Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Despite Sales Drop, France 4th Largest Exporter

PARIS - French arms export orders fell in 2010, but the country held its ranking as the world's fourth-largest exporter, an annual report on foreign defense sales to parliament said Oct. 26.
Exports declined to 5.12 billion euros ($7.12 billion) in 2010 from 8.16 billion euros in the previous year, according to the report.
The foreign sales were secured in a "difficult climate and in an extremely volatile context," a Defense Ministry spokesman, Army Gen. Philippe Ponties, told journalists.
Exports are seen as vital to French defense industry and the government, as the domestic budget is expected to fall sharply as part of deficit reduction plans.
A major objective next year is to pursue at a New York conference an international treaty on arms sales, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.
France held a 6 percent share of the world market based on an annual average of deliveries, behind the United States, which dominates with a 53.7 percent share, Britain with 12.5 percent, and Russia with 8.2 percent, the report said.
The world market was estimated at 60 billion to 70 billion euros in annual sales, Ponties said.
Major deals sealed last year included a sale of the A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Cougar helicopters to Malaysia, and the upgrade of Alphajet trainer jets for Morocco.
This year, France sold two Mistral-class command and projection ships to Russia, and signed a long-awaited contract to modernize Mirage 2000 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force.
Winning a big contract for 60 Rafale fighter jets with the United Arab Emirates has proved elusive, as the UAE balked at an initial $10 billion price tag.
Defense Minister GĂ©rard Longuet said Paris is in "final negotiations" with the UAE on the Rafales, but there has been no comment from UAE authorities.
Paris supports foreign arms sales, which are seen as a key foreign policy tool, helping France hold its place at the top in international affairs, Ponties said.
The sales are conducted under a strict export control regime, he said.
The foreign contracts also are seen as vital to maintaining the country's defense industry and technology base and supporting 135,000 directly employed in the domestic economy, he said.

$24M Awarded to Find Cause of F-22 Oxygen Problem

Lockheed Martin has been awarded an F-22 Raptor sustainment contract for $24 million to find the root cause of the fifth generation air superiority fighter's oxygen system among other things.
The company "is being awarded a $24,363,993 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for the F-22 Program to provide sustaining engineering and depot partnering task associated with non-destructive inspection organic capability, hypoxia root cause analysis, titanium crack growth, site activation, slider seals, and radar cross section turntable," reads a Defense Department contract announcement posted on
The release was issued on Oct. 26.

Germany Wavers Over Sub Sale to Israel: Report

JERUSALEM - Germany is reconsidering its sale of a sixth submarine to Israel in the wake of new tensions over Jewish settlement construction, an Israeli newspaper reported Oct. 26.
Yediot Aharonot said Berlin was rethinking the deal because of German frustration over Israel's decision to approve new settlement building in annexed east Jerusalem, which has raised tensions between the two countries.
The Israeli daily, citing unnamed "high-ranking officials," said the deal had been jeopardized by fraying relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel was reported to have strongly criticized the Israeli premier during a telephone call last month, saying she had "absolutely no understanding" of Israel's decision to increase settlement building in east Jerusalem.
Speaking to Israeli public radio Oct. 26, Defence Ministry Director General Udi Shani declined to confirm or deny the reported problems with the submarine deal.
"It's a very complicated, very sensitive file that is under discussion. There are many parameters that have to be taken into account," he said.
There have been conflicting reports about whether Israel even wants to buy a sixth Dolphin-class submarine from Germany.
The Israeli navy currently has three Dolphin-class submarines, two of which were bought after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Two others are on order from Germany and being built at the Kiel shipyard. They are due for delivery in 2012.
Media reports have said the submarines can carry nuclear warheads and have an operating range of 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles).
In July 2010, the Defense Ministry denied that Israel was looking to purchase a sixth submarine, after media reports said Berlin had rejected an Israeli request for subsidies for the sale.

New Missile Craft for Egypt Delivered

The first of four new fast missile craft for Egypt was dedicated Oct. 25 at a shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., and the ship's name was announced.
The S. Ezzat is named after Soliman Ezzat, the admiral who founded and led the modern Egyptian Navy from 1953 to 1967, shipbuilder VT Halter Marine said in a press release.
Construction of the ship began in a newly built fabrication facility at VT Halter in November 2009 under a U.S. Navy Foreign Military Sales program managed by the U.S. Navy's Naval Sea Systems Command.
The original contract for the program was awarded to VT Halter in November 2005. Since then, the U.S. has awarded the shipbuilder more than $800 million for the ships.
Also known as the Ambassador III class, the stealthy, 550-ton ships are 207 feet long. They are powered by three MTU diesels and designed for a top speed of 41 knots. The ships are armed with eight Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles and an OTO Melara 3-inch gun, with self-defense provided by a Rolling Airframe Missile launcher and a Close-In Weapon System Block 1B. They are designed to operate at sea for up to eight days.
The Egyptian Navy operates several classes of fast missile ships, built in the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain, but the last was delivered in 1982.
The Ezzat is expected to leave Mississippi for Egypt during 2012.
Construction continues on the other three ships: F. Zekry, M. Fahmy and A. Gad. The last ship is contracted for delivery in December 2013.

Qatar Admits It Had Boots on Ground in Libya

DOHA - Qatar revealed for the first time Oct. 26 that hundreds of its soldiers had joined Libyan rebel forces on the ground as they battled troops of veteran leader Moammar Gadhafi.
"We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on the ground were hundreds in every region," said Qatari chief of staff Maj. Gen. Hamad bin Ali Al-Atiya.
The announcement marks the first time that Qatar has acknowledged it had military boots on the ground in Libya.
Previously, the country said it had only lent the support of its air force to NATO-led operations to protect civilians during the eight-month uprising, which ended when Gadhafi was captured and killed last week.
Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of military allies of Libya's National Transitional Council, Atiya said the Qataris had been "running the training and communication operations."
"Qatar had supervised the rebels' plans because they are civilians and did not have enough military experience. We acted as the link between the rebels and NATO forces," he said.
Libya's interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the meeting that Qatar had been "a major partner in all the battles we fought."
He added that the Qataris had "planned" the battles which paved the way for NTC fighters to gradually take over Gadhafi-held towns and cities.
Atiya also said that after the departure of NATO troops, a new international coalition led by Qatar would oversee "military training, collecting weapons, and integrating the rebels in newly established military institutions."
The coalition, named as the "Friends Committee in Support of Libya" and which held its first meeting in Doha on Oct. 26, is made up of 13 countries including the U.S., Britain and France, Atiya said.
Abdel Jalil, meanwhile, urged NATO to continue its Libya campaign until year's end, saying Gadhafi loyalists still posed a threat to the country.

