Monday, July 22, 2019

U.S. military has begun reestablishing air base inside Saudi Arabia


NBC NEWS 

July 19, 2019, 5:42 PM CDT / Updated July 20, 2019, 8:45 AM CDT
By Courtney Kube

ASPEN, Colo. — In June the U.S. military began moving equipment and hundreds of troops back to a military base in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. deserted more than 15 years ago, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the deployment.

Over the coming weeks the deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base, intended to counter the threat from Iran, will grow to include fighter jets and Patriot long-range missile defense systems, the officials said. The Patriots have already arrived at the base and should be operational in mid-July, while the aircraft are expected to arrive in August.

Several hundred U.S. service members are already on site preparing the facility south of Riyadh, which is controlled by the Royal Saudi Air Force, a number that will grown to more than 500 after the arrival of an air squadron.

The officials said the deployment focuses on defensive capabilities, with Patriot batteries for missile defense and the fighter jets intended to defend U.S. forces on the ground. But they acknowledged the aircraft could be used offensively as well.

The U.S. announced this increase of forces in the region in June, but did not say where the troops and equipment would be based.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the deployment to Prince Sultan air base. "U.S. Central Command continually works to manage our force posture in the region and will continue to do this in cooperation with our partners and allies in the region," said Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Earl Brown on Thursday.

Central Command said in a statement Friday, “In coordination with and at the invitation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Secretary of Defense has authorized the movement of U.S. personnel and resources to deploy to Saudi Arabia.”

“This movement of forces provides an additional deterrent, and ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats,” the Central Command statement said.

The U.S. military deployed troops and equipment to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War, and U.S. aircraft based in the Kingdom were later used to enforce the no-fly zone over Iraq.

After the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing killed 19 U.S. airmen and injured 400 others, the U.S. military moved most aircraft and service members in Saudi Arabia to Prince Sultan Air Base, where they remained until the U.S. began Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. In April 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Saudi defense minister decided to withdraw all U.S. troops from the base and turn it back over to the Saudi government.

While Prince Sultan Air Base is an active facility, portions of the base will need an upgrade to accommodate the U.S. military, including reinforcing and expanding roads and runways, one U.S. official said. Base housing will also need updating, the official said, and the U.S. will build a medical facility. Many of the U.S. service members deployed there over the past few weeks are engineers preparing the base for the new mission.
This new deployment provides the U.S. military with another location in the region to counter a possible threat from Iran. The U.S. official said the base provides the U.S. with "strategic standoff" and "defensive depth" with Iran, meaning the ability to counter Iran from a distance while not being in range of Iranian missiles.

The officials described this deployment as expeditionary rather than permanent basing, with the new presence remaining there as long as tensions remain high with Iran.

The officials said Saudi Arabia has already agreed to pay some of the costs associated with having U.S. personnel and assets there.
Courtney Kube

Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Iran seized two UK tankers

BBC: 

The Stena Impero is British-flagged and the Mesdar is Liberian-flagged but British owned.

The Mesdar's operator said the vessel was now free to continue its journey after it was boarded by armed guards at around 17:30 BST on Friday.

The Stena Impero's owners say they have been unable to contact their vessel, which was "heading north towards Iran".

They say there are 23 personnel on board the British-flagged oil tanker and it was approached by "unidentified small crafts and a helicopter".

The Mesdar's Glasgow-based Norbulk Shipping UK said communication had been re-established with the vessel and its crew was "safe and well".

The government's emergency committee, Cobra, is meeting in Whitehall for the second time on Friday to discuss the incident.

Mr Hunt said the seizures were "unacceptable" and the emergency meeting would review what the UK could do to "swiftly secure the release of the two vessels".

"It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region," he added.

He said the tankers' crews were made up of a range of nationalities but no British citizens were understood to be on board either vessel.

"Our ambassador in Tehran is in contact with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the situation and we are working closely with international partners," he said.

These latest developments come amid heightened tensions between the UK, the US, and Iran.

Iranian media reported Stena Impero had been seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The Tasnim news agency quoted the Ports and Maritime Organisation of Iran as saying: "We received some reports on the British oil tanker, Stena Impero, causing problems.

"We asked the military forces to guide this tanker towards Bandar Abbas port to have the required investigations carried out."

Stena Bulk, the vessel owner, and Clydebank-based ship manager Northern Marine Management confirmed the UK-registered Stena Impero was approached at around 16:00 BST on Friday while it was in international waters.

A statement said there were no reported injuries and the safety of the crew was the priority of the tanker's owners and managers.

Tensions between the UK and Iran flared up earlier this month when Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker which was suspected of breaking EU sanctions.

The UK suspected Grace 1, detained on 4 July near Gibraltar, was carrying oil bound for Syria.

In response to the seizure, Iran threatened to seize a British oil tanker.

On 9 July, the UK raised the threat to British shipping in Iranian waters in the Gulf to "critical" - the highest level.

