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- 03/12/18--07:46: _It looks like the U...
- 03/12/18--11:16: _US slams Russia at ...
- 03/12/18--19:30: _After phasing out C...
- 03/13/18--09:17: _Russia says the US ...
- 03/14/18--02:10: _Turkish airstrikes ...
- 03/14/18--08:32: _South Korea orders ...
- 03/15/18--10:35: _Why Putin's new 'do...
- 03/15/18--12:07: _Top US military gen...
- 03/16/18--02:48: _Civilians are final...
- 03/16/18--03:22: _Russian airstrike r...
- 03/16/18--04:15: _Trump's likely pick...
- 03/16/18--07:51: _Trump has to get ov...
- 03/16/18--08:55: _It looks like China...
- 03/16/18--11:33: _US troops in Syria ...
- 03/16/18--14:28: _Russia says it snuc...
- 03/18/18--09:17: _If Kim Jong Un gets...
- 03/19/18--02:26: _How Putin's big ele...
- 03/19/18--12:16: _Why Russia, Assad, ...
- 03/21/18--09:18: _Israel admits it to...
- 03/22/18--09:49: _US pilots in Syria ...
- The US will reportedly hold back aircraft carriers from joint military drills with South Korea as North Korea's stance softens and its leader Kim Jong Un seeks talks with the US.
- The US raised eyebrows last year by deploying three aircraft carriers and two nuclear submarines to Korea for different exercises.
- The lack of carriers may help the ease tensions around talks with North Korea, but US officials have said that the US will continue its strategy of flexing its military muscle towards North Korea until Kim shows he's serious about giving up his nuclear ambitions.
- UN Ambassador Nikki Haley slammed Russia for its support of Syria's Assad government, which she accuses of gaming the UN system to continue to kill civilians, possibly with chemical weapons.
- French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France would launch attacks on any Syrian facilities used to launch chemical weapons attacks.
- Haley ended her statement by saying that if the UN couldn't stop violence in Syria, then the US would act on its own.
- Australian defense officials have been banned from using Chinese app WeChat, one of the world’s largest social media platforms.
- It follows the ‘phasing out’ of Chinese mobile phone brands Huawei and ZTE by the department.
- Australia's defense is currently undertaking a security assessment on WeChat.
- A top Russian general has threatened to retaliate against the US if it makes good on its promise to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for bombing Syrian civilians.
- The US said on Monday it would attack Syria again if unacceptable levels of violence continued, and the Russian general said that if that attack endangered Russian servicemen, Russia would fight back.
- The US has plenty of military options for striking Syria, some of which would be harder to retaliated against, and Russia's aggressive foreign policy may be more about signaling intentions than actually fighting.
- 03/14/18--02:10: Turkish airstrikes kill 5 Syrian pro-government forces near Afrin
- South Korea has quietly signed an order for 90 bunker-busting missiles that lend themselves perfectly to a pre-emptive strike on North Korea
- The move comes as high-stakes talks play out between Seoul and Pyongyang, and historic meetings between South Korean President Moon Jae In and President Donald Trump sit on the near horizon.
- The decision to buy offensive, bunker-busting missiles even as hopes are high and tensions thawing between North and South Korea indicates that South Korean President Moon Jae In is serious about keeping the pressure on.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new nuclear weapon that demonstrates Russia's apparent disregard for human life in human warfare.
- Most nuclear weapons use nuclear detonations in the air to put massive heat and pressure on targets.
- Russia's new nuke weaponized radiation itself in a way that could leave massive swaths of Earth uninhabitable for the better part of a century.
- US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the US military in the Pacific, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the US isn't planning a one-off "bloody nose" strike on North Korea to humiliate and scare Kim Jong Un.
- Instead, he said, "If we do anything along the kinetic spectrum of conflict, we have to be ready to do the whole thing."
- Reports about President Donald Trump's plans to strike North Korea have persisted for months, but Harris outright denied the "bloody nose" strategy.
- President Donald Trump is rumored to be on the verge of replacing his national security adviser.
- A likely replacement is John Bolton, a man who argues constantly for bombing North Korea.
- Bolton frequently appears on Fox News and writes that he thinks North Korea is an imminent threat to the US and must be dealt with immediately.
- He dismissed North Korea's recent push for talks and maintains that war is still a good option.
- President Donald Trump reportedly wants to replace his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, with John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, but he seems to not like Bolton's mustache.
- In policy, Bolton is much more hawkish than McMaster and openly advocates striking North Korea.
- In appearance, McMaster is much cleaner cut than Bolton and fits with Trump's "central casting" aesthetic and appreciation for US generals.
- A major Chinese shipbuilder briefly posted, and then deleted, images of plans for ships and weapons systems that reveals that China may be planning to unseat the US as the most powerful navy in the world.
- The picture shows a carrier at sea with models of unmanned drones and stealth jets on the deck in a clear effort to match US sea power.
- China has long focused on countering the power of US aircraft carriers, but has usually done so with "carrier killer" ballistic missiles.
- US troops in Syria are digging in and preparing for future attacks after a massive battle played out in the country's east
- The US Brig. Gen. in charge of the US-led fight against ISIS confirmed that around 300 Russian mercenaries were killed in a massive battle with US forces on February 7, though the Kremlin denies it.
- Russian websites have been seen as advertising jobs for more mercenaries, and a recruiter reportedly said Russians were now joining up to take revenge on the US after losing the fight in February.
- Russian media reported on Friday that its military snuck nuclear attack submarines near US military bases and left undetected.
- Russia has been increasingly touting its nuclear capabilities.
- Even though the alleged submarine patrols near the US are militarily meaningless, Russian media reports they will air a TV series on the event.
- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has unilaterally decided to discuss denuclearization with the US, but seriously pursuing that line could end in his ouster and death.
- Dictators like Kim run the risk of violent upheavals, as the North Korean people do not have legal recourse or any nonviolent method to change their leadership.
- Whether or not Kim disarms, when North Korea becomes open for business, newly empowered North Koreans may rise up against the leader that has imprisoned and killed so many for political reasons.
- Vladimir Putin now has a stronger hold on Russia — and stronger place in the world — thanks to an overwhelming mandate for yet another term as president.
- Relations between Russia and the West are already at their lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union 26 years ago.
- Russia is unlikely to pull out of Syria, where it constantly butts heads with the West, anytime soon. He will likely keep up his aggressive foreign policies.
