U.S. Navy SEAL reprimanded, demoted for posing with dead prisoner

U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher (R), with wife Andrea Gallagher, leaves court after being acquitted of most of the serious charges against him during his court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., July 2, 2019. REUTERS/John Gastaldo

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – A U.S. Navy SEAL platoon commander acquitted of murdering a captured Islamic State fighter but convicted of unlawfully posing for photos with his dead body was sentenced on Wednesday to a demotion in rank and pay.

The penalty imposed by a seven-member jury of U.S. Marines and Navy personnel spared the defendant, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, from any prison time beyond the nearly seven months he had already served in pre-trial custody.

The same jury found Gallagher not guilty on Tuesday of murder, attempted murder and other charges, including deliberately shooting at unarmed civilians and obstruction of justice. But he was found guilty of posing for unofficial pictures with a human casualty.

That offense, stemming from photos he and fellow SEAL members took with the corpse of the Iraqi prisoner whom Gallagher was acquitted of slaying, carries a maximum sentence of four months’ imprisonment.

Instead, he will receive a one-step demotion in his rank from chief petty officer to petty officer first class, presumably accompanied by a corresponding reduction in his pay. The sentence also carries a two-month forfeiture of his salary, a sum of nearly $5,400.

Still, the outcome of the court-martial, capped by a three-week trial on various war crimes charges, marked a significant legal victory for Gallagher, 40, who would have faced a possible life sentence had he been found guilty of murder or attempted murder.

(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego, additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Five Marines missing after two U.S. aircraft collide, crash into sea off Japan

FILE PHOTO: A KC-130 Hercules with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (Rein.), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to refuel a CH-53E Super Stallion during air refueling training in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, March 14, 2013. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John Robbart III/Handout via REUTERS

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Phil Stewart

TOKYO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Five U.S. Marines were missing after two Marine Corps aircraft collided in mid-air and crashed into the sea off the coast of Japan during an air-to-air refueling exercise on Thursday, Japanese and American officials said.

Japan’s defense ministry said its maritime forces had so far found two of the seven Marines who were aboard the aircraft – an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet and a KC-130 Hercules – at the time of the incident.

One was in a stable condition at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, while the second had been found about 10 hours after the collision and brought aboard a Japanese military vessel, the ministry said. No other details about the second Marine were known, a ministry spokesman said.

A Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel sails on the water at the area where two U.S. Marine Corps aircraft have been involved in a mishap in the skies, off the coast of Kochi prefecture, Japan, in this aerial view photo taken by Kyodo December 6, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

A Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel sails on the water at the area where two U.S. Marine Corps aircraft have been involved in a mishap in the skies, off the coast of Kochi prefecture, Japan, in this aerial view photo taken by Kyodo December 6, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Search-and-rescue efforts for the remaining five continued, Japan’s highest-ranking military officer said.

“We plan to keep at it all through the night,” Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces’ Joint Staff, told a news conference.

The incident adds to a growing list of U.S. military aviation accidents around the world in recent years, prompting hearings in Congress to address the rise.

The Military Times reported earlier this year that aviation accidents jumped nearly 40 percent from fiscal years 2013 to 2017. At least 133 service members were killed in those incidents, it said.

Congressional leaders have called the rash of accidents a “crisis” and blamed it on continuous combat operations, deferred modernization, lack of training and aging equipment.

U.S. military accidents are a sensitive topic in Japan, particularly for residents of the southern prefecture of Okinawa, which is home to the bulk of the U.S. presence in the country. A series of emergency landings and parts falling from U.S. military aircraft have highlighted safety concerns.

People in a Tokyo hospital waiting room fell silent as news of the crash came on television, with one woman whispering to another, “This is so scary.”

“The incident is regrettable, but our focus at the moment is on search and rescue,” Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told a news conference. “Japan will respond appropriately once the details of the incident are uncovered.”

U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty thanked Japan’s military for their search-and-rescue efforts and confirmed the incident occurred during a refueling exercise.

“My heart goes out to the families and colleagues of Marines involved in this tragedy,” Hagerty said at an event at Waseda University in Tokyo.

