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ISIS bombing in Syria makes no sense

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ISIS bombing in Syria makes no sense

A terrorist bombing in Manbij, Syria, caused many casualties, including U.S. troops. ISIS-affiliated al-Amaq Agency has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Manbij, which is 20 miles from the Turkish border in northern Syria, has troops from multiple nations and groups regularly on the streets. The restaurant where the bombing took place was reported the venue for a meeting between U.S., French, and Kurdish troops at the time of the attack.

Here is a video of the attack. Warning: Graphic.

My Take

Terrorism in general doesn’t make sense, but this attack seems especially strange. Why would ISIS plan an attack now when the United States is close to leaving the region?

National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have indicated the troop withdrawal will happen more slowly and methodically than President Trump initially indicated when he announced the move. But this attack is not going to prompt our exit to speed up. If anything, it gives the President justification to keep troops in Syria against the wishes of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Not that he needs it, but apparently he thinks he does.

It’s futile to try to make sense of any acts of terrorism, or more specifically, the inhumane motivations for committing them. But they usually serve a purpose, at least in the eyes of the terrorists. This one seems out of place.

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Foreign Affairs

What if Iran, not Afghanistan or North Korea, was the reason John Bolton left the White House?

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What if Iran not Afghanistan or North Korea was the reason John Bolton left the White House

Speculation over the divide that eventually turned into an irreparable chasm between President Trump and his former National Security Advisor John Bolton has been focused on two places: Afghanistan and North Korea. The former is conspicuous because of timing; the White House has been in negotiations with the Taliban and Afghani leaders and recently canceled a meeting at Camp David before declaring withdrawal negotiations “dead.” The latter was referenced today by the President, who noted that Bolton’s invocation of the “Libyan Model” was part of the reason talks broke down between the United States and North Korea.

But recent reports that the President is considering relieving sanctions, reengaging in the Iran Nuclear Deal, and offering Iran a $15 billion line of credit seems to be the most likely scenario behind Bolton’s unexpected departure.

Trump Flirts With $15 Billion Bailout for Iran, Sources Say

President Donald Trump has left the impression with foreign officials, members of his administration, and others involved in Iranian negotiations that he is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Trump has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining President Emmanuel Macron’s plan, according to four sources with knowledge of Trump’s conversations with the French leader. Two of those sources said that State Department officials, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, are also open to weighing the French proposal, which would effectively ease the economic sanctions regime that the Trump administration has applied on Tehran for more than a year.

If this is the case and the President starts to bend on Iran in this manner, it’s a huge mistake and makes Bolton’s ouster much more understandable. Bolton, perhaps more than any other current or former White House official, is vehemently opposed to any relief for Iran. If anything, Bolton has likely been calling for strikes against Iran since joining the White House earlier this year. He’s a hawk – way too hawkish for me in most cases – but he also understands better than most that Iran represents a real threat to our interests and allies as well as the United States itself. Despite their economic hardships, they remain the world’s most prominent state sponsor of terrorism.

They want to destroy America, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. They aren’t shy about these desires.

Now is not the time to be backing down to Iran’s demands. This is still in rumor stage, but if the White House does anything to help the Iranian government get back on its feet, it would be a tremendous mistake.

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Why John Bolton’s firing is great and awful at the same time

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Why John Boltons firing is great and awful at the same time

Two things are true while seemingly being contradictory. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton is a patriotic American who wants to preserve the lives of our troops and citizens. He is also a neoconservative hawk who wants to put our men in harm’s way. How can these two things be?

The neoconservative wing of the Republican Party believes the best way to ensure the safety of our troops, our interests, and the interests of our allies is through strength. If that means taking out the enemy before they take us out, so be it. Bolton has been calling for preemptive strikes against Iran for over a decade. He has also opposed every proposed withdrawal of troops, including President Trump’s desire to remove troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

Call me an isolationist, but I’m not one who enjoys having troops permanently stationed anywhere other than established bases within allied territories. It’s not that I disagree with Bolton’s desire to keep troops abroad, but those troops should not be stationed within hostile territory unless there are immediate battles to be fought. Occupations, police actions, and sheer presence for the sake of preventing others from inserting themselves are not proper uses of our armed forces, in my humble opinion, because they put our men and women at risk without a clear enemy to defend against.

For this reason, I think it’s great news that Bolton left.

Trump ousts National Security Adviser John Bolton, says they ‘disagreed strongly’ on policy

Bolton’s removal comes after the hawkish adviser was reportedly sidelined from high-level discussions about military involvement in Afghanistan, after opposing diplomatic efforts in the region.

“Simply put, many of Bolton’s policy priorities did not align with POTUS,” a White House official told Fox News on Tuesday.

While Trump announced a 4,000-troop increase in 2017 as part of an effort to break the stalemate in the country, he has been moving toward agreeing to a phased withdrawal of troops. Some 14,000 U.S. troops have remained in Afghanistan, advising and assisting Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

But there’s a flip side to this argument, especially as it pertains to President Trump. Bolton offered a voice of reason that understood the implications of drawing down troops from various hotspots. Like I said, I’m not in favor of keeping troops where they don’t belong, but I’m also not in favor of removing troops prematurely. That was Bolton’s primary sticking point with the President. If Bolton wanted to keep troops out there too long, President Trump wanted to bring them home before it was time. The combination of the two perspectives made for good foreign policy decisions, which we saw after the President Tweeted last year that he’d be withdrawing immediately from Syria at the request of Turkey. It would have been a poor move, and his advisers slowed him down enough for preparations to be made properly.

