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HEAR THIS HOUR'S UPDATE

Tuesday
Sep232014

Last Shots in Syria Strikes Spotted and Destroyed ISIS Vehicles

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The overnight airstrikes that hammered ISIS targets in Syria concluded with a pair of daylight raids that spotted and then destroyed a couple of armed ISIS vehicles, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The final shots of Monday's barrage were fired by U.S. warplanes about 9 a.m. in Syria (2 a.m. ET), officials said Tuesday.

The air raids have bombed about 20 targets inside Syria.

In addition, officials said that the targeting of a little-known off-shoot of al Qaeda was carried out because it was in the final stages of launching a terror attack on the U.S. homeland or Europe.

At the Pentagon briefing Tuesday morning, senior military officials described Monday night's airstrikes as the "beginning" of a sustained air campaign against ISIS in Syria.

"Last night's strikes are the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL," said Lt. General William Mayville Jr ., the director of Operations for the Joint Staff.

Mayville used an alternate name for ISIS, which also calls itself the Islamic State.

Mayville also predicted that ISIS will adapt to the new airstrike campaign and maintain a lower profile. He also described ISIS as a "learning organization...and they will adapt to what we've done and seek to address their shortfalls and gaps in our air campaign in the coming weeks."

Initial indications are that the airstrikes were "very successful," said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.

He described the participation of five Arab nations in Monday night's airstrikes against ISIS "as a critical part of our strategy."

Fighter aircraft from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia participated in Monday night's airstrikes, Qatar played a supporting role in the airstrikes.

The overwhelming majority of the munitions dropped over Syria in the airstrikes were from U.S. aircraft.

Monday's airstrikes also targeted the Khorasan Group, an off-shoot of al Qaeda that has concerned U.S. security officials because of its plans to conduct attacks against the U.S.

"We've been watching this group closely for some time," said Mayville. "We believe the Khorasan group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland. We know that the Khorasan group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands."

Mayville said the group's attention was clearly not directed at the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people. They are "establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the West and the homeland."

Khorasan targets near Aleppo were struck in the first wave of airstrikes that included 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two U.S. Navy vessels, officials said.

"The majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan Group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps," said Mayville.

Mayville also said "we are unaware of any civilian casualties" and noted the U.S. takes the prevention of civilian casualties very seriously.

"And if any reports of civilian casualties emerge, we will fully investigate them," he added.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

After Years of Trouble, F-22 Raptor's First Combat Mission a 'Success'

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The F-22 Raptor, one of the most expensive fighters in the world, undertook and successfully completed a combat mission for the first time ever Monday in Syria.

The next-generation Raptor, which has a total program price tag north of $79 billion, had sat out two wars and at least one previous smaller conflict since going operational in late 2005 before being called on to hit a single target in Syria Monday: an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) "command and control building."

"The flight of the F-22s delivered GPS-guided munitions, precision munitions targeting only the right side of the building," Lt. Gen. William Mayville told reporters, referring to presentation slides of the operation. "And you can see that the control -- the command and control center where it was located in the building was destroyed."

The stealth F-22 has had chances to fight before – during Air Force operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan as well as its role in the no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 – but in each case the Air Force said the high-tech jet was not an "operational requirement."

The Pentagon apparently decided the U.S.-led strikes against ISIS in Syria, for which the Syrian government says it was given warning, were different.

"Basically, we look at the aircraft and the crews that we have and we make a determination on how to portion those things, based on a lot of factors: location, nature of the target, weapons that may need to be used," Air Force Central Command Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis told ABC News. "In this case, the F-22 was the weapon that got assigned to that particular target."

"The mission was a success," he added.

Previously, F-22 Raptors have been reportedly stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, one of the Arab nations that the military said participated in the strikes against ISIS in Syria. Sholtis declined to comment on where the fighters were forward deployed for this mission, except that they were in the Gulf region.

While the Air Force had said the F-22's advanced capabilities simply weren’t necessary for the previous conflicts, the plane also suffered from troubling issues of its own.

