CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

Thursday, November 20, 2014

ON TWO FRONTS UKRAINE AND SYRIA

 

 

 

 

 

More than 1,000 British soldiers are taking part in Nato war games in Poland as part of a show of force against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While Europe and America focus on how to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine, the long-term implications of this debacle will need to be examined through the transatlantic prism. We will have to assess its impact on our global efforts.

The West has for a long time lived in a dream world, one that never actually existed. If Ukraine is permanently occupied, god forbid secedes under the guardianship of Russia, our credibility will incur huge damage. Unfortunately the damage is not going to be limited to Ukraine.

In 1994, the United States and the UK, together with the Russian Federation, signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances to Ukraine. It was the most important element in the difficult process leading to the Ukrainians giving up their nuclear weapons.

They did this with the strong belief that if their sovereignty was ever tested, if they ever needed to invoke the help, there will be guarantees that the West will indeed come to its assistance. They trusted us.

In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we can clearly state that the Budapest Memorandum was worth nothing in the face of overt aggression. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arms and with this left the exclusive club of nuclear states. It gave up its ability to deter an aggression by being a nuclear power. It gave up its international status. And indeed, the world, including us, has not taken Ukraine as seriously since. Were it still nuclear, we would behave differently.

What does this mean for countries with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programmes? Well let's look first at Syria, a country which has been embroiled in Maidan-style turmoil for the past three years.

Why is Assad holding off handing over his chemical weapons? The much-lauded deal inked in September 2013 by Russia and the US with President Assad of Syria, which called for the destruction of the country's chemical weapons arsenal, has been a failure so far. Syria has been missing deadlines and dragging its feet to provide the chemical weapons. Syria is not ready to abandon its WMD programme, including Assad's covert Biological Weapons programme.

Because of national security implications and a strong will to remain military independent, Assad is not willing to just give in to external pressure to please the international community. Once his WMD are gone, he is unlikely to be taken seriously. He is looking into the mirror and seeing Gaddafi's Lybia.

Gaddafi was a dictator, who gave up his WMDs; he was considerably weakened and then he was gone. Which is a good thing, except in the process we developed a pattern, which will make it difficult in the future to get other leaders like him to make deals.

How will the West's inability to make good on its promise to secure Ukraine's territorial integrity influence the Iran talks? The P5+1 interim six-month agreement with Iran, which came into effect on 20 January 2014, is at best a sham, even though it has been described by the US and the EU at that time as a victory for peace and a major breakthrough in curbing Iran's nuclear menace.

Let's assume for a moment that Iran agreed, in good faith, to dismantle its nuclear programme –something very unlikely in light of Tehran's past history of deceit. What kind of guarantees will the Iranians get that they will still be taken as seriously as a regional power?

The Ukrainian precedent will actually give a boost to countries that are thinking of going nuclear because they will come to the conclusion that possessing such weapons is the key to their international status.

Ukraine today surely has second thoughts about having given up its nuclear status. The problem is that others in the world will draw similar conclusions. This is very bad news indeed.

The British Army's 'lead armoured battle group' of 1,350 troops and 100 armoured vehicles from the 3rd UK Division are participating in the Polish-led Nato exercise, the Ministry of Defence said.

The commitment, Britain's largest to the region since 2008, is a bid to support allies in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States as part of a planned series of Nato manoeuvres throughout the autumn.

Soldiers from the Kings Royal Hussars being shown around the turret of a Polish battle tank during the Nato exercise

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Soldiers from the Kings Royal Hussars being shown around the turret of a Polish battle tank during the Nato exercise

These soldiers, from the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment, are preparing for live firing, as part of the show of force against Vladimir Putin

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These soldiers, from the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment, are preparing for live firing, as part of the show of force against Vladimir Putin

The King's Royal Hussars (KRH), the UK's lead armoured battle group, operated 20 Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks and conducted live battlefield scenarios alongside its Polish counterparts. Meanwhile the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh provided troops on the ground.

The MoD said the exercised marked 'a significant demonstration of the UK's support to the region' as well as 'the British Army's ability to deploy an armoured battle group at short notice anywhere in the world in support of the nation's allies'.

The move follows the early departure of Russian President Vladimir Putin from the G20 summit in Australia. Prime Minister David Cameron said the summit had sent a 'very clear message' to Mr Putin about the West's readiness to ramp up sanctions unless he took action to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.

