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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    • The US won't withdraw troops from a town in northern Syria where Turkey has threatened to attack as part of their campaign to push back Kurdish forces from their border.
    • The US has 2,000 troops in Syria supporting a range of fighters, including many Kurdish.
    • Turkey considers the fighting Kurdish factions as part of other Kurdish terror groups.

    American army vehicles drive north of Manbij city, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The United States has no plans to withdraw troops stationed near the town of Manbij in northern Syria despite warnings from Turkey to remove its forces immediately, CNN quoted the U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel as saying.

    Pulling U.S. forces from Manbij is "not something we are looking into", the channel's website reported Votel as saying on Sunday during a trip to the Middle East.

    Turkey, which is waging a military offensive against Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria's northwestern region of Afrin, has repeatedly said it will also drive the YPG militia from the mainly Arab town of Manbij, east of Afrin.

    The United States has around 2,000 military personnel in northern Syria supporting an umbrella group of fighters, dominated by the YPG, which drove Islamic State from its Syrian strongholds last year.

    Turkey, which considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization, has called on Washington to end its military support for the group and to pull back from the Manbij region where some of its troops are stationed.

    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday the United States "needs to break its link with (the) terrorist organization and make them drop their weapons completely. They need to collect the weapons they gave, they need to withdraw from Manbij immediately."

    SEE ALSO: A map of fitness tracker data may have just compromised top secret US military bases around the world

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    Two Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighter jets flies during a display at the Avalon Airshow in Victoria, Australia, March 3, 2017.    Australian Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS

    • Lockheed Martin beat on fourth-quarter revenue and forecast a rise in earnings this year. 
    • The US defense contractor took a $1.9 billion charge during the quarter, mainly because of the new tax law. 
    • The Defense Department expects to spend about $391 billion over 15 years to develop and buy 2,456 supersonic warplanes.

    (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp reported fourth-quarter revenue on Monday that beat Wall Street estimates, helped by higher sales from the F-35 fighter jet program, while also forecasting a rise in earnings in 2018.

    Shares of the U.S. defense contractor rose 2.4 percent to $353.15 in premarket trading.

    The U.S. defense contractor took a $1.9 billion charge in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, mainly due to the change in U.S. tax law.

    Excluding a deferred non-cash gain of $122 million or 43 cents per share, and the tax charges, Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S calculations showed Lockheed earned $3.87 per share versus analysts estimate of $4.07 per share.

    Lockheed gave an adjusted figure for earnings from continuing operations of $4.30 per share.

    Net sales rose to $15.14 billion from $13.75 billion a year earlier, beating Wall Street estimates of $14.72 billion.

    Adjusted for new accounting standards from Jan. 1, Lockheed said it expects 2018 net sales in the range of $50.00 billion-$51.50 billion and earnings per share of $15.20-$15.50.

    Lockheed, like its peers in the United States, is expected to gain from an increase in defense spending under President Donald Trump's administration.

    The U.S. Defense Department expects to spend some $391 billion over 15 years to develop and buy 2,456 of the supersonic warplanes.

    Lockheed said sales in its aeronautics business, its biggest, grew 11.8 percent to $6.05 billion.

    (Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Patrick Graham

    SEE ALSO: A map of fitness-tracker data may have compromised top-secret US military bases around the world

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    NOW WATCH: Microsoft President Brad Smith says the US shouldn't get 'too isolationist'

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    Kim Jong Nam

    • Kim Jong Nam, the murdered half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, reportedly met with a US intelligence agent in Malaysia days before his death.
    • China reportedly had seriously considered a plot to replace Kim Jong Un with his half brother, something which would serve both the US and China's strategic interests.
    • Kim Jong Nam's son has reportedly been the subject of North Korean assassination attempts too, lending weight to the theory that other members of the Kim family could be used to overthrow Kim Jong Un in a coup.

    Days before he was killed by a toxic nerve agent, Kim Jong Nam, the brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, met with a US intelligence official on a Malaysian island, a police official told courts on Monday.

    The police official's testimony seems to confirm a May 2017 report from The Asahi Shimbun, which described Kim Jong Nam meeting a Korean-American who Malaysian officials suspected was a US intelligence agent.

    According to the report, the two met on February 9, and Kim's computer showed a record of a thumb drive being inserted, which some have speculated was used to offload vital information to the suspected US agent. The report includes a photo that purports to show the two meeting, though the suspected agent's face is cropped out. On Monday, the police official seemed to confirm the encounter took place.

    Four days later, Kim was dead. Two women accused of killing Kim have said they thought they were pranking him for a reality-TV show.

    Why was Kim meeting with US agents?

    kim jong un congress

    While reports about Kim's life say he was a gambler with no ambitions to rule North Korea, he would make sense as someone whom the US — and even China — would want to groom and leverage to possibly remove Kim Jong Un from power.

    At 34 years old, Kim Jong Un could lead North Korea for another three to five decades. While his leadership makes obvious its hostility to the US, he is also no fan of China.

    Citing three sources, Nikkei Asian Review reported in August 2017 that top government officials in China and North Korea seriously considered a plot to remove Kim Jong Un in 2012, however the plot reportedly fell through and resulted in the dictator having his own uncle killed.

    Unlike his predecessors, Kim Jong Un has never visited Beijing nor had Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pyongyang. Kim Jong Un has never met with another head of state, and has increasingly been viewed as out of Beijing's control, while threatening the US with nuclear weapons.

    Kim Jong Un has effectively put a giant nuclear target on China's borders, and risks having his country overthrown and occupied by US troops. Kim also has had top officials with ties to China brutally assassinated with packs of dogs or anti-aircraft guns, according to reports.

    As a result, both the US and China have plenty of reason to wish for something to end Kim Jong Un's rule over North Korea. Because North Korea is ruled by the Kim family dynasty, Kim Jong Un could theoretically be replaced with another Kim in a relatively bloodless coup.

    Such an opportunity may have proven too enticing for both the US and China to pass up, and too risky for North Korea to ignore.

    Kim family infighting becomes geopolitical

    A man, who identified himself as Kim Han Sol, speaks in an unknown location, in this undated video posted on YouTube by a group called Cheollima Civil Defense.  Cheollima Civil Defense via YouTube/via Reuters TV

    An anonymous source told South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo in November 2017 that Chinese authorities blocked a plot from seven North Korean assassins to enter the country and kill Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam.

