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US says 34 troops diagnosed with traumatic brain injury after Iran strike – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-26 07:01:00
Pentagon

WASHINGTON :
The Pentagon said on Friday that 34 service members had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury following missile strikes by Iran on a base in Iraq earlier this month, a number higher than the military had previously announced.

President Donald Trump and other top officials initially said Iran’s attack had not killed or injured any US service members.

Last week the US military said 11 US troops had been treated for concussion symptoms after the attack on the Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq and this week said additional troops had been moved out of Iraq for potential injuries.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters that 17 service members diagnosed had already returned to duty in Iraq.

Eight service members who had been previously transported to Germany had been moved to the United States and would receive treatment at either Walter Reed military hospital or their home bases.

Hoffman said the service members were being treated on an outpatient basis and were transported back to the United States in order to be closer to their pre-deployment bases.

Nine service members remain in Germany and are undergoing evaluations and treatment.

Hoffman said the military had seen symptoms like headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light and nausea.

On Wednesday, Trump appeared to play down the injuries, saying he “heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things.”

Pentagon officials have said there had been no effort to minimize or delay information on concussive injuries, but its handling of the injuries following Tehran’s attack has renewed questions over the U.S. military’s policy regarding how it deals with suspected brain injuries.

While the U.S. military has to immediately report incidents threatening life, limb or eyesight, it does not have an urgent requirement to do so with suspected traumatic brain injury, or TBI, which can take time to manifest and diagnose.

Hoffman said U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had directed the Pentagon to review the process for tracking and reporting injuries.

“The goal is to be as transparent, accurate and to provide the American people and our service members with the best information,” Hoffman said.

Various health and medial groups for years have been trying to raise awareness about the seriousness of brain injuries, including concussions.

According to Pentagon data, about 408,000 service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury since 2000.

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China to buy $200 billion more products part of trade deal phase 1: US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-13 01:36:00
Steven Mnuchin

WASHINGTON :
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday said the phase one of the trade deal with China includes them buying $200 billion worth of additional products from the US.

“It is $200 billion of additional products across the board over the next two years, and, specifically, in agriculture, $40 billion to $50 billion,” Mnuchin told ABC News, days ahead of the signing of the first phase of the deal.

“This is a big opportunity for our farmers. I think some people have questioned whether they can produce it. The president said they are going to go out and buy more land and produce plenty of agriculture (products),” he said, in response to a question.

Describing it as a historic transaction, Mnuchin said further talks would be held for the remaining phases.

“As we have said, there will be a phase two. But this is the first time we have had a comprehensive agreement with China on technology issues, agricultural issues, financial services, purchases, and has a real enforcement mechanism. So this is a big win for the president,” he asserted.

Mnuchin said that the first phase of the trade deal includes real enforcement provision.

“If they don’t comply with the agreement, the president retains the authority to put on tariffs, both existing tariffs and additional tariffs,” he said.

The language of the trade deal, he said, will be released this week.

“The day of the signing, we will be releasing the English version,” he added.

According to him, there are very important intellectual property rules in the deal that the US expects the Chinese to adhere to.

“There are cyber concerns that we do have. So let me just be clear. Cyber will be part of phase two,” he said.

“But we have incorporated provisions in phase one that we think are important protections for US companies. So, we have made very clear there can be no forced technology transfer and that China is putting out laws to protect both US technology and other technology,” he added.

Trump, who has been accusing China of indulging in unfair trade practices contributing to the huge trade deficit amounting to $375 billion, had earlier warned that if a deal is not reached by March 1, the end of the 90-day grace period, the US will increase the tariffs on the $200 billions of goods from 10 per cent to 25%.

Trump has been demanding China to drastically reduce the trade deficit and ensure Intellectual property rights production for US technology and services.

The escalating trade war raised concerns in China as its economy was on the downward trend amid efforts by the government to rejig the export-dependent economy to that of relying more on domestic consumption.

Last year, the US imposed tariff hikes of up to 25% on $250 billion of Chinese goods. The move prompted China to increase tariffs on $110 billion of US goods.

China is currently America’s largest goods trading partner with $635.4 billion in total (two way) goods trade during 2017. Goods exports totalled $129.9 billion; goods import totalled $505.5 billion. The US goods trade deficit with China was $375.6 billion in 2017.

