Sunday, February 14, 2016

Editor's Note

Because today is Valentine's Day .... sighhh .... I have to be the obedient BF to my GF. She has my day planned today .... which does not involve blogging. Therefore .... blogging will return later tonight.

Germany's chief foreign-affairs lawmaker: Russia Has The Upper hand In Syria

German Chairman of the parliamentary subcommittee for foreign affairs Norbert Roettgen holds a news conference at the German Embassy in Washington July 9, 2014. REUTERS/GARY CAMERON/FILES

Reuters: Russia has gained upper hand in Syria, Merkel ally says

Russia had gained the upper hand in Syria and the surrounding region through armed force, a senior conservative ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday, and he voiced doubts that Moscow would respect a truce plan for the war-torn country.

"I think Russia has gained the upper hand in the region and this is by historical measures a novelty. And they have done so by the use of armed force," said Norbert Roettgen, head of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament and a member of Merkel's conservative party.

Speaking at a security conference in Munich, he said he was sceptical about how Russia would behave in the days and weeks ahead, despite agreeing to a "cessation of hostilities" which is due to begin in a week's time.

Read more ....

Update: Merkel Ally Says Russia Has Gained Upper Hand in Syria Region

WNU Editor: Besides stating the obvious from the German lawmaker, Russia does not only have the upper hand in Syria, but its influence is also growing in Iraq .... Russia is making a huge effort to challenge US influence in Iraq (Business Insider/Reuters). But as I tell my Russian friends and audience .... this upper hand is only for the moment, the Middle East has shown the world more than once that countries that may have the "upper hand" today will have that hand "cut-off" tomorrow.

Is Saudi Arabia Backing Down On Its Warnings That They Are Prepared To Send Ground Troops Into Syria?

Reuters: Saudi troop deployment in Syria up to U.S.-led coalition, foreign minister says

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that any move to deploy Saudi special forces into Syria will depend on a decision by the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday he expected both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to send special operations forces to Syria to help local opposition fighters in their drive to retake the city of Raqqa, Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria.

Saudi Arabia on Saturday confirmed it had sent aircraft to NATO-member Turkey's Incirlik air base for the fight against Islamic State militants.

"The Kingdom's readiness to provide special forces to any ground operations in Syria is linked to a decision to have a ground component to this coalition against Daesh (Islamic State) in Syria - this U.S.-led coalition - so the timing is not up to us," Jubeir told a news conference with his Swiss counterpart in Riyadh.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: This is a different tone from the Saudi Foreign Minister .... it is certainly not as  forceful as the above video interview with CNN. It looks like someone either told him to "cool it", or his own superiors got cold feet.

Russian PM Medvedev: Syria Would Be In Chaos If Assad Ousted

Euronews: Exclusive: Syria would be ‘chaos’ if Assad ousted, says Medvedev

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the Syrian peace plan fails, more foreign troops could enter the conflict.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia say they are willing to increase their involvement in Syria.

The Global Conversation spoke to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

You can watch the full interview with Medvedev on Euronews TV and online from 18h CET today, Sunday, February 14.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: He is right. The past few years have shown that when a strongman is removed from power in the Middle East, carnage and war have become the result .... with groups like Al Qaeda and The Islamic State in the wings ready to take power. If given a choice between these two evils, I would take Assad over these groups any-day.

Will Syria Be Saudi Arabia's Quagmire?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir deliver a statement after a meeting at the State Department in Washington, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA

Awad Mustafa and Aaron Mehta, Defense News: Syria: 'Quicksand' for Saudi Forces?

DUBAI AND BRUSSELS — As the United States receives commitments from Gulf Arab allies to contribute more to a coalition campaign in Syria, doubts remain because of their ongoing military involvement in Yemen.

Furthermore, statements by unnamed Saudi officials earlier this month about a force of 150,000 — including troops from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners Sudan, Egypt and Jordan — being prepared to invade Syria from Turkey have been rebuffed by at least two members of the anti-Islamic State coalition.

