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Trouble in Syria: Turkey-Russia vs US

TurkeyArmy Syria

Rick Francona, a Middle East expert, CNN military analyst, retired intelligence officer publishes "Middle East Perspectives." His ost recent article, "Syria - The coming showdown between the United States and Turkey," highlights just that. I commend it to your attention as his level of detail is excellent and easy to understand.

What appears to be happening is that with the defeat of ISIS, various groups are now going off in their own directions.

The US has been and continues to support the "Syrian Opposition," which Francona describes as including "the Free Syrian Army, independent rebels, and several jihadist groups including al-Qa'idah affiliates."

Idlib_Governorate_with_Districts

Russia is supporting the Syrian regime and allies and is working to destroy the Syrian opposition, which is now concentrated in the Idib Governorate in northern Syria. Turkish forces are also located in the Idib region.

Francona opined, "I don’t see a good end here for the opposition forces. They are not united ... they do not have the wherewithal to withstand the force that is being applied against them. With Russian airpower and rocket artillery, and Iranian-Hizballah-various militias providing the ground forces to supplement what is left of the Syrian army, it is only a matter of time before they will be defeated."

Turkish forces are also in this same area and are threatening to attack Kurds who are residents of Syria who have supported Kurds living in and rebelling against Turkey. These Kurds are the ones who have been providing the bulk of effective ground forces supported by the US against ISIS.

Francona also says the "U.S. has announced that it is training a force of 30,000 troops to control the Kurdish area of northeastern Syria, including controlling the Turkish border." The Turks do not want any Kurds on their border. For the US to do this training, its forces must access the area through Iraq, and given the defeat of ISIS, a US presence in Iraq is not guaranteed.

In sum, Francona says he "can envision a scenario in which the Iranians pressure Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-‘Abadi to thank the Americans for their assistance in the fight against ISIS, and ask them to leave." If he does that, the US will find it very hard to support its Syrian Coalition. (011818)


USS Wasp ARG arrives to Japan - Will have F-35Bs aboard

F35B

The USS Wasp arrived to Sasebo, Japan on January 14, 2018. It will relieve the USS Bonhomme Richard. Other amphibious ships assigned to Expeditionary Strike Group 7, the Navy's only forward-deployed expeditionary strike group can deploy with her when she patrols. The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) out of Okinawa will serve as an on-call crisis response force for the region and will be embarked on the Wasp when she patrols. Arguably the most important capability aboard the Wasp will be the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The Wasp has been upgraded to employ the F-35B and the aircraft has been training with the Wasp for the past few years. F-35Bs of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 relocated to Iwakuni, Japan, in early 2017. The squadron is the first operational Marine Corps F-35B unit and currently has 16 aircraft at Iwakuni. The F-35s will be aboard the Wasp when she patrols. This will be the first time for the F-35B to fly operationally at sea on patrol. It has replaced the AV-8 Harrier. (011718)

Turkey may be preparing to attack US partner forces in Syria

ErdoganTurkey

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on January 16, 2018 that Turkish President "Erdogan his intent to attack the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) … He stated Turkish forces will attack two SDF-held areas along the Turkish border within one week unless Syrian Kurdish People's Defense Forces (YPG), which dominate the SDF, withdraw." Turkey has begun moving forces and the president has said operations can commence at any time. Turkey and Russia, perhaps along with Iran, have been working together on a number of issues regarding Syria, often contrary to US interests. (011618)

US and Allied Foreign Minister considering blockade of North Korea

USNROKNYellowSea

US and Allied foreign minsters from 20 countries are meeting on January 16, 2018 in Vancouver to consider whether to blockade North Korean ports. Canada and the US are co-hosting the sessions. A blockade would result in intercepting foreign ships heading for North Korea and inspecting their cargo. The blockade would be on both coasts, the Yellow Sea being the more provocative because it is adjacent to China. This is reportedly the only topic for discussion. North Korea's response has been that a blockade would be an act of war. China has warned the US against such a blockade. Based on my study of the Cuban Naval Blockade years ago, the US likely will be aware of the movements of every merchant ship toward Korea, and, given sufficient naval resources at sea, will be able to intercept as many as desired. Patrols, whether seaborne or airborne, over the Sea of Japan would be easy; not so in the Yellow Sea. The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) has been patrolling in the Yellow Sea since late last year to monitor who is going in and out of North Korean ports there. The MSDF has issued warnings but has not gone beyond that point. ROKN forces have done the same. The USN has gone in there, but not frequently. Russia and China have conducted naval exercises there as have the US and ROK. The photo shows a USN-ROKN formation during an exercise in the Yellow Sea in 2016. (011618)

