Posts Tagged ‘US military’

US warship collisions raise cyberattack fears

August 23, 2017



© AFP / by Sam Reeves | A collision between USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker off Singapore left a huge gash in the side of the guided-missile destroyer
SINGAPORE (AFP) – A spate of incidents involving US warships in Asia, including a deadly collision this week off Singapore, has forced the navy to consider whether cyberattackers might be to blame.While some experts believe that being able to engineer such a collision would be unlikely, given the security systems of the US Navy and the logistics of having two ships converge, others say putting the recent incidents down to human error and coincidence is an equally unsatisfactory explanation.

The USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker early Monday as the warship was on its way for a routine stop in the city-state, tearing a huge hole in the hull and leaving 10 sailors missing and five injured.

The Navy announced Tuesday that remains of some of the sailors were found by divers in flooded compartments on the ship.

The Chief of US Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said on Monday he could not rule out some kind of outside interference or a cyberattack being behind the latest collision, but said he did not want to prejudge the inquiry. His broader remarks suggested a focus on “how we do business on the bridge”.

“We’re looking at every possibility,” Richardson said, when asked about the possibility of a cyberattack, adding “as we did with Fitzgerald as well.”

Just two months earlier in June, the USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine-flagged cargo ship smashed into each other off Japan, leaving seven sailors dead and leading to several officers being disciplined.

There were also two more, lesser-known incidents this year — in January USS Antietam ran aground near its base in Japan and in May, USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel. Neither caused any injury.

Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, has refused to rule out sabotage in Monday’s incident, saying all possibilities are being examined.

“We are not taking any consideration off the table,” he told reporters in Singapore Tuesday, when asked about the possibility of a cyberattack in the latest incident.

– High tensions –

Analysts are divided on the issue, with some believing US Navy crews may simply be overstretched as they try to tackle myriad threats in the region, and pointing to the difficulties of sailing through waterways crowded with merchant shipping.

But others believe something more sinister may be going on.

Itar Glick, head of Israeli-based international cybersecurity firm Votiro, said the spate of incidents suggested that US Navy ships’ GPS systems could have been tampered with by hackers, causing them to miscalculate their positions.

“I think that hackers could try to do this, and if they are state sponsored they might have the right resources to facilitate this kind of attack,” he told AFP.

Glick, who says he used to work on cybersecurity for Israeli intelligence, said that China and North Korea would be the most likely culprits.

Tensions are running high between North Korea and Washington as Pyongyang makes strides in its weapons programme, conducting two successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launches in July.

Pyongyang has also been blamed for recent cyberattacks, including the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures and the theft of millions of dollars from the Bangladesh central bank.

The US has repeatedly accused China of carrying out cyberattacks on American companies, particularly to steal intellectual property. Beijing however says it is also the victim of such attacks.

– ‘Spoofing’ –

Glick pointed to a recent incident in June of apparent large-scale GPS interference in the Black Sea to illustrate that such disruptions are possible.

The interference — known as “spoofing”, which disrupts GPS signals so ships’ instruments show inaccurate locations — caused some 20 vessels to have their signals disrupted, according to reports.

Jeffery Stutzman, chief of intelligence operations for US-based cybersecurity firm Wapack Labs, told AFP he thought the possibility of a cyberattack being behind the latest incident was “entirely possible”.

“I would be very doubtful that it was human error, four times in a row,” he said, referring to the four recent incidents.

Still, other observers believe such a scenario to be unlikely.

Zachary Fryer-Biggs, from defence consultancy Jane’s by IHS Markit, said that even if something went wrong with the GPS system of a ship, other safety mechanisms should stop it from crashing, such as having people on watch.

“The collision only occurs if several other safety mechanisms fail,” he said.

Daniel Paul Goetz, from US-headquartered cybersecurity firm Lantium, added that causing a collision would be complicated, as it would involve knowing the exact location, speed and bearing of both ships involved.

Goetz, who says his background is in US military intelligence, also pointed to the level of technology used to protect the navy from such threats.

“The US military uses a GPS system that is highly secured, highly encrypted — the chances that somebody could take over US military ship is very close to zero,” he said.

by Sam Reeves

Top US general condemns racism after Charlottesville violence

August 17, 2017


© POOL/AFP | General Joseph Dunford joined top military figures who have spoken out against the violence in Charlottesville

BEIJING (AFP) – The United States’ top general condemned “racism and bigotry” on Thursday, joining other military leaders in their denunciation of deadly violence in Charlottesville.

The military usually stays out of the political fray, but it has been keen to distance itself from the weekend’s neo-Nazi demonstrations because some demonstrators were sporting US military clothes or insignia.

