Pentagon plans stronger US posture toward China, Russia

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, left, listens to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Mara Karlin speak during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 30 November 2021

Pentagon plans stronger US posture toward China, Russia

  • The US Defense Department will be upgrading and expanding military facilities in Guam and Australia

WASHINGTON: The US military will re-inforce deployments and bases directed at China and Russia, while maintaining forces in the Middle East adequate to deter Iran and jihadist groups, the Pentagon said Monday, referencing results of a review.
The US Defense Department will be upgrading and expanding military facilities in Guam and Australia, underscoring its focus on China as the country's leading defense rival, officials said.
The details of the "global posture review," commissioned by President Joe Biden's administration early this year, would remain classified, the officials added, so as not to reveal plans to rivals.
The move comes in the wake of the formation of a new defense alliance, dubbed AUKUS, between the United States, Britain and Australia to counter a rising China, which has been building up its own navy and testing decades of US military dominance across Asia.
That pact was formed as Beijing solidifies its control over the disputed South China Sea and intensifies its military threats towards Taiwan, for which the United States is a key ally and arms supplier.
The review confirmed the priority region for the US military was the Indo-Pacific, said Mara Karlin, a top Pentagon policy official.
The review "directs additional cooperation with allies and partners across the region to advance initiatives that contribute to regional stability and deter potential military aggression from China and threats from North Korea," she told reporters.
In addition, it "strengthens the combat-credible deterrent against Russian aggression in Europe and enables NATO forces to operate more effectively," she said.
The Middle East, however, remains an area of flux for the Pentagon after the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Global responsibilities "require us to make continuous changes to our Middle East posture, but we always have the capability to rapidly deploy forces to the region based on the threat environment," Karlin said.
Speaking separately, a senior Pentagon official who declined to be identified, downplayed any idea of radical shifts.
"In the first year of an administration, it's not the time when we would develop a major strategic-level change to our posture," the official said.
However, the official added, the Biden team felt the review necessary after the disruptive approach of his predecessor Donald Trump, who altered US commitments abruptly.
Under Trump, "there were oftentimes a devaluing of ally and partner input and engagement, which eroded US credibility and hard-won trust," the official said.
The officials declined to answer questions on how the global posture review sees US force presence in ongoing conflict zones like the Middle East, East and West Africa, and Eastern Europe.
But they confirmed previously announced plans to do more in Guam and Australia.
"In Australia, you'll see new rotational fighter and bomber aircraft deployments, you'll see ground forces training and increased logistics cooperation," said Karlin.
In Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Australia there will also be upgrades to airports and fuel and munitions storage facilities, she said.
Asked if the review foresaw more increases in the US presence in the Pacific region, Karlin said: "We're moving the needle a bit."
"And what I'd like to think is, over the coming years, you will see that needle move more," she said.

Indonesia wants to introduce local products through stores across Saudi Arabia

Updated 14 sec ago

Indonesia wants to introduce local products through stores across Saudi Arabia

  • Kingdom is ‘always an important trade partner for Indonesia,’ minister had said
  • Indonesia is hoping to start negotiations for free trade pact with Saudi Arabia

JAKARTA: Indonesia is introducing a wide range of its national products to the Saudi market through shops established across the Kingdom, an Indonesian Embassy official has said, following the latest store opening in Riyadh.

There are dozens of Indonesian stores established in various Saudi cities, including in Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Alkhobar.

The latest shop to join the list is the Indonesia Market, which was inaugurated last week by the Indonesian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz Ahmad and Suhanto, secretary-general at the Indonesian Ministry of Trade.

“Now there are 24 Indonesian stores in Riyadh, and the number keeps on growing. This growth shows that Indonesian products have garnered an interest and are accepted in Saudi Arabia,” Ihsan Nugroho, economic and trade consul at the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“We are hoping that in the future Indonesian stores will serve as a bridge for the entry of Indonesian products (to Saudi Arabia), especially those coming from small and medium enterprises.”

Indonesian stores in the Kingdom also symbolized good relations between the two countries, Nugroho said, adding that snacks, biscuits and other food items are popular.