    Though North Korea denies any involvement in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the same country that has worked to build up a nuclear arsenal while under the heaviest sanctions on earth might not think twice about offing a member of the Kim family to protect from coups orchestrated by outsiders.

    Kim Han Sol, another legitimate Kim, now fears for his life as he represents the heir to a bloodline that could unseat one of the world's most brutal rulers.

    SEE ALSO: Mystery children and sibling rivalries — this is Kim Jong Un's family tree

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    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon

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    strava heat map pentagon

    • Strava CEO James Quarles released a statement following the publication of a map showing fitness-tracker use that may have exposed US military bases and sensitive humanitarian-aid sites around the world.
    • Quarles said he would work with the military and the government to address potentially sensitive data, though it's unclear how, since the data is already out there.
    • The US military is reviewing its security practices after the map's publication and its subsequent scrutiny online.

    Strava's CEO has responded after the fitness-tracking app released a global map of activity that appears to expose several sensitive US military and humanitarian relief sites around the world.

    "In building [the map], we respected activity and profile privacy selections, including the ability to opt out of heatmaps altogether," Strava CEO James Quarles wrote in a statement sent to Business Insider.

    "However, we learned over the weekend that Strava members in the military, humanitarian workers, and others living abroad may have shared their location in areas without other activity density and, in doing so, inadvertently increased awareness of sensitive locations."

    Quarles wrote that he had family members in the military and that his company was "taking this matter seriously and understand our responsibility."

    Quarles committed himself to "working with military and government officials to address potentially sensitive data" as well as streamlining the privacy features and "reviewing features that were originally designed for athlete motivation and inspiration to ensure they cannot be compromised by people with bad intent."

    Can't be undone

    mosul us military base strava iraq

    As is normally the case with internet publishing, once the map went up, it was most likely cached and cannot be removed. Some of Strava's data could even be used to track the movements of individuals.

    Quarles refers to his app as a tool for "athlete motivation," but much of the data displayed in the heat map, and probably the most sensitive data, comes from people who are not engaged in athletic pursuits but have merely left the tracker on.

    When US troops walk to the location of a classified Patriot missile battery designed to defend their base from enemy missiles, they're not engaging in athletics. But the release of Strava's heat map has now potentially exposed those journeys to the world.

    Following the publication of the map and its subsequent revelations, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has been briefed and is reviewing the US military's security practices.

    SEE ALSO: Here are some of the biggest reveals from a fitness-tracker data map that may have compromised top-secret US military bases around the world

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    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is 34 — here's how he became one of the world's scariest dictators

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    Kim Jong Un

    • UNICEF estimates 60,000 North Korean children will face potential starvation as international pressure causes companies to scale back aide to the country.
    • Humanitarian aide is not prohibited under any sanctions on North Korea, but many are still unwilling to be seen as transacting with Pyongyang.
    • Two in five North Koreans are already reportedly undernourished.

    GENEVA (Reuters) - An estimated 60,000 children face potential starvation in North Korea, where international sanctions are exacerbating the situation by slowing aid deliveries, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

    World powers have imposed growing sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last week the United States announced fresh sanctions on nine entities, 16 people and six North Korean ships it accused of helping the weapons programs.

    Under United Nations Security Council resolutions, humanitarian supplies or operations are exempt from sanctions, Omar Abdi, UNICEF deputy executive director, said.

    "But what happens is that of course the banks, the companies that provide goods or ship goods are very careful. They don’t want to take any risk of later on being associated (with) breaking the sanctions," Abdi told a news briefing.

    "That is what makes it more difficult for us to bring things. So it takes a little bit longer, especially in getting money into the country. But also in shipping goods to DPRK. There are not many shipping lines that operate in that area," he said, referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

    Sanctions on fuel have been tightened, making it more scarce and expensive, Abdi added.

    Reuters, citing three Western European intelligence sources, reported exclusively last week that North Korea shipped coal to Russia last year which was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of U.N. sanctions.

    "We are projecting that at some point during the year 60,000 children will become severely malnourished. This is the malnutrition that potentially can lead to death. It's protein and calorie malnutrition," said Manuel Fontaine, director of UNICEF emergency programs worldwide.

    "So the trend is worrying, it's not getting any better."

    UNICEF had projected 60,000 North Korean children would suffer severe acute malnutrition last year, spokesman Christophe Boulierac said.

    "Diarrhoea related to poor sanitation and hygiene and acute malnutrition remains a leading cause of death among young children," it said in Tuesday's appeal to donors that gave no toll.

    UNICEF is seeking $16.5 million this year to provide nutrition, health and water to North Koreans but faces "operational challenges" due to the tense political context and "unintended consequences" of sanctions, it said.

    It cited "disruptions to banking channels, delays in clearing relief items at entry ports, difficulty securing suppliers and a 160 percent increase in fuel prices".

    "It's a very close, and tightly monitored intervention which is purely humanitarian in its essence," Fontaine said.

    UNICEF is one of only a few aid agencies with access to the isolated country, which suffered famine in the mid-1990s that killed up to three million people.

    North Korea is the least-reported major emergency worldwide, CARE International said earlier this month. Two in five North Koreans are undernourished, the charity said, citing United Nations statistics.

    SEE ALSO: Kim Jong Nam reportedly met with a US agent in Malaysia and it could be part of a plot to overthrow Kim Jong Un

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    trump military bomber japan

    • President Donald Trump will reportedly deliver "strong and serious" remarks about his administration's efforts to confront North Korea at his first-ever State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
    • Trump has said inflammatory things about North Korea, its leader, and nuclear war before, but this time it's different as North Korea and South Korea are holding talks and cooperating on the upcoming Olympics.
    • North Korea has shown some signs of feeling the pressure from sanctions, so Trump may choose to go on the offensive during his State of the Union address.

    President Donald Trump will reportedly deliver "eye-opening" remarks about his administration's efforts to stop North Korea's nuclear program at his first-ever State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

    Trump will discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis in a "strong and serious way" a source told CNN's Jim Acosta. "It will be eye-opening," said the source, who anticipated the words dominating news coverage.

    It wouldn't be the first time Trump's strong language against North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un has made headlines. The president has previously called for responding to North Korean aggression with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" and "totally" destroying North Korea.

    But unlike earlier remarks that were seen as escalatory and pushing both countries to the brink of nuclear war, Trump's State of the Union address falls on a relatively peaceful time between Pyongyang and Washington.