“I can absolutely and unambiguously tell you that there’s no place for racism and bigotry in the US military or in the United States as a whole,” General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, told reporters during a visit to Beijing.

He added that military leaders “were speaking directly to the force and to the American people… to make it clear that that kind of racism and bigotry is not going to stand inside the force… and to remind (the American people) of the values for which we stand in the US military which are reflective of what I believe to be the values of the United States.”

The statement contrasts with remarks from President Donald Trump, who said there was “blame on both sides” after a white supremacist rally ended with a suspected Nazi sympathiser ploughing his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, leaving one woman dead and 19 others injured.

“What about the alt-left that came charging… at the, as you say, the alt-right?” the president asked on Tuesday. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

The heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, have responded to the incident in recent days.

Admiral John Richardson, who leads the Navy, called the events in Charlottesville “shameful.”

“The Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred,” he said in a statement Saturday.

US Vice President Mike Pence Starts Latin American “Reassurance Tour” — Following President Donald Trump’s threat of a possible “military option” against Venezuela

August 13, 2017


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | US Vice President Mike Pence’s tour would be dominated by the crisis in Venezuela and how US “partners and friends” were looking to the “future” regarding that country, while others were stuck in the “past,” a senior US administration official said

BOGOTA (AFP) – US Vice President Mike Pence launches a Latin America tour Sunday that has taken on new significance following President Donald Trump’s threat of a possible “military option” against Venezuela.

The weeklong trip, aimed at coordinating a regional diplomatic action to the political crisis in Caracas, begins in Colombia, a strong US ally that takes hundreds of millions of dollars a year in funding from Washington and which has little liking for leftist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The other stops were Argentina, Chile and Panama.

The tour would be dominated by the crisis in Venezuela and how US “partners and friends” were looking to the “future” regarding that country, while others were stuck in the “past,” a senior US administration official said.

“We’ve been firm in both word and deed against the Maduro regime, and it’s important to get others in the region. And these four countries have, but we want to continue to put the pressure on the Maduro regime,” he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“We’ll talk to economic options, diplomatic options — every tool that’s available. It’s not only the United States putting forth pressure on Maduro, but that he’s getting it from all sides of the region as well.”

But, thanks to Trump’s warning on Friday that he was considering various measures to tackle Venezuela “including a possible military option if necessary,” Latin American nations — including those who are scolding Caracas for “breaking democratic rule” — are united against the use of American force.

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru all issued messages rejecting such a step.

– Bitter memories –

For many Latin American countries, bitter memories of past US military adventures in the region have resurfaced as a result — including the 1989 invasion of Panama to topple and capture its leader, Manuel Noriega — as well as CIA involvement in bloody guerrilla and counter-guerrilla campaigns, and Washington’s propping up of military dictators.

The United States has slapped sanctions on Maduro — an extremely rare punishment against a head of state — as well as two dozen of his officials.

The measures were for the establishment of a new assembly of Maduro loyalists that bypasses the legislature controlled by opposition. The body, which started work this month, has set about clamping down on dissent and opposition politicians.

With Trump’s threat of possible military action, Maduro’s regime has intensified arguments that the United States is plotting with the opposition to oust the president and grab Venezuela’s oil reserves, the largest in the world.

It also said the threat was not just against it, but against all of Latin America.

“The reckless threat by President Donald Trump aims to drag Latin America and the Caribbean into a conflict that would permanently alter stability, peace and security in our region,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told a news conference on Saturday.

The defense minister, General Vladimir Padrino, called Trump’s talk “craziness.”

– Force rejected –

Leftist allies Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua have backed Venezuela in a confrontation against its “imperialist” foe.

Other Latin American nations strongly opposed to Venezuela’s political move have also condemned the prospect of the US military being deployed to impose Washington’s will.

“The repudiation of violence and whatever option involving the use of force is resolute and constitutes a fundamental basis of democratic cohabitation, both in domestic contexts as well as in international relations,” Brazil’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The crisis in Venezuela can’t be resolved through military actions, internally or externally,” Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray wrote on Twitter.

US-backed Syrian forces breach Raqqa’s wall in IS fight

July 4, 2017

BBC News

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa. Photo: June 2017
The SDF, supported by US-led coalition air strikes, has spent months encircling Raqqa. Reuters photo

US-backed Syrian forces have breached the wall at Raqqa’s Old City as they try to retake the city from so-called Islamic State, the US military says.

It says the coalition helped the advance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) by firing on two sections of the historic Rafiqa Wall.

The SDF, supported by US-led coalition air strikes, has spent months encircling the city.

