian discrimination.”

The Geneva II Communique (2014) and UNSC resolution 2254 (2015) envisages a roadmap for a political solution of the Syrian conflict, urging a ceasefire, transitional government and free elections in the country.

Saudi Arabia has also backed “President Trump’s decision to launch missiles at Shayrat Airbase” Tuesday’s statement said further.

The US President ordered a barrage of Tomahawk missiles fired at Syria’s Shayrat airbase in response to an alleged chemical attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun in the country’s Idlib province on April 4. Washington immediately labeled Bashar Assad’s government as the perpetrators of the attack despite Russia calling for an impartial investigation and Syria denying the charge.

“The two sides emphasized the importance that the Syrian regime adhere to the 2013 agreement to eliminate its entire stockpile of chemical weapons,” the statement read.

During Trump’s visit to the Gulf kingdom, the US President and King Salman ”agreed to boost cooperation in order to to eliminate Daesh, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations,” the statement also said.

“The two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to curb the flow of foreign fighters and cutting off funding supplies for terrorist organizations.”

Saudi Arabia had previously been blamed for backing extremists in Syria, with Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails saying the Saudis are “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups.”

READ MORE: Trump strikes arms deal with Saudis worth $350bn, $110bn to take effect immediately

The US has provided weapons to the so-called “moderate” rebels fighting the Syrian government with the arms often ending up in the hands of Islamic State or the al-Qaeda offshoot, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Washington and Riyadh also supported the Iraqi government’s efforts to tackle the Islamic State (IS, Daesh, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group while underlining the importance of “preserving the unity and integrity of Iraqi territory.”

Trump and the Saudi monarch then turned on Iran, saying they need to “contain Iran’s malign interference in the internal affairs of other states, instigation of sectarian strife, support of terrorism and armed proxies, and efforts to destabilize the countries in the region.”

READ MORE: US changes tactics against ISIS, working on plan with ‘enthusiastic’ Russians

They also said “the nuclear agreement with Iran (signed under the Obama administration) needs to be re-examined in some of its clauses,” the statement read.

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Paris shooting casts shadow over final day of French election campaign

Paris (CNN)A deadly attack on a police bus in the heart of Paris cast the shadow of terror over the final days of the French presidential election campaign.

One police officer died after a gunman wielding a machine gun leapt out of a car and opened fire on the Champs-Elysees, Paris’s most famous boulevard, as candidates were engaging in their final TV debate.
Gunman opens fire on police in Paris

Gunman opens fire on police in Paris 00:45
The attack dramatically changed the course of the campaign’s final hours: the three main candidates canceled campaign events and instead made televised statements in which they competed to talk tough on security and vowed a crackdown on ISIS.
The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, demanded the closure of all Islamist mosques. The Prime Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, accused her of trying to capitalize on the attack.
ISIS swiftly claimed the attack was carried out by one of its “fighters.” The assailant — Karim Cheurfi, a French national with a long and violent criminal record — was shot dead as he tried to make his escape. Prosecutors said a note defending ISIS fell out of his pocket, although there was no previous evidence of radicalization.

Key developments:

  • Attack came days before first round of voting in presidential election.
  • Paris prosecutors named the attacker as Karim Cheurfi.
  • Three members of attacker’s family arrested.
  • ISIS names a man it claims was involved in the attack.

Election in turmoil

Center-right candidate François Fillon, Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron canceled planned campaign events after the shooting. Under French election rules, Friday was due to be the final day of campaigning before Sunday’s first round of voting.
ISIS claims responsibility for Paris attack

