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Thursday, June 16, 2016

What's going on in the World Today-140616



The U.S. Pacific Fleet: Reassuring Allies and Deterring Potential Foes


In a move aimed at bolstering confidence among the United States' East Asian allies, steps are underway to better unify the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet. The U.S. 3rd Fleet will become increasingly active in the Western Pacific, an area traditionally the purview of the forward-deployed 7th Fleet. Word of the 3rd Fleet's evolving role was revealed June 14 by the Pacific Fleet's commander, Adm. Scott Swift, in an exclusive interview in Nikkei Asian Review. The announcement was designed, in part, to assuage Tokyo's concern over the escalation of Chinese rhetoric and activity directed against Japan in the East China Sea...

Searching for the Right Answer to the Islamic State

By now, the details of what has become the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history are well known. A man named Omar Mateen, armed with two firearms and apparently possessed by a loyalty to the Islamic State, killed 49 people as they danced in a club in Orlando, Florida. He injured at least another 50 before the police shot him — fatally — in the ensuing standoff.

News agencies have done a decent job of answering the questions that naturally arise when the Islamic State is invoked prior to a mass murder. It wasn't so long ago that similar questions were raised after the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. If the U.S. government knows the Islamic State is dangerous — which it does — how could someone ostensibly affiliated with the group go unnoticed? How far is the Islamic State's reach? The search for those answers has, in fact, revealed a history of jihadist sympathy in the culprit. Mateen was the subject of two FBI investigations in 2013 and 2014 into allegations that he was connected to militants in Syria and that he knew the Boston Marathon bombers. The FBI, however, found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing....



Bangladesh: Police Continue Crackdown On Islamists

Police in Bangladesh continued a large-scale crackdown on Islamists in the country, arresting nearly 120 alleged militants and bringing the total number of suspects arrested in a little more than a week to more than 8,000, a police officer said June 13, Reuters reported. A string of gruesome attacks have taken place in the country over the past year against targets including academics, activists, foreign aid workers and members of minority religious groups. Though the Islamic State and al Qaeda's affiliate in the region have taken credit for a large number of these attacks, Bangladeshi authorities continue to deny the groups' presence in the country. Instead, they blame domestic groups such as Jamaat al Mujahideen and Ansarullah Bangla Team. For its part, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party said the arrests amount to a crackdown on the government's opponents and said that more than 2,000 of its members were among those detained.

North Korean Hackers Stole F-15 Wing Designs, Seoul Says
A South Korean military official said the leak wasn’t of sensitive information, such as F-15 engines

SEOUL—North Korean hackers stole wing designs for a U.S. jet fighter and photos of parts of spy planes from a South Korean company, according to authorities in Seoul, the latest in a series of alleged cyberattacks by Pyongyang.

More than 40,000 documents related to the defense industry were stolen in attacks on two companies that began in 2014 and were discovered earlier this year, the Korean National Police Agency said Monday....


U.N.: Revised Migrant Estimates From Eastern Mediterranean Far Lower Than Before'

The U.N. refugee agency said on June 13 that it is predicting that around 248,000 migrants and refugees will reach Europe through the eastern Mediterranean in 2016, far lower than it had initially thought at the year's onset, Reuters reported. The United Nations had originally said it expected up to 1 million people to land in Europe via the well-traveled route during 2016. Notably, the United Nations' prediction did not cover the Mediterranean's other route, from Libya to Italy, where estimates put the number of people who have died in 2016 while trying to make the crossing in the thousands.

VIDEO: ISIS-Inspired Attacker Kills French Police Captain, Streams It on Facebook

France's president called Tuesday for increased security in a nation already on high alert after an apparent Islamic State-inspired attacker fatally stabbed a couple with police ties and recorded a message before he was killed by police, reports the Washington Post.

Authorities had taken three additional suspects into custody and said that the assailant had a list of names for possible further attacks, including journalists and public officials. The names have not been made public.

