Star Wars? President Trump proposes military space force

Trump's offhand remark about military space force could change the course of US space policy. (Reuters)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Star Wars? President Trump proposes military space force

WASHINGTON: America should create its own separate military space force, President Donald Trump mentioned in an offhand remark Tuesday that would change the course of US space policy.
But don’t expect Captain Kirk ordering phasers set on stun, Battlestar Galactica or ray guns blazing in orbit in the near future, space experts said. And some said a military space force may make it harder to keep Earth’s orbit a place of peace.
Saying his national security strategy “recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea,” Trump said at a San Diego Marine Corps base that he’s considering “a space force” that would be the equivalent of the Air Force, Army and Navy.
Trump said at first he wasn’t serious when he floated the concept, but “then I said what a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.”
This is more about boosting reconnaissance and cybersecurity than fighting in orbit, said Sean O’Keefe, who was both NASA administrator and Navy secretary under President George W. Bush.
Trump’s own defense secretary and Air Force secretary argued vociferously against it when members of Congress pushed it last year, O’Keefe said. You can emphasize more help for the military in space without going to the massive organizational change and expense, he said.
It could be a bureaucratic nightmare, said O’Keefe, a professor at Syracuse University.
He said some people may argue that a space force would “compromise the sanctity of considering space to be off limits from warfare.”
Ever since the Space Age started with the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, there has been a military and national security aspect to space, even though there are treaties and a United Nations committee that explicitly talk about keeping space a place of peace. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower established two separate space programs — a civilian one that became NASA, and a military one. NASA is much more public, but the military program is just as big.
The military space program has mostly been led by the Air Force. For the past several years, the military has been flying an unmanned space plane, a lot like the retired civilian space shuttle but smaller, experts said.
“It’s really what we’re already doing but giving elevated status to the mission,” American University space expert Howard McCurdy said of Trump’s proposal.
The military toyed with the idea of an Air Force space station in orbit in the 1960s, but President Richard Nixon’s administration killed the idea, mostly because it found that robotic space efforts were more effective and efficient, McCurdy said.
McCurdy, O’Keefe and others said any space force would probably consist of cadets on the ground operating robotic systems in space.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronautics professor and former NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman said she prefers space to be as peaceful as possible.
“Space is for exploration and lifting up humanity,” Newman said. “We should learn from our mistakes on Earth and keep space peaceful.”


US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

Updated 46 min 6 sec ago
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US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

  • International and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year, UN says

WASHINGTON: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban voiced regret Thursday over findings that US-backed forces were killing more civilians than the militants, and said the solution was a peace deal.

A UN report released found that international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year.

“We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who is set shortly to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on ending the war.

“War is treacherous, and unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a cease-fire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace,” he tweeted.

Khalilzad appealed to the Taliban and other Afghans to “work to make this the year of peace.”

He struck a different tone than the spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Dave Butler, who said the US pursued “the highest standards of accuracy and accountability” and that troops “reserve the right of self-defense.”

President Donald Trump is eager to find a negotiated way to pull out troops and end the longest-ever US war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom the Taliban refuse to negotiate, has called for next week a “loya jirga,” a traditional gathering of all the country’s communities, although it is unclear how broad the attendance will be.

Officials in Kabul said the Taliban ambushed a security convoy in western Afghanistan, killing nine policemen, and in Kabul, a would-be attacker died when a bomb he was trying to plant at a private university detonated prematurely.

According to a councilman in western Farah province, Abdul Samad Salehi, the ambush took place in Anardara district as the convoy was heading to defuse a roadside bomb on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly after the attack, other Taliban insurgents targeted and briefly overran the district police headquarters, setting off hours-long clashes, Salehi said. Reinforcements arrived later and managed to wrest back control of the headquarters.

In Kabul, a bomb meant to target the private Jahan University blew up apparently prematurely inside a campus bathroom, killing the suspected militant and wounding three students.

Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the blast took place around 10:30 a.m.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion but the Taliban and Daesh have targeted schools and placed of education in the past.

Also on Thursday, unidentified gunmen wounded a local reporter in eastern Nangarhar province, said Farid Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Khan said Emran lemar, a reporter for the Mazal radio station, was shot inside a park in the provincial capital of Jalalabad. He was hospitalized and a police investigation into the attack has begun, Khan said.

In March, Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa, a local TV journalist in eastern Khost province, was shot and killed when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his vehicle. The Daesh affiliate claimed the attack in Khost.