North Korea says its seriously considering a plan to fire nuclear-capable missiles at Guam, according to state-run media.
A spokesman for North Korea’s military told KCNA that it would carry out a pre-emptive operation if there were signs of US provocation.
The warning comes after President Donald Trump warned North Korea it would be met with “fire and fury” if it continued to threaten the US in a marked escalation of rhetoric.
The statement from North Korea mentioned using the Hwasong-12, the intermediate range missile tested in May. North Korea said at the time the missile can carry a heavy nuclear warhead, and independent analysis seems to fit with their statement.
The US military keeps a continuous presence of nuclear-capable bombers in Guam, which would make it an attractive target for a nuclear strike. North Korea specifically mentioned these bombers “which get on the nerves of DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above Korea.”
CNN’s Jim Sciutto says that the US flew two B1-B bombers over Korean Peninsula Mon out of Anderson AFB in Guam, part of “continuous bomber presence.”
But the US maintains a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile interceptor in Guam specifically made to protect from medium-range missiles. THAAD has performed well in test conditions but never intercepted a shot fired in anger.
Earlier, Pyongyang said it was ready to give Washington a “severe lesson” with its strategic nuclear force in response to any US military action.
It was for many years considered the gold standard in after-market tactical gear. Packs, pouches and carriers developed by a SEAL for SEALs — or anyone else who needed gear that stood up to the abuse of America’s commandos.
For Mike Noell, what started as a small business sewing together specialized tactical equipment for his fellow frogmen out of his Virginia Beach garage, blossomed into the multi-million dollar, internationally-known Blackhawk! (yes, with the exclamation point). From plate carriers to Halligan tools, Blackhawk! became the one-stop-shop for special operators, police SWAT teams and even weekend warriors who wanted to look the part.
When he sold Blackhawk! to ATK — which later established the outdoor and shooting sports product conglomerate Vista Outdoors — for an untold sum in 2010, it seemed Noell was on the top of the world, using his newfound financial influence to work with upstart companies and take a little break from a lifetime of kicking in doors and running big businesses.
But that all changed when he dropped another flash bang on the industry at this year’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas, announcing his new company, Sentry.
“It’s a new Blackhawk!,” Noell told WATM during a visit to his company’s booth at this year’s SHOT Show. “This time we’re going with a higher-end set of products.”
Like the earlier Blackhawk!, Sentry is a combination of several smaller companies, including optic and firearm covers from ScopeCoat, gun cleaning products from Sentry Solutions and a new line of high-end bags and packs under the new Sentry brand.
While ScopeCoat and SlideCoat products have been around for a while, the wow factor comes from the new Sentry packs. Each features a waterproof ripstop nylon construction with rugged, rubberized zippers to keep the contents dry. And Noell’s team has added new, lightweight MOLLE-style webbing dubbed “1080” that allows the user to attach pouches at various angles.
“We basically made these packs for the type of activities we like to do,” said Sentry’s Nick Ferros. “I’m a fisherman, so I just design what I need.”
Noell said he’s resurrected the old Uncle Mike’s (which was part of the Blackhawk! family of brands) manufacturing facility in Boise, Idaho, and is reaching out to old employees there to get band back together. He’s also teamed with longtime Blackhawk! exec Terry Naughton, who’s serving as Sentry’s president.
With a building roster of products and a focus on the technology of today, it’ll be interesting to see whether Sentry becomes the tactical colossus that Blackhawk! once was.
North Korea broke its silence March 21, 2018, on its surprise peace overtures, including a tentative summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, while denying that U.S. pressure led to the breakthrough.
The Korean Central News Agency, a North Korean propaganda outlet, said the sudden conciliatory moves were an “expression of self-confidence” by a regime that already “has acquired everything it desires,” a possible reference to the buildup of its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals.
The North Korean statement came amid reports that the annual Foal Eagle military exercises in South Korea could be cut short to avoid coinciding with the tentative Trump-Kim summit at the end of May 2018.
South Korean media reported March 21, 2018, that the exercises could run for just a month, rather than the traditional two, in what may be an effort cut a wide berth around the proposed dialogue.
The new bomber is a $550 million heavy payload stealth aircraft, capable of carrying thermonuclear weapons and could also be used as an intelligence gatherer, battle manager, and interceptor aircraft.
Even though the USAF tweeted the contest link to the world, it’s only open to members of the US Air Force active duty force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard components, their dependents, members of the US Air Force Civil Service and US Air Force retirees. And of course, the Air Force being the Air Force, it comes with a lot of rules and regulations:
The name must be original and the entry may not contain material that violates or infringes any third party’s rights, including but not limited to privacy, publicity or intellectual property rights, or that constitutes copyright infringement. The entry must not contain or be phonetic similar to any third party product names, brand names or trademarks.
