Mullah Omar of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime is shown in this undated U.S. National Counterterrorism Center image. Afghanistan said on July 29, 2015 it was investigating reports that Mullah Omar, leader of the militant Taliban movement behind an escalating insurgency, was dead.
by BILL NEELY
Even in the prime of his life, at the height of his power, it was difficult for anyone to learn about, much less meet, Mullah Omar. He was simply the most reclusive, secretive leader in the world.
Word of his death Wednesday confirmed just how much of a phantom the father of the Taliban had become. Afghan officials said Omar has been dead for “a couple years.”
“I can confirm that Mullah Omar is dead,” the spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security Abdul Hassib Sediqi told NBC News. “According to our intelligence Mullah Omar has died in a hospital in Pakistan a couple years ago.”
Mullah Omar was rarely seen or heard. It’s believed he was photographed only twice. But his legend was real enough.
He was famously one-eyed, having lost his right eye to a shrapnel injury, one of four he sustained fighting Soviet troops who occupied Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was so adept with an RPG rocket launcher against Soviet armor that he rose quickly.
His experience as a Mujahadeen commander gave him the confidence to fight another superpower, the United States.
It also taught him to shun any easily traceable means of communication. He sent messages through trusted couriers on tiny, rolled-up pieces of paper, avoiding mobile phones, satellite phones, video recordings —anything that might identify him to an enemy.
The Taliban claim he was born in 1960 to a religious family who lost at least four members fighting the Soviets and Americans. His years fighting Soviet troops in the depths of Afghan winters led to ill health. Reports about his death suggest he had hepatitis, as well as chest and heart trouble.
Omar was one of the world’s most wanted men — the U.S. government put a $10 million bounty on his head — because of his leadership of the Taliban insurgency against U.S. and coalition troops following the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban say his uncle was killed on the first day of the American bombardment in October 2001.
But before that he was a head of government, an enforcer and a spiritual leader.
The “Commander of the Faithful,” as he became known, created the Taliban in the early 1990s to fight the warlords and the chaos tearing Afghanistan apart after the retreat of Soviet troops. Before the final victory in Kabul, Omar took a shroud thought to have been worn by the Prophet Mohammad and draped himself in it, receiving a rapturous response from fighters who, from then on, saw him as a spiritual and military leader.
He headed the Taliban council that invited Osama bin Laden, a fellow fighter against the Soviets, to be a guest of the nation in Jalalabad. After 9/11, the council met to decide how to respond to the U.S. demand to hand over bin Laden.
It decided — narrowly, it’s believed — to refuse to give him up. That decision led to the overthrow of Omar’s government just weeks later. He fled, first to Kandahar and then out of the country.
Little is known of his life after that. Afghan leaders and military commanders say they found it impossible to arrest or kill a man they couldn’t identify. It’s almost certain he lived in hiding in Pakistan, like bin Laden — probably in the city of Quetta, where he directed the council that led the insurgency against U.S. troops.
It’s believed Omar lived humbly, rarely seeing visitors outside his close inner circle. Earlier this year, the Taliban produced a biography of him, claiming he had no home and almost no money but “a special sense of humor.”
Any sense of humor was lost on a world that saw only a humorless, ruthless Taliban government that banned television, dancing and kite-flying, whose Ministry of Vice and Virtue patrolled the streets beating women for showing an inch of flesh in public.
But some, especially Omar’s fellow ethnic Pashtuns, yearn for the stability he brought as Afghanistan fails to emerge cleanly from decades of corruption and conflict.
For many in the West, Omar was a cartoon villain, one-eyed and blind to the modern world. For his followers, he was, as the Taliban described him recently, “a unique and charismatic personality”:
“Contrary to (other) leaders, he does not want to show off. He is not eager or excited to speak if it is unnecessary to do so. And if needed, his words … are keen, perceptive and logical. He has adopted a simple and plain style in all aspects of his life. Simple dress, simple food, simple talk, frankness and informality are his natural habits.”
Omar had been reported dead many times in recent years. The rumors began when he failed to send audio messages, although they had never been frequent. The only evidence he still was alive was an occasional statement on a Taliban website, the most recent being a comment, purported to be from him, supporting recent peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Reports he died years ago cast serious doubt on the authenticity of those statements.