When the UK's commitment to the exercise was announced in July, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon criticised Russia's 'illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine'.

A Challenger 2 tank taking part in Nato exercise that shows 'the British Army's ability to deploy an armoured battle group at short notice anywhere in the world in support of the nation's allies'

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A Challenger 2 tank taking part in Nato exercise that shows 'the British Army's ability to deploy an armoured battle group at short notice anywhere in the world in support of the nation's allies'

He added: 'It is right that Nato members and partners demonstrate our commitment to the collective security of our allies in Eastern Europe, so I am pleased to confirm our participation in these exercises.'

'It's important to put (the exercise) in the context of a raft of wider initial security measures on behalf of Nato to reassure our Eastern European allies of the importance of deterrence,' said Lieutenant Colonel Justin Kingsford, Commanding Officer of The KRH.

The training exercise ends tomorrow, when General Sir Nicholas Carter, Chief of the General Staff, Commander Land Forces Lieutenant General James Everard and high-ranking Polish officials will be shown a display of battlefield manoeuvres.

Warrior armoured fighting vehicles are taking part in the exercise that is part of a series of planned Nato manoeuvres throughout the autumn

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Warrior armoured fighting vehicles are taking part in the exercise that is part of a series of planned Nato manoeuvres throughout the autumn

Nato has sounded a warning after 26 Russian bombers, tankers and fighter jets on military exercises were intercepted around Europe in just 24 hours.

Jets were scrambled by the RAF and allies in Germany, Portugal and Turkey after the 'unusual' spike in activity, which saw two giant Tu-95 Bear H bombers fly close to Britain yesterday.

The alliance said Russia had conducted 'significant military manoeuvres in European airspace' - though it then added none of the planes had strayed into any specific country's territory.

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Closely watched: RAF Typhoon jets were scrambled yesterday to track this Russian Tu-95 Bear H bomber, one of two which flew close to Britain without filing flight plans or communicating with air traffic controllers. Some 26 intercepts were made in around 24 hours, said Nato

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Closely watched: RAF Typhoon jets were scrambled yesterday to track this Russian Tu-95 Bear H bomber, one of two which flew close to Britain without filing flight plans or communicating with air traffic controllers. Some 26 intercepts were made in around 24 hours, said Nato

The two Bear bombers had been part of an eight-plane formation which was first intercepted by Norwegian F-16s over at 2am yesterday.

While six of the planes returned back towards Russia, the two Bears carried on south west towards the UK where they were picked up by RAF Boulmer, Northumberland. Chiefs the scrambled Typhoon jets from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, northern Scotland, which tracked the Bear bombers as they continued through Britain's 'flight information region'.

Nato said: 'The bomber and tanker aircraft from Russia did not file flight plans or maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control authorities and they were not using on-board transponders.

'This poses a potential risk to civil aviation as civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft or ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic.'

Followed: These images were all issued by the RAF and showed the moment the aircraft were escorted by Typhoon jets near British airspace

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Followed: These images were all issued by the RAF and showed the moment the aircraft were escorted by Typhoon jets near British airspace

Nato stepped up defences and said: 'These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace'

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Nato stepped up defences and said: 'These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace'

The Bear bombers which flew near Britain (one is pictured) were just two of 26 Russian planes intercepted over Europe in 24 hours

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The Bear bombers which flew near Britain (one is pictured) were just two of 26 Russian planes intercepted over Europe in 24 hours

'MILITARY MANOEUVRES': WHERE 26 RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT INTERCEPTED

NORWEGIAN SEA

Norwegian air force intercepts eight Russian planes – four Tu-95 Bear H bombers and four Il-78 tankers – flying in formation at 2am on October 29. Six turn back

NORTH SEA

Two of the Tu-95 Bear bombers continue towards British airspace. Typhoon jets scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth

ATLANTIC OCEAN

The bombers continue to Atlantic where they are intercepted by Portuguese air force, and turn back. They are still airborne at 3pm

BALTIC SEA

Seven Russian fighter jets intercepted on afternoon of October 29 by Portuguese F-16 Fighters. Just 24 hours earlier, German Typhoons intercepted the same seven types

BLACK SEA

Turkish jets intercept four Russian planes – two Tu-95 Bear H bombers and two Su-27 Flanker fighters – on afternoon of October 29

The British Typhoon pilots identified the Bear bombers visually and 'escorted' them around the edge of British airspace, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said. 

