@StateDept Restricts Travel of USG Personnel/Family Members in Saudi Arabia, Issues New Travel Warning

Posted: 3:29 am ET
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The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia on July 27. It cites continuing security threats in the country including a “high potential” for spill over violence from Yemen. The new warning also notes the travel restrictions for USG personnel and family members in the country. Excerpt:

The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia due to continuing ISIL (Da’esh) directed or inspired attacks across the Kingdom. Furthermore, continuing violence in neighboring countries such as Yemen has a high potential to spill over into Saudi Arabia. This replaces the Travel Warning issued April 11, 2016.

Security threats continue. Terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests, including the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, mosques and significant religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places where members of the Shia-Muslim minority gather. Possible targets include mosques, pilgrimage locations, and Saudi government facilities, as well as housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, Western consulates and embassies, and other facilities where Westerners congregate.

sa-map

Over the past year, there have been multiple attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, some resulting in significant loss of life. On July 4, 2016 suicide bombers launched attacks near:

  • U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
  • the Prophet’s Mosque (also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina
  • a mosque in Qatif

On February 8, 2016, ISIL claimed responsibility for an explosion targeting a Saudi citizen in the Al-Azizia district of Riyadh. Media reports indicate that Saudi authorities thwarted plans to attack the Al-Janadriah festival in Riyadh, which took place in February 2016. In January 2016 a Shia mosque in Al-Ahsa in Eastern Province was attacked, as was a Shia mosque in Najran in October 2015. On October 16, 2015, a mass shooting took place at a gathering in Saihat. On August 6, 2015, a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed.  Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces.

U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel in the following areas:

  • within 50 miles of the Yemeni border
  • the city of Jizan
  • the city of Najran
  • Qatif in the Eastern Province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah
  • Hofuf and its suburbs in the Al Hasa Governorate

Read in full here.

 

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@StateDept Gears Up For Counterterrorism Messaging in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa

Posted: 12:45 am EDT
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Last year, the State Department told us that the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R), and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation.  Following the departure of Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, the State Department appointed Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) in February 2015. Mr. Hussain previously served as U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Less than a year into his tenure as CSCC coordinator, Mr. Hussain left State to join the Department of Justice (see Another Coordinator Gone, What’s Next For the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications?).

Last week, the State Department announced the revamping of its counter-violent-extremist communications efforts (see @StateDept Announces Michael D. Lumpkin as Head of New Global Engagement Center).

A section of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes the following items on countering foreign fighters and violent extremist organizations. It provides 1) funding to counter the flow of foreign fighters to countries in which violent extremists or violent extremist organizations operate including partnership with governments and multilateral organizations; and 2) reduction of public support for violent extremists or violent extremist organizations by addressing the specific drivers of radicalization through engagement and public messaging campaigns.

SEC . 7073.
(a) COUNTERING  FOREIGN  FIGHTERS AND  VIOLENT EXTREMIST  ORGANIZATIONS .—Funds appropriated under titles III and IV of this Act shall be made available for programs to—

(1) counter the flow of foreign fighters to countries in which violent extremists or violent extremist organizations operate, including those entities designated as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Public Law 82–814), including through programs with partner governments and multilateral organizations to—

(A) counter recruitment campaigns by such entities;
(B) detect and disrupt foreign fighter travel, particularly at points of origin;
(C) implement antiterrorism programs;
(D) secure borders, including points of infiltration and exfiltration by such entities;
(E) implement and establish criminal laws and policies to counter foreign fighters; and
(F) arrest, investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate terrorist suspects, facilitators, and financiers; and

(2) reduce public support for violent extremists or violent extremist organizations, including FTOs, by addressing the specific drivers of radicalization, including through such activities as—

(A) public messaging campaigns to damage their appeal;
(B) programs to engage communities and populations at risk of violent extremist radicalization and recruitment;
(C) counter-radicalization and de-radicalization activities for potential and former violent extremists and returning foreign fighters, including in prisons;
(D) law enforcement training programs; and
(E) capacity building for civil society organizations to combat radicalization in local communities.

