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Experts from Washington and Seoul seem to agree that the weapons test observed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this week wasn’t a ballistic missile and doesn’t change the strategic situation on the Korean Peninsula.

On Wednesday, the Pyongyang-based Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had successfully tested a “new tactical guided weapon” — an event years in the making that carried a “very weighty significance.”

KCNA was short on details, saying only that the missile has a “peculiar mode of guiding flight” and “a powerful warhead.”

“We see it as a guided weapon for the purpose of ground battles,” an officer from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told Yonhap News Agency Friday, adding it does not appear to be a ballistic missile.

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The US agreed, with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan saying the weapon was “not a ballistic missile” because no observation or early warning system had detected that kind of launch.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to come out and raise or condemn or make hay of this weapons test,” Shanahan said Friday. “It’s wise for us to just sort of continue to focus on making headway on diplomacy and ignore those sorts of comments.”

Eric Brewer, a former director for counterproliferation at the National Security Council, told CNN the test was “not that concerning,” but was probably meant to pressure Washington into returning to the negotiating table.

Citing analysts, Yonhap said the weapon is probably similar to the Israeli-made Spike anti-tank guided missile (AGTM), a highly sophisticated weapon that can be fired from a vehicle mount or from a soldier’s shoulder and has a range of about 4 kilometers.

(Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

If it is an AGTM on the scale of the Spike, it likely represents a significant leap forward for North Korean ground forces in terms of anti-tank weaponry. Like much of its weaponry and vehicles, the Korean People’s Army mostly makes use of old Soviet anti-tank weapons like the 9M113 Konkurs and the newer, Russian-made 9M133 Kornet.

It remains unclear if this weapon is the same one KCNA reported Kim inspected last November, which the state-owned news agency noted had been “researched and developed for a long time,” since Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, ran the country between 1994 and 2013.

DPRK hasn’t tested a ballistic missile of any type, whether for weapons delivery or satellite launch, since November 28, 2017. As a gesture of goodwill, Kim placed a moratorium on all ballistic and nuclear tests in a bid to bring Washington to the negotiating table that was ultimately successful last June.

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The arrival of Russian military planes in Venezuela in March 2019 spurred harsh criticism from the US, who has accused Moscow of destabilizing the situation in the Latin American state currently engulfed in a political crisis. Russia, for its part, has recalled that its planes arrived under a bilateral agreement with Caracas.

The US has called on the international community to deny Russian planes flying to Venezuela a right of passage through their airspace, following the example of such a move by Malta. Ortagus said that such a decision could help stop Russian support for the country’s President Nicolas Maduro.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier stated that Malta had refused to provide a green light for the passage of two Russian planes carrying cargo and personnel to Venezuela. The spokeswoman noted that Malta didn’t provide any reason for denying it and added that Moscow will take this fact into consideration in its bilateral relations with the island nation.

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Venezuela has been engulfed in a political crisis, which took another turn after opposition figure, Juan Guaido proclaimed himself the country’s interim president. The move was immediately supported by the US and most western states, but was harshly criticized by Russia, Turkey, China, and many other countries. They expressed their support for the constitutionally elected president, Nicolas Maduro.

Washington has lambasted Moscow’s support for the president and specifically the arrival of Russian planes carrying military personnel in March 2019. The US called their arrival an “unwelcomed provocation”. At the same time, Moscow said that its military personnel had arrived to carry out maintenance on Russian military tech under a bilateral agreement with Caracas.

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Earlier in the day, it was reported by The Libya Observer that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s army had regained control over the Tamanhint Base following the withdrawal of the South Protection Force loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA).

The Interior Ministry of Libya’s internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) on Thursday accused France of supporting the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and said it would halt security cooperation with the French authorities.

“The cooperation with the French side on bilateral agreements in the area of security is halted,” the ministry said in its Facebook blog.

According to the ministry, the decision extends to agreements with France on joint military exercises.

At the same time, the Government of National Accord has issued an arrest warrant for Haftar for allegedly ordering airstrikes against civilian areas. Besides the marshal himself, six Haftar’s officers have also been named in the arrest warrant.

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The new wave of clashes in Libya commenced on 4 April, when Haftar ordered his troops to advance on the Libyan capital to free it from what he called terrorists.