ISIS claims responsibility for Paris attack 02:17
It was unclear whether the attack would tip the balance of the vote in favor of Le Pen, who has vowed to take a tough line on “Islamic terrorism.”
At a televised news conference Friday, Le Pen called for the closure of all “Islamist” mosques in France, the expulsion of hate preachers and the reinstatement of French borders.
People on the French security services’ watch list for radicalization should also be expelled from France and have their French citizenship revoked, she said.
Cazeneuve accused Le Pen of trying to capitalize on the attack. “The candidate of the Front National, like every drama, seeks to profit from and to control the situation to divide. She seeks to benefit from fear for exclusively political ends, the Prime Minister said in a televised address.
Fillon said that if elected, his foreign policy priority would be the destruction of ISIS. He also called for the creation of 10,000 more police posts.
Paris attack witness: ‘I hid in a corner’ 01:26
“In times such as these we have to demonstrate that France is united,” he said. “We also have to be clear that we are in a state of emergency. We are at war. This fight for freedom and for the security of the French people must be the priority of the next five-year term.”
Cazeneuve, however, questioned Fillon’s position on security, saying that when he previously served as Prime Minister he had cut thousands of security force jobs.
Macron appealed to voters not to succumb to fear. “Do not give in to fear, do not give in to division, do not give in to intimidation,” he said. “The choice that you have to make on Sunday must be a choice for the future.”
Macron said he would hire an additional 10,000 police officers in the next five years and that he would create a task force under the French Presidency to fight ISIS.
Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon urged the French people to “remain cool-headed” and “to not subject ourselves to hate, vengeance and resentment.”

Terror investigation

On its media channel, Amaq, ISIS claimed that the attack was carried out by “Abu Yousuf al-Baljiki (the Belgian) and he is one of the Islamic State’s fighters.”
Belgian Interior Ministry spokesman Olivier Van Raemdonck told CNN the attacker was not Belgian and that there did not appear to be a Belgian connection to the incident.
It is not clear to whom ISIS was referring in its claim.
A man who turned himself in to Antwerp police was Youssef El Osri. The man’s lawyer, Nabil Riffi, told CNN his client was “very shocked” at being linked to the Paris shooting and that he had been working at a gas station in Antwerp at the time it occurred.
Security in Paris has been stepped up in recent days, but the presence of 50,000 police officers on the streets was not enough to prevent the latest assault, which was being investigated by anti-terror officials.
French President François Hollande convened a meeting of the country’s defense council Friday.
The dead officer was 37, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported. One of the wounded officers was critically injured but is improving, Paris Prosecutor François Molins said. Also wounded was a female tourist.
A damaged window is pictured on the Champs Elysees boulevard in Paris early Friday.

Molins said the attacker had a long criminal record. He spent 11 years in jail after shooting two police officers in 2001. While in custody, he shot and injured a prison officer after grabbing his gun. He was jailed again in 2013 for lesser offenses and released on probation two years later.
Molins said Cheurfi was investigated by counterterror officials earlier this year because of alleged threats he made against police. He was briefly placed under house arrest and investigators discovered knives and masks in his home but no evidence linking him to terror groups, Molins said.
Despite his long criminal record, Cheurfi was never placed on a terror watch list because there were no signs of radicalization, Molins told reporters.
Three members of his family were arrested in the Paris suburb of Chelles early Friday morning.
Earlier this week French authorities arrested two men in Marseille who were allegedly planning an attack in a run-up to the election.

World leaders react

A woman places a flower Friday at the spot where the shooting occurred.

Speaking in Indonesia Friday, US Vice President Mike Pence said the attack was just the latest reminder “that terrorism can strike anywhere at any time.”
French election: Related content
  • Opinion: The stakes for the French election just got higher
  • US President Donald Trump, at a news conference in Washington, said: “What can you say? It never ends.”
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her sympathy “goes out to the victims and their families,” according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert.
    In a statement, the UK government said it “strongly condemns the appalling terrorist attack in Paris.”
    France has been in a state of emergency since the 2015 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead. Parliament voted in December to extend the extraordinary provisions to ensure the protection of upcoming presidential and general elections.
    Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the extent to which French intelligence authorities were monitoring Karim Cheurfi before the attack.

    ‘Mother of all bombs’ – what has it achieved?

    The US has dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on an “Islamic State” (IS) target in Nangarhar. DW examines the reasons behind the attack, its timing, and whether IS really poses a big threat to the US in Afghanistan.