The Bears then continued towards the Atlantic to the west of Portugal, where they were intercepted by Portuguese F-16s before turning back.

They appeared to be heading back to Russia but were still airborne by 3pm.

Nato said the 'sizeable Russian flights' represented an 'unusual level of air activity over European airspace.'

But the alliance added that all the planes intercepted were, in legal terms, still in international airspace.

Russian bombers and jets were also intercepted over the Baltic and Black Seas between Tuesday and yesterday afternoon.

Some 26 interceptions were made in the space of just 24 hours, although seven could have been the same planes returning to the same area.

More than 100 Russian planes have been intercepted by Nato this year - triple the number in the whole of last year.

The movements come after months of heightened tension between Moscow and the West following Russia's annexation of Crimea and military incursion into Ukraine.

Nato's new chief said today the alliance is increasing its readiness and air policing after yesterday's flurry of activity.

Jens Stoltenberg said that while Nato is not back on a Cold War footing with Russia, its former arch-enemy as the Soviet Union, recent behaviour has severely undermined mutual trust.

Mr Stoltenberg said the trans-Atlantic military alliance 'remains vigilant and ready to respond'.

'We need to keep our forces ready, therefore we are investing in high readiness, new capabilities,' he said.

'We are... increasing air policing as an answer to the increased air activities we are seeing from Russia.'

He also urged Russia to remove its forces from Ukraine - Russia denies they are there - and warned against plans by pro-Russian separatists to hold local elections in eastern Ukraine.

This photo, released by the Norwegian Air Force, shows a Norwegian Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon (left) accompanying a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-95MS (right) (file pic). Portugese F-16s were used to escort seven Russian fighter jets on October 29

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This photo, released by the Norwegian Air Force, shows a Norwegian Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon (left) accompanying a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-95MS (right) (file pic). Portugese F-16s were used to escort seven Russian fighter jets on October 29

A Russian Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber - the same model which flew close to Britain yesterday - refuels over an unknown location during a military exercise (file pic)

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A Russian Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber - the same model which flew close to Britain yesterday - refuels over an unknown location during a military exercise (file pic)

The interceptions yesterday were unrelated to a sonic boom caused by RAF fighter jets which shocked residents across Kent.

Typhoons from RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, flew to Kent at supersonic speeds to dramatically halt a Latvian cargo plane on its way to Birmingham after it 'caused concern' to air traffic controllers.

The swoop, which resulted in the Lativan-registered plane being grounded at Stansted airport yesterday evening, sparked a massive sonic boom which was heard across a 50-mile radius.

Soon after the incident, an unverified audio clip was posted online which appeared to have recorded the moment an RAF pilot warned the plane it risked being 'shot down'.

A man was heard saying: 'I’m instructed by Her Majesty’s government of the United Kingdom to warn you if you do not respond you will be shot down’.

The incidents happened on the same day Kent was rocked by a sonic boom as a Latvian cargo plane was intercepted, but were unrelated

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The incidents happened on the same day Kent was rocked by a sonic boom as a Latvian cargo plane was intercepted, but were unrelated

 

Grounded: The Latvian Antonov An-26 cargo airliner (pictured) was escorted into Stansted Airport after causing a brief scare yesterday

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Grounded: The Latvian Antonov An-26 cargo airliner (pictured) was escorted into Stansted Airport after causing a brief scare yesterday

The interceptions were also not said to be linked to another huge sonic boom heard yesterday over the Outer Hebrides.

The blasts rattled buildings and left islanders shaken from Benbecula and Barra, a distance of more than 55 miles.

At first locals thought there had been a blast at a local quarry or military ordnance blown up at a beach - but the RAF later said it was 'most likely a supersonic jet belonging to the RAF or US Air Force on a routine training flight'.

A spokesman added: 'These flights take place all the time around the UK and we don’t announce them. To hear a supersonic boom is rare. However in certain climatic conditions they can be heard and this is what most likely happened in this case. It was probably us.'

Sheila MacCormick, of the Borrodale Hotel in South Uist, said: 'The actual building shook. When we looked out there was people walking on the road - who were standing looking around to see what had happened.'