Below is the State Department’s FY2016 request (PDF) which includes an Overseas Contingency Operations Request for International Information Programs (IIP) for $6 million. Here is part of the request and justification:

The Department faces unprecedented and unanticipated Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program requirements, including countering the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The FY 2016 OCO Request for IIP activities supports increased organizational capacity to expand counterterrorism messaging in the key languages of Arabic, Urdu, Somali and English during hours of peak activity in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

  • Dedicated ISIL Content Group ($700,000): The request includes $700,000 for editorial content to produce and translate content specifically addressing ISIL. Resources will support production and translation of new content for Anti-ISIL efforts without sacrificing production on other enduring priorities.
  • U.S. Speakers Office ($400,000): The request includes $400,000 to dispatch U.S. speakers on short notice to engage key foreign audiences in specific target countries on emergent issues. IIP would partner closely with the relevant regional or functional bureau(s) to identify both the target countries and key audiences for each issue. In addition, IIP would leverage the expertise of these speakers through other types of programs, particularly virtual interactive discussions.
  • Digital “special forces” platform development team ($600,000): The request includes $600,000 to support formation of a team that has the capacity and ability to rapidly execute time-sensitive projects. This team of five, including one designer, two front-end developers, one back-end developer/engineer, and one production manager, would have the capacity to handle three to four concurrent projects.
  • Outreach Program ($750,000): The request includes $750,000 for outreach programs targeting non-governmental international partners in order to extend the reach of the Anti-ISIL campaign with a broader range of messages and messengers. Some of these would reach new audiences; others might have greater credibility with existing audiences. The Department currently lacks the capacity to perform the outreach necessary for such an effort. Funding would also support training to staff at posts in order to boost their capacity to conduct counter-messaging and outreach to foreign partners and contacts.
  • Digital Products ($1 million): The Department has several in-house audiovisual producers, but lacks the technical resources to produce original footage, complex animation, or mobile- phone/tablet applications. Extremist adversaries, including ISIL, exploit all of these techniques to garner recruits and support their operations. The request of $1.0 million supports augmentation of existing in-house production of mash-up videos and stand-alone banners with original films, animated clips and mobile apps. Because each of these genres would require significant up-front investment in production facilities and professional expertise, the funding will support commissioned products from proven leaders in the field.
  • Social Media Analytics ($650,000): Social media analytics can inform and shape content to make it relevant and engaging to target audiences. This new and evolving business practice can make the Department’s public diplomacy materials more effective and improve the Department’s ability to create policy content that is informed by data. The Department currently has access to only the most minimal tools for surveying and analyzing the social media environment. The Request includes $650,000 for a competitive suite of tools that would add value across the various platforms where the Department is active.
  • Liaisons ($600,000): The Department coordinates broadly across the interagency and with international partners. The request includes $600,000 for 3 dedicated positions (FTEs or equivalent), possibly in the form of reimbursable detailees, with the sole purpose of synchronizing and optimizing operations for maximum effect against the adversary.
  • Integrated Analysis ($1.3 million): The Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Integrated Analysis section (CSCC/IA) is currently minimally staffed by two Intelligence Community officers and two Department of State civil servants. The request includes $1.3 million to ensure CSCC work is informed by intelligence and coordinated with the work of the rest of the Interagency; measuring effectiveness; and managing research into emerging counter-radicalization and messaging trends and best practices. CSCC’s increased operational tempo related to the President’s 3-year plan against ISIL and the effort against violent extremism in general, necessitates additional personnel and resources. Three reimbursable detailee billets are needed to be filled by intelligence analysts from National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and Defense of National Intelligence Open Source Center, to ensure the highest-quality all-source intelligence support to CSCC planners and Digital Outreach Team operations. Additional funds are needed to research operations-applicable best practices and emerging technologies in the areas of counter-radicalization and target audience messaging.

 

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@StateDept Issues Worldwide Travel Alert on Top of Worldwide Caution, Message Fatigue Next?

Posted: 2:03 am EDT
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On November 23rd, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert:

Here is part of the Worldwide Caution it issued in July:

The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. In August 2014, the United States and regional partners commenced military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq. In response to the airstrikes, ISIL called on supporters to attack foreigners wherever they are. Authorities believe there is an increased likelihood of reprisal attacks against U.S., Western and coalition partner interests throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.

What’s the difference between a Worldwide Alert and Worldwide Caution?

Alerts are time-bound, true, usually 90 days or less, and expire automatically at the end of the prescribed period unless extended by the Department. Worldwide Caution is updated at least every six months.

The Fear Department is on it:

Here’s more:

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The Worldwide Travel Alerts and Worldwide Caution are parts of the State Department’s Consular Information Program (CIP). Below from the FAM:

The CIP “is not mandated by statute, but several statutes are relevant to the Department’s performance of this function: Section 505 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 requires the Secretary to notify Congress whenever the Department issues a Travel Warning because of a terrorist threat or other security concern (22 U.S.C. 2656e). Section 321(f) of the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990, Public Law 101-604 (49 U.S.C. 44905), prohibits the notification of a civil aviation threat to “only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” See 7 FAM 052, No Double Standard Policy. See also 22 CFR 71.1, 22 U.S.C. 2671 (b)(2)(A), 22 U.S.C. 4802, and 22 U.S.C. 211a.”