SecDef says "storm clouds gathering" over Korean peninsula

MattisFtBragg

SecDef Mattis, while visiting Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, told the troops "storm clouds are gathering" over the Korean peninsula on December 22, 2017. He told them, "My fine young soldiers, the only way our diplomats can speak (through diplomacy) with authority and be believed is if you’re ready to go … Knowing what went wrong the last time around is as important as knowing your own testing, so that you’re forewarned - you know what I’m driving at here. So you gotta be ready.” He told them, "Be at the top of your game." The US has about 28,000 troops in the ROK, and would likely need many more if a fight were to break out. All that said, Mattis did not think evacuation of American civilians was needed yet. This follows the CNO saying North Korea was an "unprecedented and urgent threat to the world today, and the Navy is prepared for any contingency … While diplomatic and economic pressure are the primary means by which the United States is pressuring Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions and increasingly effective missile tests, the military option must remain at the ready. It's about the most urgent thing on our plate right now." On the surface, this sounds like war is not imminent, but the military leadership is honing in on getting the forces ready should one come. The Winter Olympics in the ROK do present an opportunity for trouble with North Korea, They will occur February 9-25, 2018. (122317)

CNO sees North Korea as "unprecedented and urgent threat"

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The Military Times reported that Admiral John Richardson, USN, CNO has told Sailors based in Japan on December 18, 2017 "North Korea poses an unprecedented and urgent threat to the world today, and the Navy is prepared for any contingency … While diplomatic and economic pressure are the primary means by which the United States is pressuring Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions and increasingly effective missile tests, the military option must remain at the ready. It's about the most urgent thing on our plate right now." (122117)

US sees no drawdowns in Syria or Iraq - B-1B bombers may be headed back

B1BLancerBomber

The Military Times reported US officials have no near term plans to drawdown US forces in Syria or Iraq, claiming there is still work to be done against ISIS. US advisors stationed there have seen no decline in operations. The challenge now, following liberation of Mosul and Raqqa, is to train foreign forces to maintain stability. ISIS forces have been sneaking into areas around Damascus, Syria and into the western reaches of Anbar province, Iraq. The expanse of Anbar, Iraq's largest province, nearly all desert, presents special challenges. In a separate plan, B-1B Lancer bomber crews at Dyess AFB, Texas and Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota are training up for possible deployments to the Mideast Region, even while the B-1Bs have work to do in the Pacific. Ellsworth has been providing aircraft for the Pacific and Dyess may send its aircraft there while the Ellsworth bombers go to the Mideast. The B-52 has been used in the Mideast now for several years, and may rotate out in favor of the B-1B. (122117)

US has some 26,000 troops in three war zones

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Tara Copp reported for the Military Times on November 27, 2017, “The U.S. has 8,892 forces in Iraq, 15,298 troops in Afghanistan and 1,720 in Syria, for a total of 25,910 troops serving in the three war zones as of Sept. 30, (2017) … far exceeding the Pentagon's previous acknowledged troop levels overseas." The US has forces stationed in about 150 countries, with 53,766 in Germany, 10,801 in Italy, and 1205 in Belgium. The figures do not include Navy or Marines at sea. The Pew Research Center says The number of active-duty U.S. military troops stationed overseas has dipped below 200,000 to 193,442 for the first time in at least 60 years. The five countries with the largest active-duty U.S. military presence in 2016 were Japan, Germany, South Korea, Italy and Afghanistan. I'll warn you however that each source you go to portrays different numbers. Those provided by the Military Times reflect data provided by the Defense Manpower Data Center on November 17, 2017. I will advise you that The Washington Post has said this figure of 26,000 ir probably not accurate either. (112717)

How many US troops in Syria? Your guess as good as mine!

