Brief News International

U.S. Strike in Iraq Kills Qassim Suleimani, Commander of Iranian Forces

By Michael Crowley, Falih Hassan and Eric Schmitt  |  (Jan. 2, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.  Iran’s top security and intelligence commander was killed early Friday in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that was authorized by President Trump, American officials said.

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The commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, who led the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed along with several officials from Iraqi militias backed by Tehran when an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the airport.

General Suleimani was the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades, and his death was a staggering blow for Iran at a time of sweeping geopolitical conflict. The strike was also a serious escalation of Mr. Trump’s growing confrontation with Tehran, one that began with the death of an American contractor in Iraq in late December.

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Iran fires missiles at US targets in Iraq

Iranian missiles hit two Iraqi bases hosting US troops amid rising tensions following US killing of Iran’s Soleimani. Iran has fired more than a dozen rockets at two Iraqi military bases hosting US troops, the Pentagon confirmed. 

The rockets fired at the Ain al-Asad base in Anbar province and a base in Erbil early on Wednesday came amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran following the US killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in  Iraq  last week. Iran had pledged severe retaliation. 

Iran Missile Hits on U.S. Military Targets in Iraq Were Precise, Satellite Images Show

(Reuters) Iranian missiles damaged or destroyed seven buildings in the part of Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq that houses U.S. Military personnel, satellite photographs appear to show. Two images provided by commercial satellite company Planet Labs Inc., and reviewed by Reuters, show five missile impact points in that part of the base.

At least three of the structures appear to be aircraft maintenance hangers. Some of the buildings or structures have completely disappeared. Only parts of the others remain.

U.S. President Donald Trump said no Americans were harmed in the strikes, which Iranian said it launched in retaliation for the killing last week in Iraq of an Iranian general.

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34 US troops injured in recent Iranian strike: Pentagon

(Source: AFP)  Nearly three dozen US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries or concussion in this month’s Iranian air strike on a military base in Iraq, the Pentagon said on Friday 24 Jan,. “Thirty-four total members have been diagnosed with concussions and TBI (traumatic brain injury),” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.

President Donald Trump had initially said that no Americans were injured in the strike on the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq on the night of January 7-8 although authorities later reported that 11 troops were injured.  Hoffman said that 17 of the victims had been initially transferred to Germany to receive treatment, eight of whom arrived back in the US. 

The airbase — one of the largest in Iraq, with 1,500 US troops making up the bulk of a coalition presence directly adjacent to thousands of Iraqi forces — was targeted in retaliation for the US killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a January 3 drone strike in Baghdad.

Democratic lawmakers seized on the announcement to accuse Trump of lying about the strike.

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Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 passenger plane crash in Iran

Iranian military ADMITS it shot down Ukrainian  passenger plane  by mistake

Under these circumstances, the aircraft was accidentally shot down due to a human error.

(11 Jan, 2020)  The Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed after takeoff from Tehran was downed due to “human error” after it flew too close to a military site and triggered a missile launch amid a standoff with the US, the Iranian Army said.

On Wednesday 8 Jan., the Iranian Army fired a volley of ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq that house American troops. It was a retaliation in response to a US drone strike, which killed top Iranian military chief Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad’s airport.

For several hours after the missile attacks, the army was detecting increased activity of US warplanes around the country and received alerts of possible airstrikes on “strategic sites” across Iran, the General Staff said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, that Iran’s acknowledgement that it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane was a step in the right direction but wanted those responsible to be held to account.

The Kiev-bound Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which took off from Tehran’s airport the same day, was approaching “an important military site” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), while traveling at the altitude of a “hostile flight,” the statement noted.

The General Staff said that a further investigation will determine all the causes of the incident and those responsible would face consequences. All 176 people on board the airliner were killed in the crash. Most of the victims were Iranian and Canadian nationals.

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US Must Leave Region: Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei stressed that military action against the United States is not sufficient in reprisal for the assassination of the top Iranian commander and the “corruptive presence” of America in the region must end. Addressing a group of people from the holy city of Qom, the Leader said, “Nations of the region and the governments arising from those nations without a doubt will not accept the persistence of America’s corruptive presence,” Leader.ir reported.  He described last night’s attack as a “Slap” in the face of the US, stressing that Iran’s ultimate revenge involves American troops’ complete withdrawal.