The entry must not contain material that is inappropriate, indecent, obscene, hateful, tortuous, defamatory, slanderous or libelous. The entry must not contain material that promotes bigotry, racism, hatred or harm against any group or individual or promotes discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age. The entry must not contain material that is unlawful, in violation of or contrary to the laws or regulations in any state where entry is created. There is a limit of three names you may enter per person.
This is your chance to be part of history (so long as it fits within Air Force guidelines and standards).
The broadcast, transmitted via loudspeakers installed near the Demilitarized Zone, began shortly after news broke of the soldier’s Nov. 13 defection, military officials said.
South Korea’s loudspeaker system at the DMZ is used as a type of psychological warfare against North Korea, working to demoralize troops.
Several defectors listened to the broadcasts before attempting an escape, and one man who defected in June said he became “enamored” with South Korea’s development from listening to the loudspeakers.
North Korean soldiers have heard in detail how a 24-year-old fellow soldier — who has been identified only by his family name, “Oh” — was shot as he defected and is now being treated in South Korea.
“The news about an elite soldier like a JSA guard having fled in a hail of bullets will have a significant psychological impact on North Korean border guards,” a South Korean military spokesman told the newspaper Chosun Ilbo.
The soldier was found on the south side of the border village of Panmunjom, about 50 meters south of the Military Demarcation Line, having been shot five times.
According to Reuters, more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to South Korea every year via China, but it is unusual for defectors to cross the land border dividing the two Koreas, which have been in a technical state of war since 1953 when conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.
Loudspeaker diplomacy is popular on both sides of the DMZ
This is not the first time South Korea, or North Korea, has used a loudspeaker system on its border to spread propaganda — the DMZ is actually one of the world’s busiest regions for such broadcasts.
South Korea’s propaganda program has used giant loudspeakers periodically since the Korean War but has become more subtle in recent years, according to the BBC. Broadcasts include weather reports, news from both Koreas and abroad, and discussion of life in South Korea.
The speakers have also played hours of K-pop music from South Korean musicians and groups over the years.
According to The Diplomat, the system went unused for 11 years. It was used briefly in August 2015 after North Korea injured two South Korean soldiers and was fully reinstated in January 2016 after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test.
North Korea has indicated the broadcasts successfully demoralize its troops.
According to the BBC, North Korea also broadcasts content, but its broadcasts are usually harder to hear and usually blast strong condemnations of Seoul and its allies.
Yonhap News reports South Korea’s loudspeakers are loud enough to be heard up to 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles, inside North Korea.
The House and Senate, in passing separate versions of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, haven’t yet agreed on the size of the next military pay raise, or how to reform health care or housing allowances, or whether to require all 18-year-old women to register with Selective Service to be part of a conscription pool in future major wars.
Ironing out these disparities, and many more consequential to military personnel, retirees and family members, will now fall to a House-Senate conference committee comprised of armed services committee members.
The committees’ professional staffs will negotiate many decisions in advance, on guidance from chairmen Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Max Thornberry (R-Texas), and senior Democrats Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) and Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.). But the principals will need to engage behind closed doors on larger and more controversial topics to produce a single bill that either avoids or challenges a threatened veto from President Obama.
To achieve compromise, conferees will need to shed the political posturing routine in election years and make hard choices based on real budget ceilings. The House, for example, had refused to support another military pay raise cap in 2017 and deferred TRICARE fee increases to future generations of service members. Yet it only authorized funding for seven months of wartime operations next year in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Here are some of the tough decisions to be negotiated:
Pay Raise – The House bill supports a 2.1 percent January raise to match wage growth in the private sector. The Senate voted to cap the raise, for a fourth consecutive year, at 1.6 percent. A long-shot floor amendment from McCain to add $18 billion in defense spending authority, including several hundred million to support a larger pay raise, was defeated.
Basic Allowance for Housing – The Senate supports two substantial BAH “reforms.” It would dampen payments stateside to members, married or now, who share housing off base. It would cap payments to the lesser of what individuals actually pay to rent or the local BAH maximum for their rank and family status. House is silent on these. The White House opposes them.
TRICARE Reforms – The Senate embraces a portion of TRICARE fee increases that the administration proposed for working age retirees. It also incentivizes the fee system so patients pay less for services critical to maintaining their health and they pay more for incidental health services. Senate initiatives also emphasize improving access and quality of care.
