Several US engineering teams are working round the clock to build a big new air base in northern Syria after completing the expansion of another four. They are all situated in the Syrian borderland with Iraq, debkafile’s military forces report.
This was going on over the weekend as senators, news correspondents and commentators were outguessing each other over whether the US missile attack on the Syrian Shayrat air base Friday, in retaliation for the Assad regime’s chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, was a one-off or the start of a new series.
As the White House parried those questions, the Trump administration was going full steam ahead on the massive project of preparing to pull US air force units out of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, in active American use since 2002. Those units were in the middle of a big moving job to the five new and expanded air bases in Syria. Their hub is to be Tabqa, which is just 110km west of the Islamic State’s Syrian capital, Raqqa. The other five are Hajar airport in the Rmelan region, two small air fields serving farm transport in Qamishli, which have been converted to military us; and a fifth in the Kurdish Kobani enclave north of Aleppo near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Tabqa is also becoming the main assembly-point for the joint US, Kurdish, tribal Arab force that is coming together in readiness for a major charge on Raqqa.
When the work is finished, the rising complex of air bases will enable America to deploy twice as many warplanes and helicopters in Syria as the Russians currently maintain.
The site of the Tabqa air field was captured as recently as late March by the Syrian Democratic Force (Kurdish-Arab fighters) which were flown in and dropped there by the US Air Force’s Air Mobility Command. It was quickly dubbed “Incirlik 2” or “Qayyarah-2” after the US command center running the Iraqi military offensive against ISIS in Mosul.
Tabqa is designed to accommodate the 2,500 US military personnel housed at Incirlik. Like the Americans, the German Bundeswehr is also on the point of quitting Incirlik and eying a number of new locations in Cyprus and Jordan. The Germans are pulling out over the crisis in their relations with Ankara. The Americans are quitting because President Donald Trump wants to chill US ties with Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan and cooperation with the Turkish army.
The five US bases in Syria are part of Trump’s three-pronged strategy which aims at a) fighting Islamist terror; b) blocking Iran’s land and air access to Syria; and c) providing the enclaves of the Syrian Kurdish-PYD-YPG with a military shield against the Turkish army.
The US aggression against Syria is a very serious military development that cannot be simply dashed aside or overlooked by any of the involved parties.
U.S. Warships in the Mediterranean sea fired a barrage of cruise missiles at Shayrat Syrian airbase Friday dawn.
The massive strike — the first direct U.S. aggression against Syrian government and Trump’s biggest military decision since taking office — marked a dramatic escalation in American involvement in Syria’s six-year war.
Washington stated the strike was a response to what it described as barbaric attack by Sarin gas in Khan Shaikhoun which it blamed the Syrian government for.
The White House painted the attack as limited to deterring the use of chemical weapons, and not part of a broader military campaign to oust the Syrian president.
The attack comes as an indispensable and urgent support to the takfiri terrorist groups after the devastating blows they received in many Syrian regions. It was alarming and meaningful how those groups responded simultaneously by attacking the Syrian army positions, directly in the aftermath of the US aggression.
The question now is whether this will lead to a wider escalation where other parties, namely Iran and Russia could be part of.
The response by both countries was strong; Iran said the attack is a direct support from Washington to terrorists, and will not go unpunished, while Russia condemned it and put it as a violation of all legal aspects and international standards; especially that it did not take place under UN umbrella or any equivalent legitimate law.
Moscow also announced its stoppage of cooperation with Washington in the understanding of airspace safety over Syria.
For its part, the Syrian government described the attack as a flagrant aggression and pledged to continue its war against the terrorists.
US president is expected to face internal problems inside his country because of what considered by many American sides as violation of the constitution and for not consulting the congress before carrying the strikes.
In any case, the American aggression has brought the situation in Syria and the whole region into a new dangerous phase.
Given the volatile nature of the circumstances, no one can predict for sure what turn the situation could take, but it seems the grave idiocies of the White House have started to manifest, and if there are still some few wise men there to act, they have to act now; otherwise, a regional and possible international serious escalation might erupt, and the one who has started the game does not necessarily win it, or at least control it.
SEOUL, South Korea — A senior North Korean defector has told NBC News that the country’s “desperate” dictator is prepared to use nuclear weapons to strike the United States and its allies.
