TOKYO — North Korea has informed a United Nations aviation agency it will not conduct unannounced missile tests or further intercontinental ballistic missile launches because its nuclear arms program is now complete and it no longer needs to do such testing.
According to a statement released Friday, the pledge was made in meetings between North Korean officials and representatives of the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization who were in Pyongyang for talks this week.
The pledge could open the way for airlines that had been avoiding North Korean airspace to take faster, more direct routes that require less fuel.
Mr. Cabestan is a China expert based in East Asia for more than two decades.
HONG KONG — The immediate causes of the recent diplomatic breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula are well known: stronger international sanctions against North Korea, approved by even China and Russia, and President Trump’s bellicose response to the recent intensification of nuclear and missile tests under Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader since 2011.
But a more fundamental driver is being overlooked: China’s growing ambition to dominate East Asia. Mr. Kim’s apparent move to reconcile with his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, is above all a gambit to get closer to America to keep China in check. He hopes to reduce North Korea’s overarching economic dependence on China and curb Beijing’s aspirations to control the future of the Korean Peninsula. After another surprise meeting between Mr. Kim and President Xi Jinping of China on Tuesday, the second in two months, the Trump administration announced on Wednesday that North Korea would release three American prisoners.
The regime’s survival and security have long been the Kim family’s top priority, with political independence not far behind; those are the prime reasons it has sought to develop North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missile capability. That purpose has also been served by political purges, notably the killing in late 2013 of Mr. Kim’s uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was suspected of entertaining especially close relations with China, and in early 2017 of Mr. Kim’s half brother Kim Jong-nam, another Beijing protégé and once an heir apparent to Kim Jong-il, the country’s previous leader and Mr. Kim’s father.
Now that these pressing existential objectives seem to have been satisfied, economic development has become the crux of the regime’s long-term stability. It is no coincidence, for example, that last month the Workers’ Party of Korea abruptly decided to abandon its well-established policy of byungjin — the simultaneous advancement of the country’s military, particularly its nuclear program, and its economy — to refocus entirely on economic development.
But how best to do that? With more than 90 percent of North Korea’s trade already dependent on China, moving even closer to Beijing would risk turning North Korea into an appendage or tributary state — a dream for some Chinese nationalists but the nightmare of almost every North Korean. Integrating with South Korea would undermine the primacy of the Kim family in the North. In theory, Russia could help reduce North Korea’s dependence on China for oil and gas, but little else. So Mr. Kim’s best option to boost the North Korean economy is to diversify its partnerships and open up to the West and Japan.
Moving the country closer to the United States and further from China is also sound strategy from a security point of view. China may not openly threaten North Korea’s independence, but its ambition to better control its near abroad — in Southeast Asia, around the South China Sea, through its One Belt, One Road initiative — can only breed serious suspicions in Pyongyang. (There seems to have been no talk of reactivating the old Sino-North Korean alliance or the two countries’ long-forgotten mutual defense treaty.) Mr. Kim’s overture to Mr. Trump to fend off China today is not unlike Mao’s reaching out to President Richard Nixon to hold back the Soviet threat in the early 1970s.
This development, however implausible or sudden it may seem, should come as no surprise, especially in a part of the world where state leaders tend to be realists in international affairs. And Mr. Kim may be the most realist of them all.
None of this is to say that China will soon be “sidelined,” as some have speculated. Beijing will always be part of the picture, and sometimes part of the problem. The point is simply that China’s neighbors are repositioning themselves as it becomes stronger and tries to establish hierarchical or clientelist relations with them. Some, like Cambodia and Laos, comply. Others, like Vietnam and Singapore, try to push back or at least rebalance. North Korea, too, must recalibrate and hedge.
It does so from a special posture, of course, because of its nuclear program and diplomatic isolation — and because of many remaining uncertainties about its intentions, including over a matter as fundamental as what it means by “denuclearization.” Still, Mr. Kim’s unexpected offer to meet President Trump and Mr. Trump’s quick acceptance suggest that both leaders see in this moment an opportunity for some measure of détente. About that much at least they are correct.
Lifting sanctions, normalizing relations, starting to trade — these things may not materialize soon, or ever. But the strategic landscape on the Korean Peninsula already has changed, and it has changed in favor of America and its allies.
Mr. Kim’s two sudden and unannounced meetings with Mr. Xi recently are, more than anything, a remarkable diplomatic show, mainly designed to allow China to save face. During the five years that he has been in power, Mr. Xi has seemed to largely ignore Mr. Kim; he may now regret that approach. As China’s power has risen, America’s has declined, persuading North Korea to move closer to the United States and seek from it security guarantees.
Skeptics will doubt that North Korea, given its ideology, can really move in this direction; optimists may now see the reunification of the Korean Peninsula on the horizon. I think that North Korea’s one-party system will remain in place for a long while and that in the meantime the country’s human rights situation will continue to be dire. Nor will improved relations between the two Koreas, or even the conclusion of a peace treaty, lead to any kind of reunification. Any such thing would be suicidal for Pyongyang and too costly for Seoul.
