900,000 IN ETHIOPIA’S TIGRAY FACE STARVATION IN ETHNIC WAR

by The Chicago Times Staff

June 26, 2021

MEKELLE — Even though the prime minister claims there is “no hunger” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the US estimates that up to 900,000 people are now facing famine conditions due to a deadly conflict.

The famine in Tigray is the world’s worst in a decade, and the new famine findings are “terrifying,” according to Samantha Power, the head of the United States Agency for International Development, who added that millions more people are at risk.

Even as reports of people starving to death emerge, the true number of people facing famine is unknown due to active fighting and access restrictions preventing aid workers from entering the region.

According to the new USAID analysis conditions will deteriorate in the coming months, particularly as Tigray enters the lean season from July to September.

Residents of Tigray and some observers have described the situation as “forced starvation.”

Since the conflict erupted in November, witnesses have described Ethiopian soldiers, backed by soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, preventing them from planting their fields or having their crops looted or burned.

Even as its troops pursue the region’s former leaders after political tensions erupted into war, Ethiopia’s government claims to have delivered food aid to millions of people in Tigray.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2019, expressed concern that outside aid to Tigray might end up supporting the Tigray fighters, recalling a similar situation during Ethiopia’s devastating famine in the 1980s.  The prime minister told the BBC this week that there is no hunger in Tigray.

The new famine warning adds to international pressure on Ethiopia’s government to call a cease-fire, especially after an Ethiopian military airstrike on a busy market in Tigray this week.

NORTH KOREA EXPANDS AIRBASE

by The Chicago Times Staff

June 25, 2021

SEOUL — According to satellite images assessed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, North Korea is performing “major maintenance and expansion” at its Sunchon Airbase, which houses the most advanced aircraft in the country’s aging fleet.

Repairs and extensions of runways, taxiways, and the aircraft apron have been made to the base, which is around 25 miles northeast of Pyongyang, according to an online study published Thursday by CSIS’s Beyond Parallel project.

The changes appear to have been timed to coincide with the Korean People’s Air and Air-Defense Force’s annual summer training cycle, during which “KPAF aircraft are redeployed for flight training and to test operational readiness,” according to the report’s authors, Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha.

The airbase is home to the Korean People’s Air Force’s Unit 1017, which flies the country’s only MiG-29 and Su-25 fighter planes, which were supplied in the 1980s and are still North Korea’s most modern combat planes.

Sunchon’s maintenance and extension project was first seen in April, when the Su-25 ground attack planes and MiG-29 fighter planes were transported to separate sites, indicating that a surprising number of the planes were still in operating order, according to the article.

In April, South Korea debuted the KF-21 Boramae, a prototype of its first homegrown fighter aircraft.  North Korea has already expressed its displeasure with the US stealth fighter sale, calling it a grave provocation that exacerbates tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

While US officials have publicly stated a willingness to resume diplomatic talks with Pyongyang, Pyongyang’s foreign minister, Ri Son Gwon, said on Wednesday that Pyongyang is “not considering even the possibility of any contact with the U.S.”

BIDEN VISITS PUTIN IN GENEVA – NO JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE

by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

June 16, 2021

GENEVA — Senior White House officials said President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet for five hours on Wednesday for a highly anticipated summit in Geneva.

Putin, accompanied by foreign ministers and a translator, is expected to arrive in Geneva first, around 1:20 p.m. local time, which is 6:20 a.m. on the East Coast and 3:20 a.m. on the West Coast.  Biden will be assisted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a translator.  Putin and Biden will be greeted by Swiss President Guy Parmelin.

Following the meeting, each president will hold a separate press conference, which will begin around 6 p.m. Geneva time.  Biden is expected to fly back to the United States after the press conference, bringing his first foreign trip as president.

Iran and North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, Syria, the Arctic, strategic stability, arms control, climate change, and COVID-19 are among the topics Biden and Putin are expected to discuss.

The US and Russia have long competed on a global scale, and while the US outperforms Russia in many areas, such as the military, Putin has relied on other factors, such as cyberstrikes, to maintain Russian dominance.

According to the White House, Biden and Putin will also discuss the US and Russian intentions to pursue a “strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues” to build on the extension of the New START Treaty.  All Russian deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are subject to verifiable limits under the START Treaty.

The treaty was signed on February 5, 2011, and the US and Russian Federation have agreed to extend it until February 4, 2026, according to the State Department.

Biden is also expected to bring up the issue of ransomware attacks from Russia.  According to a source, ransomware will be “a significant topic” for the leaders to discuss, and Biden is “willing to take action against Russia – significant types of action – like he did with SolarWinds.”

Biden has attempted to exert economic pressure on Russia by imposing sanctions last week on Russian companies and ships for their work on a natural gas pipeline in Europe, though the Biden administration exempted the German company in charge of the project, causing frustration among Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Last month, the Biden administration imposed a slew of new sanctions on Russia in response to its attempted meddling in the 2020 election and a cyberattack linked to the Kremlin that hit multiple federal agencies.  The sanctions targeted 32 entities and individuals who, on Russian government orders, attempted to sway the outcome of the November election last year.