“They risk their lives every day to protect Japan and to protect this region and sometimes they pay the greatest costs. So I want to emphasize this security alliance that we have is critical and it is moving forward to the right direction,” he said.

The Marine Corps said in a statement the incident occurred around 2 a.m. local time in Japan (1700 GMT Wednesday) about 320 km (200 miles) off the Japanese coast.

The two aircraft had launched from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and were conducting regular training when the incident occurred, it said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington, Kaori Kaneko, Tim Kelly, Elaine Lies and Mayuko Ono in Tokyo; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Peter Cooney, Rosalba O’Brien and Michael Perry)

As winter comes, NATO kicks off largest maneuvers since Cold War

FILE PHOTO: U.S., German, Spanish and Polish troops of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle goups with their tanks get ready for the Iron Tomahawk exercise in Adazi, Latvia October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

By Terje Solsvik

OSLO (Reuters) – Military forces from 31 countries began NATO’s largest exercise in decades, stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland, on Thursday, practicing military maneuvers close to Russia, which itself held a huge military drill last month.

As temperatures fell below freezing across training grounds in central Norway, giving a taste of what it means to defend NATO’s vast northern flank, some 50,000 troops, 250 aircraft and 10,000 tanks, trucks and other land-based vehicles were ready.

“Forces are in position, they are integrating and starting combat enhancement training for major battlefield operations over the next two weeks,” Colonel Eystein Kvarving at Norway’s Joint Headquarters told Reuters.

Dubbed Trident Juncture, the exercise is by far the biggest in Norway since the early 1980s, a sign that the alliance wants to sharpen its defenses after years of cost cuts and far-flung combat missions.

Increasingly concerned about Russia since it annexed Crimea in 2014, Norway has sought to double the number of U.S. Marines receiving training on its soil every year, a move criticized by Moscow.

Russia last month held its biggest maneuvers since 1981, called Vostok-2018 (East-2018), mobilizing 300,000 troops in a show of force close to China’s border which included joint drills with the Chinese and Mongolian armies.

NATO’s war games were originally meant to involve 35,000 troops, but the number grew in recent months and included the late addition of an aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman with some 6,000 personnel.

NATO fears Russia’s military build-up in the region could ultimately restrict naval forces’ ability to navigate freely, and on Oct. 19 the Truman became the first American aircraft carrier to enter the Arctic Circle since before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although a solid majority of Norwegians support membership of NATO, whose secretary general is former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, some parties on the left would prefer that the country quit the alliance and form some type of military cooperation arrangement with its Nordic neighbors.

“The effect of this activity will increase the tension between Norway and Russia,” Socialist member of parliament Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes said of the exercise, adding that the presence of an aircraft carrier caused particular concern.

“You have to be quite hawkish to view this as something that brings peace in any way,” he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos; Editing by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Norway to invite more U.S. Marines, for longer and closer to Russia

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Marines, who are to attend a six-month training to learn about winter warfare, arrive in Stjordal, Norway January 16, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Ned Alley/via REUTERS/File Photo

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway will ask the United States to more than double the number of U.S. Marines stationed in the country in a move that could raise tensions with its eastern neighbor Russia.

The government in Oslo has grown increasingly concerned about Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Some 330 U.S. Marines were scheduled to leave Norway at the end of this year after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017 to train for fighting in winter conditions. They are the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway, a member of NATO, since World War Two.

The initial decision to welcome the Marines irked Russia and Moscow said it would worsen bilateral relations and escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told reporters the decision did not constitute the establishment of a permanent U.S. base in Norway and was not targeted at Russia.

“There are no American bases on Norwegian soil,” she said, adding the decision had broad parliamentary support.

Oslo will ask Washington to send 700 Marines from 2019, compared with 330 presently. The additional numbers will be based closer to the border with Russia in the Inner Troms region in the Norwegian Arctic, rather than in central Norway.

The rotation of forces will last for a five-year period compared with an initial posting that ran for six months from the start of 2017, and then was extended last June.

In addition the U.S. want to build infrastructure that could accommodate up to four U.S. fighter jets at a base 65 km (40 miles) south of Oslo, as part of a European deterrence initiative launched after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Norway said the expanded invitation was about NATO training and improving winter fighting capability.

