Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tensions Increase In Yemen, Ukraine As Proxy Wars Heat Up

Roosevelt Strike Group Departs Gulf, 9 U.S. Warships Now Near Yemen

This post has been updated to include additional information from Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR).
Nine U.S. warships have moved closer to Yemen — including the bulk of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (CSG) — pulling U.S. forces away from the ongoing airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) militants, U.S. Navy officials told USNI News on Monday.
The Navy announced the Roosevelt CSG had left the Persian Gulf on Sunday along with guided missile destroyer USS Normandy (CG-60).
“In recent days, the U.S. Navy has increased its presence in this area as a result of the current instability in Yemen,” read the statement.
“The purpose of these operations is to ensure the vital shipping lanes in the region remain open and safe. The United States remains committed to its regional partners and to maintaining security in the maritime environment.”

“The coalition’s warplanes have carried out hundreds of airstrikes, targeting military bases and positions held by the Houthis and their main allies, military units and security forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ceded the presidency in 2012,” reported The New York Times on Sunday.
The nuclear carrier Roosevelt and Normandy joined the part of the Roosevelt CSG — guided-missile destroyers USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98), USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81) — “conducting maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb and the Southern Red Sea,” the service said.
The ships will join the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group — comprised of USS Iwo Jima(LHD-7), USS Fort McHenry (LSD- 43) and USS New York (LPD-21) and the 24st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), already in the vicinity.
The U.S. has also sent two Avenger class mine countermeasures (MCM) ships — USS Dexterous (MCM-13) USS Sentry (MCM- 3) in the vicinity of Yemen, service officials told USNI News.
The Navy also has three Military Sealift Command ships in the region— supply ship USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE-10) and oilers USNS Laramie (T-AO-203) and USNS Arctic (T-AOE-8) —bringing the U.S. total to 12.
The total amount of naval vessels in the region near Yemen could be as high as 30, according to information collected by the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and updated on Monday.

In a stepped-up response to Iranian backing of Shiite rebels in Yemen, the Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is steaming toward the waters off Yemen to beef up security and join other American ships that are prepared to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthi rebels.

The deployment comes after a U.N. Security Council resolution approved last week imposed an arms embargo on leaders of the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels. The resolution passed in a 14-0 vote with Russia abstaining.

Navy officials said Monday that the Roosevelt was moving through the Arabian Sea. A massive ship that carries F/A-18 fighter jets, the Roosevelt is seen more of a deterrent and show of force in the region.

The U.S. has been providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi coalition launching airstrikes against the Houthis. That air campaign is now in its fourth week, and the U.S. has also begun refueling coalition aircraft involved in the conflict.

The U.S. Navy generally conducts consensual boardings of ships when needed, including to combat piracy around Africa and the region. So far, however, U.S. naval personnel have not boarded any Iranian vessels since the Yemen conflict began.

Officials said it's too soon to speculate on what the Navy ships may do as the Iranian convoy approaches, including whether Iran would consent to a boarding request, and what actions the Navy would take if its request was refused.

High-placed sources in Washington fear that the US, Saudi and Egyptian fleets piling up in the Gulf of Aden may fall to blows with Iranian warships over any attempt to drop military supplies on shore for the rebels.

Saudi army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Al-Assiri, warned: “Iranian ships have the right to be present in international waters, but won’t be allowed to enter Yemeni territorial waters.”

On the same day, Washington announced that the US Air Force had begun aerial refueling missions for the Saudi-led coalition forces conducting air strikes to stem the Houthi rebels’ advances.

Troops from the United States and Ukraine kicked off joint training exercises Monday intended to help bolster Ukraine's defenses against incursions from Russian-backed separatists in the east.

Speaking under driving rain at a military base in the western region of Lviv, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the country's armed forces needed to be rebuilt from scratch to deter foreign threats.

The exercises, dubbed "Fearless Guardian-2015," sparked an enraged reaction from Russia, which described them as a potential cause of destabilization. Moscow continues to dismiss mounting evidence of its involvement in fomenting and supporting a separatist insurgency in Ukraine that has claimed more than 6,100 lives over the past year.

The 300 U.S. Army paratroopers involved in the training traveled to Ukraine last week and will be working alongside 900 national guardsmen.

Training for Ukrainian troops is part of a broader package of assistance being provided by the United States. President Barack Obama's administration has said it will provide Ukraine's military with $75 million in nonlethal aid, but has refrained so far from offering lethal equipment, despite calls from Congress to do so.

Last month, Ukraine began receipt of a planned consignment of 230 Humvees from the United States.

National guard units, many of which began as volunteer groupings, have been an important part of Ukrainian forces' fighting against the separatists. Two national guard units, working on weeklong rotations, are holding part of the village of Shyrokyne, currently the most fraught location in the east.

Last week, two prominent Ukrainian opposition figures were gunned down in broad daylight. They join as many as ten others who have been killed or committed suicide under suspicious circumstances just this year. These individuals have one important thing in common: they were either part of or friendly with the Yanukovych government, which a US-backed coup overthrew last year. They include members of the Ukrainian parliament and former chief editors of major opposition newspapers.

While some journalists here in the US have started to notice the strange series of opposition killings in Ukraine, the US government has yet to say a word.

Compare this to the US reaction when a single opposition figure was killed in Russia earlier this year. Boris Nemtsov was a member of a minor political party that was not even represented in the Russian parliament. Nevertheless the US government immediately demanded that Russia conduct a thorough investigation of his murder, suggesting the killers had a political motive.

As news of the Russian killing broke, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA) did not wait for evidence to blame the killing on Russian president Vladimir Putin. On the very day of Nemtsov's murder, Royce told the US media that, "this shocking murder is the latest assault on those who dare to oppose the Putin regime."

Neither Royce, nor Secretary of State John Kerry, nor President Obama, nor any US government figure has said a word about the series of apparently political murders in Ukraine.
On the contrary, instead of questioning the state of democracy in what looks like a lawless Ukraine, the Administration is sending in the US military to help train Ukrainian troops!
Last week, just as the two political murders were taking place, the US 173rd Airborne Brigade landed in Ukraine to begin training Ukrainian national guard forces – and to leave behind some useful military equipment. Though the civil unrest continues in Ukraine, the US military is assisting one side in the conflict – even as the US slaps sanctions on Russia over accusations it is helping out the other side!

As the ceasefire continues to hold, though shakily, what kind of message does it send to the US-backed government in Kiev to have US troops arrive with training and equipment and an authorization to gift Kiev with some $350 million in weapons? Might they not take this as a green light to begin new hostilities against the breakaway regions in the east?

So while Obama is correctly talking about sanctions relief for Iran and Cuba, he is adding more sanctions on Russia, backing Saudi Arabia's brutal attack on Yemen, and pushing ever harder for regime change in Syria. Does he really believe the rest of the world does not see these double standards? A wise consistency of non-interventionism in all foreign affairs would be the correct course for this and future US administrations. Let us hope they will eventually follow Obama's observation that, "it's time to try something new."

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