Airstrikes in Syria’s besieged Aleppo kill more than 20
BEIRUT (AP) — Airstrikes pounded rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Thursday, killing more than 20 people and hitting a water pumping station on the third day of a renewed air campaign on the besieged territory, Syrian activists and rescue workers said.
The Russian military meanwhile said airstrikes in the rebel-held province of Idlib earlier this week killed at least 30 members of an al-Qaida-linked group, including three commanders. The strikes are part of a major Syrian and Russian offensive launched earlier this week on opposition-held areas that has killed dozens of people.
In one area, volunteer first responders dug through the rubble for four hours before pulling out a six-year-old child who was still alive. The child’s mother was killed in the strikes, said Ibrahim al-Haj, a spokesman for the rescuers, known as the Syrian Civil Defense.
The activist-run Public Services Authority said the Bab al-Nairab water plant was struck with a barrel bomb. Spokesman Ahmad al-Shami said the plant was damaged but is still operating.
“This regime uses any means to add pressure to civilians. It has bombed bakeries and hospitals and has not made an exception for water and electricity,” he told The Associated Press.
AP source: Trump offers Flynn national security adviser job
NEW YORK (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump offered former military intelligence chief Michael Flynn the job of national security adviser as he began to build out his national security team Thursday, according to a senior Trump official. The move came as Trump made his most direct foray into foreign policy since the election, meeting with Japan’s prime minister.
Flynn, who served as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has advised Trump on national security issues for months. As national security adviser, he would work in the White House and have frequent access to the president. The post does not require Senate confirmation.
The official wouldn’t say whether Flynn had accepted the job, which left open the possibility that the arrangement was not finalized. The official was not authorized to discuss the offer publicly and insisted on anonymity.
Flynn, who turns 58 in December, built a reputation in the Army as an astute intelligence professional and a straight talker. He retired in 2014 and has been a fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s White House and Pentagon, taking issue with the administration’s approach to global affairs and fighting Islamic State militants.
Trump is a foreign policy novice and his early moves on national security are being closely watched by U.S allies and adversaries alike. He’s said to be considering a range of officials with varying degrees of experience to lead the State Department and Pentagon.
Flynn’s reputation: astute intelligence pro, straight talker
WASHINGTON (AP) — Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the man Donald Trump has asked to be his national security adviser, built a reputation in the Army as an astute intelligence professional and a straight talker.
What set Flynn apart after he shed his uniform in 2014 was the blistering public criticism he quickly leveled at the White House and Pentagon, taking issue with a wide range of national security policies, including the administration’s approach to fighting the Islamic State group and, more generally, its handling of global affairs.
In recent public comments, including his fiery address at the Republican National Convention, Flynn has emphasized his view that the threat posed by IS requires a more aggressive U.S. military, as well as his belief that Washington should work more closely with Moscow. Flynn is a champion of other foreign policy themes Trump pushed during the campaign, including renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal.
This alignment of views, coupled with his outspokenness, could make Flynn a particularly useful ally to Trump and counterweight to those senior military officers who have been leery of deeper U.S. involvement in the Middle East as well as those convinced that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine demands a harsher U.S. response.
Flynn’s military experience might have made him seem like a natural choice to lead the Pentagon. But without a waiver from Congress, he is not eligible to be secretary of defense because federal law says “a person may not be appointed as secretary of defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer.” Flynn retired from the Army after two turbulent years as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s top spy agency.
Trump ally Sessions could face tough Senate confirmation
WASHINGTON (AP) — As one of President-elect Donald Trump’s closest and most consistent allies, Sen. Jeff Sessions is a likely pick for a top post in his administration. But when Sessions faced Senate confirmation for a job 30 years ago, it didn’t go well.
Nominated for a federal judgeship in 1986, Sessions, R-Ala., was dogged by racist comments he was accused of making while serving as U.S. attorney in Alabama. He was said to have called a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy” and the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”
Sessions was the first senator to back Trump during the campaign and is an architect of Trump’s immigration, counterterrorism and trade policies. His name has been floated for attorney general and secretary of defense. The Trump transition team released a statement Thursday saying the president-elect is “unbelievably impressed” with Sessions, citing his work as a U.S. attorney and state attorney general in Alabama.
But confirmation for the four-term lawmaker, even in a Republican-controlled chamber, is not guaranteed.
Sessions had been confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate in 1981 to be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.
Japan PM in NY for 1st meeting by foreign leader with Trump
NEW YORK (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he believes Donald Trump is a leader in whom he can have great confidence after meeting with the president-elect Thursday.
Abe, who became the first world leader to meet with Trump since his election, was seeking reassurances over the future of U.S.-Japan security and trade relations. He described the meeting as “really, really cordial” but offered few details of their discussion.
“I do believe that without confidence between the two nations (the) alliance would never function in the future and as an outcome of today’s discussion I am convinced Mr. Trump is a leader with whom I can have great confidence in,” Abe said at a press conference following the meeting, where he took only two questions.
Abe said the meeting renewed his conviction that he would be able to establish a relationship of confidence with Trump.
Abe met with Trump in New York, where the incoming president is working on setting up an administration after his surprise election victory last week that has injected new uncertainty into old U.S. alliances. The Trump transition team provided no readout of the meeting.