    In February, South Korea's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will kick off, and the US and South Korea will hold off on military drills, a main irritant in relations with the North, until mid March. North and South Korea have also introduced regular, bilateral talks about the North's proposed inclusion in the games.

    Meanwhile, there is reason to think Trump's hard line and "maximum pressure" strategy against Pyongyang has started to work.

    Rumblings from Trump's inner circle though, even during the inter-Korean talks, have hinted at preparations for and deliberations about a possible strike on North Korea to reign in the rogue nation.

    The State of the Union address, a powerful opportunity for the president to assess the country and its goals, will show if Trump plans to welcome the cooling hostilities with North Korea, or to go on the offensive.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea backs off military exercises as Trump puts 'maximum pressure' on Kim Jong Un

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    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon

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    Donald Trump H.R. McMaster

    • The White House dismissed a top Korea expert for the role of ambassador to South Korea because he didn't support US plans to attack North Korea, according to multiple reports.
    • Victor Cha is considered by many to be hawkish and highly qualified, but his dismissal hints that he wasn't hawkish enough for the Trump administration, which has often talked of fighting North Korea.
    • Cha's dismissal may show that the White House has abandoned diplomacy and has instead opted for a military strike on North Korea.

    While nuclear tensions between the US and North Korea have ratcheted up to crisis levels, the US still doesn't have an ambassador to South Korea.

    The Trump administration reportedly rejected the leading candidate in a move that seems to confirm the worst fears of many on President Donald Trump's approach to Pyongyang.

    The White House turned down Victor Cha, a widely endorsed and highly qualified candidate for the ambassadorship to South Korea, on Tuesday, the Washington Post first reportedCha had previously served as director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration.

    Cha's dismissal owes to his disagreement Trump's plan to attack North Korea with a "bloody nose" strike, or a limited military strike in response to some North Korean provocation, according tomultiple outlets.

    People familiar with the talks to bring Cha on board, which had been going on for about a year, said that the final straw came when Cha disapproved of plans to evacuate US citizens from South Korea's capital of Seoul in the run-up to a US strike on North Korea, both the FT and New York Times report.

    In a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday night after news broke that he was no longer being considered for the ambassador post, Cha wrote, "The president would be putting at risk an American population the size of a medium-size US city — Pittsburgh, say, or Cincinnati — on the assumption that a crazy and undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of US kinetic power."

    kim jong un

    Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign against North Korea has brought about increased diplomatic, economic, and military pressure on Pyongyang. While many see Cha as a hawk on North Korea, as he has written extensively about forcing China's hand to defund Pyongyang, even Cha apparently couldn't stomach the lengths the Trump administration was willing to go to.

    The case for a limited strike on North Korea asserts that the US can calculate a strike big enough to matter, but small enough to keep Kim Jong Un from retaliating. Since word of the "bloody nose" strategy made its way out of Trump's inner circle, a growing chorus of experts have condemned the plan as downright absurd and dangerous.

    California Rep. John Garamendi told Business Insider that the US should focus on diplomacy, which would require an adequately staffed White House and the reversal of the "destruction of the US Department of State and that soft power" which comes with it.

    The dismissal of the hawkish Cha shows that the Trump administration is serious about using force against North Korea, and is willing to dispense with diplomatic manpower in favor of military muscle. 

    SEE ALSO: The US is reportedly considering a 'bloody nose' attack to humiliate North Korea — here's how it could go down

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    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is 34 — here's how he became one of the world's scariest dictators

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    Kim Jong Un

    • The former head of the US intelligence community revealed North Korea's "kryptonite," which could topple Kim Jong Un's regime without any military action.
    • He suggested leveraging a growing North Korean population of cell phone owners and flooding them with outside information.
    • Experts have looked favorably on this option, which has worked to oust other dictatorships in the past, and is feared by Kim Jong Un.

    Dennis Blair, a former US Navy Admiral in command of the Pacific fleet and the former Director of National Intelligence, defined what he called North Korea's "kryptonite" and said it could collapse Kim Jong Un's regime without firing a shot.

    While President Donald Trump's inner circle reportedly weighs the use of military force against North Korea in what could spiral out into an all-out nuclear war, Blair suggested another method of attack that wields information, not weapons.

    "The kryptonite that can weaken North Korea is information from beyond its borders," Blair said in a written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

    Blair described ordinary North Koreans as having no idea how bad things are in their country due to an "unrelenting barrage of government propaganda."

    North Korean citizens caught with South Korean media can be sentenced to death or removed to horrific prison camps, as control of the media and intolerance for any narrative that differs from the Kim regime's represent a key pillar of the country's governance.

    But Blair pointed out that the US could leverage a recent trend in North Korea — cell phones. About one in five North Koreans own a cell phone, and, according to Blair, many of the devices can connect to Chinese cell towers across the Yalu river on North Korea's border with China.

    "Texts to these cell phones can provide subversive truth," Blair writes. "Cell towers can be extended; CDs and thumb drives can be smuggled in; radio and TV stations can be beamed there."

    "The objective is to separate the Kim family from its primary support — the secret police, the Army and the propaganda ministry," Blair writes.

    Although outside media does get into North Korea, and reaches the country's elites, the US could expand efforts to flood the rogue nation with outside news. To combat the Soviet Union and its state-controlled media, the US took a similar step by setting up Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia during the Cold War.

    When a former US Navy SEAL floated a similar idea in 2017, Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center told Business Insider it had legs.

    "Kim Jong Un understands that as soon as society is open and North Korean people realize what they're missing, Kim's regime is unsustainable, and it's going to be overthrown," Sun said.

    Sun pointed out that when South Korea had previously flown balloons that dropped pamphlets and DVDs over North Korea, the Kim regime had responded militarily, sensing the frailty of its government relative to those of prosperous liberal democracies.

    Blair pointed to the fall of other totalitarian states where popular uprisings took down a media-controlling dictator, concluding his testimony by saying that once the process of introducing outside information starts, "it is hard to stop. Such will be North Korea's fate."

    SEE ALSO: North Korea backs off military exercises as Trump puts 'maximum pressure' on Kim Jong Un

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    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon

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    North Korea military parade

    • North Korea is reportedly preparing hundreds of rockets to parade through Pyongyang before the Olympics in an attempt to "scare the hell" out of the US.
    • North Korea will reportedly show off dozens of the missile it most recently tested, which experts say could carry a nuclear warhead to any location in the US.
    • But North Korea has faked images before, and their preparation for the upcoming parade may look to increase the fear factor by faking images or missiles.