Yet I also think that this moment is indeed a rare opportunity for both America and America’s allies to improve relations with North Korea — and work with it to establish a new balance of power in Northeast Asia that can offset China’s ambition to dominate the region and better serve the interests of the West.
This article has been updated to reflect news developments.
MOSCOW – The Bellingcat investigative group says that it has identified nine Russian officers who allegedly were directly involved in the rocket attack on an eastern Ukrainian city that killed at least 30 civilians. The group, which has previously released reports on the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the fatal downing of a Malaysian airliner […]
MOSCOW – The Bellingcat investigative group says that it has identified nine Russian officers who allegedly were directly involved in the rocket attack on an eastern Ukrainian city that killed at least 30 civilians.
The group, which has previously released reports on the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the fatal downing of a Malaysian airliner over rebel-held territory, says it analyzed video and audio data that Ukraine is providing to the International Court of Justice.
Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Azov Sea, came under rocket fire on Jan. 24, 2015. Separatist rebels initially announced they were advancing on the city, then backtracked and blamed Ukrainian forces.
Russia persistently denies allegations of supporting separatist rebels in Ukraine. The Defense Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday’s report.
Riyadh, May 7 (IANS/WAM) Saudi Air Defence forces intercepted two ballistic missiles launched by the Houthi rebels from Yemen. The missiles on Sunday were directed towards the city of Najran and launched by the militia deliberately to target civilian and populated areas, spokesman for the Arab Coalition Forces Colonel Turki al-Maliki said. There were no […]
A crew of nine Puerto Ricans were flying an Air National Guard C-130 into retirement in Arizona when it crashed onto a highway in Georgia on Wednesday, and authorities said there are no survivors. The plane crashed onto state highway 21 moments after taking off from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, narrowly missing people on the ground and sending an orange and black fireball into the sky.
The Lockheed C–130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin). Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C–130 was originally designed as a troop, medevac, and cargo transport aircraft.
A Puerto Rico Air National Guard plane crashed in Savannah, Ga. shortly after takeoff on Wednesday, killing nine people aboard the aging aircraft headed toward its retirement.
The plane, a WC-130 weather reconnaissance and cargo plane from Puerto Rico’s 156th Airlift Wing, has been in Savannah for maintenance and was bound for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona to be decommissioned. Maj. Paul Dahlen of the Puerto Rico National Guard told CNN that five crew members and four passengers were aboard.
An Air Force spokeswoman said the aircraft crashed at about 11:30 a.m., exploding into black smoke and flames beside a road near the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. Isabelo Rivera, Adjutant General of Puerto Rico’s National Guard, told the Associated Press that it’s too early to say what caused the accident. The military is investigating, the Air Force said in a statement, and the names of the dead will be released once their next of kin are told.
“This pains us,” Rivera said. “Most of [the families] already know and have come to the base.”
CBS reported that the plane was one of the oldest C-130s still flying, at more than 60 years old. Rivera said two of the five like it in the Puerto Rico National Guard are out of use because they need maintenance.
“The planes that we have in Puerto Rico — it’s not news today that they are the oldest planes on inventory,” Rivera said.
The WC-130 — a modified version of the “Hercules” — is commonly called a “hurricane hunter.” Two such planes were deployed by the 156th Airlift Wing last September to help rescue more than 1,000 Americans from Caribbean islands during Hurricane Irma, according to the Air National Guard.
Days later, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, devastating much of the island — including, reportedly, the 156th itself.
“Our wing was devastated by two back-to-back Category-4 hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, and we’re still in that process continuing to work with higher-level command to get us through the recovery phases and rebuild the wing,” Col. Raymond Figueroa, wing commander of the 156th, said in a military news release last month.
At the time, Georgia’s Air National Guard was working with its counterpart in Puerto Rico to repair communication equipment at Muñiz Air National Guard Base, which was heavily damaged by the hurricanes.
The plane crashed at the intersection of two roads, but nobody on the ground was killed, officials said.
“As far we know there were no cars hit in this crash, it is an absolute miracle at that time or day and that intersection,” a spokesman for Effingham County Sheriff’s Office said during a news conference, according to ABC News.
Chelsea Sinclair, who works at a nearby store, told the Island Packet that the plane went down nose-first and shook the establishment. Mark Jones, speaking to the Savannah Morning News, said he was in his car when the plane hit the road in front of him.
“It didn’t look like it nosedived, but it almost looked like it stalled and just went almost flat right there in the middle of the highway,” Jones said. “I’m still shook up and shaking. My stomach is in knots because I know they’re people just like me. I wasn’t that far from it and I could have just kept going and it would have been me and we wouldn’t be talking right now,” Jones said.
Scott Cohen tweeted what he said was footage of the crash from his business’s surveillance cameras. In it, the plane appears to lose altitude quickly and twirl into the ground.
“We are saddened by the tragic news of an Air National Guard C-130 crash earlier today,” the Air Force tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and Airmen close to those affected by this event.”
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A U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan was hit by gunfire in a district east of Kabul while providing security for a U.S. Special Operations unit, U.S. military officials said.
Army Spec. Gabriel D. Conde, 22, was an airborne-qualified infantryman with the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and was killed in Kapisa province’s Tagab district, the Pentagon announced. He had been in Afghanistan since September on his first deployment from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.
