Today in Conservative Media: Trump’s Gold Star Comments Might Be the Stupidest Controversy Yet – Slate Magazine (blog)

USGREECEDIPLOMACYTRUMPTSIPRAS
Trump outside the White House on Tuesday.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

170106_logo_conservative_media4.png.crop.article250medium

A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

Conservatives surveyed the controversy over whether President Trump told the widow of a soldier killed earlier this month in Niger that he “knew what he signed up for.” National Review’s Rich Lowry called the matter—which came out of Trump’s claim Monday that Obama and other presidents hadn’t called the families of fallen soldiers—perhaps the “stupidest and most unworthy controversy of the year.” “[T]rump’s “knew what he signed up for” statement seems horrible in isolation, but it’s hard to know what to make of it except in context and listening to the conservation,” he wrote. “Now, Trump is engaged in a fight over what he really said. Is it too much to ask that everyone back off this one and not to add to anyone’s distress and leave condolence calls — if nothing else — out of our poisonous political debate?”

Michelle Malkin joined Trump in accusing Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, who first disclosed Trump’s remarks, of lying. Wilson’s story has been corroborated by the soldier’s mother.

I call bullshit. This is hearsay, uncorroborated, and out of context pot-stirring by Dem partisans riding the impeachment bandwagon–and recycled by lemmings masquerading as journalists.#fakenewshttps://t.co/Fmi8XJVlny

— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) October 18, 2017

Advertisement

At the Resurgent, Erick Erickson warned against rushing to judgement:

I would like to hear the full quote and context before rolling my eyes and saying something not nice about the President.

We live in an age where the false tweet gets 10,000 retweets and the correction gets 100. No one cares about facts, just resistance fan fiction. If it sounds true and makes the President look bad, it is, whether or not it happened.

I think I will wait.

Advertisement

RedState’s Andrea Ruth took on the late-breaking revelation that Trump promised $25,000 to a Gold Star family that was never delivered over the summer. After the Washington Post reported the incident, the White House claimed the check had been sent. “This is reminiscent of the fundraiser Trump held when he acted like a spoiled brat and skipped a Republican debate,” Ruth wrote. “All the monies raised from the event were promised to helping veterans organizations. But until the media shamed Trump after he won the election, the funds stayed in his accounts. I have no hope Donald Trump will learn any lesson from the latest news cycle over his call to LA David Johnson’s widow, but hopefully, he’ll learn not to make promises he doesn’t intend to keep to grieving Gold Star families.”

In other news:

Conservatives continued to weigh in on the national conversation over sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Ann Coulter accused four reporters at the New York Post of sidelining or downplaying details of the Ambra Battilana Gutierrez assault case in multiple articles:

Tina Brown explained exactly how Weinstein controlled reporters: “If there was any stirring of a negative story, Harvey would offer them a book contract, a development deal, a consultancy, and they used to succumb. Journalists are often short of money, and they were also very star-struck with the world that Harvey offered, which was movies and Hollywood.”

So what DID the bitter gossip girls get? Did Mara Siegler, Jamie Schram, Danika Fears or Maria Wiesner end up with phony “consultancies,” “book contracts” or “movie options” with Weinstein’s companies? (Paging the IRS!)

The only other explanation is that the Weinstein-compliant scandal sheets illustrate the oldest primal urge, one even more basic than the compulsion that drove Weinstein: Ugly girls taking their revenge on pretty girls.

Michelle Malkin—who has been behind a campaign defending Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer convicted of rape and assault in 2015—wrote about the #MeToo campaign and false rape accusations in National Review:

It’s one thing to break down cultural stigmas constructively, but the #MeToo movement is collectivist virtue-signaling of a very perilous sort. The New York Times heralded the phenomenon with multiple articles “to show how commonplace sexual assault and harassment are.” The Washington Post credited #MeToo with making “the scale of sexual abuse go viral.” And actress Emily Ratajkowski declared at a Marie Claire magazine women’s conference on Monday: “The most important response to #metoo is ‘I believe you.’ ”

No. I do not believe every woman who is now standing up to “share her story” or “tell her truth.” I owe no blind allegiance to any other woman simply because we share the same pronoun. Assertions are not truths until they are established as facts and corroborated with evidence. Timing, context, motives, and manner all matter.

The Federalist’s Bre Payton responded to a Medium post listing ways men can support women. “Instead of telling men to act like women, we should be telling them to act like men and accept the responsibilities and expectations that have historically come with that privilege,” Payton wrote. “The women of The Federalist have compiled our own list of ways men can actually support women.” Items on the list included lifting heavy objects, marrying women, killing spiders, apologizing for being wrong, and grilling meat.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

George W. slams Trumpism, without mentioning president by name – Politico

Former U.S. President George W. Bush is pictured. | AP

Former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks at a forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute in New York on Thursday. | Seth Wenig/AP

‘Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,’ Bush declared.

By

Updated

2017-10-19T12:39-0400

Former President George W. Bush offered an unmistakable denunciation of Trumpism Thursday without mentioning the president by name, urging citizens to oppose threats to American democracy.

“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” Bush warned in remarks at the Bush Institute’s Spirit of Liberty event in New York.

Story Continued Below

By chance, Bush was standing in the same spot at the Time Warner Center where former President Barack Obama made a similar plea for democracy and American leadership in late September, shortly after President Donald Trump had finished a belligerent, isolationist speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

But unlike Obama, who campaigned intensely against Trump and has been taking sideways swipes at him since leaving office, Bush has said very little publicly about the current president, or about American politics at all. Thursday’s speech, in which he detailed what he sees as the causes for democratic collapse, the path forward and what were obvious references to Trump — even though, like Obama, he did not utter the president’s name — was a major departure in a speech that called on a renewal of American spirit and institutions.

“Bigotry in any form is blasphemy against the American creed and it means the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation. We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools,” Bush said. “And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

“The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them,” he said.

This “unique moment,” Bush said, includes described a threat that he sees as worldwide, and pervasive throughout American society and politics.