MILITARY EXERCISES AS TENSIONS MOUNT WITH NATO OVER UKRAINE

The exercise is a rebuke to Nato, which was founded as a Cold War-era defence body in 1949, less than a week after it insisted the Russia still had troops in eastern Ukraine.

Russia strenuously denies the claims - but Nato said although it has withdrawn 'partially' it still maintains a capable force on the border.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, Nato's top military commander, told reporters: 'Make no mistake, there remain Russian forces inside eastern Ukraine.'

Some Russian troops stationed near the Ukraine border had left and some others appeared to be preparing to leave, he said.

'But the force that remains and shows no indications of leaving is still a very, very capable force and remains a coercive capability to the nation of Ukraine.'

The Battle for Donetsk

 

For six months now, battles have taken place in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels, part of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic. On September 5, both sides agreed to a cease-fire, but the shelling has continued in the weeks since, both sides blaming the other for violating the truce. Of the estimated 3,600 people killed in the fighting, more than 330 have died since the cease-fire was signed. Most of the current battles are taking place in a few neighborhoods of the city of Donetsk, primarily near the international airport. Several contingents of Ukrainian soldiers remain in control of the heavily-damaged buildings of Sergey Prokofiev International Airport, attacked constantly by rebel groups who surround them, and retaliating with outgoing fire. Donetsk city authorities said many residential buildings nearby had been destroyed and that two shopping centers had also been hit. Tensions between Ukraine and neighboring Russia remain high, despite a recent troop pullback by Russia and scheduled talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia's President Vladimir Putin later this week.

The main terminal of Donetsk Sergey Prokofiev International Airport, hit by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on October 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

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A female pro-Russian rebel stands on a truck as she gets ready to take position near the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport during fighting with Ukrainian government forces in the town of Donetsk on October 4, 2014. Before fighting broke out, Irina was a croupier in a casino who never dreamed of taking up arms. Now she is gambling with her life. Using the nom de guerre "Gaika", a cartoon character that translates as Gadget, she has joined an artillery unit in a pro-Russian separatist group fighting government forces. "When your home is being destroyed, everything that is dear to you, friends, work ... It's about character. Girls who go into combat are real Russian women," she said in an interview, explaining why she joined up. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov) #

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Pro-Russian rebels fire mortar shells toward Ukrainian positions near the airport in the town of Donetsk on October 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #

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Smoke rises after shelling near the airport in the town of Donetsk on October 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) #

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A kitten sits in front of a vehicle damaged by shelling in Donetsk's Oktyabrsky district, adjoining the airport, on October 2, 2014.(John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A pro-Russian rebel walks past a burning private house after shelling in the town of Donetsk on October 5, 2014.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #

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People look at a large crater from a missile that struck a bus station the day before in Makiyivka, some 15 km east of Donetsk, on September 13, 2014. (Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Pro-Russian rebels fire toward Ukrainian positions near the airport in Donetsk on October 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #

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A loaf of bread and empty cartridge cases at a pro-Russian rebel position near the airport during fighting with Ukrainian government forces in the town of Donetsk on October 4, 2014. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov) #

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Bodies are piled up at the mortuary of Donetsk's Kalinina hospital on October 8, 2014. Workers at the mortuary have been trying to cope with stress and despair as the casualties from the 6-month old confrontation between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists continue to pile up. (John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A Ukrainian national flag flies on top of a badly damaged traffic control tower as smoke rises after shelling at the Prokofiev International Airport in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on October 12, 2014. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov) #

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AFP journalists, on top of a building, duck for cover while covering heavy shelling between pro-Russian forces and the Ukrainian army in the vicinity of the International Airport in Donetsk on September 14, 2014. (Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A man walks past burnt vehicles in a square near a railway station after shelling in Donetsk on August 29, 2014.(Reuters/Maxim Shemetov) #

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A woman stands in front of a Ukrainian tank at a checkpoint near Mayorovo in Donetsk on October 1, 2014. Ten civilians died in attacks in Ukraine's rebel-held city of Donetsk on October 1, including an incident where a shell hit a school on the first day of class, regional authorities said, blaming pro-Russian rebels. (Anatolii Boiko/AFP/Getty Images) #