Most disturbing were instances in which pilots reported feeling the symptoms of oxygen deprivation while flying the high-performance machines. From 2008 to 2012 pilots reported experiencing confusion, sluggishness or disorientation – sometimes even blackouts – at the controls of the plane more than two dozen times. In one instance, a pilot because so disoriented that his plane skimmed treetops before he was able to pull up and save himself. In May 2012, two Raptor pilots told CBS News' 60 Minutes they were too afraid to fly the plane.

In another, more drastic case, Air Force pilot Capt. Jeff Haney died in a crash in 2010 after the oxygen system in his plane malfunctioned. After an investigation, the Air Force faulted Haney for failing to fly the plane properly while suffering a "sense similar to suffocation." The plane's manufacturers eventually settled a wrongful-death lawsuit with the Haney family.

The F-22 fleet was grounded multiple times while the Air Force investigated the oxygen issue and by late 2012 the service believed it had a handle on the problems – several small ones, rather than one big one. Eventually the planes were allowed back in the air.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

Pentagon: Airstrikes 'Beginning' of Air Campaign Against ISIS in Syria

File photo. (Purestock/Thinkstock)(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon said Tuesday that initial indications are that the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria overnight were “very successful."

In addition, officials said that the targeting of a little-known off-shoot of al Qaeda was carried out because it was in the final stages of launching a terror attack on the U.S. homeland or Europe.

At the Pentagon briefing Tuesday morning, senior military officials described Monday night’s airstrikes as the “beginning” of a sustained air campaign against ISIS in Syria.

“Last night's strikes are the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” said Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr., the director of Operations for the Joint Staff.

Mayville used an alternate name for ISIS, which also calls itself the Islamic State.

Mayville also predicted that ISIS will adapt to the new airstrike campaign and maintain a lower profile. He also described ISIS as a “learning organization...and they will adapt to what we’ve done and seek to address their shortfalls and gaps in our air campaign in the coming weeks."

Initial indications are that the airstrikes were “very successful,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

He described the participation of five Arab nations in Monday night’s airstrikes against ISIS “as a critical part of our strategy.”

Fighter aircraft from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia participated in Monday night’s airstrikes, and Qatar played a supporting role.

The overwhelming majority of the munitions dropped over Syria in the airstrikes were from U.S. aircraft.

Monday’s airstrikes also targeted the Khorasan Group, an off-shoot of al Qaeda that has concerned U.S. security officials because of its plans to conduct attacks against the U.S.

"We've been watching this group closely for some time," said Mayville. "We believe the Khorasan group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland. We know that the Khorasan group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands."

Mayville said the group’s attention was clearly not directed at the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people. They are “establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the west and the homeland.”

Khorasan targets near Aleppo were struck in the first wave of airstrikes that included 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two U.S. Navy vessels, officials said.

“The majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan Group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps,” said Mayville.

Mayville also said “we are unaware of any civilian casualties” and noted that the U.S. takes the prevention of civilian casualties very seriously.

“And if any reports of civilian casualties emerge, we will fully investigate them," he added.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

Khorasan Terror Group Linked to Summer Airline Plot

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The “imminent” threat against the West that pushed the United States to strike the Khorasan Group in Syria Monday is linked to the same terrorist efforts that ABC News first disclosed this summer, just before the U.S. government announced heightened security measures for air travelers overseas, sources said Tuesday.

The little-known Khorasan Group was “nearing the execution phase for an attack in Europe or the homeland,” and airstrikes overnight “removed their capability to act,” senior law enforcement and intelligence officials told ABC News Tuesday.

But prior to the strikes, ABC News reported earlier this year that U.S. officials learned that a particularly extreme “subset” of terrorist groups in Syria was working alongside operatives from al Qaeda’s prolific offshoot in Yemen to produce “creative” new designs for bombs packed into electronic devices like cellphones or laptops, sources said. The officials did not identify the group at the time.

Specifically, associates of the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria -- the al Nusrah Front -- and radicals from other groups were teaming up with elements of the Yemen-based group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to potentially down a U.S.- or Europe-bound plane, with help from one of the thousands of Americans and other foreign fighters carrying U.S. and European passports who have joined extremist groups in the region.