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The Defense Manpower Data Center published force levels in Syria on November 17, 2017, and said there were 1,720 US active and reserve troops in Syria, near 2,000. Kristina Wong reported for Breitbart News on November 24, 2017, "That is about four times the amount that was allowed to be publicized by the accounting system implemented by the Obama administration." That system did not count those sent there on a "short-term" basis. In Vietnam years, that meant for less than 180 days. It is patently unclear how many the US has there. About all we know is that Major General Jams Jarrard, top U.S. special operations commander in Iraq and Syria, has said he believed that the U.S. will need to keep troops in Syria for months to come, supporting Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) until ISIS is wiped out, and beyond. (112517)

US military KIAs mount, US forces also more active in Africa

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The Military Times has reported the number of US military KIAs abroad has risen to 31, up from 26 in 2016. This is the largest increase in KIAs in six years. This does not include the 17 Sailors lost in two Navy ship collisions. The Military Times said, "An increased presence in Africa, continued support for U.S. Central Command operations in Syria and Iraq, along with 14,000 troops in Afghanistan means more troops are in harm's way."

Defense One has reported that the US military presence in the Middle East has grown by 33 percent in the past four months.

At the same time, the US is ramping up the number of troops stationed in Somalia, with 500 troops now serving there, twice that of 2016. The
Military Times has also reported that US forces positioned across Africa are not being well supported. US forces are only allowed to employ air power against enemy forces in Libya and Somalia. Because many US forces are assigned training missions, they are not being given what they would need in combat. That is despite the fact they go into combat with those they train. Furthermore, our forces are not the benefactor of consistent US search and rescue operations, instead having to rely on African forces who are not capable of handling the job. General Dunford, the CJCS, has said the US now has some 6,000 troops in Africa spread over 53 countries. Africa also does not have good systems for logistics support, and US forces go without.

I reported back in May 2017 Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, USA, commander, US Special Operations Command Africa, has implied US military forces face a two-decade struggle in Africa.

He wrote in an issue of the online
Small Wars Journal, in an essay entitled, "The Gray Zone in Africa:"

“(T)here are too many conflicting perspectives when it comes to what the (U.S. government) policy should be for Africa. The problems in Africa defy solution within a single fiscal year, or the two- to four-year tour of a Geographic Combatant Command commander.” By Gray Zones he means conflict falling short of open warfare for US forces. (112017)


USCG interdicting cocaine "submarines"

SpenceCapturesemiSubmersible

The US Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Spencer boat crew interdicted a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel, in effect a submarine, during the ship's counter narcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific on or about November 11, 2017. Spencer in turn carried some 10 tons of cocaine seized by seven USCG vessels over the recent past and offloaded the booty at port Everglades, Florida on November 14, 2017. Semi-submersibles are capable of ballasting down to lower their surface profile, and controlling their running depth, but not fully submerging. These are also very rare with only a few ever captured. They have been detected since 1992, and in 1994 one was detected that had a radar, a depth meter and an internal oxygen supply. The USCG first found one carrying cocaine in 2006.

Narco_Cutaway_annotated

Few have been seized, as their crews scuttle them upon interception and they sink within a minute or so. By 2009, the US detected as many as 60 narco submarine related events, and it was calculated that they were moving as much as 330 metric tonnes of cocaine per year. The photo shows Spencer crew aboard the semi-submersible they captured, and the graphic shows what one looks like. (111817)

US will fight as long as ISIS wants to fight — 4,000 allowed to escape Raqqa

Addendum, November 17, 2017: Patrik Sieger, a French military spokesman, told Reuters on November 17, 2017 that the French military opposed the deal allowing ISIS fighters to leave Raqqa safely. He also said the French military had wanted to bomb the ISIS convoy but too many civilians were mixed in. He said drones were monitoring the withdrawal and confirmed ISIS terrorists mixed in with the civilians who were leaving.

