United States military leaders on Thursday threatened a retaliatory strike against Iranian-backed Shia militia in Iraq, saying they know who launched the rockets in Iraq that killed and wounded US and coalition troops.
US President Donald Trump gave the Pentagon the authority to respond after a rocket barrage killed two US troops and a British soldier, again raising tensions with Iran after the two countries came to the brink of war earlier this year.
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Military leaders said they know who launched the rockets and the Shia militia group responsible will be held accountable.
“I have spoken with the president. He’s given me the authority to do what we need to do, consistent with his guidance. And, you know – if that becomes the case …” defence chief Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon, adding he and Trump had a “good conversation”.
Asked what he meant, Esper suggested he was not going to telegraph any US response.
Iraq: ISIL attacks return amid uncertain security situation
Asked if the US response could include strikes inside Iran, Esper said: “I’m not going to take any option off the table right now, but we are focused on the group – groups – that we believe perpetrated this in Iraq.
“We’re going to take this one step at a time, but we’ve got to hold the perpetrators accountable,” Esper said. “You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it.”
Two US troops and one British service member were killed and 18 other personnel wounded at Camp Taji north of Baghdad on Wednesday night in the rocket fire.
US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie earlier did not blame any specific militia, but noted only Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah had been known to wage such attacks on coalition forces in the past.
“While we are still investigating the attack, I will note that the Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah is the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against US and coalition forces in Iraq,” McKenzie told a US Senate hearing on Thursday.
The attack marked a dramatic uptick in violence less than three months after rockets killed a US contractor in northern Iraq, unleashing a round of tit-for-tat attacks between Washington and Tehran on Iraqi soil.
Within hours of the attack on the Taji air base north of Baghdad – the deadliest in years on a base used by US forces in Iraq – an air strike killed more than two dozen Iran-aligned fighters in neighbouring Syria.
Fearing an even bloodier flare-up this time, Iraqi officials and the United Nations were quick to condemn the deaths.
Analysis: 50 US troops face brain injuries after Iran strikes
Iraqi President Barham Salih and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi condemned the “terrorist attack” that targeted “Iraq and its security”.
The UN mission in Iraq called for “maximum restraint on all sides”.
“These ongoing attacks are a clear and substantial threat to the country, and the risk of rogue action by armed groups remains a constant concern,” the UN mission said. “The last thing Iraq needs is to serve as an arena for vendettas and external battles.”
The rocket attack was the 22nd against US military interests in the country since late October, an Iraqi military commander said.
In late December, the US accused Iran-aligned faction Kataib Hezbollah of killing a US contractor at a base in northern Iraq. It responded with air strikes in western Iraq that killed 25 of the group’s fighters.
Days later, a US drone killed senior Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis near Baghdad airport.
Iran then launched its own strikes on a western Iraqi base, leaving dozens of US troops suffering from brain trauma.
Iraq has years of close ties with both Iran and the US, and has been put in an increasingly difficult position by the spiralling tensions between the two.
In January, Iraqi lawmakers voted to oust all foreign troops from Iraq in reaction to the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis.
Some 5,200 US troops are stationed in Iraq as part of the coalition formed in 2014 to fight the armed group ISIL (ISIS).
While ISIL has lost all of the vast territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, sleeper cells remain capable of carrying out attacks on both sides of the border.
Hedgemony, RAND Pentagon war game, gives a ‘secretary’s-level view’
A game meant to teach the Pentagon brass how to counter Russia and China may never replace Risk or Monopoly for a night of family fun, but it could give players a tabletop view of how national leaders make big-picture life and death decisions in an increasingly unsettled world. The Rand Corp., the federally funded…
A game meant to teach the Pentagon brass how to counter Russia and China may never replace Risk or Monopoly for a night of family fun, but it could give players a tabletop view of how national leaders make big-picture life and death decisions in an increasingly unsettled world.
The Rand Corp., the federally funded think tank that has been advising the Department of Defense since the dawn of the Cold War, is entering the gamer market. Last week, it released “Hedgemony: A Game of Strategic Choices” to the general public. With a $250 price tag, it’s the first war game Rand has offered for sale outside the government and allows the average gamer to channel his inner Dr. Strangelove.
