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‘Significant Progress’ Against Islamic State in Syria, Claims U.S. Defense Chief

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said Sunday they had recaptured 41 positions held by Islamic State militants in eastern Syria.

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Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, left, arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 11, 2019, to consult with Army Gen. Scott Miller, right, commander of U.S. and coalition forces, and senior Afghan government leaders. VOA

Acting U.S. Defense chief Pat Shanahan said Monday the Islamic State group remains a “global presence,” as U.S.-backed fighters work to clear the last enclave the militants hold in eastern Syria.

Shanahan told reporters traveling with him on a trip to Afghanistan that when it comes to the degree of Islamic State’s capabilities, that varies from “residual pockets to sleeper cells.”

“But in the context of military operations, I think the characterization of progress within Syria has been that they have been decimated and that we’re making significant progress” in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, Shanahan said.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reassure allies the United States would not abandon efforts to destroy Islamic State when it withdraw its troops from Syria. Shanahan said Monday he plans to discuss the situation this week with NATO allies, including support and security operations that he says are important when shifting away from a significant military operation.

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“There are heavy clashes at the moment. We have launched an assault and the fighters are advancing,” an SDF field commander told AFP Sunday. Pixabay

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said Sunday they had recaptured 41 positions held by Islamic State militants in eastern Syria.

Mustafa Bali, an SDF spokesman, tweeted that SDF forces had destroyed fortifications in the Village of Baghuz, but that heavy fighting continued.

“#SDF have advanced on northern and western axis into Baghuz since 19:00 yesterday evening, capturing 41 positions of ISIS and destroying fortifications. IS counterattack was foiled at 4 am this morning. Heavy fighting is going on inside the last village at the moment,” he wrote.

“There are heavy clashes at the moment. We have launched an assault and the fighters are advancing,” an SDF field commander told AFP Sunday.

The SDF, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, is fighting IS in a 4-square-kilometer area that includes Baghuz and is near the Iraqi border.

SDF officials and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated there were about 3,000 battle-hardened IS jihadists, mostly foreigners, in the region. The observatory also estimated that several hundred civilians remained in the area as well.

More than 23,000 Syrian civilians and foreign nationals fled eastern Syria this past week as the SDF, which includes Kurdish YPG militia fighters, prepared to move on IS in Deir el-Zour governorate, according to local officials and activists.

The displaced residents, mostly women and children, have been placed in the Kurdish al-Hol camp in al-Hasakah governorate, in northeast Syria.

The administrator of the camp, Nabil Hassan, told VOA that many of the women and children from the new wave of displacement this week were foreign nationals and family members of IS.

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SDF began an operation in September to rid Deir el-Zour of IS militants. The U.S.-backed fighters’ advance has been slowed by fierce fighting from the IS militants.

The civil war that has engulfed Syria began with Arab Spring protests in 2011. The United Nations estimates more than 400,000 Syrians have died since fighting began in 2011. More than 6 million Syrians have been displaced internally and about 5 million have sought refuge outside the country, with Turkey hosting nearly 3.5 million of them, according to the United Nations. (VOA)

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Airbus Defense Division Seeks New Partners to Expand in The Growing US Space Market

Airbus is ramping up production of more than 640 refrigerator-sized satellites for start-up telecoms services provider OneWeb

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Pop.Up Next, a prototype designed by Audi, Airbus and Italdesign is displayed at the Amsterdam Drone Week in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. VOA

Airbus’ defense division is looking for new partners to expand its presence in the growing U.S. space market, and could potentially build components for a lunar program there, Airbus Defense and Space Chief Executive Dirk Hoke told Reuters.

Airbus is ramping up production of more than 640 refrigerator-sized satellites for start-up telecoms services provider OneWeb at a facility in Florida, that Hoke said would already give it some leverage in the U.S. market.

The company could also produce components in the United States for its European Support Module, a critical part of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, if that is modified as a module to access the moon, Hoke told Reuters at the Paris Airshow.

“We’re also looking for new partners, with whom we could expand our footprint in the U.S.,” he said. “We have some very good products and systems so it’s worthwhile to look at what we can do beyond what we do currently in Europe.”

 

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Airbus’ defense division is looking for new partners to expand its presence in the growing U.S. space market. Pixabay

Airbus’s defense and space division has long hoped to expand operations in the U.S. market, but lost out to Boeing on a lucrative U.S. Air Force refueling plane contract in 2011.

The company, which builds satellites and works with France’s Safran to build rocket launchers, now hopes the projected “new space” economy, which experts say could be worth $1 trillion a year, could give it another shot at a bigger U.S. role.

Hoke faulted European leaders for failing to articulate a clear, unified vision for its ambitions in the space business, and said they were essentially ceding leadership to the United States and billionaire private investors, such as Elon Musk.

“This is more than just a billionaire’s race to Mars. It is about having sovereign access to space, having access to resources in the long term, and of course, unfortunately, it is also a question of defense.”

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Failing to take action and jump start new research and development program would leave Europe “in the second and third row position,” he said, noting that it would also cause a brain drain of top talent.

Rick Ambrose, head of U.S. arms maker Lockheed Martin’s space division, the lead contractor on the Orion spacecraft, told Reuters his company was in preliminary discussions with Airbus about possibly the adapting the European Support Module to bring humans to the moon and back to an orbiting lunar station.

Ambrose said no decisions had been made, but it was “a logical conclusion” that some of the items developed by Airbus for the Orion spacecraft could be used to achieve U.S. President Donald Trump’s goal of putting humans back on the Moon by 2024.

“Getting to the moon by 2024 means …. we’re going to have to reuse everything we can reuse,” he said at the air show. (VOA)