Trump administration hopes to flood the world with American guns

Reuters reports: The Trump administration is preparing to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers, according to senior U.S. officials.

Aides to President Donald Trump are completing a plan to shift oversight of international non-military firearms sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department, four officials told Reuters.

While the State Department is primarily concerned about international threats to stability and maintains tight restrictions on weapons deals, the Commerce Department typically focuses more on facilitating trade.

The officials from multiple agencies, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the new rules will cut government red tape and regulatory costs, boosting U.S. exports of small arms and creating jobs at home.

“There will be more leeway to do arms sales,” one senior administration official said. “You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way.” [Continue reading…]

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A new statue honors the inventor of the AK-47, the creation that haunted him

Quartz reports: As high-ranking officials and Russian Orthodox priests looked on, a 30-foot statue of Mikhail Kalashnikov was unveiled today (Sept.19), in central Moscow. The monument depicts Kalashnikov clutching his creation, the AK-47— the world’s most famous assault rifle—and sits on one of the busiest streets in the city. The unveiling featured much pomp and ritual—a priest sprinkled holy water on the statue, onlookers crossed themselves, and a former spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church took to social and wrote, “our weapon is a holy weapon.”
All of the piety would have likely made Kalashnikov’s skin crawl.

A year before he died at age 94 in 2013, the inventor wrote a tortured letter to the head of the church. As reported by Ivestia, the pro-Kremlin newspaper, Kalashnikov insisted his “spiritual pain is unbearable.” “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I…a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?” To be clear, Kalashnikov did not always feel this way. In 2007, he said, “I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.” [Continue reading…]

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What America’s new arms deal with Saudi Arabia says about the Trump administration

Vox reports: President Trump has just announced the sale of a whopping $110 billion to Saudi Arabia which includes “tanks and helicopters for border security, ships for coastal security, intelligence-gathering aircraft, a missile-defense radar system, and cybersecurity tools,” reports ABC News. It forms part of a 10-year, $350 billion agreement in a “strategic vision” between the two countries, reports the Washington Post.

The deal had been in the works for some time, but the White House evidently pushed hard to finalize the deal in time to announce it during the president’s trip to Saudi Arabia. It was meant to send a clear message: Trump isn’t going to do things the way his predecessor did.

Back in September, the Obama administration approved a more than $115 billion arms deal with the Saudis. But as the death toll and reports of human rights violations in the Saudi-led war on Yemen began to rise dramatically, the Obama administration nixed the sale of the precision-guided munitions it had originally agreed to put in the deal to try to coerce the Saudis into curbing those atrocities.

Now those munitions are back in the Trump arms package — which speaks volumes about this administration. [Continue reading…]

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Lawmakers demand review of Saudi bombings before massive arms sale

BuzzFeed reports: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding that the Trump administration provide a detailed account of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, including instances of potential war crimes, before approving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of precision-guided bombs, BuzzFeed News has learned.

The request, detailed in a letter signed by 31 members of the House of Representatives, could push the United States to disclose sensitive details about when and where the Saudi military ignored Washington’s instructions to avoid targets that resulted in civilian casualties.

Congress must “ensure that the [Royal Saudi Air Force] has the ability to avoid civilian casualties before the U.S. sells them any additional air-to-ground munitions,” said a draft of the letter addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

The demand follows a decision by the State Department to resume the sale of precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia as the Trump administration beefs up support for the Arab monarchy’s military campaign in Yemen. [Continue reading…]

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Syria airstrikes instantly added nearly $5 billion to stock value of Tomahawk missile maker

Fortune reports: Raytheon stock surged Friday morning, after 59 of the company’s Tomahawk missiles were used to strike Syria in Donald Trump’s first major military operation as President.

