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- 04/07/17--08:20: _Nikki Haley shuts d...
- 04/07/17--11:18: _Trump didn't need a...
- 04/07/17--12:30: _Monitor: Syrian war...
- 04/07/17--13:33: _Russia warns of 'ex...
- 04/07/17--13:34: _Syrian forces defia...
- 04/10/17--08:21: _Top Obama administr...
- 04/10/17--08:57: _At WWII memorial, T...
- 04/10/17--13:13: _Russia and the US s...
- 04/10/17--15:57: _Classroom murder-su...
- 04/10/17--16:12: _Russia sends 2 addi...
- 04/11/17--07:10: _Pressured by Trump,...
- 04/11/17--10:49: _The Air Force just ...
- 04/11/17--11:34: _Sean Spicer makes b...
- 04/11/17--13:02: _MATTIS: There is 'n...
- 04/11/17--13:40: _Defense Secretary M...
- 04/11/17--14:08: _MATTIS: Syrian stri...
- 04/12/17--06:11: _Whatever Trump said...
- 04/12/17--09:24: _China reportedly se...
- 04/12/17--10:32: _Putin slams Trump o...
- 04/12/17--10:57: _Here's who would wi...
- 04/07/17--11:18: Trump didn't need approval from Congress to strike Syria
- 04/12/17--10:57: Here's who would win in a war between North and South Korea
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley refused to hold a closed session on Friday about the U.S. missile strike against Syria, and instead forced a public session to shame countries who might defend Syria's chemical weapons attack.
"This morning, Bolivia requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss the events in Syria. It asked for the discussion to be held in closed session," Haley said in a statement.
"The United States, as president of the Council this month, decided the session would be held in the open. Any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full public view, for all the world to hear."
The meeting is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m.
Haley made headlines earlier this week after making an impassioned speech about Syria President Bashar Assad's chemical weapons attack on his own people. She ripped Russia's support for Assad and showed pictures of the effects of the sarin gas that killed up to 100 people and injured hundreds more.
President Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at a Syrian air base in the central part of the country Thursday in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack. The base is thought to be the place from where the chemical weapons attack originated.
U.S. officials don't believe the attack will cripple Assad's ability to do future attacks, but it was a signal sent to both Syria and the Russians that chemical weapons attacks are unacceptable.
Lawmakers slammed President Donald Trump for not seeking congressional approval before his strike on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military infrastructure on Thursday night, and while he could use their support — he didn't need it.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called the move an "ill-thought out military action" that "exposes the immoral hypocrisy of this administration's policy in the Middle East,"in a statement.
In 2011 former President Barack Obama did not seek Congress' approval to carry out a strike on Libya's Mummar Qaddafi.
Later, in 2016, Obama did not seek Congress' approval to strike Houthi-controlled radar sites in Yemen after the Houthis had targeted US Navy ships with anti-ship guided missiles.
"The law as to declaration of war is very clear in the constitution," Lawrence Brennan, a former US Navy captain and expert on maritime law, told Business Insider. "Having said that," he added, the constitutional law on declaring war "has not been followed since World War II."
The War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973 over then-President Richard Nixon's veto, enshrined Congress' right to approve or reject military action that lasts longer than 60 days. For now, the Trump administration has given every indication that the strike was limited, and a one-off.
Speaking about the cruise missile strike at a briefing late on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said "I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that [the strike] to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.”
However, "at the end of the game, Congress controls the budget. They can do what Congress did with Ford at the end of the Vietnam war — cut off the funding," said Brennan.
So while Trump acted within the legal and practical norms of the presidency with his unilateral strike on Syria, congressional authorization for limited strikes is "lawfully not required, but practically, often a good thing," according to Brennan.
Syrian warplanes took off from an air base that was hit by U.S. cruise missiles on Friday, and carried out airstrikes on rebel-held areas in the eastern Homs countryside, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The U.S. Navy had fired dozens of missiles at the air base near Homs city in response to a chemical attack this week, which Washington and its allies blamed on the Damascus government.
The British-based Observatory, a group monitoring the Syrian war using sources on the ground, said eight people had been killed in the U.S. attack.
The extent of the damage to the Shayrat air base was not entirely clear, but the Syrian warplanes had "done the impossible" to continue using it for sorties, the Observatory told Reuters.
Russia warned on Friday that U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base could have "extremely serious" consequences, as President Donald Trump's first major foray into a foreign conflict opened up a rift between Moscow and Washington.
The warships USS Porter and USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles that hit the airstrip, aircraft and fuel stations of Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon says was involved in a chemical weapons attack this week.
It was Trump's biggest foreign policy decision since taking office in January and the kind of direct intervention in Syria's six-year-old civil war his predecessor Barack Obama avoided.
The strikes were in reaction to what Washington says was a poison gas attack by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that killed at least 70 people in rebel-held territory.
They catapulted Washington into confrontation with Russia, which has advisers on the ground aiding its close ally Assad.
"We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the U.S. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Russia's deputy U.N. envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged that the U.S. strikes were one step away from clashing with Russia's military.
U.S. officials informed Russian forces ahead of the missile strikes and avoided hitting Russian personnel.
Satellite imagery suggests the base houses Russian special forces and helicopters, part of the Kremlin's effort to help Assad fight Islamic State and other militant groups.