Information provided is based on our best objective assessment of conditions in a given country, as reported by posts as well as other Department bureaus, media, and other foreign and U.S. government sources. The decision to issue a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or a Security or Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens for an individual country is based on the overall assessment of the safety/security situation there. By necessity, this analysis must be undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations. Accordingly, posts must not allow extraneous concerns to color the decision of whether to issue information regarding safety or security conditions in a country, nor how that information is to be presented.

Who is responsible for the issuance of the travel information program?

Within the State Department, that would be the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele T. Bond who is responsible for supervising and managing the travel information program.  But the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services has primary day-to-day supervisory responsibility for the program. That’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services Karen L. Christensen.

Within OCS, Michelle Bernier-Toth, the Managing Director in the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services (CA/OCS) is responsible for the day-to-day management and issuance of travel information, including coordinating the preparation of all Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, Worldwide Cautions, Messages, and Fact Sheets before their release.

Here are a few things to know about the Travel Alerts:

  • If a threat evaluated as credible, specific, and non-counterable is aimed at a broad group (e.g., U.S. citizens/nationals and/or U.S. interests generally), the Department will authorize the relevant post(s) to issue a Message, and may also issue or update a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or Worldwide Caution.
  • The Department issues Travel Alerts to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens/nationals. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations/violence, and high profile events such as an international conference or regional sports event are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.
  • Travel Alerts are issued for a specific period, usually 90 days or less, and expire automatically at the end of the prescribed period unless extended by the Department. If conditions warrant, the Department may cancel a Travel Alert before the end of the prescribed period via All Diplomatic and Consular Posts (ALDAC) cable and press release.

According to regs, CA/OCS reviews the Worldwide Caution continually and updates it at least every six months to ensure the most current general and regional safety and security information is shared with the U.S. citizen public.

The State Department admitted that it’s not offering a different advice from what it has been been saying for over 10 years in Worldwide Caution.  And folks have certainly wondered if the threats evaluated in this current Travel Alert are “credible, specific, and non-counterable” as directed by its rules book, or just one more CYA exercise; that is, if CA doesn’t issue a warning/alert and something happens, you already know where the fingers will be pointed, but …

The Worldwide Caution already cites the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Worldwide Alert says that “Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq.” That’s not a short-term condition. And yet, the alert is only good until February 24, 2016.  If the State Department issues an alert not based on credible and specific threats but simply on a belief that attacks could happen during a specific timeframe, how useful is that really?

The other concern, of course, is message fatigue. How long before folks stop taking this seriously?

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Security Incident Prompts Closure of USCG Istanbul, Will Reopen to Public on August 11

Posted: 2:52 pm EDT
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Following the reported gunfire at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul today, the U.S. Ambassy in Ankara released the following statement:

The U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul was attacked by gunfire early this morning, August 10.  The Consulate was closed at the time and nobody was injured. The Consulate plans to reopen on August 11 to resume normal business.  U.S. Embassy Ankara remains open.  The Embassy is in contact with Turkish law enforcement and security officials who are investigating this incident.

Media reports say that a radical Turkish Marxist group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKP-C), known in the 1990s as Dev Sol (Revolutionary Left) has claimed responsibility for the attack.  The same group claimed responsibility for a 2013 suicide attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, which killed Turkish security guard, Mustafa Akarsu (see US Embassy Turkey: Suicide Bomber Kills Local Guard Mustafa Akarsu, Wounds One).

The State Department designated DHKP/C a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, and reviewed and maintained this designation on July 24, 2013.  Its Rewards for Justice program offered rewards on April 2, 2014 for information on three key leaders of this terrorist organization, two of them women. (in Turkish: Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi-Cephesi, or DHKP/C). The Department authorized rewards of up to $3 million each for information leading to the location of Musa Asoglu, Zerrin Sari, and Seher Demir Sen.

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In related news, yesterday, six F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 31st Fighter Wing, accompanied by approximately 300 personnel and cargo deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. This deployment coincides with Turkey’s decision to host U.S. aircraft to conduct counter-ISIL operations.

