Posts Tagged ‘US military’

US military to stay in Syria ‘as long as we need to’: Pentagon

December 5, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The Pentagon now sees an open-ended troop commitment in Syria
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US military plans to stay in Syria as long as necessary to ensure the Islamic State group does not return, a Pentagon official told AFP on Tuesday.”We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said.

The United States currently has approximately 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, where they have been helping train and advise partner forces in the fight against IS.

Now that the jihadists have been cleared from all but a few pockets of territory, the United States has been assessing what its presence will be going forward in the civil-war-torn nation.

Pahon said its troop commitment in Syria would be “conditions-based,” meaning that no timeline will determine if and when the US will pull out.

“To ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS, the coalition must ensure it cannot regenerate, reclaim lost ground, or plot external attacks,” he said.

“This is essential to the protection of our homeland as well as to defend our allies and partners…. The United States will sustain a ‘conditions-based’ military presence in Syria to combat the threat of a terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilize liberated areas.”

The announcement is likely to rile Russia, which since late 2015 has conducted a separate military campaign to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

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Dozens of Afghan security forces killed in Taliban raids

November 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Afghan security forces have faced soaring casualties in their attempts to hold back the insurgents since NATO combat forces pulled out of the country at the end of 2014

KABUL (AFP) – Dozens of Afghan police and soldiers have been killed in a wave of Taliban attacks on checkpoints in Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday, as insurgents step up assaults on the beleaguered security forces.

The raids in the southern province of Kandahar and the western province of Farah on Monday night came hours after a suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a US military convoy, wounding four soldiers.

The Taliban issued statements on their social media accounts claiming the attacks.

“I can confirm that last night the Taliban launched a wave of attacks on police checkpoints in Maiwand and Zhari districts and we lost 22 brave policemen,” Kandahar governor spokesman Qudrat Khushbakht told AFP.

He added that 45 militants were killed during the fighting that lasted around six hours.

In one of the attacks militants used an explosives-packed police pickup to ambush a checkpoint, Kandahar police spokesman Matiullah Helal told AFP.

At least 15 policemen were wounded in the coordinated assaults.

The attack on the US military convoy in Kandahar added to the casualty toll.

“There were a total of four US service members injured and all are in stable condition in US medical treatment facilities,” a spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan said, adding there were no fatalities.

Farah governor spokesman Naser Mehri told AFP nine Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in two separate attacks in the province bordering Iran that also claimed the lives of at least three civilians.

“There are signs the Taliban may have used night vision technology to approach and surprise our forces, though they were spotted before reaching the posts and suffered casualties,” Mehri said.

The Taliban have intensified attacks on security installations across the country in recent weeks in a show of strength as the United States deploys more troops to train and assist Afghan forces.

Analysts said the Taliban’s almost daily attacks are intended to show their ability to strike even heavily defended targets with the aim of further demoralising Afghan forces already beset by huge casualties and desertions.

The Taliban often use bomb-laden armoured Humvees and police vehicles stolen from Afghan security forces to blast their way into security compounds.

The tactic was used multiple times last month with devastating effect: hundreds were killed and wounded over a bloody few days that left military bases and police headquarters destroyed or severely damaged.

Afghan security forces have faced soaring casualties in their attempts to hold back the insurgents since NATO combat forces pulled out of the country at the end of 2014.

Casualties leapt by 35 percent in 2016, with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to US watchdog SIGAR.

The insurgents have carried out more complex attacks against security forces in 2017, with SIGAR describing troop casualties in the early part of the year as “shockingly high”.

In August, Trump announced that American forces would stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, increasing attacks on militants and deploying more troops.

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Trump, Fellow Populist Duterte to Meet as U.S.-Philippine Relations Improve

November 12, 2017

Two leaders to discuss renewal of U.S.-Philippines alliance

MANILA, Philippines—President Rodrigo Duterte meets Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump, carrying with him a longstanding animosity toward America that has been tempered by Mr. Trump’s implicit support of his war on drugs and by U.S. help in crushing Islamic State-backed fighters who occupied a southern city.

