US defense secretary Jim Mattis said August 14 “all options — from withdrawal, to using private contractors, to adding thousands of US forces to the fight — remain on the table for Afghanistan.”
Mattis repeated the White House and Pentagon were ‘very close’ to finalizing a new strategy to present to President Trump.
Mattis, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster have worked for months to craft strategy options for President Donald Trump.
Mattis said both withdrawal and a private contracted force were still under consideration. “The strategic decisions have not been made,” Mattis said. “It’s part of the options being considered.”
Military Times previously reported on Trump supporter and former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince’s efforts to outsource the now 16-year Afghan war to private contractors, including offering a privatized air force for Afghanistan.
Military Times also reported that Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US Forces-Afghanistan, has refused to meet with Prince. It is not clear whether that refusal has frustrated Trump.
According to NBC News, Trump has asked both Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford to replace Nicholson as the top US general in Afghanistan. due to the president’s frustration with how that campaign is going.
On August 14, Mattis defended Nicholson, saying he “of course” supports him. But Mattis could not say whether the White House similarly supported him.
Gen. John Nicholson. (Dept. of Defense photo)
“Ask the president,” Mattis said. “[Nicholson] has the confidence of NATO. He has the confidence of the United States.”
The new strategy for Afghanistan was expected about a month ago. Mattis said he was still confident a decision was close.
“We are sharpening each of the options so you can see the pluses and minuses of each one so that there’s no longer any new data you are going to get, now just make the decision.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s renewed criticism of NATO widened a potential rift with Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis on the need to shore up the alliance against the threats of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a joint interview Sunday with The London Times and Germany’s Bild publication, Trump recycled charges from his campaign that NATO is “obsolete,” questioned the worth of the European Union and said that Germany was wrong to admit refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war.
In his Senate confirmation hearing last week, retired Marine Gen. Mattis said, “If we didn’t have NATO today, we’d need to create it. NATO is vital to our interests.”
“I think right now the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with [in] Mr. Putin,” Mattis said. “We recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance, and that we take the steps — the integrated steps, diplomatic, economic, military and the alliance steps — working with our allies to defend ourselves where we must.”
“There’s a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively and an increasing number of areas where we’re going to have to confront Russia,” he said.
Mattis also suggested that Trump is willing to hear opposing arguments on NATO. “I have had discussions with him on this issue,” he said. “He has shown himself open, even to the point of asking more questions, going deeper into the issue.”
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Trump’s choice to become national security adviser, also supports bolstering NATO and other U.S. global commitments.
In a speech last week at the U.S. Institute of peace, Flynn said, “Alliances are one of the great tools that we have, and the strength of those alliances magnifies our own strengths.
“As we examine and potentially re-baseline our relationships around the globe, we will keep in mind the sacrifices and deep commitments that many of our allies have made on behalf of our security and our prosperity,” Flynn said.
After meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Trump’s criticism of NATO is “in contradiction” of Mattis’ vision of a strengthened alliance and U.S. support of NATO’s Article 5, which considers an attack on any member as an attack against all.
“Obviously, the comments from President-elect Trump that he views NATO as obsolete were viewed with anxiety,” Steinmeier said.
In his remarks to The London Times and Bild, Trump said of NATO: “It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago.” He renewed his charges that most members of the 28-nation alliance are not living up to their responsibilities under the treaty.
The U.S. provides about 70 percent of the funding for NATO while other nations “aren’t paying their fair share, so we’re supposed to protect countries,” Trump said. “There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to — five. It’s not much.”
Under agreements reached in 2014, when Russian-backed separatists launched attacks in eastern Ukraine, NATO members pledged to devote at least two percent of their budgets to defense and outlined steps to reach that goal.
Despite the criticism of NATO, Trump’s remarks could also be seen as a prod to get members to pay their dues. “NATO is very important to me,” he said.
However, Trump’s views that NATO is obsolete are in line with those of Putin, who has for years denounced NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders. In response to Trump’s remarks, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that “NATO is indeed a vestige of the past and we agree with that.”