    North Korea is reportedly preparing missiles and rockets by the hundreds to parade around Pyongyang the day before the South Korean Winter Olympics kicks off in an attempt "to scare the hell out of the Americans."

    "Hundreds of missiles and rockets" will be on display, according to CNN's Will Ripley. Ripley reports this will include "many dozens" of Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missiles, the type North Korea most recently tested that experts assess could hit the entire continental US with a large nuclear warhead.

    South Korean media reports that launchers that stretch 250 meters and 50 meters have already been spotted at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang.

    Ripley, who frequently travels to North Korea, cited diplomatic sources "with deep knowledge of North Korea's intentions" as saying they would show off the missiles to "scare the hell out of" US citizens as the two countries' leaders exchange nuclear threats.

    But as is often the case with North Korea, the bark may be worse than the bite. Ripley notes that foreign media has been banned from the parade, meaning only North Korean imagery will come out of the event.

    This gives North Korea ample opportunity to doctor the images, as they often do. North Korea's dozens of ICBMs may be faked, made of different materials, and almost certainly not coupled with actual nuclear warheads.

    North Korea has made considerable efforts to capitalize on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as a propaganda coup, going as far as to rewrite their own history as the pretense for moving its usual military parade from April to February, when Pyongyang is bitterly cold.

    Ripley reports that North Korea may conduct additional missile tests in the near future. If they do, the country runs a higher-than-ever-before risk of incurring the US's military wrath, as talk of strikes on North Korea has reportedly reached a fever pitch in Trump's inner circle.

    SEE ALSO: A recent shift in Trump's inner circle seems to confirm the 'bloody nose' strategy against North Korea is real

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    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon

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    • Germany's domestic intelligence chief wants the government to review laws restricting the surveillance of minors to guard against the children of ISIS fighters returning to the country as "sleeper agents." 
    • Nearly 1,000 people are believed to have left Germany to join up with the Islamist militants. Now some are returning with family members.
    • "We have to consider that these children could be living time bombs," he said. "There is a danger that these children come back brainwashed with a mission to carry out attacks."

    BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's domestic intelligence chief wants the government to review laws restricting the surveillance of minors to guard against the children of Islamist fighters returning to the country as "sleeper agents" who could carry out attacks.

    Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV agency, told Reuters that security officials were preparing for the return of Islamic State fighters to Germany along with potentially "brainwashed" children, although no big wave appeared imminent.

    Nearly 1,000 people are believed to have left Germany to join up with the Islamist militants. As the group's presence in the Middle East crumbles, some are returning with family members.

    Only a small number of the 290 toddlers and children who left Germany or were born in Syria and Iraq had returned thus far, Maassen said. Many were likely to still be in the region, or perhaps moving to areas such as Afghanistan, where Islamic State remains strong.

    He said Germany should review laws restricting surveillance of minors under the age of 14 to prepare for the increased risk of attacks by children as young as nine who grew up in Islamic State schools.

    "We see that children who grew up with Islamic State were brainwashed in the schools and the kindergartens of the IS," he said. "They were confronted early with the IS ideology ... learned to fight, and were in some cases forced to participate in the abuse of prisoners, or even the killing of prisoners."

    He said security officials believed such children could later carry out violent attacks in Germany.

    "We have to consider that these children could be living time bombs," he said. "There is a danger that these children come back brainwashed with a mission to carry out attacks."

    Maassen's comments were the first specific estimate of the number of children affected, following his initial warning in October that such children could pose a threat after being indoctrinated in battlefield areas.

    The radicalization of minors has been a big topic in Germany given that three of five Islamist attacks in Germany in 2016 were carried out by minors, and a 12-year-old boy was also detained after trying to bomb a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen.

    The German government says it has evidence that more than 960 people left Germany for Iraq and Syria through November 2017 to fight for the Islamic State jihadist group, of which about a third are believed to have returned to Germany. Another 150 likely died in combat, according to government data.

    Maassen said Islamic State also continued to target vulnerable youths in Germany through the Internet and social media, often providing slick advertising or age-appropriate propaganda to recruit them to join the jihadist group.

    "Islamic State uses headhunters who scour the Internet for children that can be approached and tries to radicalize these children, or recruit these children for terrorist attacks," he said.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The surprising reason some countries drive on the left side of the road

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    Kim Jong Un

    • The US special envoy on North Korea said all options remained on the table for solving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang, but that he did not think the military option was close.
    • "Our policy is very much for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis. We've said over and over again that what we want to see is dialogue," he said.
    • "Having said that, we also have said that all options are on the table and by all options, it has to include military options," he said. "I don't believe we are close to it."

    TOKYO (Reuters) - The U.S. special envoy on North Korea on Thursday said all options remained on the table for solving the nuclear standoff with the reclusive country but that he did not think the military option was close.

    Joseph Yun, speaking to reporters in the Japanese capital, said the United States was seeking a peaceful resolution of the crisis and diplomacy was its preferred option.

    "Our policy is very much for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis. We've said over and over again that what we want to see is dialogue," Yun said.

    "Having said that, we also have said that all options are on the table and by all options, it has to include military options," he said. "I don't believe we are close to it."

    He was speaking one day after U.S. President Trump, branding North Korea's leadership "depraved", said that Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear missiles could 'very soon threaten' the American homeland and vowed to prevent that.

    Trump offered no new specifics on how he intended to rein in North Korea. While Trump's administration says it prefers a diplomatic solution to the crisis over North Korea's development of weapons capable of hitting the United States, it says all options are on the table, including military ones.

    Early in January, North and South Korea launched rare talks to bring North Koreans to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics after the North’s leader Kim Jong Un said he was willing to open up discussions with Seoul.

    Yun welcomed the North-South dialogue and said he hoped it was a sign of things to come, but he said that any talks with Washington would have to "be about steps North Korea would take toward denuclearisation".

