Military news not often well publicized

This is a four-month blog

I invite you to click on this button below to join the Talking Proud Team. No fees. Just talk proud and be proud. Become a member and I will send you periodic newsletters about new and old articles.

Join Team Talking Proud


US-Australia to upgrade base in Papua New Guinea

Geopolitical Monitor reported on November 19, 2018 the Vice President Pence has announced the US and Australia will work together to upgrade the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. It was a major US naval base during WWII. I is currently operated by the Maritime Operations Element of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF). Papua New Guinea has emerged as a focus of competition between Western Pacific powers and China. It is a small facility that has supported constabulary missions by the PNG Navy but needs a lot of work. Improvements are likely to be step-by-step.

The PNGDF currently uses the base for its patrol boats. Australia is donating four new Guardian-class Pacific Patrol Boats (PPBs) to the PNG Navy as part of a program to upgrade capabilities and replace the older PPBs. (120318)

Pay attention to Black Sea naval operations

Ukraine President Poroshenko urged NATO on November 29, 2018 to send naval ships into the Sea of Azov as the result of the recent confrontation between Russian and Ukraine naval ships. Ukraine and Russia have a 2003 bilateral agreement that says the Sea of Azov and the Strait of Kerch are historically internal waters of the Russian Federation and the Ukraine. The agreement further stipulates mercantile vessels and other state non-commercial vessels flying the flags of the Russian Federation and the Ukraine have free navigation in the sea of Azov and the strait of Kerch. On November 25, 2018, Russian military forces fired upon three Ukrainian vessels attempting to pass through the Kerch Strait. Moscow seized the ships and captured about 23 sailors. It is not likely that NATO or the US would send naval ships into the Sea of Azov. NATO ships do however regularly sail throughout the Black Sea. The British have indicated they intend to send naval ships in soon. I do not know whether any USN ships are there now. The USNS Carson City departed the Black Sea on August 30, 2018. The USS Carney (DDG-64) was there in August 2018 but has returned to Spain. The USS Porter (DDG-8) was there in July but also have returned to Spain. The USS Mount Whitney was there in July as well but has returned to Gaeta, Italy. Ukraine has said recently the Russian military is building imp on the border with Ukraine. The photo of USN ships in the Black Sea is an old one shown as background. (113018)

Migrants arriving - Tensions escalating at US-Mexico border

Tension increased on November 23, 2018 at the Tijuana crossing from Mexico into the US-San Diego. Riot police stood firm. US military forces reportedly set off rockets that "exploded with a pungent-smelling white smoke" according to AFP. Border patrol agents have been exercising for riot control scenarios in the background as they expect the situation to deteriorate. For the moment, migrants are being held in Mexico in a plan named "Remain in Mexico." The San Diego Tribune reported a group of 6,219 Central American migrants are in Tijuana and some got within 500 ft. of the US border. Mexican federal police held them back. Mexican authorities say they are not equipped to handle this kind of crowd. President Trump has threatened to shut down the entire border, stopping all import traffic to the US and preventing Mexicans from crossing over to work as they normally do. Honduran gangs have infiltrated the migrant groups. They are armed. Tijuana has declared a humanitarian crisis and has asked for international help. (112318)

US border troops starting to withdraw

Northern Command Commander Army. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan has told reporters the first US troops on the US border will start coming home in a few days as several units have completed their mission. They have installed concertina wire and hardened ports of entry. Some 37,000 feet pf wire have been emplaced. The forces are about 75 percent complete placing obstacles at the border such as concertina wire, shipping containers and concrete batteries at ports of entry. At present there are 5,800 troops on the border, of which 2,800 are in Texas, 15,00 in Arizona, and 1,500 in California. The military is forecasting all forces withdrawing from the border area by December 15. The military is, however, prepared to close a port if the caravan assaults them and puts border police at risk. (112018)

Caravan update

Most of the lead caravan heading to the US border through Mexico remains about 1,100 miles away according to Time Magazine. Some are hitchhiking on trucks and buses and could arrive quickly, perhaps at the rate of 100 miles per day or so. However several hundred have arrived at the border with Tiujana. (111818)

EU prepares for European-only military - and NATO?

The European Union's (EU) Commission has reportedly prepared a preamble to building a European-only military. French PM Emmanuel Macron is leading the charge, criticizing the trans-Atlantic security ties, which are provided by NATO and mainly the US. He has also cited the US as a potential threat to European security. The Europeans tried this once before, setting up the Western European Union (WEU). It did not work. The Europeans could not afford it and had to borrow equipment from NATO. It now appears several EU countries, principally France and Germany, want a European only military again. The EU has already established a European Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) which has assigned two ships in the Gulf of Aden region mainly to stop piracy. That is in addition to the Combined Maritime Force (CMF) organized by US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVFORCENT) which patrols the Gulf of Aden and the Bab al Mandate Strait connecting the Gulf to the Red Sea. It patrols piracy and provides security for international shipping and naval forces operating there. CMF has over 30 countries participating, plus or minus a few depending on what can be spared. All of this raises even more the question as to whether the US ought to leave NATO, form a new partnership with those countries in Europe who prefer to join with the US, or organize a wholly new alliance, perhaps an ad hoc alliance primarily with Eastern European nations such as Poland. Clearly the Europeans cannot pay for membership of NATO and construction, maintenance and employment of a European-only military. They cannot or do not even pay NATO bills. That then begs the question as typo whether the US ought to continue footing the bill for defense of Europe while Europe build its own military. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has taken all this one step further and suggested building a European Empire that could stand up to the US and others. (111218)

Three new classified contingency operations in Africa

The D Brief reported on November 6, 2018, "On February 9, 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis designated three new classified contingency operations: Operation Yukon Journey, the Northwest Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation, and the East Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation. These operations 'seek to degrade al Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated terrorists in the Middle East and specific regions of Africa.' " At the moment, not much is known publicly about the character of these operations. The DoD IG will provide oversight vice Congress. The IG has sent questions about the operations to the DoD, and DoD apparently provided some classified responses but did not provide the objectives of the operations, the metrics used to gauge progress, costs, number of US people involved and rationale for declaring these overseas contingency operations. (110618)

"Operation Faithful Patriot" at the border: 8,000 troops there within days

November 10, 2018 Addendum: General O'Shaughnessy, USAF, commander US Northern Command announced on October 26, 2018 that the border operations is no longer called "Operation Faithful Patriot." Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, USA, a Pentagon spokesman, said the operation will be referred to as "border support."

The Wall Street Journal reported on November 5, 2018 that the troop count on the US-Mexico border will be 8,000 within a few days: 2,700 in Texas, 1,200 in Arizona, and 1,100 in California, and 2,000 are due very soon. Most are support and we have been told they will not be armed. General Dunford, USMC, CJCS, has said, "There is no plan for U.S. military forces to be involved in the actual mission of denying people entry to the United States … There is no plan for soldiers to come into contact with immigrants or to reinforce Department of Homeland Security as they’re conducting their mission … We are providing enabling capabilities.” A lot of work thus far has been to set up concertina wire. Most of the newly arriving troops, those in addition to the 2,000 National Guard already deployed, are active duty. The lead caravan is now about 700 miles from the border. (110618)

"Operation Faithful Patriot" at the border: 5,200 now, could go to 14,000

October 30, 2018 Addendum: General Terrence O'Shaughnessy, USAF, commander Northern Command (NORTHCOM) said troops on the border is "just the start of this operation. We'll continue to adjust the numbers and inform you of those." A DoD official said the number could rise to 14,000. These numbers are in addition to the 2,092 National Guard already there. According to the official, there are 7,000 active duty troops on "standby," working with a 24-hour notice to deploy.

October 29, 2018 addendum: October 29, 2018 Addendum: A US official has now said the US will send 5,20-0 more troops to the US-Mexico border, up from earlier reports of 5,000. Some are to deploy on October 30. The USAF is to airlift 400 additional Border Patrol personnel as well. Lucas Tomlinson, reporting for Fox News, has said, "There are three planned staging areas: in South Texas, Arizona and California, for what's now been dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot. The mission's U.S. ground commander is Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, who was sent to Puerto Rico last year to lead Hurricane Maria relief efforts. The troops are coming from military posts including Fort Bragg, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Fort Stewart, Fort Campbell, Fort Riley and Fort Knox. Most of the forces will be active duty. Military Police will be in the deployments, not to enforce the law, but rather to provide force protection.

The increases come after it was determined there are now two migrant caravans, all together totaling 6,500 migrants. The first caravan formed in Honduras roughly two weeks ago. Caravans are reportedly forming in El Salvadore, south of Honduras, planning to head to the US starting on October 31, 2018.

The immigration caravan is about 1,000 miles away.

