South Korea’s president said Feb. 26, 2018, that the United States should lower the threshold for talks with North Korea and that the two countries should start a dialogue soon.
President Moon Jae-in made the remarks in a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong one day after a senior North Korean official told Moon that his country is willing to open talks with the United States.
The officials were in South Korea for the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Feb. 25, 2018.
According to his office, Moon asked for China’s support for U.S.-North Korea talks, and Liu responded that China would help facilitate them. Moon also said that North Korea should show a commitment to denuclearization, something it has refused to do.
Earlier, the U.S. said the international community needs to maintain maximum pressure on North Korea until it gives up its nuclear weapons development.
“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” the White House said in a statement.
Moon met Feb. 25, 2018, with a North Korean delegation led by Kim Yong Chol, a former general whom South Korea has accused of being behind two attacks on the South that killed 50 people in 2010. Kim told Moon that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to improve ties with Washington and had “ample intentions of holding talks,” according to the South Korean president’s office.
The North Korean delegation met with Moon’s national security chief on Feb. 26, 2018. Moon’s office said the two sides agreed that the Olympics had been a meaningful stepping stone toward restoring inter-Korean ties, and to continue to collaborate to seek a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean protesters burned a North Korean flag and used a knife to slash a portrait of Kim Jong Un near a hotel where the North Korean delegation was staying.
Whether you’re just beginning to think about going back to school or have your mind set on furthering your education but don’t know where to start, one thing is for sure: You know that a traditional four-year degree just doesn’t fit into your lifestyle. Check out our list of the top five best-paying jobs without a degree — all you need is to get certified!
The U.S. Census Bureau released a report in 2014 stating that 11.2 million Americans holding high school diplomas or less have a certification in a chosen field. By earning a certification, you not only learn and acquire skills needed for that job, but it allows you to work your way up in some companies as you continue to learn. Here’s a list of some high-paying jobs without a degree.
Personal Fitness Trainer – $55,000
If you’re a veteran, this is a natural career choice for transitioners looking for high-paying jobs without a degree. Depending on where you live and if you have a passion for fitness, becoming a personal trainer may be the dream job you’ve been looking for. If you enjoy motivating others to reach goals and better themselves, you may be able to make the gym your office. According to Salary.com, salaries for trainers range anywhere from $30-$300 per hour. Once you build up a list of clients, you’ll have the opportunity to become your own boss and open your own fitness center. The possibilities — and motivation — are endless.
If the thought of being stuck in a crammed office cubicle all day with ringing phones is the exact opposite of what you want your career to be, maybe a dash of field work would freshen up your day. As an insurance appraiser for automobiles, you head out to wherever the cars are located and assess the cost of auto repairs and damages. The appraiser either works directly for an insurance company or may choose to work independently.
Court Reporter – $53,292
If you’re interested in working in the legal services field, being a court reporter may be for you. Responsible for documenting the courtroom proceedings via stenotype machine, court reporters will always be in demand while there is crime and courtrooms. According to Salary.com, this job requires the earned certificate and some on-the-job training. The reporter must rely on instructional advice and follow pre-established guidelines. They keep a very structured schedule, something that would be second nature to you.
Finance for Managers – Promotional salaries + $70,000-$100,000
If you like crunching numbers and want to move up in your current or prospective company, taking financial classes could get your foot in the door. According to Payscale.com, the skills needed to obtain and succeed at this endeavor include problem-solving skills, analyzing business models and applying concepts for management. This is a position aimed toward those who want to climb the company ladder in a short amount of time.
Homeland Security – $100,000
Even after leaving the service, there’s probably still a part of you that wants to continue to serve under the red, white and blue, and Homeland Security may have the best-paying job without a degree for you. With job security for years and years to come, many schools offer programs to quickly and effectively teach students everything they need to know to keep the country safe. For example, American Military University (AMU) offers an online undergraduate certificate, giving busy adults a flexible timetable to complete their certification. The staff at AMU is experienced in protecting the nation in ways of intelligence, emergency management, public safety and much more. As of July 2015, Payscale.com set salaries as high as $100,000 for those working under Homeland Security.
The strike on Shayrat Air Base was intended to take out a number of targets, but one plane in particular was top of the list: The Su-22 Fitter.
According to Scramble.nl, two squadrons of this plane were based at the Shayrat air base that absorbed 59 T-LAMs. But why was this plane the primary target, as opposed to the squadron of MiG-23 Floggers? The answer is that the versions of the MiG-23 that were reportedly based there were primarily in the air-to-air role. The MiG-23MLD is known as the “Flogger K” by NATO. The two squadrons of Su-22 Fitters, though, specialized in the ground attack mission.
