Posts Tagged ‘US military’

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

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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.

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:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40490058

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

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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…

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Russia warns US-led coalition over downing of Syrian jet

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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”.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/19/russia-target-us-led-coalition-warplanes-over-syria

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

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2094908/chinese-jets-intercept-us-military-plane-over-east

Related:

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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.”

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

AFP

© 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.

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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

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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.