Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump administration considering sending up to 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan

(May 1) The Trump administration is considering options that involve sending 3,000 to 5,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. They would advise Afghan military and police units but also include additional special operations forces.

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These special forces would increase counter-terror operations against the Islamic State(IS) fighters who have entrenched positions along the border with Pakistan. America's longest war has hit a stalemate and local security forces have been overwhelmed by rising violence. The situation is less a stalemate rather than a situation where the Taliban are controlling more and more territory. The White House could come to a decision within the coming weeks and announce it at the upcoming NATO security summit scheduled for May 25th in Brussels. Trump has said that he would attend the summit. A senior Afghan defense official told Military TImes that NATO is looking for up to 13,000 troops in all including U.S. and allied personnel. NATO may have difficulty finding countries willing to provide such a large number of troops. In 2014 President Obama declared an end to the U.S. combat operation.
Army Gen. John Nicholson, hopes to increase the number of trained Afghan special forces. These already number 17,000 commandos and have spearheaded operations across the country. They have conducted almost 70 percent of offensive operations with about 80 percent of those done independent of U.S. advisers. However, as the number of U.S. troops increases and their assistance in battle situations also, there will be more U.S. casualties. Two Army Rangers were killed this week and another soldier earlier this month.
Two key Trump administration officials, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently visited the Afghan capital Kabul in April in separate visits. Three hundred U.S. marines have already arrived in the dangerous Helmand Valley. This is their first significant presence in the region since 2014. The Taliban has just announced the start of their Spring offensive. There could soon be casualty reports of US troops. The casualty toll during the winter for Afghan troops was quite high. The U.S. government's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said there was a "shockingly high rate" of casualties over the winter. Between January 1 and February 24 this year there were 807 troops from the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces killed. Just recently a Taliban attack on an Afghan military base killed more than 140 Afghan soldiers. The Taliban have named their 2017 Spring offensive as Operation Mansouri, named in honor of their former leader who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last May in Pakistan.
After sixteen years of a war the US is not even near winning, the Trump administration is going to escalate US involvement. The U.S. will no doubt become more involved in combat situations in an attempt to slow down if not reverse Taliban gains. Trump's campaign pledges to avoid U.S. involvement in wars such as this has been replaced by increased involvement not just in Afghanistan, but in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia as well. The globalist faction led by Jared Kushner seem to have won out over the nationalist and more isolationist faction led by Steve Bannon. The U.S. also recently dropped the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) on a mountainous area of Afghanistan controlled by the Islamic State. A recent article suggests that the damage caused by the bomb is being hyped. There is still conflict with IS fighters in the area with two U.S. troops recently killed. A recent video of the bombed area is appended.

Trump wants South Korea to pay for US THAAD missile system

(April 30) Trump is now showing not how the US can make friends and influence people but how to alienate its South Korean friends. Trump is asking South Korea to pay the $1 billion cost of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

For good measure Trump is questioning the trade deal between the two countries. In an interview with Reuters Trump said: "I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they pay. That's a billion dollar system." The system is supposed to protect South Korea against an attack from the North. However, Russia and China both have objected to the system complaining that it could be directed against them and enable the US to have a first strike capacity in attacking either of them. There are also tensions within South Korea with many protesting the deployment system as shown on the appended video.
Euan Graham, director of the international security program of the Lowy Institute said: "It's collateral damage to the [U.S.-South Korea] alliance." The South Korean Defense Minister, Han Min-koon, has said several times that South Korea will not pay for the program:"There has been no change in our basic position that the South Korean government provides the site and infrastructure for THAAD ... and the U.S. side shoulders the cost of its deployment, operation and maintenance." A South Korean official said that there was a confidential agreement signed last year by senior officials from both countries that the US would bear the cost of deploying THAAD. I expect that the US was the one pushing for the deployment so it could be used potentially against China and Russia. The South Koreans no doubt made it quite clear they were unwilling to take on the one billion cost.
The plans for the system were in place in July of last year before the election of Trump. South Korea and the US have a mutual defense treaty. There are more than 28,000 US troops in the South but no Chinese troops in North Korea. However, there are rumors that China has deployed up to 150,000 troops on its border with the north, though they appear to be unfounded. Trump told Reuters concerning South Korea: "We're going to protect them. But they should pay for that, and they understand that." Sometimes it seems as if Trump considers the US is running a sort of protection racket for a number of countries and that they should be paying for the protection. However, the US is projecting its own power and protecting the interest of itself and its allies by such expenditures. It also creates jobs and profits for stakeholders in the military-industrial complex.
Trump seems blissfully unaware that THAAD is an important issue in the upcoming South Korean presidential election on May 9. However, at least some of his administration are aware as they seem anxious to deploy the system before a new and less anti-North government and president are installed. There could be even more problems over THAAD as well as Trump's complaints about the US South Korea trade deal. after the new government takes office.
The US assured South Korea that it will pay the one billion dollar cost of the THAAD anti-missile system deployed in South Korea. In a telephone call Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster assured his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-Jun that the US alliance with South Korea was its top priority in the Asia-Pacific region. The South Korean Blue House said that McMaster said Trump's comments were made in a general context in line with Trump's expectations that there should be more defense cost burden-sharing with allies.
A top foreign policy adviser to Moon Jae-in the front runner in the presidential race called the South Korean payment for the THAAD system an impossible option. Kim Ki-Jung a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul said: "Even if we purchase THAAD, its main operation would be in the hands of the United States. So purchasing it would be an impossible option. That was our topic when we were considering the options." Moon has yet to officially comment on Trump's remarks. Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies said: "Trump's remarks reflect his persistent desire for allies to pay more for their defense. As far as their impact on South Korea's election, they will likely boost support for Moon, and if he wins, it will make it harder for the U.S. to sustain a hard-line policy against North Korea. So Trump's remarks don't seem very strategic to me." This is an understatement. Trump hardly thinks at all except in terms of his own pet ideas. The South Koreans hardly count in terms of what their own interests might be. Trumps' minders have a hopeless job.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Eleven Kurds killed in Turkish strike in Syria

