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18 Feb 21. NATO Defense Leaders Agree to Increase Iraqi Mission, Defer Decision on Afghanistan. Alliance defense ministers have agreed to raise the number of troops for the NATO Mission in Iraq from 500 to 4,000, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a virtual news conference today.
The secretary general spoke at the end of the alliance Defense Ministerial. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III participated in the virtual meeting for the United States.
Stoltenberg said the ministers also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the progress of the peace process. The U.S.-Taliban Agreement calls for withdrawal by May 1 if conditions are met.
“We are faced with many dilemmas, and there are no easy options,” Stoltenberg said. “At this stage, we have made no final decision on the future of our presence. But as the first of May deadline is approaching, NATO allies will continue to closely consult and coordinate in the coming weeks.”
The NATO allies remain committed to the support mission, which has been instrumental in forging a combat ready Afghan military and competent police, he said.
The secretary general stressed that the NATO allies will make decisions together. “I also very much welcome the very clear message from Secretary Austin, who made it very clear that the United States is going to continue to consult with NATO allies, and continue to make sure that we are coordinated as we move forward in Afghanistan,” he said.
With the May 1 deadline approaching, Stoltenberg called on the Taliban to live up to its commitments in the peace agreement to reduce violence, disown terrorist groups and negotiate honestly with the Afghan government. “The peace process is the best chance to end years of suffering and violence and bring lasting peace,” he said. “It is important for the Afghan people for the security of the region and for our own security.”
He called on all sides to re-energize the peace process. “NATO’s goal is to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists that would attack our homelands, so allies will continue to assess together the conditions on the ground,” Stoltenberg said. “As we do, the protection of our troops remains paramount, and we will take all necessary measures to keep them safe.”
In Iraq, the training mission will expand in personnel and geographically beyond Baghdad. “Our presence is conditioned-based, and increases in troop numbers will be incremental,” Stoltenberg said.
The decision came about as part of a request by Iraqi officials. Stoltenberg said he spoke personally to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi assuring him that “everything will be done in full consultation with Iraqi authorities.”
The move is also being done in consultation with the nations of the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Canada has led the training mission for the past two years and just turned the command over to Denmark. (Source: US DoD)
18 Feb 21. India boosting defences along north-eastern border with China. India has begun reinforcing its defences along its north-eastern border with China as military tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours continue in the Himalayas, despite a recently agreed ‘disengagement’ of Indian and Chinese troops in the north-western Ladakh region.
Official sources told Janes on 18 February that the IA aims to bolster and restructure its formations in the country’s northeast over the next three months by moving them closer to the disputed Line of Actual Control (LoAC) and raising an additional armoured brigade in Sikkim State.
The proposed brigade, which is set to comprise a combined total of about 140 licence-built T-72M1 ‘Ajeya’ and T-90S ‘Bhishma’ main battle tanks (MBTs), will supplement the one current deployed across north and east Sikkim.
The new brigade is expected to be operate near the Doklam (also known as Droklam or Donglang) tri-junction where the Indian Army (IA) and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were locked in a 73-day standoff in 2017. The disputed borders between China, India and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan lie in this area.
The reinforcement strategy will also include re-deploying to the area about 20 of the 46 paramilitary Assam Rifles (AR) battalions that are currently on counter-insurgency operations and assigned to guard India’s border with Myanmar. (Source: Jane’s)
18 Feb 21. UK renews commitment to NATO missions. The UK will expand its contribution to NATO Mission Iraq, following the Alliance’s decision to scale up the crucial mission at this week’s NATO Defence Ministerial. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed to fellow Defence Ministers representing NATO’s 30 members that the UK will scale up its own commitment in line with the Alliance’s expansion of NATO Mission Iraq.
The virtual Defence Ministerial also provided the opportunity for the Defence Secretary to detail to allies how the UK Carrier Strike Group 21 – which is setting off for its first operational deployment this year – will boost NATO’s capability to respond to the complex threats we face as an Alliance in an unstable world.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said, “The UK is setting a course for the future of NATO by modernising our own Armed Forces to keep the country and its allies safe in a more threatening world, following the record settlement of more than £24bn.
Our commitment to NATO is at the heart of this approach and I was pleased to discuss with allies our shared vision of deepened cooperation, refreshed operational concepts, and the use of cutting-edge technology to counter the threats of today and tomorrow. First and foremost we are committed to delivering on NATO operations. The UK Government remains resolute in our support to the government of Afghanistan in the face of unacceptable Taliban violence. We are determined to ensure that conditions are met for achieving a lasting political settlement, which is the only means of ensuring security from terrorism for the people of Afghanistan, the United Kingdom and its Allies.”
Mr Wallace highlighted the forthcoming Integrated Review which will set the course for a modernised, threat-focused and sustainable defence – with NATO occupying a central place. The Defence Secretary told allies that the UK’s commitment to NATO remains unwavering and explained how the Integrated Review will match the Alliance’s goals by increasing spending, embracing innovation and delivering a force structure embracing all domains
Allies cooperating to counter shared threats
The NATO Defence ministerial provided the opportunity for ministers to discuss the complex challenges facing the Alliance including current operations, countering hostile state activity, and the emergence of disruptive technologies.
Ministers agreed an implementation strategy for researching, investing in and adopting emerging technologies into the Alliance. This will ensure NATO stays ahead of the curve and maintains a technological edge ahead of adversaries.
Defence Ministers also discussed the future of the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. The Defence Secretary affirmed to allies that the UK remains committed to the operation and supporting the Afghan peace process.
Mr Wallace also welcomed the progress made by allies towards fairer burden sharing. 2021 will be the seventh consecutive year of increased defence spending by European allies and Canada.
NATO Mission Iraq expands
Over the two-day virtual conference defence ministers from across the NATO Alliance agreed to expand the mission to Iraq on an incremental basis to bolster Iraq’s fight against the terrorist threat of Daesh.
This will see the UK continue to support the NATO mission which provides professional military training to the Iraqi security forces and is being expanded to cover more Iraqi Government institutions. The UK will work with NATO over the coming weeks and months to confirm the size and nature of the UK’s contribution. Working alongside our international partners, UK personnel have trained over 120,000 Iraqi and Kurdish security forces as part of counter-Daesh efforts.
The UK is committed to supporting the government of Iraq in further developing its counter-terrorism capabilities, as the threat from Daesh continues to evolve.
UK Carrier Strike Group sails with Allies
The UK Carrier Strike Group will also be extending NATO influence during its maiden deployment later in the year. NATO allies will contribute to the CSG 21 deployment, including the United States who will be contributing fifth-generation aircraft from the US Marine Corps, and a US Navy destroyer.
