Paul Vale   |   August 8, 2014    2:58 PM ET

US Navy fighters have returned to the skies of Iraq, targeting American ordnance on artillery positions held by the Islamic State, formerly ISIS, the militant group that has ravaged the region, persecuting ethnic and religious minorities. The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that the USS George H. W Bush carrier had deployed a pair of F/A18 fighters, which targeted militants near the Kurdish city of Irbil, with two 500-pound bombs. The militants were reportedly launching strikes on Irbil, a city in which US personnel are deployed.

The move follows President Obama's declaration on Friday night that "America was coming to help", the White house authorising the strikes in response to threat on Irbil, as well as the plight of the Yazidis, a Kurdish sect that in recent days have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge on Mount Sinjar to escape slaughter at the hands of the Islamic State. The President added that the US military had already supplied food and water via air drops to the Yazidis at the request of the Iraqi government however reiterated that there would be "no American troops on the ground".

More than 4,000 Yazidis are estimated to be marooned on the mountain without fresh water and in unbearable summer heat, unable to descend through fear of being massacred by the extremists ravaging the surrounding geography.

fa18

Two F/A18 fighters were deployed from the USS George H. W Bush

The Kurdish community, which follows an ancient religion linked to Zoroastrianism but with components of Islam and Christianity, fled to the mountain from nearby villages to escape slaughter, however without sustenance or shelter the displaced Yazidis faced a horrific end, despite attempts by humanitarian agencies to drop bottled water on the mountainside. CNN is reporting that dozens of children have already died of thirst.

Speaking to the Washington Post on Thursday, Marzio Babille, the Iraq representative for the UNICEF, said the Yazidis are dying on the mountain. “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster,” he warned.

The Islamic State has been vociferous in its persecution of ethnic groups in Iraq, with an estimated 150,000 Kurds fleeing to the protected Kurdish region, creating a humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the country.

More from the Press Association:

Following a meeting in Whitehall of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Britain was ready to provide "technical assistance" to support US humanitarian operations in the region. Speaking in Downing Street, he told reporters that he hoped British air-drops targeting members of the Yazidi religious minority trapped on a mountainside could begin in the "next couple of days".

"What we have decided today is to assist the United States in the humanitarian operations that started yesterday. We are offering technical assistance in that in terms of refuelling and surveillance," he said. "We are offering aid of our own which we hope to drop over the next couple of days in support of the American relief effort, particularly to help the plight of those who are trapped on the mountain."

In its latest travel advice, the Foreign Office is warning British nationals against all travel to areas in northern Iraq affected by the fighting, including those in the Kurdistan region - previously regarded as one of the safest parts of the country. Earlier, David Cameron insisted the world must help the Yazidis in their "hour of desperate need" as he backed US president Barack Obama's decision to respond to a request by the Iraqi government for targeted air strikes.

isis

Protesters in London, who are calling for help for the Yazidi

The Prime Minister said he utterly condemned the "barbaric attacks" by IS - formerly known as Isis (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). "I am extremely concerned by the appalling situation in Iraq and the desperate situation facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I am especially concerned for the minority Yazidi community now trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they have fled for their lives. They fear slaughter if they descend back down the slopes but face starvation and dehydration if they remain on the mountain. The world must help them in their hour of desperate need."

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, joined the appeals for international help for those communities "facing a threat to their very existence in their biblical homelands". "It is imperative that the international community ensure the physical protection of all communities in Iraq, their human rights including the right to religious freedom," he said. "I urge Her Majesty's Government to lead the efforts in the face of such a human calamity in order to help restore these shattered communities, provide them with urgent humanitarian aid and work with others to ensure their long-term security in the land of their birth."

The Department for International Development later gave details of the UK's £8 million emergency aid package. It includes £2 million of humanitarian supplies for 75,000 people, such as reusable filtration containers filled with clean water, tents, and solar lights which can also recharge mobile phones. Much of the aid can be dropped from the air to help those trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Some £3 million will go to charities and NGOs already on the ground and helping displaced people in northern Iraq, and £2.5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

A further £500,000 will be used to ensure Kurdish and UN systems can co-ordinate properly. International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "The world has been horrified by the brutal persecution of vulnerable minority groups by Isil extremists in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and we are extremely concerned for their safety.

"This aid from the British people will help the Yazidi community, who are now cut off on Mount Sinjar, get immediate emergency support. It will also ensure thousands more people get medical help, shelter, food and clean water. It is absolutely vital that the UN gets the access it needs and the British government is working with the international community to push for this."

SEE ALSO:

The Yazidis on Mount Sinjar

  |   August 8, 2014    2:24 PM ET

These incredible pictures have emerged, showing the desperate plight of members of Iraq's Yazidi religious minority as they hide from the Islamists who call them "devil worshippers" and will kill them if they try to return to their homes.

The Yazidis are a small community that follows a 4,000-year-old faith and have been repeatedly targeted by jihadists who call them "devil-worshipers" because of their unique beliefs and practices.

Islamic State (IS) - formerly known as ISIS - jihadists ousted the Peshmerga troops of Iraq's Kurdish government from the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, forcing thousands of people from their homes.

The images show them trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they are surrounded by the Islamist militants and desperately in need of food, shelter and water.

mount sinjar

A Yazidi family on Mount Sinjar

David Cameron has insisted the world must help the Yazidis in their "hour of desperate need", as he backed US airstrikes to protect them - but ruled out UK military action, while condemning the "barbaric attacks" by IS.

US President Barack Obama announced in a late-night televised statement that military planes had carried out humanitarian airdrops in the region to protect religious minorities - including Christians and Yazidis - and said America would take action if the lives of its troops in Iraq are at risk from Islamic militants.