Trump has frequently urged improved relations with Russia, strained under Obama over Syria, Ukraine and other issues, but he said action had to be taken against Assad.
"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically," Trump said as he announced the attack on Thursday night from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"Prepared to do more"
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Friday the Trump administration was ready to take further steps if needed.
"We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary," she told the U.N. Security Council. "The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons."
Iran, which supports Assad and has been criticized by Trump, condemned the strike, with President Hassan Rouhani saying it would bring "only destruction and danger to the region and the globe."
U.S. allies from Asia, Europe and the Middle East expressed support, if sometimes cautiously.
U.S. officials called the intervention a "one-off" intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the U.S. role in the Syrian war.
The action is likely to be interpreted as a signal to Russia, and countries such as North Korea, China and Iran where Trump has faced foreign policy tests early in his presidency, of his willingness to use force.
The United States is now likely to more aggressively pursue intelligence about Syria's suspected chemical weapons program. The Pentagon has also signaled interest in determining any Russian complicity.
"At a minimum, the Russians failed to rein in the Syrian regime activity," a senior U.S. military official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Russia joined the war on Assad's behalf in 2015, turning the momentum in his favor. Although Moscow supports opposing sides in the war between Assad and rebels, the United States and Russia say they share a single main enemy, Islamic State.
Senior U.S. military officials said the attack on the air base destroyed up to 20 Syrian aircraft and damaged fuel sites and a surface-to-air missile system.
Assad's office said Syria would strike its enemies harder.
Damascus and Moscow denied Syrian forces were behind the gas attack but Western countries dismissed their explanation that chemicals leaked from a rebel weapons depot after an air strike.
The Syrian army said the U.S. attack killed six people and called it "blatant aggression" that made the United States a partner of "terrorist groups" including Islamic State. There was no independent confirmation of civilian casualties.
U.S. lawmakers from both parties on Friday backed Trump's action but demanded he spell out a broader strategy for dealing with the conflict and consult with Congress on any further action.
The U.N. Security Council had been negotiating a resolution, proposed by the United States, France and Britain on Tuesday, to condemn the gas attack and push the Syrian government to cooperate with international investigators.
Russia said the text was unacceptable and diplomats said it was unlikely to be put to a vote.
Tillerson to Moscow
Russia expects U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to explain Washington's stance when he visits Moscow next week, Interfax news agency cited a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman as saying.
Washington has long backed rebels fighting Assad in a multi-sided civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and driven half of Syrians from their homes since 2011.
The United States has conducted air strikes against Islamic State, which controls territory in eastern and northern Syria, and a small number of U.S. troops are helping rebel militias.
Asked whether the strikes set back any efforts to work with Russia to defeat Islamic State, sometimes known as ISIS, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said:
"There can be a shared commitment to defeat ISIS and also agree that you can’t gas your own people.”
Tuesday's attack was the first time since 2013 that Syria was accused of using sarin, a banned nerve agent it was meant to have given up under a Russian-brokered, U.N.-enforced deal that persuaded Obama to call off air strikes four years ago.
Video depicted limp bodies and children choking while rescuers tried to wash off the poison gas. Russian state television blamed rebels and did not show footage of victims.
The U.S. strikes cheered Assad's enemies, after months when Western powers appeared to grow increasingly resigned to his staying in power. But opposition figures said an isolated assault was far from the decisive intervention they seek.
Neither the Trump administration nor its predecessor has laid out a policy aimed at ending the Syrian conflict.
"The big question for all those who are engaged in military action in Syria is what is their plan to stop the killing and bring a durable peace that can deliver a modicum of hope to the people of Syria?" David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee humanitarian agency, told Reuters Television.
Less than 24 hours after two US Navy destroyers pulled up to Syria's Mediterranean coast and let fly a blistering salvo of 59 cruise missiles, Syrian warplanes took off from the damaged air base targeted by the strike, according to the Syrian Human Rights Observatory.
The US strike, retaliation for a chemical attack in northeastern Syria that killed at least 80 people earlier this week, targeted "aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars" at Shayrat air base, according to a Pentagon statement.
But Syria and its Russian backers have many air bases and lots of military infrastructure in the country.
The US intentionally launched a limited strike, which was too small and focused to realistically prevent Syrian forces from flying military aircraft in their country.
"The US took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict," said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. "Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield."
Images of the aftermath of the strike released by the Pentagon show that the air base's runways — which the US suspects Syrian forces used to launch the aircraft that carried out the deadly chemical attack — were unharmed by the cruise missiles, while aircraft hangars bore the brunt of the damage.
Despite being warned about the strike and suffering no casualties, Russia responded by suspending military communications and agreements with the US, increasing the risk that an accidental clash of US and Russian forces, who operate close to each other in Syria, could escalate into a larger conflict.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the move put the US and Russia "one step away" from clashing.
After the strike, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian rebel groups called for more US action against Syrian government forces.
According to Reuters, Nikki Haley, the US's ambassador to the UN, told an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Friday that the US was "prepared to do more" against the Assad regime, "but we hope that will not be necessary."
"The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used," she said. "It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons."
When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed former US President Barack Obama's "red line" by using chemical weapons, instead of responding with military force, Obama made a deal — but now former Obama administrations are saying it may not have worked.