The latest claim that Omar was dead is equally contentious. It’s claimed he died in Quetta two years ago, probably of hepatitis. A senior member of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan said, “I am 100 percent sure Mullah Omar is dead, but will not share other information until we have chosen his successor.”
Who will that be? There appears to be a succession battle, between Omar’s eldest son, Yaqoob, and his deputy Mullah Mansour. Even this is disputed: Some say the reports are part of a CIA plot to destabilize the organization at a crucial moment in peace talks and to encourage factional fighting and defections from the Taliban. Several commanders have left this year to join ISIS.
In life and in death, like bin Laden, Omar was hated and hunted by the West while an inspiration and an icon to generations of his followers — a man who stood up to both the major superpowers of the modern era and who refused to betray the guest of his nation to one.
Flags with pictures of Abdullah Ocalan, a jailed Kurdish leader, at a protest in Brussels on Tuesday against the Turkish government.
By JAMES KANTER
BRUSSELS — Turkey turned to its allies in NATO on Tuesday for political backing, after it agreed to step up efforts against the Islamic State but also renewed its conflict with Kurdish militants.
“All allies expressed their strong support for Turkey, and we stand all together, united in solidarity with Turkey,” Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, told reporters at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels after a meeting of ambassadors of the 28 NATO allies.
But Turkey, which has the second-largest army in NATO after the United States, did not request any additional military assistance.
Its new stance has raised thorny questions for its allies, especially in Europe, about whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is more interested in smashing his Kurdish opponents than he is in defeating the Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.
The Kurds are the largest minority in Turkey, and have chafed under Turkish rule. A separatist militant group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the P.K.K., fought a 30-year insurgency there that ended in a fragile cease-fire two years ago, and Kurdish politicians now make up an important opposition bloc in the Turkish Parliament.
Kurdish forces also control large areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria, where they have cooperated effectively with the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State. But Turkey insists that P.K.K. fighters camped there are a terrorist threat, and its warplanes have mounted airstrikes against them in northern Iraq in recent days.
Mr. Erdogan said on Tuesday that it was impossible to continue a peace process with Kurdish militants. “No steps back will be taken in our fight against terrorism,” he told reporters before embarking on a state visit to China.
He also called on the Turkish Parliament to strip politicians who have links to terrorist groups of their immunity from prosecution. His statement appeared to be directed at the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, which some members of the government consider to be the political wing of the P.K.K.
The endorsement by NATO allies on Tuesday represents welcome moral support for the government in Ankara. For now, at least, Turkey’s decision to take a more active role in the fight against the Islamic State, also know as ISIS or ISIL, has won broad backing.
Most importantly, Turkey has given the United States the green light to use its Incirlik air base for manned airstrikes against the Islamic State. The idea is that American and Turkish operations will help forces in Syria that the United States considers relatively moderate to take territory from the Islamic State.
Turkey apparently dropped its reluctance to focus its military forces on Syria after a deadly bombing last week in the eastern town of Suruc that killed 32 people. The government has blamed the Islamic State for the attack.
Closer cooperation between Turkey and the United States could help shut down some of the Islamic State’s most important supply lines. But Turkey also could use its military actions on its southern border to keep a Syria-based Kurdish militia force that it considers a threat from making inroads.
Mr. Stoltenberg did not comment on Tuesday about the Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish targets. A spokeswoman for the European Commission, Mina Andreeva, said on Tuesday that Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission’s president, spoke with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey over the weekend and stressed to him the need for “proportionality” in actions against the P.K.K.
In the closed NATO meeting on Tuesday, the ambassadors also urged Turkey not to use excessive force against the Kurds and to continue peace talks with them, a NATO official told journalists afterward, speaking on condition of anonymity under the alliance’s rules.
In a statement after the meeting, the ambassadors said they “strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against Turkey, and express our condolences to the Turkish government and the families” of victims killed in recent terrorist actions. “Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of NATO countries and to international stability and prosperity,” the NATO statement said.
Turkey called the meeting under Article 4 of the NATO charter, which allows a member to invoke consultation when there is a pending threat to its security.
Article 4 has only been invoked four times before, three of them by Turkey — in 2003 over the Iraq war, and twice in 2012 over the Syrian civil war, when a Turkish jet was shot down and a mortar shell landed on Turkish soil. Poland invoked the article last year after Russia annexed Crimea.