A Jordanian official confirmed that the country will not participate in any Turkish- or Arab-led Syrian invasion unless mandated by the United Nations, led by western forces and coordinated with Russia.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: If the above report is true, Saudi Arabia's allies are clearly not eager to get involved on the ground in Syria .... which leaves just Saudi Arabia and Turkey. And while I am sure that both countries would prefer to intervene to save their allies in Syria, the problem is that there is no end game to this conflict, and Syria's allies (Russia and Iran) have also made it clear that they would continue to assist Assad, and resist any pressure to have him remove.

Problems And Production Cuts For The F-35 Fighter Jet

F-35 Lightning IIs stand ready on the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp for operational testing in the Atlantic Ocean in this handout photo taken May 19, 2015, and provided by the U.S. Navy. PHOTO: REUTERS/U.S. NAVY/CHIEF MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST WILLAM TONACCHIO/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

Defense News: F-35 Production To Drop by 20, but Air Force Officials Downplay Price Impact

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has unveiled a new funding profile for the F-35 joint strike fighter, reflecting a drop in fighter jet acquisition over the next six years across the US services, international partners and foreign customers.

Lockheed Martin and the F-35 joint program office will build 20 fewer planes over that timeframe for the US Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, international partners and foreign customers, JPO Chief Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan told reporters during a Feb. 10 media roundtable. Instead of building 893 fighter jets from fiscal 2016 to FY21, as planned last year, the government and industry team will produce 873, he said.

Bogdan downplayed the impact of the drop, saying the reduction will translate into a unit cost increase for the US services and international partners of less than 1 percent.

Read more ....

More News On The F-35

Pentagon Reduces F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Production Amid Defense Budget Cuts -- IBTimes
Pentagon to spend $56.3 billion for 404 Lockheed F-35 jets over 5 years. -- Economic Times
Pentagon Still Plans Long-Term F-35 Increase -- WSJ
F-35 Shortfall Forces the Navy to Buy More F-18s -- Popular Mechanics
Joint Strike Fighter chief plays down F-35A deferrals -- Flight Global
Pentagon F-35 chief says production rampup in Fort Worth still on track -- Star Telegram
International F-35 customers pushing block-buy plan -- Flight Global
F-35 program moving forward, addressing challenges -- US Air Force
Air Force May Delay F-35 Combat Readiness Unless Software Improves --
F-35 Chief Lays Out Biggest Development Risks -- Defense News
The $400 Billion F-35 Still Faces Hundreds of ‘Deficiencies’ -- Fiscal Times

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Hat Tip: Close Danger

After Tens Of Billions In Aid, The Afghan Forces Are Failing

Reinforcement troops from the Afghan army prepared to travel to Kandahar.
Ahmad Masood/Reuters

Dan De Luce, The Cable/Foreign Policy: Afghan Forces Face a ‘Crisis’: Watchdog

Without NATO troops at their side, the Afghan army and police are struggling and often failing on the battlefield against the Taliban and Islamic State extremists, despite $64 billion in assistance from the United States since 2002. That’s the sobering conclusion of the U.S. official in charge of auditing aid money for Afghanistan, John Sopko.

The capability of the Afghan security forces has deteriorated since the bulk of U.S. and coalition troops withdrew in 2014, and several provinces are now under serious threat of falling to the militants, according to Sopko, who testified before a congressional panel on Friday.

Many of the billions in U.S. assistance for the Afghan army and police has been spent inefficiently or squandered, he said. And since the departure of most American troops, it has become increasingly difficult to exercise real oversight over the program, or to get a clear picture of the state of the forces, as Washington has to depend on unreliable information provided by ministries in Kabul, according to Sopko.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: A depressing report. You cannot help but feel that the Afghan Army will never be able to be the effective fighting force that Afghanistan so sorely needs.

