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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    Sgt. La David Johnson

    President Donald Trump has denied Rep. Frederica Wilson's claim that he told the wife of a slain soldier that her husband "knew what he signed up for."

    "Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

    Wilson on Tuesday told the Miami ABC affiliate WPLG that when Trump spoke with Myeshia Johnson — the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four US Army Special Forces troops killed in action during a mission in the African country of Niger earlier this month — Trump said, "He knew what he signed up for ... but when it happens, it hurts anyway."

    "So insensitive," Wilson told WPLG. "He should not have said that — he shouldn't have said it." Wilson said she overheard Trump make the comment as she rode with Johnson on the way to the airport to receive the fallen soldier's body.

    Earlier Tuesday, Trump doubled down on a false claim that President Barack Obama did not call the families of fallen American service members. Several former Obama administration officials disputed Trump's assertion.

    The president over the past 24 hours has sought to tout his own empathy for Gold Star families, but observers have criticized him for seeming to use the tradition of consoling the families as a means to congratulate himself.

    Also Tuesday, Trump drew his chief of staff, John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, into the fray during an interview with Fox News Radio host Brian Kilmeade. Kelly's son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

    "You can ask General Kelly," Trump said. "Did he get a call from Obama?"

    Bryan Logan contributed to this report.

    SEE ALSO: More on Wilson's report of Trump's call to Johnson.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How the US could prevent a North Korean nuclear strike — according to a former Marine and cyberwarfare expert

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    Surrendering ISIS fighters

    After US-backed Kurdish and Syrian forces defeated ISIS in the terror group's final Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, tweeted a picture of its fighters surrendering en masse.

    "#ISIS lost nearly 6000 terrorists in #Raqqa, then surrendered in large numbers. Once purported as fierce, now pathetic and a lost cause,"tweeted McGurk

    McGurk's photo comes after other reports of mass surrenders of ISIS fighters as the terror group loses wide swaths of territory and changes tactics to allow surrender. Previously, ISIS had leaned heavily on its members' willingness to die for the cause.

    Today, the soldiers seem content to surrender to Kurdish forces, who take them prisoner instead of other forces, which may execute or even torture them.

    With the liberation of Raqqa, ISIS now controls only a small area of mostly desert towns along the Syrian and Iraqi border. Local militias, governments, and a US-led coalition of 67 nations have led a ground and air offensive to erode the group's territory since its inception in 2014.

    McGurk posted several other pictures of the US-led forces reclaiming schools and other vital infrastructure.

    syria iraq isis map raqqa october 2017


    SEE ALSO: ISIS fighters, once bent on martyrdom, surrender en masse from last Iraqi stronghold

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    NOW WATCH: North Korea exports $2.83 billion worth of goods — here's where it all goes

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    Pyongyang from a micro plane

    • A photographer took a 360-degree aerial video of Pyongyang for the first time.
    • The video reveals another side of North Korea, as well as many striking scenes and landmarks.

    Many outsiders know North Korea only as the scary, totalitarian state where Kim Jong Un rules with an iron fist, but the Singaporean photographer Aram Pam just completed a world first: filming Pyongyang from a microlight plane with a 360-degree camera.

    Pam, who provided photos and video to NK News, negotiated strict regulations and bans on photography and media to capture Pyongyang as it had never been seen before.

    The aerial view of Pyongyang reveals a strange juxtaposition — brilliant high-rises line major streets like facades, but low, dull buildings hide behind them. North Korea's tall, modern-looking buildings tower over broad streets with virtually nobody on them. Highways intersect without a traffic light. Gleaming space-age stadiums contrast sharply with other nearby massive structures that seem to rot.

    In the video below, see all of North Korea's great and mysterious structures — like the "Hotel of Doom" and the May Day stadium, one of the largest in the world — and countless waterfront skyscrapers.

    SEE ALSO: This is the massive US nuclear submarine that just arrived off the Korean Peninsula

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    NOW WATCH: The mysterious life of the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

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    The US military participated in Seoul ADEX, a yearly defense exhibition in South Korea. Dozens of different air crafts were on display and they performed aerial maneuvers. Following is a transcript of the video.

    South Korea and the US show off their strength in the skies. 

    The US military participated in Seoul ADEX. A yearly defense exhibition in South Korea. Dozens of different aircraft were on display . The main star: The US' F-22 Raptor. It's the world's most lethal fighter jet. 

    The US also showed off other jets, like the F-35 Lightning. South Korea's F-15K jets were also on display. South Korea's aerobatic flight group pulled off a stunning routine. They're known as the Black Eagles. 

    The exhibition comes during rising tensions with North Korea. Another opportunity to display the countries' joint military might.

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    jim mattis

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress that an estimated 19 percent of U.S. military properties around the world might be unneeded and he is pressing lawmakers to allow him to take a closer look.

