Monday, June 27, 2011

Russia, Kyrgyzstan in Talks Over Training Base

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - Russia is in talks with Kyrgyzstan to expand its military presence in the volatile central Asian nation by setting up a training center in the south, the Kyrgyz foreign minister told AFP.
"We are discussing the possibility of creating a training base in the south of Kyrgyzstan," Ruslan Kazakbayev told AFP in an interview conducted June 24.
The training base was part of ongoing discussions to conclude an agreement under which "all of Russia's existing military installations on our territory will be merged into one," he said.
Russia already operates one base in Kyrgyzstan, the Kant airbase outside the capital Bishkek, as well as several other installations such as a seismic station providing data for strategic missile forces.
Moscow had been in talks about opening a second military base in Kyrgyzstan with the country's previous administration led by Kurmanbek Bakiyev before he was ousted in a violent uprising last year.
Both the United States and Russia jostle for military influence in a region gaining in strategic importance owing to its proximity to Afghanistan.
Washington also operates a military base in Kyrgyzstan, making it the only country in the world to house both Russian and U.S. bases.
Russia lobbied for the closure of the U.S. base but Bishkek eventually agreed to keep it open after Washington more than tripled the rent paid to use Manas. Kazakbayev said the Kyrgyz government and Washington were in similar talks.
"We are also working with the U.S. government in this direction," he said without being more specific. "I would like to stress that a decision on these issues will be made in a transparent manner and will take into account our country's national interests."
Under the current agreement with Washington, the Manas base, a pivotal transit hub for troops and supplies for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, will be stationed in Kyrgyzstan until 2014.
Bloody riots rocked the country last June, becoming the worst inter-ethnic clashes to hit Kyrgyzstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union and taking place two months after violent protests deposed Bakiyev.

Guns, Grenades and iPads for Singapore Soldiers

SINGAPORE - New recruits to Singapore's military, air force and navy are to get a new standard-issue item of equipment besides their rifle - the iPad.
The defense ministry said June 27 it will be issuing "about 8,000" of the sleek, touch-screen tablet computers - already wildly popular with the city-state's tech-savvy youth - to recruits from November.
The ministry said it was also planning to issue the devices to other servicemen next year. The cheapest iPad2 device currently retails in Singapore for Sg$668 ($538).
Defense chief Neo Kian Hong said adopting the iPad would allow the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to take advantage of the technological abilities of the city-state's youth.
"By exploiting the use of popular and current information and communications technology, we are able to harness our advantage of today's technologically savvy servicemen," the Straits Times newspaper quoted him as saying.
Troops can use the iPad's built-in camera to take photos and video clips in the field which can be uploaded to the SAF's online platform, LEARNet.
Soldiers can use these photos and videos to carry out post-mission assessments, the newspaper said.
Soldiers can send questions to their commanders through a live messaging system and group chat discussions can be held, it added.
The SAF said it was working with private contractors to design apps - micro-programs tailor-made for mobile devices with a wide range of functions - for servicemen.
Singapore maintains a conscript-based military and its armed forces are among the best-equipped in Asia. Every able-bodied male citizen and permanent resident aged 18 and above must undergo two years of military training.

Iran to Stage Missile Wargames

TEHRAN - Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards are to launch military exercises on June 26 with the firing of different range ballistic missiles, the state news agency IRNA reported.
The exercises, codenamed Great Prophet-6, are to start on June 26, said a Guards commander, Gen. Ami Ali Hadjizadeh, quoted by IRNA, without specifying how long the maneuvers will last.
"Short-, medium- and long-range missiles will be fired, especially the Khalij-Fars, Sejil, Fateh, Ghiam, and Shahab-1 and -2 missiles," he said.
The general, whose force carries out wargames each year in the Gulf region, said the latest exercises were "a message of peace and friendship to the countries of the area."
In late May, Iran said it had equipped the Revolutionary Guards with a new surface-to-surface missile, the Qiam-1, which was built locally and test-fired last August.
Iran says it has a wide range of missiles, some capable of striking targets inside arch-foe Israel as well as U.S. bases in the Middle East.
The Islamic republic regularly boasts about developing missiles having substantial range and capabilities, but Western military experts cast doubt on its claims.
Iran's missile program is under the control of the Guards.
Its space and missile programs have been a concern in the West, which fears Tehran is developing a ballistic capability to launch potential nuclear weapons which it suspects Iran aims to develop under the guise of its civilian atomic program.
Iran has steadfastly denied these Western charges, saying its nuclear and space programs have no military objectives.

