Turkey’s publication of U.S. troop locations poses risk, Pentagon says

An aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington August 31, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The publication by Turkey’s state-run news agency of the locations of what appeared to be U.S. military posts in Syria puts American forces in danger, and the United States has complained to Turkey, a NATO ally, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Anadolu news agency published a report on Tuesday naming the location of 10 U.S. military posts in northern Syria, in some cases detailing the number of U.S and French troops present.

“The release of sensitive military information exposes Coalition forces to unnecessary risk and has the potential to disrupt ongoing operations to defeat ISIS,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon, using an acronym for Islamic State.

“While we cannot independently verify the sources that contributed to this story, we would be very concerned if officials from a NATO ally would purposefully endanger our forces by releasing sensitive information,” Pahon said.

He added that the United States has voiced its concerns to Turkey.

Relations between Ankara and Washington have already been shaken by a U.S. decision to support and arm Kurdish YPG fighters to drive Islamic State from their Raqqa stronghold in Syria.

Turkey views the YPG as a branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the outlawed Kurdish separatist group that has been waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since the 1980s. It fears an effort to form a contiguous Kurdish state embracing some Turkish territory.

Ankara was infuriated last month when Washington – which has designated the PKK as a terrorist group – announced that it would continue the Obama administration’s policy of arming the YPG, although U.S. officials insist that the United States will retrieve the weapons provided once Islamic State is defeated.

A decision by U.S. prosecutors to charge a dozen Turkish security and police officers after an attack on protesters during Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington also angered Ankara.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Japan’s military begins major drill with U.S. carriers watching North Korea

The U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan (front) and USS Carl Vinson and (back R) sail with their strike groups and Japanese naval ships during training in the Sea of Japan, June 1, 2017.

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s navy and air force began a three-day military exercise with two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Sea of Japan on Thursday adding pressure on North Korea to halt an accelerating ballistic missile program.

Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force has sent two ships, including one of its four helicopter carriers, the Hyuga, to join the U.S carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson, and their eight escort ships, Japan’s military said in a release.

Japanese Air Self Defence Force F-15s are taking part in simulated combat with U.S. Navy F-18 fighters at the same time, the military said.

“It’s the first time we have exercised with two carriers. It’s a major exercise for us,” a Japanese military spokesman said.

The Sea of Japan separates Japan from the Korean peninsula.

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson (L) and USS Ronald Reagan sail with their strike groups and Japanese naval ships during training in the Sea of Japan, June 1, 2017.

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson (L) and USS Ronald Reagan sail with their strike groups and Japanese naval ships during training in the Sea of Japan, June 1, 2017. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers/Handout via REUTERS

The United States sent the warships to the region after a surge of tension on the Korean peninsula over fears the North was about to conduct a sixth nuclear test, or another test in its bid to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland United States.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to work with other countries to deter North Korea, which on Monday conducted a short-range ballistic missile test.

The missile reached an altitude of 120 km (75 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan in international waters, but inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone where it has jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of maritime resources.

The launch followed two successful tests of medium-to-long-range missiles in as many weeks as North Korea conducts tests at an unprecedented pace,

North Korea can already strike anywhere in Japan with missiles, raising concern in Tokyo that it could eventually be threatened by a North Korean nuclear strike.

South Korea’s new liberal president, Moon Jae-in, who took office on May 10, has taken a more conciliatory line than Abe, pledging to engage with his reclusive neighbor in dialogue.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Pence warns North Korea of U.S. resolve shown in Syria, Afghan strikes

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence looks toward the north from an observation post inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea,

By Roberta Rampton and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence put North Korea on notice on Monday, warning that recent U.S. strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed that the resolve of President Donald Trump should not be tested.

Pence and South Korean acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn, speaking a day after a failed missile test by the North and two days after a huge display of missiles in Pyongyang, also said they would strengthen anti-North Korea defences by moving ahead with the early deployment of the THAAD missile-defence system.

Pence is on the first stop of a four-nation Asia tour intended to show America’s allies, and remind its adversaries, that the Trump administration was not turning its back on the increasingly volatile region.

“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” Pence said in a joint appearance with Hwang.

“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence said.

