US: Iranian proxies in region, Assad must be contained

Herbert Raymond McMaster, National security advisor to the US President, delivers his speech on day two of the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2018
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US: Iranian proxies in region, Assad must be contained

MUNICH: US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Saturday that, despite denials, public reports showed that Syrian President Bashar Assad was using chemical weapons, and added that it was time for the international community to hold the Syrian regime to account.
“Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad’s chemical weapons use is continuing,” McMaster said at a major international security conference taking place in Munich.
“It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions and support the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” he said.
McMaster did not specify which public accounts or pictures he was referring to.
Earlier this month, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Syrian regime had repeatedly used chlorine gas, but stressed that the US did not have evidence of sarin gas use.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he had not yet seen proof this is the case.
The Syrian regime has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and said it targets only armed rebels and militants.
Diplomatic efforts have made scant progress toward ending the war in Syria now approaching its eighth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes.
In recent weeks, rescue workers, aid groups and the US have accused Syria of repeatedly using chlorine gas as a weapon against civilians in Ghouta and Idlib.
Earlier this month, Syrian regime forces, who are backed by Russia and Iran, bombarded the areas, two of the last major opposition-held parts of Syria.
McMaster told the conference that Iran is building and arming an increasingly powerful network of proxies in countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq that can turn against the governments of those states.
“What’s particularly concerning is that this network of proxies is becoming more and more capable, as Iran seeds more and more ... destructive weapons into these networks,” McMaster said.
“So the time is now, we think, to act against Iran,” he said. 
McMaster also called on the international community to do more on North Korea.
“We must pressure the Kim regime, using all available tools, to ensure that this cruel dictatorship cannot threaten the world with the most destructive weapons on earth,” he said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The US has appeared to endorse closer post-Olympics engagement between North and South Korea with an eye to eventual US-North Korean talks, but has agreed with Seoul that sanctions must be intensified to push Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program.
The prospect of negotiations comes after months of tension over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, in which US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader traded insults and threats, while the UN tightened sanctions.
“Nations that evade full enforcement and fail to take these steps are acting irresponsibly, now is the time to do more,” McMaster said, calling on countries to cut off military and commercial ties with Pyongyang. 


UN: 21 Afghan civilians killed in separate airstrikes

Updated 26 September 2018
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UN: 21 Afghan civilians killed in separate airstrikes

  • The UN says it is unclear whether the airstrikes were carried out by Afghan or NATO forces
  • 12 women and children from the same family were killed in a Sunday airstrike in the eastern Maidan Wardak province

KABUL, Afghanistan: The UN mission in Afghanistan says 21 civilians were killed in two separate airstrikes over the weekend.
It says in a statement Wednesday that nine civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in a Saturday airstrike in the northeastern Kapisa province, in an area where Afghan forces were battling the Taliban.
Another statement cited “preliminary findings” that 12 women and children from the same family were killed in a Sunday airstrike in the eastern Maidan Wardak province, also during an Afghan military operation.
The UN says it is unclear whether the airstrikes were carried out by Afghan or NATO forces. The Afghan government has not commented on the reports.