Today, the US confirmed it had begun those airstrikes.

Britain is to drop relief supplies to support the refugees but will not intervene militarily.

Following a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said he hoped the relief operation - could begin "in the next couple of days".

He said Britain was also ready to offer "technical assistance" in support of US humanitarian operations to aid the refugees.

"What we have decided today is to assist the United States in the humanitarian operations that started yesterday," he said.

"We are offering technical assistance in that in terms of refuelling and surveillance. We are offering aid of our own which we hope to drop over the next couple of days in support of the American relief effort, particularly to help the plight of those who are trapped on the mountain."

The Yazidis on Mount Sinjar

Cameron welcomed Obama's decision to accept the Iraqi government's request for help and to conduct airstrikes if necessary to help Iraqi forces "fight back" to free the trapped civilians.

He added he has tasked officials to urgently establish what more can be done to help those people affected.

SEE ALSO: Who Are The Yazidis?

Cameron said: "I am extremely concerned by the appalling situation in Iraq and the desperate situation facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And I utterly condemn the barbaric attacks being waged by ISIS terrorists across the region.

"I am especially concerned for the minority Yazidi community now trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they have fled for their lives.

"They fear slaughter if they descend back down the slopes but face starvation and dehydration if they remain on the mountain. The world must help them in their hour of desperate need."

He continued: "Last night, the UK chaired a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to ensure a strong international response to the crisis and this morning the Defence Secretary will chair a Cobra on the issue.

"I have tasked officials to urgently establish what more we can do to provide help to those affected, including those in grave need of food, water and shelter in the Sinjar area.

"I welcome president Obama's decision to accept the Iraqi government's request for help and to conduct targeted US airstrikes, if necessary, to help Iraqi forces as they fight back against Isil terrorists to free the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar.

"And I fully agree with the president that we should stand up for the values we believe in - the right to freedom and dignity, whatever your religious beliefs."

IRAQ:

Former defence secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee and former foreign secretary, said the US was right to intervene.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The United Nations has what is often referred to as a responsibility to protect. That's a general statement but means when you have some potential humanitarian disaster on a vast scale then you can't just sit back and say how sad it is, you have to try and intervene.

"Here we have a total of 150,000 people who have fled from their homes and in danger of losing their lives."

Sir Malcolm said the political advance of Isil in northern Iraq was up to the Iraqi government to resolve, adding it would not be in a position to deal with it until it reformed.

He said the world could not "directly intervene" in that area but limited action could be taken to address the "specific humanitarian threat".

Sir Malcolm said he had always thought the Iraqi war in 2003 was a mistake and an "extremely foolish exercise" which has caused "massive instability" but noted Syria was perhaps in an "even worse mess".

He said: "One can't simply say this (in Iraq) was all caused by the war of 10 years ago but there is no doubt that war and the aftermath of it caused a fundamental split between the Sunni and Shia population, created instability and ungovernability in many places in Iraq and therefore has certainly contributed to the terrible drama we're seeing at the moment."

John Kerry Should Set Timelines and Benchmarks to See Progress on Deteriorating Situation of Rohingya in Burma

Tun Khin   |   August 8, 2014    1:12 PM ET

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Burma tomorrow. Just days before his visit, more than 100 security forces came to an internally displaced person (IDP) camp for Rohingya in Thandawlee village in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State in western Burma. They killed one Rohingya, seriously injured two others, and arrested more than 15 people. At the same time, Rohingyas in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, in northern Arakan State, were arrested, threatened and harassed while the government attempted to collect population data. These attacks are all too common, as impunity reigns for violence against Rohingya. As a President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK http://brouk.org.uk/, I call on Secretary Kerry to prioritise the situation of the Rohingya during his trip and press for accountability for these crimes.

It has been more than two years since an increase in brutal violence against Rohingya and the situation has not improved. In fact, it is getting much worse. In March of this year, hundreds of aid workers were evacuated after facing attacks from nationalist mobs. The expulsion had devastating consequences; for example, more than 150 Rohingyas and 20 pregnant women died in the two weeks after Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/28/doctors-without-borderskickedoutofwesternmyanmar.htmlwere expelled from Arakan State in March. Many children have died from malnutrition. Although MSF has now been invited back into Arakan State, there are still serious restrictions on aid and movement for the thousands of Rohingya IDPs.

To date, there has been no progress on the resettlement of displaced Rohingya. The children in IDP camps are simply dying from insufficient health care and other essential services. President Obama http://www.dvb.no/analysis/what-obama-didn%E2%80%99t-say/25003has mentioned that Rohingya should be treated with the same dignity as all other people, but still there was little progress that translated into necessary aid for those in need.

The government of Burma uses six main methods to oppress our Rohingya community: discriminatory laws, incitement of hatred, political disenfranchisement, restricting humanitarian access, stopping economic activity, and using both state and non-state physical violence against Rohingya individuals.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47517#.U-SzdqOtqZGhas stated that the widespread and systematic human rights violations in Arakan State may constitute crimes against humanity. The US government should be supporting an international investigation into human rights abuses in Arakan State given the ongoing violence and the urgent needs of Rohingya community members.

If the US government wants to see clear progress on the Rohingya issue in Burma, Secretary Kerry should set clear and measurable timelines and benchmarks for progress, including restoring Rohingya citizenship and lifting restrictions on aid, movement, marriage and education for Rohingya.

In June a senior UN official referred to the humanitarian situation in western Burma's Arakan State as "appalling" upon concluding a four-day visit to the country. Kyung-wha Kang http://www.dvb.no/news/un-official-appalled-by-situation-in-arakan-burma-myanmar/41607, the UN assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told reporters that she witnessed "a level of human suffering in IDP [internally displaced persons] camps that I have personally never seen before."