- But Putin faces a tough question of how to step down from power, as he is getting old and has no apparent successor.
- Two thousand or so US forces remain in control of Syria's rich eastern oil fields.
- Iran, Syria's government, and Russia openly oppose the US presence, but there's not much they can do about it.
- An expert explains why it would be a losing battle to take on the US.
- Israel's military admitted on Tuesday that its airstrikes had taken out a would-be nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007.
- If Syria had kept its nuclear program in place, it's very possible it could have lost its nuclear weapons to ISIS or other rebel groups when the country erupted into civil war.
- A nuclear-capable ISIS would have had more leverage, and could possibly force concessions from its opponents or prompt other nuclear states to strike first.
- A US Navy Rear Adm. recently outlined how the US's air campaign over Syria has become incredibly complicated — and therefore very dangerous.
- US pilots are flying very closely to a number of other air forces that have different agendas.
- More than just fighting wars, the US has to interpret the other actors' intentions.
- Because of the close quarters and confusing politics, US pilots run the risk of making a massive mistake that could start a war with Russia, Iran, Turkey, or others in the region.
The US will reportedly hold back aircraft carriers from joint military drills with South Korea as North Korea's stance softens and its leader Kim Jong Un seeks talks with both the US and South Korean president.
"While US aircraft carriers have taken part in joint South Korea-US exercises in the pass, it has been decided that none will be coming for the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises," a US military official told Korea's Hankyoreh website on March 8.
"There is a possibility no nuclear submarines will be coming either," the source added.
Last year, the US raised eyebrows by deploying three aircraft carriers and two nuclear submarines to Korea for different exercises. Both aircraft carriers and submarines have been viewed as high-end platforms the US would deploy in the event of an actual war.
The carrier deployments also may have spooked North Korea, as it released a propaganda video if its missiles destroying a carrier and other key US weapons systems.
But Hankyoreh's source said the upcoming drills' lack of carriers had been planned long in advance, and didn't coincide with the recent thaw in North Korea relations.
Potentially, the lack of big, headline-making naval assets to the Korean Peninsula during the US and South Korea's regularly scheduled military drills could ease tensions as the sides move towards Kim's first-ever meetings with heads of state.
A Pentagon spokesperson decline to confirm what military assets would take part in the drills, but US officials have said that the US will continue its strategy of flexing its military muscle towards North Korea until Kim shows he's serious about giving up his nuclear ambitions.
The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, slammed Russia and laid down a heavy warning for the UN Security Council on Monday, saying that if the international community can't come together to stop the bloodshed in Syria, the US will.
Haley's statement follows French President Emmanuel Macron's statement on Monday that France would launch attacks on any Syrian facilities used to launch chemical weapons attacks, much as the US did in April 2017.
Haley's statement was especially scathing towards Russia, a permanent member of the security council. Russia, Haley claimed, negotiated loopholes into a ceasefire deal struck by the Security Council in February.
Haley went on to say that Russia had used those loopholes to carry out premeditated attacks, possibly with chemical weapons, on civilian populations it knowingly mis-categorized as terrorists.
"With that vote Russia made a commitment to us, to the Syrian people, and the world to stop the killing in Syria," Haley said of February's UN Security Council ceasefire in Syria. "Today we know Russians did not keep their commitment. We see their actions don't match their commitment as bombs continue dropping on the children of east Ghouta."
Hell on earth in eastern Ghouta
One of the last pockets of Syrian rebels has been holding out in eastern Ghouta against a furious onslaught of Russian and Syrian airstrikes that have killed 1,160 people since February 18, according to a war monitor.
The roads in and out of eastern Ghouta, where the UN Security Council intended to send aid, have been peppered with airstrikes, making aid convoys' journey treacherous.
A Reuters report on Monday stated that the pace and volume of airstrikes had grown so thick that it was no longer safe to leave shelter to bury the dead. Haley called Russia and Syria's air and artillery strikes "a brutal bombardment of civilians in Syria."
In the Security Council resolution, the UN called on Russia to use its influence to stop the bloodshed and allow aid and medical evacuations from east Ghouta, but Haley challenged that assumption in her speech by asking if it was Russia, once Syria's powerful ally and savior, that was subservient to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"Has the situation reversed and Russia is now the tool of Assad, or worse, Iran?" Haley asked.
Haley cited reports of Russians bombing medical clinics and hospitals while declaring the strikes successful missions against terrorist targets.
"Every minute we delayed meant more people were killed, but the Russian delegation stalled and drew out the talks."
"The Russian and Syrian regimes insist they're targeting terrorists" with airstrikes in Syria, Haley said. But according to Haley, Russia maintains that "the hospitals are full of terrorists, the schools are full of terrorists," while outside monitors report heavy civilian deaths.
Russia insists that its targets have been exclusively terrorists, and that it has allowed evacuation. It claims that terrorist attacks have shut down UN convoys and thwarted attempts to evacuate Syrians in medical need.
But it's unclear how rebels or terrorists, who live among Syrian civilians in east Ghouta, could retain sufficient territory to stage mortar or artillery attacks against medical evacuations or aid convoys under such heavy bombardment.
On Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British war monitor, said about 511,000 people had been killed in the Syrian war since it began in 2011, with 85% of those being killed by Assad's government.
Haley says Russia makes a 'mockery' of the UN, and the US may strike again
Haley described Russia and Syria's continued subversion of a peace process a "mockery," and concluded her speech with a warning, and recalled the US's April 7, 2017, naval strike on Syrian air bases thought to have participated in a sarin gas attack on its own people.
"When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action," Haley said.
"We also warn any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhumane suffering, most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the US remains prepared to act if we must," she said.
"It's not the path we prefer, but it's a path we've demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again," Haley concluded.
Australia’s Department of Defence has banned employees from using one of the world’s largest social media apps, WeChat.
The ban was first reported in the Australian Financial Review, with the Australian Defence Department confirming it did allow “limited use of Facebook, but not WeChat.”
The app, which has more than 1 billion users, is undergoing a security assessment. Until it is cleared, it is not allowed on any official’s mobile device.
The ban follows the Department of Defence confirming to Business Insider just a fortnight ago that it no longer uses any Huawei phones and is retiring its ZTE mobiles.
The Chinese brands had just been named in a US Senate Intelligence Committee report from the FBI as an espionage concern, given they were owned by companies that were “beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values” and could be used to “gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks“.