The House rejects almost all higher fees and co-pays intended to drive patients, particularly retirees, back into managed care and military facilities. Both bills would narrow TRICARE options down to managed care and a preferred provider organization. But the House would require all current TRICARE Standard users to enroll annually to help better manage costs and resources. The House, however, would subject only new entrants to the military on or after Jan. 1, 2018, to higher TRICARE enrollment fees.
Female Draft Registration – Without debate on the topic, the Senate voted to require all women attaining the age of 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, to register with Selective Service. The House voted to strike similar language from its own defense authorization bill, leaving the issue to be fought behind closed doors of the conference committee.
The two defense policy bills, HR 4909 and S 2943, are aligned on some other important, even surprising benefit changes. These include:
Commissary Reform — The Senate approved the same sweeping changes endorsed by the House to modernize commissary operations. They include a pilot program to replace the cost-plus-five-percent pricing formula with variable pricing across local markets. Both chambers also endorse allowing the Defense Commissary Agency to offer its own brand products to generate more profits and enhance patron savings, and to convert commissaries to non-appropriated fund activities like exchanges.
DeCA is to calculate and set a baseline level of savings that patrons now enjoy and maintain it. Meanwhile, a new Defense Resale Business Optimization Board will be formed to oversee the reforms including the streamlining of commissary and exchange operations to gain efficiencies.
The Senate rejected McCain’s push to privatize up to five base grocery stores for two years to test whether a commercial grocer could operate base stores at a profit and still offer deep discount. McCain hopes privatization over time ends the need for DeCA with its $1.4 billion annual appropriation. Defense officials estimate the approved reforms will cut commissary funding by about $400 million a year over their first fives years.
Meanwhile, DoD last week gave Congress a promised report on prospects for making commissaries and exchanges “budget neutral” or self-sustaining. It concludes that budget neutrality is unattainable without gutting the benefit. This helped to weakened support for a privatization test.
Ending Former Spouse Windfalls — Another issue the House and Senate agree on is modifying how the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act calculates retirement pay for sharing as marital property in divorce settlements. Current law allows courts to divide final retired pay, even if it was bolstered more years served and promotions gained after divorce. Congress agrees this creates a windfall for ex-spouses that should be eliminated, but only for divorce finalized after the bill becomes law.
The former spouse law (Sec. 1408, 10 U.S.C.) will be changed so retired pay to be divided is based on a member’s rank and years of service at time of divorce, plus cumulative military pay raises up through retirement.
This is the first substantive change to the USFSPA in at least a decade. It surprised the former spouse support group EX-POSE, which calls it unfair to future ex-spouses who might sacrifice their own careers to raise children or to accommodate the frequent moves that are part of service life.
ABA Therapy Rates Restored – Both bills direct the Department of Defense to restore higher TRICARE reimbursement rates paid through last March for applied behavioral analysis therapy for children with autism. The change is to take effect when the bill is signed. Though appreciative of the rollback, family advocates worry that months more of delay could see more ABA therapists decide to drop or to refuse to accept more military children.
For many women, their newfound freedom signals an evolving paradigm for women in the country.
“We need the car to do our daily activities. We are working, we are mothers, we have a lot of social networking, we need to go out — so we need transport,” Amira Abdulgader told Reuters. “It will change my life.”
Women can now pursue jobs that require the use of a car, like any number of the popular ride-hailing services.
“It’s not only equality, it’s about building our country together,” said Enaam Gazi Al-Aswad, who had been poised to become the nation’s first female driver for ride-hailing app Careem, according to CNBC.”It’s about community … Women and men equally now in Saudi Arabia, not like before.”
While the nation is celebrating the historic moment of progress, May 2018 the government doubled down on activists who had been campaigning for the right to drive. At least 12 prominent women’s rights activists were arrested since May 15, 2018, according to Human Rights Watch. The organization said some of the activists were held on charges similar to those for which other activists are serving long prison sentences.
Women have risked fines and imprisonment for decades
Women have been barred from driving since 1957, as part of the country’s strict interpretation of Islam. While there was no formal law against it, women who drove in public faced fines and could be arrested. While there no clear explanation for why women shouldn’t drive, supporters of the rule argued that driving could lead to women socializing with men, which was seen as potentially disrupting the established order inside Saudi’s patriarchal society.
But activists have been campaigning against the policy for years.
In 1990, 47 women were arrested after driving through the streets of Riyadh in defiance of the ban. The movement grew stronger in 2007 when a group calling itself the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia petitioned then-King Abdullah to repeal the rule. On International Women’s Day in 2008, the movement’s cofounder Wajeha Huwaider filmed herself driving and posted the video on YouTube, which received international media attention.
(Photo by Andrew A. Shenouda)
The movement has continued to grow over the years.