The group was made up of “seasoned Al Qaeda veterans” who had found a “safe haven” in Syria where they were able to “construct and test improvised explosive devices,” one senior intelligence official said Tuesday. The joint effort with AQAP, which built such innovative devices as the “underwear bomb” that ultimately failed to detonate in a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, made the threat out of Syria “more frightening than anything” else the Obama administration had seen, Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News in July.

The threat prompted airports overseas to increase security measures that month. At the time, the Department of Homeland Security announced that if some overseas passengers flying to the United States want to bring cellphones and other electronic devices onboard with them, they would have to show that the devices can turn on.

On ABC News’ Good Morning America Tuesday Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the Khorasan Group was “very dangerous” and there was “active plotting going on for an attack on the U.S. homeland.”

As part of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria, FBI Director James Comey has said the government is spending “a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to identify” anyone who’s gone to Syria, but “the challenge” is not missing anyone.

More than 12,000 foreign fighters, including more than 100 Americans, have now joined tens of thousands of other fighters operating in Syria and neighboring Iraq, where ISIS is now wreaking havoc and recruiting more Westerners to fight.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

David Cameron: Queen 'Purred' When She Heard Scotland Vote Outcome

Chris Jackson/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Does the Queen of England purr? Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron says so.

Cameron was caught on camera saying the Queen "purred down the line" out of happiness when he called to tell her that Scotland voted last week to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Cameron was describing how nervous he was about the possibility Scotland would become an independent country in a conversation with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, broadcast Tuesday on Sky News.

Upon learning that Scotland wouldn't be seceding after all, he called Queen Elizabeth II to relay the good news, Cameron told Bloomberg.

"It should never have been that close. It wasn't in the end," Cameron said, adding a joke about the stress the polls brought him.

"I've said I want to find these polling companies and I want to sue them for my stomach ulcers because of what they put me through," he added. "It was very nervous."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

Rodents Arrive at International Space Station Aboard SpaceX Dragon

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Twenty rodents were among the cargo that arrived at the International Space Station Tuesday aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The reusable Dragon spacecraft, which is on its fourth cargo re-supply mission to the orbiting station, docked Tuesday morning at the ISS, where it will spend the next four weeks before splashing into the Pacific Ocean, SpaceX officials said.

The trip marked the first time Dragon carried live mammals, which will live in NASA's Rodent Research Facility where researchers will study the long-term impact of weightlessness on their bodies.

Also on board was the first 3-D printer launched into space. It could potentially crank out spare parts that will allow astronauts to one day fix their vessel on the spot.

Dragon arrived at the ISS with a total of 5,000 pounds of cargo, including science experiments, crew supplies and spacewalk equipment, according to NASA.

When it's time to return to Earth, Dragon will be loaded up with cargo to be sent back to Earth. Once the capsule is released, it will perform three burns to send it on a path away from the ISS.

SpaceX projects that five hours after leaving the ISS, Dragon will conduct a de-orbit burn, lasting about 10 minutes. The capsule will then take about a half hour to re-enter Earth's atmosphere before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean, about 380 miles off the coast of California, where it can then be retrieved for future missions.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

What Is the Khorasan Group, Targeted by US in Syria?

Al Qaeda operative Muhsin al-Fadhli. (Rewards for Justice)(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military said Tuesday that by striking a little known terror cell called the Khorasan Group in Syria, it was able to take out dangerous men who were “plotting and planning imminent attacks against Western targets to include the U.S. homeland.”

In the midst of the well-publicized campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the military’s first official announcement that a different, potentially more deadly terror group existed, that it’s members were planning an “imminent” attack on America and that those planning the attack had been killed in the U.S.-led bombing campaign all came as something of a surprise, considering that for the public, the group was virtually unheard of until a few days ago.

So here’s what we know so far about the mysterious Khorasan Group:

What Is the Khorasan Group?

The Khorasan Group is a relatively small al Qaeda unit -- made up of just some 50 hardened fighters with mixing jihadist affiliations, according to a half-dozen officials with knowledge of the group. As the U.S. military’s Central Command put it, they are “seasoned al Qaeda veterans.”