    SEE ALSO: A recent shift in Trump's inner circle seems to confirm the 'bloody nose' strategy against North Korea is real

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    NOW WATCH: Why most scientists don't care about these incredible UFO videos

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    Kim Jong Un

    • North Korea fired back at President Donald Trump calling the country "depraved" with a list of its own human rights "abuses" carried out by the US.
    • North Korea lists racism, Trump's cabinet containing billionaires, and Trump's mean tweets about CNN as human rights violations.
    • North Korea is one of the most repressive regimes on earth, with its government committing appalling atrocities in prison camps around the country.

    North Korea responded to President Donald Trump calling the country "depraved" and inhumane with its own compilation of US human rights "abuses" sent out across state media.

    The US stands accused by North Korea of "dozens of atrocities" including Trump's presidential cabinet of billionaires, "extreme racism and human hatred" in the US, the use of marijuana, and Trump cracking down on the press by tweeting a gif of himself beating up the network.

    North Korea has long mounted propaganda campaigns to discredit the US in response to US condemnations of Pyongyang's own abysmal human rights record. In December, a renowned judge and Auschwitz survivor told the Washington Post that "[North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps."

    While North Korea attacked Trump for his rough treatment of the press, Kim Jong Un tightly controls all media within his country and citizens found with outside media can be put to death. 

    Despite persistent rumors, marijuana is not legal in North Korea, though the plant may grow there indigenously or for industrial uses like hemp fibers.

    north korea prison camps

    In 2014, North Korea wrote a 53,558-word report on its human rights record, concluding that it did a pretty good job and that its citizens "feel proud of the world's most advantageous human rights system."

    But in the same year, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry issued a report on human rights in North Korea that found systemic, gross human rights violations including murder, slavery, rape and other sexual violence, torture, and other government-backed deeds across the country that amounted to crimes against humanity.

    Defector testimonies from North Korea back these claims up

    SEE ALSO: US special envoy on North Korea says war is still an option, but we're not yet close to fighting

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    Kim Jong Un

    • North Korea warned that it would not "sit idle" if the US went ahead with delayed military exercises with South Korea during the Winter Olympics.
    • North Korea also said sanctions have nothing to do with the inter-Korean Olympic talks, instead crediting Kim Jong Un.

    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has warned if the United States goes ahead with delayed military exercises with South Korea after the Winter Olympics it will not "sit idle", the North's foreign minister said in a letter to the United Nations.

    North Korea has not tested a missile since late November 2017 and entered into inter-Korean dialogue in January, the first talks in two years which have eased tensions after a year of escalating rhetoric between the Pyongyang and Washington.

    Whenever joint military exercises took place "the peace and security of the Korean peninsula were gravely threatened and the inter-Korean mistrust and confrontation reached the top, thus creating great difficulties and obstacles ahead of hard-won dialogues," said the letter from North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.

    "We will make every effort to improve inter-Korean relations in future, too, but never sit idle with regard to sinister act of throwing a wet blanket over our efforts."

    The United States and South Korea have agreed to push back a routine early-year joint military drill until after the South holds the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which begins next week.

    Joseph Yun, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, said on Thursday all options remain on the table for solving the crisis over North Korea's nuclear missile programme but that he did not think the Trump administration was close to triggering military action.

    In the letter, the North also said that the United States was "misleading" public opinion by claiming its tough actions brought about the inter-Korean talks.

    "The fact that a dramatic turning point has been made for peace and stability, national reconciliation and cooperation, and reunification on the Korean peninsula where a touch-and-go war danger was prevailing is entirely thanks to the noble love for the nation by respected Comrade Kim Jong Un," it said.

    "However, the U.S. authorities are misleading public opinion as if the inter-Korean dialogue is an outcome of their harshest sanctions and pressure imposed upon our country."

    In a commentary later on Friday, the North's state media said the United States is attempting to create a "stage of confrontation" at the Olympics, saying inter-Korean talks and positive results that have stemmed from them could "disappear" after the Games.

    It also criticised U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's pending visit to the Pyeongchang Olympics, accusing Washington of halting improvements in inter-Korean relations.

    Last month, a White House official said Pence plans to use his attendance at the Winter Olympics to try to counter what he sees as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s effort to “hijack” the games with a propaganda campaign.

    The talks between the two Koreas follow a year-long standoff between North Korea and the United States where an exchange of threats between the heads of state elevated tensions and prompted the North's continued missile and nuclear tests.

    U.S. President Donald Trump has credited himself with bringing about the dialogue, saying it was "a good thing". His South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, has said Trump deserves "big credit" for the resumption of talks.

    The North has agreed with South Korea to send a 230-strong cheering squad to the Winter Olympics, as well as an orchestra and taekwondo performance team.

    A joint cultural performance had been planned in a North Korean mountain resort, but it was called off by Pyongyang earlier this week which blamed South Korean media for encouraging "insulting" public sentiment regarding the North.

    Twenty-two North Korean athletes will compete in the Olympics, including 12 that will play in a unified women's ice hockey team. The other 10 athletes, which includes a figure skating pair, arrived in South Korea on Thursday, donning fur caps with the North Korean flag pinned to their chests.

    SEE ALSO: Former US intelligence chief reveals North Korea's 'kryptonite' — and it could topple Kim Jong Un without a shot

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    French Army Gazelle Puma helicopter

    MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - Two French military helicopters belonging to an army flight training school crashed in the southeastern Var region on Friday, causing deaths, the local prefecture said.

    A security source and an official from the local authority said five people were killed in the accident.

    There were no immediate details on what caused the crash.

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    Volunteers for the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games walk in Pyeongchang, South Korea, January 22, 2018.   REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

    • All of the almost 3,000 athletes coming to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will get the latest $1,100 Samsung  smartphones and a Nike uniform to take home, but maybe not North Korea's 22 attendees.
    • International sanctions on North Korea include a ban ont he sale of luxury goods, which may prevent the gifts.
    • Samsung Electronics, an official sponsor of the Winter Games, is offering 4,000 Galaxy Note 8 smartphones specially designed for the Olympics to "all" of the participating athletes.

    SEOUL (Reuters) - All of the almost 3,000 athletes competing at the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are set to get perks including the latest $1,100 Samsung <005930.KS> smartphones, top of the range new equipment to take home and sleek Nike <NKE.N> uniforms.

    All except perhaps the 22 athletes from North Korea.

    Tough international sanctions including travel restrictions and a ban on the sale of luxury goods and sports gear have complicated South Korean Olympic organizers' efforts to provide their northern neighbors with the same benefits available to other Olympians.