October 29, 2018: The Wall Street Journal has reported that the US will deploy as many as 5,000 military members to major ports of entry along the US-Mexico border in what is now being called "Operation Faithful Patriot." Some 2,100 National Guardsmen are already at the border, so this means as many as 2,900 vice the original estimate of 800 more troops. Some are already on their way. The mission remains support, no law enforcement work by the troops.The WSJ said, "Under the latest plans, about 1,800 troops will go to Texas, 1,700 to Arizona and 1,500 to California. The troops will be drawn from about 10 U.S. Army installations and consist largely of military police and engineers ... U.S. Marines also will be deployed." The WSJ said a troop level of 5,000 would exceed the forces already deployed to Iraq and Syria, and roughly half those in Afghanistan. This information apparently came from an unnamed US official. The Pentagon has called such numbers "premature." I find the addition of Marines to be interesting. While Marines too can be in support roles, one must always keep in mind that "all Marines are infantry." I continue to believe a quick reaction force (QRF) prepared to apply lethal force is bound to be in the cards someplace, even if held in reserve at a military installation away from the border, and not included in the 5,000 number. If the law enforcement people get overwhelmed, and are in danger, I believe such a QRF force would deploy quickly. Also keep in mind that the president has talked about closing the border, which implies those who legally come to the US to work might be closed out, which would add tensions at the border. (102918)

Possibly 3,000 US troops on border, soon

SecDef Mattis has approved a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) request for more US military forces on the US-Mexico border. The Commander Northern Command will be in charge of the military, in support of Custom and Border Protection (CBP). At present, there are about 2,100 National Guard troops there already, and estimates are about 800 active-duty members will be sent. Overall, SecDef has authorized a total of 4,000 if required. That said, planning is still underway. Expect to see rotary-wing aircraft, logistical and engineering support. The latter will probably erect border fencing, barriers and barricade. The rotary-wing aircraft will be used to transport CBP members. The military at present is not to engage immigrants, but is to only support CBP. However, they will be authorized to defend themselves which implies they will be armed. Most assuredly, the military must be planning for having to provide quick reaction forces (QRF) to support CBP officials if the going gets very rough and CBP lives are in danger. Military forces have trained for this kind of contingency, but if a QRF is called to help, it could get nasty.(101818)

US building up military infrastructure in Estonia

The US is building up the military infrastructure in Estonia, which borders on Russia. It is investing $11.2 to upgrade and Estonia NATO army base at Tapa, Estonia. US Army units have been training there. Furthermore, the US has invested about $14 million in projects for the Amari Air Base, west of Tallin. The project included a new aircraft maintenance hangar, a hazardous cargo pad, a squadron operations facility and a dormitory. Twelve F-16s and about 375 airmen from the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing deployed to Amari in January, planning to fly about 60 missions per week. USAF F-35As deployed there last year for a short time. They were there for familiarization training and did not participate in patrols of the Baltic States' airspace. The investments are designed to enable US forces to rapidly deploy to these bases and operate from them if the situation requires. (101918)

Pay attention to the Sea of Azov

The Sea of Azov is sea connected to the Black Sea by the Strait of Kerch. Ukraine and Russia border on it. Crimea also borders on it. Russia has incorporated Crimea as part of Russia. Ukraine continues to claim Crimea and most other countries agree. But Russia does not. The only water entry into and exit from the Sea of Azov is through the Strait of Kerch, which is between Crimea and Russia. Russia has built a bridge over the Strait. Russia now appears to be militarizing the Sea of Above and has been cutting off the flow of water-borne goods into Ukraine and the outflow of Ukrainian exports. Furthermore Russia has been preventing the free movement of Ukrainian vessels through the Sea to the Black Sea. Russia has cutoff the flow of goods to and from the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. The Russian-built bridge across the Strait of Kerch has been built such that many ships cannot fit under it to pass into the Sea of Azov. All of this has negatively impacted the Ukrainian economy. In addition, the Russian Navy has been practicing amphibious landing operations potentially targeted at southern. In effect, Russia is attempting to make the Sea of Above a Russian sea. In turn, Russia appears to be attempting to pressure Ukraine to "pledge fealty" to Russia. Ukraine has deployed two armored artillery boats to the port of Berdyansk. Ukrainian ground forces are to be beefed up in the area. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in early October in Brussels the Alliance is concerned over the situation in the Sea of Azov. Russia has warned NATO that it cannot operate its military ships in the Sea. Russia asserts NATO would first have to obtain Russian approval, which of course would not be forthcoming. NATO has been operating extensively in the Black Sea. Thus far, no NATO ships have attempted to go into the Sea. Ukraine plans to build a naval base on the Sea of Azov to US and NATO specifications. I believe it will be built at Berdyansk. The US has recently agreed to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, not permitted by the Obama administration. The US will also help finance the navy base. So there is a potential tinderbox bring in this region. See Stratfor report, "Ukraine and Russia take their conflict to sea." (101918)

F-22 and F-35 may face Russian S-300 in Syria

Both US premier 5th generation fighter aircraft are in the Mideast area, the USAF F-22, which is land-based, and the Marine Corps F-35B which is embarked on the USS Essex amphibious assault ship that recently arrived in the Northern Arabian Sea.
In addition, the Russians have deployed their advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system to Syria. That raises the possibility that these two fighter aircraft could get tested against the S-300. Observers at this point say it is not likely the US and Russia would tangle that way. Most US air operations over Syria have involved USAF F-16 and F-15 and Navy F/A-18 aircraft. The problem has to do with deconflicting US and Russian air operations, especially when a lot of aircraft are operating in the same areas or even adjacent areas.
The National Interest reported in April 2017, "(S-300) systems (are) designed to detect and track the presence of low observable (LO) aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35. That’s just a function of physics. The problem for Moscow is that while Russian early warning and acquisitions radars operating in the VHF, UHF, L and S bands can detect and even track a tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft, those systems don’t deliver a weapons quality track." General Joseph Votel, USA, commander Central Command, called the S-300 deployment unnecessary. He said the deployment “appears to be an effort to cover for Iranian and Syrian regime nefarious activities in Syria. So, again, I think this is a needless, needless escalation.” he told Pentagon reporters.He also told reporters the US was prepared to handle the deployment, asserting, “Our forces here have been operating under a latent anti-air threat for some time and we will continue to do so." This will be an evolution to watch. (100518)

A global US Navy show of force may be in the works: CNN

CNN reported on October 4, 2018 that several US defense officials have told it the US Navy is developing a secret plan to execute a naval show of force in the Pacific Ocean to demonstrate USN capabilities. Several recent events seem to be driving the idea: Near collision between US and Chinese destroyers; SecDef cancelled Beijing visit; China cancelled USS Wasp amphibious assault ship port visit to Hong Kong; USN publicized sailors aboard Wasp in live fire exercise in South China Sea; B-52 flights over South and East China Seas; US levied sanctions against the Chinese military for buying Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles; US-China tariffs; President Trump said US-China friendship has come to an end. There are obstacles: Change planned deployments; leave potential threats in Mideast uncovered; upcoming November US elections. (100418)

F-35 may see its first combat soon in Afghanistan, or even Somalia

CNN reported on September 25, 2018 that US defense officials have indicated a Marine Corps F-35 Lightning fighter could soon fly its first combat mission, perhaps over Afghanistan, maybe even Somalia. The USS Essex (LHD-2) amphibious assault ship has moved into the North Arabian Sea and may move into the Persian Gulf. The Essex is the lead ship of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). USMC F-35s are embarked. The photo shows one landing on the Essex. Marine F-35 pilots have been flying intelligence and surveillance missions over Somalia. (092518)

USAF to replace Hueys with Italian designed US-made MH-139 helicopter

The USAF has selected the Italian-designed, US-built Boeing-Leonardo MH-139 to replace the UH-1Ns "Huey." The USAF has only 59 Hueys left. The contract awards $375 million for the first four MH-139s. The USAF plans to buy 84-aircraft at $2.38 billion. The UH-60 Blackhawk made by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky was long considered the favorite. The MH-139 is a US-built variant of the AgustaWestland AW139. Boeing has said the MH-139 is perfect for the ‘behind-the-lines’ mission given. It has said it is faster and quieter than other platforms, can accommodate up to 15 passengers on crashworthy seats. It will use the twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67C turboshafts providing maximum take-off weight of 7,000 kg; a maximum payload of 2,540 kg; a hovering service ceiling of 15,360 ft in ground effect and 8,140 ft out of ground effect; a top speed of 167 kt; a range of 1,250 km (no reserves, with auxiliary fuel); and an endurance of 5 h and 12 min (with auxiliary fuel). (092518)