( April 29) Turkish president Recep Erdogan claimed that the Turkish southern border region with Syria had come under mortar fire the last two days and Turkish forces were responding as necessary.

There haS been nearly continuous fire across the Syria Turkey south-east border ever since Turkey had attacked Kurdish targets in both Syria and Iraq earlier in the week as shown on the appended video. The Turkish military reported 11 Kurdish "terrorists" killed. There were no reports of Turkish casualties. Turkey considers members of the YPG or People's Defence Units to be terrorists whereas the US considers them key allies in the fight against the Islamic State(IS). Erdogan complained at a conference in Istanbul, that US support for YPG fighters within Syria was damaging solidarity between the US and Turkey. However, he said that relations could change under president Trump. Erdogan said: "We will continue to take any measures as long as the threats persist... We will not allow efforts to form a terror corridor at our southern border."
The US has been complaining that Turkey has been carrying out attacks without any coordination with their coalition partners. This is very problematic for the Pentagon since it has US special forces embedded with the YPG both in operations against the IS and in training missions. The US is also concerned that the Turkish attack on Kurds will undermine the battle against the IS in both Syria and Iraq.
The US has now deployed more members of their special forces along with armored vehicles along the border between Kurdish-controlled north-east Syria and Turkey. Most of the troops are around the town of Darbasiay around which there was heavy fighting with Turks earlier in the week. Although the US commanders claim they are only monitoring the situation, the local Kurds say the deployment is an attempt to create a buffer zone to limit fighting between the two sides.
There is disagreement about the exact aim of the attacks from the Turkish side, but it may cause even more tension with the US who have shown no sign of abandoning their support for the Kurds. The Turks would like to a part of a joint operation to take the city of Raqqa, the main city left in control of the IS in Syria. However, the US has showed no sign of following such a suggestion. There are more US troops apparently being sent to the Raqqa area to help the YPG in the offensive. However, some have gone to the Manbij area hoping that they wont be attacked by Turkish backed insurgents should the Turks decide to try and dislodge the Kurds. The Russians also condemned the Turkish strikes saying that they violated Syrian sovereignty as well as helping terrorists.

Ten killed in US drone strike in North Waziristan Pakistan

April 29--Another drone strike hits Pakistan in North Waziristan near the Afghan border. This would be the second drone strike on Pakistan since Trump took over as US president.

A militant commander and several intelligence sources reported the raid on Thursday but the attack took place on Wednesday. Abdullah Wazirstani, a spokesperson for the North Waziristan Taliban, which is linked with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), said the strike killed 3 civilians and seven fighters. A local tribal leader said that he saw two missiles strike a home in the mountains. The home caught fire and he drove away as fast as he could. While US officials have not yet responded to questions about the attack, Kamran Afridi a political agent in North Waziristan denied the location of the attack saying it was not within Pakistani borders. The strike may have been carried out by the CIA as the Pentagon usually confirms its strikes.
Since the Pakistani launched a military offensive against the TTP in the area many of the group have crossed the border into Afghanistan. There were only two drone strikes into Pakistan during 2016. With Trump in power, there have already been two this year. One of those said to be killed in the Wednesday raid was Abdur Rahman said to be a commander of the TTP. North and South Waziristan have always been difficult for the Paklstani government to control and in spite of the military offensive remain areas of militant activity. Perhaps the Trump administration will step up attacks in the region even though the drone strikes are resented by many Pakistanis and the government condemned them. Many suspect that the government tacitly approves of the strikes including Pakistani intelligence officials.
Altogether there have been 425 drone strikes against Pakistan. 375 were carried out during the Obama administration, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Bureau claims the number killed are between 2,501 to 4,003. Of those, 424-966 were civilians. The Trump administration has been ramping up its drone attacks in Yemen. Perhaps they will do the same in Pakistan although they hardly seem that necessary and may damage relations between Pakistan and the US.

US economy grew at very slow pace during first quarter

The U.S. economy slowed to its lowest growth rate in three years. Consumer spending was at a very low growth pace with lower auto sales which offset a rise in oil drilling and housing investment.