    For months, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has sought North Korea's participation in the hopes it will ease tensions between the still officially warring nations and prevent the kind of violent incidents which have plagued previous major events hosted by the South.

    Officials have rolled out the red carpet and are keen to make sure the visits go off without a hitch.

    North Korean female ice hockey players and their South Korean teammates, who will compete as one nation in the Games for the first time, have been living and training together this week, even sharing a birthday cake.

    Other members of the North Korean delegation, such as the cheer squad, will be housed in luxury hotels.

    Overshadowing those efforts, however, are a host of U.S. and U.N. Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang over its efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.

    At almost every turn, South Korea has had to go great lengths to make sure its hospitalities don't run afoul of sanctions or other laws, according to several South Korean officials.

    Just raising the North Korean flag alongside other national banners in the Olympic Villages required an exemption from South Korean laws banning praise of the North Korea regime, a Pyeongchang organizing committee official told Reuters.

    The officials all declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the matter.

    No Galaxy Note 8, no Nike?

    samsung galaxy note 8Samsung Electronics, an official sponsor of the Winter Games, is offering 4,000 Galaxy Note 8 smartphones specially designed for the Olympics to "all" of the participating athletes.

    The International Olympic Committee will distribute them, a Samsung Electronics spokesman told Reuters.

    But South Korea is not sure if North Korean athletes will be eligible for the treats because of U.N. Security Council sanctions, an Olympics organizer told Reuters.

    The official declined to elaborate, but experts say providing the $1,100 Samsung phone could violate U.N. sanctions that ban the sale of luxury items and electronics with a potential "dual" commercial and military use.

    Meanwhile, the joint women's hockey team will wear uniforms made by a Finnish company instead of official sponsor Nike, because of concerns about U.S. sanctions, another South Korean government official told Reuters.

    Unilateral U.S. sanctions go far beyond the U.N. sanctions, effectively banning U.S. companies and individuals from trading with North Korea.

    "We are trying to figure out ways to live up to the sanctions," the official said.

    Nike did not immediately respond to request for comments.

    North Korean athletes will also have to return Finnish hockey sticks, skates and other equipment "rented" for them when they leave South Korea, the official said.

    Flight risk

    North Korea ski resort

    South Korea's unification ministry said it had sought and received temporary permission from the United States to fly an airliner to North Korea this week.

    The flight took South Korean athletes for training in a ski resort in the North on Wednesday, and brought North Korean athletes to the South on Thursday.

    Any aircraft or ship visiting North Korea is banned for 180 days from entering the United States. The exemption granted this week only applies to the latest flight, meaning U.S. approval is needed any time North Korean officials visit during the Olympics by airplane or ferry.

    A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said Washington was in "close contact with the Republic of Korea on our unified response to North Korea."

    A U.S. Treasury official said the department evaluates applications "for certain prohibited transactions and activities, which can include those related to the upcoming Olympics", without giving more detail. 

    For this week's flight, an Airbus <AIR.PA> aircraft was used rather than one made by U.S. Boeing <BA.N> due to stricter U.S. sanctions, South Korean broadcaster Channel A reported. Asiana Airlines <020560.KS>, who operated the plane, declined to comment.

    To comply with South Korean military rules, the airliner had to fly some distance out to sea to avoid flying over the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone, the unification ministry said.

    Five-star hotel

    Workers install Olympic Rings at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre in Pyeongchang, South Korea, January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

    The North Korean Olympians are staying at the athletes' village in Gangneung with athletes from other countries. The Olympics organizing committee was unable to say whether they are being given any special treatment, such as beefed up protection.

    North Korea's 230-member cheering squad is expected to stay at Inje Speedium, according to a unification ministry official, a four-star hotel surrounded by forest. Rooms there cost 242,000 won ($226) to 715,000 won per night.

    Its taekwondo performance team will stay at the five-star Grand Walkerhill in Seoul, which overlooks the Han River and previously hosted American stars such as Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton.

    The spending is not unprecedented. When North Koreans visited the South for the Asian Games in 2002, the Seoul government spent 1.3 billion won hosting them.

    But now, even paying for routine things such as medical treatment or providing souvenirs can run into problems, said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in Seoul.

    "Benefits provided to North Korean delegation, which were in the past were not subject to sanctions, can now become a controversy, since sanctions have become much more comprehensive in recent years," he said.

    SEE ALSO: Former US intelligence chief reveals North Korea's 'kryptonite' — and it could topple Kim Jong Un without a shot

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    North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho, currently a law student at Dongguk University, holds up his crutches during U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File photo

    • President Donald Trump will meet with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office on Friday, and it could be a powerful new attack on Kim Jong Un.
    • By reaching out to North Koreans who have abandoned Kim, he puts the North Korean leader in an odd spot.
    • Experts have said that a powerful media campaign against Kim Jong Un could topple his regime in North Korea without a shot fired.

    President Donald Trump will meet with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office on Friday, the latest in a new possible vein of attack on Kim Jong Un.

    Though Trump has made news repeatedly with bellicose language threatening war with North Korea, his State of the Union address advanced another offensive against Pyongyang — raising the issue of human rights.

    "No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea," Trump said on Tuesday. "We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies."

    Perhaps the most powerful moment of the hour-long address came not from Trump, but from Ji Seong Ho, a North Korean defector and double-amputee who raised his crutches, celebrating his freedom and escape from oppression.

    "I was moved to tears,"Ji told Voice of America's Korean service. "I have never felt more honored in my life."

    But beyond establishing the US's moral high ground in the North Korean crisis, or simply making a point in a speech, Ji said that Trump standing up for those oppressed by the Kim regime could have a powerful effect on politics in Pyongyang.

    Trump's expressed concern for human rights "will be meaningful to the people of North Korea," Ji said. "It probably will come as a big threat to the North Korean regime."

    Kim's power in question

    Kim Jong Un

    In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said that outside information would be Kim's "kryptonite," a weapon that could collapse the brutal regime without a shot.

    Blair advocated a barrage of information from nearby cell towers in China, CDs, USB drives, and other forms of media to inform the public and to "separate the Kim family from its primary support — the secret police, the army, and the propaganda ministry."

    Experts routinely point out that Kim's regime survives on its control of people and information, which it enforces brutally with prison camps and death sentences for citizens found with outside media.

    But outside media does get into North Korea. South Korean pop music and dramas have become popular among North Korea's elite, but to truly weaponize the trend, the right information needs to get in. That's where Trump reaching out to defectors could play in.