    Mattis provided the 19-percent-excess-capacity figure in a report to Congress earlier this month in what is the latest push by the Pentagon to get lawmakers to permit a new review of properties under the Base Realignment and Closure program, or BRAC, which could result in the shuttering of excess facilities in the 2020s.

    "I must be able to eliminate excess infrastructure in order to shift resources to readiness and modernization," Mattis wrote in an Oct. 6 letter released Tuesday by the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

    The Pentagon has for years requested congressional authorization for BRAC and this year underscored it could yield billions of dollars in savings that could be used to shore up depleted military forces. But many lawmakers in Congress, especially in the House, are loath to consider closing military bases that can be job centers and economic drivers in their states.

    Mattis told lawmakers the overall 19-percent estimate is based on the military's needs in 2012 and a BRAC round is needed for the Pentagon to be able to assess how existing facilities match current needs.

    "If Congress were to enact the [Defense] Department's legislative proposal authorizing a 2021 BRAC round, the process would proceed only if I certify that a BRAC round is needed and that it will achieve savings for each of the military departments," said Mattis in an apparent attempt to ease the concerns of lawmakers.

    us military russia germany

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Armed Services chairman, and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the committee's top Democrat, floated a proposal to start the BRAC process over the summer.

    But Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has long opposed the shuttering of bases, saying the upfront costs would sap needed budget money and the savings may not be realized for years, if ever.

    The letter from Mattis and Pentagon report on estimated excess property was released by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member on Thornberry's committee and a proponent of shuttering the unneeded properties.

    The estimated excess properties is higher within some individual military services including 29 percent for the Army and 28 percent for the Air Force, Smith said.

    SEE ALSO: The Army is eyeing a number of high-tech upgrades to its arsenal

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    NOW WATCH: The 5 best hidden features from the latest iPhone update

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    taliban afghanistan

    KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban have killed at least 43 Afghan soldiers in an attack that wiped out an army camp in the southern Kandahar province, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.

    Spokesman Dawlat Wazir said the attack late Wednesday involved two suicide car bombs and set off hours of fighting. He says nine other soldiers were wounded and six have gone missing. He said 10 attackers were killed.

    The Taliban claimed the attack in a media statement.

    Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a Taliban ambush in the northern Balkh province late Wednesday killed six police, according to Shir Jan Durani, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

    Afghan forces have struggled to combat a resurgent Taliban since U.S. and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, switching to a counterterrorism and support role.

    The Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks across Afghanistan on Tuesday, targeting police compounds and government facilities with suicide bombers in the country's south, east and west, and killing at least 74 people, officials said.

    Among those killed in one of the attacks was a provincial police chief. Scores were also wounded, both policemen and civilians. Afghanistan's deputy interior minister, Murad Ali Murad, called Tuesday's onslaught the "biggest terrorist attack this year."

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    People gather on the road as they welcome Iraqi security forces members, who continue to advance in military vehicles in Kirkuk, Iraq October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

    BAGHDAD (Reuters) - About 100,000 Kurds have fled Kirkuk, fearing unrest, since Monday's takeover of the region by Iraqi forces, officials from the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said on Thursday.

    About 18,000 families have taken shelter in the cities of Erbil and Sulaimaniya, the governor of Erbil Nawzad Hadi told reporters. One of his aides told Reuters the total number of people was about 100,000.

    SEE ALSO: Turkey could close border with Iraqi Kurds 'at any moment'

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    NOW WATCH: All blue-eyed people have a single ancestor in common

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    Shahab-3 missile Iran

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday that the country's ballistic missile program would accelerate despite pressure from the United States and European Union to suspend it, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

    In a major U.S. policy shift, President Donald Trump last Friday refused to certify Tehran's compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, signaling he would take a more aggressive approach to Iran over its ballistic missile program.

    "Iran's ballistic missile program will expand and it will continue with more speed in reaction to Trump's hostile approach towards this revolutionary organization (the Guards)," the Guards said in a statement published by Tasnim.

    The Trump administration has imposed new unilateral sanctions targeting Iran’s missile activity. It has called on Tehran not to develop missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs. Iran says it has no such plans.

    Tehran has repeatedly pledged to continue what it calls a defensive missile capability in defiance of Western criticism.

    SEE ALSO: Trump's new Iran strategy somehow ignores the lesson he should have learned from North Korea

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    NOW WATCH: The 5 most annoying changes in the new iPhone update — and how to fix them

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    USS ronald reagan korea navy drill

    • The US has sent its Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier on a naval drill with South Korean ships to send a message to North Korea.
    • "We are ready to defend the Republic of Korea," Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, the commander of the Reagan strike group said.
    • North Korea has warned that nuclear war could break out at any minute.

    ABOARD USS RONALD REAGAN, Sea of Japan (Reuters) - The USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier, patrolled in waters east of the Korean peninsula on Thursday, in a show of sea and air power designed to warn off North Korea from any military action.

