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Pompeo says US ‘will be bold in protecting American interests’ amid Iran crisis – CNNPolitics

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“The American people should know that we will not waver. We will be bold in protecting American interests and we will do so in a way that is consistent with the rule of law,” Pompeo told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

He continued: “We’re trying to restore deterrence that frankly is a need that results directly from the fact that the previous administration left us in a terrible place with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran … we have developed a strategy to convince the Iranian regime to behave like a normal nation. That’s what our strategy is about. We’ve been executing it.”

The comments from Pompeo come amid increasing tensions between Tehran and Washington following a series of US attacks in the region, including one last week in Iraq that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and several others. Though the President has claimed Soleimani was planning attacks on US forces and that the action was taken “to stop a war,” he vowed specific military action against Iran if it “strikes any Americans, or American assets.”

Trump, in a series of tweets Saturday, said the US has “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago),” including cultural sites, which “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if the country responds to the death of Soleimani with military force.

On Sunday, the military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader said his country’s response to the killing of Soleimani will certainly be a military response “against military sites.”
“Let me tell you one thing: Our leadership has officially announced that we have never been seeking war and we will not be seeking war,” Hossein Dehghan said in an exclusive interview with CNN.

“It was America that has started the war. Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions. The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow they have inflicted. Afterward they should not seek a new cycle,” he said.

On Sunday, Pompeo also backed the Trump administration’s claim that it killed Soleimani in response to an impending threat to American lives, even as the lack of evidence provided to lawmakers and the public has fueled lingering skepticism about whether there was an “imminent threat” to justify the strike.

Asked about how “imminent” the attacks on Americans were, Pompeo replied: “If you’re an American in the region, days and weeks, this is not something that’s relevant. We have to prepare, we have to be ready, and we took a bad guy off the battlefield.”

Warren: People are reasonably asking about timing of US strike that killed Iranian commander

He continued: “We made the right decision. There is less risk today to American forces in the region as a result of that attack.”

Later on the same program, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg each weighed in on the matter, with Warren arguing last week’s US strike has moved the US closer to war.

“The administration doesn’t seem to have a coherent answer for taking a step like that, and they’ve taken a step that moves us closer to war, a step that puts everyone at risk, a step that puts our military at risk, puts our diplomats in the region at risk,” Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told Tapper that “we need answers on whether this is part of a meaningful strategy, what choices were offered to the President and why he believed this is the best choice when we really haven’t seen the indication that it even served to prevent whatever attack they’re talking about.”

Threat against Iranian cultural sites

Trump’s threat on Saturday to strike Iranian cultural sites should the country respond to Soleimani’s death with military force has been met with criticism as it’s highly unusual for the US to target cultural rather than military sites, with some critics suggesting such action may violate international law.

Among those critics are Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, who tweeted on Saturday that targeting such sites would be “a war crime” and that he finds it “hard to believe the Pentagon would provide Trump targeting options that include” them.

But Pompeo on Sunday defended Trump, arguing that such an action would not violate international law and instead suggested it would be a continuation of the administration’s attempt at deterrence and defense.

“If we need to defend American interests, we will do so. What President Trump said last night is consistent with what we have said all along,” he told Tapper.

“And the American people should know we will always defend them and we’ll do so in a way that is consistent with international rule of law and the American Constitution,” Pompeo said, insisting when facing pushback from Tapper that strikes against Iranian cultural sites and an action consistent with international law are “not two different things.”

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Fred Pleitgen, Schams Elwazer, Jeremy Diamond, Caroline Kelly and Greg Clary contributed to this report.

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Three Americans killed in Kenya terror attack – CNNPolitics

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The Americans — a US service member and two civilian contractors working for the Defense Department — were killed in the attack carried out by Al-Shabaab, US Africa Command, which is responsible for military relations with nations on the continent, confirmed to CNN. Two DOD members wounded in the attack are now in stable condition and are being evacuated, Africa Command said.

The attack occurred at a Kenya Defense Force in Manda Bay, Kenya. Sources have previously told CNN that the base was used by US Special Operations forces working with the Kenyans.

Africa Command said the US uses the airfield for missions such as providing training to African allies, responding to crises and protecting US interests in the region.