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‘Not leaving Iraq!’ Pentagon clarifies ‘poorly worded’ US withdrawal plan sent by ‘mistake’

(6 Jan, 2020)  Confusion reigned at the Pentagon after the publication of a letter about withdrawal from Iraq, with the top general describing it as a “mistake” and the defense secretary saying there were no plans for a US pullout.

“There’s been no decision to leave Iraq. Period,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. He was referring to reports that the head of Combined Joint Task Force Iraq, General William H. Seely III, informed the Iraqi government of preparations to reposition the coalition forces “in due deference to the sovereignty” of Iraq. Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that the letter Seely had sent was only a draft and that releasing it was a “mistake.” The Iraqi military confirmed receiving it, however.

Esper would neither confirm nor deny the letter’s authenticity, though US Army public relations officials said earlier it was real. Instead, he reiterated the position staked out earlier by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that the Iraqi people “want the US to stay,” and cited the rise in attacks by Iranian “proxy groups.”

US President Donald Trump likewise rejected the withdrawal, threatening Iraq with sanctions and saying the US will not leave until the Iraqis “pay us back” for an airbase that he said cost billions of dollars to build.

The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution asking the government to disinvite all foreign troops  including the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS)  after last week’s assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike outside Baghdad International Airport.  The resolution is non-binding, but reflects the growing frustration in Baghdad with continued US operations in Iraq long after the official defeat of IS was proclaimed.

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Sultan Qaboos, Modern Oman’s Founder, Dies

By  Rory Jones and  Isabel Coles | Jan. 10, 2020

Sultan Qaboos, who ruled Oman for nearly five decades, is credited with transforming the country from a backward, divided and unstable state on the tip of the Arabian peninsula into a relatively modern and prosperous oil-driven economy. An absolute monarch who stressed stability at home and neutrality abroad, his passing leaves a cloud of uncertainty over the political direction of the country, one of six in the Gulf Cooperation Council. The 79-year-old bachelor sultan had no children and he hadn’t publicly named an heir.

In a short obituary from the country’s state news agency, Oman said Sultan Qaboos died Friday 10 January 2020   “after establishing a comprehensive renaissance” over the fifty years since he became monarch.

“This renaissance resulted in a balanced foreign policy,” the obituary said. It didn’t give a cause of death; the monarch has suffered from an undisclosed illness for many years. The country will halt work in the public and private sectors for three days and fly flags at half-mast for the next 40 days, the obituary said.

Under Sultan Qaboos, Oman navigated that tension by remaining neutral, avoiding some of the more confrontational stances of its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council and upholding relations with both Iran and the Assad government in Syria. Oman didn’t join the Saudi and Emirati coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen, instead serving as a mediator for secret talks between the two sides in 2018. It also served as the venue for secret talks between Iran and the U.S. in 2013 that led to the 2015 nuclear accord. “People saw talks with Iran as an attempt to have peace and stability in the region,” one Omani academic said.

Tehran and Washington used Sultan Qaboos to relay messages following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

In October 2018, Sultan Qaboos hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Muscat, a rare visit by an Israeli leader to one of the Gulf states, which largely shun diplomatic ties with Israel.

“The question is to what extent is Omani foreign policy Qaboos?” said Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. “One of the things people want to know is whether they [Oman] would continue a policy of nonalignment.”

Sultan Qaboos laid to rest: on Saturday  11 Jan. 2019, Sultan Qaboos  was laid to rest at the Royal Cemetery in Ghala. Thousands lined up on the roads from Bait Al Barakha to Grand Mosque in Bausher to say a final goodbye to the dear leader on journey to the final resting place.

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Devastating earthquake in eastern Turkey

31 dead, 1547+ injured after Turkey 6.8 earthquake ‘felt all the way to Tel Aviv’

More than 530 after shocks were felt in the region with nine above a 4.0-magnitude.

(24 Jan, 2020) A 6.8 earthquake in eastern Turkey has claimed at least 31 lives and caused multiple buildings to collapse, trapping many under rubble. The quake was centered in the province of Elazig and was felt as far away as Tel Aviv, Israel. The quake struck near the town of Sivrice but was felt in other neighboring countries, including Syria, Georgia, Lebanon and Armenia. Its depth was measured at 10 kilometers by EMSC and it was violent enough to send people running outdoors for safety, according to local media.