    The U.S. Navy's biggest warship in Asia, with a crew of 5,000 sailors, sailed around 100 miles (160.93 km), launching almost 90 F-18 Super Hornet sorties from its deck, in sight of South Korean islands.

    It is conducting drills with the South Korean navy involving 40 warships deployed in a line stretching from the Yellow Sea west of the peninsula into the Sea of Japan.

    "The dangerous and aggressive behavior by North Korea concerns everybody in the world," Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, commander of the Reagan's strike group, said in the carrier's hangar as war planes taxied on the flight deck above.

    "We have made it clear with this exercise, and many others, that we are ready to defend the Republic of Korea."

    The Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stethem steam alongside ships from the Republic of Korea Navy in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula on October 18, 2017. Picture taken on October 18, 2017.   Courtesy Kenneth Abbate/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

    The Reagan's presence in the region, coupled with recent military pressure by Washington on Pyongyang, including B1-B strategic bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, comes ahead of President Donald Trump's first official visit to Asia, set to start in Japan on Nov. 5, with South Korea to follow.

    North Korea has slammed the warship gathering as a "rehearsal for war". It comes as senior Japanese, South Korean and U.S. diplomats meet in Seoul to discuss a diplomatic way forward backed up by U.N. sanctions.

    The U.N. Security Council has unanimously ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since 2006. The most stringent include a ban on coal, iron ore and seafood exports that aim at halting a third of North Korea's $3 billion of annual exports.

    On Monday, Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy U.N. envoy, told a U.N. General Assembly committee the Korean peninsula situation had reached a touch-and-go point and a nuclear war could break out at any moment.

    Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 is pictured during its second test-fire in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. KCNA via Reuters

    A series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, including its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3 and two missile launches over Japan, has stoked tension in East Asia.

    A Russian who returned from a visit to Pyongyang has said the regime is preparing to test a missile it believes can reach the U.S. west coast.

    On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump had instructed him to continue diplomatic efforts to defuse tension with North Korea.

    Washington has not ruled out the eventual possibility of direct talks with the North to resolve the stand-off, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said on Tuesday.

    SEE ALSO: The monster nuclear submarine the US sent to South Korea looks like it may be packed with Navy SEALs

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The 5 best hidden features from the latest iPhone update

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    • Trump is visiting South Korea in November, and his aides are worried.
    • Some fear Trump may say something escalatory.
    • Some fear Trump would be in danger standing so close to armed North Koreans.

    Ahead of President Donald Trump's planned trip to South Korea in November, advisers on both sides are debating if Trump should head to North Korea's border, where some fear he could escalate the crisis or even come into personal danger.

    South Korean officials fear that Trump could again say something inflammatory to increase tensions with North Korea, but other advisers worry about Trump's personal safety, according to the Washington Post.

    The demilitarized zone between South and North Korea, despite its name, features landmines and heavy security presences from both countries. North Korea has armed guards on duty around the clock, and Trump would come face to face with them should he visit the border.

    Every president except for George W. Bush has visited the DMZ since Ronald Reagan. Usually the president wears some type of bomber or leather jacket. Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have both visited.

    korean post on DMZ

    But no president has ever taken such a vocally hostile line towards North Korea as Trump has. Trump has threatened to "totally destroy" the country with "fire and fury," far more colorful statements than any of his predecessors dared.

    According to Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under President Barack Obama, Trump's heated rhetoric could take on a new meaning in the DMZ.

    “The DMZ functions as a kind of amplifier," Russel told the Washington Post. “The message takes on a more martial and ominous tone when it comes out of a military command post on North Korea’s doorstep.”

    SEE ALSO: Trump expected to visit South Korea to send a 'significant' message to North Korea

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    NOW WATCH: This US plane doubles as Mission Control during nuclear war— take a look inside

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    FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

    • North Korea has threatened to detonate a nuclear device aboveground.
    • Such a test could turn China, and the world, against it.
    • The US may even strike to prevent it, but North Korea may do it anyway.

    North Korea recently repeated its threat to test a nuclear device aboveground, in what would be its most dangerous and provocative move ever, unleashing a massive explosion and hale of radiation that could turn the world decisively against it.

    After President Donald Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if provoked, Pyongyang responded by saying it may test "an unprecedented scale hydrogen bomb," which experts interpreted as possibly meaning a detonation of a nuclear-armed missile above the Pacific.

    But regardless of what Trump says, North Korea has reasons to test aboveground.

    For one, North Korea's last test of a massive hydrogen bomb nearly destroyed the mountain they tested under. Earthquakes rumbled from under the mountain weeks after the test, and satellite imagery suggested a giant shift. The tunnels North Koreans use to access the site may have totally collapsed, and no reports indicate renewed efforts to dig into the site.

    Doubts also remain about North Korea's ability to field a reentry vehicle, or the part of a missile that carries the warhead to the point of its detonation. In previous tests, the vehicle reportedly failed.