President Fran├žois Hollande described the killings of the couple — police Capt. Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, 42, and his partner, Jessica Schneider, 36, identified as an administrative secretary at a police department outside Paris — as "undeniably a terrorist attack" and said that "France is confronted by an extremely high terrorist threat.”

The couple's 3-year-old son was present during the attack, but was apparently unharmed. The suspect, identified as Larossi Abballa, 25, apparently posted a video message to a Facebook account before he was killed in a police raid on the couple's home in Magnanville, about 30 miles northwest of Paris, officials said.

A French journalist and jihadist expert, David Thomson, said Abballa also posted a video calling for the deaths of more police officers, prison guards and journalists. French authorities later confirmed the postings.

France: Nigerien President Requests More Counterterrorism Support

Mahamadou Issoufou, president of Niger, met with French President Francois Hollande on June 14 in Paris, where he asked the French president to step up counterterrorism efforts in Africa's Sahel region, Reuters reported. France already has around 3,500 troops in five countries across the region. Issoufou asked Paris to increase its efforts in the fight against militant groups, especially Wilayat al Sudan al Gharbi, the group formerly known as Boko Haram. The meeting follows a large-scale attack by fighters from the group against the southeastern Nigerien town of Bosso in early June. Though military forces in the region have waged successful campaigns against Boko Haram, continued advances will require further financial and political support.




Pakistan, Afghanistan: Troops Exchange Fire Again

Afghan and Pakistani troops exchanged fire at the countries' main Khyber Pass border crossing on June 15, with Pakistan firing heavy artillery and mortars at Afghan troops, Pakistani military and security officials said, Reuters reported. Afghan officials denied any fighting took place on June 15 but said the two sides did exchange fire overnight on June 14, likely alluding to the same skirmish. Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan said both sides have agreed on a cease-fire and steps toward resolving the latest round of hostilities. The sides have exchanged fire in the same location — Torkham gate — over the past several days, reportedly killing four people. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of aiding militants who travel freely across the countries' shared border…

Growing Concern on the Northern Afghan Border


Security along the border between Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors appears to be a source of growing concern both for those countries — Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — and for outside powers such as the United States, Russia and China. Head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph L. Votel's June 14-15 visit to Tajikistan, which comes on the heels of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's June 9 meeting with security officials in Turkmenistan, reflects the focus on Central Asia. Although the extent of the threat of militant spillover from Afghanistan into Central Asia is unclear, security risks in the border area are likely to prompt a military buildup and lead foreign powers to increase their involvement — and competition — in the region...


Filipino nationalists say flag-planting on disputed shoal halted by China

Chinese coast guard vessels prevented a Philippine nationalist group from planting a Filipino flag on a rocky South China Sea outcrop, the group said on Monday, the latest territorial standoff between the two countries.

The incident between the coast guard and the Kalayaan Atin Ito (Freedom It's Ours) group took place at the disputed Scarborough Shoal on Sunday, just as foreign ministers from Southeast Asian countries and China prepared for a meeting in Kunming to discuss territorial rows in the hotly contested waters.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea and the move by the Filipino nationalists comes fSas the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague prepares to deliver a ruling on a complex case brought by Manila that could dent China's sweeping sovereignty claim.

"They refused to allow us to get near Scarborough Shoal," Joy Ban-eg, leader of the Kalayaan Atin group, told reporters. "There was a standoff until we decided to leave."

Ban-eg said 15 Filipinos and an American joined the 16-hour voyage to the Scarborough Shoal to mark the Philippines' 118th Independence Day and to find out if local fishermen could freely go there…

China, Japan: Chinese Intelligence Ship Enters Japanese Waters

A Chinese naval intelligence ship briefly entered Japan's territorial waters west of Kuchinoerabu Island on the morning of June 15, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said, AP reported. The ship left Japan's territorial waters some 90 minutes later, Seko said. The move comes just days after a Chinese naval ship sailed near the disputed Senkaku islands for the first time.