Gross domestic product (GDP) rose just 0.7 percent during the quarter at an annualized rate. In the prior quarter the growth rate was 2.1 percent. A median of various analyst's forecasts was 1.0 percent. The largest part of the economy consumer spending rose by only 0.3 percent the worst performance since 2009.
Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist for JP Morgan Chase & Co. said: “There’s reason to think that some of the things that were weak in the first quarter should reverse in the second quarter, in particular consumption and inventories. Labor income is starting to pick up and actually keeping consumer spending pretty well supported.” Federal Reserve policy makers will probably still raise interest rates in the coming months as many economists see the weak growth as a blip rather than a sign of stagnation. Since 2000 expansion in the first quarter of each year has been recorded as weaker than the other three quarters. In first quarters average expansion has been only one percent compared to 2.2 percent in the other three quarters.
Analysts estimates of growth are from 2.2 percent to 2.3 percent through 2019 whereas Trump projects a more optimistic three to four percent growth on a sustained basis. The range of individual economist's's forecasts for 2017 were from zero to 2.2 percent. Disposable personal income was rising at a slow one percent rate last quarter the slowest growth since the fourth quarter of 2013. Even though the jobless rate is low and there is hiring an increase in wages is needed to promote consumer spending. Government spending decreased 1.7 percent taking away 0.3 percent from growth. Prices rose 2.3 percent during first quarter eating away at what the consumer dollar buys.
As I write this, the Dow Jones is down slightly, but still at 20,965 not far from the 21,000 mark. S&P 500 was almost flat and Nasdaq was up marginally. As the price of oil rose, the Toronto S&P/TSX added almost one hundred points. After strong growth in January, the Canadian economy was almost flat in February but this was as predicted.
After a fifth straight month of gains, global markets appear to be ending the month sluggishly. This was not helped by Trump's continued complaints about NAFTA and now a free trade pact with South Korea. Saturday marks Trump's 100th day in office.
Kiran Kowshik, an investment strategist at Unicredit, said: "Trump is reaching the 100 day mark with nothing to show for it and these recent comments just coincide with that. They (the U.S. administration) are finding it hard to push through fiscal plans and all this rhetoric is probably related." The mood in Europe was still relatively optimistic as data on output in several countries was positive and many were relieved after it became clear that the right-wing anti-Europe Le Pen would not likely win.
Back in early February, Nouriel Roubini, Dr. Doom, predicted that the stock market honeymoon with Donald Trump would soon be over. It may not be over but it is certainly paused and the market was not impressed by Trump's release of his tax plan which was short of details and regarded by many as unrealistic. It may be an uphill battle to shape the plan so as to pass through congress.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2 US Special Forces members killed in Afghanistan and 1 wounded

(April 27) Pentagon spokesperson, U.S. Navy Captain Jeff Davis confirmed that two U.S. troops had been killed and one wounded in the Achin District of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan that borders on Pakistan.

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The casualties were Special Operations Forces that are targeting Islamic State forces in the area. General Nicholson said: "The fight against ISIS-K is important for the world, but sadly, it is not without sacrifice. On behalf of all US forces and our coalition partners, I offer our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and fellow service members of our fallen comrades." ISIS-K refers to the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. The "K" stands for Khorasan province.
The Achin Distrist is the primary base of IS in Afghanistan. There have been many joint Afghan-U.S. missions against the group. Earlier this month another U.S. Special Forces member was killed in fighting in the area. The area is also where the U.S. dropped the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) some days ago. The U.S. has refused to issue its own account of casualties caused by the bomb attack. Afghan officials claim to have counted up to a hundred but there is no independent confirmation. IS media have claimed that none were killed! The blast targeted a series of tunnels and caves used by the IS. Apparently they were originally constructed with the help of the CIA to help jihadists fight an Afghan regime supported by the Soviet Union, the Evil Empire. Security forces so far have kept people out of the blast area and the U.S. has not released further information.
Earlier this month, in the capital Kabul, General Nicholson had said: "We're going to keep going until they're defeated in 2017." An offensive against the group began in 2016 together with Afghan security forces. Nicholson claims that group has lost about half of its fighters and about two thirds of its territory. The U.S. believes that the IS has about 600 to 800 fighters mostly formed from other groups including the Pakistani Taliban, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The group claimed responsibility for a recent deadly attack on a hospital in Kabul.
Since the U.S. ceased combat operations and the Afghan government took over combat operations in 2014, U.S. and coalition casualties are less frequent. The U.S., however, has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Some carry out counter-terrorist actions that are separate from the training and advising missions to train the Afghan army and police force, to fight mainly against the Taliban who have been gaining more territory. Recently they carried out an attack on a military base near the city of Mazar e-Sharif that killed more than 140 Afghan soldiers.
The IS Amaq News Agency said that a joint U.S.-Afghan team was forced to abort a landing in Achin as they came under heavy fire. Helicopters were forced to abandon the mission. However, U.S. aircraft then were said to have launched an intensive bombardment of the area that killed one hundred people mostly women and children. None of this has been independently confirmed. It may be mostly made up propaganda but without further investigation it is impossible to know for sure.
The Trump administration is trying to reverse gains not only of the IS but of the Taliban. The war has now lasted about fifteen years and there is no end in sight. Trump campaigned on a pledge not to get the U.S. involved in costly wars that they appear unable to win. Yet his actions have been to have the U.S. become more involved in areas such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. Such policies are bound over time to result in more US casualties. Anonymous Trump administration officials claim the government is carrying out a review and discussions on Afghanistan have revolved around adding 3,000 to 5,000 more troops. In February General Nicholson, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan said he needed several more thousand troops to break a stalemate with the Taliban.
Since the beginning of the war in 2001, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and over 17,000 wounded. Some observers say the situation is so bad that the number of troops required to turn the tide let alone create stability and security is beyond what would likely be accepted politically. Christine Wormuth, former undersecretary of defense in the Obama government said: "Before you can get to the question of how many troops is enough you have to have clarity on what is the goal. Is the goal to decisively defeat [the Taliban] and make Afghanistan into a viable state (or) is the goal to continue to prop up the government of Afghanistan?" Trump has yet to set out his policy with respect to Afghanistan. No doubt for now he has many more pressing issues such as what to do in North Korea.

