BRINK OF WAR: Tensions Mount as Israel Fends Off Attacks on Its Northern Border

ISRAEL (Washington Free Beacon) — Israel is fending off attacks on its northern border while it confronts an escalating conflict with Hamas.

Israel Defense Forces shot down a drone near the country’s northern border on Tuesday. Although the drone approached Israel from Jordanian airspace, Israeli military officials say its origin is unclear.

The day before, a Palestinian militia fired at least six rockets at Israel from Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. Three other rockets were launched at Israel from Syria on Friday after Hezbollah claimed Israeli forces killed one of its militants during a border protest.

The strikes on the country’s northern border come as Hamas ramps up its rocket attacks on cities in central and southern Israel. On Tuesday, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo said there is a real risk for a two-front war and that Iran-backed Hezbollah could join Hamas in its violent campaign against the Jewish state.

“The risk that Hezbollah decides to join this fight is real,” Pompeo said. “We know that Hezbollah has been able to build out their capabilities, including precision-guided munitions in the north. The threat is real in ways that these rockets from Hamas are not.”

While the Biden administration calls for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, Hamas continues to fire thousands of rockets toward Israeli cities. The terror group killed two Thai workers in southern Israel on Tuesday and wounded seven others. Israeli authorities on Sunday also apprehended two Jordanian men inside Israel who snuck past the border armed with knives.


The Washington Free Beacon’s Jack Beyrer contributed to the contents of this report.

TRUMP: I ‘couldn’t care less’ if Iran wants to negotiate

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday made it clear that the days for negotiation between the United States and Iran are long over.

The president’s comments come after weeks of escalating tensions between the U.S., culminating in a coup that led to the killing of Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani. Iran retaliated one week later by launching dozens of surface-to-surface missiles at Iraq’s Ain Assad air base which housed U.S. troops.

“I think the maximum pressure campaign is working,” White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told “Fox News Sunday.” “Iran is being choked off, and Iran is going to have no other choice but to come to the table.”

O’Brien told Fox News he believes the financial sanctions on Iran will eventually be too much for the rogue state to bear.

“There’s no other way for them to get the money they need,” he said. “What’s going to cause them to negotiate is the pressure on the economy, and when you’ve got students out there chanting ‘death to the dictator,’ and when you have thousands of Iranians out protesting in the street, that’s the sort of pressure that’s going to bring them to the table.”

The president followed O’Brien’s comments with a scathing tweet in which he warned Iranian officials that they are in no position to propose a deal.

“National Security Adviser suggested today that sanctions & protests have Iran ‘choked off,’ will force them to negotiate. Actually, I couldn’t care less if they negotiate,” Trump wrote. “Will be totally up to them but, no nuclear weapons and ‘don’t kill your protesters.'”

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‘NO MORE JOHN KERRY & OBAMA!’: Trump threatens to ‘obliterate’ Iran as tensions escalate

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday drew a clear line in the sand with Iran, threatening to “obliterate” the rogue state as tensions between East and West mount.

The president’s comments come in the wake of Iran’s response to tough new sanctions imposed upon them by the Trump administration, which Iranian officials referred to as “mentally retarded.”

“Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words “nice” or “compassion,” they never have,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone.”

“The wonderful Iranian people are suffering, and for no reason at all. Their leadership spends all of its money on Terror, and little on anything else. The U.S. has not forgotten Iran’s use of IED’s & EFP’s (bombs), which killed 2000 Americans, and wounded many more,” the president continued. “Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry and Obama!”

Speaking at a White House press conference, the president reiterated his threats against Tehran and vowed Iran must not be cleared a path to develop nuclear weapons.

“We’re not gonna allow that to happen, can’t do it,” Trump said, warning Iranian officials to end the “hostility.”

Trump went on to say he hopes Iran gets the “message” from the newly issued sanctions, but warned Iran is “not going to need an exit strategy” should they choose not to comply.

trumpvsiran

REPORT: Four military service members confirmed dead in Syria explosion

BEIRUT — The U.S. military confirmed Wednesday that at least two U.S. military members were killed during an explosion while on patrol.

Military officials acknowledged the blast which took place in the northern Syrian town of Manbij via Twitter on Wednesday morning.

“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today,” military officials responsible for operations in Iraq and Syria said in a statement. “We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time.

The blast killed a total of 16 people including nine civilians according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based Syrian war monitoring agency.

