Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Navy’

China Navy Ships Depart for Joint Drills With Russia

September 14, 2017

BEIJING — Four Chinese navy ships have departed for joint drills with Russia in the latest sign of growing cooperation between the two militaries that could challenge the U.S. armed forces’ role in the Asia-Pacific.

A destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship and submarine rescue ship departed Wednesday from the port of Qingdao, home to China’s north sea fleet, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The drills are being held in the Sea of Japan near the Korean Peninsula and the Sea of Okhotsk off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Xinhua said.

The exercises are the second stage of an annual joint drill, the first part of which was held July 22-27 in the Baltic Sea — the first time the countries had exercised together in the northern European waterbody.

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Chinese and Russian destroyers take part in a previous joint exercise in 2014 / AP

Russia and China are closely aligned on many diplomatic and security issues, with both countries calling for a negotiated settlement of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, preceded by North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile activities in return for the U.S. and South Korea halting their regular large-scale wargames.

July’s joint drills in the Baltic stirred concern among countries in the region, where tensions are already high over increased displays of military force by both Moscow and NATO.

Both Russia and China say the exercises are not directed at any third parties.

The Chinese ships taking part in the exercises are among the country’s most advanced, components of a growing fleet that poses a significant challenge to the U.S. Navy’s traditional dominance in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has long chafed at the American presence and is a strong critic of its alliances with Japan, Australia and other countries in the region.

China already has the world’s largest navy, with slightly over 300 vessels, compared to the U.S. Navy’s 277 “deployable battle force ships,” according to the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence forecasts it will have 313-342 warships by 2020.

While China’s ships are technologically inferior to those of the U.S. Navy, their sheer numbers allow China a significant presence on the open sea, institute professor Andrew S. Erickson wrote in a recent study.

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Iran Says It Warned Off US Ship — U.S. Navy issues denial

September 10, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran says it warned off a U.S. Navy warship during a rescue of a boat in the Gulf of Oman, while American officials say there was no direct contact.

The U.S. Navy said Sunday the incident happened Wednesday and involved a small vessel some 75 nautical miles from the USS Tempest, a coastal patrol boat. The Navy says another boat much closer offered assistance, with that vessel communicating with Iranian naval forces.

Iran offered a different version of the incident. Press TV, the English-language arm of its state broadcaster, said Sunday that the Iranian navy “warned off an American warship” while rescuing the stranded dhow, a traditional ship.

The U.S. and Iran routinely have tense encounters in the Persian Gulf.

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Iranian warship turns away U.S. battleship as Gulf tension flares: Tasnim

September 10, 2017

Reuters

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A rocket-bearing Iranian military vessel confronted an American battleship in the Gulf and warned it to stay away from a damaged Iranian fishing boat, the Tasnim news agency reported Sunday.

The American battleship turned away after the warning from the Iranian vessel, which belonged to the naval branch of the Iranian army, according to Tasnim.

The Iranian military vessel then towed the fishing boat, which had sent out a distress signal after taking on water, back to shore.

The site did not specify when the incident, which happened close to the strategic Straight of Hormuz, took place.

Tensions have been on the rise between the Iranian and U.S. military in the Gulf in recent months.

In early August, an unarmed Iranian drone came within 100 feet (31 meters) of a U.S. Navy warplane as it prepared to land on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf, a U.S. official said at the time.

And in late July, a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots when an Iranian vessel in the Gulf came within 150 yards (137 meters) in the first such incident since President Donald Trump took office in January, U.S. officials said.

Years of mutual animosity had eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year as part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But serious differences remain over Iran’s ballistic missile program and conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The Trump administration, which has taken a hard line on Iran, recently declared that Iran was complying with its nuclear agreement with world powers, but warned that Tehran was not following the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

During the presidential campaign last September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harass the U.S. Navy in the Gulf would be “shot out of the water.”

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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Peace and Freedom Note: Reuters seems to have picked up and reported Iranian propaganda, since there are no “American battleships” on active service in the U.S. Navy. All four U.S. Navy “battleships” are retired. Certainly there is more factual information to follow this report….

