Sichuan Airlines co-pilot sucked halfway out cockpit window, pilot says

BEIJING — The cockpit was in chaos.

About an hour into a Sichuan Airlines flight headed from southwestern China to Tibet on Monday morning, the pilot heard a piercing sound, and then the windshield inexplicably shattered. Captain Liu Chuanjian found himself in a turbulent struggle to maintain control of a plane full of 119 passengers.

He turned to his co-pilot only to see "half his body suspended out of the window," he said. "Fortunately, he was wearing a seat belt."

Full story here.

North Korea's vow to shut Punggye-ri nuclear site appears mostly symbolic

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s promise to shut down its main nuclear weapons test site by the end of May is a significant symbolic gesture, but the move will have little impact on Kim Jong Un's existing nuclear and ballistic missile programs, according to experts.

The North Korean leader agreed to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site during his summit last week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Moon’s office announced Sunday.

Kim and Moon also issued a joint declaration Friday promising the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula by the end of 2018.

What precisely that means has yet to be determined, but the closing of testing facilities such as Punggye-ri would almost certainly be required under even a loose interpretation of denuclearization.

Full story here.

Kim Jong Un crosses border for historic talks with South

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walked across the border into South Korea early Friday for talks that could mark a historic milestone in one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints.

Kim entered the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone, the world's most heavily armed border, at 9:30 a.m. local time (8:30 p.m. Thursday ET), where he was due to hold televised discussions with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The summit comes after last week's news that President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, recently held one-on-one talks with the reclusive strongman. The Senate voted to confirm Pompeo on Thursday.

With North Korea's nuclear weapons program having reached what American policymakers describe as a critical stage, expectations are high that the two leaders will lay the foundation for reduced tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

Among the key issues is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Reaching a mutually acceptable definition of what that means will be central to moving forward with a meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump. It would be the first time a sitting U.S. president has met with a North Korean leader.

Full story here.

Kim Jong Un offers denuclearization deal, but what's the catch?

SEOUL, South Korea — In a year that began with President Donald Trump threatening to use his nuclear button against Kim Jong Un, the historic peace deal announced Friday between North and South Korea is all the more extraordinary.

The ambitious agreement pledges “no more war" and a common goal of the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.

There will also be an unprecedented summit between Trump and Kim, who has previously threatened to destroy both the U.S and South Korea.

It leaves many observers asking, "What’s the catch?"

Full story here.

Kim Jong Un agrees to denuclearization of Korean Peninsula

SEOUL, South Korea — The leaders of North and South Korea signed a historic declaration on Friday pledging "no more war" and a common goal of the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.

The countries, which technically remain in a state of war, heralded the deal as part of "a new era of peace."

North Korea's Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in also vowed to "cease all hostile acts" and to "transform the Demilitarized Zone into a peace zone."

Full story here.

North Korean ex-assassin recalls 1968, when the Korean cold war ran hot

SEOUL, South Korea — Dawn was breaking over snow-covered Sambong Mountain a half century ago as the four Woo brothers set out to cut wood.

In a clearing they found 31 men dressed in South Korean army uniforms. Assuming it was a patrol, they shouted a greeting.

The soldiers were hollow-cheeked and drenched in sweat despite the sub-zero temperatures and the bitter wind in Paju, just 10 miles from South Korea's border with the North.

Most had removed their boots and wrapped their hands and feet in blankets to stave off frostbite. The leader introduced himself as "Captain Kim," with his sophisticated Seoul accent putting the siblings at ease.

That was when one of the brothers noticed something strange: One soldier's rank insignia was upside down. It made him suspicious: For months there had been broadcasts in the South warning citizens to be on the lookout for infiltrators.

“Gentlemen, are you from the North?” the eldest brother asked Kim.

“Yes, comrades. We are here to liberate you and bring communism to South Korea,” Kim told the woodcutters.

Full story here.

North Korea agrees to send athletes to South Korea Olympics

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea will send a delegation of officials and athletes to next month's Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, it was announced Tuesday after the first high-level talks between the countries in more than two years.

The two nations also agreed to hold military talks aimed at reducing animosity along their tense border and to "actively cooperate" in the Games, which open on Feb. 9 in PyeongChang some 50 miles from the boundary.

The sensitive discussions, held in Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), were closed to outside observers.

Full story here.

Trump agrees to halt U.S.-South Korea drills during Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

SEOUL, South Korea — President Donald Trump agreed Thursday to suspend joint military drills with South Korea during next month’s Winter Olympics following a phone call with his counterpart Moon Jae-in, according to officials in Seoul and the Pentagon.

The two leaders also discussed possible bilateral talks between North and South Korea ahead of the games, which are due to begin in Pyeongchang on Feb. 9.

It follows this week’s “nuclear button” Twitter fight between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and comes after Moon hinted in a Dec. 19 interview with NBC News that the joint military exercises should be pushed back if Kim avoided “provocations” such as missile tests.

Full story here.