The Carrier Strike Group’s capabilities will be on show during Exercise Strike Warrior, taking place off the coast of Scotland in May. The UK-led war-fighting exercise, including several other NATO navies, will be the final test for the Carrier Strike Group before it undertakes Air and Maritime missions in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Black Sea. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
18 Feb 21. 10 percent decline in Gulf defence spending expected in 2021, says Janes. A challenging economic picture during 2020 and changing dynamics in procurement processes, timelines and requirements may alter the longer-term growth of defence budgets in the region. The latest analysis from Janes highlights that defence spending in Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries is to decline by 9.4% in 2021, as countries in the region face pressure due to the impact of Covid-19 and low oil prices. However, the trusted global agency for open-source defence intelligence expects a swift rebound in coming years.
Janes data shows that defence expenditure for the GCC states rose by 5.4% in 2020, from USD94.9bn in 2019 to USD100bn in 2020. However, in 2021 this figure is expected to drop to USD90.6bn before falling to USD89.4bn in 2022. A return to growth should mean that spending will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024. Janes also expects procurement expenditure to decline slightly to USD13.25bn in 2021, following a 4.5% surge in 2020.
“The significant drop in oil prices during 2020, coupled with a corresponding decline in demand from the manufacturing and transportation sectors, resulted in increased pressure on government budgets. Revenues from oil and gas declined, while non-oil revenues from industries such as travel, finance, and tourism were also impacted as lockdowns kicked in globally,” said Charles Forrester, Lead Analyst at Janes. “Previous collapses of oil prices in 2014 and 2016 were met with stronger financial reserves and ongoing security threats in Iraq, Syria, the Gulf and Yemen meaning that governments were able to ring-fence defence expenditure from any significant cuts at the time.”
Janes analysis highlights that defence may not be as protected as before, particularly as some countries in the GCC region were already facing fiscal deficits at the start of 2020.
“Overall, defence spending is expected to rebound in the near-term as government revenues also increase due to improvements in regional economies. According to Janes analysis, defence budgets will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, with procurement expenditure expected to reach 2019 levels by 2022,” Forrester said.
“The long-term procurement budget forecast will be shaped by the cyclical nature of some countries’ defence procurements coming to an end. Qatar, for example, has undertaken a significant build-up of new capabilities ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with deliveries being completed around this time. Other countries have capability requirements that have been long-delayed, and it may only be once the economic recovery is underway that these are signed off.”
Changing regional dynamics
Janes anticipates that localisation in key markets such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE will result in near-term changes to the region’s defence equipment procurements.
“Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both clearly identified localisation of defence equipment production and development in their offset and procurement regulations. Building capacity in-country helps to reduce the costs for through-life support of more complex systems, and also reduces the downtime for more advanced maintenance operations if there is a support infrastructure in place,” said Forrester. “Both countries are also working to leverage new technologies in the defence sector– in order to build out their own conventional deterrence capabilities and to reduce the reliance on foreign suppliers. Such technologies include unmanned systems ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to unmanned surface vessels (USVs) that can patrol maritime domains and improve situational awareness and security.”
Abraham Accords to help drive new capability development
The Abraham Accords are also expected to open the possibilities of sales of new and advanced equipment to its signatories, helping to increase competition in the Gulf equipment marketplace with technology that is compatible with previously acquired Western systems.
“Israeli capabilities in a variety of key advanced technological areas, such as UAVs, air defence, and cybersecurity, are all key areas of interest for the Gulf’s militaries. Financial and technical collaboration in areas such as AI, big data analytics, and cybersecurity will help to both enable and enhance capabilities, but also address mutual threats through complementary development.” Forrester said.
The acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter by the UAE following the signing of the Abraham Accords will also help to link the US, Israeli, and Emirati defence industries together.
“Bringing a new user into the F-35 family will allow for the wider technological development base to create new solutions that build on a new member’s doctrine, experience, and capabilities. Operating in a complex environment such as the Gulf brings its own challenges with civil-military air and electro-magnetic spectrum deconfliction that will support new capability development and deployment,” according to Forrester. (Source: Jane’s)
18 Feb 21. Update: RAF air strikes against Daesh. The RAF are continuing to take the fight to Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Thursday 11 February – RAF Typhoons destroyed two Daesh encampments in northern Iraq.
The UK Armed Forces have once again conducted air strikes in support of the Iraqi security forces, as the Global Coalition against Daesh continues to prevent a terrorist resurgence in Iraq. On Thursday 11 February, two Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s were tasked to conduct strikes against terrorists who had been identified occupying two dispersed encampments on the banks of the Tharthar River, west of the city of Bayji.
A preceding check of the area revealed there were no signs of any civilians who might be placed at risk and the RAF aircraft proceeded to conduct the strikes using Paveway IV guided bombs. Further surveillance of both sites confirmed that the series of different targets within the encampments were struck and the mission had been a success.
Notwithstanding the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Royal Air Force aircraft have been able to continue regular armed reconnaissance missions to support the enduring work of the Iraqi security forces to prevent any resurgence of the Daesh terrorist movement within their country. On Sunday 24 January, a coalition surveillance aircraft located a number of Daesh fighters based in two caves some ten miles north of Bayji, and two Typhoon FGR4s were tasked to strike them. Our aircraft conducted a careful check of the area around the caves, which were a mile and a half apart, for any signs of civilians who might be at risk, before conducting simultaneous attacks, using two Paveway IV guided bombs against each group. All four of the bombs struck their targets accurately and the strike was assessed to have been a success in eliminating the terrorist threat.
17 Feb 21. Joint statement: Rocket attacks in Erbil on 15 February 2021. The following statement was released by the US, France, Germany, Italy and the UK following the February 15 attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. The following statement was released by United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab following the February 15 attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region:
We the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America condemn in the strongest terms the February 15 rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. We offer our condolences to the victims, their families, and the Iraqi people.
Together, our governments will support the Government of Iraq’s investigation into the attack with a view to holding accountable those responsible. We are united in our view that attacks on U.S. and Coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
16 Feb 21. Israel moves to buy F-35 jets, KC-46 refueling planes, munitions: official. An Israeli ministerial committee approved the purchase of new jets, aircraft and munitions from U.S. companies, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, in a deal that would be worth billions of dollars.
“A ministerial procurement committee has approved the purchase of a new F-35 squadron, four new refueling planes, and a large quantity of munitions,” the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss matters still under negotiation.
