Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Central Command’

Trump weighing aggressive Iran strategy — More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

September 14, 2017
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WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi’ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

RELATED: US-Iran relations through time

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In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi’ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.

ISLAMIC STATE FIRST

The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

RELATED: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.

 

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Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”

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(Writing by Jonathan Landay.; Reporting by Arshad Mohammed,Jonathan Landay, and Steve Holland.; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller)

Includes videos:

https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/09/12/report-trump-weighing-aggressive-iran-strategy-against-malign-activities/23206015/

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Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s administration has been reviewing the Iran nuclear deal. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

More than 80 experts on nuclear proliferation urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in a statement on Wednesday.

The agreement, which was negotiated under former President Barack Obama in 2015, ended several sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to regular inspections to monitor whether it adheres to those rules under terms of the agreement.

The signatories, which include many academics and some former State Department officials, wrote that they are “concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the deal as a “very flawed and very limited agreement” and contended that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The experts who signed the letter, though, described the agreement as “an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts” and warned against leaving it.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges,” they wrote. “These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.”

President Donald Trump was a critic of the Iran deal as a candidate, but he has not taken steps to abandon it since taking office. His administration, however, has been reviewing the deal.

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/13/trump-iran-nuclear-deal-letter-242655

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Getting an Edge in the Long Afghan Struggle

June 23, 2017

Trump’s early approach holds promise if backed with a sustained, and sustainable, commitment.

An Afghan man reacts at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

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June 22, 2017 6:32 p.m. ET

Can the U.S. succeed in Afghanistan? Not without a sustained, and sustainable, commitment. President Trump’s decision to give Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to add several thousand more U.S. troops to the 8,400 currently deployed is encouraging—but only if it is a first step in a comprehensive approach.

Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, should also receive greater leeway in the use of U.S. and NATO air power. And officials should remain open to the possibility of reconciliation with some insurgents, probably just those that break off from the central Taliban.

An intensified military effort could arrest the gradual loss of territory held by the government in recent years—now estimated by U.S. Central Command at only 60% of the country—and to regain battlefield momentum. Congress should enable all this by appropriating the $5 billion or so a year above current levels that such a strategy will require.

America’s leaders should not lose sight of why the U.S. went to, and has stayed in, Afghanistan: It is in our national interest to ensure that country is not once again a sanctuary for transnational extremists, as it was when the 9/11 attacks were planned there. We have been accomplishing that mission since the intervention began in October 2001. Although al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is diminished, it could rebound if given the opportunity. Islamic State could expand its newfound Afghan foothold as well.

The augmented troop levels Mr. Trump has authorized would be only 12% to 15% of the peak U.S. force levels, in 2010-11. The country can sustain that level of commitment. While all casualties are tragic, our losses in Afghanistan would likely remain far fewer than the losses from another major terrorist attack in the U.S.

Today the U.S. and its coalition partners lack the capacity to train and assist Afghan forces adequately in the field. As recently as 2015, the allied forces did not even have a full-time advisory presence for the main Afghan army corps in Helmand province. Largely as a result, the Taliban gained control of much of the province. Nor did the coalition have adequate advisers to help the smaller Afghan formations near Kunduz before that city fell to the Taliban in 2015. It was later liberated only at high cost, especially to Afghan forces and civilians. Restrictions on coalition air power reduced America’s ability to help Afghan partners.

Adding some 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. and allied troops could provide the capacity for several dozen deployable mentoring teams. That is far from enough to assist each Afghan brigade or battalion. But it could support the units that are engaged in the toughest fights and are most intensively involved in rebuilding their capabilities. Supporting those teams logistically and with air power, and providing quick-reaction forces in several parts of the country to help them if they get in trouble, would drive additional requirements for coalition troops into the low thousands.

On the civilian side, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah need to continue their efforts against corruption, which have shown gradual, modest results to date. With U.S. help, they need to reform the electoral commissions that will oversee parliamentary and presidential elections over the next two years.

Then there is Pakistan, where the U.S. needs a tougher approach. Washington reduced aid to Islamabad by more than half over the past five years. More can be cut. President Trump and Congress could also designate Pakistani individuals and organizations supporting the Taliban and impose sanctions on them. The U.S. could show less restraint in striking Taliban targets within Pakistan.