Trade in services with China (exports and imports) totalled an estimated $75.0 billion in 2017. Services exports were $57.6 billion; services imports were $17.4 billion. The US services trade surplus with China was $40.2 billion in 2017.

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4 Iraqi servicemen wounded by rocket attack on air base – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-12 23:38:00
Iraq

BAGHDAD :
Four members of Iraq’s military were wounded Sunday in a rocket attack targeting an air base just north of Baghdad where American trainers are present, Iraqi security officials said.

The attack by at least six rockets came just days after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq that house US forces, causing no casualties.

Recent heightened tensions between the US and Iran were sparked last month when a rocket attack killed an American contractor at a base in Iraq. The US has blamed that attack and others on Iran-backed militias.

Saturday’s attack wounded an Iraqi air force officer and three enlisted men, Iraqi security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The rockets struck Balad air base, which hosts American trainers, advisers and a company that provides maintenance services for F-16 aircraft. Some rockets fell on a restaurant inside the airbase, the officials said.

The base is located some 50 miles (80 kilometers) miles north of Baghdad.

A statement from the Iraqi army’s official media office confirmed the attack but said eight rockets hit the base, and that two officers had been wounded. The difference in accounts could no immediately be reconciled.

“There are American experts, trainers and advisers at the base,” said one defense official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The US and Iran recently stepped back from escalating tensions following the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general, in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad. A senior Iraqi leader of an Iran-backed militia was also killed.

Iran’s retaliatory attack for Soleimani’s death hit two Iraqi bases, Ain al-Asad and Irbil, where American troops are based.

The limited Iranian strikes appeared to be mainly a show of force, and deescalated tensions that had threatened to turn Iraq into a proxy battlefield.

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Rockets hit Iraq base hosting US troops: Iraqi military – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-12 22:04:00
USA

A volley of rockets slammed into an Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad where US forces have been based, wounding four local troops, the Iraqi military said on Sunday.

Its statement said eight Katyusha-type rockets landed on Al-Balad airbase, wounding two Iraqi officers and two airmen.

Al-Balad is the main airbase for Iraq’s F-16s, which it bought from the US to upgrade its air capacities.

The base had held a small US Air Force contingent as well as American contractors, but a majority had been evacuated following tensions between the US and Iran over the past two weeks, military sources told AFP.

“About 90 percent of the US advisers, and employees of Sallyport and Lockheed Martin who are specialised in aircraft maintenance, have withdrawn to Taji and Erbil after threats,” one of the sources said.

“There are no more than 15 US soldiers and a single plane at al-Balad,” the source added.

Military bases hosting US troops have been subject to volleys of rocket and mortar attacks in recent months that have mostly wounded Iraqi forces, but also killed one American contractor last month.

That death set off a series of dramatic developments, with the US carrying out strikes against a pro-Iran paramilitary group in Iraq as well as a convoy carrying top Iranian and Iraqi commanders outside Baghdad airport.

Pro-Iran factions in Iraq have vowed revenge for those raids, even as Iran said it had already responded in “proportion” by striking another western airbase where US soldiers are located.

Rocket attacks against Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, where the US and other embassies are based alongside international troops, are still taking place.

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US imposes more sanctions on Iran for missile attacks – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-10 22:33:00
USA

WASHINGTON :
The United States imposed more sanctions on Iran on Friday in retaliation for its missile attack on US forces in Iraq this week and vowed to further tighten the screws on the Iranian economy if Tehran continued to engage in what it described as terrorist acts.

The targets of the sanctions included Iran’s manufacturing, mining and textile sectors as well as senior Iranian officials who Washington said were involved in the Jan. 8 attack on military bases housing US troops.

The sanctions were announced by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in an appearance at the White House alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have spiked since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal struck by his predecessor Barack Obama and began reimposing sanctions that were relaxed under the accord.

Fears that the United States and Iran were bracing for war in the Middle East flared over the past week after a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, spurring Iran’s retaliatory strike on the U.S. bases in Iraq.

Although the two sides seem to have stepped back from the brink of armed conflict, Trump vowed on Wednesday to impose the additional sanctions.