A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, Martin O’Donnell, said Wednesday that Conde was carrying out an operation alongside Afghan forces against Taliban officials. Conde joined the Army in 2015 in Loveland, Colo., and was assigned to Army units in Alaska after going through basic training. His death marked the second U.S. combat death in Afghanistan this year.
U.S. military officials would not clarify on Tuesday Conde’s exact role while deployed, but he was part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, in which the U.S. military targets terrorist groups in Afghanistan. The Pentagon primarily does that through the use of Special Operations troops, but it also uses conventional infantry soldiers such as Conde to bolster security.
Conde was killed in an operation in which another U.S. service member was wounded and medically evacuated to Bagram Airfield north of Kabul for medical treatment in a military hospital.
Nigeria Air Nigeria Air Force recently took delivery of some Mi-35M Antonov Russian designed helicopter gunships. The 2 additional brand new Mi-35M helicopter gunships were offloaded at the Nigerian Air Force NAF Base in Makurdi, Benue state by Cargo aircraft.
Top military personnel were on ground to take delivery of the brand new helicopter gunships.
Receiving the aircraft at the flight line of the Tactical Air Command (TAC) of the NAF Base, in Makurdi, on Monday, Chief of Aircraft Engineering, NAF Headquarters, Abuja, AVM Abdulganiyu Olabisi, disclosed that the newly-acquired aircraft would, in a few days time, be assembled and taken to Kaduna where they would be officially inducted as part of the 54th NAF Day celebration.
“The helicopters in a few days from now will be assembled. We are happy that we have a team of Russian engineers who are going to assist in the reassembling of these helicopters. Thereafter, they would be taken to Kaduna where they will be officially inducted as part of the 54th NAF Day celebration. Thereafter, the helicopters will be deployed to conflict zones,”
Also speaking, Director, Public Relations and Information, NAF Headquarters Abuja, AVM Olatokunbo Adesanya said that the MI-35M helicopter is one of the most sophisticated aircrafts in the category of the MI-35 gunships which has a unique feature of night fighting capacity.
The US Air Force said that an Air National Guard WC-130 from the 156th Airlift Wing in Puerto Rico crashed in the area. The 165th Airlift Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard is responding to the scene, according to the Air Force. The WC-130 is used for weather reconnaissance, it said.
A local firefighters’ union reported the crash happened in the Savannah suburb of Port Wentworth.
The plane had five people on board, Georgia National Guard spokeswoman Desiree Bamba said. The passengers’ conditions are unknown, she said. The Air Force said five is a standard crew for the WC-130.
Christian Freeman saw the WC-130 go down, he told CNN. First, he heard a “loud, strange noise,” he said.
“I looked over to my right and seen the plane at very low altitude and making a hard left turn to the ground,” he said.
Ten to 15 seconds later, it crashed. It happened so quickly he didn’t have a chance to pull his phone out until after it exploded, Freeman said.
“It was horrible,” said Denver Goodwin, who works at a wrecker service down the street from the crash. “The ground shook like a bomb was going off. All the people in the building started panicking. It was absolutely horrible.”
Mary Hennessy Cogar was at her place of employment, about 4 miles south of the crash, and said she felt the impact.
“Our building shook and the lights flickered. We heard a boom of the crash and then a louder boom of the explosion,” she told CNN.
The crash occurred a few miles away from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, off state Highway 21, airport spokeswoman Candace Carpenter said. Smoke was visible from the airport.
Minh Phan was at an outlet mall in Pooler, Georgia, a few miles away when he captured an image of smoke rising over the tree line.
A tweet from the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association showed the tail of the plane emerging from black smoke and fire. Highway 21 has been shut down, the union said.
Flights out of the Savannah airport are being affected by the crash, according to a tweet from the airport that urged passengers to check the status of their flights before going through security.
Last month, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, released a statement saying the “readiness of the military is at a crisis point”after reports that 16 American service members had been killed in noncombat aircraft crashes over a matter of weeks.
Last summer, the Marine Corps ground its fleet of KC-130T aircraft — which, like the WC-130, is a variant of the C-130, following a crash that killed 15 Marines and one sailor in Mississippi.
By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers fired bullets and tear gas at thousands of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza-Israel border on Friday, wounding nearly 200 people, hours after the United Nations human rights chief criticised Israel for using “excessive force”.
Israeli troops have killed 38 Palestinians and wounded more than 5,000 others since Gaza residents began staging protests along the border fence on March 30 to demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
On Friday, Israeli ground troops, holed up behind fortifications on their side of the 40km (25-mile) border fence, fired live ammunition and tear gas at protesters at five locations on the Gazan side.
The Gaza health ministry said 60 were wounded by gun fire, including a Palestinian journalist who was hit with a bullet in his foot.
Dozens more, including four medics, were treated for gas inhalation, as Israeli forces showered the area with tear gas canisters from behind their fortifications.
Protesters hurled stones and rolled burning tyres towards the fence, and some attached cans of burning petrol to kites and flew them into Israeli territory.
Others cleared away barbed wire coils which Israeli troops had placed in Gazan territory overnight in a bid to create a buffer zone between protesters and the fence.
