Living on the Fault Line
A major earthquake isn’t likely here, but if it comes, watch out.
Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo
This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.
The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.
After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.
Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.
During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.
“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”
Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.
Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.
After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.
But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.
Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.
Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.
The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.
For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.
Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”
The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.
The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.
This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”
Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”
But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.
Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.
All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.
For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.
Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.
To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.
In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.
As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)
In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.
The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).
Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.
Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.
This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.
“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.
For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)
All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.
Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”
Planning for the Big One
For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.
In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.
Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”
Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.
This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”
A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.
“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”
Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.
General Kenneth McKenzie Jr. responds to questions during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Sept. 29, 2021. Olivier Douliery—AFP via Getty ImagesBY W.J. HENNIGAN NOVEMBER 24, 2021 10:42 AM EST
Less than a week before world powers resume negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East says his forces stand ready with a potential military option should talks fail.
“Our president said they’re not going to have a nuclear weapon,” General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, tells TIME. “The diplomats are in the lead on this, but Central Command always has a variety of plans that we could execute, if directed.”
Iran is now further along in its nuclear weapons program than ever, producing stocks of uranium enriched to 60% purity, edging closer toward 90% weapons-grade material, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. watchdog. McKenzie believes Tehran has not made the decision to press ahead with manufacturing an actual warhead, but he shares concerns with America’s Middle East allies about the progress Iran has made.
“They’re very close this time,” McKenzie says. “I think they like the idea of being able to breakout.”
The Institute for Science and International Security, a non-profit think tank that specializes in nuclear weapons analysis, issued a report in September that found Iran could produce enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon in a month under a “worst-case breakout estimate.” After breakout begins, Iran could produce a second weapon in less than three months, then a third in less than five months.
Iran has stone-walled IAEA inspectors’ access to its facilities for months. Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency’s director general, said Tuesday his team has been unable to access surveillance footage inside nuclear facilities and subjected to “excessively invasive physical searches.”
Even if Tehran decides to amass enough fuel for a bomb, McKenzie says, the nation hasn’t yet standardized a design for a warhead that’s small enough to be affixed atop any of its arsenal of 3,000 ballistic missiles. Nor has Iran shown that it can build a reentry vehicle capable of surviving the searing heat, pressure and vibration of falling from space back to Earth. “We haven’t seen any of that,” McKenzie says. “That’s what’s going to take a little time for them to build.” He estimates it would take Iran more than a year to develop this capability with a robust testing program.
Iran has, however, shown its missiles have a proven ability to strike targets with precision, McKenzie says. In January 2020, Iran launched more than a dozen Qiam-1 and Fateh-313 ballistic missiles from launch sites at three bases in western Iran that hit two Iraqi bases, Al Asad and Erbil, where hundreds of Americans were stationed. The missiles turned buildings, aircraft and living quarters into smoldering rubble. No one died, as most had managed to shelter in underground bunkers and trenches, but concussions from the blasts injured 109 American troops.
There have been no formal international negotiations with Tehran since June, a month before Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president. The new hardline leader has sought more favorable terms on the nuclear deal, insisting that the U.S. remove all economy-crippling sanctions in exchange for Iran halting its nuclear activities. He maintains the nation’s nuclear program is peaceful and accuses U.S.-ally Israel of carrying out unprovoked military strikes, including assassinating Iranian scientists and attacking facilities. One such attack knocked out the IAEA camera systems at the location.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied these allegations but has long voiced its displeasure with the JCPOA. “Even with the return to an agreement, Israel is of course not part of the agreement. Israel is not bound by it,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday. “We will maintain our freedom to act.”
When President Donald Trump abrogated the 2015 nuclear agreement in May 2018, his administration turned the global financial system into a weapon against Tehran. His “maximum-pressure campaign” resulted in more than 1,500 sanctions against Iran along with companies and individuals who did business there, including the nation’s central bank, national oil company and other vital sectors of its economy. It triggered an exodus of corporations and financial institutions that would rather abandon their investments in Iran than risk U.S. Treasury Department sanctions. Iran’s economy-sustaining oil exports plunged to historic lows.