    North Korea has tested a thermonuclear device and tested intercontinental and intermediate-range ballistic missiles but never demonstrated its ability to combine the two. Launching a nuclear-armed missile and having it detonate above the Pacific would prove its mettle.

    But political and nuclear fallout from such a test could range from severe to catastrophic, according to experts.

    "If North Korea does do an atmospheric test, it really does change the game," Jenny Town, the assistant director of the US-Korea Institute and a managing editor at 38 North, told Business Insider.

    Kim Jong-un North Korea nuclear bomb

    In the event that North Korea does an aboveground test within its own borders, and not on a missile, it presents a huge risk of nuclear contamination spreading into China's borders. Beijing would"see that as an attack on China," said Town.

    Tong Zhao, a leading expert on North Korea at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program in Beijing, told Business Insider that if North Korea does detonate a nuclear bomb over the Pacific, "the Chinese position to North Korea can be fundamentally changed."

    Ultimately Zhao doubts that North Korea would pull such a stunt, given it relies on outside help from countries like China.

    But according to Yun Sun, an expert on Korean and Chinese relations with the Stimson Center, even an aboveground nuclear test wouldn't make China fully turn its back.

    "If question is whether China will abandon North Korea or support regime change, I think that's far fetched," Sun told Business Insider.

    Time and time again, North Korea has expertly escalated tensions to a point just short of all-out war, but experts remain divided on whether firing a nuclear-armed missile over the Pacific for the first time in history would cross the threshold of kinetic action.

    Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 is pictured during its second test-fire in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. KCNA via Reuters

    Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, previously told Business Insider that such a test may elicit a kinetic US response.

    "If North Korea has a ballistic missile on a launchpad that we think is armed with a nuclear warhead," then the US would seek to eliminate that one single missile, Glaser said. "But even a strike on a missile on a launchpad could result in retaliation."

    US intelligence will continue to watch North Korea's movements closely and determine how to proceed, but North Korea's defiance of international law and determination to continue its dangerous testing brings the world closer to war.

    SEE ALSO: The monster nuclear submarine the US sent to South Korea looks like it may be packed with Navy SEALs

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch The US and South Korea show off their air force jets in a defense exhibition amid tensions with North Korea

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    • Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish fighters in Kirkuk, Iraq before taking the city under their control.
    • The Kurds were a powerful fighting force and US ally against ISIS.
    • The Kurds have voted for independence in their homeland, which spans Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran's borders, but those nations want to keep the land under their control.

    A member of the Iraqi security forces holds a Kurdish flag in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

    BAGHDAD/KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi forces took control on Friday of the last district in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk still in the hands of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters following a three-hour battle, security sources said.

    The district of Altun Kupri, or Perde in Kurdish, lies on the road between the city of Kirkuk - which fell to Iraqi forces on Monday - and Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq that voted in a referendum last month to secede from Iraq against Baghdad's wishes.

    A force made up of U.S-trained Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service units, Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation and Federal Police began their advance on Altun Kupri at 7:30 a.m. (0430 GMT), said an Iraqi military spokesman.

    "Details will be communicated later," the spokesman said in a short posting on social media.

    Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew from the town of Altun Kupri, located on the Zab river, after battling the advancing Iraqi troops with machine guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades, security sources said.

    It was not immediately clear whether there had been any casualties in the fighting.

    The Iraqi forces have advanced into Kirkuk province largely unopposed as most Peshmerga forces withdrew without a fight.

    Iraqi syria kurdistan isis map october 2017

    The fighting at Altun Kupri marked only the second instance of significant violent resistance by the Kurds in Kirkuk province since Monday.

    Altun Kopri marks the administrative limit between Kirkuk and Erbil. It belongs administratively to the Kirkuk province.

    Iraqi forces are seeking to reestablish Baghdad's authority over territory captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga outside the official boundaries of the Kurdistan region in the course of the war on Islamic State militants.

    The Peshmerga had moved into Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled the region in the face of Islamic State's advance in 2014. The Kurdish move prevented Kirkuk's oilfields from falling into the hands of the militants.

    SEE ALSO: 100,000 Kurds have reportedly fled the city at the heart of fighting with the Iraqi army

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    MOSCOW (Reuters) - A proposal to convene a congress of all Syria's ethnic groups is a joint initiative which is being promoted by Russia and others and is now being actively discussed, the Kremlin said on Friday.

    It is premature, however, to discuss the time and venue for the congress, which is seen as a mechanism to assist Syria's post-war development, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

    Putin mentioned the idea of holding such a congress at a forum with foreign scholars on Thursday.