Panetta Pledges 'Nuclear Umbrella' for S. Korea

SEOUL - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pledged Oct. 26 to preserve a "nuclear umbrella" protecting South Korea, a day after the U.S. held talks with Seoul's hostile neighbor North Korea.
"I've come here because, in many ways, this is the front line," Panetta told some 300 U.S. troops at the Yongsan base in Seoul. "Six decades later [after the 1950-1953 Korean War], the U.S. remains fully committed to the security of South Korea," he said.
Some 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in the South. Cross-border tensions have been high for the past year, after the South accused the North of mounting two border attacks in 2010 that killed a total of 50 South Koreans.
The U.S. withdrew atomic weapons from the South almost 20 years ago but guarantees to provide a nuclear deterrent to any nuclear attack on it.
Panetta, who is on the last leg of a tour which also took him to Indonesia and Japan, emphasized the U.S. defense commitment despite a flurry of diplomacy designed to revive six-nation talks on the North's nuclear disarmament.
U.S. and North Korean officials held talks Oct. 24 and 25 in Geneva to try to set terms for a resumption of the negotiations, their second such meeting in three months.
Chief U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth described the talks as "very positive" but cautioned that not all differences could be quickly overcome.
The North quit the six-party forum in April 2009, a month before staging its second atomic weapons test.
It has since repeatedly said it wants to return without preconditions to the negotiations grouping the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.
Washington and its allies say it must first take action to show its sincerity, such as shutting down a uranium enrichment plant that could be converted to make nuclear weapons.
China, which has held the talks since 2003, sent Vice Premier Li Keqiang to North and South Korea this week to try to restart them.
Li met the North's leader Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang and held talks Oct. 26 with the South's president, Lee Myung-bak.
"I told Chairman Kim several times that it is important to realize denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and protect peace and stability," Lee's office quoted the vice premier as saying.
Lee told his guest that he hopes China - which is the North's closest ally but the South's biggest trading partner - "will continue to play an important role in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula and leading North Korea to reform and openness."
Panetta, in an article in Chosun Ilbo newspaper Oct. 26, said the U.S. and South Korean military "stand prepared to defeat the North should it ever force war upon us.
"It is important to send this signal because North Korea remains a serious threat. Pyongyang has demonstrated its willingness to conduct provocations that target innocent lives," he wrote.
Panetta said the U.S. and South Korea are developing capabilities to address the North's ballistic missile threats, and strengthening operational planning.
In addition, the U.S. "will ensure a strong and effective nuclear umbrella over the ROK [South Korea] so that Pyongyang never misjudges our will and capability to respond decisively to nuclear aggression."
The defense secretary during his three-day visit will stress the two countries' capability to deter provocations and to defeat the North if deterrence fails, said a senior official traveling with Panetta.
"Our experience is that our North Korean friends go through cycles of diplomatic engagement and provocation. We need to be prepared for how that cycle may play itself out in the next turn," the official said.

Taiwan Urges Better South China Sea Defense

TAIPEI - Taiwan's security chief called Oct. 26 for improved defenses of a group of islands in the South China Sea, reacting to reports that rival claimants to the disputed waters are building up arms.
"The Spratly Islands are our territory ... We should upgrade our defense capabilities and replace some aging equipment," Tsai De-sheng, head of the national security bureau, said in parliament.
Tsai's comments came after defense minister Kao Hua-chu endorsed a plan proposed by lawmakers to deploy advanced missiles in the contested waters over concerns that Taiwan's coast guards were vulnerable.
The Taiwanese coast guard currently has a 130-strong garrison on Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratlys archipelago.
Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia and the Philippines claim all or part of the Spratlys, which could lie on top of large oil reserves.
All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total land mass of less than five square kilometers (two square miles).
Taiwan's navy in July took a group of academics to the disputed islands despite a flare-up of regional tensions over rival claims for the contested waters.
Tensions in the decades-old dispute escalated this year amid accusations from the Philippines and Vietnam that China was becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claims.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

U.K. Approves $1.6B Upgrade for Warrior Vehicle

LONDON - The 1 billion pound ($1.59 billion) program to update the British Army's Warrior infantry fighting vehicle has been given the go-ahead by the government.
A 1 billion-pound program update to the British Army's Warrior infantry fighting vehicle has been approved. (BAE Systems)
Prime Minister David Cameron's announcement that the Ministry of Defence will sign a contract with Lockheed Martin UK to upgrade the Warrior ends months of speculation over whether the program would proceed or be struck down by Britain's defense spending cuts.
The contract is expected to be signed by the end of the month.
Although given the go-ahead, the program is much delayed. A Lockheed spokesman said production will start in 2018, and full operational capability is expected in 2020. At one stage, the British Army wanted to have the updated Warrior operational by about 2012.
The number of vehicles to be updated has also slipped to about 380, and not all of those will receive the full upgrade package. Originally, 643 vehicles were to be included in the program, of which 449 would receive the full upgrade.
Lockheed was named as the only contractor remaining in negotiation with the MoD at the start of this year, after BAE Systems was knocked out of the running.
The Warrior Capability Sustainment Program will involve a raft of improvements, including fitting a new turret with a 40mm cannon supplied by CTAI, an Anglo-French subsidiary of BAE Systems and Nexter.
Other key improvements include a new open electronic architecture and better armor protection.
The MoD says the update could keep the vehicle in service until 2040 and beyond.
Lockheed's contract is valued at 642 million pounds. The remainder of the 1 billion pound cost of the program comprises government-furnished equipment, such as the new cannon, and government taxes.
Major suppliers include the Defence Support Group, Rheinmetall Defence, Curtiss-Wright, Thales UK and Meggitt.
The deal is the first major announcement since the appointment of Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond. He replaced Liam Fox earlier this month after Fox resigned in the face of controversy over his links with lobbyist and adviser Adam Werrity.
Fox's resignation held up the announcement of the deal.

U.S. Envoy: Talks with N. Korea 'Very Positive'

GENEVA - Talks in Geneva between the United States and North Korea aimed at reviving long-stalled nuclear negotiations have been "very positive," Washington's outgoing lead envoy Stephen Bosworth said Oct. 25.
"We had some very positive and generally constructive talks with the DPRK delegation. We narrowed differences on several points and explored differences on other points," he told reporters after the two days of talks.
Bosworth acknowledged that the parties would need "more time and discussion to reach an agreement" and that the delegations would stay in touch through North Korea's mission in New York.
But he gave a positive outlook for progress.
"I am confident that with continued efforts on both sides we can reach a reasonable basis of departure for formal negotiations for the return of the six-party process," he added.
Together with his successor Glyn Davies, Bosworth held two days of talks with North Korea's delegation led by the foreign ministry's first vice minister Kim Kye-Gwan in a bid to revive long-stalled nuclear negotiations.
Pyongyang formally quit the six-party negotiations in April 2009, a month before staging its second atomic weapons test. It has since repeatedly said it wants to come back to the table, but Washington is demanding a physical sign of sincerity first.

Panetta Presses Japan on U.S. Base Move

TOKYO - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Oct. 25 that it was critical for Japan to press ahead with the relocation of a controversial air base on a southern island to ensure the region's security.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his Japanese counterpart Yasuo Ichikawa answer questions during a joint press conference Oct. 25. (Toru Yamanaka / AFP via Getty Images)
In an effort to galvanize the stalled move amid public opposition, Japanese leaders pledged to issue an environmental impact report on shifting the Futenma Air Station from a residential area on Okinawa to a nearby coastal spot.
"The minister assured me... the government of Japan's intention to move forward with steps necessary with the Futenma replacement facility," Panetta said during a joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa.
"This is a critical initiative in our effort to maintain a strong, forward-deployment presence in the Pacific region," Panetta said.
A long-standing agreement between Washington and Tokyo was set to see the Futenma air base moved by 2014.
But local objections and a policy flip-flop by a former prime minister have stalled the plan, putting a distinct chill on relations between the long-time security allies.
The governor of the area in which the new base is expected to be built will still have the final say on whether to allow the construction of a new facility, regardless of the environmental report by the central government.
Okinawa has long been a reluctant host to around half of the nearly 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. Locals complain of noise, the risk of military accidents and of crimes committed by U.S. soldiers.
Panetta reiterated that the base realignment will come alongside the redeployment of about 8,000 U.S. service personnel from Okinawa to Guam.
"It is also important to reducing the impact of our bases in Okinawa," he said.
Meanwhile, Ichikawa and Panetta reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance as a "cornerstone" of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.
The Pentagon chief, who also met with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, was in Japan on the second leg of a tour of Asian allies where he has repeatedly stressed Washington's commitment to remaining a Pacific power, as nations in the region nervously eye China's growing military might.
Panetta said Washington will jointly will work with Japan, South Korea and Australia to "effectively address many shared challenges" of living next to the communist country.
"Together, we will also work to encourage China's emergence as a responsible and positive partner in building regional stability and prosperity, cooperating on global issues, and upholding international norms and rules of behaviors," he said, without elaborating.
Panetta is scheduled to head to South Korea on Oct. 26.

