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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    Kim Yo Jong Kim Yong Nam

    • US and international media outlets went gaga over Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the Winter Olympics.
    • CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC, and Reuters were all criticised for surprisingly cheery depictions of Kim and the North Korean cheer squad.
    • Kim heads North Korea's propaganda department, and citizens of North Korea are regularly killed or enslaved for disagreeing with her and her brother.


    US and international media went gaga over North Korea's "Princess" Kim Yo Jong, despite her family's role in a massive, ongoing system of political oppression that has tortured and killed millions over decades.

    CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC, and Reuters were all criticised for surprisingly cheery depictions of Kim and the North Korean cheer squad dispatched to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

    "Without a word, only flashing smiles, Kim Jong-un's sister outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomacy," a New York Times tweet read. The tweet got an overwhelmingly negative response in the replies. 

    "Is the 'newspaper of record' really this susceptible to charm and propaganda from murderous dictatorships? Reminder: there are currently over 100,000 prisoners enslaved in North Korea,"Colorado Senator Cory Gardner responded to the Times

    Articles from The Washington Post and BBC that compared Kim to Ivanka Trump were vilified for similar reasons. While Trump's youngest daughter does advise his White House in some capacity, Kim actively runs the propaganda department that aggrandizes her brother's regime.

    Within North Korea, rejection of the propaganda espoused by Kim can result in a death sentence or a prison sentence for multiple generations of a family. 

     

    Usually straight-laced Reuters awarded Kim an imaginary "diplomacy gold medal" for her brief appearance at the Olympics, quoting an analyst as saying that Kim "showing elegant smiles" made North Korea appear as a "normal state."

    Eventually, BuzzFeed struck back at the media's applause for Kim's charm offensive, with an article titled "PSA: Kim Jong Un's Sister Is Not Your New Fave Shade Queen. She's A Garbage Monster," and subtitled "What the hell is wrong with you people?"

    Experts say North Korea intended to use the Olympics as a propaganda bonanza, and it appears to have succeeded. Smiling Kim struck a contrast to the US's representative, Mike Pence, who declined to speak with her or shake her hand as he travelled with Fred Warmbier, the father of a college student who lost his life over the theft of a poster from a hotel in Pyongyang. 

    The near-unanimous US media celebration of North Korea's attendance to Pyeongchang rarely mentions that last time South Korea hosted the games, a North Korean agent blew up a civilian airliner, killing all 115 crew and passengers.

    While US media giants ponder an erosion of trust, Kim's trip to the Olympics shows how a politically motivated agenda can dictate press coverage and potentially help normalize a murderous regime.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea's 'Princess' Kim Yo Jong threw Pence side-eye, cheered on a joint Korean hockey team, and pushed propaganda in her whirlwind trip to the Olympics

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    israel syria f 16 shoot down

    • Syria shot down an Israeli F-16 as it returned from a bombing raid from Iran-backed positions in Syria early on Saturday.
    • Israel responded with a furious barage of airstrikes on Iranian and Syrian-backed positions, including Syrian air defenses.
    • Israel has been running a quiet air offensive against Iranian-backed forces in Syria for some time, and despite the F-16 loss, it remains committed to shutting down Tehran's influence along its borders.


    JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli forces would press ahead with Syria operations despite their loss of an advanced warplane to enemy fire for the first time in 36 years.

    Syrian anti-aircraft fire downed the F-16 as it returned from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria early on Saturday. The Iran-backed forces are supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's near seven-year civil war.

    Israel then launched a second and more intensive air raid, hitting what it said were 12 Iranian andSyrian targets in Syria, including Syrian air defense systems.

    However, Israel and Syria have both signaled they are not seeking wider conflict and on Sunday their frontier was calm, though Netanyahu struck a defiant tone on Sunday in remarks to his cabinet broadcast by Israeli media.

    "Yesterday we landed hard blows on the forces of Iran and Syria. We made unequivocally clear to everyone that our modus operandi has not changed one bit," he said.

    Iran's involvement in Syria, including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has alarmed Israel, which has said it would counter any threat. Israel also has accused Iran of planning to build precision-guided missile factories in Lebanon.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Israel's strikes on Saturday had killed at least six people from Syrian government and allied forces. Syrian state media have yet to disclose any casualties or damage.

    The downing of the F-16 over northern Israel - as the air force struck back for what it said was an incursion by an Iranian drone launched from Syria - was a rare setback for a country that relies on regional military supremacy.

    Security cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio the Iranian drone was modeled on the U.S. RQ-170 drone that was downed in Iran in 2011. The U.S. Embassy did not immediately comment.

    The jet's two-man crew survived with injuries, and Israeli generals insisted they had inflicted much greater damage in Syria - even as Damascus claimed a strategic gain in the decades-old standoff with its old foe to the south.

    "Broadest attack" on Syria defenses 

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem February 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

    Israel said it had destroyed three Syrian anti-aircraft batteries and four targets "that are part of Iran's military establishment" in Syria during Saturday's raids.

    "This is the broadest attack on Syria's defense systems since (Operation) Peace for the Galilee," air force Brigadier-General Amnon Ein Dar told Army Radio, referring to Israel's 1982 Lebanon offensive, in which it battled Syrian forces.

    It was also the first downing of an Israeli warplane by enemy fire since that conflict.

    In Syria, the pro-government al-Watan newspaper said the country's air defenses had "destroyed the myth of Israeli air superiority in the region".

    Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which fights in support of Assad in Syria, spoke of the "start of a new strategic phase" that would limit Israel's activity in Syrian airspace, where Israeli planes have regularly attacked suspected weapons shipments to the Islamist movement.

    Both the United States, Israel's closest ally, and Russia, which supports Assad in the Syrian civil war, have expressed concern over the latest clashes.

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was due to begin a previously scheduled visit to the region on Sunday, expecting what a State Department official said would be "tough conversations". He is due to travel to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Kuwait during the Feb 11-16 trip.

    In a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Netanyahu affirmed Israel's right to self-defense and pledged continued cooperation with Moscow to avoid inadvertent clashes with Russian forces in Syria.

    Putin, whose country supplies Syria's air defense systems, urged Netanyahu to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

    The Eurasia Group, a New York-based political risk consultancy, said in a commentary that "in order to reinforce deterrence, Israeli leaders will probably assess they need to show Iran, Hezbollah and Syria they will continue to strike targets despite the risk".

    "(But) in a fog of war environment, another incident can easily drag the relevant parties toward a regional conflict."