    SEE ALSO: Moscow wants the world to get behind a Russia-Chinese roadmap to dealing with North Korea

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    NOW WATCH: The 5 most annoying changes in the new iPhone update — and how to fix them

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    A boy rides a bicycle with the flag of Kurdistan in Tuz Khurmato, Iraq September 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

    • After playing a key role in defeating ISIS, Kurds in Iraq voted to seek their independence as a country, but Iraqi forces responded by siezing a key city in their territory.
    • Now the Kurds have agreed to suspend the drive for independence as a precondition to talks with Iraq, but the Iraqi military seems to be threatening to conitinue fighting regardless.
    • Both Turkey and Iran want Iraq to seize Kurdish lands back, but the Kurds are a powerful fighting force and more fighting could "take the country to total destruction," they say.

    BAGHDAD/CAIRO (Reuters) - Kurdish authorities in Iraq offered on Wednesday to put an independence drive on hold, stepping up efforts to resolve a crisis in relations with Baghdad via dialogue rather than military means.

    But a Iraqi military spokesman suggested an offensive -- launched to wrest back territory after Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in a disputed referendum in September -- would continue regardless.

    The Iraqi government has transformed the balance of power in the north of the country since launching its campaign last week against the Kurds, who govern an autonomous region of three northern provinces.

    "The fighting between the two sides will not produce a victory for any, it will take the country to total destruction," said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in a statement.

    The KRG proposed an immediate ceasefire, a suspension of the referendum result, and "starting an open dialogue with the federal government based on the Iraqi Constitution".

    Baghdad declared the referendum illegal and responded by seizing back the city of Kirkuk, the oil-producing areas around it and other territory that the Kurds had captured from militant group Islamic State.

    In a brief social media comment hinting that the campaign would continue, an Iraqi military spokesman said: "Military operations are not connected to politics."

    Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the KRG should cancel the vote's outcome as a pre-condition for talks.

    He had yet to react to the Kurdish proposal on Wednesday, when he began an official visit to neighboring Turkey and Iran during which relations with the Kurds -- whose communities are established in parts of all three countries as well as Syria -- will be high on the agenda.

    Iran announced the reopening of one of the border crossings with the Kurdistan region of Iraq, closed last week in support of the Iraqi government.

    Strategically vital

    Iraq Turkey Kurdistan Oil Pipelines MapAbadi, who has the backing of Tehran and Ankara to act against the KRG, has ordered his army to recapture all disputed territory and has also demanded central control of Iraq's border crossings with Turkey, all of which are inside the Kurdish autonomous region.

    Kurdish Peshmerga forces beat back an advance by Iranian-backed pro-government paramilitaries on Tuesday in the region of Rabi'a, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the Fish-Khabur border area with Turkey and Syria, Kurdish officials said.

    Fish-Khabur is strategically vital because oil from both Kurdish and government-held parts of northern Iraq crosses at a pipeline there into Turkey, the main route out of the area for the international exports that are crucial to any Kurdish independence bid.

    The fighting so far has taken place outside the Kurdish autonomous region, but Fish-Khabur is inside it.

    The fighting between the central government and the Kurds is particularly tricky for the United States which is a close ally of both sides, arming and training both the Kurds and the central government's army to fight against Islamic State.

    The Iraqi government's advance over the past week has been achieved with comparatively little violence, with Kurds mostly withdrawing without a fight.

    Iraqi forces are preparing in parallel an offensive to recapture the last patch of Iraqi territory still in the hands of Islamic State, on the border with Syria, the military said on Wednesday.

    The militant group also holds parts of the Syrian side of the border, but the area under their control is also shrinking there as they retreat in the face of two sets of hostile forces - a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led coalition and Syrian government troops with foreign Shi'ite militias backed by Iran and Russia.

    SEE ALSO: State Department: Obama 'tried' to defeat ISIS, but Trump succeeded

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    NOW WATCH: This is what separates the Excel masters from the wannabes

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    • Russia's Kaspersky Lab cybersecurity firm stands accused of being used as a tool for the Kremlin to access the top-secret US data including the NSA's hacking tools.
    • The lab conducted a review into its practices and announced that it had taken source code from a US hacking tool.
    • Russia says it deleted the US tool, didn't show it to anybody, and didn't attempt to access the NSA, but reports state that Israeli intelligence hacked into Kaspersky and caught them.

    FILE PHOTO - An employee works near screens in the virus lab at the headquarters of Russian cyber security company Kaspersky Labs in Moscow July 29, 2013.  REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab on Wednesday acknowledged that its security software had taken source code for a secret American hacking tool from a personal computer in the United States.

    The admission came in a statement from the embattled company that described preliminary results from an internal inquiry it launched into media reports that the Russian government used Kaspersky anti-virus software to collect National Security Agency technology.

    While the explanation is considered plausible by some security experts, U.S. officials who have been campaigning against using Kaspersky software on sensitive computers are likely to seize on the admission that the company took secret code that was not endangering its customer to justify a ban.

    Fears about Kaspersky's ties to Russian intelligence, and the capacity of its anti-virus software to sniff out and remove files, prompted an escalating series of warnings and actions from U.S. authorities over the past year. They culminated in the Department of Homeland Security last month barring government agencies from using Kaspersky products.