Israeli rockets strike near Damascus airport

(April 27)Syrian opposition sources claim that Israeli strikes hit an arms depot operated by Hezbollah near Damascus airport. Witnesses said there were five strikes, near the airport road about 25 kilometers from Damascus.

Syrian state TV also quoted military sources as claiming that rockets fired from Israeli territory had targeted a military area in the southwestern part of the airport that caused huge explosions. Photos were posted on line showing a large fire near the area.
Al Jazeera's Hashern Ahelbarran said:"We do understand that the Israelis have been carrying out strikes in the past. The last one was in January targeting the Mezze military base. In 2015 they also launched attacks near the capital Damascus and in the Golan Heights, killing two prominent Hezbollah commanders, including Jihad Mughniya who is the son of the top military commander of Hezbollah Imad Mughniya who was also killed in Damascus in 2008."
While Israel has not officially accepted responsibility for the act, Israeli Intelligence Minister, Israel Katz, told Israeli Army Radio:"I can confirm that the incident in Syria corresponds completely with Israel's policy to act to prevent Iran's smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah ... Naturally, I don't want to elaborate on this. The prime minister has said that whenever we receive intelligence that indicated an intention to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, we will act."Yoav Galant, the Israeli construction minister, also declined to confirm the attack but said on TV: “Our enemies must know: We will know to use our power to protect our interests by ourselves.”
An intelligence source told Reuters the depot that was targeted handles a significant number of weapons that Tehran, a major regional ally of Syria, sends by air to help Hezbollah and others. Israel has carried out attacks a number of times with complete impunity it seems. In May of 2013, it struck three areas in Damascus suburbs, allegedly to destroy Iranian rockets it claimed were being delivered to Hezbollah. The airport was also hit. In 2016, in January the Syrian army reported that Israel targeted the Mezze airbase just a few kilometers from the Royal Palace. The Syrian government warned this January that it would retaliate against any attack targeting its own area but does nothing. Al-Manar TV, which is linked to Hezbollah said that the raid struck fuel tanks and a warehouse near the Damascus International Airport. It said that there was material, damage but no reported deaths as yet. Just a few days ago an Israeli attack on a Syrian camp near the Golan heights killed three.
Russia criticized the strikes saying that Israel and other countries should avoid doing anything that heightened tension in the region. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: "We consider that all countries should avoid any actions that lead to higher tensions in such a troubled region and call for Syrian sovereignty to be respected." Peskov said that Russia and Israel were in constant contact concerning the situation Peskov maintained. In other words, Israel was probably assured that Russia would take no action after the attack it would appear. If Putin were like Trump he would unilaterally attack the positions from which the rockets were launched in Israel. Russia has spoken out strongly not only against the recent US strikes on a Syrian airbase but against Turkish strikes on Kurdish positions. However, it has not taken significant action it would seem.
A spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said Russia thought these airstrikes played into the hands of militant groups and complicated the search for a political solution in Syria. The Islamic State (IS) apparently even apologized for firing on Israeli troops! Zakharova said Russia also considered the attacks an act of aggression against Syria. She claimed they were unacceptable and against the principles and norms of international law. Yet there is no hint that Russia will respond even if such attacks occur again. Russia had issued warnings after an earlier attack but has failed to follow through. Apparently no Israeli airplanes entered Syria during the strikes. Will there be any condemnations and criticism from western leaders or will the event just quickly disappear from the news altogether?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