Spain readies to pull troops from Libya

MADRID - Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon on Tuesday said Spain would pull its troops from Libya as soon as NATO formally announces the end of its operations there.
"As soon as NATO formally confirms the end of this operation, Spanish assets will be immediately pulled back to Spanish territory," she said at a news conference.
"This means that all the troops that we have today in Libyan territory will be in Spain before October 31," she added.
On Oct. 12 Chacon said Madrid was withdrawing its four F-18 fighter jets assigned to the NATO air campaign in Libya due to positive developments in the north African country.
The minister noted that Spain still had two refueling aircraft in Libya and would continue to help enforce the UN-mandated arms embargo on the country with a frigate and a maritime patrol aircraft.
NATO ambassadors are scheduled to meet Wednesday to make a formal decision on a preliminary agreement to terminate the seven-month-old mission on Oct. 31.
But Libya's new regime has asked the alliance to maintain air operations a month longer than planned.
The alliance decided to wind down the mission after determining that civilians were essentially free from the threat of attacks from fighters loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed last week by troops loyal to the new regime.

Russia Delivers Radar Jammers to Iran

MOSCOW - Russia has sent a set of mobile radar jammers to Iran and is negotiating future deliveries that Moscow believes do not contravene current United Nations sanctions on the Islamic state's regime, an official said Tuesday.
The Avtobaza truck-mounted jammers are part of a broader line of arms Russia hopes to sell Iran despite concerns over Tehran's nuclear program, the deputy head of the military and technical cooperation agency said.
"This is a defensive system," the agency's deputy director Konstantin Biryulin was quoted as saying by the state RIA Novosti news agency.
"We are not talking about jets, submarines or even S-300 (missile) systems. We are talking about providing security for the Iranian state.
"We are in constant talks with Iran over that country's purchases of military technology that does not fall under UN sanctions," he was quoted as saying.
The arms delivery was disclosed the same day as a Western diplomat said Russia and China were urging the UN atomic agency to soften, or even hold back, a report detailing Iran's suspected efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Russia had strongly defended its close trading partner until agreeing in September 2010 to cancel a planned sale of S-300 missile systems and supporting stronger sanctions against Tehran.
But limited arms shipments have continued and Iran last month finally put a Russian-made nuclear power plant on stream in Bushehr after years of delays.
Biryulin did not disclose when the radar systems were delivered or how many units were sold.

U.S. Dismantles Last of Big Cold War Nuclear Bombs

WASHINGTON - Nuclear experts in Texas prepared Tuesday to dismantle the oldest, biggest and most powerful bomb in the U.S. nuclear arsenal from the Cold War era.
The last B-53 bomb - built in 1962, the year of the Cuban missile crisis - will be taken apart at the Pantex facility in Amarillo, the only place in the U.S. that builds, maintains and dismantles nuclear weapons.
Grey in color, weighing 10,000 pounds and as big as a minivan, the device had the power to wipe out a metropolitan area with its nine megaton yield when dropped from a B-52 bomber.
By comparison, the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, in the final days of World War II packed a yield of 12 kilotons, or 0.012 megatons.
"It's significant in the sense that it's the last of these multimegaton weapons that the nuclear powers used to build during the height of the Cold War," said Hans Kirstensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists.
Dismantling the B-53 bomb - retired from service in 1997 - involves separating 300 pounds of high explosive from the uranium "pit" at the heart of the weapon, Pantex spokesman Greg Cunningham told AFP.
"The world is a safer place with this dismantlement," Thomas D'Agostino, director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in a Pantex statement.

4 Killed in Yemeni Military Plane Crash: Pilot

ADEN - A Yemeni military cargo plane crashed Oct. 25 while landing at a base in the southern province of Lahej killing at least four of 15 people on board, a military pilot said.
"Three Syrian technicians and one Yemeni were killed," the source at Al-Anad base told AFP, adding that eight Syrian engineers and seven Yemenis were on board the Russian-made plane.
"It exploded upon hitting the runway," he said.
The pilot stressed that the Antonov plane was not carrying weapons.
Al-Anad airbase was built by the British who ruled south Yemen until it became independent in 1967.
Lahej and several southern and eastern provinces of Yemen have also become an operation zone for militants of an al-Qaida branch believed to be taking advantage of a weakening central authority following nine months of nationwide protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Military officials have said that authorities in Sanaa have withdrawn military planes from the main Dailami air base, near Sanaa airport, to other bases, including Al-Anad, due to nearby confrontations between Saleh forces and his opponents.
The elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, has repeatedly clashed with anti-Saleh tribes in Arhab, north of the airport, while Saleh loyalists are frequently engaging in deadly confrontations in north Sanaa with dissident troops and tribes backing protests.
Despite domestic and international pressure, including a U.N. Security Council resolution last week urging Saleh to sign a deal to quit office, the veteran leader has refused to relinquish power.

Monday, October 24, 2011

India to Announce MMRCA Winner Next Month

NEW DELHI - India's $10 billion Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contest has entered its last stage, with the Indian Defence Ministry alerting the two competitors that the commercial bids will be opened Nov. 4.
Letters were sent Oct. 24 to France's Dassault Aviation and European company EADS, a ministry source here said. After the commercial bids are opened, the lowest bidder will be decided and price negotiations with the winner will begin.
The MMRCA program has picked up momentum in the Defence Ministry, and a contract is likely to be sealed by March 2012.
Based on flight trials of all the MMRCA competitors, the aircraft proposed by U.S. companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing, Sweden's Saab and Russia's MiG Aircraft were ejected from the race, leaving the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon in the fray.
The Indian Defence Ministry floated its biggest global tender, worth $10 billion, for the acquisition of 126 MMRCAs in August 2007.
The Indian Air Force intends to replace its aging Russian-built MiG-21 fighter aircraft with the MMRCA because the Indian-designed and -built Light Combat Aircraft has been delayed by more than a decade.
Under the MMRCA proposal, India would buy 18 ready-to-fly fighters off the shelf and the remaining 108 would be built in India under technology transfer from the contract winner.