The initial tremor was followed by a series of aftershocks, peaking at magnitudes of 5.4 and 5.1, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency. Around 10 buildings have collapsed in Sivrice, according to local media. The town has a population of around 4,000.

One video posted to social media shows a news show in progress as studio fixtures begin to shake violently. Other videos show people shouting and scrambling over rubble from collapsed and partially collapsed buildings. The initial tremor was followed by a series of aftershocks, peaking at magnitudes of 5.4 and 5.1, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency. Around 10 buildings have collapsed in Sivrice, according to local media. The town has a population of around 4,000.  One video posted to social media shows a news show in progress as studio fixtures begin to shake violently. Other videos show people shouting and scrambling over rubble from collapsed and partially collapsed buildings.

(Source: RT NEWS)

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Turkey’s parliament approves military deployment to Libya

Erdogan is eager to support UN-recognised gov’t in Tripoli as it faces renewed threat from military commander Haftar.

Turkey’s parliament has approved a bill to deploy troops to Libya in support of the embattled United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), paving the way for increased military cooperation despite criticism from opposition legislators. Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop said on Thursday that the legislation passed with a 325-184 vote.

The government has not revealed details about the possible Turkish deployment. The motion allows the government to decide on the scope, amount and timing of any mission. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and its allies hold a parliamentary majority. All important opposition parties in the assembly voted against the bill.

Following the announcement, US President Donald Trump warned Erdogan against any “interference” in Libya in a telephone call. Trump “pointed out that foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

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Full stream ahead: Russia & Turkey launch TurkStream gas pipeline

(8 Jan, 2020) Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have launched the long-anticipated offshore pipeline TurkStream, that will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and further to southern European states. The 930 km pipeline across the bottom of the Black Sea became operational, with the two leaders attending a special opening ceremony. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissovalso participated in the event, as the leaders symbolically launched the project from the stage.

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Trump unveils his Middle East plan amid Palestinian rejections

Palestinians reject Trump’s Middle East proposal, calling it a ‘conspiracy’ that ‘will not pass’.

United States President Donald Trump unveiled his long-delayed Middle East plan on Tuesday 28 Jan. 2020 – a proposal Palestinian leaders called a “conspiracy” that “will not pass”.

“Today, Israel has taken a giant step towards peace,” Trump said as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood by his side.  “My vision presents a win-win solution for both sides,” he said, adding that Israeli leaders have said they will endorse the proposal. Before the proposal was announced, Palestinians called it dead on arrival, saying it was an attempt to “finish off” the Palestinian cause.  Following Trump’s announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said “a thousand no’s” to the plan.

Netanyahu meanwhile said it was a “historic day” and thanked Trump for his proposal. He said if Palestinians agree to the plan, Israel will be willing to negotiate “right away”.

‘Dangerous consequences’

Most regional leaders slammed the plan, but others cautiously offered encouragement for the Israelis and Palestinians to come to the negotiating table.

Jordan warned against “annexation of Palestinian lands” with the kingdom’s foreign minister warning against the “dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures that aim to impose new realities on the ground”.

Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), also slammed Trump’s statements on Jerusalem, saying: “No, Trump! Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state and the heart of the Islamic world!”

Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement called the proposal a “deal of shame”, adding that it was a very dangerous step that would have negative consequences on the region’s future, according to Al Manar TV.

It also said the proposal would not have happened without “complicity and betrayal” of several Arab states.

The UN said it was committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians broker peace on the basis of UN resolutions, international law, bilateral agreements and the vision of two states based on pre-1967 borders. One such UN resolution was adopted by the Security Council a month before Trump took office in January 2017. The resolution demanded an end to Israeli settlements, with 14 votes in favour and one abstention by former US President Barack Obama’s administration.

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Arab League rejects Trump’s Middle East plan

Arab leaders say US initiative does not meet ‘minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people’.

(Fri ,31 Jan 2020) The Arab League has completely rejected US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan during an emergency meeting in Egypt’s capital, saying it would not lead to a just peace deal. In a statement on Saturday, the pan-Arab bloc said it “rejects the US-Israeli ‘deal of the century’ considering that it does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people.”

