SitRep: China’s Aircraft Carrier Making Taiwan Nervous; Russia Hits Obama, Looks Forward to Trump
General Says Two Years Before Mosul and Raqqa Cleared; Afghan Peace Process; And Lots More
Cruise control. Taiwan has been nervously watching as Beijing’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, cruised past Taiwan on its way to the South China Sea in recent days, though Chinese officials said the movement was a routine drill. Taiwan has emerged as a point of contention between President-elect Donald Trump and China after Trump’s phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and his statement suggesting that his administration might ignore with the decades-old One China policy.
“The threat of our enemies is growing day by day. We should always be maintaining our combat alertness,” Taiwan Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan said on Tuesday. China, of course, does not recognize the independence of Taiwan, which has purchased billions in U.S. weaponry over the decades. Last December, the government in Beijing confirmed that it was building a second aircraft carrier, and China likely has the ability to build multiple carriers over the next 15 years, the Pentagon said in a report earlier this year.
Beijing, Moscow have complains about that U.S. defense spending bill. Chinese officials aren’t happy over a provision contained in the $618.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Barack Obama last week calling for more cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwanese militaries. In a statement, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry said, “we urge the U.S. side to abide by its promises made to China on the Taiwan issue, stop U.S.-Taiwan military contacts and arms sales to Taiwan, to avoid damaging Sino-U.S. ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Moscow and Syria. On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling Washington’s plans to drop some restrictions on supplying weapons to Syrian rebels a “hostile act” that threatened Russian warplanes operating in the country. “The passing of this law in the last days of team Obama is an indication the administration is planting a landmine for the future administration of Donald Trump, in an attempt to complicate affairs in the international arena,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Sanctions. Likewise, the decision to renew U.S. sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014 was an attempt to impose the Obama administration’s “vicious anti-Russian course” on the incoming Trump administration, she added. “We hope that those who succeed them will be wiser.” Still, U.S. officials tell the AP that talks between American and Russian military officials to ensure their aircraft don’t run into one another over Syria have been fruitful, and have at times progressed beyond merely tactical communications.
To the Baltics. In an open message to Donald Trump — who has celebrated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian tactics and questioned NATO’s relevance, unnerving the alliance’s Baltic members — Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham arrived in Estonia on Tuesday on a trip widely perceived as an attempt to reassure Baltic states concerned Trump may not be committed to their defense.
“I think this visit is being done to emphasize that, whatever happens after the inauguration, the U.S. Senate will be something the Baltic states can calmly rely upon,” Zygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuania’s former ambassador to Washington, told Reuters. McCain and Graham will next travel to Latvia and Lithuania on Thursday where they’ll meet heads of state and defense officials.
In recent days, Trump has Tweeted approvingly about Putin’s criticism of Hillary Clinton, his opponent for president, and showed off a congratulatory note the Russian leader sent him after the election.
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Russian officials are saying they don’t believe that terrorism caused the crash of a Russian military plane that killed 92 people when it crashed into the Black Sea, according to the New York Times. The Tupolev 154 took off from Sochi on Sunday with 68 entertainers on board headed for a holiday concert in Latakia, Syria, where Russian forces in the country are based. Russian authorities are currently mounting search operations and say they’ve found the “black box.” Russian Interior Minister Maxim Sokolov says terrorism has been ruled out already and Russian Air Force has vouched for both the pilot and the aircraft involved.
The New York Times reveals the story behind a Norwegian diplomat’s secretive, backchannel talks with Taliban leaders and the story of a peace deal that might have been. Alf Arne Ramslien tells the paper he started meeting with Taliban officials sent by the group’s late emir Mullah Omar to talk about a possible peace deal to end the fighting in Afghanistan starting in 2007. Norwegian diplomats managed to arrange for Taliban and an Afghan government delegations to meet in Norway for talks in 2008 but the effort was sabotaged when a Taliban delegation member’s family was attacked in an explosion in Quetta — an act officials believed was a warning that Pakistan didn’t want the talks to continue.
Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the Afghan military’s only female pilot, used to be a symbol of things going right with the country. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, Rahmani is in the U.S. asking for asylum. After a C-130 training course Rahmani was attending ended last week, she refused to return to Afghanistan and sought asylum, saying she hoped to fly either for an airline or the U.S. Air Force if her request is accepted. The Afghan military has had repeated problems with troops deserting once they arrive in the United States for training.
Fake news has generated some very real threats in international relations as Pakistan defense minister threatened Israel with nuclear war over a bogus online story. The AP reports that a fake news purveyor AWD News published a story about a non-existent threat by a former Israeli defense minister threatening to use nuclear weapons against Pakistan if it sent troops to Syria. Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif read and believed the story, leading him to tweet ominously at Israel that “Pakistan is a nuclear state too.”
Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry estimates that about 2,093 Saudi citizens have joined up with jihadist groups abroad as foreign fighters. Agence France Presse reports that the ministry believes that 70 percent of fighters are currently with groups in Syria. The rest of the foreign fighters were either in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, or Iraq.
Business of defense
This year is ending with a bang for U.S. arms sales, according to Defense News. Arms sales greenlit by the State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency up until late December amount to around $45.2 billion. The end-of-year blowout sale of F-15QA and F/A-18E fighter jets to Gulf countries pushed the 2016 total up by around $31.2 billion.
Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images
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