As a result, the LNA gained control over the cities of Surman and Garyan located near Tripoli. After the move, the GNA announced a counteroffensive on 7 April, dubbed Volcano of Rage, to confront the LNA.

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On Friday, Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya announced that the country’s authorities had launched an underwater search and recovery operation to retrieve the wreckage of a Japanese F-35 fighter jet that mysteriously disappeared from the radars during drills over the Pacific Ocean on 9 April.

Washington and Tokyo are yet to recover the missing Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) F-35A fighter jet as they have been conducting “a tireless, around-the-clock search” for the fifth-generation stealth plane since 9 April, Business Insider (BI) reports.

This comes as Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told the Japan Times on Tuesday that “the F-35A is an airplane that contains a significant amount of secrets that need to be protected.”

“With the help of the United States, we will continue to take the leading role in investigating the cause of the accident,” Iwaya added.

Earlier, he announced that Tokyo would ground the JASDF’s whole fleet of F-35A stealth fighters in the wake of the incident.

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The Japan Times also quoted an unnamed Japanese Defence Ministry spokesman as saying that the remains of the F-35 jet’s tail had been found but they were yet to track down the rest of the fuselage, as well as the pilot.

“On average two aircraft, including a helicopter, and two patrol vessels are constantly deployed in the around-the-clock search operations,” the official said.

The statement came after an unnamed Pentagon spokesman told BI that the US “stands ready to support the partner nation in recovery” of the missing warplane.

(Photo by Robert Sullivan, Flickr)

He also emphasized “how serious the US is about ensuring that [the F-35A’s] advanced technology doesn’t fall into the wrong hands”, BI reported.

The JASDF’s F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, while being flown by 41-year-old Major Akinori Hosomi, reportedly disappeared from radars on 9 April, 135 kilometers (84 miles) east of the Misawa Air Base located in the country’s northern Aomori prefecture.

The incident took place during a training flight involving four F-35A fighters; it is the first case of an F-35A crashing, as the warplane, introduced in 2016, has only recently come into service in various countries.

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The Maryland-based defense manufacturer claims that the new combat aircraft it is providing to India will have impressive standoff capabilities, greater staying power with lower fuel consumption and state-of-the-art network data-linking capabilities across all platforms.

New Delhi (Sputnik): US defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin has said the F-21 multi-role combat aircraft it is producing indigenously for India will address the immediate requirements of the country’s air force, besides giving it a “significant edge.”

The F-21 warplanes will strengthen the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) integration into the worldwide network of advanced fighter aircraft technology, a report in the Economic Times quoted the Maryland-based company as saying.

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The F-21 jet for India was unveiled by Lockheed Martin at the Aero India show in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru in February this year. Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems will produce the aircraft in India.

“While it is inappropriate for us to compare specific capabilities, the F-21 will give India a significant edge with greater standoff capability, greater staying power with less fuel burn, and network data linking capabilities across all platforms. The F-21 will meet all of India’s performance, capability and advanced technology requirements — the same requirements all other 4th generation competitors are offering. As we pursue cutting-edge technologies for the F-21, some capabilities may be evaluated as discrete, integrated functions,” Vivek Lall, vice president of Strategy and Business Development at Lockheed, told the Economic Times.

The aircraft will feature Advanced APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, which has detection ranges nearly double that of previous mechanically scanned array radars and the ability to track and attack more targets with higher precision.

In addition to this, its Advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) System, developed uniquely for India, will enhance survivability against ground and air threats. The Long-Range Infrared Search and Track tech will enable pilots to detect threats more accurately, while the Triple Missile Launcher Adapters (TMLAs) will allow the F-21 to carry 40 percent more air-to-air weapons, Lall specified.

(Photo by Kremlin)

India started the process of purchasing 114 fighter jets under a strategic partnership program in 2018. Six foreign firms responded to the request for information. Renowned arms manufacturers Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the United States, Dassault Aviation of France, European consortium Eurofighter, Saab of Sweden and United Aircraft Corporation of Russia submitted their responses in July 2018, while Mikoyan later joined the race with its MiG-35.