ISISEscapeRaqqa


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Original story, October 14, 2017: SecDef Mattis said in Washington on November 13, 2017, "The enemy hasn't declared that they're done with the area yet, so we'll keep fighting as long as they want to fight … We're not just going to walk away right now before the Geneva process has traction … You keep broadening them. Try to (demilitarize) one area then (demilitarize) another and just keep it going, try to do the things that will allow people to return to their homes." This sounds very open-ended, no end in sight. This is especially worrisome since BBC has found that the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), whom the US is supporting, made a secret deal to allow ISIS fighters and their families, perhaps as many as 4,000, a free and easy escape from Raqqa. BBC reported there were about 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles taking them out, free of charge. BBC said air power watched the convoy leave and did nothing to stop it. (111417)

Addendum, November 11, 2017: Sgt. Johnson may be been captured, tied up and executed

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The Washington Post reported on November 10, 2017 that local villagers in Niger found Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four US soldiers killed in northern Niger in October 2017, hands tied, huge gash on his neck, body lying face down. His shoes and socks were taken. One villager said, "The back of his head was a mess, as if they had hit him with something hard, like a hammer." The FBI has gone over to assist the military in investigating what happened. It appears the group of four decided to get some sleep during the night, which may may have given the enemy force time to prepare an attack. Johnson remains were retrieved, brought home, and buried, but the mortuary at Dover AFB most certainly has all the facts on his condition when he came to Dover. The Post said, "The two Tongo Tongo villagers said they also saw the bodies of the three other American soldiers - Staff Sgts. Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson and Dustin Wright - who U.S. officials say were killed in action. One was slumped inside the team's pickup truck, they said. The bodies of the other two were on the ground, one clutching a walkie-talkie, they said." (111117)

Addendum, October 27, 2017: Niger ambush getting complicated: Were the four left behind?


NigerKIAs


"The New York Times reports: "In the chaotic moments after an Army Special Forces team and 30 Nigerien troops were ambushed by militants in a remote corner of West Africa three weeks ago, four of the Americans were separated from the larger group.Niger's PM, Brigi Rafini has given the green light to US drone combat operations from bases in Niger.

"Their squad mates immediately alerted commanders that they were under attack - then called for help nearly an hour later, as a top Pentagon official said this week - and ground forces from Niger's army and French Mirage jets were both dispatched.

"About two hours later, the firefight tapering off, French helicopters from nearby Mali swooped in to the rescue on the rolling wooded terrain. But they retrieved only seven of the 11 Americans. The four others were inexplicably left behind, no longer in radio contact and initially considered missing in action by the Pentagon, a status that officials say raises the possibility they were still alive when the helicopters took off without them."


Addendum, October 25, 2017: Niger ambush: Mission to get hi-value target?


ABC reported on October 25, 2017 that a person who survived the Niger ambush attack and a senior US intelligence official have said the real mission of the US force in Niger that was ambushed was to catch a high-value target. ABC said the official indicated the mission was changed from reconnaissance with local leaders to a "kill-or-capture mission aimed at a high-value target ... That target, codenamed 'Naylor Road' has ties to both al Qaeda and ISIS.

According to the ABC report, another unit was to join this one but was unable to get there. ABC also said the soldiers involved had little combat experience.

Original story, October 23, 2017 Congress angry over Niger ambush

It looks like a battle is looming in Congress over the ambush in Niger near the Mali border that resulted in four US Green Beret KIAs. The main problem seems to be a feeling the Trump administration has failed to provide enough information. Comparisons are being made to the Benghazi attacks. One senator said he did not even know we had forces in Niger. That's sad, as I knew they were there just from reading the press. The US built a huge base in central Niger for drones and had been flying drones from Niger for quite a while, for starters. Furthermore, US special operations forces, including Navy SEALs have been operating across the Sahel for several years now, largely chasing al Qaeda and al Qaeda wannabes. The problems here could impact a congressional update to the 201 authorization for use of military force (AUMF). The secretaries of state and defense are scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on October 30 and the AUMF, but Niger could easily dominate the conversations. (102317)

US plans to keep forces in Syria

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Defense One has reported that Major General Jams Jarrard, top U.S. special operations commander in Iraq and Syria, has said he believed that the U.S. will need to keep troops in Syria for months to come, supporting Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) until ISIS is wiped out, and beyond. Jarrard, said, “But there’s a long process after that: making sure that we have the security in place, the stabilization efforts in place, to allow the IDPs [internally displaced persons] to return home … That is all part of the military defeat of Daesh, making sure that we treat the symptoms that allowed Daesh to take over this area in the first place. And we are committed to supporting the SDF throughout that process.” In turn, Turkey has told the US to withdraw support for the SDF, accusing it of being a terrorist organization that threatens the region. (110917)