     

    SEE ALSO: US signals major change on North Korea after South Korea's president agrees to meet Kim Jong Un

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    China J 20 Stealth Fighter

    • China on Friday announced its J-20 stealth fighter had entered into combat service — but military sources told the South China Morning Post that it had an "embarrassing" flaw.
    • Makeshift engines in the J-20 mean that it cannot fly or fight as a true fifth-generation jet and that its stealth has been compromised.
    • It looks as if China rushed the plane into service, and it's unlikely to be fully operational for at least a year.


    Chinese state media announced on Friday that the Chengdu J-20 stealth jet had officially entered into service as a combat-ready platform— but inside sources say it's a long way from fighting fit and has an embarrassing flaw.

    Citing military sources with knowledge of the J-20's development, the South China Morning Post reported that the jets that entered service didn't feature the engines China custom-built for the platform but used older ones instead.

    The result is an underpowered, less stealthy jet that can't cruise at supersonic speeds and is therefore not a true fifth-generation fighter.

    The Posts' sources pinned the jet's troubles on a test in 2015 in which the custom-built engine, the WS-15, exploded — something they attributed to China's inability to consistently build engines that can handle the extreme heat of jet propulsion.

    "It's so embarrassing to change engines for such an important aircraft project several times … just because of the unreliability of the current WS-15 engines," one of the sources told the Post. "It is the long-standing core problem among home-grown aircraft."

    How old engines make the J-20 fight like an old fighter

    Chengdu j-20 china jet pla air force miltary

    The older engine, the WS-10B, is basically the same kind used in the J-11 and J-10 fighters in 1998 and 2002.

    Without the new engines, the J-20 can't supercruise, or fly faster than the speed of sound without igniting its afterburners, like the US's F-22 and F-35 can.

    "Afterburners do make any fighter much easier to detect, track, and target using Infrared and Electro-Optical systems at closer ranges when in use," Justin Bronk, a combat-aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.

    Experts have assessed that the goal of the J-20 platform is to launch long-range missiles at supersonic speeds, but they won't perform as well if they can't fire at such speeds, Bronk said.

    "The major drawback from not having the ability to supercruise in this case would be having to choose between using a great deal of fuel to go supersonic or stay subsonic and accept shorter effective range from the fighter's missiles and an inferior energy position compared to a supercruising opponent," he said.

    A senior scientist working on stealth aircraft who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of their work previously told Business Insider that the J-20's design had a decent stealth profile from the front angle but could be exposed from others.

    According to Bronk, the older engines may exacerbate that problem.

    Did they even really deploy the thing?

    J-20

    A US Air Force affiliate researching the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force told Business Insider that an analysis of imagery suggested the service's 9th Brigade traded its Russian-made Su-30s for J-20s, but they disputed whether the jet was operational in the way Western militaries use the word.

    "The aircraft and its pilots and maintenance group need to master the type before it can be sent on a 'real' mission, not a training mission," said the researcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity because their employer's report has not been released.

    The researcher said that even for planes that aren't stealth and as radically different as the J-20, that could take up to a year, adding that the new WS-15 engines most likely won't be added until 2020.

    So while China claims it has become the only nation other than the US to field a fifth-generation stealth jet, at the moment it looks as if it's hardly stealth, hardly fifth-generation, and a long way from the field.

    SEE ALSO: Former F-35 pilot explains how the US Marine Corps' version makes China's 'carrier killer' missiles irrelevant

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    USS Abraham Lincoln turn

    Abraham Lincoln, widely considered the greatest-ever US president, was born on February 12, 1809, and of the many ways he shaped the modern world, the most lethal may be the 100,000 ton aircraft carrier he lends his name to.

    US Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are some of the biggest Navy ships ever built, but they're surprisingly fast and agile as is evident by this footage of the USS Abraham Lincoln basically doing donuts in the open ocean. 

    Measuring nearly 1,100 feet in length, housing as many as 6,000 sailors, and supporting more than 70 aircraft, these ships are some of the most complex and imposing machines ever made by man.

    But they're anything but hulking behemoths. These titans can do almost 35 miles per hour at full steam thanks to their nuclear power plants.

    Because aircraft carriers are such high-value targets, they have to be able to make tight turns to avoid collisions or enemy torpedoes, though their strike groups would likely fend off any threat to approach them.

    Watch the USS Abraham Lincoln swerve across the high seas below:

    SEE ALSO: Watch this huge guided missile destroyer turn on a dime

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    us bombers

    • The US Air Force revealed it plans to retire the B-1B and B-2 bombers in favor of a new bomber it's working on.
    • The B-1 and B-2 are getting phased out because they're expensive to maintain and have limited numbers.
    • The B-52, which first flew in 1952, will serve with the US air force for more than 90 years because it's a beast.


    The US Air Force has begun planning a new nuclear-capable, ultra-stealth bomber that will phase out the B-1B Lancer and B-2 spirit bombers, which have been hallmarks of the bomber fleet for decades.

    The Air Force confirmed the retirement on Monday in a release outlining the future of the bomber force.  

    But the B-52, which first flew in 1952 and saw action, will stay funded through 2050.

    The Air Force apparently reasoned that they don't want to grow the bomber fleet or footprint too much, so older programs will have to make way for the new bomber, which will be called the B-21.

    The B-1, a labor-intensive and expensive plane to fly, will face the axe. As will the B-2, of which only 20 exist. 

    The B-52 is an entirely different beast. Its age actually may have saved it, as the old plane doesn't need as much maintenance and can carry a huge amount of munitions and a wide range as well. Currently, the B-52 flies over Afghanistan and recently broke a record for most guided missiles dropped.

    Much of the details of the B-21 remain unknown, but President Donald Trump's administration's recent nuclear posture review envisions it carrying the Long Range Stand Off nuclear-capable cruise missile and having the stealth to cut through any airspace in the world.

    SEE ALSO: These are all the planes in the US Air Force

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    Merlin helicopter HMS Sutherland

    • A British warship will sail through the South China Sean next month to challenge Beijing's claims to the international waters.
    • The move is likely to stoke tensions with China, who have claimed the area and built military facitlities on artificial islands in the sea.
    • Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the energy-rich sea that carries billion of dollars in trade.

    SYDNEY (Reuters) - A British warship will sail through the South China Sea next month to assert freedom-of-navigation rights, British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in remarks published on Tuesday.

    British officials first flagged the voyage six months ago and the journey is likely to stoke tensions with China, who claim control of most of the area and have built military facilities on land features in the sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the energy-rich sea that carries billion of dollars in trade.

    The frigate HMS Sutherland will sail through the region after a visit to Australia, Williamson said in an interview with The Australian newspaper.