“If the Syrian government carried out the attack and the agent was sarin, then clearly the 2013 agreement didn’t succeed" in eliminating Assad's chemical weapons, Robert Einhorn, the State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control under Obama told the New York Times.
“Either he didn’t declare all his C.W. [chemical weapons] and kept some hidden in reserve, or he illegally produced some sarin after his stock was eliminated — most likely the former.”
Obama's deal relied on the Russians to carry out inspections and remove Assad's chemical weapons in 2013, before Russian troops and warplanes officially entered the conflict in October 2015.
“For me, this tragedy underscores the dangers of trying to do deals with dictators without a comprehensive, invasive and permanent inspection regime,” Michael McFaul, Obama’s ambassador to Russia told The Times. “It also shows the limits of doing deals with Putin. Surely, the Russians must have known about these C.W.”
The assessment of the former diplomats under Obama fits with more recent statements from current President Donald Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said that Russia was either complicit or incompetent in removing Assad's chemical weapons.
While Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry have defended their move to seek a deal instead of using force against Syria by saying Congress denied them the authorization to act, Obama's administration did not seek congressional authorization for strikes in Libya and Yemen, as it is not required by the law in practice.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used a visit Monday to a World War II memorial to declare that the United States will stand up to aggressors who harm civilians, as the Trump administration sought to rally world leaders behind a strategy to resolve Syria's protracted civil war.
Opening his visit to Italy, Tillerson traveled up a winding mountain road to Sant'Anna di Stazzema, the Tuscan village where the Nazis massacred more than 500 civilians during World War II. As he laid a wreath at the site, Tillerson alluded to the chemical attack in Syria last week that triggered retaliatory US airstrikes.
"We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world," Tillerson said. "This place will serve as an inspiration to us all."
Tillerson's visit to Europe has been overshadowed from the start by President Donald Trump's decision to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons by launching cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. The US military action has renewed the world's focus on Assad's fate and on Syria's civil war, now in its seventh year.
The secretary of state's pledge to stand up for innocents came as Assad has continued to attack civilians in Syria in the days since the US airstrikes — including in the part of Idlib province where the chemical attack occurred. And while other US airstrikes in Syria have targeted the Islamic State group, the US has acknowledged that civilian casualties sometimes occur.
Tillerson plans to use his meetings with foreign ministers from the Group of 7 industrialized economies - normally a venue for wonky economic discussions - to try to persuade leading countries to support the US plan. The centerpiece of that diplomacy will come Tuesday morning when Tillerson takes part in a meeting of "likeminded" nations on Syria, including several Arab nations invited to attend.
The top American diplomat began to deliver that message on Monday when he met on the sidelines of the G-7 with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Both countries have voiced support for the US response to Assad's chemical weapons use.
The Trump administration is hoping that after defeating the Islamic State group in Syria, it can restore stability by securing local cease-fires between Assad's government and opposition groups that allow local leaders who have fled to return and by restoring basic services. The next step would be to use U.N. talks to negotiate a political transition that could include Assad leaving power.
From Italy, Tillerson will travel to Moscow, becoming the first Trump administration official to visit Russia. That trip, too, is fraught with tension over Syria: Tillerson has blamed Russia, Assad's strongest ally, of either complicity or incompetence for allowing Assad to possess and use chemical weapons.
The US on Monday accused Russia of having known about and trying to cover up the April 7 chemical attack in Syria, while Russia threatened "real war" with the US and its allies if the US sanctioned it over its ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, which is believed to be responsible for the attack.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that US officials said a Russian-made fighter jet bombed a hospital where victims of the attack, which killed 87 people, sought treatment. The officials believe it was an attempt to cover up the use of chemical weapons.
It's unclear what actions the US may take toward Russia if it believes Russia was complicit in the regime's use of chemical weapons.
Earlier Monday, Russia suggested that if G-7 nations — which include France, Canada, the UK, and Japan — delivered an "ultimatum" involving increasing sanctions, it could result in "real war" between the US and its allies and Russia.
Experts have told Business Insider that while the US and EU have sanctions on the books punishing Moscow for its actions in Ukraine, additional sanctions targeting Russia's energy exports could cripple the military powerhouse.
Russia also warned that more US strikes on Syria would be met with force. The US last week fired 59 cruise missiles at the airfield in Syria where the chemical attack is believed to have been launched.
The US's ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has said that the US is "prepared to do more" in Syria, though she also said, "We hope that will not be necessary."
"What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement. "From now on, we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is, and America knows our ability to respond well."
Russia and Syria have both denied culpability in the chemical attack on April 4, saying their jets bombed a rebel base that contained the "toxic substances" that killed nearby civilians.
After the US's strike, Russia reportedly suspended key military agreements with the US that were meant to reduce the risk of war by coordinating air traffic in Syria's congested airspace and keeping open a deconflicting channel, where incidents can be discussed before militaries escalate the situation.
However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, "As far as I know, the line of communication continues to be open, and the battlefield commanders are able to communicate with one another."
Airstrikes and traffic over Syria have also continued at a regular pace, with US-backed forces bombing ISIS targets near Raqqa and Syrian warplanes taking off less than 24 hours after the US hit the Sharyat airfield.
A special-education teacher was fatally shot by her estranged husband at an elementary school on Monday.
It happened at North Park Elementary in San Bernardino, California. An 8 year-old student was also killed in the gunfire and a second student was wounded, but is listed in stable condition at a local hospital.