IS seized Raqqa in 2014, proclaiming it the capital of a “caliphate”.

The city has been an important hub for the jihadist group’s operations, though as the SDF closed in key IS officials are believed to have fled from there towards Deir al-Zour province, which is mostly under IS control.

About 2,500 IS fighters are still in Raqqa, according to the US-led coalition.

US Central Command said air strikes hit two “small” 25m (80ft) sections of the Rafiqa Wall, which it said “will help preserve” the remaining 2,475m.

It said IS had been planting mines and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] at openings in the wall, through which SDF fighters would have been channelled.

The Old City is highly strategic for the Arab-Kurdish alliance to capture from IS, given its close proximity to the city centre.

Last week, the SDF said its fighters had fully encircled IS in Raqqa.

Map showing control of Iraq and Syria (31 May 2017)

The US-backed forces have been gradually advancing on the city since November, and launched an offensive to take it on 6 June.

The coalition has said the capture of Raqqa will deliver a “decisive blow” to the jihadist group.

“Welcome to Raqqa, capital of a caliphate under siege”: Gabriel Gatehouse reports from the front line. BBC

The battle for the city has been brutal for the civilians there.

The UN says that at least 173 were killed in June, and that the actual figure could be far higher, stressing that “civilians must not be sacrificed for the sake of rapid military victories”.

It is believed that up to 100,000 people are trapped by the fighting. Reports continue to emerge of IS militants preventing civilians from fleeing.

More than 300,000 people have lost their lives in six years of conflict in Syria, which began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad before escalating into a full-scale civil war. Eleven million people have been displaced by the fighting.

Includes video:

Russia To Target U.S. and Coalition Aircraft Over Syria

June 19, 2017

Russia steps up rhetoric after U.S. fighter shoots down Syrian government jet


June 19, 2017 10:33 a.m. ET

MOSCOW—Russia escalated tensions with the United States Monday, promising to actively track U.S. and coalition aircraft over Syria with air defense systems and warplanes, the country’s defense ministry said.

In a statement released Monday, the Russian military said it would treat U.S. and coalition operating west of the Euphrates Rivers as “aerial targets,” but stopped short of threatening a shootdown.

“In regions where the…



Russia warns US-led coalition over downing of Syrian jet


Defence ministry says planes flying west of Euphrates will be treated as targets and that it has suspended safety agreement with US

A US navy F/A-18 Super Hornet
The Pentagon confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday. Photograph: US DoD handout/EPA

Russia’s defence ministry has said it will treat any plane from the US-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates river in Syria as a potential target, after the US military shot down a Syrian air force jet on Sunday.

The ministry also said it was suspending a safety agreement with Washington designed to prevent collisions and dangerous incidents in Syrian airspace.

According to the Pentagon the Syrian jet in question had dropped bombs near US partner forces involved in the fight to wrest Raqqa from Islamic State (Isis) control. It was the first such US attack on a Syrian air force plane since the start of the country’s civil war six years ago.

In an apparent attempt at deescalation, Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the defence and security committee at the upper chamber of Russian parliament, described the defence ministry’s statement as a warning. “I’m sure that because of this neither the US nor anyone else will take any actions to threaten our aircraft,” he told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. “That’s why there’s no threat of direct confrontation between Russia and American aircraft.”

Ozerov said Russia will be tracking the coalition’s jets, not shooting them down, but he added that “a threat for those jets may appear only if they take action that pose a threat to Russian aircraft”.

The deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the US strike “has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law.

“What is this if not an act of aggression? It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy.”

The Russian response increases the risk of an inadvertent air fight breaking out between US and Russian warplanes in the skies above Syria.

The US military confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian SU-22 on Sunday. The US said the Syrian jet had dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters who are aligned with US forces in the fight against Isis. Damascus said its plane had been on anti-Isis mission.

Col John Thomas, a spokesman for US Central Command, said there were no US forces in the immediate vicinity of the Syrian attack but that the SDF was under threat for more than two hours.

The growing risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Russia follows a decision by Donald Trump to grant his military chiefs untrammelled control of US military strategy in Syria.

Tensions have also been bubbling between Washington and Moscow over efforts to dislodge Isis from its Raqqa stronghold.

Russia, a staunch supporter of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has been pressing the US to make the removal of Isis a joint land and air operation, but discussions over Syria’s long-term political future appear to have ground to a halt, leaving the US military to operate in a political vacuum.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters working alongside western special forces, said it would take action to defend itself from Syrian warplanes if attacks continued.