Japan cyber attackers may have military info

TOKYO - Information on military aircraft and nuclear power plants may have been stolen in a series of cyber attacks on Japanese defense contractor Mitsubishi Heavy, a report said Oct. 24.
Mitsubishi Heavy said in late September that 83 computers at 11 of its facilities had been hit by cyber attacks but no leakage of information on products and technologies had been confirmed.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that additional checks on other computers at Mitsubish Heavy facilities had shown traces of transmissions of information through some of the computers.
The daily, quoting unidentified officials, said part of the information concerned fighters and helicopters that the company is contracted to manufacture for the defense ministry.
"It is not known if these are classified as defense secrets," Asahi said.
Other pieces of information taken are likely to include the design, equipment and earthquake-resistant nature of nuclear power plants in which Mitsubishi Heavy was involved, the daily said.
Mitsubishi Heavy's public relations office said it could not confirm or deny the report.
Defense minister Yasuo Ichikawa said in September there was no indication that sensitive information had been stolen as a result of the attacks on the firm's computers, which came to light in August.

U.N.: 'Critical time' for Iraq as U.S. withdraws

BAGHDAD - Iraq faces a "very critical time" as U.S. forces leave, the United Nations envoy to Baghdad said Oct. 24, calling on Iraqis to work together to address the myriad challenges the country faces.
"We are in a very critical time, a very important period and phase of the history of Iraq, after the announcement of President [Barack] Obama ... to withdraw troops completely," Martin Kobler, the U.N. secretary general's special representative for Iraq, told a news conference.
Obama said Oct. 21 that all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011, bringing to a close a war that has stretched for over eight years.
"Many are already speculating about what will happen in Iraq come January the first," Obama said in a speech at a ceremony marking the 66th anniversary of the U.N's founding. "Yes, [it] may be there will be challenges ahead. But I do see a tremendous opportunity for Iraqis to prove to the world that they are able to deliver on the commitment they made to themselves and the international community to ensure a democratic, stable, peaceful and prosperous Iraq."
"It is an opportunity for all Iraqis to come together and build the Iraq they can be proud of," Kobler said.
During the news conference, he emphasized the importance of dialogue between Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region and the central government, which are at odds over control of swathes of north Iraq.
"Wherever there is a chance to support the dialogue between Baghdad and Arbil, we are doing it," he said, referring to the capital of the Kurdistan region.
"The question of the ... disputed internal boundaries is a very important one," Kobler said, adding that one of the U.N.'s main focuses "will be the Baghdad-Arbil relations."
He also said that "for the government of Iraq, it's very important to improve relations with Kuwait" so it can exit "the Chapter VII resolutions."
Sanctions against Iraq were imposed following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kabul: An ally in war

President Hamid Karzai, who is accustomed to blowing hot and cold in his attitude towards Pakistan, is apparently passing through a kindlier phase. In an interview with a private Pakistani TV channel, he voiced brotherly feelings towards the country. His remark, "Afghanistan will stand by Pakistan, if attacked by the US," astonished the audience and apparently the interviewer as well. Probed further, he declared that even in the case of an attack by India, or for that matter, by any other quarter, Afghans would side with Pakistan. Seen in the context of the climate of tension between the US and Pakistan, the strategic partnership agreement he signed with India not long ago, and on top of it all, his periodic outburst against Islamabad, most recently accusing it of masterminding and even carrying out the murder of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, his statement is, indeed, a significant about-turn.
Mr Karzai argued that Pakistan’s generous treatment of the five million Afghan refugees, who had fled the country during the Soviet invasion and provided shelter and taken care of by Pakistan, had strengthened the spirit of brotherhood among the people of Afghanistan for their Pakistani counterparts. He added that he could not possibly overlook that help extended at a critical juncture of Afghanistan's history and “betray a brother...despite all that the Pakistan establishment has done to Afghanistan.” But notwithstanding all his goodwill gestures, Pakistan may be forgiven for wondering how long the Afghan President will continue to hold such kindly sentiments for Pakistan. During the very same interview, he seemed to be toeing the American line about the location of terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. He said that the so-called Taliban Shura was headquartered at Quetta and the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups were based in Pakistan. Despite the serious nature of the allegations about terrorist strongholds in Pakistan, our government should seize the opportunity of his commitment to defend the territorial integrity of our country and build further brotherly relations on the basis of this overture. In the process, it should be possible to convince him that no terrorist group is operating from the Pakistani soil for the nefarious purpose of destabilizing Afghanistan.
President Karzai also vented his grievances against the US, asking it to stop entering Afghan homes. US and NATO troops are reported to enter ordinary people’s homes on the pretext of conducting night raids to get hold of Taliban suspects, but in reality they cause not only civilian casualties, but also outrage among the population that regards the sanctity of homes as a matter of honour. The Americans have dismissed the feeling, perhaps, on the ground that the invasion of their land has, in any case, turned the Afghans against them. Mr Karzai should realise that stabilising Afghanistan without the presence of US and other foreign troops is the only long-term solution that can pave the way for reconciliation within estranged sections of Afghan society.

Karzai’s pledge of support to Pakistan jolts America: WSJ

NEW YORK - President Hamid Karzai’s statement over the weekend that he would back Pakistan if it went to war with the US gave an ‘unexpected jolt’ to Washington’s latest attempts to strengthen its relationship with the Afghan leader, a major American newspaper said Sunday.
“The prospects for a US war with Pakistan are remote, and Mr Karzai’s comments were viewed by some Afghan and Western officials in Kabul as a poorly executed effort to blunt his recent angry comments about Pakistan’s support for Afghan insurgent groups,” The Wall Street Journal said in a dispatch from the Afghan Capital.
“This is not about war with each other,” Gavin Sundwall, spokesman for the US Embassy in Kabul, was quoted as saying by the Journal. “This is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries.”
“Mr Karzai’s comments came as a surprise to some Western officials in Kabul, who were heartened by the success of last week’s visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,” the dispatch said.
In the past, the Journal pointed out that Karzai has alienated his Western allies with comments suggesting that he might side with the Taliban, or that America could come to be seen as an occupier if its forces didn’t stop killing Afghan civilians.
“Mr Karzai’s latest remarks struck a nerve with some Afghan and Western officials in Kabul who were reminded of the president’s penchant for criticising the US-led coalition that supports and funds his government,” the dispatch said.
“It was totally careless, unnecessary and, yes, irresponsible,” an unnamed Afghan official was quoted as saying. “He hasn’t pleased anyone except, maybe, a few Pakistani generals.”
American officials said, however, that Karzai’s remarks wouldn’t overshadow Mrs Clinton’s visit. “Mr Karzai and Mrs Clinton were united during her trip in demanding that Pakistan stop supporting the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups.”
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have vacillated over the past year between spells of political chill and attempts at a rapprochement, the Journal pointed out.
Karzai and the US have sought to pressure Pakistan in recent weeks to clamp down on the Haqqani insurgent network suspected of staging a series of deadly attacks on American and Afghan targets.
Afghan officials also accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of involvement in last month’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who had been leading the country’s peace entreaties to the Taliban. Pakistan denied these accusations.
Earlier this month, Karzai flew to New Delhi to sign a strategic agreement with India. The move angered Pakistani officials, who viewed it as political provocation, the dispatch said.

Indian Army declared terrorist by Canada

Indian chopper force to land,after violating airspace of Pakistan

An Indian military Cheetah helicopter belonging to the 666 Siachen Falcons Squadron that violated Pakistani airspace near the Line of Control in Kargil sector in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan at 1:00 p.m. (PST) was forced to land near Olding, Pakistan after being intercepted by Pakistan Air Force fighter jets. The helicopter has been impounded and all four Indian military personnel on board have been taken into custody by the Pakistan Army. The four military personnel include 1 pilot (a Colonel), 1 co-pilot (a Major), 1 Engineer (a Major) and a JCO. The helicopter and crew are now in Skardu.