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The lifeless body of man who was killed during shelling in the town of Donetsk, lies next to a burnt out bus on October 1, 2014.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) #

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A man removes shattered glass from a broken window after shelling in the town of Donetsk on October 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #

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An unexploded rocket in a field near the village of Zuivka, some 50 km east of Donetsk, on September 18, 2014.(Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Irina, a petrol station worker, now a member of a reconnaissance team of pro-Russian rebels in the town of Makievka, eastern Ukraine, on October 6, 2014. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov) #

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A child's hand, along a wall damaged during heavy fighting in Alovaisk, Ukraine, on September 10, 2014.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images) #

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A Ukrainian attack helicopter patrols in Donetsk's surrounding area on September 20, 2014. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A destroyed house in Semenovka village on September 28, 2014. Semenovka village was destroyed by fighting near the eastern Ukrainian town of Slavyansk in the Donetsk region. (Anatolii Boiko/AFP/Getty Images) #

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The body of Tatiana Medvedeva, killed in an attack on a bus, covered by a jacket in the town of Donetsk, on September 16, 2014.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) #

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A bullet hole in a Red Cross sign, outside an office in the town of Donetsk on October 3, 2014. A Red Cross staffer died when a shell landed near the group's office in Donetsk. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) #

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Givi, commander of the pro-Russian separatist Somali battalion, speaks to reporters at a lookout center of pro-Russian separatist soldiers near Donetsk's Sergey Prokofiev international airport where fighting continues between Ukrainian army forces holed up inside and pro-Russian separatist soldiers, on October 9, 2014. (John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Ukrainian servicemen man a checkpoint outside Mariupol on October 3, 2014. Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels clashed Friday around the flashpoint city of Donetsk, while trading blame over the death of a Swiss aid worker, four weeks into their shaky truce.(Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Smoke rises near a church, not far from the Donetsk Sergey Prokofiev International Airport, during an artillery battle between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces in the town of Donetsk on October 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #

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People walk inside Amstor shopping center after it was shelled in Donetsk on October 8, 2014. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov) #

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Two people sit in an ambulance waiting to be treated after a Grad rocket slammed into a shopping mall in Donetsk's Kubishevski district on October 8, 2014. At least two people were killed, and five were injured after about six Grad rockets hit the area.(John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Raisa Kozlova, 72, injured by recent shelling, gestures from her hospital bed in the city of Donetsk on October 6, 2014.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #

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A high-relief damaged by shelling is seen at the Savur Mohyla memorial in Snizhne, some 80km east of Donetsk on September 26, 2014. The memorial complex, built in 1963 to commemorate a 1943 World War II Soviet battle, was reduced to rubble after battles between Ukrainian forces and separatist soldiers of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic to take and re-take the strategic position in the summer of 2014. (John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Ukrainian servicemen man positions with APCs and tanks on September 21, 2014 near the town of Debaltseve in the region of Donetsk.(Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Parents and a pupil hide in a school basement used as a shelter after recent shelling in Donetsk on October 1, 2014. At least 10 people were killed on Wednesday when shells hit a school playground and a mini-van in a nearby street in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, city authorities and Reuters witnesses said. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov) #

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The body of a biology teacher killed by recent shelling lies covered in a school hall in Donetsk on October 1, 2014.(Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov) #

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Smoke rises over a residential neighborhood near the airport after shelling in the town of Donetsk on October 1, 2014.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) #

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A man shows the remains of a military projectile in the village of Spartak outside Donetsk, on September 3, 2014.(Reuters/Maxim Shemetov) #

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A woman speaks with firefighters in front of a damaged apartment building after shelling in the town of Donetsk on September 17, 2014.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

 

 

 

 

 

For more than three years now, Syrians have endured the loss and hardship caused by a protracted civil war. At the moment, Syrian government forces are fighting several rebel groups spread throughout the country, as well as ISIS, the militant group attempting to form a new state carved out of Syria and Iraq. The smaller rebel groups are fighting each other, and just about everyone in the region is fighting ISIS, assisted by airstrikes carried out by a U.S.-led coalition. Pockets of Damascus are stable enough for residents to carry on normal lives, while some distant rural villages have been reduced to rubble. Basic necessities are rare in contested areas, and refugee camps in neighboring countries are still growing. Battles and attacks continue across Syria among the many parties, with no clear end in sight—those caught in the crossfire suffering most. Gathered here are images of the ongoing Syrian conflict from just the past month. [34 photos]

