The US sent its biggest force in years to an Asian military exercise where Marines learn how to storm beaches and drink snake blood — and the photos are awesome

Ben Brimelow, provided by Published 3:36 pm, Tuesday, February 20, 2018 REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha The US Marine Corps sent a massive amount of Marines to Thailand for the annual Cobra Gold military drill, an exercise that has been held in Thailand almost every year since 1982. The exercise was originally intended to strengthen relations between the US and its oldest ally in South East Asia, but has since turned into a drill for multiple nations in the region. This year, 11,075 personnel from 29 countries will participate. The US nearly doubled its own contribution to the exercise this year, with 6,800 personnel participating. The increase is likely due to the threat of a more powerful China. Recommended Video: Now Playing: A 17-year-old U.S. Marine Corps recruit collapsed and died Tuesday while exercising in a Brentwood park, according to police. Media: Brandpoint "This exercise is the largest multilateral exercise in the Indo-Pacific region. It speaks to the commitment of the US in the region," Steve Castonguay, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Bangkok, said. Take a look at the awesome photos from the exercise here: Amphibious assault drills are the main focus of Cobra Gold, like this beach assault in 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha They were also included in the drills this year. As amphibious assault vehicles approach beaches, they fire smoke screens to make it more difficult to target them. Associated Press Here's a view of the assault from behind. US Marine Corps See the rest of the story at Business Insider See Also: Insane photos of US Marines drinking cobra blood during a jungle survival exercise in ThailandTrump's defense budget is a wishlist for a massive military buildup — these are the planes, ships, and missiles he wants73 years ago, Allied bombers obliterated one of Europe's most beautiful cities — here are 18 photos of the bombing of Dresden SEE ALSO: Insane photos of US Marines drinking Continue Reading

Trump wants to ramp up US arms sales, and a top diplomat is pushing weapons deals in China’s backyard

Christopher Woody, provided by Published 2:00 pm, Tuesday, February 6, 2018 Andrew Harnik/AP The Trump administration is pushing to expand US arms sales abroad, drafting diplomats to promote US weapons makers. The push is on display this month at Asia's biggest airshow. Critics have said such expanded sales may fuel violence and that more deals won't necessarily translate into more jobs in the US. The "whole of government" approach — expected to ease restrictions on US military exports and give greater weight to the potential economic benefit for US manufacturers in decisions about foreign weapons sales — could be launched in February, senior US officials told Reuters in early January. The specific guidelines are not clear, but a central component would be embassy staffers around the world acting as a kind of sales force for defense contractors, pushing US arms deals with foreign counterparts and briefing visiting US officials to advance that goal, according to Reuters. Local Channel Now Playing: Now Playing Multiple injured after BMW smashes into S.A. Gold's Gym Caleb Downs Woman hit during shootout at S.A. gas station San Antonio Express-News Police: Gunman storms into S.A. AutoZone, shoots manager San Antonio Express-News SAPD: Woman shot in neck while trying to run over security guard San Antonio Express-News Man 'suddenly' stabbed by friend at S.A. park, police say San Antonio Express-News Rockets Driving Forward Houston Chronicle San Antonio Police respond to shooting on West Side 21 Pro Video Police responding to shooting at S.A. intersection San Antonio Express-News Man gunned down in driveway at S.A. home, police say San Antonio Express-News SAPD: 2 suspects caught breaking into truck, open fire on owner San Antonio Express-News "We want to see those guys, the commercial and military attaches, unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff, to be promoters," a senior administration official told Continue Reading

Trump fumes over LaVar Ball and UCLA players while Americans remain jailed in China without his help