US forces to remain in Syria until Iran is out and ISIS destroyed

National Security Advisor Bolton said on September 24, 2018 that US military forces will remain in Syria until Iran and its proxies are out. That is a change from the military's statements that our forces were there until they defeat ISIS. Bolton said, "We're not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias. SecDef Mattis artistically worked his way around this, saying, "(U.S. troops remain inside Syria) for one purpose, and that's under the U.N. authorization about defeating ISIS." He acknowledged that this single purpose might have multiple other components to it. For example, Mattis said, "As part of this overarching problem, we have to address Iran. Everywhere you go in the Middle East where there's instability you will find Iran." Recall that President Trump said we would get out of Syria "relatively soon." That does not appear to be anywhere on the radar. Bolton's position strikes me as the usual American mission expansion over time. Pat Buchanan has said, "Deployment of US Troops in Syria is a de Facto Act of War." Syria wants the US out. (092518)

US considering permanent base in Poland

The Government of Poland suggested in May 2018 that the US build a permanent base in Poland, and reportedly offered $2 billion to help build it. US officials at that time were not hot on the idea. However, Polish President Andrzej Duda's recent visit to Washington may have changed that attitude. President Trump has said he is seriously considering the idea. In effect, setting up a permanent base in Poland would replicate strategies used in Western Europe during the Cold War and in South Korea: put American forces as far forward as possible to be a tripwire. Should the Russians attack, the first to engage would be US forces, which would commit the US to war and might give Russia pause before attacking. Furthermore, a permanent base would replace the current method of rotating forces in and out. There have been suggestions not to set up one permanent base, but to set up a host of smaller outposts spread around in Poland, to make Russian targeting and attack planning more difficult. (092118)

USS Truman CSG in the Mediterranean

The USS Harry Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) has entered the US 6th Fleet area of operations in the Mediterranean Sea. The Truman has nine squadrons of aircraft embarked and is accompanied by one guided missile cruiser, and two guided missile destroyers. There are four more guided missile destroyers steaming on their own in various locations that are considered part of the Truman CSG. This could be an important development as the US had no carriers in the Med when the Russian Navy arrived with a large scale naval force off-shore Syria. The last CSG in this region was led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt , which left in late March 2018. The US did have a few guided missile destroyers in the Med prior to the arrival of the Truman. I have assumed they would attack Syrian targets if the Syrians employed chemical weapons in Idlib. Be mindful that no information is available on whether US missile submarines are in the region. That said, it appears the situation in the northwest Idlib Province has, perhaps, quieted down a bit, at least temporarily. Russia and Turkey have agreed to set up a buffer zone in Idlib designed to separate Syrian from rebel forces. Just days ago it appeared Syria was prepared to enter the final stages of an all-out offensive against the province, home to 2.5-3.0 million people. (091918)

US ramping up forces in Somalia to fight al-Shabab

The US now is believed to have about 500 Army, Navy and Marine special forces deployed to Somalia, up from about 200. Officially they are on an advise and assist mission, but in truth they are out fighting with Somali special forces. The African Union (AU) has wound down its forces. Therefore the US has felt compelled to ramp up. The US is also conducting more air attacks against al-Shabab insurgents, some 28 air attacks this year, nine in September, according to The New York Times. The Long War Journal says only 22 air attacks in 2018 vs. 31 in 2017. Brigadier General Miguel Castellanos, USA, was sent to Mogadishu to take charge of the "Mogadishu Coordination Cell," which is another name for a command and control authority. His job is to manage the expanded operations. A member of SEAL Team 6 was killed on a mission in May 2018. More recently, an American special forces soldier was killed and four others wounded on June 7, 2018 on a mission in southwestern Somalia. Armed surveillance aircraft were on the scene but could not find the location of mortar fire against the force. US "advisors" frequently go out with the Somalis and experience insurgent attacks. Most recently, a US military aircraft struck suspect al-Shabab positions on September 11, 2018. The attack occurred about 37 miles west of Mogadishu. There have been attacks against suspected ISIS positions as well. (091318)

US, Britain, France ready to attack if chemical weapons used in Syria

The Wall Street Journal reported on September 10, 2018 that the US, Britain and France plan to launch a major air attack against Syria if chemical weapons are used in the Syrian offensive against Idlib Province, northwestern Syria. John Bolton, US National Security Advisor, told reporters, "We’ve been in consultation with the British and the French, who joined us in the second strike, and they also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response." Bolton further warned these attacks would be much strong than previous ones. In 2017, the Turkish Anadolu Agency published a graphic showing the US has 10 bases from which US forces are operating in northern Syria, two of which are said to be air bases to replace the base at Incirlik, Turkey. The USAF has removed its A-1 Warthogs from Incirlik, and is said to be thinking of curtailing other flight operations from the base as well due to a deteriorating relationship with Turkey. Flying from the base has become difficult for US aviators because of various Turkish restrictions. USAF fighters had been using the base to attack ISIS targets. (091118)

Russia threatens to attack US base in Syria

Defense One has reported the Russians threatened on September 1, 2018 to invade a "deconfliction zone" around the US base al-Tanf in southern Syria. The Pentagon said on September 6 the Russians threatened to fire missiles at the base because the US is harboring terrorists. In response, the US held an air-and-ground force exercise in eastern Syria on September 8. CENTCOM immediately issued a statement saying, "The exercise involved an aerial assault by a company-sized dismounted element, which will conduct a live fire rehearsal before departing the 55-kilometer de-confliction zone around the Coalition’s At Tanf Garrison. Our forces will demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces, and conduct a rapid exfiltration anywhere in the OIR combined joint operations area. Exercises like this bolster our defeat-ISIS capabilities and ensure we are ready to respond to any threat to our forces.” (091018)

CIA to expand UAV attacks against al-Qaeda and ISIS in northern Africa

The New York Times reported, "The CIA is poised to conduct secret drone strikes against Qaeda and Islamic State insurgents from a newly expanded air base deep in the Sahara, making aggressive use of powers that were scaled back during the Obama administration and restored by President Trump … But now the C.I.A. is broadening its drone operations, moving aircraft to northeastern Niger to hunt Islamist militants in southern Libya." I believe the base being address is a new one under construction close to Agadez, Niger. Some refer to the base as "Nigerian Air Base 201." USAF crews have been working feverishly to get it ready for operations as soon as this year. (091018)

Trump says US in Syria indefinitely: Russia-Syria-Iran ready to attack

President Trump had been saying the US will get out of Syria, and get out soon. Now the administration has changed its approach. The US will now be there indefinitely. Not only that, but the US insists on staying until all Iranian and proxy forces are out, which probably cannot be measured, and a stable and non-threatening government is installed, also not on the table. Part of the cause of the change is said to be a feeling in the White House that Russia appears unwilling to eject Iran and continues working with Iran. There are reports SecDef Mattis and President Trump were not on the same sheet of music with regard to Syria, and Mattis appears to have prevailed. This comes on the heels of an impending major Syrian-Russian-Iranian offensive against Idlib in the northwestern Syria, the last stronghold of rebels in that part of the country. Some 2.5 million people live there. Russia has deployed its largest ever naval combatant force to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and I believe some US warships are in the area should Syria employ chemical weapons. Thus far no reports of friction between the US and Russian navies. However, Russia has warned the US that the US has forces in an area in southern Syria that Russia and Syria intend to attack. That is the US base at Tanf, close to the border with Jordan and Iraq. The US has responded saying its forces have the right to self defense. (090718)

Russia has deployed largest ever naval force to Mediterranean

The Russian navy has deployed its largest-ever naval force, perhaps as many as 25 warships, to the Mediterranean Sea and is said to be conducting naval drills. The Russian Northern Fleet anti-submarine warfare ship Severomorsk, photo shown here, is said to be among them. It is unclear what level of USN forces is there. The Russians have claimed the USN has positioned ships in the Eastern Med to respond to a possible Syrian chemical attack as part of its offensive against a rebel stronghold in Idlib. Stars and Stripes reported on August 30, 2018 that the commanders of the US 6th and 2nd Fleets met in Naples to discuss how 2nd Fleet might support the 6th Fleet. Cmdr. John Perkins, USN, spokesman for Naval Forces Europe and Africa, sent out an e-mail saying, "The U.S. Navy has a routine presence in the Mediterranean Sea and throughout the world's waterways. We expect that Russian ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea would conduct themselves safely and professionally, in accordance with international laws and customs." The Stratfor Worldview, which does a good job watching USN ship movements, reflects no USN carrier strike groups in the Med as of September 6, 2018. So I assume the USN has guided missile destroyers in the area and possibly a submarine. (090618)

Assad plans major assault on Idlib, big problem for US?

Rick Francona, a Mideast expert who published "Middle East Perspectives" on the internet, has taken a map from a photo of Iranian and Syrian defense ministers meeting in Damascus held in late August 2018. It is a very telling map. Francona said, "While maps released to the public by Syrian state media have not always portrayed the true situation, this is a map intended for the two ministers of defense and is accurate based on my understanding and analysis."

