Thursday, November 24, 2011

U.S. Says It Will Not Alter Missile Shield Plan

WASHINGTON - The United States will not alter its plans to deploy a NATO missile defense system in Eastern Europe, U.S. officials said Nov. 23, adding the shield was not aimed at Russia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, speaks with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, center, and Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov, left, on Nov. 21. (Dmitry Astakhov / AFP via Getty Images)
"The United States has been open and transparent with Russia on our plans for missile defense in Europe, which reflect a growing threat to our allies from Iran that we are committed to deterring," insisted National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
He added: "In multiple channels, we have explained to Russian officials that the missile defense systems planned for deployment in Europe do not and cannot threaten Russia's strategic deterrent."
He was speaking after Russia warned it could deploy missiles on the EU's borders to strike against the planned missile defense facilities.
President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was prepared to deploy short-range Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave that borders EU members Poland and Lithuania.
Romania and Poland have agreed to host part of a revamped U.S. missile shield which Washington said is aimed solely at "rogue" states like Iran but Moscow believes would also target its own capability.
NATO member Turkey has also decided to host an early warning radar at a military facility near Malatya in the southeast.
Vietor said the implementation of the missile system in eastern Europe "is going well and we see no basis for threats to withdraw from it."
"We continue to believe that cooperation with Russia on missile defense can enhance the security of the United States, our allies in Europe, and Russia, and we will continue to work with Russia to define the parameters of possible cooperation," he said. "However, in pursuing this cooperation, we will not in any way limit or change our deployment plans in Europe."
A Pentagon spokesman also stressed Nov. 23 that the system was not aimed at Russia, but sought to deter any ballistic missile threat from Iran.
"It's worth reiterating that the European missile defense system that we've been working very hard on with our allies and with Russia over the last few years is not aimed at Russia," said spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby. "It's designed to help deter and defeat the ballistic missile threat to Europe and to our allies from Iran."

General: History Will Judge Afghan War Positively

LONDON - Britain will eventually be proud of its role in the Afghanistan war but it could be another decade before its gains are realized, the head of Britain's armed forces said in an interview published in the Nov. 24 edition of the Times.
Gen. Sir David Richards, the chief of the defense staff, admitted tactical mistakes had been made but that he had "every expectation" history would judge the war positively.
"At the end of the day, we won't know (if it has succeeded) until 2018, '19, '20," he told the British newspaper.
"I have every expectation that we will all agree in 10 years' time that this was a necessary war and we've come out of it with our heads held high," he added.
Richards admitted last month that public support for the Afghanistan campaign was waning and that proponents of the war were losing "the battle of perceptions" among the British public.
Public enthusiasm has been sapped by a steadily rising death toll among British soldiers, reports of troop and equipment shortages and U-turns in military tactics.
Richards said he was "the first to concede" that mistakes had been made but pointed out that no terrorist attack had been launched out of Afghanistan since the campaign began 10 years ago.
The general conceded that policymakers and military leaders were guilty of neglecting Afghanistan during the parallel campaign launched in Iraq in 2003, but added that strategy had been correct since U.S. President Barack Obama's 2009 troop surge.
Britain will withdraw 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, leaving 9,000 in the country.
Some 389 British troops have been killed since U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001. Of these, at least 344 were killed in combat.
Prime Minister David Cameron has stressed that Britain's commitment to Afghanistan would endure after the last NATO combat troops leave the country at the end of 2014.

Japan, China Eye Plan to Avoid Sea Disputes

BEIJING - Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba asked China's Premier Wen Jiabao to agree to set up a "crisis management mechanism" aiming to avoid conflict over disputed waters, reports said Nov. 23.
China and Japan have often had strained relations, particularly over claims to East China Sea gas fields and disputed islands known as the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese.
Gemba - on a one-day visit to Beijing - also called for the resumption of negotiations towards a treaty on a joint gas development project in the East China Sea, Kyodo News agency reported, quoting the Japanese foreign ministry.
His talks with Wen were also to lay the ground for a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to China later this year.
In his meeting with Gemba, Wen said Japan and China should work together to boost development in East Asia, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"The just-concluded East Asia Summit has demonstrated a strong trend of forging solidarity, development and cooperation within the region," Wen said, referring to the weekend meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali.
Gamba later met his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, who told him Beijing would "seriously consider" further easing restrictions on food imports from Japan imposed after an earthquake and tsunami triggered the country's nuclear crisis in March, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported. Gamba was then due to return to Tokyo.
The crisis management mechanism has been described by Japanese media as a regular dialogue scheme that will involve the two countries' foreign and defense ministries, fisheries and energy agencies, and coastguards.
Japan has long expressed concern over China's growing assertiveness and widening naval reach in the Pacific and over what it calls the "opaqueness" of Beijing's military budget.
A major crisis erupted between the two countries in September 2010 when Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain near the disputed islands. China issued protests and scrapped meetings and cultural events in a diplomatic offensive that continued after Japan freed the captain, while nationalist sentiment sparked demonstrations in both countries.
Japan, meanwhile, has bitterly complained that China may have started drilling for gas in an offshore energy field in the disputed waters.