It would be the first Foreign Military Sale to Israel announced under the new administration of President Joe Biden. Since sales take months to process, the genesis of the deals likely dates back to the Trump Administration.
Israel has been considering the purchase of KC-46 refueling planes made by Boeing Co for some time and has also been eyeing an additional squadron of 24 or 25 F-35s, which are made by Lockheed Martin.
The Biden Administration temporarily paused some pending arms sales to U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in order to review them.
Although the Israelis have approved the purchase, the U.S. Congress requires notification of major weapons sales before a contract can be signed. (Source: Reuters)
16 Feb 21. Saudi Arabia/Yemen – Abha Airport: Saudi-led coalition shoots down Houthi drone, fragments fall on airport (UPDATE #10).
On 16 February, the Saudi-led coalition confirmed the shoot-down of a Houthi rebel drone launched from Yemen targeting Abha International Airport (OEAB/AHB) in Asir Province, southwest Saudi Arabia. A coalition spokesman stated that fragments of the drone fell on the airport, but no casualties or injuries were reported. Previously, on 15 February, the Houthis claimed to have conducted weaponised drone attacks targeting Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport (OEJN/JED) and Abha International Airport, causing two hours of flight schedule disruption. Osprey analysis of publicly available flight tracking data indicates that disruption to scheduled operations occurred at Jeddah Airport from c.0230-0400 local time (2330-0100 UTC) and at Abha Airport c.0330-0445 local time (0030-0145 UTC) on 15 February. The Saudi-led coalition has yet to make a statement on the specific Houthi claims or the flight disruption at the airports on 15 February. However, in the early morning of 15 February, the coalition confirmed the shoot-down of a Houthi rebel drone launched from Yemen targeting an unspecified area in the kingdom.
On 13-14 February, the Saudi-led coalition reportedly shot down three Houthi drones targeting Abha Airport. Flight schedule disruption occurred but no significant material damage or casualties were reported. On 12 February, the Houthis claimed attacks involving three drones “during various hours of this Friday” against Abha Airport and King Khaled Air Base in Khamis Mushait, also in Asir Province. Osprey analysis of publicly available flight tracking data indicates that disruption to scheduled operations occurred at Abha Airport c.1510-1610 local time (1210-1310 UTC) on 12 February. The Saudi-led coalition has yet to make a statement on the Houthi claim or the flight disruption at Abha Airport on 12 February. Previously, on 10 February, a Houthi drone attack targeting Abha Airport led to a civilian commercial aircraft parked at the installation being damaged. Of note, confirmed Houthi military-grade weaponised drone or cruise missile attacks targeting Abha Airport occurred during 2020 on 20 August and in late October, and in 2019 on 12 June, 23 June, 1 July and 28 August. On 23 November, the Saudi-led coalition confirmed that a Houthi cruise-missile strike targeted an Aramco site in Jeddah.
On 23 and 26 January, the Saudi-led coalition reportedly employed US-made MIM-104 Patriot conventional surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to shoot down suspected surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) or drones over Riyadh. Disruption to operations occurred at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport (OERK/RUH) during the periods that the reported downings over the capital occurred. Of note, there has been no official acknowledgement or attribution for the 26 January incident by the Saudi-led coalition. During 2020, the Saudi-led coalition reportedly shot down SSMs and/or drones launched from Yemen by the Houthis targeting Riyadh on 28 October, 10 September, 23 June and 27 March.
International media outlet reporting from 13 January indicates that Iran has provided the Houthis with Shahed-136 military-grade weaponised drones with an approximate range of 2,000-2,200km (1,240-1,370 miles). Commercial satellite imagery indicates that the Houthis have deployed the Shahed-136 drones to Al Jawf Governorate in northwest Yemen. Acquisition of Shahed-136 drones from Yemen indicates that Houthi rebels now have the capability to target all of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and even Israel. Of note, media reporting from early January indicates that Israel has deployed Patriot and Israeli-made Iron Dome conventional SAM systems to the Red Sea city of Eilat due to “threats of attack from Yemen” via weaponised drones such as the Shahed-136.
The southwest provinces of Asir, Jizan and Najran are located within the Emergency Security Control of Air Traffic (ESCAT) area of Saudi Arabia, which is covered by a notice issued on 28 January and a publication issued by the civil aviation authority of the country (NOTAM OEJD W0336/20, W0120/21 & AIP SUP 02/21). EASA, Germany and France have issued notices to operators advising against conducting civil aviation flight activity within the southwest provinces of Saudi Arabia (EASA – CZIB-2018-01R6, Germany – AIC 18/20 & France – AIC A 23/20).
The Saudi-led coalition has shot down at least 19 Houthi drones and SSMs targeting locations in the southwest provinces of the kingdom so far in 2021, including 16 from 7-16 February alone. The US designated the Houthis a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) on 11 January; however, the Biden administration rescinded the Houthi FTO designation during February. In addition, the Biden administration announced in February that the US was ending military support to Saudi-led coalition offensive operations in Yemen against Houthi rebel forces. However, the US military will reportedly continue to provide defensive air and air-defence support to Saudi Arabia to assist in protecting the kingdom from SSM and/or drone attacks.
The majority of Houthi SSM launches into Saudi Arabia and associated intercepts – along with drone attacks/downings – occur over the southwest provinces in the ESCAT area along the border with Yemen, though some attacks have targeted sites deep in the interior of the country. On 16 August 2019, the Saudi-led coalition confirmed that Houthi rebels conducted a drone attack targeting the Shaybah Oil Field facility in Eastern Province. On 1 August 2019, the Houthis claimed to have launched an SSM at a military site in the eastern city of Dammam. On 26 July 2018, the Houthis reportedly conducted a Samad-3 attack launched from northwest Yemen against Abu Dhabi International Airport (OMAA/AUH) in the UAE. Saudi Arabia has shot down over 200 Houthi SSMs and drones over its territory since the start of 2018, including thwarting at least 12 attacks over Riyadh, as well as two over Mecca Province and at least two over Yanbu, located deep within the interior of the country.
During 2019-2020, the US military deployed additional Patriot conventional SAM systems to locations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Gulf Region. On 14 September 2019, large-scale attacks targeted two major oil facilities in Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia involving 18 drones and seven cruise missiles. Despite the Houthi claim of responsibility for these strikes, they did not emanate from Yemen, and the US claims the missiles and drones were launched by Iranian military forces from southwest Iran. Saudi Arabia has Patriot systems deployed in its southwest provinces along the Yemeni border and in main urban centres of the country. At various points since 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has deployed Patriot systems within Yemen for strategic air-defence coverage of western areas of Yemeni airspace. The UAE also maintains a Patriot system capability deployed within its borders. Each of these military entities also has combat aircraft capable well above FL260 deployed at operating locations in the Middle East region for air and air-defence purposes.