North Korea, South Korea could meet for talks ahead of Olympics

SEOUL, South Korea — Delegations from North and South Korea could meet for the first official discussions between the neighbors since 2015 ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

South Korea proposed Tuesday that talks be held on Jan. 9, said Cho Myoung-gyon, the head of his country’s Unification Ministry. He said that Seoul had consulted with the U.S. and had Washington’s blessing.

South Korea’s overture was in response to comments made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a New Year’s Day speech. He suggested immediate talks with Seoul over sending a delegation to the Olympics.

Full story here.

Kim Jong Un highlights his 'nuclear button,' offers Olympic talks

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used his New Year’s Day address to warn the U.S. not to test him while striking a softer tone with South Korea, including the possibility of sending a delegation to next month's Winter Olympics.

"The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat," Kim said in the annual address. "This year, we should focus on mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment. These weapons will be used only if our society is threatened."

Full story here.

U.S. Now Moving Toward Armed Drones, Lethal Force in Niger

The Trump administration is paving the way for lethal strikes against terrorists in Niger as the U.S. military pushes forward with a plan to arm the Reaper drones that fly over that country, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.

France has already decided to arm its drones in the region, U.S. documents show, and the move to arm U.S. Reapers has been under consideration for some time — long before this month's ambush of a Green Beret unit that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers. But that incident, details of which are still coming to light, is fueling an urgency within the Trump administration to take more aggressive steps against the terrorist groups that are operating in North and West Africa, according to intelligence and military officials.

Full story here: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/africa/u-s-now-moving-toward-armed-drones-lethal-force-niger-n814341

U.S. Soldiers in Niger Were Pursuing ISIS Recruiter When Ambushed

by KEN DILANIAN, COURTNEY KUBE and MAC WILLIAM BISHOP

The U.S. Special Forces unit that came under attack in Niger earlier this month had been pursuing a senior militant, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.

The officials did not provide the name of the target, whom one of the officials described as an ISIS recruiter. The soldiers did not succeed in catching him.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that the Green Berets set out on a reconnaissance mission, and that the intelligence suggested there was a low risk of contact with the enemy. He also said the military was investigating whether the mission changed as it unfolded.

One theory, said an official with direct knowledge of the military's investigation, is that the soldiers were gathering information about the target, and, after learning his whereabouts, decided to pursue him. A big question would then be whether the unit got authorization, and whether the risks were assessed.

Full story here: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/africa/u-s-soldiers-niger-were-pursuing-isis-recruiter-when-ambushed-n813746

 

Three U.S. Soldiers Killed in Niger in Suspected Ambush

by MAC WILLIAM BISHOP, COURTNEY KUBE and HANS NICHOLS

Three U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were killed and two were wounded in Niger on Wednesday, in an ambush by suspected Islamic militants operating from Mali, multiple sources with knowledge of the incident told NBC News.

According to the sources, one soldier form Niger was also killed in the attack.

The U.S. military did not confirm the deaths officially, but did acknowledge that a “hostile fire” incident involving U.S. troops had occurred.

“We are working to confirm details of the incident and will have more information as soon as we can confirm facts on the ground,” said a spokesperson for Africa Command, or AFRICOM. The military generally does not confirm nor identify American casualties until it has ensured that the deceased’s family members have been properly notified.

Full story here: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/three-u-s-soldiers-killed-niger-suspected-ambush-n807821?cid=sm_npd_nn_tw_ma

 

The Vigilantes Hunting Migrants on the Edge of Europe

By Mac William Bishop

NEAR MALKO TARNOVO, Bulgaria — Figures in camouflage and ski masks gather at a fishing lodge. Many are armed with long knives, bayonets and hatchets.

The 35 men and women are on the hunt in Strandzha Massif, a forested mountain range on Bulgaria's border with Turkey. Migrants trying to cross into Europe are their prey.

Patches on their irregular uniforms — a coat of arms bearing a snarling wolf's head framed by Cyrillic text — proclaim them to be members of the Bulgarian National Movement Shipka, abbreviated in Bulgarian as "BNO Shipka."

Members of the paramilitary organization form into ranks as their leader, Vladimir Rusev, speaks. A former colonel who says he fought in Chechnya as a volunteer alongside Russians, Rusev declares his support for a man they admire: President Donald Trump.

"The CIA is trying to undermine Trump," said Rusev, a compact 58-year-old with a neat mustache and short-cropped hair. "They want to destroy him. We offer our support to him."

Trump's hard-line stance on immigration and vocal criticism of Islam finds an appreciative audience here.

Most BNO Shipka members are friendly, courteous and open. The organization's website projects a different message: slick videos replete with firearms and military training, and declarations that Europe must be defended against Islam.

Full story here: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/europes-border-crisis/bulgarian-vigilantes-patrol-turkey-border-keep-migrants-out-n723481

The Hunt: Inside the U.S. Special Forces Mission to Find Joseph Kony

A lot of people ask why, after so many years, it is still so hard to find Joseph Kony and the final LRA holdouts. There are a lot of factors that play a role, including corruption, collaboration and complicity by regional actors.

