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Below is a discription and source, of information from around the world.

Prepared exclusively for Steve Quayle, by Samuel Culper and John Hawkwood of the Forward Observer Intelligence Group. Sam is a former military and civilian intelligence analyst with experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and South America. John is a retired Army infantryman and CIA contractor with experience in Germany (Cold War), Iraq, and Afghanistan.

16MAY19

Current U.S. Deployments to Flashpoint Zones

  • The U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) CSG transited the Suez Canal and was last reported in the Gulf of Aden, Middle East.
  • The Kearsarge ARG transited the Strait of Hormuz and was last reported in the Gulf of Oman, Middle East.
  • The Boxer ARG/11th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed from San Diego on 01MAY19 en route to the Western Pacific.
  • The U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is involved in war games in the Gulf of Alaska.

Carrier Strike Group (CSG)

Amphibious Ready Group (ARG)

Upcoming Rotations

  • 3rd Armored BCT/1st Cavalry Division rotates into South Korea to replace 3rd Armored BCT/1st Armored Division.
  • 1st Stryker BCT/25th Infantry Division rotates into Iraq to replace 1st BCT/101st Airborne Division

Brigade Combat Team (BCT)

What is the current situation report in each of the four flashpoint zones (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)?

NATO-Russia

China’s number 3 leader visits Norway

With energy high on the agenda the head of the National People’s Congress, Li Zhanshu, made a four-day trip to Norway, signaling a thaw in relations. Relations between Oslo and Beijing were frozen from 2010 to 2016 after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Executives from Huawei, and China’s top offshore oil and gas producer, China Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), were among the crowd.

Analyst Comment: Norway is a member of NATO, but not of the European Union, and is campaigning to get a temporary seat on the UN Security Council during the 2021-2022 year. China is a permanent member of the council and Norway will need China to sign off to realize its aspirations. Again, we see NATO members resisting U.S. efforts to reject Huawei’s 5G technology. The Trump administration is accusing the Chinese telecom giant of working hand in glove with the Chinese government to enable intelligence gathering on the new networks, which are already being adopted by NATO member Italy. Among other U.S. fears is China’s control over a national communications network. Should a conflict break out, or should China need to coerce a country into cooperating, China could simply turn off the 5G communications network. If a deal is successful, it will mark the second NATO country to adopt the Chinese 5G network. Being that CNOOC officials attended the meeting, an oil deal could also give China greater access to the Arctic; an area in which China is greatly interested in exploring for oil resources, but also to develop a strategic presence.

Indo-Pacific

Pentagon low-balls China amphibious capabilities

The Pentagon’s recently released 2019 China Military Power Report states that People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA) forces cannot conduct a full-scale amphibious assault on Taiwan, and that the PLA is “less likely” planning for one. The report claims the PLA Navy (PLAN) does not have enough amphibious ships, isn’t building enough of them, and lacks the sea lift necessary to execute that mission set.

To date, China has only five of the newest, most modern amphibious ships, but three more are on the slips or being outfitted. The Type 075 helicopter carrier is also now in production.

Analyst Comment: What the Pentagon seems to be dismissing is that the PLAN does have around 50 amphibious boats that are more than capable of transiting the 90 miles across the Strait of Taiwan and landing PLA Marines. By 2030 the PLAN will have more than 70 of the ships.

China’s Navy also has at its disposal every ferry, roll-on/roll-off ship in the maritime inventory, barges, and every other commercial and fishing ship that could prove useful in an invasion. The PLA Marine Corps plans to expand from 20,000 to 30,000 personnel, and the report overlooked the 50,000-60,000 amphibious-trained mechanized infantry the PLA currently has.

As far as planning goes, if the Pentagon is holding China to the U.S. Marine Corps gold standard of amphibious operations then perhaps China does lag? Regardless, the PLA Marines don’t need the operational proficiency of the USMC to invade Taiwan. China isn’t interested in projecting military power across the globe; only in its own backyard for now. And an amphibious assault on the island wouldn’t happen in a vacuum. Multi-domain operations would include cyber, information, electronic, economic, and every other domain of ‘unrestricted warfare’ because an invasion of Taiwan would have to succeed. China would have to be able to present the international community with a fait-accompli and basically dare the United States and/or others to do something about it.