Overall, SSM and drone attacks against the southwest provinces over Saudi Arabia have dropped significantly since the August-September 2019 timeframe and have remained at consistent levels through 2020 and into 2021. Continued SSM and additional drone launches by the Houthis associated intercepts via Saudi military conventional SAM engagement, as well as fighter jet air-to-air weapon employment, are likely to occur several times monthly over both Yemen and the ESCAT area of Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future. In addition, quarterly SSM or drone attacks and associated intercepts near Riyadh or over main urban centres located deep within the Saudi interior are probable until a resolution between the factions in the Yemen conflict is reached. Attacks against targets in Israel or the UAE from Yemen by the Houthis remain a credible outlier scenario and, while less likely to occur than the activity noted above, cannot be ruled out completely.
In the event of launches towards key sites in the southwest provinces of Saudi Arabia or main urban centres deep in the interior of the kingdom, like Riyadh and Jeddah, the Saudi authorities are likely to respond by holding all inbound flights or diverting them to other airports, as well as suspending all departures. Whilst the amount of time between these closures and the resumption of activity can vary, previous incidents have resulted in the cessation of civilian air traffic for a period of hours. Once the restrictions are lifted, landings are also likely to be restricted for an additional length of time whilst the backlog is cleared and aircraft in holding patterns are permitted to land.
We assess territory in Saudi Arabia outside the ESCAT area to be a HIGH risk airspace environment at all altitudes. We assess Yemen and the ESCAT area of Saudi Arabia to be EXTREME risk airspace environments at all altitudes. We assess the UAE to be a MODERATE risk airspace operating environment at all altitudes. We assess Gaza, along with areas inside Israel situated within 50km (32 miles) of Gaza and the Egyptian border, to comprise a HIGH risk airspace environment below FL260 and MODERATE risk airspace environment above FL260.
Approvals: As a precaution, conduct operational risk-based identification of divert and alternate airports for flight schedules with planned stops at aerodromes in the country or with overflight of the airspace. Operators are advised to ensure flight plans are correctly filed, attain proper special approvals for flight operations to sensitive locations and obtain relevant overflight permits prior to departure. In addition, ensure crews scheduled to operate to or over the country in the near term are fully aware of the latest security situation.
Missile Launches: Unannounced rocket and missile launches that transit airspace used by civilian aircraft pose a latent threat to operations at all altitudes. The country has a history of not issuing adequate notice of activities in its airspace that could affect flight safety. Multiple safety of flight concerns emanate from a situation where a missile malfunctions during the boost, mid-course or terminal phases of flight. Such an event would cause the missile to fly an unplanned trajectory and altitude profile which could expose overflying aircraft to mid-air collision, route diversion and or debris splashdown issues. Leading civil aviation governing bodies have standing notices advising operators of the threat to civil aviation in the airspace due to unannounced military activity, rocket test firings and or missile launches.
Shoot-down Policy: The country has an aggressive air intercept and shoot-down policy which allows air and air defence forces to intercept and disable aerial targets violating airspace regulations. Military air and air defence assets may be employed to down aerial targets under the auspice of the policy. While legal civil aviation flights are unlikely to be directly targeted, there remains a latent but credible risk of misidentification and interception by military air and air defence assets. (Source: Osprey)
16 Feb 21. UAE, Ukraine signs defence collaboration agreements. Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have signed a collaboration agreement that brings together the defence industrial organisations of the two countries.
During a visit by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the UAE on 14 February, an agreement was signed by Ukraine’s UkrOboronProm and UkrSpecExport and the UAE’s Edge group. According to a statement by UkrOboronProm, the agreement will “facilitate the exchange and development of advanced technologies by the three parties, with the prospect of investments worth more than USD1bn.”
Tawazun Economic Council CEO Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani told Janes that “This agreement between Ukraine and the UAE reflects a commitment to encouraging international collaboration within the defence sector. All three parties will benefit from government-to-government and industrial partnerships that are designed to support our efforts in developing an agile defence and security industry”.
Edge Group CEO Faisal Al Bannai said in a statement that: “Edge places a strong emphasis on joint development and collaboration…. We are excited about the opportunities for the UAE and Ukraine to collaborate, exchange, and mutually benefit from one another’s military and technical capabilities.”
An Edge spokesperson had not responded to a request for further information at the time of publication. (Source: Jane’s)
16 Feb 21. Tamil Nadu announces new Indian industrial policy, targets Rs 10trn investments. Policy aims to raise contribution of manufacturing sector to 30% of GSDP by 2030, create two million jobs.
Tamil Nadu today announced its new Industrial Policy 2021 with an aim to garner investments worth about Rs 10trn by 2025.
The state’s Chief Secretary, Rajeev Ranjan, said the objective of the policy is to attract investments worth Rs trillions and create employment opportunities for two million by 2025.
The Policy also aims to raise the contribution of the manufacturing sector to 30 per cent of the State’s economy by 2030.
Ranjan said Industrial policy 2021 aims to achieve an annual growth rate of 15 per cent in manufacturing.
Tamil Nadu also announced MSME Policy 2021, which has set a target to attract new investments worth Rs2trn in the sector by 2025 and create additional employment opportunities for two million people.
Tamil Nadu’s former Chief Secretary & Advisor to Tamil Nadu, K Sharnmugam, said manufacturing contributes 25 per cent to the State’s GDP and that the sector achieved a CAGR of 13 per cent between FY15 and FY20.
“Our endeavour is to make Tamil Nadu a strong hub for global manufacturing. The State is focusing on improving infrastructure and reducing the cost of doing business by developing dedicated industrial parks,” he said.
Some of these specialised areas include EV & bulk drug parks in Manalur, medical devices parks at Oragadam and Chengalpattu, mega textile parks in Dharmapuri and Virudhunagar, and defence & aerospace parks in Sriperumbudur and Sulur.
Tamil Nadu has been attracting a great deal of investments in sunrise sectors like EVs, EV cells & batteries, renewables parts. Potential exists for aerospace, pharma, petrochem and tech textiles, said N Muruganandam, Principal Secretary, Industries, Government of Tamil Nadu.
He added that Tamil Nadu has achieved a compounded annual growth rate of 13 per cent in manufacturing between 2014-15 and 2019-20 and is well-positioned to attain a target growth of 14 per cent, in line with Vision 2023.