Three additional service members were wounded in a blast. Their immediate conditions have not yet been confirmed.

A news site affiliated with Islamic State earlier issued statement claiming an attacker with a suicide vest had targeted a patrol of the U.S.-led coalition operating in Manbij.

U.S. officials have yet to confirm or deny those allegations.

FILE PHOTO: Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah

REPORT: Seventeen years after Sept. 11, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever

LOS ANGELES, CA (L.A. Times) — In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, the United States set out to destroy Al Qaeda. President George W. Bush vowed to “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.”

Seventeen years later, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread.

What U.S. officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that Al Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.

The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence. Estimates say it may have more than 20,000 militants in Syria and Yemen alone. It boasts affiliates across North Africa, the Levant and parts of Asia, and it remains strong around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It has also changed tactics. Instead of the headline-grabbing terrorist attacks, brutal public executions and slick propaganda used by Islamic State (Al Qaeda’s onetime affiliate and now rival), Al Qaeda now practices a softer approach, embedding itself and gaining the support of Sunni Muslims inside war-torn countries.

Here’s a look at how Al Qaeda has grown in some key Middle Eastern countries:

Iraq:

The United States went to war against Iraq in 2003, based in part on the assertion — later debunked — that Al Qaeda had ties to dictator Saddam Hussein.

That claim turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In victory, the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi army, putting hundreds of thousands of disgruntled men with military training on the street. Many rose up against what was perceived as a foreign invasion, feeding an insurgency that has never stopped. The insurgency gave birth to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a local affiliate that pioneered the use of terrorist attacks on Shiite Muslims, regarded as apostates by Sunni extremists.

In its 2007 “surge,” the U.S., in concert with pro-government Sunni militias, largely defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq. But by 2010, the group was “fundamentally the same” as it had been before the boost in troops, according to Gen. Ray T. Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time.

The 2011 uprisings in neighboring Syria gave the group the breathing space it needed. Two years later it emerged as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, and split from Al Qaeda’s central leadership.

It also launched an audacious offensive that saw large swaths of Iraq fall into the hands of the jihadists. Although Islamic State has since lost most of its territory, it remains a threat.

Yemen:

Al Qaeda was active in Yemen even before Sept. 11: It orchestrated the October 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in the port of Aden. After the World Trade Center twin tower attacks, Bush hailed Yemen’s then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, as a vital partner in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

Saleh received what he called “limitless” U.S. support to fight the jihadists. He in turn gave the U.S. a free hand to conduct attacks against the group’s operatives, including controversial drone strikes, which began in 2002.

But by January 2009, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (known as AQAP) had emerged and was soon considered the group’s most dangerous branch.

President Obama unleashed special forces teams to hunt down AQAP operatives. He also ramped up drone strikes, launching roughly 200 from 2009 to 2016, according to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. President Trump has launched 160.

But the strikes and raids often killed more civilians than militants.

In late 2014, Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim rebels known as Houthis swept in from the country’s northwest to seize the capital, Sana. Amid the resulting chaos, AQAP netted a prize: the city of Mukalla, with Yemen’s third- largest port. It became the centerpiece of an Al Qaeda fiefdom.

As early as 2012, Nasser Wuhayshi, AQAP’s self-styled “emir” and founder, had said the group needed to win people over by “taking care of their daily needs.”

The group rebranded itself as Ansar al Sharia, or Supporters of Islamic Law, and slowly introduced Al Qaeda’s harsh form of Islamic law and governance.

Under Trump, the United States has largely continued Obama’s policies in Yemen. It has given full support to an air campaign led by Saudi Arabia against the Houthis, despite criticism that the strikes have caused most of the 16,000 civilian casualties in Yemen since the war began.

But even as the U.S. has continued to carry out airstrikes and raids against AQAP, the group has positioned itself as a virtual ally, battling the Houthis alongside tribal fighters supported by Saudi Arabia.

Somalia:

The fall of Somalia’s government in 1991 led to the rise of the Islamic Courts Union, a collection of clerical organizations that formed a sharia-based judiciary. It gained legitimacy by offering services such as education and healthcare.

Washington, suspecting links to Al Qaeda, supported the group’s enemies, and enlisted the Ethiopian army to crush it, which it did in 2006. In the de-facto occupation that followed, the Islamic Courts Union’s radical youth wing, the Shabab, grew as an independent resistance movement that took over most of Somalia’s central and southern regions.