The Trump administration has promised to improve arms supplies to the SDF after it concluded that it was the force most capable of freeing Raqqa from Isis.

In a sign of how complex the Syrian peace process has become, Russian-sponsored peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, are scheduled to resume on the same day – 10 July – as talks convened by the UN in Geneva.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced the date on Monday in the knowledge that it would coincide with the UN schedule. He also said that the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, would take part.

A spokesman for de Mistura said “the subject is currently being discussed”.

Chinese fighter jets intercept US military plane over East China Sea in ‘unprofessional and unsafe manner’

May 19, 2017

US says the intercept was ‘unprofessional’ and has raised the issue with China. Japan meanwhile protests a Chinese drone flight in disputed waters

Friday, May 19, 2017, 12:41pm

Two Chinese SU-30 fighter jets carried out what the US military described on Thursday as an “unprofessional” intercept of a US radiation detection aircraft while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea.

“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said air force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge.

An SU-30 fighter jet

An SU-30 fighter jet CREDIT: EPA

Hodge said the US characterisation of the incident was based on initial reports from the aircrew aboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft “due to the manoeuvres by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft.”

“Distances always have a bearing on how we characterise interactions,” Hodge said, adding a US military investigation into the intercept was underway.

She said the WC-135 was carrying out a routine mission at the time and was operating in accordance with international law.

The incident follows a similar one in February when a US Navy P-3 spy plane and a Chinese military aircraft came close to each other over the South China Sea. The US saw that event as unsafe but also inadvertent.

Separately, Japan’s defence minister, Tomomi Inada, criticised what she said was a drone flight from a Chinese government vessel that had entered Japanese waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea, describing it as “a violation of sovereignty.”

“A drone flight from a Chinese government ship that entered our territorial waters is totally unacceptable, as we think it will lead to the escalation of the situation. The case is a serious violation of our national sovereignty,” Inada said at a news conference.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said at a separate press conference that the drone flight was “a new type of action by China.”

“We have sternly protested that it is utterly unacceptable,” he said.

The incident took place after the Japan Coast Guard confirmed four China Coast Guard vessels had entered waters around the uninhabited islands, as well as the existence of a drone flying above one of the vessels on Thursday morning.

Japan and China have long been at loggerheads over the tiny, uninhabited islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

It was the first such flight near the islands witnessed by Japanese officials, although Thursday’s incident takes to 13 the number of intrusions this year by Chinese coastguard ships in the contested waters, Japan’s coastguard said.

 The disputed islands in the East China Sea, controlled by Japan which calls them the Senkaku islands, and claimed by China which calls them the Diaoyu islands. Photo: Reuters

Japanese government sources said an F-15 fighter jet was scrambled in response to the deployment of a drone. Japanese coast guard ordered the Chinese vessels to leave the waters and they did so nearly two hours later. The drone later disappeared from sight, Japanese coast guard said.

The Chinese embassy responded to the Japanese protest by reiterating “China’s own stance” on the islands, the official added.

In a brief statement on its website, China’s State Oceanic Administration confirmed that four coast guard vessels had been patrolling by the islands, but made no mention of any drone.

China routinely rejects Japanese criticism of such patrols, saying its ships have every right to operate in what China calls its territorial waters.

Additional reporting by Kyodo



Two Chinese fighter jets conducted an “unprofessional” intercept of a US Air Force plane, US officials said, with one flying upside down directly above the aircraft in a manoeuvre similar to the one performed in the Hollywood movie Top Gun.

The two Chinese Su-30 jets came within 150 feet of the US radiation detection plane during the confrontation over the Yellow Sea, CNN and other US media outlets reported. The Yellow Sea is between China’s east coast and the Korean Peninsula.

“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said Air Force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge.

Lieutenant Colonel Hodge said the US characterisation of the incident was based on initial reports from the US aircrew aboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft “due to the manoeuvres by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft.”


“Distances always have a bearing on how we characterise interactions,” she said, adding a US military investigation into the intercept was underway.

She said the WC-135, a four-engine jet which monitors for elements that a nuclear test would emit into the air, was carrying out a routine mission at the time and was operating in accordance with international law.

The US Air Force operates two WC-135 jets from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska that regularly fly to north-east Asia, CNN reported.

Donald Trump’s administration has been ratcheting up pressure on nuclear-armed North Korea to give up its military ambitions.

The rogue nation has carried out five nuclear tests, including two last year.

The incident between the US aircraft and two Chinese planes on Wednesday is the second this year.

A Chinese surveillance plane and a US Navy P-3 Orion aircraft experienced what US officials called an “unsafe” close encounter over the South China Sea in February.