A Deal With Putin
Trump also expressed interest in a deal with Putin that would lift sanctions against Russia in return for a mutual reduction of nuclear arsenals.
“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially; that’s part of it.”
The Trump interview came as U.S. troops and tanks were arriving in the Polish town of Zagan in a historic move to shore up NATO’s eastern flank that has infuriated Putin. In addition, 300 U.S. Marines landed in Norway on Monday to join in training exercises.
In a ceremony as snow fell over the weekend, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz told the first contingents of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Carson, Colorado, “We have waited for you for a very long time.”
“We waited for decades, sometimes feeling we had been left alone, sometimes almost losing hope, sometimes feeling that we were the only one who protected civilization from aggression that came from the east,” Macierewicz said.
To counter Russia, the Obama administration, with the support of Congress in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, recommended boosting the budget for the European Reassurance Initiative from $789 million to $3.4 billion.
ERI was established in the fiscal 2015 budget to “reassure allies of the U.S. commitment to their security and territorial integrity as members of the NATO alliance.” It supported increased U.S. investment across five categories: presence, training and exercises, infrastructure, pre-positioned equipment, and building partner capacity.
To expand presence across the region, the U.S. Army began periodic rotations of armored and airborne brigades to Poland and the Baltic states; the Air Force added additional F-15 Eagles to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission; and the Navy cycled ships through the Black Sea. The U.S. also spent $250 million to improve bases in Europe.
In a welcoming ceremony in Germany earlier this month for the 4,000 troops of the 3rd ABCT, Air Force Lt. Gen. Tim Ray, the deputy commander of U.S. European Command, said that its presence showed that the U.S. commitment to NATO is “rock solid.”
“I can assure you, this [ABCT] does not stand alone — it is integrated and combined with forces and other equipment in space, cyberspace, the air, land and sea, with our allies and partners,” Ray said. “A joint persistent rotational presence of American land, sea and air is in the region as a show of support to our allies and in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.”
“Let me be very clear — this is one part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression, ensure the territorial integrity of our allies, and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous and at peace.”
Kyiv says Russia has “partially” unblocked Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, allowing Ukrainian ships to pass through the Kerch Strait for the first time since Nov. 25, 2018, when Russian forces seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels and detained 24 crewmen.
“Berdyansk and Mariupol are partially unlocked,” Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan said on Dec. 4, 2018, as NATO reiterated its call on Russia to allow “unhindered access” to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov.
“Vessels make their way to the entrance and exit through the Kerch Strait toward Ukrainian ports,” Omelyan said.
The minister said that ships navigating through the Kerch Strait to and from Ukrainian ports “are stopped and inspected by Russia as before, but the traffic has been partially restored.”
Ukraine’s Agriculture Ministry later said that the country had resumed grain shipments from the Sea of Azov.
“Passage of vessels with agricultural products through ports in the Sea of Azov has been unlocked,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The loading of grain to vessels through the ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk is restored and carried out in regular mode,” it added.
Captured BK-02 Berdyansk with a hole in the pilothouse.
The naval confrontation between Russia and Ukraine topped the agenda of a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting with their Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, in Brussels.
After the talks, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the 29 members of the alliance called on Russia to “immediately release the Ukrainian sailors and ships it seized.”
“Russia must allow freedom of navigation and allow unhindered access to Ukrainian ports,” he added.
“In response to Russia’s aggressive actions, NATO has substantially increased its presence in the Black Sea region over the past few years — at sea, in the air, and on the ground,” Stoltenberg also noted.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Russia continues to hold 24 Ukrainian sailors detained in the Nov. 25, 2018 incident, despite demands from NATO for their release from detention centers in Moscow.
Moscow Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Potyayeva was scheduled on Dec. 4, 2018, to visit three Ukrainian sailors who were injured in the Nov. 25, 2018 incident, when Russian forces rammed a Ukrainian Navy tugboat and fired on two other ships before seizing the vessels.
The clash has added to tension over Crimea, which Russia occupied and illegally annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.