The protests come at a time of growing frustration for Palestinians as prospects for an independent Palestinian state look poor. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for several years and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have expanded.
In a statement released earlier on Friday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called the loss of life was “deplorable” and that a “staggering number of injuries” had been caused by live ammunition.
Israel’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment but the government has consistently said that it is protecting its borders and that its troops are following rules of engagement.
Named the ‘Great March of Return’, the protest action revives a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages which their families fled from, or were driven out of, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.
Writing by Ori Lewis, Editing by Stephen Farrell and Raissa Kasolowsky
https://ift.tt/eA8V8J While Syrian troops carry on their liberation of Damascus’ suburbs from radical militants with the support of Iranian troops and Shia militia detachments, the United States and Saudi Arabia are planning to take advantage of Ankara’s tacit consent and launch … Vía Global Research https://ift.tt/2r3fB6e
While Syrian troops carry on their liberation of Damascus’ suburbs from radical militants with the support of Iranian troops and Shia militia detachments, the United States and Saudi Arabia are planning to take advantage of Ankara’s tacit consent and launch …
Vía Global Research https://ift.tt/2r3fB6e
ELITE Royal Marines stormed a Scottish beach yesterday along with troops from 16 other countries – but there is no need to panic it was only a training exercise. The Green Berets stormed the beach in Dundrennan, Scotland, as part of a wide-ranging military operation called Exercise Joint Warrior that involves all three of the…
ELITE Royal Marines stormed a Scottish beach yesterday along with troops from 16 other countries – but there is no need to panic it was only a training exercise.
The Green Berets stormed the beach in Dundrennan, Scotland, as part of a wide-ranging military operation called Exercise Joint Warrior that involves all three of the British armed forces and servicemen and women from a total of 17 countries.
The bi-annual exercise which runs for two weeks from April 21 to May 4 is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and involves around 11,600 military personnel, operating out of the Clyde naval base.
Along with British forces, military personnel from the likes of Denmark, Spain, Sweden, United States and Estonia, amongst others, are all taking part.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Joint Warrior prepares our troops in the best way to meet the intensifying threats our country faces by providing a major opportunity to exercise with our allies.
“Our Armed Forces are the face of global Britain, and training side by side with troops from 16 other nations means we are stronger and more capable when it comes to keeping our countries safe and protecting our way of life.”
Linked to the NATO exercise programme and open to Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Partner Nations, Joint Warrior also hosts non-NATO partners such as Australia, Finland and Sweden.
This year the training scenarios involve various nations disputing resources and territories; counter-terrorism and anti-smuggling activity; information warfare; and evacuation operations.
Captain Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff, Captain Paul Pitcher RN, said: “This exercise gives the UK participants a chance to train with our allies and partners, honing our skills and developing our tactics.
“It is hugely important in making sure that we can fuse all elements of our capabilities, enhancing our ability to conduct joint operations now and in the future.”
It will culminate on Salisbury Plain Training Area on May 3 where JEF forces, including troops from the UK Parachute Regiment, will conduct urban combat operations with air support provided by Apaches, Chinooks, Wildcats and Tornados.
A classified Pentagon report attributes the deaths of four U.S. soldiers — who were ambushed during an operation in Niger in October — to a list of military shortcomings, including complacency and a lack of training. In addition, low-level commanders took shortcuts to approve operations – with at least one officer lifting orders from a […]
OUALLAM, Niger – Kicking up clouds of pink Saharan dust, US military trainers impersonated militants, waved flags saying “death to outsiders” and threw smoke grenades toward approaching Nigerien commandos this week, as a surveillance drone hovered overhead.
The joint military exercises between US-led Western forces and several West African nations, dubbed “Flintlock”, have been going on since 2005. This year, however, they have focused more closely on the evolving threat posed by Islamist militants, whose mounting numbers and capabilities require an ever more sophisticated response, military commanders told Reuters.
“Flintlock … has over the years evolved,” Major General J. Marcus Hicks, who leads some 1,000 American special operations forces across about a dozen African countries, told Reuters.
“What’s different this year is that we have intentionally focused on the developing threat situation in the Sahel and the ongoing challenges in the Lake Chad region,” he said.
Jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State are launching increasingly brazen attacks on UN, Western and local forces and civilian targets across West Africa’s Sahel region, including a raid in western Niger last October that killed four US Green Berets.
This year’s 14th instalment of Flintlock brought together about 1,900 special forces troops from 12 Western and eight African countries this month in Niger, whose porous borderlands with Mali and Burkina Faso along Africa’s vast Sahel have seen the biggest surge in attacks.
Similar exercises were conducted in Burkina Faso and Senegal.
“The Sahel is not an easy place,” Colonel Kassim Moussa of Chad’s special forces said at a military base in the western town of Ouallam, where Nigerien commandos in blue helmets and loose fitting uniforms braved the scorching midday sun to simulate raids on a jihadist camp.
“It has to be synchronised as they (the militants) go across borders very easily, very fluidly, so getting our partners to work together is a big driver,” trainer Colonel Craig Miller said at the exercise.
The militant threat has ballooned this decade with the emergence of Boko Haram’s insurgency in northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, and the jihadist 2012 takeover of north Mali.
