Friday, January 27, 2023

Iran has enough enriched uranium to build several nukes report says

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran has enough highly enriched uranium to build “several” nuclear weapons if it chooses, the United Nations’ top nuclear official is now warning. But diplomatic efforts aimed at again limiting its atomic program seem more unlikely than ever before as Tehran arms Russia in its war on Ukraine and as unrest shakes the Islamic Republic.

The warning from Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in response to questions from European lawmakers this week, shows just how high the stakes have become over Iran’s nuclear program. Even at the height of previous tensions between the West and Iran under hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran never enriched uranium as high as it does now.

For months, nonproliferation experts have suggested Iran had enough uranium enriched up to 60% to build at least one nuclear weapon — though Tehran long has insisted its program is for peaceful purposes. While offering a caveat on Tuesday that “we need to be extremely careful” in describing Iran’s program, Grossi bluntly acknowledged just how large Tehran’s high-enriched uranium stockpile had grown.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

U.S. SPEC OPS RAID ends in death of key ISIS facilitator Bilal-al-Sudani,

A risky military ground raid by U.S. special operations forces on a cave complex in northern Somalia on Wednesday night killed Bilal al-Sudani, a top leader and organizer with the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.

Al-Sudani was killed in a firefight along with 10 other fighters, according to the officials. There were no U.S. casualties in the raid, the officials said, emphasizing that there were also no civilian casualties -- though officials later clarified that one of the U.S. service members had suffered a dog bite from a dog serving with U.S. forces.

The officials said President Joe Biden had authorized the raid earlier this week after conferring with his national security team. The U.S. forces that conducted the raid had rehearsed it many times at a mock-up facility that simulated the target area -- a technique similar to what U.S. special operations forces did prior to the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan.

U.S. forces had prepared for the possibility of capturing al-Sudani, the officials said, “but the hostile forces response to the operation resulted in his death.” The officials refused to say whether the timing of the operation indicated that there was an imminent attack threat to the U.S.

“On January 25, on orders from the President, the U.S. military conducted an assault operation in northern Somalia that resulted in the death of a number of ISIS members, including Bilal-al-Sudani, an ISIS leader in Somalia and a key facilitator for ISIS’s global network,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“Al-Sudani was responsible for fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa and for funding the group’s operations worldwide, including in Afghanistan,” Austin continued.

“This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad,” he said, praising "our extraordinary service members as well as our intelligence community and other interagency partners for their support to this successful counterterrorism operation.”

U.S. officials who briefed reporters on the raid described al-Sudani as a notorious extremist.

“[He] has a long history as a terrorist in Somalia. Before he joined ISIS, he was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2012 for his role in [the group] Shabaab, helping foreign fighters to travel to an Al Shabaab training camp, facilitating financing for foreign violent extremists in Somalia,” one of the two U.S. officials told reporters.

“This operation was the result of extraordinary coordination and careful planning across all elements of the U.S. government for many months,” one of the officials said, noting having first seen the first intelligence on al-Sudani’s whereabouts months ago.


Putin's Wagner group declared trans-national criminal organization - former WG commander says his comrades were shot for fleeing Ukraine

OSLO, Jan 26 (Reuters) - A former commander of Russia's Wagner mercenary group who fled to Norway has spoken about how he witnessed some of his comrades being shot as they were trying to flee from the frontline in Ukraine, his Norwegian lawyer told Reuters.

Andrei Medvedev, who fled from Russia by crossing the Russian-Norwegian border on Jan. 13, has said he fears for his life after witnessing what he said was the killing and mistreatment of Russian prisoners taken to Ukraine to fight for Wagner.

Medvedev is living in a secret location in the Oslo area after he was released from detention on Wednesday following a "disagreement" with the police about measures taken to ensure his safety.

The Russian was "slowly coming to terms with what's happening", his lawyer said.

"His life has been chaotic and dangerous and very stressful for a very long time," Risnes said, "particularly, of course, during the autumn when he was in Ukraine with the Wagner group."

"But of course, his life hasn't been easy before that either."

Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed, millions uprooted and cities reduced to rubble since Russian forces invaded Ukraine 11 months ago.


WASHINGTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday formally designated Russian private military company the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization, freezing its U.S. assets for helping Russia's military in the Ukraine war.

Last month the White House said the Wagner Group had taken delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, in a sign of the group's expanding role in that conflict.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

U.S. to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that the U.S. will send Ukraine a battalion of 31 M1 Abrams tanks, the Army’s premier main battle tank, in a significant show of support for Kyiv in its fight against Russia.

The tanks won’t arrive in Ukraine for many months, and the Pentagon is working through the challenges involved in providing the training, equipment and fuel to operate the 70-ton tracked weapons, officials said.