The U.S. Navy this month struck a Syrian airfield with 59 Tomahawk missiles after a chemical weapons attack. On Thursday, the U.S. military said it had dropped “the mother of all bombs”, the largest non-nuclear device it has ever unleashed in combat, on a network of caves and tunnels used by Islamic State in Afghanistan.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency on Monday carried a letter from leader Kim Jong Un to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad marking the 70th anniversary of Syria’s independence.

“I express again a strong support and alliance to the Syrian government and its people for its work of justice, condemning the United States’ recent violent invasive act against your country,” Kim said.

On a visit to the border between North and South Korea earlier in the day, Pence, whose father served in the 1950-53 Korean War, said the United States would stand by its “iron-clad alliance” with South Korea.

“All options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country,” he told reporters as tinny propaganda music floated across from the North Korean side of the so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ).

“There was a period of strategic patience but the era of strategic patience is over.”


Pence is expected to discuss rising tension on the Korean peninsula with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday when he travels to Tokyo to kick off economic talks with Finance Minister Taro Aso.

Pence will meet business leaders in Seoul before departing – a “listening session” he will reprise at other stops on his tour in Tokyo, Jakarta and Sydney.

His economic discussions will be closely watched to see how hard a line Washington is prepared to take on trade. Trump campaigned for office on an “America First” platform, and has vowed to narrow big trade deficits with nations like China, Germany and Japan.

But Trump has also shown he is willing to link trade to other issues, saying he would cut a better trade deal with China if it exerts influence on North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Trump acknowledged on Sunday that the softer line he had taken on China’s management of its currency was linked to its help on North Korea.

The United States, its allies and China are working on a range of responses to North Korea’s latest failed ballistic missile test, Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday, citing what he called an international consensus to act.

China has spoken out against the North’s weapons tests and has supported U.N. sanctions. It has repeatedly called for talks while appearing increasingly frustrated with the North.

But Pence and Hwang said they were troubled by retaliatory economic moves by China against the deployment in South Korea of a U.S. anti-missile system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

South Korea, which accuses China or discriminating against some South Korean companies working in China, and the United States say the sole purpose of THAAD is to guard against North Korean missiles.

China says its powerful radar can penetrate its territory and undermine its security and spoke out against it again on Monday.


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing the situation on the Korean peninsula was “highly sensitive, complicated and high risk”, adding all sides should “avoid taking provocative actions that pour oil on the fire”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow could not accept North Korea’s “reckless nuclear actions” but the United States should not take unilateral action against it.

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, indicated on Sunday that Trump was not considering military action against North Korea for now, even as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier strike group was heading for the region.

“It’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” programme.

The Trump administration is focusing its strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang.

Tensions have risen as Trump takes a hard rhetorical line with Kim Jong Un, who has rebuffed admonitions from China and proceeded with nuclear and missile programmes seen by Washington as a direct threat.

China says the crisis is between the United States and North Korea. Lu said China efforts to help achieve denuclearization were clear, adding: “China is not the initiator of the Korean peninsula nuclear issue.”

China banned imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26, cutting off its most important export and Chinese media has raised the possibility of restricting oil shipments to the North if it unleashed more provocations.

Pyongyang has conducted several missile and nuclear tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions, and has said it has developed and would launch a missile that can strike the U.S. mainland.

U.S. officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering the necessary technology, including miniaturising a nuclear warhead.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim and James Pearson in SEOUL, Daniel Trotta in NEW YORK, Lucia Mutikani and Caren Bohan in WASHINGTON and Michael Martina in BEIJING:; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)

U.S. bolsters protection of American forces in Syria as tensions climb

A U.S. fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa city, Syria
A U.S. fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa city, Syria

A U.S. fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa city, Syria November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has made slight adjustments to its military activities in Syria to strengthen protection of American forces following cruise missile strikes last week on a Syrian air base that heightened tensions, U.S. officials told Reuters on Monday.

The officials, citing operational security concerns, declined to specify what measures the United States has taken after the strikes, which Damascus, Tehran and Moscow condemned.

But one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed the strikes had not slowed the campaign against Islamic State militants.

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the cruise missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat air base last week in retaliation for what Washington and its allies say was a poison gas attack by Syria’s government in which scores of civilians died.

The chemical weapons attack killed at least 70 people, many of them children, in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The Syrian government has denied it was behind the assault.

Moscow says there is no proof that the Syrian military carried out the attack, and called the U.S. missile strike an act of aggression that violated international law.

