Pentagon: Islamic State militants hurt by US airstrikes, will regroup, stage new offensive
WASHINGTON — U.S. airstrikes have helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces regain their footing in Iraq, but the well-resourced Islamic State militants can be expected to regroup and stage a new offensive, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.
Speaking alongside Hagel at a Pentagon news conference, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said that although the Islamic State group can be contained it cannot be defeated without attacking it in Syria.
Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this would not necessarily require airstrikes by the U.S., although Hagel appeared to leave open that possibility by telling reporters, “We’re looking at all options.”
Citing the recapture this week of the Mosul Dam that had been in Islamic State militants’ hands, Hagel credited U.S. bombing as well as U.S. arms supplies to Iraqi and Kurdish forces and international humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Iraqis displaced across northern Iraq.
“Overall, these operations have stalled ISIL’s momentum and enabled Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regain their footing and take the initiative,” Hagel said, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State group that is an outgrowth of al-Qaida.
Fierce fighting rages in eastern Ukraine as delayed Russian aid convoy begins advancing
KIEV, Ukraine — Fierce fighting raged in eastern Ukraine on Thursday in what appeared to be a last-gasp attempt by government troops to snatch back territory from pro-Russian separatists before the arrival of a Russian aid convoy overseen by the Red Cross.
Trucks loaded with water, generators and sleeping bags for desperate civilians in the besieged city of Luhansk began moving through Ukrainian customs after being held up at the border for a week, in part because of safety concerns and Ukrainian fears that the convoy’s arrival could halt the military’s advance.
The trucks in the 200-vehicle convoy were expected to cross into Ukraine on Friday morning on their way to Luhansk, a city with a war-reduced population of a quarter-million people, 12 miles from the Russian border.
At Russia’s urging, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a cease-fire during the humanitarian mission.
The Red Cross has said it needs assurances of safe passage from all sides to bring in the supplies and set up distribution points, so even without a formal cease-fire, Ukrainian government forces could be severely constrained in their movements once the trucks begin arriving.
Missouri governor pulls National Guard from Ferguson; of 163 arrests, 7 are city residents
FERGUSON, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday ordered the Missouri National Guard to begin withdrawing from Ferguson, where nightly scenes of unrest have erupted since a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old nearly two weeks ago.
Since the guard’s arrival Monday, flare-ups in the small section of town that had been the center of unrest have begun to subside. The quietest night was overnight Wednesday into Thursday, when police arrested only a handful of people in the protest zone.
“The last two nights have been really good. I feel we’re making progress,” Nixon told KMOX-AM, noting that a state of emergency remained in effect in Ferguson.
About 100 people gathered Thursday evening, walking in laps near the spot where Michael Brown was shot. Some were in organized groups, such as clergy members. More signs reflected calls by protesters to remove the white prosecutor from the case.
Demonstrations began after the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown, and authorities have arrested at least 163 people in the protest area. Data provided Thursday by St. Louis County showed that while the majority of those arrested are Missourians, just seven live in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb. The vast majority, 128 people, were cited for failure to disperse. Twenty-one face burglary-related charges.
Albert Reynolds, Irish prime minister who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, dies at 81
DUBLIN — Albert Reynolds, the risk-taking Irish prime minister who played a key role in delivering peace to Northern Ireland but struggled to keep his own governments intact, died Thursday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.
His eldest son, Philip, said he died around 3 a.m. at his Dublin home, where in recent years he required 24-hour care. The government ordered flags to fly at half-staff until Reynolds’ state funeral Monday.
Reynolds, a savvy businessman from rural County Roscommon who made millions running rural dance halls and a pet food company before his election to parliament in 1977, led two feud-prone coalition governments from 1992 to 1994.
During his turbulent tenure, Reynolds made peace in neighboring Northern Ireland his top priority. With British Prime Minister John Major at his side, he unveiled the Downing Street Declaration, a 1993 blueprint for peace in the predominantly British Protestant territory. To drive it forward, he successfully pressed the outlawed Irish Republican Army to call a 1994 cease-fire.
“Everyone told me: You can’t talk to the IRA. I figured it was well past time to bend some rules for the cause of peace,” Reynolds told The Associated Press in a 1994 interview, when he was being touted as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate.
By wire sources