Because of her activism, Al-Sharif was detained and released several times, and told not to drive or discuss her situation with the media. Manal has written several books, including Daring to Drive: a Saudi Woman’s Awakening. She is seen as one of the world’s most influential women on the subject. She now resides in Australia and remains an active critic of the Saudi government, using her experience to push for change.
“I got involved with the [Women2Drive] campaign because women were invisible. It almost feels like women don’t exist in Saudi Arabia,” she told Business Insider.
She says many factors have influenced the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia.
“It is institutional oppression, and it’s carried out not only through policy, but also a general attitude that men have towards women,” she said. “We are faced with two evils: The government restricts women with policy, and male guardians restrict women through culture.”
She said a woman’s place in society starts young, with young girls going through “systematic humiliation” from primary school through college. She says girls should be nurtured to become confident leaders, not mired in shame.
Still, Al-Sharif says she has been amazed by the pace of change in Saudi Arabia over the last year. Since Mohammed Bin Salman ascended to power, the country has lifted its ban on cinemas, appointed women to positions of power, and allowed women to attend soccer matches at major stadiums.
“King Abdullah wanted to make changes for women but wasn’t able to do a lot because of internal politics,” she said. “Mohammed Bin Salman has been pushing real change, and has been paving the way for full inclusion of women in the economy and society.”
The 32-year-old Crown Prince has been pushing for modernization and a complete economic and cultural overhaul in the country through his Vision2030 program. Al-Sharif says Prince Mohammed’s desire to revamp the economy has resulted in major policy changes for women.
“The government is realizing how important it is to the economy to educate and include women,” she said. “They have no choice — the economy is our best reformer.”
But Al-Sharif says there is a lot of work to do.
“Lifting the ban on women’s driving didn’t come overnight, it’s been consistent campaigning to change people’s consciousness.”
Al-Sharif says change needs to happen in “all facets of society,” from education to policy to media, and even home life.
She is now campaigning to end Saudi Arabia’s restrictive guardianship laws, which require men to make decisions for women on matters including education, health care, and travel.
“Destructive behavior needs to end and we need to create a culture of respect. Policy can change, but its the attitude that is the real obstacle.”
A bright future for Saudi women, but a long way to go
Dr. Lina Abirafeh, the director at the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, told Business Insider that she has seen surface-level changes enhancing women’s rights, but Saudi society has some work left to do.
“Positive steps are being taken but Saudi Arabia still lags behind in terms of women’s rights. Saudi Arabia ranks very low in measures for gender equality compared to other countries.”
She noted that in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, ranking health, education, economic, and political engagement, Saudi Arabia ranked at 141 out of the 144 countries listed.
Abirafeh said small changes in the last year have impacted women’s quality of life, and signal positive change to come.
“The ban on driving had long served as a symbol of the country’s repressive attitude towards women and their denial of women’s rights and fundamental freedoms,”Abirafeh said, adding that there are many other inequalities that need to be addressed.
“Driving is clearly the most symbolic — and visible. This in a society where men and women hardly interact, and where women need a male guardian to make decisions and give permissions on their behalf.”
“These recent changes are important, but they come with many conditions and caveats. There might be a strategy to appear liberal in the global arena but it is hard to tell if there is genuine intention for real change within the society — or if these are tokenistic,” she said.
She believes Saudi Arabia can do much more for reform at all levels, including repealing laws that discriminate against women, reviewing the country’s extreme interpretations of religious texts that deny women freedom of mobility and bodily autonomy, and reaching out to communities to change the patriarchal ethos that exists.
“There is a need to progress gradually but also to be clear that the goal is full equality — without exceptions,” Abirafeh said.
She remains hopeful for the future, but is not convinced that Saudi society is prepared for full equality and the implications that come with it.
“Inequalities are many, and attitudes will take a long time to change. It doesn’t seem that there is broad-based buy-in to women’s rights among the population — yet. And as long as patriarchy prevails, this is a clear impediment to women achieving full rights and equality.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Taliban captured a key district center in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province on Thursday while in the country’s north, an officer turned his rifle on sleeping colleagues, killing nine policemen, officials said.
The fall of Sangin district, once considered the deadliest battlefield for British and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, comes amid the insurgents’ year-long push to expand their footprint in the Taliban heartland of Helmand.
The British who took over southern Helmand in 2006 were headquartered at Camp Sebastian, which at its peak was the center for 137 bases in Helmand. Most of Britain’s more than 400 military deaths occurred in Helmand province — in Sangin alone, Britain lost 104 soldiers.