Navy Air in sad shape: Forced to take risks

F:A18CarrierReadyLaunch

There are three aircraft carrier strike groups (CSGs) deployed offshore North Korea, and four more deployed elsewhere, but the head of naval aviation told Congress on November 9, 2017 carrier air wings have had to cut back maintenance and have had to cannibalize from non-deployed aircraft. The high operational tempo and limited funding are the problems. Vice Adm. Troy Shoemaker testified, “We’ve been forced to take risks in maintenance and production and, as a result, our ability to fix and produce up aircraft and therefore train aviators has suffered … Consistent with the Navy’s policy of supporting deployed and next-to-deploy forces, we were forced to cannibalize aircraft, parts and people to ensure those leaving on deployment had what they needed to be safe and effective while operating forward. To continue to provide credible maritime forces around the world, we’ve made sacrifices at home.” DoD Buzz reported Shoemaker said as of October 2017 only half of all Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets were flyable, and only 31 percent were fully ready to fight and deploy. (110917)

US installs final ground-based missile interceptor


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The US has installed the final ground-based interceptor for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) at Fort Greely, Alaska. Defense News reported. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has confirmed, “MDA and Boeing emplaced the 44th interceptor in its silo at the Missile Defense Complex at Ft. Greely on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.” A second site is at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. A total of 36 interceptors are currently emplaced. Planning is underway to deploy more than 44 interceptors, perhaps to as high as 64 in a new Missile Field 4 at Fort Greely. The system consists of exoatmospheric kill vehicles, ground base interceptors, battle management command, control and communications, early warning radars, forward based X band radars and sea based X band platforms. (110817)

Niger agrees to US drone attacks from its country

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Niger's PM, Brigi Rafini has given the green light to US drone combat operations from bases in Niger. He told the WSJ the US is operating from NIger at the country's request. He said, "Drones are among the tools they have to use. You need to deploy them for investigation and reconnaissance," and if needed, for "other uses."

Reuters has reported NIger's Defence Minister Kalla Mountari told its reporter, "I asked them some weeks ago to arm them (the drones) and use them as needed. Our enemies will find out ... The Americans are not just exchanging information with us. They are waging war when necessary. We are working hand in hand. The clear proof is that the Americans and Nigeriens fell on the battlefield for the peace and security of our country.”

The US and France have been using the MQ-9 "Reaper" drones out of a base in the capital, Niamey, in western Niger (shown in photo). The US has also been building a base in central Niger but has encountered some delays due to the hostile weather environment and blowing sand. (110217)


Teddy Roosevelt and Nimitz on their way to Korea to join Reagan

Addendum, October 27, 2017: The plan now is to involve all three CSGs in a military exercise during November 2017 at the same time President Trump travels to Korea. Officials will not provide any details.

Addendum, October 25, 2017: Defense One reported today that the USS Nimitz CSG is also heading to the the Korean peninsula region, approaching form the west.

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Original story, October 24, 2017:

The USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is on its way to waters near North Korea, where it will join the USS Ronald Reagan CSG. Aboard the Theodore Roosevelt are three Navy fighter squadrons, a Marine fighter squadron, two helicopter squadrons, plus fleet support, early warning, and electronic attack squadrons. Along with the Theodore Roosevelt is the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill as well as the guided-missile destroyers the USS Halsey, the USS Preble, and the USS Sampson. The Reagan CSG is traveling with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS McCampbell and USS Barry, and the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Shiloh. (102417)

USAF pressing ahead with the B-21 "Raider"

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Must confess I have been out of the loop on this one; I was not aware of the B-21 "Raider" bomber now in development for the USAF. The graphic is an artist's rendering of what it may look like. It is part of the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) program. It is expected to enter combat service by 2025. Initial Operating Capability is expected by 2030. A request for proposal was issued in 2014, the USAF awarded Northrop Grumman a development contract in 2015. It was formally designated the B-21 "Raider" in 2016 in honor of Doolittle's Raiders. It is a fifth generation global precision attack platform and will be stealth. It will have a sensor-shoot capability. The number to be built ranges from 80-200, but more likely in the range 100-145. The USAF is now opening a funding request for $2 billion for FY2018. I have seen a report that the USAF intends to pursue a long range fighter to tag along with the B-21 on her missions. (102617)

US planning to put nuke-armed bombers on "strip alert"