A French intervention in northern Mali in early 2013 helped beat back that threat, but the militants have regrouped, launching attacks in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and beyond.
Niger’s Defence Minister Kalla Moutari said at Friday’s closing ceremony that the officers had shown “their capacity to … lead aerial and land operations”.
Critics of Western nations’ policy in the region say they have overemphasised the military aspect of the threat at the expense of root causes that are swelling the militants’ ranks, including government rights abuses and inter-communal conflicts that lead some to align themselves with the jihadists.
The senate has summoned Kemi Adeosun, minister of finance, and Godwin Emiefele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), over the alleged withdrawal of $462 million from the federation account without approval of the national assembly.
Also summoned to give reasons for the said withdrawal is Mansur Dan-Ali, minister of defence.
The upper legislative chamber summoned the trio after Sam Anyawu, a senator from Imo state, raised a motion at plenary on Tuesday.
Anyanwu drew the attention of his colleagues to the alleged withdrawal of the money.
He made reference to section 80 (2) and (3) of the 1999 constitution which prohibits such withdrawal without the consent of the lawmakers.
“I have it on good authority that in March 2018, a whopping sum of $462 million was withdrawn from the federation account and paid for helicopters to an American firm called Helicopter Tecno Fights Helicopters,” he said, adding: “And I know there was no such approval from the senate.”
He urged the lawmakers to invite the three governnment officials “to tell us how this money was withdrawn and paid to an American company without the approval of the senate.”
The upper legislative chamber adopted his prayers for the trio to be summoned by the committee on appropriation and asked it (the committee) to report back to them after one week.
A total of 28 soldiers were handed life sentences on Tuesday in three separate cases related to a failed military coup in 2016, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The soldiers were charged with “violating and attempting to overthrow the constitution’’ in relation to incidents in Istanbul and the south-eastern towns of Mus and Sirnak during the failed putsch on July 15, 2016, according to Anadolu.
Turkey remains under a state of emergency, which was imposed after the coup attempt.
This week, the Turkish parliament will vote on extending the state of emergency by another three months, which – if completed – would mean the country has been under emergency rule for two years.
More than 50,000 people are under arrest in connection with the coup, and some 150,000 people have been purged from the civil service and the military.
FRANCE has accused Russia of trying to cover up the Syrian poison gas attack claiming “essential evidence” has vanished. At least 70 people were killed, many of whom were little children, after aircraft’s dropped barrel bombs full of toxic chemicals in Douma on April 7. AFP or licensors France has accused Russia of trying to…
FRANCE has accused Russia of trying to cover up the Syrian poison gas attack claiming “essential evidence” has vanished. At least 70 people were killed, many of whom were little children, after aircraft’s dropped barrel bombs full of toxic chemicals in Douma on April 7. AFP or licensors France has accused Russia of trying to…
Syrian state TV reported overnight that anti-aircraft defenses had shot down missiles fired at an air base in the Homs area, and a media unit run by the Lebanese group Hezbollah said missiles had also targeted an air base near Damascus.
The incident underscored fears of a further escalation in the Syrian conflict after a U.S., British and French attack on Syrian targets on Saturday and an air strike on an air base the previous week that Damascus blamed on Israel.
Syrian state news agency SANA cited a military source as saying a number of air defense missiles had been fired but no foreign attack had taken place.
Separately, a commander in the regional military alliance backing the government attributed the malfunction to “a joint electronic attack” by Israel and the United States targeting the Syrian radar system.
The issue had been dealt with by Russian experts, said the commander, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
State television had showed pictures of a missile it said was shot in the air above the air base.
A Pentagon spokesman said there was no U.S. military activity in that area at this time. Asked about reports of the missile attack, an Israeli military spokesman said: “We don’t comment on such reports.”
Saturday’s strikes by the U.S., Britain and France were in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack by the Syrian military in eastern Ghouta. Both Damascus and its ally Russia have denied using any such weapons.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam in Damascus and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Additional reporting by Nayera Abdullah in Cairo, Yara Bayoumy in Washington and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
As images of sick or dying children flooded global media all week, the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Winston Churchill churned toward the Mediterranean to join a flotilla of allied warships, including another U.S. destroyer, the USS Donald Cook.
It was a ruse.
While both vessels carry as many as 90 Tomahawk missiles — the main weapon used in the Friday evening strike on Syria — neither ship in the end fired a shot. Instead, according to a person familiar with White House war planning, they were part of a plan to distract Russia and its Syrian ally from an assault Assad’s government could do little to defend itself against.
It worked. Pentagon officials on Saturday said they faced little resistance to their targeted attack on what they said were three Syrian chemical weapons facilities. Most of the Syrian countermeasures, including defensive ballistic missiles, were fired after U.S. and allied weapons hit their targets, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters on Saturday.
“No Syrian weapon had any effect on anything we did,” McKenzie said. He described the joint U.S., French and U.K. strike as “precise, overwhelming and effective.”
Brazen as it was perceived to be, the Assad regime’s decision to again use chemical weapons on own people didn’t by itself spur the U.S. to act. The Trump administration was also motivated by how closely the attack followed the use of a nerve agent to poison a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in England in March, an action the U.K. government and its allies blamed on Russia.