Police said they believe the two students were unintentionally caught in the gunfire and were not related to the teacher or the shooter.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said the teacher, identified as Karen Elaine Smith, and the shooter, Cedric Anderson, had been married briefly and were separated for a month and a half, Reuters reported.
The police did not engage the shooter, who appeared to have killed himself, the local news affiliate CBS Los Angeles reported.
"We believe this to be a murder-suicide," San Bernardino Chief of Police Jarrod Burguan said on Twitter, adding that the shooting appeared to have happened in a classroom.
Multiple sources have pointed to domestic violence as the possible motive for the shooting.
A nearby California state university was ordered to shelter-in-place for a time while police canvassed the area and firefighters treated the wounded, NBC LA reported.
Parents of students were sent to nearby Cajon High School to reunite with their children.
North Park Elementary School was founded in 1968 and teaches kids from kindergarten to sixth grade.
The shooting happened fewer than 10 miles from the Inland Regional Center, where 14 people were killed in a mass shooting in December 2015.
Russia sent two corvettes, an oiler, and a tug boat to the Eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Syria days after two US Navy ships fired 59 cruise missiles at an airfield controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a defense official told the US Naval Institute.
The ships should reach the area within the next several days.
Tensions between the US and Russia have peaked since the US struck Russia's stalwart ally, Assad, over what the US believes was a chemical weapons attack orchestrated by Syrian and Russian forces.
The Russian ships will join the Admiral Grigorovich, which was the first Russian ship to respond after the strike. The Russian ships field very long range land attack cruise missiles, which Russian forces debuted from the Caspian Sea against targets in Syria in 2015.
Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, who heads NATO's Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, recently told Reuters that Russia's worldwide naval activity now exceeds Cold-war levels.
"They're a global navy," Howard said of the activity and potency of Russia's military ships.
After a Chinese envoy arrived in South Korea, the two sides have agreed to take "strong action" against North Korea if the North continues to test nuclear and ballistic missiles, according to VOA News.
Joel Witt, the cofounder of 38 North, a website that brings together experts on North Korea, told Business Insider that the country's progress in developing nuclear and ballistic missiles had appeared to rapidly increase over the past year.
With each test, North Korea gets closer to its goal of creating an intercontinental ballistic missile that could threaten the US mainland. US President Donald Trump's administration has been clear it is open to taking military action to try to prevent this.
Trump, in an interview with the Financial Times before his meeting last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, said "if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will."
It remains to be seen whether South Korea and China's vision of unacceptable behavior matches the US's, as the US has signaled growing impatience with the North's nuclear posturing.
Now, with the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and strike group redirected to the Korean Peninsula, South Korea and Chinese diplomats seem to have struck an agreement on handling the North Korean missile threat that does not involve a US strike.
North Korea called the Vinson's deployment an "outrageous act" and said it was "ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US."
While the US certainly sent a message with a recent salvo of 59 cruise missiles directed at a Syrian air base, it faces far more limited options in striking North Korea, which has an array of missile launchers and artillery that could effectively level Seoul, South Korea's capital of 10 million people.
Experts have told Business Insider that while China disapproves of North Korea's nuclear threats, it has a much deeper interest in preserving a North Korean state as a buffer against Western influences, fearing a strong, united Korea complete with democracy and US military installations.
Furthermore, the Chinese appear to have been spooked by a recent deployment of advanced missile defenses to South Korea, which the US put in place after a particularly provocative missile test from the North.
Trump reportedly discussed the north Korean issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, with the two reaffirming their commitment to denuclearizing the peninsula and adhering to all UN sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom.
In its quest to meet and exceed the challenges of the future, the US Air Force has been increasingly looking to unmanned systems — and a recent test proved that an unmanned F-16 can now think and fight on its own.
The US has used F-16 drones before as realistic targets for the F-35 to blow up in training, but on Monday it announced fully autonomous air-to-air and ground strike capabilities as a new capability thanks to joint research between the service and Lockheed Martin's legendary Skunkworks.
Not only did the F-16 drone figure out the best way to get there and execute a ground strike mission by itself, it was interrupted by an air threat, responded, and kept going.
"We've not only shown how an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle can perform its mission when things go as planned, but also how it will react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way," said Capt. Andrew Petry of the Air Force Research Laboratory in a Lockheed Martin statement.
But having F-16 drones plan and fly their own missions is only part of a much larger picture. The future of the US Air Force may well depend on advanced platforms like F-35s commanding fleets of unmanned drones which can act as additional ears, eyes, and shooters in the sky during battles.
The Air Force has what's called an "open mission system" where it designs all platforms to network together and share information. Essentially, even an unmanned drone will have decision-grade data fed to it from everything from satellites in the sky to radars on the ground.
Lockheed Martin calls it the "loyal wingman" program, where drone systems like old F-16s can seamlessly network with F-35s and think on its feet.
The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, made the bizarre claim on Tuesday that unlike Syrian President Bashar Assad, Adolf Hitler never stooped to the level of using chemical weapons.
When asked whether Spicer thought there was any reason to think Russia would pull back its support of Syria, its decades-long ally, Spicer seemed to muddle some facts regarding World War II history.
"We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II," he said. "You had someone as despicable as Hitler didn't even sink to using chemical weapons. If you're Russia, you have to ask yourself if this is a country and regime that you want to align yourself with."