According to militaryfactory.com, the Su-22 is one of two export versions of the Su-17, which first entered service in 1969. Since then, it has received progressive improvements, and was widely exported to not only Warsaw Pact countries but to Soviet allies in the Middle East and to Peru. The Russians and French teamed up to modernize many of the Fitters still in service – and over 2,600 of these planes were built.
According to the Encyclopaedia of Modern Aircraft Armament, the Su-17/Su-20/Su-22 Fitter has eight hardpoints capable of carrying up to 11,000 pounds of munitions. It also has a pair of MR-30 30mm cannon. It is capable of a top speed of 624 knots, according to militaryfactory.com.
The Fitter has seen a fair bit of combat action, including during the Iran-Iraq War, the Yom Kippur War, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and the Russian wars in Chechnya.
Recently, it saw action in the Libyan Civil War as well as the Syrian Civil War.
While it has performed well in ground-attack missions, it was famously misused by then-Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to challenge U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats over the Gulf of Sidra in 1981. Both Fitters were shot down after an ineffectual attack on the Tomcats.
During Desert Storm, the Iraqi Air Force lost two Su-22s, then two more during Operation Provide Comfort.
The Fitter did get one moment in the cinematic sun, though. In the Vin Diesel action movie “XXX,” two Czech air force Fitters made a cameo during the climactic sequence.
Members of Congress are urging President Trump to begin rebuilding the U.S. military, starting with a 2018 defense budget of at least $640 billion, most of which would go to buying more aircraft, ships, and other hardware.
That ambitious number would be about $50 billion above the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which enacted the process called sequestration to enforce the limits.
But House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain are ready to lead fights to eliminate the BCA caps so they can pay for the hardware, the additional personnel and the maintenance needed to restore a defense they say has been badly weakened by six years of reduced spending.
At a media briefing Feb. 6, 2017, to preview the upcoming congressional session, Thornberry (R-Texas) first urged Congress to pass an appropriations bill to cover the six remaining months of the 2017 fiscal year “as soon as possible.”
The federal government currently is being funded under a continuing resolution that runs until April 28 and limits most spending to the prior year levels.
“There’s no reason in the world to wait until April,” Thornberry said.
The HASC chairman then urged Trump to send the supplemental funding bill he has promised to increase defense spending this year. “The sooner the better,” he said.
When asked what the supplemental should cover, Thornberry said it should start with “the things that were in the House-passed NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) that were not in the final bill. I think they should be at the top of the list.”
The NDAA cut $18 billion that the House wanted to add, which would have gone mainly to increased weapons.
The U.S. Air Force F/A-18F has an estimated flyaway cost of $98.3 million. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin
The deleted funds also would have allowed the services to hire even more troops than the 16,000 Army soldiers and the 3,000 additional Marines allowed by the final bill.
Funding the current fiscal year would clear the way for Congress to work on a fiscal 2018 budget, which should include an even bigger increase in defense spending, Thornberry said.
Asked what amount he wanted, Thornberry said, “Our view is about a $640 billion base budget to meet the increased end strength, the increased number of ships, to turn the readiness around, and deal with a lot of those problems.”
McCain (R-Arizona) used that same number in his opening statement at a Jan. 24 hearing of his committee.
“We have to invest in the modern capabilities necessary for the new realities of deterring conflict,” he said.
“We also have to regain capacity for our military. It does not have enough ships, aircraft, vehicles, munitions, equipment, and personnel to perform its current missions at acceptable levels of risk.”
“It will not be cheap,” McCain added. “In my estimate, our military requires a base defense budget for fiscal year 2018, excluding current war costs, of $640 billion.”
Both of the chairmen insisted the BCA caps must be removed, but only for defense, not for the domestic programs that also are limited.
During a 2005 combat tour in Afghanistan Stout was wounded and transitioned back to Kansas City, Missouri. Like many wounded warriors, he struggled with physical and mental injuries. He knew that he felt better when in the company of other veterans and, for a short time, worked as a veteran counselor connecting vets to services they needed. But it wasn’t enough.
“I often would use my own money to put up vets in a hotel room,” Stout said. “I felt like there must be better way to get vets the services they needed, as well as housing.”
With its focus first on the great Kansas City, Missouri area, VCP wants to use the region as the blueprint for achieving similar successes in cities across the United States. Long term, they aspire to eliminate veteran homelessness nationwide.