    "She'll be sailing through the South China Sea (on the way home) and making it clear our navy has a right to do that," he said, according to the newspaper.

    Williamson did not specify whether it would sail within 12 nautical miles of any disputed territory, according to the paper. Several U.S. Navy ships have made their own freedom-of-navigation journeys that drew stern rebukes from Beijing.

    Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was aware of the comments.

    "All countries in accordance with international law enjoy freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. There is no disagreement on this," Geng said.

    "The situation on the South China Sea is also improving with each day. We hope all relevant sides especially those outside the region can respect the efforts made by regional countries," he added.

    "Like I said last week, currently the South China Sea is calm and tranquil and we hope relevant sides don't try to create trouble out of nothing."

    In the interview, Williamson also encouraged Australia to "do more" in a region where it has conducted surveillance flights, but not freedom-of-navigation voyages of its own.

    map south china sea

    "The U.S. is looking for other countries to do more. This is a great opportunity for the UK and Australia to do more, to exercise leadership," he said.

    China's construction of islands and military facilities in the South China Sea has prompted international condemnation, amid concern Beijing is seeking to restrict free movement and extend its strategic reach.

    The Association of South East Asian Nations is hoping to expedite negotiations with China on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, Singapore's defense minister said last week.

    However, the initial talks have failed to reach a consensus on making the code binding which has already raised concerns as to its effectiveness.

     

    SEE ALSO: China appears to have rushed its J-20 stealth fighter into service with an 'embarrassing' flaw

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    FILE PHOTO: Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) stand near a U.S military vehicle in the town of Darbasiya near the Turkish border, Syria April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo

    • Turkey has been enraged by U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.
    • The Pentagon requested $300 million for Syrian "train and equip activities" and $250 million for border security, which Turkish media interpreted as $550 million to the YPG in 2019.
    • "Our ally's decision to give financial support to the YPG... will surely affect the decisions we will take," Erdogan said.


    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A decision by the United States to continue to fund the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia will affect Turkey's future moves, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, ahead of a visit this week by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

    U.S. officials have said that Tillerson expects to have difficult conversations when he visits Turkey on Thursday and Friday, given that the NATO allies have starkly diverging interests in Syria.

    Turkey has been enraged by U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Washington has backed the YPG in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

    "Our ally's decision to give financial support to the YPG... will surely affect the decisions we will take," Erdogan said in a speech to members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.

    His comments followed the release of the U.S. Department of Defence's 2019 budget, which includes requests for funds to train and equip local forces in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

    The Pentagon requested $300 million for Syrian "train and equip activities" and $250 million for border security requirements, according to a copy of the budget. While it did not specify how much of this, if any, was earmarked for YPG-led forces, Turkish media interpreted that to mean that the Pentagon had allocated $550 million to the YPG in 2019.

    "It will be better for them not to stand with the terrorists they support today. I am calling on the people of the United States, this money is coming out of the budget of the United States, it is coming out of people's pockets."

    Turkey last month launched an incursion into Syria, which it calls "Operation Olive Branch" to sweep the YPG from its southern border. It has also threatened to press on to the Syrian town of Manbij, under the control of a YPG-led force, and has warned American troops stationed there not to get in the way.

    Washington says it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from Manbij and two U.S. commanders visited the town last week to reinforce that message.

    "It is very clear that those who say 'we will respond aggressively if you hit us' have never experienced an Ottoman slap," Erdogan said in parliament.

    That was an apparent reference to comments made by U.S. Lieutenant General Paul Funk during a visit to Manbij.

    SEE ALSO: US Air Force's new bomber will retire the B-1 and B-2 — but keep the B-52 flying for 90 years

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    T72 battle tank russia destroyed

    • A US drone operating in Syria destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Saturday, the Pentagon said.
    • The tank was destroyed nearly week after a Bloomberg report said Russian mercenary forces fired on a position held by US troops and their Syrian rebel allies.
    • No US or SDF forces were killed in either attack, the Pentagon told Business Insider.


    A US drone operating in Syria destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Saturday, a Pentagon representative confirmed to Business Insider on Tuesday.

    "The tank had been maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire on a defensive position occupied by Syrian Democratic Forces and Coalition advisers," US Marine Corps Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said, adding that the SDF's "position was within effective range of the hostile weapons systems."

    The US has been training, equipping, and backing the SDF rebels in Syria's civil war for years as Russia has provided similar assistance to forces loyal to the Syrian government in close proximity.

    Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson first reported the news of the tank's destruction and said three crew members were killed, though their identities and affiliations were unclear. Tomlinson said the tank was destroyed after "pro-regime forces" fired on US special operations troops near the location where 500 pro-government forces attacked a headquarters used by SDF and US troops last week.

    syria map feb 2018

    The US responded to that attack last Wednesday with a furious barrage of air and artillery strikes and reported killing 100 pro-government troops, but sources told Bloomberg on Saturday that as many as 200 or 300 Russian mercenaries were killed in the attack.

    Rankine-Galloway said no US or Syrian rebel forces were killed or hurt in the tank attack, and the Pentagon reported only one SDF member wounded after the attack on Wednesday.

    The US maintains regular contact with the Russian military and has established hotlines to ensure the forces don't come in contact, but reports suggest an increasing presence of Russian contractors in Syria.

    The T-72 battle tank was a 1970s Soviet-era design that has seen heavy upgrades and use in the Syrian theater. The Pentagon reported that T-72s took part in the attack on the SDF headquarters on Wednesday.

    SEE ALSO: A massive battle between US and Syrian pro-regime forces reportedly killed more than 200 Russians

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    AC 130H_Spectre_jettisons_flares

    • US airstrikes reportedly killed Russian military contractors in a massive battle in Syria earlier this month.
    • They are thought to be among the 100 or so dead after the clash.
    • It saw 500 pro-Syrian regime forces assaulted US-backed forces in what the US called an "unprovoked attack."
    • Russian contractors are not the same as regular Russian soldiers, but US and Russian forces have operated close to each other on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict for years.


    US airstrikes in response to what it called an "unprovoked attack" killed around 100 people in Syria earlier this month according to the Pentagon, but a new report from Bloomberg says that number may be as many as 300, and that they were Russian mercenaries.

    If true, the battle may mark the deadliest encounter between the Cold War rivals in decades.

    While the Kremlin has declined to comment, and no independent party has yet verified the reports, US and Russian aligned forces have fought on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict and in close proximity for years.

    If the US did kill Russian military contractors, it falls short of killing official Russian servicemembers, which could escalate into a larger war.