Last year, Beijing rejected accusations from the US that its fighter jets carried out another unsafe manoeuvre over the sea.

Washington also raised concerns over China’s military in 2014 when it claimed a Chinese plane made a “dangerous” pass near a US aircraft – performing a barrel roll, apparently to display its weapons.

In 2001 a Chinese jet collided with a US Navy surveillance aircraft off Hainan Island, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the Navy plane to make an emergency landing on the island.

Washington severed military relations with China after that episode. Officials in Beijing regularly call on the US to cut down the amount of patrols it carries out near China.

TT/ 19 MAY 2017 • 3:38AM

Suicide bombers storm state TV station in eastern Afghanistan

May 17, 2017


© Noorullah Shirzada, AFP | Afghan security personnel guard a checkpoint on the outskirts of Jalalabad on April 28, 2017.

Latest update : 2017-05-17

Suicide bombers stormed the national television station in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, triggering gunfights and explosions as journalists remained trapped inside the building, officials said.

At least two people were killed and 14 others wounded in the ongoing assault, which underscores the growing dangers faced by media workers in Afghanistan.

No insurgent group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid in Nangarhar province, a hotbed of Islamic State jihadists, where the US military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb last month in an unprecedented attack.

“Four attackers entered the RTA (Radio Television Afghanistan) building this morning. Two blew themselves up and two others are still resisting,” government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP. He had earlier said there were three attackers.

“At least two civilians have been killed and 14 others wounded so far,” Kohgyani said, with a health worker telling AFP that many of those brought to hospital suffered gunshot wounds.

An RTA photographer said he fled the building as soon as the gunfight erupted, but many of his colleagues were still stuck inside.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

At least 17 wounded taken to main hospital in Jalalabad. 2 wounded in critical conditions, direc health Nin. Photos shared by a friend

Islamic State insurgents are active in Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital.

The US military last month dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — dubbed the “Mother Of All Bombs” — on IS positions in Nangarhar, killing dozens of jihadists.

The bombing triggered global shock waves, with some condemning the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat as the resurgent Taliban.

According to the US Forces-Afghanistan, defections and recent battlefield losses have reduced the local IS presence from a peak of as many as 3,000 fighters to a maximum of 800.

Deadly country for media

The Pentagon has reportedly asked the White House to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to break the deadlocked fight against the Taliban.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, who also mainly serve in an advisory capacity — a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.

Wednesday’s attack marks the latest militant assault on an Afghan media organisation.

Afghanistan suffered its deadliest year on record for journalists in 2016, according to the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC), adding that the country is the second most dangerous for reporters in the world after Syria.

Soldiers in the Afghan Army capturing a suspected militant after an attack on a TV station in Jalalabad, in Afghanistan, on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Witnesses reported multiple loud explosions and gunfire.Credit Ghulamullah Habibi/European Pressphoto Agency


As least 13 journalists were killed last year, AJSC said, claiming that the Taliban was behind at least ten of the deaths.

In January last year, seven employees of popular TV channel Tolo, which is often critical of the insurgents, were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul in what the militant group said was revenge for “spreading propaganda” against them.

It was the first major attack on an Afghan media organisation since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 and spotlighted the dangers faced by journalists as the security situation worsens.

Dan Coats, the head of US intelligence agencies, warned last week that the security situation “will also almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in the military assistance by the US”.

US-led forces have been fighting in Afghanistan for almost 16 years, making it America’s longest war.

US: No pressure on Philippines to push back vs China

May 10, 2017
A US Marine places his national flag next to the Philippines’ flag during the opening ceremony of the annual Philippines-US military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, suburban Manila on May 8, 2017. The Philippines and United States launched annual military exercises in Manila on May 8 but the longtime allies scaled them down in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot to China and Russia. Ted Aljibe/AFP

MANILA, Philippines — Washington will not put pressure on the Philippines to try to push back against China in connection with the South China Sea dispute, the US Department of  State said.

Patrick Murphy, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, stressed that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants cooperation and collaboration in addressing the North Korea and South China Sea issues.

President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to use the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal on the South China Sea in pressuring China.

In a telephonic press conference last week, Murphy said that the US took note of the arbitration ruling issued last year and consistently notes that it is a binding ruling between the Philippines and China.

“But there is a much bigger story here, and that is bringing about a solution to the disputes that applies to all of the claimants and then the rest of the international community that has the rights and the needs to access the South China Sea area,” Murphy told members of the press.

Murphy noted that the South China Sea dispute was one of the main issues discussed during the meeting between Tillerson and his Southeast Asian counterparts last week.

