US, Philippine and Australian forces sink a ship during war drills in the disputed South China Sea

More than 16,000 military personnel from the US and the Philippines, backed by a few hundred Australian troops and military observers from 14 countries are participating in annual combat-readiness drills. (AP)
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Updated 08 May 2024
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US, Philippine and Australian forces sink a ship during war drills in the disputed South China Sea

  • Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.has ordered his military to shift its focus to external defense from decades-long domestic anti-insurgency operations

LAOAG, Philippines: Military force from the United States, Australian and the Philippines launched a barrage of high-precision rockets, artillery fire and airstrikes to sink a ship Wednesday as part of largescale war drills in waters facing the disputed South China Sea that have antagonized Beijing.
Military officials and diplomats from several countries, along with journalists, watched the display of firepower from a hilltop along a sandy coast in Laoag City on Wednesday in Ilocos Norte, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s northern home province.
More than 16,000 military personnel from the United States and the Philippines, backed by a few hundred Australian troops and military observers from 14 countries were participating in annual combat-readiness drills called Balikatan, Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder, which started on April 22 and will end on Friday.
It’s the latest indication of how the United States and the Philippines have bolstered a defense treaty alliance that started in the 1950s.
Marcos has ordered his military to shift its focus to external defense from decades-long domestic anti-insurgency operations as China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea become a top concern. That strategic shift dovetails with the efforts of President Joe Biden and his administration to reinforce an arc of alliances in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China.
China has angered the Philippines by repeatedly harassing its navy and coast guard ships with the use of powerful water cannons, a military-grade laser, blocking movements and other dangerous maneuvers in the high seas near two disputed South China Sea shoals that have led to minor collisions. Those have caused several injuries to Filipino navy personnel and damaged supply boats.
“We’re under the gun,” Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“We don’t have the wherewithal to be able to fight all of this bullying coming from China so where else will we go?” Romualdez asked. “We went to the right party which is the United States and those that believe in what the US is doing.”
China has accused the Philippines of setting off the hostilities in the disputed waters by encroaching into what it says are its offshore territories, demarcated by 10 dashes on a map. This has often prompted the Chinese coast guard and navy to take steps to expel Philippine coast guard and other vessels from that area. The Philippines, backed by the US and its allies and security partners, has repeatedly cited a 2016 international arbitration ruling based on the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea that invalidated China’s claim over virtually the entire South China Sea on historical grounds.
China did not participate in the arbitration complaint filed by the Philippines in 2013, rejected the ruling, and continues to defy it.
After an hour of the combat-readiness drills, black smoke started to billow from the stern of the mock enemy ship that was struck by missile fire and it started to sink ,as shown on a monitor watched by foreign military guests and journalists. US and Philippine warplanes later dropped bombs on the BRP Lake Caliraya, the target ship, which was made in China but decommissioned by the Philippine navy in 2020 due to mechanical and electrical issues, according to Philippine military officials.
Philippine military officials said the maneuvers would bolster the country’s coastal defense and disaster-response capabilities and claimed they were not aimed at any country. China has opposed military drills involving US forces in the region as well as increasing US military deployments, which it warned would ratchet up tensions and hamper regional stability and peace.
Washington and Beijing have been on a collision course over China’s increasingly assertive actions to defend its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, and Beijing’s stated goal of annexing Taiwan, by force if necessary.
In February last year, Marcos approved a wider US military presence in the Philippines by allowing rotating groups of American military forces to stay in four more Philippine military camps. That was a sharp turnaround from his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who feared that a larger American military footprint could antagonize Beijing.
China strongly opposed the move, which would allow US forces to establish staging grounds and surveillance posts in the northern Philippines across the sea from Taiwan, and in western Philippine provinces facing the South China Sea.
China has warned that a deepening security alliance between Washington and Manila and their ongoing military drills should not harm its security and territorial interests or interfere in the territorial disputes. The Philippines countered that it has the right to defend its sovereignty and territorial interests.
“An alliance is very important to show China that you may have all the ships that you have, but we have a lot of firepower to sink all of them,” Romualdez said.


Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Updated 8 sec ago
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Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Armenia has officially recognized a Palestinian state, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday, defying Israel which is opposed to such moves.
Armenia supports a UN resolution on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and is in favor of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the same statement said.

India’s Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir

Updated 1 min 47 sec ago
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India’s Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir

  • Thousands of government employees, schoolteachers and students were brought in for the event from all over Kashmir
  • A local resident describes the event as cultural intrusion, calling it an imposition to change the upcoming generations

SRINAGAR: Stretching, arching his back and kneeling on a mat, India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi led hundreds of people performing yoga in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir on Friday.

The exercises in Srinagar, capital of the Indian-administered part of the disputed territory, marked the 10th International Yoga Day, Modi’s own brainchild.

But while yoga is not itself a religious practice, it has its origins in Hindu philosophy – the god Shiva is said to have been the first yogi – and many residents of Kashmir are indifferent to the discipline.

Thousands of government employees, schoolteachers and students from all over Kashmir were brought in for the event, although rain forced Modi’s performance indoors.

Afterwards, he urged hundreds of people including many police and armed forces personnel on the shores of Dal Lake to make yoga “a part of their daily lives.”

“Yoga fosters strength, good health and wellness,” he said.

But one Srinagar resident saw the event as a cultural intrusion.

“This yoga is being imposed on our children to culturally change the next generations and control their minds,” they told AFP, declining to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“It’s an imposition on us.”

Rebel groups in Kashmir have waged an insurgency since 1989, demanding independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, and violence has been largely suppressed since Modi removed the region’s limited autonomy in 2019 and imposed a security crackdown.

But his visit came after a series of attacks by suspected rebels opposed to Indian rule, including one that left 10 Hindu pilgrims dead.

Islamabad controls a part of the divided territory and, like India, claims all of Kashmir.

June 21 was declared International Yoga Day a decade ago and Modi has since led events at emblematic locations across India, and last year at the UN headquarters in New York.


Ukraine reinforces embattled hilltop town in east

Updated 34 min 5 sec ago
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Ukraine reinforces embattled hilltop town in east

  • Chasiv Yar, which had a pre-war population of around 12,000 people, sits above nearby civilian hubs of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka
  • Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold the line there against better-resourced Russian forces

Kyiv, Ukraine: Ukraine has said is dispatching reinforcements to an embattled strategic hilltop town in the eastern Donetsk region, a vital flashpoint whose capture could accelerate Russian advances deeper in the industrial territory.
Donetsk has borne the brunt of fighting since Russian forces invaded in February 2022, and Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold the line there against better-resourced Russian forces.
“Units of the 24th Mechanized Brigade have been redeployed to strengthen the defense of the Chasiv Yar sector,” the grouping said in a statement late Thursday.
“The situation in and around the town is extremely difficult. The enemy is constantly organizing massive frontal assaults, and also trying to bypass the settlement from the north and south,” it added.
The unit had been deployed near the town of Toretsk, another frontline region where Russian forces have gained ground after a lull in fighting there, according to military bloggers.
Chasiv Yar, which had a pre-war population of around 12,000 people, sits above nearby civilian hubs of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka.
The Ukrainian military says it has been persistently targeted by Russian air strikes, and recently released drone footage from the town shows rows of bombed-out and smoldering Soviet-era housing blocs.
The Kremlin said in late 2022 that it had annexed Donetsk, which has been partially controlled by Russian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists for around a decade.