    But the loss of Russians in Syria may still blacken the image of the Kremlin's intervention in the six-year civil war, which it portrays as peace-keeping and inexpensive.

    Russian media said Russian private contractors and pro-government forces advanced on oil fields in the eastern Deir el-Zour province and were targeted by the United States.

    “Pro-regime forces initiated what appeared to be a coordinated attack on Syrian Democratic Forces east of the Euphrates river,” Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement, referring to the SDF, which the US has trained, equipped, and backed for years.

    US Marines howitzer syria

    The river acts as a border between the coalition and Russian and Syrian forces, and the Pentagon also described the SDF location as well-known, and that therefore the attack wasn't a mistake.

    Syrian regime forces launched a coordinated attack that included about 500 regime troops, 122mm howitzers, tanks and multiple launch rocket systems on the US-backed SDF headquarters in Deir al-Zor province approximately five miles east of the Euphrates River.

    Regime forces operating Russian-made T-55 and T-72 tanks fired 20-30 tank rounds within 500 feet of the SDF base, where some US troops were embedded, according to Pentagon press secretary Dana W. White.

    The US-led coalition responded with "AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery," according to Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson. 

    The Pentagon said that the attack wounded only one SDF soldier. Days later, a US jet destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank that had fired on US and SDF forces, the Pentagon told Business Insider.

    SEE ALSO: US just detailed its plan to kick Assad out of Syria by treating the country like North Korea

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    t-72 tank us airstrike

    • A US jet operating in Syria destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Saturday.
    • The US military has now released video of the drone strike that took out the tank.


    The US military has released video that it says shows a drone strike destroying a Russian-made T-72 battle tank in Syria.

    The Pentagon told Business Insider on Tuesday that "the tank had been maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire on a defensive position occupied by Syrian Democratic Forces and Coalition advisors." 

    Other outlets have reported that the "coalition advisors" were US special operations forces which are known to train, equip, and fight alongside the SDF. The Pentagon said no US or SDF forces were killed by the tank.

    Widespread reports suggest Russian military contractors drove the tank and had been behind multiple attacks on the US and its allies in Syria. 

    Bloomberg recently reported that one massive battle saw US airstrikes, rockets, and artillery kill upwards of 200 Russians as they defended an SDF position.

    Watch the video below:

    SEE ALSO: US just detailed its plan to kick Assad out of Syria by treating the country like North Korea

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    T72 battle tank russia destroyed

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Kremlin spokesman said on Wednesday he could not rule out that there were Russian civilians in Syria, but that they had no connection to the Russian armed forces.

    Associates of Russian military contractors fighting alongside government forces in Syria have said there were large-scale casualties among the contractors when U.S.-led coalition forces clashed with pro-government forces in Syria's Deir al-Zor province on Feb. 7.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking on a conference call with reporters, said he had no information about any such casualties.

    SEE ALSO: A US drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank in 'self-defense' in Syria

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    kim jong un impersonator olmypics

    A man dressed to impersonate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walked through Pyongyang's cheer squad at the Winter Olympics — and its members looked unimpressed, to say the least.

    Though it's unclear whether this is the same impersonator who crashed the games' opening ceremony, the man was rushed away from the squad, much as the impersonator was on Friday.

    The cheerleaders looked less than thrilled to see a likeness of Kim before them.

    The squad's members are hand-picked and unpaid, train for months at a time, and must meet strict physical requirements. Some have reportedly been imprisoned in the past for talking about the world they see outside of North Korea.

    To see more pictures, check out Ohmy Star, which first reported the incident. Anna Fifield, The Washington Post's Tokyo bureau chief, also tweeted an image:

    SEE ALSO: The 229 women in North Korea's 'Army of Beauties' at the Winter Olympics are hand picked, unpaid, and guarded 24/7

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    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attends the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, in Bayan, Kuwait February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee

    • The U.S. administration's work on a new Middle East peace plan is "fairly well advanced" and President Donald Trump will decide when to announce it, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.
    • Tillerson also signed a five-year aid package that extends US support to Jordan, a key regional ally, despite Trump threatening to withhold funds from those who oppose his call to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
    • Tillerson and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi signed the non-binding memorandum of understanding  for $6.375 billion in aid starting this year.


    AMMAN (Reuters) - The U.S. administration's work on a new Middle East peace plan is "fairly well advanced" and President Donald Trump will decide when to announce it, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday during a visit to Jordan.

    Tillerson also signed a five-year aid package that extends U.S. support to Jordan, a key regional ally, despite Trump's threat to withhold support from states opposed to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

    Commenting on the peace plan, Tillerson said: "I have seen the plan... It’s been under development for a number of months. I have consulted with them on the plan, identified areas that we feel need further work.

    "So I think it will be up to the president to decide when he feels it’s time and he’s ready to put that plan forward. I will say it’s fairly well advanced..."

    Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the process of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv.

    The move triggered outrage in the Arab and Muslim world, and led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to declare that he would not cooperate with the United States as a mediator.

    Trump has threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that backed a U.N. resolution calling for Washington to reverse its Jerusalem decision. Jordan backed the resolution.

    King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, making Amman particularly sensitive to any changes of status there.

    Tillerson and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi signed the non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) for $6.375 billion in aid starting this year. The previous such MoU between Jordan and the United States was for three years.

    "This MOU commitment highlights the pivotal role Jordan plays in helping foster and safeguard regional stability and supports U.S. objectives such as the global campaign to defeat ISIS, counter-terrorism cooperation, and economic development," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

    ISIS is an acronym for the militant Islamic State group.

    Conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq have damaged Jordan's economy, forcing it to borrow heavily from external and domestic sources. Jordan has been an important part of the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

    Turkey ties

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of the ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey January 26, 2018. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

    Tillerson is also expected this week to visit Turkey, with which U.S. ties have become badly strained over Washington's support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, regarded by Ankara as a terrorist group.

    "With respect to my meetings in Ankara, Turkey is still an important NATO ally of the United States ... We need to find a way to continue to work in the same direction. We are committed to the same outcomes in Syria," Tillerson said.

    Tillerson expressed concern over Saturday's confrontation between Israel and "Iranian assets" in Syria. Syrian air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16 jet on Saturday after it bombed a site used by Iran-backed position in Syria.

    Tillerson said Iran should withdraw its forces and militias from Syria, where Tehran backs President Bashar al-Assad.

    Responding to the comments, a senior Iranian official, Ali Akbar Velayati, said Iran's military presence in Syria was legitimate and based on an invitation from Damascus. He called on U.S. forces to leave Syria.