“When we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with protecting and defending democracy,” he said, adding later: “We need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have great advantage. To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.”

Bush spoke at the end of a half-day session that included a genial discussion between Trump’s United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, his former national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

But Bush took a wider view, acknowledging the failures of divided partisan politics, paralyzed government, the media, institutions of democracy and more that has created a “deficit of confidence.” The problems of terrorism and nuclear proliferation are real, he said, as are the economic trends caused by globalization — but that is not an excuse for going into hiding.

“People are hurting. They’re angry and they’re frustrated. We must help them,” he said. “But we cannot wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the Agricultural Revolution or the Industrial Revolution.”
The tyrannies in North Korea and Venezuela are obvious and the fraying of democracies is clear in Europe, Bush said, but Americans must face the problems at home, too.

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization,” he said. “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, [and] forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”

All of this, he said, is even more important in the face of the attacks outsiders have made on American democracy. Citing the conclusion of all the American intelligence agencies about Russian interference in last year’s elections — which Trump has repeatedly dismissed himself —the former president warned against “subversion,” calling for stronger election security protections and cybersecurity, and a recognition of what is being attempted.

“This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It’s conducted across a range of social media platforms,” Bush said. “Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed. But foreign aggressions, including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated. This is a clear case where the strength of our democracy begins at home.”

Bush’s speech comes three days after his former rival and fellow Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, delivered a similar attack on “spurious nationalism” and call to rediscover American ideals and American democracy in a speech in Philadelphia.

Some of the phrases echoed each other.

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil,” McCain said. “We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

Bush’s version: “Our identity as a nation, and unlike many other nations, is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility.”

That, Bush said, is why he has confidence that American will weather its current crisis, as he called on the examples of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Self-correction is the secret strength of freedom. We are a nation with a history of resilience and a genius for renewal,” Bush said. The American spirit does not say, ‘We shall manage,’ or ‘We shall make the best of it.’ It says, ‘We shall overcome,’ — and that is exactly what we’re going to do, with God’s help.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Trump offered a grieving military father $25000 in a phone call – Washington Post

President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, said that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were fatally shot by an Afghan police officer on June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed — shot by someone he was training.

“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’ ” Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”

Trump’s offer of $25,000 adds a dimension to his relationships with Gold Star families, and the disclosure follows questions about how often the president has called or written to the parents or spouses of those killed.

The Washington Post contacted the White House about Baldridge’s account on Wednesday morning. Officials declined to discuss the events in detail.

But in a statement Wednesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: “The check has been sent. It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”

It took 18 months for President Barack Obama to fulfill a similar promise made to the family of Kayla Mueller, who was killed in 2015 while she was held captive by the Islamic State in Syria. Obama’s undisclosed sum, for a charity set up in Mueller’s name, arrived only after a report by ABC News called attention to what the president later described as an oversight.

[12 days of silence: How Trump handled the deadliest combat incident of his presidency]

Trump said this week that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make.” At least 20 Americans have been killed in action since he became commander in chief in January. The Post interviewed the families of 13. About half had received phone calls, they said. The others said they had not heard from the president.

In his call with Trump, Baldridge, a construction worker, expressed frustration with the military’s survivor benefits program. Because his ex-wife was listed as their son’s beneficiary, she was expected to receive the Pentagon’s $100,000 death gratuity — even though “I can barely rub two nickels together,” he told Trump.

The president’s response shocked him.

“He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” Baldridge said. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ ”

The president has been on the defensive since details emerged of his phone call Tuesday with the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed Oct. 4 along with three other U.S. soldiers in Niger. After not addressing the incident for 12 days, Trump on Monday falsely claimed that previous presidents never or rarely called the families of fallen service members. In fact, they did so regularly.

White House officials circulated a statement of sympathy for the soldiers killed in Niger after the attack, but it was never released, Politico reported Wednesday. It is not clear why the statement was never released, but it was prepared when the Pentagon had said only that three soldiers were killed and before officials disclosed that a fourth soldier, Johnson, also was killed. His body was recovered Oct. 6, two days after the attack.

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) said Trump called Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, on Tuesday and said her husband “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.” Wilson was riding in a limousine with the widow and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone.

Attempts to reach Myeshia Johnson on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Trump denied the allegation Wednesday, saying in a tweet that Wilson had “totally fabricated” what happened and that he had “proof.” But the soldier’s childhood guardian, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Post that she also was in the car when Trump called, and said that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”

Trump later expanded his denial, saying that he did not say what Wilson alleged and that “she knows it.”

He added: “I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president, saying in a news briefing that Trump was “completely respectful” during the call. Several White House officials, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, were in the room at the time, she said.

In all, seven Gold Star families contacted by The Post said they have had phone conversations with Trump. Most said they appreciated the gesture. Four other families said they have not received a call and were upset. One said Trump had not called but that they knew the late soldier would not want his death politicized. An additional family said it had corresponded with the White House but declined to elaborate.

The Associated Press reached one other family, that of Army Spec. Etienne Murphy, 22. His mother said she received neither a call nor a letter from the president.

Baldridge said that after the president made his $25,000 offer, he joked with Trump that he would bail him out if he got arrested for helping. The White House has done nothing else other than send a condolence letter from Trump, the father said.

“I opened it up and read it, and I was hoping to see a check in there, to be honest,” the father said. “I know it was kind of far-fetched thinking. But I was like, ‘Damn, no check.’ Just a letter saying ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

The experiences of other Gold Star families were more typical.

The family of Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, a 23-year-old Army Ranger killed April 27 in a raid on the Islamic State in Afghanistan, met with Vice President Pence at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as the soldier’s casket arrived from overseas. They had a 20-minute call with Trump about two weeks later, said Thomas’s father, Andre.

“He gave his condolences and made some comments how different his paperwork was when it went across his desk,” the father said in a phone interview. “Said most of the paperwork he sees in these types of death says, ‘He’s respected by his peers.’ He said Cameron’s stuck out because it said he was respected and loved by his peers.”