The firebrand Filipino lobbed repeated verbal attacks at the U.S. when he took office in June 2016, swiftly clashing with then-President Barack Obama on human-rights issues. Relations improved under Mr. Trump, who…

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-fellow-populist-duterte-to-meet-as-u-s-philippine-relations-improve-1510498539

N. Korea slams ‘incurably mentally deranged’ Trump

November 1, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Jung Ha-Won | North Korea, known for its florid insults, has described US President Donald Trump as a ‘nuclear war maniac’ and a ‘dotard’, an obscure term for a weak or senile old man

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea slammed US President Donald Trump as “incurably mentally deranged” in a personal attack ahead of his first visit to Asia, as the South’s leader insisted Washington could not take military action on the peninsula without his agreement.Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un have traded threats of war and personal insults against each other in recent months, heightening worries about another conflict on the peninsula where the 1950-53 Korean War left millions dead.

The US leader has warned of “fire and fury”, telling the UN General Assembly that Washington would “totally destroy North Korea” if it had to defend itself or its allies.

Washington and Seoul have been in a security alliance for decades, and the US has 28,500 troops stationed in the South to defend it from the North.

Trump dubbed Kim “Rocket Man” in the same speech — Pyongyang has tested missiles apparently capable of reaching much of the US mainland — and days later Kim responded with a personal statement calling him a “dotard”, an obscure term for a weak or senile old man.

The US president is due in Asia at the weekend and ahead of his arrival the North’s state-run KCNA news agency lashed out at “bellicose and irresponsible rhetoric” by the “master of invective”.

Washington has deployed key military assets including jet fighters and aircraft carriers near the peninsula following the North’s sixth nuclear test in September, which also saw the United Nations impose an eighth set of sanctions on the isolated country.

Trump, KCNA said late Tuesday, “disclosed his true nature as a nuclear war maniac before the world and was diagnosed as ‘incurably mentally deranged'”.

The North has a long history of colourful personal attacks against US leaders. It has called Trump’s predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush a “monkey” and “half-baked man”.

It has railed against former South Korean president Park Geun-Hye as a “witch” and a “crafty prostitute” who had Obama as her “pimp”.

– ‘Tragic history’ –

Despite the fire-breathing rhetoric, South Korean President Moon Jae-In on Wednesday said his country would not develop or possess nuclear weapons, unlike its neighbour.

South Korean media and opposition politicians have called for the return of US tactical nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn from the peninsula in the 1990s.

Some have suggested that if Washington does not agree — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed doubts about the prospective move at the weekend — Seoul should develop a nuclear capability of its own, in order to ensure a so-called “balance of terror” on the peninsula.

In his address to the National Assembly Moon, who has advocated engagement to bring the North to the negotiating table, insisted: “There should be no military action on the peninsula without our prior consent.”

The fate of the flashpoint region should be determined by Koreans, he added, saying the country should “not repeat the tragic history” of colonisation and division.

The Korea peninsula was controlled by Japan from 1910 to 1945, and after Tokyo’s surrender ended the Second World War it was divided into separate zones of occupation by Russia and the US.

The latest standoff has heightened concerns among South Koreans, who have over decades grown indifferent to regular threats of attack from Pyongyang.

But even some Trump advisers say US military options are limited because any armed conflict on the peninsula would be expected to cause huge casualties.

Seoul is home to 10 million people and only about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the heavily-fortified border, within range of Pyongyang’s massive artillery forces.

Pyongyang hails its nuclear arsenal as a “treasured sword” to protect itself from potential invasion by its “imperialist enemy” the US, but has threatened to bracket the US Pacific island of Guam with missiles.

Trump’s itinerary includes Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, with all eyes on his message to the North and Kim.

In the South Trump is due to address parliament, visit a US military base, and hold a summit with Moon, although he will not go to the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas.

by Jung Ha-Won

China is stumbling hard at acquiring the high-tech chip companies it wants so badly

September 16, 2017
 

September 14, 2017

US president Donald Trump yesterday (Sept. 13) vetoed a Chinese private-equity firm’s proposed $1.3 billion purchase of Lattice Semiconductor, an Oregon-based chip manufacturer.

The deal’s failure marks the latest instance where foreign governments have pushed back against China’s efforts to acquire technology assets in their country, as China invests heavily in hardware and software companies at home and abroad.

The semiconductor industry in particular has been a focus of China’s ambitions, as chips are the brains of nearly every electronic device. But as of 2014, China still imported 90% of its semiconductors. As a result, the country has gone on a spending spree, buying up semiconductor companies all over the world.

Many of these deals have fallen through, however, due to pressure from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an inter-agency branch of the Treasury that examines foreign purchases of domestic companies and assesses their potential impact on national security. While CFIUS does not “block” deals outright, it can make “recommendations” to both parties involved that the deal ought to be terminated. If necessary, CFIUS will refer cases to the president, who then holds the power to veto the deals—which is what happened with Lattice.