The names of those who were killed and wounded have not been released.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our teammates who lost their lives today,” US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, US Africa Command, said in a statement. “As we honor their sacrifice, let’s also harden our resolve. Alongside our African and international partners, we will pursue those responsible for this attack and al-Shabaab who seeks to harm Americans and U.S. interests. We remain committed to preventing al-Shabaab from maintaining a safe haven to plan deadly attacks against the U.S. homeland, East African and international partners.”

Al-Shabaab has previously pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda.

As CNN reported earlier Sunday US and Kenyan aircraft, both rotary and fixed-wing, were damaged in the attack, Africa Command now says six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged to some degree.

US authorities provided more details about the brazen attack which involved indirect and small arms fire. They said forces from Kenya Defense forces as well as those from US Africa Command fought back the attack after an initial penetration of the perimeter of the facility.

“The work that our U.S. forces are doing in East Africa bolsters partnerships, counters malign influence, and maintains critical pressure on terrorist networks,” Townsend said. “Our efforts directly contribute to counterterrorism, maritime surveillance, and intelligence sharing missions with our Kenyan partners. This activity enables enhanced security and stability in the region and for America.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Sunday.

CNN’s Carma Hassan contributed to this report.

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5 dead, about 55 injured in Pa. Turnpike crash in Mt. Pleasant Twp.; eastbound lanes reopen | TribLIVE.com

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Five people have died and about 55 others have been injured in an early-morning crash involving a tour bus on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Mt. Pleasant Township, authorities said.

The bus was traveling on a downhill curve, struck an embankment and flipped onto its side, authorities said. The crash also involved three tractor-trailers — two UPS trucks and a FedEx truck loaded with parcels — and a passenger vehicle, state police said. It occurred about 3:40 a.m. Sunday near mile marker 86 on the westbound side of the highway, officials said. Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha confirmed the fatalities.

The westbound lanes of the turnpike remain closed between the Breezewood (Exit 161) and New Stanton (Exit 75) interchanges. The eastbound lanes reopened about 4 p.m.

State police spokesman Stephen Limani said two people suffered critical but non-life-threatening injuries, and the rest of the injuries were less serious.

The tour bus, bound for Cincinnati from New Jersey, is owned by Z&D Tours of New Jersey, Limani said.

Many of the tour bus passengers were visiting the United States from other countries, according to Limani. Their home countries have not been determined, but some speak Japanese and others speak Spanish.

Investigators have yet to identify some of the deceased, Limani said.

“Because of the severity of the crash, and how entangled the vehicles are, we’re still working hard to get IDs on the individuals who have passed away,” he said.

As of 1 p.m., some of the bodies were still in the vehicles, according to Limani.

Police expect to release the names of the deceased as soon as they are available, but a full investigation of the crash and its causes could take weeks or months, Limani said.

Accident reconstruction experts will use tracking devices within the vehicles, inspections of the vehicles themselves and other evidence to investigate, Limani said.

Angela Maynard, a tractor-trailer driver from Kentucky, said she was traveling eastbound on the turnpike when she and her driving partner came upon the scene.

“I looked up at that hill there, and I could see lights. It looked like a lot of them,” said Maynard, who called 911. “There was no fire, just a lot of smoke at that point.”

She and her co-driver got out of their truck to see if anyone was hurt. She could see one person lying on the ground, and another trapped in their truck.

“It was horrible,” she said. “I was trying to make sure everyone was OK.

“I walked toward the scene and saw one of the truck drivers laying near the barrier. I tried to keep him occupied, keep talking, until medical help arrived. He was in bad shape. He was floating in and out of consciousness.”

The roads were wet from snow but not especially icy, she said. Turnpike Commission spokeswoman Renee Colborn said that the roads had been treated and also said they were not icy.

The American Red Cross is assisting the victims, many of whom are without their luggage and passports because of the crash, Limani said.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure while they’re in our country, and they’re involved in this horrific incident, that we’re able to be compassionate and provide the things that they’re going to need outside of just medical treatment,” Limani said.

Numerous ambulance companies from Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties sent units to transport victims, following protocol for a “mass casualty incident,” said Westmoreland County Public Safety Director Bud Mertz.