“In the long run, Tamil Nadu sees an opportunity to not just return to its normal growth trajectory but to leverage disruption in technology for resurgence and driving growth through a robust manufacturing ecosystem. This will include a shift to digital services and leveraging R&D for disruptive industrial innovation. Hence, this Policy focuses on encouraging R&D and adoption of technology in the manufacturing sector, said in the policy document.
The approach will be to achieve inclusive and balanced regional growth, spped up industrial growth with incentives and facilitation measures, promote resilient industrial development that aligns with environmental sustainability, develop an innovation ecosystem and promote investment in technology adoption, encourage FDI & exports, implementation mechanism that delivers incentives in an objective, transparent and time bound manner among others.
Key levers and pillars of the new Industrial Policy would be structured Package, incentives for Logistics Infrastructure, incentives for Sunrise Sector, incentives for Foreign Direct Investment, incentives for Industrial Parks, incentives for Sub-Large Projects and Incentives for R&D Projects.
“High-level implementation guidelines have been provided in this Policy, and detailed operational guidelines and clarifications will be issued from time to time,” says the policy document.
Palaniswami also laid the foundation stones for six industrial estates of TANSIDCO in various districts, which would generate about 13,300 jobs, and for four new industrial parks of SIPCOT at Manapparai, Maanallur, Oragadam and Dharmapuri. The state aims to attract investment of Rs 27,000 crore in automobile, electric vehicles manufacturing, food processing. (Source: Google/https://www.business-standard.com/)
16 Feb 21. China targets rare earth export curbs to hobble US defence industry. Beijing asks industry executives if proposed restrictions will harm western contractors. China controls 80 per cent of the global supply of rare earth minerals.
China is exploring whether it can hurt US defence contractors by limiting the export of rare earth minerals that are crucial for the manufacture of F-35 fighter jets and other sophisticated weaponry, according to people involved in a government consultation. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology last month proposed draft controls on the production and export of 17 rare earth minerals in China, which controls about 80 per cent of global supply. Industry executives said government officials had asked them how badly companies in the US and Europe, including defence contractors, would be affected if China restricted rare earth exports during a bilateral dispute. “The government wants to know if the US may have trouble making F-35 fighter jets if China imposes an export ban,” said a Chinese government adviser who asked not to be identified. Industry executives added that Beijing wanted to better understand how quickly the US could secure alternative sources of rare earths and increase its own production capacity.
China’s own rare earth security isn’t guaranteed. It can disappear when the US-China relationship deteriorates or Myanmar’s generals decide to shut the border David Zhang, Sublime China Information Fighter jets such as the F-35, a Lockheed Martin aircraft, rely heavily on rare earths for critical components such as electrical power systems and magnets. A Congressional Research Service report said that each F-35 required 417kg of rare-earth materials The Chinese move follows deteriorating Sino-US relations and an emerging technology war between the two countries. The Trump administration tried to make it harder for Chinese companies to import sensitive US technology, such as high-end semiconductors. The Biden administration has signalled that it would also restrict certain exports but would work more closely with allies. Beijing’s control of rare earths threatens to become a new source of friction with Washington but some warn any aggressive moves by China could backfire by prompting rivals to develop their own production capacity.
In a November report, Zhang Rui, an analyst at Antaike, a government-backed consultancy in Beijing, said that US weapons makers could be among the first companies targeted by any export restriction. China’s foreign ministry said last year it would sanction Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon for selling arms to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its sovereign territory. The proposed guidelines would require rare earth producers to follow export control laws that regulate shipments of materials that “help safeguard state security”. China’s State Council and Central Military Commission will have the final say on whether the list should include rare earths. Rare earth minerals are also central to the manufacture of products including smartphones, electric vehicles and wind turbines. The F-35 relies on rare earths for critical components such as electrical power systems © George Frey/Bloomberg Some executives and officials are, however, questioning the wisdom of formally including rare earths in the export control regime. They argue that it would motivate Beijing’s rivals to accelerate their own production capacities and undermine China’s dominance of the industry. “Export controls are a doubled-edged sword that should be applied very carefully,” said Zhang of Antaike. The Pentagon has become increasingly concerned about the US reliance on China for rare earths that are used in everything from precision-guided missiles to drones.
Ellen Lord, the top defence official for acquisitions until last year, told Congress in October that the US needed to create stockpiles of certain rare earths and re-establish domestic processing. She said the US had a “real vulnerability” because China floods the market to destroy any competition any time nations are about to start mining or producing. In recent months, the Pentagon has signed contracts with American and Australian miners to boost their onshore refining capacity and reduce their reliance on Chinese refiners. The US National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment. Chinese rare earth miners themselves are worried about the enhanced power the regulations would give MIIT to control their output. China began setting rare earth production limits in 2007 to keep prices high and reduce pollution but the policy is not legally binding and many miners regularly exceed their output quota. The latest regulations would allow the government to impose steep fines for unapproved sales. “The new rule is not going to make China stronger in the global supply chain when local mines can’t operate at full capacity and an export ban is easier said than done,” said an executive, who asked not to be identified, at Guangdong Rare Earth Group, one of the nation’s largest rare earth groups. Recommended News in-depthThe Big Read US-China: Washington revives plans for its rare earths industry In a statement, MIIT said the new law would help “protect national interest and ensure the security of strategic resources”.
According to government statistics, China’s demand for rare earths is so high that it has consistently exceeded domestic supply over the past five years, prompting a surge of Chinese imports from miners in the US and Myanmar. A wide range of industries are driving demand for the strategic resource, including China’s electric vehicle and wind power generation sectors. “China’s economic planners have failed to predict the surge in rare earth consumption,” said an executive at Gold Dragon Rare Earth Co in south-eastern Fujian Province. “China’s own rare earth security isn’t guaranteed,” said David Zhang, an analyst at Sublime China Information, a consultancy. “It can disappear when the US-China relationship deteriorates or Myanmar’s generals decide to shut the border.” While China’s dominance in rare earth mining is under threat, it maintains a near monopoly in the refining process that turns ores into materials ready for manufacturers. The country controls about four-fifths of global rare earth refining capacity. Ores mined in the US must be sent to China as the US has no refining capacity of its own yet. Industry executives, however, said China’s strength in refining had more to do with its higher tolerance for pollution than any technological edge. (Source: FT.com)
15 Feb 21. Philippine Air Force displays recently acquired aerial assets. The Philippine Air Force (PAF) displayed a number of its recently acquired aerial assets during a visit by President Rodrigo Duterte to Clark Air Base, northwest of Manila, on 12 February.