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Iran will no longer abide by any limits of its 2015 nuclear deal – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-05 23:54:00
Iran

The announcement came Sunday night after another Iranian official said it would consider taking even-harsher steps over the US killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Friday in Baghdad. State TV cited a statement by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s administration saying the country will not observe limitations on its enrichment, the amount of stockpiled enriched uranium as well as research and development in its nuclear activities.

It did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog observing Iran’s program, could not be immediately reach for comment.

Hundreds of thousands flooded streets Sunday in Iran to walk alongside a casket carrying the remains of a top Iranian general killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad, a slaying one Iranian official suggested would see Tehran break further out of its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Mourners beat their chests, wept and cried out carrying posters bearing the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of its expeditionary Quds Force that organizes Tehran’s proxy forces in the wider Mideast.

The leader of one such proxy, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members spread across the region fair targets for attacks. A former Revolutionary Guard leader suggested the Israeli city of Haifa and “centers” like Tel Aviv could be targeted.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliament voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end of the foreign military presence in their nation, an effort aimed at expelling the 5,000 U.S. troops stationed there over the war against the Islamic State group.

Soleimani’s killing Friday escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge. The conflict is rooted in Trump pulling out of Iran’s atomic accord and imposing sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. attack, which shocked Iranians across all political lines. Many saw Soleimani as a pillar of the Islamic Republic at a moment when it is beset by U.S. sanctions and recent anti-government protests.

Retaliation for Soleimani could potentially come through the proxy forces which he oversaw as the head of an elite unit within the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Soleimani’s longtime deputy Esmail Ghaani already has taken over as the Quds Force’s commander.

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia separately warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.”

Late Saturday, a series of rockets launched in Baghdad fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.

Trump wrote on Twitter afterward that the U.S. had already “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

Trump did not identify the targets but added that they would be “HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

The 1954 Hague Convention, of which the U.S. is a party, bars any military from “direct hostilities against cultural property.” However, such sites can be targeted if they have been re-purposed and turned into a legitimate “military objective,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Iran, home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites, has in the past reportedly guarded the sprawling tomb complex of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with surface-to-air missiles.

After thousands in Baghdad on Saturday mourned Soleimani and others killed in the strike, authorities flew the general’s body to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz. An honor guard stood by early Sunday as mourners carried the flag-draped coffins of Soleimani and other Guard members off the tarmac.

The caskets then moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani’s portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally both symbolize the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and call for their deaths to be avenged.

Officials brought Soleimani’s body to Ahvaz, a city that was a focus of fighting during the bloody, 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran in which the general slowly grew to prominence. After that war, Soleimani joined the Guard’s newly formed Quds, or Jersualem, Force, an expeditionary force that works with Iranian proxy forces in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Authorities then took Soleimani’s body to the city of Mashhad later Sunday. State TV estimated that a million mourners came out to the Imam Reza shrine to pay their respects, although that number could not be independently verified. Soleimani’s remains will go to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions, followed by his hometown of Kerman for burial Tuesday.

This marks the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Khomeini received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran’s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group. He was also blamed for attacks on U.S. troops and American allies going back decades.

Although it’s unclear how or when Iran may respond, any retaliation was likely to come after three days of mourning declared in both Iran and Iraq.

Mohsen Rezaei, a former leader of the Guard, told a crowd of mourners in Tehran that the Israeli city of Haifa and other “centers” like Tel Aviv could be targeted. Rezaei earlier alleged without offering evidence that Israel leaked information to the U.S. about Soleimani’s whereabouts, which allowed them to carry out the drone strike.

“Rest assured we will level to the ground Haifa and Israeli centers so that Israel will be wiped out,” he said. “The issue is very serious for the Iranian nation. You hit us and you should get hit. You attacked us and it is the Iranian nation’s right.”

Iranian officials planned to meet Sunday night to discuss taking a fifth step away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, one that could be even greater than planned, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told journalists.

“In the world of politics, all developments are interconnected,” Mousavi said.

Iran previously has broken limits of its enrichment, its stockpiles and its centrifuges, as well as restarted enrichment at an underground facility.

