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Monday, March 30, 2020

What's going on in the World Today 200330



First Mission For U.S. Space Force Lifts Off Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Irene Klotz March 26, 2020

CAPE CANAVERAL—A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V lifted off from Cape Canaveral AFS on March 26 to deliver the sixth and final member of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure communications satellite network into orbit for the U.S. and allies’ national security agencies.

The 20-story rocket, outfitted with five side-mounted solid rocket boosters provided by Northrop Grumman, lifted off at 4:18 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41. The launch was delayed 1-hr., 21 min. to resolve a problem with ground support equipment.

AEHF-6 is the first payload to fly for the newly designed U.S. Space Force, though the official renaming of the Cape Canaveral launch base has been postponed due to personnel restrictions and work reassignments stemming from COVID-19 restrictions...

Kirtland Airman Found with Arsenal

A U.S. airman assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base is in federal custody after military investigators searching his KAFB residence found a cache of 17 firearms, two silencers, large amounts of ammunition, bomb-making instructions and photos of rifle magazines with the names of mass shooters written on them.... Justice formally has been charged with possessing a silencer and unlawful importation of a firearm -- the silencer he allegedly ordered from a Chinese company. The photographs found on his cellphone showed the names of mass shooters written on white ink on AR-15 compatible magazines. Included among the names were Alexandre Bissonette, who shot and killed several people at a mosque in Quebec City, Canada, and Luca Traini, who targeted African migrants in Italy


AFRICOM Tells VOA: US Kills 15 al-Shabab Terrorists in Latest Somalia Airstrikes

U.S. airstrikes in Somalia this week killed more than 15 al-Shabab terrorists who were battling African Union and Somali forces, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Major Karl Wiest told VOA on Friday. The militants posed an “imminent threat” to international forces who, according to a U.S. defense official, have now secured the town of Janaale in the country’s Lower Shabelle region and are building a forward operating base there.

JNIM kills dozens in Mali base attack

Over the weekend, al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed Thursday’s deadly raid on a Malian army base in the northern town of Tarkint in the Gao region. According to Malian officials, at least 29 soldiers were killed in the attack while another 5 were wounded. French outlet RFI reported that the raid progressed under JNIM’s usual modus operandi. Dozens of jihadists arriving on motorcycles and other vehicles targeted the base from three directions before overwhelming the base.

MNJTF repels terrorists attack, kills 48 Boko Haram insurgents [Niger]

The Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) have successfully repelled a Boko Haram terrorists attack - The MNJTF is a combined multinational military formation from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria ... is mandated to bring an end to the Boko Haram insurgency ... Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) have successfully repelled a Boko Haram terrorists attack at Tumour in Niger Republic. Legit.ng gathered that during the attack, 48 terrorists were killed while four others were captured by the gallant troops

Mozambique jihadists seize key town in Cabo Delgado

Islamist insurgents have seized control of a key town in northern Mozambique, close to where foreign companies are working on a $60bn (£52bn) natural gas project. The militants staged an overnight attack on Mocimboa de Praia, taking a military base and raising their flag, police said. The army and police have launched a counter-offensive, police added. This is the first time Mozambican jihadists have attacked a major town.




France pulls military out of Iraq amid virus concerns

French President Emmanuel Macron visits a military field hospital on March 25, 2020. (Mathieu Cugnot/Pool via AP)
France is pulling out its military forces from Iraq as French forces are increasingly called upon to help fight the coronavirus at home.

The chief of staff of the French armed forces said in a statement Wednesday night that France is suspending its anti-terrorism training operations in Iraq and also bringing home its Iraq-based troops involved in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group...




Gunmen in Afghanistan kill 25 at Sikh complex, Islamic State claims responsibility
Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL (Reuters) - Gunmen and suicide bombers raided a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday, killing 25 people before security forces killed all of the attackers, the government said.

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, saying it was revenge for India’s treatment of Muslims in its portion of Kashmir and threatening further attacks.

Sikhs have been targeted by Islamist militants in South Asia before. Their community in Afghanistan numbers fewer than 300 families.

Several hours after the early morning attack began, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said an operation by the security forces was over and all attackers had been killed. He did not say how many.

The ministry said 25 people in the religious compound had been killed, eight wounded and 80 rescued...


South China Sea Tensions: China Ups the Ante With Anti-Submarine Air Drills

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed military aircraft to conduct an anti- submarine drill over the South China Sea, according to a report issued Friday by the PLA Navy. The timing of the drill indicates that the moves could be a response to a four-day exercise the U.S. staged the previous week involving the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, the America Expeditionary Strike Group, and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. It also comes at a time when China is emerging from the coronavirus pandemic that began in Wuhan and spread globally at a rapid pace.

China Is Trying to Rewrite The Present
Beijing’s propaganda blitz seeks to obscure the origins of the coronavirus.