If Francona is right, and he usually is, then the US could be in trouble in Syria. Note the northwestern corner of Syria, the section marked Idlib, and then the small section in southern Syria marked "US-backed rebels." Then also take note of the area in the northeast marked "SDF," which reflects holdings of the Syrian Democratic Front, mainly Syrian Kurds who have been supported by the US.

Syria is about to launch a major offensive against the rebels' last real stronghold in Idlib. It appears this will be an all-out fight, and there is concern Syria will employ chemical weapons if its advances stall. A Syrian buildup around Idlib has already taken place. There are about 2.5 million people living in the Idlib region.

It is likely that Syria will prevail given its Russian and Iranian help. That would mean the US ostensibly only has influence over the southern section. Francona has said, "It is uncertain what the United States will do to support its Kurdish allies, keeping in mind the NATO ally Turkey is also against any Kurdish autonomy anywhere."

I reported earlier that SecDef Mattis said at an August 28, 2018 press conference any US drawdown in Syria must await a diplomatic process, a UN Geneva process. He indicated such a peace process must depose Assad. Its is not obvious to me what the US situation might be once Idlib falls to Assad. In March 2018 I saw reports the US has about 2,000 military forces working with the SDF.

Russian naval forces have built up in the eastern Mediterranean Sea offshore Idlib. The US Sixth Fleet is always somewhere in the region. But President Trump has said he wants out of Syria. It is not clear how many US military forces are in Idlib supporting the rebels. This does not look good to me. (090318)

US air attacks against Yemen since 2002

As a reminder, the US has been conducting air attacks, unmanned and manned, against al-Qaeda targets since 2002. ISIS targets are also now being hit. Furthermore, Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, USN, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in February 2018, "at times there is a small amount of U.S. personnel in Yemen." Navy Seal Ryan Owens was killed in in 2017 after a group of SEALs along with Emirati specific forces attacked an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen. Three more were wounded in what has been termed a furious firefight. SecDef Mattis said recently the US effort, which also is supporting Saudi and Emirati military operations in Yemen, is designed to result in a UN-brokered peace. Staista, an online statistics, market research and business intelligence portal headquartered in Hamburg, Germany, has posted its analysis of United States airstrikes in Yemen between 2002 and 2018. In 2017, statista says the US conducted 125 air attacks there, the highest thus far, some three to four times more than in the previous five years. Prior to that, the US conducted very limited attacks ranging from one in 2002 to 10 in 2011. TThe Central Command (CENTCOM) said on August 30, 2018 the US "has conducted six counterterrorism airstrikes targeting the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist network in Yemen in three separate governorates since May 16, bringing the total number of airstrikes to 34." During 2017 the US attacked about 40 targets in Yemen during a solid week of attacks. During 2017, the US aiir operations have reportedly staged from Djibouti and Saudi Arabia. The US effort ion Yemen is not trivial. (083018)

Mattis says US withdrawal from Syria "long way off

SecDef Mattis said at an August 28, 2018 press conference any US drawdown in Syria must await a diplomatic process, a UN Geneva process. He indicated such a peace process must depose Assad. These positions are a bit surprising. Any UN peace process in Geneva would take "forever" and as was the case in Indochina it would in the end be worthless, in my view. The requirement to depose Assad as an outgrowth of such a peace process I also feel is highly unlikely. This kind of "wishing and hoping" strikes me as odd coming from the "Mad Dog." The Washington Post reported back in April 2018 that Trump instructed Mattis top draw up plans for US withdrawal from Syria. (082918)

Two USN ships in Black Sea

There are now two USN ships in the Black Sea. The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) entered the Black Sea, August 12, 2018 in order to conduct maritime security operations and enhance capability and interoperability with allies and partners in the region. The Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7), shown in the photo, transited the Bosporus Strait August 15, 2018 en route to the Black Sea. This kind of ship provides rapid transport of military equipment and personnel in theater. It can handle CH-53 helicopters. USN command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) and guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78) had been in the Black Sea in July 2018 to participate in Exercise Sea Breeze, conducted with some 17 nations including Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the U.S. Also participating were a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft from Patrol Squadron (VP) 10; Marines from Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment; Navy Underwater Construction Team 1 divers; and members of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and U.S. 6th Fleet staff.Russia has been protesting this exercise since it captured Crimea in 2014. (082318)

ROK throttling back forces

General Vincent Brooks, USA, Commander US Forces Korea and commander-in-chief UN Command Korea, has highlighted that the ROK plans to scale back its military by over 100,000 men by 2022. The Wall Street Journal reported "South Korean plans to dismantle some defenses along the border with North Korea would introduce new security risks, the top U.S. general on the peninsula warned, as he vowed to maintain military readiness following an end to the allies' exercises … The remarks Wednesday by Gen. Vincent Brooks came after Seoul said last month that it plans to downsize its military by over 100,000 men by 2022 and pull back army divisions from the demilitarized zone by a few miles, steps aimed at reducing tensions with the North while addressing a shortage of manpower."

Furthermore, Brooks commented to the Seoul Foreign Correspondents Club on August 22, 2018 about the ROK shutting down some border posts. He termed this action to be a reasonable risk. He said, " I have some concerns about what that means militarily to the ability to defend along the Military Demarcation Line and in depth beyond it … I believe that there’s a reasonable amount of risk that’s involved in this, not an excessive amount of risk."

The ROK Defense Minister said he'll start by shutting down one or two guard posts, then additional ones.

With regard to President Trump's decision to suspend Combined war games on the Korea Peninsula with the ROK, Brooks said, "We’ll find other ways to maintain readiness and that means more creativity in how we do our work, sharing knowledge with different leaders as they change out to make sure we don’t atrophy in our readiness while our diplomatic effort is ongoing, … Perhaps we’ve been told for now to put our sword back into the sheath, but we have not been told to forget how to use it." (082218)

US to train Turkish soldiers for combined patrols in Syria

Go figure. With all the disagreements between the US and Turkey, Voice of America reported on August 16, 2018 that US forces have gone to Turkey to train their soldiers for combined patrols around Manjib in northeastern Syria. The Turks claim Kurdish terrorists are operating in the city, while the US has supported the Kurdish fighters there fighting against ISIS. At the moment the Turks and US are coordinating their patrols but they remain independent. At one point, there was fear the Turkish Army would attack Manjib, which would have brought them into confrontation with US soldiers. Both countries are supposedly NATO allies. The photo shows a US base at Manjib. (081718)

'ISIS might reincarnate caliphate

Cmdr. Sean Robinson, USN, a Pentagon spokesman, said, "(ISIS) is well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge … ISIS probably is still more capable than al-Qaida in Iraq at its peak in 2006-2007, when the group had declared an Islamic State and operated under the name Islamic State of Iraq … ISIS remains a threat, and even one ISIS fighter is one too many.” Jeff Seldin, reporting for Voice of America, wrote on August 16, 2018 that he received that statement from the Pentagon by email. Seldin went on to write, "The latest Defense Department intelligence estimates … put the number of IS fighters in Iraq and Syria between 28,000 and almost 32,000, close to the types of numbers the terror group boasted at the height of its power." The UN estimates 30,000. This is all very bad news from where I sit. I am surprised the Pentagon issued such a statement since it has been telling us all is going well. This requires follow-up. (081618)

ran has begun naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz


An unnamed defense official said Iran began a naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz on August 2, 2018. The US believes the exercise is a major one and that it fully started on that date. The US is watching. An unnamed US defense official said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has deployed dozens of small boats in the initial phase. Another official said Iran has deployed more than 100 boats and ships in the exercise, mostly smaller craft. Iran is also using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The US is concerned Iran might attempt to block the Strait. The official said the US believes closing the Strait is a scenario that will be practiced, though that does not necessarily mean they would Iran would actually try to close it.

A defense official told the press on August 1, 2018 that Iran may well use 100 boats in the Persian Gulf to practice "swarm" tactics that could shut the Strait.