“Many of our products from small and medium enterprises are of high quality and value, but they are not too well-known in the Saudi market. For that reason, we hope that Indonesian stores can accelerate the introduction of these products in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The Indonesian Trade Ministry is also supportive of the opening of such shops, as they help promote Indonesian goods and contribute to increase in exports.

“The secretary-general (Suhanto) also stressed the need to speed up the process for an Indonesia-Saudi Arabia trade pact in order to boost the competitiveness of Indonesian products in the Saudi market,” the ministry said in a statement.

Indonesia has been seeking to enhance its trade ties with Saudi Arabia and gain a greater presence in the Middle East.

President Joko Widodo and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had discussed the formation of a negotiation team for the Indonesia-Saudi Arabia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement during the former’s visit to Riyadh in October.

Saudi Arabia is “always an important trade partner for Indonesia,” Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan said after the meeting.

Saudi-Indonesia trade has been on the rise, increasing by about 45 percent to $7 billion, between January and November last year, compared to the same period in the previous year.

UK placing children of Daesh brides up for adoption

Updated 03 December 2023

UK placing children of Daesh brides up for adoption

  • At least 10 children, some born in the caliphate, quietly repatriated to Britain from Syrian camps
  • US has argued returning Western citizens is ‘only durable solution’

LONDON: The children of British Daesh brides are being returned to the UK from Syrian detention camps and put up for adoption, The Times reported.

At least 10 children — mainly orphans or those who have been left unaccompanied — have been quietly repatriated from the camps.

Dozens of British women married to fighters traveled to Syria and Iraq during Daesh’s peak, but were captured or left widowed following the collapse of the group.

The UK is only country in Western Europe that continues to block the repatriation of the women. France reportedly returned 160 of its citizens, including 160 children and over 50 women, and Germany repatriated about 100 children and their mothers.

The US has claimed that repatriation is the “only durable solution” to the problem of detention camps operating over capacity in Syria.

Human rights organizations have warned that the camps are a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists.

Living conditions in the facilities are also poor, with Al-Hol, Syria’s largest camp, facing a series of disease outbreaks.

Reprieve, a charity, has warned that the UK is avoiding responsibility in caring for its citizens.

Katherine Cornett, head of Reprieve’s unlawful detentions team, said: “It shames ministers and shocks the conscience that British kids are growing up in freezing tents in dangerously unstable detention camps simply because their government refuses to bring them home.

“The longer it goes on, the greater the chances that a British child will die in the camps, or that a British boy will be taken from his family by men with guns and thrown into an adult prison never to be heard from again.”

In one case, two British siblings under the age of eight will be put up for adoption after their mother was killed during fighting in Syria and their father imprisoned.

Charities believe that up to 38 other children with British ties remain in Syrian camps, as well as 21 women, including Shamima Begum, who, aged 15, left London along with three friends to join Daesh in 2015.

The two siblings who are set to be adopted were born in Syria, and are believed to have received counseling and support since being flown to Britain last year.

Under the UK’s existing adoption framework, prospective foster parents will be told about the pair’s upbringing in Daesh territory in Syria.

One set of grandparents of the children living overseas offered to adopt them, but were denied by the local British authority now responsible for the siblings.

Another set of grandparents were judged to be unable to care for the children.

The former director of counterterrorism at MI6, Richard Barrett, warned that Britain could face a growing threat to its national security if the Syrian camps remain open.

“It is hard to argue that these women and children pose less of a threat, either now or in the future, while they remain poorly supervised, exposed to the influence of their former Islamic State (Daesh) comrades and at risk of further exploitation than they would if under the watchful eye of our highly competent security authorities in the UK, and of their own communities,” he said.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Each request for consular assistance from Syria is considered on a case-by-case basis taking into account all relevant circumstances, including, but not limited to, national security.”