Despite its unpopular application of fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine, residents tolerated the Shabab because it fought the Ethiopians, who are mostly Christian and have a long-standing enmity with Somalis.

In 2012, it was declared as the new Al Qaeda affiliate. The change of status attracted a significant number of foreign fighters, including some from the United States.

The Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes along with support for African Union peacekeeping forces, flushed the Shabab out of the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011. It lost control of most of Somalia’s towns and cities.

And in September 2014, a U.S. drone strike killed its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.

But the group held sway in rural areas, where its estimated 4,000 to 6,000 militants make it one of Al Qaeda’s largest franchises. They carry out guerrilla attacks on African Union forces and civilian targets and have launched attacks in others parts of East Africa, including the 2013 attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Syria:
On Dec. 23, 2011, a car bomb struck a residential neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, that was home to the State Security Directorate.

The building was all but destroyed. Drivers unfortunate enough to be near the explosion were burned alive. A second car bomb detonated soon after. All told, 44 people were killed.

That attack marked the debut of Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

The Syrian government had once given the jihadis passage to Iraq to fight coalition forces there. With the civil war, many had now come to return the favor. Nusra’s battle-hardened fighters delivered dazzling successes to the rebel coalition seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

It was so effective that U.S. officials, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, suggested arming and deploying the Al Qaeda jihadis to fight their former comrades in Islamic State.

And despite its adherence to a strict Islamist code of behavior and its imposition of sharia in areas it controlled, the group enjoyed popular support from civilians tired of dealing with rapacious opposition factions more interested in looting than fighting.

Yet here again, the affiliate did not declare a caliphate. Instead, it rebranded itself, publicly cutting ties with Al Qaeda even while retaining some of the group’s top operatives.

The group, now known as the Organization for the Liberation of Syria, is estimated to have 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, including foreigners from as far as Albania and China.

Libya:
Officially, there is no Al Qaeda group in Libya. Its affiliate, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was disbanded in 2011; its members renounced violence but distinguished themselves as relatively disciplined rebels once the revolution against Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi kicked off.

Since then, some, such as former group leader Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, who fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and was renditioned by the U.S. after 2001, have become powerful Islamist leaders, with a significant role in Libya’s chaotic politics.

Others have gone over to Islamic State’s Libyan branch or joined other Islamist groups, including a number that took over the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

But while the U.S., other Western nations and the United Arab Emirates have focused almost exclusively on dislodging Islamic State from its bastions in the north and northeast, Al Qaeda has enjoyed a resurgence, according to an August report from the United Nations.

The group’s threat in Libya registered with the U.S. only this year. In March, the Pentagon’s Africa Command said it had killed two Al Qaeda militants in a drone strike, including what was said to be a high-ranking official, Musa Abu Dawud.

It was the first such attack against the group in Libya. More followed, including another in June, in what is thought to be an expanded counter-terrorism campaign in the country.


The Los Angeles Times’ Nabih Bulos contributed to this report.

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‘IT’S OFF!’ Trump cancels highly anticipated meeting with Kim Jong-un citing rogue state’s ‘tremendous anger’ toward US

Washington, D.C. (The Hill) — The White House offered new details Thursday on President Trump’s decision to cancel a planned June 12 summit with North Korea, saying he did so after a U.S. team was stood up by the Koreans, and that the letter announcing the decision to Kim Jong Un was 100 percent Trump.

“The president dictated every word of the letter himself,” a senior White House official said.

The letter cited Kim’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” toward the United States in explaining why the meeting was being scrapped.
“I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote in the letter released by the White House.

The U.S. and North Korea had agreed to hold the summit in Singapore last week, the White House official said.

But when the U.S. sent a deputy chief of staff and other advance team personnel to Singapore to set the meeting up, the North Koreas never showed up.

“They simply stood us up,” the official said.

The senior White House official also cast doubt on whether North Korea truly destroyed its nuclear test site, saying international inspectors were not allowed to attend

“We certainly hope that’s the case, but we really don’t know.”

“Secretary Pompeo and the South Korean government were promised by the North Koreans that international experts and officials would be invited to witness and verify today’s demolition,” the official said, but that promise was “broken.”
trumpkimjongun

 

ON THE BRINK: Netanyahu moves security meetings to underground bunker as war with Iran looms

Jerusalem (The Times of Israel) — Israel’s high-level security cabinet will meet in a new, specially built underground bunker in Jerusalem for the foreseeable future.

