Friday, February 12, 2016

Even With An Agreement For A Syrian Ceasefire To Begin In A Week, The Bombing Continues

Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber in Syria. © Vadim Savitsky/TASS

Reuters: 'Cessation of hostilities' in Syria lets Russia keep bombing

Major powers agreed on Friday to a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria to begin in a week, doing nothing in the meantime to halt Russian bombing poised to give government forces their biggest victory of the five-year-old war.

If implemented, the deal would allow humanitarian aid to reach besieged towns. It has the potential to be the first diplomatic breakthrough in a conflict that has fractured the Middle East, killed at least 250,000 people, made 11 million homeless and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing into Europe.

But by allowing fighting to rage on for at least another week, it gives the Damascus government and its Russian allies time to press on with an offensive that has transformed the conflict since the start of this month.

Read more ....

Update: Russian warplanes destroyed almost 1,900 targets in Syria over week -- TASS

WNU Editor: This is not comforting or reassuring .... everyone has a different definition of who is a terrorist .... Syria ceasefire deal doesn't stop Russia’s air task force operation — official (TASS).

More Cyber Breaches In U.S. Government Systems

Cadet 1st Class Jordan Keefer, center, coordinates cadet efforts to defend their network during the National Security Agency's Cyber Defense Exercise April 17, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Raymond McCoy).

The Hill: Lawmakers unnerved by reports of new cyber breaches

Lawmakers in both parties say breaches reported this week at the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service are the latest indication of the government’s weak defenses against cyber criminals.

While the administration has sought to downplay both incidents, some lawmakers are hitting the White House, arguing the intrusions offer further evidence that the government can’t be trusted to protect its highly sensitive networks.

“[President Obama] has neglected to take tangible steps to address these persistent cyberinfrastructure challenges,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in a Wednesday statement that accused the administration of trying to sweep the IRS breach “under the rug.”

Opinion is hardly unanimous. Unlike last spring’s hack of the Office of Personnel Management, which provoked widespread criticism, some aren’t sure what to make of the latest incidents.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: These reports are coming on the heel of this report early this week .... After Spending Billions The U.S. Cyber Defense System Does Not Work.

Russia And China Were Primarily Responsible For Last Year's Increase In Military Spending

Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Reuters

Business Insider: 2 superpowers were responsible for a big chunk of last year's increase in military spending

The 2016 edition of The Military Balance, the Institute for International and Strategic Studies' (IISS) definitive annual report on the state of the world's various armed forces, has some encouraging and not-so-encouraging news about global-defense spending.

On the one hand, growth in military spending is slowing down in the volatile Middle East and is even contracting in Latin America thanks to plunging oil prices.

But at the same time, two countries that often take an adversarial stance toward the US and its allies were responsible for over one-third of last year's increases: Russia and China.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: Both countries are experiencing economic problems right now, but I expect their arms build-up to continue.

The Most Pressing National Security Issue That Nobody's Talking About

Epic Times: America’s “China Trade Deficit” Reaches Critical Mass

The most pressing national security issue that nobody's talking about

The US trade deficit with China hit a critical milestone in 2015. It now stands at a mind-numbing $1 billion a day, and that $365 billion annual trade deficit continues to rise with the lift of China’s illegal export subsidies, sweatshop labor, pollution havens, and undervalued currency.

The failure to understand that America’s Chinese import dependence has now reached critical mass as a national security issue comes from the very mind-numbing magnitude of the numbers involved. Let’s see, however, if we can put the size of the US trade deficit with China into some perspective; and let’s start with the F-22 – the only US fighter jet with the agility, speed, and stealth to overcome the latest Russian air defense systems and newest Chinese and Russian fighters.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: All international conflicts are determined by industrial capacity, wealth/money, know-how, and population. If current trends continue (the next decade or two) .... the U.S. will definitely be subordinate to China on all four points in the future. Fortunately for the U.S. .... China does have a lot of problems .... economic/political/ethnic tensions/corruption/etc. .... and the U.S. also has many allies in Asia who are very wary of China and will align amongst themselves and with the U.S. to counter a rising a China.

Pentagon may Miss Deadline To Present To Congress Their Plan To Defeat The Islamic State

Washington Examiner: Pentagon may miss deadline for plan to defeat Islamic State

The Pentagon is not committing to meeting a congressionally mandated deadline to present lawmakers with the Obama administration's plan to "defeat" the self-proclaimed Islamic State, just days before that plan is due to be delivered to Congress.