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U.S. Navy Ships in Fatal Collisions Not Properly Certified

September 7, 2017

Unclear if certification issues played a role in crashes, but Pentagon investigations are under way

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USS John S. McCain after it collided with a commercial vessel east of Singapore on Aug. 20, 2017.

Updated Sept. 6, 2017 5:58 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The majority of ships operating in the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, where two destroyers have been involved in fatal collisions since June, weren’t certified to conduct basic operations at sea related to war-fighting, according to U.S. Navy records.

As of late June, eight of the 11 cruisers and destroyers in the Seventh Fleet, and their crew members, weren’t certified by the U.S. Navy to conduct “mobility seamanship,” or basic steering of the ship, according to U.S. Navy records provided to two House Armed Services subcommittees.

The Navy also said that seven of those ships had expired training certification in the areas of cruise missile defense and surface warfare, which test a crew’s ability to defend a ship or to conduct attacks.

The USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged vessel on June 17, killing seven crew members. The USS John McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged vessel Aug. 21, killing 10 sailors. Neither the Fitzgerald nor the McCain were certified for the majority of the mission operation requirements that the Navy periodically evaluates.

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FILE PHOTO: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is towed into the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, Japan June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

The Seventh Fleet’s destroyers and cruisers generally met certification in other areas such as maintenance, communications, navigation, explosive safely and search and rescue.

It is unclear what role the lack of proper certification played in the collisions, and Pentagon investigations are under way both into the collisions and into larger questions of naval operations.

But the certification reports suggest that the U.S. Navy may have knowingly sent ships to sea that weren’t fully certified for the missions they were conducting, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“This appears to be endemic of a systemic problem,” Mr. Clark said. The Seventh Fleet destroyers and cruisers “may not have had sufficient practice to do the difficult transits they were doing,” given the crowded waters they operate in.

Adm. Bill Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, and Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, the Navy’s director of surface warfare, are scheduled to appear before two House Armed Services subcommittees Thursday on the collision of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain. Lawmakers received the records earlier this week, ahead of Thursday’s joint hearing.

Also testifying will be John Pendleton, who has written extensively about the U.S. Navy for the Government Accountability Office, including in a series of reports that warned about overworked sailors and shortened training schedules.

After a ship has undergone maintenance, the U.S. Navy periodically conducts monthslong tests of its sailors on their ships to ensure they can properly maneuver the ship and conduct military operations.

The U.S. Navy has acknowledged cutting back on certification procedures in the face of growing demand, according to past GAO reports.

The Navy repeatedly has said that increased demand on the Seventh Fleet has resulted in cutbacks on training and certifications. That pressure has only increased in recent months with each North Korean missile or weapons test, as the fleet conducts more exercises and patrols with the same number of ships.

Navy Cmdr. Bill Speaks declined to comment on the certification records, but said the review of naval operations begun after the two fatal collisions would encompass training, professional development and operational certifications.

“It is the Navy’s responsibility to ensure that all of our sailors receive the skills they need to perform their jobs at sea safely and effectively, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” he said.

In the last two years, the cuts in certification testing appear to have only increased, based on reports provided to lawmakers. The GAO found that roughly 7% of cruisers and destroyers had expired certification in 2015. The latest figures show that figure has since jumped to 37%.

On Aug. 24, Adm. Moran drafted a memo ordering a comprehensive review of naval operations, including “gaps between required [certifications] standards and actual employment practices.” In that memo, Adm. Moran called the collisions a “disturbing trend of mishaps.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-navy-says-most-seventh-fleet-warships-lacked-proper-certification-1504732052

U.S. to Challenge China With More Patrols in Disputed Waters

September 2, 2017

Schedule of naval operations is set for the first time in effort to pressure Beijing over its maritime claims

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Photo: USS Dewey

Updated Sept. 1, 2017 6:25 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon for the first time has set a schedule of naval patrols in the South China Sea in an attempt to create a more consistent posture to counter China’s maritime claims there, injecting a new complication into increasingly uneasy relations between the two powers.

The U.S. Pacific Command has developed a plan to conduct so-called freedom-of-navigation operations two to three times over the next few months, according to several U.S. officials, reinforcing the U.S. challenge to what it sees as excessive Chinese maritime claims in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing claims sovereignty over all South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.