Those who were injured were taken to numerous hospitals in the region, according to a Westmoreland Department of Public Safety supervisor.

A total of 31 patients were treated at Excela Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant, said Excela Health spokeswoman Robin Jennings. Four were transferred to Pittsburgh hospitals.

Jennings said the other 27 were treated and released in stable condition.

The ages of the injured ranged from 7 to 52, she said. Nine are under the age of 18.

Three patients are being treated at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh and a child is being cared for at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, a UPMC spokeswoman said. Their conditions were not available.

Eleven more victims were taken to Forbes Hospital in Monroeville. One was in critical condition Sunday afternoon, and the others were in fair condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

UPMC Somerset received 18 patients: 12 adults and six under the age of 18, according to a UPMC spokeswoman. All have been treated and released.

Leticia Moreta arrived at Forbes about 11:30 a.m. to pick up her children — Jorge Moreta, 24, and Melanie Moreta, 16 — who were on the bus. She did not have details about how the crash happened, only saying that her children were returning from visiting their father in New York. The children were in stable condition.

“I was devastated,” she said. “I was on my way to pick them up from Ohio.”

Omeil Ellis from Irvington, N.J., said his two brothers were on the bus.

Anthony Ellis, 39, was in surgery at 1 p.m. at an undetermined hospital. Quan J. Ellis, 17, was in stable condition at Excela Frick.

The family was waiting to see if he will be released and then plans on heading to the other hospital to visit Anthony.

“I was crying,” Omeil Ellis said. “I was like crazy crying. I’m still hurt.”

He added they were traveling to Ohio for work. His brothers left before him and he was going a few days later.

“I’m just weak right now,” he said.

FedEx officials declined to discuss whether its driver was injured. Like UPS, both offered statements offering condolences and saying they are cooperating with investigating authorities.

After first responders arrived, Maynard said, she and other drivers were told to clear the scene before the turnpike closed.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators were called the scene, turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said.

Debris had caused the eastbound lanes of the turnpike to be closed.

Turnpike Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey said the turnpike followed standard protocol by shutting down the highway for 86 miles between New Stanton and Breezewood, rather than a shorter closure between New Stanton and Donegal, because the local communities are not equipped to handle the heavy flow of commercial traffic that would be getting on and off at Donegal.

Excela Health Frick Hospital Case Management has established a phone number — 724-237-6027 — for family members only, the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety said. The American Red Cross is assisting victims and relatives of those involved in the crash and said anyone needing assistance can call 1-800-Red-Cross.

Renatta Signorini, Paul Peirce and Jacob Tierney are Tribune-Review staff writers. Staff writers Joe Napsha, Megan Guza and Megan Tomasic contributed. You can reach them at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]

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Trump vows to hit 52 Iranian targets if Iran retaliates after drone strike – Reuters

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BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacks Americans or U.S. assets after a drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader, as tens of thousands of people marched in Iraq to mourn their deaths.

Showing no signs of seeking to ease tensions raised by the strike he ordered that killed Soleimani and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad airport on Friday, Trump issued a threat to Iran on Twitter. The strike has raised the specter of wider conflict in the Middle East.

Iran, Trump wrote, “is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets” in revenge for Soleimani’s death. Trump said the United States has “targeted 52 Iranian sites” and that some were “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

“The USA wants no more threats!” Trump said, adding that the 52 targets represented the 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for 444 days after being seized at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 – an enduring sore spot in U.S.-Iranian relations.

Trump did not identify the sites. The Pentagon referred questions about the matter to the White House, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among the mourners in Iraq included many militiamen in uniform for whom Muhandis and Soleimani were heroes. They carried portraits of both men and plastered them on walls and armored personnel carriers in the procession. Chants of “Death to America” and “No No Israel” rang out.

On Saturday evening, a rocket fell inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone near the U.S. Embassy, another hit the nearby Jadriya neighborhood and two more were fired at the Balad air base north of the city, but no one was killed, Iraq’s military said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Trump referenced an unusually specific number of potential Iranian targets after a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander had also mentioned a specific number of American targets – 35 of them – for possible retaliatory attacks in response to Soleimani’s killing.