The World War II-era German dictator, however, famously did use chemical weapons in gas chambers to exterminate millions of Jewish people, LGBTQ people, and others in Eastern Europe.
"They are now getting on the wrong side of history in a really bad way," Spicer said of Russia.
Moments later, Spicer was asked to clarify his comments on Hitler. "When it comes to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing," Spicer said.
"In the way that Assad used them where he went into towns and dropped him down on innocents in the middle of town was not the same. I appreciate the clarification — that was not the intent," Spicer said, presumably referring to the implication that Hitler did not use chemical weapons.
But Spicer's clarification remains murky. Hitler gassed his own people, many of whom were German Jews or others found undesirable to the Nazi movement, though it's true that Hitler did not order airstrikes with chemical weapons on civilian populations.
After the conference, Spicer offered additional clarification, telling an NBC reporter, “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust, however, I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people.”
The Trump administration found itself in hot water in January after omitting any reference to the plight of the Jewish people during World War II in an official statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the leader of the US Central Command Army Gen. Joseph Votel addressed the press on Tuesday to discuss the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons, and the US military's response.
On April 4, "the Syrian regime attacked its own people with chemical weapons," said Mattis, who added that there can be "no doubt the Syrian regime was responsible for the decision to attack and the attack itself."
Mattis explained that CENTCOM provided President Donald Trump with options for addressing the chemical weapons attack, and they "determined that a measured military response could best deter the regime from doing it again."
Sharyat air base, the location struck by 57 of 59 cruise missiles fired from the US Navy on April 7, was determined to be the location from which Syrian forces launched the chemical attack on civilians, according to Mattis.
Mattis was repeatedly questioned about the change in tactics in Syria. He maintained that the US's "military priority in Syria has not changed," and that "the Syrian regime should think long and hard" before it uses chemical weapons again.
"The purpose of this attack was singular," said Mattis, who stressed that the US's main objective in Syria remains focused on destroying ISIS.
Mattis concluded that the strike "severely degraded" Syria's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks, though the Syrians flew out of Sharyat airbase less than 24 hours later.
Neither Mattis or Votel would comment on if Iran or Russia had knowledge of the chemical weapons use.
Votel also demurred when asked about further US deployments to Syria, which the Pentagon has elected to keep quiet.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis explained Tuesday the decision to strike Sharyat air base in Syria with 57 cruise missiles, and noticeably seemed to avoid a looming nuclear threat — North Korea.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and strike group have been deployed to the Korean peninsula in response to North Korea's nuclear threats, which prompted the Kim regime to warn the US of potential nuclear strikes should they be provoked.
But according to Mattis, there's nothing to make of the carrier strike group redirecting itself to the region.
"She's stationed there in the western Pacific for a reason. She operates freely up and down the Pacific," said Mattis of the Vinson, implying the imposing carrier would send a message to North Korea and other actors in the region.
However, when pressed on what exactly that reason might be, Mattis seemed to backtrack saying "there's not a specific reason or demand signal," that brought the Vinson to the Korean peninsula.
North Korea's Kim regime, which US presidents have tried for decades to engage with diplomatically, has recently stepped into a visible and distressing stage of its nuclear and ballistic missile program that requires testing.
Experts have told Business Insider that once North Korea perfects an intercontinental ballistic missile, it reaches a "point of no return" whereby the US no longer has any military credibility against the Kim regime and may be forced to acknowledge it as a national power.
The US has repeatedly and openly mulled military action against the Kim regime, but Joel Wit, co-founder of 38 North, a website that brings together experts on North Korea, told Business Insider that "it's almost universal that the downsides of military strikes are so great that it's hard to see them taking place."
North Korea's nuclear and conventional forces are too spread out to wipe out all at once. Additionally, their artillery installations and missile launchers could likely level Seoul, South Korea's capital city and home to 10 million people.
Trump reiterated in a tweet on Tuesday that "North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!" also adding that he told Chinese President Xi Jinping at their meeting on Thursday "a trade deal with the US will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!"
However, the US can only threaten North Korea with force or cut off business ties. North Korea's main backer for years has been China, which carries out 85% of North Korea's external trade and provides a similar percentage of its energy imports.
China could potentially curb North Korea's nuclear program through a limited deployment of military forces or by halting trade with the Hermit Kingdom. But China has a strong interest in preserving the North Korean state, as it acts as a buffer between the US's 25,000 permanently stationed troops in South Korea.
A Chinese envoy of diplomats arrived in South Korea on Monday and reportedly reached an agreement on how to handle North Korea's nuclear ambitions. It remains to be seen if the South Korean-Chinese action will be good enough for the Trump administration.
Defense Secretary James Mattis addressed the nation with the US's top commander in the Middle East, Joseph Votel, and touched on soaring tensions between the world's two greatest military powers — the US and Russia.
Asked about statements from the Russians and US President Donald Trump regarding "red lines" and threats of all out war, Mattis spoke unequivocally.
"It will not spiral out of control," said Mattis fears of military escalation between Russia and the US over Syria.
"As you know, Secretary of State Tillerson is in Moscow. We maintain communications with the Russian military and with the diplomatic channels. It will not spiral out of control," Mattis continued.
When pressed by the questioner on how he was so confident that Russia would not follow through with its threats of reprisal if the US strikes Syria again, Mattis stayed on message.