“It gives a unique, Secretary’s-level view” of the Pentagon and how it makes decisions, Michael Spirtas, associate director of Rand’s International Security and Defense Policy Center and one of the game designers, said Monday in an interview with The Washington Times. The public game is a direct descendant of the exercise Rand set up for the real Pentagon as leaders contemplated a massive shift in U.S. strategy shortly after President Trump was elected.
The unique spelling of Hedgemony is no typo. It’s a play on the concept of the dominant “hegemon” and the need to “hedge” strategic trade-offs among wants, needs and shortcomings when confronting hostile forces in the real world, designers said.
A national “Secretary of Defense” represents the United States, and other “Blue Side” players are U.S. allies. Russia, China, North Korea and Iran constitute the Red Side team. Each player has military forces with clearly defined capabilities and a logistics supply line. Like any other war game, the players outline their strategic objectives and then employ their forces in the face of changing circumstances, opponents’ moves, and constraints such as dwindling resources and time.
“I am resource-constrained,” Mr. Spirtas said. “Every year I get a budget, and the budget will go up and down.”
While he was secretary of defense, James Mattis asked Rand to design “Hedgemony” to help his team craft the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy. Such war games can play a critical role in testing assumptions while honing military systems and technologies, said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“These war games help identify necessary capabilities and capacities, and in the process they help inform the allocation of finite resources,” he said. “War games are essential as the U.S. military conducts its most important modernization effort in decades.”
Many staffers in the Pentagon focus their efforts and attention on a single critical element that can affect a defense budget, such as the force size, readiness levels, modernization or deployment patterns. But the worker bees sometimes lack awareness of the general state of the hive.
“Only the secretary looks overall,” Mr. Spirtas said. “That level of a view is very rarely seen by people — even those who work in the Pentagon.”
Hedgemony’s board game shows a world divided into U.S. combatant commands such as Central Command, the Indo-Pacific Command or the European Command. Chance and uncertainty are factored into play by rolling dice and drawing “event cards” that can simulate random incidents such as a terrorist attack and political upheaval at home or abroad.
“The world is driven by a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and the best way to deal with that is a hedging strategy,” Michael Linick, a senior defense research analyst at Rand who also helped design the game, said in a statement. “Hedgemony forces players to take on a hedging strategy against what might happen in the future and how the future might develop.”
Players use their “resource points.” The U.S. starts with the most, but has the most points on the map to defend, to build up or sustain their military in an effort to acquire more “influence points,” or at least deny them to the other side. Broadly speaking, the players who increase their influence point tally the most are the winners.
Mr. Bowman said war games like Hedgemony are important because China, defined by U.S. defense strategy as the country’s primary strategic rival and potential adversary, is fielding military capabilities not to outpace the U.S. but to target the American military’s strengths.
“It is much better to learn the hard lessons today during a war game than it is to learn the lessons tomorrow on the battlefield,” he said.
Rand has been making tabletop war games for Pentagon policymakers since the 1950s. Now, anyone willing to pay $250 can learn how a defense policy that balances strategic goals and a tight budget is made. The boxed version is nearly identical to the game played at the Department of Defense. Development funding was provided by gifts from Rand supporters and operational income.
The writers of the 2018 National Defense Strategy played the game about 30 times, and it sparked a lot of conversation within the group about how to balance resources while crafting policy, Mr. Spirtas said.
“It occurred to us that the game could be an excellent training tool for the next generation of military strategists and decision-makers,” he said.
The target audience includes serious war game hobbyists along with think tanks, war colleges and universities that teach defense policy and strategy, Rand officials said.
“It could be a great addition to the curriculum of those responsible for educating students, officers, policymakers or analysts about how to think about national strategy and the military’s role in it,” Mr. Spirtas said.
