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- 02/22/17--05:18: _Russia to produce 1...
- 02/22/17--06:23: _Trump's hiring free...
- 02/22/17--07:15: _Former Joint Chiefs...
- 02/22/17--07:25: _Second-in-command o...
- 02/22/17--07:34: _US officials: China...
- 02/22/17--12:13: _Russia acknowledges...
- 02/23/17--07:16: _A startling number ...
- 02/23/17--11:43: _The US Navy may hav...
- 02/23/17--13:37: _Beijing cements Sou...
- 02/23/17--14:10: _Syria's warring fac...
- 02/26/17--08:25: _Germany sees nearly...
- 02/26/17--10:00: _Malaysia declares a...
- 02/26/17--12:02: _Father of Navy SEAL...
- 02/27/17--05:31: _For the 2nd time, a...
- 02/27/17--06:57: _Tillerson pushed by...
- 02/27/17--08:46: _Trump boosts defens...
- 02/27/17--09:08: _South Korea: 'It is...
- 02/27/17--11:31: _The Pentagon plans ...
- 02/27/17--11:55: _White House respond...
- 02/27/17--13:27: _Mattis once said if...
- 02/22/17--07:25: Second-in-command of Yemen's army killed by Houthi missile attack
- 02/27/17--11:31: The Pentagon plans to test its 'Iron Man' suit by 2018
- 02/27/17--11:55: White House responds to father of Navy SEAL killed in Yemen raid
MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian military received a sweeping array of new weapons last year, including 41 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the wide-ranging military modernization will continue this year, the defense minister said Wednesday.
Minister Sergei Shoigu told lawmakers the air force will receive 170 new aircraft, the army will receive 905 tanks and other armored vehicles while the navy will receive 17 new ships this year.
Amid tensions with the West, the Kremlin has continued to spend big on new weapons despite Russia's economic downturn.
Also this year, three regiments of Russia's strategic nuclear forces will receive new intercontinental ballistic missiles, Shoigu said. Each regiment has up to 10 launchers.
The rising number of new weapons has raised demands for new personnel. Shoigu said the military currently needs 1,300 more pilots and will recruit them by 2018.
A severe money crunch after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union left the military in tatters, with most of its planes grounded and ships left rusting at harbor for lack of funds. As part of President Vladimir Putin's military reforms, the armed forces have received new weapons and now engage in regular large-scale drills.
Russia has used its revived military capability in Syria, where it has launched an air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and used the conflict to test its new weapons for the first time in combat.
The weapons modernization effort has seen the 1-million Russian military narrow the technological gap in some areas where Russia had fallen behind the West, such as long-range conventional weapons, communications and drone technologies.
Shoigu said the military now has 2,000 drones compared to just 180 in 2011. He also noted that Russia has now deployed new long-range early warning radars to survey the airspace along the entire length of its borders.
The minister said the military will complete the formation of three new divisions in the nation's west and southwest, and also deploy a new division on the Pacific Islands, which have been claimed by Japan.
The dispute over the Kuril Islands just north of Japan, which the former Soviet Union seized in the closing days of World War II, has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty.
Russia previously has deployed new long-range anti-ship missiles on the Kurils to protect the coast.
The deployment of a full-fledged Russian army division there appears intended to stake Moscow's claim to the islands, which have strategic importance and are surrounded by fertile fishing grounds.
A federal civilian hiring freeze ordered by President Donald Trump has forced at least two Army bases to indefinitely suspend some child care programs.
Officials at Fort Knox, Kentucky, notified families Feb. 17 of the suspension to the on-base part-day child development center (CDC) programs, its hourly care program and the enrollment of new families into the CDC.
"Effective immediately, no new children will be enrolled in the CDC," states the letter, signed by Fort Knox garrison commander Col. Stephen Aiton. "Also, effective 27 February 2017, the CDC will no longer accommodate childcare for our hourly care and part day families until further notice."
The CDC's part-day programs include its part-day preschools. Many military families, including some CDC workers, rely on hourly care for child care during part-time jobs or school hours, or when the full-time day care program is full. One Army spouse at Fort Knox reported that the wait list for her 1-year-old is estimated through July.
"We are prevented from bringing new caregivers on board but are still having our usual staff turnover and illnesses, which creates challenges to maintaining ratios and providing quality childcare," the Fort Knox letter states.
Officials at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, announced that all part-day programs will be suspended in a letter dated Feb. 22 but circulated Tuesday.
Part-day programs at Wiesbaden will be suspended starting March 1, that letter states. That letter does not address hourly care or other CDC enrollment.
"The closure is a result of staff shortage due to the federal hiring freeze," says the letter, signed by Wiesbaden garrison commander Col. Todd Fish.
At issue is a Jan. 23 White House directive freezing most hiring at all federal agencies.
Although a Feb. 1 Defense Department memo exempts from the freeze 16 categories of civilian workers, including "positions providing child care to the children of military personnel," Army base commanders are still required to get permission from the service secretary before filling positions, according to a Feb. 16 memo from Diane Randon, acting assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs.