President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping (R) attend a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2017. Thomas Peter/AFP/Getty Images SpyTalk Donald Trump China Updated | Too bad Mark Swidan and Wendell Brown don’t play basketball for UCLA. Unlike the three Bruins players China expelled after President Donald Trump intervened in November, Swidan and Brown could spend another Christmas behind bars in China.While the UCLA players confessed to a shoplifting spree in Hangzhou, which got them arrested by Chinese police, Swidan and Brown are in Chinese jails after questionable trials and refuse to confess to what they say are spurious charges, even though doing so might gain their releases. Swidan, an erstwhile business consultant and aspiring artist, was detained in his hotel room in November 2012 by police looking to bust a drug ring. Brown, a onetime college football star who was coaching in China, was arrested last year and tried after a dispute in a bar. There has been no verdict in either case, and neither man can afford a lawyer. Keep up with this story and more by subscribing now“A troubling feature of China's criminal justice system is that a judgment in a criminal trial can be postponed indefinitely after the trial concludes,” says John Kamm, an American businessman and human rights advocate who has taken up Swidan’s plight.Both men seem to be victims of evidence that is highly circumstantial at best. Swidan, now 42, was shopping for apartment furnishings in southern China, his mother says, and searching for a source of helium for a company in Houston when he was picked up along with two other people suspected of dealing methamphetamines. The case against him was weak, Kamm wrote on his Dui Hua Foundation blog. “No drugs were found on Mr. Swidan or in his room. No forensic evidence has been produced—no drugs in his system, no DNA on the packages, no fingerprints on the packages or Continue Reading

Dispatch From China

Beijing The pedicab driver stretched out in the passenger seat, his legs thrown over the bicycle seat, half dozing and half listening to the latest news updates in the hours after America began its missile strikes against Iraq. This image stuck in my mind while I walked through Beijing’s streets, because it seemed to illustrate China’s passive yet paradoxically vigilant attitude toward the unfolding war. Given China’s censored media, citizens have generally suffered from a lack of information. But not during this war. Radio talk shows discuss America’s possible military strategies. Mobile phone users are receiving news about the war via text messages. Passengers watch the latest war updates on flat-screen televisions on Shanghai’s public buses. State-controlled television news, which has been running twenty-four-hour coverage, updates viewers so frequently that at least a few times anchors have had to apologize for misreporting. On the first day of battle, a couple of gaffes included reporting that Saddam Hussein’s son had been killed and that the United States had taken over certain Iraqi television stations. The rabid coverage could be explained by China’s progress toward relaxed censorship rules–but it also indicates its disapproval of the war. And if China is officially taking a more muted stance (it condemns the US action but did not threaten to veto the UN resolution), the country can at least take an active role in monitoring the unfolding events. The words “Iraq” and “America” have been passing through their lips in recent weeks, but many Chinese don’t seem to have a specific opinion on the matter–until you listen closely to what they’re saying. “We don’t care about so many things. After living through the Cultural Revolution, we’ve learned not to interfere,” one middle-aged tea vendor said. Then he continued: “We’re not going to Continue Reading

Signaling a New Era in Relations, the Cuban Embassy Reopens in Washington

In 1917, the Cuban government of General Mario Garcia Menocal commissioned construction of a regal mansion on upper 16th Street in Washington, DC, to house the Embassy of Cuba. It was that building President Eisenhower closed down on January 3, 1961, when he broke diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba amidst the CIA’s secret preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Swiss took custody of the building until the summer of 1977, when Jimmy Carter’s efforts to improve relations led to the establishment of semi-embassies known as “Interests Sections” in both Washington and Havana. For 38 years, the plaque on the front wall of the building read “Seccion de Los Intereses de Cuba”—the Cuban Interests Section. At 10:35 am on July 20, Cuban authorities unveiled a new plaque that reads “Embajada de La Republica de Cuba.” A three-man honor guard then slowly hoisted the red, white, and blue flag of the Republic of Cuba to the top of a newly constructed flagpole—officially inaugurating the resurrection of the Cuban Embassy and the restoration of US-Cuban diplomatic relations. A promising new era now begins. Among the 500 or so dignitaries and guests watching in the blazing morning sun stood Wayne Smith, a former diplomat who had been posted at the US Embassy in Havana when President Eisenhower broke relations 54 years earlier. Now 83, Smith has spent most of his life working to bring Washington and Havana back together. “What a great day,” Smith told The Nation, his face red with emotion. He proclaimed himself “ecstatic” at the ceremonial normalization of relations with Cuba. The ceremony was conducted in a solemn, respectful way—replete with a sound system playing both the Cuban and US national anthems. But it was a jubilant, almost giddy crowd that witnessed the making of US foreign-policy history. Attendees included a large delegation of Cuban luminaries, US senators Continue Reading