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The Global Coalition to Degrade and Defeat ISIL Gets a Couple New Websites

— Domani Spero
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Last Friday, the State Department announced a couple new websites for the Global Coalition to Degrade and Defeat ISIL out of State and DOD.   Via Foggy Bottom’s official spox:

“This webpage has the most up-to-date public information about the coalition, including the latest stats on members and their public support for coalition efforts. Our colleagues at DOD have today also launched their website, defense.gov/counter-ISIL, which has up-to-the-minute information about the military line of this coalition effort, targeting – targeted operations against ISIL terrorists and infrastructure.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-06

The website includes a list of “over 60 coalition partners” who apparently  “have committed themselves to the goals of eliminating the threat posed by ISIL and have already contributed in various capacities to the effort to combat ISIL in Iraq, the region and beyond.”  The list is long, but short on specifics on what exactly each of this coalition partner is willing to do/or currently or in the future is doing in the fight to “degrade and defeat ISIL” (what happened to destroy?). It sounds like everybody wants to fly their planes for bombing strikes.  But we were listening with our bad ears, so who knows.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06

One notable exception. The new website mentions “a critical contribution of $500 million by Saudi Arabia to the humanitarian response in Iraq, [that] have been essential.” On October 7, media reports say that Vice President Biden apologized to a top Saudi official for his remarks suggesting that key U.S. allies destabilized Syria by sending arms and money to extremists. “The Turks … the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc.” Uh-oh!

And — since this is officially a war, even if Congress did not have the guts to debate this, we’ve got to give this a name. We had GWOT, but that term had fallen out of favor, so we really need a new name for this war against ISIL.

Below is an F/A-18C Hornet attached to Strike Fighter Squadron 87 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf to conduct strike missions against Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) targets, Sept. 23, 2014. Check out DOD’s website on Targeted Operations Against ISIL.

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Burck

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Burck

 

DOD’s website looks more fleshed out than the State Department’s but makes one wonder why each needed a separate website. This is a united, interagency effort of the U.S. Government with coalition partners, is it not?  Is the FBI going to roll out its own Targeted Operations Against ISIS inside the United States separately for those wanna-be jihadists, too?  Is DHS/ICE  going to have a separate one for its Targeted Operations Against ISIL in all our border crossings and what is DHS/TSA’s plans for the jihadists returning home from their vacations abroad?

Speaking of Iraq — and we apologize in advance if you fall off your chair — here is Foggy Bottom’s clip of the day:

 

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Tired of Another War? Operation Repeat Iraqi Freedom Officially On In Iraq. And Syria.

— Domani Spero
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Only yesterday:

 

Before you know it, this fellow on Twitter live-tweeted the strikes :

 

The Pentagon soon confirmed the air strikes:

 

Here is the official statement

 

Here’s a YouTube video of the ISIL strike:

 

The new coalition of the willing includes five Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar:

 

The five Arab countries and their planes:

 

President Obama’s statement on the Syria bombing:

 

Here is the congressional notification:

 

Here is a longer letter (there were two?) citing authority to carry out Public Law 107-40 and Public Law 107-243).  We’re now at war in Syria, and for the third time, in Iraq:

 

Still “no boots on the ground!?”

 

How much will all this cost?

 

Did Congress say/do anything?

 

How about those war predictions?

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As of this writing, the State Department has not announced any new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain or Qatar.  The last Worldwide Caution notice was published on April 10, 2014.

One post out of the five Arab countries in the coalition, the US Embassy in Jordan, has issued a Security Message noting the coalition strikes against ISIL targets and the likely increased of police presence at public and diplomatic buildings throughout the country.

The only other post in the area to issue a Security Message citing “regional events” is the US Embassy in Lebanon.  Embassy Beirut advises U.S. citizens that coalition airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria have begun and notes an increased in kidnappings in  northern and eastern Lebanon. Both embassies say that there is no specific threat against U.S. citizens in their respected countries but caution citizens to exercise security awareness and maintain a heightened level of vigilance.

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U.S. Relocates More Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan), Updates Aug. 8 Travel Warning

— Domani Spero
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On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel in Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)).

Today, the State Department issued an update to its August 8 Travel Warning for Iraq noting the departure of  a “limited” number of staff from our posts in Baghdad and Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and Amman, Jordan.

CIA map

Map via CIA.gov (click on image to see larger view)

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq.  Travel within Iraq remains dangerous given the security situation. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating, but the Department of State has relocated a limited number of staff members from the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2014, to note the departure of some staff from the Consulate General in Erbil. The ability of the Embassy to respond to situations in which U.S. citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.