The change of venue — meetings of the security cabinet usually take place in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem — may signal the heightened sensitivity of upcoming discussions, with some observers in the Hebrew-language media suggesting it could point to preparations for a possible escalation of hostilities with Iran.

Talks held in the secure bunker could also prevent leaks to the media.

The decision to move the meetings to the bunker was made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Following Israel’s recent military successes, including the Air Force’s strike on an Iranian base attack two weeks ago, the cabinet is reportedly formulating policy and deciding Israel’s red lines with regard to Iran and Syria.

During two pre-dawn hours on May 10, Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter jets evaded “dozens of missiles” and dropped “many dozens” of bombs on over 50 Iranian targets throughout Syria as the Israel air force carried out an extensive campaign, dubbed “Operation House of Cards,” to debilitate Iran’s military presence in the country.

Those strikes came after 32 rockets were fired by Iranian troops in Syria at the Golan Heights, according to Israel Air Force figures, none of which struck Israeli territory.

At a meeting on the morning after the attack, the security cabinet discussed how best to proceed — whether to press its military advantage or settle for what had already been achieved, Hadashot news reported.

israelvsiran

TENSIONS RISE: Israel and Iran inch closer to war as Israel strikes back against Syrian targets

Jerusalem (The Telegraph) — Israel and Iran lurched closer to an all out war on Thursday after the Israeli military struck “almost all” of Iran’s bases in Syria in response to what it said was a Iranian rocket barrage fired at the Golan Heights.

The exchange of fire was the most direct confrontation between the two Middle East rivals after years of standoff in Syria and came just one day after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Israeli carried out its largest wave of airstrikes in Syria since the 1973 war, striking around 50 Iranian military bases, supply depots, and intelligence sites as well as Syrian regime air defence batteries, the Israeli military said.

“We, of course, struck almost all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria, and they need to remember this arrogance of theirs,” said Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defence minister. “If we get rain, they’ll get a flood.”

The wave of strikes was in response to a barrage of 20 rockets which Israel said were fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard towards the Golan, a mountainous region that Israel annexed from Syria after capturing it in 1967.

There were no casualties on the Israeli side. The Israeli military said its Iron Dome missile defence system had intercepted four of the rockets at around 12.10am on Thursday, while the other 16 fell harmlessly inside of Syrian territory.

At least 23 people were killed by the Israeli strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It was not clear how many of the dead were Iranians. Iran has neither confirmed nor denied that it was responsible for the rocket barrage.

Israel has said repeatedly it will not allow Iran to build up a permanent military presence in Syria and is prepared to go to war to stop it. “Whoever hurts us, we will hurt him sevenfold. Whoever tries to hurt us, we will act to hurt him beforehand,” said Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

Tensions between the two sides have risen sharply since April 9, when a suspected Israeli strike on the T4 airbase in central Syria killed at least seven Iranians. Iran vowed revenge for the bombing and Israel has been warning for weeks that it was expecting an Iranian attack.

In February, Iran allegedly launched an armed drone from Syria into Israel. Israel shot down the drone and carried out a wave of airstrikes in response. One Israeli F-16 was shot down by Syrian air defence systems during the attack, the first time Israel has lost a warplane in combat since 1982.

Britain and the US were quick to issue messages of support for Israel and condemning Iran. “The United Kingdom condemns in the strongest terms the Iranian rocket attacks against Israeli forces. We strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself,” said Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary.

Both the UK and US called on Russia to do more to rein in Iran’s presence in Syria and avoid a further escalation. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, also condemned the attack in phone call with Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president.

The Israeli attacks are likely to strain the relationship between Iran and Russia, who are fighting on the same side in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime.

Israel warned Russia of its intention to launch strikes ahead of time but Russian forces in Syria appear to have done nothing to shield their Iranian allies. Hours before the Israeli attack, Vladimir Putin hosted Mr. Netanyahu as an honoured guest at a military parade in Moscow.

While Israel has scored tactical military victories over Iran in Syria, it has struggled with a broader diplomatic campaign to convince world powers to clamp down on Iran in Syria. Mr. Netanyahu travels regularly to Moscow to make this point but his diplomatic efforts have so far yielded few visible results.