As of Jan. 17, the Army's Child and Youth Services program had 12,000 positions systemwide with 2,657 vacancies, according to Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) officials. The Army child development center program has historically had problems keeping positions filled due to high turnover and a sluggish background check system through which all workers must be vetted.
"Issues include access to medical exams, the background checks and slow administration because of limited HR staffing as the Army gets smaller. Another issue is that many candidates take other jobs before an offer can be tendered," Bill Costlow, an IMCOM spokesman, said in January.
Child care programs account for about half of the Army's $1.1 billion annual budget for family programs, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey told senators at a hearing this month.
About 5,500 children are on child care wait lists at the 230 CDC locations worldwide, Army officials said in a recent release. The average wait time for a daycare spot is four months, the release said, with at least five bases with wait times of five months or longer. Army bases in Hawaii have the longest wait times at 16 months.
IMCOM officials said they are unaware of any other bases suspending their hourly or part-day programs as a result of the hiring freeze.
Officials with the Navy said although the service requires a similar approval process for hiring exemptions, they are unaware of any CDC programs being shuttered as a result.
Former US Navy Admiral and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen voiced his "grave concern" about US President Donald Trump's appointment of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as a member of the National Security Council.
In an interview with NPR, Mullen said that regardless of Bannon's political goals or his personal record, his presence as a political operative politicizes the NSC, whose primary concerns should always center around national security, and never around political goals like elections or legislation.
"Given the gravity of the issues the NSC deals with, it is vital that that body not be politicized, and Bannon's presence as a member of that body politicizes it instantly," said Mullen.
Asked if Mullen, who sat on the NSC under Bush and Obama, had any advice for Trump's new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mullen said McMaster's first priority should be to try and get Bannon off the council.
"See if there's a way to move Bannon off the council and then certainly Mr. Bannon can give his advice to the president any other way," said Mullen.
Bannon's appointment to the NSC Principals Committee, the interagency forum that deals with policy issues affecting national security, in January caused waves for its unprecedented nature, as it removed the nation's top military officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence as regular members of the NSC in favor of Bannon.
The second-in-command of Yemen army was killed on Wednesday when a missile fired by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement hit an army camp, a military source said, the most senior Yemeni officer killed in the country's civil war.
Major General Ahmed Saif al-Yafei was killed outside the strategic the Red Sea coast city of al-Mokha, which the army captured from the Houthis last month. Several other military personnel, including a colonel, also died in the attack, according to the online Arabic-language Aden al-Ghad newspaper.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's internationally-recognized government, backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, has been trying to re-take the country from the Houthis for nearly two years. The war has killed more than 10,000 people.
"(Yafei) was killed along with several others when the missile hit the camp near al-Mokha city early this morning," the military source, who is also a member of the general's family, told Reuters.
Hadi's presidential office said in a statement carried by the government-run news agency that Yafei died "while carrying out his heroic role of liberating the remainder of the al-Mokha district" from the Houthis. It gave no further details.
The Houthi-run news agency said its fighters targeted a vehicle in which Yafei was traveling on the outskirts of al-Mokha.
Aden al-Ghad said that the bodies of several officers who died in the attack along with Yafei have arrived at a hospital in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, where Hadi's government is based.
It identified one of them as a colonel but gave no further details on the other casualties.
Hadi supporters, backed by Gulf Arab troops, captured al-Mokha last month after weeks of heavy fighting around the small but strategic port city that had once served as a main port for exporting coffee.
Al-Mokha lies close to the Bab al-Mandab strait through which much of the world's oil passes.
China, in an early test of U.S. President Donald Trump, has nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, two U.S. officials told Reuters.
The development is likely to raise questions about whether and how the United States will respond, given its vows to take a tough line on China in the South China Sea.
China claims almost all the waters, which carry a third of the world's maritime traffic. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. Trump's administration has called China's island building in the South China Sea illegal.
Building the concrete structures with retractable roofs on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, part of the Spratly Islands chain where China already has built military-length airstrips, could be considered a military escalation, the U.S. officials said in recent days, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it, and these structures resemble others that house SAM batteries, so the logical conclusion is that's what they are for," said a U.S. intelligence official, referring to surface-to-air missiles.
Another official said the structures appeared to be 20 meters (66 feet) long and 10 meters (33 feet) high.
A Pentagon spokesman said the United States remained committed to "non-militarization in theSouth China Sea" and urged all claimants to take actions consistent with international law.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday he was aware of the report, though did not say if China was planning on placing missiles on the reefs.
"China carrying out normal construction activities on its own territory, including deploying necessary and appropriate territorial defense facilities, is a normal right under international law for sovereign nations," he told reporters.
In his Senate confirmation hearing last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raisedChina's ire when he said Beijing should be denied access to the islands it is building in the SouthChina Sea.
