27 April 2017

English

Trump gives Pentagon power to reset Iraq, Syria troop limits

KONFRONTASI-President Donald Trump has given the military the authority to reset a confusing system of troop limits in Iraq and Syria that critics said allowed the White House to micro-manage battlefield decisions and ultimately obscured the real number of U.S. forces.

The Pentagon, which confirmed the move on Wednesday, said no change has yet been made to U.S. troop limits. It also stressed the U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria still was focused on backing local forces to fight Islamic State - a tactic that has averted the need for a major U.S. ground force.

But the shift on troop limits was another sign of the greater authority Trump appears comfortable giving his military commanders to make battlefield decisions and could allow for more rapid increases in troop levels in the future.

The Force Management Level system was introduced in Iraq and Syria during Barack Obama's administration as a way to exert control over the military. Obama periodically raised FML limits to allow more troops in Iraq and Syria as the campaign against Islamic State advanced.

But the numbers did not reflect the extent of the U.S. commitment on the ground since commanders found often less-than-ideal ways to work around the limits - sometimes bringing in forces temporarily or hiring more contractors.

The force management levels, which are officially at 5,262 in Iraq and 503 in Syria, are believed to be more than a couple of thousands troops shy of the actual number of U.S. forces in both countries.

China flags global naval role after new carrier launch

KONFRONTASI-China needs to raise its military capabilities to protect its growing overseas interests, its foreign minister said following the launch of China's first domestically built aircraft carrier, but he vowed not to pursue expansionism.

China launched the carrier on Wednesday amid rising tension over North Korea and regional worries about Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea and its broader military modernization program.

Speaking during a visit to Germany, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Chinese business and citizens had spread all around the world, with millions of people living overseas and nearly 30,000 Chinese-funded businesses registered in other countries.

"Under this new environment, China has ample reason to raise its own national defense capability to effectively protect its fair rights that are increasingly extending overseas," Wang said in response to a question on the new carrier, according to a statement on the ministry's website on Thursday.

Wang said China's increased military muscle would help "safeguard international and regional peace".

China would maintain a "defensive" military policy and had "no intention to engage in any kind of expansion", he said.

China's navy has been taking an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and new warships appearing in far-flung places.

Little has been known, however, about China's domestic aircraft carrier program, which is a state secret. China also does not give a spending breakdown for its defense budget.

But the government has said the new carrier's design draws on experiences from its first carrier, the Liaoning, bought second-hand from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China.

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French intelligence says Assad forces carried out sarin attack

KONFRONTASI-French intelligence has concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or members of his inner circle ordered the strike, a declassified report showed.

The chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people, according to a war monitor, Syrian opposition groups and Western countries. It prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base, its first deliberate assault on the Assad government in the six-year-old conflict.

Assad has said in two media interviews since April 4 that the evidence of a poison gas attack was false and denied his government had ever used chemical weapons.

The six-page French document - drawn up by France's military and foreign intelligence services and seen by said it reached its conclusion based on samples they had obtained from the impact strike on the ground and a blood sample from a victim.

"We know, from a certain source, that the process of fabrication of the samples taken is typical of the method developed in Syrian laboratories," Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters after presenting the findings to the cabinet.

"This method is the signature of the regime and it is what enables us to establish the responsibility of the attack. We know because we kept samples from previous attacks that we were able to use for comparison."

Among the elements found in the samples were hexamine, a hallmark of sarin produced by the Syrian government, according to the report.

It said the findings matched the results of samples obtained by French intelligence, including an unexploded grenade, from an attack in Saraqib on April 29, 2013, which Western powers have accused the Assad government of carrying out.

"This production process is developed by Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) for the regime," the report said.

The United States on Monday blacklisted 271 employees belonging to the agency.

Syria agreed in September 2013 to destroy its entire chemical weapons program under a deal negotiated with the United States and Russia after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

The report said that based on its assessments, there were "serious doubts on the accuracy, completeness and sincerity of the dismantlement of Syria's chemical arsenal."

Ankara to continue military operations in Iraq, Syria: Turkish president

KONFRONTASI-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vehemently defended Ankara's recent deadly airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, vowing that Turkey would continue its military operations in both Arab countries "until the last terrorist is eliminated."

The Turkish leader made the remarks in an interview with Reuters in the presidential palace in Ankara on Tuesday, adding that he would not allow Iraq's northwestern Sinjar Mountains area to become a "new Qandil" for the militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), referring to a PKK bastion in Iraq, near the borders with Turkey and Iran.