    USA Bombe GBU-43/B in Florida (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/US Air Force)

    Residents of Achin district, where the US dropped the “Massive Ordinance Air Blast” or MOAB – touted as the “mother of all bombs” – described the explosion as the biggest they had ever seen. And the Afghans have definitively seen a lot of colossal bombings in the past few decades, particularly during the US invasion of their country in 2001 and after the consequent fall of the Taliban’s Islamist regime.

    Defense experts say the MOAB is a successor to the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” used during the Vietnam War and the start of the post 9/11 Afghanistan conflict.

    “What it (MOAB) does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” said Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, to an American journal.

    “It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”

    But President Donald Trump’s administration’s decision to drop such a huge bomb in the war-ravaged Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province raises a number of questions.

    Watch video01:29

    US drops ‘mother of all bombs’ on IS caves

    First of all, does the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) pose such a massive threat to US interests in the region that justified the use of the MOAB against the group?

    Secondly, what did Washington achieve by killing some 36 IS fighters in Afghanistan through this very expensive explosion?

    “I’m familiar with the area and I believe the US military did not need to use such a huge bomb to target a small number of IS fighters,” Attiqullah Amarkhail, a Kabul-based retired military general, told DW.

    “When you drop 11 tons of explosives and kill only 36 of your enemies, it is a waste of your weaponry, unless you have some other targets to achieve,” Amarkhail added.

    ‘IS’ in Afghanistan

    According to US’ own estimates, there are between 600 and 800 IS fighters in Afghanistan, primarily in Nangarhar province. The militant group is much more active and has a much bigger presence in Iraq and Syria. The US has never used the MOAB in these Middle Eastern countries.


    US drops largest non-nuclear bomb on ‘IS’ target in Afghanistan

    The Pentagon has confirmed the first-ever combat use of the GBU-43, also known as the MOAB, or “mother of all bombs,” in a targeted attack on ‘Islamic State.’ Afghan officials said the bomb killed at least 36 fighters. (13.04.2017)

    Opinion: A calculated step toward the apocalypse?

    What makes MOAB Mother of All Bombs?

    Nangarhar: Gateway to Afghanistan for ‘Islamic State’

    An Afghanistan conference without Afghanistan

    But that certainly does not mean IS is not expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan.

    Reports of IS presence in Afghanistan emerged in early 2015. In 2014, the Afghan government and US military officials acknowledged that the terror group was recruiting fighters in eastern Afghanistan, using the power vacuum in the Taliban leadership.

    “If this group is not stopped here [in Nangarhar province], it will pose a danger not only to Afghanistan but also to other countries in the region,” a resident of Achin district told DW in 2015, calling on the Afghan government to support their fight against the terror group.

    The scene in Achin district in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, which shares a border with Pakistan’s tribal areas, bears resemblance to parts of Syria and Iraq under IS command. Members of the terror group control large parts of the district, killing opponents, looting houses and spreading fear among residents with the help of their recently-launched propaganda tool, “The Caliphate Radio.”

    IS members broadcast threats to harshly punish those who oppose Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the self-declared “caliphate” extending over parts of Iraq and Syria.

    “The MOAB was clearly meant to telegraph a message of intent, that the US will come after IS militants wherever they may be, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere,” Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW. “That said, we shouldn’t assume that this bomb will set some type of precedent for assaults on IS elsewhere around the world.”

    The American expert admits that the group’s presence in Nangarhar has been weakened in recent months. “The US and Afghanistan have been leading a joint effort to eliminate IS fighters there for quite some time, and in fact just earlier this week they took out a large number of fighters in the very district where the bomb was dropped. My sense is that this bomb was meant to eliminate those fighters that survived the earlier US-Afghan operation and had fled into the tunnels that the bomb targeted,” Kugelman noted.

    Bildergalerie IS in Afghanistan (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Habibi)IS is expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan

    Experts say the Thursday bombing in Afghanistan could also be a message to Afghanistan’s neighboring country Pakistan, which many policymakers in Washington believe is supporting Afghan militant groups, including the Taliban and IS.