Since the withdrawal of foreign NATO combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and with only a smaller, U.S.-led advise and training mission left behind, Sangin has been seen as a major tests of whether Afghan security forces can hold off advancing Taliban fighters.
The district’s police chief, Mohammad Rasoul, said the Taliban overran Sangin center early on Thursday morning.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, also issued a statement claiming the Taliban capture of Sangin.
Speaking to The Associated Press over the phone from several kilometers (miles) away from the district center, Rasoul said the district headquarters had been poorly protected and that at the time of the Taliban siege, only eight policemen and 30 Afghan soldiers were on duty.
Afghan security forces were now amassing nearby for a full-scale counter-attack in a bid to retake Sangin, Rasoul added, though he did not say when the assault would occur and how many forces would be involved.
“We are preparing our reinforcements to recapture the district,” Rasoul said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Afghan military would seek the help of international coalition forces in the area.
NATO spokesman William Salvin said in a statement that Afghan troops remained in Sangin district but had relocated several kilometers (miles) outside the district center. He said the relocation was necessitated because of the extensive damage to the district center by the Taliban.
In Kabul, a lawmaker from Sangin, Mohammad Hashim Alokzai, urged the military to move quickly to retake the district, saying its fall could have devastating consequences for Helmand, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah has in the past months also come under constant and heavy attack by the Taliban.
“The seizure of Sangin is a major tactical triumph for the Taliban,” Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, said Thursday. The insurgent group “has taken over a major urban space in one of its major stronghold provinces, amplifying the major threat that the group poses to Afghanistan nearly 16 years after it was removed from power.”
Sangin is also one of the biggest opium markets in Afghanistan, which saw over 4,800 metric tons produced countrywide in 2016 — more than all other opium-producing countries combined, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. Efforts at poppy eradication in Afghanistan have been severely restricted because of the insecurity in the southern and eastern regions of the country, where the bulk of the crop is grown.
Opium, which is used to make heroin, is a major source of income for the insurgents and the Taliban levy taxes on opium that moves through its territory.
“It’s hard to overestimate the significance of Helmand — it’s strategically located near Pakistan, it’s a bastion of the opium trade,” said Kugelman. “Perhaps the biggest reason why the British focused so much on Sangin is that they had invested so much over the years in trying to stabilize the place — and had suffered many combat deaths in the process.”
In northern Kunduz province, police spokesman Mafuz Akbari said the insider attack on Thursday that claimed the lives on nine policemen took place at a security post and that the assailant escaped under the cover of darkness.
Afghanistan has seen a spike in so-called insider attacks. In such incidents, attackers who turn their rifles and kill colleagues usually end up stealing their weapons and fleeing the scene to join insurgents.
Akbari said the assailant had gone over to the Taliban. He also claimed that the attacker and the Taliban gathered the bodies of the dead policemen and set them on fire.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed claimed responsibility for the attack, but denied that a policeman had been involved or that the Taliban had burned the bodies of the policemen.
The conflicting accounts could not be immediately reconciled. The region is remote and not accessible to reporters.
Afghan forces have come under intensified pressure by insurgents in both Helmand and Kunduz.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement comes after repeated threats to pull out, but his decision to ditch the pact now could undermine the ability of the US and its partners to counter China’s ambitions in the region.
The VFA, signed in 1998, gives legal status to US troops in the Philippines. Duterte, a longtime critic of ties to the US, gave formal notice of withdrawal to the US this month, triggering a 180-day period before the exit is finalized.
Duterte believes the Philippines should be more militarily independent, a spokesman said, quoting the president as saying, “It’s about time we rely on ourselves.”
The decision is “chiefly the product of Duterte’s deep, decades-long anti-US sentiment,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat and a Southeast Asian security analyst, said in an email to Business Insider.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has “found just about any excuse he can to make threats against the alliance, be it canceling exercises or separating from the United States,” Parameswaran added.
Duterte has spurned the US since he took office and bristled at US criticism of his human-rights record. Both the US and Duterte have high approval ratings among the Philippine public, however, while a large majority there have little or no confidence in China.
“It’s a competition. China’s competing,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, said Thursday at a US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on Capitol Hill.
“There’s very clear recognition that China is putting pressure and using every tool within its disposal to try to draw those countries” away from cooperation with the US, Sbragia said. “That’s a condition we’re taking head on. That’s very serious for us.”
“I don’t doubt China will relish the deterioration in the US-Philippine alliance,” Parameswaran said. “Beijing has long considered US alliances a relic of the Cold War and a manifestation of US efforts to contain its regional ambitions.”
The US and the Philippines, which the US ruled as a colony during the first half of the 20th century, have a decades-long diplomatic and military relationship.