Chinese Financial Reform, Moving at Beijing's Pace


For three years, China and global stock benchmark provider MSCI have been working together to resolve concerns over China's domestic stock markets. Resolution would clear the way for MSCI to add China's domestically listed, yuan-denominated stocks known as A-shares to its emerging markets index. For two years, the firm had deemed Chinese progress on market reforms insufficient. Citing concerns over repatriation limits, untested trading suspension policies and the preapproval requirements by local exchanges (Shenzhen and Shanghai) for launching new financial products, such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs), MSCI opted on June 14 again not to include China's A-shares in the index...

North Korea: China Strengthens Sanctions

China on June 15 banned the export of goods to North Korea that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction, Xinhua reported. The list names dozens of banned items including metal hydrides, laser-welding equipment and plasma cutting equipment. It also bans the exports of a dozen chemicals that could be used in the production of "chemical warfare agents." China is key to the efficacy of international sanctions on North Korea.

North Korea: Nuclear Arsenal May Be Growing, Report Says

North Korea may have produced six or more additional nuclear weapons over the past 18 months, potential giving it more than 21 nuclear devices, according to a reported released June 14 by the Institute for Science and International Security, AFP reported. In late 2014, ISIS estimated the North’s nuclear arsenal at 10 to 16 weapons. The estimate does not factor in the possible contribution of a second centrifuge plant the North may have built to produce weapons-grade uranium, according to the report. In developing a nuclear deterrent, Pyongyang is gambling on U.S. political indecision and its own ability to overcome technological hurdles.


Iran: The Threat Within

Iran is producing more oil more quickly than anyone had anticipated. The country has surpassed 3.8 million barrels per day, according to Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, bringing production levels close to where they were before sanctions were imposed in early 2012. The rebound has aggrieved the rest of the world's producers, which are trying to cope with an enduring supply glut, as well as Iran's political adversaries in the Gulf, who are concerned about the covert activities additional oil revenue could portend. And rightly so; Iran is already heavily invested in Syria and Iraq, and it is trying to extend its reach into sensitive areas of the Gulf, including Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. But as Iran tries to enhance its covert affairs beyond its borders, it will also be forced to heed its security vulnerabilities within....

Iran, U.S.: Top Officials Meet In Norway

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif June 15 in Norway on the sidelines of the 2016 Oslo Forum, Tasnim News Agency reported. Kerry and Zarif reportedly discussed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is Iran's historic nuclear agreement with the West and other international powers. The meeting followed an earlier gathering June 14 between delegations from Iran and the European Union that covered implementation of the JCPOA. Tehran has accused Washington of failing to uphold its end of the bargain, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized the United States on June 14 for failing to fully remove economic sanctions against Iran in accordance with the deal.

Iran: Arab Separatist Group Claims Oil Pipeline Blast

Thw Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, an Arab separatist group in Iran, claimed June 14 to have blown up an oil pipeline in Ahvaz, the capital of the southwestern province of Khuzestan, NOW reported June 15. The group posted a video online of the blast, which it says it set off in response to the recent arrests of activists in Ahvaz by Iranian security forces. Though the video is grainy, the blast does seem to be consistent with an oil pipeline explosion. Iranian state and local media did not cover the incident, the latest in a number of attacks claimed by the separatist group over the past 16 months. The province, which is situated along Iran's border with Iraq, has long harbored smoldering unrest against the central government. Tehran is embroiled in its own ongoing political struggle between moderates and hardliners.

The Competition for Iraqi Kurdistan's Oil

For years, Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran have been in talks to construct a pipeline that would transport Kurdish oil to the Iranian market. Until now, the negotiations have lagged as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) instead focused on developing an oil export route through Turkey. But new momentum may be building in favor of the Iranian option, particularly as Kurdish coffers run low and Tehran maneuvers to minimize Ankara's influence. If finalized, the new pipeline would bring the KRG one step closer to the financial independence it seeks...


Iraq: U.S. Conducts First Apache Helicopter Strike Against Islamic State

The United States carried out a strike against the Islamic State with an Apache attack helicopter on June 13, marking the first time the powerful helicopter has been used to target the militant group since President Barack Obama authorized its use in Iraq back in April, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, Reuters reported. Carter said the strike was in support of Iraqi government forces preparing for the eventual operation to recapture the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. According to an unidentified U.S. official, though two helicopters participated in the mission, only one fired at the vehicle targeted.