     

    SEE ALSO: A US drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank in 'self-defense' in Syria

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    F 16 Israel Crash

    • Israel lost an F-16 to surface-to-air missiles in an intense air war over Syria, but it has operational F-35 stealth jets specifically designed to defeat air defenses, begging the question: Why not send the F-35s?
    • The F-35 awaits some software updates to bring it to full combat capability, but an F-35 pilot told Business Insider it's up for the job, and it's just a matter of time before it starts.
    • A source with inside knowledge of the F-35 program suggested to Business Insider that if unexplained strikes start happening, we'll know the reason why.


    Israel shot down an Iranian drone with an Apache helicopter and had one of its own F-16s downed by Syrian air defenses in an intense air battle that played out over the weekend. Experts say its a matter of time until the F-35 steps in for its first taste of combat.

    After the loss of the F-16, Israeli jets scrambled within hours and took out half of Syria's air defense network, according to their own assessment.

    But the image of the destroyed Israeli plane will leave a lasting black eye for the Jewish state, and Syria's assistant foreign minister promised Israel's air force "will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria."

    Despite the downed F-16 and Syria's threats, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue to wield his air force against Iranian-backed targets in Syria when he feels they get too close to his borders."We made unequivocally clear to everyone that our modus operandi has not changed one bit," he said.

    So why didn't Israel send F-35 stealth jets? Isreal has spent hundreds of millions on acquiring and supporting the weapons system purpose-built to fight in contested air spaces undetected. Israel declared its F-35s operational in December, 2017.

    Looks like a job for the F-35?

    IAF F 35I and F 16I nf

    Justin Bronk, a combat aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that the F-35 today has a "very immature software set," and that it "doesn't make a huge amount of sense to use them and risk them over enemy airspace" when it can afford so few of them.

    But retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, a former F-35 squadron commander, thought differently.

    "I'd be very comfortable flying the currently fielded software in combat," Berke, who trained with Israeli pilots at the US Navy's Top Gun school, told Business Insider.

    Berke said the F-35 was "ideal" for the heavily defended airspace over Syria, and also ideally suited for Israel's air force, which he described as finding "innovative, creative, and aggressive ways to maximize the capability of every weapons systems they've ever used."

    "The F-35 will see combat for Israel and it's just a matter of time," Berke said. Bronk and other experts contacted by Business Insider agreed that the F-35's first combat will likely take place in Israeli service, as they lash out against mounting Iranian power in the region.

    Presently, it's not clear that Israel didn't use the F-35. Israel has a long history of pioneering weapons systems and hitting the ground running with new ones. Israel has conducted its air war in Syria very quietly, only publicly acknowledging strikes after its F-16 went down. In March 2017, a French journalist cited French intel reports allegedly saying the F-35 may have already been put to work in Israeli service.

    When the F-35 starts fighting, you'll know

    Pantsir and S 400 in Syria

    But, with or without the F-35, Israel seemed satisfied with its counter attack on Syrian defenses. Bronk cautioned that Israel's claim to have taken out half of the defenses probably only refers to half of the defenses in immediate proximity to its borders, but said they have "many, many tricks developed over decades" for the suppression of enemy air defenses.

    The surface-to-air missiles in Syria's hands "certainly cannot be ignored or taken too lightly," according to Berke, and pose a "legitimate threat" to legacy aircraft like Israel's F-16.

    A source working on stealth aircraft for the US military who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the work would only hint to Business Insider that the F-35 may be gearing up for a fight in Syria, saying "if things unexplained start happening, there's a good explanation."

    SEE ALSO: A US drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank in 'self-defense' in Syria

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    syria army

    • Syrian media says the country's army is preparing an offensive on an eastern Syrian town to fight ISIS, but ISIS isn't there — and the US is.
    • The US has recently been clashing with Russian, Iranian, and Syrian forces in eastern Syria, dealing them devastating defeats.
    • It looks like the Syrian army and its backers could be headed for another such defeat. 


    After a massive battle that saw up to 300 pro-government fighters killed at the hands of the US and its local allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, it looks like Syrian President Bashar Assad's military will mount another offensive.

    Pro-Assad Al Masdar reported on Monday that Syria's 5th Legion and several units from Hezbollah are preparing an attack on ISIS near Deir Ezzor, in the country's east. Al Masdar seemed to confirm that the Syrian troops planned to encounter US-backed forces in a subsequent story on Wednesday.

    But Syria's own state-run media said in November that Deir Ezzor had been liberated from ISIS. Western assessments of Syria no longer say the terror group holds territory there.

    syria map feb 2018

    Instead, the US and the SDF hold much of eastern Syria, where the Syrian Army and its Lebanese and Iranian backers will head. Al Masdar announced the offensive would begin in three weeks and move under the cover of Russian airstrikes and with Iranians, who are thought to have 70,000 fighters in Syria.

    Those fighters may well meet the 2,000 or so US troops in Syria, but despite the numerical advantage, pro-regime forces have fared poorly against the US.

    In a battle between pro-government forces and US-backed forces on February 7, 500 Syrian-aligned soldiers launched an attack on a well-known headquarters of the SDF with 122mm howitzers, Russian-made tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems. According to the Pentagon, they only wounded one SDF fighter.

    t-72 tank us airstrike

    The US-led coalition responded with "AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships and Marine Corps artillery," according to Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson. CNN also reported that rocket launchers and MQ-9 drones were used in the attack.

    The Pentagon said it had killed 100 pro-regime fighters, but a later report from Bloomberg indicated that as many as 300 Russian military contractors had been killed in the fighting.

    Days later, the Pentagon told Business Insider that a US drone destroyed a Russian-made T-72 battle tank firing towards the SDF and its coalition partners.

    SEE ALSO: It's 'just a matter of time' until Israel's F-35 sees combat in the intense air war heating up over Syria

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


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    Kim Jong Un

    • One of the highest-ever ranked defectors from North Korea has said that Kim Jong Un is now engaging in diplomacy with South Korea because he fears a US military strike on North Korea.
    • The defector also said that international sanctions are crushing Kim's economy, and that now he wants to buy time to complete his nuclear arsenal.
    • North Korea is under international pressure like never before, and the new US commander in the Pacific has taken a hawkish tone against the Kim regime.


    One of the highest-ever ranked defectors from North Korea said Wednesday that Kim Jong Un is now engaging in diplomacy with South Korea because he fears a US military strike on North Korea.