Huawei was founded by former People’s Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei. In 2012, it was banned from participating in Australia’s NBN project over security concerns.
However, the Australian Department of Defence said the mobile phones “do not pose a security risk for Defence” and were simply being replaced as they aged and failed.
It’s unclear whether the WeChat ban on Australian Defence officials is in place due to concerns about espionage activity, or whether the app is seemed deemed to be not secure enough.
Both courses of action have taken place after an October report from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation that warned Australia was the target of “espionage and foreign interference.”
WeChat has been dogged by security issues ever since its inception in 2011, and even Chinese authorities aren’t comfortable with the way its location-reporting and anonymity features can be abused.
But there is little doubt that those in charge of China’s internal security – police known as guobao – are also able to access user accounts.
That was most prominently highlighted by dissident artist Hu Jia, who claims guobao “were able to quote messages that he had sent via the service verbatim.”
WeChat and other Chinese apps were banned for use by the Indian Defence Ministry in December.
The Australian Defence Department is yet to respond to Business Insider regarding why WeChat has been singled out for the ban, or when and under what circumstances it could be lifted.
The department told the AFR that: “Defence does not provide or support the use of unauthorized software, including the WeChat social media application, on Defence mobile devices.”
A top Russian general has threatened to retaliate against the US if it makes good on its promise to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for his alleged role in bombing his own people.
General Valery Gerasimov was reported by multiple Russian news outlets as saying he had information that rebel groups in Syria would carry out a chemical weapons attack on civilians and then blame that attack on the Syrian government as pretense for another military strike.
Gerasimov went on to say that if the US attacked Syria, and any Russian servicemembers' lives were at risk, Russia would retaliate against any missiles or launchers used in the attack.
The last time the US attacked Syria, it was in response to a massive sarin gas attack that killed civilians and linked to government airstrikes. The US used guided-missile destroyers to pull off the attack.
Now, the US has a considerable and heavily-armed presence in Syria, but in the country's east, not where the Assad government's main targets are in the west. It's likely the US would again have to line up naval assets to strike Syria again.
If the US feared Russian reprisal for the attack, it could simply use a submarine that can fire missiles while submerged and then speed off.
US called out Russia and threatened to strike Syria
Gerasimov's threat comes a day after US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley trashed Russia as she alleged they negotiated loopholes into a UN ceasefire agreement that allowed them to continue bombing civilian targets like hospitals and schools when aid convoys were meant to reach a besieged Syrian town.
International war monitors support Haley's assertion that Russian and Syrian jets have struck civilian targets.
Haley concluded her speech by saying that Russia made a mockery out of the UN, and that the US was prepared to strike Syria if the behaviors continued.
Russia has placed air defenses around key Syrian airfields, and air assets represent a likely target for any US strikes looking to punish chemical weapons or human rights violators.
Russia's air defenses in Syria are regarded as very capable, and if the US tries to attack sites protected by Russian defenses, it could meet the conditions Gerasimov set for a counter attack.
Despite the uptick in tensions lately, the US and Russia have operated near each other in Syria since October 2015. Experts tell Business Insider that Russia, a militarily strong but economically weak state, would not enter outright fighting with the US over Syria.
In February, the US reportedly killed as many as 300 Russian paramilitary officers and blew up a Russian-made tank in fighting between pro-Syrian government forces, that Russia backs, and rebel forces, that the US backs.
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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Three Turkish air strikes hit a checkpoint held by pro-Syrian-government Shi'ite militiamen on the road to Afrin in northwestern Syria on Wednesday, killing five fighters, a pro-government commander told Reuters.
The Shi'ite militias, which control the nearby villages of Nubl and Zahraa, recently assumed control of the position in agreement with the Kurdish YPG militia -- the stated target of a Turkish offensive in the Afrin region, the commander said.
The air strike also wounded two Kurdish fighters.
South Korea has quietly signed an order for 90 bunker-busting missiles that lend themselves perfectly to a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, and possibly taking out Kim Jong Un in an underground bunker.
The move comes as high-stakes talks play out between Seoul and Pyongyang, and historic meetings between South Korean President Moon Jae In and President Donald Trump sit on the near horizon.
But South Korea has long shown an interest in deep penetrating missiles, even designing its own Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missiles that can hit all of North Korea and dig deep into the earth before exploding.
In response to North Korean missile tests in the past, South Korea has released video of the missile torching a mannequin in a deep bunker, perhaps as a message to Kim.
South Korea's Defence Acquisition Program Administration, or DAPA, ordered the KEPD 350K Taurus bunker-busters from a German company and will add them to about 170 such missiles they already own, according to IHS Janes.
The missiles fire from South Korea's F-15K Slam Eagles and have a range of 500 kilometers, putting all important North Korean leadership and nuclear sites within range.
South Korea has previously and successfully tested the Taurus from F-15s, according to Yonhap.
The decision to buy offensive, bunker-busting missiles even as hopes are high and tensions are thawing between the two technically warring states indicates that Moon is serious about keeping pressure up on North Korea.
Though North Korea has reportedly offered to suspend missile and nuclear tests during the process of trying to speak to the US, both South Korea and the US have announced that their joint military drills will continue.
Here's a video of the bunker-buster in action with South Korea's air force:
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a raft of new nuclear weapons systems at his State of the Nation address on March 1 — and one demonstrates Russia's apparent disregard for human life.
Known as the Status 6, the underwater, high-speed nuclear-capable torpedo isn't like other nuclear weapons. While any time an atom is split, there's a risk of radioactivity, nuclear weapons typically use nuclear detonations to create heat and pressure, with lingering radioactivity as a dangerous side effect.
But Putin's nuclear torpedo uses radioactive waste to deter, scare, and potentially punish enemies for decades to come.
President Donald Trump's nuclear posture review released earlier this year appeared to confirm the weapon, noting that Russia is developing "a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo."
What makes the doomsday device so dirty?
"Nuclear weapons only generate significant amounts of radioactive fallout when they are detonated at, near, or beneath ground level," Stephen Schwartz, author of "Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons Since 1940," told Business Insider.
These types of nuclear explosions "suck up dirt, or water, contaminates it with debris from the bomb, and then lofts it into the atmosphere," Schwartz said.
US nuclear weapons, which are mainly designed to destroy other nuclear weapons in a mutual nuclear exchange, detonate in the air to create the maximum amount of pressure to targets on the ground.