Trump ordered the airstrike on the Syrian government Thursday night in retaliation for a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians earlier this week that killed as many as 100 people. The U.S. blamed the attack on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Tomahawk missile used in the strike is made by Raytheon, whose stock opened 2.5% higher Friday, adding more than $1 billion to the defense contractor’s market capitalization.[Continue reading…]

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Trump chases arms sales – whatever the human cost

The Guardian reports: The Trump administration’s decision to press ahead with a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Bahrain will dismay Shia opposition groups and international human rights campaigners critical of the Sunni-led state’s authoritarian regime.

However, the sale of 19 advanced Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets fits an emerging pattern since Donald Trump took office in January, indicating a new US willingness to pump hi-tech weaponry into global trouble spots and fuel lucrative but destabilising regional arms races.

Barack Obama declined to approve the Bahrain deal last year amid concern over the latest crackdown on opposition leaders since the Shia uprising in 2011. Obama said Bahrain had failed to fulfil promises to improve its record, a verdict confirmed in Human Rights Watch’s latest report.

Trump’s decision reflects his priority of strengthening ties with the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf in the fight against Islamic State, and in their ongoing confrontation with Iran’s Shia theocracy.

Bahrain, which claims it faces Iranian-inspired subversion, is the home port of the US fifth fleet. Britain is building a naval base there, and has maintained arms export sales worth £45m since 2011.

In another move overriding human rights concerns, Trump is also expected to give the go-ahead soon for an expanded new arms package for Saudi Arabia. The sale, of $300m (£240m) of precision-guided munitions, was also blocked by Obama over fears the weapons would be used in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. sold $40 billion in weapons in 2015, topping global market

The New York Times reports: The United States again ranked first in global weapons sales last year, signing deals for about $40 billion, or half of all agreements in the worldwide arms bazaar, and far ahead of France, the No. 2 weapons dealer with $15 billion in sales, according to a new congressional study.

Developing nations continued to be the largest buyers of arms in 2015, with Qatar signing deals for more than $17 billion in weapons last year, followed by Egypt, which agreed to buy almost $12 billion in arms, and Saudi Arabia, with over $8 billion in weapons purchases.

Although global tensions and terrorist threats have shown few signs of diminishing, the total size of the global arms trade dropped to around $80 billion in 2015 from the 2014 total of $89 billion, the study found. Developing nations bought $65 billion in weapons in 2015, substantially lower than the previous year’s total of $79 billion.

The United States and France increased their overseas weapons sales in 2015, as purchases of American weapons grew by around $4 billion and France’s deals increased by well over $9 billion.

The report, “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2008-2015,” was prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress, and delivered to legislators last week. The annual review is considered the most comprehensive assessment of global arms sales available in an unclassified form. The report adjusts for inflation, so the sales totals are comparable year to year. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s failed legacy on child soldiers

Josh Rogin writes: President Obama will leave office having failed to use the tools at his disposal to make significant progress on getting child soldiers off the battlefield. That’s the consensus among human rights groups who point to the fact that for six consecutive years, the Obama administration has subverted U.S. law requiring the president to sanction foreign governments that force children to fight.

As early as this week, the administration will announce for the final time a list of waivers and exemptions to the Child Soldiers Protection Act, a law passed in 2008 that forbids the United States from giving military aid to any foreign government that systematically uses children in its armed forces. According to officials involved in the process, the president will either fully or partially waive sanctions for every abuser country that receives U.S. military assistance.

It’s a familiar pattern the president has followed each year since 2010, the first year he was required to sanction abuser countries under the law. The Obama administration has given more than $1.2 billion in military assistance and arms to governments that use child soldiers since the law was enacted and withheld only $61 million, according to the Stimson Center. The president’s final decision on waiving sanctions under the law is due Oct. 1. [Continue reading…]

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UK in denial over Saudi arms sales being used in Yemen, claims Oxfam

The Guardian reports: British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are a serious violation of international law, because the Gulf nation’s bombing campaign in Yemen is regularly hitting civilian targets including schools and hospitals, Oxfam has warned.