Lattice marks the seventh such major deal that has collapsed since mid-2015, and it’s the second to be vetoed by the US president within that period. This list shows just how badly China is failing at acquiring foreign semiconductor technology.

Micron

The largest attempted Chinese takeover of a US semiconductor maker began in July 2015, when media revealed that Tsinghua Unigroup, a state-affiliated Chinese chipmaker with ties to with Tsinghua University in Beijing, wanted to buy Idaho-based Micron. Tsinghua Unigroup reportedly had put up $23 billion (paywall) to purchase the company.

Micron made it clear it was cold on the deal from the get-go. Just days after Tsinghua Unigroup’s bid hit news outlets, a source at Micron told Reuters the deal was likely not possible as CFIUS would probably recommend against it. In August that year, senator Chuck Schumer, a frequent critic of China, directly called on CFIUS to formally investigatethe potential acquisition.

But the deal didn’t even get that far. Despite reports that Tsinghua’s chairman travelled to the US to talk to Micron, no further details about a deal emerged until November 2016, when Tsinghua confirmed it was not in any talks with the Idaho company.

Had both sides reached an agreement, the deal would have carried historic implications for the US tech industry. Micron to this day remains the last major US-based manufacturer of DRAM flash memory, a critical component in nearly all consumer electronic devices. Its American rivals all ceded ground to competitors in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.

Fairchild Semiconductor

In December 2015, state-affiliated conglomerate China Resources Holdings made an unsolicited offer to purchase Fairchild Semiconductor, one of the oldest companies in Silicon Valley. The Chinese investors proposed paying $2.5 billion for the company, equivalent to $21.70 per share, a premium over what rival bidder, US-based On Semiconductor, had offered earlier. The Chinese suitors also offered a $108 million reverse termination fee in the event that CFIUS recommended against the purchase.

Despite the markup and the guarantee, Fairchild refused the offer in February 2016, stating that the deal presented an “unacceptable level of risk” of failing should it ever reach CFIUS. It ended up being sold to On Semiconductor in September 2016.

Lumiled

In March 2015, Dutch electronics giant Philips, which is also listed in the US, announced it intended to sell an 80% stake in Lumiled, a subsidiary that manufactures LEDs (light-emitting diodes), a semiconductor, to a Chinese consortium known as GO Scale Capital for $3.3 billion. In October, however, the company stated in its latest earnings report that CFIUS had “expressed certain unforeseen concerns” towards the deal, which could ultimately kill it.

The bid was dead by January 2016. “I am very disappointed about this outcome as this was a very good deal for both Lumileds and the GO Scale Capital-led consortium,” said Philips CEO Frans van Houten. While LEDs are generally associated with lighting, according to the New York Times, CFIUS held concerns that the gallium nitride used to make the components could also be used by China’s military (paywall). Philips eventually agreed to sell Lumiled to US-based private-equity firm Apollo Global Management in December 2016, at a discounted price of $2 billion.

Western Digital

In September 2015 Tsinghua Unisplendour, owned by the same parent as Tsinghua Unigroup, announced it intended to pay $3.78 billion for a 15% stake in Western Digital, the semiconductor maker best known for its hard-disk drive business. The company told investors it did not expect the deal to be subject to a CFIUS review because the stake was non-controlling. But in February 2016 Tsinghua backed out of the deal(paywall) once it became clear that a probe was indeed forthcoming. The two companies’ relationship didn’t end there, however. In September 2016 Western Digital and Tsinghua Unisplendour announced they had formed a China-based joint venture with Tsinghua as the majority shareholder.

GCS

In March 2016, California-based, Taiwan-listed semiconductor maker GCS announced it was in talks to be purchased by Sanan Optoelectronics, a Chinese maker of LED wafers and solar cells, for $226 million. In August, GCS confirmed that the deal had fallen through due to pressure from CFIUS. The body did not state its specific objections, but they likely stemmed from GCS’s contracts with the US military. Like Western Digital, GCS opted to form a joint venture with its Chinese suitor as an alternative.

Aixtron

In May 2016 China’s Fujian Grand Chip announced it had agreed to buy Germany’s Aixtron, a maker of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, for $752 million. In November, Aixtron announced that CFIUS told both parties there were “unresolved U.S. national security concerns regarding the proposed transaction.” Rather than kill the deal, Aixtron and Fujian Grand Chip said they would appeal the recommendation directly to president Barack Obama—who sided with CFIUS. The White House said that there was “credible evidence” that Fujian Grand Chip “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” The process—a CFIUS warning, an appeal to the president, and then a veto–was the same process that led to the collapse of the Lattice deal.