President Obama in November signed the annual defense policy law that included a 90-day window for the administration to provide Congress with its plan to beat the radical Sunni terrorist group militarily.

"We are aware of the report and are actively working with multiple interagency offices to complete this legal requirement, per the NDAA, and look forward to submitting the completed report to Congress in the near term," a Pentagon spokesman told the Washington Examiner on Thursday.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: If the Pentagon misses this deadline .... which by the looks of it they will .... it will tell me that besides waging a war of attrition, they do not have a strategic plan to defeat the Islamic State.

The Kremlin's Biggest Fear Is Not What NATO Or The Pentagon May Think, But It Is What U.S. Shale Frackers Arel Doing To Oil Prices

Roughnecks wrestle pipe on a True Company oil drilling rig outside Watford, North Dakota, October 20, 2012. Thousands of people have flooded into North Dakota to work in state's oil drilling boom. Reuters

Mark P. Mills, Manhattan-Institute/Forbes: Russia's Big Worry Is Not What the Pentagon Thinks but What Shale Frackers Will Do to Oil Prices

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ruffled feathers this week when, in a February 2nd speech at the Economic Club of Washington D.C., he demoted ISIS and terrorism, to the bottom of a list of key threats to America’s national security. At the top of the list of “five evolving challenges”? Russia.

Right now, though, odds are that Vladimir Putin is more worried about what oilmen like Harold Hamm are thinking than what’s on the SecDef’s mind. Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources, is one of the more outspoken amongst the multitude of shale pioneers who are collectively responsible for the global oil glut — and the consequent price collapse.

We can see what specifically must worry Putin in a new must-read interview with Hamm (courtesy of Christopher Helman at Forbes). Hamm, referencing the fact that American shale producers have in the past half-dozen years nearly doubled America’s oil output, says: “We can double it again.” If Hamm is correct, then the shale fields alone—never mind the rest of America’s onshore and offshore production—would be producing more oil than Russia, and the world markets would again be in oversupply.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: It is not only Russia that is concerned about the shale fracking revolution to the oil industry, but every OPEC and oil producing county that is dependent on oil exports to finance their governments. And the problem for these oil producers who want higher oil prices .... is that there is nothing that they can do to stop the U.S. oil fracking industry unless they crash oil prices permanently.

NATO Sends Ships To The Aegean Sea In Attempt To Stop The Human Smugglers

Ursula von der Leyen of Germany and Ashton B. Carter of the United States described NATO's reasoning for sending ships to the Aegean Sea to stop the smuggling of migrants.

New York Times: NATO Will Send Ships to Aegean Sea to Deter Human Trafficking

BRUSSELS — With more than a million migrants having reached Europe in the last year and many more on the way, NATO stepped into the crisis for the first time on Thursday, saying it would deploy ships to the Aegean Sea in an attempt to stop smugglers.

But while the hastily made decision reflected the growing urgency of the situation, it was not clear that it would have much practical effect on the flow of refugees fleeing Syria’s five-year civil war: The alliance said it would not seek to block the often rickety and overcrowded migrant vessels or turn them back, and military officials were scrambling to determine precisely what role their warships would play.

NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that “this is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats.”

Read more ....

WNU Editor: This should have been done immediately when it became clear that a crisis was unfolding. This is the problem with Europe .... no leadership .... and in fact it is the leadership (as symbolized by Germany's Chancellor Merkel) .... who are the ones who opened the doors giving refugees the chance for a better life without realizing that the consequences of their words will result in millions making plans to migrate regardless of the cost.

The Growing Russia - Iraq Military Alliance

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (R) and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (L) sign documents in Baghdad, Iraq February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily

Reuters: Russia boosts ties with Iraq in challenge to U.S. influence

Russia is ready to sell civil airliners to Iraq and keep providing it with military aid to fight Islamic State, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Thursday, accompanied on a trip to Baghdad by the biggest Russian delegation in years.

The mission by nearly 100 government and business officials was part of a drive by Moscow to strengthen commercial and security ties with Iraq, potentially eroding U.S. influence in one of the world's most critical regions.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said discussions had revolved around providing military assistance to defeat Islamic State militants, also known as Daesh, who seized a third of Iraq in 2014 and want to redraw the map of the Middle East.