    "Kim Jong Un is afraid that the US will launch a preventative strike, and he is trying to buy time to complete his nuclear and missile programs," said Ri Jong Ho, Yonhap News Agency reported. Ri, who worked for three decades in the North Korean office responsible for raising funds for Kim, was speaking at a Wilson Center forum in Washington.

    According to Ri, not only are President Donald Trump's threats of military action having an effect on North Korea, the US's diplomatic efforts to lock Pyongyang out of international trade have also started to bite.

    "Kim Jong Un is struggling under the strongest-yet sanctions and military and diplomatic pressure, so he is trying to improve the situation by putting on a false front," Ri said.

    Ri, who defected in 2014, likely doesn't know the current thinking in Pyongyang, but may have knowledge of the economic situation before the sanctions. Ri's statements follow a handful of moves from the Trump administration that appeared to signal that they were on the verge of striking North Korea.

    But Ri's statements also conjured up one of the US's worst fears in North Korea by suggesting that Kim did not legitimately want to pursue peace with South Korea, but rather that he wanted to use the ruse of diplomacy to buy time while he advances his nuclear program and continues to hold South Korean civilians at risk.

    "Depending on the circumstances, North Korea could hold South Koreans hostage and continue its threatening provocations," Ri said. 

    Ri's thinking seems to agree with US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, who recently assumed command of the US military's Pacific and Asian theater of operation, PACOM.

    Kim is "after reunification under a single communist system, so he is after what his grandfather failed to do and his father failed to do,"Harris said Wednesday, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.

    But Kim's end game is irrelevant at the present. There's evidence that a US-led sanctions campaign has begun to work against the Kim regime, and North Korea could be hurting economically. Moves in Trump's inner circle seem to heavily suggest he's considering responding to future North Korean provocations with force.

    No president before Trump has coordinated as great an international sanctions regime on North Korea, and none have so seriously offered up use of military force as an option. 

    In response, Kim has made the unprecedented move of agreeing to meet with a foreign head of state for the first time, and abandoned talk of preconditions beforehand, which some see as a concession.

    SEE ALSO: US signals major change on North Korea after South Korea's president agrees to meet Kim Jong Un

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    kim jong un

    • A high ranking State Department official poured cold water on reports that President Donald Trump's administration is considering a "bloody nose" strike against North Korea.
    • The Trump administration had reportedly been considering responding to the next North Korean missile or nuclear test with military force to embarrass and frighten Kim Jong Un.
    • The Trump administration has frequently reversed course on North Korea, declaring and retracting policies regularly. 


    A high ranking State Department official poured cold water on reports that President Donald Trump's administration is considering a "bloody nose" strike against North Korea on Thursday.

    At a hearing to confirm Susan Thornton, the department's nominee for Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said she had been told by the White House there was no bloody nose strategy.

    When asked by Shaheen if this was true, Thornton said "that's my understanding."

    "We were told clearly by administration people about as high up as it gets that there is no such thing as a bloody nose strategy,"Republican Senator James Risch of Indiana said during the hearing, confirming the meeting that Shaheen also attended.

    The White House also hit back on reports of the bloody nose strategy on Thursday, as a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, "Bloody nose is and has always been a fabrication."

    Reports of a "bloody nose" strike, or a US military attack in response to a North Korea provocation like a missile launch or nuclear test meant to humiliate and put fear in Kim Jong Un's regime, have circulated since December.

    If there is no "bloody nose" strategy, what was all that talk?

    Victor Cha

    The rumors seemed to gain further traction when Trump's administration reportedly rejected Victor Cha as US ambassador to South Korea because he didn't support a strike on North Korea and wouldn't say he would help evacuate US citizens from South Korea in the event of an attack.

    The day following reports of Cha's dismissal from the potential role, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post cautioning against such a strike. Cha had been in consideration for South Korea ambassador for more than a year. The sequence of events was widely interpreted as evidence that the Trump administration wanted to use force against North Korea.

    But even though Thornton and the senators pushed back on that idea, it came from a White House that routinely changes course on North Korea.

    Mixed messages, maybe on purpose

    Donald Trump H.R. McMaster Rex Tillerson

    Upon returning from the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, Vice President Mike Pence said the US would be open to talks with North Korea. The next day Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it would be "too early" for such talks to occur.

    Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis have reportedly fought against the idea of a strike, while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster favors changing the status quo by bloodying Kim's nose. 

    Additionally, Mattis has frequently said that he provides a range of military options to the White House should they ever need one.

    The flat-out denial of the existence of a contingency plan for a response to a North Korean provocation doesn't square with the Pentagon's formal duties, but may signal a new message being pushed by the State Department.

    SEE ALSO: Kim Jong Un is reportedly reaching out to South Korea because he's scared Trump will strike

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    USS Gerald R. Ford

    Despite aircraft carriers' immense cost, the Navy believes there is no replacing a well-armed, aircraft equipped, sovereign piece of US territory, powered by dual nuclear reactors.

    Former Defense Secretary William Cohen was fond of saying that without "flattops" the US has "less of a voice, less of an influence." Evidently, many of the worlds nations also believe this is true. 

    The last few years have seen a number of interesting developments for aircraft carriers. Some nations, like India and Spain retired aircraft carriers, while China commissioned its first aircraft carrier, and the UK returned to the rather exclusive carrier owners club.

    The US commissioned its newest aircraft carrier in 2017 — the USS Gerald R. Ford — the first in the Ford-class. Business Insider got a chance to tour the Ford last year.

    In all, 20 aircraft carriers can carry and launch fixed-wing aircraft are currently in service around the world.

    Take a look at them here:

    SEE ALSO: We toured the world's largest aircraft carrier, which can house 75 aircraft (but doesn't have urinals)

    DON'T MISS: We took a rare tour of one of the US Navy's most dangerous warships — nicknamed the 'Sledgehammer of Freedom'

    HMS Queen Elizabeth is the newest aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy, and currently the only active one as well

    Length:932 ft

    Commissioned: 2017

    Propulsion System: Two Rolls-Royce Marine gas turbine alternators and four diesel engines

    History: Queen Elizabeth is the lead ship of her class and one of the newest aircraft carriers in the world. It is currently Britain's only active aircraft carrier, with the second Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, still under construction.

    The ship was laid down in July 2009, completed in July 2014, and commissioned in December 2017. Business Insider was able to take a tour of the ship in December, shortly after its commissioning.

    Queen Elizabeth is unique from other carriers in that she has two control towers, one for sea operations, and one for air operations.