A joint command center made up of the forces of Russia, Iran and militias supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday said the U.S. strike crossed “red lines” and it would respond to any new aggression and increase its support for its ally.

The United States has about 1,000 U.S. forces in Syria advising and training fighters to combat Islamic State and has regularly carried out air strikes against the militants. Those strikes have continued.

But as U.S. jets fly in Syrian airspace, one big question is whether the United States and Russia are keeping open a military communications channel to avoid an accidental clash.

The United States used the channel to advise Moscow ahead of its attack on the Syrian air base, to help ensure Russian personnel, who were also located on part of the base, would not be harmed or misinterpret the cruise missile strikes as an attack on them.

The U.S. military, which confirmed on Friday morning it believed the line of communications was still active, has since stopped commenting on whether it was operational.

Russian media has reported that Moscow has suspended the agreement that allows for those communications, a step that could heighten the risk of an accidental clash.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Deja vu for U.S. troops celebrating Christmas in Iraq again

U.S. soldiers enjoy a Christmas dinner at an army base in Karamless town, east of Mosul,

By Stephen Kalin

EAST OF MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – This is the third Christmas that Staff Sergeant Magdiel Asencio is spending in Iraq. For Sergeant First Class Noel Alvarado, it is number four. And so it is with many U.S. troops stationed less than a hour’s drive from the front line with Islamic State.

Few thought they would be back nearly 14 years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, sparking an al Qaeda-backed insurgency and throwing the country into a sectarian civil war.

Yet here they are, albeit with a fraction of the numbers and a much narrower mission. The roughly 5,200 U.S. troops presently stationed in Iraq are part of an international coalition helping local forces retake the third of their country seized by Islamic State more than 2-1/2 years ago.

Their current target is Mosul, the jihadists’ last major stronghold in the country. Iraqi forces control around a quarter of the city, but fierce counter-attacks have rendered progress slow and punishing.

Asencio served in Mosul during the initial invasion, first to provide artillery support and then as infantry.

“It was more of a wild wild west then. We didn’t know if something was going to go down and when they needed you to call for fires,” he said, standing beside a field artillery unit that hits Islamic State targets inside Mosul nearly every day.

“It’s a little more calm this time around. We still shoot, we know we’re here in support of the Iraqi army. There’s still enemy out there but we’re not as into actual direct combat as we were back then.”

Many battalion commanders previously served multiple tours in Iraq, often punctuated by combat in Afghanistan. There are even some soldiers in their first tour here whose fathers missed Christmases with them a decade ago to be in Iraq.

“I thought back in 2011 when we closed it all out, it was going to be finalised then,” said Alvarado, referring to the withdrawal of U.S. troops that year.

“But being back here is totally different. I’ve seen (the Iraqi army) pick themselves up a lot. They have a better standard now.”

The Iraqi military and police dropped their weapons and fled in 2014 in the face of Islamic State’s assault, despite far superior numbers and billions of dollars in U.S. training and equipment.

The coalition has retrained tens of thousands of local troops in the past two years and provides advice on military strategy and planning, as well as artillery support and air strikes that are indispensable to the war against Islamic State.

“Anything we can do to assist them in their operation forward with us not actually squeezing the trigger,” said Lieutenant Colonel Stuart James. “So we’ll move forward with them, but we’re not the ones that make contact.”

A top commander told Reuters that U.S. forces were embedding more extensively with Iraqi troops in order to accelerate the Mosul campaign, which started on Oct. 17.


Coalition advisors were initially concentrated at a high-level headquarters in Baghdad but have fanned out over the past two years to spartan outposts like this one about 15 kilometers (10 miles) east of Mosul to stay near advancing troops.

“Merry Christmas from the most forward TAA at the tip of the spear,” James said, using a military acronym for the compound.

The austere outpost nestled in an ancient Christian region has few permanent structures, since the troops plan to move on when the Iraqi forces they are advising advance.

Heavy rain turned much of the grounds into thick mud on Sunday as soldiers huddled inside two dining tents for a special holiday meal where a plastic Christmas tree and a Santa Claus figurine flanked one entrance.

Outside, a soldier in a Santa hat did pull-ups at a makeshift gym.

This is a far cry from the luxurious facilities at the sprawling compound the U.S. military once maintained inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and other big bases that have since been handed over to the Iraqis.