Thomas said he spoke at length about his son’s love for the Army and his determination to become a Ranger, a distinction he earned at age 19. About midway through the phone call, Thomas said he told Trump that he had voted for him, and “that got him on another tangent” that extended the conversation for about 10 minutes.”

The president then spoke about his work in office and “the strides that he’s made in the short time he’d been president,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the family was touched by the phone call. The father of a Mormon family with 12 children, seven of them adopted, Thomas said he was concerned about the attention that his son’s death could bring. But talking to the president helped him put things in perspective and realize that his son “belonged to the country.”

“Politics is politics, and maybe some people wouldn’t care to hear from him,” he said. “But putting politics aside, it does mean a lot to a family, their child.”

William J. Lee, 40, said his entire family spoke by phone with Trump after his brother, Army 1st Lt. Weston Lee, 25, was killed in Mosul, Iraq, on April 29.

“He was very cordial and very nice,” Lee said, of the call, which he said lasted about five or six minutes.

Lee said the president spoke to them about “how impressive my brother was, how he had read the reports, reading everything about Weston, and he could tell how amazing he was. And talking to us, he could tell how strong we were and how strong he must have been. We were all pretty devastated.

“It meant something, the leader of our nation calling us and showing the honor and respect to my brother that I feel my brother earned,” Lee said, his voice cracking.

Quinn Butler, whose 27-year-old brother, Aaron, was killed in August by an explosion in Afghanistan, said that their parents received numerous letters from generals and other leaders, but no call or letter from Trump.

Staff Sgt. Aaron Butler, a Special Forces soldier, was very supportive of Trump and appreciative for what he has done for the military, his brother said. Quinn Butler said his brother believed that Trump helped initiate some changes that have enabled commanders to make more progress against the militants in Afghanistan.

Butler said that he was surprised that his parents did not receive a call from Trump, considering his brother was a “very elite soldier, a soldier who had given everything.” But he said that the soldier would not want his death politicized.

“I think that Aaron would be very upset if anything was manipulated to show that he didn’t support Trump and that he wasn’t appreciative of the things that he did do, because he was,” the brother said.

Euvince Brooks’s son, Sgt. Roshain E. Brooks, 30, was killed Aug. 13 in Iraq. He has not heard from the White House. The president’s claim this week that he had called every military family to lose a son or daughter only upset the Brooks family more.

Brooks said that after watching the news on Tuesday night he wanted to set up a Twitter account to try to get the president’s attention.

“I said to my daughter, ‘Can you teach me to tweet, so I can tweet at the president and tell him he’s a liar?’” he said. “You know when you hear people lying, and you want to fight? That’s the way I feel last night. He’s a damn liar.”

Julie Tate, Anne Gearan and Kristine Phillips contributed to this report.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Is Niger Trump’s Benghazi? Four US Soldiers Died and It Took Him 12 Days to Respond – Newsweek

“This might wind up to be Mr. Trump’s Benghazi.” 

Those are the words of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat who was present during a controversial phone call between President Donald Trump and the widow of one of the four U.S. special forces soldiers killed in Niger on October 4. 

The soldiers died in an ambush near the Niger-Mali border believed to be perpetrated by an ISIS-linked group. The president’s reaction to the deaths is being widely criticized as questions remain about U.S. involvement in Niger and Africa more generally. 

Keep up with this story and more by subscribing now

Republican Senator John McCain, widely regarded as the top authority on military matters in the Senate, said Wednesday the Trump administration is not being upfront about what happened in Niger.

This is somewhat reminiscent of rhetoric surrounding what happened in Benghazi under the Obama administration. 

Indeed, some are suggesting there’s more to the Niger story. And Congresswoman Wilson isn’t the only one who’s begun to draw parallels between this situation and Benghazi.

Neera Tanden, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, tweeted hyperbolically on Wednesday: “We had about 4000 Benghazi hearings. Why isn’t there a single one on the deaths of soldiers in Niger?”

Joy Reid, national correspondent for MSNBC, echoed these sentiments: “Where are all the Benghazi obsessives now that we have lost four special forces troops in Niger? Anyone? Hearings? Any interest at all?” 

What happened in Benghazi?

On September 11, 2012, four Americans were killed in an infamous terror attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya at the time, was killed.

The incident prompted an extensive, costly investigation and was a source of controversy for Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State when the attack occurred. It was still around as a thorn in her 2016 presidential campaign.

The Obama administration’s initial explanation of the attack, which was based on faulty CIA intelligence, led to accusations of a cover-up from Republicans. Some also accused the administration of withholding military assistance to the Benghazi compound.

[embedded content]

Clinton and the Obama administration were widely criticized, but no evidence of a cover-up was ever found, and House Republicans even released a report that cleared Clinton of any wrongdoing over Benghazi in June 2016. 

Still, Benghazi remains controversial and a talking point for conservative news outlets, especially Fox News. 

What happened in Niger?

The soldiers killed in Niger were part of a 12-man team of Green Berets, training Nigerian soldiers in a remote part of the country. These soldiers belonged to the Third Special Forces group based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

As they were leaving a meeting with local community leaders on October 4, they were ambushed by roughly 50 fighters believed to be linked to ISIS (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is also active in the surrounding region). 

The soldiers were driving unarmored pickup trucks and immediately returned fire. The firefight reportedly lasted roughly 30 minutes. It was eventually broken up via French air support and the soldiers were evacuated with helicopters. 

Initially, the government only confirmed three had been killed and two wounded in the incident, along with two. But it was eventually reported a fourth soldier had gone missing during the ambush. His remains were found by Nigerien forces roughly 48 hours after the ambush.

The Department of Defense at first withheld information about the missing soldier. The circumstances of how he was separated and the nature of his death are unknown. 

Many questions about what occurred remain, especially regarding why intelligence apparently didn’t indicate the soldiers would meet such heavy resistance. 

Are there any legitimate parallels between Benghazi and Niger?