US Secretary of State John Kerry should support an independent international investigation http://burmacampaign.org.uk/european-union-must-support-international-investigation-into-human-rights-abuses-against-rohingya/149/ into human rights abuses in Arakan. Rohingyas around the world have been calling for an international investigation since June 2012. We faced a massacre in October 2012 and again January 2014 http://brouk.org.uk/?p=85. Anti-Muslim propaganda and hate-speech have increased attacks against Muslims in Burma.

President Thein Sein'shttp://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refdaily?pass=463ef21123&date=2012-07-13&cat=Asia/Pacific previous request to deport all Rohingya from the country has been described as tantamount to ethnic cleansing, and has sent a signal to others in government that they can act with impunity when it comes to violence against Rohingya. An independent international investigation http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/04/22/burma-end-ethnic-cleansing-rohingya-muslims would help end the sense of impunity, establish the truth and make recommendations for action to prevent further violence.

Secretary Kerry should seize the opportunity to change the Burmese government's response to violence against Rohingya. He must put pressure on President Thein Sein to forcefully denounce hate speech against Rohingya, promote appropriate accountability for violence and crimes against Rohingya, allow humanitarian access to all parts of Arakan State, repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law that renders Rohingya stateless, and end the segregation between communities in Arakan State.

A new form of apartheid is being created to segregate us from other people of Burma. Rohingya have been put into camps or isolated villages where life will be so terrible that people will be forced to leave the country, even at great risk to their safety. I call on Secretary Kerry to do everything in his power to stem the tide of oppression and help protect the rights of our Rohingya people.

Tun Khin is President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, which is playing a crucial role to provide a vital voice to policy makers around the world for the Rohingya people.

Scottish Independence Rejected By Members Of US Congress

Ned Simons   |   August 7, 2014    9:41 AM ET

Republican and Democratic members of the United States Congress have joined forces to encourage Scotland not to vote for independence on September 18.

A motion tabled in the House of Representatives, signed by 27 congressmen and women, expresses support for "a united, secure, and prosperous United Kingdom".

House resolution 713 speaks about the "special relationship" between the UK and US and references Winston Churchill as evidence of the "unprecedented depth of cooperation and the extensive historic ties between the two nations".

"Throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, the United States and the United Kingdom fought together in several struggles, including the First and Second World Wars, in which millions of American and British soldiers sacrificed for their countries," it says.

"Millions of Americans have Scottish roots and identify with their Scottish ancestry, and Scottish people and culture have had a profound effect on the United States throughout its history."

Republican congressman Ed Royce, the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, told The Huffington Post: "Our ‘special relationship’ with the United Kingdom is unparalleled. It is crucial for both our nations to continue our close cooperation on key diplomatic, security, economic, and human rights concerns. A strong, unified United Kingdom has been a leader in the world and I look forward to continuing our valuable partnership."

In June, President Obama staged a major intervention in the debate over independence, when he said he wanted to see Britain remain "united". Former secretary of state, and likely 2016 presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton, has also urged Scotland to reject independence.

A recent poll of ex-pat Scots living in the United States showed 74% did not want Scotland to leave the UK. However people born in Scotland who now live outside the country are not allowed to vote in the referendum.

America's Identity Crisis

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   August 7, 2014   12:00 AM ET

As the global landscape rapidly changes Americans are re-examining their role in the world.

The aftermath of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ever challenging events in the Middle East, the continued unravelling of the once hopeful Arab Spring, the mass migration of peoples to escape the dangers posed by this violence and the consequences of failed states around the globe are reshaping the world as we have known it.

These are not just far away problems anymore.

These same kinds of global pressures are producing a steady flow of illegal immigrants or "refugees" ( depending on your point view) along our own southern border with Mexico.

As far back as I can remember, America and her people saw themselves as "the champion of democracy" and the refuge for those who sought safety from persecution.

In fact, during its infancy America was the home sought by English "Puritans" who were seeking freedom from religious persecution.

In the 1600s these Puritans and "Pilgrims" came to Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts to try to live freely and practice their faith in peace.

Thanksgiving Day Turkey Dinner notwithstanding, this unwanted invasion from England was not very welcomed by the Native American people who correctly perceived these newcomers as a threat to their way of life and their existence.

This group of "unwelcome immigrants" was the first of many waves to come to the shores of America either through Ellis Island or other places of entry.

Interestingly, Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States was the first president born a US citizen in 1782.

All seven of his predecessors were in fact born British subjects.

Immigrants still arrive daily on foot - sometimes wadding across rivers - by car, truck, bus, boat, train and plane.

In the past, many were greeted by Lady Liberty as they sailed into New York Harbor.

The inscription written by New York City born Emma Lazarus which adorns the base of the Statute of Liberty reflected the American sentiment at the time:

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Today that quote might be "Give me your best educated engineers, your wizards of high tech and your engaging entrepreneurs - your best and your brightest, give me your Bill Gates, your Steve Jobs and your 'Googley' candidates yearning to be free to create, invent and invest."

Americans who have weathered a tough economic storm no longer seem willing to welcome those yearning for a better life.

They are in survival mode viewing each new immigrant as yet more competition in an ever-shrinking job market.

It is surely this economic pressure which has changed the attitude of those Americans who once swung open the doors of their hearts and homes to welcome and embrace newcomers to this land of opportunity.

Nowhere is this change more stark than in the argument about how to deal with the throngs of children crossing the US border on their own to seek a better life.

Depending on your point of view, these young children are either law breakers who must be sent home immediately or needful neighbors to be given refuge and protection from the dangers they are fleeing in their own countries south of our border.