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Marcus Weisgarber reported for Defense One on October 22, 2017 that the USAF is preparing to implement expected orders to put nuclear capable bombers on 24-hour alert at bases in the US. The bombers sitting alert will be equipped with nuclear weapons. Aircrews will sit in the ready room or alert shack awaiting the call to launch. I suggested about a month ago that such bombers be put on 24/7 airborne alert such that they can get to North Korea in a very short time, similar to what the US did surrounding the USSR during the Cold War. This plan falls short of that, but does up the ante considerably. General David Goldfein, USAF, CSAF said in an interview at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, “I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.” The decision would be made by the commander of the Strategic Command or North American Command. It is not clear which. (102317)

US troop count rises in Somalia

Stars & Stripes reported on October 17, 12017 that US force levels in Somalia have increased from 100 at the beginning of the year to 400 now. A Pentagon spokesman said "we're not going to speculate" about whether the US mission in Somalia will expand. That elements of the 101st Airborne Division are in Somalia has marked the first time since 1993 that regular troops were located there. (101717)

"Be ready with military options," Mattis

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Wesley Morgan has reported for Poitico that SecDef Matis has told US military leaders "to be ready" with military options should diplomacy fail. President Trump has reportedly told the military it was not providing its military plans to him fast enough. Mattis said, "Right now, it is a diplomatically led, economic sanctions-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path. Now, what does the future hold? Neither you nor I can say, so there's one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is we have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ if needed." (101017)

Three Green Berets killed in Niger. Why were they there?

Addendum: October 6, 2017

US officials have advised that a fourth US soldier was killed in the ambush in Niger. He was originally thought to be missing, but Niger troops found his body near where the ambush occurred. The US has recovered his body and identified it.

Furthermore, Fox News reported, "U.S. officials described a chaotic assault, as 40-50 extremists in vehicles and on motorcycles fired rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns at the patrol, setting off explosions and shattering windows. The soldiers got out of their trucks, returning fire and calling in support from French helicopters and fighter jets that quickly responded to the scene, according to officials. The officials weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity." The fighting was described as intense. (100617)


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The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has confirmed three US Army Green Beret Special Forces were killed and two more wounded in Niger on October 4, 2017. They accompanied a Niger patrol in southwest Niger when they were ambushed. The assailants have not yet been made public. AFRICOM's statement said, "US forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, in their efforts to counter violent extremist organizations in the region." The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has confirmed three US Army Green Beret Special Forces assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group (SFG) were killed and two more wounded in Niger on October 4, 2017. They accompanied a Niger patrol in southwest Niger when they were ambushed. The assailants have not yet been made public, though there are reports they numbered as many as 50.

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It is not clear, however, why they were attacked and who attacked them in southwest Niger. USAToday reported the attack occurred near the Mali border. Niamey, the capital of Niger is located in the southwest. The US has a UAV base in Niger. There is another US base in Agadez, which is in central Niger. I understand UAV operations would be moved to this base, and that USF C-17 transports would be operating in country as well. An insurgency has been underway since at least 2012 in northern and northeastern Mali and fighting has occurred near the border with Niger. There has also been an up-tick in militancy in northern Burkina Faso. CNN reported there are about 800 US military in Niger, up from 645 in June. (100517)

US conducting cyberwarfare against North Korea

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The Washington Post has reported, "Early in his administration, President Trump signed a directive outlining a strategy of pressure against North Korea that involved actions across a broad spectrum of government agencies and led to the use of military cyber-capabilities, according to U.S. officials. 'As part of the campaign, U.S. Cyber Command targeted hackers in North Korea's military spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, by barraging their computer servers with traffic that choked off Internet access. Trump's directive, a senior administration official said, also included instructions to diplomats and officials to bring up North Korea in virtually every conversation with foreign interlocutors and urge them to sever all ties with Pyongyang. Those conversations have had significant success, particularly in recent weeks as North Korea has tested another nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles,' officials said."

There have been several reports that North Korea's main spy agency is called "Unit 180," a apt of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and has been conducting cyberwarfare against mostly financial networks in the US, South Korea and several other countries. These reports say Kim Heung-kwang, a former computer science professor in North Korea who defected to the South in 2004, has said the North Koreans are doing much of this to obtain money. James Lewis, a North Korea expert at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, has said they are doing it as a tool for espionage and political harassment.