China wants US to withdraw THAAD missile system from South Korea

While Trump claims that China is cooperating with the U.S. in attempts to force North Korea to rein in North Korea the Chinese have urged the US and South Korea to withdraw the THAAD anti-missile system.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is being deployed by the U.S. in South Korea ostensibly to defend against any North Korean attacks. However, both Russia and China objected to the deployment on the grounds that it could be easily modified so as to be directed at them. Indeed it would give the U.S. first strike capacity on either country as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article.
The US is hastening the deployment of the system in South Korea moving parts to a deployment site at a former golf course about 230 kilometers south of Seoul the capital. The South Korean Foreign Ministry said: "South Korea and the United States have been working to secure an early operational capability of the THAAD system in response to North Korea's advancing nuclear and missile threat." At a daily news briefing Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Geng Shuang urged the U.S. and China to withdraw the system saying:"China strongly urges the United States and South Korea to stop actions that worsen regional tensions and harm China's strategic security interests and cancel the deployment of the THAAD system and withdraw the equipment. China will resolutely take necessary steps to defend its interests."
However, the US may be anxious to have THAAD in place before the coming South Korean election on May 9. The front-runner is opposed to the early deployment. Moon Jae-in said there should be a delay in deployment, suggesting that the new administration should make a decision and only after ascertaining public opinion on the issue and after more talks with Washington. A spokesperson for Moon said that moving the parts into place "ignored public opinion and due process" and he demanded the work be suspended. Both front-runners in the South Korean election favor a less confrontational approach than the present government. The winner is quite likely to raise questions about the THAAD system especially as it is also objected to by China and Russia. The U.S. may be trying to have the process as much completed as possible before a new government takes power.
The move to put THAAD parts in place was met by protesters who shouted and hurled water bottles at the transport vehicles. There were lines of police holding them back. According to the Yonhap news agency the parts included two or three launchers, intercept missiles and at least one radar. There were about 8,000 police officers mobilized to keep the road open, as the main road to the site had been blocked earlier. A video showing part of the demonstration is appended.
On Wednesday the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged that the US and South Korea end their joint exercises and that North Korea stop their nuclear program as a means of easing tensions. Yi said that North Korea's nuclear tests violated UN resolutions but that the joint U.S. South Korean military maneuvers were not in the spirit of the resolutions either. At a news conference Wang said: “Security and stability are very fragile at the moment and the danger is great of a new conflict breaking out at any time. We can’t risk even a one percent possibility of war,” he said, warning that a conflict would have “unimaginable consequences.Therefore, we call on all sides to be prudent and refrain from any actions or words that could lead to new provocations."
After an unusual and short White House briefing of U.S. Senators on the Korean situation, the Trump administration said that it aimed to push North Korea into dismantling its nuclear program through tougher sanctions and diplomatic pressure and remained open to negotiations. The U.S. has never engaged in direct negotiations on the issues with North Korea. It tells China what to do and then gets angry if this does not work. The Trump administration at least appears to be going through the motions of seeking a diplomatic solution before taking military action although no doubt all options are still on the table. The U.S. may decide to take military action before a new government is sworn in which might not be supportive of any military option. The U.S. is concerned that by some time after 2020 North Korea will have the capacity to hit the U.S. with a nuclear missile according to some experts.
A meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday chaired by Rex Tillerson is expected to discuss tougher sanctions, which according to the U.S. could include an oil embargo, banning North Korea's one airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing any Chinese and other foreign banks doing business with North Korea. While China would like to restart international talks the U.S. thinks talks are useless until North Korea shows it is serious about denuclearization. While China may be angry that North Korea causes it such trouble, both it and Russia object to THAAD and the U.S. appears bound and determined to go ahead with its agenda anyway even though there is little sign that North Korea will be deterred by such an action.

US expresses deep concern about Turkish air strikes on Kurds in Syria and Iraq

(April 26)After Turkey carried out a series of airstrikes against Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq, US officials expressed deep concern. Turkish warplanes attacked targets both in northern Syria and also near Singar Iraq.

A senior US official told CNN that the US was given only about an hour's advance notice by the Turkish military before the strikes. However no US or coalition advisers were in the areas attacked. The Turkish armed forces issued a statement that claimed that they had neutralized 70 PKK terrorist fighters, 40 in Iraq and 30 in northeastern Syria. The PKK is a Kurdish separatist group that has carried out terrorist attacks in Turkey. However Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) and also the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq also said they had suffered casualties as the result of the Turkish airstrikes.
Mark Toner, acting State Department spokesperson said: "We are very concerned, deeply concerned, that Turkey conducted airstrikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS. We have expressed those concerns to the government of Turkey directly." The US Pentagon also issued a separate statement on the strikes by Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway who said:"These ‎airstrikes were not approved by the Counter-ISIS Coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces in the fight against ISIS, including the Kurdish Peshmerga.Given the extraordinarily complex battle space in these areas, it is vital that Turkey and all partners in the defeat-ISIS effort coordinate their actions closely as we work together to maintain maximum pressure on ISIS and ensure the safety of all Coalition personnel in theater."The Peshmerga are the military forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government that enjoys some autonomy from the Iraqi federal government. The group claimed five of its members were killed and nine wounded by the attacks. They blamed the presence of PKK soldiers nearby for the casualties.
Turkey views the PKK and the Kurdish forces within the SDF, the YPG or People's Protective Units as also terrorist whereas the US considers them allies. Turkey has even called the US two-faced for not classifying the YPG as terrorist along with the PKK. However, the US considers the SDF including the YPG as a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State angering Turkey and causing tension in their relations. The SDF is at present engaged in an offensive designed to take the Syrian city of Raqqa, the IS "capital" in Syria. Rankine-Galloway said: "We recognize the threat the PKK poses to Turkey, but Turkey cannot pursue that fight at the expense of our common fight against terrorists that threaten us all."
After Erdogan narrowly won a referendum giving him substantially more powers, President Trump phoned to congratulate him on his victory. Many other leaders were reluctant to congratulate Erdogan in the light of many objections against the process and complaints of irregularities in the voting. However, Trump's move does not seem to have led to any greater cooperation with the US. However, a recent tweet claims: "Turkish President , PM make phone call to President Barzani, insist that attack on #Peshmerga was a "mistake" and "not intentional at all" " Yet another tweet points out that the strikes were carried without any coordination with the coalition of forces carrying out the fight against the IS, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR): "Turkish strikes were conducted without proper coordination with the Coalition or the Government of Iraq." Some have suggested that the attacks would not have been carried out without the tacit approval of the coalition.
Activists claim that in the Syrian attacks 18 members of the YPG were killed. There were no Turkish apologies about these casualties even though the YPG are firm allies of the US which provides them equipment, air, and even ground support. The YPG said that strikes hit a radio station and media center killing a number of fighters but they did not say how many. The strikes were in the town of Karachok in the northeastern Hassakeh province.
US relations with Turkey are also hurt by the refusal of the US so far to extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey claims was behind the coup attempt against Erdogan. A recent article notes: "The continuing reluctance of the United States to extradite Gulen, despite the “ample proof” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag claims to have furnished his US counterpart, is also adding to Erdogan’s anger." Bozdag is now warning US officials that Gulen has bought a ranch in Canada and that he is allegedly preparing to flee there. Maybe, Gulen is one immigrant that Canada can do without!