    In a statement, the company said it stumbled on the code a year earlier than the recent newspaper reports had it, in 2014. It said logs showed that the consumer version of Kaspersky's popular product had been analyzing questionable software from a U.S. computer and found a zip file that was flagged as malicious.

    While reviewing the file's contents, an analyst discovered it contained the source code for a hacking tool later attributed to what Kaspersky calls the Equation Group. The analyst reported the matter to Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky, who ordered that the company's copy of the code be destroyed, the company said.

    "Following a request from the CEO, the archive was deleted from all our systems," the company said. It said no third parties saw the code, though the media reports had said the spy tool had ended up in Russian government hands.

    The Wall Street Journal said on Oct. 5 that hackers working for the Russian government appeared to have targeted the NSA worker by using Kaspersky software to identify classified files. The New York Times reported on Oct. 10 that Israeli officials reported the operation to the United States after they hacked into Kaspersky's network.

    Kaspersky did not say whether the computer belonged to an NSA worker who improperly took home secret files, which is what U.S. officials say happened. Kaspersky denied the Journal's report that its programs searched for keywords including "top secret."

    The company said it found no evidence that it had been hacked by Russian spies or anyone except the Israelis, though it suggested others could have obtained the tools by hacking into the American's computer through a back door it later spotted there.

    A man is silhouetted near logos of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Wikipedia in this photo illustration taken in Sarajevo March 11, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

    The new 2014 date of the incident is intriguing, because Kaspersky only announced its discovery of an espionage campaign by the Equation Group in February 2015. At that time, Reuters cited former NSA employees who said that Equation Group was an NSA project.

    Kaspersky's Equation Group report was one of its most celebrated findings, since it indicated that the group could infect firmware on most computers. That gave the NSA almost undetectable presence.

    Kaspersky later responded via email to a question by Reuters to confirm that the company had first discovered the so-called Equation Group programs in the spring of 2014.

    It also did not say how often it takes uninfected, non-executable files, which normally would pose no threat, from users' computers.

    Former employees told Reuters in July that the company used that technique to help identify suspected hackers. A Kaspersky spokeswoman at the time did not explicitly deny the claim but complained generally about "false allegations."

    After that, the stories emerged suggesting that Kaspersky was a witting or unwitting partner in espionage against the United States.

    Kaspersky's consumer anti-virus software has won high marks from reviewers.

    It said Monday that it would submit the source code of its software and future updates for inspection by independent parties.


    SEE ALSO: The future of China is up in the air as Xi Jinping fails to nominate a potential successor

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    donald trump

    • A top US diplomat working with North Korea reportedly says diplomacy is on its "last legs" as President Donald Trump refuses to accept a nuclear-armed Pyongyang.
    • Trump has been clear that the US will take steps to prevent North Korea developing a nuclear missile capable of hitting the US, and Pyongyang has been clear it will not stop until it gets one.
    • The atmosphere between the two nuclear countries is dense as ever as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says "diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops."

    Multiple US government and congressional sources have said US diplomatic efforts with North Korea stand on their "last legs" as Pyongyang threatens more nuclear tests and Washington ponders all-out war.

    The sources told NBC News on Wednesday that the efforts of Joseph Yun — a top US diplomat working with North Korea — to find a diplomatic solution to the missile crisis have all but completely broken down. 

    A US official told NBC that the sides have reached an impasse, as North Korea apparently pursues completing its nuclear missile program above all else, and the US repeatedly states that it won't tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea.

    "It is not so much that North Korea is shutting down, it’s that the message from the US government is, 'surrender without a fight or surrender with a fight,'" the official said. Another added that diplomatic efforts are on their "last legs."

    Yun went as far as echoing US Senator Bob Corker, the Republican from Tennessee who came out against President Donald Trump's leadership in recent weeks, by telling congressional aides and officials that the White House has "handicapped" diplomacy.

    While Trump has publicly criticized Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's attempts to engage with North Korea, a report from CNN indicated that North Korea wouldn't negotiate with the US until it had completed more tests of its nuclear delivery systems that can reach the US.

    In any case, the stalemate has taken on ominous overtones, with Trump repeatedly hinting at military action and Tillerson saying that"diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops."

    SEE ALSO: A North Korean electromagnetic pulse attack could wipe out 90% of US population, expert warns Congress

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    kim jong un

    • A senior North Korean official reportedly repeated the country's threat to conduct the "strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean."
    • The official likely meant launching a nuclear missile and having it detonate over the ocean, which could kill many and would likely pollute the environment for generations.
    • The US may choose to strike North Korea to prevent such a test, experts say.

    North Korea has previously threatened to detonate a nuclear bomb above ground and has now repeated that threat and demanded the US take it "literally,"according to CNN's Will Ripley.

    Ripley quoted a senior North Korean official as saying its threat to conduct the "strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean" should be taken at face value.