The Biden Administration has shown a willingness to roll back some penalties, but the prospect of easing terrorism-related sanctions is politically problematic. If the President removes them, he will almost certainly be criticized for looking soft. “There is no legal barrier to how far the President can go in undoing Trump’s sanctions, but the political cost in certain areas is prohibitive,” says Ali Vaez, the Iran project director at the International Crisis Group. “A narrow path remains open, but the odds of a diplomatic breakthrough are not looking promising at all.”
Republicans, Israel and Gulf nations have all pressured the White House to address what they say are Iran’s “malign activities.” Tehran is involved in every serious conflict in the Middle East, almost always on the side of America’s enemies. On Oct. 20, for instance, U.S. officials say Iranian-linked fighters launched a drone attack against a U.S. military base at al-Tanf in eastern Syria. There were no U.S. casualties, but buildings were destroyed. “We had a little bit of luck,” McKenzie says. “We’re in the middle of a battle drill. We had people out manning positions, so no one was killed as a result of that. But that is solely due to our action and not the action of the enemy, who was clearly trying to kill Americans.”
There is no dispute among Biden officials that Iran is a bad actor intent on expanding its influence in the Middle East, either directly as its military forces and Iranian-backed political groups have done in Iraq and Syria, or by funding and equipping proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. The question is how much the Biden Administration is willing to tolerate to restore the nuclear deal.
Removing economic pressure on Tehran is not currently part of the negotiations set to restart next week. In response to Iran’s insistence that all U.S. sanctions be lifted, Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly questioned Iran’s willingness to pursue diplomacy and implied an ultimatum if Iran chooses not to “engage in a meaningful way and get back into compliance.” The U.S. and other JCPOA signatories—Russia, China, Germany, Britain, and France—will consider “all of the options necessary to deal with this problem,” Blinken told CNN on Oct. 31.
There are no great options, says Henry Rome, an Iran expert at the Eurasia Group consulting firm. “In theory, there are four options: Iran getting a bomb, Iran getting bombed, Iran restraining its program through diplomacy, or Iran hovering on the edge of those three at the same time,” he says. “At this point in time, we’re in that uncomfortable position where diplomacy is not working and the bomb/be bombed options are unacceptable. It’s not a sustainable position, but it’s where we are right now.”
Even before Trump took office, the U.S. was responding to Iran’s regional expansion with military, intelligence and diplomatic countermeasures. Trump’s decision to unilaterally walk away from the nuclear deal accelerated the confrontation, but the willingness for talks indicates the two nations see some value in de-escalating tensions.
McKenzie believes it’s best to take a multilateral approach. “We have made a conscious decision to work this through diplomatic channels, he says. “And I would just tell you, it’s better to approach it from a collective perspective, rather than as a single problem, as we did for awhile.”
Defying a warning from local militias, a Pentagon official has told Newsweek that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq after the scheduled end of combat operations on December 31.
With less than a month and a half left in the year, an ensemble of Iraqi paramilitary factions known as the Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission shared with Newsweek a message Friday expressing disappointment with the lack of U.S. military drawdown.
Following talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in July, President Joe Biden had promised an end to the U.S. combat mission in the country by year’s-end.
The statement also alluded to observations “that the brazen American occupation increased its numbers and equipment in its bases in Iraq,” as well as referencing reports suggesting the U.S. intended “not to withdraw from the country under the pretext that there was a request from Baghdad [not] to do so,” something the commission said the Iraqi government has yet to deny.
“We affirm that the weapons of the honorable resistance, which have been talked about a lot in the past days, and some insisted on embroiling them in recent political rivalries, will be ready to dismember the occupation as soon as the moment comes and the deadline ends after twelve o’clock in the evening of 12/31/2021,” the statement said.