There are carrots available too: trade concessions, increased aid, more assistance to the Pakistani army’s fight against internal extremists, dialogue with New Delhi to mitigate Pakistan’s worries about India’s role in Afghanistan. But these must come on the condition that Islamabad put greater pressure on the Taliban (whose headquarters is in the Quetta area) and on the Haqqani insurgent network (in North Waziristan). None of this will work unless Pakistani leaders recognize that allowing these groups’ leaders sanctuary on their soil is foolish and dangerous. Given the way extremist groups collaborate in Central and South Asia, that approach will inevitably continue to backfire. After all, the greatest existential threat Pakistan faces is internal extremism, not India.

President Trump’s early approach holds promise. In Afghanistan today, the military needs to revisit the phase of the mission it largely skipped in the years after the surge of 2010-12 or so, when it downsized too quickly and too far. This approach will not achieve “victory” in Afghanistan, after which all troops can be withdrawn. That is an impossible goal in the near-term. But it will be sustainable and it can improve the prospects of shoring up our eastern flank in the broader battle against Islamist extremism—a fight that likely is to be a generational struggle.

Mr. Petraeus, a retired Army general, commanded coalition forces in Iraq (2007-08) and in Afghanistan (2010-11) and later served as director of the CIA (2011-12). Mr. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/getting-an-edge-in-the-long-afghan-struggle-1498170753

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a helicopter over Kabul, April 24.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a helicopter over Kabul, April 24. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
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Petraeus: Afghan war a ‘generational struggle’ that will not end soon

 

BY LARISA EPATKO  June 16, 2017 at 6:17 PM EDT

The 16-year war in Afghanistan is not going to end any time soon, former CIA Director David Petraeus said Friday in an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff.

“This is a generational struggle. This is not something that is going to be won in a few years. We’re not going to take a hill, plant a flag and go home to a victory parade,” said Petraeus, who also oversaw U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq during his military career. He is now a partner at KKR global investment firm.

“You know, we’ve been in Korea for 65-plus years, because there’s an important national interest for that. We were in Europe for a very long period of time,” he said. “We’re still there, of course, and actually with a renewed interest now given Russia’s aggressive actions.”

When Woodruff asked if he thought if the U.S. would need to stay in Afghanistan for 60 more years, he said he doesn’t think the U.S. involvement will last that long. But “I think we should not approach this as a year-on-year mission,” he said, noting that kind of instability gives Afghan leaders “the jitters.”

The current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, has recommended sending 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to the 8,400 already there. Petraeus called the possible increase in forces “heartening” and “sustainable.”

Watch Woodruff’s full interview with David Petraeus on Friday’s broadcast of PBS NewsHour.

Includes video:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/petraeus-afghan-war-generational-struggle-will-not-end-soon/

With new anti-ISIS plan due next week, Pentagon considering U.S. troops in Syria

February 24, 2017

U.S. Service Member Killed in Yemen Raid — First combat death under Donald Trump administration

January 29, 2017

First combat death under Donald Trump administration

 Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor
A Yemeni woman in San’a walks past graffiti protesting U.S. drone operations in Yemen. PHOTO: YAHYA ARHAB/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

A U.S. service member was killed and three Americans were wounded in a raid Saturday against al Qaeda militants in Yemen that marked the first commando operation authorized under President Donald Trump.

Three U.S. special operations forces troops were wounded in the raid, which also resulted in the deaths of as many as 14 members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the principal al Qaeda franchise in Yemen, defense officials said.

Another American service member was injured when an American aircraft assisting in the operation sustained what aviators term a hard landing during the operation, which occurred in an undisclosed area of Yemen. The aircraft was destroyed in place because it was damaged to the extent that it couldn’t be flown again, defense officials said.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite service members,” said Gen. Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of American forces in the region. “The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe.”

U.S. military officials said that intelligence collected at the site of the operation “will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots,” according to a Pentagon statement.

Such raids had been conducted rarely under the Obama administration and only after extreme deliberations. Mr. Trump has signaled that he would like to accelerate the fight against Islamic State, al Qaeda and other militant groups.

“This is one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen and worldwide,” the Pentagon statement said. “Similar operations have produced intelligence on al Qaeda logistics, recruiting and financing efforts.”