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ISIS militants stand next to an explosion from an airstrike on Tilsehir hill in Syria, near Turkish border, on October 23, 2014.(Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

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A man stands on a rooftop as he tries to find a signal for his cell phone in the besieged rebel bastion of Douma, northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus on October 26, 2014. (Abd Doumany/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Rebel fighters fire a cannon, locally known as the Hell Cannon, towards government positions on October 24, 2014, in Handarat, on the northern outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo. Syrian rebels fought fierce clashes with loyalist troops in the divided area of Handarat just north of Aleppo a day after fighting that killed 15 soldiers and pro-regime militia as well as 12 rebels, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (Sami Ali/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Civilians inspect a site hit by what activists said was a missile fired by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in al-Kalaseh neighborhood of Aleppo on October 28, 2014. (Reuters/Hosam Katan) #

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The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush transits the Gulf of Aden in this U.S. Navy handout picture taken October 23, 2014. The George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group is returning to Naval Station Norfolk after supporting maritime security operations, strike operations in Iraq and Syria. (Reuters/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Abe McNatt) #

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A collection of airstrikes on the Syrian city of Kobani by the US-led coalition, as seen from Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, throughout October and November of 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters and coalition airstrikes.(Left-to-right, top-row-to-bottom-row: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, Getty Images/Gokhan Sahin, AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach, AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach, AP Photo/Levend Ali, Reuters/Yannis Behrakis, AFP/Getty Images/Aris Messinis, AFP/Getty Images/Aris Messinis, Reuters/Osman Orsal) #

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A military aircraft circles above Kobani, Syria, seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, on October 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) #

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A fighter of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) uses a pair of binoculars as she looks towards areas controlled by Islamic State fighters in the southern countryside of Ras al-Ain on November 9, 2014. (Reuters/Rodi Said) #

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Mustafa's father (center) cries hearing his son suffering as he helps a doctor to stretch the boy's legs at a physical therapy center on November 6, 2014 in Eastern al-Ghouta, a rebel-held region outside Syria's capital of Damascus. Mustafa, 13, had his legs' tendons cut after he was injured in an airstrike four months before. Medical care in Syria has been disintegrated due to the ongoing conflict that erupted in March 2011. (Abd Doumany/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Syrians try to rescue wounded people from a burning building following a reported airstrike by government forces on the Kalasa neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on November 12, 2014. (Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Syrian Kurdish fighter Delkhwaz Sheikh Ahmad, 22, sits at his brother's house in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, on October 17, 2014 as he prepares to leave for Kobani, Syria, to rejoin the fighting. The father of two is a member of the People's Protection Units, also known as YPG and is fighting against ISIS militants in Kobani. Every few weeks, he takes a couple of days to cross the border into Turkey to visit his family that had evacuated. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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Workers wrap the bodies of dead fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at a morgue in Aleppo on October 30, 2014. The opposition Free Syrian Army said it killed the men near Aleppo city and that some of the dead had Iranian and Afghan nationalities. Rebels said the bodies are being preserved so they can be used in exchange for their own fallen comrades who are in the hands of the government. (Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail) #

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A Syrian man sells Aleppo sweets at al-Furqan popular market in the government-controlled part of the northern city of Aleppo on November 15, 2014. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Syrians dance at a night club in the government-controlled part of the northern city of Aleppo on November 15, 2014.(Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A Syrian Kurdish refugee child from the Kobani area looks through a ventilation hole of a tent at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border on November 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) #

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A full moon rises over the Syrian city of Kobani on November 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) #

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Men walk along a dark street at night in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus on November 19, 2014. Residents in Eastern al-Ghouta have been cut off from the main electricity grid for two years, activists said, relying on generators and other sources of light at night.(Reuters/Bassam Khabieh) #

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ISIS billboards along a street in Raqqa, eastern Syria, which is controlled by the Islamic State, on October 29, 2014. The billboard (right) reads: "We will win despite the global coalition". (Reuters/Nour Fourat) #

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Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014.(Reuters/Stringer) #

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A general view shows damage inside Shahba Mall, one of the largest commercial shopping centers in Syria, that was targeted by what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in northern Aleppo countryside on October 16, 2014.(Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail) #