The US Department of Defense is said to have submitted a report to Congress in 2016 that North Korea likely "views cyber as a cost-effective, asymmetric, deniable tool that it can employ with little risk from reprisal attacks, in part because its networks are largely separated from the internet".

North Korea has denied the allegations. The US Cyber Command was created in 2009 at the National Security Agency (NSA). On August 18, 2017, it was announced this command would be elevated to a full and independent Unified Combatant Command. It currently is a Subordinate Unified Combatant Command under the Strategic Command. The Director NSA also serves as its commander. There has been hesitation to upgrade the command and move it from NSA because of NSA massive intelligence, mathematical and cryptanalysis capabilities. (100217)


Russia threatens to attack US forces in Syria

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Russian Major General Igor Konashenkov has threatened to attack US forces in Syria if those Syrian forces supported by the US attack Assad forces, where Russian troops are embedded. He said, "Moscow has conveyed to the U.S. military command 'in no uncertain terms that any attempts to open fire from areas where SDF fighters are located would be quickly shut down. Firing positions in those areas will be immediately suppressed with all military means.'"

DoD Buzz, a DoD effort of Military.com reported:

"U.S. and Russian ground commanders met this week to make sure 'we don’t fire upon one another' in the fight against ISIS in the eastern border area of Syria, a U.S. military spokesman said Thursday. The face-to-face meeting at an undisclosed location in the Mideast is believed to be a first for U.S. and Russian ground forces, the spokesman said, and followed attacks by Russian warplanes last weekend on positions of the U.S.-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces in the region."
(092217)

US military opening permanent facility in Israel

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The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have announced the US military is opening a permanent facility in southern Israel to be used by an American Task Force (TF). It will be treated as an American zone fling the American flag and subject to IDF guidelines ad regulations. The facility, located within the IAF’s School of Aerial Defense, will house dozens of American soldiers, permanently stationed in Israel as part of a task force. The TF mission will be to "improve detection, interception, and deployment in aerial defense, while strengthening cooperation." The photo shows cutting the ribbon at the new American base. (091917)

2nd Armored Brigade arrives in Poland

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The US Army's 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 1st Infantry Division, arrived in Gdansk, Poland on September 13, 2017. The ABCT will be on a nine month rotation. It has brought an aviation brigade with it. Colonel David Garner, commander 2 ABCT, said, "By deploying to Europe and distributing our forces across the region, we provide a tangible and visible presence of the deterrent capabilities available to respond to crises at decisive points." The 3 BCT, 4th Infantry Division is completing its nine month deployment and will be soon heading home. In the meantime, Russia has begun a major Baltic War Game resulting in the deployment of large numbers of forces into Belarus. There are concerns these forces, in whole or in part, may remain after the exercises are over. Furthermore, Sweden had launched its biggest war games in two decades with NATO support. Micael Byden, commander Swedish Armed forces, has said, "The security situation has taken a turn for the worse. Russia is the country that affects security in Europe right now with its actions - the annexation of the Crimea and continued battles in eastern Ukraine - so it is clear that we are watching very closely what Russia is doing." Some 1,500 troops from the US, France, Norway and other NATO allies are taking part in the exercise dubbed Aurora. (091417)

US military commanders readying forces for North Korea

KoreanBrassMeeting

The top US military generals met at Osan AB, Republic of Korea (ROK) on August 23, 2017 to cross-talking planning and requirements should action be required against North Korea. Furthermore, Admiral Harry Harris, USN, commander, US Pacific Command (PACOM) met in Seoul with ROK Defense Minister Song Young-moo on August 21m 2017 and again in Hawaii on August 31.

The meetings at Osan involved the following:

  • General Vincent Brooks, USA, Commander US Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command, and UN Command.
  • Admiral Harry Harris, USN, commander PACOM
  • General John Hyten, USAF, commander US Strategic Command (STRATCOM)
  • Lt General Samuel Greaves, USAF, director US Missile Defense Agency,
  • Birgadier General Sean Gainey, USA, commanding general 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command
  • General Kim Byeong-joo, deputy commander Combined Forces Command

General Brooks commented to reporters, "We're going to exercise, because we need to be ready. We're a professional force, [and] this is an alliance of two very professional militaries supported by a broader coalition of the United Nations Command, and being [ready] to fight tonight if we have to is what we'll do. … And we would certainly hope that Kim Jong Un would make wise decisions about that."