As The Top U.S. Commander In Afghanistan Prepares To Leave, He Promises That U.S. Forces Are Here To Stay

U.S. Army General John Campbell, the commander of international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, speaks during a news conference at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan February 13, 2016. REUTERS/OMAR SOBHANI

Washington Post: The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is leaving, but the troops are staying

KABUL — Gen. John. F. Campbell, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, arrived here 18 months ago expecting to be the U.S. military leader who would bring the war to a close. On Saturday, as he prepares to hand-off command to his successor, Campbell was instead promising that coalition forces “are here to stay.”

“Not only the U.S., but the whole international community, are now starting to talk about long-term commitment,” Campbell told reporters at what was billed as his last news conference before Army Lt. Gen. John W. “Mick” Nicholson Jr. takes over command of coalition forces in early March. “It ought to give confidence to the Afghan people and also send a message to the Taliban too: What they thought in 2015 — everyone is leaving, and they could wait us out, that is no longer the case here.”

Campbell’s remarks reflect just how much the Obama administration’s posture toward Afghanistan has changed over the past two years.

Read more ....

Update: Outgoing U.S. commander says mission in Afghanistan not changing (Reuters).

WNU Editor: Meanwhile .... the war in Afghanistan continues .... Taliban, Using Humvees Stolen From Army, Attack Check Post (NYT), with even the Islamic Satte and the Taliban fighting amongst themselves .... Taliban, Islamic State clash in eastern Afghanistan (Long War Journal).

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Will Iraq Still Be A Unified Nation After The Islamic State Has Been Defeated?

Sunni refugees from Ramadi arriving at Baghdad. Reuters

New York Times: Sunni Resentment Muddles Prospect of Reunifying Iraq After ISIS

AMIRIYAT FALLUJA, Iraq — When Iraqi ground forces and American aircraft began assaulting the city of Ramadi more than a month ago, Ghusoon Muhammed and her family fled to the government’s front line, as did many other Sunni Arab families who had been trapped for months. Soldiers sent her and the children one way, and her husband another, to be interrogated in a detention facility.

She has not seen him or heard from him since. She and her children, who will most likely not be able to go home to Ramadi for months given the destruction, have been left to wait in a ramshackle tent camp here in Anbar Province. She is desperate, and adamant: “The innocent people in jail need to be released!” she said.

Standing nearby on Sunday was another woman, Karima Nouri. Her son, an auto mechanic, was also taken away by the authorities, and she has had no word about him for weeks. Ms. Nouri said the government considered civilians who remained in Ramadi to be sympathizers of the Islamic State. “But we had no ability to leave,” she said. “We are very poor.”

Read more ....

WNU Editor: A sobering assessment on Iraq's future.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Warns That If The Syrian Political Process Fails, Syrian President Assad Must Be Removed 'By Force'

CNN: Saudi Arabia official: If all else fails, remove Syria's Assad by force

Munich, Germany (CNN)Saudi Arabia's foreign minister says if the Syrian political process fails, President Bashar al-Assad will have to be removed "by force."

"I believe Bashar al-Assad is weak and I believe Bashar al-Assad is finished," Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview in Munich, Germany.

Saudi Arabia is prepared to contribute ground troops to the fight in Syria, but only as part of a U.S.-led coalition, he said.

"Bashar al-Assad will leave — have no doubt about it. He will either leave by a political process or he will be removed by force."

"We will push as much as we can to ensure that the political process works. But if it doesn't work, it will be because of the obstinance of the Syrian regime and that of its allies."

"And should that prove to be the case, then it becomes clear that there is no option to remove Bashar al-Assad except by force."

Read more ....

WNU Editor: It is getting serious .... Saudi Arabia confirms will send deployment to Turkey base (Reuters), and the military situation is definitely escalating .... Amid peace talks, Is the military situation in Syria escalating? (Christina Beck, CSM).

Turkey Launches Attacks Against Kurdish Militia in Syria

Reuters: Turkey strikes Kurdish militia in Syria, demands it withdraw

Turkey's military shelled Kurdish militia targets in northern Syria on Saturday and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu demanded that the group withdraw from the area in a move that further complicated the conflict across the NATO member's border.