"We are obliged to take measures. We must take steps. We shared this with the US and Russia and we are sharing it with Iraq as well," Erdogan further said.

Erdogan's comments came hours after Turkish warplanes conducted a number of overnight airstrikes against alleged positions of militants in Sinjar and northern Syria.

According to the so-called monitoring group of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Turkish fighter jets killed at least 18 members of the PKK-linked Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and a bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The US-supported SDF is reportedly fighting with the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in Syria and the US's support of the group has enraged Turkey.

The airstrikes in Sinjar area, which were purportedly aimed at positions held by the PKK-supported Yazidi Protection Units (YBS), claimed the lives of five Peshmerga forces and a police officer instead, drawing condemnations from the authorities of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also lambasted the airstrikes as unacceptable.

In response, Erdogan regretted the killing of Peshmerga fighters and said that Ankara's action was "absolutely not an operation against the Peshmerga."

Reports of North Korea artillery drill as U.S. submarine makes South Korea port call

KONFRONTASI-North Korea put on a massive live-fire drill on Tuesday to mark the foundation of its military, media reports said, as a U.S. submarine docked in South Korea in a show of force amid growing concern over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

The port call by the USS Michigan came as a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group steams for Korean waters and as the top nuclear envoys from South Korea, Japan, and the United States met in Tokyo to discuss the North's refusal to give up its nuclear program.

Fears have risen in recent weeks that North Korea could soon conduct another nuclear test or long-range missile launch in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that the North appeared to have deployed a large number of long-range artillery units in the region of Wonsan on its east coast on Tuesday, conducting a large-scale, live-fire drill.

The report, citing an unidentified government source, said the live-fire exercise was possibly supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

While South Korea's Defence Ministry could not immediately confirm the report, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said: "Our military is closely monitoring the North Korean military's movement in Wonsan areas and we are firmly maintaining readiness."

North Korea defiantly said in a state media commentary marking the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People's Army's that its military was prepared "to bring to closure the history of U.S. scheming and nuclear blackmail".

"There is no limit to the strike power of the People's Army armed with our style of cutting-edge military equipment including various precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and submarine-launched ballistic missiles," the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

South Korea's Navy said it was conducting a live-fire exercise with U.S. Navy destroyers on Tuesday in waters west of the Korean peninsula and would soon join the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group approaching the region.

The carrier group was sent to the region as a warning to North Korea and a show of solidarity with U.S. allies.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshide Suga, told a media briefing that China's nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, would hold talks with Japanese Foreign Ministry officials on Tuesday. A ministry source said Wu was likely to meet his Japanese nuclear counterpart on Wednesday.

Emerging from talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, said: "As we discuss these things all our steps and every part of them will be in coordination and consultation with our partners."

"We believe China has a very, very important role to play," Yun said.

Bomb attack hits U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan

KONFRONTASI-Suspected Taliban insurgents on Monday attacked a U.S.-operated base in Afghanistan's eastern province of Khost, officials said, but gave few immediate details of an assault that coincided with a visit to Kabul by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

The attackers had detonated a car bomb at an entrance to Camp Chapman, a secretive facility manned by U.S. forces and private military contractors, said Mubarez Mohammad Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

At least 35 killed in drug violence across Mexico

KONFRONTASI-At least 35 people were killed over the weekend in Mexico, according to local officials, amid a widespread surge in drug gang violence that has driven murders to a level not seen since 2011.

In Sinaloa state, 12 people were killed in different incidents since the early hours of Sunday, according to local officials.

Battles between gangs have increased in the area following the arrest last year of Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who was extradited in January to the United States.

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North Korea says it is ready to strike U.S. aircraft carrier

KONFRONTASI-North Korea said on Sunday it was ready to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might, in the latest sign of rising tension as U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to call the leaders of China and Japan.

The United States ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to waters off the Korean peninsula in response to mounting concern over the North's nuclear and missile tests, and its threats to attack the United States and its Asian allies.

Overseas voters kick off crucial French presidential election

KONFRONTASI-French overseas territories and French residents in the United States and Canada began voting on Saturday in France's presidential election, a day before the main first-round of a poll that could change the global political landscape.

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Ahok loses governorship in Jakarta run-off

KONFRONTASI-On April 19th the capital, Jakarta, went to the polls for the second time in three months to cast votes for the two remaining mayoral candidates, the incumbent governor, Basuka Tjahja Purnama (known as Ahok), and Anis Baswedan.

Analysis

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