Saturday, October 22, 2011

USAF Grounds F-22s at Va. Base

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors at the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., have once again been grounded, service officials confirmed Oct. 21.
F-22 Raptors taxi April 10 during an operational readiness inspection at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The commander of the 1st Fighter Wing made the decision to ground the Langley-based F-22s. (Airman 1st Class Teresa Zimmerman / U.S. Air Force)
Air Force spokesman Maj. Chad Steffey said that the grounding decision is limited to the Virginia base. A spokesman for Air Combat Command confirmed that the wing's commander, Col. Kevin Robbins, made the decision after an incident.
While details were not immediately available, Air Force officials confirmed that one of the wing's pilots appeared to have suffered an oxygen-related problem.
The Air Force's Raptor fleet was only cleared to resume flight operations last month after a four-and-a-half month grounding. The stealthy fifth-generation fighter was originally grounded May 3 after about a dozen pilots suffered "hypoxia-like" symptoms.
The Air Force is still investigating the problem with the F-22's oxygen system, but had cleared the aircraft to fly because service officials felt that the risk factors had been mitigated. However, the Air Force has not determined what is causing the problem with the jet's oxygen systems.
"There is no conclusive cause or group of causes that has been established for the incidents that prompted the stand-down earlier this year," spokesman Scott Knuteson said in an emailed statement. "We've therefore made the decision to resume operations while implementing improvements to the aircraft's life support systems and carefully collecting and analyzing operational, maintenance and physiological data for all Raptor flights - more than 1,300 missions since the return to flight."
However, as a condition to allowing flights to resume, Air Force leaders have enabled operational commanders to suspend operations as needed.
"Part of our protocol is to allow units to pause operations whenever they need to analyze information collected from flight operations to ensure safety," Knuteson said. "That is what is happening at Langley at the moment, and we support that decision."
One precaution the service took when returning the jets to service was to add carbon filters to the pilot's oxygen supply, one source said. Additionally, pilots were required to give blood samples to use as a baseline to measure against in case of future incidents and are now required to wear a device called a pulse oximeter. The device is supposed to alert the pilot if there is a physiological problem.
However, numerous sources had voiced their misgivings about the return to flight arrangements.

U.S. Could Send More Supplies Through Uzbekistan

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan - The United States is trying to increase the flow of non-lethal supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan via Uzbekistan as it may not always be able to count on the Pakistan route, a U.S. official said Oct. 22.
The official spoke as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, part of the U.S. military's Northern Distribution Network (NDN), following a trip to Pakistan to discuss troubled ties there.
"As a general rule, we're trying to get more [goods] through Central Asia and through Uzbekistan," the senior State Department official, who was accompanying Clinton, told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"We've always said that we prefer to use the Pakistan route because it's cheaper, it's shorter," the official said, recalling that the northern route goes via the Baltic states, Russia and Kazakhstan.
"But still, it's [the northern route] a good thing to have. And again with our [often troubled] relations with Pakistan, we always have to be prepared should they decide to either want to restrict our access or, even in the worst case, close it off.
"We would be prepared to move north through Central Asia if necessary."
The route from Uzbekistan is a rail link that distributes fuel and other non-lethal goods. He said about 50 percent of surface shipments take that route.
The Uzbeks are "sensitive" about publicizing the route to Afghanistan for fear that it will prompt "retribution" from the Taliban and other Islamist militants in the region, he added.
In February 2009, during improving relations with Washington, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said he would allow the United States to transport non-military supplies through his country.
In 2005, Tashkent closed the U.S. air base in the country that was used to support troops in Afghanistan after U.S. criticism of a bloody crackdown on unrest in Andijan in the country's east.
The U.S. official said there were no plans to hold negotiations to reopen the base. Nor were there plans, he said, to increase supplies through Tajikistan, which is a small supply route.
Clinton visited Islamabad on Oct. 20 and 21 to urge Pakistan to dismantle havens in Pakistan that militants use to launch attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, an issue that has put a heavy strain on U.S.-Pakistani ties