Yet Alvarado is not too torn up about spending another Christmas away from home.

“As long as my troops are OK and my family back home they’re OK and we’re supporting that, then I’m fine with it,” he said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Netanyahu says Israel ‘mightier’ as first F-35 fighter jets arrive

F-35 fighter jet - United States Military

By Ori Lewis

NEVATIM AIR BASE, Israel (Reuters) – – Israel on Monday became the first country after the United States to receive the U.S.-built F-35 stealth jet which will increase its ability to attack distant targets, including Iran.

The much-hyped arrival of the first two fighter jets was overshadowed by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet that Lockheed Martin’s  whole F-35 project was too expensive, and the delivery was delayed for hours by bad weather preventing their take-off from Italy.

The squadron is expected to be the first operational outside the United States. The planes are the first of 50, costing around $100 million each.

“Our long arm has now become longer and mightier,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Nevatim air base in the southern Negev desert.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, also attending the ceremony which was delayed until after dark, said the planes were critical to maintaining Israel’s military edge in the region.

A U.S. squadron of the planes, which have suffered delays and cost overruns, became operational in August. The F-35 program is the Pentagon’s largest weapons project.

“The F-35 program and cost is out of control,” Trump said on Twitter, sending Lockheed Martin’s shares down 4 percent.

Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 programme leader, said the company understood concerns about affordability and had invested millions of dollars to try to reduce its price.

Israel, which finalised a 10-year, $38 billion arms deal from the United States this year, plans to maintain two F-35 squadrons.

Critics of the plane say it can carry a smaller weapons payload and has a shorter range than Israel’s current squadrons of U.S.-built F-15s and F-16s.

But some experts say the F-35’s stealth capabilities make up for this because it can be more accurate and fly a more direct route to its target. Israel’s air force mostly flies missions close to home, in the Gaza Strip and against arms shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.

It is also believed to have carried out bombings in Sudan against arms shipments to Palestinian militants, and to have drawn up contingency plans against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Israel initially ordered 33 of the fighters but signed off on another 17 last month.

Nimrod Shefer, a retired Israeli air force major-general, said the new aircraft were a welcome addition.

“(There are) very low- to very high-altitude missiles … and targets that are becoming more and more difficult to detect and to destroy,” he said.

(Writing by Ori Lewis and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy)

U.S. panel urges probe on whether China weakening U.S. militarily

A paramilitary policeman watches a flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square ahead of the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China,

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. advisory commission warned on Wednesday that China’s growing military might may make it more likely to use force to pursue its interests and called for a government probe into how far outsourcing to China has weakened the U.S. defense industry.

The annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission pointed to a growing threat to U.S. national security from Chinese spying, including infiltration of U.S. organizations, and called on Congress to bar Chinese state enterprises from acquiring control of U.S. firms.

The release of the report to Congress comes a week after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election. Trump, an outspoken Republican who has vowed to take a tougher line in trade and security dealings with China than President Barack Obama, will take office on Jan. 20.

The panel is a bipartisan body set up in 2000 to monitor the national security implications of the U.S. trade and economic relationship with China and to make recommendations to Congress for legislative and administrative action.

Its report also called on Congress to back more frequent U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes where China’s building of artificial islands with military facilities has raised concerns about future freedom of movement. Beijing and its neighbors have conflicting territorial claims there.

The commission said ongoing reforms of the People’s Liberation Army would strengthen Beijing’s hand and noted that China was close to completing its first domestically produced aircraft carrier.

“China’s pursuit of expeditionary capabilities, coupled with the aggressive trends that have been displayed in both the East and South China Seas, are compounding existing concerns about China’s rise among U.S. allies and partners in the greater Asia,” the report said.

“Given its enhanced strategic lift capability, strengthened employment of special operations forces, increasing capabilities of surface vessels and aircraft, and more frequent and sophisticated experience operating abroad, China may also be more inclined to use force to protect its interests,” it said.

The panel said that U.S. responses to the threat from Chinese intelligence gathering had suffered from a lack of a coordinated effort by U.S. intelligence agencies.

It said Congress should also direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to prepare a report “examining the extent to which large-scale outsourcing of manufacturing activities to China is leading to the hollowing out of the U.S. defense industrial base.”

