US to withdraw assistance from northwest Syria: US officials

US troops sit atop an armoured vehicle on a road near the northern Syrian village of Ain Issa. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2018
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US to withdraw assistance from northwest Syria: US officials

  • Trump said in March that it was time for the United States to leave Syria, following allied victories against Daesh militants
  • Tens of millions of dollars will be cut from previous US-backed efforts in the northwest

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration will withdraw assistance from northwest Syria dominated by Islamist factions and focus recovery efforts on areas where US-led forces have retaken territory from Daesh in the northeast, US officials with knowledge of the decision said on Friday.
CBS, which first reported the story, said tens of millions of dollars will be cut from previous US-backed efforts in the northwest, including projects for “countering violent extremism, supporting independent society and independent media, strengthening education, and advocating for community policing.”
US officials told Reuters that humanitarian assistance would not be affected in the northwest around Idlib province, which is the largest chunk of Syrian territory held by insurgent factions, including Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in the Syrian war.
“US assistance for programs in northwest Syria are being freed up to provide potential increased support for priorities in northeast Syria,” a State Department official told Reuters.
A second official said the administration believed it wanted to move the assistance to areas where the US had more control.
President Donald Trump in March froze more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria while his administration reassesses Washington’s role in the Syrian conflict. The review is still under way, one US official said.
Trump said in March that it was time for the United States to leave Syria, following allied victories against Daesh militants. About 2,000 US troops are deployed in Syria.
In April, however, Trump deepened US involvement by ordering missile strikes against Syria in response to a poison gas attack that killed dozens of people.
A third US official said the cuts in the northwest would take place over a period of months.
“The danger is a repeat of what the president criticized about Iraq — leaving a vacuum where the violence can get worse and extremists can exploit that,” the official added.
The Pentagon has estimated that Daesh has lost about 98 percent of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria, US military officials have warned that the militants could regain the freed areas quickly unless they are stabilized.


Iran starts Gulf war games, to test submarine-launched missiles

Updated 22 February 2019
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Iran starts Gulf war games, to test submarine-launched missiles

  • More than 100 vessels taking part in the three-day war games in an area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean
  • Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles

DUBAI: Iran on Friday began large-scale naval drills at the mouth of the Gulf, which will feature its first submarine cruise missile launches, state media reported, at a time of rising tensions with the United States.
More than 100 vessels were taking part in the three-day war games in a vast area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, the state news agency IRNA reported.
“The exercise will cover confronting a range of threats, testing weapons, and evaluating the readiness of equipment and personnel,” navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, said in remarks carried by state television.
“Submarine missile launches will be carried out ... in addition to helicopter and drone launches from the deck of the Sahand destroyer,” Khanzadi said.
State media said Iran would be testing its new domestically built Fateh (Conqueror) submarine which is armed with cruise missiles and was launched last week.
Iranian officials in the past have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile US action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program last May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. He said the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles.
Iran launched its domestically made destroyer Sahand in December, which official say has radar-evading stealth properties.
The USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf in December, ending a long absence of US aircraft carriers in the strategic waterway.
Iran displayed a new cruise surface-to-surface missile with a range of 1,300 kilometers earlier this month during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, although there are concerns about its long-range ballistic missiles.