"I'm confident the Russians will act in their own best interests, and there's nothing in their best interests to say they want this situation to go out of control," said Mattis.
Mattis' statements follow a release from the Russian Foreign Ministry in which Russia expresses "hope for productive talks" with Tillerson.
The same statement slams the administration of former US President Barack Obama for trying to hinder "the natural evolution of a multipolar world" with acts against Russia, but ends on a positive note, saying: "We are not set for confrontation but for constructive cooperation and hope that this is what our American partners want, too.
When US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were enjoying chocolate cake at the end of their first dinner together on Thursday, US Navy ships were pounding a Syrian airfield with a salvo of 59 cruise missiles.
After a phone call on Tuesday night, the two signaled an agreement to work together to denuclearize North Korea, and China reportedly sent 150,000 troops to North Korea's border.
The Trump administration has long tried to establish its willingness to use military force against Kim Jong Un's regime.
"China insists on realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula ... and is willing to maintain communication and coordination with the American side over the issue on the peninsula,"Xi was quoted as saying by the state broadcaster CCTV and other official media outlets after the call.
"Had a very good call last night with the President of China concerning the menace of North Korea,"Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning. Trump last month said China could end the North Korean crisis easily if it wanted to, but it had "done little to help."
China has resisted taking hard action against North Korea since it has a vested interest in preserving the state, which acts as a physical and cultural buffer between China and the Western-oriented, democratic South Korea.
But now, as the US Navy's USS Carl Vinson carrier-strike group looms just off the Korean peninsula, multilateral talks hold more promise than ever.
Xi's response after his meeting with Trump signals he may be willing to go further in reeling in the rogue North Korean leader. Trump reportedly stressed the issue and suggested the US would unilaterally take care of the Kim regime if necessary.
But experts have told Business Insider that US military action against North Korea was never likely or plausible — North Korea just has too many guns aimed at South Korea.
"The Chinese are smart enough to think about the various military options, so they probably have concluded that there's a very low likelihood" the US would strike North Korea, said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"I think it's almost a universal that with military strikes the downsides are just so great that it's hard to see them taking place," said Joel Wit, the founder of 38 North, a website that brings together experts on North Korea.
But the Chinese seem to have been spooked by the deployment of a high-tech US missile-defense battery to South Korea, reportedly because of its advanced radar capabilities.
China is responsible for 85% of North Korea's external trade and a similar percentage of its energy imports.
While China has signed onto every UN Security Council resolution against North Korea since 2006, "it has, of course, watered down most if not all of those Security Council resolutions because it has not wanted to agree to sanctions that might create instability in North Korea," Glaser said. "And if it won't cause instability, it's probably not likely to be tough enough to cause Kim Jong Un to rethink his strategy and priorities."
So while China may have been swayed to act against its own interests by the Trump administration's military posturing, another more credible threat could have moved the needle.
"I think that [the Chinese] are quite worried about what Trump might do in the area of trade and economics — that's really credible," Glaser said.
Amid a productive phone call between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese state-run media reported that 150,000 Chinese troops went to North Korea's border.
International observers fear that North Korea may conduct another nuclear test this weekend on the anniversary of the founding of Kim Jong Un's regime, but the US has broadcast loud and clear that nuclear posturing in the Korean peninsula will no longer be tolerated.
In March, Business Insider talked to Sim Tack, a North Korea expert at Stratfor, a geopolitical-analysis firm, who speculated how Chinese forces could stop North Korea's nuclear program without firing a shot.
Tack predicted China would "definitely react to and try to prevent" a US strike on North Korea. The US increasingly has touted military strikes as an option against the Kim regime, even going as far as positioning an aircraft carrier off Korea's coast.
"The overt presence of Chinese forces would dissuade the US from going into that territory because they would run the risk of inviting that larger conflict themselves," Tack said.
Chinese forces in North Korea would "be in a position to force a coup or force Kim's hand" to disarm, Tack said.
Ultimately, China, North Korea's biggest backer, would attempt "to make sure North Korea still exists and serves Chinese interests while it stops acting as a massive bullseye to the US," he added.
In this way, China could preserve its buffer state from falling to Western influence, prevent a US military strike on its borders, and even prevent a nuclear war.
Besides its possible troop buildup, China also seems willing to apply pressure to the Kim regime in other ways. Last week, Beijing ordered its customs authorities to reject coal imports from North Korea — a big hit to the regime's wallet, since coal makes up about 40% of its total exports.
Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday trust had eroded between the United States and Russia under President Donald Trump, as Moscow delivered an unusually hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria.
Any hope in Russia that the Trump administration would herald less confrontational relations has been dashed in the past week after the new U.S. leader fired missiles at Syria to punish Moscow's ally for its suspected use of poison gas.
Tillerson started a meeting with Putin in the Kremlin after talking to his Russian opposite number Sergei Lavrov for around three hours. The Kremlin had previously declined to confirm Putin would meet Tillerson, reflecting tensions over the U.S. strike on Syria.
Just as Tillerson sat down for talks with Lavrov earlier on Wednesday, a senior Russian official assailed the "primitiveness and loutishness" of U.S. rhetoric, part of a volley of statements that appeared timed to maximize the awkwardness during the first visit by a member of Trump's cabinet.
"One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated," Putin said in an interview broadcast on Russian television.