This message has been reinforced by leading militia groups such as Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada and the Hezbollah al-Nujaba Movement.
In response, Pentagon spokesperson Navy Commander Jessica McNulty said the U.S. position remains unchanged, and that no total exit is in order.NEWSWEEK SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS >
“The United States will uphold the commitments it made during the July 2021 U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue, including that there will be no U.S. forces with a combat role by the end of the year,” McNulty told Newsweek. “U.S. forces will remain in Iraq, at the invitation of the Government of Iraq, in an advising, assisting, and intelligence-sharing role to support the Iraqi Security Forces in the campaign to defeat ISIS.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed a similar sentiment over the weekend during a meeting in the Bahraini capital of Manama with his Iraqi Defense Minister Jumah Inad Sadun al-Jaburi, whom the Pentagon chief assured that “there will be no U.S. forces with a combat role by the end of the year,” according to the Defense Department.
“The two leaders discussed the next phase for the U.S. military mission in Iraq, which will focus on advising, assisting, and sharing intelligence with the Iraqi Security Forces in support of the campaign to defeat ISIS,” the readout stated on Saturday.
But the Biden administration has offered little insight into exactly what this next phase will look like.https://fa427c3456245fd0af1ec86f78f58e9f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
In a statement carried by the Iraqi National News Agency that same day, Iraqi Major General Tahsin Al-Khafaji, spokesperson for the Joint Operations Command, said Washington and Baghdad were sticking to their deal.
He said that “talking about extending the date for the withdrawal of American forces is inaccurate and incorrect, and the date for the departure of combat forces on the 31st of next December is fixed and there is no change in it.”
“The relationship between the two parties after the departure of the combat forces will be an advisory relationship in the fields of training, armament, intelligence and security information against the terrorist organization ISIS,” he added.https://fa427c3456245fd0af1ec86f78f58e9f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in December 2017, and has credited both the U.S. and Iran with supporting operations that ultimately decimated the self-styled caliphate erected by the jihadis across large swathes of Iraq.
But tensions that have since emerged between Washington and Tehran have torn Baghdad from within, especially in the form of clashes between U.S. troops and Iraqi militias, some of whom have received direct support from Iran.
Russia’s Defense Minister said that the minimal distance from our state border was 20 kmRussian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu© Alexei Yereshko/Russian Ministry of Defense/TASS
MOSCOW, November 23. /TASS/. Russia sees US strategic bombers’ intensified activity in close proximity to its borders, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said on Tuesday.
“We are witnessing a considerable increase in the US strategic bombers’ activity near the Russian borders. Over the past month, they conducted about 30 flights to the borders of the Russian Federation, or 2.5 times more compared to the same period of last year,” Russia’s defense chief said during talks with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe.
As the Russian defense minister stressed, “this month, in the course of the US Strategic Command’s Global Thunder exercise, 10 strategic bombers practiced employing nuclear weapons against Russia actually simultaneously from the western and eastern directions.”
“The minimal distance from our state border was 20 km,” Shoigu pointed out.
Developing interaction between Russia and China is especially important amid “the intensifying geopolitical turbulence and the growing conflict potential in various regions of the world,” he said.
“China and Russia have been strategic partners for many years. Today it is especially vital to develop our interaction in the conditions of the intensifying geopolitical turbulence and the growing conflict potential in various regions of the world,” Shoigu stressed.
SCIENCE & TECHNOV 23 2021VLADIMIR EVSEEV
Evgeny Odinokov /Sputnik
In the past decade, Russia has made a number of breakthroughs in the development of nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles, significantly outstripping Washington in several areas.
Russia and the US maintain quantitative parity in strategic weapons, whilst having different structures. However, the US leadership is extremely concerned that it lags behind Russia in the field of advanced missile defense systems. This stems from having underestimated Russian military potential and spent too heavily on armed conflicts (primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq), which ate up about $100 billion annually. After the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the significant drawdown in Iraq, the situation is starting to change. The US defense budget for 2022 will see substantial funds allocated for development of new weapons, including strategic ones.