This is why the White House needed John Bolton, Jim Mattis, or someone who will keep the President from making military mistakes on a whim. I didn’t have to agree with Bolton’s or Mattis’s policy ideas completely to appreciate their voice in the President’s ear. He wants things done, but his expert advisers are there to tell them when his desires do not align with our interests.

Overall, I think it’s a sad day for the White House and the nation to see John Bolton leave even if I don’t believe in his neoconservative perspectives. We need people in the President’s ear who will tell him the truth. There are plenty of yes-men there already.

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Trump says peace talks with Taliban are now ‘dead’

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Trump says peace talks with Taliban are now dead

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. peace talks with the Taliban are now “dead,” President Donald Trump declared Monday, one day after he abruptly canceled a secret meeting he had arranged with Taliban and Afghan leaders aimed at ending America’s longest war.

Trump’s remark to reporters at the White House suggested he sees no point in resuming a nearly yearlong effort to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, whose protection of al-Qaida extremists in Afghanistan prompted the U.S. to invade after the 9/11 attacks.

Asked about the peace talks, Trump said, “They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead.”

It’s unclear whether Trump will go ahead with planned U.S. troop cuts and how the collapse of his talks will play out in deeply divided Afghanistan.

In his remarks to reporters Monday, Trump said his administration is “looking at” whether to proceed with troop reductions that had been one element of the preliminary deal with the Taliban struck by presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

“We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time,” Trump said.

What had seemed like a potential deal to end America’s longest war unraveled, with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

The insurgents are now promising more bloodshed, and American advocates of withdrawing from the battlefield questioned on Monday whether Trump’s decision to cancel what he called plans for a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders at the Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat over the weekend had poisoned the prospects for peace.

“The Camp David ploy appears to have been an attempt to satisfy Trump’s obsession with carefully curated public spectacles — to seal the deal, largely produced by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators, with the president’s imprimatur,” said John Glaser director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Trump has been talking of a need to withdraw U.S. troops from the “endless war” in Afghanistan since his 2016 presidential campaign. And he said anew in a tweet on Monday, “We have been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and that was not meant to be the job of our Great Soldiers, the finest on earth.”

He added, without explanation, “Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years.”

There has been no evidence of a major U.S. military escalation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s weekend moves.

“When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work,” Pompeo said Sunday.

Trump said he called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence. But the emerging agreement had started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.

As Trump’s re-election campaign heats up, his quest to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan remains unfulfilled — so far.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined Monday to comment on the outlook for the administration’s plan to reduce the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan to 8,600.

Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one. Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal only included Taliban commitments to reduce violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government it sees as illegitimate and a puppet of the West. So, the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.

Some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, did not back the agreement with the Taliban as it was written, a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations said. They didn’t think the Taliban can be trusted. Bolton advised the president to draw down the U.S. force to 8,600 — enough to counter terror threats — and “let it be” until a better deal could be hammered out, the official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Khalilzad, the lead U.S. negotiator, recently announced that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban. Under the deal, the U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of signing. In exchange, the insurgents agreed to reduce violence and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks, including from a local Islamic State affiliate and al-Qaida.

Pompeo said the Taliban agreed to break with al-Qaida — something that past administrations have failed to get the Taliban to do.

The insurgent group hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks in 2001. After the attacks, the U.S. ousted the Taliban, which had ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2000.

But problems quickly emerged. On Thursday, a second Taliban car bomb exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing 12 people including a U.S. soldier. Khalilzad abruptly returned to Doha, Qatar, for more negotiations with the Taliban. He has since been recalled to Washington.

It’s unclear if the talks will resume because the Taliban won’t trust future deals they negotiate with the U.S. if they think Trump might then change course, according to the former senior Afghan official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The official, who has discussed the peace process with U.S. and Afghan officials, said Khalilzad’s team was not aware of Trump’s plans to tweet the end of the talks Saturday evening.

Trump’s suspension of the negotiations “will harm America more than anyone else,” the Taliban said in a statement.

The former Afghan official said the deal fell apart for two main reasons. First, the Taliban refused to sign an agreement that didn’t state the end date for a complete withdrawal of American forces. That date was to be either November 2020, the same month of the U.S. presidential election, or January 2021, he said.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement was to be followed by Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government to chart a political future for the country. Ghani told Khalilzad that putting a withdrawal date in the agreement would undermine the all-Afghan discourse before it began.

Secondly, the U.S. was unsuccessful in convincing Ghani to postpone the Afghan presidential election set for Sept. 28, the official said. The U.S. argued that if the elections were held and Ghani won, his opponents and other anti-Ghani factions would protest the results, creating a political crisis that would make the all-Afghan talks untenable. Other disagreements included why the deal did not address the Taliban’s linkages to Pakistan and prisoner-hostage exchanges, the official said.

___

Associated Press writers Cara Anna and Rahim Faiez in Kabul; Jonathan Lemire in Washington, and Julie Walker with AP Radio contributed to this report.

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