Back in June, ABC News reported that an alliance had been building inside Syria between al Qaeda operatives there and those from al Qaeda’s dangerous Yemen-based branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), home to expert bomb makers. Sources told ABC News Tuesday that some of those allied jihadis, then unidentified, made up the Khorasan Group.

The group is not thought to be affiliated with ISIS, which had a public falling out with al Qaeda earlier this year. In fact, the Khorasan Group’s leader may have been tasked with fighting ISIS in Syria as well as the West, according to government documents and reports in the Long War Journal, as part of the larger, violent conflict between ISIS and al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front.

The word Khorasan denotes greater Afghanistan, parts of central Asia and China’s Xinxiang province. The term has religious significance in the context of jihad and several organizations in the region use the name in various ways.

Who’s Their Leader?

The Khorasan Group is believed to led by Muhsin al-Fadhili, a Kuwaiti native. While there’s scant information about the organization he leads, al-Fadhli has a long international rap sheet.

He’s wanted in the U.S. for his work as an “Iran-based senior al Qaeda facilitator and financier,” according to the State Department, and is suspected of being one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted operatives -- one of the few aware of the 9/11 attacks before they happened.

Al-Fadhli, 33, was designated a terrorist by the U.S. back in 2005 for providing “financial and material support to the al-Zarqawi Network and al Qaeda,” the State Department said. Ironically over the years the al-Zarqawi Network in Iraq would mutate into what is now ISIS.

“…[P]rior to that [al-Fadhli] was involved in several terrorist attacks that took place October 2002, including the attacks on the French ship MV Limburg and against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait,” the U.S. Treasury said.

The United Nations added al-Fadhli to its al Qaeda Sanctions Committee list in 2005 as well. The same year, President George W. Bush mentioned al-Fadhli, then just 23, by name in a speech, saying that the U.S., working with others, would “bring him to justice.”

The State Department offers a $7 million reward for information leading to his capture. While the U.S. military said Khorasan Group individuals were killed in the recent strikes, they did not identify any specifically.

What Does the Khorasan Group Want with the U.S.?

Unlike ISIS, which is attempting to establish an Islamic kingdom centered in Syria and Iraq through large land grabs and local governance, U.S. officials say that as an al Qaeda group, Khorasan’s goal is to attack the West in spectacular fashion -- and that such plots appear to be “imminent.”

“We had very good indications that this group, which is a very dangerous group, was plotting and planning imminent attacks against Western target to include the U.S. homeland,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “We knew that there was active plotting going on for an attack on the U.S. homeland.”

Later, Lt. Gen. William Mayville told reporters the U.S. believed Khorasan Group to be “nearing the execution phase” for an attack in Europe or the American homeland, likely using Western recruits to execute the plot.

AQAP, the terror group’s Yemen affiliate from which some Khorasan fighters are said to come and home to al Qaeda’s master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, has managed multiple times to get explosives on board U.S.-bound aircraft, but each either failed to explode or was intercepted before its final destination. In one case, a refined version of an underwear bomb was smuggled out of the terror group’s control by an insider who was actually working for allied spy agencies.

In ABC News’ June report, sources said groups inside Syria, now believed to include the Khorasan Group, were working to produce new and “creative” designs for explosives that could evade airport security. In July, the Department of Homeland Security increased security at airports and announced that “powerless” electronic devices would not be allowed on board a plane.

Senior law enforcement and intelligence officials told ABC News Tuesday that the Khorasan Group was the cause of the heightened security.

But After the Airstrikes, Are They Still a Threat?

Kirby said that the military believes that “the individuals that were plotting and planning it have been eliminated” but said the military is going to “continue…to assess the effectiveness of our strikes going through today.”

Security sources told ABC News they feared Kirby’s statement was too certain and said that the group was more likely just degraded in the strikes.

When asked if there was a continuing threat to the U.S., Mayville asked that the military be given “some time to assess” the strikes.

In an address to the nation Tuesday, President Obama said of the strikes on Khorasan that “once again it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

White House Unveils New Landmine Policy

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration announced a new policy on anti-personnel landmines (APL) Tuesday, pledging for the first time not to use them or encourage others to use them anywhere in the world outside the Korean Peninsula.

A statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby describes how the U.S. will carry out the policy: "Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel fully supports the changes to U.S. anti-personnel landmine (APL) policy announced by the president today.  The department will not use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula; will not assist, encourage, or induce others outside the Korean Peninsula to engage in activity prohibited by the Ottawa Convention; and will undertake steps to begin the destruction of APLs not required for the defense of South Korea."

The United States' new policy is described as a step closer to signing the Ottawa Convention, a treaty signed by 160 countries against the use and production of APL.

The U.S. also plans to destroy its stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines that are not in Korea.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

Airstrikes ‘Successful’ Against ISIS Targets in Syria, US Military Says

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The United States launched several airstrikes against ISIS targets inside Syria for the first time late Monday in what a defense official said was a "successful" start in a new front in the battle against the terror group and, separately, in potentially averting an imminent threat to the homeland from a shadowy al Qaeda group.

While the United States is still "assessing the effectiveness" of the bombing campaign against ISIS, which included up to 20 targets, the Pentagon believes “that we were successful in hitting what we were aiming at,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

"We took out command-and-control facilities, supply depots, some training areas, some vehicles and trucks, that kind of thing. Mainly, what we were going after was this group's ability to sustain itself, to resource itself and to, frankly, command and control and lead their forces,” Kirby told Good Morning America, referring to ISIS.


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Many of the targets were in and around Raqqa, Syria, believed to be an ISIS stronghold, a defense official said Monday. Several Arab nations took part in the U.S.-led operation: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. military's Central Command said early Tuesday.

Separately, the U.S. military unilaterally launched eight strikes against the Khorasan Group, a little-known al Qaeda cell that Kirby said was “plotting and planning imminent attacks against Western targets to include the U.S. homeland.”

“It was on that basis that we struck targets, Khorasan targets, inside Syria. We believe the individuals [who] were plotting and planning it have been eliminated and we’re going to continue, as I said, to assess the effectiveness of our strikes going through today,” he said.

In a national address Sept. 10, President Obama said the first part of his strategy to counter ISIS was to "conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists."

"Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL [ISIS] in Syria as well as Iraq," Obama said. "This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."

The stealth F-22 Raptor took part in the mission, a U.S. defense official said, marking the first time the pricey, controversial aircraft has been used in a combat operation.

In recent weeks, a self-described ISIS militant is believed to have killed two Americans on camera -- journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- as well a British aid worker. The group is suspected of holding at least two more Americans and has publicly threatened a second Briton.

As of earlier Tuesday, the U.S. had launched nearly 200 strikes against ISIS in Iraq.


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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power Sunday told ABC News' This Week America would not conduct airstrikes in Syria alone. But already Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that some 40 countries, including a number of Arab nations, have offered various levels of support to the anti-ISIS effort. France announced last week it would join in airstrikes in the battle against ISIS.

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is the name taken in 2013 by what was originally an al Qaeda affiliate called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In 2011, AQI moved into Syria, taking advantage of the country's civil war to gain power and recruits.

By 2013, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had spread his group's influence back into Iraq and changed the group's name to ISIS, "reflecting its greater regional ambitions," according to the State Department.

The group, which is no longer affiliated with al Qaeda after a public falling out earlier this year, is believed to have up to 30,000 members, including thousands of foreign recruits, hundreds of them Westerners. Using brutal tactics including the alleged mass execution of civilians and captured soldiers, the terror group has been able to control territory in Syria and cut a swath through Iraq.

ISIS, as the group has been identified by ABC News and other news organizations, refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Different translations of the Arabic name al-Baghdadi gave his organization have spawned other English-language versions, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (also ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep232014

Attack on ISIS: Dispatches on the Way from the Syrian Border

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Turkish-Syrian border remains in flux as thousands of distressed families who fled ISIS are now debating whether or not it is safe to return in the wake of the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.

The clashes between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces drove families into refugee camps just across the Turkish border.

Some of those refugees are expecting immediate results from Monday's airstrikes. As ABC News' Alexander Marquardt reports, many are heading back to their homeland, hoping that the strikes were effective at pushing back the extremists.


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Here are some of his dispatches from along the border:


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