“This report should also detail the national security implications of a diminished domestic industrial base (including assessing any impact on U.S. military readiness), compromised U.S. military supply chains, and reduced capability to manufacture state-of-the-art military systems and equipment,” it said.

The commission’s report also recommended that Congress call on the U.S. State Department to produce educational materials to alert U.S. citizens overseas and students going to China to the dangers of recruitment efforts by Chinese agents.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. to deploy THAAD anti missile battery in South Korea

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. U.S. Department of Defense,

SEOUL (Reuters) – The commander of U.S. forces in South Korea said on Friday a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system battery would be deployed to South Korea within eight to 10 months, an official from the U.S. forces in South Korea said.

The official was commenting on a Yonhap news agency report on remarks made by Vincent Brooks, commander of United States Forces Korea, in which he laid out plans for the deployment.

Brooks said rotating strategic weaponry onto the Korean peninsula would have a deterrent effect against North Korean provocations, according to the agency. He also said the battery would be bigger than one deployed in Guam.

The official could not confirm Brook’s comment on rotation, but said the U.S. and South Korean governments are currently in discussions for such strategic weaponry deployment.

In September, two U.S. B-1 bombers flew over South Korea in a show of force and solidarity with its ally following North Korea’s fifth nuclear test.

Washington and Seoul have agreed to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea to protect against North Korean threats. China was angered by the decision as its worries that the system’s powerful radar can see into its territory.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged South Korea and the United States to “immediately cease” the deployment process and reiterated that China would take “necessary steps to safeguard China’s security interests.”

“The U.S. deployment of THAAD on the Korean Peninsula seriously damages strategic balance in the region and seriously harms the strategic security interests of relevant regional countries, including China,” Hua told a regular news briefing.

South Korea has said it plans to have THAAD operational by the end of next year at the latest.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high this year, with North Korea conducting two nuclear tests and an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high this year, with North Korea conducting two nuclear tests and an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests.

Many in South Korea have called for development of home-grown nuclear weapons or the return of U.S. nuclear weapons to deter North Korea, although South Korea says it has no plans to reintroduce them.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush decided in 1991 to remove U.S. nuclear weapons from South Korea.

Brooks, speaking at a breakfast event, also said that relocating tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula would complicate the situation, the official cited him as saying.

(Reporting by Christine Kim and Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Ukraine rebuilds navy, with U.S. help, to counter Russian build-up in Crimea

Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko, commander of the Ukrainian Navy, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kiev, Ukraine,

By Margaryta Chornokondratenko

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine is refitting and expanding its naval fleet, including repairing its flagship, the frigate “Hetman Sahaydachnyy”, to counter a Russian military build-up in the annexed territory of Crimea, the commander of the Ukrainian navy says.

The upgrade will be helped by $30 million worth of U.S. aid, part of a $500 million package from Washington for the Ukrainian military which Kiev expects to receive next year.

“Step by step we will rebuild our fleet from the beginning,” Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko told Reuters in an interview.

“Our capacities in terms of quality will be better that the ones which remained in Crimea.”

Ukraine lost two-thirds of its fleet, which had been mostly based in Sevastopol, when Russia seized Crimea from Kiev in 2014. Since then it has fought Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region in a war that has killed nearly 10,000 people.

Before the Russian annexation, Moscow leased facilities from the Ukrainian state to house its Black Sea Fleet, which has been based in Crimea for more than two centuries. Those facilities, mainly around Sevastopol, are now being expanded.

Russia has started a program to militarize Crimea, including resurrecting Soviet-built facilities, building new bases and stationing soldiers there, according to a Reuters Special Report.

When Russia seized Crimea, Ukraine stopped the “Hetman Sahaydachnyy”, the landing ship “Yuriy Olifirenko”, the missile boat “Pryluky” and some gunboats from falling into Russian hands.

“We just started repairing works at our flagship,” Voronchenko said.

Two new gunboats are almost ready for service “and I am sure we will receive four more boats in July next year,” he said.

The navy also plans to have a new Corvette warship and a new missile boat by 2020.

Other measures by Ukraine to beef up its defense include raising the level of training for navy personnel and creating new units of coastal defense troops. Part of the training is being carried out in NATO member countries Italy, France and Britain.

Voronchenko said Russia was planning to turn Crimea into a “military base”, installing three submarine boats, new frigates and more airborne facilities. He also said that Russian ships were experiencing technical problems.