By 2030 China hopes to use 20 percent non-fossil fuel to produce electricity

China's state planner said that the country aims to have non-fossil fuels produce about 20 percent of total energy consumption by 2030 and to contribute to more than half of demand by 2050.

China has been attempting to shift power production away from coal for some years. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said that carbon dioxide emissions will peak in China by the year 2030. The NDRC says it wants to increase oil and underground natural gas storage but did not give details as to how this would be done. China will increase its production of wind and solar energy.
In January a five-year plan for the energy sector was released. Coal consumption will be below its peak level of 2013-2014. Clean energy share is expected to reach 15 percent. In 2015 China set a world record for the most solar capacity installed in one year. It added enough solar panels to cover one and a half football fields every hour. In 2016 that pace was doubled to a rate of three football fields per hour. Coal consumption has been falling for the last three years. If China is able to deliver the planned amount of renewable energy but growth in energy consumption is slower the share of non-fossil energy will approach 17 percent, well above the 15 percent predicted in 2020. A lower energy demand coupled with a higher share of clean energy production will result in lower CO2 emissions than predicted.
The grid operators and power companies have often failed to cut power generation from coal as more power is produced from renewable resources. They also fail to prioritize renewable energy in their grid planning resulting in much waste of clean energy and slower growth in its use. It was estimated in September of 2016, 19 percent of wind power output and 10 percent of solar output was wasted equal to the power produced by 20 large coal-fired plants. Much of the waste is in the west of China and new transmission links are being built that can help solve the problem. While problems in grid integration led planners to prioritize solar and wind development in the east and central China this needs to be done in other areas as well. The switch over from coal in such a huge system is bound to face problems but at least the country is moving in the right direction.
China will continue cutting the capacity of its coal mines by 800 million tonnes a year until 2020. In 2014 coal generated 84% of all China's electric power, but that is expected to drop to just 54 percent in 2040. China is also modernizing the coal plants it will keep in production in an attempt to cut pollution by 60 percent. By 2020 China also plans to add more than 20 million kilowatts production from wind power and another 13 million from solar power.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Key members from rival Libyan governments meet in Rome

Ageelah Saleh, president of the House of Representatives (HoR) based in the east in Tobruk, and Abdulrahman Sewehli head of the State Council of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) met in Rome to work on resolving the Libyan crisis.

A statement from the State Council claimed that "there was an atmosphere of friendliness and openness" during the meeting.
The council statement also said that there would have to be more talks between the two sides to bring about reconciliation. The HoR and the associated government in the east is a rival to the GNA in the west. The HoR has refused to far to vote confidence in the Government of National Accord based in Tripoli as required by the Libya Political Agreement. The GNA is recognized by the UN and many governments as the sole legitimate government of Libya. The GNA was last rejected by the HoR on August 22nd last year. At the time, ten days was allowed for a new cabinet to be presented. There has been virtually no progress since then towards that end.
The HoR is now demanding changes be made to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) before it will vote confidence in the GNA. According to the Libya Herald, the changes can be made only through a joint team from the HoR and the State Council and it sees the meeting between the two as a potential breakthrough. The paper also claims that both the HoR and the State Council need to appoint members for their team to join in a dialogue meeting to discuss the changes. One would think that any changes to the LPA would need to be approved by the members of the dialogue who originally signed the agreement. Both Saleh and Sewehli thanked the Italian foreign minister Angelino Afano for sponsoring the meeting.
Later comments on TV from Saleh indicate that the meeting was not meant to deal with Sewehli as an official but as an ordinary Libyan national and a boycotting member of the HoR. Saleh said: "The HCS is not legitimate as it has not been included in the constitutional declaration as per the Libyan Political Agreement." It is not clear why a meeting with an ordinary citizen needs to be arranged through a high Italian official. Saleh also said that the HoR choosing a new dialogue team had zero relevance to the meeting that took place in Rome. Saleh mentioned that he did not attend the session of the HoR in which the team was formed. One wonders, if the meeting that chose the dialogue members was even legitimate since the head of the HoR apparently did not call it and was not there. Saleh said: "I have always been a subject for bitter criticism by my opponents for my clear bias to the military and police institutions." Saleh is a strong supporter of the commander of the HoR forces Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Saleh said that the authority of the Commander in Chief had been given to Haftar and that he had to always be informed about intelligence classified information. But this is true only of Haftar's relation to the HoR government not the GNA. The Presidential Council under terms of the LPA has the function of commander in chief of the armed forces. Saleh further added: "Haftar should have a representative at the Presidential Council and the military must be inclusive of all Libyans." The meeting between the two hardly represents a breakthrough. The Italian government arranged the meeting because the two were important officials in the two competing groups. However, Saleh's statements simply deny that Sewehli represents a legitimate body. The meeting hardly represents an essential beginning of a comprehensive reconciliation process. The situation is as confused and unresolved as ever.
The HoR met earlier and set preconditions to return to the UN-sponsored political dialogue. At a recent meeting in Tobruk 60 HoR members voted in favor of resuming the dialogue if certain conditions were met. President Saleh said that the preconditions must be included in the political agreement. Among the demands are that article 8 that gives the PC the function of Supreme Commander of the Libyan armed forces be deleted. This would pave the way for Field Marshal Haftar to keep that role as Saleh has demanded for some time. This demand has little chance of being accepted by the PC or the State Council,
The HoR has at last announced a new 24 member Political Dialogue Committee after being delayed by divisions within the HoR membership. This group is expected to be part of a renegotiation of the LPA signed in December 2015 in Skhirat Morocco. The chair of the group is Abdulasalam Nasia from Zintan. There are 21 males and 3 females in the committee. The decree forming the committee charges them with abiding by "the national constants" stated in HoR resolution No. 4 for 2017. These national constants are the preconditions set for taking part in the dialogue and as noted earlier include the deletion of section 8 allowing Haftar to remain as commander in chief of the armed forces. It is hard to understand why the dialogue would go ahead when at least one precondition is quite unlikely to be accepted by the PC or State Council. No date has been set for a meeting of the dialogue members. One precondition set by the HoR is that the dialogue take place in Libya.