    Does Trump have the right message?

    donald Trump the Apprentice

    North Korea inculcates its citizens with propaganda from birth. They are taught that the US is the enemy, that Kim is their savior, and that there can be no way other than what the state allows.

    But North Korean' media is littered with tales of North Korean citizens and their achievements being recognized abroad. North Koreans are conditioned to celebrate the limited world recognition they and their country gets. When North Korean defectors visit the Oval Office, the seat of the greatest political power in the world, and Kim's sworn enemy, how will the citizens at home feel?

    Trump has a talent for making news. Defectors shaking hands and speaking with a sitting US president in the White House is huge news for North Korea, but totally contradicts its narratives. The most powerful man in the world is welcoming and honoring North Koreans and standing up for their rights as people.

    Kim Jong Un can muster up some more anti-US propaganda, or issue another paper on how Trump tweeting mean things about CNN is a human rights violation, or sentence yet more of his own people to prison camps where tens of thousands already languish in holocaust-level conditions, but he can't change the fact that his citizens live in poor conditions while the world around him thrives.

    SEE ALSO: Former US intelligence chief reveals North Korea's 'kryptonite' — and it could topple Kim Jong Un without a shot

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    • The US will send a foreign military sales representative to the Singapore Airshow to promote US-made weapons.
    • The US is looking to boost sales of the F-35 and missiles made by Raytheon as part of Trump's "Buy American" push.
    • It's been nearly a decade since the US did this.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States for the first time in years is sending its diplomat responsible for foreign military sales to the Singapore Airshow to promote U.S.-made weapons, a U.S. official said on Thursday, as the State Department prepares for an overseas arms sales push.

    The attendance of Ambassador Tina Kaidanow at the Feb. 6-10 air show, the most important in the Asia Pacific region, is aimed at boosting sales for U.S. arms manufacturers such as F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp and missile manufactured by Raytheon Co.

    President Donald Trump's administration is nearing completion of a new "Buy American" initiative that calls for U.S. military attaches and diplomats to play a much bigger role in the sale of billions of dollars more in business overseas.

    US arms exports

    "We will be working at strengthening our advocacy at every level of the embassy, from your commercial officer, up through your ambassador," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters on Thursday.

    Singapore could be seen as the test case for the Trump administration's new strategy of having the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department take a more active role in securing foreign arms deals, which require State Department approval.

    For the first time since at least 2009, the U.S. delegation at the air show will include the top State Department official overseeing arms sales. Kaidanow holds that role with the title principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

    The U.S. exported $49.5 billion of aerospace and defense products to Asia-Pacific in 2016, compared to European demand of $49.8 billion, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data.

    The official said of the "Buy America" initiative, "I would expect with all of the energy the U.S. government is putting behind this, as well as all of the energy the companies are putting behind this, that I would hope to see very good numbers" for foreign military sales.

    The State Department said in a statement that Kaidanow "will hold consultations on defense trade issues and promote more than 150 U.S. companies and trade organizations exhibiting the latest aerospace technologies."

    Demand for U.S.-made arms is high and foreign military sales in fiscal 2017, comprising the final months of Obama's term and much of Trump's first year in office, climbed to $42 billion, compared to $31 billion in the prior year, according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

    Remy Nathan, vice president for international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association aid, "The Asia-Pacific region was our industry's largest regional export destination for several years before Europe overtook it in 2016."


    SEE ALSO: A new generation of F-35 pilots are coming, and they'll solve the fighter's biggest problem

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    • Recent developments in China's missile forces threaten to deny US aircraft carriers and the US Navy access to vital warfighting domains, but the Marine's F-35B concept was designed to shatter those missile forces from the inside out.
    • The F-35B can land just about anywhere and take off with a fresh load of bombs and fuel, complicating China's war plan and giving the US a fighting chance.
    • F-35Bs are getting ready to deploy on small aircraft carriers, where they'll come face to face with China's burgeoning navy and missile capabilities for the first time.

    As China builds out its network of militarized islands in the South China Sea and expands a sphere of influence designed to keep the US out, the US Marine Corps is putting the finishing touches on a weapon to burst its bubble: the F-35B.

    China's People's Liberation Army Rocket Force has turned out a massive number of so-called carrier-killer missiles, ballistic missiles that can target ships up to about 800 miles out at sea, even testing them against models of US aircraft carriers.

    David Berke F 22With the US Navy's longest-range platform — aircraft carriers — maxing out at a range of about 550 miles, this means China could theoretically use the missiles to shut the US out of a battle for the South China Sea.

    But theories and lines drawn on paper won't beat the US military in a battle.

    In pursuing the strategy of anti-access/area denial, known as A2AD in military speak, China assumes that the US must launch aircraft from bases or aircraft carriers. But the F-35B, the US Marine Corps' variant of the most expensive weapons system of all time, doesn't work that way.

    "You can fly the F-35B literally anywhere," David Berke, a retired US Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, told Business Insider. "If your traditional places of operation are unavailable"— perhaps because Chinese missile fire cratered them, a likely tactic in a war — "the F-35B can be there."

    By taking off in just a few hundred feet or so and landing from a vertical drop, the F-35B frees up the Marine Corps from worrying about large, obvious bases.

    If China targets carriers, the US won't use carriers

    Marines have been training for this operating concept in the Pacific as well. In mid-January, they landed an F-35B on a sloped platform, showing that future pilots could land their plane almost anywhere.

    Throughout last year, F-35B crews trained on tactics like "hot loading" and "hot refueling," which aims to turn reloading the F-35 — usually an affair that takes time, space, and a massive air base to support — into the equivalent of a NASCAR pit stop.

    For the F-35B, the ground crew runs up to the jet while it's still running to pump more fuel and load more bombs. In just a few minutes, atop a dirt floor with minimal support infrastructure in an improvised location China's missiles won't know to hit, the F-35B can take off again.

    "Find me 600 feet of flat surface anywhere in the world, and I can land there," said Berke, who compared the F-35B to the A-10 "Warthog," the US Air Force flying gun famous for its ability to land on dirt roads and fight on despite getting roughed up.

    So while China has focused on pushing back the US's aircraft-carrier-bound fleets of F-18s, the Marines have cooked up a new strategy involving smaller carriers, like the USS Wasp, and heavy-lifting, quick-flying helicopters for support. Using the V-22 Osprey's and the CH-53's extreme-lifting capability, Marines could set up makeshift bases inside China's supposed A2AD bubble.

