Daily Archives: August 9, 2016

USS Whidbey Island Transits Suez Canal

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS160809-02
Release Date: 8/9/2016 8:04:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan R. McDonald, USS Wasp (LHD 1) Public Affairs

RED SEA (NNS) — Amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41), with embarked U.S. Marines of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), transited the Suez Canal and entered the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Aug. 7.

Navigating the 120-mile-long canal is no easy task, requiring hours of diligent planning, according to Lt. j.g. Jacqueline Brecklin, Whidbey Island’s navigator.

“The Suez Canal is navigationally and operationally a huge undertaking, and truly an all-hands evolution,” said Brecklin. “Much of our crew was at full power for 15 or more hours. With the dedication of Supply Department feeding us, Deck Department driving us, Navigation Department guiding us, SCAT (small-caliber attack team) protecting us, we had a smooth and safe transit through this unique passage.”

The ship’s security forces shoulder a lot of responsibility during strait transits, safeguarding the Sailors and Marines aboard.

“We rely heavily on our SCAT team, along with our embarked Marines, to provide a 360-degree security blanket,” said Chief Master-at-Arms Joshua Amaral, gun liaison officer aboard Whidbey Island. “I have never had more faith in the pride and professionalism of this group of Sailors and Marines.”

The Suez Canal is a man-made waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea and is one of the world’s busiest shipping channels. It is the only water route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean without traveling south around the continent of Africa.

While in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Whidbey Island will be supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. Available expeditionary Navy and Marine Corps forces stand ready aboard ships to assure allies, deter potential adversaries and provide persistent U.S. presence.

The Wasp Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is comprised of Whidbey Island; Commander, Amphibious Squadron 6; the 22nd MEU; amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio (LPD 17) and amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1).

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China Building Up Military Presence at South China Sea Disputed Islands

Sputnik News

07:30 09.08.2016

Recent satellite photos reveal that China is building up its military presence at the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea, according to media reports.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The photos collected and studied by the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed that China constructed reinforced aircraft hangars at Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs, which are parts of the disputed islands, The New York Times daily newspaper reported.

“They [hangars] are far thicker than you would build for any civilian purpose. They’re reinforced to take a strike,” Gregory Poling, director of the center’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, told The New York Times.

Such hangars can reportedly accommodate any Chinese fighter jet and even some types of bombers.

Beijing’s territorial claims to the Spratly Islands, which are believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves, run counter to those of the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

On July 12, a UN-appointed arbitration court in the Hague ruled that there was no basis to the Beijing’s claim to extensive territories in the South China Sea, after the Philippines filed a case in January 2013 accusing Beijing of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea by its actions in the South China Sea.

© Sputnik

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News Analysis: S.Korean president perplexed at anti-THAAD lawmakers leaving for China

People's Daily Online

People’s Daily Online

(Xinhua) 16:52, August 08, 2016

SEOUL, Aug. 8 — South Korean President Park Geun-hye appears perplexed at six first-term lawmakers of the main opposition Minju Party who left for China as they are against the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

The six anti-THAAD lawmakers reportedly left for Beijing on Monday morning to exchange opinions with Chinese experts about the THAAD deployment in South Korea. During the three-day stay, they are set to hold a meeting with South Koreans living in China and South Korean correspondence there.

The lawmakers were scheduled to meet South Korean ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo right after arriving in Beijing, but the meeting was reportedly canceled as President Park criticized their visit to China.

During her meeting with senior presidential secretaries on Monday, Park denounced their visit as it split public opinion further over the THAAD deployment. Park said she is ready to receive any criticism as she believes THAAD is aimed at protecting South Koreans from the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK)s nuclear and missile threats.

Her comments were based on a wrong belief that THAAD can be a cure-all. Seoul and Washington agreed early last month to install one THAAD battery, composed of six mobile launchers, 48 interceptors and an X-band radar and a fire control system, by the end of next year.

The THAAD battery is incapable of fending off all DPRK’s missiles targeting South Korea, while excluding Seoul and its adjacent metropolitan areas from the protection coverage as the battery is to be installed in Seongju county, some 250 km southeast of the capital city. THAAD interceptors have a maximum range of 200 km.

It is absurd to claim that the THAAD battery is aimed at defending from the DPRKs nuclear and missile threats as South Koreas most populous regions are excluded from protection. Rather, it indicates South Korea joining the U.S. Pivot-to-Asia strategy to supervise and check China and Russia.

THAAD in South Korea triggered strong oppositions from China and Russia as the X-band radar can peer into Chinese and Russian territories. Seoul claims it will adopt the radar with a detectable range of 600-800 km, but it can be converted at any time into the radar spotting at least 2,000 km.

As the THAAD battery is to be operated by U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), South Koreas military will have no right to intervene in the U.S. operations and will never know what is happening inside the U.S. missile base.

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Sunday that China should pose a problem on the DPRK more strongly for its nuclear development, seeking to shift responsibility for the DPRKs nuclear program to China. Seoul has claimed that if the Korean peninsula is denuclearized, the THAAD battery will not deployed in its territory.

Such claim is ridiculous as the DPRKs nuclear development came amid hard-line policies from the United States and South Korea. As Seouls former unification minister said in a recent interview with Xinhua, the only way to denuclearize the peninsula is to hold peace talks between the U.S. and the two Koreas and change the armistice treaty after the 1950-53 Korean War into a peace treaty.