The service said in a statement that the assets inspected by the president include one second-hand Lockheed Martin (Lockheed) C-130H transport aircraft acquired from the United States, six Polish-made Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky Black Hawk multirole helicopters, six A-29B Super Tucano trainer/light attack aircraft acquired from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer Defense & Security, as well as six Hermes 900 and four Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel’s Elbit Systems.
The transport aircraft is one of two refurbished C-130Hs being acquired by the PAF under the US Excess Defense Articles Program, with the second one slated for delivery later this year. The S-70is, which were delivered in 2020, are the first six of a total of 16 ordered by the PAF in 2019, with Manila announcing on 4 February that it has also approved the procurement of at least 15 more such helicopters to replace its ageing Bell UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopters.
The six A-29Bs were ordered in 2017 and officially inducted into service in October 2020. As for the UAVs, the latest announcement confirms that at least six of the nine Hermes 900 and all four of the Hermes 450 UAVs ordered by the PAF are operational. (Source: Jane’s)
15 Feb 21. Iraq – Erbil International Airport: Remain prepared for aviation disruption following rocket attack. On 15 February at approximately 1900Z, a rocket attack involving at least three projectiles reportedly targeted Erbil International Airport (ORER/EBL) serving the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Casualty as well as material damage information remains unclarified at this time; however, the situation remains fluid and subject to rapid change. Of note, an Iranian-linked militant group Ashab al-Khaf claimed to have conducted a rocket attack against a Turkish military base on the Iraq-Turkey border in the Kurdistan Region on 15 February, though no additional information has come to light regarding this alleged incident. A previous rocket attack reportedly targeted Erbil International Airport on 30 September. Of note, the US military has deployed Counter Rocket, Artillery & Mortar (C-RAM) air-defence systems at Erbil International Airport as well as at Ain Al Asad Air Base (ORAA/IQA) in Anbar Province. US military C-RAM air-defence systems are capable out to 3.5km (2.2 miles) and up to FL150.
Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMU) militias and/or Iranian-linked militant groups have conducted over 70 rocket attacks on bases in Iraq where US military advisers are present since October 2019. Credible reporting since October 2019 indicates that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) has provided specific PMU militias with rockets and sophisticated launch platforms for use in attacks targeting bases in Iraq where US military advisers are present. Previous indirect-fire events have targeted Baghdad International Airport (ORBI/BGW) on 17 occasions since December 2019, including nine rocket attacks on the installation from July-September, and as recently as 22 January. On 20 December, US military C-RAM systems deployed at the International Zone (‘Green Zone’) in Baghdad reportedly shot down several incoming projectiles during an indirect-fire attack. Iran-backed Iraqi PMU militias and/or Iranian-linked militant groups were reportedly responsible for the attack, which involved over 20 rockets. Prior to that, 12 indirect-fire events targeted the Green Zone during July-November.
Due to the rocket attacks discussed above, the US has reportedly considered the closure of its embassy in the capital and discussions remain ongoing between senior Iraqi and US government officials on the presence of US diplomatic facilities in Iraq. Tensions have been rising in Iraq in recent months in relation to the first anniversary of the US drone strike on 2 January 2020 near Baghdad International Airport that killed the leader of the Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU Kataib Hezbollah militia along with Iran’s IRGC-QF commander. Strategic dialogue between Iraq and the US remains ongoing with talks focused on a timeline outlining the presence of US-led coalition forces in the country. On 15 January, the US announced it had drawn down its military forces in Iraq to c.2,500 personnel.
Germany recently extended its AIC for Iraqi airspace, citing a potential risk to flights below FL260 in FIR Baghdad (ORBB) stemming from ongoing military operations and anti-aviation weaponry (Germany – AIC 18/20). In addition, EASA along with the UK and French civil aviation authorities have each issued stringent guidance to operators in the past year regarding the persistent threat to flight operations within Iraq at altitudes primarily below FL320 (EASA CZIB-2017-04R6, NOTAM UK EGTT V0004/21 & AIC France A 23/20). Both the US and Canada issued NOTAMs during March stipulating aviation operators registered in their countries defer conducting flights within FIR Baghdad (ORBB) at all altitudes (CZYZ G0280/20, KICZ A0036/20).
Additional indirect-fire events via rockets targeting bases in Iraq and eastern Syria where US military advisers are present remain the most likely scenario in the near term, with weaponised drone attacks also being a credible yet less likely scenario through 31 March. The primary targets of such attacks against US interests in Iraq are assessed to be Baghdad Airport and the Green Zone. The US-led coalition deployment of C-RAM systems is assessed to be an effort designed to thwart indirect-fire and drone attacks at select locations in Iraq going forward.
Iraqi PMU militia possession of military-grade drones provided by Iran has been documented since at least 2014, and credible reporting from December indicates transfers of such weapons by the IRGC-QF to specific groups occurred recently. On 10 March, the US military stated that PMU militia forces had “conducted scores of unmanned aerial system [drone] reconnaissance flights near US and Iraqi security force bases” since May 2019. Further to this, a PMU militia reportedly launched multiple military-grade weaponised drones from southern Iraq targeting two oil pumping stations west of the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on 14 May 2019.
Credible reporting from as recently as December along with reports dating back to 2018-2019 indicate that Iran has delivered short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) as well as cruise missiles to several Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militias. On a more concerning note, Iran launched 16 SRBMs targeting US military sites in Iraq at Ain Al Asad Air Base and Erbil International Airport on 7 January 2020. US military reporting indicates that US-made MIM-104 Patriot conventional surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems have been deployed to protect US-led coalition forces in Iraq, with two of the likely deployment locations being in Erbil and Anbar provinces. The Patriot is capable up to FL800 and out to 160km (100 miles).
If PMU militias were to conduct high-impact attacks via SRBMs, cruise missiles and/or drones, then military facilities, air bases and airports across Iraq (or eastern Syria) where US military advisers are present are assessed to be likely targets. The confirmed Patriot deployment by the US-led coalition is assessed to be an effort to counter such attacks by Iraqi PMU militias as well as any similar strikes launched by the state of Iran involving ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and/or drones. However, such an attack by Iran remains less likely in the near term than any actions by PMU militias in Iraq and/or Syria.