Obama, nudging Trump, says he must ‘stand up’ to Russia
BERLIN (AP) — President Barack Obama prodded Donald Trump on Thursday to take a tougher approach toward Russia, urging the president-elect to “stand up” to Moscow when it violates global norms. The Kremlin accused Obama of trying to lock in bad relations before Trump takes office.
In Europe for his last time as president, Obama said he doesn’t expect Trump to mirror his own strategy on Russia, and hopes his successor will work constructively with the superpower where appropriate. Yet he insisted the U.S. mustn’t gloss over deep disagreements over Syria, Ukraine and basic democratic values.
“My hope is that he does not simply take a realpolitik approach,” Obama said, using a German term for a foreign policy driven by expediency. He said he hopes the businessman won’t cut deals with Russia if it hurts other countries or “just do whatever is convenient at the time.”
Obama’s remarks in a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked his most explicit attempt since the election to influence the policies Trump will pursue as president. Obama has privately urged Trump not to obliterate the efforts of the last eight years, but in public he has tried to avoid boxing in his successor.
Yet Trump’s unexpected victory has put Obama in the unwelcome position of having to reassure foreign leaders that Trump won’t follow through on alarming positions he staked out in his campaign, such as the notion the U.S. might not defend its NATO allies. NATO members and other European countries are worried that under Trump, the U.S. will stop trying to police Russia’s behavior the way it has under Obama.
Justice Alito rallies conservatives in tribute to Scalia
WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued a rallying cry to conservatives Thursday amid newfound strength following Donald Trump’s election.
Alito told the Federalist Society conference of conservative lawyers, judges and legal thinkers that religious freedom and gun rights are among “constitutional fault lines,” important issues at stake in the federal courts.
The conference of 1,800 of conservatism’s leading lights took on a new air of importance with Trump’s victory, and included a list of judges the president-elect has named as candidates to fill the vacancy created by the death last February of Justice Antonin Scalia.
In his remarks, Alito didn’t mention the election or the vacancy, rather using the platform to pay tribute to Scalia, a longtime colleague and conservative ally in high court battles on hot-button social and political issues.
He said Scalia, a hero to many of the group’s 40,000 members, is sorely missed on the court. “We are left to ask ourselves WWSD,” what would Scalia do, Alito said. The lettering is a play on the phrase “WWJD,” for what would Jesus do.
1 month in, Iraq still faces grueling urban combat in Mosul
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Layers of hastily erected barricades built from rubble and twisted metal trace Mosul’s eastern front line where Iraqi forces and Islamic State group fighters are facing off in the dense neighborhoods and narrow alleyways of the country’s second largest city.
As the operation to retake Mosul enters its second month on Thursday, Iraqi forces are preparing for prolonged, grueling urban combat.
They have slowed the tempo of their operations, advancing just a few hundred meters at a time. Iraqi forces have gathered troops many times the estimated 5,000 IS fighters in the city.
But hundreds of thousands of civilians still remain in the city. And the ferocity and magnitude of IS counterattacks and defenses in Mosul is unlike anything Iraqi forces have confronted in the fight against the militant group so far. As a result, overwhelming force can’t bring swift victory, and the campaign is likely to take weeks.
THE EASTERN FRONT
Man accused of killing 2 officers had called police ‘heroes’
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Days before he allegedly killed two Iowa police officers, Scott Michael Greene sent a note to one of their departments apologizing for prior run-ins, saying his “dark days” were over and praising police as “absolute heroes.”
In an online compliment form addressed to the “many officers” of the Urbandale Police Department, the unemployed 46-year-old father wrote Oct. 29: “I love you folks.”
“I love the fact that you will give your life for my daughter and myself. You guys are absolute heroes and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” Greene wrote in the note from his Gmail account. “I’m so proud to have you guys around. I respect each and every one of you with all my heart. I really do.”
Four days after the laudatory email, authorities say Greene shot and killed first-year Urbandale police officer Justin Martin, 24, and Des Moines Police Sgt. Antony Beminio, 38. The ambush-style attacks took place about two miles apart within minutes of each other as both officers were sitting in their patrol cars. Greene is in jail awaiting trial on two counts of first-degree murder, which would put him in prison for life if convicted.
The Associated Press exclusively obtained the document and dozens of others about Greene on Thursday from the Urbandale Community School District under the open records law. The district had initially refused to release them at the urging of Urbandale police, arguing they were part of a police report and confidential. The district reversed course after the AP argued that exemption did not apply to school records.
Experts: Video evidence isn’t slam dunk in police shootings
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Philando Castile was shot by a Minnesota police officer, his girlfriend broadcast his final moments live on Facebook. But experts say the footage from a squad car camera was probably a bigger factor in prosecutors’ decision to charge the officer with manslaughter.
And that footage, which has not been made public, is still no guarantee that Jeronimo Yanez will be convicted, as other police shootings have shown.
“There have been cases that had video that resulted in either an acquittal or a hung jury, so sometimes the video may raise more questions,” said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University who tracks fatal police shootings. “It’s very hard to convict in these cases.”
Since the beginning of 2005, a total of 78 officers in the U.S. have been charged with murder or manslaughter. Of that number, about a third of the defendants were convicted — 14 by juries and 13 through guilty pleas, Stinson said.
Of the 18 police officers charged with murder or manslaughter last year, at least 11 cases involved video evidence, he said.