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Egyptian president`s visit to Saudi Arabia seeks to mend relations

The Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi received a royal welcome when he touched down and stepped off his plane in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. He was met by King Salman, surrounded by royal officials according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

El-Sisi's trip comes at the invitation of Saudi King Salman and is said to be aimed at "bolstering strategic relations between the two countries" and that the two would discuss regional and international issues that were of common interest. This included the struggle against terrorism.
The two had met on the sidelines of a recent Arab league summit in Jordan in March, a meeting that helped renew friendlier relations after several months of tensions. The meeting on March 29th came just after the Saudis resumed petroleum shipments to Egypt after they had suddenly stopped them last October. The Saudi oil giant Aramco had halted monthly shipments of 700,000 tonnes of petroleum products without providing any explanation. However, the move came after Egypt voted in favor of a Russian-drafted security council resolution on Syria that Saudi Arabia strongly opposed. The Saudis strongly support the rebels and regime change in Syria.
Rhami Khouri, of the Issam Fares Institute of the American University of Beirut said:"These are two former giants in the region who are trying to regain their roles, and they understand that by working together they can help each other."
Ties between the two countries were also strained when a court ruling blocked an agreement to transfer sovereignty of two Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia from Egypt. In January, the High Administrative Court in Cairo ruled that the two uninhabited islands Tiran and Sanafir belonged to Egypt and that no evidence had been provided that they belonged to Saudi Arabia. The islands occupy narrow shipping lanes at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba running north to the ports of Eliat and Aqaba in Jordan and Israel. The ruling was overturned by the Court of Urgent Matters in April which claimed that the judiciary doesn't have the authority to intervene with matters of sovereignty". The two countries plan to build a bridge over the Red Sea joining the two countries. The decision is subject to appeal and must be approved by the Egyptian parliament as well. There have been considerable opposition to the move and even demonstrations. Al Jazeera's Middle East analyst Yehia Ghanem said the location of islands has great strategic and maritime value. Israel is in favor of Saudi sovereignty over the island of Tiran as the strait would then become international and Egypt would not be able to block maritime passage through it.
Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt regard the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and ban it. Saudi Arabia gave billions of dollars in aid to Egypt after el-Sisi toppled the elected government of Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also visited Saudi Arabia just recently to re-invigorate the alliance.

Trump says only US role in Libya is to combat terrorism

In a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paulo Gentiloni, U.S. President Donald Trump said that the only role he saw for the U.S. in Libya was to defeat any remaining Islamic State militants.