Beyond the fact four Americans were killed in the respective incidents in Niger and Benghazi, the only parallel is the botched initial responses by both the Obama administration and Trump — responses that only led people to ask more questions about what went down.

It took Trump 12 days to respond to the deadly incident in Niger and he only did so after questioned by a reporter. In his response, Trump falsely claimed past presidents, including President Obama, didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers. He then called the widow and mother of one of the soldiers, Sgt. La David Johnson, only to end up disrespecting the family on Tuesday night. The president allegedly said Johnson “knew what he signed up for” during the call. 

Trump denied it, but Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the fallen soldier’s mother, told The Washington Post, Trump “did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.” 

Johnson was the soldier who was separated from the 12-man team during the ambush. The circumstances of Johnson’s death and the fact he was missing for two days is perhaps the most curious aspect of the incident in Niger. Specific details on why he was left behind have not yet emerged, hence the questions that have followed Trump’s controversial treatment of this deadly incident. 

The other three soldiers killed in the ambush have been identified as Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, 35; Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, 39; and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, 29.

Why is the U.S. in Niger?

Many Americans may not have known the U.S. was present in Niger until this incident, which is another parallel to Benghazi.

The truth is the U.S. military has been involved in a broad effort to combat terrorism across Africa for years and Niger is just one of many countries the U.S. is currently present in. This started far before Trump — the U.S. military has had a presence in Niger since 2013, when Obama was still president. 

The U.S. military is also active in Chad, Somalia, Libya and Cameroon, among other countries in Africa. In May, a U.S. Navy Seal was killed in a raid on an Al-Shabab compound in Somalia. This was the first combat death involving a U.S. soldier in Somalia since the well-known “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993, which resulted in the deaths of 18 American service members.

At the moment, there are roughly 800 U.S. troops in Niger, and the U.S. is in the process of building a major drone base in the city of Agadez, located in central Niger. The four U.S. soldiers killed on October 4 were training Nigerien forces in the broader counterterrorism effort. 

The Department of Defense announced Tuesday it was launching an investigation into the incident in Niger. But is this “Trump’s Benghazi”? Only time — and maybe a congressional investigation or 4,000 — will tell.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ISIS Makes Last Stand At A Stadium In Raqqa, Its Doomed ‘Capital’ – NPR

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S. special forces, walks on a building near Raqqa’s stadium Monday, as they cleared the last positions on the frontline in the fight against ISIS.

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are in the process of kicking ISIS out of Raqqa, its claimed capital where the group has terrorized civilians and plotted attacks against targets involving the U.S. and its allies. ISIS fighters are now reportedly bottled up in a stadium complex in the city.

Celebrations began to break out among the SDF in Raqqa on Tuesday, as the end of the four-month offensive seemed near. But a spokesman with the force tells NPR’s Ruth Sherlock that fighting could continue as ISIS fighters hold out in booby-trapped buildings.

Made up of Arab and Kurdish fighters, the SDF began their push to take Raqqa in early June. They were backed by airstrikes from both the U.S.-led coalition and Russia — strikes that have been blamed for causing civilian deaths as they sought ISIS targets.

From Beirut, Ruth reports:

“Raqqa is where ISIS first imposed the strict laws that it hoped would one day govern a caliphate that took land across Iraq and Syria. After they took the city in 2014, women were not allowed out in public alone. Young men — even children — were trained to fight. Non-Muslims were persecuted. Those who broke laws were executed publicly.

“….But the imminent victory comes at a huge costs. The fight on the ground, and air strikes by the U.S. and Russia have left Raqqa all but destroyed. Many civilians have been killed. Most of the population fled, and now they don’t know if they’ll have a home when they return.”

What could be the final push to rid Raqqa of ISIS fighters comes days after a convoy of vehicles left the city, under a deal that was set up by the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders. That exodus prompted concern that ISIS fighters might slip through the front lines of the fight; the U.S. Operation Inherent Resolve said that anyone leaving Raqqa under the arrangement would be subject to search and screening by Syrian Democratic Forces.

“Daesh terrorists have been hiding behind women and children for three years, and we are against any arrangement that lets them continue to do so,” said Coalition Director of Operations Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga.

In Raqqa, the U.S. and its allies are liberating a city that will require years to recover from the violence and destruction its seen. And after taking it, the fight against ISIS moves elsewhere.

Here’s how NPR’s Tom Bowman described what could be a lengthy military process when the offensive began this summer:

“Even after Raqqa falls, U.S. officials say they have to clear an area south of Raqqa along the Iraq border. It’s some 150 miles. And the trouble is, you have Syrian regime forces there as well. So the question is, how does the U.S. deal with the Syrians. You know, the answer, they’re saying, is to work with the Russians to what they call de-conflict military operations with the Russian ally Syria.”

On another front in the war against ISIS, the U.S. carried out a strike on two training camps in Yemen, in a move that the U.S. Central Command said will disrupt the extremist group’s ability to train new fighters.

The strike hit the relatively remote Al Bayda Governorate, an arid inland region where Centcom says “ISIS used the camps to train militants to conduct terror attacks using AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and endurance training.”

Centcom added that U.S. forces have been working “in coordination with the government of Yemen” to carry out counterterrorism operations there.

– The Raqqah Civil Council, in conjunction with local Arab tribal elders, is taking a special interest in protecting civilians and preventing a significant humanitarian crisis as the fall of Daesh’s so-called capital draws nearer.

The Raqqah Civil Council is leading discussions to determine the best way to enable civilians trapped by Daesh to exit the city, where some are being held as human shields by the terrorists. Those departing Raqqah who are found to have fought for Daesh will be turned over to local authorities to face justice.

“We have a responsibility to defeat Daesh while preserving civilian life to the greatest extent possible,” said Coalition Director of Operations Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga. “Make no mistake: a lot of hard fighting remains and we are committed to the lasting defeat of Daesh.”