It also has raised concerns of a possible flare-up in a simmering war between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists that has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
The Russia-backed separatists hold parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, including a piece of shoreline that lies between the Russian border and the Ukrainian Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Dec. 3, 2018, said concerns that Moscow could seek to create a “land corridor” linking Russia to Crimea were “absurd.”
At their Brussels meeting, the foreign ministers “restated NATO’s solidarity with Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
“We recognize Ukraine’s aspirations to join the alliance, and progress has already been made on reforms. But challenges remain, so we encourage Ukraine to continue on this path of reform. This is crucial for prosperity and peace in Ukraine,” the NATO chief said.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States paid a special visit to Fort Bragg on Thursday to pay respects to Army special operations forces killed while fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Hamdullah Mohib, ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, joined Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo in placing a wreath at a memorial wall outside the U.S. Army Special Operations Command headquarters.
Tovo is the commanding general of USASOC.
Mohib, who served as deputy chief of staff to the president of Afghanistan before being appointed ambassador to the U.S., also spoke with soldiers who have served or will soon deploy to Afghanistan.
The memorial wall, located on Meadows Memorial Parade Field, lists the names of more than 1,200 special operations soldiers who have died in conflicts dating to the Korean War. More than 330 of the names have been added since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At least four U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, all of them belonging to USASOC units.
The latest losses were last month, when Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, both part of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were killed in southern Nangarhar province.
Mohib, who is based in Washington, was a special guest of Maj. Gen. James B. Linder.
Linder relinquished command of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School during a ceremony Thursday morning. He’ll next serve as commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan and Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan.
Officials said Mohib’s presence highlighted the strong ties between Afghanistan and Army special operations.
“Since 2001, the men and women of U.S. Army Special Operations Command have been on continuous rotations in and out of Afghanistan,” Linder said. “Our soldiers have formed enduring friendships with our Afghan commandos and special forces partners. We have cemented a brotherhood through blood, sweat and sacrifice.”
Fort Bragg soldiers have historically played a key role in the 16-year war in Afghanistan. Local troops have been continuously deployed to the country since the earliest days of the war.
And last month, the Army announced that 1,500 paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division would soon deploy to the country.
The Air Force spent a lot of time trying to mothball the A-10 Thunderbolt II over the past few years. After realizing there is no reliable close-air support (CAS) alternative to the airframe, however, Congress fought the Air Force at nearly every turn.
The plane, dubbed the Warthog for its snoutlike nose and the distinctive sound of the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon around which the aircraft is built, is slower than other tactical jet aircraft. Its max speed is 439 mph, while the F-16 tops out at 1,350 mph. What the Warthog lacks in speed, it makes up for in durability, featuring 1,200 pounds of titanium armor plating around the cockpit and its necessary systems. The A-10’s ability to take a beating from ground fire while providing such close support makes it the perfect CAS aircraft.
The move to retire the A-10 came while American forces were pulling out of Afghanistan and were already out of Iraq. Under budgetary pressure, the Air Force wanted to replace the A-10 mission with the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose abilities were designed for the entire battlespace. The rise of ISIS and new combat roles for ground forces in the region saved the Warthog from the boneyard. The A-10 was designed to work in tandem with ground forces and theater commanders are seeing more and more demand for the unique support the bird provides.
“When you’re talking to a 19-year-old man with a rifle, who’s scared on the other end of a radio,” another Air Force A-10 pilot says in the video. “You know he doesn’t care about fiscal constraints, ‘big picture’ Air Force policy, the next fancy weapons system coming down the pipeline. He cares about being saved right then and there.”
The Pentagon is due to submit its 2017 budget proposal to Congress next week and officials tell Defense One the life of the plane will be extended because of that demand. Congress criticized the Air Force for attempting to retire the A-10 without a replacement plan.
As part of the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress mandated the Air Force couldn’t retire the plane without an independent study to find a replacement with the “ability to remain within visual range of friendly forces and targets to facilitate responsiveness to ground forces and minimize re-attack times … the ability to operate beneath low cloud ceilings, at low speeds, and within the range of typical air defenses found in enemy maneuver units … the ability to deliver multiple lethal firing passes and sustain long loiter endurance to support friendly forces throughout extended ground engagements.”