Indian television reports cited army sources saying the airspace violation by the Cheetah model helicopter operated by the 666 Siachen Falcons was not intentional.

The reports said the helicopter entered Pakistan territory during “whiteout” conditions due to snow in the montainous region.

“It was due to bad weather that the Cheetah chopper strayed across the LoC. There was no deliberate attempt to intrude,” the Indian army said in a statement to Times Now television station, referring to the de facto border in the divided Kashmir region known as the Line of Control.

The military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas had told Reuters that ”the helicopter had came deep into our airspace. It was forced to land. Four Indian army officers have been taken into safe custody. They are safe.”
The two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals have fought three wars since their independence from British rule in 1947.
However, their relations have improved after they resumed a peace process this year which was suspended after co-ordinated attacks by Pakistan-based militants in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, that killed 166 people.

U.S. Military Sees JLTV Development Gain Speed

The U.S. military's program to replace the Humvee has had more ups and downs than the road on which they are tested, but things look to be moving forward.
Above, an artist's rendering of Lockheed Martin's entry into the JLTV competition. (Lockheed Martin)
U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps leaders trimmed a lot of extras to cut the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) cost by $100,000. This also will slice 16 months from the $52 million engineering, manufacturing and development phase, which will end in May 2012. That means the $270,000 base vehicle will come cheaper and sooner, as a single contract award is now scheduled for 2015.
The Army wants at least 20,000 JLTVs with the potential for a larger buy for the program with an estimated worth of $20 billion. Army officials plan to replace a third of their 150,000-vehicle Humvee fleet with the JLTV. The Marine Corps plans to buy 5,500.
The services are now trying to convince the Senate Appropriations Committee, which had recommended the JLTV program be terminated, to come along for the ride.
"We spent all the time with the Marine Corps getting the requirements right that we frankly didn't tell the story to you all, to the Senate, and particularly the Senate Appropriations Committee about the good work that is going on," said Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Army programs.
The new vehicle, outlined in an Oct. 3 draft request for proposal, will have the survivability of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, better mobility than a Humvee and the ability to add mission kits. It will be transportable by ship or helicopter and be able to provide 30 kilowatts of exportable power. Six variants with companion trailers will make up the JLTV family, which will include a four-seat, close-combat weapons carrier, a two-seat utility carrier and shelter, a four-seat general purpose vehicle, a heavy guns carrier and command-and-control-on-the-move vehicle.
The latest changes include an increase to allowable weight from 12,600 pounds to 14,000 pounds. The original number was needed so the Marine Corps' CH-53 Sea Stallion could sling load the JLTV at high altitudes and high temperatures. But industry teams would have to experiment with exotic materials to reach such weight, said Katheryn Hasse, Lockheed Martin's director of tactical wheeled vehicles.
And while most initial entries could produce as much as twice the required 30 kilowatts of external power, the new standard will cut weight and cost.
Critics have ripped the program's lengthy technology development phase, but service officials wouldn't have been able to reach the requirement consensus without it, said Col. David Bassett, the Army program manager for Tactical Vehicles.
Four defense teams led by BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Oshkosh Defense and General Tactical Vehicles, a joint team of General Dynamics Land Systems and Humvee-maker AM General, have developed prototypes and will submit bids for the EMD phase. Three will be selected to move forward. Officials are mum on a lot of the details, as they don't want to show their hand before placing their bets. But here is a taste of what is to come:
BAE Systems
BAE Systems delivered 11 JLTVs for the TD phase, which is 12 months of rigorous government testing.
The vehicle, now in its fourth generation, is designed with payload, protection and performance in mind but is scalable for future technologies, said Deepak Bazaz, program manager.
If the decision were made on looks alone, the sleek BAE vehicle would have this in the bank. But this isn't a beauty pageant, and BAE knows it. So its bottom-up design is centered on the soldier. The company even calls the vehicle a "Valanx," a combination of the ancient Greek "phalanx" formation designed to protect soldiers in combat, with a nod to the V-shaped hull designed to deflect a mine blast away from the vehicle.
BAE also teamed with the existing commercial base in a strategy to keep production and spare parts costs down, Bazaz said. Northrop Grumman has the lead on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The vehicle comes with a Navistar engine, Allison transmission and Meritor suspension.
Clip structures forward and back take the load into the suspension system to provide greater survivability. Ground height is not set, though earlier variants had a 24-inch max standoff. Simply put, the higher the vehicle is, the farther away the soldier is from a roadside bomb blast.
Officials said they "prefer not to share specific numbers" as the program approaches the EMD competition but are "very confident" the vehicle will meet reliability and fuel economy requirements. Bazaz also said the vehicle will achieve weight standards "with margin."
"It all comes down to performance against the requirements," he said. "We've got a very compliant vehicle at an affordable price point because of our commercial relationships and our partner strengths with our expertise in survivability. When you put all of that together, you get a very strong combination that we can bring to the Army."
General Tactical Vehicles
The General Dynamics/AM General team is finishing the redesign on a vehicle that combines the General Dynamics' skills in survivability with AM General's experience in this arena. And the influence of the latter is evident when looking at the vehicle, which some have described as a "Hummer on steroids."
The GTV JLTV incorporates the Stryker's double-V hull, said Mike Cannon, senior vice president of ground combat systems for General Dynamics.
"Lessons learned out of the TD phase are really going to inform us on the EMD phase," Cannon said. "We did not pay enough attention to quality going in the TD phase, but we're going to be dead on it in EMD. We're going to be all over it."
The tag team is also exploring other nondevelopmental capabilities, primarily relief from the height requirement. The company looked to negotiate a change during a private, two-hour session with program leaders that was offered to each company last week. Cannon said the height requirement would force them to reduce either the space between the vehicle and a roadside bomb or the crew space, and the company is not interested in an adjustable suspension because it adds a lot of cost.
"We have a really strong partner," Cannon said. "We have strong capabilities, systems integrators, systems engineering and survivability. That's our forte."
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed's JLTV is designed to bridge the capability gap between the Humvee and MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle by boosting mobility, payload and force protection, Hasse said.
The V-hulled vehicle achieved MRAP-level blast protection Oct. 4 while weighing 40 percent less than the M-ATV. Lockheed, which has partnered with BAE Global Tactical Systems, has logged more than 160,000 testing miles and has a fuel efficiency of 12 miles per gallon with the Gunner Protection Kit - a 50 percent increase over a Humvee with no armor. The company also is designing the JLTV to 13,800 pounds to provide a margin for growth and is confident it will hit the reliability requirement of 3,600 mean miles between failure.
"Are we there today? The answer is no," Hasse said. "But we will begin the EMD phase at a very substantial level of reliability … about 3,600 mean miles between hardware mission failure. That is a very reliable base to continue to tweak the design and take the corrective actions to achieve the level of reliability the government desires.
Soldiers will especially like the user-friendly crew cab, which was designed around the war fighter. Lockheed leveraged its aerospace background and systems integration experience to incorporate a substantial amount of capability into the dashboard, which frees space for the war fighter.
"We're going to provide the levels of force protection that the Army requires, which are substantially more than JLTV was and originally intended to do, and we're going to do it in a package that is very reliable," Hasse said. "We've already proven that in our TD program and our internal testing program."
Oshkosh Defense
Despite its strong showing with the M-ATV, Oshkosh is the new kid on the JLTV block as it did not participate in the TD phase.
But that doesn't cause Rob Messina, vice president for defense engineering, to lose any sleep. His Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle, or L-ATV, is the sixth generation in a light vehicle family in which Oshkosh has invested more than $60 million. "We can show reliable history, well-developed components and performances that are in the range the customer is looking for," he said.
This latest evolution leverages the M-ATV's modular and scalable protection. It replaces the diesel-electric power train with an electric power train, but its key strength is its mobility. The vehicle includes the TAK-4i intelligent suspension system. Built on 10 years of operational experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, the system provides up to 20 inches of independent wheel travel. These combine to provide a vehicle that is 50 percent faster off-road than the M-ATV, Messina said.
Improved shock absorption also allows high speed on rough terrain while keeping passengers comfortable and lowering driver fatigue. Messina would not say where the L-ATV stands on reliability, fuel efficiency or weight, but he said the Marine Corps' high-hot requirement, which is 12,600 pounds, is achievable with the base variant.
Messina said he is confident Oshkosh can provide a "threshold or better performance" at the cost requirement - so confident, in fact, that Messina said he will be asking Army leaders to change their policy and give credit for performance above threshold.

