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Westlake Legal Group > ROBERT BURNS

US carrier in Persian Gulf region sends clear signal to Iran

Under a starry sky, U.S. Navy fighter jets catapulted off the aircraft carrier’s deck and flew north over the darkened waters of the northern Arabian Sea, a unmistaken signal to Iran that the foremost symbol of the American military’s global reach is back in its neighborhood, perhaps to stay.

The USS Abraham Lincoln , with its contingent of Navy destroyers and cruisers and a fighting force of about 70 aircraft, is the centerpiece of the Pentagon’s response to what it calls Iranian threats to attack U.S. forces or commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf region. In recent years, there has been no regular U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the Middle East.

U.S. officials have said that signs of heightened Iranian preparations to strike U.S. and other targets in the waters off Iran as well as in Iraq and Yemen in late April emerged shortly after the Trump administration announced it was clamping down further on Iran’s economy by ending waivers to sanctions on buyers of Iranian crude oil.

The administration went a step beyond that on Friday, announcing penalties that target Iran’s largest petrochemical company.

On Saturday the Lincoln was steaming in international waters east of Oman and about 200 miles from Iran’s southern coastline. One month after its arrival in the region, the Lincoln has not entered the Persian Gulf, and it’s not apparent that it will. The USS Gonzalez, a destroyer that is part of the Lincoln strike group, is operating in the Gulf.

Rear Adm. John F. G. Wade, commander of the Lincoln strike group, said Iran’s naval forces have adhered to international standards of interaction with ships in his group.

“Since we’ve been operating in the region, we’ve had several interactions with Iranians,” he said. “To this point all have been safe and professional — meaning, the Iranians have done nothing to impede our maneuverability or acted in a way which required us to take defensive measures.”

The Lincoln’s contingent of 44 Navy F-18 Super Hornets are flying a carefully calibrated set of missions off the carrier night and day, mainly to establish a visible U.S. “presence” that Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said Saturday seems to have caused Iran to “tinker with” its preparation for potential attacks.

He said on Friday that he thinks Iran had been planning some sort of attack on shipping or U.S. forces in Iraq. Two other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details, said Iran was at a high state of readiness in early May with its ships, submarines, surface-to-air missiles and drone aircraft.

“It is my assessment that if we had not reinforced, it is entirely likely that an attack would have taken place by now,” McKenzie said.

In an interview on the bridge, or command station, of the Lincoln with reporters who are traveling with him throughout the Gulf region, McKenzie said the carrier has made an important difference.

“We believe they are recalculating. They have to take this into account as they think about various actions that they might take. So we think this is having a very god stabilizing effect,” he said.

“They are looking hard at the carrier because they know we are looking hard at them,” McKenzie said.

He said earlier in the week that he had not ruled out requesting additional defensive forces to bolster the deterrence of Iran, whose economy is being squeezed hard by U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. The U.S. already has announced plans to send 900 additional troops to the Mideast and extend the stay of 600 more as tens of thousands of others also are on the ground across the region.

Iran’s influential Revolutionary Guard has said it doesn’t fear a possible war with the U.S. and asserted that America’s military might has not grown in power in recent years. “The enemy is not more powerful than before,” the Guard spokesman, Gen. Ramazan Sharif, said in late May.

The U.S. has accused Iran of being behind a string of recent incidents, including what officials allege was sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

McKenzie spent two days aboard the Lincoln to confer with naval commanders, observe both daytime and nighttime flight operations, and to thank crew members. Their deployment plans were disrupted when the White House approved McKenzie’s request in early May that the Lincoln cut short its time in the Mediterranean Sea and sail swiftly to the Arabian Sea.

“I am the reason you are here,” the general said in an all-hands announcement to the nearly 6,000 personnel on the Lincoln Friday night shortly after he flew aboard by Navy helicopter from Oman.

“I requested this ship because of ongoing tensions with Iran,” he said. “And nothing says you’re interested in somebody like 90,000 tons of aircraft carrier and everything that comes with it. Our intent by bringing you here was to stabilize the situation and let Iran know that now is not the time to do something goofy.”