Tillerson in India to highlight US strategy in South Asia

NEW DELHI (AP) — Combating terrorism and India's role in war-torn Afghanistan dominated talks between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Indian counterpart Wednesday as Tillerson highlighted the Trump administration's new strategy for South Asia. Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said that India had agreed to hold talks on Afghanistan with Washington and Kabul. Tillerson, who arrived in New Delhi after stops in Kabul and Islamabad, said he conveyed to Pakistan's leaders "certain expectations" that the Trump administration had about controlling terror groups that operate from its soil. He added that too many terror groups had found a safe place in Pakistan to launch attacks. On Tuesday, Tillerson held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Foreign Minister Khwaja Mohammad Asif and the heads of the army and intelligence services. U.S. officials have long accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye or assisting the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network. New Delhi has also long blamed its neighbor and archrival of supporting terror groups that have launched attacks inside India, including a three-day attack in India's business capital, Mumbai, in 2008 that left 166 people dead after 10 gunman rampaged through parts of the city. India also blames Pakistan for aiding and training rebels who operate in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between the two nations but claimed by both. Pakistan routinely denies colluding with militants. President Donald Trump's new strategy for the region "can only be successful if Pakistan acts decisively against terror groups" that operate from its territory, Swaraj said in her comments to reporters in New Delhi. Tillerson added that the presence of such groups on Pakistani soil was also a threat to "Pakistan's own stability."Tillerson and Swaraj also stressed the close relationship and shared values between the U.S. and India, the world's two largest democracies. Both Continue Reading

Protests erupt over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 as victims’ families storm embassy in Beijing

The Chinese government demanded Tuesday that Malaysia turn over the satellite data it used to conclude that a missing airliner was lost somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. Two-third of the passengers aboard the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that vanished into thin air 18-days-ago were from China. “We demand the Malaysian side to make clear the specific basis on which they come to this judgment,” Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia’s ambassador to Beijing. Out on the streets, angry relatives of the missing Chinese wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with “Let’s pray fo MH370” pelted the Malaysian Embassy with plastic bottles and tried to storm the gates in protest while chanting “Liars!” and “Malaysia, return our relatives!” “Tell the truth!” they shouted as Chinese police made no attempt to break up the demonstration. The Chinese cops intervened only when some of the protesters tried to approach the reporters and several scuffles broke out. After presenting a formal letter of protest to the Malaysian Embassy, the angry kin boarded waiting buses and headed back to the hotel near Beijing’s airport that has been their home ever since the plane went missing March 8. The Chinese demand — and the angry demonstration — was met with silence from Malaysia’s leaders in Kuala Lumpur. They have been criticized almost from the start for giving conflicting statements about what happened and they further infuriated the Chinese on Monday by callously breaking the news to the relatives that all hope of finding survivors was lost — by text message. Malaysian Airlines honcho Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said they were just trying to make sure “the families heard the tragic news before the world did.” But the Chinese, who Continue Reading

