Kurds launch offensive to retake Iraqi town of Sinjar from ISIS
The Kurdish Regional Security Council announced Thursday that 7,500 peshmerga fighters are launching an assault to take back the Iraqi town of Sinjar from the Islamic State. The Kurds are being assisted by a U.S.-led air campaign, and the plan is to establish a “significant buffer zone to protect the city and its inhabitants from incoming artillery.”
The peshmerga are closing in on three sides of Sinjar, and airstrikes have already started against ISIS targets. The main goal is to cut off access to Highway 47, which links Sinjar to Raqqa in Syria in Mosul in northern Iraq, and is used by ISIS to move weapons, fighters, and various goods. In August 2014, ISIS fighters took control of the strategic city, killing members of the minority Yazidi community and causing tens of thousands to flee to the mountains, where they were surrounded and trapped by militants during a brutal heat. Over the past several months, various Kurdish militias based in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq have been fighting against ISIS in guerrilla battles around the outskirts of Sinjar. The Associated Press
U.S. arrests Venezuelan first lady’s nephews on drug-smuggling charges
On Tuesday, police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, arrested two nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, immediately turning the two men over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to face charges of attempting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S.
The DEA flew Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas to New York, where they are expected to be arraigned Thursday. Campos, 29, told the DEA that he is the son of Venezuela’s first lady — or “First Combatant,” as Maduro calls Flores — and a stepson of the president, but he’s reportedly the son of Flores’ late sister, and was partly raised by Maduro and Flores, who have been a couple since the 1990s and married since 2013, right after Maduro was elected president.
Flores, 62, is one of the most powerful women in Venezuela’s government, a former president of the National Assembly and candidate for congress in upcoming elections. The U.S. government says that about a third of Colombia’s cocaine, or 200 tons a year, travels abroad through Venezuela, and that top officials in the Venezuelan government, business community, and military are involved in the drug trade. The Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press
Trump snags the most speaking time across the first four GOP debates
Billionaire Donald Trump has spoken the most at the four Republican presidential debates. In a crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls, the real estate mogul leads all other candidates with 50 minutes and 24 seconds of total talk time, according to data from InsideGov.
Coming in second place is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 40 minutes and 39 seconds. Next up are Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Senator Marco Rubio—all hovering around the 38-minute mark.
The candidate with the least amount of speaking time is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul with 30 minutes and 54 seconds. The presidential hopefuls will have plenty more time to speak: there are at least 7 more debates scheduled for the primary season. TIME
2 countries get 75% of US military aids
American taxpayers doled out $5.9 billion in foreign military financing in 2014, according to the government’s Foreign Assistance report — that’s roughly the GDP of Somalia. But where did the money go?
The top five recipients of foreign military financing in 2014, according to the report:
- Israel: $3.1 billion
- Egypt: $1.3 billion
- Iraq: $300 million
- Jordan: $300 million
- Pakistan: $280 million
What also stands out from the report is the regional distribution — the Middle East (64%) and Africa (23%) account for 86% of all U.S. foreign military financing last year. CNN
Krekar ‘jihadist network’ targeted in Europe terror raids
Police have targeted 17 people in raids in several European countries connected to a suspected jihadist network. Six suspects were detained in Italy, four in Britain, and three in Norway. Police believe some of the suspects may have travelled to Syria or Iraq.
Italy’s Ansa news agency said the suspects were accused of international terrorism association. The network was allegedly plotting to free its leader, Mullah Krekar, who is already in detention in Norway.
Krekar, born Najm Faraj Ahmad, is one of those held in the operation. Two other suspects were arrested in Norway. The three of them are suspected of plotting attacks in Norway and other European countries, according to Italian police. They face extradition to Italy. BBC
Myanmar Says Obama Congratulates President on ‘Free and Fair’ Vote
U.S. President Barack Obama has congratulated Myanmar President Thein Sein for his country’s “historic free and fair elections,” according to officials in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Obama communicated the message during a Wednesday phone call with his Myanmar counterpart, Information Minister Ye Htut said on his Facebook page Thursday. The White House has not released a statement on the phone call, but U.S. officials have previously called the Sunday vote a “step forward” for the Southeast Asian nation. VOA
- Old prescription drugs to be collected across Arkansas (ky3.com)
- Haiti World Bank Report: Time for a Social Contract (blackpressusa.com)
- U.S. and Cuban diplomats meet, tour Haiti hospital in continued show of friendly relations (ocregister.com)
- Two police officers killed by gang members (antiguaobserver.com)
- US Works with Cuba to Provide Health Care for Haiti (voanews.com)