US airstrikes target extremists
U.S. airstrikes in Somalia may have killed the leader of the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, with a militant commander saying Tuesday that he was in a car that was struck and that six people died.
The leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, has no heir apparent. If he has been killed, it would be a “significant blow” to al-Shabab’s organization and abilities, said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, who confirmed the strikes targeting Godane.
But Godane’s death could also lead the group to ditch its association with al-Qaida and align itself with the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, analysts said. Al-Shabab gained international notoriety a year ago this month when it attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people.
Godane was in one of two vehicles hit by the U.S. military strikes Monday night, said Abu Mohammed, an al-Shabab commander and spokesman. He said six militants were killed, but would not say if Godane was among them. The two vehicles were heading toward the coastal town of Barawe, al-Shabab’s main base, Mohammed told The Associated Press.
The U.S. strikes hit Godane after he left a meeting of the group’s top leaders, said a senior Somali intelligence official. Intelligence indicated Godane “might have been killed along with other militants,” said the Somali official, who spoke on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Teens escape from detention facility
Thirty teens “overwhelmed” their minders at a juvenile detention center by simultaneously breaking out of four dormitories and then crawling under a weak spot in a chain-link fence. By late Tuesday, eight were still on the run.
Police caught up with some walking along roads or coming out of the woods. Some turned themselves in. And some were swiftly returned to the detention center by their own families for their own good.
“He broke loose, he was gone, but he’s back now,” said LaWanda Knowles, whose nephew joined the escape. “I just want to know that he’s here safely and he’s OK — I don’t want the police jumping on him, nobody beating on him or nothing.”
The teens — ages 14 to 19 — left their rooms at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center at about 11 p.m. Monday night and gathered in common areas. With just 16 unarmed adults to keep watch over 78 youths in 12 dormitories, the staff was “overwhelmed,” said Tennessee Department of Children’s Services spokesman Rob Johnson.
“Staffing was lighter during the overnight hours, so presumably they had planned for that,” Johnson said.
Allies act on Baltic security
Confronted by a Kremlin-backed military offensive in Ukraine, President Barack Obama and Western allies will approve plans this week to position at least 4,000 troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe, bolstering NATO’s security commitments to nervous member states near the Russian border.
Ahead of a high-stakes NATO summit that begins Thursday, Obama will also make a symbolic show of solidarity with Eastern Europe when he visits Estonia for meetings with Baltic leaders. He was due to arrive in the Estonian capital of Tallinn Wednesday morning.
Russia’s months-long conflict with Ukraine comes at a time when members of the NATO defense alliance have been cutting military spending and reassessing the organization’s role after years of peace in Europe.
While Ukraine is not part of NATO, alliance members in Eastern and Central Europe fear they could be Russia’s next targets, prompting the 28-nation bloc to seek a more robust response.
“The current situation shows that the principle of collective territorial defense hasn’t gone away — on the contrary,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said Sunday, marking the 20th anniversary of the exit of the last Russian troops from Estonian territory.
Ukrainian officials say their country’s armed forces are now locked in a conflict with not only Moscow-backed separatists, but also the Russian army. Officials said Tuesday that Russian military forces had been spotted in two major rebel-held cities in eastern Ukraine, though that could not be independently verified.
Christie heads to Mexico
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is heading to Mexico on Wednesday, officially on a trade mission for his state. But the trip also serves as schooling for Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate with a lot of swagger but little foreign policy experience.
So with his state exporting $2 billion worth of goods to Mexico, and tens of thousands of New Jersey jobs relying on the relationship, Christie becomes the latest potential presidential contender to cross the border on official business — and in pursuit of international expertise and credibility.
“If you’re a national leader of the party and you go abroad and you meet other foreign leaders, you learn,” Christie, who also is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, told reporters. “And that’ll make you a better leader whether you run for anything else or whether you just continue to try to be an influential governor in our country regarding the national debates that come up.”
Christie is just one of the Republicans trying to beef up his foreign policy credentials for a possible general election matchup against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former secretary of state. The nation’s role in international affairs is likely to be a key issue in the 2016 contest regardless of the candidates. After consecutive elections focused largely on the American economy, foreign affairs has returned to the forefront with the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq and the Russian-backed rebellion in Ukraine.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul recently returned from Guatemala, where he performed eye surgeries with news cameras in tow. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum just came back from Israel; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is there now. Two days after Christie returns from Mexico, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to head to China and Japan.MORE IN Wire News
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