The arrangement is designed to minimize civilian casualties and purportedly excludes foreign Daesh terrorists as people trapped in the city continue to flee the impending fall of Daesh’s so-called capital.

People departing Raqqah under the arrangement are subject to search and screening by Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Coalition was not involved in the discussions that led to the arrangement, but believes it will save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the Coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqah with less risk of civilian casualties.

“We do not condone any arrangement that allows Daesh terrorists to escape Raqqah without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else.
We remain concerned about the thousands of civilians in Raqqah who remain subject to Daesh cruelty,” said Coalition Director of Operations Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga. “Daesh terrorists have been hiding behind women and children for three years, and we are against any arrangement that lets them continue to do so.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Iraqi forces take back Sinjar in latest effort to roll back Kurdish gains of the past years – Washington Post

BAGHDAD — Militia forces affiliated with the Iraqi government seized control of the Kurdish held-town of Sinjar near the border with Syria on Tuesday, continuing a push by the federal government in Baghdad to reassert its authority in disputed territories.

A force of local Yazidis, part of Iraq’s popular mobilization movement of militias, took control of the town early on Tuesday morning, local residents and fighters said. A few hours later Shiite militia forces from Baghdad also entered, they added.

The push comes as Baghdad moves to reassert its authority in areas it disputes with the autonomous Kurdish region in the north after it held a referendum for independence last month.

Iraqi forces also announced Tuesday retaking the oil fields of Bai Hassan and Avana near the oil production hub of Kirkuk.

In a triumphant press conference two years ago after Kurdish forces took Sinjar from Islamic State militants, Iraqi Kurdistan’s president, Massoud Barzani, vowed that no flag other than the Kurdish one would fly over Sinjar.

But on Tuesday, the Iraqi national flag went up, residents said.

Sheikh Khalaf Bahri, a Yazidi religious leader, said the situation was calm but residents were staying in their houses.

“It’s too early for them to know if they are safe,” he said. “We hope that this will be resolved soon and we hope that the Yazidi people will not be subject to any attacks.”

Local resident Elias Sinjari said that the Kurdish peshmerga forces withdrew in the night, except for those originally from Sinjar. They were replaced by the Baghdad-backed Yazidi militia known as the Lalish Force.

“I don’t care who holds our city, whether it’s peshmerga or Iraqis, what we care about is living in peace and to be protected,” he said by phone. “Everybody claims they care about Sinjar when in fact no one did anything for Sinjar, we are just a card they use when they need and then can throw away.”

Since retaking Sinjar two years ago, Barzani has tried to assert control over a wide swath of the country bordering the Kurdish region and stamp out the influence of Baghdad and other rival Kurdish groups.

While many Yazidis consider themselves ethnically Kurdish, not all do. Some blame Barzani, whose peshmerga fighters guarded the area before Islamic State conquest, for abandoning them in 2014.

When the peshmerga withdrew, the Islamic State slaughtered thousands of Yazidi men and captured thousands of Yazidi women to hold as sex slaves.

Many Sinjar residents found the arrival of new forces, particularly Iraqi Shiite militias from a different part of the country, an uncomfortable reminder of that trauma.

“Unfortunately again the forces that were expected to protect the Yazidis, left the Yazidis alone again without firing a single bullet,” said Haider Shesho, a local Yazidi commander.

He said that Yazidi leaders were trying to negotiate for the forces from outside the region to leave the town center. “We have no problem with the Yazidi force,” he said. “We would like international intervention,” he said. “The Yazidis have suffered a lot.”

Ali Khudaida, a local teacher in Sinuni, was upset. “This was not expected, the people in Sinjar are scared,” he said, adding that about 150 families fled.

Shwan reported from Irbil, Iraq. Mustafa Salim contributed from Baghdad

Read more:

New battle in Iraq gives Iran the upper hand

Iraqis seize military base, oil field from Kurdish forces near contested Kirkuk

Kurds in Iraq vote in favor of independence as crisis escalates

Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

The Latest: Trump takes another swipe at Hillary Clinton – Washington Post

President Trump said on Oct. 16 that he will “be looking into” Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), his nominee for White House drug czar. An investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” showed that Marino was the chief advocate for a law that hobbled the DEA amid the opioid crisis.

President Trump said “we’re going to be looking into” a report about Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), his drug czar nominee, in the wake of a Washington Post/”60 Minutes” investigation that found the lawmaker helped steer legislation that made it harder for the government to take some enforcement actions against giant drug companies.

“He was a very early supporter of mine from the great state of Pennsylvania. He’s a great guy. I did see the report. We’re going to look into the report,” Trump told reporters when asked about whether he still supports Marino to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Trump also said that he will have a “major announcement, probably next week” about how his administration plans to tackle opioid addiction in the United States, a “massive problem” that he wants to get “absolutely right.”

“This country and, frankly, the world has a drug problem,” he said. “We’re going to do something about it.”

Trump’s comments came as congressional Democrats reacted sharply to the report that Marino helped guide the legislation that sailed through Congress last year with virtually no opposition.

“We’re going to look into that very closely,” Trump said in a White House Rose Garden appearance.

Marino, Trump said, is “a good man, I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him and I will make that determination.” If Marino’s work was detrimental to Trump’s goal of combating opioid addiction, “I will make a change,” Trump said.

Trump first said he was doing to declare a national opioid emergency in August, but has not done so.

Asked by a reporter whether he would be declaring the epidemic a national emergency, Trump said, “We’re going to be doing that next week.”

“That is a very, very big statement. It’s a very important step and to get to that step a lot of work has to be done and it’s time-consuming work. We’re going to be doing that next week,” he said.

Earlier Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said he was “horrified” to read details of an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” that detailed how a targeted lobbying effort helped weaken the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to go after drug distributors, even as opioid-related deaths continue to rise. He called on Trump to withdraw Marino’s nomination.

Alex Brandon

Associated Press

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) testifies in September.