The US official noted that Washington and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) share common objectives in wanting the air and maritime transit through the South China Sea to be free and open in accordance with international law.

“He gave his counterparts and Southeast Asia assurances that they could count on the US to assert our rights for the benefit of unimpeded commerce and trade and regional and global security and peace. In accordance with international law, we will assert those rights,” Murphy said.

Tillerson also assured his ASEAN counterparts that the US strongly encourages all relevant parties to stop any activities associated with militarizing, constructing or reclaiming land in the disputed areas.

READ: Amid watered down statement, ASEAN ministers share South China Sea concern with Tillerson

“He thought that it would be beneficial for all if such activities of militarization, construction, and reclamation would stop. Let’s ensure that the environment is conducive for good talks to find a solution,” Murphy said.

Murphy further noted that the US is not a claimant in the South China Sea but an interested party seeking to enjoy unimpeded travel and transit for purposes of navigation, overflight and commerce.

Washington believes that the South China Sea dispute could be resolved through dialogue, according to Murphy.

“Dialogue is important as long as it is inclusive and adheres to the principles of a rules-based order,” the deputy assistant secretary said.

Murphy reiterated that Washington does not want to put pressure due to a common understanding of the need for navigation, overflight and for commerce.

“It’s a complicated issue, and I think ASEAN is itself a very good example of that. There are claimants, there are non-claimants… The good news is that ASEAN has demonstrated unity on this issue in the past and ASEAN leaders themselves have referred to the Sunnylands Principles which deal with things like militarization, and reclamation, and construction,” Murphy said.

As an interested party, the US encouraged China and the ASEAN to conduct a dialogue that would result in a binding agreement that would apply to all countries.

During the conclusion of the 30th ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in Manila a few weeks ago, Duterte said that the 10-member regional bloc will push through with the enactment of a code of conduct on the South China Sea within the first half of the year.

The ASEAN, under Philippine chairmanship this year, did not mention any single reference of the arbitral ruling issued by a United Nations-backed tribunal in its final statement.

FULL TEXT: Chairman’s statement for the 30th ASEAN Summit


 (The authors say, China prefers places with lots of poverty and corruption and not too much interest in rule of law or human rights…)


No automatic alt text available.
For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law and nobody has even complained.

Is China Really Moving Away From North Korea? Or Is China is Playing Along With Donald Trump Temporarily for its Own Strategic Gains?

May 7, 2017
May 6, 2017, 2:00 AM IST
By  Nayan Chanda


Image may contain: mountain and outdoor

Asia’s l’enfant terrible North Korea seems determined to rain on Beijing’s parade. By mounting an unprecedented public criticism of its sole ally China for its “betrayal”, Pyongyang has revealed that, despite all his recent diplomatic gains, President Xi Jinping remains vulnerable.

Mao Zedong once described North Korea’s relations with China “as close as lips and teeth”, but this week with growing tensions over its nuclear and missile tests, those teeth were bared even if lips were not bitten. In a stinging editorial comment, North Korea’s official news agency warned China of grave consequences if it tried to stop the development of the country’s nuclear weapons programme. Compare this to the 1950s, when one lakh Chinese volunteers fought in Korea losing thousands of lives, including that of Chairman Mao’s own son.

Although a single editorial in a party paper does not a rupture make, this deterioration of a historic alliance could be the first tremor of a tectonic shift in Northeast Asia. If another nuclear test does not bring withering Chinese sanctions it might yet lay the ground for a palace coup in a hungry, isolated country.

The North Korean denunciation came during a week when President Xi returned from a successful US visit, witnessed the launching of the country’s second aircraft carrier, and savoured the sweet success of his aggressive policy in South China Sea. After fruitless discussions, Asean ministers meeting in Manila dropped the idea of noting China’s land reclamation and militarisation. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who had chosen to shelve disputes over South China Sea islands, went to personally welcome visiting Chinese navy ships. Coincidentally, the Trump administration also rejected plans to organise freedom of navigation sailing through South China Sea to avoid imperilling Chinese cooperation on tackling North Korea.

Against this happy backdrop, Beijing was preparing to hold its first summit of One Belt One Road project with the participation of leaders of 28 countries including Russia, Pakistan and Southeast Asian countries. The meeting, designed to show China as the unchallenged leader of a continent-wide economic and geostrategic project, suffered a knock with the North Korean claim that it “will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear programme which is as precious as its own life.” China should “no longer try to test the limits of the DPRK’s patience” the commentary warned, reminding it of the role the frontline state played for China’s security.