The US feels Iran normally holds this kind of exercise later in the year, but is holding it now because of the rising tensions between the US and Iran. The official said the US has only one naval warship in the Gulf, a bit below what the US normally has there. The USS
Hary Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) left the region in July. The USSD Iwo Jima amphibious warfare ship was in the Persian Gulf last month but has left. The USN Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), a three ship formation with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Group Unit (MEU) embarked, is believed to be on its way to the Western Pacific and Middle East, but I do not have a good confirmation of its whereabouts. The photo shows an Iranian military vessel in the Strait of Hormuz in 2016. On the surface, it appears Iran timed this well, perhaps knowing when USN ships would be gone. (080318)
AFRICOM commander wants to withdraw some forces from Africa


Stars & Stripes' John Vandiver reported on August 2, 2018 that General Thomas Waldhauser, USMC, commander African Command (AFRICOM), wants to withdraw hundreds for troops from Africa. He says they are needed to bolster forces facing threats from Russia and China. Vandiver presented a summary of force dispositions: 6,000 troops in Africa, of which 4,000 are at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, 800 in Niger, and 1,200 special operations troops on missions throughout Africa. As an observation, US special operations forces have been dispersed in small numbers throughout Africa for some time. I believe they are mostly training African forces, but some are roaming about searching for ISIS, al Qaeda and other terrorists as well. (080218)

Minuteman III ICBM destroyed during test


The US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) destroyed an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM after "an anomaly" showed up in flight. STRATCOM said the test was perfect out of the silo, but experienced an "anomaly" during flight. General John Hyten, USAF, STRATCOM commander, said the launch crew decided to destroy the missile before it reached its destination. Hyten said such failures were are, the last one occurring in 2011. Now it's to the drawing board to figure out what happened. Recall President Trump boasted to Kim jung un of North Korea that "our missiles work." This one did not. The photo shows a Minuteman III launch similar to the one addressed here, August 2, 2017 (080218)

USAF and Boeing talking about new F-15X


Boeing is pushing hard to convince the USAF to new F-15X aircraft, ground up. It would be a single seater with new weapons, new technology, and anti-ship missiles. Qatar ordered one that is similar in 2017, called the F-15S. Boeing maintains the new F-15X would be cheaper to build than the existing F-15s are to operate. The last F-15 variants bought by the USAF were the F-15E Strike Eagles, bought in 2002. Current F-15s date back to the early 1980s. The thinking is to replace F-15C/D fighters. The aircraft is being touted as complementary too the F-35, not competitive. That said, it will have some stealth technology, though it remains a fourth generation aircraft. (072618)

US "mad as hell" at NATO

According to Politico, President Trump and SecDef Mattis are "mad as hell" (my words) at NATO because of a failure by members to pay their dues inn defense spending. Politico said The New York Times wrote, "President Trump has written sharply worded letters to the leaders of several NATO allies — including Germany, Belgium, Norway and Canada — taking them to task for spending too little on their own defense and warning that the United States is losing patience with what he said was their failure to meet security obligations shared by the alliance.

"The letters, sent in June, are the latest sign of acrimony between Mr. Trump and American allies as he heads to a NATO summit meeting next week in Brussels that will be a closely watched test of the president's commitment to the alliance. Mr. Trump has repeatedly questioned its value and has claimed that its members are taking advantage of the United States."

Politico also reported the newspaper The Sun reported SecDef Mattis issued an ultimatum to Great Britain:

"America has given Britain an ultimatum to boost its defence spending, or risk the death of the Special Relationship. The bombshell warning was delivered to the US's Secretary of Defense to his British counterpart, Gavin Williamson, two weeks ago. The letter - which is unprecedented in its bluntness - has been leaked to
The Sun.

"In it, former US Marine Corps general Jim Mattis says Washington DC is 'concerned' that Britain's military prowess is 'at risk of erosion'... In an ominous threat, the general also makes it very clear that while Britain may want to 'remain the US partner of choice', France is already boosting its defence spending - and is waiting in the wings to replace us."

I have long advocated the US leave NATO. For one thing, it's too large. I prefer
ad hoc alliances: assess a threat, put together a team suited to take it on, oppose the threat, disestablish the team and go on with the same process against the next threat. (070318)

US - NK diplomats have met


Kim Gamel reported for Stars & Stripes on July 2, 2018 that US and North Korean (NK) diplomats have met at Panmunjom to discuss the next steps for implementation of Kim-Trump "deal." Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines has led the US delegation. The meeting apparently was held on July 1, 2018. Gamel quoted an unnamed US official saying, "Our goal remains the final, fully-verified denuclearization of the DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore.” However, Gamel added, "The wording dropped the usual reference to the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.'” (070218)

US special forces more active in Africa than thought


Wesley Morgan, reporting for Politico reported on July 2, 2018 said Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, USA (Ret.) who "commanded most US special operations in Africa a until June 2017" said, "Our special operators not only advise and assist and accompany their partner force, but also direct it under these programs.” Politico added, "Former special operations officers have identified eight countries as current or recent sites of the surrogate programs. They include well-known combat zones like Somalia and Libya as well as more surprising sites for American-directed commando raids like Kenya, Tunisia, Cameroon, Mali and Mauritania — and Niger." Lt. General Kenneth McKenzie, USMC, Director of the Joint Staff, told a news conference, "No, we’re not involved in direct-action missions with partner forces." However, the Africa Command (AFRICOM) has acknowledged that at least one mission was a "multi-team raid," implying it was direct action. Bolduc has said, "I’ve got guys in Kenya, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Tunisia who are doing the same kind of things as the guys in Somalia, exposing themselves to the same kind of danger, and not just on 127 echoes. We’ve had guys wounded in all the types of missions that we do.” Alice Friend, a former Obama administration Pentagon official who oversaw counterterrorism policy in northwest Africa, has said, "You have these gray lines between what are African operations with U.S. assistance, and what are U.S. operations with African assistance, and what risk profile we’re comfortable with. At what point is it actually a U.S. operation? It’s ambiguous.” (070218)

US Forces Korea Command moves south of Seoul


After multiple delays, the command headquarters for US Forces Korea (USFK) opened at Camp Humphreys (Pyongtaek), 40 miles south of Seoul on June 29, 2018. It was to have moved in 2008. It sits next to the headquarters of the US Eighth Army. The US 2nd Division, the most forward US combat division in the ROK, will also move to Camp Humphreys, though no date has been announced. These moves will open the land north of Seoul to private investment. The Combined Forces Command (CFC), consisting of US and ROK commanders, will remain in Seoul. Currently a US general is the CFC commander, but the expectation is a ROK general will assume command in the future, probably the near future. (062918)

Russian S-400 missile a game changer?


Questions have arisen as to whether the advanced Russian S-400 air defense missile is going to adversely impact advanced US aircraft such as the F-35. The S-400 in one of its variants has a 400 km (240 mi) range. This means the F-35 will find it more difficult to fire at its targets, and find it hard to refuel if the tankers have to stand back more than the S-400's range. reported the USAF is talking to the Army, seeking ways to employ its long range precision fires missiles. Or perhaps a new hypersonic missile will be needed. The S-400 is thought to be effective against stealth aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. The S-400 has been seen in Syria. (062918)

US falling behind in space?


Lt. General Robert Ashley, USA, DIRDIA, told a technology audience in Washington on June 26, 2018 that Russia and China will be developing new space-based weapons "in the near future." He said "(both countries are developing) the ability to interdict satellites both from a ground standpoint and from a space standpoint. The technology is being developed right now. It is coming in the near future." The Office of the Director of Intelligence issued a report in February 2018 that said, in part, "Russia and China continue to launch ‘experimental’ satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities, at least some of which are intended to advance counterspace capabilities. Some technologies with peaceful applications—such as satellite inspection, refueling, and repair—can also be used against adversary spacecraft.” Alarms about Russian satellites coming close to US satellites or maneuvering in irregular ways have been around for a few years. (062818)

Army training to fight underground

FightUnderground reported on June 24, 2018 that the US Army is training 26 of its 31 combat brigades to fight underground, largely under urban centers. The report said, "For this new type of warfare, infantry units will need to know how to effectively navigate, communicate, breach heavy obstacles and attack enemy forces in underground mazes ranging from confined corridors to tunnels as wide as residential streets. Soldiers will need new equipment and training to operate in conditions such as complete darkness, bad air and lack of cover from enemy fire in areas that challenge standard Army communications equipment." Sewers and subways are included. Estimates are there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that can be used to harbor enemy forces, More than 4,800 of these are in North Korea. Russia too has vast underground facilities. In Iraq and Syria US forces already have had to contend with large tunnel systems. Five BCTs based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Camp Casey, Korea; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington have already been trained. The Army has set January as the deadline for completing the 21 others. (062618)

Premature to terminate Combined US-ROK military exercises


Hold your horses: there is no formal agreement to terminate Combined US-ROK military exercises. That would be very premature.

First some vocabulary. The word "joint" is used when two or more military services of the same country engage in an activity together. The word "combined" is used when militaries of two or more different countries engage in an activity together. Finally, these exercises are not "war games." They are military exercises designed to teach the military forces of both nations how to work together, familiarize all hands with the environment, assure interoperability, and test and stress combined command and control.