Manchin added in an interview that he’s not attacking Marino’s motives or character, but that “there’s no way that in having the title of the drug czar that you’ll be taken seriously or effectively by anyone in West Virginia and the communities that have been affected by this knowing that you were involved in something that had this type of effect.”

[Read the investigation: How the drug industry derailed the DEA’s war on painkillers]

Marino was first floated as a potential drug czar last spring, but withdrew from consideration, citing a family illness. But the White House formally nominated him for the post in September. The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to set a date for his confirmation hearing. Committee aides did not immediately return requests for comment on plans for a hearing. Ultimately, Marino could be confirmed by the Senate with a simple majority vote.

In a separate letter to Trump, Manchin said that more than 700 West Virginians died of opioid overdoses last year. “No state in the nation has been harder hit than mine,” he wrote.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also said Monday that she would introduce legislation that would repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016. The law, she said, “has significantly affected the government’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors that are failing to meet their obligations and endangering our communities.”

McCaskill, as the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has used her perch to probe opioid manufacturers, and is pushing them for sales and marketing materials, studies of potential addictions and whether the firms are donating to third-party advocacy groups that champion their work. It was unclear Monday afternoon how much support McCaskill’s bill would receive and whether it would ever be taken up for a vote in the GOP-controlled House and Senate.

As of Monday afternoon, no Republican lawmaker had announced their opposition to Marino’s legislation or plans to either sponsor McCaskill’s bill or introduce something similar.

Manchin and McCaskill face reelection next year in rural states that Trump won last year. Despite their concerns, neither opposed the legislation when it passed in the Senate last year by unanimous consent. McCaskill was away from Congress for three months last year being treated for breast cancer when the bill was approved.

Manchin said in the interview that his aides responsible for tracking drug policy had raised concerns about Marino’s legislation as it worked its way through Congress last year.

“They had questions and they had concerns from the beginning but they were laid to rest by the DEA. We’re going to find out how that could happen and why,” Manchin said.

As an alternative to Marino, Manchin suggested that Trump consider nominating Joseph T. Rannazzisi to serve as drug czar. Rannazzisi ran the DEA’s division responsible for regulating the drug industry and led a decade-long campaign of aggressive enforcement until he was forced out of the agency in 2015.

If Trump prefers to nominate a partisan figure, “we can find a Republican who has a passion because of the devastation to their own family. That won’t be hard to find in America, I can assure you that,” Manchin said.

Fallout from the investigation also has spread to electoral politics. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who is running for Senate in a state that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, is also fielding attacks for being a lead sponsor of Marino’s bill.

James Mackler, the Senate race’s Democratic front-runner, criticized Blackburn over her involvement, saying in a statement late Sunday, “I’m running for U.S. Senate because Tennesseans need a senator that will stand up for them rather than catering to special interests and corporate lobbyists.”

“That Congresswoman Blackburn would champion legislation like this while Tennesseans face an opioid epidemic is all one needs to know about her priorities,” he said.

[Rep. Marsha Blackburn draws campaign fire for shepherding bill that undercut DEA]

In April 2016, a handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to the more industry-friendly legislation, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to the Post/“60 Minutes” investigation. The DEA had opposed the effort for years.

The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than $1 million into their election campaigns.

The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Marino, who spent years trying to move it through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.

As Rep. Tom Marino’s Pennsylvania district was reeling from the opioid crisis, he sponsored a bill that, current and former Drug Enforcement Administration officials say, undermined the DEA’s efforts to stop the flow of pain pills.

Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. The White House was equally unaware of the bill’s import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials.

Top officials at the White House and the Justice Department have declined to discuss how the bill came to pass.

Michael Botticelli, who led the ONDCP at the time, said neither Justice nor the DEA objected to the legislation, removing a major obstacle to the president’s approval.

“We deferred to DEA, as is common practice,” he said.

The bill also was reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“Neither the DEA nor the Justice Department informed OMB about the policy change in the bill,” a former senior OMB official with knowledge of the issue said recently. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of internal White House deliberations.

The DEA and the Justice Department have denied or delayed more than a dozen requests filed by The Post and “60 Minutes” under the Freedom of Information Act for public records that might shed additional light on the matter. Some of those requests have been pending for nearly 18 months. The Post is now suing the Justice Department in federal court for some of those records.

READ MORE:

The full investigation into the drug industry’s triumph over the DEA

Analysis: This shows everything people hate about Washington

Joe Rannazzisi: The DEA official who fought the drug companies and lost

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

At Least 189 Killed After Twin Bomb Attacks in Somalia – New York Times

The death toll from twin bombing attacks in the heart of Somalia’s capital rose to 189 on Sunday as emergency crews pulled more bodies from cars and buildings demolished by the Saturday blasts, which officials called one of the deadliest attacks to hit Mogadishu since an Islamist insurgency began in 2007.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo declared three days of national mourning and called for donations of blood and funds to help the victims. The truck explosions left at least 200 others wounded, and the toll was expected to rise.

“Today’s horrific attack proves our enemy would stop nothing to cause our people pain and suffering. Let’s unite against terror,” Mr. Farmaajo said on Twitter. He added that flags would be flown at half-staff: “Time to unite and pray together. Terror won’t win.”

“I call on our citizens to come out, extend help, donate blood and comfort the bereaved,” said the president, who himself donated blood on Sunday.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s blasts.

Photos published by the local news media showed that scenes of carnage and devastation. Some of the victims had died in their cars and in public transport vehicles. Families were scrambling to find missing relatives amid the rubble and in hospitals.

Some reports put the death toll as high as 218, but that could not be independently confirmed.

The United States Mission to Somalia condemned the bombings, calling them “cowardly attacks” that “reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.”

The Qatari Embassy was severely damaged in the explosion, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, adding that the chargé d’affaires had been slightly injured.

The British ambassador to Somalia, David Concar, said on Twitter that the blast had been clearly audible from inside the British Embassy.

He also wrote: “Such cruel, cowardly acts. My condolences to the families and friends of the killed and injured, and to all Somalis. A time for unity and resolve.”