35 Bill Cosby accusers speak out.
For the first time since accusations of rape were made against Bill Cosby, 35 of the reported 46 women total who allege that the 78-year-old comedian sexually assaulted them have united together to tell their stories.
New York Magazine photographed and interviewed each woman separately and notes that each of “their stories have remarkable similarities.”
To highlight this point, each woman — from models Janice Dickinson and Beverly Johnson to former locksmith Margie Shapiro and massage therapist Rebecca Lynn Neal — was photographed seated in similar black and white pose.
An empty chair was also left on the cover to represent those women unable to tell their story, which subsequently sparked a Twitter hashtag around that discussion.
Among the 35 women featured, is Barbara Bowman, who was introduced to Cosby by her agent when she was 17 in 1985. Over the next two years, she regularly met with Cosby, who she says drugged and raped her repeatedly.
“I felt like a prisoner; I felt I was kidnapped and hiding in plain sight,” she tells the magazine. “I could have walked down any street of Manhattan at any time and said, ‘I’m being raped and drugged by Bill Cosby,’ but who the hell would have believed me? Nobody, nobody.”
Victoria Valentino also shares her story of how she met Cosby in 1969 shortly after her 6-year-old son had died. Cobsy offered to cheer her up with dinner, during which she says he offered her and her friend a pill to make them feel better. He then allegedly brought the two women back to his apartment.
“He sat down and unzipped his fly and had me give him oral sex. He stood up, turned me over, did me doggy style, and walked out,” she says. “Just as he got to the door, I was going, ‘How do we get out of here, how do we get home?’ He said, ‘Call a cab.'”
Jewel Allsion says she was introduced to Cosby through her modeling agent and a dinner was arranged for the two to meet. She accepted a glass of wine, which she says “had a horrible taste.”
“I started not feeling well. He helped me up by my underarms with both hands. He walked me into the next room, where there was a mirror on the wall, and he told me to look at myself,” she tells the magazine. “And then he took my right hand, and he put it behind my back. I remember seeing semen on the floor. And I felt some liquid on my hand. That was when I knew something sexual was going on.”
Cosby has never been charged with a crime and maintains his innocence. In a 2005 deposition from a sexual assault case, which was made public earlier this month, Cosby admitted under oath to obtaining Quaaludes to give to “young women” that he “wanted to have sex with.”
In the same deposition, which took place over four days before the lawsuit was eventually settled in 2006, he had this to say of consent: “I think that I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them.”
Following the recently released deposition, Cosby’s lawyers said the comedian “admitted to nothing more than being one of the many people who introduced Quaaludes into their consensual sex life in the 1970’s.”
President Bashar al-Assad spoke in Damascus on Sunday.
By MAHER SAMAAN and ANNE BARNARD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — In a striking admission, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said on Sunday that the country’s army faced a manpower shortage and had ceded some areas to insurgents in order to hold onto other regions deemed more important.
Mr. Assad also acknowledged in a speech televised from Damascus, the Syrian capital, that many Syrians could not watch the address because of the lack of electricity in many areas and noted the economic hardships that people are facing after more than four years of an increasingly complex civil war.
What was unusual was not the fact of the struggles that Mr. Assad mentioned, which have been obvious for some time, but his mentioning them at all. It was his most substantive public nod yet to the magnitude of the challenges to his government and of the struggles confronting ordinary Syrians. In previous public speeches and interviews, he has sometimes seemed at odds with reality, glossing over setbacks and denying that that the government is dropping barrel bombs in the northern city of Aleppo, a well-documented and regular occurrence.
The remarks came within an address that, overall, retained Mr. Assad’s usual confident, defiant tone — promising victory, praising the army, blaming foreign meddling for the war.
But they also came amid other indications of strain on the army and at a time when even Mr. Assad’s loyalists are increasingly expressing frustration that their leaders have not eased or even acknowledged their plight. Some also grumble about the growing military role of Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias, complaining that they are encroaching on Syrian sovereignty without producing victory.
On Saturday, Mr. Assad issued a general amnesty for Syrians who have avoided military duty or deserted the security forces — provided they have not joined the insurgency against him. He has issued amnesties in the past but has yet to release thousands of political prisoners, leaving many people mistrustful of this latest pledge.