Jeong Se Hyun, who served as unification minister for two and a half years from 2002, said South Koreas super hard-line policy toward the DPRK led Seoul to be caught in a snare laid by the U.S., which he said means the U.S. military strategy in East Asia to check and pressure China and Russia together with South Korea and Japan.

President Parks office asked the anti-THAAD lawmakers to call off their visit to China. If the visit was cancelled, it would have caused more serious troubles as it means President Park blocking a try from the political circle to find a breakthrough in the THAAD issue.

Calls to review the THAAD deployment decision are running higher in the political circle. Shim Sang-jung, chief of the minor Justice Party, said on Monday that Seouls diplomacy completely got lost, criticizing the government regarding those against THAAD as pro-DPRK followers or betrayers.

Floor leader Park Ji-won of the Peoples Party, which exercises a casting vote between the ruling and the main opposition parties, said the presidential office must not ruin diplomatic relations between South Korea and China, calling for the Cheong Wa Dae to consider what is in Seouls national interests.

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UN: 2 Million in Syria's Aleppo Without Running Water, Electricity

by Margaret Besheer, Edward Yeranian August 09, 2016

The United Nations warned Tuesday that more than 2 million people in the Syrian city of Aleppo have no access to running water or electricity, and it called for a halt to the fighting to repair the damaged infrastructure and deliver humanitarian aid.

“We have supplies ready to roll: food rations, hospital supplies, ambulances, fuel for generators, water supplies and more,” U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told reporters in New York. “We can deliver these within 24 to 48 hours if we have safe access.”

U.N. agencies have repeatedly called for weekly 48-hour humanitarian pauses to provide desperately needed aid to Aleppo’s residents and evacuate them, but these have not materialized. O’Brien called on the U.N. Security Council to use its influence to make the pauses a reality.

Attacks this week have severely damaged Aleppo’s electric and water infrastructure, while the main supply routes to both the eastern and western parts of the city have been cut in recent weeks, making an already severe humanitarian situation much worse.

Humanitarian pauses

Council diplomats were supportive of the humanitarian pauses, but it was not clear what immediate steps they would take to make them happen.

O’Brien warned that the humanitarian situation across the country is dire. “Conditions across the rest of Syria are difficult and increasingly difficult,” he said.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac warned children and families in Aleppo are facing a catastrophic situation.

“These cuts are coming amid a heat wave, putting children in Aleppo at a grave risk of waterborne diseases,” Boulierac said. “And that getting clean water running again cannot wait for the fighting to stop.”

UNICEF warns Aleppo’s residents face an increase of diarrhea and malnutrition among children unless water pumping is restored soon.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also briefed council members. In a private discussion held by video link, diplomats said de Mistura wants to restart the talks as soon as possible, but that the right environment must exist.

De Mistura said last month that he hoped to resume the third round of intra-Syrian talks at the end of August. But the escalation in Aleppo has cast doubt on that possibility, with several western diplomats saying there could not be substantive negotiations without a stop to the fighting.

Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said that while Moscow hopes the situation in Aleppo will improve, “we do not believe that there need to be any preconditions” for talks.

Fighting surges on

Meanwhile, the Syrian government has reportedly sent several thousand reinforcements to mount a counterattack south of Aleppo, in a bid to recapture territory taken by rebel factions in recent days.

Syrian state TV broadcast an urgent plea for volunteers, amid reports the army and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies were bringing in reinforcements to try to retake a strategic corridor south and west of Aleppo.

Heavy fighting took place along Aleppo’s southern outskirts of Khan Assel, Khan Toman, Atareb and Sarmada, and there were reports of heavy government and Russian airstrikes of rebel forces defending a supply corridor into the city.

According to Syrian government media, the Syrian military and its militia allies stopped rebels from advancing through a destroyed housing complex south of the city, demolishing dozens of armed vehicles.

However, Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, discounted any major advance by the government or rebels in Aleppo.

“I don’t believe that either side will prevail in the battle for Aleppo, despite the recent attack or the counterattack by government forces or their allies,” Khashan said.

He argued that “a decisive victory by either party precludes the possibility for a negotiated settlement,” and said “an equilibrium will need to be maintained, whereby all local allies will be losers and their regional and international backers will have to reach a negotiated settlement for the distribution of the spoils.”

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Syrian Air Force Resumes Intensive Strikes on Terrorists in Southern Aleppo

Sputnik News

14:43 09.08.2016

The Syrian Air Force on Tuesday resumed heavy bombardment of terrorist positions in the Ramuse district of southern Aleppo.

ALEPPO (Sputnik) – Pillars of smoke can be seen on the outskirts of the district near a cement plant and on the grounds of logistics and artillery schools. Syrian army snipers are firing on rebels as they try to leave the occupied buildings. Small arms and heavy machine guns fire can be heard to the west of Ramuse.

The main entrance to Aleppo on the south side is still closed as terrorists continue shelling it with mortars.

The terrorist positions in the northern part of Aleppo have been encircled by the Syrian army with fighting continuing in southwestern districts of the city where the Syrian Army has repelled several militant attacks over the past 10 days, killing more than 2,000 terrorists.

Syria has been mired in civil war since 2011, with government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad fighting numerous opposition factions and extremist groups. On February 27, a US-Russia brokered ceasefire came into force in Syria. Terrorist groups, which maintain a heavy presence in Aleppo, are not part of the deal.

© Sputnik

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