The Iranian parliament on Sunday opened with lawmakers in unison chanting: “Death to America!” Parliament speaker Ali Larijani compared Soleimani’s killing to the 1953 CIA-backed coup that cemented the shah’s power and to the U.S. Navy’s shootdown of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988 that killed 290 people. He also described American officials as following “the law of the jungle.”

Rain fell at the shrine in Mashhad late Sunday as an imam delivered a sermon over the coffins of Soleimani and others stood. The crowd surged and shouted as he preached. Mourners threw clothing up to officials accompanying the remains to have the fabric be brushed against the caskets in a belief it would carry God’s blessings to them.

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Saudi Aramco shares hit lowest since IPO, down 1.7% – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-05 17:42:00
Saudi Aramco

DUBAI :
Shares of Saudi Aramco were down 1.7% in late afternoon trade on Sunday, hitting 34.55 riyals ($9.21) per share, its lowest level since it started trading last month after a record initial public offering (IPO).

The shares reacted to across-the-board selling in Gulf markets after Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed on Friday in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport.

Aramco was trading above its IPO price of 32 riyals per share, but was down 10.7% since hitting an intraday high of 38.70 riyals on Dec 31.

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Islamist group al Shabaab attacks Kenya base used by Kenyan, US forces – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-05 16:17:00
al Shabaab

NAIROBI :
Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist group on Sunday attacked a base in Kenya’s Lamu county used by both US and Kenyan forces and it published pictures of masked militants standing next to aircraft in flames, though the images could not be immediately verified.

  The attack began before dawn and was still under way four hours later, witnesses and military sources told Reuters. There were no immediate reports of Kenyan or US casualties, but the Kenyan military said four attackers had been killed. 

  “Seven aircraft and three military vehicles were destroyed in the attack,” al Shabaab said in a statement that included photos showing aircraft on fire with fighters standing nearby.

The al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group claimed responsibility for the assault in Lamu county on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, which has long been a major tourist destination but vulnerable to militant violence given its proximity to Somalia.

 Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Paul Njuguna said at least four of the attacking militants were killed. 

   In a tweet, the U.S. Africa Command confirmed an attack on the Manda Bay Airfield, said it was monitoring the situation and would provide an update “as facts and details emerge”.  

  Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 after a spate of cross-border attacks and kidnappings. They were later absorbed into an African Union peacekeeping force, now 21,000-strong, that supports the shaky, Western-backed Somali government against which al Shabaab has waged a protracted insurgency.

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India’s airlines likely to feel the heat of spike in crude oil prices – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-03 23:48:00
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

NEW DELHI :
The surge in crude oil prices, after a US air strike killed a top Iranian general, may push airlines operating in India deeper into losses, and threaten the survival of one or two carriers, two airline officials said.

If the conflict between the US and Iran worsens, and crude prices goes above $70-72 a barrel, “there’s a high chance that an Indian airline could go bust,” said one of the two executives, requesting anonymity. “A spike in oil prices as a result of the US attack is a major concern, while threat of a war reduces travel demand,” he added.

Following the US air strike, oil prices surged 4% to around $70 a barrel in ICE Futures Europe. Jet fuel accounts for one-third of the costs for Indian carriers, which were already struggling when oil was hovering at $65-66 per barrel, said another executive, also requesting anonymity. “Airlines with a strong balance sheet and promoters will survive, while the ones with weak balance sheet will suffer,” he added.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday called for vengeance on the US, prompting brokerages to forecast a further spike in oil prices. “(We) expect crude to boil if Iran retaliates,” Abhimanyu Sofat, head of research, IIFL Securities, said in a statement.

Kapil Kaul, chief executive officer of aviation consultant CAPA South Asia, said airlines are likely to remain under pressure not only because of high oil prices, but also due to the weakening of the rupee against the dollar. “Expect pricing in Q4 to be soft as was seen in November,” he added.

Despite the collapse of Jet Airways (India) Ltd, the country’s largest private airline by domestic market share and fleet, in April, airlines have not been able to take advantage of the capacity reduction to raise fares, because all other carriers added so much capacity, that they were forced to offer incentives and lower fares to lure customers. This, in turn, has severely affected their finances.