China has made remarkable strides in another naval sphere that it was not thought capable of: carrier operations. In under a decade, it went from operating a used Russian carrier to laying the keel of what looks like, for all intents and purposes, a super carrier that will represent a leap forward in technology for the country. So the Pentagon’s downplaying the PLAN’s capabilities is interesting. Usually the idea is for the Defense Department to highlight, if not downright exaggerate, a threat in order to get more money to counter that threat.

Middle East

Trump’s hardliners draft plan to deploy 120k troops to Middle East

Following a request from national security advisor John Bolton, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan drafted a plan to deploy 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East due to what the administration describes as escalating threats from Iran.

President Trump dismissed the report, but said that he would “absolutely” do it, and then added that if he did, he’d send “a hell of a lot more troops than that.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment, saying that, “We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran.” Pompeo said the U.S. wants Iran to stop funding terrorist groups and to “behave like a normal country.”

Analyst Comment: Iran isn’t Iraq. Physically, it is much, much larger. If we consider Iraq to be about the size of Texas, Iran is the West Coast, to include Alaska.

So exactly what could be done with 120,000 troops? The President is right about one thing: it would take a lot more, a whole lot more, than that to invade the country, assuming that’s what the mission would be.

For the sake of expediency, let’s call an Army division 30,000 troops. So 120,000 could reasonably be called four divisions. A formidable force, to be sure, but the majority of it would be armored, mechanized, or cavalry divisions. The Middle East is for mobile warfare, not light infantry on foot. So now we’re talking lift to get the forces there, whether those forces come from Europe or Ft. Hood (TX). The Armed Forces of the U.S. are much more adept at projecting power than they were on 12SEP01, but getting those kinds of formations into theater will take time.

As we mentioned, you’re not going to invade Iran with four divisions, so some other possible missions could be force protection (which would seem to be overkill), some sort of Quick Reaction Force (again, overkill), or maybe just presence (expensive and overkill).

Where are these formations going to stage? Iraq? Iraq shares a border with Iran and would seem to be the logical place, but Iraq has a say in the matter and has been trying lately to reshape itself as a peace broker in the area. Compliance is not guaranteed.

The United Arab Emirates is across the Persian Gulf, so large formations of armored vehicles there wouldn’t seem to make much sense. Kuwait? Kuwait would probably allow it, but then you’d have to get across the whole of Iraq to get to Iran. In Saudi Arabia, it’s the same.

But Bolton likes to make these ham-fisted gestures. There was the casual reference he made to Libya as a model for U.S. policy on North Korea. North Korea, being very aware of just how well that went for Muammar Qaddafi, threatened to abandon talks with President Trump right then and there.

And then there was the news conference about sanctions that were going to be levied against Venezuela, where Bolton appeared holding a legal pad that had “5,000 troops to Colombia” prominently displayed on it. Now Bolton is publicly asking for a plan that would send American soldiers back into the Middle East. For an old D.C. player like Bolton, it’s not credible that he’d make these gaffes time after time. His actions are deliberate. But sometimes your bluff gets called.

North Korea

North Korea suffers worst drought in decades

The U.N. estimates that up to 10 million people (40% of the population) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, are “in urgent need of food assistance.” The average North Korean is subsisting on 300g (10.5 oz) of food a day so far this year. The DPRK’s state media outlet KCNA said that only two inches of rain had fallen throughout the country in the first five months of the year, making it the lowest recorded level since 1982. In a joint report, the U.N. said that the DPRK’s crop output in 2018 hit the lowest level since 2008

Analyst Comment: Sanctions levied against the DPRK do not prevent humanitarian aid from entering the country. But the ever-expanding list of sanction does make it difficult to operate in the isolated country and some aid groups have left. The starvation of his people, however, will not be enough to drive out Kim Jong Un. As we’ve seen in the past, the government will get fed and the military will get fed, thereby ensuring the regime’s continued survival. But, strategically, the famine does present significant challenges for the regime in the future. Even if the DPRK is able to get some sort of relief, even if it had a bumper crop next year, it would still have an entire class year that will have greater instances of infant mortality, stunted growth, birth defects, and every other malady that accompanies malnutrition. Famine also means lower reproductive rates. Two or three years of famine would be devastating to the country not just now, but the real damage would manifest itself in future years and decades as population growth plunges.

 

 

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