Tillerson subsequently softened his language, and Trump further reduced tensions by pledging to honor the long-standing U.S. "one China" policy in a Feb. 10 telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a December report that China apparently had installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven of the islands it has built in the South ChinaSea.
The officials said the new structures were likely to house surface-to-air missiles that would expand China's air defense umbrella over the islands. They did not give a time line on when they believed China would deploy missiles on the islands.
"It certainly raises the tension," Poling said. "The Chinese have gotten good at these steady increases in their capabilities."
On Tuesday, the Philippines said Southeast Asian countries saw China's installation of weapons in the South China Sea as "very unsettling" and have urged dialogue to stop an escalation of "recent developments."
Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay did not say what provoked the concern but said the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, hoped China and the United States would ensure peace and stability.
The U.S. intelligence official said the structures did not pose a significant military threat to U.S. forces in the region, given their visibility and vulnerability.
Building them appeared to be more of a political test of how the Trump administration would respond, he said.
"The logical response would also be political – something that should not lead to military escalation in a vital strategic area," the official said.
Chas Freeman, a China expert and former assistant secretary of defense, said he was inclined to view such installations as serving a military purpose - bolstering China's claims against those of other nations - rather than a political signal to the United States.
"There is a tendency here in Washington to imagine that it's all about us, but we are not a claimant in the South China Sea," Freeman said. "We are not going to challenge China's possession of any of these land features in my judgment. If that's going to happen, it's going to be done by the Vietnamese, or ... the Filipinos ... or the Malaysians, who are the three counter-claimants of note."
He said it was an "unfortunate, but not (an) unpredictable development."
Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that China's building of islands and putting military assets on them was "akin to Russia's taking Crimea" from Ukraine.
In his written responses to follow-up questions, he softened his language, saying that in the event of an unspecified "contingency," the United States and its allies "must be capable of limitingChina's access to and use of" those islands to pose a threat.
The Russian Defense Ministry has formalized its information-warfare efforts with a dedicated propaganda division, Russian state-run media said on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.
"Propaganda needs to be clever, smart and efficient," said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in reference to the new unit.
Retired Russian Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, who leads the defense-affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, said the unit would "protect the national defense interests and engage in information warfare."
But Russia has long been accused of spreading propaganda in the West. Business Insider's Barbara Tasch detailed one case where Russian outlets spread a false story of a Russian-born 13-year-old being raped in Germany by a group of three refugees.
Russia's use of propaganda as an element of "hybrid warfare" proved instrumental during the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the later insurgency in Ukraine.
Russia has vastly improved their conventional and nuclear military assets as well. An Associated Press report on Wednesday said that Russia will deliver 170 new aircraft, 905 new tanks and other armored vehicles, and 17 new naval ships.
Russia's forces in Eastern Europe now vastly outmatch NATO's.
A NATO spokeswoman told Reuters earlier this month that "NATO has been dealing with a significant increase in Russian propaganda and disinformation since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014."
A recent poll that had input from more than 11,000 people in February shows that about two-thirds of Americans worry that the US will become "engaged in a major war in the next four years."
The poll determined that 36% of Americans were very worried, 30% were worried, 25% not too worried, and only 8% not worried at all. But when looked at along party lines, a stark divide occurs.
Among Democrats, a whopping 88% expressed worry over a major war. Only 4 in 10 Republicans felt the same way.
On the issue of alliances, the US showed greater unity with 62% supporting alliances even if that means compromising, and 80% of respondents supported NATO.
But on the issue of the US's main geopolitical adversary, Russia, the partisan divide is alive and well. While overall 61% of Americans thought of Russia as unfriendly or an enemy to the US, only 49% of Republicans felt that way compared to 76% of Democrats.
Within the Republican party, 73% of 18-29 year olds, who grew up post-Cold War thought of Russia as an Ally or friend while 69% of Republicans aged 65 and up thought of Russia as unfriendly or an enemy.
The US Navy may have come across a common sense way to save billions on bombs, according to statements made from US officials at the AFCEA West 2017 conference.
For years now, the Navy has been working on the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) network to help detect, track, and intercept targets using a fused network of all types of sensors at the Navy's disposal.
Essentially, NIFC-CA allows one platform to detect a target, another platform to fire on it, and the original platform to help guide the missile to the target. The system recently integrated with F-35s, allowing an F-35 to guide a missile fired from a land-based version of a navy ship to hitting a target.
Business Insider previously reported that NIFC-CA can help F-35s take enemy targets and airspace without firing a shot, but remarks from Cmdr. David Snee, director for integration and interoperability at the warfare integration directorate, recently revealed that NIFC-CA can help save the Navy billions.
“Right now we’re in a world where if I can’t see beyond the horizon then I need to build in that sort of sensing and high-tech effort into the weapon itself,” Snee told conferene attendees, as noted by USNI News.
“But in a world where I can see beyond the horizon and I can target, then I don’t need to spend a billion dollars on a weapon that doesn’t need to have all that information. I just need to be able to give the data to the weapon at the appropriate time.”