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-troops-kill-suspected-al-qaeda-leaders-in-yemen-local-officials-say-1485688514

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Dangerous confrontations between US and Iranian navies have increased 50% this year despite the nuclear deal, officials say –New world order?

August 27, 2016
  • Defense officials say there were 30 dangerous incidents in total in 2015
  • In the first six months of this year there were 26 incidents, officials added
  • That is despite the nuclear deal which was hailed as a ‘new era’ of relations
  • There were four dangerous incidents in the last week alone which led to warning shots and flares being fired at Iranian boats 

The number of dangerous confrontations between Iranian and US navies has increased by 50 per cent compared to last year, defense officials said.

In total there were 30 dangerous incidents recorded between the two navies in the Persian Gulf in the whole of 2015, according to the Navy’s 5th fleet.

That is compared to 26 in the first half of this year, and four that took place in the last week alone.

Defense officials say there were 30 dangerous confrontations between the US and Iranian navies in 2015, compared to 26 in the first six months of 2016 (pictured, the USS Nitze fires flares at two Iranian vessels earlier this week) 

Defense officials say there were 30 dangerous confrontations between the US and Iranian navies in 2015, compared to 26 in the first six months of 2016 (pictured, the USS Nitze fires flares at two Iranian vessels earlier this week)

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Officials say the figures are on course to increase by more than 50 per cent before the end of the year, despite the nuclear deal (pictured, an Iranian boat approaches the Nitze)

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3760606/Dangerous-confrontations-Iranian-navies-increased-50-cent-year-despite-nuclear-deal-officials-say.html#ixzz4IZDb91Mw
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Speaking anonymously to Fox News, the official said: ‘We are on pace to exceed last year’s numbers by more than fifty per cent.’

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The is despite the signing of the Iranian nuclear deal that President Obama and other world leaders vowed would usher in a ‘new era’ of relations with Iran.

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As part of that deal, Tehran was handed a $1.7billion payment, including $400,000 in cash flown into the country by plane.

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Overall encounters with the Iranian navy, which most consists of fast patrol boats, has also increased, officials added.

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On Wednesday the USS Squall was forced to fire three warning shots at Iranian vessels, less than 24 hours the USS Nitze was ‘harassed’ in an ‘unsafe manner’.

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The incident involving the USS Squall was just one of three separate confrontations involving American and Iranian ships in a single day, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.

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Meanwhile the USS Nitze was passing through international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, when it was confronted on Tuesday.

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Four of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels ‘harassed’ the Nitze, a U.S. defense official said.

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The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that two of the Iranian vessels came within 300 yards of the USS Nitze in an incident that was ‘unsafe and unprofessional.’

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There were four dangerous incidents in the last week alone including one in which the USS Squall (pictured) was forced to fire three warning shots at Iranian patrol vessels
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There were four dangerous incidents in the last week alone including one in which the USS Squall (pictured) was forced to fire three warning shots at Iranian patrol vessels
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Defense officials say there were 30 dangerous confrontations between the US and Iranian navies in 2015, compared to 26 in the first six months of 2016 (pictured, the USS Nitze fires flares at two Iranian vessels earlier this week)

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3760606/Dangerous-confrontations-Iranian-navies-increased-50-cent-year-despite-nuclear-deal-officials-say.html#ixzz4IZFOUrrX
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

There were four dangerous incidents in the last week alone including one in which the USS Squall (pictured) was forced to fire three warning shots at Iranian patrol vessels

There were four dangerous incidents in the last week alone including one in which the USS Squall (pictured) was forced to fire three warning shots at Iranian patrol vessels

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Navy officials said four Iranian revolutionary Guard vessels approached the Nitze (pictured) at high speed and behaved in an 'unsafe and unprofessional' manner

Navy officials said four Iranian revolutionary Guard vessels approached the Nitze (pictured) at high speed and behaved in an ‘unsafe and unprofessional’ manner

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Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3760606/Dangerous-confrontations-Iranian-navies-increased-50-cent-year-despite-nuclear-deal-officials-say.html#ixzz4IZFOUrrX
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The vessels harassed the destroyer by ‘conducting a high speed intercept and closing within a short distance of USS Nitze, despite repeated warnings,’ the official said.