Thae Yong Ho is the most high profile North Korean defector in two decades, meaning he is able to give a rare insight into the secretive, authoritarian regime.
According to Thae, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is “desperate in maintaining his rule by relying on his [development of] nuclear weapons and ICBM.” He was using an acronym for intercontinental ballistic missiles — a long range rocket that in theory would be capable of hitting the U.S.
Lester Holt Speaks with Thae Yong-ho, Former North Korean Diplomat Who Defected1:55
“Once he sees that there is any kind of sign of a tank or an imminent threat from America, then he would use his nuclear weapons with ICBM,” he added in an exclusive interview on Sunday.
Thae was living in London and serving as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he and his family defected to South Korea and were announced to the world in August.
He was not directly involved in North Korea’s weapons program but believes his country “has reached a very significant level of nuclear development.”
North Korea is estimated to have upward of eight nuclear weapons but has not demonstrated the ability to attach them to a long-range rocket, an ICBM, capable of hitting the U.S.
Analysts are unsure exactly how close the regime is to achieving this aim, but a senior official told NBC News in January that his government was ready to test-fire an ICMB “at any time, at any place.”
Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told NBC News that American officials were particularly troubled by this latest threat.
“They have the nuclear capability — they’ve demonstrated that,” he said. “And then, where they’re going with the miniaturization of that, whether they can actually weaponize a missile, that’s what’s driving the current concern.”
“It does feel more dangerous — I’ll give you three reasons,” according to Adm. James Stavridis, an NBC News analyst and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “One is [Kim’s] own precarious situation in command of the nation. Number two is the instability in South Korea. We’ve just seen the South Korean president indicted, arrested, and incarcerated.”
“And, number three, a new and more aggressive American foreign policy coming from Washington,” he added.
Some analysts have warned that military action against the country might be very difficult and even disastrous. An invasion could risk a retaliatory strike against U.S. allies of Japan and South Korea, whose capital, Seoul, is just 50 miles from the border.
Nonetheless, Thae warned America and its allies to be prepared.
“If Kim Jong Un has nuclear weapons and ICBMs, he can do anything,” he said. “So, I think the world should be ready to deal with this kind of person.”
He added that “Kim Jong Un is a man who can do anything beyond the normal imagination” and that “the final and the real solution to the North Korean nuclear issue is to eliminate Kim Jong Un from the post.”
Kim came to power in 2012 and has defined his strongman premiership by the pursuit of a nuclear weapon that can hit the U.S. He has conducted more missile tests than in the rest of the country’s history combined, and three of North Korea’s five nuclear tests came under his watch.
According to Thae, Kim is obsessed with obtaining nukes because he saw what happened to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, both of whom abandoned their countries’ weapons of mass destruction programs and then were overthrown by Western-backed forces.
Many analysts agree that Kim sees a nuclear weapon — and the retaliatory threat it poses — as an insurance policy against a similar strategy being pursued against him.
“That’s why Kim Jong Un strongly believes that only a nuclear weapon can guarantee his rule,” Thae said.
According to the former diplomat, the world should look to Kim’s past actions to see what he is capable of. The young leader has reportedly been responsible for purges and executions of top officials and even members of his own family.
Last month, according to U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials, he masterminded the assassination of his own half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, at an airport in Malaysia.
“Kim Jong Un is a person who did not even hesitate to kill his uncle and a few weeks ago, even his half-brother,” Thae said. “So, he is a man who can do anything to remove [anyone in] his way.”
Since his defection Thae has been making media appearances and giving talks denouncing North Korea’s controlling and often brutal society. For this reason he believes he could be the next victim.
“I am already a marked man,” he said. “Kim Jong Un wants to eliminate any person or any country which poses a threat to him. And I think I am really a great threat to him.”
Thae was the highest-ranking North Korean official to abandon the regime and enter public life in South Korea since the 1997 defection of Hwang Jang Yop, who was responsible for crafting “Juche” — North Korea’s state ideology, which blends elements of Marxism with ultra-nationalism.
He made the decision to switch sides, he said, after his two sons began asking questions about why North Korea did not allow the internet, why there was no proper legal system and why officials were executed without trial.
His sons also complained they were being mocked by their British friends.
“All of my family members were a little bit frightened, you know, on that day,” he said of the moment he decided to escape. “But I always told them that we have to try to be as peaceful as possible. We should carry the normal faces and normal feelings so that our plan of defection should not be noticed by anyone in the embassy.”