“We are the place that says ‘yes’ first and figures everything else out later,” Stout said. “We serve anybody who’s ever raised their hand to defend our Constitution.”
Homelessness is one of the major contributors to the high suicide rate of veterans, he said. According to the latest 2016 Department of Veterans Affairs study, that rate is 22 per day among younger veterans aged 18 to 34.
In the VCP program, veterans get more than just a home; they get a community of like-minded veterans supporting each other.
“It’s very much like the barracks lifestyle, except that each veteran has their own home,” Stout said. “They’re taking care of each other. We also have a community center for them to gather and share camaraderie.”
The founders of VCP say on their website they are a team of “connectors, feelers, and doers on a mission to help our kin, our kind. We move with swift, bold action, and will always serve with compassion.”
Stout and his partners use their military logistics prowess to ensure that their housing communities are located along convenient bus lines and provide every veteran a free bus pass to allow easy transportation.
“We like to have them say, ‘What do you provide?’ That way we can ask them, ‘What do you need?’ And then we can start being the connectors,” Stout said. “At least 60 percent of the people that we serve, we’re serving them because of a poor transition from the military.”
And it’s thanks, in part, to his work with that community that he’s accumulated a wealth of good advice on how to survive the transition from the military into the civilian world.
Chris Stout, Army veteran and Founder of the Veterans Community Project.
Chris Stout’s top 5 transition tips
Connect with other veterans in your community. They will have learned lessons and have guidance more valuable than a brochure.
Ask for assistance before it’s too late. When Plan A doesn’t pan out, be prepared to execute a Plan B and ask for help pulling yourself out of the hole.
You’re not alone. You’re not the first to struggle with the VA, and you’re not the first to struggle with home life. Know that there are people who understand and can help sort it out. Often, when veterans transition, they view it as if they are the only ones traveling this road or the first blazing the trail. That’s not the case
If you’re a veteran, act like one. That means accepting responsibility, be on time, hold yourself accountable, have integrity and do not act entitled.
Work as hard as you did while you were in the service each and every day. It doesn’t matter what you decide to do when you get out; if you keep the drive, you will be OK.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced that he will be resigning from his role in February. His letter of resignation was released by the Pentagon just minutes after President Trump said on Twitter that Mattis was retiring.
For the President’s tweet and Secretary Mattis’ full resignation letter, please read below:
(Department of Defense photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Dear Mr. President:
I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
I am proud of the process that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliance and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American woes to prove for the common defense, including proving effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours: It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity, and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my positions. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.
I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensure the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732.079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock missions to protect the American people.I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform. Signed, James N. Mattis
For the first time in their history, the Army will be completely reliant on the internet and social media to complete their summer recruitment of soldiers. With COVID-19 impacting their ability to do face to face recruitment events, they’ve become innovative. Their goal: 10,000 new soldiers.
The Army paused briefly in processing new applicants and significantly reduced the number of recruits at basic training to ensure they could reduce risks of infection and keep potential soldiers and staff safe. Once all measures were in place, the Army hit the ground running for recruitment.
The Army typically sends between 10,000 to 15,000 future soldiers to basic training every summer. The challenge, however, will be making that happen through a computer. In the months leading up to the summer push, most recruiters are inside high schools and continually interacting with youth. Although the pandemic prevented that, recruiters got creative.
These past few months have seen recruiters actively engaging on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and even playing video games with potential future soldiers. Although this definitely helped the Army somewhat maintain their recruiting numbers, a bigger push is needed to ensure mission readiness.
The Army’s virtual nation-wide hiring campaign will run from June 30 to July 2, 2020. Those who are eligible and join during the hiring event can earn a ,000 bonus, on top of other available bonuses and student loan payoffs. This campaign will be a test of the Army’s digital footprint and their ability to reach potential young soldiers virtually.
Command Master Sergeant Tabitha Gavia is the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It is her command leading the national hiring event. “We are responsible for the mission that the Army gives us every year, to recruit a certain number of Army and Army Reserves,” she shared.
According to an Army press release, “Army National Hiring Days is an all-Army effort to inspire individuals across the nation to ‘Join Us.'” This will be the first time that the Army has collectively come together as a whole to leverage the digital space in a nation-wide recruiting effort.
The Army has over 150 career opportunities for those that want to join. When someone signs up, they will also pick their job at the same time. When they finish basic training, they are sent to their specialist training for their chosen career field.