The amount of pressure created by a US Minuteman III ICBM would crush much of a city, but their strategic purpose lies in holding Russia, or another country's ICBM silos at risk.
"Where the fireball does not touch the surface of the earth," as can be the case with air-burst nuclear weapons, "the only fallout is from the bomb debris itself and any dust particles in the air that come into contact with it," Schwartz said.
"When a thermonuclear weapon is surrounded with with ordinary cobalt (cobalt-59) metal,"as Russia's Status 6 is rumored to be, "the fast neutrons escaping the explosion will instantly transmute it into radioactive cobalt-60, which would vaporize, condense, and then fall back to earth tens, hundreds, or thousands of miles from the site of the explosion."
How the doomsday bomb could make thousands of square miles uninhabitable for the better part of a century
The result would be a shroud of radioactive cobalt spreading indiscriminately across the planet. A cobalt bomb detonated in Washington DC could contaminate Canadian or Mexican soil. Schwartz estimates the cobalt would take 53 years to return to non-dangerous levels, and that other radioactive elements could persist for much longer.
"Any contaminated areas would be rendered essentially uninhabitable for that amount of time and people in shelters would not be safe if they returned to the surface for any period of time," Schwartz said. "If detonated in a populated area, decontamination costs would be astronomical."
In the US, nuclear modernization has meant for decades improving the survivability, accuracy, and precision of nuclear systems to hit small targets with minimal collateral damage.
The Russian idea of nuclear superiority, as revealed by Putin, involves making the Earth uninhabitable and visiting unimaginably horrific destruction for the sake of instilling fear, or simply for killing.
US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the US military in the Pacific told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the US isn't planning a one-off "bloody nose" strike on North Korea, but rather it's planning to go all out in war or not at all.
Senior administration officials are reportedly exploring the "bloody nose" strategy, which entails a limited strike to humiliate and intimidate North Korea. When asked about this during the Senate hearing, Harris said no such plan existed.
"We have no bloody nose strategy. I don't know what that is," Harris said in response to a question from Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, USNI reported.
"I am charged by the national command authority of developing a range of options through the spectrum of violence, and I'm ready to execute whatever the president and the national command authority directs me to do, but a bloody nose strategy is not being contemplated," Harris continued.
Experts uniformly reacted in horror at the news that President Donald Trump's administration was reportedly planning a limited strike on North Korea, as they allege it would likely result in an all-out, possibly nuclear retaliation from Pyongyang.
According to Harris, the US feels the same way.
"If we do anything along the kinetic spectrum of conflict, we have to be ready to do the whole thing," Harris said, pouring cold water on the idea of a limited strike that would only have rhetorical ramifications.
Speculation over Trump's willingness to strike North Korea peaked after he dismissed Victor Cha, a widely respected Korea expert, as US ambassador to South Korea after almost a year of consideration.
Cha's dismissal owed to his disagreement Trump's plan to attack North Korea, multiple outlets reported at the time.
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the Russian military and the Syrian government are extending a cease-fire in Damascus' rebel-held suburbs as long as it takes to allow all the civilians to leave the area.
Lavrov spoke in Kazakhstan on Friday, saying the cease-fire will be extended "until all (civilians) leave" the enclave known as eastern Ghouta.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that 2,000 people had exited the rebel-held suburbs by early morning.
Thursday saw the largest single-day exodus of civilians in Syria's civil war. Tens of thousands emerged from Hamouria and other opposition towns to escape the onslaught.
The civilians were fleeing as Syrian government troops, backed by Russian aircraft, pushed further into eastern Ghouta.
Elsehwere, Turkish forces are pushing their way into the northern Kurdish-held town of Afrin.
BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday Russian air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held village of Kafr Batna in eastern Ghouta killed 12 civilians and wounded more than 100 others.
"The bodies are completely burned by the Russian war plane air strikes," Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the UK-based war monitor, said.
Rumors swirled around the White House on Thursday as The Washington Post reported that H.R. McMaster was about to be dismissed as President Donald Trump's national security adviser.
His mooted replacement is John Bolton, a man who seems to really want to bomb North Korea.
The White House quashed the staffing rumors Thursday night, but Trump's White House has often denied rumors of staff shake-ups only to go through with them anyway.
This was the case with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's ouster on Monday.
Trump's selection this week of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson, a move that was perceived to steer the White House in a hawkish direction, helped fuel rumors that McMaster's ouster was likely.
Conventional wisdom in Washington now indicates that Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN, would take over should Trump dismiss his top security adviser.
In late February, amid a marked thaw in tensions between North Korea and South Korea during which the prospect of diplomacy looked brighter than ever, Bolton wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal called "The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First."
In the article, Bolton argued that North Korea had given the US no choice and must be attacked before it perfected its fleet of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. In his article Bolton never mentioned South Korea, which is in range of North Korea's massive installation of hidden artillery guns.
Experts estimate that thousands would die in Seoul, South Korea, the capital of a democratic, loyal US ally, for every hour of fighting with North Korea.
"It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current 'necessity' posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons by striking first," Bolton said to conclude his article.
After South Korean diplomats said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had expressed willingness to give up his country's nuclear weapons, Bolton dismissed it as a trick.
"The only thing North Korea is serious about is getting deliverable nuclear weapons,"he told Fox News. Bolton frequently appears on Fox, Trump's favorite news station, to talk about North Korea in his characteristically hawkish way.
Bolton's Twitter feed is a constant stream of reminders of links between North Korea's weapons programs and those in Syria and Iran.
Bolton believes, not without evidence, that North Korea could become an exporter of dangerous technologies that could threaten US lives.
Trump already had a North Korea hawk — Bolton is a super hawk
McMaster isn't exactly a dove on North Korea. McMaster is believed to have pushed the idea of striking North Korea, though perhaps in ways designed to prevent all-out war.
In November and December, persistent reports came out that Trump's inner circle was weighing such a "bloody nose" attack on North Korea. But by the new year, military and administration officials had started to pour cold water on the notion.
On Thursday, the commander of the US military in the Pacific dismissed the possibility of a limited strike, saying the US military was planning for all-out war or none at all.
Rumors of President Donald Trump's dissatisfaction with his national security adviser have swirled for months. But if Trump is truly thinking about replacing H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, as recent reports have indicated, Trump will first have to forgive Bolton's prominent mustache.