McKenzie also requested, and received, four Air Force long-range B-52 bombers. They were in the region 51 hours after being summoned and were flying missions three days later. They are now operating from al-Udeid air base in Qatar. There had been no U.S. bomber presence in the Gulf region since late February.

In an interview Friday after speaking with B-52 pilots at al-Udeid, McKenzie said it’s hard to know whether that gap in a bomber presence had emboldened the Iranians.

“Cumulatively, the fact that we had drawn down in (the Mideast) may have had an effect on Iranian behavior,” he said. “We do know that bringing stuff back in seems to have had an effect on their behavior,” noting that there have been no Iranian attacks on U.S. forces.

On Saturday aboard the Lincoln, McKenzie was asked whether there have been any incidents between Iranian and American naval force in recent weeks.

“No, actually I think things are pretty quiet right now,” he said.

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Defense chief’s border visit will highlight Trump priority

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is making his second trip to the U.S.-Mexican border to highlight what President Donald Trump calls a national emergency, after freeing up $1.5 billion more in Pentagon money to support wall construction.

Shanahan was flying to the Texas border town of McAllen on Saturday with the acting chief of Homeland Security Department, Kevin McAleenan, for a trip that demonstrates Shanahan’s attention to border security, a top Trump priority, amid questions from some in Congress about whether the border mission is an appropriate and wise use of military resources.

As a prelude to the trip, the White House on Thursday announced that Trump intends to nominate Shanahan as defense secretary, ending months of speculation about Pentagon leadership. He has served in an interim capacity since Jan. 1, an unprecedented period of uncertainty at the helm of the Pentagon.

Shanahan has supported the use of active-duty troops, in addition to the National Guard, to bolster Customs and Border Protection efforts to handle surging numbers of Central American migrants seeking to cross the border. But recently he has hinted at impatience with the lack of a long-term strategy for ensuring border security, which is the responsibility of DHS.

In congressional testimony May 1, Shanahan said he and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been considering the question of how long the military will be needed at the border and how best it can support that need.

“The question he and I are trying to answer,” Shanahan said, “is, how long will we be at the border.” He added, “We really need to get back to our primary missions and continue to generate readiness” to undertake conventional military operations.

On May 3, Shanahan told reporters that the border crisis had developed more quickly than anyone had anticipated, putting extra pressure on DHS.

“I don’t think anybody thought it would be this bad, the situation would deteriorate like it has, and that distress would be as high on those front-line (DHS) employees,” he said.

This past week, Shanahan told Congress there are 4,364 military troops on the border, including active-duty and National Guard. They are erecting barriers, providing logistics and transportation service and other activities in support of CPB. The troops are prohibited from performing law enforcement duties.

Many Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, have questioned the use of active-duty troops on the border.

“The longer the Southwest border mission continues, the line of demarcation starts to blur in terms of where we’re drawing a line saying this is not a military responsibility, this is law enforcement, immigration, internal security responsibility,” Durbin said at a recent hearing.

On Friday, Shanahan announced he was transferring $1.5 billion from numerous defense projects, including $604 million originally intended for use in support of Afghan security forces, to a Pentagon counterdrug fund that will help finance construction of barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border. That is in addition to $1 billion the Pentagon transferred for wall construction in March.

The backdrop to Shanahan’s trip is his pending nomination. Shanahan has served as the acting secretary since Jan. 1, when Trump elevated him from deputy secretary to replace Jim Mattis, who resigned in December.

The White House has never explained why it took Trump so long to decide to nominate Shanahan, a former Boeing Co. executive. Trump himself has said he likes to keep Cabinet members in an acting status because gives him more flexibility, although it also frustrates the Senate’s efforts to exercise its constitutional role of providing advice and consent.

In March, the Defense Department’s inspector general investigated accusations that Shanahan had shown favoritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defense secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors. The investigation appeared to stall his nomination, but the internal watchdog wrapped up the inquiry in April and cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing.