In his interview, Putin doubled down on Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad's government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Assad's enemies.
Tillerson's official itinerary in Moscow started with the meeting with Lavrov, in an ornate hall in a foreign ministry-owned residence. In opening remarks in front of reporters, Lavrov greeted Tillerson with unusually icy remarks, denouncing the missile strike on Syria as illegal and accusing Washington of behaving unpredictably.
"I won’t hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs," Lavrov said.
"And of course, that’s not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken."
Lavrov also noted that many key State Department posts remain vacant since the new administration took office -- a point of sensitivity in Washington.
One of Lavrov's deputies was even more undiplomatic.
"In general, primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington. We'll hope that this doesn't become the substance of American policy," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia's state-owned RIA news agency.
"As a whole, the administration's stance with regards to Syria remains a mystery. Inconsistency is what comes to mind first of all."
Tillerson kept to more calibrated remarks, saying his aim was "to further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be."
"I look forward to a very open, candid, frank exchange so that we can better define the U.S.-Russian relationship from this point forward," he told Lavrov.
After journalists were ushered out of the room, Lavrov's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, wrote on her Facebook page that U.S. journalists traveling with Tillerson had behaved as if they were in a "bazaar" by shouting questions to Lavrov.
Moscow's hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from last year, when Putin hailed Trump as a strong figure and Russian state television was consistently full of effusive praise for him.
The White House has accused Moscow of trying to cover up Assad's use of chemical weapons after the attack on a town killed 87 people last week.
Trump responded to the gas attack by firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base on Friday. Washington warned Moscow, and Russian troops at the base were not hit.
Moscow has stood by Assad, saying the poison gas belonged to rebels, an explanation Washington dismisses as beyond credible. Putin said that either gas belonging to the rebels was released when it was hit by a Syrian strike on a rebel arms dump, or the rebels faked the incident to discredit Assad.
Trump came to the presidency promising to seek closer ties with Russia and greater cooperation fighting against their common enemy in Syria, Islamic State. Tillerson is a former oil executive who was awarded Russia's Order of Friendship by Putin.
Last week's poison gas attack and the U.S. retaliation upended what many in Moscow hoped would be a transformation in relations between the two countries, which reached a post-Cold War low under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.
The United States and its European allies imposed financial sanctions on Russia in 2014 after Putin seized territory from neighboring Ukraine.
Washington is leading a campaign of air strikes in Syria against Islamic State fighters and has backed rebels fighting against Assad during a six-year civil war, but until last week the United States had avoided directly targeting the Syrian government.
Russia, meanwhile, intervened in the civil war on Assad's side in 2015 and has troops on the ground, which it says are advising government forces. Both Washington and Moscow say their main enemy is Islamic State, although they back opposing sides in the wider civil war which has killed more than 400,000 people and spawned the world's worst refugee crisis.
In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Trump said he was not planning to order U.S. forces into Syria, but that he had to respond to the images of dead children poisoned in the gas attack.
"We’re not going into Syria," he said in excerpts of the interview on the station's website. "But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons ... and see these beautiful kids that are dead in their father's arms, or you see kids gasping for life ... when you see that, I immediately called (Defense Secretary) General Mattis."
Tillerson traveled to Moscow with a joint message from Western powers that Russia should withdraw its support for Assad after a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies also attended by Middle East allies.
Some of Washington's allies had been wary of Trump, who spoke during his election campaign of seeking closer ties with Moscow and questioned the value of U.S. support for its traditional friends. Tillerson's mission sees the Trump administration taking on the traditional U.S. role as spokesman for a unified Western position.
Trump's relations with Russia are also a domestic issue, as U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of using computer hacking to intervene in the election to help Trump win. The FBI is investigating whether any Trump campaign figures colluded with Moscow, which the White House denies.
It may not look like it anymore, but countries still invade one another. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 to stop Islamist terrorists from taking over the government.
Israel invaded Lebanon that same year to stop Hezbollah rocket attacks. America invaded Iraq because of the perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction.
The world's most recent invasions weren't really conducted with the idea of actually annexing countries.
Well, not lately, anyway.
There are many other powder kegs out there: India vs. Pakistan, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia, or China vs. all of its neighbors. But the Korean Peninsula is still the most volatile country vs. country situation, given the almost 70 years of animosity, the constant state of war (there was never a real end of the war, only an armistice — and North Korea pulled out of that in 2013) and the continued acts of violence between the two.
The threat of widespread destruction is the deterrent that keeps the conflict from boiling over.
It's important to remember that the 1950-1953 Korean War was a disaster for both sides, and that fact is largely what drives North Korean military policy. It's what keeps the people supporting the regime through animosity toward the US and South Korea.
"Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population," Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984.
Dean Rusk, a US secretary of state under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, said the United States bombed "everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another." North Koreans either remember the war firsthand or through the stories from their grandparents. Fighting between North and South Korean forces was particularly brutal, and as a result, there is no reason to believe either side would pull punches today.
Both countries have significant military power. South Korea has one of the most powerful militaries in the world, with 3.5 million troops. North Korea has 5 million troops with another 5 million that can fight in a protracted war. The North Korean songun policy means the military comes first in terms of food, fuel, and other materials before any are given to the population at large. Mandatory conscription (for a 10-year enlistment) means that most North Koreans have some form of military experience.