The UK government has switched from being an “enthusiastic backer” of the Arms Trade Treaty to “one of the most significant violators”, a senior executive at the charity told a conference on Tuesday on the global agreement in Geneva.

The Saudi-led air campaign was launched in March 2015, aiming to put down a rebellion by Shia Houthis, who have backing from Iran. It was widely seen as part of a regional sectarian proxy war between the two nations.

Since then Riyadh has been criticised by the UN, the EU and human rights groups for repeatedly killing or injuring civilians.

The bombardment has been so intense that medical charity MSF recently announced it was withdrawing from six hospitals in northern Yemen after the fourth airstrike against one of its facilities in less than a year. [Continue reading…]

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America is complicit in the carnage in Yemen

An editorial in the New York Times says: A hospital associated with Doctors Without Borders. A school. A potato chip factory. Under international law, those facilities in Yemen are not legitimate military targets. Yet all were bombed in recent days by warplanes belonging to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, killing more than 40 civilians.

The United States is complicit in this carnage. It has enabled the coalition in many ways, including selling arms to the Saudis to mollify them after the nuclear deal with Iran. Congress should put the arms sales on hold and President Obama should quietly inform Riyadh that the United States will withdraw crucial assistance if the Saudis do not stop targeting civilians and agree to negotiate peace.

The airstrikes are further evidence that the Saudis have escalated their bombing campaign against Houthi militias, which control the capital, Sana, since peace talks were suspended on Aug. 6, ending a cease-fire that was declared more than four months ago. They also suggest one of two unpleasant possibilities. One is that the Saudis and their coalition of mostly Sunni Arab partners have yet to learn how to identify permissible military targets. The other is that they simply do not care about killing innocent civilians. The bombing of the hospital, which alone killed 15 people, was the fourth attack on a facility supported by Doctors Without Borders in the past year even though all parties to the conflict were told exactly where the hospitals were located.

In all, the war has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation. A recent United Nations report blamed the coalition for 60 percent of the deaths and injuries to children last year. Human rights groups and the United Nations have suggested that war crimes may have been committed. [Continue reading…]

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Lopsided peace talks collapse, Saudis resume bombing Yemen and U.S. sells more weapons

The Intercept reports: The Pentagon announced an additional $1.15 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia this week, even as a three-month cease-fire collapsed and the Saudi-led coalition resumed its brutal bombing campaign of the Yemen capital Sana.

The U.S. has already sold more than $20 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia since the war began in March 2015, defying calls from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to cut off support. The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the majority of the 7,000 deaths in the conflict, which has left more than 21 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Saudi Arabia has been accused of intentionally targeting homes, factories, schools, markets, and hospitals.

On Tuesday, the coalition targeted and destroyed a potato chip factory, killing 14 people. The Yemeni press has since reported that coalition has conducted hundreds more airstrikes across the country, killing dozens of people. [Continue reading…]

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The Saudi bombardment of Yemen — worse than Russia’s assault on Syria — has been lucrative for the West

The Economist: Ninety years ago Britain’s planes bombed unruly tribes in the Arabian peninsula to firm up the rule of Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state. Times have changed but little since then. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.

Though it has attracted little public attention or parliamentary oversight, the scale of the campaign currently surpasses Russia’s in Syria, analysts monitoring both conflicts note. With their governments’ approval, Western arms companies provide the intelligence, logistical support and air-to-air refuelling to fly far more daily sorties than Russia can muster.

There are differences. Russian pilots fly combat missions in Syria; Western pilots do not fly combat missions on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Nor are their governments formal members of the battling coalition. Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials. But several field studies question this. Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used. Together with other watchdogs, including the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, it has documented the use of Western weaponry to hit scores of Yemeni markets, medical centres, warehouses, factories and mosques. One analyst alleges that the use of its weapons amounts to Western complicity in war crimes.