    From there, the stealth F-35Bs could take out the threats keeping the carriers at bay, poking holes in that bubble.

    "If you're looking at warfare two-dimensionally, you're looking at it wrong," Berke, a former F-35 squadron commander, said of the A2AD concept. "You don't beat me in a boxing match 'cause your arms are longer than mine."

    The US is sending the F-35B to the Pacific ASAP

    f 35b uss america

    The US's faith in the F-35B's ability to shake up the balance of power in the Pacific is evident in recent deployments. The first outside the US was in Japan.

    Now, amid rising tensions with North Korea, an F-35B-capable aircraft carrier will station itself in Japan.

    "You're about to put for the first time ever fifth-generation fighters on a ship at sea and put it into a highly contested area that is fraught with geopolitical risk and controversy and tensions," Berke said.

    "The implications of a fifth-generation airplane being in [the Pacific] is impossible to overstate," he added. "They're going to provide capability that nobody knows exists yet."

    SEE ALSO: A new generation of F-35 pilots are coming, and they'll solve the fighter's biggest problem

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    • The Trump administration is reportedly warning Syria that if reports of chemical weapon attacks continue, it will strike like it did in April.
    • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has been linked to multiple chemical weapons attacks, and the US suspects Russia is enabling it.
    • It will be hard for the US to prove Syria used the chemical weapons due to a change in the Assad regime's tactics, but it may look to send a message with a strike nonetheless.

    President Donald Trump's administration is warning Syria that further chemical attacks will be met with a strike like the salvo of 59 cruise missiles that lit up a Syrian air base in April.

    Syria would be "ill-advised to go back to violating the chemical convention," Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said on Friday, the Washington Examiner notes. 

    Two senior administration officials warned that the US could take military action against Syria following a new rash of reports of chemical weapons used against civilians supposedly carried out by the country's government, The Cipher Brief reported.

    But even bigger than another strike on Syria — which, while eye-catching, changed little geopolitically — the officials said the US was on to Syria's backer and enabler: Russia.

    "They're not trying to fool us. They know what we know," one of the officials said, meaning that Russia isn't even trying to hide its role in the chemical attacks. "They're trying to fool you."

    The official was referring to Russia's media offensive to deny its connection to chemical weapons use in Syria.

    An agreement between the US in Russia in 2013 bound Moscow to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, but as repeated instances of chemical weapons attacks show, that was simply not the case.

    The officials' statements to The Cipher Brief follow Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's statements that Russia "bears responsibility" for the chemical warfare still unfolding in Syria.

    Easier said than done

    syria chlorine

    But while the Trump administration has resolved to punish Syria's use of chemical weapons with military force, a change in tactics from Damascus may complicate things. Instead of the sarin gas used in April, which requires sophisticated assembly and deployment by an air force, the recent attacks have used chlorine gas, which can simply be dumped out of a truck.

    Former US ambassador to Turkey and Washington Institute fellow James Jeffrey told BI that there have been persistent reports of chlorine attacks in Syria since 2013, and it's not as clearly banned by international agreements as sarin.

    Additionally, Jeffrey pointed out that the attacks have not been independently verified by an international agency, meaning it would be harder to build an international consensus around a strike.

    "We are even more concerned about the possibility of sarin use," said Mattis. "We are looking for the evidence."

    But with Russian and Iranian influence growing in Syria and posing a direct threat to US foreign policy interests, it's possible that the Trump administration may look to make a statement that it's not buying Russia's excuses anymore.

    SEE ALSO: Trump will meet North Korean defectors in the Oval Office — here's why that's a big threat to Kim Jong Un

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    A man and a child watch as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system launches during a flight test from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, U.S., May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    • The US tried and failed to intercept a missile on Wednesday, and also announced it would spend another $6.5 billion on missile defense interceptors.
    • The US has spent more than $40 billion on missile defense projects over the last 15 years, and has no real credible capability to show for it.
    • Ballistic missile defense plays into the complicated game of nuclear deterrence, which some say provides theoretical protection, but nobody can prove that. 

    The US public learned on Wednesday that the US Navy tried and failed for the second time in a year to intercept a missile with an SM-III missile from the defense contractor Raytheon.

    On the same day, the Pentagon announced it would spend another $6.5 billion on 20 more missile interceptors for the ground-based midcourse defense system (GMD), which is meant to protect the US homeland from missile attacks from North Korea or Russia.

    But the GMD has a bad track record. It recently had a successful test that may have calmed the fears of some in the US amid nuclear tensions with North Korea, but a recent paper on the test shows it was unrealistically generous.

    Laura Grego and David Wright, leading experts in the field of ballistic missiles, writing for the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that the so-called intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the GMD knocked down was flown on a favorable trajectory, slower than the real thing, and without any of the tricks or savvy North Korea might use in an actual attack. The paper concludes the US has no reliable ballistic missile defense capability for the homeland.

    That capability, or lack thereof, comes after the US has spent more than $40 billion over the last decade in a half on ballistic missile defense.

    During that time, Boeing, Raytehon, and Lockheed Martin, key players in the BMD scene, have all posted record profits — and they continue to get contracts with the Pentagon. 

    To be clear, the US can defend against some, shorter-range missiles. Aegis-equipped ballistic missile destroyers at sea have a good track record of defending themselves, but they're not meant to go after ICBMs. Patriot missiles have saved some lives from short-range missile attacks on the battlefield, though that has been historically over-hyped or just lied about.

    BMD kind of works on a theoretical level, but is that worth $40B?

    hwasong 15 launcher

    Missile defense plays into the complicated and highly theoretical world of nuclear deterrence. For an adversary like North Korea, maybe even the single-digit percent chance a missile would be intercepted by the US would dissuade them from attacking.

    But much more likely, North Korea wouldn't attack the US because of the US's ability to return the favor tenfold.

    It's entirely unclear, and no expert can demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that BMD has ever deterred anyone, or done anything beside line pockets of defense contractors.

    For the US taxpayer, who has contributed billions to the cause of missile defenses while enriching the world's biggest defense contractors, a fair question might be: Where is the capability? Why don't these systems work?

    SEE ALSO: Why Russia's ballistic-missile defense works and the US's kinda doesn't

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