Kashmiri students arrested for celebrating India's Cricket World Cup defeat get bail

Updated 03 December 2023

Kashmiri students arrested for celebrating India's Cricket World Cup defeat get bail

  • Police dropped the charges and an Indian court granted bail to the students on Saturday, according to their lawyer
  • In granting bail, the court imposed a condition the students should be available when needed for the investigation

SRINAGAR: An Indian court has granted bail to seven Kashmiri students who were arrested under anti-terror laws for allegedly celebrating Australia's victory over India in the men's Cricket World Cup final last month, a lawyer said on Sunday. 

The students from an agriculture university were detained in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after one student filed a complaint accusing them of using anti-India slogans and cheering for Pakistan along with Australia after the match. 

Claimed in full but ruled in part by India and Pakistan, Muslim-majority Kashmir has seen a bloody insurrection against New Delhi for decades. Muslims in the region have in the past cheered for the competing side in India cricket matches as a way of protesting Indian rule. 

Local political leaders opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi government's rule over J&K had said the arrests were a way to intimidate locals using the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The act deals with inciting any unlawful activity and is punishable with seven years' imprisonment. 

Police dropped the UAPA charges and an Indian court granted bail to the students on Saturday, according to the lawyer of students, Shafiq Bhat, and a court order seen by Reuters. 

In granting bail, the local court imposed a condition that the students should be available when needed for the investigation and "shall not indulge in any anti national activity," the order stated. 

The students still face allegations under other Indian laws that related to making statements inducing public mischief. 

Australia had entered the World Cup match as clear underdogs against an all-conquering India side, who had won 10 matches in a row to storm into the final. But India was defeated in the final match on Nov. 19. 

India blames Pakistan for supporting the Muslim insurgents. Pakistan denies this and accuses India of violating the rights of Kashmir's Muslim people, a charge India rejects. 

A suspected bomb blast kills at least 4 Christian worshippers during Mass in southern Philippines

Updated 03 December 2023

A suspected bomb blast kills at least 4 Christian worshippers during Mass in southern Philippines

  • 'Foreign terrorists’ behind deadly Philippine bombing — officials
  • Bombing follows military operations against Islamists

MANILA: At least four people were killed and around 50 others injured in a powerful explosion at a Catholic mass service in the south of the Philippines on Sunday, officials said, as they look into the suspected involvement of Daesh affiliates in the country.

The blast, believed to have been caused by an improvised explosive device, ripped through a gymnasium at Mindanao State University in Marawi, a southern Philippine city that was besieged by pro-Daesh militants for five months in 2017.

The attack may have been in response to military operations targeting local militant groups that took place in the last few days, said Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of staff of the Philippines’ Armed Forces.

“We are looking at this angle because of the series of operations against the terrorist groups in the whole area of Western Mindanao  … what happened this morning could be a retaliatory attack,” Brawner told reporters at a press conference in Manila.

Philippine forces launched an operation targeting the local Dawlah Islamiyah cell in the southern province of Maguindanao on Friday, killing 11 suspected militants including the group’s alleged leader Abdullah Sapal. The militant group, which has been linked to bombings and other deadly attacks in the southern Philippines, pledged allegiance to Daesh in 2015.

In another operation in Sulu province on Saturday, government forces killed Mudzimar Sawadjaan, also known as Mundi, a senior leader of another Daesh affiliate, the Abu Sayyaf Group. Brawner said Mundi was the mastermind of two major attacks in the Sulu capital of Jolo, including the 2019 cathedral bombings that killed at least 20 people.

Both Dawlah Islamiyah —also known as the Maute group — and the ASG were behind the 2017 Marawi siege, a five-month battle that killed more than 1,100 people and forced more than 300,000 others from their homes.

“We are continuously gathering intel operations so that we will be able to run after the perpetrators of this terroristic attack,” Brawner said.

There were also “strong indications of a foreign element” in Sunday’s bombing, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told the press conference. He refused to elaborate so as not to compromise the ongoing investigation, but had said that the attack was intended to “ferment terrorist activity to create confusion.”

The Philippine National Police has tightened checkpoints and put out a high alert for officers in Mindanao and the capital region “to prevent possible follow-up incidents,” PNP official Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Peralta said, adding that fragments of a 60 mm mortar had been recovered at the scene.