Iraq: Kurdish Allies Meet In Sulaimaniyah

Barham Salih of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Nawshirwan Mustafa of the Gorran party met in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Suleimaniyah, just weeks after the political parties said they had reached a preliminary agreement to join forces in the autonomous region's next elections, Ekurd Daily reported June 14. During the meeting, the two leaders reportedly reaffirmed their shared position that the Kurdistan Regional Government should remain as one entity and that Kirkuk should remain an integral part of Iraqi Kurdistan, rather than an autonomous region. Salih and Mustafa also agreed that a referendum over Kurdish independence should be held, but they did not say specifically when. The newly formed political alliance carries larger implications for the region, including on Turkish and Iranian influence in Iraqi Kurdistan.


Iraq: Government To Seek Compensation For 1981 Nuclear Reactor Airstrike

Iraq intends to file a lawsuit against Israel over Israeli airstrikes against a Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981, the Iraqi parliament's first deputy speaker, Humam Hamoudi, said June 15, Sputnik reported. Israeli fighter jets targeted the Tammuz nuclear reactor in June 1981, a move Israel called preventative because of the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iraq. The attack destroyed the reactor and Iraqi plans for a nuclear program. Baghdad claimed the program was designed for scientific research, rather than the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Hamoudi said Iraq would attempt to obtain compensation for the airstrike. Three decades later, tensions were raised over the possibility of Israel unilaterally targeting Iranian nuclear installations, prompting increased diplomatic efforts to counter Iranian nuclear ambitions. These efforts ultimately led to Iran's historic nuclear agreement with Western and other international powers.

For Israel and Turkey, Any Port in a Diplomatic Storm


Israel and Egypt have had the self-governing Palestinian territory of Gaza under comprehensive blockade since 2007. Turkey, a long-time critic of the blockade — especially in the wake of the 2010 flotilla crisis, when Turkish-Israeli relations reached a new low — has refused to discuss diplomatic reconciliation with Israel until the obstruction is lifted. To that end, quiet negotiations have been underway for months to resolve the issue and repair ties. Progress has been scant since February, but now a tentative agreement appears close. On April 15, Turkey's presidential adviser announced that Israel had consented to lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip and that a deal will soon be finalized...


Russia Is Saving Jobs, but Not the Economy


Russia's economic downturn has left many of the country's biggest companies struggling to make ends meet. Now, AvtoVAZ — Russia's largest automobile manufacturer and the recession's latest victim — is on the verge of laying off thousands of workers unless the Kremlin can find a way to prevent it. The company, which employs some 2 million Russians, intends to let some of its people go through a "voluntary" dismissal over the next two weeks, offering hefty compensation packages to those who leave. The announcement prompted the governor of the region housing AvtoVAZ's biggest plant to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 6 to ask for the government's help. But whether the Kremlin props up Samara province's unemployed automotive workers or pressures AvtoVAZ into keeping them, it will not be able to fix the worsening economic conditions that threaten citizens' livelihoods and, by extension, the legitimacy of the government's rule...


The Islamic State Loses Ground in Syria

In Syria, the Islamic State is in crisis. Over the past three years, the group has managed to expand from a regional nuisance to a force with global relevance, declaring a caliphate in June 2014 that stretched from Iraq's Diyala province to Syria's Aleppo province. By doing so, it linked the two nations into a single zone of conflict and drew the attention of numerous powers, including the United States, Turkey and Russia. Today, the group maintains a presence from western Iraq to the Syria-Lebanon border — an impressive territorial spread.

Syria: Hezbollah Reinforcements Reportedly Deploying To Syria

Hundreds of Hezbollah reinforcements have reportedly begun deploying to Syria from Lebanon following a June 9 meeting between the defense ministers of Russia, Syria and Iran in Tehran, anonymous sources said, Asharq Al-Awsat reported June 14. Much about the fighters' deployment remains unclear, including how many are taking part and where in Syria they are being sent. According to the sources, the two most likely places are the eastern city of Deir el-Zour or to take part in the battle for the Islamic State's self-declared capital of Raqqa.