Arab states also agreed “not to … cooperate with the US administration to implement this plan,” adding that Israel should not implement the initiative by force. They insisted on a two-state solution that includes a Palestinian state based on borders before the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. They also called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of the future Palestinian state.    ( Source : Al Jazeera News)

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Libya could be the new Syria, Merkel warns

(DAVOS, Switzerland) By Silvia Amaro | 24-1-2020

 German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned business and political leaders that the ongoing conflict in Libya could have similar ramifications to the war in Syria. Millions of people have fled Syria over the last five years to escape war, with some of them choosing a new future in the European Union. According to the UNHCR, in 2018, 6.7 million Syrians fled the country. That swathe of refugees, alongside a flow of economic migrants from other parts of the world, sparked division within the 28-member bloc, particularly at the height of the inflow in 2015.  Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Merkel said the ongoing dispute in Libya could result in a similar situation. “We have to be vigilant,” she said. “And now if we look at Libya we have to be very careful that the same doesn’t happen there again.”

Libya has seen escalating violence since April, when General Khalifa Haftar tried to take over the country’s capital, Tripoli, from the U.N.-recognized government, led by Fayez al-Sarraj. The UNHCR said earlier this month that 46,395 people have been registered as refugees and asylum seekers.

US confirms jet crashed in Afghanistan  but disputes it was downed

Taliban claim they shot down US air force E-11A plane over territory near Ghazni city

(Mon 27 Jan 2020) Michael Safi and Akhtar Mohammad Makoii

The US military has confirmed that one of its aircraft crashed in eastern Afghanistan but said there was “no indication the crash was caused by enemy fire”. A Taliban spokesman had claimed that the group shot the plane down over territory they control near Ghazni city. The US Bombardier E-11A went down early on Monday afternoon and was initially mistaken by Afghan authorities for a passenger jet. But footage, purportedly from the wreckage site, soon emerged, showing the US air force insignia on a charred fuselage.

“While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” a spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan tweeted. “Taliban claims that additional aircraft have crashed are false.”

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a statement posted online: “An American invader aircraft has been shot down. Lots of officers have been killed.” He said high-ranking CIA officers had been onboard the plane, but the claim could not be independently verified.

In separate comments, Mujahid told the Guardian the purported shooting down of the plane had “no impact” on the negotiations over the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. “No agreement has been reached yet and Americans are continuing their attacks too.”

Tariq Ghazniwal, a local journalist, said he saw two bodies, but others had counted a total of five.

The E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node has been described by the US air force as “Wifi in the Sky”, a roving communications satellite to support missions in remote areas without existing infrastructure. The Taliban have occasionally been reported to have access to anti-aircraft weapons, including cases where they fired Stinger missiles of the kind supplied to the rebels by the CIA during the 1980s Russian occupation. In 2007, Taliban fighters are thought to have used a shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile to shoot down a Chinook helicopter, killing all on board. (Source: The Guardian)

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US forces block Russian convoy for fourth time in 8 days amid tension over Syrian oil fields

Tensions between U.S. and Russia military forces over gaining control over key oil fields in northeastern Syria are intensifying, as American troops on Sunday 26 Jan.,  blocked a Russian convoy trying to gain access to the oil fields for the fourth time in the last eight days.  Ten armored vehicles carrying American soldiers stopped Russian military vehicles west of Al-Hasakah province while they were trying to reach the M4 highway to reach key oil fields in the province.

Following the incident, the Russian military sent a helicopter from the base in the town. In response, the U.S. military sent two helicopters to the area, forcing the Russian helicopter to land. The Russian military convoy then apparently turned back and returned to their home base. The move came amid an ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Russia over the Rumeylan oil field in northeast Al-Hasakah, marking the fourth time such a standoff has reported in the last eight days.

Despite no significant conflict being reported, the incidents have become a reminder of the high stakes in Syria, where U.S. military activity aims to guard oil fields and prevent them from falling into the hands of other actors, including Russia and extremist groups. The oil fields are concentrated in the province of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border, and Al-Hasakah in the northeast.        (Special Report)

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Pelosi Statement on Three Years Since Trump Announced Muslim Travel Ban

JANUARY 27, 2020 | PRESS RELEASE |  Nancy Pelosi Speaker of The House

Washington, D.C.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this statement marking three years since President Trump signed orders instituting the Muslim travel ban, making it more difficult for families, including refugees, from seven predominantly Muslim countries to enter the United States based on their religion or religious heritage:

“Three years ago, in a stunning act of callousness and discrimination, President Trump and his Administration issued an outrageous travel ban, targeting majority-Muslim nations and undermining our values, our security and our Constitution.   