To be clear, China’s relations with North Korea have been deteriorating slowly for the last five years. Pyongyang’s determined bid to acquire nuclear weapons and missiles has brought UN sanctions which China half-heartedly embraced. Its desire to protect the regime from a potential implosion and all of the unforeseen consequences that might entail has meant China routinely called for restraint by all sides while keeping its own trade lines open. It had tried to prevent South Korea from taking strong measures against the North by showering attention on Seoul and developing economic ties.

But the manoeuvre failed when a frustrated and insecure Seoul accepted US help in setting up the THAAD anti-missile defence system. Fearing that the system and its sophisticated radar would weaken China’s own missile defence programme, Beijing has mounted a campaign of intimidation against South Korea. The net result of China’s ambiguous policy has been to antagonise both Koreas and create diplomatic openings for the US and Japan. China cannot be happy to see reinforcement of the US military presence in Western Pacific and increasing military cooperation between the US and Japan (a Japanese helicopter carrier took part in an exercise for the first time) that North Korean missile tests have brought about.

But North Korea has learnt the lesson from Iraq and Libya, where leaders shorn of their nuclear and biological weapons were rapidly swept aside. However much China might wish to see Korea denuclearised, Kim Jong-un’s existential desire to survive trumps all aid and decades of friendship.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
The Opposite View: What If China is Playing Along With Trump for its Own Strategic Gains?
By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
Experienced China watchers know that often times, what seems to be happening inside the Chinese leadership is just a mirage. China’s real strategy is often only known weeks, months or years after all the pundits guessed wrong.
The Trump administration should have growing concern that China is only pretending to be a real friend in the North Korean “crisis.”
After all, that “friendship” is based upon a 24 hour visit to Mar-a-Lago, Florida by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
President Trump’s glowing report on the meeting of the two leaders may be correct. President Trump said he developed a true friendship with Xi and that Xi “loves the Chinese people.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

President George Bush, after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time in 2001, issued this glowing report:
“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”
China acts in the long-term. China knows North Korea as well as any nation. And China is now a peer competitor of the United States economically, militarily and in other ways. That has been the assessment of Western intelligence agencies for several years.
China is also allied with Russia. Neither are on the “U.S. side.”
Although state-run Chinese media has made a lot of noise about China helping the U.S. with North Korea, there is very little unbiased reporting that tells us that China has made any real, dramatic, policy changes that may have a chance of changing Kim Jung-un’s mind. Intelligence assessments have told us that Kim views his ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons as a guarantee of his continues existence — the the continuation of his regime.
Loss of a little coal from China is not about to change Kim’s mind.
Plus there are already reports that Russia is helping North Korea make up any supply deficits from Vladivostok.

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A combined task force of Chinese and Russian warships trained together in the western Pacific in 2016 and 2014. Reuters photo

Meanwhile, in all this talk of a “North Korea Crisis,” China has made manifest progress in the South China Sea. After Xi Jinping promised Barack Obama and John Kerry that the Chinese-built islands in the South China Sea would not be militarized, he did just that. Now China has between four and seven South China Sea air bases that can control the sea lanes and intimidate any locals.
China has already dramatically changed the balance of influence and power in the South China Sea by ignoring international law and promising whatever Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wants. The Philippines seems now to be a stong ally of China and Russia.
Vietnam also seems to be squarely if not grudgingly in the Chinese sphere. Vietnamese state run media has stopped reporting on any difficulties with China in an effort to keep the Chinese government happy. China’s island bases near Vietnam make the Vietnamese almost hostages in the event of any disputes.
Among the stongest allies of the U.S. in Asia, South Korea is now deeply divided and connected strongly to China by trade.  The South Korean election will tells us more. Japan is forging financial ties to China, “just in case.”
And the crisis with North Korea drags on with no end in sight. And a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group is now “pinned down” in a watchful presence that seems to have yielded no measurable gains for the U.S.
Has Donald Trump found a way to end the North Korea nuclear program and its ultimate power to strike the U.S. with nuclear armed ballistic missiles?
Or has Donald Trump fallen into the kind of classic Chinese trap Sun Tzu talks about in his book “On War”?

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When confronted with this quote from Wang Yi by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday,  (April 30, 2017) U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said, “Well, he might want to talk to his president, who during the summit with President Trump acknowledged that this is a great threat, not just to the United States but a may be even more so to China. And I think what was most striking about the results of that summit is China’s willingness to take ownership of this problem and to recognize that they have to act to help resolve this problem, short of a military conflict.”

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H.R. McMaster, U.S. National Security Advisor, Peace and Freedom screengrab.

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For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law and nobody has even complained.