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IRGC, the Islamic Republic’s praetorian guard, is suspicious of U.S. military activity near Iran’s borders and appears to be sticking to a familiar posture in the Gulf that predates last year’s nuclear accord.

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Iranian commanders put out a statement on Thursday, saying the navy will continue to warn and confront any vessels that stray into its waters.

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General Hosein Dehghan told the semi-official Tasnim news agency that ‘if any foreign vessel enters our waters, we warn them, and if it’s an invasion, we confront.’

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He added that Iranian boats patrol to monitor traffic and foreign vessels.

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The United States and other countries are concerned about Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its ballistic missile program, and its backing for Shiite militias that have abused civilians in Iraq.

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The U.S. defense official said that in Tuesday’s incident, the USS Nitze tried to communicate with the Iranian vessels 12 times, but received no response.

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It also fired 10 flares in the direction of two of the Iranian vessels.

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The encounter occurred in international waters in the strait, a vitally important choke point with Iran to its north and the United Arab Emirates to the south

‘Unsafe and unprofessional’ 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3760606/Dangerous-confrontations-Iranian-navies-increased-50-cent-year-despite-nuclear-deal-officials-say.html#ixzz4IZErXySS
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The encounter occurred in international waters in the strait, a vitally important choke point with Iran to its north and the United Arab Emirates to the south

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‘The Iranian high rate of closure… created a dangerous, harassing situation that could have led to further escalation, including additional defensive measures by Nitze,’ the official said.

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USS Nitze had to change course in order to distance itself from the Iranian vessels, the official said, adding that the incident could have led to a diplomatic protest, but the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.

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The encounter occurred in international waters in the strait, a vitally important choke point with Iran to its north and the United Arab Emirates to the south.

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This was not the first maritime scare between the United States and Iran.

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In January, 10 U.S. sailors aboard two patrol craft were detained by the IRGC when they inadvertently entered Iranian territorial waters.

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They were released the next day after being held for about 15 hours.

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The Gulf separates Iran from its regional rival Saudi Arabia and a U.S. naval base in Bahrain.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3760606/Dangerous-confrontations-Iranian-navies-increased-50-cent-year-despite-nuclear-deal-officials-say.html#ixzz4IZE41OO1
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

The encounter occurred in international waters in the strait, a vitally important choke point with Iran to its north and the United Arab Emirates to the south 

The encounter occurred in international waters in the strait, a vitally important choke point with Iran to its north and the United Arab Emirates to the south

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3760606/Dangerous-confrontations-Iranian-navies-increased-50-cent-year-despite-nuclear-deal-officials-say.html#ixzz4IZEHE8FT
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Related:

Defense official: Iran confrontations with US Navy up 50 percent this year

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/08/26/defense-official-iran-confrontations-with-us-navy-up-50-percent-this-year.html

Related:

  (USS Nitze encounter with Iranian boats)

  (USS Nitze encounter with Iranian boats)

© Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Website/AFP/File | A picture released by the news website and public relations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shows US sailors being apprehended by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on January 13, 2016

 

Shots Fired in Persian Gulf; Iran Warns Encroaching U.S. Ships Will be ‘Severely Punished’

August 26, 2016
By Patrick Goodenough | August 26, 2016 |
Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships deployed in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility.  Pictured here from March 2015, USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Typhoon (PC-5) and USS Chinook (PC-9) underway.  (Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charles Oki)

(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s defense minister vowed Thursday that any U.S. or other warships that enter Iranian waters would be “severely punished,” as the Pentagon confirmed that a U.S. patrol vessel had fired warning shots after being approached by an Iranian attack boat in an “unsafe” manner.

“It is a natural and routine program of the border patrol to do surveillance in the southern waters and to collect intelligence on foreign ships’ operations,” the Mehr news agency quoted Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan as telling reporters in Isfahan.

Whether American or otherwise, he said, “any destroyer of any sort would be severely punished if they are found to encroach our waters in Persian Gulf.”

In the latest in a series of incidents in the area, an Iranian vessel approached two U.S. Navy ships Thursday, prompting crew on the USS Squall – a Cyclone-class patrol coastal ship forward deployed to the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain – to fire three warning shots.

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USS Squall

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said he believed the shots were fired “into the water.”