Obama Says All Troops Will Leave Iraq By Dec. 31

WASHINGTON - President Obama said Oct. 21 that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, ending a long, bloody war after the failure of talks on keeping a small American training force in the country.
President Obama announces Oct. 21 that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by Dec. 31. (Jim Watson / Agence France-Presse)
After the deaths of more than 4,400 U.S. troops, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, Obama said the last American soldier would leave with his head held high.
"Today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over," Obama said at a White House news conference.
"Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays," said Obama, who rose to power in opposing the unpopular Iraq war and pledged as a presidential candidate to bring all U.S. troops home.
"The United States is moving forward to a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year," he said, nearly nine years after President George W. Bush invaded Iraq and ousted Saddam Hussein.
Obama made the announcement after holding a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the failure of talks between the two sides on keeping a small number of troops in Iraq after the end of 2011.
It also came after his credentials as commander in chief, bolstered by the killing of Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaida suspects, were further enhanced by the Oct. 20 death of Moammar Gadhafi after a NATO mission in support of Libyan rebels.
"Just as Iraqis have persevered through war, I'm confident that they can build a future worthy of their history as a cradle of civilization," Obama said, as officials said Iraqi forces were up to the task of ensuring security.
"We'll partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq's sovereignty," he said, in an apparent reference to Iraq's neighbor Iran.
Talks on extending the U.S. presence broke down because the sides were unable to agree on granting legal immunity for American troops who would have stayed in place to help train Iraqi forces and to counter Iran.
Al-Maliki said in a brief statement that he and Obama agreed on the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops.
"The two points of view of the two leaders were the same, of the necessity of beginning a new phase of strategic relations after carrying out the withdrawal at the specified date at the end of the year," he said.
Despite the disagreement, Obama said U.S. troops will leave Iraq "with their heads held high, proud of their success."
"The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward and our troops are finally coming home," Obama said.
The 39,000 remaining U.S. troops in Iraq must withdraw by Dec. 31 under an accord between the two countries.
Obama said that he had invited Maliki to visit the White House in December, as the two sides revert to a normal sovereign relationship between two nations.
He also placed the withdrawal from Iraq in the context of efforts to transfer responsibility for security to Afghan forces and the stepped-up U.S. battle against al-Qaida in Yemen and Pakistani tribal areas.
"I would note that the end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition. The tide of war is receding," Obama said. "The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus our fight against al-Qaida and the chief major victories against its leadership, including Osama bin Laden."

Libya Arms Threaten to Infiltrate Africa Conflicts

U.N.ITED NATIONS - Moammar Gadhafi's arms stockpiles could remain a threat long after his death, as some are feared to have been sent to Darfur rebels, al-Qaida in North Africa and other militants further afield.
There is "very serious concern" that weapons, ranging from shoulder-fired missiles to machine guns and ammunition, may have crossed Libya's borders into neighboring countries, U.N. envoy to Libya Ian Martin said.
Assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns were all taken from Gadhafi armories and supply depots by the rebels who ousted him. Much has already passed across Libya's poroU.S. borders, diplomats and experts say.
One western intelligence report has spoken of truckloads of guns passing through Sudan's war-stricken Darfur region en route to groups in the restive South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
"We cannot exclude the possibility that some weapons have crossed into Darfur from Libya," Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, Sudan's U.N. envoy, told AFP.
Other African states have expressed similar concerns.
"What is sure is that the arms have gone into Chad, Mali and Niger," Mauritania's Foreign Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi told AFP at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou held talks with the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) leaders about the arms on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month.
Issoufou said the weapons are "spread across the Sahel-Sahara region and could fall into the hands of terrorists."
Gadhafi's son Saadi, three generals and a former security services chief are among 32 associates of the slain dictator who have taken refuge in Niger.
Military chiefs and diplomats from Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and European nations France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain held their own recent meeting on the arms, a diplomatic source told AFP.
The talks focused on how al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) could get the Libya arms. European governments are worried that the machine guns and missiles could be used on their own territory.
The weapons, particularly shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles capable of bringing down aircraft, are a key concern of the U.N. mission in Libya.
"We are doing our best to facilitate the securing of chemical weapons stocks, of nuclear material, of MANPADs and of other ammunition," Martin said, using the military term for the missiles.
"Although the chemical weapons and nuclear material appear to be secure, there is very serious concern that a lot of other weaponry has gone missing and may have already crossed borders. So we are trying to assist efforts to address that within Libya," the U.N. envoy added.
Britain has expressed concern about reports of weapons entering Sudan, and the United States is working with Libya's interim leaders to secure the stockpiles.
"Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been actively engaged with our allies and partners to support Libya's effort to secure all conventional weapons stockpiles including recovery, control and disposal of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles," White House spokesman Jay Carney said recently.
U.S. contractor specialists are working with the new Libyan leadership to secure weapons stockpiles, he added.
But there are estimates that Gadhafi's forces had up to 20,000 MANPAD missiles.
"The fallout from these stockpiles could last for years in Africa," said one African diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity while attending disarmament talks at the United Nations.
"There are far fewer arms in Somalia, but the Islamists are already supplying groups in Yemen, Ethiopia and countries in the region. All around Libya there are groups who will take advantage of Gadhafi's downfall."

