UK, US and France bomb Assad’s chemical weapons

RAF Tornado GR.4s based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus have joined US and French forces in carrying out overnight air strikes against suspected Syrian government chemical weapons facilities. The strikes targeted military bases near the capital Damascus and the city of Homs in response to last week’s alleged chemical attack on the Syrian town of Douma.

RAF Tornado GR.4 Storm ShadowBritish Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson described the missions as “highly successful” and that they were aimed at “degrading the ability of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons.” The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the RAF mission involved Storm Shadow missiles being launched at a former missile base 15 miles west of Homs, where it is thought the Assad regime is stockpiling items used to make chemical weapons.

There have been no reported losses amongst any of the allied forces involved.

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Downing Street confirms PM knew about Trident missile test but malfunction claims still dismissed

Vanguard class

A Downing Street spokesperson speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that she was made aware of a Trident II D5 missile test carried out in June 2016 before she petitioned ministers to vote to renew the nuclear deterrent. The Prime Minister had side-stepped questions put to her by the BBC following claims in The Sunday Times that she deliberately withheld knowledge of the test because the missile malfunctioned.

When questioned on whether the missile did indeed malfunction however the spokesperson was less clear;

We have been clear that the submarine and the crew were successfully tested and certified. That was the purpose of the operation. What is also clear is that the capability and effectiveness of the Trident missile is unquestionable.

Loosely translated, the spokesperson is stating that the operation was a success because it was designed to test the submarine – namely HMS Vengeance – and not the missile. However, adding that the effectiveness of the Trident missile was “unquestionable” implies that either there was no malfunction during the test or that any malfunction that did occur has now been addressed and the government and MoD is confident that it won’t happen again.

In the last few hours, US news juggernaut CNN reported that an American official had said to them that the British missile was diverted into the ocean. This occurred automatically when the electronics onboard detected an anomaly within the missile’s systems but Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, when quizzed about this today refused to confirm a malfunction took place citing issues of secrecy and security regarding the nuclear deterrent.

Either way the Prime Minister and her government’s handling of the situation has only fuelled the anti-nuclear campaign in the UK with the secretive nature of the Prime Minister’s response on Sunday leading to speculation of a cover-up.

PM questioned on knowledge of Trident malfunction ahead of decision to renew nuclear deterrent

theresa-may-british-prime-minister-2016British Prime Minister Theresa May has been put under pressure to answer questions over whether she deliberately withheld knowledge of a malfunction of a Trident missile fired from HMS Vengeance weeks before she lobbied Parliament for the nuclear deterrent to be renewed. The accusation was made by The Sunday Times newspaper claiming a “naval source” broke the story of the malfunction to them.

In June 2016, the Vanguard-class SSBN HMS Vengeance test fired an unarmed Trident II D5 nuclear missile as part of an operation which is designed to certify the submarine and its crew for conducting nuclear deterrence patrols with live nuclear weapons. In the wake of the The Sunday Times claims the MoD issued a statement saying;

Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified, allowing Vengeance to return into service. We have absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent.

Vanguard-class nuclear submarine trident2

The newspaper claims that the missile, which was intended to be fired 5,600 miles to a target area off the west coast of Africa, malfunctioned and instead veered towards the US. Interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC, the Prime Minister rebuffed four questions regarding the claim which has left her exposed to criticism from the leaders of two of the major British political parties – Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party and Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party – both of whom have routinely voiced their opposition to maintaining the British nuclear deterrent.

Both the MoD and Downing Street have issued statements denying the newspaper’s claims regarding a malfunction but there are still calls for an investigation.

On July 18th 2016, a month after the test took place, Parliament voted 472-117 to renew the nuclear deterrent based around the Trident II D5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) carried by the new Dreadnought-class SSBNs. The first Dreadnought-class is expected to enter service in 2028 and the cost of the entire project is expected to be around £40bn.

 

British MPs pushing Prime Minister to let RAF drop aid in to Aleppo

RAF A400M Atlas AirbusA cross party group have submitted a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May demanding that the RAF begin dropping aid in to the besieged city of Aleppo in Syria. In the letter the signatories stated that “100,000 children are facing the slowest death” unless RAF transports drop food and medical supplies to the population.

Quoted in the Guardian newspaper, the letter to the PM said;

With our Royal Air Force already operational in the air over Syria, we are calling on you to urgently authorise the air-dropping of aid to besieged civilian populations. It is simply not acceptable that during the biggest aid operation in the UN’s history, and in the full glare of the world’s media, nearly 100,000 children are facing the slowest, cruellest death because we cannot reach them with food and medical supplies.

Labour MP Alison McGovern who helped draft the letter added;

The situation in Aleppo is beyond desperate. Those who said ‘never again’ after Rwanda, after Srebrenica, may have meant it, but we have failed. The least the UK can do is recognise that this is our last chance to save lives in Aleppo. Therefore, we must heed the call of the White Helmets, and start aid drops. This is far from ideal – a route by road for aid would be better – but the [Syrian] regime has offered no such route.

admiral-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-russian-navyThe biggest concern for any plan to drop aid in to Aleppo is just how Assad’s Syrian government and his Russian allies would react. The skies over the city have seen heavy Russian and Syrian air activity in the last few days after Russia ended its suspension of air operations. The fresh air strikes have included aircraft from the Russian Navy’s carrier, the Admiral Kuzentsov (right), and cruise missile strikes from surface ships in the Mediterranean.

Moscow has said they would be open to allowing aid in to the city providing it was under the right conditions although just what those conditions are remain unclear. With Russian state sponsored news service RT running stories claiming that the White Helmets (Syrian civil defence – a volunteer, non-government organisation who work to rescue civilians caught up in the fighting) are supporting the rebels and having links to terrorism it is unlikely that Moscow will allow the RAF or any other western coalition aircraft to drop supplies to them in Aleppo. The biggest problem the Russians and Syrians have with the White Helmets is their release of videos of civilian casualties who have been caught up in their air strikes and which runs contrary to claims they are carrying out precision strikes against terrorist factions.

A Foreign Office spokesperson responding to the letter said;

Our priority is the protection of civilians in Syria who face an appalling humanitarian situation. We call on the Assad regime and their Russian supporters to bring about an end to terrible crisis immediately. We will continue to look at all options with our international partners to alleviate the suffering of millions of Syrians.

 

800 British troops to deploy to Estonia in response to increased tensions with Russia

British Army Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle Poland 2015

The 800 troops that will be committed by Britain to Estonia will help form one of four NATO battalions in the region that are being assembled amid growing tension between the west and Russia. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Theresa May who called for the international community to put additional pressure on Moscow regarding Russian actions in Syria.

What we have seen, sadly, is that the Russians are already able to unleash attacks on innocent civilians in Syria. What matters is that we put pressure on Russia to do what everybody agrees is the only way that we are going to resolve this issue, which is to ensure that we have a political transition in Syria, and that’s where we should focus our attention.

admiral-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-russian-navyThe announcement comes in the wake of Britain and other NATO countries putting pressure on Spain (also a NATO member) to refuse permission for the Russian carrier group currently sailing in to the Mediterranean to dock in the country for refuelling and replenishment of supplies. In the wake of the protests the Russians decided to first withdraw their request and then deny they ever made one in the first place. The Spanish government stated they had received confirmation from the Russian embassy in Madrid that they were withdrawing their request however a Russian military spokesman then said that the Russian defence ministry had made no such request in the first place.