The economic and political pressure caused by this latest wave of immigrants is forcing Americans to reconsider whether they still want their country to be a safe haven and refuge for those fleeing danger or economic hardship.

The idea of America as "the champion of democracy" worldwide is also being challenged.

After two back to back wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - costing billions in dollars and a far greater cost in the treasure of lives, Americans are asking "WHY"?

Before we defend democracy again on foreign soil, Americans are not only assessing the cost they are also assessing the gains.

Despite the promises of the politicians who sent a generation of America's youth into harms way, these wars did not pay for themselves, they did not create stable democracies that were friendly to US interests and did not turn out according to their plans.

So as Americans continue to watch Iraq unravel and question whether the same thing will happen once we exit Afghanistan, it is no wonder that they ask - was it worth the sacrifice?

It is not surprising that politicians tread lightly at the suggestion that Americans stand up to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Crimea or to ISIS as they brutally continue their takeover of Syria and Iraq and possibly most of the Middle East and Africa.

Even as Congress and President Obama approve more funds to support and protect America's closest ally in the Middle East - Israel - from Hamas rockets, some question whether Israel's latest actions in Gaza are in the long term best interest of both the US and Israel.

Americans are also questioning whether the long standing US Policy of a two state solution can actually ever work - and if it does, will it turn out as we hoped and planned.

Many have accused President Obama of leading from behind - perhaps he is simply trying not to get ahead of where the American people are as they begin to re-assess their role on the world stage.

We will only truly know the answer with the benefit of hindsight and the passage of time.

America and its people may be battle weary of shouldering the cost and the burden of "keeping" or as some may say "disrupting" world peace - it is after all a weighty responsibility to be so engaged.

Indeed, Americans and the idea of "America" are having an identity crisis; justifiably so, as the world beyond our boarders is experiencing serious growing pains as well.

No one country or one people should be expected to shoulder all the burdens on their own - and yet there is no one waiting in the wings to fill this role.

Although America's NATO allies assist when duty calls, none of them individually or as a group seems eager to assume America's traditional role and take on all her burdens.

I don't think America and its people are ready to cede its "greatest" appellation just yet, however I do believe they are struggling to find a balance and a new way to engage in this rapidly changing global landscape.

We Tortured Some Folks...

Neil Durkin   |   August 7, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Barack Obama's now rather famous phrase from the end of last week is quite something.

As others have observed, it's not the first time he's referred to the mistreatment of detainees during the USA's "war on terror" as torture (though it's still rare to hear it). But it's definitely new that he's used this eye-catching "folks" phrase, a far more human word than alternatives like "detainees" or "terrorism suspects".

On one level - and particularly on this side of the Atlantic - "folks" still sounds too er... folksy for this very grave subject matter. To my ears it positively jars, sounding like a sort of glib, down-home Bushism, almost as if it were said with one of George W's characteristic twinkle-eyed facial expressions. (This could just be me though. I've always disliked the word, hearing a hollow talk-show-host ring of insincerity in it).

But, on another level, and particularly for domestic US audiences, "folks" is surely the quintessential "us" - regular folk, neighbours, co-workers, our people. One commentator observed that folks brings a Fargo-like quality to the topic (ya know, kinda homely, kinda friendly). Whether the president intended this or whether the phrase was just used off the cuff is - to me at least - unclear, but the end result is that torture victims have been partially re-humanised through the vocabulary. Turned back into people. No longer just "bad guys".

Which is a start. Lest we forget, torture is a worldwide scourge, affecting three-quarters of the world. Acknowledging that it's as wrong when used against "terrorism suspects" as it is against political opponents or even minor criminal suspects is... well, progress.

What's far less encouraging is the fact that Obama is still talking about "making sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved" (mistakes!?), and not about things like "making people properly accountable for their actions" or "bringing people to justice". Not a whisper about that. Indeed Obama even warns of the supposed dangers of being "sanctimonious in retrospect" about what the interrogator-torturers did. These too were "folks", he says, ones with a "tough job" (though maybe not as tough as those who were actually being waterboarded or being forced to stay awake for 11 consecutive days).

Obama's remarks are clearly preparing the ground for the long-awaited publication of at least part of the US Senate Intelligence Committee's mammoth (6,300-page) report into the activities of the CIA during its notorious rendition and secret detention programme. But whether anyone is actually going to be held responsible for authorising or carrying out crimes like kidnapping or torture is looking... far from certain. Obama's record on this is pretty awful. Shortly before his inauguration in 2009 he reassured any nervous Langley operatives that he didn't "want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders." Priorities, eh?

No, the worry here is that the White House is going to treat the CIA report as just another exercise in news management, just more PR firefighting. Rather embarrassingly, an internal "Talking Points" briefing prepared for White House officials by their US State Department colleagues recently appeared in public after accidentally getting sent to a journalist. This gave advice on how to deal with journalists' questions over the Senate report. I note that one question in this crib-sheet Q/A was "Will the Justice Department revisit its decision not to prosecute anyone?" I wonder what the "A" to that is...

We shall see. But what are the odds that the CIA will end up being ritualistically praised ("keeping America safe" etc) and that no-one will end up being punished? And if this fiercely contested (the CIA has already been caught spying on the Senate committee's computers) process doesn't produce anything approaching truth and justice isn't there a danger that whole chunks of the past will be more or less erased, just like those incriminating interrogation videotapes the CIA wiped back in the day. Remember what Jose Rodriguez Jr (forrmer deputy director of operations at the CIA, 2004-7,) said about that? If the world saw the tapes it would be "devastating to the CIA", he said, and "the heat from destroying is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain".

Rodriguez et al may be sleeping slightly uneasily at the moment but it's still not looking especially likely that they'll have to fully account for their actions.