    Despite the fact that the “IS” presence in Afghanistan seems quite limited, there is a possibility that the militant group is getting assistance, and possibly fighters, from neighboring Pakistan. In the past few months, IS has claimed a number of deadly attacks on Pakistani soil.

    The Islamic country also has a reputation as a breeding ground for Sunni militant groups. Afghan authorities have repeatedly accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups and sending them into Afghanistan to destabilize the government.

    Moscow conference

    Observers find it interesting that the US chose to use the biggest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal at a time when Russia is hosting an Afghanistan conference in Moscow.

    Twelve countries, including Afghanistan, China, India, Iran and Pakistan, are participating in the Friday conference. The US was invited to take part, but it turned down the invitation.

    In December last year, representatives of Pakistan, China and Russia met in Moscow to discuss the Afghan conflict but they excluded Afghan officials from the gathering.

    Geostrategic relations are rapidly changing in southern Asia. Former Cold War rivals India and the US are bolstering their defense and trade ties amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness in the region, particularly in the disputed South China Sea. On the other hand, Islamabad and Washington, who were allies against the former Soviet Union and collaborated in the 1980s Afghan War, are drifting apart. Simultaneously, Islamabad and Moscow are reviving their ties, as the two Cold War-era foes held their first-ever joint military drills last year.

    Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Gipfel in Ufa Premierminister Nawaz Sharif und Präsident Wladimir Putin (picture alliance/dpa/SCO Photoshot/Ria Novosti)Pakistan is seeking to forge closer ties with China and Russia to counter New Delhi’s growing influence in Kabul

    The changing geopolitics has also prompted Pakistan to forge closer ties with its long-time ally China. Beijing is expanding trade and military cooperation with Islamabad in view of the New Delhi-Washington maneuvers.

    Experts say the US does not want Russia and China to increase their presence and influence in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan and Iran. They note that the Nangarhar bombing was a message from the Trump administration to these countries that they should not take Washington’s somewhat minimal role in Afghanistan as its weakness.

    “The US is showing its military power to Russia and China. The timing of the use of MOAB is very important to understand the situation. Moscow is hosting a conference on Afghanistan and the US has sent a warning to everyone participating in the meeting,” underlined Afghan expert Amarkhail.

    But Amarkhail believes that the Nangarhar bombing will exacerbate the security situation in Afghanistan.

    “The militants will use this bombing to recruit more fighters.”


    Syria strike signals a change for Trump

    Story highlights

    • Tensions with Russia high as Tillerson heads to Moscow next week
    • Trump’s Syria strike marks a policy reversal

    Washington (CNN)The US attack on a Syrian air base Thursday devastated an airfield, sent a stark message to Syria and its protector Russia and raised a host of questions about whether and how the Trump administration’s stance on the Middle East might change.

    President Donald Trump’s decision to punish Syria for a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people, including children, marked a 180-degree departure from the “America First” philosophy that signaled a rejection of international engagements and from his September 2016 declaration that the US “cannot be the policeman of the world.”
    Instead, the decision to blast 60 Tomahawk missiles from a US Navy destroyer to wreak havoc inside Syria sends an entirely different signal that will put Damascus and other rogue regimes on notice and shape relations with Syria’s ally and protector Russia just as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to visit Moscow.
    Administration officials insisted Friday that their overall policy hadn’t changed and that the strike was only meant to convey that chemical weapons are unacceptable.
    But the strike could set in motion events that force Trump to take a more active role on the world stage, experts said, while others suggested the chemical weapons attack might have changed Trump’s outlook on the role the US should play.
    “To me, it was a very clarifying moment for the president,” Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I’ve seen him evolve … in a good way on China, evolve in a good way on NATO, evolve in a good way on Israel.”
    Trump has “maybe not had the experiences of those of us who have seen these people in refugee camps, have seen what this monster [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad has done in torturing people, and I think this was a clarifying moment for him.”
    Indeed, Trump used to rail against former President Barack Obama for involvement in Syria and during the campaign he even floated the idea of cooperating with Assad. But at a Wednesday press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, Trump told reporters that “my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
    In the weeks leading up to the chemical attack, the administration had stressed that its priority in the Middle East was defeating ISIS, that it had no interest in getting mired there and that Assad’s removal — an Obama administration focus — was no longer a priority.
    McCain: The Russians are as bad as Assad