New developments in Russia
Russian Defense Ministry/Sputnik
Russian engineers have created the RS-28 Sarmat strategic missile system. This stationary silo-based missile launcher with a heavy liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) will replace the Soviet-era Voevoda missile system, which is still in service with the country’s Strategic Missile Forces (SMF).
A major feature of Sarmat is its ability to strike enemy territory along a suborbital trajectory via the South Pole. If, say, the US were the target, this would allow a strike from the side of the Gulf of Mexico, where the Americans have no deployed anti-missile defense (ABM) systems. Note that the first production units of the Sarmat system will enter service with the SMF missile division, located in the town of Uzhur, Krasnoyarsk Territory, in 2022. This will effectively rule out any US interception attempts during the ICBM’s most vulnerable active flight phase.
For Russia’s sea-based Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF), the development of the Poseidon oceanic multipurpose system, based on nuclear-powered uncrewed underwater vehicles, is crucial. Their virtually unlimited capability to remain underwater allows these vehicles to destroy enemy aircraft carriers and naval strike groups in any direction, as well as to hit coastal infrastructure facilities at intercontinental range. Armed with a thermonuclear warhead, they are able to reach a speed of 200 km/h. At present, vehicles of this type are carried by the special-purpose nuclear submarine K-329 Belgorod.
And for the air-based component of the Russian SNF, the low-flying, nuclear-powered Burevestnik stealth cruise missile is being developed, which has an almost unlimited flight range. It too will be equipped with a thermonuclear warhead. And although its speed is subsonic, the cruise missile will be able to evade interception by next-generation enemy systems, both missile-defense and air-defense ones.
These Russian developments have no equivalents anywhere in the world. Hence, the Pentagon and the White House have come under severe criticism domestically. However, the US will not be able to correct this imbalance in nuclear forces with Russia quickly, since building such systems requires not only significant financial resources, but time.
A comparison of the current state of Russian and US strategic nuclear forces shows that, on the whole, quantitative parity is being maintained, as reflected in the extended New START treaty, signed in 2010 in Prague.
However, Washington is banking primarily on the naval component of its SNF, having a significant superiority in the number of both nuclear-powered, missile-carrying strategic submarines (SSBN) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) installed on them. In particular, the Ohio-class SSBN has 24 SLBMs on board, while Russia’s Borei-class SSBN is fitted with 16. Moscow, on the other hand, is reliant on its SMF, having both stationary (silo-based) and mobile land missile systems. The US lacks the latter.
Russia has accused the US of exceeding the treaty’s ceiling on deployed and non-deployed strategic delivery vehicles. The Russian Foreign Ministry believes that, as of May 2021, this excess amounted to 56 Trident-II SLBM launchers and 41 B-52N heavy bombers. The US claims that these weapons are unsuitable for combat use.
According to official data, Russia has 768 deployed and non-deployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy (strategic) bombers, and the US 800 (the ceiling limit). However, the US figure does not take into account the above weapons, which suggests that the Americans may have exceeded the ceiling of 101 strategic delivery vehicles. Meanwhile, the parties are fulfilling their obligations on deployed carriers: Russia has 517, the US 651 (the treaty sets a ceiling of 700).
The terms of the treaty in respect of nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs (Russia 1,456, the US 1,357) are being observed (the treaty caps each country at 1,550 strategic deployed warheads and attributes one deployed warhead per deployed heavy bomber, no matter how many warheads each bomber carries). This is due to the “dumping” of missile combat stages, which creates serious upload potential on both sides.
The author is the head of the CIS Institute Department of Eurasian Integration and SCO Development.