The plan marks a significant departure from such military operations in the region during the Obama administration, when officials sometimes struggled with when, how and where to conduct those patrols. They were canceled or postponed based on other political factors after what some U.S. officials said were contentious internal debates.

The idea behind setting a schedule contrasts with the more ad hoc approach to conducting freedom-of-navigation operations, known as “fonops” in military parlance, and establish more regularity in the patrols. Doing so may help blunt Beijing’s argument that the patrols amount to a destabilizing provocation each time they occur, U.S. officials said.

Chinese officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest U.S. plans. Beijing has accused the U.S. of militarizing navigation in the region by conducting military patrols. There have been three navigation patrols so far under President Donald Trump; there were four during the Obama administration, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Officials described the new plan as a more predetermined way of conducting such patrols than in the past, though not immutable. The plan is in keeping with the Trump administration’s approach to military operations, which relies on giving commanders leeway to determine the U.S. posture. In keeping with policies against announcing military operations before they occur, officials declined to disclose where and when they would occur.

The added military pressure on China comes while the U.S. is seeking greater cooperation from Beijing in reining in North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program. The Trump administration has complained that Beijing hasn’t done all it can to pressure its allies in Pyongyang not to develop weapons or threaten the U.S. and its territories and allies.

In a new facet, some freedom-of-navigation patrols may be “multi-domain” patrols, using not only U.S. Navy warships but U.S. military aircraft as well.

Thus far, there have been three publicly disclosed freedom-of-navigation operations under the Trump administration. The last one was conducted on Aug. 10 by the navy destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, which days later collided with a cargo ship, killing 10 sailors.

That patrol around Mischief Reef—one of seven fortified artificial islands that Beijing has built in the past three years in the disputed Spratlys archipelago—also included an air component.

According to U.S. officials, two P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft flew above the McCain in a part of the operation that hadn’t been previously disclosed. More navigation patrols using warships likely now will include aircraft overhead, they said.

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P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft

Pacific Command officials had no comment on the matter.

The first such patrol under Mr. Trump was conducted by the destroyer USS Dewey May 24 around Mischief Reef. In July, the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem conducted a patrol near Triton Island in the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, coming to within 12 nautical miles of the island.

Together, the moves amount to a more extensive U.S. posture in the South China Sea, where the U.S. has attempted to counter what it sees as excessive Chinese claims around two island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys, where Beijing has conducted reclamation activities, building or expanding islands using sand dredged from the ocean floor to establish runways, ports, buildings and other facilities for military purposes.

Those structures worry the U.S. and other nations, which believe China’s presence there could impede shipping lanes through which billions of dollars of cargo transit each year.

The U.S. doesn’t make claims to any of the islands, but conducts the patrols to challenge China’s claims, which overlap with those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally.

Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said U.S. forces operate throughout the Asia-Pacific region every day, including in the South China Sea. “All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

Col. Manning declined to comment on the new Pacific Command plan.

Countries in the region have welcomed the more unhesitating Pentagon approach under Mr. Trump, said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, and a former consultant to the Pentagon and State Department.

“I think there has already been a positive reaction from the region that we see in the aftermath of the three fonops we’ve seen so far,” Ms. Glaser said.

She said the Obama administration was “too risk averse” when it came to freedom-of-navigation patrols. “We need to conduct fonops on a regular and consistent way that sends a signal about our unwillingness to accept excessive maritime claims, to challenge those claims, and to underscore that our operations in the South China Sea are no different in other parts of the globe,” she said.

A former Obama administration official said a move to increase the number of navigation patrols is a good idea, but must be accompanied by a broader strategy.

An aerial shot of part of the Spratly Islands in April 21.Photo: TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

“I think regularized fonops are a good idea,” said David Shear, an assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon under Mr. Obama. “I think they should be conducted in the context of a broader South China Sea and regional strategy, and it’s not clear to me that this administration has devised a strategy for the South China Sea or the region, so I’m not sure what purpose the fonops serve outside of that context.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke to U.S. aims in the region in an address earlier this year at a security conference in Singapore, declaring Washington has an “enduring commitment” in Asia based on strategic interests and “shared values of free people, free markets and a strong and vibrant economic partnership.”