McMaster, a hawk on military and foreign-policy issues who believes the US needs to demonstrate its strength to deter bad actors, being replaced by Bolton, an extreme hawk who has advocated bombing North Korea and who pushed hard for the invasion of Iraq in the 2000s, has huge policy implications.
But there's good evidence that one factor holding Bolton back from the job is his thick, white mustache.
Trump reportedly does not like facial hair. None of Trump's close associates have facial hair, a pattern dating back decades.
"Donald was not going to like that mustache," a Trump associate told The Washington Post around the time of his inauguration. "I can't think of anyone that's really close to Donald that has a beard that he likes."
"Bolton's mustache is a problem," the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was quoted as saying in the journalist Michael Wolff's tell-all book about the Trump administration. "Trump doesn't think he looks the part. You know Bolton is an acquired taste."
Trump has repeatedly said he prefers to associate with people who appear to come out of "central casting," or people who look the part in a Hollywood sense.
But academic research actually backs up Trump's apparent distaste for facial hair in his political associates.
In 2015, Rebekah Herrick, a political-science professor at Oklahoma State University, published a paper called "Why Beards and Mustaches are Rare for Modern Politicians" that found voters didn't like facial hair on political figures.
In 2016, amid the first talk of Bolton's appointment to a White House role, Bolton tweeted"I appreciate the grooming advice from the totally unbiased mainstream media, but I will not be shaving my #mustache."
The military-general look versus Bolton's look
In contrast, McMaster's look couldn't be any cleaner. McMaster, who remains on active duty, still dons his US Army uniform and hardly has a hair on his head.
Trump has gotten flak from service members for calling his top advisers, including McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, "my generals," but he seems to have a genuine respect for the uniform and look of military men.
On Thursday, after a torrent of reports that McMaster was headed out the door, the White House denied any impending staff shake-ups. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, dismissed by Trump early this week, had been dogged by rumors of his weak standing in the White House for months before the news became final.
McMaster may well stay in Trump's Cabinet for some time, but if Trump can overcome his apparent distaste for Bolton's big white mustache, he may he picked next for the role.
A major Chinese shipbuilder briefly posted, and then deleted, images of plans for ships and weapons systems that reveals that China may be planning to unseat the US as the most powerful navy in the world.
The images, screengrabbed and reported on by Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer at Popular Science, showed Chinese plans for a massive, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier with stealth jets, nuclear submarines, and underwater drones, as well as a possible "underwater great wall of China" attack and defense system to surveil and attack enemy ships.
The China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) had previously confirmed on their website that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was in the works and expected by 2025, the South China Morning Post reported.
China currently operates two aircraft carriers, both of which are based on Cold War-era Soviet designs and burn fossil fuels, which limits their range and power projection ability. The smaller carriers, which displace about 60,000 tons, feature ski-jump platforms rather than the flat decks of US aircraft carriers, which also limits the weight and range of the aircraft it can launch.
The photos posted by CSIC show a large flat-deck carrier that looks much like US Nimitz-class carriers.
One picture shows a carrier at sea with models of unmanned drones and stealth jets on the deck. China has an upcoming class of stealth jets, though none of them have been navalized.
With a nuclear-powered, flat deck aircraft carrier, China would join the US and France as the only countries with full-on naval power projection capabilities. China's single nuclear carrier would put it on par with France, but far behind the US, which has 11 full size nuclear aircraft carriers.
But the leaked images likely indicate China wants to rival the US, as they included plans for electromagnetic catapults to launch heavy jets like the US's newest aircraft carrier types will feature.
Paired with the nuclear attack submarines also leaked by CSIC, the Chinese navy could see a considerable boost in power-projection capability.
China has long focused on countering the power of US aircraft carriers, but usually done so with "carrier killer" ballistic missiles.
The fact that China is investing in such an expensive, valuable target to put to sea so far in the future indicates there is some life left in the concept of aircraft carriers.
US troops in Syria are digging in and preparing for future attacks after a massive battle played out in the country's east that ended with up to 300 Russian mercenaries killed by US artillery and airpower.
Reporting from the ground in Syria, NBC News' Richard Engel and Kennet Werner spoke to Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga, whose forces beat back the pro-Syrian government advance on a well known US position near valuable oilfields.
The Pentagon said the pro-Syrian forces, including many Russians hired by private military contractors, made an "unprovoked attack" on their positions with artillery fire. The US response included airstrikes and artillery shelling that sources say wiped out much of the advancing column in just minutes.
"Those artillery rounds could have landed and killed Americans, and that's why we continue to prepare our defenses," Braga, who directs the US-led operations against ISIS, told NBC News.
Braga also confirmed that it was largely Russian nationals that took part in the fighting, though the Kremlin denies this.
But despite the overwhelming victory that saw zero casualties on the US side, Braga said he's "absolutely concerned" about further clashes in the future.
After the massive battle, Russian job listing sites were seen as advertising security work in Syria, in what is likely a recruitment play for more mercenaries. A man claiming to recruit Russians to work as private military contractors said that the recruits he now met were joining up to take revenge on the US, after the battle shook their national pride.
Possible round two
Now, according to NBC News, the forces that once attacked the US sit just three miles away, and Braga is uneasy.
"There is no reason for that amount of combat power to be staring at us this closely," Braga said. "I don't think that's healthy for de-escalation."
As a result Braga's forces are digging in and preparing for what could be a future clash.
Russia stands accused of using military contractors, or Russian nationals without proper Russian military uniforms, to conceal the true cost of fighting in places like Ukraine and Syria.
It's unclear how the Russian mercenaries and pro-Syrian government forces expect to stand a chance against the US without the involvement of the proper Russian military, or at least weapons that can take down the US Apache helicopters that are said to have strafed and mopped up the mercenaries towards the end of the battle.
Russian media reported on Friday that its military snuck nuclear attack submarines near US military bases and left undetected just weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin hyped up his country's nuclear capabilities.
"This mission has been accomplished, the submarines showed up in the set location in the ocean and returned to base," Sergey Starshinov, a Russian navy submarine officer, told Russian state-owned media. Starshinov said the vessels came and went "undetected" and that without violating the US's maritime borders, they got "close enough" to US military bases.
The Russian media, known for trafficking in propaganda to glorify Putin and the state's military, will reportedly release a TV series on the exercises.
The Pentagon did not respond to request for comment on this story.