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Instagram has begun blocking pages belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) following the organization’s official listing as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization”, or FTO on Monday.

The commander of the IRGC’s elite Quds force, Qassem Soleimani, finally had his page blocked following this week’s designation. He had maintained the account for two-and-a-half years, for which he frequently posted anti-American political messages and threats. And the IRGC’s official page was also blocked, which had nearly 1 million subscribers.

Interestingly Instagram had never previously moved to permanently shut down Soleimani’s account despite him being individually designated a foreign terrorists by the US Treasury all the way back in 2011, though it had been temporarily blocked several times in the past for violating the platform’s rules.

Among a number of prior threatening images, Gen. Soleimani had last year posted an artistic rendering of himself standing in front the White House, depicted as on fire after an explosion.

Neither the post nor himself were blocked following a number of media outlets highlighting the threatening image at the time.

Soleimani had over 100,000 Instagram followers, compared to President Hassan Rouhani’s 2.2 million, though the latter’s is still active.

According to Radio Farda, which is the Iranian branch of the U.S. state-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

Other accounts blocked belonged to several IRGC high-ranking officiers, such as Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri Gen. Mohammad ALi Jafari, top commander and Gen. Haj Saeed Qassemi.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Fox News in answer to a question whether Soleimani is equal to ISIS leader Abubakar al-Baghdadi, “Yes, he is a terrorist.”

Instagram’s Terms and Conditions state: “Instagram is not a place to support or praise terrorism, organized crime, or hate groups… We can remove any content or information you share on the Service if we believe that it violates these Terms of Use, our policies (including our Instagram Community Guidelines), or we are permitted or required to do so by law.”

Thus many analysts saw this week’s action by Instagram as long overdue. However, others argue that blocking the IRGC’s media pages is tantamount to censoring important communications from the military of a sovereign nation.

President Trump previously said (on April 8) the move to formally designate the entire IRGC “recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.”

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A court in Bahrain sentenced 138 people to jail and stripped them of their citizenship for conspiring to create a “terror” cell linked to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards force, the country’s public prosecutor said.

The mass sentencing was “the largest” revocation of nationality since the country started using the punishment in 2012, the Europe-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said.

What You Need to Know:

  • The 138 people received sentences ranging from three years to life imprisonment. One man was jailed, but did not have his citizenship revoked.
  • The group was accused of forming a “Bahraini Hezbollah” — a reference to the Shiite militant faction in Lebanon — with Iranian help, to carry out terrorist attacks in Sunni-ruled Bahrain.
  • Some of them were alleged to have received military training in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.
  • Nearly 100 defendants were fined some $265,000 (€235,000) each.
  • Thirty people were acquitted.

The exchange of missiles between the IDF and Iranian forces based in Syria represented a major escalation of a conflict that has been simmering at a low level for months.

‘Mockery of Justice’

Lynn Maalouf, a Middle East expert at Amnesty International, said the verdict “makes a mockery of justice” and “demonstrates how Bahrain’s authorities are increasingly relying on revocation of nationality as a tool for repression.”

BIRD said it “condemns the outcome of this deeply unfair trial in the strongest possible terms and urges the authorities to quash the sentences and restore the citizenships.”

(Photo by Kremlin)

Post-2011 Repression: Bahrain’s Sunni-dominated government has banned opposition groups and tried to silence other opponents since a 2011 crackdown on large protests by the country’s Shiite population. The ruling monarchy accuses Shiite-majority Iran of training militias to instigate a coup.

Increasingly Popular Sentence: The verdict brings the total number of people who have had their citizenship revoked since 2012 to 990, BIRD said. In May, 2018, a court denaturalized 115 people in a single trial.

Close US, Saudi Ally: Bahrain hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and has close ties to neighboring Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has led attempts by Sunni-ruled countries to oppose any growth in Iranian influence in the region.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused China and Russia of “helping destroy” Venezuela by continuing to support Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who Washington has called illegitimate. Pompeo also called the presence of Russian troops in the country an “obvious provocation.”

“China and others are being hypocritical in calling for ‘non-intervention’ in Venezuela’s affairs,” Pompeo said in a speech in Santiago, Chile, on Friday. “Their own financial interventions have helped destroy the country.”

