Midday Roundup: Russian warplanes fly out of Syria

by Leigh Jones
Posted 3/15/16, 11:05 am

Headed home. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his warplanes out of Syria. The first batch of aircraft landed on Russian soil earlier today. Soldiers at the base in Voronezh gave the pilots a hero’s welcome. Putin said Monday he hoped the withdrawal would spur talks on ending the Syrian civil war, though he added Russia would continue to operate multiple military bases in the country. The White House welcomed the news, with spokesman Josh Earnest telling reporters Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war made it difficult to reach a political solution. But U.S. officials also are treating Putin’s announcement with some skepticism: It’s not clear why the Russian leader is backing down or what effect it ultimately will have on the Syrian conflict. The two sides are holding peace talks in Geneva, and analysts say Russia’s withdrawal could put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s government to be more flexible in its demands.

One down. Islamic State (ISIS) commander Omar al-Shishani, injured in a U.S. airstrike earlier this month, has died of his wounds. U.S. officials confirmed the news late Monday, although they did not say how they knew for sure. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the Syrian conflict through local activists, also confirmed the leader’s death. Al-Shishani was an ethnic Chechen who commanded ISIS ground forces in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has so far denied he was even wounded in the March 4 U.S. airstrike. That attack was part of a campaign to target ISIS leaders in hopes of crippling the terror group.

Big night. Today could mark a major turning point in the race for the White House as voters in several critical primary states head to the polls. For Republicans, that includes winner-take-all contests in Ohio and Florida, where Sen. Marco Rubio is hoping a home-state win can spark a turnaround for his campaign. The Florida primary is widely considered a do-or-die contest for Rubio, who is lagging well behind Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the GOP delegate count. For Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a home-state win is also key to keeping his White House hopes alive. The governor has said if he doesn’t win Ohio, he’ll drop out of the race. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, stumped for Kasich in Ohio this week, although he stopped short of giving an outright endorsement. Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina also hold primary votes today.

Proxy president. Burma’s parliament elected a new president Monday, handing power to a long-time ally of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Htin Kyaw, 70, is the country’s first civilian leader after 54 years of military rule. When Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a parliamentary majority in November, she pledged she would lead the government, even though a constitutional amendment prevents her from becoming president. But it’s clear Kyaw will be her proxy. When he was announced the winner of the presidential vote, Suu Kyi clapped excitedly from the front row. Kyaw will assume his duties April 1.

Friendly fire. Officials in Prince Georges Country, Md., say the police officer killed in a shootout during a police station ambush was hit by friendly fire. Detective Jacai Colson, 28, was a four-year veteran of the department who worked as an undercover narcotics officer. Police Chief Hank Stawinski said Colson tried to draw the shooter’s fire to protect his fellow officers. Michael Ford, who sprayed police cars and an ambulance with bullets while his two brothers recorded the attack, was wounded but is expected to survive. Police also arrested his brothers. Stawinski said Ford did not intend to walk away from the attack.

WORLD Radio’s Mary Reichard contributed to this report.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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