The Obama administration’s move to “rebalance” U.S. military and economic attention to accentuate Asia was widely criticized, especially by Republicans. But Mr. Shear said Mr. Mattis’s remarks don’t spell out a new approach.

“This administration has repealed the rebalance but it hasn’t replaced it,” said Mr. Shear, now a senior adviser at McLarty Associates, an international trade consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

Pentagon officials often were frustrated with the process of planning and conducting navigation patrols under the Obama administration. Typically, officials said, such plans would be forwarded from U.S. Pacific Command to the Pentagon and then vetted by the State Department and the White House National Security Council before being approved or disapproved depending on the White House’s own set of political priorities with the Chinese.

The chief of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, has publicly and privately pushed for more of these kinds of operations, and on a more regular basis. Speaking to reporters last year, Adm. Harris put it simply: “More is better” when it comes to navigation patrols.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com and Jeremy Page at jeremy.page@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-readies-plan-to-increase-patrols-in-south-china-sea-1504299067

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Deepsea Metro I

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

South Korea, U.S. Wrap Up Annual War Drills; Trump Says Talk Not the Answer — Jim Mattis says, “We are never out of diplomatic solutions.”

August 31, 2017

SEOUL/TOKYO — South Korea and the United States were finishing annual war games on the Korean peninsula on Thursday amid high tension over North Korea’s weapons programs and a disagreement between U.S. President Donald Trump and his defense secretary on how to respond.

Members from U.S. and South Korean militaries man the Hardened Theater Air Control Center, at Osan Air Base, South Korea, during the first day of Ulchi Freedom Guardian, Aug. 17, 2015. Portions of the image were blurred for security concerns. COURTESY OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE

A series of threats and missiles launches by North Korea, including one on Tuesday that flew over Japan, has fueled a tense standoff with the United States and its Asian allies in recent weeks. (Interactive package on North Korea’s missile capabilities – http://tmsnrt.rs/2t0oSv7)

The drills, involving tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops, have been focused on computer simulations but reports highlighting the prospect of more “visible” demonstrations of U.S. power in the region have circulated in the wake of Pyongyang’s latest test. (Graphic: North Korean missile trajectories, ranges – http://tmsnrt.rs/2hIzZHG)

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Trump on Wednesday declared “talking is not the answer” to resolving the long-standing impasse with North Korea.

“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years,” Trump, who just last week said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “starting to respect” the United States, wrote on Twitter. “Talking is not the answer!”

However, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, when asked by reporters just hours later if the United States was out of diplomatic solutions with North Korea, replied: “No.”

“We are never out of diplomatic solutions,” Mattis said before a meeting with his South Korean counterpart at the Pentagon. “We continue to work together, and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations and our interests.” (Graphic: Kim’s new act of defiance – http://tmsnrt.rs/2gl7lfy)

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera spoke to Mattis by phone on Thursday and agreed to keep putting pressure on North Korea in a “visible” form, Japan’s defense ministry said.

Trump, who has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland United States, had said on Tuesday “all options are on the table,” a veiled reference to military force.

SANCTION OPTIONS

The 15-member U.N. Security Council on Tuesday condemned the firing of the missile over Japan as “outrageous,” and demanded that North Korea halt its weapons program but the U.S.-drafted statement did not threaten new sanctions.

Japan was pushing the United States to propose new U.N. Security Council sanctions, which diplomats said could target North Korea’s laborers working abroad, oil supply and textile exports.

Diplomats expected resistance from Russia and fellow veto-wielding power China, particularly given new measures were only recently imposed after Pyongyang staged two long-range missile launches in July.

Asked if Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump talked about restricting North Korea’s fuel supply when the two spoke by telephone on Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said an embargo on oil and oil related products would be one of the options.

A U.S. ban on travel to North Korea comes into effect on Friday, curbing one of its few remaining supplies of foreign currency.

‘KEY MILESTONE’

Early in August, North Korea announced plans to fire four missiles into the sea near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam after Trump had warned it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and the crew of the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones conducted a “complex missile defense flight test” off Hawaii on Wednesday, resulting in the intercept of a medium-range ballistic missile target, the agency said.