A day later, Iranian boats attempted to impede a British oil tanker in the region, before being warned off by a Royal Navy ship, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Iran denied any attempted seizure.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted that the latest reports were of "real concern", adding that "any move to seize a British tanker would be a significant and harmful escalation of a situation where de-escalation is needed".

Sir Richard Dalton, former UK ambassador to Iran, told the BBC that Iran was "trying to put a scare into the owners and operators of tankers" in the region.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

"Top gun Maverick trailer drops and it is awesome!

San Diego Comic Con's tentpole Thursday morning panel, dedicated to the Paramount and Skydance film Terminator: Dark Fate, saw an interruption from another big face at that combined film company: Tom Cruise. Tom, apparently, couldn't let Arnold Schwarzenegger have all the fun, as he used the opportunity to reveal the first public footage of next year's Top Gun: Maverick.

The two-minute trailer is at its most impressive when we see Cruise continuing his streak for performing his own stunts, as he's established in so many Mission: Impossible films up until now. Unless Cruise and company have figured out a whole new level of CGI and green-screen trickery, that sure looks like the actor himself piloting an F-18 as it takes off from a Naval aircraft carrier at sea—and then pulling some serious Gs while flying over a snowy mountainside in formation.

In terms of plot, we see a face-off with a rear admiral played by actor Ed Harris. Harris is angry about Cruise's unwillingness to retire after "30-plus years of service" and his continued status as a Navy captain. "You should at least be a two-star admiral by now," Harris says. Eventually, Harris insists that "your kind is headed for extinction," which might hint to the Navy's increased emphasis on automation or remotely controlled crafts.

Pentagon considers moving key Brit intel hub

STUTTGART, Germany — A U.S. intelligence gathering hub at RAF Molesworth, one of several American bases that had been slated for closure, could stay where it is as the Pentagon reconsiders a plan to move the center to a different site.

“The Department of Defense is currently re-assessing the future location of the Joint Intelligence Analysis Complex and the NATO Intelligence Fusion Center,” Lt. Col. Carla M. Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The center provides intelligence information for the U.S. European and African commands as well as NATO.

The Pentagon stopped short of saying whether it is considering scrapping a plan to build a new center at RAF Croughton, which would include $200 million in upgrades, and keep the intelligence activities at Molesworth.

But the Senate’s 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which still requires House approval, calls for funds to build an “intelligence fusion center” and “battlefield information collection and exploitation system center” at Molesworth.

The Senate NDAA did not specify how cancelling the move would affect the $200 million slated for the Croughton project.

The change is the latest twist in a plan that has been a source of controversy for nearly five years.

Moving to Croughton was part of a broader base-consolidation effort in Europe. RAF Molesworth, which was set to shutter around 2023, was one of many facilities the Pentagon had targeted for closure.

But relocating the intelligence center was met with fierce resistance from Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who said the military failed to consider more affordable alternatives to RAF Croughton. Nunes also accused the military in Europe of providing faulty information to justify the move.

Nunes’ concerns prompted an Inspector General investigation that examined whether U.S. European Command failed to sufficiently consider its options. The IG ultimately cleared EUCOM officials of intentionally misleading Congress, but the probe found that the military’s financial analysis contained inaccurate information.

The military’s joint intelligence center was established in the U.K. in 1991 because there was insufficient space at EUCOM’s Stuttgart, Germany headquarters.

Molesworth was chosen because it had vacant facilities that were ready for use. With the establishment of AFRICOM, however, the mission has grown, leading to concerns that the base’s World War II-era buildings were undersized and unequipped to handle expanding operations.

While the Pentagon has said it is reassessing the move from Molesworth to Croughton, it didn’t offer details.

“This decision does not change the U.S. commitment to strengthen the NATO alliance, deter aggression from potential adversaries, and to support multinational operations,” Gleason said. “We are working closely with the United Kingdom to determine next steps for the future location of the JIAC and NIFC.”

Monday, July 15, 2019

VIDEO: Italian Police raid finds Neo Nazis in possession on a Matra R530F missile.

ROME (Reuters) - Italian police have seized a large arsenal of weapons, including an air-to-air missile, in raids on neo-Nazi sympathizers, they said on Monday.

Elite police forces searched properties across northern Italy following an investigation into Italians who had fought alongside Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, a police statement said.

Three men were arrested, including a customs officer who has previously stood for parliament for an extreme right party.

During their raids, police discovered a French-made Matra air-to-air missile that appeared to have once belonged to the Qatar armed forces. Subsequent checks showed the weapon was in working condition but lacked an explosive charge.
Police said the suspects had tried to sell the missile via the WhatsApp messaging network.

Among other weapons uncovered were 26 guns, 20 bayonets, 306 gun parts, including silencers and rifle scopes, and more than 800 bullets of various calibers. The arms were primarily from Austria, Germany and the United States.

Police also seized Nazi memorabilia from the properties.


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