Sunday’s speech also came as Hezbollah and Syrian troops are struggling to subdue the insurgent-held city of Zabadani. Their assault, which had been billed as quick and easy, has gone on for weeks, with many casualties on both sides and the opposition accusing the government of dropping hundreds of barrel bombs indiscriminately.
There has also been an intensifying campaign of army recruitment advertising in government-held areas, as even loyalist families grow more reluctant to send sons to the army rather than keep them home to defend their areas.
Mr. Assad’s acknowledgment of difficulties came amid a flurry of other developments that, taken together, have raised speculation about whether a new round of long-stalled peace talks, or at least the laying of groundwork for possible talks, could be taking place.
There have been whispers of a grand bargain being proposed that would unite Mr. Assad’s backers and opponents to fight against the Islamic State extremist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which has fed on the Syrian conflict and has come to be seen as a global threat. Blocking the way to any such deal is the deep divide over whether Mr. Assad will stay or go.
Still, the wheels of diplomacy have been more active than usual in recent weeks.
Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy on the Syria crisis, has been shuttling among the war’s myriad parties and is expected to make a report and recommendations in the coming days to the Security Council.
The nuclear deal between global powers and Iran, Mr. Assad’s closest ally, has been signed. There have been high-level meetings between senior figures in Russia, Mr. Assad’s most powerful backer, and top officials from the United States and Saudi Arabia, two of his most powerful opponents.
Turkey and the United States have reached a new understanding that has seen Turkey, a major supporter of the Syrian insurgency, plunge with new enthusiasm into the battle in northern Syria against the Islamic State, which has burgeoned during the conflict. A government-sponsored conference in Damascus over the weekend also endorsed an international effort against terrorism.
And the fractious Syrian political opposition reached a milestone on Saturday, with a pact between the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main exile group based in Turkey, and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria.
The National Coordination Body is part of what is sometimes called the “inside opposition,” since some members remain in Syria — including in prison. It opposed the arming of the anti-Assad movement and has more prominent representatives from minority groups, including Alawites, from the same sect as Mr. Assad. He has sometimes referred to it as part of the “patriotic opposition” even while jailing some of its leaders.
Now, it has agreed for the first time on a pact calling for the departure of Mr. Assad as part of any political transition, giving the National Coalition a broader base of legitimacy in any future negotiations.
The conflict in Syria began with peaceful protests against Mr. Assad and turned into a civil war after a crackdown on demonstrators. But it has since become a three-way war, at least, involving the government, insurgents and the extremist Islamic State, which splintered off from a radical Islamist wing of the insurgency that gained strength as foreign fighters streamed into the country.
Mr. Assad’s government is backed by Iran, Hezbollah and thousands of foreign Shiite fighters playing an increasing role on the ground. Battling it are a range of insurgent groups. Relatively secular groups with limited American backing have lagged behind Islamist ones better financed by the American allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as private donors.
Then there is the Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in areas it has seized and which is battling both rival insurgents and the government.
Earlier this year, army troops lost most of the northern province of Idlib to insurgents and lost the desert city of Palmyra to Islamic State militants, in both cases without putting up much of a fight.
“Sometimes, in some circumstances, we are forced to give up areas to move those forces to the areas that we want to hold onto,” Mr. Assad said Sunday. “We must define the important regions that the armed forces hold onto so it doesn’t allow the collapse of the rest of the areas.”
Speaking to a meeting of trade groups, he added that the army was capable but suffered from “a shortfall in human capacity.”
He also declared that the West practiced a “double standard,” condemning terrorism at home but calling it “democracy and freedom” in Syria.
Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu is briefed as the country steps up security.
By Mark Lowen
What is Turkey’s game?
Within a week, it has gone from a reluctant observer, abstaining from military action against so-called Islamic State, to full-blown military strikes against the group, opening up its bases to coalition attacks and, simultaneously, the first aerial bombing of PKK Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq in four years.
Why the sudden turnaround?
For months, Ankara resisted military involvement in the US-led coalition of the willing. It insisted that the attacks also target President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Washington’s reply was, in effect, that the immediate concern was IS and that the “Assad problem” needed to be put on the back burner.
But Turkey’s second condition, that a no-fly zone be created in northern Syria, seems to have gained a little more traction.
