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White House rejects Panetta critique of Obama
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 06, 2014

Roundup of anti-jihadist campaign in Iraq and Syria
Damascus (AFP) Oct 06, 2014 - Here is a roundup of developments on Monday in the international campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

The United States, which is heading the coalition, first launched strikes in Iraq on August 8 and widened its action on September 23 to include Syria, where the IS group is based.

So far, the coalition has attracted dozens of countries, and a handful of Arab allies -- Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- are participating in the strikes on Syria.

Five European countries and Australia have committed aircraft to Iraq. The European countries are Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.


- In Syria, IS militants have planted their flag on the eastern side of Kobane, a strategic town on the border with Turkey, an AFP photographer near the border said. A Syrian Kurdish official declined to confirm that IS fighters had penetrated the town, also known as Ain al-Arab.

Kurdish forces in Kobane had managed to repulse an overnight attack killing at least 20 IS fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fighters reportedly control most of a strategic hill to the east of Kobane, however.

A female Kurdish suicide bomber killed many IS fighters in an unprecedented attack on Sunday, the Observatory said.

Kobane was hit repeatedly by mortar fire from IS fighters, according to an AFP reporter across the border in Turkey, where the army has beefed up its presence.

- In Iraq, combat aircraft hit three IS bases in the north, in Zummar, northwest of Mosul, near Badush, a former prison west of Mosul, and near a village called Aski Mosul, killing at least 25 jihadists according to medical sources and witnesses.

It was not known if the attacks were carried out by Iraqi or coalition forces, or a combination of both.

Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands said they have now taken part in air missions, joining Britain, France and the United States.


- US hostage Peter Kassig, who is being held by the IS and who was seen in a video on Friday that announced the beheading of British hostage Alan Henning, confided in a letter to his parents in June that he was "pretty scared to die".

- A former French intelligence officer who defected to Al-Qaeda was targeted by US strikes in Syria last month, US press group McClatchy said, in a report almost immediately denied by Paris.

The White House on Monday rejected claims by ex-Pentagon chief Leon Panetta that President Barack Obama is too reticent to take on opponents and lacks the passion to lead.

Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest also pointedly questioned the etiquette of former senior US officials dishing the details of their relationship with the president while he is still in office.

Earnest said Obama had displayed his leadership skills as recently as over the last few weeks in taking on the Islamic State and the Ebola crisis.

The spokesman said this was very much in line with Obama's statesmanship when Panetta led the CIA between 2009 and 2011 and the Defense Department between 2011 and 2014.

"The leadership that the president demonstrated over the last several weeks is entirely consistent with the leadership that the president has shown over the last six years," Earnest said.

Earnest also hinted at some White House frustration at criticism of the president's decisions contained in Panetta's book, which follows tomes by ex-secretary of defense Robert Gates and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, which also spilled administration secrets.

"Anybody in any administration who has served in prominent positions like that has to make a decision about how and when and whether to talk about their experience serving the president of the United States," he said.

USA Today reported that in his book's final chapter, Panetta writes that the president's "most conspicuous weakness" is "a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause."

Obama too often "relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader," Panetta wrote and "avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities."

The paper also wrote how Panetta, a Washington veteran, praised Obama's intelligence and convictions. But the critique of Obama will draw the most attention -- especially as it plays into existing criticisms of the president's behavior and political liabilities.

Panetta's "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace," is set for release Tuesday by Penguin Press.

White House defends Biden after Middle East gaffes
Washington (AFP) Oct 06, 2014 - The White House Monday praised Vice President Joe Biden for being big enough to admit his mistakes, after he apologized to two key allies over an embarrassing diplomatic gaffe on the Middle East.

Biden called leaders in the two states, key members of the US coalition taking on the Islamic State group, after he was quoted as saying that they had financed and armed the Sunni jihadists.

Biden's comments caused consternation in the Middle East and questions in Washington as to whether they would dampen the resolve of US allies who have signed up to fight IS.

Biden's office released a statement following his call to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Saturday and he also apologized in person to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy head of the armed forces.

"What the vice president conveyed was an apology for, as it relates to President Erdogan, mischaracterizing the president's views in a private conversation," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Regarding the Emiratis, Earnest said Biden "was not attempting to imply that the UAE has facilitated or supported ISIL, Al-Qaeda or other extremist groups in Syria.

Earnest said that despite his comments, the latest in a string of verbal gaffes, at Harvard University on Thursday, the vice president remained a core member of President Barack Obama's national security team.

"I think the vice president is somebody who has enough character to admit when he's made a mistake," Earnest said.

Erdogan said that if Biden had used such language "that would make him a man of the past for me."

The UAE had described Biden's remarks as "amazing" and said they ignored the role of the Emirates in the fight against extremism and terrorism.

In his comments, Biden referred to Turkey, Erdogan, Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis as friends.

But he said they been so determined to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that they had "poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tonnes of weapons into anyone who would fight against" him.

"Except the people being supplied were Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda and extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world," Biden said.


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