For example, the US and ROK militaries operate a Combined Forces Command (CFC). "The CFC has operational control over more than 600,000 active-duty military personnel of all services, of both countries." The photo shows the ROK Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Jeong, Kyeong Doo (right), ROK Army (ROKA), General Vincent K. Brooks, USA, Commander Combined Forces Command, United States Forces Command and United Nations Command, and General Kim Byeong Joo (left), ROKA, CFC deputy commander.

Regardless of what the media says, President Trump, and the Governments of the US and ROK have not agreed to terminate all military exercises.

President Trump simply “expressed his intention to halt the U.S.-South Korea joint (comnined) military exercises, which the DPRK side regards as provocation, over a period of good-will dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S. So we are a long way from stopping.

That the US and ROK operate the CFC to defend against DPRK aggression demands combined military exercises to prepare for such an eventuality. Once both the US and ROK agree there is no military threat from the DPRK, they then could consider disestablishing the CFC and terminating combined military exercises.

Furthermore, there has been no commitment from the US to withdraw its military forces from the Korean peninsula. Talk is cheap. Recall that when the DPRK invaded the ROK in 1950, the US had no combat forces in the ROK. The US is unlikely to fall victim to that again. (061318)

Mattis pushing for large NATO buildup in Eastern Europe

Brian Everstine reported for Air Force Magazine on June 6, 2018 that SecDef Mattis wants NATO to build up its force structure in Eastern Europe. His planning reportedly calls for "30 fighter squadrons, 30 land battalions, and 30 navy ships ready to deploy within 30 days." The US has been building up its forces there and now wants NATO to do the same. This is not so much a build up in Eastern Europe as it is a notice to all hands to have forces on alert ready to go to Eastern Europe. (060618)

US has moved away from timelines — Syria an example


Journalists spoke on June 5, 2018 with Colonel Thomas Veale, spokesman for the "counter-ISIS command" in Baghdad. The "counter-ISIS command" is apparently "Operation Inherent Resolve." Operation Inherent Resolve is the U.S. military's operational name for the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, including both the campaign in Iraq and the campaign in Syria. A part of that operation is something known as "Operation Roundup." "Operation Roundup" is to secure the Iraq-Syria border — with an emphasis on northeastern Syria. Veale said this operation was in its 37th day and has moved to "Phase 2." Operation Roundup is moving further into Syria to force ISIS to move. A reporter asked Veale when US forces would leave Syria. His response was:

"Yeah, — we're going to have to — we're not — we're not going to talk timelines. You know, these — this is a conditions-based campaign right here, and the condition is, as very clearly stated, the annihilation of ISIS … Right now, there's still a lot of work to be done to defeat ISIS. They have a fielded conventional threat in Syria, and that's — that's what we're doing." (060618)

US establishes Indo-Pacific Command


SecDef Mattis announced on May 30, 2018 that the US Pacific Command (PACOM) would be re-branded the US Indo-Pacific Command, probably INDO-PACOM. Admiral Phil Davidson, USN is now inn command after relieving Admiral Harry Harris, USN who is retiring and is slated to be the US Ambassador to the ROK. PACOM has always included India but this re-branding acknowledges connectivity between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This is one of many reasons the US will not recognize Chinese restrictions in the South China Sea. The South China Sea is the route to and from the Indian-Pacific Oceans. The US will not tolerate any obstruction to that free passage. During the change of command ceremony, Admiral Harris repeated his position on East Asia, saying, ""North Korea remains our most imminent threat and a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable … China remains our biggest long-term challenge. Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States and our allies and partners China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia." (053118)

USAF MQ-9 Reapers in Poland


The USAF quietly announced on May 21, 2018 it had deployed MQ-9 Reaper UAV intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft to Miroslawiec Air Base, northwestern Poland. The base is being converted to operate mainly a UAV base. The dominant question is why? Initial analyses say they will conduct operational Polish airspace in the near term would be Kaliningrad and Belarus. If they were to collect such intelligence, the raw information would go to the US. Poland would only receive finished intelligence reports. The USAF announcement said, in part, "It is designed to promote stability and security within the region and to strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners." Poland has employed smaller systems, and had given some thought to programming for larger ones, but apparently has chosen to spend the money on something else and relay on the USAF. Keep in mind the MQ-9 carries Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and can be used as an offensive weapon. (053018)

US - Aussies plan major based improvements in northern Australia


Rob Taylor, reporting for The Wall Street Journal on May 24,2018, "The U.S. and Australia have begun a multibillion-dollar improvement of air bases in northern Australia to accommodate stealth warplanes and long-range maritime patrol drones, and are building wharves and refueling points for visiting warships in Darwin—part of a $150 billion upgrade of Australia’s military." The French recently sent an amphibious task force with British and French troops embarked to drill with Australian and US forces. India too is getting in on the action. It will send warplanes to Darwin for a large-scale exercise in July 2018. This year the US sent 1,600 Marines to the base; that number will grow to 2,500 in the next few years. The base remains an Australian, not a US base. (052418)

US forces building up base at Tanf, Syria: Block Iran from Med


US forces are building up what was a small base in At Tanf, southern Syria. The Washington Post and other sources have reported the base is occupied mainly by US Special Forces. At Tanf resides in a massive wide-open desert. However, it is in a strategic position, inside Syria, on the border with Jordan and Iraq. Its main purpose seems to be to prevent Iranian forces and/or Iranian-supported forces from taking a free ride through the desert up to Syria above Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea. Hostile forces loyal to Assad and including Iranian-backed militia were headed toward the base in May 2017 but were beaten back by US air attacks, at least twice. US forces also shot down two Iranian drones near At Tanf. There are a substantial number of buildings there now, a runway, and a road. US Army attack helicopters, among other helicopters, are based here. There has been speculation these helicopters may have attacked Syrian military forces recently at Homs, Syria, north-northwest of At Tanf. (051318)

US forces in Saudi Arabia near Yemen border


The New York Times reported on May 3, 2018 that a small team, perhaps a dozen, American Special Forces were deployed to southern Saudi Arabia close to the border with Yemen in December 2017. Their mission is said to be "to help locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Huthi rebels in Yemen are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities." Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is said to have asked yet again for such support. The Trump administration says they forces are there to train and equip Saudis to secure the border. US surveillance aircraft are flying along the border area to collect signals intelligence to help locate the sites. General Votel, USA, commander Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2018, "We are authorized to help the Saudis defend their border. We are doing that through intelligence sharing, through logistics support and through military advice that we provide to them.” That said there are indications the US forces are actively trying to locate and destroy these missile sites. US intelligence experts are said to be in the southern Saudi city of Najarn. It is not clear how the sites would be destroyed once US forces locate them. One assumes Saudi Air Force assets would be used. (051118)

Navy re-establishes the Second Fleet


Admiral John Richardson, USN, the CNO, told reporters on May 4, 2016 that the Navy is re-establishing the US Second Fleet. It will be responsible for the northern Atlantic Ocean. Richardson said, "Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex … Second Fleet will exercise operational and administrative authorities over assigned ships, aircraft and landing forces on the East Coast and northern Atlantic Ocean." The Second Fleet was shut down in 2011. Observers feel this is a reaction to growing Russian challenges, increasing its naval patrols in the Baltic, northern Atlantic ad the Arctic. The Navy has also offered Norfolk, Virginia naval facilities as host for a proposed NATO Joint Force Command. (050418)

US Cybercom becomes 10th combatant command


The US Cyber Command became the 10th US combatant command on May 4, 2018. Lt. General Paul Nakasone, USA, will receive his fourth star and be the commander. He was thee commander of the Army Cyber Command. The Cyber Command had been commanded by Admiral Michael Rogers, USN, who also serves as the Director NSA. The elevation of the command means cyber warfare is a new warfighting domain. That is a significant acknowledgement. (050418)

USAF announces B-21 "Raider" bomber bases


The USAF expects the B-21 "Raider" bomber to come on-line in the mid-2020s. It has already announced where they will be based: Dyess AFB, Texas; Ellsworth AFB, S.D.; and Whiteman AFB, Mo. Barksdale AFB, La., and Minot AFB, N.D., will continue to fly the B-52, which will remain in service through 2050. The final decision on B-21 basing will be made in 2019. The b-21 is being produced by Northrop-Grumman. The B-21 is a fifth generation, long range global precision attack aircraft platform. The USAF plans to retire the B-2 and B-1B and retain only the B-21 and B-52. (050418)

Navy to retire F/A-18C Hornet


Caitlin Doornbois, reporting for Stars & Stripes on April 20, 2018, wrote the Navy plans to retire the F/AS-18C Hornet (aircraft shown here). It apparently will no longer be used in combat or for regular deployments. It recently completed its final deployment aboard the USS Carl Vinson which ended on March 12, 2018. It will serve on other duties, mainly training the Blue Angels and in demonstrations. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet will continue operations and will be the only operational strike fighter to serve in the Navy. The C model entered active service in 1987 and has fought in many wars. Maintenance costs and introduction of the F-35 played a role in deciding to retire the C model. Navy pilots are now transitioning from the E and F models to the F-35C. One fighter squadron, VFA-125, is considered operationally ready and VFA-147 is up next, probably in the fall. (042018)