Read more ....

WNU Editor; This enhanced military cooperation will not entail Russian air strikes in Iraq (for now) .... Deputy PM: Russia is not going to expand air operation in Syria to neighboring countries (TASS)

More News On The Growing Russia - Iraq Military Alliance

Iraq, Russia to Discuss Deliveries of Modern Russian Weapons to Iraqi Army -- Sputnik
Russian official hopes cooperation with Iraq will help free Mosul from IS -- TASS
Russia ready to cooperate with Iraq in many spheres — deputy PM -- TASS
Iraq appreciates Russia’s support in freeing its territory from terrorists — minister -- TASS
Iraq Striving to Expel All Terrorists from Country, Praises Russia's Help -- Sputnik
Russia, Iraq Sign Roadmap for Development of Relations - Russia's Deputy PM -- Sputnik

Air Force Major General Faints In The Middle Of A Press Briefing On The F-35



Daily Mail: Air Force Major General FAINTS in the middle of a press briefing about $120bn F-35 fighter program

* US Air Force General James Martin Jr, 52, was talking about future of F-35 program when he passed out
* Aides rushed to official's side, offered him water and brought in a chair
* His subordinate took over the briefing, joking with reporters: 'That's what the F-35 would do to ya'
* It later emerged Martin was suffering from the flu or a cold
* He was taken to a hospital as a precaution and returned to work Wednesday

A Pentagon press briefing discussing the Air Force's $120billion budget took a tragicomic turn when a high-ranking official fainted at the podium - and the entire incident was caught on camera.

US Air Force General James Martin Jr, 52, was talking about the future of the F-35 program when suddenly he started to slump forward on Tuesday, dipping his head beneath the dais.

While subordinates who rushed to help Martin joked that he fainted after reading the budget, it was later revealed that he had been suffering from the flu.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: I suspect that the General worked non-stop for a day or two before the press briefing .... and it caught up to him. But talk about bad timing.

Tweet For Today

Picture Of The Day

Wreath Laying
Canadian Governor General David Johnston lays a wreath as Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva looks on at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va, Feb. 10, 2016. Johnston also placed a wreath at the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice during his cemetery visit, honoring Canadian troops who served with U.S. forces. DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Syrian Kurds With Russian Backing Have Seized A Major Air Base From Rebels



AFP: Kurds, allies seize Syria air base backed by Russia: monitor

Beirut (AFP) - Kurdish and Arab forces backed by Russian air strikes captured a strategic air base and the adjacent town in northern Syria from rival anti-government factions, a monitoring group said Thursday.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Arab allies on Wednesday night expelled Islamist and other rebel fighters from Minnigh air base and the adjacent town, north of Syria's second city Aleppo, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The takeover of Minnigh air base and the adjacent town overnight was backed by at least 30 Russian air strikes," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: In a sign of greater Kurdish - Russian cooperation .... Syrian Kurds open Moscow office, amid Kremlin push (AFP). This new "alliance" is causing problems for the U.S. .... Analysis: Russia, US compete to ally with Kurds in ISIS fight (Jerusalem Post).

More News On Kurdish and Arab Forces Backed By Russian Air Strikes Have Seized A Major Air Base In northern Syria From The Rebels

Kurdish forces said to take air base near Turkish border -- Reuters
Kurdish fighters capture military air base in northern Syria -- AP
Syrian Kurds capture military air base from rebels -- Al Arabiya
PG Kurds successfully overrun former Syrian airbase -- RUDAW
Syria Kurds Liberate Strategic Base in North -- Al-Manar

U.S. Defense Secretary Carter: 'Anti-ISIS Coalition Has Agreed To Step Up’



New York Times: Defense Secretary Says Anti-ISIS Coalition Has Agreed to ‘Step Up’

BRUSSELS — All but a few of the 40 countries in the coalition now fighting the Islamic State have “stepped up to do more in the last months and days,” Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on Thursday after a meeting here with defense ministers from the group.

Mr. Carter said 90 percent of the countries had made pledges, but he did not offer many specifics on what the contributions would be. It also remained unclear what effect any new assistance would have on the battlefield, or even how many ministers would be able to deliver on their commitments.