China is stumbling hard at acquiring the high-tech chip companies it wants so badly

Read next: A fund linked to the tech deal Trump just vetoed is an investor in China’s national security

Ramstein Air Base anti-drone protests: The Germans taking on the US military

September 10, 2017

A week of protests against the US drone program drew some 5,000 protesters to its most important air base in Europe. DW’s Kathleen Schuster met with several of the people taking on the world’s most powerful military.

Protests at the Ramstein US army base in Germany (picture-alliance/Sputnik/V. Melnikov)“To be or NATO be”: Protesters hoped to capture the attention of the transatlantic military alliance and the German government

Every military specialist agrees that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, are the future of warfare – but what are the major types of drone and who makes them? DW explains. (30.06.2017)

At first it’s difficult to reconcile the week’s itinerary at the “peace camp” — yoga, reggae, poetry slam – with the gray-haired audience gathered in this dusky room.

Taking up every seat and windowsill, the crowd of at least 150 listens intently as each speaker outlines how the US government is leading an ‘illegal war” in their backyard. The city is Kaiserslautern, the Air Force base in question is Ramstein and the war is that waged by US’s drone operations, which they say violate German law.

“Our government must review and prohibit the drone war,” Otto Jaeckel tells the crowd to loud applause. He called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to take action: “Ms. Merkel and Ms. von der Leyen bear personal responsibility here!”

Under the banner of “Stop Ramstein Air Base,” a nationwide campaign has drawn peace activists from across Germany and other countries to Kaiserslautern, calling for the base to be shut down.

The audience of protesters comprises mainly the over-50 crowd, however. The ethics of using drones are the draw for these activists, but for the local organizers, the problem with Ramstein Air Force Base runs deep. To them, drones are just one symptom of a larger problem they’ve been warning about for years.

Read also: A guide to military drones

Silent partner in a silent war

Already controversial for its extrajudicial killing of several thousand suspects on foreign soil, revelations that Ramstein played a vital role in the US’s drone program sparked a frenzy among German politicians and peace activists in 2013.

Upon parliamentary inquiry, the German government said it had no information about the program. Only later did Angela Merkel’s government confirm that no drones were being directed or flown from US’s most important air base in Europe – which is, incidentally, also the headquarters for NATO’s Air and Space program (AIRCOM).

Ramstein does, however, house satellite relay stations, which whistleblower Brandon Bryant, along with subsequent media reports, allege are key to drone operations. According to these revelations, the signal sent from drone operators on Creech Air Force Base in Nevada travel via translatlantic fiber optic cables to Ramstein, where they are then transmitted to satellites positioned above the Indian Ocean — thus allowing them to strike targets in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia by way of drones.

The founding principles of post-war Germany were “never again war, never again fascism,” Konnie Schmidt told DW.

“It’s not only the right, but the duty of every German” to rebel against a government violating these principles. “That’s our inheritance.”

Read also: Berlin powerless to challenge US drone ops at Ramstein air base

In 1983, Germany's then-capital, Bonn, saw massive demonstrations against the atomic weapons held on US bases in Germany (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Wieseler)In 1983, Germany’s then-capital, Bonn, saw massive protests against the atomic weapons held on US bases in Germany

‘Living on a powderkeg’

Schmidt, like many of the peace activists of his generation, marched against the Vietnam War. Revelations during the 1980s of atomic bombs, Pershing-2 ballistic missiles and the storage of poisonous gas at nearby US bases unleashed another wave of peace protests still well-known in Germany today.

The native Ramsteiner, now a retired teacher at 69, shares a similar story to other local activists of how he became aware of the US military presence near Kaiserslautern.

“I’ll put it this way: my mother was very conservative and so was my father. And my mother always said, if things heat up, we’re the ones sitting on the powder keg.”

Ramstein airshow catastrophe in 1988 (picture-alliance/dpa/Füger)Ramstein airshow disaster in 1988 claimed 70 lives

For Erika Christmann, 73, the key moment was in August 1988. Almost 30 years later, she like most locals still shudders at the mention of the air show disaster.

Billed by critics at the time as a display of militarism, the spectacle turned deadly when three Italian fight jets collided while trying to perform a stunt. The collision left 70 people dead and more than 1,000 injured.