During Army National Hiring Days, those who want to learn more about the Army and inquire about joining can visit their recruitment website. There they’ll find a wealth of information about careers, qualifications, and specific hiring incentives.
There are always unique challenges to recruiting, even without a global pandemic. “External environments are the real challenges. One in particular is the significant number of people who simply aren’t qualified to serve in the armed forces,” Gavia explained. According to a recent 2019 study by Mission: Readiness, they found that as much as 75% of America’s youth is ineligible to serve. The three top reasons for ineligibility include being undereducated, involved in crime or physically unfit.
Gavia shared that another unique challenge in recruiting is that many young people simply don’t know enough about the Army, especially if they don’t live near a base or weren’t raised in a family of service. “We have to get people to get to know us and overcome preconceived notions and fears,” she said.
One example of a current fear is the recent ongoing protests and the involvement of the U.S. military in shutting them down. This led to a lot of potential recruits to question whether they wanted to be a part of the Army or any armed service at all. “Our recruiters faced backlash in their communities. They then had to explain that this is one aspect of supporting the country, but becoming part of the team there would be other things you would be doing and that this isn’t a true reflection of the Army,” Gavia shared.
The Army is also seeking to create a more diverse service. They aim to be the national leader in embracing a more diverse and inclusive environment. “It’s important to stress our diversity. Our strength really lies within our diversity….We want the public to understand and know this is important and a part of who we are,” said Gavia.
To learn more about the Army’s mission and dedication to inclusiveness, you can check out their website which details their commitment to diversity. For those who are interested in learning more about the Army and how they can make a difference by becoming a soldier, click here.
Fifty years ago, Israel was backed into a corner. Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran – essentially denying Israel access to the Red Sea. The situation was dire, and Israel knew it had to act.
On June 5, 1967, Israel launched Operation Focus. The objective was to neutralize the Arab air forces, particularly those from Egypt. According to the Israeli Air Force web site, the operation was a smashing success.
You can now see that operation — as well as other parts of the Six-Day War — the way Israeli Defense Force pilots saw it.
During that war, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on airfields and other ground targets. They also were in a fair number of dogfights. The best plane the Israelis had at that time was the Dassault Mirage III, a single-seat fighter that had a top speed of 1,312 miles per hour, a range of 1,000 miles, and the ability to carry up to 8,800 pounds of ordnance along with two 30mm cannon.
The Six-Day War saw Israeli Mirage IIIs take on MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-19 Farmerss, Hawker Hunters, MiG-17 Frescos, Su-7 Fitters, Il-28 Beagles, and a variety of transports and helicopters.
The Israelis lost 46 aircraft and 24 pilots, but in return had killed almost 400 enemy planes, and had control of the skies within hours of the conflict starting.
You can see what it was like for Israeli pilots in the video below, taken from the Israeli gun camera films. The compilation starts with the airfield strikes that were part of Operation Focus. Not just bomb runs, but also the strafing passes on aircraft that were caught on the ground.
The gun-camera footage then shows the Israeli pilots as they score kills in dogfights. Finally, the video shows the interdiction strikes against Arab ground forces.
The Islamic State is “dead set” on using chemical weapons attacks, including sulfur-mustard gas, to endanger U.S. troops and blunt or delay the long-planned offensive to retake Mosul in northwestern Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.
“I think we can fully expect, as this road toward Mosul progresses, ISIL is likely to try to use it again,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said, using another acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. “They are dead set on it.”
Last week, ISIS fighters fired an artillery shell near U.S. troops at the Qayyarah West airfield, about 40 miles southeast of Mosul, that was initially suspected of having traces of sulfur-mustard blistering agent. There were no deaths or injuries in the incident.
In a briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon last Friday, Army Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said that first test of an oily substance on shell fragments was positive, a second test was negative, and a third was inconclusive.
“We have no conclusive evidence” that mustard gas was used, Dorrian said. He said more tests were being conducted.
However, Kurdish peshmerga forces participating in the “shaping operations” for the Mosul offensive said last year that ISIS fired mortar shells suspected of containing mustard gas at their positions about 20 miles east of the Qayyarah airfield. ISIS is also suspected of using chlorine gas in Syria.
Earlier this month, U.S. and coalition aircraft carried out strikes against a former pharmaceutical factory in Mosul that ISIS was suspected of having turned into a chemical weapons complex.
At the Pentagon, Davis said ISIS “would love to use chemical weapons against us and against the Iraqis as they move forward, and we are making every effort to make sure we are ready for it.”