Panetta Heads to Asia with Focus on North Korea

WASHINGTON - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta embarks Oct. 23 on a tour of Asia to take the pulse of key allies as Washington prepares for rare direct talks with North Korea over its nuclear program.
In his first trip to the region since taking the helm at the Pentagon in July, the former CIA director will begin with a stop in Indonesia before heading to Japan on Oct. 24 and South Korea on Oct. 26.
The trip coincides with sensitive direct talks between the United States and North Korea in Geneva next week to try to lay the ground for reviving long-stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations.
Before any broader discussions, the United States and South Korea are insisting the North take concrete steps to demonstrate it is sincere about resuming the full six-party nuclear dialogue with Japan, Russia and China.
In meetings in Tokyo and Seoul, Panetta "will have an opportunity to discuss with his counterparts where we are in the diplomatic process," a senior defense official said.
The defense chiefs will examine what steps to take to bolster diplomacy but also insure that they are prepared, should North Korea "choose to undertake a provocation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"We are essentially exploring the proposition and trying to ascertain if the North Koreans are serious about engaging in nuclear diplomacy and serious about living up to their commitments under the six-party process," the official said.
In April 2009, the North formally quit the six-party forum a month before staging its second atomic weapons test. In 2010, Pyongyang torpedoed and sank a South Korean ship and unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island.
"If they are serious and they are willing to take concrete steps, then there's a clear path back towards the six-party process and diplomacy," the defense official said. "But that yet has to be seen."
Apart from diplomacy focused on North Korea, Panetta's talks in Tokyo are expected to cover missile defense plans, potential U.S. arms sales and the controversial future of the U.S. Futenma air base on the island of Okinawa.
The Pentagon chief travels to Seoul for a two-day stop with U.S.-South Korean relations at a high point, after President Lee Myung-Bak's red carpet treatment this month in Washington and the approval of a free-trade agreement between the two countries.
Panetta was scheduled to meet Lee, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan and his counterpart, Kim Kwan-Jin, after South Korean and U.S. forces staged a major joint exercise this week over the Yellow Sea that simulated dogfights with North Korea.
Before Japan and South Korea, Panetta will start his trip on the Indonesia island of Bali, where he is due to arrive Oct. 22 before meetings with Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro to discuss maritime security and reforms in the country's military, another defense official said.
The United States last year resumed ties with Indonesia's special forces after a 12-year suspension following military reforms and pledges from Jakarta to safeguard human rights.
The Pentagon chief also will hold talks with defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the sidelines of the bloc's meeting in Bali.
Disputes between ASEAN members and China over the resource-rich South China Sea will likely feature high on the agenda, as Washington has called for a regional code of conduct and insisted on "freedom of navigation" through the crucial global shipping route despite Beijing's territorial claims.
China says it has sovereignty over essentially all of the South China Sea, where its professed ownership of the Spratly archipelago overlaps with claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

Singapore Sets Up Marine Design Arm in China

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering's marine arm, ST Marine, has incorporated a wholly owned subsidiary, ST Marine (Wuhan) Engineering Design Consultancy, in Hubei Province, China.
"The company will offer engineering design and consultancy services for both local Chinese as well as international companies operating in China," a ST Engineering press release said on Oct. 20.
The new subsidiary will strengthen ST Marine's engineering team in Singapore and "leverage the latter's well-established naval design capability and engineering expertise," the release stated.
ST Marine's in-house Engineering Design Center has designed a variety of commercial and defense vessels, including the Diving Support Vessel, Seismic Survey Vessel and Anchor Handling Tug Supply Vessel.
"This new engineering design consultancy is set up as an extension of our in-house engineering design capability, and we are optimistic about the potential China has to offer as a marine power country and the world's largest shipbuilding country," said Ng Sing Chan, president of ST Marine.
ST Marine provides turnkey solutions from concept definition to detailed design, construction, on-board system installation and integration, testing, commissioning to through-life support.