Turkey’s foreign minister now says a “safe area” along the Turkish border, free of IS militants, will be created, patrolled by coalition aircraft. That seems to have played a major role in jolting Turkey into action.
The Turkish government has long been accused of at best turning a blind eye to the rise of IS – and at worst, actively backing the jihadists against the Assad regime. It has always denied the allegation.
But last week came the suicide bombing in Suruc, southern Turkey, in which 32 died and which Turkey blamed on a militant trained by IS. And then a firefight in which IS forces shot at Turkish border guards. That was, it appears, the final catalyst for Turkish involvement.
But Ankara’s strategy is complex. Alongside the IS strikes, Turkey has now bombed several PKK positions and arrested hundreds of suspected members of the group.
That, too, was prompted by last week’s violence, after the PKK killed Turkish police officers in the wake of the Suruc bombing, in retaliation for what they saw as Turkey’s collaboration with IS. Could Washington’s tacit toleration of the PKK strikes have been the price of Ankara’s involvement against IS?
Critics believe Turkey is only striking the jihadists as cover for going after its real enemy: the Kurds. Ankara’s reluctance to hit IS earlier, the argument goes, was actually a reluctance to help Kurds fighting IS militants. Now both can be bombed, Turkey is willing to get involved.
But there’s also potentially a domestic political consideration.
In June’s general election, the governing AK Party lost its majority and is now in coalition talks to form a government. If that fails, new elections would have to be held in which President Erdogan would hope the AKP could win back nationalist voters who had drifted away. By hitting the PKK and potentially ending the peace process – despised by nationalists – he could well achieve that and regain the AKP majority he craves.
The danger, though, is that this two-pronged attack will expose Turkey to more attacks by IS and foment more violence among Turkey’s Kurdish minority, spurred by the PKK.
Forty-thousand people died during the 30-year armed conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state. Turkey can ill afford a return to the bad old days of the 1990s. But the ghosts of the past could be reawakened.
A perilous game indeed.
In this 2013, file photo, a U.S. Air Force plane takes off from the Incirlik airbase, in southern Turkey.
by Benjamin HarveyOnur Ant
Turkey carried out a second wave of airstrikes and broadened its targets to include Kurdish rebels as well as Islamic State, while police arrested militants from both groups in nationwide raids.
F-16 warplanes took off late Friday to bomb Islamic State positions, according to NTV and other local media, after carrying out initial strikes early the same day. Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq were also hit by airstrikes, according to the Turkish media and the Iraqi Kurdish news agency Rudaw. Meanwhile, at least 250 people were arrested across Turkey in an operation that involved about 5,000 police, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
Turkey’s actions against Islamic State follow months of U.S. pressure for the NATO member to take a more active role. Turkey acceded to another longstanding U.S. request this week by allowing use of a key base for airstrikes by American jets,
Yet Friday’s roundup of militants shows how differently the two allies still view the conflict in Syria. The U.S. has given air support to the Syrian Kurds, who have close ties with the autonomy-seeking PKK group in Turkey, as they battle jihadists. Turkey considers both sides to be terrorists.
“The raids are consistent with Turkey’s public comments about viewing the PKK and ISIS as equal threats,” said Aaron Stein, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
That stance has infuriated Turkey’s Kurdish minority, as much as 20 percent of the population, and may further endanger the government’s stalled peace talks with the PKK to end a three-decade insurgency.
In his comments about the police raids, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan focused on the “separatist” threat of the PKK. The government will go after all “terrorist groups no matter what their names are,” he said.
The main legal Kurdish party said the police crackdown showed that Turkey isn’t sincere about fighting jihadists.
The government is “trying to give the appearance that it’s in a struggle against Islamic State,” but is using it as a cover to target political opponents at home, the People’s Democratic Party or HDP said in a statement. The group said some of its leaders were arrested in the raids.
Erdogan and the ruling AK Party, which he co-founded, broke a longstanding taboo in Turkish politics by initiating a dialogue with the PKK, but recently they’ve been backpedaling from the plan.
That may reflect electoral calculations: in a vote last month, the AKP lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in more than a decade. The absence of a clear winner may force the country to go back to the polls within months. The AKP lost support both to a Turkish nationalist party opposed to any concessions to the Kurds, and to the Kurdish HDP.