“The Iranian craft, as I understand it, left at that point.”

The U.S. vessels had initially taken other steps aimed at de-escalating the situation, including the firing of flares.

“They felt the need to take an additional step to try and de-escalate the situation, and that was, again, to fire the warning shots,” Cook said.

“The onus here is on the Iranians to conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner, like navies all over the world do.”

In an earlier incident Thursday, four Iranian vessels approached the destroyerUSS Nitze in the Strait of Hormuz in what the Pentagon described as “an unsafe and unprofessional manner.”

“Our ships were in international waters,” said Cook. “Our sailors were conducting themselves professionally as they are trained to do. And we did not see the same from the Iranian boats on the other side.”

The Strait of Hormuz lies between Iran and Oman, less than 30 miles wide at its narrowest point. It is one of the world’s most crucial waterways, a transit channel for about one-fifth of the world’s crude oil, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

The Iranian regime has periodically threatened to close the chokepoint, and challenges the U.S. Navy’s right to patrol or hold military exercises there.

Cook said the Pentagon hopes Iranian harassment of U.S. Navy ships in the area does not continue, “because it serves no purpose other than to raise tensions in an important part of the world.”

He said U.S. Navy personnel “will continue to take the steps that they need to, to protect themselves, their ships and our interests in the region.”

“Our ships are operating as they have for years in that part of the world, in international waters, and will continue to do so,” Cook said.

Last January the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy detained 10 U.S. Navy sailors in the northern Persian Gulf for about 14 hours, after U.S. Central Command said their two small patrol boats had inadvertently entered Iran’s territorial waters.

They were allowed to leave after Secretary of State John Kerry contacted his Iranian counterpart and nuclear talks interlocutor, Javad Zarif.

Kerry thanked Iran for ensuring a swift resolution of the incident, but the Iranians did not pass up the opportunity to use it for propaganda purposes.

State media repeatedly showed images of the sailors’ detention at gunpoint, along with video clips showing a sailor apologizing for entering Iranian waters, another one apparently in tears, and a female crew member with her head covered by a scarf.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the incident an “act of God” and awarded medals to the IRGC Navy sailors involved.

At the State Department Thursday, spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said she had no information to share on whether Kerry or other officials have raised with the Iranians the latest incidents in the Gulf.

“I just don’t have any calls or engagements to read out as of right now,” she said in response to questions. “I have nothing to announce.”

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/patrick-goodenough/shots-fired-persian-gulf-iran-warns-encroaching-us-ships-will-be

Related:

  (USS Nitze encounter with Iranian boats)

  (USS Nitze encounter with Iranian boats)

© Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Website/AFP/File | A picture released by the news website and public relations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shows US sailors being apprehended by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on January 13, 2016

U.S. Central Command Found To Have Manipulated Intelligence Reports

August 11, 2016

Government report claims CENTCOM manipulated ISIS intelligence

A hard-hitting report by Congressional Republicans accuses U.S. Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, of manipulating or repressing intelligence about ISIS. The military’s CENTCOM is responsible for American security interests in 20 nations, stretching from Egypt through the Arabian Gulf region and into central Asia.

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SitRep: CENTCOM Cooked Books on ISIS
BY PAUL MCLEARY, ADAM RAWNSLEY
AUGUST 10, 2016 – 7:50 AM
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SitRep: CENTCOM Cooked Books on ISIS; U.S. Commandos in Libya

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Top down. Top officers at the U.S. Central Command ordered their analysts to alter intel assessments to make it look like the fight against ISIS was going better than it actually was, according to the findings of a House Republican task force. The Daily Beast reports that a 10-page report on the scandal should be released by the end of next week. “While it contains no definitive evidence that senior Obama administration officials ordered the reports to be doctored, the five-month investigation did corroborate earlier reports that analysts felt the leaders of CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate pressured them to conclude that the threat from ISIS was not as ominous as the analysts believed.”.
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Did U.S. officials downplay ISIS’s strength?
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Intelligence was altered to show more progress against ISIS
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(CNN) – The Pentagon is now estimating some 45-thousand ISIS terrorists have been killed since coalition operations began more than two years ago.

This comes as CNN obtained a copy of a Congressional report alleging that U.S. military officials, as recently as last year, painted a rosier picture of the U.S. led fight against ISIS, contradicting what some saw as the battlefield reality.