Syria: Dozens Die In Fierce Clashes In Aleppo

At least 70 fighters have died in 24 hours of intense clashes in the Syrian province of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights said, AFP reported June 15. Aided by Syrian and Russian airpower, forces loyal to the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad are battling for control of the villages of Zaytan and Khalasa, where the fighting is ongoing. Fierce fighting is taking place on a number of fronts in Syria, including near Manbij, close to Aleppo city and around the Islamic State's self-declared capital of Raqqa.


U.S.: Second Aircraft Carrier Enters The Mediterranean Sea

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the Mediterranean Sea on June 13, making it the second U.S. aircraft carrier currently in the area, a U.S. Navy statement said, Reuters reported. The newly arrived carrier will take over for the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group, which will depart from the Mediterranean for the United States later in June. The Eisenhower, home to a strike group of destroyers, cruisers and warplanes, is scheduled to participate in the air campaign against the Islamic State. In its statement, the Navy said having two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean shows the U.S. commitment to security in the area as well as the United States' support for its European allies. The carrier's arrival also comes at a time of increasingly hostile rhetoric over rising tensions between Russia, which U.S. officials say has its own warships and submarines in the Mediterranean, and NATO.

The Islamic State Loses Ground in Syria

In Syria, the Islamic State is in crisis. Over the past three years, the group has managed to expand from a regional nuisance to a force with global relevance, declaring a caliphate in June 2014 that stretched from Iraq's Diyala province to Syria's Aleppo province. By doing so, it linked the two nations into a single zone of conflict and drew the attention of numerous powers, including the United States, Turkey and Russia. Today, the group maintains a presence from western Iraq to the Syria-Lebanon border — an impressive territorial spread...

A Saudi Deputy Crown Prince in the President's Court

May, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously in support of a controversial bill that would enable victims of the 9/11 attacks, or their surviving family members, to sue foreign governments for damages. Meanwhile, the United States has been gradually working for several years to achieve more of a balance in its Persian Gulf relationships, engaging in a rapprochement with Saudi rival Iran. Even so, the two countries find themselves on the same side of the fight in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, and each continues to depend on the other in different ways. On his tour of the United States this week — at the White House's invitation — Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will demonstrate the United States' importance to the kingdom...

Gulf Remittances Feed Asia's Economies

Oil is the foundation of the Persian Gulf's wealth. But the recent collapse in oil prices has made the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council painfully aware of the risks of relying on such a volatile commodity. Now, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates are working to leverage their existing wealth to diversify their economic bases. The effort will require more labor, since workers will be needed for massive infrastructure and construction projects and to staff growing tourism, financial and retail sectors. Yet historically, Gulf state residents have been uninterested in working in the private sector; instead, they prefer more lucrative public sector jobs.


Switzerland: Mossack Fonseca Employee Arrested For Stealing Data

A computer technician who works for Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca was arrested at the firm's Geneva offices, The Guardian reported June 15. The employee is reportedly accused of stealing large amounts of data from the company's records. It is still unclear whether the arrest is tied to the April release of the Panama Papers, a trove of approximately 11.5 million documents and records that revealed thousands of questionable financial arrangements made by world leaders, politicians, public figures and known criminals dating back to 1977. Mossack Fonseca, which says it was the victim of a database hack, reportedly set up more than 240,000 offshore companies that clients used to avoid taxes and launder money. The anonymous source of the leak released a statement in May, citing income inequality as the reason for the leak and offering to assist authorities in return for immunity from any criminal charges. Bastian Obermayer, a journalist who helped lead the Panama Papers investigation the German paper Suddeutsche Zeitung, said via Twitter that the suspect who was arrested does not appear to be the original source of the leak.

Except where noted courtesy STRATFOR.COM

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