According to Snee, with an integrated network of sensors allowing the Navy to see beyond the horizon, the costly sensors and guidance systems the US puts on nearly every single bomb dropped could become obsolete.
In the scenario described by Snee, today's guided or "smart bombs" could be replaced with bombs that simply receive targeting info from other sensors, like F-35s or E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.
Essentially, the "smart" part of the weapon's guidance would remain on the ship, plane, or other sensor node that fired them, instead of living on the missile and being destroyed with each blast.
The Navy would have to do extensive testing to make sure the bombs could do their job with minimal sensor technology. But the move could potentially save billions, as the US military dropped at least 26,000 bombs in 2016, the vast majority of which contained expensive sensors.
New satellite photography from the South China Sea confirms a nightmare for the US and champions of free navigation everywhere — Beijing has placed reinforced surface-to-air missiles in the Spratly Islands.
For years now, China has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea and militarizing them with radar outposts and missiles.
The latest move seems to have been years in the making, so it's not in response to any particular US provocation, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
China previously deployed close-in weapons systems, which often serve on ships as a last line of defense against incoming missiles, and have toggled on and off between positioning surface-to-air missiles on Woody island in the Parcel Islands chain. But this time it's different, according to CSIS' Bonnie Glasser, director of the China Power Project.
Satellite imagery shows the new surface-to-air missile sites are deployed in buildings with retractable roofs, meaning Beijing can hide the launchers, and that they're protected from small arms fire.
"This will provide them with more capability to defend the island itself and the installations on them," said Glaser.
Nations in the region have taken notice. Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay told reporters that foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) unanimously expressed concern over China's land grab in a resource-rich shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in commerce annually.
The move is "very unsettlingly, that China has installed weapons systems in these facilities that they have established, and they have expressed strong concern about this,” Yasay said, according to the South China Morning Post.
But Chinese media and officials disputed the consensus at ASEAN that their militarization had raised alarm, and according to Glaser, without a clear policy position from the Trump administration, nobody will stand up to China.
Currently, the US has an aircraft carrier strike group patrolling the South China Sea, but that clearly hasn't stopped or slowed Beijing's militarization of the region, nor has it meaningfully emboldened US allies to speak out against China.
"Most countries do not want to be confrontational towards China ... they don't want an adversarial relationship," said Glaser, citing the economic benefits countries like Laos and Cambodia get from cooperating with Beijing, the world's third largest economy and a growing regional power.
Instead, US allies in the Pacific are taking a "wait and see" approach to dealing with the South China Sea as Beijing continues to cement its dominance in the region and establish "facts in the water" that even the US's most advanced ships and planes would struggle to overcome.
The HQ-9 missile systems placed in the Spratlys resemble Russia's S-300 missile defense system, which can heavily contest airspace for about 100 miles.
According to Glaser, China has everything it needs to declare an air defense and identification zone — essentially dictate who gets to fly and sail in the South China Sea — except for the Scarborough Shoal.
"I think from a military perspective, now because they have radars in the Parcels and the Spartlys," China has radar coverage "so they can see what’s going on in the South China Sea with the exception of the northeastern quarter," said Glaser. "The reason many have posited that the Chinese would dredge" the Scarborough Shoal "is because they need radar coverage there."
The Scarborough Shoal remains untouched by Chinese dredging vessels, but developing it would put them a mere 160 miles from a major US Navy base at the Subic Bay in the Phillippines.
Installing similar air defenses there, or even radar sites, could effectively lock out the US or anyone else pursuing free navigation in open seas and skies.
While US President Donald Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of being tougher on China, a lack of clear policy has allowed Beijing to continue on its path of militarizing the region where six nations claim territory.
"For the most part, we are improving our relationships. All but one," Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of US 7th Fleet, said at a military conference on Tuesday.
Opposing sides in the Syrian war came face-to-face in U.N. peace talks for the first time in three years on Thursday, to hear mediator Staffan de Mistura implore them to cooperate to find a way out of almost six years of war.
"I ask you to work together. I know it's not going to be easy to end this horrible conflict and lay the foundation for a country at peace with itself, sovereign and unified," Mistura told the delegates sitting opposite each other on the stage of the U.N. assembly hall in Geneva.
Mistura will hold meetings with the delegations on Friday to establish a procedure for the talks, he told reporters after the opening session, adding it would be his "dream" to bring them back together for direct talks, but there was work to be done before that could happen.
At the last Geneva talks, 10 months ago, de Mistura had to shuttle between the parties who never met in the same room.
De Mistura told the representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's government and his opponents that they had a joint responsibility to end a conflict that had killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.
"The Syrian people desperately all want an end to this conflict and you all know it," he said.
"You are the first ones to tell us it. They are waiting for a relief from their own suffering and dream of a new road out of this nightmare to a new and normal future in dignity."
Describing the negotiations as an uphill task, he said they would center on U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 which calls for a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and transparent and accountable governance.
He said a shaky ceasefire brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran had opened a window of opportunity.