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The agency’s director, Lieutenant General Sam Greaves, called the test “a key milestone” in giving U.S. Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense ships an enhanced capability, but did not mention North Korea.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. North Korea routinely says it will never give up its weapons programs, calling them necessary to counter perceived American hostility.

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(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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A medium-range ballistic missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, on Wednesday. Missiles fired from the destroyer John Paul Jones intercepted it.Credit Latonja Martin/Missile Defense Agency

U.S. Troops Risk Inflaming Clan Conflict After Deadly Somalia Raid

August 30, 2017

MOGADISHU — A raid involving U.S. troops in Somalia has caused a rift between the precarious U.S.-backed government and a powerful clan that says innocent farmers were massacred, months after President Donald Trump approved stepped-up operations there.

The U.S. Africa command, Africom, has acknowledged that U.S. forces participated in a ground operation in support of Somali troops in the village of Bariire last week, and says it is investigating reports of civilian deaths.

It did not reply to further questions from Reuters about the incident, the second mission in Somalia this year in which it has acknowledged the participation of U.S. ground troops. A Navy Seal was killed in a raid in May.

Last week’s raid took place in an area that had been occupied by al Shabaab Islamist militants but was recaptured by government forces earlier in August.

Residents from the Habar Gidir clan, a powerful group spread across southcentral Somalia, said some villagers had weapons, but only to protect themselves from a rival clan. They said the villagers had nothing to do with militants, who had been driven away before the government forces and U.S. troops launched their raid on Friday.

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Somali Defense Forces parade, celebrating 57th Anniversary of Ministry of Defense in Mogadishu, Somalia, 12 April 2017. Photo: Said Yusuf Warsame/EPA

“It was after morning prayers when I heard gunshots. I jumped over a wall made of iron sheets and the boy went out through the small gate,” said Muktar Moalim Abdi, 47, whose 13-year-old nephew was killed in the raid, about 50 km (30 miles) from the capital.

“They told me the boy was shot as he tried to take cover under the banana trees,” said Abdi, one of 10 relatives of the victims that spoke to Reuters along with three witnesses of the raid itself. Their statements give the most detailed public account yet of last week’s raid.

The relatives and witnesses were not able to say conclusively whether U.S. forces present during the raid had opened fire, or whether all the shooting was carried out by the Somalis that the Americans were accompanying.

The Somali government’s initial account described those killed as Islamist fighters, although within hours it issued another statement acknowledging that civilians had reportedly been killed.

A government commission set up to investigate is due to report on Thursday. Somali officials have meanwhile declined to comment further.

Somalia has been in a state of civil war since 1991. It now has an internationally-backed government, supported by African peacekeepers, battling al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated militia which has attacked civilians in neighboring states.

It is one of half a dozen countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Libya, where Washington acknowledges conducting military operations against militants.

In March, Trump gave the U.S. military in Somalia greater authority to carry out strikes and raids, including without waiting for militants to attack U.S. allies. Ramped up operations followed, with Africom reporting eight U.S. airstrikes from May to August this year, compared to 13 for the whole of 2016.

In the case of last week’s raid, a veteran Western expert on the security situation in Somalia said it seemed likely that the U.S. troops had “been drawn into local clan dynamics” by whoever supplied their intelligence.

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An armed member of the militant group Shabab attends a rally on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2012. (Associated Press)

“The real question is, what was the source of the intelligence and why did they believe it?”

U.S. officials acknowledge that developing the intelligence needed to pursue al Shabaab takes longer than in, say, Iraq or Syria, where the U.S. military devotes vastly more resources. Somalia’s complex tribal dynamics are also a complicating factor.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Somalia as an “economy of force” effort for the U.S. military, meaning fewer resources were available there than on other battlefields.

GUNFIRE IN THE MORNING

Mohamed Hassan Amin said he and his pregnant wife survived because they ran outside and hid in a banana grove when the deadly gunfire began. They initially thought it was an attack by the rival clan and were relieved to see armored vehicles, which they thought meant the African peacekeeping force and government troops had come to keep them safe.