We tortured some folks. But did we also let some folks get away with it?

  |   August 5, 2014    4:48 PM ET

A soldier has been killed and a number of Britons injured in a suspected "insider attack" at a military academy in Afghanistan. The incident happened at the Afghan National Defence University in Kabul city when a man reportedly dressed in Afghan army uniform opened fire on foreign troops.

The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) confirmed one of its soldiers was killed, while Germany's Ministry of Defence said an army general was among 15 people injured. It is understood a number of Britons were wounded in the attack but their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.

A US official said the soldier killed was American, the Associated Press reported. The UK's Ministry of Defence said it was investigating reports of a shooting incident and "it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time". The incident took place at the site in the Qargha district of Kabul which also houses a British-run military academy - dubbed "Sandhurst in the sand".

A spokesman for Germany's Ministry of Defence said: "There has been an attack, probably through an 'inside attacker'...at 12.23pm Afghan time on August 5. At least 15 Isaf members were wounded, among them a German soldier who works as a brigade general. One Isaf soldier died from his injuries.

"The German general, who is not thought to be in a critical condition, is receiving treatment. His next of kin have been informed. An investigation into the attack is taking place." An MoD spokesman said: "We are aware of reports of an incident at Qargha. The incident is under investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time".

An Isaf spokesman said: "Isaf confirms that an incident occurred today involving local Afghan and International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) troops at The Marshal Fahim National Defence University in Kabul City, Afghanistan. "At this time, Isaf can confirm one Isaf service member was killed. This incident is under investigation. It is Isaf policy to defer casualty identification to the relevant national authorities."

General Mohammmad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Defence Ministry, told the Associated Press a "terrorist in an army uniform" opened fire on both local and international troops. He said the shooter had been killed and that three Afghan army officers were injured.

A US official said one American soldier was killed in the attack and "about a dozen" of those wounded were Americans, AP reported. The attack was initially reported to have happened at the British-run training academy, dubbed "Sandhurst in the sand", which will be the only remaining British military presence in the country after operations end this year.

However it is understood the incident happened in another part of the large site at Qargha, where there are several training facilities. The attack comes as so-called "insider attacks" - incidents in which Afghan security forces turn on their Nato partners - largely dropped last year. In 2013, there were 16 deaths in 10 separate attacks. In 2012, such attacks killed 53 coalition troops in 38 separate attacks.

SEE ALSO:

Jessica Elgot   |   August 5, 2014    4:15 PM ET

A racist laser artwork of President Barack Obama swallowing a banana has been projected onto the facade of the US embassy in Moscow, wishing the US leader a 'happy birthday'.

On the front of the imposing building in the city's Presnensky District late Monday night, the green laser beams etched the words 'Happy Birthday Obama' on the day the President turned 53.

An image of the President in a party hat, with a banana moving into his mouth was then played out.

A group calling itself 'The Moscow Student Initiative' claimed responsibility for the projection, posting on its VK social media page: "Laser show at the US Embassy in Moscow as a gift to Barack Obama".

The group describes themselves as "an art group, a circle of common interests, activists, students, patriots".

"On the night of August 4, activists of the Moscow Student Initiative projected an extraordinary image on the US embassy. The image resembled the face of Barack Obama. The composition was animated and there was a diving banana in the mouth of the US President. At the end was the inscription 'Happy Birthday Obama'."

Ridus, a citizen journalism website in Moscow, said one man was detained by police after the images were projected.

The group also claimed responsibility for a banner close to the consular building for the US Embassy, which compared him to the 'Three Wise Monkeys'.

obama banner

The banner outside the US consulate

The banner reads: "Don't see. Don't hear. Truth for no one" — according to a translation by the Washington Post.

And on its VK page, Russia's answer to Facebook, the students also posted pictures of a sculpture of a white American with its arms folded and another two arms in its ears.

On its folded arms it says 'American democracy', with its body painted in the colours of the American flag and dollar bills stuffed in its folded elbows and armpits.

statue

One of the sculptures created by the Russian group

The group has previously projected #SaveKidsFromUkraine onto the Embassy building, in protest at US support for Ukraine's new pro-Europe government, which has been forcing out pro-Russia rebels in the countries East, causing civilian casualties.

A Century of Warfare: Analysing America's War Record Since WWI

Brad Linzy   |   July 31, 2014    4:33 AM ET

This past Monday, 28 July 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, a war which was supposed to have ended all wars, yet in hindsight, really began a century of warfare that raised the technology of killing to a high art and shuffled the decks of world power.

Although US involvement in World War I wasn't official until 1917, this conflict would herald the arrival of the US as an imperial power and set up a trail of political dominoes that are still falling to this day.

2014-07-31-americanposter.jpg

To better understand why I say this has been a century of warfare, particularly for the US, let's look at some raw numbers. While most war statistics focus on human casualties, and while most discussions of warfare hinge upon qualifications of justness or morality, for the sake of this exercise let's focus only on the duration of each war. What follows is a list of every major, official US military conflict of the past 100 years along with the number of days spent by the US in each engagement.