The English incident added to concerns held by Trump, his top aides, and leaders in the U.K. and France that not responding might encourage proliferation of chemical weapons, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations.
As the strategy of how to respond took shape, Trump appeared to telegraph his intentions to the world with a tweet on April 11: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!”’
Analysts suggested Assad’s regime would respond to Trump’s threats by protectively moving weapons and personnel away from likely targets. An already difficult battle plan — which required hitting Assad without provoking Russian reprisals or injecting the U.S. further into Syria’s seven-year civil war — was getting harder.
In the White House, Trump met with military officials and made several calls to his French and British counterparts, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May, with the goal of following through on a threat to impose a “big price’’ on Syria — a vow made in an earlier tweet, on April 8.
During a meeting with the National Security Council and top military leaders early in the week, Trump had been presented five large target options — called sets — for potential strikes, according to the person familiar with the plans. The president largely listened as Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps General Joe Dunford and other military leaders did most of the talking. New National Security Adviser John Bolton — who started work on April 9 — and Vice President Mike Pence were also on hand.
The president asked Bolton and the military leaders to justify each potential target, and was particularly focused on limiting the risk of escalation by Russia. There was unanimity among Trump’s top national security staff about conducting strikes but debate about how hard to hit the Syrians, the person said.
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley was especially blunt in her assessment of the Syrian regime during meetings with Trump, the person said.
Haley told the UN Security Council on Friday that Assad and his Russian backers were to blame for the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians. In a private meeting with Trump and national security officials earlier in the week, Haley was a leading voice pushing for a robust military response to the chemical weapons attack on humanitarian grounds, the person said.
Dunford told reporters Friday that the U.S. sought targets that would limit any involvement with Russian military forces in Syria and reduce the risk of civilian casualties.
Trump, who just a week earlier said he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Syria “very soon,” didn’t want to become drawn into the civil war there and instead focused the military response on deterring the use of chemical weapons, according to the official.
With the allies on board and the USS Winston Churchill arriving in the Mediterranean region, the attack was nearly under way.
As the president addressed the nation at 9 p.m. Washington time, on Friday, a barrage of 105 U.S., U.K. and French missiles converged on Syria. They came from the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean, homing in from three directions to overwhelm whatever missile defenses Assad’s regime might deploy. Russia’s more advanced air defense system didn’t engage the allied weapons.
According to the Pentagon, the allied weaponry included 19 new “Extended-Range” stealthy Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Attack Munitions launched by two B-1B bombers based out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and six Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the Virginia-class USS John Warner submarine. The bomber-launched missiles, build by Lockheed Martin Corp., had never been used in combat.
Red Sea Attack
The cruiser USS Monterey fired 30 Tomahawks and the destroyer USS Laboon fired seven Tomahawks from the Red Sea. The destroyer USS Higgins fired 23 Tomahawks from the North Arabian Gulf, according to McKenzie.
The weapons also included French SCALP-EG cruise missiles and British Storm Shadow standoff missiles launched by Tornado and Typhoon jets. Nine SCALP missiles were fired at what the Pentagon said was a chemical weapons storage complex at Hims-Shinshar, along with two SCALPS, nine Tomahawks and eight Storm Shadows.
The morning after the barrage, Trump tweeted “Mission Accomplished!”, a phrase closely associated with President George W. Bush. The 43rd U.S. president prematurely declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq in 2003 while standing on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham, in front of a large banner bearing those words.
Trump, like Bush, may live to regret using the phrase. The latest U.S.-led operation was narrow in scope, with little damage done to Assad’s war-fighting capabilities. The country remains a toxic brew of foreign forces, militias and terrorist groups. Haley, the UN ambassador, said this week that Assad has used chemical weapons dozens of times since war broke out in 2011. He might well use them again.
(Updates with background on strike from paragraph seven.)
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In a briefing on Saturday morning, the Pentagon provided the following breakdown of the military weapons used to strike Syrian targets overnight.
From the Red Sea:
USS Monterey (Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser) – 30 Tomahawk missiles
USS Laboon (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 7 Tomahawk missiles
From the North Arabian Gulf:
USS Higgins (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 23 Tomahawk missiles
From the eastern Mediterranean:
USS John Warner (Virginia class submarine) – 6 Tomahawk missiles
A French frigate ship (could not understand name) – 3 missiles (naval version of SCALP missiles)
From the air:
2 B-1 Lancer bombers – 19 joint air to surface standoff missiles
British flew a combination of Tornado and Typhoon jets – 8 storm shadow missiles
French flew a combination of Rafales and Mirages – 9 SCALP missiles
Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, said that the strikes on Syria overnight by US and allies were “a powerful show of allied unity.”
“We deployed 105 weapons against three targets that will significantly impact the Syrian regimes ability to develop, deploy and use chemical weapons in the future. It’s been said before but I want to emphasize again that by compassion, this strike was double the size of the last strike in April 2017.”
Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, said that the coordinated strikes which struck targets in Syria overnight will set the country’s chemical weapons capability back “for years.”
He added that “none of our aircraft or missiles in this operation were successfully engaged” by Syrian regime.
