US Airstrikes Block Evacuation of ISIS Militants - NBC 6 South Florida
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

US Airstrikes Block Evacuation of ISIS Militants

The ISIS militants were allowed to evacuate the area in buses following a Hezbollah-negotiated deal that allows them to go to ISIS-held territory near the Iraqi border



    US Airstrikes Block Evacuation of ISIS Militants
    Hassan Ammar/AP
    Lebanese soldiers rest on top of an armored personnel carrier during a media trip organized by the Lebanese army, on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek, northeast Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. Lebanon's Hezbollah TV is reporting that Islamic State militants started leaving the border area with Syria on Monday as part of a negotiated deal to end the extremist group's presence there.

    U.S. airstrikes blocked the advance of an Islamic State convoy carrying militants toward Iraq on Wednesday, derailing a Hezbollah-negotiated deal that removed the extremists from the Lebanon-Syria border, where they have been for years.

    The airstrikes came amid U.S. criticism of the deal, reflecting a growing outrage within the Trump administration over the decision to give the militants safe passage from the battlefield instead of killing them, and Iran-backed Hezbollah's leading role in it.

    The developments also were an embarrassment for the U.S.-backed Lebanese military, which agreed to the deal and had declared victory over the militants.

    U.S. officials said the airstrikes to disrupt the fleeing militants were intended to send a strong signal that the deal, while helping to clear ISIS from the border, undermined a broader U.S.-led strategy for defeating the group in Syria and Iraq.

    Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge in Critical Condition

    [NATL] Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge in Critical Condition

    Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and Secretary of Homeland Security, is in critical condition in a Texas hospital after a heart procedure on Nov. 16

    (Published Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017)

    More than 48 hours after they left the Syria-Lebanon border for eastern Syria, the buses carrying 300 militants and almost as many of their relatives were stuck in a desert area on the outskirts of the largely ISIS-held Deir el-Zour province near the frontier with Iraq.

    It is not clear how the standoff will be resolved. Syrian activists say alternate routes are being considered to bring the militants to Boukamal, an ISIS-controlled town on the Iraqi border, according to the agreement.

    But officials of the U.S.-led coalition said they will continue to monitor the convoy and aren't ruling out more airstrikes.

    "Irreconcilable ISIS terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not bused across Syria to the Iraqi border without Iraq's consent," according to a tweet from Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition.

    The evacuation deal followed separate but simultaneous weeklong offensives by the Lebanese army on one side of the border and by the Syrian government and Hezbollah on the other. Hezbollah has thousands of fighters shoring up the forces of President Bashar Assad.

    Iraq also reacted angrily to the evacuation, with its president saying that moving the militants to the Iraqi-Syrian border was an "insult."

    American Scientists Try 1st Gene Editing in the Body

    [NATL] American Scientists Try 1st Gene Editing in the Body

    Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body, a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to try to cure a disease. The experiment was done on Monday in California on a patient with an inherited metabolic disorder.

    (Published Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017)

    Later Wednesday, the coalition said its warplanes struck a small bridge and cratered a road to hinder the convoy without targeting the evacuees. Airstrikes also hit a separate group of ISIS militants traveling to meet the convoy, according to Col. Ryan Dillon, a coalition spokesman.

    Responding to the criticism but not addressing the airstrikes, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a statement that negotiating with the militants was the "only way" to resolve the "humanitarian and national" issue of finding the remains of nine Lebanese soldiers that the militants kidnapped in 2014.

    Hezbollah is a significant player in Lebanon with government ministers and lawmakers, while the role of its fighters also has been growing in Syria.

    The Syrian government, backed by Russian air power and Iranian-organized militias including Hezbollah, has focused its military campaign in recent weeks on Deir el-Zour, where government troops have been besieged for years in the provincial capital.

    Dillon criticized Moscow and Damascus for allowing the buses of militants to travel through territory they control.

    "To say they are serious about defeating ISIS looks suspect right now," Dillon told The Associated Press.

    Nasrallah, in his third statement on the issue in a week, said his fighters are battling alongside the Syrian troops to oust ISIS militants from the area where the others are headed.

    "We transported those defeated militants from one front we fight in to another front we also fight in," he said.

    Unease has been growing in the Trump administration about Lebanon's campaign against ISIS on its border because of the apparent coordination between Lebanon's military and Hezbollah. Lebanon maintains it's an independent operation.

    In parts of Syria that have been freed from ISIS control, there is a growing influence by Hezbollah, and that has raised concerns about a stronger Iranian hand in Syria and the potential for Hezbollah to use the territory as a base to attack Israel.

    But Lebanon's move to halt the fight after ISIS was squeezed into a small sliver on the border and then let the militants flee has further alarmed Washington. President Donald Trump has placed a particular emphasis on killing ISIS members while faulting former President Barack Obama for being too willing to let the militants regroup elsewhere.

    The U.S. said it wasn't consulted as part of Lebanon's deal with ISIS, Hezbollah and the Syrian government, and it wouldn't have agreed to it if asked.

    'Obamacare' Enrollment Is Up Over Same Period in 2016

    [NATL] 'Obamacare' Enrollment Is Up Over Same Period in 2016

    The government has rolled back the amount of time to select a health care plan under the Affordable Care Act this year, but enrollment is already up over the same period last year. NBC's Tracie Potts reports.

    (Published Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017)

    "We have obvious concerns, however, for any action that provides ISIS capabilities to shift its forces and thus put more civilians in harm's way," said Edgar Vasquez, a regional spokesman for the U.S. State Department.

    Still, U.S. officials pushed back on speculation in Lebanon that the U.S. might cut aid or other help to Lebanon's armed forces, saying no such halt was being considered. U.S. officials said Lebanon's military, which enjoys broad confidence from the public, was the only institution stable and credible enough to hold together the country's delicate political situation. The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk to reporters.

    Lebanon's military has defended the agreement.

    Army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun said that as the offensive against ISIS was underway, the Lebanese mediator called him to say the extremists accepted a cease-fire in return for information about the fate of the missing soldiers.

    "I had one of two choices. Either to go on with the battle and not know the fate of the soldiers, or give in and know the fate of the soldiers," he said. Remains of several people have been uncovered in the border area, and DNA tests are underway to determine whether they belong to the missing soldiers. Lebanese officials say they are almost sure they are.

    Officials said there could be a silver lining for the coalition: While the ISIS militants had been holed up in a mountainous region of the Lebanon-Syria border where they were difficult to target, the evacuation deal means they will relocate to desert areas where coalition forces can strike them more easily.

    The Leonid Meteor Shower Will Be Visible This Weekend

    [NATL] The Leonid Meteor Shower Will Be Visible This Weekend

    Don't miss your chance to see the Leonid Meteor Shower this weekend.

    (Published Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017)

    Lederman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Sarah El Deeb contributed from Beirut.