  • Word War I: 6 April 1917 - 11 November 1918 (585 days)
  • World War II:
    8 December 1941 - 2 September 1945 (1365 days)
  • Korean War:
    25 June 1950 - 27 July 1953 (1128 days)
  • Vietnam War (aka Second Indochina War):
    1 November 1955 - 30 April 1975 (7121 days)
    NOTE: Although this war is often officially cited as beginning for the US after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, the US had been sending troops, arms, and tactical aid to South Vietnam as early as 1950. The start of the Second Indochina War is often cited as 1 November 1955, after the French withdrawal. While it may skew our traditional view slightly, I believe this start date affords a more accurate overall picture.
  • Panama Invasion (Operation Just Cause):
    20 December 1989 - approx, 1 April 1990 (103 days)
  • The Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm):
    2 August 1990 - 28 February 1991 (211 days)
  • Somali Civil War (Operation Restore Hope):
    4 December 1992 - 31 March 1995 (848 days)
  • Bosnian War (Operation Deliberate Force):
    30 August 1995 - 20 September 1995 (22 days)
    NOTE: this conflict was much longer and involved US-led intervention as early as 1992, but official US direct military involvement lasted through the dates above. This is a conservative estimate of US involvement.
  • Haiti (Operation Uphold Democracy):
    19 September 1994 - 31 March 1995 (194 days)
  • Kosovo War:
    23 March 1999 - 11 June 1999 (81 days)
    NOTE: dates reflect actual start and end of NATO bombing.
  • Afghanistan War (Operation Enduring Freedom):
    7 October 2001 - Present (4680 days)
  • Iraq War:
    20 March 2003 - 18 December 2011 (3196 days)
  • Libya Intervention:
    19 March 2011 - 31 October 2011 (227 days)

Total duration of US involvement in wars from 6 April 1917 to present is 19,550 days. That's over 53.5 years of war out of 100.

Here are the most "warlike" Presidents over this time period. Figures are calculated by the total number of days of all wars over which each presided. Multiple wars running concurrently are counted separately.

  1. George W. Bush, Republican (4797 days Afghanistan, and Iraq)
  2. Barack Obama, Democrat (3308 days, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya)
  3. Dwight Eisenhower, Republican (2097 days Korea and Vietnam)
  4. Richard Nixon, Republican (2028 days, Vietnam)
  5. Lyndon Johnson, Democrat (1887 days, Vietnam)
  6. Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat (1222 days, WWII)
  7. Bill Clinton, Democrat (1098 days Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo)
  8. Harry Truman, Democrat (1063 days, WWII and Korea)
  9. John F. Kennedy, Democrat (1037 days, Vietnam)
  10. Woodrow Wilson, Democrat (585 days, WWI)
  11. Gerald Ford, Republican (387 days, Vietnam)
  12. George H.W. Bush, Republican (362 days, Panama, Persian Gulf, and Somalia)

Democrats: 10,200 total days presiding over wars
Republicans: 9671 total days presiding over wars

2014-07-31-Rsrc_001676.jpg

These numbers can paint an historical picture that looks somewhat askew from what we're used to. For instance, who would have guessed that Bill Clinton was more "warlike" than Harry Truman? Or that George H.W. Bush, who presided over three conflicts during his single term in office including the first Gulf War, would be at the bottom of this list? Or that the Democrats would be more "warlike" than Republicans?

In the case of Eisenhower, his numbers are inflated by the assertion that the Vietnam War started in 1955, not 1964 after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Eisenhower, who warned the world of the influence of what he called the "military industrial complex", did not start the Korean War and did not cave to pressure to increase US presence in Vietnam during his term, yet his numbers show him at #3 on the "Warlike Presidents" list nonetheless.

The same could be said of Kennedy. He resisted the same pressure to expand the war in Vietnam, yet he still sent troops, arms, and tactical aid to South Vietnam and racked up an entire presidency technically "at war".

This leads to an interesting debate about what constitutes "war". The US Constitution stipulates that only Congress can declare war, yet does not prescribe the exact methodology by which this must be done, hence we have a situation whereby every war starting with Korea onward has been "authorized" in one form or another by Congress, yet not officially "declared".

As Randolph Bourne said when writing about World War I in 1918, war is the health of the state. As America's power has grown, so has its propensity for war. Regardless of the debates about the justness or morality of war, the numbers have shown peace to be the exception in America while war has been the rule, making this last century since the start of World War I undeniably a century of warfare.

Jack Sommers   |   July 30, 2014    9:55 PM ET

Scots living in US are much more sceptical of independence than those living in the country, with many Scots-Americans fearing the "special relationship" with America would suffer if their country left the UK, according to a new survey.

The survey showed 74% of Scottish-born people living in the United States wanted Scotland to remain in the UK and 38% fear independence would harm its relationship with America.

Earlier this month, an ICM poll of those living in Scotland - the only ones who will have a ballot to cast in September's referendum - showed around 45% are opposed to independence, compared with 34% in favour and the rest undecided.

scottish american flag

A runner on New York's Scotland Run

The American survey was conducted by non-profit corporation Friends of Scotland, which polled more than 200 Scots who live in the US.

If the Scotland votes yes, 66% of respondents would prefer to retain their British passports than change to a new Scottish issued one, the survey said.

A total of 84% felt those pushing for independence had not set out a vision of what the new nation's foreign relations would be handled, saying they did not believe "sufficient thought has been given to Scotland’s international representation through embassies and consulates to guarantee, protect and promote Scotland’s interests abroad".

Friends For Scotland was founded in 2001 by actor Sir Sean Connery - who is a vocal advocate of independence - to promote Scottish interests abroad, particularly in the US.

American tourists' visits to Scotland are estimated to be worth £280 million to the Scottish economy a year.

Scots who live in the US but favour independence include actor Alan Cumming, who bought a property in Edinburgh ahead of the poll so he could vote, only to be told he couldn't because it was not his main residence.

The poll is not the first intervention in the Scotland debate by those living in the US.

The intervention of Barack Obama was a decisive moment in the debate over Scottish independence.

"The UK has been an extraordinary partner to us. From the outside at least it looks like things have worked pretty well and we obviously have a deep interest in making sure one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner," he said at a press conference alongside David Cameron in June.

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Hillary Clinton, who may succeed Obama as president, also opposes Scottish independence.