Expenses also mounted for Indigo and Go Airways, which have a large fleet of Airbus 320Neo aircraft attached with faulty Pratt and Whitney (P&W) engines. SpiceJet suffered on account of delayed deliveries of Boeing 737MAX aircraft. Ironically, these aircraft were ordered with an eye on better fuel efficiency, industry officials highlighted.

Indian airlines are expected to lose over $600 million ( 4,273 crore) in FY20, compared to an earlier estimate of full-year profit of $500 million to $700 million ( 3,561 crore to 4,985 crore), according to a recent Capa report.

CAPA projections are based on assumptions that crude prices will remain in the range of $60-65 a barrel. On Friday, crude oil rates spiked as much as 4% following the US air strikes in Iraq.

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How will Iran retaliate to Qasem Soleimani killing? – News in USA by Post24x7

2020-01-03 23:24:00
Qasem Soleimani

All options however carry the risk of rapid escalation and Iran’s clerical leadership will want to carefully weigh the dangers to a regime that has been in place since the ousting of the pro-American shah in 1979.

“We can’t predict what direction Iran will choose to go in. But what we do know is that Iran acts in a calculated manner and takes very deliberate steps,” said Ariane Tabatabai, associate political scientist at the Rand Corporation, a policy think tank in California.

“I expect they will take the time they need to get the response right,” she told AFP.

Iran learned the merits of asymmetric warfare — fighting a power with greater military might than your own — in the deadly 1980-1988 war against Iraq. Its strong influence in Iraq, Syria Lebanon and beyond means it has possible levers against the US presence in the region.

Here are the main options Iran might consider to avenge the death of a man who was commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards and masterminded its operations across the Middle East.

Proxies sow trouble

Throughout the region, Iran backs forces with the potential to cause havoc, from Huthi rebels in Yemen and Shia militias in Iraq to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iraq is set to be the key battleground. Pro-Iranian Shia militias could work to drive US forces out of Iraq and also destabilise the Iraqi government to create a new domestic political crisis.

“I suspect there will be a lot of pressure on the US military presence now in Iraq,” said Alex Vatanka of the Washington-based Middle East Institute, adding a pullout would be a “major strategic loss for the United States in the Middle East.”

Hezbollah could also stir up trouble in Lebanon, already in political and financial turmoil, while a new blow could be dealt to hopes of peace in Yemen.

“Whatever specific actions Tehran undertakes, it is likely that conflict with the United States is going to expand throughout the region,” the Soufan Centre in New York said in a statement.

Cyber attack

A more subtle step would be for Iran to launch a cyber attack.

Analysts believe Tehran has stepped up its capacity to attack key Western cyber infrastructure and has even built up a so-called “cyber army” that pledges allegiance to the Islamic Republic.

Loic Guezo, head of French information security group Clusif, said Iran’s cyber attacks above all sought to hurt industrial targets such as dams or power stations.

“What is feared here is the impact on society — electricity cuts, poisoning, gas leaks, explosions, transport chaos and hospitals,” he told AFP.

Oil blockade

Oil prices initially soared more than four percent on fears that the killing could lead to disruption of oil supplies from the Middle East. A major fear is that Iran could block shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most congested transit points.

Its Western foes have accused Iran of being behind a major attack on Saudi oil installations and Iran has in recent months also repeatedly seized tankers operating in the Gulf.

“Iran has shown that it can hit ships and block ships,” said Jean Charles Brisard, head of the Centre for Analysis of Terrorism in France. “But is a blockade conceivable?” he asked.

Military strike

The most apocalyptic scenario would be a military strike by Iran using its ballistic missile arsenal against US, Israeli or Saudi interests in the region, a move that would risk prompting an all-out regional conflict.

But analysts say other options are far more likely.

“The basic assumption still is that both the US and Iran want the other to back down rather than direct war,” said Heiko Wimmen, project director of the International Crisis Group (ICG) for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

“We can’t know whether the Iranians will decide that a drastic escalation and retaliation is the best tactic, or whether they go for a measured, perhaps even non-violent response,” he told AFP.

Vatanka said the Iranian leadership was “opportunistic” not “suicidal”, adding: “If there’s an opportunity that they can take advantage of, they will.”

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