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In the “Art of War,” the ancient military philosopher Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of alliances in both times of war and peace. He observed that alliances enabled kingdoms to increase their chances of survival and even victory while diminishing those of their opponents. For Sun Tzu, it is essential for a kingdom to prevent its enemies from combining their resources and efforts to oppose its goals. This can be done by forcing them to consider the grave consequences of their opposition against its interest.

He wrote: “When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state, his generalship shows itself in preventing the concentration of the enemy’s forces. He overawes his opponents and their allies are prevented from joining against him.” Sun Tzu was emphatic that if one faces an enemy with powerful allies, it is prudent to avoid attacking the coalition until its members have been divided and separated from each other. In the 21st century geopolitics, we see how China is applying this stratagem against the Philippines and the United States (US), as it effectively unravels an emerging coalition of states opposing its expansion in the South China Sea.

China uses a strategy called “talk and take” rooted in Sun Tzu. China’s new islands and militarization of the South China Sea, where it has no legal claim, is an example of this strategy.

After 30 years of negotiations to stop North Korea from putting nuclear weapons atop long-range ballistic missiles, and North Korea breaking every agreement, the U.S. now faces a North Korea on the brink of achieving its long-held goal. Sun Tzu would undoubtedly be proud.

Peace and Freedom


US aims to eliminate IS from Afghanistan this year

May 2, 2017


© AFP/File / by Thomas WATKINS | Afghan security forces taking on Islamic State militants — the local offshoot first emerged in 2015

WASHINGTON (AFP) – After dropping a monster bomb on its fighters, then targeting its leader, the US military is looking to destroy the Islamic State group’s Afghan branch before battle-hardened reinforcements arrive from Syria and Iraq.

While US and Kabul government forces have mainly been combatting Taliban fighters since 2001, IS’s local offshoot — also known as Islamic State-Khorasan, or ISIS-K — has a stronghold in eastern Afghanistan.

First emerging in 2015, ISIS-K overran large parts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, near the Pakistan border, but their part in the Afghan conflict had been largely overshadowed by the operations against the Taliban.

Many Americans first heard of ISIS-K last month when the US dropped the “Mother Of All Bombs” on its Nangarhar bastion — an aerial munition that the Pentagon said was the biggest non-nuclear weapon it had ever used in combat.

US and Afghan forces then raided a compound last week close to the site of the bombing, with the Pentagon saying it believed it had killed ISIS-K’s leader Abdul Hasib during the operation.

Captain Bill Salvin, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said the local IS presence peaked at between 2,500 to 3,000 but that defections and recent battlefield losses had reduced their number to a maximum of 800.

“We have a very good chance of destroying them in 2017, making it very clear that when the ISIS fighters are destroyed elsewhere around the globe that this is not the place for you to come to plot your attacks,” Salvin told AFP.

US-backed fighters also appear to have IS on the ropes in Syria and Iraq, where an operation to wrest back control of the major northern city of Mosul has been ongoing since October.

– Jihadists on the move –

But both the military and analysts acknowledge there is a danger of IS fighters heading to Afghanistan if they are forced out of Iraq and Syria.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, said that while IS should ultimately be defeated in Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s timeline may be overly optimistic.

A definitive victory could take “a long time due, partly (due) to the proximity of Pakistan as well as the possible flow of fighters” from the Middle East as the “group loses sanctuaries there,” O’Hanlon told AFP.

The Taliban, which first emerged in the mid-1990s in southern Afghanistan, managed to conquer most of the country before its 2001 ouster with the help of a range of foreign jihadists, including Pakistanis, Saudis and Chechens.

Analysts say that as well as Afghans, ISIS-K includes disaffected Pakistani and Uzbek Islamists among its ranks who used to fight for the Taliban.

It first emerged as a significant player in Afghanistan in early 2015 when its fighters overran the Taliban in parts of the east and has subsequently claimed responsibility for a string of bomb attacks.

ISIS-K’s defeat would be an important victory for the US, which has struggled to boast of clear wins after forcing the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001 in the initial aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of the Long War Journal, said ISIS-K had “withstood multiple US-backed offensives over the past two years.”

But while their defeat would be a boost to the US, Roggio said the Taliban and their long-time Al-Qaeda allies were still a much bigger challenge.

“It’s not that they don’t pose a threat, but I would argue that the Taliban pose a far greater threat to the stability of Afghanistan,” Roggio told AFP.

“It would be basically winning a battle, but we are still losing the war, which is basically the story of Afghanistan since we’ve been involved there.”

America has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Most belong to a NATO mission to train and advise Afghan partner forces fighting the Taliban.

by Thomas WATKINS