Speaking on Newsnight, she said: "I would hate to have you lose Scotland. I hope that it doesn't happen but I don't have a vote in Scotland. But I would hope it doesn't happen."

She added: "I would think it would be a loss for both sides but, again, I don't have a vote."

Clinton said the special relationship between Britain and the US was "worth everything to me and to our country".

She added: "I do think we see the world very similarly."

The Yes Campaign was undeterred by the Friends of Scotland survey findings.

"Importantly, the respondents to this survey highlight that 62% believe that Scotland’s strong relationship with the United States will endure after a Yes vote and that Scotland will come together after the referendum," a spokesman for Yes Scotland told The Huffington Post UK.

"Large numbers of the respondents also want more powers for the Scottish Parliament, but as the referendum debate has developed, more and more people in Scotland have come to realise that the only way to achieve a meaningful package of powers - that Holyrood could use to grow the economy and build a fairer society - is to vote Yes in September."

He added: "People in Scotland are comfortable with many identities, be they Italian, Polish, American, British, English, Irish, Indian and Pakistani. Everyone is entitled to their view, but the referendum is about who is best to take decisions on Scotland’s future and we believe that is the people who live and work here.

"It is certainly not a Tory government at Westminster that continues to impose economically damaging policies in Scotland."

What Does the World Say to the KGB Agent?

Andrea Chalupa   |   July 28, 2014    7:36 PM ET

When my grandfather was a young man in Donbas, he was summoned to the local office of the NKVD--the Soviet secret police and the predecessor of the KGB. A family man with a wife and an infant at home, he managed a factory and was a law-abiding citizen. Yet an agent interrogated him about plotting to overthrow the government, and demanded that he sign a confession. My grandfather right away knew that they had mistaken him for someone else, but the agent was convinced that they had the right man--a terrorist committed to killing Stalin. So they took him to a dark, dank room and hung him up by his arms so that his feet dangled off the ground. The last thing my grandfather remembered before passing out was a giant man beating him with relentless fists and, when the giant grew tired, he flogged my grandfather with a chair. For many months, the torture continued, because my grandfather refused to sign the confession. Naively, he thought that the entire Soviet system had erroneously pinned this treacherous plot on him and him alone--he did not know that he was one of countless innocent victims arrested and tortured during Stalin's purges.

"I will torture you until there is nothing left of you!" an agent liked to scream at my grandfather. I often think about that agent and how my grandfather found the strength to survive. I like to imagine myself in the room with them in the form of a light whispering in my grandfather's ear, telling him that he will have granddaughters one day, and he will sit comfortably in his California home and watch this entire hellish machine fall apart on television. And the television will show him a sea of people singing the Ukrainian national anthem in Kyiv. I can't imagine how else he could have survived.

I often talk to the agents who tortured my grandfather. When I'm faced with getting on a stage and speaking to a room full of people, or getting out of bed when I don't particularly want to and have to write, I tell the agents who thought they would torture my grandfather to death: He survived and continues to defy you because here I am on this stage, here I am writing, here I am doing this thing that I feared to do, and I do it to remind you that my grandfather survived all that you did to him.

Now I have a new KGB agent to talk to. To be honest, I thought that they were all dead. But there's one who seems to be holding the world hostage. I don't so much blame him as much as I blame the world. You see, Vladimir Putin reminds me of that Japanese soldier who in 1974 had to be convinced by a higher ranking officer that World War II had ended; yet for 29 years in the wilderness he lived like a madman, waging war on imaginary enemies. That is Putin. He wants the Iron Curtain back in a world that is increasingly global and connected--such a feat seems impossible even if world leaders continue to look the other way.

It's the people who are unwilling to talk to KGB agents who I hold accountable. On a few occasions, I've heard from Jewish friends that they or their family members refuse to step foot in Germany. I always thought that this was extreme. But now that history seems to be repeating, I understand their decision differently. Germany wasn't simply hijacked by a madman and his thugs; Hitler provided economic relief like Russian gas serves Germany today; like Hollande's minstrel ships serve France; like oligarchs serve London banks and far too many British institutions to count. Hitler was an economic choice for Germany, and so the vast majority of Germans went along for the military industrial complex ride and benefited. Since its defeat, Germany has tried desperately to make amends for the horrors of the Holocaust, yet all of that rings hollow now: Building memorials are important but they can't save lives and end wars like leadership can. Given their reluctance to hold Putin accountable, any statement German leaders make about the Holocaust sound like a polluting corporation giving a drop of profits to conservation for the sake of a press release. My heart goes out to victims of the Holocaust and their descendants, and to victims of the Soviet Union and their loved ones. We were promised "Never again" and all we're getting from the EU is the dismissive "Not now."

If not now, when?

How many more lives must be lost? How many more sovereign states invaded? There is a madman fighting imaginary enemies. Someone must send him a powerful message to snap him back to reality. To world leaders I ask, will you finally speak to the KGB agent in a way that he can understand?

Paul Vale   |   July 28, 2014    3:12 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Sarah Palin does not like the mainstream… sorry "lamestream"… media. The pantomime former vice presidential nominee has spent the intervening years since her brief sojourn in the political spotlight lambasting the American press for failing to agree with her unlettered worldview, often in angry screeds penned on Facebook.

Yet despite holding no political position, the former governor remains hugely popular with members of the Tea Party, a popularity the Alaskan moose hunter is now trying to monetise by launching the Sarah Palin Channel, a website that boasts Mama Grizzly as the executive editor, while offering readers political commentary and information about her personal life.