Erdogan Hospital, one of six hospitals that received wounded victims, said at least 127 people had been hospitalized there.

Senator Abshir Ahmed, the deputy speaker of the upper house of the Federal Parliament, wrote on his Facebook page that he had been told by Dr. Mohamed Yusuf, the director of Madina Hospital, that 218 bodies had been taken to the hospital. At least 130 were burned beyond recognition, Mr. Ahmed wrote.

The explosion left a trail of destruction across a busy intersection, with several bodies and bloodied slippers and shoes scattered in the aftermath. Windows of nearby buildings were shattered. Overturned cars burned in the streets.

“There was a traffic jam, and the road was packed with bystanders and cars,” Abdinur Abdulle, a waiter at a nearby restaurant, said on Saturday. “It’s a disaster.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre appointed a 16-member committee, including ministers, civil society leaders and religious leaders, to arrange national funerals for the victims and to provide assistance to the wounded, according to his office.

The blast occurred two days after the head of the United States Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia’s president, and after the country’s defense minister and army chief resigned for undisclosed reasons.

The American military has stepped up drone strikes this year against the Shabab, a group aligned with Al Qaeda that has recently stepped up attacks on army bases across the southern and central parts of the country.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Death toll rises to 40 as firefighters continue to battle massive California wildfires – Los Angeles Times

As the death toll rose to 40, firefighters struggled Saturday to get the upper hand against several massive wildfires that have ravaged Northern California for almost a week.

Strong winds kicked up overnight in the central Napa Valley region, causing some fires to spread and triggering evacuations in Sonoma and elsewhere, officials said.

Fire officials feared that winds forecast for Saturday would be similar to those that stoked the first flames on Oct. 8 and that have since exploded to more than 15 fires that have scorched 220,000 acres, destroyed an estimated 5,700 structures and caused at least 40 deaths.

Despite low humidity and red flag warnings throughout the region, however, the winds appeared to calm down Saturday afternoon, aiding firefighters who have been battling the fire around the clock, officials said.

Officials warned that the biggest threat remains the low humidity, with the dry air continuing to transform grass and vegetation into fuel.

“It’s been drying out the mountains,” said National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson. “It’s still going to be bone-dry out there overnight.”

Northerly winds, similar to Southern California’s Santa Ana winds, are expected to move across the region at about 15 mph overnight with some 25 mph gusts, he said. Temperatures are expected to drop into the mid-40s overnight, with temperatures expected to hover in the mid-80s Sunday.

More than 10,000 firefighters from California and other states are fighting the fires in Northern California, said Dave Teter of the California Dpeartment of Forestry and Fire Protection, and officials are readying more crews in Southern California, where red flag warnings are in place through Sunday.

Firefighting efforts include 880 fire engines, 134 bulldozers, 224 hand crews and 138 water tenders, Teter said. At first light Saturday, 14 helicopters were in the air conducting water drops.

During a night of strong winds, the 46,000-acre Nuns fire in Sonoma County grew by at least 300 acres, threatening the outskirts of the city of Sonoma and the Oakmont neighborhood in Santa Rosa. It was 10% contained as of Saturday, and had destroyed some buildings in the city of Sonoma.

Firefighters were asleep in Healdsburg early Saturday morning when they got the call around 3:30 a.m.: Get over to the Oakmont neighborhood of Santa Rosa.

High winds had sent the Nuns fire branching toward the city, which had already been devastated by the Tubbs fire earlier in the week. Another branch was heading toward the city of Sonoma.

When firefighters arrived, police were helping to evacuate the area.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many cop cars Code 3,” CalFire spokesman Jeff Allen said, meaning they were flashing their lights and blaring their sirens.

The firefighters headed up the ridge in the darkness, trying to hold the flames at bay with hoses and shovels. When the sun came up, air tankers and helicopters started dropping fire retardant and water. Bulldozers cut through the earth to create fire breaks and firefighters set backfires to slow the blaze’s advance.

They were helped by the weather as winds started to slow later in the morning.

The ridge remained blanketed with smoke late Saturday morning as helicopters circled. Occasionally a tall tree would become engulfed, and flickers of flames would be briefly visible from the road.

An offshoot of the Nuns fire, which ignited early Saturday when a downed power line touched a tree branch, has grown from 300 acres to more than 400 acres in several hours near Oakmont, Cal Fire operations section chief Steve Crawford said Saturday afternoon. Flames were pushing east, and closer to Highway 12, he said.

Firefighters are also working to hold flames back from reaching the outskirts of Sonoma. The wind “has hit us pretty hard, and there’s a pretty good firefight going on in the field right now,” Crawford said. Winds have also stopped some air tankers from making water drops on flames closer to St. Helena, Crawford said.

Twenty-two people have died in the Tubbs fire in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, four in Yuba County and six in Napa County.

Napa County officials identified two new victims of the Atlas fire as George Chaney, 89, and Edward Stone, 79. The two men owned a house in the 2300 block of Atlas Peak Road, where officials found their bodies Thursday, county spokeswoman Molly Rattigan said.

Much of their neighborhood was reduced to debris after the Atlas fire scorched 50,403 acres. The fire, which continued to threaten about 5,000 homes,, was 48% contained Saturday evening.

All around, the view was one of entire hillsides charred black and some wineries with nothing but brick frames and melted equipment.

Just down the road from the house where Chaney and Stone were found, one spot remained untouched by the fire: the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park, a pet cemetery on Atlas Peak Road. The park was still covered in lush, bright green grass.

The sound of its babbling brook was interrupted intermittently with the sound of a firetruck or utility crew’s diesel engine powering up the mountain to extinguish hot spots or continue the arduous task of reconnecting the mountain residents’ homes to the valley city below.

On Saturday afternoon, a deer and two fawn found shady refuge under an oak tree as smoke from the Nuns fire could be seen rising from the hills on the other side of Napa Valley.

One of the wettest winters on record, followed by the hottest summer on record, has created possibly the worst potential for fire in Napa County that the state has seen, a Cal Fire spokesman said Saturday.