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A woman accompanies schoolchildren after what activists said were air strikes by forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus on October 20, 2014. (Reuters/Bassam Khabieh) #

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An injured girl receives treatment at a field hospital after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Meraba, eastern countryside of Daraa, on November 19, 2014. (Reuters/Wsam Almokdad) #

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Rebel fighters take up positions on the front line against forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Handarat area, north of Aleppo, on October 20, 2014. (Reuters/Hosam Katan) #

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Rebel fighters monitor control screens for any movement of regime forces around the UNESCO-listed citadel where they hold a position on November 3, 2014 in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. The 5,000-year-old citadel, which towers 100 meters above the rest of the city, is now under the control of rebel fighters. (Zein Al-Rifai/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A man cuts the trunk of a tree to make a fire for cooking in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus on November 7, 2014.(Reuters/Bassam Khabieh) #

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A woman screams as she is rescued from a burning building following a reported airstrike by government forces on the Kalasa neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on November 12, 2014. (Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images) #

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The body of a Syrian boy lies in a makeshift clinic after a mortar reportedly fired by Syrian government forces fell in the besieged rebel town of Douma, northeast of Damascus, on November 11, 2014. Closing in on Douma, a town of 200,000 residents under siege since last year, the army has seized control of Mleiha and Adra and has set its sights on Jobar and Ain Tarma, all towns to the east of the capital.(Abd Doumany/AFP/Getty Images) #

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An explosion following an air strike in central Kobani in Syria, on November 17, 2014. Picture taken from the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border. (Reuters/Osman Orsal) #

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A general view shows the Zeno street front line in Aleppo on November 18, 2014. Sheets are hung to shield people on the street from being seen by snipers. (Reuters/Hosam Katan) #

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Al-Mujahideen army fighters, which operates under the Free Syrian Army, sit in shooting positions inside a damaged room during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on the Zeno street front line in Aleppo on November 18, 2014.(Reuters/Hosam Katan) #

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Syrian children attend a class at the Nabaa Al-Hayat center for education and psychological support for children in places undergoing crisis in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, on October 22, 2014. Overall, some 4,000 Syrian schools have been destroyed, damaged or used to house the internally displaced in three years of warfare, leaving the educational system on the verge of ruin, said a report in May by the Damascus-based Syrian Center for Policy Research in conjunction with the UN Development Program and the UN Palestinian refugee agency. (Abd Doumany/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A rebel fighter runs through dust towards an area damaged by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by warplanes loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo's al-Shaar neighborhood on November 6, 2014. (Reuters/Rami Zayat) #

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People watch as smokes rises from the town of Kobani, on October 26, 2014, at the Turkish border near the southeastern village of Mursitpinar. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A girl cries during the funeral of 19 year-old Syrian Kurdish fighter girl Perwin Mustafa Dihap who died after being wounded during fighting against ISIS forces in her home town of Kobani, in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, on November 7, 2014.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

 

For weeks now, ISIS militants in northern Syria have been attacking the Kurdish city of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, attempting to seize the city and solidify control of the territory. In the past few days, U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS have included many targets around Kobani, and appear to have at least slowed their advance for the moment. Kobani is situated on a hillside right on the Syria-Turkey border, a border crossed by tens of thousands of Kurds fleeing their besieged city. Now, some of these refugees and fellow Kurds from southern Turkey have gathered on the border to watch the battles in Kobani through binoculars and cameras. Some Kurdish forces remain in the city, defending against invading militants, supported by Western aircraft and missiles, while ISIS continues to attack with artillery, mortars, suicide bombings, and small arms. CNN reports that senior U.S. administration officials conceded that Kobani will likely soon fall to ISIS, but downplayed the importance of the loss. [32 photos]

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Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani Ocotber 8, 2014. U.S.-led air strikes on Wednesday pushed Islamic State fighters back to the edges of the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani, which they had appeared set to seize after a three-week assault, local officials said. The town has become the focus of international attention since the Islamists' advance drove 180,000 of the area's mostly Kurdish inhabitants to flee into adjoining Turkey, which has infuriated its own restive Kurdish minority and its NATO partners in Washington by refusing to intervene. (Reuters/Umit Bekas)

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A satellite view of Kobani, Syria, the border with Turkey evident across the top of the image. See it mapped here. (© Google, Inc) #