MOSCOW/WASHINGTON, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Russia’s defence minister on Tuesday accused U.S. bombers of rehearsing a nuclear strike on Russia from two different directions earlier this month and complained that the planes had come within 20 km (12.4 miles) of the Russian border.
But the Pentagon said its drills were announced publicly at the time and adhered to international protocols.
Moscow’s accusation comes at a time of high tension with Washington over Ukraine, with U.S. officials voicing concerns about a possible Russian attack on its southern neighbour – a suggestion the Kremlin has dismissed as false.
Moscow has in turn accused the United States, NATO and Ukraine of provocative and irresponsible behaviour, pointing to U.S. arms supplies to Ukraine, Ukraine’s use of Turkish strike drones against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and NATO military exercises close to its borders.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Moscow had noted a significant increase in the activity by U.S. strategic bombers, which he said had carried out 30 flights close to Russia this month. That, he said, was 2.5 times more than the same period last year.
Shoigu complained in particular of what he said was a simulated U.S. nuclear strike against Russia earlier this month.
“The defence minister underlined that during the U.S. military exercises ‘Global Thunder’, 10 American strategic bombers rehearsed launching nuclear weapons against Russia from the western and eastern directions,” Shoigu was quoted as saying in a defence ministry statement.
“The minimum proximity to our state border was 20 km.”
Shoigu was quoted as saying that Russian air defence units had spotted and tracked the U.S. strategic bombers and taken unspecified measures to avoid any incidents.
The Pentagon pushed back.
“These missions were announced publicly at the time, and closely planned with (Strategic Command), (European Command), allies and partners to ensure maximum training and integration opportunities as well as compliance with all national and international requirements and protocols,” said Lieutenant Colonel Anton Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesperson.
The top Russian and U.S. military officers, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, spoke by telephone on Tuesday but neither side disclosed the contents of the conversation.
Global Thunder, which this year put U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 bombers through their paces, is the U.S. Strategic Command’s annual nuclear and command exercise designed to test and demonstrate the readiness of U.S. nuclear capabilities.
President Vladimir Putin referenced the apparent episode briefly last week, complaining of Western strategic bombers carrying “very serious weapons” close to Russia. He said the West was taking Moscow’s warnings not to cross its “red lines” too lightly. read more
Shoigu made the comments in a video conference with Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe. He said that U.S. bomber flights close to Russia’s eastern borders were also a threat to China.
“Against this backdrop, Russo-Chinese coordination is becoming a stabilising factor in world affairs,” said Shoigu.
Russia and China agreed at their meeting to step up cooperation between their armed forces when it came to strategic military exercises and joint patrols, the defence ministry said.
Reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Phil Stewart in Washington; Additional reporting by Polina Devitt and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
A hypersonic weapons test carried out by China in July featured technology that enabled a missile to be fired mid-flight as it was traveling at least five times the speed of sound.
No other country has been able to carry out the feat — with the advanced hypersonic test catching Pentagon scientists off guard, intelligence sources told the Financial Timeson Sunday.
The test involved a nuclear warhead-carrying spacecraft firing off a separate missile while traveling over the South China Sea.
Experts at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s high-tech R&D branch, are still unsure how China managed to successfully fire the missile given that the spacecraft was traveling at hypersonic speeds, the sources said.
Defense officials have been investigating the data ever since the test — which was first reported last month — was carried out on July 27.
“This development is concerning to us as it should be to all who seek peace and stability in the region and beyond,” a National Security Council spokesperson said.
“This also builds on our concern about many military capabilities that the People’s Republic of China continues to pursue.”
The Chinese embassy denied knowing anything about the hypersonic missile test, saying, “We are not at all interested in having an arms race with other countries.”
“It went around the world, dropped off a hypersonic glide vehicle that glided all the way back to China, that impacted a target in China,” he said.
Hyten warned the advances meant China could one day launch a surprise attack on the US.
“Why are they building all of this capability?” Hyten said. “They look like a first-use weapon. That’s what those weapons look like to me.”