“My friend said, it looks like AMISOM and Somali forces came to rescue us,” Amin told Reuters by phone. Then, the Somali troops spotted them and surrounded them at gunpoint, he said. About a dozen white soldiers were present.

“The white men told us to lie down. A translator helping one asked ‘how long have you been militants?’ We replied that we had never had links with al Shabaab.”

At that point, Somali troops who had previously met the farmers recognized them and told their colleagues to release them, he said. They were told to help collect the dead and injured, he said.

Among the dead were two 13-year-old boys and a 15-year-old, said survivors. Abdi Mohamed, 50, the uncle of one 13-year-old, said his nephew was an orphan working as a shepherd.

Abdi, the uncle of the other, said his nephew was initially only injured but bled to death. Mohamed Osman Aden, the farm owner’s nephew, said the third child was 15.

A clan elder who spoke to Reuters on Friday had given younger ages for the boys.

All three witnesses said no one from the community had fired at the soldiers. Reuters could not independently verify their accounts.

Before the raid, the men had already had four meetings with the soldiers and African Union peacekeepers, said farm owner Ahmed Hassan Sheikh Mohamed. The government wanted the villagers to disarm, but they were reluctant because of their long-standing feud with a rival clan.

Mohamed said the government troops who had driven al Shabaab fighters from the area earlier in August had told the villagers they no longer needed weapons. The villagers put eight guns into storage, but kept one gun in the hands of a watchman, who did not shoot when the soldiers approached.

“Who could fight armored vehicles?” Mohamed asked.

Since the raid, survivors and relatives have been permitted to travel to the capital to make their case, without being arrested as suspected al Shabaab fighters.

PUBLIC ANGER

At the Diplomat hotel in downtown Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, scores of relatives of the dead occupied every plastic chair, spilling into the corridors and parking lot, sitting on the ground and murmuring angrily.

The bodies were not buried, but were brought to the capital. They are being kept in a refrigerated container taken from a lobster truck and stashed in a nearby garage.

“We do not enjoy keeping the shrinking, wrinkling dead bodies of our brothers and uncles in a fridge for a sixth day. But more painful would be to bury the dead body of your innocent brother as a militant,” said Mohamed Osman Aden, a nephew of one of the dead men.

The refusal to bury a body is a powerful and deeply distressing protest in Muslim culture, which demands that burial take place within 24 hours of death.

The families want blood money – traditionally 100 camels, worth about $100,000, for every dead male. More than that, they want an apology.

“We shall bury them if the government admits they were innocent farmers. If not, we shall keep them in the garage because we never bury militants,” said Aden.

If the clan is not placated, it could rob the government of a powerful ally in the important Shabelle region, site of some of Somalia’s most fertile farmland.

The clan have already been angered by a U.S. airstrike that killed at least 10 members of their pro-government militia last year, and by a death sentence for another clan member who killed a minister that he mistook for a militant.

A split with the government could mean their militia cools relations with Mogadishu at a time when Western allies are trying to bring anti-Shabaab forces closer together.

“The whole problem is the Somali government which brought in and allowed the U.S. to massacre our people,” shouted Halima Mohamed Afrah, the aunt to one of the men killed in Bariire.

“The government should openly say over the media that they killed innocent farmers. Admit it, compensate us and then take the killers to court … if these conditions are not met … Blood should be shed for blood.”

(additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu, Katharine Houreld and John Ndiso in Nairobi and Phillip Stewart in Washington; writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by Peter Graff)

See also:

Navy SEAL killed in Somalia, first since notorious ‘Black Hawk Down’ battle in 1993

http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-navy-seal-killed-in-operation-against-1494005653-htmlstory.html

U.S. Test Successfully Intercepts Ballistic Missile

August 30, 2017

WASHINGTON — The United States conducted a missile-defense test on Wednesday off the coast of Hawaii and intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile, just days after North Korea’s bold missile test over Japan.

The missile test on Wednesday was conducted by the United States Missile Defense Agency and Navy sailors on the John Paul Jones, a guided-missile destroyer.

“We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important new capability, and this was a key milestone,” in advancing the capability to intercept missiles, said Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, which is part of the Defense Department. “We will continue developing ballistic missile-defense technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves.”