“China is an important economic partner of the United States. The problem, though, is that when China does business in places like Latin America, it often injects corrosive capital into the economic bloodstream, giving life to corruption, and eroding good governance,” the diplomat continued.

Pompeo blasted Russian cooperation with Venezuela and Nicaragua, saying Russian investments in police training with Caracas and a satellite compound in the latter country, “to put it mildly, aren’t good.”

“Russia also has long-standing ties to authoritarian leaders in Cuba and Nicaragua. It sells arms and disseminates propaganda in those places,” Pompeo said. “We shouldn’t stand for Russia escalating an already precarious situation in these ways.”

Since January 23, the US has been a vocal and material supporter of Juan Guaido, a parliamentarian who proclaimed himself Venezuela’s interim president, denouncing Maduro’s administration as undemocratic and calling for Maduro’s ouster. However, lacking any substantial mass support in the country, where 80 percent of the population had never heard of him at the time of the declaration, Guaido’s attempted coup has fizzled amid steady popular support for Maduro, who was reelected last May by a wide margin in elections hailed internationally as free and fair.

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Just hours after President Trump formally designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, Iran’s foreign ministry has put forward a bill placing US Central Command on a list of organizations designated as terrorists, akin to ISIS.

Statement from the President on the Designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization:

Today, I am formally announcing my Administration’s plan to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including its Qods Force, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft. The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.

This designation will be the first time that the United States has ever named a part of another government as a FTO. It underscores the fact that Iran’s actions are fundamentally different from those of other governments. This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime. It makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to, the IRGC. If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism.

This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences. We will continue to increase financial pressure and raise the costs on the Iranian regime for its support of terrorist activity until it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior.

(Photo by Tasnim News / Wikimedia Commons)

But, as Sputnik News reports, the Iranian Foreign Ministry responded to the designation on Monday, recommending that President Hassan Rouhani designate US Central Command (US CENTCOM), a US military theatre-level command whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East, on the list of organizations designated as terrorists by Iran.

Previously, the Iranian Foreign Minister noted that those US officials who advocated IRGC blacklisting, “seek to drag the US into a quagmire.”

“#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for FTO (Foreign Terrorist Organisation) of the IRGC fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region. In fact, they seek to drag the US into a quagmire on his behalf,” Mohammed Javad Zarif said on his Twitter account. “@realDonaldTrump should know better than to be conned into another US disaster.”

Iranian officials previously warned that the IRGC’s inclusion on the US terror list would be a “mistake” which would prompt Tehran to equate the US military with Daesh (ISIS). Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said a bill to this effect had already been prepared.

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The U.S. Army is considering whether it should purchase Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) to replace its aging fleet of Boeing AH-64 Apache and Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior copters, reported Task & Purpose.

“The FARA will only replace Apaches in our heavy attack reconnaissance squadrons and this represents about half of the Apache fleet,” a spokesperson for Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told Aviation Week.

“There have already been serious questions about whether the AH-64 platform will be able to remain relevant, especially in a high-end conflict environment, through 2048, when the Army plans to retire the very last of the gunships,” Joseph Trevithick at The War Zone explained.

“The Army expects to be integrating significant upgrades into its latest AH-64E Guardian variants through 2026. These include updates to its fire control and targeting systems, improved data sharing and fusion capabilities, better sensors, a more robust ability to work directly with unmanned aircraft and more,” Trevithick added.

In 2018, the Army selected several FARA candidates. Sikorsky is currently in the running with the S-97 Raider high-speed scout and attack helicopter. Bell is developing a V-280 Valor tiltrotor that was also selected.

Video: Sikorsky S-97 Raider flight test:

Video: Bell V-280 Valor flight test:

“We’re looking for an aircraft that, without going into specific requirements or classifications, essentially goes further, can see further, can acquire specific targets further and can engage at greater ranges than current exist and has greater legs – can fly further with a greater payload of weapon systems,” Milley told Congress on March 26, 2019.

The Army could purchase hundreds of FARA helicopters within the next ten years. If a new helicopter replaces the AH-64 and OH-58D, then the service could be looking at 700 new aircraft – a contract worth tens of billions of dollars.

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