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Pentagon admits NO evidence of chemical attack in Syria, relying on ‘social media’

The US is “still assessing the intelligence” needed to prove the Assad regime conducted a recent alleged chemical attack in Syria, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Wednesday.

Vladimir Rodzianko

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Secretary of Defense James Mattis told lawmakers in the US Thursday that the Pentagon does not have any evidence that chlorine or sarin were used in the Syrian city of Douma.

Mattis went on to say that the majority of the claims were coming from mainstream media reports and social media posts – in other words, the rising tensions between nuclear superpowers over an alleged chemical attack in Syria, inching closer towards World War 3, has been all based on ZERO evidence, only fake media reports.

Via Sputnik:

“There have been a number of these attacks. In many cases, you know we don’t have troops, we’re not engaged on the ground there, so I cannot tell you that we had evidence, even though we had a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used,” Mattis said, speaking to members of the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

The defense secretary said that he did believe that a chemical attack did take place, but that the US was still “looking for the actual evidence.”

“We’re still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies. We’re still working on this,” he reiterated.

Warning that he was concerned that a US strike might lead to an “out of control” escalation in the Syrian war, Mattis said that Washington was “committed to ending that war through the Geneva process through the UN orchestrated effort.”

“On a strategic level, [the issue is] how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that,” he said, likely alluding to the prospects of a confrontation between Russian and US forces deployed in the Middle Eastern country.

Mattis promised to keep Congressional leaders informed if the Pentagon did decide to strike in Syria. Asked if the US was ready for an attack, Mattis replied that “We stand ready to provide military options if they’re appropriate, as the president determined.”

Emphasizing that the use of chemical weapons was “simply inexcusable,” the defense secretary also accused Moscow of complicity in Syria’s alleged retention of a chemical weapons stockpile.

Syrian opposition media reports last week of an attack by government forces involving chemical weapons prompted the US and its allies to blame Damascus and begin preparations for a possible military response. The Syrian government denied responsibility. The Russian Center for Reconciliation sent inspectors to Douma, finding no trace of chemical weapons use. Moscow has called for an independent investigation into the matter.

Syria destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile in 2013 in a deal brokered by Russia and the United States in exchange for the latter’s agreement not to attack the Middle Eastern country. In 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal had been eliminated.

Townhall.com elaborates on the complexity of the information coming out of Syria:

For the moment, Western governments attributing blame for the chemical attack on Assad’s government are, based on mainstream reports from outlets like the BBC, relying almost entirely on Islamist rebel groups and the activists and NGOs that operate within their territory for information [emphasis mine]:

Syrian opposition activists, rescue workers and medics say more than 40 people were killed on Saturday in a suspected chemical attack on Douma, the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta region.

They allege that bombs filled with toxic chemicals were dropped by Syrian government forces. The government says the attack was fabricated.

(…)

In March, troops split the region into three pockets – the largest of which was around Douma, home to between 80,000 and 150,000 people. Facing defeat, rebel groups in the other two pockets agreed to be evacuated to northern Syria.

But the group controlling Douma, Jaysh al-Islam, continued to hold out.

(…)

Activists from the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), which records alleged violations of international law in Syria, reported two separate incidents of bombs believed to contain toxic substances being dropped by the Syrian Air Force.

(…)

At 19:45, more than 500 patients – most of them women and children – were brought to medical facilities with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent, according to the Syria Civil Defence and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a relief organisation that supports hospitals.

(…)

The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports hospitals in rebel-held Syria, also said it received reports of two incidents [of chemical attacks].

Jaysh al-Islam (JAI, “Army of Islam”), the group that controls the area alleged to have been attacked by Assad, is an Islamist group that has acted as a rival of both ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, according to Middle East Eye [emphasis mine]:

JAI formed after a merger involving around 60 groups, including Liwa al-Islam, and is itself one of the main components of the Islamic Front – a group of Gulf-backed fighting groups – and are thought to be second only to Ahrar al-Sham in terms of power and numbers.

The Islamic Front issued a charter in 2013 (prior to Jaish al-Islam’s joining) that laid its principles for the creation of an Islamic-rooted society in which Islam would be the “religion of the state, and it is the principal and only source of legislation.”

(…)

“O mujihideen brothers! We will leave these fields in which we finished our course and preparation and we will continue with preparing to wage jihad,” says the group’s leader, Zahran Alloush, speaking to the recruits from a podium.