The shelling took place after Kurdish YPG fighters backed by Russian bombing raids drove Syrian rebels from a former military air base, south of the town of Azaz and near the Turkish border.

"Today retaliation was taken under the rules of engagement against forces that represented a threat in Azaz and the surrounding area," the prime minister told reporters in comments shown live by state broadcaster TRT Haber.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: The big loser in this Turkish - Kurdish fight will be the U.S.. The Kurds have been the most effective fighters against the Islamic State .... but in the eyes of the Turkish government, the Kurds are the greater threat even though these Kurds are receiving assistance from the U.S.. The big winner will be Russia .... they are strengthening their ties with the Kurds, much to the chagrin of Turkey.

More News On Reports That Turkey Is Launching Attacks Against The Kurdish Militia In Syria

Turkish military repeatedly shell Assad forces; Kurds confirm to RT being hit by massive attack -- RT
Turkish PM confirms shelling of Kurdish forces in Syria -- The Guardian/Reuters
Syria conflict: Turkey shells Kurdish militia -- BBC
Pentagon Urges Turkey, Kurdish Forces to Halt Fire in Syria -- Bloomberg
US Urges Restraint from Turkey, Kurdish Militia Near Aleppo -- VOA

Update: It appears that Syrian military forces are also being shelled by Turkey .... Turkey strikes Kurd, regime forces in Syria, mulls ground attack (AFP).

Boeing Believes There Is Still A Future In Its F/A-18 Fighter Production Line

A F/A-18E Super Hornet of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-31) comes in to land onboard the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), in the Gulf August 12, 2014. REUTERS/HAMAD I MOHAMMED

Reuters: Exclusive: Boeing nears decision to self-fund more F/A-18 fighters

Boeing Co (BA.N) is nearing a decision to invest "a significant amount" to keep a F/A-18E/F fighter jet production line in St. Louis running as it waits for the U.S. government to approve a delayed order by Kuwait for 28 jets, a senior executive said.

Dan Gillian, who runs Boeing's F/A-18E/F and EA-18G electronic attack jet programs, told Reuters the company would decide in coming weeks whether to buy titanium and other materials needed to start work on the jets, even before the Kuwait deal and potential U.S. Navy orders are finalized.

He said Boeing would weigh strong expected demand for the warplanes against the risk that the orders could still fail.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: They are betting not only on more foreign sales .... but continuing problems in the F-35 fighter jet.

U.S. Approves Sale Of F-16 Fighter Jets To Pakistan

A Taiwan Air Force U.S.-made F-16 fighter jet gets washed after a drill at the Chiayi Air Force base, southern Taiwan, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

Reuters: U.S. OKs sale of 8 Lockheed F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan - Pentagon

The U.S. government said on Friday it had approved the sale to Pakistan of up to eight F-16 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp, radar and other equipment in a deal valued at $699 million.

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign arms sales, said it had notified lawmakers about the possible deal.

The agency said the F-16s would allow Pakistan's Air Force to operate in all-weather environments and at night, while improving its self-defense capability and bolstering its ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations.

Lawmakers have 30 days to block the sale, although such action is rare since deals are well-vetted before any formal notification.

Read more ....

Update: Washington OKs Controversial F-16 Sale to Pakistan (Marcus Weisgerber, Defense One).

WNU Editor: I doubt that these jets will be used against the Taliban and/or  against their allies on the border of Afghanistan. These jets will be used to counter India's air superiority.

Update #2: India is outraged with this sale .... US envoy summoned: India outraged at sale of F-16 jets to Pakistan (Express Tribune).

As North Korea's Builds-Up Its Nuclear Arsenal, What's Next?

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stands and applauds. REUTERS

David Maxwell, The Verge: The North Korean Threat: Where Do We Go From Here?

After its latest test of a long-range rocket, the nuclear threat from North Korea has re-emerged as a major global challenge.

Here is the bottom line: The only way that we will have an end to the nuclear and missile programs as well as the human atrocities and crimes against humanity being perpetrated against the Korean people living in the north by the mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim Family Regime is through a unification process that leads to a united republic of Korea.