Louisa LimMarch 23, 2020, 6:19 PM
A street hairdresser cuts the hair of a customer as he wears a protective facemask as prevention for the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in-front of a propaganda poster on a street in Beijing on February 26, 2020.
A street hairdresser cuts the hair of a customer as he wears a protective facemask as prevention for the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in-front of a propaganda poster on a street in Beijing on February 26, 2020. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images
China’s Communist Party has long excelled at rewriting its own history, but with its latest propaganda blitz on the novel coronavirus, it’s rewriting the present. And while the traditional revisionism has largely been aimed at a domestic audience, this time it has a global one in mind. Beijing is attempting to gaslight the world as it escalates its propaganda push to obscure the source of the disease. Yet the real significance of this campaign is that it represents Beijing’s first truly international propaganda offensive and a new front line in the global information war...


Iran: Leaders Hold Televised National Addresses Amid Escalating COVID-19 Crisis

What Happened: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif each hailed the sacrifices Iranians were making amid the COVID-19 outbreak in separate televised addresses on the advent of the New Persian Year, Fars News Agency reported March 20. Zarif’s address, in particular, was in English and included a plea for other countries to help fight against U.S. sanctions to ensure Iran could access the funding and medical equipment needed to contain the virus.

Why It Matters: For Iranians, seeing that the country's leaders remain in good health amid Iran's escalating COVID-19 crisis was no doubt reassuring, especially given that a handful of the country's politicians have so far died from the virus. Quarantine efforts to contain the outbreak have significantly impacted Iran's new year celebrations, which typically span several days and involve large public gatherings. Such measures also risk exacerbating the country's already fragile economic situation due to U.S. sanctions.

Background: Alongside Italy, Iran has experienced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks outside of China. Despite international pressure, the United States has refused to back off its maximum pressure sanctions campaign against Iran, and even issued new sanctions earlier this week.

U.S. imposes fresh Iran-related sanctions despite coronavirus

Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals on Thursday for supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in the last two weeks even as Tehran battles the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, the U.S. Treasury Department accused those targeted of supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm and of transferring lethal aid to Iran-backed militias in Iraq such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, all of which Washington deems foreign terrorist organizations...


As Attacks in Iraq Increase, U.S.-Led Coalition Forces Retreat

What Happened

On March 19, the official Iraqi Security Media Cell announced via Twitter that Iraq's security forces had taken over the al Qaim military base, which formerly housed U.S.-led coalition forces against the Islamic State. The seizure comes just three days after the U.S. military announced it was repositioning its forces from three of the eight bases currently housing American troops in the country, including al Qaim. The United Kingdom also announced that it, too, was pulling out half of its 400 troops participating in the U.S.-led coalition, and has since paused its coalition training mission for 60 days. Denmark, meanwhile, has announced that it would be completely withdrawing its forces from the coalition..




North Korea Fires Short-Range Ballistic Missiles, South Says

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Saturday in the country’s third weapons test this month, the South Korean military said. The missiles were fired from the county of Sonchon in North Pyongan Province in the northwest, flying 255 miles to the northeast before landing in waters between North Korea and Japan, South Korean defense officials said. They provided no other details, such as the specific type of missiles launched, as they were still analyzing data collected from the test.




Gaza confirms first coronavirus cases as West Bank shuts down

Arrival of Covid-19 raises fears about how besieged territory’s health system will cope

Harriet SherwoodLast modified on Sun 22 Mar 2020 23.58 EDT

The first two cases of Covid-19 in Gaza have been confirmed, raising fears about how the besieged territory’s overstretched health system will cope if the virus spreads through its population of 2 million.

In the West Bank, Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister ordered people to stay at home for two weeks from Sunday night in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, with exemptions for medical personnel, pharmacists, grocers and bakers. People will be allowed out to shop for food.

The two Gaza cases are men aged 79 and 63 who returned to Gaza from Pakistan via Egypt at the weekend. They were placed in quarantine in the town of Rafah on Gaza’s border with Egypt. Officials said that all those who had been in contact with the pair had also been quarantined...


Russia deploying coronavirus disinformation to sow panic in West, EU document says

Russian media have deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus, generate panic and sow distrust, according to a European Union document.... The Kremlin denied the allegations on Wednesday, saying they were unfounded and lacked common sense. The EU document said the Russian campaign, pushing fake news online in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French, uses contradictory, confusing and malicious reports to make it harder for the EU to communicate its response to the pandemic.


Espionage trial for Paul Whelan to begin next week in Russia

Kristen Jordan ShamusUpdated 1:23 a.m. ET March 21, 2020

The espionage trial of a Michigan businessman in Russia is set to begin at 11 a.m. Monday before a panel of three judges in Moscow City Court, his English-speaking lawyer, Olga Karlova, told the Free Press.