That relationship and the benefit it offers the Philippine security establishment, as well as US popularity in the Philippines, are among the reasons why Manila may not follow through on withdrawal.
Philippine officials have also hinted that the notice of withdrawal is a starting point for negotiations over the VFA, which some have said are needed “to address matters of sovereignty.” Philippine politicians have also questioned Duterte’s authority to exit the agreement.
But the US shouldn’t assume that Duterte is bluffing or looking for leverage, said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“He has been anti-American his entire adult life and has been consistently saying he wants to sever the alliance and bring the Philippines into a strategic alignment with China,” Poling said in an email.
“That said, six months is a long time in politics. If Duterte walks this back, it won’t be because a plan to renegotiate with Washington plays out,” Poling added, “it’ll be because of internal pressure, possibly in response to whatever natural disaster, Chinese act of aggression, or terrorist act in Mindanao happens between now and then.”
The VFA allows US troops to operate on Philippine territory, including US Navy crews and Marine Corps units.
Ending the agreement would jeopardize the roughly 300 joint exercises the two countries conduct every year, complicating everything from port calls to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits the US to the Philippines’ defense in case of an attack. It would also be harder for the US to provide aid in response to natural disasters.
“It’s basically [changing] the protocols of how you would work together if it actually goes through,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said this month.
Many naval activities will be unaffected because they can be carried out without entering Philippine territory, Poling said.
“But large-scale land and air exercises will be impossible, as they were from 1990-1999,” Poling added, referring to a period when Manila’s failure to renew a mutual basing agreement led to the withdrawal of US forces — including the closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the largest US base in the Pacific.
Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Philippine armed forces chief of staff, has said about half of all joint military engagements would be affected by the end the VFA, Poling noted.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said joint exercises with the US would continue during the 180-day period, including the multinational Balikatan exercise that has taken place in the Philippines every spring for 35 years.
Santos Jr. has downplayed the effects of withdrawal, saying it will make the Philippines “self-reliant” and that Manila would expand bilateral exercises it has with other in the region, including Australia and Japan.
But there are legal and logistical limits on the military activities those countries can undertake with the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific.
The erosion of the US-Philippine military relationship raises the prospect of Beijing making moves like those it made in the South China Sea in the 1990s, when it occupied Mischief Reef — first with small wooden structures and then, a few months before the VFA went into force in 1999, with fort-like structures made of concrete.
In the years since, China has expanded and reinforced its presence in the South China Sea, building military structures on man-made islands there. Mischief Reef is now Beijing’s biggest outpost in the disputed waters.
“Beijing will work to make sure that a US loss is China’s gain” and build on inroads made with Duterte, Parameswaran said.
“These gains may include those that are not in the security realm, such as tightening economic ties or helping Duterte deliver on some of his domestic political goals,” Parameswaran added. “But they will nonetheless be consequential, because the broader objective is to move Duterte’s Philippines closer to China and away from the United States.”
The first operational KC-46A Pegasus — the tanker being designed by Boeing to replace the aging KC-135 — took its maiden flight on Dec. 5.
That flight came after numerous delays and cost overruns that have stymied the tanker’s development over the past several years. Even though it got off the ground in December, Boeing admitted at the time that it would miss a self-imposed deadline to give the Air Force the first operational KC-46 by the end of 2017.
Now the Air Force expects to receive the first operational KC-46 by spring 2018, and Boeing is obligated to deliver 18 of the new tankers by October. But major defects remain unresolved, according to Aviation Week.
The most worrying deficiency is the tendency of the tanker’s boom — where the fuel flows — to scrape the surface of the aircraft receiving fuel.
The problem could endanger the aircrews involved and risks compromising the low-observable coating on stealth aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 fighters. A KC-46 with a refueling boom contaminated by stealth coating may also have to be grounded.
Representatives from the Air Force and from Boeing told Aviation Week that they are working on the problem, with personnel from the government and industry reviewing flight data to assess such incidents and compare them to international norms.
Their assessments will help decide whether changes are to be made to the camera used for refueling on the KC-46. The Pegasus’ boom operator sits at the front of the aircraft while directing the boom, relying heavily on the camera. Older tankers have the boom operator stationed at the back of the plane to guide the boom in person. A decision on the camera is expected by March.
A Boeing spokesman said similar contact between the boom and the receiving aircraft happens with the Air Force’s current tankers as well.
A Boeing spokesman also told Aviation Week in December that an issue with the KC-46’s high-frequency radio had been resolved, but an Air Force spokeswoman said the force was still working on it, expecting to have options to address it by January.