"The effort has jump-started the process ... to see if there is a political road forward and we don't want to miss this opportunity."
Neither delegation clapped the speech by de Mistura, who went to shake hands with both sides after his opening remarks. Even as he warmly embraced the opposition delegates, the government group were walking out of the room and did not turn back.
"We need direct talks to create empathy and trust in both sides. We still don't know if it will be direct or proximity talks, but the government has given no indication it wants to talk directly which inevitably shows how little they are committed to this process," a Western diplomat said.
The ceasefire - which excludes hardline jihadists such as Islamic State - was implemented after separate talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
But fighting continued even as the peace talks resumed, with Syrian jets bombing rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Deraa and Hama provinces and insurgents firing rockets at government targets.
The lead negotiator for the opposition - which is still fractured and does not have a completely unified delegation - said the Geneva talks should prioritize finding a political transition, something he said Assad's side did not want.
"If Staffan is serious he has to stick to the first subject in the agenda which is a political transition that is acceptable to the Syrian people," Nasr al-Hariri told reporters.
But Russia's envoy to the United Nations in Geneva, Alexei Borodavkin, said demands from rebels and their Western and Arab backers for Assad to step down were "absurd".
Hariri criticized the role played by Iran and Iranian-backed militias, which - with Russia - are vital Assad allies.
"Iran is the main obstacle to any kind of political deal," Hariri said, accusing Tehran of being responsible for violations of the ceasefire.
A Gulf Arab diplomat said of the talks: "I'm not optimistic."
De Mistura said the biggest challenge was lack of trust.
"We do know what will happen if we fail once again - more deaths more suffering, more terrorism, more refugees."
Berlin (AFP) - Germany saw more than 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum shelters last year, interior ministry data showed, amounting to nearly 10 acts of anti-migrant violence a day as the country grapples with a record influx of newcomers.
The assaults left 560 people injured, including 43 children, the ministry said in a written response to a parliamentary question seen by AFP Sunday.
The government "strongly condemns" the violence, the letter said.
"People who have fled their home country and seek protection in Germany have the right to expect safe shelter," it read.
A total of 2,545 attacks against individual refugees were reported last year, the ministry wrote, citing police statistics.
There was no immediate comparison with previous years as it was only introduced as a separate category under politically motivated crimes in 2016.
Additionally, there were 988 instances of housing for refugees and asylum seekers being targeted last year, the ministry said, including arson attacks.
That was slightly down on 2015 when there were just over 1,000 criminal acts against refugee shelters. In 2014, there were only 199 such cases.
The sharp rise in hate crimes came after Germany took in some 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 at the height of Europe's refugee crisis.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open the doors to those fleeing conflict and persecution polarised the country and fuelled support for the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
The number of arrivals fell sharply in 2016 to 280,000, mainly thanks to border closures on the Balkan overland route and an EU deal with Turkey to stem the inflow.
A lawmaker for Germany's far-left Die Linke party, Ulla Jelpke, blamed the anti-migrant violence on far-right extremists and urged the government to take stronger action.
"We're seeing nearly 10 (criminal) acts a day," she told the Funke Mediengruppe, a German regional newspaper group.
"Do people have to die before the rightwing violence is considered a central domestic security problem and makes it to the top of the national policy agenda?" she asked.
A German neo-Nazi was sentenced to eight years in jail this month for burning down a sports hall set to house refugees, causing damage worth 3.5 million euros ($3.7 million).
In another case that shocked Germany, a crowd of onlookers cheered and applauded as an asylum shelter went up in flames in the country's former communist east last February.
Malaysia on Sunday declared its international airport a "safe zone" after completing a sweep of the terminal where the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was assaulted with a deadly chemical last week.
Kim Jong Nam died on Feb. 13 after being smothered at the airport's budget terminal with VX nerve agent, classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.
Since then, tens of thousands of people have passed through the terminal, with the location of the assault remaining accessible.
The police forensic team, fire department and Atomic Energy Licensing Board swept the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA2) at 1 a.m. on Feb. 26 (1700 GMT on Feb. 25).
"We confirm, number one, there is no hazardous material found in KLIA2, number two, KLIA2 is free from any form of contamination of hazardous material and thirdly, KLIA2 is declared a safe zone," Abdul Samat Mat, the police chief of Selangor state who is leading the investigation, told reporters at the airport.
The location of the assault was cordoned off during the sweep but the rest of the terminal remained open.
Security camera footage released by Japanese broadcaster Fuji TV showed the moment two women assaulted Kim Jong Nam with a cloth authorities suspect was laced with the nerve agent.
In later clips Kim is seen asking airport officials for medical help. Airport authorities said he complained of dizziness and died on the way to hospital.
Authorities have said there have been no anomalies in medical cases reported at the clinic since the incident. They also said medical staff at the clinic are in good health.
The two women - one Indonesian and one Vietnamese - have been detained, along with a North Korean man.
Seven other North Koreans have been identified as suspects or are wanted for questioning, four of whom have since left for Pyongyang, police said.
