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The top U.S. general in charge of forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has said it will take a minimum of three years to reach a turning point against the group. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Lt. Gen. James Terry refused to give a more specific timeline.
Lt. Gen. James Terry: “The first strikes were, what, 8 August? And so, this is December. What’s that? Four months. I think we’ve made significant progress in halting that offensive that I talked about, the ability for them to continue to expand, you know, in terms of terrain and geography out there. I think what we must do, especially inside of Iraq, is continue to build those capabilities. I think you’re at least talking a minimum of three years.”
This week the Obama administration approved orders for hundreds of U.S. troops to deploy to Iraq as part of a mission to train and advise Iraqi troops.
Kurdish forces say they have recaptured territory near Mount Sinjar in western Iraq from the Islamic State, freeing hundreds of Yazidi minorities who have been trapped there. The offensive involved thousands of Kurdish peshmerga forces backed by U.S. airstrikes.
In Syria, the bodies of more than 230 people killed by the Islamic State have been found in a mass grave. The London-based opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the dead are members of a tribe that resisted the Islamic State in the province of Deir al-Zor.
U.S. military leaders say three top figures from the Islamic State have been killed by U.S. airstrikes, including a military chief and a deputy of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The news comes as the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has published an internal CIA document which reveals the agency’s doubts about the effectiveness of such killings. The document, which is from 2009, describes both the positive and negative impacts of assassinating so-called high-value targets. It warns that such operations can “[increase] the level of insurgent support,” “[strengthen] an armed group’s bond with the population,” “[radicalize] an insurgent group’s remaining leaders.” WikiLeaks notes, “After the report was prepared, U.S. drone strike killings rose to an all-time high.”
In Nigeria, militants believed to be from the Islamist group Boko Haram have killed more than 30 people and kidnapped about 200 in an attack on a northeastern village. The village of Gumsuri is near Chibok, where Boko Haram seized more than 200 schoolgirls in April.
A new report finds the FBI backed an attempt by a New York attorney to free the U.S. hostage Peter “Abdul-Rahman” Kassig from the Islamic State. Documents obtained by The Guardian reveal a plan by attorney Stanley Cohen — who represented Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and is due to serve an 18-month prison term over tax offenses — to negotiate for Kassig’s release using his jihadi contacts. But the plan fell apart when Jordan arrested a leading cleric who played a key role in the negotiations. The Islamic State announced Kassig’s execution last month.
Pakistani jets and ground forces have killed 67 accused militants in a northwestern area near Peshawar, where the Taliban killed 148 people, most of them children, in a school attack this week. Pakistan has also revived the death penalty for terrorism-related cases following the massacre, ending a six-year moratorium. Thousands of convicted terrorists now face execution, some of them within days.
Authorities in New Jersey have said they hope a historic warming of ties between the United States and Cuba will help them capture and imprison Black Panther Assata Shakur. In a statement, State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said, “We view any changes in relations with Cuba as an opportunity to bring her back to the United States to finish her sentence for the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper in 1973.” Shakur was convicted of killing Trooper Werner Foerster after being pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike. The encounter left both the officer and a fellow Black Panther, Zayd Malik Shakur, dead. Assata Shakur has said she was shot by police with both arms in the air, and then again from the back. She was sentenced to life in prison but managed to escape and flee to Cuba, where she has lived since 1984.
Federal prosecutors are suing New York City over the treatment of teenagers jailed at Rikers Island. The move follows a scathing Justice Department report which found a “deep-seated culture of violence” against young prisoners and recommended over 10 pages’ worth of reforms. Earlier this week Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered a news conference at Rikers announcing the end of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds. But federal officials say the reforms are not coming fast enough, noting that 18-year-olds still face prolonged periods in solitary.
The Colombian government has rejected the terms of a ceasefire offered by FARC rebels. The FARC offered to lay down their weapons indefinitely as long as the military did not attack them first. But Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos rejected conditions including international verification of the truce.
President Juan Manuel Santos: “These men from the other side are not angels. They are very difficult people that just sent us a Christmas gift — a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire — that we received as a good gift. What we received is like a flower, but when we open the gift there is a stem full of thorns. So what we’re going to do is remove the thorns from this stem, and we will be left with just the rose.”
The FARC has declared temporary ceasefires around the holidays in the past, but it is the first time in decades the group has offered to indefinitely lay down arms.
President Obama has signed a new measure allowing him to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials involved in a crackdown on anti-government protesters. The law lets Obama deny visas and freeze assets of those accused in the violence earlier this year, which left dozens of people dead from both sides of Venezuela’s political divide. Obama has also signed a measure allowing new sanctions against Russia, but says he does not plan to impose them yet.
The Obama administration has announced a new interpretation of federal law that protects transgender workers from discrimination. The shift expands protections in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, allowing the Justice Department to sue state and local governments if they violate the rights of transgender employees.
The Obama administration has confirmed it will veto a U.N. Security Council resolution to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by 2017. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the U.S. would oppose the measure if it comes up for a vote.
Jen Psaki: “We have seen the draft. It is not something we would support, and we think others feel the same and are calling for further consultations. The Palestinians understand that — you may have also seen President Abbas speak to this earlier today — and have said they support continued consultations and are not pushing for a vote on this now.”
The oil company Chevron has halted plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. In a letter to regulators, the company said it would suspend oil exploration “indefinitely,” citing “uncertainty in the industry.” The environmental group Greenpeace says the move is “further proof that technical challenges of drilling in icy waters, where a spill is all but inevitable, push costs far too high to be viable, especially with volatile oil prices.”
An environmental defender in the Andean region of Cajamarca, Peru, has defeated the U.S. multinational Newmont Mining Corporation in court as part of a years-long battle to keep her land. Newmont sought to evict Maxima Acuña as part of a massive, open-pit gold mine project. She and her relatives were initially sentenced to nearly three years in prison after the company accused them of illegally occupying the land, but an appeals court has cleared her of the charges.
In Missouri, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district in an area made famous by the police shooting of African-American teenager Michael Brown. The lawsuit accuses the Ferguson-Florissant School District of using an election process that dilutes the African-American vote. While more than three-quarters of the district’s students are African-American, there is just one black person on the seven-member school board. The suit seeks a change that would let voters choose school board members who reside in their district.
Two U.S. states have sued Colorado in the Supreme Court over its legalization of marijuana. Earlier this year, Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana. Nebraska and Oklahoma claim the opening of marijuana shops has led to an influx of the drug in neighboring states.
In Australia, eight children have been found dead and a woman injured in an apparent mass stabbing. The bodies were found at a home in Manoora, a suburb of Cairns.
The gap between rich and poor in the United States has reached a new high. A new report by the Pew Research Center finds the gulf between rich families and middle- and low-income families is the largest it has been in 30 years of data collection. Pew found that while affluent families became wealthier from 2010 to 2013, middle-income families stayed the same, while poor families got poorer.
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