Ten Russian diplomats working in Washington, D.C., including some intelligence officers, were also expelled by the White House.

Biden said this week that Putin was a “worthy adversary,” just days after Putin praised former President Trump in an interview and called Biden a “career man”

GAZA: ISRAEL RESUMES AIRSTRIKES

by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

June 15, 2021

ISRAEL — After a balloon attack sent incendiary devices drifting towards southern Israel, Israel’s Defense Forces began a counter-offensive into Gaza.  Nearly two dozen fires were started as a result of the balloon assault.

According to the IDF, the counterstrike, which took place Tuesday evening in the United States and early Wednesday morning local time, targeted Hamas military sites.

According to the IDF, Hamas’ Khan Yunis and Gaza Brigades exploited the targets for “terrorist actions.” All events in the Gaza Strip are the responsibility of the Hamas terror group, which will pay the repercussions of its acts…In the face of continued terror acts from the Gaza Strip, the IDF is prepared for any situation, including a restart of combat.”

The bloodshed comes barely three weeks after a cease-fire ended 11 days of combat between the IDF and Hamas terrorists, which represented the bloodiest hostilities between the two sides since a small-scale war in 2014. 

NORKS ESTIMATED TO BUILD 40 TO 50 NUKES

by The Chicago Times Staff

June 14, 2021

STOCKHOLM — According to a Swedish think tank, North Korea continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, and the regime is believed to have increased its nuclear arsenal.

Pyongyang is one of nine nuclear-armed states in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s annual report, which also includes the United States, Russia, Pakistan, and Israel.  According to the report, North Korea has avoided nuclear weapons tests since 2017 and did not test-launch long-range ballistic missiles in 2020.  The regime, however, “continued production of fissile material and development of short and long-range ballistic missiles” away from public view, according to the institute.

Pyongyang now has 40 to 50 nuclear weapons, according to the think tank, up from 30 to 40 warheads last year.  Its calculations are based on the number of warheads North Korea could “potentially build” with the fissile material available, according to the report.

The institute stated, “There is no publicly available evidence that North Korea has produced an operational nuclear warhead for delivery by an intercontinental-range ballistic missile,”

“But it might have a small number of warheads for medium-range ballistic missiles.”

The figures for North Korea are “highly uncertain” and are not included in the final tally of 13,080 weapons worldwide.

The warning comes a week after IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi stated that a suspected uranium enrichment site in North Korea appears to be operational.  Analysts have previously claimed that the Kangson facility outside Pyongyang, in Chollima-guyok, is designed to produce Uranium-235, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

CHADIAN MILITARY VIEWED AS KEYSTONE OF AFRICAN PEACE

Consolidated Press News File

May 25, 2021

N’DJAMENA, CHAD — Last week, Mahamat Idriss Déby, the chairman of Chad’s Transitional Military Council, received a political endorsement from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on a visit to Abuja.  Nigeria follows in the footsteps of France and the United States, which have backed Déby’s administration.

Mahamat Déby succeeded his father, Idriss Déby, who had controlled Chad for more than three decades before being assassinated by rebels while visiting the army at the front last month.  Civil rights organizations have questioned the shift of power, accusing the CMT of violating the country’s constitution, which requires new elections to be held within 90 days if the president is disabled. 

According to US Department of State officials, Chad is a critical lynchpin for African stability and one of the key players in preventing the spread of Libya’s decade-long civil conflict throughout the continent.  The CMT is Chad’s greatest option for sustaining peace in the face of the ever-present prospect of instability and warfare, as rebel groups gain clout and violence escalates in the area.

Buhari’s support for Mahamat Idriss Déby’s leadership echoed French President Emmanuel Macron’s sentiments, who was the only western head of state to attend his father’s burial.  The Biden administration followed suit earlier this month, paying honor to Déby the older while also tacitly endorsing Déby the younger as the country’s next commander-in-chief for an 18-month transition period.  In late May, the African Union backed the transition phase, rejecting calls from hardliners for elections to be held sooner.

Chad’s army is one of the most powerful in Sub-Saharan Africa with military alliances with both France and the US.  Chad’s military has been essential in putting down insurgencies in neighboring Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic.  It is one of the most powerful members of the G5 Sahel military alliance, having helped to dislodge and contain Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin.  CMT military might has kept the flood of violent dissension in the area at bay, which is why Paris and Washington are so desperate to avoid a power vacuum that may throw the fragile balance off.

A CMT led by Mahamat Idriss Déby looks to be the greatest choice for keeping the nation together and charting a path to fair and free elections in a reasonable timeframe.  The nomination of a civilian prime minister is a positive step forward, and the international community should assist in a seamless transition.  Déby’s personal military expertise and support from the Chadian army is another reason for endorsements from major Western power.