“Today the world is conspiring against us. And we have no one but Allah, an excellent protector and helper is he!”

In the past, President Trump was much more skeptical of the idea that the United States should support Islamist rebels and believe their claims without question:

That skepticism sure appears to be gone now.

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Rod Rosenstein resigns from his post before President Trump can fire him

Rosenstein’s comments about secretly recording the President backfire, and resignation may throw the Mueller Russiagate probe into question.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Washington Times broke the story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resigned from his post. He submitted his resignation to Chief of Staff John Kelly.  At present the breaking story says the following:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out at the Department of Justice.

Axios reported that Mr. Rosenstein verbally resigned to White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly, but CNN said that he is expecting to be fired.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment on the reports.

Mr. Rosenstein’s departure immediately throws Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe into chaos.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, leaving Mr. Rosenstein in charge.

President Trump mulled firing the No. 2 at the Department of Justice over the weekend.

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This report came after Fox News reported that the Deputy AG was summoned to the White House. Fox reported a little more detail:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is heading to the White House expecting to be fired, sources tell Fox News, in the wake of a report that he suggested wearing a wire against President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office last year.

This is a developing story, however one major factor that comes under consideration is the fate of Robert Mueller and his Russiagate investigation, which was authorized by Rosenstein. CNBC had this to say in their piece:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is resigning Monday, according to Axios, which cited a source familiar with the matter.

NBC News’ Pete Williams, however, reported that Rosenstein would not resign of his own accord, and that he will only depart if the White House fired him. He will refuse to resign if asked to do so, Williams added.

Rosenstein was at the White House when Williams reported this on the air. However, President Donald Trump is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Bloomberg later reported that the White House accepted Rosenstein’s resignation, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Rosenstein’s expected resignation will immediately raise questions about the fate of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Rosenstein’s job security was called into question after The New York Times reported last week that the No. 2 DOJ official had discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump, and had also talked about surreptitiously recording the president.

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel investigation, and has appointed Mueller to run the Russia probe last year, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the report.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Axios’ report. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly blasted Mueller’s inquiry, which also is focused on possible collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign.

He has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and has repeatedly vented frustration about Sessions’ recusal, which directly led to Mueller’s appointment by Rosenstein.

Rosenstein’s expected departure comes on the heels of a guilty plea by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to conspiracy charges related to his consulting work in Ukraine, which predates his role on the campaign.

As part of the investigation, Mueller’s team has been locked in an ongoing back-and-forth with Trump’s legal team over an in-person interview with the president.

Trump’s lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have signaled that Trump is unwilling to sit for an interview, calling it a “perjury trap” and setting up a potential challenge for Mueller to subpoena the president.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

 

 

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European Council crushes Theresa May’s soft Brexit dream (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May hoped that the European Council was ready to see things her way, in terms of proceeding with a soft Brexit, which was essentially no Brexit at all…at least not the hard Brexit that was voted on in a democratic referendum approximately two years ago.

Much to May’s surprise, European Council President Donald Tusk delivered a death blow verdict for May’s Brexit, noting that EU leaders are in full agreement that Chequers plan for Brexit “will not work” because “it risks undermining the single market.”

Without a miracle compromise springing up come during the October summit, the UK will drift into the March 29, 2019 deadline without a deal and out of the European Union…which was initially what was voted for way back in 2016, leaving everyone asking, what the hell was May doing wasting Britain’s time and resources for two years, so as to return back to the hard Brexit terms she was charged with carrying forward after the 2016 referendum?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss what was a disastrous EU summit in Salzburg for UK PM Theresa May, in what looks to be the final nail in May’s tenure as UK Prime Minister, as a hard Brexit now seems all but certain.

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Via Zerohedge

Tusk was speaking at the end of an EU summit in Salzburg, where the leaders of the 27 remaining states in the bloc were discussing Brexit. He said that while there were “positive elements” in May’s Chequers plan, a deal that puts the single market at risk cannot be accepted.

“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Tusk said. He also said that he could not “exclude” the possibility that the UK could exit the EU in March with no deal.

May has been urging her European counterparts to accept her controversial Chequers plan which has split both the Conservative party and the broader UK population after it was thrashed out back in July. However, despite the painfully-slow negotiation process, which appears to have made little headway with just a few months left, the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019 – with or without an exit deal.