In a Facebook post uploaded on Sunday, Palin asks: "Tired of media filters? Well, so am I!" Readers are then invited to hand over $99.95 a year, or $9.95 a month, to gain access to un-blinkered news, commentary, ramblings and, presumably, pictures of the right-wing doyenne standing atop trophy kills of wild game.

"Let’s go rogue and launch our own member-supported channel. I want to talk to directly to you on our channel on my terms and no need to please the powers that be,” she said, whilst promising to "go beyond the sound bites and cut through the media's politically correct filter and things like Washington, D.C.'s crony capitalism."

"We'll talk about the issues that the mainstream media won't talk about and we'll look at the ideas that I think Washington doesn't want you to hear."

At the top of the website, just bellowing a picture of Palin (of course) are two clocks – one showing the US national debt (going up) and a second showing Obama’s time left in office (going down). Her daughter Bristol has even been given her own blog on the site. Is it all nonsense? Yes. Will it be popular? You betcha!

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  |   July 28, 2014    7:26 AM ET

The UN Security Council called for an 'immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire' after a 24-hour ceasefire plan ahead of a major Muslim holiday appeared to have disintegreted.

A spokesman for Hamas had said it would respect the truce that began from 2pm (12pm BST) in the lead-up to Eid al-Fitr, which caps the fasting month of Ramadan, after the Palestinian group rejected Israel's offer late on Saturday of a 24-hour extension to a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire which was respected by both sides.

More rockets were fired towards Israel, prompting the Israeli Defence Forces to restart operations. The IDF claimed Hamas had continued to launch rockets against Israel after their ceasefire began.

The military force tweeted: "The Iron Dome just intercepted 4 rockets over Beersheba. Hamas continues to fire at Israel from Gaza."

US President Barack Obama stressed in a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his "serious and growing concern" about the number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Obama also stressed the need for an "immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire" to end hostilities.

And he called for the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarisation of Gaza in order to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lt Col Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, did not confirm whether the IDF would hold fire following the new truce requested by Hamas, but said that troops would carry on demolishing Hamas military tunnels.

The IDF also released a statement denying it was responsible for the deaths of some 15 women, children and UN workers at a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in northern Gaza on Thursday.

A spokesman said that the Israeli military force had conducted a "comprehensive inquiry regarding the incident" in Beit Hanoun.

It claimed to have found that a "single errant mortar" hit the school's courtyard when it was "completely empty", despite multiple reports that the premises had been crowded with people seeking shelter.

"The inquiry concluded that during the intense fighting between IDF forces and Hamas militants, the militants operated adjacent to the UNRWA school," the spokesman said.

"The militants fired anti-tank missiles at IDF soldiers, who then responded by firing several mortars in their direction," the army statement said.

"The inquiry... concluded that a single errant mortar landed in the courtyard of the UNRWA school, when it was completely empty.

"The IDF stresses it does not operate or target international organisations in the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing coordination conducted via the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is continuous without change, even during times of combat.

"In light of the inquiry's findings, the IDF rejects the claims that were made by various officials immediately following the incident, that people were killed in the school premises as a result of IDF operational activity."

Former prime minister Gordon Brown decried the bombing or damage to a total of 120 schools - more than 70 run by UNRWA - since the military campaign began in Gaza.
Writing in the Observer, Brown said: "As the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has said, schools are for learning and must never become theatres of war.

"They should be safe havens for boys and girls, and their violation is a crime against international law.

"And whatever the provocation, their militarisation - by whatever means - should be outlawed."

Labour former deputy prime minister John Prescott today added his voice to those criticising Israel's bombardment of Gaza, which he described as "brutally disproportionate and grossly indiscriminate".

Lord Prescott said any other country would be made an international "pariah" if it acted in the same way.

And he directly compared the situation in Gaza with a concentration camp, suggesting the Nazi Holocaust should "give Israelis a unique sense of perspective and empathy with the victims of a ghetto".

"Imagine a country claiming the lives of nearly three times as many as were lost in the MH17 plane tragedy in less than three weeks," Lord Prescott wrote in the Sunday Mirror.

"A nation which blasted a hospital, shelled and killed children from a gunboat as they played football on the beach and was responsible for 1,000 deaths, at least 165 of them children, in just two weeks.

"Surely it would be branded a pariah state, condemned by the United Nations, the US and the UK. The calls for regime change would be -deafening.

"But these howls of protest are muted. The condemnation softened. For this is Israel."

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched through London yesterday, many of them branding Israel a "terror state".

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, speaking after crisis talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers in Paris yesterday, urged both sides to extend the cessation of violence in a bid to stem the loss of life.

"The necessity right now is to stop the loss of life and you stop the loss of life by getting this ceasefire to roll over for 12 hours, or 24 hours or 48 hours, and then again and again," he said.

Israel's latest campaign in the Gaza Strip, which began on July 8, has killed more than 1,050 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to Palestinian health officials.

Israel has lost 43 soldiers, while two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker have been killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.

More than 2,400 rockets have been fired toward most of Israel's major cities, but casualties have remained low due to the Iron Dome aerial defence system.

Eid al-Fitr, one of the most important holidays in the Muslim calendar, is expected to begin on Monday or Tuesday, depending on the sighting of the new moon.

  |   July 24, 2014    4:04 PM ET

What a week! The week of the brilliant, bonkers and brilliantly bonkers opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow...

...which was so much fun, the Queen like TOTALLY lightened up and photobombed someone the following day...

The week that Mr Miliband went to Washington...

And of course the week when a certain little fella turned one:

We've already done a definitive round-up of funny tweets about the opening ceremony - but we've got highlights below; plus tweets about all the above and more.

That 'more' includes Nick Griffin, Steven Gerrard and #AskWenger. Enjoy, sport/Scotland/Scottie dog fans!

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