Turkish Troops, Planes Attack Kurds in Iraq

HAKKARI, Turkey - Turkish forces crossed into Iraq Oct. 20 to strike at Kurdish rebels and warplanes pounded their bases in retaliation for the death of 24 soldiers, officials said.
"A large-scale land operation, backed by air strikes, has begun in five separate spots inside Turkey and across the border with 22 battalions," the Turkish military said in a statement posted on its website.
The 22 battalions comprise commando units as well as gendarmerie and special forces, it added, without specifying how many had entered Iraq. Analysts said a total of 10,000 troops to 15,000 troops would be deployed.
"The air and land operation is under way," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters right after the military announcement.
"The operation is result-oriented," he said, without elaborating.
The separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), through spokesman Dozdar Hammo, reacted defiantly, saying: "If they want to come, let them come. We will welcome them here."
Hammo said no Turkish troops had yet crossed the border into northern Iraq, but said Ankara's jets were flying overhead.
The Turkish air force kept up bombing raids overnight in response to Oct. 19's coordinated attacks by PKK guerrillas on military posts in Turkey, which caused the worst loss of life for the army since 1993, local security sources said.
According to press reports, between 200 and 250 Kurdish rebels entrenched in the mountains of northern Iraq, crossed into Turkey late Oct. 18 to carryout raids which left 24 Turkish soldiers dead and 18 wounded.
The United States voiced support for Turkey actions.
"We very clearly support Turkey's right to self-defense," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
At the same time he urged cooperation between Turkey and Iraq through the committee set up in 2008 by Ankara, Baghdad and Washington to take up the issue of the PKK, long an irritant in Turkey's ties with Iraq and by extension the United States.
Earlier on Oct. 20, a military ceremony was held in Van, a city in eastern Turkey 90 miles north of Oct. 20's combat zone.
The coffins, draped with the red and white flag of Turkey, were loaded into military aircraft to be taken to their home towns for burial. President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as several Cabinet ministers and opposition party leaders, attended the Oct. 20 funeral in Ankara of one of the fallen soldiers.
The latest attacks sparked widespread outrage throughout the country.
Thousands of people, many of them students, visited the mausoleum of Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Ankara and denounced terrorism.
In Istanbul, some 500 people including members of several trade unions took to street and shouted "Turkey is Turkish and will remain so."
Unidentified individuals in rage of the attacks assaulted the offices of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in four different provinces on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, causing material damage, according to the press office of the party.
Turkey's parliament began discussing further measures against the PKK in a closed doors session Oct. 20. Iraq in an official statement on Oct. 20 pledged to cooperate with Ankara on security issues.
"The Iraqi government condemns this terrorist activity by the PKK, and expresses its sympathy for the families of the Turkish soldiers," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It continued: "(Iraq) is committed to collaborate with the Turkish government on security issues to prevent a repeat of such actions."
Erdogan also had a telephone conversation with Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, media reported. He is expected to visit Turkey soon.
Ankara has repeatedly urged Baghdad not to allow its territory to be used as a springboard by the PKK for attacks on Turkey.
Nechirvan Barzani, a former prime minister of the Kurdish regional government, who paid a surprise visit to Ankara, said: "We strongly condemn this attack," after meeting Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Oct. 20. He also met with Erdogan, who was accompanied by the intelligence chief of Turkey, according to Anatolia news agency.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi will come to Turkey on Oct. 21 in a surprise visit to discuss "regional issues and terrorism," a Turkish diplomat told AFP on Oct. 20.
Since July Tehran has been carrying out a major offensive against the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), which Turkey considers as a branch of the PKK.
Clashes between the PKK and the army have escalated since the summer.
Five police and four civilians were killed in a landmine explosion in the southeast on Oct. 18.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.

U.S. Drone, French Jet Stopped Gadhafi Convoy

WASHINGTON - A U.S. defense official said Oct. 20 a U.S. Predator drone along with a French fighter jet had attacked a convoy of vehicles in Libya that Paris believed was carrying Moammar Gadhafi.
Libyan National Transitional Council fighters celebrate in Sirte on Oct. 20. A U.S. Predator drone and French Mirage-2000 reportedly stopped a vehicle convoy with strongman Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed by NTC forces. (Philippe Desmaze / AFP)
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet had earlier revealed that a French Mirage-2000 fired a warning shot at a column of several dozen vehicles fleeing Sirte.
The U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the unmanned Predator aircraft had struck "the same convoy" but could not confirm that Gadhafi was in one of the vehicles.
Longuet told reporters in Paris that the convoy "was stopped from progressing as it sought to flee Sirte but was not destroyed by the French intervention."
Libyan fighters then intervened, destroying the vehicles, from which "they took out Colonel Kadhafi," he added.
The French warplane was sent to the area after news emerged of a large convoy of up to 80 vehicles trying to flee Sirte, he said.
After Libya's new leadership announced the death of Gadhafi, celebratory gunfire erupted across Tripoli on Oct. 20 and jubilant crowds flooded onto the streets waving the red, black and green flag of the new regime.
The NATO-led air campaign was launched in March under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians from Gadhafi's forces trying to crush popular protests.