“Today, reports indicate that the Administration is once again preparing to expand its dangerous travel ban, threatening key international relationships and jeopardizing our ability to fight terrorism and extremism at home and abroad. President Trump and his Administration’s continued disdain for our nation’s national security and our founding ideals of liberty and justice dishonor our proud immigrant heritage and the diversity that strengthens and enriches our communities. Despite the Administration’s hateful policies and dangerous rhetoric, this fundamental truth remains: immigrants make America more American.    

“House Democrats continue to stand opposed to President Trump’s cruel, un-American travel ban in all of its iterations. In the coming weeks, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up and bring to the Floor the NO BAN Act to prohibit religious discrimination in our immigration system and limit the President’s ability to impose such biased and bigoted restrictions. In his last address as President, Ronald Reagan warned that ‘If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.’  House Democrats are working tirelessly to uphold our role as a global leader and a beacon of hope and opportunity for countless people around the world.”

(Source: Speaker.Govt/Newsroom) 

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China discovers underwater spy drones in its waters

(By H I Sutton) The secretive world of naval underwater surveys rarely breaks the surface. Now recent events are briefly shining a light into the darkness. In the Adriatic a Croatian fishing vessel caught one of the U.S. Navy’s undersea sensor systems last week. That mysterious object has largely been explained. Meanwhile, China has held an award ceremony for fishermen who alerted authorities after discovering similar devices in their nets.

The devices may have been operating in international waters, but still in China’s back yard as they see it. We can infer that some of these devices may also belong to the U.S. Navy. China has been holding the annual awards ceremonies since 2016. This year 11 fishermen were rewarded for handing over unidentified underwater vehicles which they had found.

The number of devices was not reported, but in 2018 nine were handed over. The vehicles themselves are not being displayed, but are reported to include ones of foreign origin. By implication, this means that they are operated by other navies in or near Chinese waters. If so, their role is likely to be intelligence gathering.

The information they collect could include measuring the depth, noise, salinity and currents. This seemingly mundane data could provide submariners with a tactical advantage in future operations, making them better informed about local conditions. Which is why navies invest so much in these activities. And why they are often conducted discretely, or even covertly.

The Jan. 13 ceremony took place in Jiangsu province on China’s eastern coast, facing the East China Sea. These waters are of interest to South Korea and Japan, as well as the U.S. Navy and potentially other global players. American submarines in the region are based in Pearl Harbor and frequently visit ports in Guam, South Korea and Japan.

Jiangsu province is not the only area where China finds foreign underwater devices. The scale of the incidents is hard to measure because most are not reported in the media. There is patchy information on a few of these incidents however. In 2012 a fishing boat from Hainan Island discovered a torpedo-shaped drone in the South China Sea.

That titanium drone had satellite communications and cameras. It was reported as an American device in Chinese media. Confusingly, photographs of it are now being used to illustrate the latest award ceremonies. In December 2016 China seized an underwater drone from the U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch.

She is the same class of ship as the one which lost the device off Croatia last week. The innocent looking glider, painted high visibility yellow to aid recovery, was termed a Littoral Battlespace Sensing-Glider (LBS-G). It was later handed back to an American warship. Unmanned platforms are popular for intelligence gathering because they do not endanger a crew if caught or lost.

China is not alone facing unwanted attention in this way. North Korea has a large torpedo-like intelligence gathering drone on display in the capital, Pyongyang. That device is possibly a U.S. Navy submarine-launched drone.

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China now world’s second biggest weapons producer: researchers

(AFP : January 27, 2020)

The opaque Chinese arms industry has made the Asian nation the world’s second largest producer of munitions, a clear shift from a decade ago when China relied on imports, researchers said in a new report.

The report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) suggests that China’s weapons production, which has previously been shrouded in mystery owing to a lack of transparency, has grown as three of the world’s top 10 arms companies are Chinese.

“We can with confidence say that China is the second largest arms producer in the world, behind the US and ahead of Russia,” Nan Tian, co-author of the report, told AFP.

Here’s how hypersonic weapons are creating a three-way arms race between China, Russia and the U.S. https://cnb.cx/2lmdtXD

The report notes however that the lack of transparency remains an “important caveat” when studying the Chinese arms industry.