Panetta: U.S., Indonesia Continue to Develop Ties

NUSA DUA, Indonesia - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Oct. 23 that Washington will continue to develop military ties with Indonesia but keep a watchful eye on rights abuses, after over a decade of suspended cooperation.
He said closed-door talks with Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro focused on "Indonesia's growing importance as a global leader and the long-term commitment of the U.S. to the security and prosperity of this region.
"This year alone the U.S. is conducting more than 150 activities, exchanges and visits with the Indonesian military," Panetta told reporters on the resort island of Bali.
Panetta said the U.S. was still monitoring possible rights abuses, noting last week's incident in Indonesia's easternmost Papua province where five people were found dead after security forces stormed a pro-independence assembly.
"We support Indonesia's efforts against separatism in that area but when it comes to any human rights abuses ... we want to ensure that discipline is taken and exerted against anyone who violates human rights," Panetta said.
"We expressed concerns about the events that have occurred there and the MoD made it clear that the matter is under investigation."
Relations with the Indonesian army had nearly screeched to a halt and remained frozen for 12 years over abuses during former dictator Suharto's 32-year rule, which ended in 1998.
Indonesia's Kopassus commando unit is accused of deadly abuses in Papua, East Timor and Aceh during that time. Bilateral cooperation was restarted in July 2010 by Panetta's predecessor, Robert Gates.
A senior defense official travelling with Panetta said cooperation that was initially focused on the highest echelons of the army now extended to the operational level, including training in human rights.
In his first trip to the region since taking the helm in July at the Pentagon, the former CIA director Panetta began his tour in Indonesia before heading to Japan on Oct. 24 and South Korea on Oct. 26.
His trip coincides with sensitive direct talks between the United States and North Korea in Geneva on Oct. 24 to try to lay the ground for reviving long-stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations.
During his stay in Bali, Panetta will also meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the sidelines of the bloc's meeting on the island.
"There's a clear message that I'm going to bring to the region ... we will remain a strong Pacific force in the 21st century, and we will maintain a strong presence in the Pacific in the 21st century," Panetta told reporters.
Disputes between ASEAN members and China over the resource-rich South China Sea are likely to feature high on the agenda, as Washington has called for a regional code of conduct and insisted on "freedom of navigation" through the crucial global shipping route despite Beijing's territorial claims.
Panetta's trip also comes as the United States and North Korea are to hold direct talks in Geneva.
Before any broader discussions, the U.S. and South Korea are insisting the North take concrete steps to demonstrate it is sincere about resuming full six-party nuclear talks which also include Japan, Russia and China.
The defense chiefs will consider steps to bolster diplomacy, but also ensure that they are prepared, should North Korea "choose to undertake a provocation," said the official.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

USAF Grounds F-22s at Va. Base

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors at the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., have once again been grounded, service officials confirmed Oct. 21.
F-22 Raptors taxi April 10 during an operational readiness inspection at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The commander of the 1st Fighter Wing made the decision to ground the Langley-based F-22s. (Airman 1st Class Teresa Zimmerman / U.S. Air Force)
Air Force spokesman Maj. Chad Steffey said that the grounding decision is limited to the Virginia base. A spokesman for Air Combat Command confirmed that the wing's commander, Col. Kevin Robbins, made the decision after an incident.
While details were not immediately available, Air Force officials confirmed that one of the wing's pilots appeared to have suffered an oxygen-related problem.
The Air Force's Raptor fleet was only cleared to resume flight operations last month after a four-and-a-half month grounding. The stealthy fifth-generation fighter was originally grounded May 3 after about a dozen pilots suffered "hypoxia-like" symptoms.
The Air Force is still investigating the problem with the F-22's oxygen system, but had cleared the aircraft to fly because service officials felt that the risk factors had been mitigated. However, the Air Force has not determined what is causing the problem with the jet's oxygen systems.
"There is no conclusive cause or group of causes that has been established for the incidents that prompted the stand-down earlier this year," spokesman Scott Knuteson said in an emailed statement. "We've therefore made the decision to resume operations while implementing improvements to the aircraft's life support systems and carefully collecting and analyzing operational, maintenance and physiological data for all Raptor flights - more than 1,300 missions since the return to flight."
However, as a condition to allowing flights to resume, Air Force leaders have enabled operational commanders to suspend operations as needed.
"Part of our protocol is to allow units to pause operations whenever they need to analyze information collected from flight operations to ensure safety," Knuteson said. "That is what is happening at Langley at the moment, and we support that decision."
One precaution the service took when returning the jets to service was to add carbon filters to the pilot's oxygen supply, one source said. Additionally, pilots were required to give blood samples to use as a baseline to measure against in case of future incidents and are now required to wear a device called a pulse oximeter. The device is supposed to alert the pilot if there is a physiological problem.
However, numerous sources had voiced their misgivings about the return to flight arrangements.

U.S. Could Send More Supplies Through Uzbekistan

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan - The United States is trying to increase the flow of non-lethal supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan via Uzbekistan as it may not always be able to count on the Pakistan route, a U.S. official said Oct. 22.
The official spoke as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, part of the U.S. military's Northern Distribution Network (NDN), following a trip to Pakistan to discuss troubled ties there.
"As a general rule, we're trying to get more [goods] through Central Asia and through Uzbekistan," the senior State Department official, who was accompanying Clinton, told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"We've always said that we prefer to use the Pakistan route because it's cheaper, it's shorter," the official said, recalling that the northern route goes via the Baltic states, Russia and Kazakhstan.
"But still, it's [the northern route] a good thing to have. And again with our [often troubled] relations with Pakistan, we always have to be prepared should they decide to either want to restrict our access or, even in the worst case, close it off.
"We would be prepared to move north through Central Asia if necessary."
The route from Uzbekistan is a rail link that distributes fuel and other non-lethal goods. He said about 50 percent of surface shipments take that route.
The Uzbeks are "sensitive" about publicizing the route to Afghanistan for fear that it will prompt "retribution" from the Taliban and other Islamist militants in the region, he added.
In February 2009, during improving relations with Washington, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said he would allow the United States to transport non-military supplies through his country.
In 2005, Tashkent closed the U.S. air base in the country that was used to support troops in Afghanistan after U.S. criticism of a bloody crackdown on unrest in Andijan in the country's east.
The U.S. official said there were no plans to hold negotiations to reopen the base. Nor were there plans, he said, to increase supplies through Tajikistan, which is a small supply route.
Clinton visited Islamabad on Oct. 20 and 21 to urge Pakistan to dismantle havens in Pakistan that militants use to launch attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, an issue that has put a heavy strain on U.S.-Pakistani ties