Strikes in Syria: The US, UK and France launched coordinated air strikes in Syria, hitting targets associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program.
How we got here: The US and its allies blame Syria for an apparent chemical attack on the city of Douma just over a week ago. US President Trump and UK Prime Minister May said such action could not go unchallenged.
Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White ended a press briefing on Saturday by highlighting that the US had seen a “2,000%” increase in Russian trolls in the last 24-hours. White had been providing an update of the latest developments from overnight airstrikes on Syrian targets by US, UK and French forces.
The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours therefore we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward.”
Reporter: Can we expect any kind of retaliation after Syria strike?
Lt. Gen. McKenzie: “I can’t speak to that, but I can tell you that we’re ready for it. We’re postured both in the region and globally … we’re ready for anything.” https://cnn.it/2HAL1rA
U.S. launches missile strikes in Syria
In Moves that could lead to the beginning of the Third World War, President Trump ordered a military attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, joining allies Britain and France in launching missile strikes in retaliation for what Western nations said was the deliberate gassing of Syrian civilians.
In a speech monitored from the White House and following the path of the United States’ political undertones in recent days, the President maintained that the strike was against areas where supposed chemical agents were manufactured and the US does not seek any permanent engagement in Syria.
The coordinated strike marked the second time in a little over a year that Trump has used force against Assad, who U.S. officials believe has continued to test the West’s willingness to accept gruesome chemical attacks.
Trump, speaking from the White House late Friday, said the attack last weekend was “a significant escalation” of Assad’s use of chemical weapons and warranted a stepped-up international response. Russia, the Syrian regime’s most powerful ally, harshly criticized the airstrikes but did not respond militarily.
The alleged chemical weapons use was not the work of “a man,” Trump said. It was “the crimes of a monster instead.”
Trump said the mandate for an allied attack was open-ended, but Pentagon chiefs later said the strikes Friday would be repeated only if Assad took further action that warranted a response.
Dunford said that unlike the unilateral U.S. strike in Syria last year, in which only one site was attacked, the United States worked with two allies and hit the three sites in an operation that he said would result in the long-term degradation of Syria’s ability to research, develop and deploy chemical weapons.
The attack involved munitions fired from aircraft and naval vessels, including about 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to a Defense Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details. The Pentagon also employed the B-1 strategic bomber.
The assault came despite the lack of a definitive independent finding that chemical weapons were used or who had deployed them. An initial team of inspectors had only arrived in Syria on Friday.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declined to say whether he thought the attack would prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again.
“Nothing is certain in these kinds of matters. However, we used a little over double the number of weapons this year than we used last year,” he said. “It was done on targets that we believed were selected to hurt the chemical weapons program. We confined it to the chemical weapons-type targets.”
Mattis said that to his knowledge there were no U.S. or allied losses from the strikes Friday.
Dunford said that the only communications that took place between the United States and Russia before the operation were “the normal deconfliction of the airspace, the procedures that are in place for all of our operations in Syria.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting and condemned the U.S.-led strike as an act of aggression that would “have a destructive effect on the entire system of international relations.”
“The staged use of poisonous substances against civilians was used as a pretext” for the missile strike, Putin said in a statement. “With its actions, the United States further intensifies the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, causes suffering for civilians, in essence indulges the terrorists who for seven years have bedeviled the Syrian people, and provokes a new wave of refugees from this country and the region as a whole.”
The Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, warned that “such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the airstrikes represented the latest blow to the Syrian people “from those who claim to have moral leadership in this world.”
Russia seemed keen, however, to keep military tensions from escalating further. The Defense Ministry said that Russian air defense systems were not used to ward off the strike because the attacking cruise missiles did not enter the Russian systems’ “zone of responsibility” in the skies above Syria. The Russian Embassy in Damascus said it was not aware of any Russian casualties, Interfax reported.
It was not immediately clear how the Syrian military responded to the attack. Russia said that Soviet-made Syrian air defenses succeeded in shooting down a significant number of cruise missiles. Dunford said that Syrian forces fired surface-to-air missiles but that he did not have a full picture of the response. He said the Pentagon would provide more details Saturday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement saying the attacks were a response to “circumstances of pure horror.”
In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Our response has been limited to the Syrian regimes facilities enabling the production and deployment of chemical weapons.”
The European Union voiced support for the allies. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, “The EU will stand with our allies on the side of justice.”
Vice President Pence left the opening ceremony of the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, to place calls to all four congressional leaders in advance of the airstrikes, speaking directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that he was also notified just prior to Trump’s statement.
The assault followed repeated threats of military action from Trump, who has been moved by civilian suffering to set aside his concerns about foreign military conflicts, since the reported chemical attack that killed civilians in a rebel-held town outside Damascus last weekend.
The operation capped nearly a week of debate in which Pentagon leaders voiced concerns that an attack could pull the United States into Syria’s civil war and trigger a dangerous conflict with Assad ally Russia — without necessarily halting chemical attacks.
Both Syria and Russia have denied involvement in the attack, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov alleged had been staged.
The episode is the latest illustration of the hazards arising from a conflict that has killed an estimated half-million people and drawn in world powers since it began as peaceful protests in 2011.