S. Korea, US condemn treaty between Russia and North Korea

Updated 21 June 2024
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S. Korea, US condemn treaty between Russia and North Korea

  • South Korea fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers crossed border on Thursday

SEOUL: South Korea’s Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the new treaty between Russia and North Korea as a serious threat to regional peace and stability, Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.
The two in a phone call on Thursday also discussed ways to respond to the pact, and agreed to closely monitor the situation, the foreign ministry said.
Blinken said the United States supports South Korea’s responses to the agreement, in which Moscow and Pyongyang said each country would provide immediate military assistance if either faces armed aggression.
Cho said any cooperation to help strengthen North Korea’s military capabilities is a clear violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, according to the statement.
The United States will consider various ways to respond to the threat to international peace and stability from Russia and North Korea, Blinken was quoted as saying by the ministry.
South Korean National Security Adviser Chang Ho-jin said on Thursday that Seoul will review the possibility of supplying weapons to Ukraine in response to the landmark pact.

Relations between the Korean neighbors had been tense again lately, with the North repeatedly dumping trash into South Korean territory via cheap balloons.

On Thursday morning, South Korea’s military fired warning shots after several North Korean soldiers crossed the border, the Yonhap news agency reported on Friday citing the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The soldiers retreated immediately after the warning shots were fired, the report said.
They had breached the Military Demarcation Line running through the middle of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), where they were working around 11 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Thursday, South Korea said.
It is at least the third such incident this month. South Korea’s military fired warning shots on Tuesday after dozens of North Korean soldiers breached the demarcation line.
The incident came after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang for the first time in 24 years earlier this week.

 

 


US rushing delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine to counter increased Russian attacks

Updated 21 June 2024
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US rushing delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine to counter increased Russian attacks

  • White House says it can do this by redirecting orders made by other allies for air defense systems
  • Russia has resumed its aerial pounding of Ukraine’s power grid while Kyiv’s forces are again targeting Russian oil facilities with drone strikes

WASHINGTON: The White House announced Thursday that it will rush delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine by redirecting planned shipments to other allied nations, as Washington scrambles to counter increased Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
National security spokesman John Kirby said the US had taken the “difficult but necessary decision to reprioritize near-term planned deliveries of foreign military sales to other countries,” though he wouldn’t say which nations would be affected or how many.
“Right now, we know that Ukraine urgently needs these additional capabilities,” Kirby said on a call with reporters, adding, “Obviously more is needed, and it’s needed now.”
The announcement comes after President Joe Biden, during last week’s Group of Seven meeting in Italy, suggested such action might be necessary, saying, “We’ve let it be known for those countries that are expecting, from us, air defense systems in the future, that they’re going to have to wait.”
“Everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met,” Biden said. “And then we will make good on the commitments we made to other countries.”
The US was already sending Ukraine a consistent stream of interceptors for its air defense systems, including for the Patriot missile batteries and the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS. But Kirby said that more was urgently needed as Russia’s military has accelerated missile and drone attacks against cities and infrastructure centers “trying to destroy Ukraine’s energy system ahead of this winter.”

This handout photograph taken on June 18, 2024 and released by the Press service of the 24th mechanized brigade shows Ukrainian servicemen repairing military equipment at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (AFP)

Russia has resumed its aerial pounding of Ukraine’s power grid while Kyiv’s forces are again targeting Russian oil facilities with drone strikes, as each side seeks to hinder the other’s ability to continue fighting.
The number of interceptors to be sent isn’t clear but Kirby said it could involve “hundreds” of Patriot interceptor missiles.
Kirby said Ukraine will get prioritized shipments as soon as systems roll off assembly lines for the next about 16 months, and those will provide the country with “enough capability” during that period.
After that, he said, “Countries that have been asked to delay will start to get” deliveries of systems they had already ordered.
Kirby said the move means “a range of countries” will face delays in receiving missile systems that are being diverted to Ukraine but that the shift would not affect Taiwan or what it “continues to need and receive for self-defense” in the face of potential threats from China.
Asked to describe how other countries reacted to the shift, Kirby said they were “broadly understanding of it.”
“They know how serious the need is in Ukraine,” he said.