Up to 763 Contractors to Train Iraqi Forces: U.S.

BAGHDAD - A maximum of 763 civilian contractors and 157 U.S. military personnel will train Iraqi security forces post-2011, if the Iraqi government gives its approval, a U.S. officer said Nov. 23.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced Oct. 21 that U.S. troops would depart Iraq by year's end, after negotiations with Baghdad on a larger-scalepost-2011 U.S. military training mission broke down.
The military personnel and contractors are part of the Office of Security Cooperation - Iraq (OSC-I), which falls under U.S. embassy authority, Lt. Col. Tom Hanson, director of strategic communications for OSC-I, told AFP.
"The 157 (military personnel) are here, and the up to 763 number is based on the number of active foreign military sales cases at any given time," he said.
As not all are active at once - the 763 contractors will probably not be in Iraq at the same time, he added.
The contractors are "involved in some aspect of bringing the equipment to the Iraqis and helping them learn how to operate it, and bringing (them) to a minimum level of proficiency on it, whether it's a tank or an airplane or an air traffic control system or a radar," Hanson said.
Meanwhile, "most of the uniformed personnel are program managers, so they're supervising contractors." The aim "is to help the Iraqi security forces build their capability, build the proficiency, and modernize their equipment," he said.
The contractors are not required to be American citizens, Hanson said, adding that there are OSC-I contractors of various nationalities, including some Iraqis. OSC-I military personnel have immunity from Iraqi prosecution, but the contractors do not.
"The uniformed military personnel are protected the same way that the diplomats in the embassy are. The contractors do not have any immunity, any legal protections right now," Hanson said.
The issue of immunity scuppered the talks on a post-2011 U.S. military training mission.
Washington insisted that the trainers must have immunity, while Baghdad said that was not necessary.
Both Iraq and the U.S. have consistently said that Iraqi forces still require significant improvement.
Iraqi military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari, was quoted in an October report from a U.S. watchdog as saying Iraq "will be unable to execute the full spectrum of external defense missions until sometime between 2020 and 2024."
Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said earlier this week that Iraqi forces were near "having the ability to control the internal security environment".
But "I don't think they have very much of a capability at all to address an external threat," Austin said.

Austria To Sell, Scrap Two-Thirds of Its Tanks

VIENNA - The Austrian Army will sell, scrap or recycle two-thirds of its armored vehicles by late 2013, allowing it to save up to 15 million euros yearly, Defence Minister Norbert Darabos announced Nov. 23.
"We are getting rid of cost-intensive equipment which represents an expensive burden for the army and which we no longer need," Darabos said.
The number of armored vehicles, which has already seen cuts over the past four years, will shrink to 389 by the end of 2013, from 1,147.
Several models, including more than 400 Saurers dating back to the 1960s, will be scrapped entirely, while others will be recycled as spare parts for other vehicles.
Further models, such as the more modern Leopard tanks, will be put up for sale. Several governments and firms have already expressed interest, the defense ministry said.
The sales should help bring in 19 million euros ($25.5 million), although 2 million euros will go toward destroying ammunition.
Additionally, the army will save up to 15 million euros per year in maintenance through the cuts, according to the ministry.
"We need more than ever to adapt our capabilities to realistic deployment scenarios," Darabos said.
Where Austria once stood with its back against the Iron Curtain, with the prospect of a conventional war with the Soviet bloc on its doorstep, now "we face cyber threats, terrorist threats: these are the challenges of the future," he said.

Lockheed Completes First U.K. Joint Strike Fighter

Lockheed Martin has completed the first British F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, the company announced Nov. 22.
The first international F-35 Lightning II rolls out of the factory on Nov. 20. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence will use the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) jet, known as BK-1, for training and operational tests. (Lockheed Martin)
Called BK-1, the new F-35B short takeoff, vertical landing jet will have to do functional fuel system checks before being transported to the flight line. The JSF will be delivered in 2012 after a series of ground and flight tests, Lockheed said in a press release.
"This is a major milestone in the JSF Programme for U.K., and we look forward to starting to operate the first British F-35s next year," Group Captain Harv Smyth, the British JSF national deputy said in the release. "JSF is ideally suited for U.K.'s future Combat Air capability needs, since it provides a world-class 5th Generation air system, which is capable of operating from both the land and our new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier."
The British will use the F-35B for operational test and training missions. Britain was originally slated to operate the F-35B for the bulk of its JSF fleet, but after a strategic review, decided to buy the F-35C carrier variant.