Westlake Legal Group 00075b3b-ContentBroker_contentid-8ca7e0b6225e44dfb82b3cc76ea33c78 Defense chief's border visit will highlight Trump priority ROBERT BURNS fox-news/us/military fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 52158a19-dddb-5287-b2f0-aa8d76deb5d3   Westlake Legal Group 00075b3b-ContentBroker_contentid-8ca7e0b6225e44dfb82b3cc76ea33c78 Defense chief's border visit will highlight Trump priority ROBERT BURNS fox-news/us/military fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 52158a19-dddb-5287-b2f0-aa8d76deb5d3

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US still pondering military options in Venezuela

The Trump administration ended a week of pointed but vague threats of a military response to the Venezuelan political crisis with a meeting at the Pentagon to consider its options, though there was still no sign any action was on the horizon.

Shortly after Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other senior officials reviewed options in light of a failed effort earlier this week by Venezuelan opposition leaders to fuel an uprising, President Donald Trump said he discussed the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump, whose administration is seeking the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro and has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as president, said he and Putin share the goal of a peaceful end to the crisis.

“He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela,” Trump said. “And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now people are starving.”

Trump’s reference to a hands-off Russian approach stands in contrast to assertions by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Russia is part of the problem in Caracas. Pompeo said earlier this week that Maduro was set to flee Venezuela until Russia persuaded him to stay.

In its description of the Trump-Putin conversation, the Kremlin said Putin stressed the need to respect Venezuelans’ right to determine their own future. He told Trump that outside interference in internal affairs and attempts at forceful regime change in Caracas undermine the prospects for a political settlement of the crisis.

The Pentagon has no direct role in Venezuela but has been consulting with the White House on ways it can support U.S. diplomacy and prepare for contingencies that could arise, including a crisis that endangers Americans in Venezuela.

In an interview with a small group of reporters Friday, Shanahan said Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, flew to Washington to meet with him and other senior officials, including Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser.

The session highlighted the administration’s effort to suggest the possibility of military action, perhaps as a way of increasing public pressure on Maduro, although there appears to be little likelihood of direct U.S. military intervention.

They reviewed and refined military planning and options for responding to the crisis, Shanahan said. He declined to provide details and gave no indication they made decisions to take any military action.

“We have a comprehensive set of options tailored to certain conditions, and I’m just going to leave it at that,” he said. Pressed to say whether the options include direct military intervention, he said, “I’ll leave that to your imagination. All options are on the table.”

Faller’s area of responsibility includes Venezuela, and U.S. air and naval forces in the region are capable of conducting surveillance that could support intelligence collection inside Venezuela. The Trump administration’s emphasis has been on diplomatic and economic pressure to try to compel Maduro to step aside.

Asked whether Venezuela poses a national security threat to the United States that would justify using U.S. military force, Shanahan said Russia, China and Iran are involved in Venezuela, and then added, “Right now it’s about Maduro and his illegitimate regime, and Guaidó and making sure that the people of Venezuela have the environment and the conditions to correct for all these humanitarian shortcomings.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, wrote on Twitter, “Where is our aircraft carrier?” Asked to comment on that suggestion, Shanahan told reporters, “All (options) would include all.”

Shanahan said he wanted an update on the situation in light of this week’s developments in which Guaidó called for a military uprising two days earlier. The attempted uprising failed to push Venezuela’s military into rebellion but was followed by deadly clashes between protesters and police in cities across the country.

“This was really a true review, and then making sure we’re all in alignment” within the administration, he said.

Asked whether the failed attempt to spark an uprising to oust Maduro suggests faulty U.S. intelligence, Shanahan said, “I feel very confident in the quality and the accuracy of the information that we’re getting.” He added, “I don’t feel like we have an intelligence gap.”

Pompeo told Fox News on Thursday evening that he remained hopeful that Venezuelans will rise up.

“The military didn’t fracture in the way that we would hope, but it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It’s the case that Maduro may rule for a little while longer, but he’s not going to govern. Structurally, there’s no way he stays in power. It’s time for him to leave, and we need the Cubans and the Russians to follow him out the door.”

Also attending the Faller briefing were Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Shanahan canceled a trip to Europe this week to remain in Washington for meetings on Venezuela.

AP Diplomatic writer Matthew Lee, AP writer Jill Colvin and AP Radio correspondent Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.

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US-Russia chill stirs worry about stumbling into conflict

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It has the makings of a new Cold War, or worse.