Theresa May will hold a crunch Cabinet meeting on April 12, 2018, in which she and her ministers will decide whether to join military action in Syria.
The prime minister will seek her Cabinet’s approval to join with Donald Trump’s US in launching airstrikes against the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad, the war-torn country’s disgraced president.
May wants to launch airstrikes without first securing parliamentary approval, the BBC reports, in a move which would be opposed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and numerous other opposition MP across the House of Commons.
This means Britain is on the cusp of joining the US in another military foray in the Middle east. Here’s how we got here.
“Abhorrent” chemical attack shocks the world
The West is preparing to respond to a chemical attack which left at least forty people dead and hundreds more receiving treatment in the Syrian city of Douma on April 7, 2018. Douma is just a few miles outside the country’s capital, Damascus, and is controlled by rebels who want to overthrow President Assad.
The attack was the latest chapter in a civil war which has ravaged Syria since 2011. The conflict has left over 500,000 Syrians dead and around 6.1 million displaced, according to UN and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights data.
Prime Minister May, President Trump, and other western leaders believe Assad is almost certainly behind the attack. May described the attack as a “shocking, barbaric act” which cannot go “unchallenged” by Britain and its allies. The Assad regime denies being responsible for the attack.
British submarines are reportedly being moved within “missile range” of Syria with military action set to begin as early as April 12, 2018, if May secures the backing of her government ministers.
Doesn’t May need the permission of MPs?
Contrary to what many believe, the UK prime minister is not legally obliged to seek parliamentary approval before launching military action. In fact, they don’t even need to inform them.
The root of this misconception is the 2003 Iraq invasion. The then-prime minister Tony Blair asked Parliament to vote in favour of invading Iraq. This created an informal convention which was followed by David Cameron, who a decade later decided against taking action in Syria after MPs voted it down. Prime ministers may decide to look for parliamentary support to give their military action political authority. After all, going to war is one of the riskiest and most controversial decisions a prime minister can make.
However, this is nothing more than a convention. In 2011, for example, MPs didn’t get to vote on intervening in Libya until after the intervention had already got underway, meaning it was too late to vote it down anyway.
Does the public want another war?
If May does intend on ignoring convention, it will not be with the broad support of the British public. A YouGov poll released April 12, 2018, finds that just 22% of Brits support military action in Syria, while 43% oppose it.
Labour leader Corbyn previously told the BBC he supported a parliamentary vote before any action. It “should always be given a say on any military action,” Corbyn said. “We don’t want bombardment which leads to escalation and a hot war between the US and Russia over the skies of Syria.”
Speaking today, Corbyn questioned how airstrikes would improve the situation in Syria. “More bombing, more killing, more war will not save life,” he told reporters.
Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, signaled he supports military action against Assad but said it would require the support of MPs with “some strong conditions around it.”
The SNP’s defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald, has warned that airstrikes “will not provide the long-term solutions needed to end the war.”
What would the ramifications be?
The Syrian conflict is one of the greatest challenges facing the world, not least because it is so fiendishly complex.
President Assad may be opposed by Britain, the US, France and other western nations, but is supported by Iran and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This means Syria has effectively become a proxy battleground for tensions between the West and Russia, which have been at the worst since the height of the Cold War.
A war of words is already underway. On April 11, 2018, President Trump told Putin to “get ready” for US missiles.
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'”Trump tweeted April 11, 2018. “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Russia had warned the US that any missiles fired into Syria would be shot down and its launch sites targeted.
Worryingly for Britain, one of the launch sites pinpointed by Russia could be a British military base in Cyprus, The Times reports. Eight cruise missile-armed Tornado fighter-bombers located at RAF Akrotiri, on the southern coast of Cyprus. These bombers are set to contribute to airstrikes and could be at risk of Russian retaliation.
Russia has already moved war vessels from to a base on the Mediterranean coast, within range of a US warship, according to satellite imagery of the region.