U.S. troops in Iraq have access to gas masks and Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear to protect against chemical attacks.
In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, troops carried masks and MOPP suits with them at all times and frequently had to don them as alarms went off on the possibility that chemical weapons were in the area.
Later U.S. inspections and reports found that Iraq had stopped producing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction before the invasion.
“We fully recognize that this is something that ISIL has done before,” Davis said of the possibility of chemical attacks. “They have done it many times, at least a couple of dozen that we know of, where they have launched crude, makeshift munitions that are filled with this mustard agent.”
“That is not something we view as militarily significant, but obviously it is further evidence that ISIL knows no boundaries when it comes to their conduct on the battlefield,” he said.
In addition to U.S. troops having access to gas masks and MOPP gear, Davis said the U.S. has distributed more than 50,000 kits of personal protective gear for Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
In the Mosul offensive, American advisers are expected to move closer to the battlefront. The Defense Department has authorized U.S. commanders to place advisers with the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish peshmerga at the battalion level.
In his briefing last Friday, Dorrian said eight to 12 brigades of the Iraqi Security Forces were “ready to go” against Mosul, where ISIS has had nearly two years to build up defenses. The U.S. estimates that the group “no longer is able to mass enough forces to stop the advance” on the city, and its fighters are experiencing “flagging morale” from the loss of territory and the unrelenting coalition airstrikes, Dorrian said.
U.S. airstrikes recently destroyed an estimated 29 ISIS boats on the Tigris River and also blew up a bridge over which the group’s vehicles were attempting to escape, he said.
To defend Mosul, ISIS has built “intricate defenses,” including elaborate tunnel networks and interconnected layers of improvised explosive devices along likely “avenues of approach” to the city, Dorrian said.
The U.S. has also seen reports that ISIS has dug trenches and filled them with oil to be set on fire once the offensive begins. “They’ve built a hell on earth around themselves,” he said.
As President Donald Trump touted a new era of diplomacy with the North Korean regime, a classified intelligence assessment appeared to tell a different story, according to several US intelligence officials.
The assessment revealed that, in recent months, North Korea had upped its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at several secret sites, according to over a dozen intelligence officials cited in an NBC News report published June 29, 2018. The officials said they believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be trying to conceal the secret facilities from the US.
“Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles,” one senior US intelligence official said to NBC News. “We are watching closely.”
According to five US officials cited by NBC News, the North Korean regime was increasing production of enriched uranium, even as relations with the US improved following the 2018 Winter Olympics. And since the leaders of both countries held a summit in Singapore in mid-June, 2018, the Trump administration has already delivered some concessions to the North.
Trump halted Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a major joint military drill with South Korea that was scheduled for August 2018. The military exercises have been a point of contention for North Korea, which sees them as a direct threat. The US and South Korea treat the drills as defensive measures.
During the US-North Korea summit, the first such meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, the two men pledged to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” It was a vast departure from 2017 when both Trump and Kim were openly threatening nuclear war. But the broad and nondescript document fell short of a specific plan or goal, and was criticized by foreign-policy experts.
And though North Korea took several steps to indicate it was in the process of dismantling its weapons program, such as blowing up tunnels leading to a nuclear-test site, critics who monitored the development say it may have all been for show.
“There’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” a US official familiar with the intelligence report told NBC. “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US.”
“There are lots of things that we know that North Korea has tried to hide from us for a long time,” another intelligence official added.
The intelligence report may also confirm the theory held by many arms experts: that North Korea possesses a second, undisclosed nuclear enrichment facility. In 2008, North Korea signaled it would curb its nuclear program by televising the destruction of a water-cooling tower at a plutonium extraction facility, only to announce that it would “readjust and restart” in 2013.
The report also calls into question Trump’s claim that North Korea no longer poses as a nuclear threat to the US: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump tweeted in June, 2018, after returning from his meeting with Kim. “Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Oct. 20 there is a place for moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s government as long as they renounce violence and terrorism and commit to stability. He also delivered a blunt warning to neighboring Pakistan, insisting Islamabad must step up action against terrorist groups that have found safehaven within its borders.
Speaking on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan where he met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and other senior officials at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, Tillerson said the Taliban must understand that they will never win a military victory and should prepare to negotiate with the government.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Photo from US Department of State.
“Clearly, we have to continue to fight against the Taliban, against others, in order for them to understand they will never win a military victory,” Tillerson told a small group of reporters allowed to accompany him from the Qatari capital of Doha. “And there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don’t want their children to fight forever. So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government.”