Karzai Rules Out Calling for More U.S. Troops

WASHINGTON - Afghan President Hamid Karzai ruled out June 26 asking the United States to send more troops if the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorates following the U.S. military drawdown.
Asked on CNN whether he would go back to U.S. President Barack Obama and ask him to perhaps reverse the drawdown if the Afghan army failed to maintain security, Karzai replied: "I will not do that.
"It is the responsibility of the Afghan people to protect their country and to provide security for the citizens of the country," he said.

Azerbaijan Warns Armenia with Show of Military Might

BAKU - Azerbaijan paraded thousands of soldiers and hundreds of military vehicles through its capital June 26 in a show of force two days after talks failed to resolve a bitter territorial dispute with Armenia.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who has overseen massive increases in defense spending, warned in his speech that he was ready to take back the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region, which was seized from Azerbaijan in the 1990s by Armenian separatist forces backed by Yerevan.
"The war is not over yet," Aliyev said at the showpiece parade in the center of Baku, vowing to end what he called the "occupation" of Karabakh.
"The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored and the territory will be restored," he said.
Six thousand troops marched in the parade, accompanied by tanks, armored cars and rocket launchers, as fighter planes and combat helicopters roared overhead and warships lined up in the nearby Caspian Sea bay.
In his speech, Aliyev also spoke approvingly about the increases in defense spending financed by the energy-rich state's huge revenues from oil and gas exports.
"Azerbaijan has fulfilled the task that I set, which was that Azerbaijan's military expenditure must exceed the entire state budget of Armenia," he said, noting that defense spending reached $3.3 billion (2.3 billion euros) this year.
"Military expenditure occupies first place in the state budget of Azerbaijan and that is understandable. It will be like this as long as our lands are not liberated," he said.
Military hardware manufactured in Azerbaijan, including unmanned drones, was on show for the first time to highlight the country's expanding defense industry.
The "Armed Forces Day" parade in Baku was the third in the country's post-Soviet history and also marked this year's 20th anniversary of independence.
It was shown live on state television in a broadcast preceded by a series of patriotic songs accompanied by images of troops in action and President Aliyev wearing camouflage fatigues.
The parade was held after the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia failed to agree despite strong international pressure to a "basic principles" roadmap document that would have been a significant step towards a Karabakh peace deal.
A joint statement issued after the summit in Russia on June 24 merely noted "the reaching of mutual understanding on a number of questions, whose resolution helps create conditions to approve the basic principles".
The two enemies traded accusations after the summit, with Armenia saying that Azerbaijan had torpedoed the talks by wanting a dozen changes to the document and Baku saying that Yerevan was seeking to mislead the world.
The outcome was a major disappointment after hopes had been raised of a long-awaited breakthrough in the talks, which were presided over by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the city of Kazan.
U.S. President Barack Obama had also telephoned his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts before the summit to urge them to agree the "basic principles" document.
Seventeen years after the Karabakh ceasefire, the opposing sides still often exchange deadly fire across the frontline and Baku has repeatedly threatened to use force if negotiations don't yield results.
Fears have been raised of a return to war that could prove even bloodier than the 1990s conflict and potentially threaten pipelines taking Caspian Sea oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.
The interim "basic principles" agreement would see an Armenian withdrawal from areas around Karabakh that were also seized during the post-Soviet war.
It also envisages international security guarantees and a vote on the final status of the territory at some point in the future.
But even if the document is eventually agreed by both sides, huge obstacles remain to a final peace deal.
Armenia insists that Karabakh will never again be ruled by Baku, while Azerbaijan insists that the region must remain part of its sovereign territory.

S. Korea to Hold Drill Near Tense N. Korea Border

SEOUL - South Korea will hold military drills near the border with North Korea this week against a background of simmering tensions with its communist neighbor, an official said June 26.
The South's army will stage field training exercises in the city of Paju from June 27 to July 1, Seoul's defense ministry spokesman said.
"The training is something we have been doing on a regular basis to improve our combat readiness," he said without elaborating.
Cross-border tension has been acute since the North's alleged sinking of a Seoul warship that claimed 46 lives and a shelling of a frontier island that killed four South Koreans last year.
Ties deteriorated again after Pyongyang announced late last month it was breaking all contact with Seoul's conservative government, which has demanded an apology from the North over the two attacks.
The arrival by boat in South Korea of nine refugees from the North this month has further heightened tensions after Seoul rejected Pyongyang's demand to send the nine back.
A Seoul-based group of North Korean defectors launched 100,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border on Saturday urging the toppling of the communist regime, despite threats from the North to shoot at them.
Giant balloons were inscribed with anti-Pyongyang slogans including one calling for the overthrow of leader Kim Jong-Il and his youngest son Kim Jong-Un's "hereditary dictatorship".