The incident remains unverifiable with deniability baked in. If Russian submarines truly came and went undetected, no credible third party could likely verify the exercises. The fact that the military drill will become a TV series suggests that it was carried out at least in part for propaganda purposes, rather than practical military needs.
The submarines, which carry long-range cruise missiles that can fire from underwater, have no business coming close to the US, as they have an effective range of more than 1,500 miles. The submarines named by Russian media are powered by nuclear reactors, but have no nuclear weapons.
The incident comes as Putin prepares for an election on March 18, though he is expected to win handily. Putin has limited which opposition figures can run and controlled the state's access to information throughout.
Russia frequently engages in propaganda to glorify its military, as it did when it recently deployed early-stage supposedly stealth fighter jets to Syria. After a few days of dropping bombs on undefended villages in Syria, Russia declared the planes, which are designed for high-end warfighting against US stealth jets, "combat proven."
In February, Russian military contractors suffered a humiliating defeat to the US military in Syria, with airstrikes and artillery wiping out up to 300 Russian nationals while US forces suffered no combat losses, a US General has confirmed.
Does it matter if Russia can sneak its submarines around like this?
Both the US and Russia have heavily entrenched mutually assured destruction nuclear postures, meaning that any nuclear strike on the US by Russia would be immediately returned by US missiles fired from silos, submarines, and airplanes pummeling Russia.
Russia is currently facing increasing scrutiny and sanctions over its meddling in the US's 2016 presidential election and its alleged role in the poisoning of former spies in Britain. Russia's economy is heavily dependent on energy exports, and the weak price of oil and competitiveness from the US and other players have crippled its economy, though it continues to spend heavily on the military.
Despite having four times the population, Russia's GDP is roughly equivalent to Canada's and military sales and power remain one of its few lifelines to nationa prestige.
Though the US and Russia are Cold War foes increasingly at odds over foreign policy, the only recent significant clash between the two countries came in February, during the battle in Syria which Russia overwhelmingly lost.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made headlines for his diplomatic offensive, expressing unprecedented openness to talking to the US and exploring denuclearization.
But if Kim is serious about getting rid of his country's nuclear weapons, and many doubt that he is, he opens himself up to the same fate that's befallen many US foes and deposed dictators — a fall from power, and potentially his own death.
Perhaps no more vivid example of the fate that awaits dictators exists than the video of Muammar Gaddafi's death in Libya in 2011. Gaddafi voluntarily gave up Libya's chemical weapons caches in 2003 in exchange for easing of sanctions and international pressure on his regime.
In 2011, when Libya erupted in civil war, the US along with NATO allies peppered targets and forces loyal to Gaddafi, and within six months, the one-time ruler was beaten in the streets, killed, and had his body defiled with a soldier's bayonet.
It could be Kim's turn to find out how dictators fare when their people are empowered
Now Kim ponders a similar disarmament, albeit maybe in a cynical way to draw the US into talks. But to credibly advance the pending talks into negotiations, North Korea will have to outline some sort of roadmap towards denuclearization.
The US will likely not accept anything less then complete, verifiable, irreparable denuclearization, which would mean North Korea allowing outside inspectors to visit its nuclear sites.
One of North Korea's main deterrents against US invasion is that nobody knows exactly where its nuclear facilities are, what goes on there, and how many they have. The Trump administration has looked increasingly hard at these facilities as Pyongyang's nuclear-capable missiles achieve the ability to strike the US.
To certifiably denuclearize, North Korea would have to provide that information to the US. If North Korea withdrew from the talks after providing that critical intelligence, they would have essentially given the US a map of where to strike.
But even if the talks go forward without a hitch and North Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons in a verifiable way, the country will never be the same.
"If North Korea does decide to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for a security guarantee from the US and then they open up the country, think about how much political influence South Korea will try to wage, think of Western society rushing in and the influence of outside information," Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center, told Business Insider.
"All the suffering they had under the Kim family rule, they didn't have to," Sun said of the North Korean people.
Kim losing nukes means Kim losing control
Trade, goods, money, information and all the trappings of Western society would seep in after the sanctions go away, according to Sun. International scrutiny, tourism, and inspections will draw the world's eye to the atrocities being committed by the Kim regime.
Millions of North Koreans — the same ones enslaved, imprisoned, and victims of violence — will find financial liberation, and possibly corral that into political power.
It's unlikely that North Korea will seriously progress towards giving up its nuclear arms, as the threats to Kim from within and without the country would likely consume him. Experts routinely assess that a flood of outside information and contact with the outside world will lead North Koreans to bring about the collapse of the Kim regime.
"That the Libyan people rose up against Gaddafi had its roots in his brutality, corruption and incompetence: Not the fact that he had come to agreement years earlier with Washington, or that the United States had somehow double-crossed him," Fred Hof, former US ambassador to Syria and Atlantic Council expert, told Business Insider.
"The same could hold true for a denuclearized North Korea," Hof said.
But Sun, who also pointed to a connection between Gaddafi and Kim, pointed out that Gaddafi gave up his arms in 2003, and ruled eight years until his death in 2011. While Kim could hold out for some time, the economically much stronger South Korea, which shares language and culture with its neighbor, would eventually absorb the North, and leave Kim powerless and exposed, according to Sun.
Because Kim isn't democratically elected and doesn't hold power temporarily or have to account for his treatment of his own people, he will "always be vulnerable to violent overthrow," according to Hof.
"In the end the Gaddafis and Kims of the world are fully responsible for their own fates, whether they give up weapons of mass destruction or not," he said.
MOSCOW (AP) — Vladimir Putin now has a stronger hold on Russia — and stronger place in the world — thanks to an overwhelming mandate for yet another term as president.
His domestic opponents are largely resigned to another six years in the shadows. His foreign opponents are mired in their own problems, from Britain's messy exit from the European Union to chaos and contradiction in the Trump administration.
Even widespread voting violations are unlikely to dent Putin's armor. And accusations that he meddled in the U.S. election and sponsored a nerve agent attack in Britain have only bolstered his standing at home.
Here's a look at what to expect from Putin's next six years in power, for Russia's rivals, neighbors and its own 147 million citizens.
New Cold War?
Relations between Russia and the West are already at their lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union 26 years ago.
Despite a friendly-ish relationship with President Donald Trump, Putin's new mandate gives him little incentive to seek entente with Washington, especially as the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election intensifies.