What is clear is that risk of war between nuclear-armed states is now at its highest for a generation. The decisions May’s government makes in next few days could be among the most important made by any UK government.
For the first time, Moody’s 23rd Maintenance Squadron’s propulsion flight accomplished an unprecedented feat by ensuring every TF34 engine in their fleet is repaired to serviceable status.
This readiness level relinquishes the need for the flight to perform maintenance on their current A-10C Thunderbolt II engine assets. While they normally maintain the 74th and 75th Aircraft Maintenance Unit’s engines in support of Moody’s close-air support mission, the backshop will now centralize their TF34 repair efforts to assist other bases and Major Commands to include Reserve and National Guard units.
This has allowed the 23rd MXS to play a vital role in helping secure an Air Force-wide 200 percent ‘war-ready’ engine status, the highest in the TF34’s 40-year history.
“I’m excited for every member of this team,” said Master Sgt. Cevin Medley, 23rd MXS propulsion flight chief. “This is my third base and engine backshop. Repairing an entire TF34 engine fleet to serviceable status (with zero required maintenance) is something I have only “heard” about in my 17 years.
“This (accomplishment) is important because it not only allows us to meet our minimum deployment requirements, but we also can support other operations if every (Moody AFB) A-10 aircraft were to be tasked to deploy,” Medley added. “Since our ‘war-ready’ engine levels have been so high, we have been able to help the rest of the Air Force’s TF34 community with their due engine repairs.”
The 23rd MXS propulsion flight manages WREs, which are engines that are ready to be installed on the A-10. Of their entire fleet, 14 are spare WREs, which surpasses Air Combat Command’s required level of five spare WREs. The flight’s 280 percent spare WRE rate has enabled the backshop to currently perform no current maintenance on their assets and have rebuilt seven engines in total from outside Moody.
Airman 1st Class Jordan Vasquez, 23rd Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion technician, inspects the fuel lines of an A-10C Thunderbolt II TF34 engine, May 16, 2018, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Eugene Oliver)
The road to pursue this challenge wasn’t easy. An innovative process, known as the Continuous Process Improvement, positioned the flight to have a chance at history. In 2017, approximately 20 civilians and Airmen from almost every enlisted rank implemented ideas to help the flight better maintain the TF34 engine.
“(2017’s) Continuous Process Improvement event allowed us to identify waste in our streamline,” said Medley. “This enabled us to shave an average of 58 work hours off each engine visit. This allowed us to go from six awaiting maintenance engines, which is the amount of engines we didn’t have the manning to work because we were repairing other engines in 2016, to where we are today.”
In order to reach new heights in maintenance proficiency, many small changes were made. The flight refocused training for new Airmen on common problems, began pre-ordering commonly needed engine parts, enhanced cross-unit and internal communication and even added updated photos to technical orders.
For Senior Airman Dakota Gunter, 23rd MXS aerospace propulsion technician, these new improvements paid big dividends for the backshop’s operations.
“The Continuous Process Improvement not only helped us (reduce) time on engine rebuilds, it also made the job a lot easier,” said Gunter. “Our processes have gone a lot smoother with everything from checking out tools to (performing) and documenting maintenance. Teamwork has been key during all of this, with everyone playing a key part to ensure the job is complete.”
According to Medley, the cohesion and continued support of not only the 23rd MXS, but the 23rd Maintenance Group supervision proved invaluable. He hopes to sustain their achievements and continue to assist in getting the rest of the Air Force’s TF34 fleet to match Moody’s readiness.
The U.S. Air Force and Ukrainian defense ministry have confirmed that a fighter aircraft crashed October 16, killing two pilots and leading to speculation that one of the dead is a U.S service member. The crash took place at Clear Skies 2018, an exercise featuring the militaries of nine nations and more than 50 aircraft.
The aircraft crash took place at 5 p.m. local time in Ukraine, and appears to have involved a Su-27UB, a two-seater combat trainer/fighter jet. The U.S. has confirmed that a service member was involved and Ukraine has stated that two pilots were killed in the crash, identifying them by their nationality and branch of service.