Police are also sweeping other locations in Kuala Lumpur that suspects may have visited.
Police chief Abdul Samah said on Saturday authorities raided an apartment in an upscale Kuala Lumpur suburb earlier this week in connection with the death, and were checking for any traces of unusual chemicals in the apartment.
Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in exile with his family in Macau under Chinese protection, had spoken publicly in the past against his family's dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed state.
South Korean and U.S. officials said he was assassinated by North Korean agents. North Korea has not acknowledged his death.
Malaysia's health minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said at a press conference on Sunday that autopsy findings were consistent with police reports.
The minister said the chemical caused "serious paralysis which led to the death of the person in such a short period of time."
The Indonesian attacker, Siti Aishah, was reported to be unwell, possibly due to contact with the chemical.
Subramaniam said authorities were running tests to ascertain whether Siti was affected by the chemical.
At another event Subramanium said Kim Jong Nam would have died within 15-20 minutes after VX was applied on his face. He added that identifying the body officially is still a challenge.
"Best would be to have the next of kin, blood-related kin, where we can do a DNA profiling...so that is the challenge," he said.
No next of kin has claimed the body. While Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed Kim Jong Nam's identity, official confirmation is pending.
Malaysia said on Saturday that it may issue an arrest warrant for a North Korean diplomat wanted for questioning over the case, as diplomatic tensions between the two countries escalated over the killing.
The diplomat is not known to have met the police yet.
The father of William "Ryan" Owens, the Navy SEAL Team 6 member who was the first US combat death during US President Donald Trump's presidency in January, urged the Trump administration to not "hide behind my son's death" and provide answers.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Bill Owens, also a Navy veteran, called for an investigation into the raid that left his son, an eight-year-old girl, and as many as 29 civilians dead.
US military sources told Reuters that the fledgling Trump administration executed the raid "without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations."
The Obama administration had originally vetted and approved the raid at the very end of Obama's term, but put off the mission, as military planners thought it would be best to proceed on a moonless night.
The raid, which marked the first use of US ground troops in Yemen's two-year-old civil war, resulted in the destruction of a $70 million dollar MV-22 Osprey helicopter. It was criticized by Sen. John McCain of Arizona as a "failure."
The White House has strongly pushed back on disapproval stemming from the raid.
"It's absolutely a success,"said White House spokesman Sean Spicer on February 8 of the raid. Spicer later described it as a "huge success."
"I think anyone who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and a disservice to the life of Chief Owens," Spicer said. "The raid, the action that was taken in Yemen was a huge success. American lives will be saved because of it. Future attacks will be prevented."
But Owens' father suggested he has plenty of questions about the raid.
“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’ Owens told the paper.
Furthermore, Owens demanded an investigation.
“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” Owens said. "I want an investigation. … The government owes my son an investigation."
But the Trump administration's own position on inquiries into the raid may have shifted since Spicer's comments earlier this month. White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on ABC's "This Week" that she imagines Trump "would be supportive of" an investigation into the raid.
Spicer has justified the raid and its heavy losses by saying that the intelligence recovered from the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen would save future American lives.
Bill Roggio, editor of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Long War Journal, previously told Business Insider that Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen does plan international attacks. He said some of the intelligence on these attacks can only be recovered by going in and actually confiscating hard drives.
"This is a branch that's at the forefront of launching plots to blow up airliners and attack airlines," Roggio said.
Roggio said it would be "hard to know" if the mission succeeded or not without seeing the intelligence recovered — "and we’re never going to see it."
Trump made a surprise trip to pay respects to Owens' casket as it returned to the US, but the elder Owens said he declined to meet the president.
"I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him," Owens told the Herald.
US President Donald Trump's pick for secretary of the Navy withdrew from consideration on Sunday, the second time a Trump nominee to lead one of the armed services bowed out because of government conflict-of-interest rules.
Trump last month nominated Philip Bilden, a private equity executive and former military intelligence officer, to lead the Navy, which the president has pledged he will expand.
In a statement on Sunday, Bilden said that "after an extensive review process, I have determined that I will not be able to satisfy the Office of Government Ethics requirements without undue disruption and materially adverse divestment of my family's private financial interests."
The development leaves Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis without nominees to head both the Navy and Army.
Vincent Viola, whom the president had picked to be secretary of the Army, withdrew earlier this month.
In a statement, Mattis said he was disappointed but understood Bilden's decision. "In the coming days I will make a recommendation to President Trump for a leader who can guide our Navy and Marine Corps team as we execute the president's vision to rebuild our military," he said.
(Reporting by Warren Strobel; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is under pressure to chronicle war crimes committed by Russia and Syria, from a bipartisan group of lawmakers that is pushing for "accountability" at the end of the Syrian civil war.
"We respectfully request that you work to ensure [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, Russia, and Iran are made to answer for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria," Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and 13 other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Tillerson on Friday.
The senators renewed their call for designating Assad as a war criminal in light of an Amnesty International report that said between 5,000 and 13,000 people have been tortured and executed in a Syrian prison.