Paul Whelan, 50, of Novi has been held in a Russian prison since December 2018. The Federal Security Service (FSB) alleges it caught Whelan on a spy mission. It found a flash drive in his hotel room that allegedly contained classified information.

Whelan, a former Marine who worked in global security for auto parts supplier BorgWarner, said traveled to Russia to attend the wedding of a friend, and insists he is not a spy...


Pakistani Doctor Charged with Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS

a federal criminal complaint against Muhammad Masood, 28, charging him with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. ...According to the allegations in the complaint, Masood, a licensed medical doctor in Pakistan, was formerly employed as a Research Coordinator for a medical clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, under an H- 1B Visa. Between January 2020 and March 2020, Masood made several statements to others, including pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) and its leader, and expressing his desire to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS. Masood also expressed his desire to conduct “lone wolf” terrorist attacks in the United States. On Feb. 21, 2020, Masood purchased a plane ticket from Chicago, Illinois to Amman, Jordan, and from there planned to travel to Syria. On March 16, 2020, Masood’s travel plans changed because Jordan closed its borders to incoming travel due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Masood made a new plan to fly from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to meet up with an individual who he believed would assist him with travel via cargo ship to deliver him to ISIS territory.

U.S.: FBI Agents Kill Extremist Plotting to Bomb Hospital Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Mar 26, 2020 | 20:28 GMT

What Happened: FBI agents have killed an extremist who was plotting to use a car bomb to blow up a hospital in Missouri amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the Washington Post reported March 26. Unconfirmed reports indicate the individual had ties to several neo-Nazi groups.

Why It Matters: This marks the first terrorist bombing plot against a health facility in a Western country amid the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights that extremists are, in fact, attempting to exploit the outbreak to inflict more chaos. This raises the possibility for copying terrorist attacks against hospitals or medical facilities, either with car bombs or using more readily available weapons, which could have an outsized impact on the fight against the virus.

Background: Extremists of numerous stripes have celebrated the outbreak of the COVID-19 and called for their fellow adherents to carry out attacks and exploit the chaos. There has also been a noted increase in cyber attacks targeting the World Health Organization and hospitals.


When Contingency Plans for Pandemics and Other Disasters Encounter Reality

Scott Stewart
Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor
Mar 24, 2020 | 11:00 GMT
An empty office. Government measures intended to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted the operations of companies and organizations across the globe.
An empty office. Government measures intended to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted the operations of companies and organizations across the globe.
(Monkey Business Images/SHUTTERSTOCK)
Organizations that have properly planned and prepared for a disaster have a great advantage over those that have not when disaster strikes.
When contingency plans encounter reality, things will inevitably unfold differently from scenarios used to create contingency plans, so flexibility and creativity will be needed to adapt responses.
Crisis management personnel who are adaptable, flexible and creative in finding solutions to the many problems and challenges that inevitably will surface during a crisis will build much credibility and trust.
Government measures intended to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted the operations of companies and organizations across the globe. These measures are interrupting or ending business travel, impacting the ability of employees to work together in offices, and complicating and even severing supply chains. Globally, entire industries have nearly ground to a halt, many businesses are shuttered and millions of people are out of work. Because of these conditions, the next few months are going to be extremely difficult for anyone attempting to conduct operations — especially transnationally. In fact, for many of us, this period may very well prove the most challenging of our careers...

Officials warn of fake checks, other scams taking advantage of outbreak

...With the recent announcement that the federal government plans to send out checks to Americans financially affected by the virus, the Better Business Bureau says everyone should be wary of scams ... BBB ... has already received reports of imposters calling about the checks. Residents should be wary of any messages they receive or posts they see on social media claiming to be from the government. The bureau said these scammers are tricking residents into giving out their personal information in order to receive $1,000. Additionally, the Inspector General of Social Security says some residents are also receiving notices claiming social security benefits are being suspended due to office closures. Officials say this is not the case, and any message suggesting such is a scam as Well.

COVID-19: How Pandemics Disrupt Military Operations

Sim Tack, Global Analyst , Stratfor Mar 25, 2020


- Measures to contain and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic could significantly impact global military readiness for at least the next several months.

- Even though immediate disruptions to military operations will be temporary, the economic stress resulting from the pandemic could yield long-term setbacks in development programs.

-The potential impact from COVID-19 provides a general template of how future pandemics could affect military capabilities and activites, albeit with different timelines and severity of impact depending on the disease.

Amid the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world are facing widespread disruptions to not only the health of their populations and economies, but their militaries. Even if the virus itself doesn't leave key personnel severely ill (or worse), quarantine measures can still severely thwart military operations. Meanwhile, military powers such as the United States may increasingly be forced to deploy additional forces to the frontlines of unfolding COVID-19 outbreaks at home. The resulting fallout could, in turn, result in setbacks in the fight against multiple non-state actors abroad, and potentially even the long-term development of military capabilities...

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