    The carrier is intended to have up to 40 aircraft, with the F-35 intended to be the main fixed-wing jet for the ship. Other aircraft planned to be included are Chinook helicopters, Apache AH MK1 gunships, AW101 Merlin transport helicopters, and AW159 Wildcat anti-surface warfare helicopters.

    More recently, Queen Elizabeth docked for the first time at an overseas port when it visited Gibraltar on February 2018. The carrier should be fully operational by 2020.



    USS Gerald R. Ford is the US Navy's newest aircraft carrier

    Length:1,106 ft

    Commissioned: 2017

    Propulsion System: Northrop Grumman nuclear propulsion system and a zonal electrical power distribution system

    History: USS Gerald R. Ford was laid down in November 2009, completed in October 2013, and commissioned in July 2017. It is the lead ship of its class, and is planned to be the first of 10 new aircraft carriers.

    The ship is still in a testing phase, but is intended to have a planned complement of more than 75 aircraft, mostly F-35Cs. As it is the Navy's newest carrier, new weapons may be added to the ship in the coming years, including lasers.

    The ship has a number of new technologies, like the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, which is intended to replace the current steam-powered launch system on current aircraft carriers.

    Gerald R. Ford recently tested launching F/A-18F Super Hornets off of its deck last July. It is expected to be fully operational and integrated and into the Navy by 2022.



    INS Vikramaditya is the Indian Navy's only aircraft carrier

    Length:930 ft

    Commissioned: 2013 (Indian Navy), 1987 (Soviet Navy)

    Propulsion System: Eight turbo-pressurized boilers, four shafts, four geared steam turbines

    History: INS Vikramaditya is currently India's only aircraft carrier, after India retired the INS Viraat in early 2017.

    Vikramaditya is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier. It was originally built for the Soviet Navy in 1982, and served the Soviet Union under two names; Baku from 1987 to 1991, and Admiral Gorshkov from 1991 to 1996.

    India purchased the carrier in 2004 after years of negotiations for $2.35 billion. After extensive modernization and modification efforts, the Vikramaditya entered full service in the Indian Navy in 2013. 

    It carries a total of 36 aircraft; 26 MiG-29K and 10 Kamov Ka-31 and Kamov Ka-28 helicopters. 

    The Vikramaditya recently became the first ship in the Indian Navy to have an ATM on board.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    tillerson erdogan turkey

    • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan amid high tensions between the two NATO allies that back different sides in Syria's civil war.
    • "The two engaged in a productive and open conversation about a mutually beneficial way forward in the U.S.-Turkey relationship," said a U.S. State Department spokesman.
    • Turkey is the main Muslim ally of the United States within NATO and one of Washington's most powerful friends in the Middle East dating back to the Cold War era.


    ANKARA (Reuters) - Top U.S. diplomat Rex Tillerson and Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan had a "productive and open" talk on Thursday about improving ties strained recently over their policies on Syria, in a meeting following weeks of escalating anti-American rhetoric from Ankara.

    Tillerson arrived in Turkey on Thursday for two days of what officials have said would likely be uncomfortable discussions between the allies, whose relations have frayed over a number of issues, particularly U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, seen as terrorists by Turkey.

    Turkey launched an air and ground assault last month in Syria's northwest Afrin region to drive the YPG from the area south of its border. Ankara considers the YPG to be an arm of the PKK, a banned group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

    The militia is the main ground element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the United States has armed, trained and aided with air support and special forces to fight Islamic State.

    "The two engaged in a productive and open conversation about a mutually beneficial way forward in the U.S.-Turkey relationship," said a U.S. State Department spokesman traveling with Tillerson.

    In a photo distributed by the Turkish presidency before the start of the more than three-hour meeting, the two are shown shaking hands, although only Tillerson was smiling.

    Erdogan conveyed his priorities and expectations on Syria, the fight against terror and other regional issues, a Turkish presidential source said.

    Ahead of the meeting, Turkey had called for the United States to expel the YPG from the anti-Islamic State SDF forces it is backing in Syria.

    "We demanded this relationship be ended, I mean we want them to end all the support given to the Syrian arm of PKK, the YPG," Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli told reporters in a briefing in Brussels, a day after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the sidelines of a NATO meeting.

    "We demanded this structure be removed from SDF," he said.

    Tactical differences 

    A Turkish soldier waves a flag on Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria January 28 ,2018. REUTERS/ Khalil AshawiTillerson, who is on a five-city tour, told a news conference in Beirut before arriving in Ankara that the United States and Turkey had the same main objectives, and put their differences down to tactics. He is due to meet the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Friday.

    Islamic State fighters were driven last year from all the population centers they occupied in both Syria and Iraq, but Washington still considers them a threat, capable of carrying out an insurgency and plotting attacks elsewhere.

    Ankara has placed greater emphasis in recent months on the need to combat the Kurdish militia and has said the United States is merely using one terrorist group to combat another.

    Turkey says the United States has yet to honor several pledges: to stop arming the YPG, to take back arms after Islamic State was defeated in Syria, and to pull YPG forces back from Manbij, a Syrian town about 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin.

    Canikli also said that Mattis had told him the United States was working on a plan to retrieve weapons given to the YPG, especially heavy weapons. However, Tillerson later said that Washington had "never given heavy arms" to the YPG and there was therefore "nothing to take back".

    Turkey is the main Muslim ally of the United States within NATO and one of Washington's most powerful friends in the Middle East dating back to the Cold War era. But widening differences on Syria policy are just one of a number of issues that have caused a rupture in that strategic relationship.

    Speaking with reporters on the sidelines of the NATO meeting in Brussels, Mattis said his talks with his Turkish counterpart were open and honest, but acknowledged the differences.

    "I believe we are finding common ground and there are areas of uncommon ground, where sometimes war just gives you bad alternatives to choose from ... We continue to collaborate on ways to ensure their legitimate concerns are addressed."

    The Turkish offensive against the YPG in Syria has so far been limited to Afrin, a border region where the United States is not believed to have troops on the ground.

    But Turkey has openly discussed extending it to other areas where its forces could potentially come into contact with units supported by the Americans. It says Washington should pull its forces out of the way; the United States says it has no plans to withdraw.

    SEE ALSO: US diplomats suffered mysterious brain damage and hearing loss in Cuba — and it could mean there's new way to cause brain injuries

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    putin assad russia military syria shoigu

    • About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria last week in a battle with the US, according to three sources.
    • The clashes show Moscow is more deeply involved in Syria militarily than it has said, and risks being drawn into direct confrontation with the United States in Syria.
    • The Russians reportedly were killed during a probing mission where they wanted to see if the US would respond to their advance.