Navy set to release new Arctic strategy


Megan Eckstein, reporting for US Naval Institute (USNI) News, reported on April 19, 2018, "The Navy will release a new Arctic strategy this summer to reflect the potential for 'blue-water Arctic' operations."The Russians are building up their military presence in the region. U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on April 19, 2018, "The Arctic ice caps are as small as they've been in my lifetime. And that gives rise to strategic changes. Waterways that are open. The secretary mentioned the blue-water Arctic. Continental shelves that are exposed, and the resources on those shelves. So there are strategic issues that arise from that shrinking of the icecap. And then there's this National Defense Strategy that's changed our focus as well. So it's really, from a number of perspectives, about time to do that again." (042018)

B-1Bs launch AGM-158B Surface Standoff Missile Range in Syria attack: first time


Correction, April 20, 2018: The USAF has corrected early misleading stories on the AGM-158 JASSM. The USAF said it did not employ the extended range version, but rather the standard version. Nonetheless it was the first time the JASSM was employed in combat. Furthermore the USAF has said F-22s were flying combat air patrols escorting the strike force and also were prepared to support ground forces.

Original story, April 16, 2018: Two B-1B Lancer bombers staged out of Al Udeid AB, Qatar and fired 19 AGM-158M Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range missiles at three targets in Syria associated with chemical warfare on April 14, 2018. They belonged to the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron. This is the first time this missile was employed in combat. Known as the JASSM, it is a low observable long-range weapon of the 1,000 lb. net explosive quantity class. It is a cruise missile. It can be launched more than 600 miles from the target. It can be carried by a variety of US bombers and fighter aircraft. Th photo shows a B-1B deployed to Qatar preparing to take off on the April 14 attack. (041818, corrected on April 20.)

Finally a Carrier Strike Group in the Med


The USS Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) entered the US 6th Fleet (Mediterranean region) area of responsibility (AOR) on April 18, 2018. The Navy has reported the following units in the CSG:

  • USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)
  • Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60)
  • Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Farragut (DDG 99), USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98), USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) and USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51)
  • Embarked staffs of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 8, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 28.
  • Embarked aviation squadrons include Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11; VFA-81; VFA-136; VFA-211; Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 137; Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 126; Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 72; Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 11; and a detachment from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 40.
  • The Sachsen-class German frigate FGS Hessen (F 221) is also operating as part of the strike group during the initial portion of the deployment.
  • The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) and USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) are slated to deploy and rejoin the strike group at a later date.

The US had no CSGs in the Mediterranean Sea when it launched attacks against Syria's chemical warfare facilities on April 13-14, 2018. (041918)

Estimated 5,500 contractors helping US forces in Syria

The Pentagon has just revealed that the US is employing some 5,500 contractors in Syria, focused on maintenance and logistics, support and construction. About half are US citizens, the rest local or third-country people. The Pentagon said they are not being used in combat, though many face combat conditions. (041718)

Will the Turks challenge the US at Manbij, Syria?


The Turkish Army has captured the city of Afrin (Efrin) in northern Syria. US forces are reportedly digging in at Manbij, about 58 miles due east. Turkish leader President Erdogan has said he intends to take Manbij, and there is even talk that Turkey may have its sights on re-establishing the Ottoman Empire of old in one form or another. Defense One has reported that US forces have built two outposts near Manbij, one of which is shown in the photo. Furthermore, additional forces from the US, Britain and France have arrived in the city. The New York Times reports the US forces appear to be prepared to stay there for some time to come. Rick Francona, reporting "What are Erdo─čan's intentions after the fall of 'Afrin?" for his website, Middle East Perspectives, has suggested Turkey is no longer interested in defeating ISIS, which is supposed to be the the US and NATO goal, but instead is focused on re-establishing the old Ottoman Empire in some form. The US has allied with Kurdish YPG forces in Syria, and Turkey has been backing Syrian rebel forces. For his part, Erdogan has threatened to move eastward even into Iraq, including into the Kurdish area of Iraq. At some point in time the US and Turkey are going to have to deal with a confrontation, one between NATO allies, and then NATO will have to decide what to do. (040718)

Military border security starting to take shape, long way yet to go

Addendum, April 7, 2018: The White House press secretary told reporters on April 6, 2018 the sending about 4,000 National Guard troops to secure the southern border is "a good start. It’s going to be as many as it takes." Arizona and Texas will send 400 troops this week.

Not much is yet known about what the US military contribution to border security will be. On April 5, 2018, chief Pentagon spokesman Dana White told reporters, "The National Guard’s efforts will include aviation, engineering, surveillance, communications, vehicle maintenance and logistical support." She also said the time frame and troop levels have not yet been determined. The DoD is establishing a new border security support cell that will operate 24/7. White commented, "This is a 24/7 cell comprised of several DoD representatives who will serve as the single conduit for information and coordination between DoD and DHS.” Governors of the border states, except for California, have said they will support the effort. The president might attempt to nationalize the national guards of those states refusing to cooperate. There has also been talk about whether the soldiers will be armed. President Trump has indicated the border is a national security and defense issue. While it is true the military is not authorized to arrest people in the US, it would have a role if the president proclaimed border crossings to be a foreign invasion. We will watch as more details come available. (040618)

Turkey's President Erdogan waving "big stick" at US


Turkey's President Erdogan is getting nasty with the US regarding his plans against the Kurds in northern Iraq. His forces now occupy the town of Afrin, and he continues to threaten moving his forces to take the town of Manbij. American troops are deployed there along with Kurdish fighters. Erdogan intends to wipe out Kurdish forces in the region. The D Brief reported he told Parliament, "You [that is, the U.S.] have tried to deceive us … If we are strategic partners, you will have to respect us and move along with us. You [U.S.] tried to deceive us. You sent 5,000 trucks of weapons there. You sent more than 2,000 trucks of ammunition there. We wanted weapons from you to buy with our money, but you did not give any to us. What kind of a strategic partnership or solidarity is this?" As an aside, Russia support Turkey's capture of Afrin. There is some risk of confrontation with Turkey and Russia over Manbij. (032018)

USAF to send more Airmen to Romania


General Tod Wolter's, commander USAF Europe, has told reporters the USAF is planning to send more Airmen to Romania. The USA intends to build up and improve Mihail Kogainiceanu military base. The Romanians have asked the US to base forces in Romania permanently. The base is part of the Mihail Kogainiceanu Airport and was once home to the Romanian AF 57th Air Base operating the MiG-29 fighter, the only Romanian unit to do so. It was closed in 2004. The US now operates Sustainment Force 16 which includes combat and support troops, the Black Sea Area Support team, the 780th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, the Black Sea Rotation Force of Marines. USAF fighter aircraft have rotated in and out. The Romanian Air Force is the host. It does have MiG-29s in open storage. The USAF once operated a major logistics hub at Manas AB in Kyrgykstan to support operation in Afghanistan but the country told the US to leave. This base in Romania is now supporting that mission along with others. (032018)

US fighting wars in seven countries


Defense One reported on March 15, 2018 that the US is fighting wars officially in seven countries. The White House issued a report entitled, “Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States’ Military Force and Related National Security Operations." It says the US is fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Niger under an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in 2002. The enemies are listed as al-Qaeda, ISIS, Houtis, Taliban, Haqqani Network, Assad, al-Shabab and "elements in Niger assessed to be part of ISIS."Defense One said, "The 2002 AUMF “contains no geographic limitation on where authorized force may be employed… to defend the national security of the United States.” (031518)

US pulling aircraft and families out of Incirlik, Turkey


The WSJ reported on March 11, 2018 that the USAF has been reducing combat air operations from Turkey's Incirlik AB in response to worsening relations with Turkey. The USAF earlier moved a squadron of A-10 Warthog close air support aircraft from Incirlik to Afghanistan. The USAF has also been reducing the population of US families at the base. Turkey has not made the USAF do this, but has been using the base as leverage against the US, so the US is removing that from Turkey's hand. The USAF had not assigned aircraft permanently to the base, but tankers, transports, and fighters have been using it. Germany announced a similar decision in June and has moved its people, and surveillance and refueling aircraft to Jordan. Readers will recall that Kyrgyzstan told the US is must leave Manas AB in 2014. The US was using it as a transit center to support forces in Afghanistan. The moral of the story is there are always options. (031118)

A combatant command for space?