Tensions between the United States and North Korea have been rising in recent months over Pyongyang’s development of its nuclear program.

The United States regularly tests its missile-defense systems, and this was the second time one of its Standard Missile-6 missiles successfully intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile, the agency said. The test had long been planned.

North Korea’s most recent missile test early Tuesday local time prompted the Japanese government to tell residents to take cover. That missile traveled over the northern island of Hokkaido and landed in the sea. The test was considered a direct challenge to President Trump, who has threatened the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that America would respond with “fire and fury” to provocations.

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USS John Paul Jones

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Pentagon chief James Mattis says transgender troops may continue to serve for now as study, lawsuits continue

August 30, 2017

US Defense Secretary James Mattis has said transgender troops will remain in service until he advises US President Donald Trump on executing the ban. Several lawsuits have already been filed over Trump’s directive.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis

The current US military policy regarding openly transgender service members will remain in place while President Donald Trump’s new directive banning them is studied, said US Defense Secretary James Mattis on Tuesday.

Mattis appeared cautious about implementing Trump’s new policy directive, saying that a panel of experts will be convened to offer recommendations on the ban’s implementation.

“Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction,” the Pentagon chief said.

“In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place,” he said.

Read more: Donald Trump’s transgender ban leaves service members in limbo, creates backlash

Ban challenged in court

On Friday, Trump signed a memorandum banning transgender people from serving in the military, following a tweet announcing his plans in July.

The order directs the US military not to accept transgender men and women as recruits and bars the use of government funds for sex-reassignment surgeries for active troops unless the process is already under way. Trump said the ban should go into effect from March 23, 2018.

The directive created uncertainty for thousands of transgender members of the military, many of whom came out after Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama allowed transgender people to serve openly.

Trump’s order was hailed by some in Trump’s conservative base, but drew censure from Democrat lawmakers and advocates of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The Trump administration is currently facing several lawsuits brought by service members and transgender groups. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union also filed suit against the ban on behalf of several transgender troops.

rs/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/pentagon-chief-james-mattis-says-transgender-troops-may-continue-to-serve-for-now/a-40291449

China exploits the Philippines’ soft-pedalling in South China Sea

August 30, 2017

By Richard Heydarian

Duterte’s conciliatory stance on Beijing’s territorial claims is backfiring

An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea. © Reuters

Just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ended a series of ministerial meetings in Manila in early August the Philippines faced a fresh and daunting challenge in the South China Sea.

In what one prominent Filipino official described as an “invasion,” a flotilla of Chinese civilian and military vessels gathered within a few nautical miles of the Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, a prized land feature in the area. There are growing concerns that China will gobble up other contested land features in the Spratly chain of islands and tighten the noose around other claimant states as a prelude to full domination of the South China Sea.

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The “invasion” was a shocking development for Manila, which has used its one-year term as the rotating chair of ASEAN to shield Beijing against criticism of its maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea. The Philippines has also recently proposed resource-sharing agreements in contested areas to break the impasse among claimant states.

In exchange, Manila was hoping to reach a mutually acceptable modus vivendi with Beijing, leading to expanded trade and investment ties. China’s latest action, however, has exposed Beijing’s naked opportunism as it exploits the strategic acquiescence of some other ASEAN countries and waning U.S. influence in the region.

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Beijing’s assertiveness also casts doubt on the conciliatory policy pursued by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte toward China, and boosts hawks who are urging a tougher stance. Duterte and his Foreign Secretary (and former vice-presidential running mate) Alan Cayetano have sought to play down the issue, but the Philippine defense establishment and media are outraged.

At the recent ASEAN meetings, Philippine officials exercised the country’s prerogative as the group’s chair to tone down any criticism of China’s massive reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

Cayetano claimed that Beijing had not engaged in any reclamation activities in recent months, while indirectly criticizing other claimant states such as Vietnam for engaging in similar activities. But satellite imagery released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a monitoring program set up by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, has revealed China’s relentless expansion and upgrading of disputed land features such as the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea.