Many of the sources I spoke with and public research by activists involved in the counter-LRA mission implicates Sudan's Armed Forces, or at least members of it. There is evidence to suggest SAF commanders have provided Kony and senior LRA commanders with a safe haven in the Kafia Kingi area, and given him advanced warning of impending raids.

The disputed nature of the Kafia Kingi territory makes it politically difficult for the African Union Regional Task Force - let alone the Americans - to conduct operations there without notifying Sudan in advance.

That said, there are also environmental considerations. The area in which the LRA operates - from northern DR Congo to southern Sudan, including parts of South Sudan and the Central African Republic, is huge, and sparsely populated. It runs the gamut from dense tropical rainforest (i.e. "jungle"), to Savannah grasslands and near-desert as you move into Sudan.

Here is a short clip from a patrol with American green berets and Ugandan soldiers, which I think eloquently illustrates the difficulties in finding someone who doesn't want to be found...

Apologies for the mic rubbing against the foliage, but at that point I was just letting the camera run and hoping I didn't lose the patrol. So it sounds louder than it actually was at the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a ninja - but I was moving as quietly as everyone else (call it a professional pride issue)...

My full story here: http://www.nbcnews.com/…/inside-green-berets-hunt-warlord-j…

At a Hospital in Aleppo, Evidence of a Detested Weapon

By MAC WILLIAM BISHOP and AMMAR CHEIKH OMAR

Russian-made cluster bombs — weapons that kill indiscriminately and inflict long-lasting damage — were used in an attack on at least one hospital in the ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo last week, a video obtained by NBC News appears to show.

The video shows two unexploded submunitions amid the rubble at the M10 hospital in rebel-held eastern Aleppo following a morning airstrike on Sept. 28. Several experts and sources independently identified the devices as Russian-made ShOAB 0.5 cluster submunitions, bomblets delivered by an air-delivered scattering device called the RBK-500. Both are known to be used by both the Russian and Syrian air forces.

Read more...

Can ISIS Attacks Be Stopped? Public Security in Age of Madness

by MAC WILLIAM BISHOP

Part Five in a Series

NICE, France — Kinetic energy is calculated as an expression of mass and velocity.

According to statements by French prosecutors, the vehicle that drove for more than a mile along a thoroughfare crowded with pedestrians celebrating Bastille Day in Nice on July 14 was an 18-ton truck, driven at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.

From these sparse facts, rough mathematical calculations are simple. At its fastest, the truck was delivering kinetic energy of up to 12.6 megajoules — equivalent to 14 sticks of military-grade dynamite — to anyone in its path.

Eighty-six people killed. Two hundred injured. Ten children dead; thirty-four in intensive care.

One madman.

Horrors like the attack in Nice have become commonplace enough that we can make spreadsheets of shattered lives.

But is there anything we can actually do in the wake of such attacks, except tally up the dead?

Read more...

Paris Attacks Inspire Huge Influx of Police Recruits

by MAC WILLIAM BISHOP

Part Four in a Series

PARIS — The police vehicles approached slowly, and the officers accompanying them were visibly tense.

The past three days had been a nightmare for French law enforcement. Two officers murdered on the street in cold blood. Nine staff from the provocative magazine Charlie Hebdo slaughtered in their offices, along with a visitor from out of town. Four people slain at a kosher supermarket.

Two sieges ending in a hail of bulletswith brothers who had sworn allegiance to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and their ISIS-inspired accomplice being killed following a coordinated set of attacks.

A video taken by a passerby showed the street packed tight with civilians, and the officers began clearing a path for the approaching vehicles. A few small cheers rang out. But as the police got closer, the entire crowd erupted in applause and shouts of encouragement.

The officers were clearly taken aback, exchanging glances as if unsure how to respond.

But the crowd's encouragement and enthusiasm were contagious, and many of the officers, replete in full riot gear, began to smile and thank their supporters.

"PEOPLE NEED HEROES IN A TIME OF WAR"

With its long history of anti-establishmentarianism and a general lack of regard for authority figures, France has never really embraced police officers in the way that America often mythologizes the men and women of the thin blue line.

Cops here are widely known as "les flics" — the plural of "flic," a popular slang term for police of uncertain origin.

But on Jan. 12, 2015, it was "les flics" who had responded to the call, and come to the rescue.

The citizens of France loved them for it.

Read More...

 

A Rare Glimpse Inside France's Anti-ISIS Unit

by MAC WILLIAM BISHOP

Part Two in a Series

NEAR DIJON, FRANCE — The assault team advanced in a line, stacked up behind the point man.

He was carrying a 60-pound shield capable of stopping rounds from a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle, equipped with a sophisticated infrared camera and viewscreen.

Behind him was a line of men with weapons at the ready, raindrops glistening on the barrels of their customized assault rifles.

Despite their heavy body armor, the officers were taking no risks. Lining up behind the shield allowed the team to expose as little of themselves as possible: a bulletproof python bristling with automatic weapons, lights and sensors.

Read more...

Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/europes-terror-battle/france-s-elite-gign-evolves-alongside-threat-isis-n630866