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Pentagon takes first step toward building supersonic Air Force One
Air Force One is already the fastest passenger plane in the world — but the Pentagon wants to make it a lot faster. The U.S. Air Force recently awarded a contract to the aviation firm Exosonic to begin developing a presidential aircraft that can travel at supersonic speeds. The research award, reportedly worth $1 million,…
Air Force One is already the fastest passenger plane in the world — but the Pentagon wants to make it a lot faster.
The U.S. Air Force recently awarded a contract to the aviation firm Exosonic to begin developing a presidential aircraft that can travel at supersonic speeds. The research award, reportedly worth $1 million, will fund work to “modify” Exosonic’s existing plans for a supersonic commercial plane into a proposal for a presidential-grade aircraft.
In a Twitter post this week, the Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center said the contract is intended to “develop a low-boom supersonic executive transport aircraft that will allow key decision makers and teams to travel around the world in half the time it takes now!”
The current version of Air Force One, a Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, can travel at a maximum speed of .84 mach, according to Boeing.
Dramatically increasing that speed could fundamentally change the nature of presidential travel and make international trips much quicker and easier.
The “low-boom” aspect of the project, officials said, will allow the aircraft to hit those remarkable speeds relatively quietly.
“The future for global rapid passenger travel is low-boom supersonic flight. Low boom allows travelers to fly at supersonic speeds without generating disruptive booms for those on the ground,” Exosonic CEO Norris Tie said in a press release announcing the contract. “Exosonic is excited to win this contract as it represents not only commercial but government promise for low-boom supersonic travel.”
Specifically, the company said its work will focus on “reconfiguring the aircraft cabin to include the required accommodations, communications equipment, and security measures that allow US leaders and their guests to work and rest onboard the aircraft.”
The company intends to roll out a prototype of the commercial version of its supersonic aircraft by 2025, officials told Military.com.
Meanwhile, Boeing already is building an updated Air Force One. The Air Force awarded Boeing a $3.9 billion contract to build two 747-8 aircraft to replace the existing 747-200B planes.
The new planes are expected to be completed by the end of 2024.
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Pentagon sees China military on track for global superpower status
China is on track to double the size of its nuclear warhead stockpile while expanding foreign military bases capable of attacking the United States — worrying signs Beijing is seeking global superpower status, according to the Pentagon’s annual report on the Chinese military released Tuesday. Currently, the People’s Liberation Army has a warhead stockpile in…
China is on track to double the size of its nuclear warhead stockpile while expanding foreign military bases capable of attacking the United States — worrying signs Beijing is seeking global superpower status, according to the Pentagon’s annual report on the Chinese military released Tuesday.
Currently, the People’s Liberation Army has a warhead stockpile in the “low 200s,” that will be expanded for a nuclear triad on missiles, missiles fired from submarines and bombers over the coming years, according to the latest report to Congress.
“Over the next decade, China will expand and diversify its nuclear forces, likely at least doubling its nuclear warhead stockpile,” the report states.
Chinese nuclear forces currently are made up of large numbers of silo-based and road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, along with an array of new high-tech weapons that includes multiple-warhead missiles and ultra-high speed hypersonic glide vehicles. Other new systems include theater-range precision strike nuclear weapons designed to counter American ballistic missiles defenses, advanced intelligence systems and precision-strike weapons.
Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant defense secretary for China, said the report is the first time U.S. intelligence on the numbers of Chinese warheads has been made public.
“We’re certainly concerned about the numbers,” Mr. Sbragia told reporters, adding that beyond numbers of warheads and weapons there are also troubling signs regarding “just the trajectory of China’s nuclear developments writ large.”
The nuclear buildup involves “new processes, tools and capacities” to reach more than 400 warheads, he added. “So this is not just the end product itself, it’s about the entire infrastructure to do so.”
Rick Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the report presents an alarming picture of growing Chinese military power and that threat to democracy and freedom posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
“For decades China analysts in Washington have been downplaying or denying the possibility that China could become a global challenge to the United States, which this year’s China Military Report now acknowledges is building in plain sight,” he said.
But retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, former Pacific Fleet intelligence director, said the report omitted important details about Chinese weapons systems and developments, and understated other aspects of Beijing’s build-up.