As ISIS invaded Ramadi last year, Iraqi troops fled the city, all seemingly catching the pentagon off guard.

According to U.S. Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, “They showed that failure of a will to fight.”

But evidence suggests that it should not have been a surprise.

CNN Military Analyst, Col. Cedric Leighton, said, “Our political leadership believed certain things and they didn’t want to change those beliefs. Intelligence analysts looked at empirical evidence, they tried to bring that intelligence to the attention of senior leaders and that effort appears to have been rejected.”

Now, an investigation by Republican Congressional members into a whistleblower complaint has found intelligence was altered to show more progress against ISIS than the intelligence warranted.

According to Congressional staffers, senior military intelligence officials at the U.S. Central Command, which was running the war, did edit and change intelligence reports.

It’s not clear if there was political pressure, but investigators found commanders decided to rely on operational reports from the front lines.

The report says, “Deference to operational reporting resulted in analysis that was more positive,” regarding both Iraqi forces and ISIS.

Col. Cedric Leighton noted that, “The operational reports that are passed up the chain of command, really reflect our side of the battle. They don’t necessarily reflect what the enemy is doing or if they show that, they are only going to show a part of that.”

Different views of the intelligence have erupted into the public arena, according to the Congressional staffers.

On March 3rd, 2015, the then-head of Central Command spoke of ISIS in personal terms, referring to it as “He”.

Former Central Command Commander, Gen. Lloyd Austin, said, “The fact is that he can no longer do what he did at the outset, which is to seize and to hold new territory. He has assumed a defensive crouch in Iraq.”

Ten days later, the director of the CIA had a more dire view.

CIA Director John Brennan, said, “ISIL is well-armed and well-financed. Its fighters are disciplined, committed, and battle-hardened.”

Then in May 2015, ISIS seized Ramadi. It would be months before Iraqi forces got the city back.

 

 

Navy Images Show Iranian Boats in Incident Involving Top U.S. General

July 14, 2016

Iranian boats approached Navy warships with Gen. Joe Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, aboard as they passed through the Strait of Hormuz

One of the five military vessels from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps that approached a U.S. warship hosting one of America's top generals on a day trip through the Strait of Hormuz on July 11.
One of the five military vessels from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps that approached a U.S. warship hosting one of America’s top generals on a day trip through the Strait of Hormuz on July 11. PHOTO: US NAVY/REUTERS
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AMMAN, Jordan—The U.S. military has released photos of Iranian boats that approached two Navy warships Monday as they transited through the Strait of Hormuz with a special passenger aboard: Gen. Joe Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees all U.S. forces in the Middle East.

The images, which aren’t typically released by the military, were captured by U.S. Navy personnel aboard the amphibious ship USS New Orleans and the destroyer USS Stout on Monday during a series of “interactions” between those two ships and smaller patrol boats operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.

The images show two small patrol boats akin to a civilian speed boat, and a larger boat known as a Houdong fast attack craft. Each are typical of the kind of craft the IRGC uses in the region, sometimes to harass American and other ships transiting through the strait.

U.S. officials said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sent boats to approach the USS New Orleans and USS Stout as Gen. Votel rode aboard the New Orleans. PHOTO: US NAVY/REUTERS

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Iranian officials in a report in state media confirmed that speedboats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy “escorted” the U.S. warships through the strait, defending the incident as longstanding practice. The news account, on the website of the semiofficial FARS news agency, also warned that the small but heavily armed boats could destroy the American vessels.

“Monitoring foreign vessels in regions where the IRGC Navy conducts its missions is not a new thing and it is always done on a routine basis and round the clock,” Gen. Alireza Tangsiri, the lieutenant commander of the IRGC navy, said in the report. He emphasized that the IRGC Navy is assigned to monitor foreign vessels, especially those operated by “the enemies of the Islamic Revolution and the Great Satan, the U.S.”

U.S. officials said that on Monday, the IRGC sent a total of five boats, including a fast attack craft and four of the smaller patrol boats to approach the New Orleans and the Stout, as Gen. Votel rode aboard the New Orleans. It was unclear if the IRGC knew initially of Gen. Votel’s visit to the ship.