“We regret to inform that according to the rescue team, the bodies of two pilots have been discovered: one is a serviceman of the Ukrainian Air Force, the other is a member of the US National Guard,” a statement from the Ukrainian General Staff said.
Su-27UB fighter aircraft.
“We are aware of a Ukrainian Su-27UB fighter aircraft that crashed in the Vinnytsia region at approximately 5pm local time during Clear Sky 2018 today,” U.S. Air Force public affairs official said.
The Air Force later updated their press release with another statement. “We have also seen the reports claiming a U.S. casualty and are currently investigating and working to get more information. We will provide more information as soon as it becomes available.”
The Air Force has not confirmed that a U.S. pilot has died, but did say that it is investigating the incident. The U.S. will typically collect all the major details before declaring a service member is deceased, often waiting until a doctor has made the official declaration.
If it is confirmed that a U.S. pilot has died in the crash, public affairs officers will likely not release any new details until 24 hours after the notification of the next of kin in order to allow the family to communicate the loss internally and begin grieving before the deceased’s name is made public knowledge.
They likely will not release much more after that until the investigation is complete.
The incident took place during Clear Skies 2018, which began October 8 and is scheduled to conclude on October 19. The U.S. is one of nine countries involved in the Ukrainian-hosted exercise designed to build interoperability with that country and NATO.
The exercise focused on air sovereignty, air interdiction, air-to-ground integration, air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyberdefense, and personnel recovery. It takes place as Ukraine is increasing its military capabilities and continuing hostilities from a Russian-backed separatist movement has claimed lives in its eastern regions.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has raised the possibility of conflict between his army and U.S. forces in Syria if they do not withdraw from the country soon — prompting a warning from the Pentagon.
In an interview with Russia’s RT television on May 31, 2018, Assad asserted that he is willing to negotiate with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that are allied with and embedded with U.S. forces and currently hold about one-quarter of Syria’s territory.
But he said he will reclaim their territory by force, if necessary.
“The only problem left in Syria is the SDF,” Assad told RT, adding he sees “two options” for solving the “problem.”
“The first one: We started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country. They don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners,” Assad said in English.
“We have one option: to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort…to liberating those areas by force.”
Assad added that “the Americans should leave.” He said Washington should learn a “lesson” from its experience in Iraq.
“People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore,” he said.
Assad’s threat to use force against U.S. allies in Syria and about 2,000 American troops providing them with air support and training prompted a warning from the Pentagon.
“Any interested party in Syria should understand that attacking U.S. forces or our coalition partners will be a bad policy,” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said at a press conference in Washington on May 31, 2018.
The U.S. State Department also said that while Washington is not seeking conflict with Syria, it would use “necessary and proportionate force” to defend U.S. and partner forces, which have teamed up to fight Islamic State militants in the region.
In the RT interview, Assad responded sharply to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent description of him as an “animal,” saying, “What you say is what you are.”
Backed by Russian air power and Iranian and Hizbullah militias on the ground, Assad’s forces have gained significant ground in recent months in the seven-year civil war that has killed an estimated half a million people and driven another 5 million abroad as refugees.
After regaining control of Syria’s two largest cities — Aleppo and Damascus — Assad this spring set his sights on areas in the country that remain outside his control and in rebel hands.
The Kurdish militia group SDF that is backed by the United States holds the largest area of Syrian territory outside government control, but it has tried to avoid direct clashes with the government during the multisided war.
Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the SDF, said in response to Assad’s comments that a military solution would “lead to more losses and destruction and difficulties for the Syrian people.”
The SDF wants a “democratic system based on diversity, equality, freedom, and justice” for all the country’s ethnic and religious groups, he said in a voice message to Reuters.
Assad in the RT interview also sought to minimize the extent of Iran’s presence in Syria. Israel, which is alarmed by what it claims is a growing Iranian military presence in Syria, has recently destroyed dozens of military sites that it claimed were occupied and used by Iranian forces and Hizbullah militias.