Iran-linked militants have been in possession of man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS) capable below FL260 since at least 2004, including Chinese-made QW-1 and/or Iranian-made Misagh-1/2 variants along with Russian-made Strela & Igla series. Reported deliveries of MANPADS to groups in Iraq from the Iranian IRGC-QF occurred as recently as October 2019. During April, June and September 2020, Iranian-linked militants released propaganda messages threatening to target US military air assets over Iraq via MANPADS employment. An Iranian-linked militant group calling itself the “Revenge of Muhandis Brigade” published a propaganda video showing one of its fighters unsuccessfully targeting a US military CH-47 Chinook helicopter via Russian-made 9K32 Strela-2 (SA-7 GRAIL) MANPADS engagement over an area to the south of Baghdad on 17 April.
The above indicates that Iran-linked groups in Iraq continue to maintain a steadfast capability and intent to conduct attacks against the aviation target set within the country. On 12 occasions since August 2019, Iranian-linked groups have claimed engagements targeting military-grade air assets in flight near Baghdad as well as over Anbar, Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Nineveh provinces. During October, the US FAA stated that “Iran has a history of proliferating advanced weapons capabilities, including advanced anti-aircraft weapons, to its proxy groups” and could provide Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militias with “additional anti-aircraft capabilities, which could pose a risk to US civil aviation operations at altitudes below FL320”. We assess that all Iraqi military conventional SAM systems capable above FL260 are currently fully under the span of control of the state. However, we continue to closely monitor conventional SAM activity in both Iraq and Iran. We continue to assess the entirety of Iraq to be an EXTREME risk airspace operating environment at all altitudes.
Risk area recommendation: Defer all flights subject to an operation specific risk assessment
Approvals: As a precaution, conduct operational risk-based identification of divert and alternate airports for flight schedules with planned stops at aerodromes in the country or with overflight of the airspace. Operators are advised to ensure flight plans are correctly filed, attain proper special approvals for flight operations to sensitive locations and obtain relevant overflight permits prior to departure. In addition, ensure crews scheduled to operate to or over the country in the near term are fully aware of the latest security situation.
Military Air Activity: Increased military air operations have the potential to cause airspace congestion and impact the safety of civil aviation flights. Any significant increase in the amount of air operations over the country may impact the availability of airports along with access to the airspace. Aviation operators should monitor airport/airspace-specific notices, bulletins, circulars, advisories, prohibitions and restrictions prior to departure to avoid flight schedule disruption.
Indirect Fire: Indirect fire attacks; via rockets, mortars or artillery, against airports and airbases within the country pose a latent threat to civil aviation. Armed groups are assessed to have a variety of rockets, mortars, and potentially military grade artillery pieces within their inventory. Aircraft on the ground at installations face a credible risk of being damaged due to indirect fire attacks. Security forces face difficulty controlling the wide area surrounding most installations which creates a vulnerability which is difficult for operators to mitigate. (Source: Osprey)
15 Feb 21. Can the UAE emerge as a leading global defense supplier? Proceeding with the IDEX and NAVDEX 2021 defense trade exhibitions despite the coronavirus pandemic underlines the defense-industrial intent of the United Arab Emirates. The CEO of Abu Dhabi-based technology and defense group Edge, Faisal Al Bannai, suggested these shows will be used to portray the Emirates’ “consolidated sovereign capability” with an expectation to exhibit newly developed equipment including several UAVs. The government of the UAE for its part is set to continue to push its plan to diversify its source of arms imports and build up its defense-industrial base.
A reliance on the United States to sell defense equipment has been tempered by recent uncertainty over that relationship and whether it will change in the future. This has spurred the UAE to expand its defense partnerships to France, Russia, Italy and Turkey.
According to data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 2021 Military Balance report, scheduled for release in February 2021 as of this writing, Middle Eastern and North African defense spending reached $162bn (including U.S. military aid) in 2020, accounting for about 8.9 percent of the global total, with countries in the region allocating 5.5 percent of their respective gross domestic product to defense on average. Regional spending has exceeded $150bn every year since 2014 but has been on a downward trend since 2018, as the oil price remained subdued.
The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries consistently account for between 55-60 percent of regional defense spending, and recent reductions have been primarily due to cuts implemented by Saudi Arabia, which has the region’s largest budget.
The UAE is estimated to have spent $19.8n on defense in 2020 — 5.6 percent of GDP — making it the region’s second-largest spender. Between 2010 and 2019, it is estimated that between 15 percent and 16 percent of the UAE’s annual defense budget was spent on procurement with foreign contractors, but the country has reduced this reliance in recent years. Studying how the UAE has strengthened its position as a leading regional defense supplier provides insight for other countries about how to develop local industry.
Preparing for the post-oil era, the UAE has laid foundations for longer-term defense-industrial base planning through promoting domestic investment, international joint ventures and technology transfers for almost 30 years. In November 2019, the UAE consolidated 25 indigenous, state-owned defense companies into the Edge conglomerate, with a claimed $5n in combined revenue. Much of this had been grouped together in the Emirates Defence Industries Company, or EDIC, established in December 2014.
Adhering to three industry development guidelines, the UAE is now investing more in technology innovation through research and development efforts, including expanding its scope into space in both the defense and commercial sectors with the introduction of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation, or MBRCGI, formed in 2014, the same year that EDIC was established. The UAE’s federal budget has consistently allocated $544.59m each year since 2016 for MBRCGI’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund, which will look to foster cross-sector collaboration and more sustainable innovation development, with more possibilities to come.
Over the last decade, the UAE has managed to build up a network of customers in neighboring countries. The question is whether the UAE can emerge as a leading international defense supplier, applying its prospective technology advancement as a stepping stone.
The UAE’s equipment exports to date have been relatively low-tech, and the country still relies on technology transfers to remain prominent among competitors. With current customers stretching from Kuwait to Libya and Cameroon, Emirati companies have begun to establish themselves as a reliable source of defense equipment. Their current exports largely consist of different types of armored four-wheel vehicles such as Panthera and Ajban. As Emirati exports become technically more complex, as indicated by the reported export of armed Yabhon UAVs to Algeria in 2018, the customer base will likely expand. Sales to India, Russia and Turkmenistan are likely a sign of things to come with aspiration to supply advanced markets against competitors like the U.S. and China.
The UAE’s large neighbor, Saudi Arabia, spends more than double on defense ($48.5bn, or 7.13 percent of GDP in 2020) but seems to have taken inspiration from the UAE’s EDIC by forming the Saudi Arabian Military Industries, or SAMI, in May 2017 as part of its Vision 2030 initiative to enhance its localization rate in defense manufacturing by up to 50 percent.