The North also boasts 605 combat aircraft and 43 naval missile boats, but the (North) Korean People's Air Force's most numerous fighter is the subsonic MiG-21, which debuted in 1953. The latest model is the MiG-29, from the 1970s, and they're all armed with Vietnam War-era weapons. So in terms of military technology, North Korea pales in comparison to the South. South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.
The South's GDP is 50 times as great as the North's, and it spends almost five times as much as North Korea on defense. Since it can't keep up in traditional combat arms, the North is beefing up its unconventional warfare capabilities, including chemical and nuclear weapons, along with the ballistic missiles to deliver them. It can't deliver the weapons by air because their antiquated air forces would be easy pickings for the US F-22 Raptor squadron on the Peninsula.
The North is also hampered in terms of alliances. During the Korean War, the Korean Communists were pushed all the way to the Yalu River by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It was only after the Chinese intervened with massive manpower and matériel that the Communists were able to form any kind of counterattack. Chinese intervention for the North is questionable at best, given its extensive overseas economic ties.
In fact, it might even be in China's best interest to invade North Korea itself, to give a buffer zone between China and a collapsed North Korean government, or worse, US troops right on the border. South Korea maintains a tight alliance with the United States, which has 30,000 troops of its own stationed there, 3,800 in Japan, and 5,700 on Guam, along with significant air and naval forces in the region.
A North Korean attack on the South would give the north a slight advantage in surprise and initiative — for a few days. Allied forces would respond instantly, but the North would still have the initiative. Retired Army Gen. James Marks estimates it would have the initiative for four days at most.
When the first war was launched across the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ wasn't quite as defended as it is today. No one was expecting the attack, and the bulk of US forces had been withdrawn to Japan.
Today, an assault across the 38th parallel (the North-South border) is tantamount to slow, grinding, probably explosive death.
North Korea would open with artillery and rocket fire from positions on the North slopes of the mountains just across the border. The North has the world's largest artillery force, with 10,000 pieces in its arsenal. The bulk of these forces are at the border, with much of the rest around Pyongyang and near Nampo, the site of its electricity-producing dam. It is likely that the South Korean capital of Seoul, just 35 miles from the border, would be the first target and would be devastated in the opening salvos.
With the artillery on the North side, hidden in the mountain, there would be little warning of an attack, and US and South Korean air forces would have trouble penetrating the North Korean air defenses. Air operations would be tricky because the North keeps tight interlocking lines of antiaircraft guns and surface-to-air missile systems. Pyongyang itself is a "fortress."
North Korean special operations forces would be inserted via submarines along both coasts and through tunnels dug under the DMZ (many have been found in previous years). Latest reports suggest they would use special operations to deliver chemical attacks and dirty bombs in the South. They also have significant biological weapons facilities in the North that they tested on their own citizens.
They would also activate sleeper agents in the South to direct missile and artillery fire — South Korean intelligence estimates up to 200,000 special operators in the North Korean military, trained to fight Taliban-like insurgencies.
The US air assets in the area would establish air superiority over the region, destroy air defenses, attempt to take out the artillery and missile batteries, and then destroy Northern command and control elements. After that, allied airpower would target infrastructure like bridges and roads, especially the unification highway linking the capital at Pyongyang with the border, to keep Northern forces from being able to move effectively inside their country.
The US would also make humanitarian airdrops outside of major cities to draw noncombatants out of the cities and make targeting regime figures that much easier.
After the conventional fighting, the question is whether North Korea would use its nuclear weapons. It is estimated to have up to eight weapons and ballistic missile technology capable of reaching US and South Korean forces in the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and all the way to Guam. However, experts cannot confirm that the North has ever successfully used a warhead on any of its missiles. If the North were to use its nuclear arsenal, nuclear retaliation from the US wouldn't be a foregone conclusion, especially if US forces had the opportunity to capture most of the weapons.
A recent Pentagon war game against the fictional country of "North Brownland," a country whose dynastic family regime had nuclear weapons that had to be recovered during a regime collapse, found that US troops didn't fare well in retrieving those weapons. V-22 Osprey aircraft were cut off from the rest of the allied forces and surrounded by the enemy. The result was the United States would have to fight through the countryside to the North's estimated 100 nuclear-related sites. In all, it took the US 46 days and 90,000 troops to secure those weapons.
In the end, the North, despite some early successes, would lose. It would be able to inflict massive devastation with conventional weapons in Seoul and near the border areas. The toll on civilians would likely be massive if it used its biological and chemical stockpiles, and even more so if it used the nuclear arsenal. Special forces would likely use their nukes in the border areas for fear of being caught trying to move South.
The US would quickly establish air superiority while ground forces bypassed the heavily defended DMZ area. Once the artillery and missile batteries were taken out, the advanced technology, mobile armor, helicopter support, and airpower would quickly overwhelm the large infantry formations and their associated WWII-era tactics. The hardest part of subduing North Korea would be unifying the Korean people and taking care of the North's backward and likely starving populace.
The US and South Korean governments might want to keep the North at bay instead of overrunning the government. A 2013 RAND Corporation research paper estimated the cost of unification to be upwards of $2 trillion not only to pay for the war, but for food for the population and restoration of all the infrastructure the Kim regime neglected over the past 60-plus years. Gen. Marks believes the North and South will continue to only use short, contained attacks on each other.