The deep chill in U.S.-Russian relations is stirring concern in some quarters that Washington and Moscow are in danger of stumbling into an armed confrontation that, by mistake or miscalculation, could lead to nuclear war.

American and European analysts and current and former U.S. military officers say the nuclear superpowers need to talk more. A foundational arms control agreement is being abandoned and the last major limitation on strategic nuclear weapons could go away in less than two years. Unlike during the Cold War, when generations lived under threat of a nuclear Armageddon, the two militaries are barely on speaking terms.

“During the Cold War, we understood each other’s signals. We talked,” says the top NATO commander in Europe, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who is about to retire. “I’m concerned that we don’t know them as well today.”

Scaparrotti, in his role as Supreme Allied Commander Europe, has met only twice with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian general staff, but has spoken to him by phone a number of other times.

“I personally think communication is a very important part of deterrence,” Scaparrotti said, referring to the idea that adversaries who know each other’s capabilities and intentions are less likely to fall into conflict. “So, I think we should have more communication with Russia. It would ensure that we understand each other and why we are doing what we’re doing.”

He added: “It doesn’t have to be a lot.”

The United States and Russia, which together control more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, say that in August they will leave the 1987 treaty that banned an entire class of nuclear weapons. And there appears to be little prospect of extending the 2010 New Start treaty that limits each side’s strategic nuclear weapons.

After a period of post-Cold War cooperation on nuclear security and other defense issues, the relationship between Washington and Moscow took a nosedive, particularly after Russian forces entered the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 2008. Tensions spiked with Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine. In response, Congress in 2016 severely limited military cooperation with Russia.

The law prohibits “military-to-military cooperation” until the secretary of defense certifies that Russia “has ceased its occupation of Ukrainian territory” and “aggressive activities.” The law was amended last year to state that it does not limit military talks aimed at “reducing the risk of conflict.”

Relations frayed even further amid U.S. allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, although President Donald Trump has doubted Russian complicity in what U.S. intelligence agencies assert was an effort by Moscow to boost Trump’s chances of winning the White House. After a Helsinki summit with Putin in July, Trump publicly accepted the Kremlin leader’s denial of interference.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview Friday that Russian behavior is to blame for the strained relationship.

“It’s very difficult for us to have normal relationships with a country that has not behaved normally over the last few years,” Dunford said. “There are major issues that affect our bilateral relationship that have to be addressed, to include where Russia has violated international laws, norms and standards.”

Dunford said he speaks regularly with Gerasimov, his Russian counterpart, and the two sides talk on other levels.

“I’m satisfied right now with our military-to-military communication to maintain a degree of transparency that mitigates the risk of miscalculation,” he said. “I think we have a framework within to manage a crisis, should one occur, at the senior military-to-military level.”

James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral who was the top NATO commander in Europe from 2009 to 2013, says the West must confront Russia where necessary, including on its interventions in Ukraine and Syria. But he believes there room for cooperation on multiple fronts, including the Arctic and arms control.

“We are in danger of stumbling backward into a Cold War that is to no one’s advantage,” he said in an email exchange. “Without steady, political-level engagement between the defense establishments, the risk of a true new Cold War rises steadily.”

No one is predicting a deliberate Russian act of war in Europe, but the decline in regular talks is a worry to many.

Moscow says it is ready to talk.

“Russia remains open for interaction aimed at de-escalating tension, restoring mutual trust, preventing any misinterpretations of one another’s intentions, and reducing the risk of dangerous incidents,” the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement last week in response to NATO’s 70th anniversary celebration.

Sam Nunn, who served in the Senate as a Democrat from Georgia from 1972 to 1997, argues that dialogue with Russia is too important to set aside, even if it carries domestic political risk.

“You can’t call time out,” he said in an interview. “The nuclear issues go on, and they’re getting more dangerous.”

Nunn co-wrote an opinion piece with former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Defense Secretary William Perry arguing that the U.S. and its allies and Russia are caught in a “policy paralysis” that could lead to a military confrontation and potentially the first use of nuclear weapons since the U.S. bombed Japan in August 1945.