General Gholamali Abuhamzeh was quoted by Tasnim news agency as saying late on Friday that Iran will punish Americans wherever they are within reach of the Islamic Republic, and raised the prospect of attacks on ships in the Gulf.

“The Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there. … Vital American targets in the region have been identified by Iran since long time ago. … Some 35 U.S. targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv are within our reach,” he was quoted as saying.

Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah militia warned Iraqi security forces to stay away from U.S. bases in Iraq, “by a distance not less than a thousand meters (six-tenths of a mile) starting Sunday evening,” reported Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV, which is close to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Trump said on Friday Soleimani had been plotting “imminent and sinister” attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. Democratic critics said the Republican president’s action was reckless and risked more bloodshed in a dangerous region.

‘MALIGN INFLUENCE’

Trump’s provocative Twitter posts came only hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter that he had told Iraq’s president that “the U.S. remains committed to de-escalation.” Pompeo also wrote on Twitter that he had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran and “underscored the importance of countering Iran’s malign influence and threats to the region.”

The White House on Saturday sent to the U.S. Congress formal notification of the drone strike – as required by law – amid complaints from Democrats that Trump did not notify lawmakers or seek advance approval for the attack. White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien defended the operation’s legality and said Justice Department lawyers had signed off on the plan.

Democrats sounded unswayed. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the notification document raised “serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification” of the strike.

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a strident Trump critic, wrote on Twitter that his threat to hit Iranian sites “is a war crime.”

“Threatening to target and kill innocent families, women and children – which is what you’re doing by targeting cultural sites – does not make you a ‘tough guy.’ It does not make you ‘strategic.’ It makes you a monster,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks following the U.S. Military airstrike against Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq, in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., January 3, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

With security worries rising after Friday’s strike, the NATO alliance and a separate U.S.-led mission suspended their programs to train Iraqi security and armed forces, officials said.

Soleimani, 62, was Iran’s pre-eminent military leader – head of the Revolutionary Guards’ overseas Quds Force and the architect of Iran’s spreading influence in the Middle East. Muhandis was de facto leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella body of paramilitary groups.

The attack took Washington and its allies, mainly Saudi Arabia and Israel, into uncharted territory in their confrontation with Iran and its proxy militias across the region.

The United States has been an ally of the Iraqi government since the 2003 U.S. invasion to oust dictator Saddam Hussein, but Iraq has become more closely allied with Iran.

The Iraqi parliament is convening an extraordinary session during which a vote to expel U.S. troops could be taken as soon as Sunday. Many Iraqis, including opponents of Soleimani, have expressed anger at Washington for killing the two men on Iraqi soil and possibly dragging their country into another conflict.

BODIES TAKEN TO HOLY CITIES

A PMF-organized procession carried the bodies of Soleimani and Muhandis, and those of others killed in the U.S. strike, through Baghdad’s Green Zone.

The top candidate to succeed Muhandis, Hadi al-Amiri, spoke over the dead militia commander’s coffin: “The price for your noble blood is American forces leaving Iraq forever and achieving total national sovereignty.”

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also attended. Mahdi’s office later said he received a phone call from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and they “discussed the difficult conditions facing Iraq and the region.”

Mourners brought the bodies of the two slain men by car to the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, then to Najaf, another sacred Shi’ite city, where they were met by the son of Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and where Muhandis and the other Iraqis killed will be laid to rest.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Soleimani’s body will be transferred to the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan that borders Iraq. On Sunday it will be taken to the Shi’ite holy city of Mashhad in Iran’s northeast and from there to Tehran and his hometown Kerman in the southeast for burial on Tuesday, state media said.

The U.S. strike followed a sharp increase in U.S.-Iranian hostilities in Iraq since last week when pro-Iranian militias attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after a deadly U.S. air raid on Kataib Hezbollah, founded by Muhandis. Washington accused the group of an attack on an Iraqi military base that killed an American contractor.

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Maha El Dahan in Baghdad and David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Ghazwan Jabouri in Tikrit, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Nadine Awadallah in Beirut, John Chalmers in Brussels, and Kate Holton in London; Writing by Will Dunham, Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis

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