The Mindanao State University said it was suspending classes and all academic activities until further notice, as it deployed additional security personnel around campus.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned the “senseless and most heinous acts,” as he encouraged Filipinos to remain calm and stick to accurate and official information.

“Extremists who wield violence against the innocent will always be regarded as enemies to our society,” Marcos said in a statement. “Rest assured we will bring the perpetrators of this ruthless act to justice.”

Breaches by Iran-affiliated hackers spanned multiple US states, federal agencies say

Updated 03 December 2023

Breaches by Iran-affiliated hackers spanned multiple US states, federal agencies say

  • Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the group has expanded and accelerated targeting Israeli critical infrastructure, said Check Point’s Sergey Shykevich

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: A small western Pennsylvania water authority was just one of multiple organizations breached in the United States by Iran-affiliated hackers who targeted a specific industrial control device because it is Israeli-made, US and Israeli authorities say.
“The victims span multiple US states,” the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, as well as Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said in an advisory emailed to The Associated Press late Friday.
They did not say how many organizations were hacked or otherwise describe them.
Matthew Mottes, the chairman of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, which discovered it had been hacked on Nov. 25, said Thursday that federal officials had told him the same group also breached four other utilities and an aquarium.
Cybersecurity experts say that while there is no evidence of Iranian involvement in the Oct. 7 attack into Israel by Hamas that triggered the war in Gaza they expected state-backed Iranian hackers and pro-Palestinian hacktivists to step up cyberattacks on Israeli and its allies in its aftermath. And indeed that has happened.
The multiagency advisory explained what CISA had not when it confirmed the Pennsylvania hack on Wednesday — that other industries outside water and water-treatment facilities use the same equipment — Vision Series programmable logic controllers made by Unitronics — and were also potentially vulnerable.
Those industries include “energy, food and beverage manufacturing and health care,” the advisory says. The devices regulate processes including pressure, temperature and fluid flow.
The Aliquippa hack promoted workers to temporarily halt pumping in a remote station that regulates water pressure for two nearby towns, leading crews to switch to manual operation. The hackers left a digital calling card on the compromised device saying all Israeli-made equipment is “a legal target.”
The multiagency advisory said it was not known if the hackers had tried to penetrate deeper into breached networks. The access they did get enabled “more profound cyber physical effects on processes and equipment,” it said.
The advisory says the hackers, who call themselves “Cyber Av3ngers,” are affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the US designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019. The group targeted the Unitronics devices at least since Nov. 22, it said.
An online search Saturday with the Shodan service identified more than 200 such Internet-connected devices in the US and more than 1,700 globally.
The advisory notes that Unitronics devices ship with a default password, a practice experts discourage as it makes them more vulnerable to hacking. Best practices call for devices to require a unique password to be created out of the box. It says the hackers likely accessed affected devices by “exploiting cybersecurity weaknesses, including poor password security and exposure to the Internet.”
Experts say many water utilities have paid insufficient attention to cybersecurity.
In response to the Aliquippa hack, three Pennsylvania congressmen asked the US Justice Department in a letter to investigate. Americans must know their drinking water and other basic infrastructure is safe from “nation-state adversaries and terrorist organizations,” US Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey and US Rep. Chris Deluzio said. Cyber Av3ngers claimed in an Oct. 30 social media post to have hacked 10 water treatment stations in Israel, though it is not clear if they shut down any equipment.
Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the group has expanded and accelerated targeting Israeli critical infrastructure, said Check Point’s Sergey Shykevich. Iran and Israel were engaged in low-level cyberconflict prior to the Oct. 7. Unitronics has not responded to the AP queries about the hacks.
The attack came less than a month after a federal appeals court decision prompted the EPA to rescind a rule that would have obliged USpublic water systems to include cybersecurity testing in their regular federally mandated audits. The rollback was triggered by a federal appeals court decision in a case brought by Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa, and joined by a water utility trade group.
The Biden administration has been trying to shore up cybersecurity of critical infrastructure — more than 80 percent of which is privately owned — and has imposed regulations on sectors including electric utilities, gas pipelines and nuclear facilities. But many experts complain that too many vital industries are permitted to self-regulate.