The radios use the aircraft’s frame as an antenna, which sometimes creates electrical sparks. The Air Force wants to ensure they can never broadcast during refueling in order to avoid fires.
Issues with uncommanded boom extensions when the refueling boom disconnects from the receiving aircraft with fuel flowing have been reduced to a Category Two deficiency, an Air Force spokeswoman told Aviation Week. The solution to that problem is expected to be implemented in May, the spokeswoman said.
The Air Force still expects the first operational KC-46s by late spring, arriving at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma and McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart, chief of Air Mobility Command, told Air Force Times that once testing is finished and the new tankers start to be delivered, he expects “they’re going to clear out pretty quick” to Air Force bases.
Boeing won the contract to develop the new tanker in 2011, and the Air Force expects to buy 179 KC-46s under the $44.5 billion program. Under the contract, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force’s $4.82 billion commitment. As of late 2017, the defense contractor had eaten about $2.9 billion in pretax costs.
Despite his limited involvement in the Pentagon’s weapons programs, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a stark warning to acquisition officials in November, telling them he was “unwilling (totally)” to accept flawed KC-46 tankers.
Several years ago, the United States debated supplying Syrian rebels with high-tech armaments such as anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles. Critics contended that the weapons might fall into the hands of US-designated “terrorist organizations.”
But it is in Iraq that the fear has become real: the US has armed American-killing Iranian proxies and terrorist groups with its best tank, the M1 Abrams.
The Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella organization of Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting the Islamic State group, have acquired M1 Abrams tanks given to the Iraqi army. Two PMF militias – the Badr Organization and Kataib Hezbollah – have posted pictures and videos of their fighters alongside M1 Abrams tanks draped with their banners and flags.
The tanks once belonged to the 9th Armored Division, the only Iraqi Army unit that operates the M1 Abrams. It remains ambiguous whether the militiamen in the videos are controlling the tanks themselves or just posing with them under the supervision of tank crews from the 9th.
“In the videos, the passengers in the tanks are wearing the 9th’s uniforms,” Iraqi Army spokesman Colonel Muhammad Baidani told The New Arab. “Taking pictures and placing flags on the tank alone is not proof of ownership.”
Baidani added that the Iraqi Armed Forces and the PMF conduct combined operations “in most battles,” calling allegations that the 9th had loaned the M1 Abrams to the PMF “untrue.”
But sources in the PMF told The New Arab a different story, explaining that the militias obtained the M1 Abrams in two ways: “Sometimes, the PMF asks for American tanks from the Iraqi Army, if Russian-made tanks are unavailable,” said Hussam al-Mayahi, a Badr engineer specializing in military technology and remote weapons stations.
“The PMF also seized some after the fall of Mosul and the second Battle of Tikrit, taking them from IS.”
During IS’ campaign across the east and north of Iraq, the militants managed to seize numerous M1 Abrams tanks, including at least ten during the Battle of Ramadi in 2015.
Jafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, confirmed this story: “We captured the American tanks and other military vehicles from IS, who, in turn, [had] seized them from what was left by the Iraqi army. Now, they are under our control, and we are seeking more.”
He claimed that Kataib Hezbollah and other Shia militias now held all IS’ M1 Abrams tanks.
Other tanks appear to come straight from the 9th: “Tanks are provided to us according to the circumstances of the battles and offensives, before being returned to the Defense Ministry,” Karim al-Nuri, a ranking Badr commander, told The New Arab.
Al-Nuri says he has never seen the PMF directly use an American tank but, when shown the pictures and videos that Badr had posted, replied: “It’s important to take any tanks – whether Russian or American.”
If the US delivered M1 Abrams tanks to Iraq’s Defense Ministry despite knowing that they could be given to the PMF, the Pentagon might have violated the Leahy Law – which prohibits the US Defense and State Departments from providing military aid to security forces guilty of abusing human rights.
Iraq remains on the State Department’s list of countries with the most child soldiers, because of these militias who continue to recruit minors.
Kataib Hezbollah presents a wider dilemma. In 2009, the State Department designated it a “terrorist organization” for killing American soldiers, and the US Treasury Department labelled its founder, the Iraqi warlord Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a “specially designated global terrorist.”
Al-Muhandis works as an operative for the Quds Force, the sub-unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for extraterritorial operations on Iran’s behalf.
“We have heard these reports and we are looking into them,” said a spokesman for the US-led anti-IS coalition, who emphasized in an email, “Department of Defense policies on the provision of military assistance to foreign military forces require that Iraqi Security Forces receiving equipment or training are strictly vetted in accordance with the Leahy Act as well as for associations with terrorist organizations and/or the government of Iran.”