The statement is somewhat surprising. Some have thought that Trump would lean towards supporting eastern commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the eastern-based House of Representatives (HoR) government, a rival to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. Russia has been supportive of Haftar although it has also kept open lines of communication with the GNA. Perhaps Trump does not want to be associated with Haftar since he is associated with Russia!
Trump said at the news conference: "I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has right now enough roles. We're in a role everywhere. So I do not see that. I do see a role in getting rid of ISIS, we're very effective in that regard ... I see that as a primary role and that's what we're going to do, whether it's in Iraq, or Libya or anywhere else,"
Trump did praise the Italian role in Libya. Italy has helped out the GNA with a field hospital and is providing boats to the GNA Coast Guard to help combat trafficking. Italy's Coast Guard has already donated two rescue boats to Libya and it will give ten boats to Libya as part of an agreement to help stem migrant from crossing the Mediterranean to Italy. Near the end of March a Libyan court suspended the Libya Italy deal but it still seems to be going ahead.
Trump urged Italy to adopt a policy that "seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries so the can help to rebuild their own nations." Gentiloni was perhaps hoping that Trump would offer some help sharing the burden of the refugee crisis which is putting a strain on Italian resources. However Trump said: "I do not see a role in Libya. We have enough roles. We have a role everywhere." Perhaps the policy is meant to offset criticism by those such as Bannon who note that Trump campaigned on a promise not to be involved in wars that were expensive and not in the U.S. interest. Gentiloni noted that Italy and the U.S. had a common commitment to fight terrorism. He also told Trump that Italy would boost defense spending from one percent of GDP to two percent. Trump has demanded that all NATO members should reach this threshold to pay their fair share of NATO costs. Gentiloni claimed that Italy would respect their commitments. Gentiloni is very critical of protectionist trade policies that Trump sometimes supports. He has withdrawn form the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is demanding changes in NAFTA in favor of the U.S. However, globalists such as Jared Kushner appear to be gaining power in the Trump administration and nationalists such as Steve Bannon are declining in power. However, Trump policy can change very quickly.
Italian officials played down suggestions that Trump had actually rebuffed attempts by Gentiloni to get the U.S. more involved in helping to bring political stability to Libya. Gentiloni had said the U.S. role was critical. A pro-government newspaper La Repubblica said that Libya divided the U.S. and Italy and that the alliance was in difficulty.. However, an official close to the PM said the meeting had gone well and that there was no snub at all. Italian officials noted that GNA head of the Presidential Counci Fayez al-Sarraj was slated to meet with eastern commander Khalifa Haftar for talks in Washington later this year. There was no confirmation yet from Washington of any such meeting.
Before meeting with Trump, Gentiloni had said: “Now is the moment for the U.S. and Italy to work together to stabilise the situation and broaden the support for the Tripoli government to other actors. The division of Libya is not a good idea. It would be dangerous for Egypt, dangerous for Tunisia and for the interests of Europe.” Gentiloni claimed the U.S. had a special responsibility for helping Libya out of its crisis because the 2011 military intervention had lacked a vision of the future and resulted in mayhem. Numerous countries have been attempting to unify the two main Libyan factions. A recent tweet notes: #Libya Civil war mediation: Algeria, Italy, Russia have each held series of meetings with key leaders from opposing Libyan factions. As yet there appears little sign that the two sides can unify. In fact forces from the two sides have recently clashed in southern Libya near Sebha.

Friday, May 12, 2017

North Korea celebrates 85th anniversary of Korean People's Army

(April 21)South Korea says it is on heightened alert ahead of the 85th anniversary of the Korean People's Army in North Korea. They are also concerned about a possible new nuclear test by Kim Jong-un.

The celebration comes as major military drills in the North end according to South Korea's Unification spokesperson KLee Duk-haeng. There have also been joint military exercises in the south with the United States. The North regularly criticizes these as a prelude to invasion. The exercises this year actually do mimic such an invasion. Duk-haeng said: "It is a situation where a lot of exercise equipment is amassed in North Korea and also a lot of strategic assets are situated on the Korean peninsula because of the South Korea-US military drills. We are closely watching the situation and will not be letting our guards down."
North Korea is on "maximum alert" after recent threats by the U.S. to take unilateral action if China is unable to reign in the North. U.S. officials claim there is a higher-than-usual level of activity by Chinese bombers in the border area. However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied that bombers were on any heightened state of alert. A Kremlin spokesperson declined to make any comments on reports that Russia is rushing both troops and military hardware to its narrow border with North Korea in the extreme north-east of the country. US and South Korean officials are worried that Kim Jong-un will understake another nuclear test even after being warned not to by the US and China. The top envoys from the U.S., South Korea, and Japan are to meet tomorrow to "discuss plans to rein in North Korea's high-strength provocation, to maximize pressure on the North, and to ensure China's constructive role in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue." Notice that there is never any talk of the U.S. having direct talks with the North. US President Trump said that if China wants to solve the North Korean problem it will. North Korea may not be that easy to convince without moves that could be risky for the Chinese. Trump said that China is the economic lifeline to the North. This may be true but it is not clear what the North Korean response might be if the lifeline is cut. It is not clear that China wants to find out either.
An official Chinese newspaper expressed optimism about persuading the North to cease its nuclear programme diplomatically now that even Donald Trump said he wanted a peaceful solution. However, he also said that if China did not succeed he would act unilaterally to deal with the situation. A China Daily editorial said: "Beijing has demonstrated due enthusiasm for Washington's new-found interest in a diplomatic solution and willingness to work more closely with it." Last year, North Korea carried out two nuclear weapons tests. It has carried out numerous tests of ballistic missiles.
Cheong Seong-chang a senior research fellow at the Sejong Instituted near Seoul said: "Without crossing the red line such as a nuclear test or a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, until the April 25 anniversary of the Korean People's Army, North Korea is expected to continue to launch mid-range missiles." The joint U.S. South Korean military exercises are to finish the end of this month.
The UN Security Council strongly condemned North Korea's latest missile test which is reported to have failed. The Council threatened to impose new sanctions against North Korea for its "highly destabilizing behavior". Notice that U.S. actions such as the war games, deploying the THAAD missile system and an aircraft carrier armada are not destabilising behavior. The Council unanimously demanded that the North conduct no further nuclear tests and claimed that its "illegal missile activities" greatly increased tension in the region and beyond. The South Koreans appear more relaxed about the situation than those in the US. They are no doubt hoping that the new president to be elected soon will take a less confrontational approach to relations with the North and bring back some degree of normalization in relations between the two countries.