But the decision is a huge symbolic win for Ukraine, which is bogged down in brutal fighting across the country and preparing for a spring counteroffensive to repel the Russians. Other nations, including Germany, are set to send their own modern tanks to Kyiv, which has been pleading for the weapons for months.

“Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve. He expected our support for Ukraine to crumble with time. He was wrong,” Biden said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “These tanks are further evidence of our enduring, unflagging commitment to Ukraine and our confidence in the skill of the Ukrainian forces.”

Biden approved the tanks as part of a $400 million procurement through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a fund set aside by Congress to support Ukraine. The U.S. will now sign contracts for the 31 Abrams tanks, along with 120mm rounds and other ammunition, eight tactical recovery vehicles, other support vehicles and equipment, training, maintenance and sustainment, according to the State Department.

The news comes after weeks of discussions between U.S. and European leaders, particularly the Germans, who have long resisted sending their own Leopard 2 tanks. Biden has spoken with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz multiple times this month about providing assistance to Ukraine, and the two nations announced last month that they would send Patriot missile systems to help defend Ukrainian cities, said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

Top members of Biden’s national security team — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley and national security adviser Jake Sullivan — also met frequently with their German and European counterparts, including most recently at a meeting of defense ministers at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, last week.

Top U.S. officials urged Germany to send their Leopard 2s, which are abundant across Europe and easier for the Ukrainians to use and maintain than the Abrams. But Berlin stood firm, with senior German leaders privately telling Washington that they would only send Leopards if the U.S. sent Abrams.

The president knew Ukraine needed Leopards on the battlefield as soon as possible, so he worked with his national security team to approve the Abrams. He ultimately decided to send American tanks after Austin’s recommendation, according to two other U.S. officials.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

USAF C-17s cleared to transport new nukes to European bases

FAS: In November 2022, the Air Force updated its safety rules for airlift of nuclear weapons to allow the C-17A Globemaster III aircraft to transport the new B61-12 nuclear bomb.

The update, accompanied by training and certification of the aircraft and crews, cleared the C-17A to transport the newest U.S. nuclear weapon to bases in the United States and Europe.

The C-17As of the 62nd Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord serve as the Prime Nuclear Airlift Force (PNAF), the only airlift wing that is authorized to transport the Air Force’s nuclear warheads.

The updated Air Force instruction does not, as inaccurately suggested by some, confirm that shipping of the weapons began in December. But it documents some of the preparations needed to do so.

Politico reported in October last year that the US had accelerated deployment of the B61-12 from Spring 2023 to December 2022. Two unnamed US officials said the US told NATO about the schedule in October.

But a senior Pentagon official subsequently dismissed the Politico report, saying “nothing has changed on the timeline. There is no speeding up because of any Ukraine crisis, the B61-12 is on the same schedule it’s always been on.”

Although the DOD official denied there had been a change in the schedule, he did not deny that transport would begin in December.

The B61-12 production scheduled had slipped repeatedly. Initially, the plan was to begin full-scale production in early-2019. By September 2022, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was still awaiting approval to begin full-scale production. Finally, in October 2022, NNSA confirmed to FAS that the B61-12 was in full-scale production.

The B61-12 is intended as an upgrade and eventual replacement for all current nuclear gravity bombs, including the B61-3, -4, -7, and probably eventually also the B61-11 and B83-1. To that end, it combines and improves upon various aspects of existing bombs: it uses a modified version of the B61-4 warhead with several lower- and medium-yield options (0.3-50 kilotons). It compensates for its smaller explosive yield (relative to the maximum yields of the B61-7 and -11) by including a guided tail-kit to increase accuracy, as well as a limited earth-penetration capability.

At this point in time, it is unknown if B61-12 shipments to Europe have begun. If not, it appears to be imminent. That said, deployment will probably not happen in one move but gradually spread to more and more bases depending on certification and construction at each base.

There are currently six active bases in five European countries with about 100 B61 bombs present in underground Weapons Storage and Security Systems (WS3) inside aircraft shelters. A seventh site in Germany (Ramstein Air Base) is active without weapons present and an eighth site – RAF Lakenheath – has recently been added to the list of WS3 sites being modernized. The revitalization of Lakenheath’s nuclear storage bunkers does not necessarily indicate that US nuclear weapons will return to UK soil, especially since as recently as December 2021, NATO’s Secretary General stated that “we have no plans of stationing any nuclear weapons in any other countries than we already have . . . ” However, the upgrade could be intended to increase NATO’s ability to redistribute the B61 bombs in times of heightened tensions, or to potentially move them out of Turkey in the future.


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