U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.  Methods of attack have included roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including explosively formed penetrators (EFPs); magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles; human and vehicle-borne IEDs; mines placed on or concealed near roads; mortars and rockets; and shootings using various direct fire weapons.  These and other attacks frequently occur in public gathering places, such as cafes, markets and other public venues.

Numerous insurgent groups, including ISIL, previously known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq, remain active and terrorist activity and violence persist in many areas of the country.  ISIL and its allies control Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and have captured significant territory across central Iraq and continue to engage with Iraqi security forces in that region.  In early August, the threat to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) increased considerably with the advance of ISIL towards Kurdish areas.

Due to the potential of political protests and demonstrations to become violent, U.S. citizens in Iraq are strongly urged to avoid protests and large gatherings.

Read in full here.

Three days ago, President Obama ordered U.S. aircraft to drop humanitarian supplies to tens of thousands of Yezidi refugees fleeing the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq. The president also ordered U.S. combat aircraft to be ready to launch airstrikes to protect Americans in Erbil, Iraq.

On August 8, the Pentagon announced that at approximately 6:45 a.m. EDT, the U.S. military conducted a targeted airstrike against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.

Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located. The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities. 

Pentagon releases indicate that to date, U.S. military aircraft have delivered more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh drinking water to the displaced Yezidis seeking refuge from ISIL on the mountain.

USCG Erbil which remains open is headed by Joseph Pennington, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed his duties as Consul General in Erbil in July 2013.  Prior to his arrival in Erbil, Mr. Pennington served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic (2010-13) and held the same position in Yerevan, Armenia (2007-10).

USCG Basrah is headed by Matthias Mitman, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed post as Consul General in Basrah in September 2013.  He previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras from 2011-2013 and as the Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 2009-2011. He was the Director for Iraq at the National Security Council from 2006-2008 with responsibility for U.S. economic policy in Iraq and international engagement.  Before joining the NSC staff, Mr. Matthias was assigned to U.S. Embassy Baghdad as Senior Economic Advisor.

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US Mission Iraq Issues Security Message, Mosul Falls, Militants Seize Turkish Consulate

— Domani Spero
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Embassy Baghdad issued this security message yesterday:

The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens resident in Iraq of ongoing large-scale military action between insurgent and terrorist groups and Iraqi military forces in Mosul, the capital of Ninewah province.  Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces have reportedly taken control of the city, including the airport.  There have been recent large-scale actions taken in cities in Salahadin province as well and fighting continues in Anbar province.  We strongly encourage all U.S. citizens to avoid these areas, to review the existing Travel Warning for Iraq, and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety if travel to Iraq is necessary.

The State Department also released a statement:

The United States is deeply concerned about the events that have transpired in Mosul over the last 48 hours where elements of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) have taken over significant parts of the city. The situation remains extremely serious. Senior U.S. officials in both Washington and Baghdad are tracking events closely in coordination with the Government of Iraq, as well as Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum including the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and support a strong, coordinated response to push back against this aggression. We also commend efforts by the KRG to respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. The United States will provide all appropriate assistance to the Government of Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement to help ensure that these efforts succeed.

State Department DAS Brett McGurk @brett_mcgurk also tweeted:

Map via CIA World Fact Book

Map via CIA World Fact Book

US Mission Iraq includes our posts in Erbil, Kirkuk and Basrah.

Meanwhile Al Jazeera is reporting that an estimated half a million people are fleeing Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, after fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda splinter group, seized the city.

The Guardian reports that jihadists have seized the Turkish consulate in Mosul and kidnapped the Turkish Consul along with 24 staff members as residents fled the city. Yesterday, Isis fighters have reportedly also abducted 28 Turkish truck drivers.

Hurriyet Daily News says that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu who cut short his U.S. visit has defended Ankara’s decision to keep its consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul open despite the approach of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.

“The risk of leaving was higher than the risk of staying in. Clashes were happening street by street. Taking such a sensitive convoy [the consulate staff and their families] out was a risk,” Davutoğlu told Turkish journalists at New York John F. Kennedy Airport before leaving for Turkey.
[…]
“All parties around the world should know that if something bad happens to our citizens, the perpetrators will be responded to strongly. Nobody should test Turkey,” Davutoğlu added.

According to Hurriyet, the Foreign Ministry also confirmed that at the time of the raid, 49 members of the consulate, including the consul general, and an unknown number of their family members were in the compound. Separately, 31Turkish truck drivers, not 28 as previously reported, are being kept by the same group at a power plant in Mosul.

In Kirkuk, Kurdish military leaders vow to defend the province’s Kurdish areas “with the last drop of our blood.”

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