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Ben Watson & Patrick Tucker (Defense One) — The momentum has shifted in the U.S.-led coalition fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, so it’s time to commit more forces for the looming battles ahead, the top U.S. civilian and military leaders told reporters Friday.
“We have a series of recommendations that we will be discussing with the president in the coming weeks to further enable our support for the Iraqi Security Forces, or ISF,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford. “The secretary and I both believe that there will be an increase to the U.S. forces in Iraq in the coming weeks—but that decision hasn’t been made.”
“We’re broadening both the weight and the nature of our attacks on ISIL,” added Defense Secretary Ash Carter. “In both Syria and Iraq, we’re seeing important steps to shape what will become crucial battles in the months to come.”
Reuters — Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack with an explosive-laden fuel tanker on an Iraqi police checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 70, medical and security officials said.
Responsibility was claimed in a posting on the website of the Amaq news agency, which supports the ultra-hardline Sunni group. "A martyr's operation with a truck bomb hit the Babylon Ruins checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Hilla, killing and wounding dozens," the statement on the Amaq website said.
Hilla is the capital of Babylon province, a predominantly Shi'ite region with some Sunni presence. "It's the largest bombing in the province to date," Falah al-Radhi, the head of the provincial security committee, told Reuters. "The checkpoint, the nearby police station were destroyed as well as some houses and dozens of cars."
Jack Kim (Reuters) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his country to be ready to use its nuclear weapons at any time and the military to be in "pre-emptive attack" mode in the face of growing threats from its enemies, state media said on Friday.
The comments, carried by the North's official KCNA news agency, marked a further escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula after the U.N. Security Council imposed harsh new sanctions on the isolated state for its nuclear programme.
North Korea, known for belligerent rhetoric, has previously threatened pre-emptive attacks on its enemies, including South Korea and the United States. Military experts doubt it has yet developed the capability to fire a long-range missile with a miniaturised warhead to deliver a nuclear weapon as far as the United States.
Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard (Reuters) — China said on Saturday it will raise military spending by 7.6 percent this year, its lowest increase in six years, but vowed to protect its maritime rights amid disputes in the East and South China Seas and improve intelligence gathering.
The 954.35 billion yuan ($146.67 billion) figure is only around a quarter of the U.S. Defense Department budget for 2016 of $573 billion, but comes at a time of rising concern over China's intentions in territorial disputes.
The increase is the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit jumps, and comes as China's economy slows. It was announced on Saturday at the start of the annual meeting of parliament, but had been flagged by an official who gave a rough figure the previous day.
Reuters — The Taliban said on Saturday it would not take part in peace talks brokered by representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, casting doubt on efforts to revive negotiations.
The Taliban, ousted from power in a U.S.-led military intervention in 2001, has been waging a violent insurgency to try to topple Afghanistan's Western-backed government and re-establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
Following a meeting of the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group made up of representatives of the four countries in Kabul in February, officials said they expected direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to begin in early March.