- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Three B-2 strategic nuclear bombers completed a tour of duty in Guam this week, as tensions remained high between the United States and China over what the Pentagon called a “dangerous” Chinese fighter-jet intercept of a U.S. surveillance plane last week.

“This training deployment demonstrates continued U.S. commitment to global strategic bomber operations throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and exercises the president’s credible and flexible military options to meet national security obligations for the U.S. and its allies,” said Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

Adm. Haney said in a statement that the bombers are intended to send a message to allies and adversaries.

“It is important for U.S. Strategic Command to continue to project global strike capabilities and extended deterrence against potential adversaries while providing assurance to our allies through deployments such as this,” he said.

The deployment is part of Strategic Command’s efforts to promote regional security and stability in the Asia-Pacific. He noted that the command’s forces “are on watch 24-hours a day, seven days a week conducting operations to detect and deter strategic attack against the United States of America and our allies.”

“Strategic bomber deployments such as these are just one way in which U.S. Stratcom supports [the Pacific Command] in accomplishing that stability,” the admiral said.

The bat-wing stealth bombers spent most of August based on the U.S. western Pacific island conducting what the Air Force described as activities designed to “increase combat readiness.”

Air Force spokesman Capt. Ray Geoffroy said the bombers conducted training flights near Guam and within the Pacific Command area of responsibility. Skills tested included command and control, air refueling, and weapon-load training.

Capt. Geoffroy said the deployment was planned earlier and is not related to “any specific situation or directed toward and nation in the region” — an indirect reference to last week’s aerial incident with China.

A defense official said the B-2 deployment is part of the U.S. pivot to Asia and was intended as a message to China, which has been increasing its nuclear and conventional forces.

The B-2s, which can carry nuclear and conventional weapons, are part of U.S. extended deterrence missions designed to bolster non-nuclear allies like Japan and South Korea that are squaring off against nuclear-armed China and North Korea.

It is the first B-2 deployment for an extended period in over two years. The last strategic bomber deployments took place in January 2012.

The deployment overlapped the Aug. 19 aerial encounter between a Navy P-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft and a Chinese Su-27 jet interceptor over the South China Sea.

The Pentagon called the Chinese encounter “dangerous” and “aggressive,” and filed a protest with the Chinese military, which rejected the charges.

Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon that the Chinese jet came extremely close to the P-8 and did a barrel-roll maneuver over the top of the jet.

The same day the Pentagon revealed the incident, the aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson departed San Diego for the western Pacific, giving the Pentagon two carrier strike groups in the region.

Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported July 30 that following the B-2 deployment, the Air Force plans to deploy more than 20 B-52 bombers to Anderson Air Force Base on Guam.

A Strategic Command spokesman declined to comment on future B-52 deployments to Guam.

CHINA’S KILLER DRONES

China’s military carried out a missile firing from one of its new unmanned aerial vehicles this week, highlighting Beijing’s first reported use of an armed drone.

State-run news agency Xinhua reported Tuesday that military drones were a prominent feature of large-scale military exercises underway in Inner Mongolia as part of the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an anti-U.S. alliance of China, Russia and several Central Asian nations.

The drone was not identified by type and fired “several missiles” during drills, according to Chinese military officials.

Military analysts said the most likely model used by the Chinese is the Wing Loong drone, which resembles the U.S. Predator drone, according to photos.

“The drone, tasked with surveillance, reconnaissance and ground attacks, will play a vital role in fighting against terrorism,” Chinese air force spokesman Shen Jinke said, Xinhua reported.

China has marketed its drones at arms shows, but the reported missile firings mark the first time the Chinese have revealed exercising the armed drone’s strike capability.

The war games taking place in Inner Mongolia, a province of China that borders the independent nation of Mongolia, are part of international maneuvers called “Peace Mission 2014” that include 7,000 troops from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The war games began Aug. 24 and conclude Friday.

China also announced that it plans to create a “standing counterterrorism force” in an SCO state — an indication the organization is gradually evolving from a political group to a military alliance.

Beijing has refused Washington’s requests for the United States to join the SCO. However, Kazakhstan in the past has served as a surrogate for the U.S., and provided valuable insights into the organization.

AL QAEDA — IRAN LINK

The Treasury Department recently provided further evidence that Shiite-ruled Iran continues to work with the Sunni terrorist group al Qaeda.

Treasury announced Aug. 22 that it was imposing sanctions on two al Qaeda financiers for supporting the Nusra Front — the official al Qaeda rebel group operating in Syria. The sanctions were based on an Aug. 16 U.N. Security Council resolution targeting the Nusra Front and the Islamic State, the ultraviolent al Qaeda offshoot now rampaging through Iraq and Syria.

The sanctions targeted two key al Qaeda financiers — Abdul Mohsen Abdullah Ibrahim al-Sharikh and Hamid Hamad Hamid al-Ali. Al-Sharikh is identified as a “top strategist” and senior Nusra Front leader based in Syria.

“In this role, al-Sharikh has used social media posts to demonstrate his aspiration to target Americans and U.S. interests,” the Treasury Department said.

The Treasury statement goes on to link al-Sharikh to past involvement with Iran: “Prior to his work in Syria with [the Nusra Front], al Sharikh served in early 2013 as chief of al Qaeda’s Iran-based extremist and financial facilitation network before the return of already designated al-Qaeda facilitator Yasin al-Suri to the position.”

The official disclosure of the Iran-al Qaeda links has undermined the arguments of many counterterrorism experts who had dismissed the connections, claiming the two entities were divided by their differing interpretations of Islam.

Iran also is covertly backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has dispatched Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps militants to the country.

Senior Obama administration policymakers have sought to play down or ignore the links as part of efforts to develop closer relations with Tehran over the issue of its covert nuclear program, Iraq and other issues.

Iran’s ties to al Qaeda in Iraq go back years. Tehran provided shelter in the early 2000s for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the Islamic State.

Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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