    Experts assessed this threat to mean that North Korea would fire a missile with a live nuclear bomb over the Pacific and detonate in the atmosphere above the ocean.

    Kim Jong Un

    Such a test could have potentially devastating nuclear and political fallout, possibly killing civilians, poisoning waters, or even knocking out electrical infrastructure.

    "If North Korea does do an atmospheric test, it really does change the game," Jenny Town, the assistant director of the US-Korea Institute and a managing editor at 38 North, previously told Business Insider.

    An atmospheric test could be so dangerous and provocative, it may even prompt the US to preemptively strike to prevent such a test.

    Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, previously told Business Insider that an atmospheric test may elicit a kinetic US response.

    "If North Korea has a ballistic missile on a launchpad that we think is armed with a nuclear warhead," then the US could seek to eliminate that one single missile, Glaser said.

    "But even a strike on a missile on a launchpad could result in retaliation."

    SEE ALSO: A North Korean electromagnetic pulse attack could wipe out 90% of US population, expert warns Congress

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    NOW WATCH: Watch The US and South Korea show off their air force jets in a defense exhibition amid tensions with North Korea

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    kenya riot election

    • After a messy election, Kenya's election re-run has run into trouble and violence as well, with political gangs organized by opposition party leader Raila Odinga creating violence and disrupting voting.
    • Overall 90 percent of polling places remain open, government officials say.
    • East Africa relies on Kenya's capital as Nairobi for a trade and logistics hub, so if the election doesn't end well it could hurt more than just Kenya.

    KISUMU, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan police clashed with opposition supporters where burning barricades and gangs of youths prevented voting in some towns in an election re-run, seeking to challenge the credibility of President Uhuru Kenyatta's expected victory.

    In the western city of Kisumu, stone-throwing youths heeding opposition leader Raila Odinga's call for a voter boycott were met by live rounds, tear gas and water cannon three hours after polling stations were meant to have opened. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

    The election is being closely watched across East Africa, which relies on Kenya as a trade and logistics hub, and in the West where Nairobi is regarded as a bulwark against Islamist militancy in Somalia and civil conflict in South Sudan and Burundi.

    "By and large the security situation in the country is OK. Polling stations have been opened in over 90 percent of the country and voting has commenced," Interior minister Fred Matiang'i told Citizen TV.

    In the western town of Migori, another opposition stronghold, several hundred young men milled around on a main road littered with rubble and burning barricades, according to footage on the domestic NTV channel.

    The handful of polling officials who pitched up to work in Kisumu, the scene of major ethnic violence after a disputed election in 2007, cowered behind closed doors, unable to distribute any voting material.

    Such problems, already acknowledged by judges and the election commission, are likely to trigger legal challenges to the run-off and could stir longer-term instability in a country riven by deep ethnic divisions.

    The re-run follows an August vote whose result - a Kenyatta victory - was annulled by the Supreme Court due to procedural irregularities.

    In Kisumu Central, constituency returning officer John Ngutai said no voting materials had been distributed and only three of his 400 staff had turned up for work. One nervous official described his work in the city as a "suicide mission".

    "We don't have any options," Ngutai told Reuters as he and two presiding officers sorted thousands of ballot papers into piles, work that should have been completed the previous day.

    Kisumu businessman Joshua Nyamori, 42, was one of the few voters brave enough to defy Odinga's stay-away call but said intimidation had put paid to his desire to cast his ballot.

    "I know it's not a popular move," he said. "Residents fear reprisal from political gangs organized by politicians. This is wrong."

    Call for prayers


    A decade after 1,200 people were killed over another disputed election, many Kenyans are ready for trouble although on the eve of the vote Odinga backed off previous calls for protests and urged supporters to stay out of the way of police.

    "We advise Kenyans who value democracy and justice to hold vigils and prayers away from polling stations, or just stay at home," he said.

    Odinga's National Super Alliance coalition, which has been accused of harassing polling staff in the run-up to the vote, is likely to present a lack of open polling stations as proof the re-run, organized in less than 60 days, is bogus.

    The head of the election commission said last week he could not guarantee a free and fair vote, citing interference from politicians and threats of violence against his colleagues. One election commissioner has quit and fled the country.

    Kenyatta, the U.S.-educated son of Kenya's founding father, has made clear he sees the vote as legitimate. In central Nairobi, where support for the two protagonists is more mixed, early turnout was significantly down on August.

    Anti-riot police were patrolling in Kibera and Mathare, two volatile Nairobi slums. Nearly 50 people have been killed by security forces since the August vote.

    In a statement issued by the U.S. embassy, foreign missions called for calm from all sides but acknowledged that the vote had been damaging to regional stability.

    "Following this election, there must be immediate, sustained, open and transparent dialogue involving all Kenyans to resolve the deep divisions that the electoral process has exacerbated," it said.