“A bold policy shift is needed,” they wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, “to support a strategic re-engagement with Russia and walk back from this perilous precipice. Otherwise, our nations may soon be entrenched in a nuclear standoff more precarious, disorienting and economically costly than the Cold War.”

A group of U.S., Canadian, European and Russian security experts and former officials in February issued a call for talks with Russia on crisis management.

“The risks of mutual misunderstanding and unintended signals that stem from an absence of dialogue relating to crisis management … are real,” the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group said in a statement.

It said this could lead to conventional war with Russia or, in a worst case scenario, “the potential for nuclear threats, or even nuclear use, where millions could be killed in minutes.”

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Senators on Trump Space Force plan: Not so fast

Westlake Legal Group senators-on-trump-space-force-plan-not-so-fast Senators on Trump Space Force plan: Not so fast ROBERT BURNS fox-news/us/military/air-force fox-news/us/military fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 9e5ac454-72f0-52b1-8760-fde421487a3b

The Trump administration’s proposal for creating a Space Force as a new military service encountered bipartisan skepticism in the Senate on Thursday, with several lawmakers questioning the need for expanding the military bureaucracy.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan pitched the proposal as vital to maintaining what he called America’s “margin of dominance” in space as potential adversaries like Russia and China develop the capability to challenge U.S. use of space.

“Both China and Russia have weaponized space with the intent to hold American capabilities at risk,” Shanahan told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Every member of this committee has access to the classified threat picture, but the bottom line is: the next major conflict may be won or lost in space.”

Committee members agreed that the U.S. needs to innovate in space and move more quickly to improve defenses of U.S. satellites and other interests in space. But several members, both Republicans and Democrats, expressed skepticism about a Space Force.

Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine, said he thinks the current approach, with the Air Force handling the bulk of space responsibilities, is working well.

“I’m genuinely undecided, although as you can tell, I’m skeptical,” King said. “I don’t think it’s broken,” he added, referring to the current Pentagon approach to space. “You’re doing a good job. Why are we going to ‘fix’ it?”

Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, also raised doubts.

“I guess we need some convincing that there is a necessity for a sixth branch without our armed forces,” she said.

Some committee members noted that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who testified alongside Shanahan, had publicly questioned the need for a Space Force in 2017.

Sen. Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat, asked Wilson whether she would be recommending the creating of a Space Force if President Donald Trump had not ordered it. She did not answer yes or no but said Trump has helpfully elevated public discussion of space issues.

“We need to give him credit for that,” she said.

A Space Force, if approved by Congress, would be the first new military service since the Air Force was created in 1947. It would be the smallest service by far, with between 15,000 and 20,000 members.

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Acting Pentagon chief makes renewed pitch for Space Force

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The acting defense secretary is making a renewed pitch to Congress for authority to create a Space Force as a separate branch of the military.

Patrick Shanahan, who’s been heading the Pentagon on an interim basis since Jan. 1, is testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Some committee members have expressed skepticism about the need to establish a Space Force as a separate military service.

In his prepared remarks, Shanahan says a Space Force is required to maintain what he calls America’s “margin of dominance” in space. He also says China and Russia are — in his words — “weaponizing” space.

The Trump administration’s proposal is part of a broader plan intended to accelerate the development of U.S. space defenses.

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US says airstrike targeted militant tied to USS Cole bombing

An American military spokesman says a U.S. airstrike in Yemen targeted an al-Qaida operative accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors. Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Leaving Pentagon, Mattis urges workers to ‘keep faith’ in US

Outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is quoting President Abraham Lincoln in a farewell message to defense employees, urging them to stay focused on their mission.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-497825dbb5674e2faa1c0e55475b3e21 Leaving Pentagon, Mattis urges workers to 'keep faith' in US ROBERT BURNS fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 624a6af3-57a6-5cfb-9605-98c7c79f597d

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Mattis’ final words from Pentagon: ‘Hold fast’ with allies

Outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is quoting President Abraham Lincoln in a farewell message to defense employees, urging them to stay focused on their mission.

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Mattis farewell to Pentagon staff: ‘Hold fast’ to US defense

Outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is quoting President Abraham Lincoln in a farewell message to defense employees, urging them to stay focused on their mission.

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