“Allies get better at training together,” Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told reporters.

Soereide told Reuters in April that Oslo did not see Moscow as a military threat and that the threat of war in the Arctic, NATO’s northern flank, was “low”.

But she said Oslo saw challenges in the way Russia was developing, not only militarily but also in the areas of civil society, the rule of law and democracy.

The Russian embassy in Oslo was not available for comment.

(Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Record number of U.S. Marines to train in Australia in symbolic challenge to China

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Marines aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship stand in formation during a ceremony marking the start of Talisman Saber 2017, a biennial joint military exercise between the United States and Australia aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship on the the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Sydney, Australia, June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The United States will deploy a record number of Marines to train in Australia, the Australian defense minister said on Friday, as Washington seeks to counter what it describes as Chinese aggression in the region.

Payne said 1,587 U.S. Marines will spend six months training in Australia’s remote north, an increase of nearly 27 percent on its 2017 rotation for the program known as the Force Posture Initiatives.

“The U.S. military plays a vital role in underwriting security and stability across the Indo-Pacific, and the Force Posture Initiatives will be an essential component in preserving stability and security over the coming decades,” Defence Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.

The deployment, first introduced in 2011 as part of a U.S. “pivot” to Asia, has emerged as a key indicator of Washington’s commitment to the region under U.S. President Donald Trump and his willingness to counter Chinese influence in a region where tensions have spiked amid disputes over the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, an important trade route that is also believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas, and has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and air strips.

In a move likely to irk Beijing, the U.S. Marines will train with personnel from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, some of which also have claims in the South China Sea.

“China will monitor whatever the U.S. does and it would prefer that the United States not work with the Asian countries included in these exercises,” said Euan Graham, director of the international security program at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute.

“Beijing would like to deal one-on-one with Southeast Asia nations that have counter claims,” he said.

The U.S. Marines will also bring additional military equipment, including helicopters and F-18 jets, Payne said.

The military deployment also threatens to further weaken Australia-Chinese relations.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally with no claim to the South China Sea, has long maintained its neutrality in the dispute to protect its economic relationship with China.

But bilateral relations have soured in recent months after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said China was improperly interfering in Canberra’s affairs, an accusation that triggered a rare protest from Beijing.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait)

U.S. military searches for three Marines in sea after aircraft crashes off Australia

Two U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft sit on the apron of Sydney International Airport in Australia, June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017.

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Rescue teams were searching for three U.S. Marines missing after their aircraft crashed into the sea off Australia’s east coast on Saturday, the U.S. Marine Corps said.

Twenty-three other personnel aboard the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft had been rescued, the III Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Okinawa, Japan, said in a statement.

In past years, Ospreys have been involved in incidents resulting in deaths or injuries.

The aircraft had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) amphibious assault ship and was on regular operations when it hit the water, the statement said. Boats and aircraft on the ship immediately began a search-and-rescue effort.

The U.S. Marine Corps said the incident was under investigation but gave no additional information.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who was on his first full day of vacation at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, was briefed on the situation by his chief of staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, according to a White House official.

The incident took place off the coast of Shoalwater Bay, in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland, the Australiandefense ministry said.

One person had been taken to Rockhampton hospital, a Queensland Ambulance spokesman said. He gave no further details.

The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group was in Australia to participate in joint training maneuvers involving more than 33,000 U.S. and Australian military personnel, which ended two weeks ago.

The exercises included the participation of MV-22 Ospreys practicing the deployment of U.S. Marine reconnaissance teams.

The Osprey, built by Boeing Co and Textron Inc’s Bell Helicopter unit, is designed to take off like a helicopter and rotate its propellers to fly like a plane.

Its development was nearly canceled after the deaths of 23 Marines during flight testing in 2000, but its speed and range have made it very popular in recent years.

In December, the U.S. military grounded its Osprey fleet in Japan after one of the aircraft ditched into the sea, injuring its crew of five when a hose connected to the aircraft broke during a refueling exercise.

Australia has sent troops to fight in the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

(Reporting by Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE, Jonathan Landay in WASHINGTON and Amy Tennery in BRIDGEWATER, N.J.; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Lisa Von Ahn)