Putin-friendly leaders have made gains in recent Italian and German elections. Western countries are likely to see more Russia-linked hacking and propaganda aimed at disrupting elections or otherwise discrediting democracy — including the U.S. midterm elections in November.
Since Putin's domestic popularity bumps whenever he stands up to the West, expect more tough talk from Putin the next time he faces threats at home, and bolder Russian vetoes at the U.N. Security Council of anything seen as threatening Moscow's interests.
His claim several weeks ago that Russia has developed new nuclear weapons that can evade missile defenses clearly showed Putin's adamant determination to boost Russia's power to intimidate.
Syria and the extremist threat
Russian-backed Syrian forces helped rout the Islamic State group from Syria, and Putin argues that Russia saved the day in a conflict that had confounded U.S.-led forces fighting against IS.
Now those Russian-backed Syrian forces are closing in on the last strongholds of Western-backed rebel forces.
Viewing that as a geopolitical and military victory over an illegal Western-led intervention, Russia is unlikely to pull out of Syria anytime soon.
An emboldened Putin could position the resurgent Russian military as a peacemaker in other regional conflicts — for example in Libya, where Russia has oil interests and where a disastrous Western invasion seven years ago left a lawless state now seething with extremists.
To Russians, Putin's biggest victory in 18 years in power was annexing Crimea and crushing Ukraine's ambitions to move closer to the EU and NATO.
Putin is frustrated at the resulting U.S. and EU sanctions but appears unwilling to make concessions that would bring them to an end. Ukraine is split between a volatile government in Kiev and a Russia-backed separatist region stuck in a frozen but still deadly conflict that serves Putin's interests.
Moscow's actions in Ukraine sent a warning signal to other countries in Russia's orbit that reaching westward is dangerous. And former Soviet bloc states within the EU are increasingly drifting back toward Moscow, from Hungary and Poland to the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Putin's new mandate could theoretically hand him the power to make bold reforms that Russia has long needed to raise living standards and wean itself from its oil dependence.
But Putin has convinced Russian voters that drastic change is dangerous, and that protecting the country from threats takes precedence over improving daily life.
Experts predict he may enact some changes like expanding affordable housing and fighting corruption on a local level.
But less likely are bigger changes such as overhauling the pension system, which is unpopular among a strong Putin voting base, or spending cuts in the security sector, unpopular among the ex-KGB friends in Putin's entourage.
Russia has weathered a two-year recession, and inflation and the deficit are low. But personal incomes have stagnated, the health care system is crumbling and corruption is rife.
His own future
The biggest question for Russians over the next six years is what happens after that.
Putin is constitutionally required to step down in 2024, but he could change the rules to eliminate term limits, or anoint a malleable successor and continue to run things behind the scenes.
Asked at an impromptu news conference Sunday night if he would seek the presidency again in 2030, when he would be eligible again, the 65-year-old Putin snapped back: "It's ridiculous. Do you think I will sit here until I turn 100?"
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin's most serious foe, will face further pressure from authorities as he works to expose corruption and official lies.
Other Putin rivals such as candidate Ksenia Sobchak and oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky will try to gain a foothold through upcoming local elections and the parliament.
And members of Putin's inner circle will be jockeying for position for the day when he is no longer in the picture.
Putin may revive efforts to promote artificial intelligence and other innovation as part of a focus on the younger generation, whose loyalty he needs to ensure his legacy outlives him.
Since the US-led effort against the Islamic State has reclaimed almost all of the terrorist group's territory in Syria, 2,000 or so US forces remain in control of the country's rich oil fields.
And though Russia, Syria's government forces, and Iran's militias all oppose that remaining US presence, there's little they can do about it.
A small US presence in an eastern town called Deir Ezzor has maintained an iron grip on the oil fields and even repelled an advance of hundreds of pro-Syrian government forces— including some Russian nationals believed to be mercenaries — in a massive battle that became a lopsided win for the US.
Russia has advanced weapons systems in Syria, pro-Syrian government militias have capable Russian equipment, and Iran has about 70,000 troops in the country. On paper, these forces could defeat or oust the US and the Syrian rebels it backs, but in reality it would likely be a losing battle, according to an expert.
US forces at risk, but not as much as anyone who would attack them
"They have the ability to hurt US soldiers — it's possible," Tony Badran, a Syria expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. But "if they do that," he said, "they'll absolutely be destroyed."
In Badran's view, even if Russia wanted a direct fight against the US military in Syria, something he and other experts seriously doubt, the forces aligned with Syria's government don't stand much of a chance.
"I think the cruise-missile attack in April showed, and the ongoing Israeli incursions show, the Russian position and their systems are quite vulnerable," said Badran, referring to the US's April 2017 strike on a Syrian airfield in response to a chemical-weapons attack in the country. Though Russia has stationed high-end air defenses in Syria to protect its assets, that did not stop the US when President Donald Trump's administration decided to punish the Syrian air force with 59 cruise missiles.
Russia has just a few dozen jets in Syria, mostly suited for ground-attack roles with some air-supremacy fighters. The US has several large bases in the area from which it can launch a variety of strike and fighter aircraft, including the world's greatest fighter jet, the F-22.
Iran has a large inventory of rockets in and around Syria, according to Badran, but an Iranian rocket attack on US forces would be met by a much larger US retaliation.
"It's vulnerable," Badran said of Iran's military presence in Syria. "It's exposed to direct US fire, just like it's exposed to direct Israeli fire."
If Iran fired a single missile at US forces, "then the bases and depot and crew will be destroyed after that," said Badran, who added that Iranian forces in Syria had poor supply lines that would make them ill-suited to fight the US, which has airpower and regional assets to move in virtually limitless supplies.
Badran noted that before the US entered the Syrian conflict, Islamic State fighters, whose training and equipment pales in comparison to the US forces', had success disrupting Iranian-aligned militias' supply lines "even though they're under bombardment."
At the same time, Syria's military has struggled for years to take territory from Syrian rebels, some of whom do not receive funding or backing from the US. With Syria's government focused on overcoming the civil war in the country's more populous west, it's unlikely they could offer any meaningful challenge to US forces in the country's east.
The US defending itself is a given, and Russia, Iran, or Syria would be too bold to question that
"Everybody poses this question as though the US is Luxembourg," Badran said, comparing the US, which has the most powerful military in the world, to Luxembourg, which has a few hundred troops and only some diplomatic or economic leverage to play with while conducting foreign policy.