“I am totally underwhelmed by this product,” Capt. Fanell said. “How is it that the Trump administration’s third [Defense Department] report on the PLA looks no different than the Obama administration’s reports?”
The Pentagon report says China’s longer-term goal is to develop a vaguely-defined world-class military by 2049 that can create a favorable environment for China’s communist system. The report said Chinese Communist Party leaders reject the idea that the ruling party has given up its ideology after introducing market-oriented economic reforms.
China stated in a 2019 defense white paper that it was the United States which is now the “principal instigator” of global instability and the cause of international strategic competition.
“Within the context of China’s national strategy, …it is likely that China will aim to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to, and in many cases superior to, the United States’ military, or that of any other great power that the Chinese view as a threat,” Mr. Sbragia told reporters.
A stockpile of more than 400 warheads will still be less than the current U.S. strategic warhead stockpile of 1,550 deployed warheads. However, the report noted that China appears to be shifting its nuclear strategy from one of not being the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict to a “launch-on-warning” strategy — firing nuclear missiles based on indications of an incoming nuclear attack.
Mr. Sbragia said the troubling nuclear buildup highlights the need to include China to arms limitation talks between the United States and Russia, something the Trump administration has urged and Beijing so far has resisted.
“China needs to halt the upward and destabilizing trajectory of its nuclear buildup and work closely to reduce nuclear risks,” Mr. Sbragia said.
On basing, the report said China is expanding its sole overseas military base in Djibouti on the strategic Horn of Africa and is considering new bases that will be used for power projection around the world. Among the potential locations are Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola and Tajikistan.
“A global PLA military logistics network could both interfere with U.S. military operations and support offensive operations against the United States as the PRC’s global military objectives evolve,” the report said. The base network will leverage China’s commercial ports and regional access agreements and will “allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distances.”
The latest annual report provides a sharp contrast to previous Pentagon surveys that argued China’s military buildup was defensive and limited to developing forces capable of retaking Taiwan.
The report provides new details on China’s large and expanding force of ballistic and cruise missiles. For example, the report contends that the PLA has rapidly built up the number of 4,000-mile range DF-26 missiles – one of two so-called “aircraft carrier-killing” weapons with enough precision to strike ships at sea. The PLA now has 200 DF-26 missiles capable of firing either conventional or nuclear warheads against Navy ships in the Pacific.
China last week conducted flight tests of four ballistic missiles into the disputed South China Sea, including a DF-26 and a DF-21D, the second anti-ship ballistic missile in the arsenal.
Mr. Sbragia said the DF-26 is among several weapons that the PLA regards as providing an
asymmetric advantage over the United States and others in the region. “The development and expansion of those have been significant,” he said.
The report said that in 2019 “new developments” in Chinese nuclear forces suggest Beijing is increasing the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces “by moving to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture” with an expanded silo-based force. Mr. Sbragia said China’s no-first-use doctrine remains the current policy, but cautioned that “there’s an ambiguity over the conditions under which China’s no-first-use policy could apply.”
The new annual survey “points out that China’s near complete lack of transparency over its nuclear forces raised legitimate questions over China’s intent as it fields larger and more capable nuclear forces,” he said. “And this includes the near completion of what we consider to be a triad capacity, which would include those land-based kind of capabilities.”
China’s nuclear forces consist of multi- and single-warhead ICBMS, a handful of Jin-class ballistic missile submarines and a growing force of H-6 strategic bombers. China, according to the report, is also planning an air-launched ballistic missile – a weapon also being developed by Russia.
“China is pursuing a nuclear triad with the development of nuclear-capable, air-launched ballistic missiles and last year publicly revealed a modified bomber that would carry this missile,” Mr. Sbragia said.
China has exceeded the U.S. Navy in warships and now boasts the largest navy in the world with 350 warships, including 130 major surface combatants. The Navy currently has a battle force of around 293 ships.
China’s land-based conventional missile forces include more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,410 miles. The United States has one type of conventional short-range missiles and no ground launched cruise missiles.
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