The Philippine foreign secretary admitted that he wanted to avoid issues that China consider sensitive in ASEAN’s post-summit joint statement, so as to facilitate dialogue. He also expressed skepticism over the wisdom of pursuing a “legally-binding” Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, a key demand of rival ASEAN claimant states such as Vietnam, suggesting that a more symbolic document would be sufficient.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department is grappling with policy paralysis under President Donald Trump and a series of naval collisions that have diminished the aura of U.S. invincibility and forced the resignation of Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, head of the U.S. 7th Fleet, the U.S. Navy’s largest overseas force.

To China’s delight, the Duterte administration has also dangled the option of resource-sharing with China in contested waters, particularly the energy-rich Reed Bank. This way, Manila hopes to avoid conflict and develop new energy resources to feed its booming economy. In effect, the Philippines is legitimizing China’s excessive claims, which extend well into the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

But Beijing’s blatant display of force risks undermining its newfound rapprochement with the Philippines, where the defense establishment and public are already highly critical of China.

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China H-6 bomber Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines. File photo from Xinhua

Suspicious movements

Intelligence reports on suspicious movements of Chinese vessels near Thitu Island were leaked by Philippine defense officials to Gary Alejano, a prominent opposition lawmaker. The information was corroborated by satellite imagery released by CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Alejano, a decorated former soldier with strong ties to the military, reported that Chinese frigates and coast guard vessels sailed close to Thitu Island from Aug. 11 to 15. He also suggested that China is intent on occupying Sandy Cay, a low-tide elevation within Thitu’s territorial waters.

Rocky Thitu Island, which is the second largest naturally-formed feature in the area, has been under effective Philippine occupation for more than 40 years. It has a mayor, a civilian community, an airstrip that dates to the 1970s and a regular contingent of Philippine marines and other military personnel.

In April, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and military chief of staff Eduardo Ano made a high-profile visit to Thitu to demonstrate Manila’s resolve to protect its territory. They promised to upgrade local facilities, including the airstrip, and improve basic services and accommodation for civilians living on the island. These plans are now in jeopardy due to the growing presence of Chinese vessels in the area.

There are also growing fears of encirclement and additional reclamation activities by China in the Spratly Islands, which are contested by China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Beijing already occupies nearby Subi Reef, which it has transformed it into a fully-fledged island with a large airstrip and advanced military facilities. A Chinese flag was reportedly planted on a sandbar next to the Philippine-controlled Kota Island. Such actions suggest that Beijing is intent on encircling and squeezing out other claimant states from the area.

Alejano has cautioned the Duterte administration against “denial or silence and inaction” in response to Chinese actions. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, a prominent hawk on the South China Sea issue, described the episode as an “invasion of Philippine territory,” and has urged Duterte and Cayetano to stand up to China. He suggested invoking a mutual defense treaty with the U.S. in the event of clashes with Chinese vessels.

Both Duterte and his foreign secretary have sought to play down the Thitu issue by claiming that China was engaged in routine maritime activities in the area. In a dramatic break with protocol, however, the Philippine military has openly encouraged the government to take a tougher stance. the foreign ministry to raise the issue in the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultative Mechanism, a negotiating forum established by the two countries, which met for the first time in May. It serves as the primary platform for dialogue on sensitive bilateral issues.

However, unless China significantly eases its assertiveness in the South China Sea, the Duterte administration is expected to come under growing domestic pressure to revise its policy toward Beijing. While Duterte is still popular, he cannot afford to continue to ignore public sentiment as well as the concerns of top military officers.

China’s aggressive actions underline the perils of Manila’s overly conciliatory policy, which is based on the naive notion that acquiescence will tame Beijing’s territorial appetite. The latest episode in the South China Sea highlights the necessity for ASEAN countries and the U.S. to actively resist Chinese maritime ambitions. Otherwise, Beijing will continue to push its luck at the expense of regional security and the interests of smaller claimant states.

Richard Heydarian is a Manila-based academic and columnist. He is the author of “Asia’s New Battlefield: US, China and the Struggle for the Western Pacific,” and of the forthcoming” Rise of Duterte.”

https://asia.nikkei.com/Viewpoints/Richard-Heydarian/China-exploits-the-Philippines-soft-pedalling-in-South-China-Sea

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Deepsea Metro I

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.