Turkey’s week of violence began with a suicide bomb that killed at least 32 people, mostly pro-Kurdish activists, near the Syrian border on Monday. Authorities said Islamic State was probably behind it.
The PKK, which accuses Turkey of turning a blind eye to the jihadist group, launched a wave of retaliatory attacks, killing at least three policemen and a soldier, while another policeman was reported to have been kidnapped. One soldier also died in a cross-border firefight with Islamic State.
The carnage has spooked investors in the $800 billion economy, the region’s largest.
The benchmark stock index was the world’s worst performer on Thursday, though it recouped some of those losses with a 0.5 percent gain on Friday. The lira has fallen more than 3 percent this week to trade near a record low, while yields on two-year bonds surged above 10 percent for the first time in more than a month.
Turkey argues that its differences with the U.S. and other NATO countries reflect the fact that it’s on the frontline of the Syrian war, while they aren’t. Erdogan says Turkey is hosting about 2 million refugees and has spent more than $6 billion while its allies fail to provide much help.
Still, the pressure from the U.S. led Turkey to accede to a longstanding U.S. request this week for use of the Incirlik airbase, near the Mediterranean Sea, against Islamic State.
The Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the government has “granted clearance for the deployment of manned and unmanned aircraft from the U.S. and other coalition members participating in air operations.” It said Turkey’s air force will “also be tasked with the same objective.”
Turkish previous reluctance to do so has required U.S. planes to attack Islamic State positions from bases in Qatar, refueling on the way. By contrast, when Turkey’s F-16s took off to drop four bombs on Islamic State positions in Syria early Friday morning, the flight took about 28 minutes, according to the Turkish military.
“After the recent terrorist attacks, the Turkish government reaction is to show their citizens that they are serious about confronting ISIS,” said W. Robert Pearson of the Middle East Institute in Washington, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey. It remains to be seen whether Turkish efforts against Islamic State will be sustained in any meaningful way, he said.
“These operations are not a one-off,” Davutoglu said on Friday. “They are not limited to a single day or location.”
ISIS attack followed suicide bombing that killed 32 people
Turkish soldiers walk to their position on the Turkish side of the border in Suruc, Turkey, on June 26. Turkey sent jets to the Syria border Thursday after an ISIS attack left one Turkish dead and others wounded.
Turkey has scrambled fighter jets to the Syrian border following clashes with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, a Turkish official said on Thursday.
Earlier, a Turkish soldier was killed and another wounded in clashes with the militants across the border. The official did not give details on why the jets had been scrambled.
The Turkish military said an ISIS militant was killed and three of the group’s vehicles were hit when Turkish forces returned fire across the border.
The cross-border firing came days after a suicide bombing blamed on the Islamist radical group killed 32 people.
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Local media reports said the clashes were close to the village of Elbeyli, east of the Turkish town of Kilis, and an area where the armed forces have sent reinforcements in recent weeks.
Turkey’s NATO allies have long expressed concern about control of its border with Syria, which in parts runs directly parallel with territory controlled by Islamic State. Monday’s suicide bombing in the southeastern town of Suruc highlighted fears about Syria’s conflict spilling onto Turkish soil.
The Turkish army has already stepped up security along parts of the border in recent weeks, as the conflict in Syria involving Kurdish militia fighters, Islamist militants and Syrian security forces intensifies.
Around half of the armoured vehicles which patrol Turkey’s borders are now along the Syrian frontier, another government official told Reuters earlier.
By Dr. Manny Alvarez
With the inception of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, President Obama created a new system of health care that aimed to allow all Americans to carry health insurance, and in many cases, that insurance is subsidized by the federal government with our tax dollars.
His sales pitch to America was that by expanding access to health insurance, he would help create better patient-doctor relationships that would be effective in prineventing several of the chronic health conditions and concerns that affect the U.S. population— many of which affect women.
Now, no matter your stance on universal health care, a concern that every tax-paying American, man or woman, should take issue with centers on waste. This is especially true given the recent events surrounding the claims that Planned Parenthood seems to be in the business of selling aborted fetal body parts.
Now, if my tax dollars are being used to subsidize our national health care program, then why are my tax dollars also being allocated for Planned Parenthood? This isn’t a matter of ethics, but rather, of practicality.