Admiral Harris said, "We have had 15 tests of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) [and] we've had 15 successes. I'm not a mathematician, but that's almost like 100 percent. So I'm confident in our ability to destroy any missiles that come into our defended area, which is important. If it's not going to be in our defended area, then why waste an asset to shoot it down?"

Harris commented further that ballistic missile defense destroyers and cruisers are in the area as part of the layered defense in depth. Patriot missile batteries are also deploy ed in the ROK.

Stratcom's Hyten said, "I'm a supporting commander to General Brooks and the Combined Forces Command. I provide all the capabilities that Strategic Command has in order to provide him options to deal with. We provide all those [capabilities] (space, cyber, deterrence and missile defense) that give General Brooks options, … and then we work it inside the alliance to develop a collective defense of the peninsula. All those options will be considered by our military leadership and our political leadership ... Our missile defense capabilities that are deployed both in Alaska and in California have the ability to intercept any threat against the United States." (090517)


Cannot count on troop numbers coming from Pentagon

Army-Soldiers-In-Afghanistan-Reuters

On August 30, 2017 the Pentagon announced the US has about 11,000 troops in Afghanistan, higher than the 8,400 previously announced. SecDef Mattis has said he is trying to clean up the numbers to accurately reflect what he has over there. Dana White, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, said, “The secretary has determined we must simplify our accounting methodology and improve the public’s understanding of America’s military commitment in Afghanistan.” Mattis wants real numbers before sending over more. Last week, Mattis told reporters, “The first thing I have to do is level the bubble and account for everybody who’s on the ground there now." Apparently we also do not have good numbers for those in Iraq and Syria. Current numbers are 5,200 and 500 respectively, but those are thought to be low. The Pentagon has been playing games with numbers for a long time. During the Indochina War, it sent over units on temporary duty (TDY) for 179 days, one short of the day when they would have to be considered permanently assigned. So those numbers did not show up on total counts. (090217)

USAF to upgrade nuclear missiles

GBSD

The USAF will upgrade its ground based nuclear missiles in a program known as Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). This will be a next generation system. The USAF has awarded two contracts to replaces its Minuteman III ICBM system, now 45 years old: Northrop Grumman and Boeing. The companies will enter a risk reception phase, after which one contractor will be selected for engineering and manufacturing development in 2020.

LRSOMissile

The USAF soon is expected to announce the Long Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) which will develop a nuclear capable cruise missile to be launched by aircraft such as the B-52. (082217)

US creates Cyber Command as unified combatant command

CyberCommand

President Trump has elevated the US Cyber Command from a division of the National Security Agency to a warfighting, unified combatant command, whose commander will report to the CJCS. This action will put the command squarely under military command and control. This will be an offensive and defensive command. Each military department will have a cyber command operationally subordinate to the new command (082017)

US forces active in Yemen and Somalia

AQAP

The DoD reported on August 4, 2017 that US military forces have been actively attacking al-Qaeda and al-Shabab in Yemen and Somalia respectively. Captain. Jeff Davis, USN, speaking for the DoD, said, "(A small number of U.S. forces) are supporting our regional counter-terrorism partners in ongoing operations in Yemen against [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] to degrade the group's ability to coordinate external terrorist operations and to use Yemen territory as a safe place for terror plotting.” He said this is a continuation of what the US has been doing since January 29, 2017. He added, "Since February 28, (2017) we've conducted more than 80 strikes against [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] militants, infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment, and this is based upon the authorities granted in the operation that began.” On July 30, 2017, US forces participated in a raid in southern Somalia targeting a senior member of al-Shabab. Davis said, "We can now confirm that the strike killed one of al-Shabab's senior leaders, Ali Mohammed Hussein, also known as Ali Jabal … We continue to work there in Somalia in coordination with our partners with the Somali Defense Forces and other allies o systematically dismantle al-Shabab and to help achieve and bring stability and security throughout the region.” I am assuming most of the attacks have been by air, but it is likely the air was brought in by air combat controllers on the ground and there might well have been additional US special forces involved as well. Major General J. Marcus Hicks, USAF, took command of Special Operations Command, Arica on June 29, 2017. (080717)