Obama Says All Troops Will Leave Iraq By Dec. 31

WASHINGTON - President Obama said Oct. 21 that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, ending a long, bloody war after the failure of talks on keeping a small American training force in the country.
President Obama announces Oct. 21 that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by Dec. 31. (Jim Watson / Agence France-Presse)
After the deaths of more than 4,400 U.S. troops, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, Obama said the last American soldier would leave with his head held high.
"Today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over," Obama said at a White House news conference.
"Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays," said Obama, who rose to power in opposing the unpopular Iraq war and pledged as a presidential candidate to bring all U.S. troops home.
"The United States is moving forward to a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year," he said, nearly nine years after President George W. Bush invaded Iraq and ousted Saddam Hussein.
Obama made the announcement after holding a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the failure of talks between the two sides on keeping a small number of troops in Iraq after the end of 2011.
It also came after his credentials as commander in chief, bolstered by the killing of Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaida suspects, were further enhanced by the Oct. 20 death of Moammar Gadhafi after a NATO mission in support of Libyan rebels.
"Just as Iraqis have persevered through war, I'm confident that they can build a future worthy of their history as a cradle of civilization," Obama said, as officials said Iraqi forces were up to the task of ensuring security.
"We'll partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq's sovereignty," he said, in an apparent reference to Iraq's neighbor Iran.
Talks on extending the U.S. presence broke down because the sides were unable to agree on granting legal immunity for American troops who would have stayed in place to help train Iraqi forces and to counter Iran.
Al-Maliki said in a brief statement that he and Obama agreed on the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops.
"The two points of view of the two leaders were the same, of the necessity of beginning a new phase of strategic relations after carrying out the withdrawal at the specified date at the end of the year," he said.
Despite the disagreement, Obama said U.S. troops will leave Iraq "with their heads held high, proud of their success."
"The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward and our troops are finally coming home," Obama said.
The 39,000 remaining U.S. troops in Iraq must withdraw by Dec. 31 under an accord between the two countries.
Obama said that he had invited Maliki to visit the White House in December, as the two sides revert to a normal sovereign relationship between two nations.
He also placed the withdrawal from Iraq in the context of efforts to transfer responsibility for security to Afghan forces and the stepped-up U.S. battle against al-Qaida in Yemen and Pakistani tribal areas.
"I would note that the end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition. The tide of war is receding," Obama said. "The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus our fight against al-Qaida and the chief major victories against its leadership, including Osama bin Laden."

Libya Arms Threaten to Infiltrate Africa Conflicts

U.N.ITED NATIONS - Moammar Gadhafi's arms stockpiles could remain a threat long after his death, as some are feared to have been sent to Darfur rebels, al-Qaida in North Africa and other militants further afield.
There is "very serious concern" that weapons, ranging from shoulder-fired missiles to machine guns and ammunition, may have crossed Libya's borders into neighboring countries, U.N. envoy to Libya Ian Martin said.
Assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns were all taken from Gadhafi armories and supply depots by the rebels who ousted him. Much has already passed across Libya's poroU.S. borders, diplomats and experts say.
One western intelligence report has spoken of truckloads of guns passing through Sudan's war-stricken Darfur region en route to groups in the restive South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
"We cannot exclude the possibility that some weapons have crossed into Darfur from Libya," Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, Sudan's U.N. envoy, told AFP.
Other African states have expressed similar concerns.
"What is sure is that the arms have gone into Chad, Mali and Niger," Mauritania's Foreign Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi told AFP at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou held talks with the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) leaders about the arms on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month.
Issoufou said the weapons are "spread across the Sahel-Sahara region and could fall into the hands of terrorists."
Gadhafi's son Saadi, three generals and a former security services chief are among 32 associates of the slain dictator who have taken refuge in Niger.
Military chiefs and diplomats from Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and European nations France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain held their own recent meeting on the arms, a diplomatic source told AFP.
The talks focused on how al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) could get the Libya arms. European governments are worried that the machine guns and missiles could be used on their own territory.
The weapons, particularly shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles capable of bringing down aircraft, are a key concern of the U.N. mission in Libya.
"We are doing our best to facilitate the securing of chemical weapons stocks, of nuclear material, of MANPADs and of other ammunition," Martin said, using the military term for the missiles.
"Although the chemical weapons and nuclear material appear to be secure, there is very serious concern that a lot of other weaponry has gone missing and may have already crossed borders. So we are trying to assist efforts to address that within Libya," the U.N. envoy added.
Britain has expressed concern about reports of weapons entering Sudan, and the United States is working with Libya's interim leaders to secure the stockpiles.
"Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been actively engaged with our allies and partners to support Libya's effort to secure all conventional weapons stockpiles including recovery, control and disposal of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles," White House spokesman Jay Carney said recently.
U.S. contractor specialists are working with the new Libyan leadership to secure weapons stockpiles, he added.
But there are estimates that Gadhafi's forces had up to 20,000 MANPAD missiles.
"The fallout from these stockpiles could last for years in Africa," said one African diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity while attending disarmament talks at the United Nations.
"There are far fewer arms in Somalia, but the Islamists are already supplying groups in Yemen, Ethiopia and countries in the region. All around Libya there are groups who will take advantage of Gadhafi's downfall."

Panetta Heads to Asia with Focus on North Korea

WASHINGTON - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta embarks Oct. 23 on a tour of Asia to take the pulse of key allies as Washington prepares for rare direct talks with North Korea over its nuclear program.
In his first trip to the region since taking the helm at the Pentagon in July, the former CIA director will begin with a stop in Indonesia before heading to Japan on Oct. 24 and South Korea on Oct. 26.
The trip coincides with sensitive direct talks between the United States and North Korea in Geneva next week to try to lay the ground for reviving long-stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations.
Before any broader discussions, the United States and South Korea are insisting the North take concrete steps to demonstrate it is sincere about resuming the full six-party nuclear dialogue with Japan, Russia and China.
In meetings in Tokyo and Seoul, Panetta "will have an opportunity to discuss with his counterparts where we are in the diplomatic process," a senior defense official said.
The defense chiefs will examine what steps to take to bolster diplomacy but also insure that they are prepared, should North Korea "choose to undertake a provocation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"We are essentially exploring the proposition and trying to ascertain if the North Koreans are serious about engaging in nuclear diplomacy and serious about living up to their commitments under the six-party process," the official said.
In April 2009, the North formally quit the six-party forum a month before staging its second atomic weapons test. In 2010, Pyongyang torpedoed and sank a South Korean ship and unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island.
"If they are serious and they are willing to take concrete steps, then there's a clear path back towards the six-party process and diplomacy," the defense official said. "But that yet has to be seen."
Apart from diplomacy focused on North Korea, Panetta's talks in Tokyo are expected to cover missile defense plans, potential U.S. arms sales and the controversial future of the U.S. Futenma air base on the island of Okinawa.
The Pentagon chief travels to Seoul for a two-day stop with U.S.-South Korean relations at a high point, after President Lee Myung-Bak's red carpet treatment this month in Washington and the approval of a free-trade agreement between the two countries.
Panetta was scheduled to meet Lee, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan and his counterpart, Kim Kwan-Jin, after South Korean and U.S. forces staged a major joint exercise this week over the Yellow Sea that simulated dogfights with North Korea.
Before Japan and South Korea, Panetta will start his trip on the Indonesia island of Bali, where he is due to arrive Oct. 22 before meetings with Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro to discuss maritime security and reforms in the country's military, another defense official said.
The United States last year resumed ties with Indonesia's special forces after a 12-year suspension following military reforms and pledges from Jakarta to safeguard human rights.
The Pentagon chief also will hold talks with defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the sidelines of the bloc's meeting in Bali.
Disputes between ASEAN members and China over the resource-rich South China Sea will likely feature high on the agenda, as Washington has called for a regional code of conduct and insisted on "freedom of navigation" through the crucial global shipping route despite Beijing's territorial claims.
China says it has sovereignty over essentially all of the South China Sea, where its professed ownership of the Spratly archipelago overlaps with claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

