News Briefs – February 13, 2017


North Korean missile launch is Trump’s latest test

President Donald Trump is already embroiled in a legal battle over his immigration order. Now he faces a new provocation in the first weeks of his presidency.
After a stormy start on the diplomacy front, Trump was trying a more traditional approach this weekend of closely cultivating a relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a friendly weekend at his south Florida resort. That approach was quickly tested Saturday night with word of a reported missile launch by North Korea.
Abe and Trump stood together late Feb. 11 and made hastily prepared statements. Abe called the launch “absolutely intolerable” and said his alliance with Trump was strong. Trump said he stood behind the Japanese leader “100 percent.” AP

Pentagon says U.S., Chinese air encounter unintentional

The Pentagon said a close encounter between a Chinese early warning aircraft and a U.S. Navy patrol plane over the South China Sea appeared to be unintentional and both pilots maintained professional radio contact, in the first such incident known to have taken place under President Donald Trump’s administration.
A Chinese KJ-200 flew within 1,000 feet (305 meters) of a U.S. Navy P-3C in international airspace over Scarborough Shoal near the Philippines on Feb. 8, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters in Washington.
He said the Chinese aircraft “crossed the nose” of the P-3, forcing it to make an immediate turn.
“We don’t see any evidence that it was intentional,” he said, adding that the incident was a “one-off.” He said both pilots were in “normal radio contact” and their communication “professional.”
The Chinese Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
However, the website of the Communist Party newspaper Global Times quoted an unidentified ministry official as saying that the Chinese pilot had responded in a “legal and professional manner.”
“We hope the U.S. side will focus on the relationship between the two countries and two militaries in their entirety, adopt concrete measures and eliminate the root causes of accidental incidents between the two countries on sea and in the air,” the unidentified official was quoted as saying.
Philippine Defense Department spokesman Arsenio Andolong also expressed concern because the incident happened near Scarborough Shoal, which is located within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone but claimed by China, which seized it in 2012 after a tense standoff with Philippine vessels.
“We’re worried of possible miscalculation and it’s good to know that nothing untoward happened,” Andolong said by telephone. If such foreign aircraft venture into Philippine airspace, “we deserved to be told out of courtesy.”
Such incidents have occurred occasionally over and within the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety. Although China says it respects freedom of navigation in the strategically vital area, it objects to U.S. military activities, especially the collection of signals intelligence by U.S. craft operating near the coast of its southern island province of Hainan, home to several military installations.
In recent years, the sides have signed a pair of agreements aimed at preventing such encounters from sparking an international crisis, as happened in April 2001 when a Chinese jet fighter collided with a U.S. surveillance plane over the South China Sea, leading to the death of the Chinese pilot and China’s detention of the 24 U.S. crew members for 10 days. AP

UK shuts down contentious probe into Iraq War abuse claims

The British government announced Feb. 10 that it is shutting down a contentious seven-year-old inquiry into allegations of abuse by U.K. troops in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the Iraq Historic Allegations Team will close within months. About 20 cases it is investigating will be dealt with by the Royal Navy Police.
The team was set up by the government in 2010, but has long been criticized by portions of Britain’s political and military establishment.
On Feb. 10, Parliament’s Defense Committee said the inquiry had become “a seemingly unstoppable self-perpetuating machine” and had empowered lawyers “to generate cases against service personnel at an industrial level.”
One of the main lawyers acting for claimants was disbarred last week for dishonest conduct, and Fallon said most of the allegations against British troops have “fallen away.”
Britain’s 2003-2009 military deployment in southern Iraq spawned multiple allegations of torture and abuse.
Some of the claims have proven true. Nicholas Mercer, the army’s chief legal adviser in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, said last year that the Ministry of Defense had paid 20 million pounds ($29 million) to settle 326 abuse cases.
In the most notorious case, 26-year-old hotel receptionist Baha Mousa died while in custody at a British base after being detained in a raid in Basra in September 2003. Six soldiers were cleared of wrongdoing at a court martial, while a seventh pleaded guilty and served a year in jail.
The head of the British Army, Gen. Nicholas Carter, said credible allegations of unacceptable behavior should be investigated.
“However, a significant number of claims made against our soldiers have not been credible,” he said. “The recent exposure of unscrupulous law firms and vexatious claims has clearly shown this to be the case.” AP

UK says Cyprus military bases ‘more important than ever’

Britain’s top defense official said Feb. 10 that the country’s two military bases on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus are “more important than ever” in light of the turmoil gripping nearby Syria.
In the first-ever official visit to the island by a British defense secretary, Michael Fallon said British Tornado and Typhoon warplanes stationed at RAF Akrotiri have made 1,200 strikes against Islamic State group targets in Iraq and Syria in the last two years.
Fallon said coalition forces will this year aim to strike the “decisive blow” against the Islamic State group after pushing back its fighters in 2016, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by Cyprus’ Defense Ministry.
Fallon said IS now holds less than 10 percent of territory in Iraq and that two million people have been liberated from IS rule.
Fallon also said the largely Kurdish Syrian Defense Forces are opening a second front against the IS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria and hailed the “larger role” Cyprus is playing in safeguarding security in the region. Britain has retained two bases on Cyprus after the island gained independence from colonial rule in 1960.
“We could have no better partner than our great friend Cyprus,” Fallon said.
Fallon told the Associated Press after a meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades that Britain is looking to extend an existing defense cooperation program with Cyprus to include maritime and aviation security.
Fallon repeated Britain’s offer to cede nearly half of the 98 square miles (254 square kilometers) of bases territory if current talks aimed at reunifying the ethnically divided island are successful.
Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said Britain recognizes Cyprus’ upgraded role in bolstering regional security which must be further strengthened as part of an aimed-for reunification deal. AP