“There’s just a great deal going on,” Mr. Carter said at a news conference after the meeting. He added that he was “happy to see so much going on” but that “we’re also impatient.”

“We want the pace to accelerate,” he said.

Read more ....

Update: U.S. says wins Saudi air campaign commitment against Islamic State (Reuters)

WNU Editor: No word yet on how the just announced Syrian ceasefire may change this coalition commitment to fight the Islamic State .... but I suspect that it will not impede the campaign to defeat ISIS.

On The Front Lines Of The Battle For Aleppo



CNN: From stalemate to slaughter: On the front lines of the battle for Aleppo

Aleppo, Syria (CNN)Years of combat have turned Aleppo's old town into a neighborhood of rubble and dust.

What's left of this once-beguiling maze of narrow alleys and covered souks is a reminder of its tragic location at the heart of Syria's five-year civil war.

The city's once-famous Khan al-Wazir inn lies completely burned out; as we walked through one of its halls, eerie beams of light shone in through the broken windows.

On the streets nearby, we glimpsed movement inside buildings that looked, at first glance, to be nothing more than abandoned ruins, revealing that people are still living amid the wreckage.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: This war will end one day .... but the recovery and reconstruction will take generations.

U.S., Russia, And Other Powers Agree To Implement A Cease-Fire In Syria Within The Next Week



Washington Post: U.S., Russia and other powers agree on ‘cessation of hostilities’ in Syria

MUNICH — The United States, Russia and other powers agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria’s civil war, to take place within the next week, and immediate humanitarian access into besieged areas, Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced here early Friday morning.

“It was unanimous,” Kerry said of a communique issued after hours of meetings among participants in a group of nations that have supported and armed one side or the other in the four-year war. “Everybody today agreed,” he said. But the proof of commitment will come only with implementation. “What we have here are words on paper,” Kerry said. “What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the projected date for ending at least some of his country’s airstrikes in Syria is a week from Friday, but he emphasized that “terrorist” groups would continue to be targeted, including the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaeda’s in Syria that is involved in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad. The group in some instances fights alongside rebel forces supported by the United States and its allies.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: This blog has been covering the conflict in Syria since the beginning. And while I will pray that this "ceasefire" will be successful .... another part of me knows that the misery, anger, and suffering is so great that I am sceptical that it will last even an hour. When I read reports that 11.5% of the Syrian population has been killed or injured .... sighhhh .... how can you have any reconciliation when there is that much anger and pain.

More News On U.S., Russia, And Other Powers Agreeing To Implement A Cease-Fire In Syria Within The Next Week

U.S. and Russia Announce Plan for Humanitarian Aid and a Cease-Fire in Syria -- NYT
Major powers agree to plan for 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria -- Reuters
Diplomats Aim for Temporary Syria Truce in a Week -- NYT/AP
World powers agree 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria -- AFP
World powers agree to 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria -- CNN
World powers announce plans to implement cease-fire in Syria -- L.A. Times
Major Powers Agree to Cessation of Hostilities in Syria -- VOA
Syria Truce Set for Next Week as U.S., Russia Back Peace Bid -- Bloomberg
Diplomats in Munich agree to Syria cease-fire in a week -- FOX News
U.S., Russia agree to a deal for a cease-fire in Syria's civil war -- USA Today

Russia Warns Of 'New World War'

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) speaks during an interview at the Gorki state residence outside Moscow, Russia, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ekaterina Shtukina/Sputnik/Pool

The Telegraph: Russia warns of 'new world war' starting in Syria

Foreign and defence ministers of the leading international states are meeting in Munich and Brussels following the collapse of the latest round of peace talks.

Russia warned of “a new world war" starting in Syria on Thursday after a dramatic day in which Gulf states threatened to send in ground forces.

Foreign and defence ministers of the leading international states backing different factions in the war-torn country met in separate meetings in Munich and Brussels following the collapse of the latest round of peace talks.

Both Russia and the United States demanded ceasefires in the long-running civil war so that the fight could be concentrated against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) - but each on their own, conflicting terms.

But the Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, staged their own intervention, saying they were committed to sending ground troops to the country. Their favoured rebel groups have been pulverised by Russian air raids and driven back on the ground by Iranian-supplied pro-regime troops.

Read more ....