"Sufficient documentation exists to charge Bashar al-Assad with war crimes and crimes against humanity," the senators wrote. "He has lost legitimacy as Syria's leader."
Amnesty International published a report this month on "a hidden, monstrous campaign" to kill civilians "authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government." The report was based on interviews with 84 people, including 34 men formerly detained at Saydnaya Military Prison and "four prison officials or guards" who worked there.
"The guard would ask everyone to take off all their clothes and go to the bathroom one by one," the report quoted one witness. "As we walked to the bathroom, they would select one of the boys, someone petite or young or fair. They would ask him to stand with his face to the door and close his eyes. They would then ask a bigger prisoner to rape him... No one will admit this happened to them, but it happened so often... Sometimes psychological pain is worse than physical pain, and the people who were forced to do this were never the same again."
The senators also accused Russian forces of committing war crimes "such as the bombing of a humanitarian convoy on September 19, 2016" in support of Assad. They want Tillerson to make the case for the withdrawal of Russian and Iranian forces from Syria as well.
"Russia and Iran's ongoing military operations in support of Assad make Russian and Iranian leaders complicit in Assad's war crimes and crimes against humanity," they wrote. "As you review U.S. policy toward Russia and participate in the Administration's planning to defeat ISIS, Russia's role in the tragic deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians must be considered. Russia must join the international community in seeking to hold Assad accountable, stop enabling the slaughter of the Syrian people, and undertake efforts to remove Iran-affiliated fighters from Syria."
That last step would help alleviate a growing worry among U.S. policymakers that, following the defeat of ISIS as a terror-state by American-led coalition forces, Russia and Iran might mobilize to destroy other U.S.-backed forces in the country.
"[Iran will] immediately begin the push to take away all of our influence and try to push us out of there, and probably use their Shia allies to threaten our troops and other personnel on the ground," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who signed the letter to Tillerson, predicted in a recent interview with the Washington Examiner.
President Donald Trump will seek to boost Pentagon spending by $54 billion in his first budget proposal and cut the same amount from non-defense spending, including a large reduction in foreign aid, a White House budget official said on Monday.
The Associated Press reported that Trump's fiscal year 2018 budget would decrease funding to the Environmental Protection Agency and some programs at the State Department.
“We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools to deter war, and when called upon to fight in our name, only do one thing — win,” said Trump in a televised speech at the White House.
“We have to win. We have to start winning wars again," said Trump. “We don’t fight to win. We’ve either got to win or don’t fight it at all.”
Trump will let the Department of Defense decide how to spend the extra billions and most federal agencies will see reductions in funding, an official from the Office of Management and Budget told reporters. The official said Trump's first budget will not address taxes or mandatory spending.
"We're going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable," Trump said in a meeting with governors in which he said he planned to propose a substantial increase in public safety spending.
US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein recently wrote a column in Defense One saying the Air Force had been sapped of readiness and funds over 26 years of global operations and four years under a sequester budget. Goldfein said the Air Force "urgently" needed funds by April, to "restores and rebuilds our nation’s Air Force."
Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of US F/A-18s currently can't fly because of budget cuts that led to a backlog on maintenance and sourcing new parts, Defense News reports. The Marine Times similarly reports that more than half of the Marine Corps' planes couldn't fly in December.
Trump's proposed budget is subject to congressional approval.
South Korea called on Monday for major powers to criminally pursue North Korea's leadership before its "ever-worsening" human rights record including mass executions and forced labor threatened world peace.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, in a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council, condemned the "assassination" of Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean's leader, two weeks ago in Malaysia by agents using VX nerve agent.
Malaysian authorities have identified eight North Korean nationals, including one diplomat, as suspects or as wanted for questioning, he said.
North Korea has not acknowledged the victim was Kim Jong Nam, but last week blamed Malaysia for the death of one of its citizens there, accusing it of an "unfriendly attitude" in a scenario drawn up by South Korea.
Yun told the 47-member forum in Geneva that several hundred high-level officials had been "openly or extrajudicially executed in North Korea not to mention the countless ordinary people."
It was no wonder increasing numbers of North Koreans had defected. "We all know who is ultimately responsible for the abuses and crimes," he added without elaborating.
Quoting U.N. reports, Yun said that up to 120,000 people were imprisoned in North Korean prison camps. "Indeed, the whole country has turned into a massive gulag with unrelenting surveillance," he said.
An aggravation of the human rights situation would threaten the peace and security of the international community. "We should act individually and collectively before the violation of human rights leads to a much bigger calamity," Yun said.
"... It is high time to end impunity for human rights violators including (North Korea's) ...leadership" and hold them accountable at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
There was no immediate reaction to Yun's comments from the delegation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) or its main ally China.
The top weapons buyer for U.S. Special Operations Command said earlier this month that the so-called Iron Man suit being developed for elite commandos may not end up being the exoskeleton armored ensemble popular in adventure movies.