Officials in the Pentagon remain unhappy with the way the US is currently organized for space operations. The US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has the con for the Air Force Space Command and Army Space and Missile Command, but not the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, which reports directly to the Chief of Naval Operations, as the Navy is always wont to do. One thing is certain. US space policy is to dominate space. To do that many feel it needs a combatant command ready to fight in space. There was an effort to create a new military service, the Space Corps, patterned after the Marine Corps. That failed, but is not yet dead. Command and control is a big driver in the debate. But so is acquisition funding where there are many shortfalls. Each entity now does its own acquisition without benefit of having to compete against the other services. The idea would be to coordinate all acquisition under a single combatant command. (030818)

CSAF predicts space warfare in a matter of years


US Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein predicted it’ll only be a “matter of years” before American forces find themselves “fighting from space.” He made these comments on February 2, 2018 at the Air Force Association's 34th Air War Symposium and Technology Exposition. Goldfein said: “[It’s] time for us as a service, regardless of specialty badge, to embrace space superiority with the same passion and sense of ownership as we apply to air superiority today ... I believe we’re going to be fighting from space in a matter of years ... And we are the service that must lead joint war fighting in this new contested domain. This is what the nation demands.” He is urging rapid development of new technologies. (022718)

Two USN destroyers enter Black Sea


The USN guided missile destroyers USS Ross (DDG-71) and USS Carney (DDG-64) entered the Black Sea over this past weekend, February 17-18, 2018, the first time more than one USN ship has been in the Black Sea other than during exercises. Jim Holmes, Naval War College professor of strategy commented, "We’re putting Russia on notice in the Black Sea and China on notice in the South China Sea that we will not be deterred from going into those waters, and doing so in force." The photo shows the Carney transiting the Bosphorus Strait on February 17, 2018. (022918)

Pacific Commander says "we should prepare for war with China"


Admiral Harry Harris, USN, the US Pacific Commander (PACOM), told Congress the US should prepare for the possibility of war with China. He will retire in 2019 and has been nominated to be the US ambassador to Australia. Harris said, "China's intent is crystal clear. We ignore it at our peril. I'm concerned China will now work to undermine the international rules-based order … Key advancements include fielding significant improvements in missile systems, developing fifth-generation fighter aircraft capabilities, and growing the size and capability of the Chinese Navy to include their first overseas base in the port of Djibouti … China's impressive military build-up could soon challenge the United States across almost every domain … If the United States does not keep pace, Pacific Command (PACOM) will struggle to compete with the People's Liberation Army on future battlefields." (021918)

Tillerson warns of nuclear war with North Korea


SecState Tillerson has warned that North Korea's leader's threats against the Krean peninsula and the US "does make us nervous" and said "That kind of a threat to the American people by a regime like this is not acceptable … I’m gonna use all the time available to me our diplomatic efforts will continue until that first bomb drops … My job is to never have a reason for the first bomb to drop … And we don't know precisely how much time is left on the clock.” (021918)

US forces' counterattack in Syria probably kills Russian mercenaries


The inevitable appears to have happened, US vs Russia in Syria. On February 7, 2018 fighters aligned with Syrian president Assad attacked Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions in Der al-Zour Province, east central Syria. They reportedly crossed the Euphrates River and shelled the SDF base. American forces were on that base. In retaliation, US air and artillery counterattacked and forced the pro-Assad fighters to retreat. In a more cloudy episode, it appears the US counterattacks killed at least two if not many Russian mercenaries supporting the pro-SDF forces. SecDef Mattis said he was waiting for more information and the Russians have not confirmed the deaths. The Russian company Wagner who hires such mercenaries has not commented either. Thus far only media reports say Russians died. Over the weekend, a USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone did fire on a Russian-made T-72 tank threatening SDF and US forces and destroyed it. (021418)

US anti-ISIS Coalition vs Iranian-Russian Coalition, eastern Syria, Turkey in northwest


The US is now having to face an Iranian-Russian coalition hell bent on keeping Assad in power in northeastern Syria. The Russian-Iranian military coalition conducted a major coordinated attack against the US-led anti-ISIS coalition in eastern Syria on February 7, 2018. US forces were at the base under attack, and that forced US force protective retaliatory air strikes, good enough to stop the opposing force advance. The Iranians want to get east of the Euphrates River to the lucrative oil and gas fields. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said, "Russian private military contractors and Lebanese Hezbollah participated in the attack. Russian officers maintained continuous communication with U.S. military officials through the deconfliction hotline during the attack in order to obfuscate Russia's direct role in the incident. Russia both supported the attack and simultaneously gave the impression of genuine efforts to prevent the attack in order to confuse senior U.S. decision makers." Rick Francona, writing in "Middle East Perspectives," said "The Russians and US are going to face off on northeastern Syria, Turkey and the US will face off in northwestern Syria, Israel and Iran/Hizballah in south and central Syria." And now we have the Israel-Iranian confrontation building. Iran wants to set up many missile bases in Syria, like it has done in Lebanon, to threaten Israel. So it does not look good at this point. (021218)

General Votel says "not our intention to pul back from Manjib," but …


General Joseph Votel, USA, commander Central Command, said on January 29, 2018, "It is not our intention right now" to pull back from Manjib as Turkish forces have insisted the US do. He said further, "There’s two key objectives we have to keep in mind. One is we have to address Turkey’s very real concerns about security along their border … That is a legitimate concern. We acknowledge that; we have always acknowledged that. The other objective we have to do is we have to ensure a lasting defeat of ISIS. And the partner that we have chosen on the ground is the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), that includes Kurds and Arabs. There’s obviously a rub here — the Kurds that we operate with, the Turks view them as, part and parcel, as PKK. We do not view them that way." Votel has emphasized the importance of focusing on defeating ISIS, he has said the Kurds in the SDF are central to that, and he has even asked the world for help. (012918)

Turkey threatens sweep across Syria, threat to US


Addendum, January 27, 2018: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on January 27, 2018 that US military forces need to leave the Manjib area of northern Syria. It appears that Turkish forces intend to move to the town. The photo shows US forces in Manjib in March 2017. I do not know how many are still there. The New York Times has reported there is a contingent of US special forces there. The US has not yet indicated whether it will move its forces away from Manjib. (012718)


Turkey's President Erdogan threatened on January 26, 2018 to push his forces across the breadth of northern Syria, attacking Kurdish forces there. The next target could be Manjib, abut 100 km east of their current positions in Afrin. This could threaten US forces operating with the Kurds in that area The US ahs about 2,000 troops there now. Turkey reportedly knows where US forces are and will not threaten them, but ... The US has asked Turkey to curtail its offensive against the Kurds in Syria, and focus instead n ISIS. In turn Turkey has called on the US to withdraw and clear the way. As an aside, Turkey continues to allow the US to operate out of Incirlik AB in Turkey. (012618)

New Navy Ship, USS Little Rock, stuck in ice in Montreal


The UK's Daily Mail reported on January 21, 2018, "The US Navy's newest littoral combat ship, the USS Little Rock, is stuck in ice in Montreal and will not be able to move until the spring thaw. "The USS Little Rock was commissioned on December 16 in Buffalo, New York, and scheduled to depart the following day for its home port at Mayport Naval Station. A sustained blast of Arctic air that extended from late December into January caused ice to form faster than normal within in the Seaway, according to the St Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. The Seaway closed for the season on January 11 and will open again in March. CBC News reported the ship has been stuck there since Christmas Eve. The photo shows her moored in Montreal's Old Port Sunday, January 21, 2018.She was on her way to Florida.

This is incredible. The Navy really has some very serious leadership problems. It is crashing its ships, only half its F/A-18 fleet is flyable, officers and commanders are being fired left and right at all levels, and some are involved in criminal activities. (012218)

Trouble in Syria: Turkey-Russia vs US-Turkey attacks


Addendum, January 21, 2018: Turkish ground forces have crossed the border into a Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin according to Turkish , Turkish President Erdogan on January 21, 2018.


Addendum, January 20, 2018: Turkish Air Force fighter aircraft have attacked Kurdish fighters on the Syrian side of the border, some or many of whom are and have been allied with the US. The Russian have moved forces out of the way and say they will not interfere.

Jennifer Cafarella and Elizabeth Teonman with Bradley Hanlon described the "Key Takeaway" about this for the Institute for the Study of War:

"Turkey launched an air-ground operation against the American partner force in Syria, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), in Afrin district northwest of Aleppo City on January 20th, 2018. Turkey's goal is to extend its buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border. Turkey may subsequently attack the town of Manbij, east of Afrin on the banks of the Euphrates River. Turkey's operations threaten to provoke a widening Turkish-Kurdish war that could unravel the U.S. stabilization effort in eastern Syria, place U.S. service members in Manbij at risk, and force the U.S. to reconsider support for the YPG."

TurkeyArmy Syria

Original story, January 18, 2018: 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."


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


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


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


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)