Many of the clinical services Planned Parenthood offers— including Pap smears, breast exams, tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and abortions— can be performed by gynecologists, family practitioners and pediatricians. The ACA guarantees coverage for the vast majority of women’s reproductive needs.
According to Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report, the latest data available, the organization received nearly $1.15 billion in revenue— $528.4 million of which came from the federal government.
During that period, it spent about $769 million on medical services, $45 million on sexuality education, $34 million on public policy and $12 million to engage communities. In all, the organization spent over $859 million in the fiscal year of 2014.
Planned Parenthood heralds its efforts to promote education among young women and expectant mothers, and certainly it should be applauded for those campaigns. But according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the ACA, women are now covered for annual counseling in STIs, HIV, contraceptive methods, breastfeeding support and interpersonal and domestic violence.
All things considered, if American tax dollars are being allocated for the ACA and Planned Parenthood, it seems like we are getting double-taxed. And I don’t want my tax dollars involved in promoting all the other programs that Planned Parenthood peddles outside the scope of medical care. In 2014, they spent $34 million in public policy. The average American does not control the political agenda of Planned Parenthood, and yet we are all paying for it.
Planned Parenthood accepts patients under Medicaid, private insurance and all state plans subsidized by Obama’s health care law. And again, this is the similar coverage that is offered by many other types of clinics. The only difference is they don’t receive added federal dollars.
Of course, for uninsured patients, Planned Parenthood services may prove cheaper than services offered at a regular doctor’s office. According to the organization’s website, many of its fees are based on a sliding fee scale, which depends on the patient’s income. Services like family planning, birth control, gynecological exams, pregnancy testing, STI testing and other reproductive health care services are on that sliding scale. But all of that should be irrelevant if the ACA, plus expanded Medicaid, is meant to guarantee health coverage for all.
The bottom line is this: There was a time in our country when Planned Parenthood played a role in providing women with medical services that otherwise were not available to people who had no insurance. However, to have, at present, an organization that continues to be subsidized by the taxpayer is not necessary. We now have the same services covered by ObamaCare, and millions of taxpayer dollars are helping to keep that system in check. And that system includes community hospitals, physician practices and community clinics that don’t receive any extra support from the federal government and only rely on the fees they receive from patient care.
No nukes for Iran, but OK for North Korea?
North Korea’s government said Tuesday that it had no interest in pursuing a nuclear agreement of its own with the U.S. as long as Washington pursued what Pyongyang described as “provocative” U.S. policies.
The statement from the isolated, totalitarian country’s Foreign Ministry was its first official response to the agreement concluded earlier this month between Iran and six global powers, including the U.S.
The unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman said the North’s nuclear deterrent was “not a plaything to be put on the negotiating table” in the statement, which was carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. There was no immediate comment form the U.S.
North Korea’s nuclear program is a major regional concern, with the country having conducted atomic weapons tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. International nuclear disarmament talks have been stalled since early 2009, and outside analysts believe the North has built a small but growing nuclear bomb arsenal.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman said North Korea is different from Iran because it already has nuclear weapons. He said the North faces constant military and nuclear threats from the U.S., citing its regular military exercises with South Korea.
On Thursday, U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman had said that Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement, followed by the lifting of sanctions, “might give North Korea second thoughts.”
But Tuesday’s statement said that North Korea “is not interested at all in the dialogue to discuss the issue of making it freeze or dismantle its nukes unilaterally first,” adding that the North “remains unchanged in the mission of its nuclear force as long as the U.S. continues pursuing its hostile policy toward” the country.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan were coordinating attempts to engage North Korea in preliminary talks about Pyongyang’s nuclear program. However, officials in Washington and Seoul told the Wall Street Journal that North Korea had not responded to overtures made by the U.S. and South Korea in recent months.
The so-called six-party talks began in 2003 to negotiate for North Korea’s denuclearization in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees. Talks have been stalled since late 2008. Earlier this year, the Journal reported that Chinese experts had warned U.S. officials that North Korea could double the size of its nuclear arsenal by the beginning of next year.
The U.S. stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Under the Iranian nuclear deal reached by Tehran, Washington and others, Iran’s nuclear program will be curbed for a decade in exchange for potentially hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of relief from international sanctions. Many key penalties on the Iranian economy, such as those related to the energy and financial sectors, could be lifted by the end of the year.