These policies appear to have failed.
A State Department official admitted, “not all US-provided defense articles are under the control of the intended recipient ministry/unit. We are concerned that a small number of M1A1 tanks may be in the possession of forces other than the Ministry of Defense and Iraqi Army.”
“The United States has not provided these or other defense articles to the PMF.”
“Nevertheless, we understand that some equipment has come into the possession of the PMF, which are part of the Iraqi Security Forces by law, and have been used in the fight against ISIS. We will continue to press the Government of Iraq to act as quickly as possible to return these defense articles to their intended recipient ministry/units.”
Despite acknowledging that the PMF had seized many M1 Abrams tanks in one way or another, the State Department declined to estimate just how many. It could not confirm whether it had lost track of how many tanks may be under the militias’ control.
The ranking Democrats and Republicans on the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which oversee the sale of M1 Abrams tanks and other weapons to Iraq, failed to reply to repeated requests for comment by email and phone for this article.
In December 2014, several months after the Iraqi army had lost many of its M1 Abrams tanks to IS, the State Department agreed to sell it another 175, once the Defense Department notified the US Congress, which has spent much more time deliberating over tanks sold to Saudi Arabia than to Iraq.
For now at least, Iraq appears to have a continuous supply of the M1 Abrams for years to come. Al-Husseini, the Kataib Hezbollah spokesman, may just get his wish.
Palestinian militants on the Gaza Strip launched at least 150 rockets at Israel overnight, and Israel retaliated by pounding the region with deadly airstrikes.
The Israel Defense Forces said mounting violence began Aug. 8 after militants shot at an IDF vehicle in the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel responded with tank fire.
In the hours following the exchange, sirens sounded across southern Israel in communities that surround the Gaza Strip, including Sderot. Israel deployed its Iron Dome system and intercepted 25 launches, though several civilians were injured by shrapnel.
Israel’s rescue service Magen David Adom said three Israelis, including two men ages 34 and 20, were taken to a hospital for treatment.
In another round of escalation, Israel responded to rocket fire by striking what it said were Hamas militant targets in Gaza. By early Aug. 9, the IDF said it struck more than 140 targets.
A 30-year-old Hamas affiliate was killed in the strikes, the Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said. A 23-year-old pregnant woman and her 18-month old child were also killed in the strikes, according to the ministry. At least eight other civilians in Gaza were also injured, the ministry said.
The IDF said it fired at a vehicle used to launch rockets at Israeli territory.
Israel and militants in Gaza have exchanged frequent fire in recent months. In May, more than 100 rockets were launched from Gaza in the worst escalation since 2014, when Israeli troops invaded Gaza.
Following May’s rocket attacks, Israel and Gaza reached an uneasy cease-fire mediated by Egypt, though rocket launches and airstrike retaliation has continued.
Both sides have said they are working toward a cease-fire agreement, though continued rocket fire may dampen efforts. As of Aug. 9, sirens continued to sound in Israeli border communities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a trip to Colombia to meet with security officials for cease-fire negotiations. Israel, however, appears to be learning more toward a quid pro quo agreement with Hamas instead of a comprehensive cease-fire, as past resolutions have often crumbled.
According to Haaretz, an Israeli official source said last week that cease-fire talks would not succeed unless the bodies of slain Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians being held captive in Gaza were returned.
A Hamas official told the Turkish news agency Anadolu on Aug. 7 that the two sides were expected to sign an agreement by late August that would reportedly lift restrictions on the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip in exchange for a five-year cease-fire and the return of the Israeli captives.
Israel’s defense chief said last month that Gaza’s only commercial border crossing, Keren Shalom, would reopen if calm persisted. The border had been closed in response to damage caused by incendiary balloons launched into Israeli territory.
The Hamas deputy chief Khalil Al-Hayya told Al Jazeera TV on Aug. 8 that talks mediated by the UN and Egypt to bring calm to the region were in “advanced stages.” according to Reuters.
“We can say that actions led by the United Nations and Egypt are in advanced stages and we hope it could yield some good from them,” he said. “What is required is for calm to be restored along the border between us and the Zionist enemy.”
Neither the UN nor Egypt has publicly discussed its plans for a renewed Gaza cease-fire, but they said it would bring economic relief to Gaza’s 2 million residents experiencing shortages under crippling blockades.
Jason Greenblatt, a US envoy who has been involved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, pointed a finger squarely at Hamas for the escalation of violence.
The Islamic militant group Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since Israel disengaged from the region in 2005. Since then, the group has fought three wars with Israel, most recently in 2014, resulting in deaths and injuries of thousands of civilians and leaving much of Gaza is ruin.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.