The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion ($3.8 billion) on British arms, making it Britain’s largest arms market, according to government figures analysed by Campaign Against Arms Trade, a watchdog. America supplies even more. [Continue reading…]

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$1.3 billion of weapons flowing from Europe to Middle East

The Guardian reports: Eastern European countries have approved the discreet sale of more than €1bn of weapons in the past four years to Middle Eastern countries that are known to ship arms to Syria, an investigation has found.

Thousands of assault rifles such as AK-47s, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns are being routed through a new arms pipeline from the Balkans to the Arabian peninsula and countries bordering Syria.

The suspicion is that much of the weaponry is being sent into Syria, fuelling the five-year civil war, according to a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Arms export data, UN reports, plane tracking, and weapons contracts examined during a year-long investigation reveal how the munitions were sent east from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovakia, Serbia and Romania.

Since the escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2012, the eight countries have approved €1.2bn (£1bn) of weapons and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – key arms markets for Syria and Yemen. [Continue reading…]

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How the U.S. flooded Iran with weapons

PRI reports: According to the arms transfers database of the independent international think tank, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which compiled all transfers of major conventional weapons in the world since 1950, the US was the largest arms exporter to Iran from the 1950s to 1970s.

The supply of arms from the US started to climb in 1953 after Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup engineered by the British and American intelligence services. The Iranian shah, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, returned from exile to rule and become a close ally of the US.

According to a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations staff report in 1976, Iran was the largest single purchaser of US military equipment then. Military sales had increased more than sevenfold from $524 million in 1972 to $3.91 billion in 1974.

SIPRI data shows that the amount rose and peaked in 1977. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi-led air strikes with U.S. support responsible for two thirds of civilian deaths in Yemen conflict

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Reuters reports: U.N. investigators say that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for two thirds of the 3,200 civilians who have died in Yemen, or approximately 2,000 deaths. They said that Saudi forces have killed twice as many civilians as other forces in Yemen.

On the ground, Saudi-led forces have often struggled to achieve their goals, making slow headway in areas where support for Iran-allied Houthi rebels runs strong.

And along the Saudi border, the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have attacked almost daily since July, killing hundreds of Saudi troops.

Instead of being the centrepiece of a more assertive Saudi regional strategy, the Yemen intervention has called into question Riyadh’s military influence, said one former senior Obama administration official. “There’s a long way to go. Efforts to create an effective pan-Arab military force have been disappointing.”

Behind the scenes, the West has been enmeshed in the conflict. Between 50 and 60 U.S. military personnel have provided coordination and support to the Saudi-led coalition, a U.S. official told Reuters. And six to 10 Americans have worked directly inside the Saudi air operations centre in Riyadh. Britain and France, Riyadh’s other main defence suppliers, have also provided military assistance.

Last year, the Obama administration had the U.S. military send precision-guided munitions from its own stocks to replenish dwindling Saudi-led coalition supplies, a source close to the Saudi government said. Administration officials argued that even more Yemeni civilians would die if the Saudis had to use bombs with less precise guidance systems. [Continue reading…]

William D Hartung writes: When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia this week for a meeting with representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, he should avoid doing what he did at Camp David last May, the last time he met with them: promise more arms sales. Since Mr. Obama hosted that meeting, the United States has offered over $33 billion in weaponry to its Persian Gulf allies, with the bulk of it going to Saudi Arabia. The results have been deadly.

The Saudi-American arms deals are a continuation of a booming business that has developed between Washington and Riyadh during the Obama years. In the first six years of the Obama administration, the United States entered into agreements to transfer nearly $50 billion in weaponry to Saudi Arabia, with tens of billions of dollars of additional offers in the pipeline.

The Pentagon claims that these arms transfers to Saudi Arabia “improve the security of an important partner which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.” Recent Saudi actions suggest otherwise. [Continue reading…]

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Russia almost delivers S-300 missiles to Iran soon really perhaps

Sputnik News reports: Russia has delivered the first batch of the S-300 air defense systems to Iran, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Monday. [Continue reading…]

Mehr News Agency reports: Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jaberi Ansari who was speaking in his weekly press conference announced the implementation of first phase of S-300 missile contract between Iran and Russia.