The vast majority of the estimated $70-$80 billion (63 to 72 billion euros) worth of Chinese munitions sold every year are bought by the different branches of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“They no longer need to rely on other countries for their weapons,” Tian said.

Chinese arms companies are also much more specialised than their international counterparts.

Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the country’s largest arms company, for instance, mostly produces aircraft and avionics, while most large non-Chinese producers cover a wide range of military products.

Reasonably reliable estimates

SIPRI researchers have previously struggled to obtain reliable data on the size of the Chinese arms industry, since the producers are all state-owned entities. “Everything is locked under the term national security,” Tian said. In the report the researchers have looked into four specific Chinese companies, all of which rank among the world’s top 20, and say that with an increase in the available data on these companies “it is now possible to develop reasonably reliable estimates of the scale of the Chinese arms industry.”

Though there are no official statistics on Chinese arms exports available, the report notes that the Chinese arms “industry has developed to a point where there is an increased demand for its weapons overseas,” and estimates place China as the world’s fifth largest weapons exporter, SIPRI said.

In particular Tian said that one of China’s success stories as a weapons exporter has been in the area of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), commonly known as drones, which have been used in conflicts in both Libya and Yemen.

More arms exports increases the risk of weapons proliferation, but China’s entry to the world stage of weaponry sales is of special concern to the researchers since Beijing has not signed on to many of the arms control regulations that exist, including the Arms Trade Treaty approved by the UN General Assembly in 2013.

“There is no binding system that can hold China and these exporters accountable,” Tian said.

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Limited internet restored in Indian Occupied Kashmir, no access to social media

Nearly six-month long shutdown, longest in a democracy, ends with India allowing 2G access to 300 ‘whitelisted’ sites.

 (25-1-2020) Srinagar, Indian-Occupied Kashmir:  Indian authorities have ordered the restoration of low-speed mobile internet in Indian-administered Kashmir, but have allowed access to just 300 “whitelisted” websites. The order to restore second-generation (2G) mobile internet and data services, issued late on Friday 24 Jan. , ended the longest such outage in any democracy. It was imposed nearly six months ago following the abrogation of the disputed region’s autonomy.

“Mobile data services and internet access through fixed line shall be allowed through the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir with some restrictions,” said a notification issued by the federal territory’s home department.

The order said internet access will remain limited to “only whitelisted sites” and social media applications that allow “peer to peer communications and Virtual Private Networks [VPN] applications” will remain banned. Internet and phone services in Indian-administered Kashmir were snapped on August 5 after India stripped the Muslim-majority region of its limited autonomy by scrapping Articles 370 and 35A of the country’s constitution.

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RIL-Saudi Aramco 15-bn deal unlikely to close by March 31: CFO V Srikanth

Press Trust of India  |  Mumbai :  January 17, 2020

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries is unlikely to close the deal for 20 per cent stake in its oil to chemicals business to Saudi Aramco by March 31 this year, according to a senior company official.

In August last year, the company announced its plans to sell its 20 per cent stake in its flagship chemicals and refining business to Saudi Aramco in a deal valued at $15 billion. The deal, aimed at cutting its massive debt and secure an assured supply of crude oil to its refineries, was expected to be closed by March 31, 2020. “…it will not be a deal which will get done by March 31. It’s a large transaction, large cross border transaction, a complex transaction and so timeline is something we have to be realistic about,” its joint chief financial officer V Srikanth told reporters here.

He, however, said that the deal is making good progress and that there is engagement across teams. “If you are looking for guidelines, I am not the guy to give the timelines because we are bond by confidentiality. I can’t be talking about timelines. We can only say we are progressing well,” Srikanth added. When asked if the companies would be signing the definitive agreements by March 31, he said, “we are trying to do it, but we cannot comment on timelines without engagement with them (Saudi Aramco).”

During the company’s annual general meeting in last August, Ambani had said that the Saudi Aramco and BP deals, along with the plans of deleveraging of telecom arm Jio’s infrastructure assets will help Reliance become “a zero-net debt company within the next 18 months, that is by March 31, 2021. On the company’s debt reduction plans, Srikanth said, “the intensity of capex has been coming off quarter on quarter. From Rs 30,000 crore of capex in the first quarter, it has reduced to Rs 19,000 crore in second to Rs 14,000 crore in the third. This is in line with what we had already said that the projects are getting completed, like the Jamnagar expansion, the Jio related capex is already done, and so this is the way it is going to be.