That is a tall order. Unification is the only way to settle the “Korea Question.” Unification will be hard and will most likely be achieved after the expenditure of much blood and treasure from the Republic of Korea, the United States and regional powers. It will be complex because the path to attain it is uncertain and fraught with danger.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: Short of war .... which is not going to happen because of Chinese support of the North Korean regime .... there are no good options when it comes to North Korea.

U.S. Deploys Patriot Missiles To South Korea

U.S. Patriot missile system © Osman Orsal / Reuters

FOX News: US military deploys more Patriot missiles in South Korea

The U.S. temporarily deployed an additional Patriot missile battery in South Korea late Friday in response to North Korea’s nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch, ahead of talks next week to set up an even more sophisticated missile defense system.

There was no immediate word from the Pentagon on the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile system, something that China and Russia wouldn’t view favorably.

The extra Patriot missile battery deployment follows South Korea’s decision to shut down a shared factory park that had been the rival Koreas’ last major symbol of cooperation, but that Seoul said had been used by North Korea to fund its nuclear and missile programs. North Korea responded to the closure by deporting South Korean citizens, seizing South Korean assets and vowing to militarize the park.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: China is not happy with these deployments .... China foreign minister urges U.S. caution on missile system (Reuters)

More News On The U.S. Deploying Patriot Missiles To South Korea

US deploys more Patriot missiles in South Korea following North's nuclear test -- The Guardian/AP
US deploys more Patriot missiles in South Korea -- AFP
US deploys more Patriot missiles to South Korea -- DW
U.S. deploys additional Patriot missiles in S. Korea -- Yonhap News Agency
US Deploys Additional Patriot Missiles In South Korea While China Urges Washington To ‘Act Cautiously’ -- IBTimes
Report: THAAD Missile Defense to South Korea -- Scout
US Sending Patriot Missile Battery to South Korea -- Sputnik
US sends extra Patriot missiles to S Korea amid rising tensions with North -- RT

Pentagon Report: ' North Korean Military Highly Trained And Eqiuiped'

CNN: Pentagon: North Korean special forces 'highly trained, well-equipped'

Washington (CNN)A new Pentagon report concludes that North Korea "is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States."

The report, required by law, updates Congress regularly on the status of and changes in North Korea's military capabilities.

While the report, released Friday, was written prior to Pyongyang's recent nuclear test and satellite launch, it underscores the regime's devotion of large amounts of funding to modernizing its military forces and weapons arsenals.

The report also singles out North Korea's Special Operations forces. It calls them "among the most highly trained, well-equipped, best fed and highly motivated" forces in North Korean leader Kim Jung Un's military.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: The above video is very tense.

A Fifth Of Britain's Spy Agency's Intelligence Comes From Hacking

It's the first time that GCHQ have admitted to carrying out hacking in the UK (Ministry of Defence - Wikimedia Commons)

The Telegraph: Fifth of GCHQ intelligence comes from hacking

The spy agency reveals scale of so-called equipment interference as it wins human rights challenge

A fifth of GCHQ intelligence comes from hacking in to phones and computers, the agency has revealed, as it won a human rights victory over its once secret technique.

The spy agency admitted last year that it regularly hacks electronic devices – known as equipment interference – to gather data on suspects.

It was forced to defend the power before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal after a civil liberty group and Internet companies claimed it breached human rights laws.

But the panel, which hears challenges against the security and intelligence agencies, ruled the methods were lawful.

Read more ....

More News On Britain's Courts Ruling That Hacking By The Intelligence Agency Is Legal

Tribunal rules computer hacking by GCHQ is not illegal -- BBC
GCHQ hacking does not breach human rights, security tribunal rules -- The Guardian
GCHQ hacking does not violate the UK's human rights laws, rules tribunal -- IBTimes
UK court: GCHQ hacking phones and computers is legal -- Wired
GCHQ did not break the law when it hacked networks, says tribunal -- ZDNet