However, differences exist. SAMI’s development leans more toward the production of land and air systems, whereas Edge covers all three domains, with expansion into space. Saudi Arabia has also subsequently created the General Authority for Military Industries, or GAMI, in August 2017. However, GAMI focuses on local employment, industry localization and procurement management, which appears to be a step behind the UAE.
Despite the establishment of two state-owned entities for defense industry development, Saudi Arabia remains the world’s largest importer of defense equipment over the last decade, spending an estimated $116bn to purchase foreign equipment between 2010 and 2019. This was 24.27 percent of Saudi Arabia’s defense expenditure within the same period.
While the adaptability and pace of the UAE’s defense-industrial development stands out in the region, the country still needs to overcome a number of hurdles to help expedite growth. UAE-based companies do not yet supply much equipment to the local customer despite the UAE military having notable capability gaps. For example, several attacks on commercial oil tankers off the coast of the UAE in mid-2019 put its oil production at risk and revealed concerns with maritime security. The UAE must still import its most advanced equipment due to a lack of adequate infrastructure or technological capacity, which is illustrated through the contract the UAE reportedly awarded France for two Gowind 2500 frigates in March 2019. The Gowind 2500 frigate is known to be 102 meters long and 16 meters wide with a draft reaching 5.4 meters high and a displacement of 2,600 tons.
Since 2016, the UAE has had the infrastructural capacity to build such vessels based on the conventional regulations of the contractor’s dry dock capacity requiring a minimum of 125 percent of the weight of the vessel. Even with the country’s acquisition of its largest dock in August 2016 at Zayed port in Abu Dhabi — with a 6,000-ton capacity at 180 meters long and 30 meters wide with a maximum vessel draft of 6 meters — Emirati naval forces still need to rely on foreign contractors. The contract between the UAE and France is believed to include the transfer of relevant technologies, and the extent of the involvement of local subcontractors is unknown to the public. Agreements signed at the very end of the Trump administration for 50 F-35A fighter jets and 18 MQ-9B UAVs are another example.
Despite the ongoing dependencies on defense imports, the UAE’s focused investment on R&D is expected to accelerate the country’s transformation as a formidable defense supplier. Furthermore, continued partnership and technology transfers will support the UAE in its attempts to broaden its range of customers. (Source: Defense News)
15 Feb 21. NATO’s Afghanistan withdrawal depends on violence levels, Stoltenberg says. Taliban militants in Afghanistan must do more to meet the terms of a 2020 peace agreement with the United States to allow for any possible foreign troop withdrawal by a May deadline, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.
Allied defence ministers will discuss later this week whether the Taliban is making good on the peace deal, which called for militants to curb attacks and foreign troops to withdraw by May 1.
“We see that there is still a need for the Taliban to do more when it comes to delivering on their commitments … to make sure that they break all ties with international terrorists,” Stoltenberg said.
Attacks in Afghanistan, including a bomb that killed the deputy governor of the capital Kabul in December, have prompted members of the U.S. Congress and international rights groups to call for a delay to the pullout agreed under former President Donald Trump.
NATO has 9,600 troops in Afghanistan, including 2,500 Americans, training and assisting Afghan forces.
Many fear that progress during two decades of foreign intervention in Afghanistan would quickly unravel, threatening gains in areas from women’s rights to democracy. U.S. lawmakers have warned that withdrawing all troops could lead to civil war.
This week’s defence ministers’ meeting, which will take place by video conference on Wednesday and Thursday, was initially set decide on whether to go ahead with a troop pullout. The administration of new U.S. President Joe Biden faces calls to seek a six-month delay.
Four senior NATO officials told Reuters on Jan. 31 international troops would stay beyond the May deadline, despite Taliban calls for a full withdrawal.
“Our common goal is clear: Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands,” Stoltenberg said. “While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary. We will not leave before the time is right.” (Source: Reuters)
11 Feb 21. Philippines military keen to keep U.S. troop deal – minister. The Philippines defence apparatus wants to keep a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its defence minister said on Thursday, as officials met to settle differences over a pact central to Washington’s Asia strategy.
Thursday’s meeting in Manila between U.S. and Philippine officials comes after President Rodrigo Duterte, who openly disapproves of the U.S. alliance, unilaterally cancelled the two-decade-old VFA last year, in an angry response to an ally being denied a visa.
The withdrawal period has been twice extended, however, to create what Philippine officials say is a window for better terms to be agreed.
“We at the defence department and the armed forces, the general feeling is for the VFA to continue,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told news channel ANC.
The meeting is the first under U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, which has reaffirmed the alliance in the face of China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana said the VFA, which sets out rules for U.S. soldiers operating in the Philippines, has been vital in boosting the capabilities of under-resourced Philippine forces through dozens of annual joint training exercises.
Its importance was stressed by U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin during a call with Lorenzana on Wednesday.
Ties between the United States and its former colony have been complicated by Duterte’s rise to power in 2016 and his frequent statements condemning U.S. foreign policy, and open embrace of China.
But while the Philippines-U.S. relationship “has always been strong”, Lorenzana said the Southeast Asian nation “should not be made to choose” between Washington and Beijing.
Lorenzana has also expressed concern about a new Chinese law empowering coastguard to fire on what it sees as threats, and repeated U.S. navy patrols that China sees as provocations.
“I told Secretary Austin we don’t want any miscalculations or accidents in the South China Sea because we are right smack there in the centre of conflict,” Lorenzana said. (Source: Reuters)
15 Feb 21. EDGE Group signs tri-party defence agreement with Ukraine. EDGE, the UAE’s technology group for defence and beyond, has signed a tri-party strategic cooperation agreement with Ukrainian state-owned defence conglomerate UkrOboronProm, and Ukrspecexport, a Ukrainian state-owned arms trading company.
The agreement will enable the three entities to exchange and develop advanced technologies that could lead to over US$1bn worth of investments.
Faisal Al Bannai, CEO and managing director of EDGE, Yuriy Husev, director general of UkrObornProm, and Vadym Nozdria, Director General of Ukrspecexport, inked the agreement in the presence of representatives from all parties. The signing took place at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Al Bannai said: “EDGE places a strong emphasis on joint development and collaboration. Signing this tri-party agreement demonstrates our intent to cooperate with leading international companies within the defence industry. We are excited about the opportunities for the UAE and Ukraine to collaborate, exchange, and mutually benefit from one another’s military and technical capabilities.”
Yuriy Husey said: “This strategic agreement is a result of our cooperation with EDGE Group, and is a significant step in joint development and cooperation between our sides. It is very symbolic that this agreement was signed during the official visit of the President of Ukraine to the UAE.” (Source: Google/https://www.arabianaerospace.aero/)
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