It’s been four years since SOCOM leaders challenged the defense industry to come up with ideas for the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS — an ensemble that would provide operators with “more-efficient, full-body ballistics protection and beyond-optimal human performance” as well as embedded sensors and communications tech for heightened situational awareness.
Program officials are about “a year and a half” away from having a TALOS prototype that’s ready to put in the hands of operators for testing, James “Hondo” Geurts, acquisition executive and director for SOF AT&l at USSOCOM, told an audience at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium.
When the program began, it captured the public’s imagination and conjured images of high-tech ensembles worn in movies such as “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim” and “Starship Troopers.”
“We are on our fifth prototype,” Geurts said. “Will we get everything we want? Probably not. That was never the intent.”
SOCOM officials envisioned TALOS would feature integrated heaters and coolers to regulate the temperature inside the suit. Embedded sensors would monitor the operator’s core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels. In the event that the operator is wounded, the suit could feasibly start administering the first life-saving oxygen or hemorrhage controls.
This is not the first time the U.S. military has embarked on an effort to perfect smart-soldier technology. The Army is now equipping combat units with a secure, smartphone-based kit — known as Nett Warrior — that allows a leader to track subordinates’ locations in relation to his own position via icons on a digital map. The unit leaders can view satellite imagery and send text messages.
The technology has seen combat and given leaders a precise view of their tactical environment, empowering units to operate more decisively than ever before.
But the program’s success did not come easily. Land Warrior, the first generation of this computerized command-and-control ensemble, was plagued by failure. From its launch in 1996, the Army spent $500 million on three major contract awards before the system’s reliability problems were solved in 2006.
When TALOS began, SOCOM said it planned to funnel $80 million into research and development over a four-year timeline. Geurts did not say how much money SOCOM has spent so far on TALOS.
One of the biggest challenges is powering the suit, but also a type of control theory and deep learning, Geurts said.
In just walking, “we take for granted that when we put our arm out, that our foot is behind us to balance it,” he said.
Geurts said the program has had “tremendous hurdles” working with these technologies, but said the effort will likely result in spin-off technologies that can be fielded to operators before TALOS is operationally ready.
“So in TALOS, don’t just think exoskeleton and armor — think of the whole equation,” he said. “Survivability is part of what armor you are carrying, but it’s also a big part of whatever information you have, what is your situational awareness, how do you communicate. So as we are going down all those paths, we can leverage quickly some of the stuff that is ready to go right now.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday responded to the father of US Navy SEAL Chief William "Ryan" Owens, who was killed in action during a raid in Yemen, saying the Department of Defense would launch three investigations into the operation.
Owens' father, Bill, in an interview with The Miami Herald on Sunday, urged President Donald Trump to answer questions about the raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of his son, as many as 29 civilians, and the destruction of an MV-22 Osprey helicopter.
"Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn't even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?" Bill told The Herald.
In early February, Spicer told reporters in response to questions about the Yemen raid: "I think anyone who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and a disservice to the life of Chief Owens. ... The raid, the action that was taken in Yemen was a huge success."
But Bill Owens made it clear he firmly supports investigations into the raid and that he's not pleased with the White House seemingly using his family's tragedy to avoid answering questions about it.
"Don't hide behind my son's death to prevent an investigation," Owens said. "I want an investigation. … The government owes my son an investigation."
Spicer replied to Owens' request on Monday, saying it is "standard operating procedure" for the Department of Defense to review missions like the Yemen raid. In this case, according to Spicer, the investigation will be three-pronged, as the raid involved loss of equipment, loss of civilian life, and loss of a US Navy SEAL.
Spicer reiterated the importance of the information gained in the raid, which he has repeatedly characterized as helping to save American lives. Spicer again shied away from calling the raid a "100% success," as it led to Owens' death.
Bill Roggio, the editor of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Long War Journal, previously told Business Insider that Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen plans international attacks and that some of the intelligence on these attacks can be recovered only by going in and confiscating hard drives.
Ultimately, Roggio said it would be "hard to know" the success of the mission without seeing the intelligence recovered. "And we're never going to see it," he said.
US President Donald Trump announced on Monday that his budget plan for fiscal year 2018 would include a historically-high $54 billion bump on defense spending ,while cutting a similar amount from the State Department and foreign aid — but his own Secretary of Defense James Mattis may not agree with that strategy.
The budget plan reflects Trump's often expressed desire to rebuild a military that he categorizes as "crumbling" and "depleted," but may go against wisdom expressed by Mattis, who said in 2013 that funding to the State Department prevents war.
“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately," Mattis said, before members of Congress at a National Security Advisory Council meeting, the US Global Leadership Coalition notes.
"So I think it’s a cost-benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene,” Mattis continued.
In addition to the $54 billion Trump plans to request for 2018, administration sources said he will seek another $20 billion in supplementary military spending during fiscal year 2017, the Associated Press notes.
In 2016, the Department of Defense spent more than $516 billion, or about 14% of the budget on military programs, according to the US government.