The U.S. has cited Tehran’s aggressive maneuvering on the seas as a potential danger. The military contends that American warships had about 300 such interactions with Iranian vessels in 2015, according to information provided by Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Manama, Bahrain.

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While most of those incidents are considered safe and didn’t rise to the level of harassment, Cmdr. Urban said other encounters are more problematic, including times when Iranian vessels jet in front of American warships, approach them directly at high rates of speed, or even if they train their weaponry at the American ships.

The U.S. said the encounter Monday didn’t technically fall into the problematic category. Still, Gen. Votel said it is important that Iran and the IRGC better follow the rules of the sea and avoid risky conduct.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/navy-images-show-iranian-boats-in-incident-involving-top-u-s-general-1468349473

Baghdad Bombings: Suicide attacks show us the dangers of the Islamic State “going back to its roots”

May 18, 2016

The Associated Press

May 18, 2016

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — A series of deadly attacks by Islamic State operatives in and around Baghdad may be a sign that the militants are “reverting to their roots” as a terrorist organization, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East said Wednesday.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, said this does not mean IS has given up its ambition to create a so-called caliphate. But he said it marks a new turn in tactics aimed at diverting attention from the group’s recent battlefield losses.

Speaking to reporters while traveling to the Middle East, Votel said the attacks that have rocked Baghdad over the past week, killing upward of 200 civilians, are an illustration of the dynamic nature of the war.

“We have to respect our enemies and respect their ability to adapt and adjust on the battlefield,” he said.

“In this regard, some of the attacks we’re seeing in Baghdad — I think we are seeing a manifestation of that. We are seeing them see opportunities and take advantage of those opportunities,” he added. “I think they believe it will cause the Iraqi government to divert forces, divert effort, divert intellectual horsepower to solving those problems” as opposed to priorities like recapturing the IS stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq.

Now that IS has lost 40 percent or more of the terrain it once controlled in Iraq, “they may be reverting in some regards back to their terrorist roots,” he said.

Iraqi security forces gather at the site of a suicide bombing in the Shaab area in northern Baghdad on May 17, 2016. Credit — AFP, Getty Images

Votel, who served in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, became head of Central Command two months ago after serving as commander of Special Operations Command. In his new post he oversees not only U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria but across the greater Middle East, including in Afghanistan.

His visit this week to the Middle East comes amid concern about political unrest in Baghdad and the slow pace of Iraqi military operations to recapture Mosul.

Votel said he sees reason for “a little concern” about political paralysis that has gripped the Iraq government in recent weeks.

U.S. general concerned about lack of partner against Islamic State in Syria

March 9, 2016

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. general nominated to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East told lawmakers on Wednesday that he was concerned about the lack of a reliable partner in Syria in the fight against Islamic State and would look carefully at Washington’s strategy if confirmed to the post.

 U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel

Army General Joseph Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee he would seek to ensure a coherent and well-resourced strategy to go after Islamic State strongholds.

“In Iraq we do have a partner, we do have a government, (but) in Syria we don’t and so I am concerned about how we approach this moving forward in Syria without a political element to support that,” Votel told the committee, which is considering his nomination to head the U.S. Central Command that oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

“I do have concerns about our broader strategy against ISIL,” Votel said, using an acronym for Islamic State, “about how we are applying resources, about how we are focusing our authorities.”

Votel said operations to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa would take additional resources.

The committee also is considering the nomination of Army Lieutenant General Raymond Thomas to lead U.S. Special Operations Command. Thomas told the members that U.S.-backed rebels in northeastern Syria had suffered more than 75 casualties fighting Islamic State in the past month.

“They’re losing a lot of people to carry the fight against ISIL, so I’m impressed with their tenacity,” Thomas said.

In response to a comment from Republican Senator John McCain, Thomas said he would support the presence of U.S. special forces in Libya to combat a growing threat from Islamic State there.

The United States launched an air strike on an Islamic State training camp last month and France has conducted surveillance flights and sent military advisers. U.S., French and British special forces also are present in the country, officials and media have said.

“That particular part of ungoverned space requires potentially unique special operations solutions and we’re attempting to provide those options to the chain of command,” Thomas said. “We’ve already identified some formative organizations that we hope to be able to work with in the future.”

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Trott)