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NEED TO KNOW:
The United States has increased its delivery of weapons to the Syrian rebels deemed moderate enough to be trusted with them. The hope is those weapons will help the rebels retake territory now controlled by the Islamic State, and maybe help topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the process.
One of these rebel groups calls itself the Democratic Forces of Syria. It is an alliance between Kurdish and Arab forces that together managed to drive the Islamic State out of significant territory in northern Syria earlier this year. Members of the group told Reuters the US had promised them more weapons as they gear up for a major assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital.
The United States has been arming various rebel groups in Syria since at least 2013. But the increased efficiency with which those weapons are being delivered these days comes about two weeks after Russia began airstrikes inside the country. That is probably not a coincidence.
Just about every major American media outlet connected the new commitment to arm the Syrian rebels to Russia’s entrance into the conflict. Headlines over the last 24 hours announced that the Syrian conflict was morphing into a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Gone are the salad days, it seems, when the Syrian conflict was merely a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, the Kurds and a half a dozen other groups and governments.
Despite Russia’s claims that its airstrikes are intended to weaken the Islamic State, actual strikes have instead targeted mostly rebel positions. This development has breathed new life into the Syrian regime's fight. The American delivery of arms to the rebels, meanwhile, may breathe new life into their effort to bring down the regime.
Either way, this flood of Russian and American weaponry is allowing both sides of the Syrian conflict to dig in, which means this war has probably got a long way to go.
WANT TO KNOW:
Speaking of Russia …
When Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the skies over Ukraine in July 2014, pretty much everyone assumed pro-Russian separatists — using weapons supplied by Russia — had shot it down.
More than 15 months later, after an international investigation, it seems pretty much everyone was right. Dutch investigators announced today that MH17 was most likely attacked from the ground by a Russian-made missile.
The investigators arrived at this conclusion based on traces of paint and shrapnel on the bodies of the crewmembers found in the cockpit. Investigators said a surface-to-air missile had struck the front of the plane.
The downing of MH17 killed all 298 people on board, most of them Dutch nationals. It came just as pro-Russian separatists were gaining a foothold in eastern Ukraine. Fighting in the region has now quieted as the Ukrainian military and the separatists hold to a tenuous ceasefire.
The investigators refrained from assigning blame for the attack. Instead, Dutch prosecutors will soon take care of that.
STRANGE BUT TRUE:
Remember Cecil the lion? Remember all the worldwide outrage? Days of online criticism forced the American dentist and sport-hunter who killed Cecil into weeks of hiding. Walter Palmer had very quickly gone from hunter to hunted. That was in July.
To refresh your memory: With the help of a hired guide, Palmer lured Cecil out of the protected area where he lived to a place where is was legal to kill him. Even the Zimbabwean government said it was going to prosecute Palmer for killing Cecil, a beloved lion well known to visitors of Hwange National Park.
Zimbabwe, however, has now determined that Palmer did nothing wrong. He had all the proper paperwork. The fault, the government says, instead is internal. The country will still work to prosecute Palmer’s guides, who led him to believe the hunt was legal.
As a result, Zimbabwe may revise its hunting regualtions. In the meantime, just to play it safe, maybe don’t kill innocent lions for a while.