Bahrain also voiced support for Israel’s strikes, in an unusual example of an Arab state publicly applauding Israel for dropping bombs on the territory of a fellow Arab state. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations share many of Israel’s fears about Iran.

Israel said the rockets were fired by the Quds Force, the expeditionary wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and accused its leader, General Qassem Soleimani, of personally ordering the attack.

“It was ordered and commanded by Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” said Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces.

By Thursday afternoon quiet had returned to the Golan Heights and tourists mingled with UN Observers on Mount Bental, a mountain affording sweeping views into Syria.

Nathan Gabah, a 24-year-old businessman relaxing in the late afternoon sun at the beauty spot, said he heard explosions on Thursday morning from his home city of Safed, around 30 miles from the site of the alleged Iranian barrage.

“There was a vroom and a bang, like a bomb,” he said, describing the firing of an Iron Dome anti-missile battery near by.

“I’m not worried at all. Then again I have a friend who is really scared. It varies from person to person,” he shrugged. “It doesn’t feel like we’ve suddenly gone to war.”

israel vs iran

REPORT: Trump overruled Mattis bid to get Congressional OK before striking Syria

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Newsmax) — President Donald Trump overruled Defense Secretary James Mattis’ advice to get Congressional approval to strike Syria, The New York Times reported.

Trump wanted a rapid response that would correlate well with his strong tweets about Syria earlier in the week, the Times reports.

Mattis was able to earn a compromise from the president by limiting the scope – three targets – of the airstrikes, the Times reports. Mattis worried that a too-aggressive response could run the risk of widening the dispute with Russia over Syria.

Where Mattis once had an ideological ally in former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Trump’s new national security adviser John Bolton is a hawk who will not defer to the defense secretary, the Times reports, a new dynamic that took center stage Friday night at the White House.

Mattis has defended the military response as being in accord “under international law, under our nation’s laws. But flak is coming from both sides of the aisle.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump “missed a real opportunity here to get it right.”

And the left viewed the strikes as a show card.

FULL STORY: https://www.newsmax.com/politics/trump-mattis-advice-airstrikes/2018/04/18/id/855178/

TRUMPSYRIA

‘HE STANDS WITH US’: Supporters of the Syrian opposition praise Trump’s efforts as strike on Syria looms

ERBIL, Iraq — President Donald Trump developed a new wave of fans courtesy supporters of the Syrian opposition.

In response to a series of tweets in which Trump announced plans to strike Syria in the wake of another deadly gas attack that left dozens dead and wounded, Syrians held up in rebel-held areas and in the larger diaspora on Wednesday circulated a new meme on social media which features Trump’s face overlayed with the American flag and the words “We love you,” in both Arabic and English.

“We are all with Trump, we will never forget that he stands with us and save us from the hell of Russia, Iran and Assad,” Tarek Muharam 40, a leader in the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) told Fox News. “Finally, someone smelled the smell of chemical weapons and decide to stop these massacres.”

In a series of cryptic tweets, Trump warned not only Syria, but its strongest ally, Russia, who vowed to strike down any missile fired at Syrian targets, that an attack was on the way.

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

Russian leaders, with whom Trump has had a tense relationship with over the course of the past several months, was quick to issue response.

“U.S. President Donald Trump has stated that Russia should be ready to shoot missiles issued in Syria,” said Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Smart missiles must fly towards terrorists, not a legitimate government that has been fighting international terrorism in its territory for several years.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in anticipation of a military strike, has reportedly left his presidential residence and relocated to protected area.

Meanwhile, some of Trump’s most vocal supporters have come out in opposition against a Syrian strike.

“Today over 500,000 people have watched my videos and streams. 90% are @realDonaldTrump supporters, none want war with Syria. #NoMoreWars” Conservative commentator Mike Cernovich tweeted on April 7.

Cernovich’s comments were echoed by Fox News’ Laura Ingrham who called out Trump’s aggression toward Syria as a direct reversal of the type of policy Trump campaigned on .

“Missiles flying. Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs,” Ingrham tweeted.

One of the most vocal protests against a U.S. led strike on Syria came from longtime Trump advocate Paul Joseph Watson who tweeted:

“I guess Trump wasn’t “Putin’s puppet” after all, he was just another deep state/Neo-Con puppet. I’m officially OFF the Trump train.”

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