Experts use a scientific formula to determine the potential of a fire, called the energy release component, said Cal Fire spokesman Mike Smith. On Saturday, that potential was the worst “in recorded history,” Smith said.

Crews have not seen this amount of fuel this dry in the path of a fire in at least 26 years, he said.

“Today is going to be a much different day than you’ve experienced unless you were here” from the beginning, Tom Wright of the National Weather Service told fire crews in Napa at a Saturday morning briefing. “It’s a really critical day.”

The Atlas fire saw 35-mph winds over ridge tops Friday night, blowing to the south and southwest.

The fire is continuing a slow march north toward Lake Berryessa, Smith said. The fire spread slightly along its southern and northwestern edges overnight, officials said Saturday morning. The strongest containment lines have been built around the southern and western faces of the fire, closest to the city of Napa.

But Napa County officials expressed optimism at a Saturday news conference, saying they were confident that the Atlas fire would remain under control. Around 9 a.m., as supervisor Belia Ramos spoke, winds were light and no new evacuations were expected.

No one was going to be allowed into the evacuation areas Saturday, officials said, because Caltrans was spending the day trying to restore the roads.

The National Guard has been called in to help the California Highway Patrol block the roads, as Caltrans crews in the hills work to remove rocks, mud, burned trees, fallen branches and downed power lines, CHP Capt. Chris Childs said.

Locals have been urged to avoid trying to help the cleanup. The county public health director declared a local emergency in order to bring in more resources to remove toxic ash and burnt remnants of homes and cars.

Of 224 people unaccounted for in Napa County, 146 have been found safe, four have been identified as dead and 74 remain missing, Rattigan said.

But the combination of high winds and high temperatures raises the potential for burn areas to expand quickly, officials said.Crews continued to gain ground against the 35,270-acre Tubbs fire, which is 44% contained. The nearly 11,000-acre Pocket fire, east of Geyserville, is 5% contained.

In Mendocino County, the 34,000-acre Redwood fire was 20% contained as of Saturday.

Taken together, the death toll from the wildfires in wine country has exceeded that of the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which totaled 25. The Cedar fire, which swept through San Diego County in 2003, killed 15 people and destroyed more than 2,800 structures.

Officials expect the death toll to rise as search efforts continue in neighborhoods from Santa Rosa to the hills of Napa County.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is conducting damage assessments, providing aid to local agencies and offering federal funding to residents affected by the fire, the agency announced Saturday.

The road to repair will be a long one. In Napa near Atlas Peak Road, 51-year-old Robert Vickham controlled the traffic flow on a two-lane highway with a sign as his colleagues at Traffic Management Inc. methodically cut down eucalyptus trees lining its edges.

“We’re going to be here for weeks,” the Pittsburg resident said. “I’m 51 and been in California my whole life, and I’ve never seen a fire this bad.”

Teams like Vickham’s dotted the Atlas fire’s burn scar area first hit by the flames last weekend. Slowly but surely, every tree in the way of a damaged utility line is going to come down, he said, with tall brown power poles down the hill waiting to fill in the gaps.

Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris visited affected areas of Sonoma County on Saturday. Brown has declared a state of emergency for Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino and Orange counties. The Canyon 2 fire in Anaheim Hills was 70% contained as of Saturday morning.

“The devastation is just unbelievable. I just drove by hundreds of houses that were totally destroyed,” Brown said during a news conference at Santa Rosa High School on Saturday afternoon.

Harris shared his awe after their tour of the devastated areas.

“It’s unpredictable. It skips over certain houses. It’s not logical in the way that it burns,” she said.

Despite the visits, there’s often little politicians can do on the ground when wildfires strike besides comfort people who lost their homes and monitor emergency efforts to make sure they’re getting the help they need. But Assemblyman Jim Wood has another job.

“Most of my work is in the morgue at this point,” he said.

A Democrat from Healdsburg, Wood also is a dentist who is helping law enforcement identify victims of the deadly fires in Northern California.

Wood represents an enormous, mostly rural district stretching from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border in the north. There aren’t many people in the country with his skills and experience. So when the latest fires started, he said, “I knew at some point I would be called.”

It’s the kind of work he’s done with sheriff’s offices in counties like Mendocino and Sonoma for years.

Sometimes bodies are recovered mostly intact. Other times, there are only bone fragments.

It’s slow work, and getting the right dental records to identify the remains can be difficult.

“It’s a process that will take awhile,” Wood said.

At a time when distraught families are desperate for information about missing loved ones, Wood said he is grateful there’s something he can do to help those families.

“There’s times we’re all standing around wondering what to do,” he said. The dental work, Wood said, “gives me a sense of purpose.”

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

Nelson reported from Santa Rosa, Serna and Megerian from Napa County and Kohli from Los Angeles.

Times staff writer Paige St. John in Napa County contributed to this report.

ALSO

Santa Rosa comes to terms with the scale of devastation

How will the California fires impact wine?

‘Go! Go! Go!’: Deputy’s body camera captures frantic evacuation


UPDATES:

9:40 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials.

8:05 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials.

6:00 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from the National Weather Service.

5:30 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials.

4:15 p.m.: This article was updated with dispatches from Atlas Peak Road.

2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Kamala Harris, as well as information about the Nuns fire.

1:25 p.m.: This article was updated with a new death toll.

1 p.m.: This article was updated with information about firefighting efforts and wind conditions.

11:20 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Napa County officials and Assemblyman Jim Wood.

10:35 a.m.: This article was updated with more information about Napa County.

10 a.m.: This article was updated with information about the Atlas fire, Sen. Kamala Harris’ plans to visit Sonoma County and FEMA’s response.

This article was originally published at 8:50 a.m.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

North Korea calls Trump a ‘strangler of peace’ – CNN

To continue using CNN.com, you need to update your web browser or use a different one.

You may want to try one of the following alternatives:

Let’s block ads! (Why?)