    MOSCOW (Reuters) - About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria last week, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

    A Russian military doctor said around 100 had been killed, and a source who knows several of the fighters said the death toll was in excess of 80 men.

    The timing of the casualties coincided with a battle on Feb. 7 near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor where, according to U.S. officials and associates of the fighters involved, U.S.-led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Moscow's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Russian officials said five citizens may have been killed but they had no relation to Russia's armed forces.

    The clashes show Moscow is more deeply involved in Syria militarily than it has said, and risks being drawn into direct confrontation with the United States in Syria.

    The casualties are the highest that Russia has suffered in a single battle since fierce clashes in Ukraine in 2014 claimed more than 100 fighters' lives. Moscow denies sending soldiers and volunteers to Ukraine and has never confirmed that figure.

    The wounded, who have been medically evacuated from Syria in the past few days, have been sent to four Russian military hospitals, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

    The military doctor, who works in a Moscow military hospital and was directly involved in the treatment of wounded men evacuated from Syria, said that as of Saturday evening there were more than 50 such patients in his hospital, of which around 30 percent were seriously wounded.

    The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to disclose information about casualties, said at least three planeloads of injured fighters were flown to Moscow between last Friday and Monday morning.

    He said they were flown back on specially equipped military cargo planes which can each accommodate two or three intensive care cases and several dozen less severely wounded patients.

    Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said initial information was that five Russian citizens in the area of the battle may have been killed, but they were not Russian troops. She said reports of tens or hundreds of Russian casualties were disinformation inspired by Russia's opponents.

    The Russian defense ministry did not respond to Reuters questions about casualties in Syria. A Kremlin spokesman, asked about Russian casualties on Thursday, said he had nothing to add to previous statements. The Kremlin said earlier this week it had no information on any casualties.

    Reuters was unable to make direct contact with the contractors' employers, the Wagner group, whose fallen fighters have in the past received medals from the Kremlin.

    The military doctor said that a fellow doctor who flew to Syria on one of the recent medevac flights told him that around 100 people in the Russian force had been killed as of the end of last week, and 200 injured.

    The doctor who spoke to Reuters said most of the casualties were Russian private military contractors.

    Yevgeny Shabayev, leader of a local chapter of a paramilitary Cossack organization who has ties to Russian military contractors, said he had visited acquaintances injured in Syria at the defense ministry's Central Hospital in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on Wednesday.

    He said the wounded men had told him that the two units of Russian contractors involved in the battle near Deir al-Zor numbered 550 men. Of those, there are now about 200 who are not either dead or wounded, the wounded men had told him.

    syria map feb 2018

    Shabayev said the ward he visited contained eight patients, all evacuated from Syria in the past few days, and there were more in other wards in the hospital.

    "If you understand anything about military action and combat injuries then you can imagine what's going on there. That's to say, constant screams, shouts," Shabayev told Reuters. "It's a tough scene."

    A source with ties to the Wagner organization, and who has spoken to people who took part in the Feb. 7 clashes, told Reuters his contacts told him more than 80 Russian contractors were killed.

    The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the total of about 300 killed or injured was broadly correct.

    He said many of the injured had shrapnel in their bodies that was not showing up on X-rays, making treatment difficult. "The prognosis for most of the wounded is dismal," he said.

    Proxy war

    SDF fighter euphrates

    Other military hospitals treating the contractors are the Third Vishnevskiy hospital in Krasnogorsk, near Moscow, the Burdenko hospital near Moscow city center, and the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, according to the doctor, Shabayev, and three other people who know dead or wounded fighters.

    When Reuters contacted those hospitals by phone on Thursday, staff either declined to comment or denied having any patients evacuated from Syria.

    A Reuters reporter visited the Burdenko hospital on Wednesday and spoke briefly to patients who said they knew nothing about anyone evacuated from Syria. Reporters also visited the hospital in Krasnogorsk, and a fifth military hospital, at Balashikha near Moscow, but were denied entry.

    Russia launched a military operation in Syria in September 2015 which has turned the tide of the conflict in favor of Assad.

    Russian officials deny they deploy private military contractors in Syria, saying Moscow's only military presence is a campaign of air strikes, a naval base, military instructors training Syrian forces, and limited numbers of special forces troops.

    But according to people familiar with the deployment, Russia is using large numbers of the contractors in Syria because that allows Moscow to put more boots on the ground without risking regular soldiers whose deaths have to be accounted for.

    The contractors, mostly ex-military, carry out missions assigned to them by the Russian military, the people familiar with the deployment said. Most are Russian citizens, though some have Ukrainian and Serbian passports.

    The United States and Russia, while backing opposite sides in the Syria conflict, have taken pains to make sure that their forces do not accidentally collide. But the presence of the Russian contractors adds an element of unpredictability.

    Probing mission 

    Apache_Helicopter_Firing_Rockets_MOD_45154922 1024x573 (DC)

    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said last week that a force aligned with Assad, backed with artillery, tanks, rockets and mortars, had on Feb. 7 attacked fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces near Deir al-Zor.

    U.S. special forces were accompanying the SDF forces that came under attack, officials in Washington said.

    The U.S.-led coalition in Syria retaliated, killing about 100 of the pro-Assad forces, according to the official.

    Since the battle, associates of Russian military contractors have said Russians were part of the pro-Assad force involved in the battle, and among the casualties.

    Shabayev, the Cossack leader, said casualties were so high because the force had no air cover, and because they were attacked not by poorly equipped rebels, their usual adversaries, but by a well-armed force that could launch air strikes.

    "First of all the bombers attacked, and then they cleaned up using Apaches (U.S.-made attack helicopters)," Shabayev said, citing the wounded men he visited in hospital.

    The source with ties to Wagner said they told him the force struck by the U.S.-led coalition was made up mainly of Russian contractors, with a few Syrians and Iranians in support roles.

    He said that on Feb. 7 the force had advanced toward the settlement of Khusham, in Deir al-Zor province, into a zone designated as neutral under a deal between the Russian military and the U.S.-led coalition.

    The aim was to test if the U.S.-led coalition would react. The force advanced to within less than 5 km (3 miles) of the SDF and American positions, he said.

    He said that the U.S.-led forces, in line with procedure agreed with the Russians, warned Russian regular forces that they were preparing to strike. He does not know if the warning was passed on to the contractors.

    "The warning was 20 minutes beforehand, in that time it was not feasible to turn the column around," said the source.

    He said once the strikes began, the contractors did not return fire because they believed that would provoke even more strikes from the U.S.-led coalition.

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