For now, the US has announced its intentions to stay in Syria and sit on the oil fields as a way of denying the government the funds to reconstruct the country. Syria's government has been linked to massive human-rights violations throughout the seven-year civil war, which started with popular uprisings against the country's ruler, Bashar Assad.
While the US has failed to oust Assad or even meaningfully decrease the suffering of Syrian people, it remains a force incredibly capable of defending itself.
Israel's military admitted on Tuesday what intelligence communities around the world had long known — that Israeli airstrikes had taken out a would-be nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007.
In reporting the strike, Israel said it had done so in part to warn its adversaries in the region, like Iran. But surely Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and other countries with spy services already knew the action Israel had taken.
It's unlikely Iran or Syria needed a current reminder that Israel would fight in the skies over Syria to protect its interests after a massive Israeli air offensive downed an Iranian drone and reportedly took out half of Syria's air defenses in February.
But one element of Israel's 2007 strike on a nuclear reactor near Deir Ezzor that bears repeating and reexamination is the fact that the terror group ISIS held control of that area for three full years.
If Syria had nukes, then ISIS might have too
"Look at nukes as an insurance policy — at the end of the day, if you've got a nuke, it's an umbrella for all of the other activity that could potentially spark conflict with your enemies," Jonathan Schanzer, a Syria expert and the senior vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. "If your enemies want to respond to you, they're going to feel inhibited."
This may have been Syria's calculus in 2007 when it set about a clandestine nuclear weapons program, reportedly with the help of embedded North Koreans.
But in 2011, a popular, pro-democratic uprising in Syria sparked what would become a civil war that has dragged on to this day. During the conflict, Syrian President Bashar Assad has lost control of the majority of his country, with some parts under the control of rebel forces, some parts under the control of Kurdish forces, and from 2014 to 2017, much of the country under ISIS' control.
ISIS held Deir Ezzor and the surrounding regions for three solid years, during which time they looted and pillaged whatever resources were available and ready for sale, including oil from the country's rich oilfields.
If Israel had not taken out the reactor in 2007, it's entirely possible ISIS could have taken custody of it. With access to radioactive materials, it's possible ISIS could have cooked up a dirty bomb for use in terrorism, or even detonated a full on nuclear device.
It's reasonable to expect that a nuclear-capable ISIS would have more leverage, and could possibly force concessions from its opponents or prompt other nuclear states to strike first.
Instability makes Middle Eastern nuclear programs extra dangerous
"The Middle East is unstable," Schanzer said. "One never knows when the next popular uprising or the next moment of intense instability might hit."
Even states like Iran, where the current government has been in power since 1979, could fall prey to a popular uprising that could collapse the regime "overnight," according to Schanzer.
"Imagine if in Syria today we were trying to track loose nukes," Schanzer said. "Imagine if a country like Yemen had nuclear weapons."
While nuclear weapons may deter state actors from invading a country or pushing it too far, they do not protect against domestic upheaval, like the 2011 Syrian uprising that became overrun with Islamist hardliners like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
A recent report from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier stationed in the Persian Gulf and supporting the US-led fight against ISIS contained a startling realization — US pilots are fighting in an insanely complicated space that puts them in danger.
"When it first started, ISIS was just steamrolling across Iraq and Syria and there wasn't really much resistance going on … There weren't a whole lot of places you could go where there was no ISIS presence about three years ago," Lt. Joe Anderson, an F/A-18F pilot aboard the Roosevelt, told the US Naval Institute.
But in 2018, the US-led coalition against ISIS has all but crushed the terror army. Now the US troops in Syria, and their backups aboard the Roosevelt, have moved on to other objectives.
"Now where we're at, there's not as much going on … Mostly they’ve been whittled down to just isolated pockets within Iraq and Syria," Anderson said.
As the fight against ISIS dwindles down, the US has turned its attention to denying Iran influence within Syria and a land bridge to arm Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, as well as denying Syrian President Bashar Assad access to the country's rich eastern oilfields.
US Navy pilots now spend much of their time "doing on-call [close-air support] and doing more defending the US and coalition forces on the ground in the area, and specifically Syrian Defense Forces who are in the mix doing their thing," Anderson said.
That means the US is defending a group of Syrian rebels with embedded US ground troops in one of the most complex fights in history. The US supports the SDF and Kurdish forces in Syria's north, but Turkey, a NATO ally, launched a military campaign against the Kurds. The US's SDF allies opposes Syria's government, but Russia and Iran back them.
US pilots fly the same skies as Iranian, Turkish, Syrian, and Russian aircraft, and they're only allies with the Turks.
Crazy complicated skies put the US at risk
Anderson's commander, Rear Adm. Steve Koehler, told USNI that "the threat picture in Syria is just crazy."
"How many different countries can you cram in one different place, where they all have a different little bit of an agenda? And you put a tactical pilot up there and he or she has to employ ordnance or make defensive counter-air decisions with multiple people – Russians, Syrians, Turks, ISIS, United States," Koehler said.
As a result of the multi-faceted geopolitical complexity, US pilots are now in much more danger than a regular combat mission, according to retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke.
"Now the pilots in the airplanes are under stress and using ordnance now have to do interpretations of human behavior and derive the intention of a potential adversary, or at least someone who's not there for the same reasons," Berke told Business Insider.
In normal situations, like over Iraq or Afghanistan, US pilots fly with coalition partners and against enemy aircraft, but the divergent agendas in Syria mean aircraft with potentially bad aircraft can square right up to the US without tripping any alarms.
Berke emphasized that the difference in each country's agenda made the coordination and combat fraught with difficulty.
If an armed Turkish jet was speeding towards Kurdish forces with US troops embedded, how should a US pilot respond? US pilots and air controllers train endlessly on how to fight, but drawing the line between what constitutes aggression, or self defense, is a different matter.
This could start a war
"If you misinterpret what someone does, you can create a massive problem, you can start a war," Berke said. "I can't think of a more complex place for there to be or a greater level of risk."
As a result, US pilots are somewhat bound to deescalation, and may be tolerating higher levels of aggression from adversaries or non-allies in the skies above Syria. No US pilot wants to make headlines for kicking off an international incident by downing a Russian jet, or failing to defend US forces in a very murky situation.
"The less you know what's going on, the more likely you're going to make a bad decision that you're not aware," Berke said. "The fact that it hasn't escalated beyond what it is now is a testament to the professionalism of the US military, it could have gone sideways any number of times."