The resolution passed by the Security Council on Monday lays out the steps required for the lifting of United Nations sanctions, but not the sanctions imposed separately by the United States and the European Union.
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
The United Nations Security Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution that creates the basis for international economic sanctions against Iran to be lifted, a move that incited a furious reaction in Israel and potentially sets up an angry showdown in Congress.
The 15-0 vote for approval of the resolution — 104 pages long including annexes and lists — was written in Vienna by diplomats who negotiated a landmark pact last week that limits Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for ending the sanctions.
Iran has pledged to let in international monitors to inspect its facilities for the next 10 years and other measures that were devised to guarantee that its nuclear energy activities are purely peaceful.
The Security Council resolution, which is legally binding, lays out the steps required only for the lifting of United Nations sanctions.
It has no legal consequence on the sanctions imposed separately by the United States and the European Union.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, Iran’s supreme leader, led prayers in Tehran on Saturday. He portrayed the nuclear agreement as a victory for Iran and attacked the United States and Israel.Ayatollah Khamenei, Backing Iran Negotiators, Endorses Nuclear DealJULY 18, 2015
Kerry Says U.S. Pressed Iran on American PrisonersJULY 17, 2015
The European Union also approved the Iran nuclear deal on Monday, putting in motion the lifting of its own sanctions, which include prohibitions on the purchase of Iranian oil. Europe will continue to prohibit the export of ballistic missile technology and sanctions related to human rights.
Diplomats have warned that if the United States Congress refuses to lift American penalties against Iran, the Iranians may renege on their commitments as well, which could result in a collapse of the entire deal.
The resolution takes effect in 90 days, a time frame negotiated in Vienna to allow Congress, where members have expressed strong distrust of the agreement, to review it. President Obama, who has staked much of his foreign policy ambitions on the Iran pact, has vowed to veto a congressional rejection of the nuclear accord.
The resolution will not completely lift all Council restrictions on Iran. It maintains an arms embargo, and sets up a panel to review the import of sensitive technology on a case-by-case basis.
It also sets up a way to renew sanctions if Iran does not abide by its commitments. In the event of an unresolved dispute over Iran’s enrichment activities, the United Nations sanctions snap back automatically after 30 days. To avoid the sanctions renewal requires a vote of the Council — giving skeptics, namely the United States, an opportunity to veto it.
Mr. Obama’s critics in Congress, including at least two senior Democrats, objected to the Council vote’s taking place before Congress has had a chance to debate it.
The United States ambassador, Samantha Power, speaking immediately after the vote, told the Council that sanctions relief would start only when Iran “verifiably” meets its obligations under the deal.
“We have a responsibility to test diplomacy,” she said.
In an effort to assuage critics, including Israel, Ms. Power went on to say that the United States would continue to scrutinize the “instability that Iran fuels beyond its nuclear program.”
She also called on Iran “to immediately release all unjustly detained Americans,” referring to three Americans of Iranian descent who have been incarcerated in Iran — Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian — as well as a fourth American, Robert A. Levinson, who has been missing in that country for eight years.
Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo, struck a defiant tone in the council’s chambers after the vote, asserting that the sanctions had been “unjustifiably” imposed and lashing out against what he called “Iranophobia.”
He took aim at the American ambassador’s suggestion that Iran destabilizes the region, and retorted that it was the “feckless and reckless action” of the United States that had sowed crises in the Middle East.
The Israeli government, which considers Iran one of its most dangerous enemies and has expressed strong opposition to the nuclear accord, quickly denounced the Council resolution.
“The hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said of the vote. He asserted that Iran had “systematically” violated prior Council resolutions and “calls for the destruction of Israel.”
“The best way to fight this hypocrisy is to tell the truth in a strong and unified manner,” Mr. Netanyahu told Israel’s parliament, according to a translation provided by his office.
“They say that this agreement makes war more distant,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “This is not true; this agreement brings war closer.”
The ambassadors from France and Russia both described the resolution as historic, but used their Council pulpit to emphasize their own positions. The French ambassador, François Delattre, said the pact must be carefully monitored. “We will judge by its actions Iran’s willingness to make this agreement a success,” he said.
The Russian envoy, Vitaly I. Churkin, indirectly nudged the United States to do its part. “We expect all countries will quickly adopt to the new conditions,” he said.