Hossein Jaberi Ansari also reaffirmed the upcoming visit of EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini who is scheduled to arrive in Tehran on Sarturday. Mogherini will head a 7-member delegation of High-ranking EU officials.

In response to a question on delivery of Russian advanced defense missile system S-300, of which the first part is reportedly delivered to Iran through Caspian Sea, Jaberi Ansari confirmed that the first phase of the Iran-Russia contract on the systems is implemented; “we had already announced that despite several times of change in time of delivery, the deal is on its path of implementation and today I should announce that the first phase of the agreement is implemented and the process will continue.” [Continue reading…]

Sputnik News reports: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday declined to comment on reports that deliveries of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Iran have begun. [Continue reading…]

Tasnim News Agency reports: The head of Russia’s industrial conglomerate Rostec had said last month that Iran would take delivery of the first shipment of S-300 missile defense system in August or September this year.

“I think we will deliver the S-300 by the end of the year,” Sergei Chemezov said on March 11. “The first delivery will be in September or August.” [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel reports: The incident sowed confusion in both English and Persian media. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook groups act as weapons bazaars for militias

The New York Times reports: A terrorist hoping to buy an antiaircraft weapon in recent years needed to look no further than Facebook, which has been hosting sprawling online arms bazaars, offering weapons ranging from handguns and grenades to heavy machine guns and guided missiles.

The Facebook posts suggest evidence of large-scale efforts to sell military weapons coveted by terrorists and militants. The weapons include many distributed by the United States to security forces and their proxies in the Middle East. These online bazaars, which violate Facebook’s recent ban on the private sales of weapons, have been appearing in regions where the Islamic State has its strongest presence.

This week, after The New York Times provided Facebook with seven examples of suspicious groups, the company shut down six of them.

The findings were based on a study by the private consultancy Armament Research Services about arms trafficking on social media in Libya, along with reporting by The Times on similar trafficking in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen: U.S. bombs used in deadliest market strike

Human Rights Watch: Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes using United States-supplied bombs killed at least 97 civilians, including 25 children, in northwestern Yemen on March 15, 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The two strikes, on a crowded market in the village of Mastaba that may have also killed about 10 Houthi fighters, caused indiscriminate or foreseeably disproportionate loss of civilian life, in violation of the laws of war. Such unlawful attacks when carried out deliberately or recklessly are war crimes.

Human Rights Watch conducted on-site investigations on March 28, and found remnants at the market of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which consists of a US-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a JDAM satellite guidance kit, also US-supplied. A team of journalists from ITV, a British news channel, visited the site on March 26, and found remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit. Human Rights Watch reviewed the journalists’ photographs and footage of these fragments.

“One of the deadliest strikes against civilians in Yemen’s year-long war involved US-supplied weapons, illustrating tragically why countries should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The US and other coalition allies should send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that they want no part in unlawful killings of civilians.” [Continue reading…]

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Growing international movement seek to place arms embargo on Saudi Arabia

The Intercept reports: A lawsuit filed last week in Canada is seeking to halt a major $15 billion sale of light-armored vehicles to the government of Saudi Arabia, part of a growing international movement to stop arms sales to the Saudi government over its alleged war crimes in Yemen.

The suit, filed by University of Montreal constitutional law professor Daniel Turp, argues the vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia violate a number of Canadian laws, including regulations on the export of military equipment, which prohibit arms sales to countries where human rights are “subject to serious and repeated violations” and there is a reasonable risk exported equipment “will be used against the civilian population.” Saudi Arabia, which has a deplorable human rights record at home, has inflicted considerable civilian casualties in Yemen as part of its yearlong bombing campaign in support of the contested government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“The suppression of human rights in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi government’s actions during the war in Yemen make the sale of these armored vehicles legally unacceptable,” Turp said.[Continue reading…]

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