But Assad said Iran’s presence in Syria has been limited to officers assisting the army. Apparently referring to a May 10, 2018 air strike by Israel, Assad said: “We had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers, not a single Iranian casualty.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent Britain-based war-monitoring group, has said at least 68 Iranians and pro-Iranian forces have been killed in Israeli air strikes since April 2018.
President Donald Trump signed a bill August 18 authorizing the construction of a privately funded Global War on Terrorism Memorial in Washington, DC.
In signing the “Global War on Terrorism War Memorial Act” passed by the House and Senate, Trump did not designate a site but authorized a memorial somewhere on “federal land in the District of Columbia,” the White House said.
Trump also authorized the non-profit Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation to raise funds and oversee the project.
The bill to establish the memorial was sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia.
On the House side, the bill’s sponsors were Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, and Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts; both are Marine Corps veterans of the Iraq War.
In a statement, Ernst said “I am thrilled the President has signed into law this important legislation authorizing the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation to begin creating a place of remembrance for those who served, their loved ones, and all impacted by this war.”
Manchin said “I’m proud of the work done by my colleagues in approving the first step towards building a memorial that commemorates our sons and daughters who answered the call to fight.”
Both Manchin and Ernst said the likely site for the memorial would be the National Mall. “This authorization is the first step in a process that will culminate with the design and construction of a Global War on Terror[ism] Memorial on the National Mall without using any federal funds,” they said.
The Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation has on its advisory board retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, and retired Army Capt. Florent Groberg, a Medal of Honor recipient for valor in Afghanistan.
In a statement following Trump’s signing, the foundation said the bill exempted the memorial from the 10-year waiting period under the Commemorative Works Act of 1986, and authorized the foundation to oversee the fundraising, design, and construction of the memorial.
“Today’s historic signing is dedicated to our three million brothers and sisters who have deployed in the Global War on Terror, especially to the ones we have lost, and those who face great obstacles since their return home,” said Andrew J. Brennan, a West Point graduate and Afghanistan veteran who started the foundation and serves as executive director.
“We’re looking forward to building a sacred place of healing and remembrance for our veterans and their families, and want to thank our partners and advocates who worked tirelessly on Capitol Hill to pass this bipartisan legislation,” he said.
Recent North Korean missile launches, including four into the Sea of Japan earlier this month, have prompted a major deployment of U.S. forces, including B-52 Stratofortress bombers, also known as BUFFs (for Big Ugly Fat F*ckers), and F-35B Lightning II fighters to the Korean peninsula.
According to a report by The Sun, the deployments come as part of the Foal Eagle exercises, which are held by American and South Korean forces. Other assets being deployed in support of the exercises include the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and its strike group, as well as B-1B Lancer heavy bombers.
The B-52s can carry a wide variety of ordnance.
Some of the things that they can deliver a lot of to the North Koreas, if Kim Jong Un continues on his present course, include dumb bombs (usually the Mk 82 500-pound bomb or the M117 750-pound bomb, but Mk 84 2,000 pound bombs are an option as well), AGM-86 cruise missiles in both conventional or nuclear versions, AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, CBU-87 cluster bombs, CBU-97 cluster bombs, GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (2,000 pound GPS guided bombs), the AGM-142 HAVE NAP missile, the AGM-158 JASSM, and the AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon.
The F-35s that will participate are Marine Corps F-35B variants that are based in Japan. The F-35Bs are fifth-generation multi-role strike fighters, capable to engaging targets in the air or on the ground. The planes carry AIM-120 AMRAAMs, AIM-9 Sidewinders, JDAMs, JSOWs, and cluster bombs.
Two F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, prepare to land at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 18, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
The planned exercises will involve 315,000 troops, most of them South Korean. North Korea has routinely claimed that the Foal Eagle exercises are rehearsals for an invasion. Earlier this month, a battery of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missiles were deployed to South Korea, a decision criticized by China, which vowed to make South Korea “feel the pain” for allowing the deployment.
Someone needs to tell Kim, “You’re making Chaos angry. You will not like it when Chaos gets angry.”