Breaking News From The Department of Homeland Security U.S., China Holding Talks on Rising Sea Tensions

HONOLULU, Hawaii - The United States and China were holding first-of-a-kind talks June 25 on rising tensions in the South China Sea, with Beijing angry over Washington's support of Southeast Asian countries.
Senior officials of the Pacific powers were meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, days after the United States rallied behind the Philippines and Vietnam which have been alarmed at what they see as Beijing's growing assertiveness at sea.
Kurt Campbell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said ahead of the talks that he would make clear to China the "strong principles" of the United States in defense of freedom of navigation.
"We want recent tensions to subside and cooler heads to prevail," Campbell told reporters in Washington on June 24.
Campbell reiterated that the United States takes no stance on China's territorial disputes with its neighbors - a point of contention for some U.S. lawmakers who have been pressing for a more proactive role.
"The United States has no intention to fan the flames in the South China Sea and we have a very strong interest in the maintenance of peace and stability," Campbell said.
But China's top official at the Hawaii talks, vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai, warned that U.S. support of its partners in Southeast Asia "can only make things more complicated."
"I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the U.S. won't be burned by this fire," Cui said, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
Cui said that the United States should limit itself to urging "more restraint and responsible behavior from those countries that have been frequently taking provocative actions."
While the United States and China often talk, the session on June 25 is the first to focus specifically on the Asia-Pacific region. The dialogue was set up during the top-level Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington in May.
Campbell said that the United States would also talk to China about its interactions with North Korea and Myanmar, two of the dynamic region's most isolated countries which both count on Beijing as their main source of support.
But the talks are expected to focus on the South China Sea, strategic and potentially oil-rich waters where Beijing has sometimes overlapping disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Vietnam recently held live-fire military exercises after accusing Chinese ships of ramming one oil survey ship and cutting the exploration cables of another.
The Philippines ordered its navy into the South China Sea - part of which it calls the West Philippine Sea - after accusing China of firing on Filipino fishermen and installing posts and a buoy in contested waters.
The United States plans joint exercises with the Philippines and a naval exchange with Vietnam in coming weeks, although U.S. officials have characterized the activities as routine.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 23 pledged to assist the Philippines in modernizing its navy, whose flagship is an aging vessel used by the United States in World War II.
"While we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said June 23 with Clinton at his side.
The United States a week earlier held talks with Vietnam, in which the former war foes issued a joint call for a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea.
President Barack Obama's administration has focused on building ties with Southeast Asia, accusing the previous team of George W. Bush of neglecting the fast-growing and often U.S.-friendly region due to preoccupation with wars.

U.S. to Boost Philippine Intelligence, Manila Says

MANILA - Washington has vowed to boost the Philippines' intelligence capabilities in the South China Sea, where tensions with China are rising over conflicting territorial claims, Manila said June 25.
It comes after the United States, which is increasingly concerned about the situation in the South China Sea, said on June 23 it was ready to provide hardware to modernize the military of its close but impoverished ally.
U.S. National Director for Intelligence James Clapper made the commitment in a meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario in Washington.
Del Rosario is in the U.S. seeking help for the Philippines' poorly equipped military.
"The U.S. official pledged to enhance the NDI's intelligence sharing with the Philippines to heighten the latter's maritime situational awareness and surveillance in the West Philippine Sea," a Philippine Foreign Department statement said.
Clapper was quoted as saying that "we'll do whatever we can to help" as he expressed concern over recent events in the South China Sea.
The "West Philippine Sea" is the term that the Philippine government now uses for the South China Sea to further stress its claim to part of the area.
Del Rosario was quoted as saying he was "exploring an option" which would allow the Philippines to acquire newer military equipment at a lower cost.
However he did not say what this option was.
After their meeting on June 23, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told del Rosario that her government would speed up their military assistance to boost the Philippines' capabilities.
"We are determined and committed to supporting the defense of the Philippines," she told a joint news conference.
The Philippines had sought to modernize its military following a series of incidents with China in the South China Sea, particularly in the Spratlys, a chain of islets believed to sit on vast mineral resources.
However a spokeswoman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino said the renewed ties between the United States and the Philippines should not agitate China.
"We renewed the commitment of both countries for a peaceful environment and reiterated our desire for a multilateral approach to resolving issues," spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in Manila.
"It is just an affirmation of our commitment for peace and stability in the region."
Aside from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim all or part of the South China Sea which includes the Spratlys.