China admits taking, burying US POW from Korea

WASHINGTON - After decades of denials, the Chinese have acknowledged burying an American prisoner of war in China, telling the U.S. that a teenage soldier captured in the Korean War died a week after he "became mentally ill," according to documents provided to The Associated Press. China had long insisted that all POW questions were answered at the conclusion of the war in 1953 and that no Americans were moved to Chinese territory from North Korea. The little-known case of Army Sgt. Richard G. Desautels, of Shoreham, Vt., opens another chapter in this story and raises the possibility that new details concerning the fate of other POWs may eventually surface. Chinese authorities gave Pentagon officials intriguing new details about Desautels in a March 2003 meeting in Beijing, saying they had found "a complete record of 9-10 pages" in classified archives. Until now, this information had been kept quiet; a Pentagon spokesman said it was intended only for Desautels' family members. The details were provided to Desautels' brother, Rolland, who passed them to a POW-MIA advocacy group, the National Alliance of Families, which gave them to AP. In a telephone interview Thursday, the brother said he did not follow up on the information he got in 2003 because he did not believe it. He was not aware it marked the first time China had acknowledged taking a U.S. POW from North Korea into Chinese territory or burying an American there. Two months after the March 2003 meeting, the Pentagon office responsible for POW-MIA issues sent Rolland Desautels a brief written summary of what a Chinese army official had related about the case. "According to the Chinese, Sgt. Desautels became mentally ill on April 22, 1953, and died on April 29, 1953," the summary said. It added that he had been buried in a Chinese cemetery but the grave was moved during a construction project "and there is no record of where Desautels' remains were reinterred." The reported circumstance of Continue Reading

Drake football will head to China in May 2018, President Martin offers update on AD search

Grant Kraemer has never been to China, but has heard plenty about it. Specifically, the Drake senior quarterback knows all about the Great Wall.Soon, Kraemer and his teammates will be taking a jog alongside it.The Drake University football program announced plans to tour China in May of 2018 on Wednesday afternoon. The Bulldogs are scheduled to make the trip May 22 through June 4. Coach Rick Fox, University President Marty Martin, interim athletic director Megan Franklin and associate professor international business Matthew Mitchell were all on hand for the announcement.“One of our program goals is that our student athletes, our young man, develop as impact men,” Fox said. “This trip will play a big part in developing them in that way. We look forward to sharing the great game of American football and to serving as ambassadors for the sport in China.”This will mark the second international trip for the Drake football team. Back in 2011, the Bulldogs traveled to Tanzania for the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl, which was the first intercollegiate American football game on African soil.Drake’s trip to China features a public celebration of American football by way of youth football clinics and volunteer service work as well as visits to the U.S. Embassy, Forbidden City and Shijiazhuang, which is considered Des Moines’ “sister city.” The players will also partake in a hike along the Great Wall of China.Other Drake athletic programs have previously taken trips abroad. The women’s basketball team went to Italy last summer. The men’s and women’s soccer teams also went to Mexico back in January 2015.“When we went with the soccer teams, we absolutely ran those students ragged,” said Mitchell, who, along with assistant professor of international business Jeff Kappen, will guide the trip in May. “They spent mornings in class, met with government leaders and economic development officials.“On Continue Reading

A Smoggy Sunday in Beijing

The view from China Sunday morning, or at least from my perch in Beijing, is hazy.On a clear day I have a terrific view of Beijing's tallest building, the 1,083 foot tall China World Trade Center Tower III but as you can see in the photograph above today Beijing is enveloped in heavy pollution and that massive skyscraper just two blocks away has disappeared.The smog is so dangerous that the US Embassy sent an email alert warning of the elevated pollution and, in accordance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations, advising people to: "remain indoors and keep all windows and doors closed tightly".Beijing is trying to fix China's air pollution. The government knows its citizens want cleaner air and in September it announced a comprehensive plan to improve the air quality.Chinese media is now quite aggressive in its coverage of not just air pollution but other types of environmental degradation. Today's smog is among the top stories on the major news portals, complete with slideshows of the haze. And the most recent cover story of Caixin magazine, one of China's leading business publications, looks at cancer villages cause by pollution in the watershed the Huai River, of one of China's largest rivers.The smog may also impact Beijing's ability to continue to attract world-class athletes to sporting events. Some of the players in the Reignwood LPGA Classic on the outskirts of Beijing took to wearing face masks on the course and at least one participant of the China Open tennis tournament, Sweden's Robert Lindstedt, has been complaining on his blog about playing in the pollution.Even if the new air pollution control measures are faithfully implemented by all the relevant levels of the bureaucracy, it will be many years until China can reverse the massive environmental degradation.As is generally the case with Beijing smog, it will only dissipate when the winds sweep down over the mountains to the north and west of the city, which according to the latest Continue Reading