Singapore Sets Up Marine Design Arm in China

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering's marine arm, ST Marine, has incorporated a wholly owned subsidiary, ST Marine (Wuhan) Engineering Design Consultancy, in Hubei Province, China.
"The company will offer engineering design and consultancy services for both local Chinese as well as international companies operating in China," a ST Engineering press release said on Oct. 20.
The new subsidiary will strengthen ST Marine's engineering team in Singapore and "leverage the latter's well-established naval design capability and engineering expertise," the release stated.
ST Marine's in-house Engineering Design Center has designed a variety of commercial and defense vessels, including the Diving Support Vessel, Seismic Survey Vessel and Anchor Handling Tug Supply Vessel.
"This new engineering design consultancy is set up as an extension of our in-house engineering design capability, and we are optimistic about the potential China has to offer as a marine power country and the world's largest shipbuilding country," said Ng Sing Chan, president of ST Marine.
ST Marine provides turnkey solutions from concept definition to detailed design, construction, on-board system installation and integration, testing, commissioning to through-life support.

Turkish Troops, Planes Attack Kurds in Iraq

HAKKARI, Turkey - Turkish forces crossed into Iraq Oct. 20 to strike at Kurdish rebels and warplanes pounded their bases in retaliation for the death of 24 soldiers, officials said.
"A large-scale land operation, backed by air strikes, has begun in five separate spots inside Turkey and across the border with 22 battalions," the Turkish military said in a statement posted on its website.
The 22 battalions comprise commando units as well as gendarmerie and special forces, it added, without specifying how many had entered Iraq. Analysts said a total of 10,000 troops to 15,000 troops would be deployed.
"The air and land operation is under way," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters right after the military announcement.
"The operation is result-oriented," he said, without elaborating.
The separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), through spokesman Dozdar Hammo, reacted defiantly, saying: "If they want to come, let them come. We will welcome them here."
Hammo said no Turkish troops had yet crossed the border into northern Iraq, but said Ankara's jets were flying overhead.
The Turkish air force kept up bombing raids overnight in response to Oct. 19's coordinated attacks by PKK guerrillas on military posts in Turkey, which caused the worst loss of life for the army since 1993, local security sources said.
According to press reports, between 200 and 250 Kurdish rebels entrenched in the mountains of northern Iraq, crossed into Turkey late Oct. 18 to carryout raids which left 24 Turkish soldiers dead and 18 wounded.
The United States voiced support for Turkey actions.
"We very clearly support Turkey's right to self-defense," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
At the same time he urged cooperation between Turkey and Iraq through the committee set up in 2008 by Ankara, Baghdad and Washington to take up the issue of the PKK, long an irritant in Turkey's ties with Iraq and by extension the United States.
Earlier on Oct. 20, a military ceremony was held in Van, a city in eastern Turkey 90 miles north of Oct. 20's combat zone.
The coffins, draped with the red and white flag of Turkey, were loaded into military aircraft to be taken to their home towns for burial. President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as several Cabinet ministers and opposition party leaders, attended the Oct. 20 funeral in Ankara of one of the fallen soldiers.
The latest attacks sparked widespread outrage throughout the country.
Thousands of people, many of them students, visited the mausoleum of Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Ankara and denounced terrorism.
In Istanbul, some 500 people including members of several trade unions took to street and shouted "Turkey is Turkish and will remain so."
Unidentified individuals in rage of the attacks assaulted the offices of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in four different provinces on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, causing material damage, according to the press office of the party.
Turkey's parliament began discussing further measures against the PKK in a closed doors session Oct. 20. Iraq in an official statement on Oct. 20 pledged to cooperate with Ankara on security issues.
"The Iraqi government condemns this terrorist activity by the PKK, and expresses its sympathy for the families of the Turkish soldiers," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It continued: "(Iraq) is committed to collaborate with the Turkish government on security issues to prevent a repeat of such actions."
Erdogan also had a telephone conversation with Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, media reported. He is expected to visit Turkey soon.
Ankara has repeatedly urged Baghdad not to allow its territory to be used as a springboard by the PKK for attacks on Turkey.
Nechirvan Barzani, a former prime minister of the Kurdish regional government, who paid a surprise visit to Ankara, said: "We strongly condemn this attack," after meeting Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Oct. 20. He also met with Erdogan, who was accompanied by the intelligence chief of Turkey, according to Anatolia news agency.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi will come to Turkey on Oct. 21 in a surprise visit to discuss "regional issues and terrorism," a Turkish diplomat told AFP on Oct. 20.
Since July Tehran has been carrying out a major offensive against the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), which Turkey considers as a branch of the PKK.
Clashes between the PKK and the army have escalated since the summer.
Five police and four civilians were killed in a landmine explosion in the southeast on Oct. 18.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.

U.S. Drone, French Jet Stopped Gadhafi Convoy

WASHINGTON - A U.S. defense official said Oct. 20 a U.S. Predator drone along with a French fighter jet had attacked a convoy of vehicles in Libya that Paris believed was carrying Moammar Gadhafi.
Libyan National Transitional Council fighters celebrate in Sirte on Oct. 20. A U.S. Predator drone and French Mirage-2000 reportedly stopped a vehicle convoy with strongman Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed by NTC forces. (Philippe Desmaze / AFP)
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet had earlier revealed that a French Mirage-2000 fired a warning shot at a column of several dozen vehicles fleeing Sirte.
The U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the unmanned Predator aircraft had struck "the same convoy" but could not confirm that Gadhafi was in one of the vehicles.
Longuet told reporters in Paris that the convoy "was stopped from progressing as it sought to flee Sirte but was not destroyed by the French intervention."
Libyan fighters then intervened, destroying the vehicles, from which "they took out Colonel Kadhafi," he added.
The French warplane was sent to the area after news emerged of a large convoy of up to 80 vehicles trying to flee Sirte, he said.
After Libya's new leadership announced the death of Gadhafi, celebratory gunfire erupted across Tripoli on Oct. 20 and jubilant crowds flooded onto the streets waving the red, black and green flag of the new regime.
The NATO-led air campaign was launched in March under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians from Gadhafi's forces trying to crush popular protests.