The attack raised the possibility of retaliation by Russia or Iran, which also provides military support to Assad, threatening in particular to increase the risks facing a force of 2,000 Americans in Syria as part of the battle against the Islamic State. While the United States has not been at war with the Syrian government, U.S. troops often operate in proximity to Iranian- or Russian-backed groups.
In the wake of last weekend’s gruesome attack, some U.S. officials advocated a larger, and therefore riskier, strike than the limited action Trump ordered in April 2017, also in response to suspected chemical weapons use.
That attack involved 59 Tomahawk missiles fired from two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea. It fulfilled Trump’s vow that chemical weapons are a “red line” that he, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, would not allow Assad to cross. But the airfield targeted by the Pentagon resumed operations shortly after the attack and, according to Western intelligence assessments, chemical attacks resumed.
Assad’s defiance presented Trump with a choice of whether to make a larger statement and incur a larger risk this time. Planning for these strikes focused on ways to curb Assad’s ability to use such weapons again.
Risks of the renewed attack include the possibility of a dangerous escalation with Russia, whose decision to send its military to Syria in 2015 reversed the course of the war in Assad’s favor. Since then, Russia has used Syria as a testing ground for some of its most sophisticated weaponry.
Since last year’s strike, multiple chemical attacks have been reported in opposition areas, most of them involving chlorine rather than the nerve agent sarin, as was used in 2017, suggesting the government may have adjusted its tactics.
Earlier Friday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused Russia of lying and covering up for the Assad government, which had used chemical weapons at least 50 times in the past seven years of warfare, Haley claimed.
“Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its coverups,” she said. “Russia was supposed to guarantee Assad would not use chemical weapons, and Russia did the opposite.”
Russia had called for the emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria as military action seemed likely.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, had accused the United States, France and Britain of saber-rattling.
“Why are you seeking to plunge the Middle East into such difficulties, provoking one conflict after another, pitting one state against another?” he said at the United Nations in New York on Friday, claiming that anti-government militias had received “instructions” to begin an offensive as soon as an act of force begins. “Is the latest wave of chaos being unleashed only for the sake of that?”
Russia has deployed thousands of troops and military advisers, as well as air defense systems, in Syria.
Russia’s military threatened to shoot down any U.S. missiles that put Russian lives at risk. Russia could also fire at the launch platforms used — potentially U.S. planes or ships. Russian officials had said U.S. and Russian military staffs remained in contact regarding Syria, even as Russian media carried stories in recent days about the potential outbreak of “World War III” as a consequence of a U.S. airstrike against Assad.
Putin warned Macron in a phone call Friday that the situation remained tense, the Kremlin said in a statement.
“Most important, it is imperative to avoid badly planned and dangerous actions that would be crude violations of the U.N. Charter and would have unpredictable consequences,” the Kremlin said. “Both leaders directed the ministers of defense and foreign affairs to maintain close contact with the goal of de-escalating the situation.”
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told the Security Council that he feared events could escalate rapidly into a regional and even global conflict, and he urged all states “to act responsibly in these dangerous circumstances.”
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Karen Pierce, noted that May’s cabinet had “agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”
Announcement of that approval Thursday did not specify that the response should be military, although that was the expectation.
President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed on Friday that the negotiations between the Federal Government and the Boko Haram terrorists for the release of the remaining abducted Chibok schoolgirls had suffered unexpected setbacks.
The president said this was mainly owing to a lack of agreement among the girls’ abductors whose internal differences, he explained, had led to a divergence of voices regarding the outcome of the negotiations.
Buhari, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Malam Garba Shehu, said he joined the Borno State government, the parents of the girls and Nigerians in commemorating the fourth anniversary of the sad incident, praying that the event at the daughters’ school on Saturday would go well.
Buhari, however, assured the parents of the schoolgirls that were abducted from Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno State on April 14, 2014 that “their daughters will never be forgotten or abandoned to their fate, despite four long years since they were taken away by terrorists.’’
“Unfortunately, the negotiations between the government and Boko Haram suffered some unexpected setbacks owing mainly to a lack of agreement among their abductors, whose internal differences have led to a divergence of voices regarding the outcome of the talks.
“We know that this is not the news parents want to hear after four whole years of waiting, but we want to be as honest as possible with you.
“However, this government is not relenting. We will continue to persist, and the parents should please not give up. Don’t give up hope of seeing our daughters back home again. Don’t lose faith in this government’s ability to fulfil our promise of reuniting you with our daughters.
“Don’t imagine for a moment that we have forgotten about our daughters or that we consider their freedom a lost course,’’ the president said
He urged the parents to keep their hopes alive on the return of their daughters, saying the recovery of more than a 100 of the girls that were kidnapped through the Federal Government’s determined effort should give confidence that all “hope is not lost”.
The president re-affirmed that the government remained focused and determined to see the girls return to their homes.
He asked the parents to be expectant of more good news in due course.
“We are concerned and aware that it is taking long to bring the rest of our daughters back home, but be assured that this administration is doing its very best to free the girls from their captors,” Buhari said.
He assured that as long as he remains the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the Chibok girls would never be forgotten and all would be done to have them reunited with their families.