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A Turkish forces armored vehicle in Mursitpinar, on the outskirts of Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, patrols the border road, backdropped by Kobani inside Syria, on October 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, on October 6, 2014.(Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A Turkish Kurd uses binoculars in Mursitpinar to watch the intensified fighting between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces in Kobani, Syria, on October 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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A huge plume of smoke rises after an airstrike outside of Kobani, seen from Mursitpinar, Turkey, on October 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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Turkish Kurds look at the Syrian town of Kobani as they stand on top of a house near Mursitpinar border crossing on October 5, 2014.(Reuters/Umit Bektas) #

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A jet from the U.S.-led coalition flies in the sky over the Syrian town of Kobani as seen from a hill in Tal-Hajeb village, on October 7, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) #

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Smoke rises after an airstrike in Kobani on October 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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A Kurdish man uses binoculars to watch fighting in Kobani, from the village of Mursitpinar, on October 6, 2014.(Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A Kurdish party flag flies from a pole on a hilltop on the western side of Kobani, Syria as fighting intensified between Syrian Kurds and ISIS militants. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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In this image of Kobani, shot with an extreme telephoto lens and through heat haze from Mursitpinar, ISIS militants, along with a machine gun-fitted pickup truck, partially seen bottom right, hold positions in the Syrian city on October 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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Black smoke rises during ongoing fighting in Kobani on October 8, 2014. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images) #

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An ISIS fighter walks on a hillside near a black flag belonging to the Islamic State as a Turkish army vehicle takes position near the Syrian town of Kobani, viewed from the Turkish-Syrian border on October 7, 2014. (Reuters/Umit Bektas) #

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Smoke rises from the southwest of Kobani during airstrikes on October 7, 2014. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Turkish Kurds gather near the border with Syria to watch as mortar shells land in the distance, near Kobani, on October 4, 2014.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici) #

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Turkish Kurds walk as Turkish tanks in the background hold their positions on a hilltop in the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, overlooking Kobani, on October 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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Turkish Kurds in Mursitpinar watch and shoot pictures over the border with their mobile phones as the fighting intensified between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces in Kobani on October 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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Smoke rises from a hilltop in Kobani on October 3, 2014. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images) #

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Armed men, believed to be ISIS militants, walk along a street in Kobani, seen from the Turkish-Syrian border, on October 8, 2014.(Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images) #

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An ISIS flag flies atop a building on the eastern side of Kobani on October 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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Smoke rises above Kobani after a war plane carried out an airstrike, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on October 7, 2014.(Reuters/Umit Bektas) #

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A damaged armoured vehicle sits on a deserted road in the eastern countryside of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, after ISIS fighters took control of the area on October 7, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) #

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An ISIS fighter mans a checkpoint formerly used by Kurdish fighters in al-Jurn village in the countryside of Kobani, after the ISIS took control of the area on October 7, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) #

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A damaged school building, which was used by Kurdish fighters as a base, in al-Aziza village in the countryside of Kobani, after ISIS fighters took control on October 7, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) #

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ISIS fighters stand along a street in the countryside of Kobani on October 7, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) #

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An ISIS fighter gestures from a vehicle outside Kobani on October 7, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) #

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In this image shot with an extreme telephoto lens from the Turkey-Syria border, ISIS militants are seen after placing their group's flag on a hilltop on the eastern side of Kobani, Syria, on October 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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An F-15E Strike Eagle receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria on September 23, 2014. U.S. coalition-led warplanes struck Islamic State group militants near the northern Syrian town of Kobani, for the first time on September 27, 2014, activists and a Kurdish official said. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Matthew Bruch) #

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Smoke rises above Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on October 6, 2014. (Reuters/Umit Bektas) #

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A before-and-after pair of images of a mosque's minaret in Kobani. In the image on the right, shot only hours after the first, smoke rises from a strike that destroyed the minaret during heavy fighting between ISIS militants and Syrian Kurds, on October 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) #

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Turkish Kurds sit on the outskirts of Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, as they watch smoke rising from a fire following an airstrike in Kobani, Syria, on October 7, 2014. Outgunned Kurdish fighters vowed not to abandon their increasingly desperate efforts to defend the Syrian border town from ISIS militants pressing in from three sides and pounding them with heavy artillery.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

 

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