“We have information, we conduct surveillance. I cannot tell you everything,” he said. “But we can counter-attack all their hostile intentions. They also have problems in resources.”

Sergei Zgurets, Director for the Defense Express consultancy, said Ukraine’s naval capacity was low and its air force and artillery were still therefore the main defense against an attack from the sea.

“So we will fight against the enemy’s navy forces using land and air forces,” Zgurets said.

Voronchenko will meet the navy chief of Romania, a European Union and NATO member, on Nov 23 to discuss possible joint actions in the Black Sea in case of Russian aggression.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia deteriorated after Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted by street protests in February 2014, which lit the fuse for the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of separatist fighting elsewhere.

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Dozens of Afghan troops AWOL from military training in U.S.

Brig. Gen. Muhaiuddin Ghori, commanding general, 3rd Kandak, 205th Corps, Afghan National Army, maneuvers alongside a Marine fire team on patrol in a virtual village in the infantry immersion trainer during a visit at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California,

By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Forty-four Afghan troops visiting the United States for military training have gone missing in less than two years, presumably in an effort to live and work illegally in America, Pentagon officials said.

Although the number of disappearances is relatively small — some 2,200 Afghan troops have received military training in the United States since 2007 — the incidents raise questions about security and screening procedures for the programs.

They are also potentially embarrassing for U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, which has spent billions of dollars training Afghan troops as Washington seeks to extricate itself from the costly, 15-year-old war. The disclosure could fuel criticism by supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has accused the Obama administration of failing to properly vet immigrants from Muslim-majority countries and has pledged a much tougher stance if he wins.

While other foreign troops on U.S. military training visits have sometimes run away, a U.S. defense official said that the frequency of Afghan troops going missing was concerning and “out of the ordinary.”

Since September alone, eight Afghan troops have left military bases without authorization, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told Reuters. He said the total number of Afghan troops who have gone missing since January 2015 is 44, a number that has not previously been disclosed.

“The Defense Department is assessing ways to strengthen eligibility criteria for training in ways that will reduce the likelihood of an individual Afghan willingly absconding from training in the U.S. and going AWOL (absent without leave),” Stump said.

Afghans in the U.S. training program are vetted to ensure they have not participated in human rights abuses and are not affiliated with militant groups before being allowed into the United States, Stump said.

The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added there was no evidence any of those who had absconded had carried out crimes or posed a threat to the United States.

The Afghan army has occasionally been infiltrated by Taliban militants who have carried out attacks on Afghan and U.S. troops, but such incidents have become less frequent due to tougher security measures.

Trump, whose other signature immigration plan is to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, has proposed a temporary ban on Muslims seeking to enter the country, and has said that law enforcement officers should engage in more racial profiling to curb the threat of attacks on American soil.

After Omar Mateen, whose father was born in Afghanistan, killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando in June, Trump said an immigration ban would last until “we are in a position to properly screen these people coming into our country.”


Washington has allocated more than $60 billion since 2002 to train and equip Afghan troops, but security remains precarious and the Taliban are estimated to control more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since 2001 when the U.S. invaded.

Earlier this year Obama shelved plans to cut the U.S. force in Afghanistan nearly in half by year’s end, opting instead to keep 8,400 troops there through the end of his presidency in January.

The military training program brings troops to the United States from around the world in order to build on military relations and improve capabilities for joint operations.

In some cases, officials said, the Afghan students who went missing were in the United States for elite Army Ranger School and intelligence-gathering training. The officials did not identify the missing troops or their rank.

Even though the troops were in the United States for military training, they were not necessarily always on a military base.

If students under the military program are absent from training for more than 24 hours, they are considered to be “absent without leave” (AWOL) and the Department of Homeland Security is notified.

In one case the Pentagon confirmed that an Afghan student had been detained by Canadian police while attempting to enter Canada from the United States.

It was unclear how many others have been located by U.S. authorities, and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Experts said low morale and insufficient training to fight the Taliban could explain the troops leaving, in addition to a dearth of economic opportunities in the impoverished country.

“They face a formidable enemy, with very limited resources and many Afghan troops aren’t getting paid on time,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think-tank.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Julia Harte and Alana Wise.; editing by Yara Bayoumy and Stuart Grudgings)