    McCain: The Russians are as bad as Assad 01:28
    On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced new sanctions against Syria were on the way. And a senior administration official cautioned the strike shouldn’t be seen as the beginning of a wider campaign to weaken or remove the Syrian leader. The official said the mission was aimed at dealing with the “unacceptability” of Assad’s use chemical weapons and that Trump’s priority focus remains defeating ISIS.
    But analysts warned that having stepped into the Syrian fray, Trump may find it hard to step back or differentiate himself from Obama unless he takes steps to do more.
    The International Rescue Committee was among groups that immediately started urging Trump to do more on Syria. “Now that the US administration has chosen to deploy military force, they have a greater responsibility to redouble diplomatic efforts toward establishing a credible path towards peace,” said IRC president David Miliband. He noted that “the only true protection from conflict is the end of conflict.”
    Frederic Hof, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, said that if the strike is “simply a one-off, a punch in the nose for using those chemicals on those poor people, then the message is ‘do whatever you want, as long as it’s not with chemicals’.”
    Trump’s press secretary would not say definitively whether the President believes the Syrian leader should go. “The President’s actions were very decisive last night, and very clear about what he thinks needs to get done,” Sean Spicer told reporters in Florida on Thursday.
     “The Syrian government and the Assad regime should, at a minimum, agree to abide by the agreements they made not to use chemical weapons,” Spicer said. “I think that’s where we start,” he said.
    Sen. Ernst: This was a one-time attack

    Sen. Ernst: This was a one-time attack 02:48
    Hof, who served as Obama’s special adviser for transition in Syria, is among the many who argue that Assad’s brutality acts as a major recruiting tool for terrorists, and that leaving the Syrian leader in place “will make it very hard for the administration to meet its primary objective of defeating Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
    In that light, leaving Assad in power would mean the US strike “will ultimately go down in history as a particularly useless gesture,” Hof said. “That’s why I think it’s important for the Trump administration to get the message to the Russians, ‘You’ve got to get your guy out’.”
    Tillerson is set to travel to Moscow next week, and though he is new to diplomacy, he is deeply familiar with Russia, where he spent time during his work as CEO of ExxonMobil. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was “particularly disappointed” by the way the strike “damages US-Russia relations, (but) I don’t think this will lead to an irreversible situation.”
    Russia suspended but didn’t cancel a deconfliction channel the US and Russian militaries use to ensure they don’t accidentally clash during operations against ISIS. “Clearly it complicates the bilateral relationship in the short term,” Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia who is now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, said of the strike.
    James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Iraq who is now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it’s unlikely Russia will have much success using the attack against the US. The fulsome international support for the US strike “is going to box Russia in” if it tries to attack the US at the United Nations, he said.
    Syrian survivor to Trump: Thank you
    Syrian survivor to Trump: Thank you 00:57
    Russia might even see an advantage in the strike, said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute. He notes the Russians have had “a hard time” getting Assad to the negotiating table with the Syrian opposition. Now, he said, they could use the strike to apply pressure, warning that the regime might be subject to more if they don’t cooperate.
    “Having a sword of Damocles hanging over Assad’s head is not necessarily a bad thing,” Tabler said.
    Vershbow sees an opportunity for the US to apply pressure as well. “If Russia wants an endless civil war, they will continue to shield Assad,” the former ambassador said. Tillerson should tell Russia that “if you want to bring this to an end, giving Assad impunity has to stop,” he said. The question, Vershbow added, is whether the US will be prepared “to threaten the ‘or else’ part.”
    “So I think the administration has to think through clearly,” Vershbow said, “because without an ‘or else,’ it’s not going to be a credible message.”

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