This came at a high price, however. He was able to escape with his wife and children — but he fears his brother and sister in North Korea have been punished for his actions.
“Our freedom here is achieved at the cost of the sacrifice of my family members left in North Korea,” he said. “When a defection of my level happens, the North Korean regime usually sends the family members of high officials, defectors, to remote areas or labor camps and, to some extent, even to political prison camps as well.”
This fate is not unique. More than 100,000 people are believed to have been detained in North Korea’s notorious gulags, where they are subjected to forced labor, torture and executions — treatment the United Nations said was “strikingly similar” to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
Families are taken away by the country’s secret police for arbitrary crimes such as “gossiping” about the state.
FROM MARCH 22: North Korea launches 3rd test missile since Trump took office2:05
This is all part of the dictatorship’s attempt to restrict information reaching North Korean families from the outside world. Most people cannot use the internet or access foreign media — Kim’s attempt to maintain the pretense that his country is prosperous and the Western world is failing.
But according to Thae, the mask is slipping. More and more, North Koreans are able to watch South Korean films, giving them a true picture of their far more prosperous neighbor.
“I’m absolutely sure that once North Korean people are educated enough, then they may stand up,” according to the former ambassador. “North Korean population now knows well that South Korea is democratic, the society and economy here are very well.”
This, Thae said, “has already made the North Korean population not believe what the regime has been teaching and has been brainwashing them.”
He added: “I think this is really a great change in people’s mind, because they do not believe in the government’s propaganda system.”
View from South Korea: Lester Holt on Tensions on the Korean Peninsula1:37
In this shift may even lie the seeds of fundamental change in North Korea, according to Thae.
“I think that is very important. And once the people do not believe in what the leadership is saying, then there is a great possibility for possible uprising: what happened in Soviet Union, what happened in communist system in Eastern Europe,” he said.
“Because when the people in those Eastern European countries knew that the Western Europe were much better than Eastern Europe — the democratic society was much better than communist society and one-party system — all of a sudden people stood up against the system,” he added. “These things could also happen in North Korea.”
Thae said that he and other defectors can play a crucial part removing Kim.
“Every day I am living in order to accelerate the speed of my return home,” he said. “I think defectors like me, we should all unite together to bring down Kim Jong Un’s regime.”
The U.S. National Security Council presented President Trump with options to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or place U.S. nukes in South Korea as retaliation to North Korea’s continued nuclear weapons program. (Alex Brandon/AP)
BY Denis Slattery
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Killing Kim Jong-un or placing American nukes in South Korea are two options presented to President Trump as possible retaliations to North Korea’s continued nuclear weapons program, according to reports Friday.
Both scenarios were laid out for Trump by his National Security Council ahead of his meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping this week, NBC News reported.
Trump said in a brief appearance before reporters Friday that he and Xi made “tremendous progress” in their talks and that he believes “lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.”
He did not elaborate. Officials said the two sides agreed to increase cooperation regarding North Korea, and China acknowledged the need for more balanced trade with the U.S.
The Trump administration has been hoping to convince China to step up pressure on the reclusive North Korea government to curtail its nuclear program.
“We have 20 years of diplomacy and sanctions under our belt that has failed to stop the North Korean program,” a senior intelligence official told NBC News. “I’m not advocating pre-emptive war, nor do I think that the deployment of nuclear weapons buys more for us than it costs.”
Two military sources told the network that Air Force leadership doesn’t necessarily support the option.
Placing nukes in South Korea would be the first nuclear deployment overseas since the end of the Cold War, NBC noted.
The U.S. withdrew all of its nuclear assets from South Korea 25 years ago.
North Korea has continuously stepped up its weapons program, according to officials, and fired off a ballistic missile on Wednesday ahead of Trump’s meeting with Chinese officials.
In September, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test. Recent reports indicate that the country is readying another underground practice run soon.
Last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged in Tokyo, “I think it’s important to recognize that the diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed.”
Taking out North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other leaders of the Communist country was also floated as an option.
But that could anger China, according to Mark Lippert, the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
“Discussions of regime change and decapitation … tend to cause the Chinese great pause of concern and tends to have them move in the opposite direction we would like them to move in terms of pressure,” he said.
The White House has offered conflicting accounts on how it plan on handling Pyongyang going forward.