The main sticking point that has emerged, and left May and the EU at loggerheads, has been how to avoid new checks on the Irish border. May has claimed that her proposals were the “only serious, credible” way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. She said during a press conference after the Salzburg meeting that she would not accept the EU’s “backstop” plan to avoid a Northern Ireland hard border. She said the UK would shortly be bringing forward its own proposals.

May also said that there was “a lot of hard work to be done,” adding that the UK was also preparing for the eventuality of having to leave the EU without a deal. Tusk, meanwhile, said that the upcoming October summit would be the “moment of truth” for reaching a deal, and that “if the conditions are there” another summit would be held in November to “formalize” it.

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Russia makes HUGE strides in drone technology

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The US and Israel are universally recognized leaders in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Thousands of American and Israeli UAVs are operating across the world daily.

The US military has recently successfully tested an air-to-air missile to turn its MQ-9 Reaper drone into an effective long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance unmanned spy aircraft capable of air-to-surface as well as air-to-air missions. This is a major breakthrough. It’s not a secret that Russia has been lagging behind in UAV development. Now its seems to be going to change with tangible progress made to narrow the gap.

Very few nations boast drones capable of high-altitude long endurance (HALE) missions. Russia is to enter the club of the chosen. In late 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry awarded a HALE UAV contract to the Kazan-based Simonov design bureau.

This month, Russian Zvezda military news TV channel showed a video (below) of Altair (Altius) heavy drone prototype aircraft number “03”, going through its first flight test.

Propelled by two RED A03/V12 500hp high fuel efficiency diesel engines, each producing a capacity of 500 hp on takeoff, the 5-ton heavy vehicle with a wingspan of 28.5 meters boasts a maximum altitude of 12km and a range of 10,000km at a cruising speed of 150-250km/h.

Wingspan: about 30 meters. Maximum speed: up to 950 km/h. Flight endurance: 48 hours. Payload: two tons, which allows the creation of a strike version. The vehicle is able to autonomously take off and land or be guided by an operator from the ground.

The UAV can carry the usual range of optical and thermal sensors as well as synthetic-aperture ground-surveillance radar with the resolution of .1 meter at the range of 35km and 1 meter at the range of 125km. The communications equipment allows real-time data exchange.

Russia’s UAV program currently underway includes the development of a range of large, small, and mid-sized drones. The Orion-E medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV was unveiled at the MAKS 2017 air show. Its developer, Kronstadt Technologies, claims it could be modified for strike missions. The one-ton drone is going through testing now. The Orion-E is capable of automatic takeoff and landing.

It can fly continuously for 24 hours, carrying a surveillance payload of up to 200 kg to include a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) turret, synthetic aperture radar and high resolution cameras. The drone can reach a maximum altitude of 7,500 m. Its range is 250 km.

The Sukhoi design bureau is currently developing the Okhotnik (Hunter) strike drone with a range of about 3,500km. The drone made its maiden flight this year. In its current capacity, it has an anti-radar coating, and will store missiles and precision-guided bombs internally to avoid radar detection.

The Kazan-based Eniks Design Bureau is working on the small T-16 weaponized aerial vehicle able to carry 6 kg of payload.

The new Russian Korsar (Corsair) tactical surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be upgraded to receive an electronic warfare system. Its operational range will be increased from 150km to 250km. The drone was revealed at Victory Day military parade along with the Korsar unmanned combat helicopter version.

The rotary wing drone lacks the speed and altitude of the fixed wing variant, but has a great advantage of being able to operate without landing strips and can be sea-based. Both drones can carry guided and unguided munitions. The fixed-wing version can be armed with Ataka 9M120 missiles.

The first Russian helicopter-type unmanned aerial vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells was presented at the Army-2018 international forum. With the horizontal cruising speed of the drone up to 60 kph, the unmanned chopper can stay in the air at least 2.5 hours to conduct reconnaissance operations. Its payload is up to 5 kg.

Last November, the Kalashnikov Concern reported that it would start production of heavy unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying up to several tons of cargo and operating for several days at a time without needing to recharge.

All in all, the Russian military operate 1,900 drones on a daily basis. The multi-purpose Orlan-10 with a range of 600km has become a working horse that no military operation, including combat actions in Syria, can be conducted without. Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov,
the head of the Russian General Staff’s Office for UAV Development, Russian drones performed over 23,000 flights, lasting 140,000 hours in total.

Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027 puts the creation of armed UAVs at the top of priorities’ list. Looks like the effort begins to pay off. Russia is well on the way to become second to none in UAV capability.

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Via Strategic Culture

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