    Speaking on the eve of the vote, Kenyatta assured his countrymen and Kenya's allies that order would be restored.

    "I tell all our international partners that we will get through this," he said. "We cannot remain in a perpetual state of politicking."

    SEE ALSO: UN ambassador Nikki Haley evacuated from volatile South Sudan camp

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    FILE PHOTO - Kim Jong Nam arrives at Beijing airport in Beijing, China, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 11, 2007. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS/File Picture

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Four men suspected of killing the North Korean leader's half-brother at a Malaysian airport changed their clothes and appearance to escape detection, a police witness said on Thursday.

    The four, who are still at large, are charged together with two women — Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam — with killing Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur airport's budget terminal on February 13.

    Prosecutors in the Malaysian court say Siti Aisyah and Huong conspired with the men to murder Kim by smearing his face with liquid VX, a chemical poison banned by the United Nations.

    Defense lawyers have argued that the women did not know they were handling poison and thought they were involved in a prank for a reality-TV show.

    The men had been formerly identified only as Mr. Chang, Mr. Y, James, and Hanamori, also known as "Grandpa" or "Uncle," which a police witness has said were assumed names.

    The men changed clothes before they were seen leaving the airport, the police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz told the court.

    "They were trying to confuse (observers)," Wan Azirul said, describing closed-circuit television recordings made on the day of the killing.

    More than 40 CCTV video clips of the men's movements at the airport were screened in the darkened courtroom.

    They showed Mr. Chang and Mr. Y heading to different bathrooms in the airport before emerging in different clothes, shortly after the attack on Kim Jong Nam.

    Mr. Chang, who had earlier been seen wearing a goatee, also came out of the bathroom clean-shaven.

    "All of the suspects at large, even though they changed clothes, did not change their shoes," added Wan Azirul, who said the shoes were among the features enabling identification of the suspects, besides their body types and movements.

    hazmat malaysia kim jong nam

    Other videos showed Mr. Chang and Mr. Y meeting separately with a man, identified as Hanamori, at a restaurant near the airport's check-in counters, prior to the attack.

    Hanamori was seen arriving at the restaurant with a fourth man, who Wan Azirul said was "suspected to be James."

    Mr. Chang later met alone with Siti Aisyah at the restaurant, while Mr. Y was seen walking past the restaurant with Huong.

    It is unclear whether the four suspects at large were the same four North Koreans authorities described as having left Kuala Lumpur for Pyongyang on the day of the killing.

    Kim Jong Nam Airport.JPG

    An Interpol alert has been issued for the four who left, identified as North Koreans Ri Ji Hyon, Hong Song Hac, O Jong Gil, and Ri Jae Nam.

    US and South Korean officials have said agents of Kim Jong Un's regime masterminded the killing.

    The trial will resume on November 6.

    SEE ALSO: The women accused in the murder of Kim Jong Un's half brother were taken back to the scene of the crime

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    Surrendering ISIS fighters

    As Iraqi forces close in on the Islamic State's final patches of territory, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has given the once-powerful terror group an ultimatum: Surrender or die.

    "Daesh members have to choose between death and surrender,"Abadi said, using a derogatory term for ISIS.

    ISIS has suffered severe territorial losses and bell weather defeats in the past month, as a US-led bombing campaign and US-backed and trained forces ground the group down to its last legs.

    At a Department of Defense briefing on Tuesday, the top US general, Joseph Dunford, said that at ISIS's height, "we saw as many as 40,000 foreign fighters from 120 different countries."

    At the same briefing, Brett McGurk the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, said the flow of foreign fighters had nearly stopped, and the group's funding is at its "lowest level ever."

    McGurk pointed to ISIS' own propaganda, which "about a year ago" stopped advising foreign fighters to come to Syria as the group was losing badly on the ground.

    ISIS used to hold significant cities and oilfields in Iraq and Syria, but recent US-backed offensives have relegated them to a section of desert along the Iraqi-Syrian border, effectively trapping them.

    ISIS territory

    Initially, after declaring the "caliphate," or territory under ISIS' ultra-hardline Islamic control in 2014, ISIS fighters proved potent on the battlefield rolling back Iraqi security forces. But after a US-led intervention that ultimately gained support from 75 countries, the terror group has nearly imploded.

    The group carried out high profile attacks abroad, notably killing civilians in public places in London, Paris, and Brussels, but acting Department of Homeland Security chief Elaine Duke credits the US-led offensive keeping them on the run with preventing further attacks.

    But after around 70,000 ISIS fighters have been killed, the group once bent on dying for its cause has begun to surrender en masse.

    operation inherent resolve

    McGurk reported that ISIS surrendered in "large numbers" after the fall of its Syrian capital of Raqqa.

    On Thursday, the Red Cross reported that it had gained access to the families of ISIS fighters in territories they once ruled.

    SEE ALSO: America's successful campaign to defeat ISIS militarily has a glaring 'Achilles heel'

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