“There’s a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence and being committed to a stable, prosperous Afghanistan,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson outlined to Ghani and Abdullah the Trump administration’s new South Asia policy, which the president rolled out last month and views the region through a lens that includes Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and India, both of which he will visit later this week. The approach is heavy on combatting and beating extremist groups in all three countries.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.
“We also want to work with regional partners to ensure that there are no threats in the region,” he said. “This is very much a regional effort as you saw. It was rolled out in the strategy itself, demanding that others deny safehaven to terrorists anywhere in the region. We are working closely with Pakistan as well.”
Tillerson will visit Islamabad on Oct. 21 and said he would be telling Pakistani officials that their cooperation in fighting extremists and driving them from hideouts on their territory is imperative to a good relationship with the US.
“It will be based upon whether they take action that we feel is necessary to move the process forward for both creating opportunity for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan but also ensuring a stable future Pakistan,” he said. ” Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safehaven inside of Pakistan. So we want to work closely Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan as well.”
The administration’s strategy for South Asia envisions it as part of what Tillerson referred to in a speech last week as Indian-Pacific Ocean platform, anchored by four democracies: India, Australia, Japan, and the United States. The US is placing high hopes on India’s contributions in South Asia, especially in Afghanistan where Tillerson said New Delhi could have significant influence and presence by creating jobs and “the right environment for the future of Afghanistan.”
Gen. John Nicholson. Photo from Dept of Defense.
Tillerson also met at Bagram with senior members of the US military contingent, including Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan. He underscored the ongoing US commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan but stressed it is “conditions based,” meaning that the government must meet certain benchmarks. He praised Ghani for his efforts to curb corruption and prepare for the country parliamentary elections next year.
“It is imperative in the end that we are denying safehaven to any terrorist organizations or any extremists to any part of this world,” Tillerson said.
He arrived in Afghanistan cloaked in secrecy and under heavy security. He had slipped out of Qatar in the pre-dawn hours and flew a gray C-17 military plane to Bagram, jettisoning his public schedule, which had him meeting with staffers at the US Embassy in Doha.
Tillerson, a one-time private pilot, rode in the cockpit wearing a headset and chatting with the crew as the plane took off from the Al-Udeid Air Base outside Doha.
The Taliban has reportedly rejected an offer by the Afghan government for a cease-fire, with militant commanders vowing to carry on their attacks after Taliban fighters in the north seized nearly 200 hostages from a convoy of passenger buses.
A Taliban spokesman said Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada on Aug. 20, 2018, rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s offer a day earlier of a “conditional” cease-fire with the Taliban to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The cease-fire was meant to begin on Aug. 20, 2018, and run for three months, conditioned upon Taliban participation.
But the Taliban spokesman told Reuters by telephone on Aug. 20 that Akhunzada had rejected the new offer on grounds that it would only help the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.
“Our leadership feels that they’ll prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a cease-fire now,” the Taliban spokesman said, declining to be identified.
Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada
An official in Ghani’s office said the Afghan government would continue its military operations against the Taliban if the militants did not respect the cease-fire.
Afghan officials say government security forces on Aug. 20, 2018, freed 149 people who had been taken hostage by the Taliban several hours earlier in the northern province of Kunduz.
Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL that the militants continued to hold 21 others hostage on Aug. 20, 2018, after they ambushed a convoy of passenger buses traveling to Kabul for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
He said fighting in the area had halted while Afghan authorities used local elders as intermediaries in negotiations with the Taliban for the release of the remaining hostages.
The buses were stopped in the province’s Khan Abad district, an area under Taliban control — prompting a battle against government forces deployed in a rescue operation.
Rahimi said the rescue operation had killed at least seven Taliban fighters before the militants fled the scene. He said the Taliban had left behind the 149 freed hostages because the militants were unable to transport all of the group due to the rescue operation.
Rahimi said the remaining 21 hostages were taken by the Taliban to an undisclosed location. He said none of them were government employees or members of Afghanistan’s security forces.
However, a Taliban spokesman said the militants were conducting their own investigations to determine if any of the remaining hostages work for the Afghan government or security forces.
Sayed Assadullah Sadat, a Kunduz provincial council member, said earlier on Aug. 20, 2018, that the buses “were packed with people and maybe there were army soldiers and police” among those taken hostage.
Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, said he thinks the Taliban were looking for government employees or members of the security forces.
Abdul Rahman Aqtash, the police chief in neighboring Takhar province, says the passengers were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.