“So we are earning more than what we are spending so its going to translate in reduction in levels of debt. Our broader target is to be debt free by FY2021,” he added. The company’s net debt levels have reduced from Rs 1.57 trillion in the second quarter of the fiscal to Rs 1.53 trillion in Q3 Fy2020.

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India’s indigenous missile defense capability is nowhere near strong

By Fang Xiaozhi | 21:01:2020

India has recently completed the development of its homemade ballistic missile defense system and all the tests have been successful. The Indian Air Force and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), the system developer, are seeking the approval to install and activate this system near the capital city of New Delhi, which is expected to take three or four years.

India has been working to develop its own anti-missile system for a long time, and even formed a cross-service committee to conduct comprehensive and elaborate research on the technology, combat capability and cost of establishing a missile defense network covering the whole country. It has developed a “two-step” strategy, which means that theater/tactical ballistic missile defense system that is of a low technological level will be deployed first, which will then be upgraded gradually to the strategic defense system. The successful development of homemade missile defense system marks a critical step forward on India’s way to achieving that goal, laying a solid foundation for it to establish the Indian-style missile defense network and maintain its strategic superiority in South Asia.

However, missile defense system is a very complicated project that reflects a major country’s overall strength, and it requires a thorough and solid technical foundation in terms of anti-missile early warning system, missile interception system and command and control system, in all of which India has nothing much to say for itself. Compared with Russia, the US, Israel and other countries with strong anti-missile capabilities, India’s technology is completely left behind and its R&D has had too many twists and turns. Besides, it has conducted too few tests, far from enough for it to fully understand the technology.

Furthermore, India has adopted the most conservative plan in all its anti-missile tests – only intercepting a target whose launching spot, flying velocity and direction, altitude or ballistic parameters are all known and there is no actively maneuvering and changing trajectory. This testing approach of “hitting a fixed target” doesn’t comply with real combat situation, nor can it truly test the anti-missile system’s stability and reliability, so the testing results are hardly reliable.

Besides, India heavily relies on developed countries for ballistic missile defense technology, and many parts of its homemade missile defense system use foreign technologies, which has seriously restricted the system’s combat capability.

Generally speaking, although India has made considerable progress in the independent R&D and deployment of ballistic missile defense system in recent years, it is still faced with a string of difficulties, such as inadequate capital, unsmooth R&D process, heavy reliance on other countries regarding key technology, and incomplete system. New Delhi has a long way to go before it can establish a truly effective ballistic missile defense system and fully exert its real combat force.

(China Military Online)

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Bangladesh grants Rohingya refugee children access to education

By Kaamil Ahmed  (Source: The Guardian  | Global Education)

Bangladesh has confirmed it will lift restrictions on education for young Rohingya refugees, easing bans in place since the existing camps were established 30 years ago. The government’s move to allow schooling for children aged 11-13 has been widely welcomed by activists and teachers.

“We don’t want a lost generation of Rohingya. We want them to have education. They will follow Myanmar curricula,” the country’s foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen, told . A statement put out by the UN on behalf of “the UN and humanitarian community” praised the decision. “We believe this is a positive step and a clear indication of the commitment by the government of Bangladesh to ensure access to learning for Rohingya children and adolescents, as well as to equip them with the right skills and capacities for their future and return to Myanmar when the conditions allow,” it read.

“In line with the government’s decision, the education sector for the humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar now plans to pilot the introduction of the Myanmar curriculum in the Rohingya refugee camps starting in April, initially targeting 10,000 Rohingya students in grades six to nine. The use of the Myanmar curriculum will be expanded to other grades in a phased manner.”

More than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 after Myanmar’s military carried out a series of operations that the UN described as having “genocidal intent” against the minority, taking the total refugee population in Bangladesh to almost a million. Activists have since been campaigning for access to education, warning that almost half a million Rohingya children are at risk of becoming a “lost generation”.

Basic schooling has been provided by aid groups to small children, but only nursery-style learning.

Amnesty International also applauded “an important and very positive commitment by the Bangladeshi government”.

Rohingya celebrations have been accompanied by reminders that the limited progress being proposed, which will offer “skills training” to youth over 14, should be expanded to formal education and qualifications.

Rohingya have been filling the education gap by establishing their own centres to teach basic skills like English, maths and sciences, despite opposition from the government. 

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