“It’s difficult to talk about,” she says, taking a long pause, her rainbow necklace expanding and slowly relaxing around her neck. It’s hope that people are waking up and deep anger about what people do to each other in the name of security that keep her going.

US Air Base Ramstein (Getty Images/AFP/J.-C. Verhaegen)Activists take issue with the existence of the base and the activities carried out there – and thus want it shut down

US ‘protector image’ in question

Indeed, the man credited the most often in local peace activities is Wolfgang Jung, 79. The vivid memories of a childhood shattered by WWII have left the 79-year-old impatient with the military’s agenda.

Along with his wife, the native Ramsteiner documents information about the controversial military base on his own website, Luftpost.de. The log has annoyed many politicians, he says gruffly, then letting a rare smile escape.

The air base scares him for a number of reasons. Although he sued the German government for allowing the US to use Ramstein in its drone operations  a suit he ultimately lost because he personally was not affected by the drones, three different courts ruled — he considers Ramstein’s function as the headquarters of NATO missile defense more dangerous.

He still has hope of informing the public that a continued US military presence doesn’t protect Germany. On the contrary, it puts Germany in the middle of any missile scenario. “They could be dead within five minutes.”

Protests in Ramstein (picture-alliance/V.Melnikov)This was the second year in a row that the Ramstein protest drew thousands

Withdrawal unlikely

Even after years of protest, Jung, like Schmidt and Christmann, consider a US withdrawal unlikely.

The area counts roughly 22,000 military and Department of Defense personnel in total. With family members, it’s 54,000, the largest concentration of US citizens outside of the US.

Local residents and officials see an economic benefit to hosting American troops. Not only do 7,000 German civilians work for the US military, but the housing sector alone brings in an estimated 220 million euros annually, according to a German parliamentary report about Ramstein’s effect on the local economy.

State officials do not have data on how much the military community contributes to the economy annually. However, the 86th Comptroller Squadron in its 2013 Fiscal Report put the number at $2.26 billion, according to the same parliamentary report. Other estimates, for example by the Handelsblatt in 2016, have put the number as low at $1 billion.

Nevertheless, the three have no intention of giving up their decades-long fight. This time it’s a call on the German government to prohibit the drone program.

Or as Jung put it: “I’d like to make the most of the few years I have left and not suddenly sink into an atomic crater, you know?”

http://www.dw.com/en/ramstein-air-base-anti-drone-protests-the-germans-taking-on-the-us-military/a-40432117

US won’t pull back from South China Sea ops: general

August 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | US Navy ships are sailing close to a contested island in the South China Sea in a show of strength to challenge China’s territorial claims

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – An American general insisted Friday the United States would not pull back from operations in the disputed South China Sea to combat Beijing?s territorial claims despite a series of accidents involving US warships.General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander, said the American military still had “credibility… all over the world” despite the incidents, which have raised concerns that the US armed forces are overstretched in Asia.

In the latest incident, the USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker off Singapore early Monday, tearing a huge hole in the vessel?s hull and leaving two sailors dead and eight missing.

It was the fourth accident involving an American warship in the Pacific this year, two of them fatal.

The McCain had been heading to the city-state after conducting a freedom of navigation mission — sailing close to a contested island in the South China Sea in a show of strength to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims.

The US has been carrying out a growing number of such operations in recent years as China increasingly asserts its claims to almost the entire sea, despite partial counter-claims from some Asian neighbours.

“There is no setback to those (freedom of navigation) operations following these incidents,” O’Shaughnessy told reporters during a visit to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

“We stand firm that we are going to sail and fly anywhere where international rules allow. We will continue to do that.”

“Every day, we have operations within the South China Sea and areas surrounding it.”

He added that the latest collision should not eclipse the work of the US military as a whole.

“I don’t think that we should let one incident overshadow the great capability that the United States of America brings across all services,” he said.

Still, the incidents have provided a propaganda windfall to US rivals like China, with the foreign ministry in Beijing voicing concerns American warships posed a “security threat” to civilian vessels in the South China Sea.

Monday’s accident was the second involving an American destroyer in two months after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off Japan in June, killing seven sailors.

A multinational search operation at sea for the missing sailors on the McCain was called off Thursday, with divers now focusing on flooded compartments in the warship.

The remains of a second sailor were recovered from the ship late Thursday and identified as Dustin Louis Doyon, the US Navy said.

US warship collisions raise cyberattack fears

August 23, 2017

AFP

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© 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
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Top US general condemns racism after Charlottesville violence

August 17, 2017

AFP

© 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

AFP

© 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.