WNU Editor: This is scary stuff. If the Gulf states intervene in Syria, Syria and its allies (Russia, Iran, etc.) will respond with deadly force. And while I am still sceptical that Saudi Arabia will directly intervene ....the situation on the ground is now fluid .... anything is now possible.

Update: Major powers agree to plan for 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria (Reuters).

Editor's Note

Blogging will return later today.

Update 20:22 EST: Wow .... today was one of those days. Blogging will resume in about 20 minutes.

World News Briefs -- February 11, 2016

Stalls are seen on a street beside damaged buildings in the rebel held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, February 10, 2016. REUTERS/ABDALRHMAN ISMAIL

The Guardian: Report on Syria conflict finds 11.5% of population killed or injured

Exclusive Syrian Centre for Policy Research says 470,000 deaths is twice UN’s figure with ‘human development ruined’ after 45% of population is displaced

Syria’s national wealth, infrastructure and institutions have been “almost obliterated” by the “catastrophic impact” of nearly five years of conflict, a new report has found. Fatalities caused by war, directly and indirectly, amount to 470,000, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) – a far higher total than the figure of 250,000 used by the United Nations until it stopped collecting statistics 18 months ago.

Read more ....

MIDDLE EAST

Syria conflict: Powers divided over ceasefire. Ceasefire talk as 50,000 Syrians flee Aleppo fighting. Russia, pressed to end Syria bombing, proposes March truce.

Iraq PM says sending ground troops to Syria would be 'dangerous escalation'.

Turkey's Erdogan lambasts US over support for Syrian Kurds.

Turkey dismisses EU plan to resettle refugees in return for sealing sea route.

Iran defends its support for Syria and Iraq.

New App that detects morality police is instant hit in Iran. “Morality police” app blocked in Iran.

Banners and selfies as Iranians mark revolution anniversary.

Netanyahu plans fence around Israel to protect it from 'wild beasts'.

ASIA

With fewer U.S. troops in Afghanistan, pressure grows for more air strikes.

US Senate backs new North Korea sanctions. US, allies target North Korea finances after rocket test.

North Korea satellite not transmitting, but rocket payload a concern: U.S..

US Intel Chief concerned about Beijing's South China Sea militarization.

Pakistan warns of Islamic State's growing reach.

Short of options, Sri Lanka turns back to Beijing's embrace.

Dozens face riot charges over Hong Kong Lunar New Year violence.

AFRICA

Burundi crisis: US concerned over 'Rwanda's destabilising activities'.

RAF resumes Libyan sorties to help halt Isis advance.

Islamic State foothold in Libya poses threat to Europe.

Nigerian refugee camp hit by double suicide bombing.

U.S. says political crisis building in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Al-Shabab 'planning Somalia attacks using AU uniforms'.

Prosecutor recommends life jail sentence for Chad's ex-ruler.

EUROPE

'It's like the day before World War One': European chief's stark warning over scale of refugee crisis.

NATO agrees Russian deterrent but avoids Cold War footing.

NATO buildup in Black Sea violates Montreux Convention — Russian deputy.

Turkey, Greece seek NATO mission in Aegean: German official.

IMF secures reform commitment from Ukraine after bailout warning.

EU and Britain have big differences over 'ever closer union'.

Auschwitz: Reinhold Hanning goes on trial in Germany.

AMERICAS

Republican White House field narrows as campaign moves south. Christie, Fiorina drop GOP presidential bids.

Bernie Sanders wins N.H. handily, as Democrats settle in for a long race.

Crumbling economy in Venezuela puts Maduro’s socialist regime in peril.

Ex-president of El Salvador faces trial over source of $700,000.

Panel denies parole to Sirhan, assassin of Robert F. Kennedy.

Obama has had enough of selfies.

Church talks help make Cuba 'perfect place for negotiations'.

Zika virus: 'Strongest evidence yet' of effect on babies.

TERRORISM/THE LONG WAR

AQAP publishes insider’s account of 9/11 plot.

Russian airstrikes boost Islamic State in Syria, says U.S. envoy.

Concern over health of Guantanamo prisoner in 9/11 case.

ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

Oil falls on U.S. supply record, weak demand outlook.

Twitter disappoints investors as user growth hits wall.

Janet Yellen hints further US rate rises on hold amid plunging markets. Yellen warns US financial conditions have worsened.