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15 Apr 21. How Long US Will Fund Afghan Military An ‘Open Question.’ Lawmakers signaled today that the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan may not mean the end of US commitment, particularly in supporting the Afghan special forces.
Several Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee said today they expect Congress to support funding the Afghan army and air force for years to come, even after US and European troops pull out this summer.
The roughly 3,500 American, and 7,000 NATO troops on the ground in Afghanistan will likely start leaving by the end of April, taking with them the surveillance and air support that are crucial to the overstretched Afghan forces as they struggle to blunt the Taliban’s momentum.
As the withdrawal kicks into high gear and Washington increasingly turns its attention to Chinese moves in the Pacific and Rusian provocations in Europe and the Arctic, it’s not at all clear how willing the US will be to spend billions a year on the flailing Afghan military.
“I think there should still be an appetite for a support package, because pulling out the combat troops is one thing, but reducing our financial support is another challenge,” said Rep. Jason Crow, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. “Reducing that money I think would be a major detriment to not just Afghanistan, but also our efforts to counter China,” he said during a call with reporters today.
The bill won’t be small.
In 2021, the US spent just over $3bn to support and sustain the Afghan force, including paying salaries and supporting modern US-made helicopters. That outlay brought the total American outlay to $88bn over the past two decades on building up the Afghan security forces. All that money has only managed to build an army that continues to struggle against the Taliban, losing much of the countryside to the lightly-equipped fighters.
“You can’t look at Afghanistan itself in isolation,” Crow said. “You have to look at the fact that Afghanistan sits at the crossroads of our geopolitical competition with Iran to the west and Pakistan to the East and in China and in Russia to the north. It’s a very important strategic location for us, and we will have continued interest in making sure that we have air flight rights, a diplomatic presence, and some intelligence resources as well.”
After meeting with NATO officials in Brussels Wednesday to talk through the pullout plan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the US would continue paying for the salaries of Afghan troops, singling out the air force and Special Mission Wing as critical components that need to be kept at a high level. The Special Mission Wing is an elite flying unit that conducts night raids, evacuates casualties, and conducts reconnaissance operations.
On the call with Crow was Rep. Andy Kim, who said he would “absolutely expect that there will be support from Congress” for funding for the Afghan military. “In particular, making sure we’re preventing the atrophying of those capabilities after we pull out our combat forces,” he added.
The air force, special forces and their air wing are the backbone of an Afghan military beset by weak leadership and rampant corruption, and the branches the US has invested most heavily in both money and time.
“Those are the units that the US has established long-term persistent partnerships with, and has had those relationships — in the case of commandos — for over a decade,” said Jonathan Schroden, director of the Countering Threats and Challenges Program at CNA.
That kind of investment isn’t one the Biden administration appears willing to walk away from. In a time of flat budgets as wartime funding accounts are being pushed into the base budget however, pumping billions into unsteady Afghan forces could be a tough sell for some fiscal hawks.
Over the past decade, the Pentagon has pushed more than $8.5 billion into the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing, giving Kabul a fleet of over 60 fixed-wing aircraft used for attack and surveillance missions, and a fleet of 101 helicopters ranging from Soviet-era Mi-17s to 47 new MD-530 and 41 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The US has also discussed providing the Special Mission Wing CH-47 Chinook helicopters by 2023 to replace the aging Mi-17s.
While Afghan troops can do most of the repairs on its old Soviet helicopters, work on the newer American additions to their fleet is done almost solely by contractors flown in for the task. Keeping those contracts in place without a US or NATO presence in the country might prove difficult, or at the very least, more expensive, in the coming years.
Speaking on the Senate floor today, Sen. Jack Reed, chairman of the senate Armed Services Committee, didn’t commit to funding the Afghan military but said despite the pullout, “we still have vital security interests in the region…Afghanistan is not in the rear-view mirror.”
It’s unclear how long Congress will see fit to pour billions per year into Afghanistan, but CNA’s Schroden envisions some form of support continuing in the near-term.
“I think we’ll continue to pay at least for a period of time the salaries of the Army, and will probably continue to pay for contracts to maintain vehicles and those types of things,” he said, but after years of failure working with the Ministry of Defense on larger issues regarding how the 305,000- member army is trained, deployed, and fights “is really an open question.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
15 Apr 21. Russia, Ukraine hold military drills, NATO criticises Russian troop build-up. Russia and Ukraine held simultaneous military drills on Wednesday as NATO foreign and defence ministers began emergency discussions on a massing of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border.
Washington and NATO have been alarmed by the large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and two U.S. warships are due to arrive in the Black Sea this week.
Russia — which said the U.S. naval move was an unfriendly provocation and warned Washington to stay far away from Crimea and its Black Sea coast — says the build-up is a three-week snap military drill to test combat readiness in response to what it calls threatening behaviour from NATO. It has said the exercise is due to wrap up within two weeks.
Ahead of the arrival of the U.S. warships, the Russian navy on Wednesday began a drill in the Black Sea that rehearsed firing at surface and air targets. The drill came a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow to end its troop build-up.
In Ukraine, armed forces rehearsed repelling a tank and infantry attack near the border of Russian-annexed Crimea while its defence minister, Andrii Taran, told European parliamentarians in Brussels that Russia was preparing to potentially store nuclear weapons in Crimea.
Taran provided no evidence for his assertion but said Russia was massing 110,000 troops on Ukraine’s borderin 56 battalion-sized tactical groups, citing Kyiv’s latest intelligence.
CLASHES IN EASTERN UKRAINE
Fighting has increased in recent weeks in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in a seven-year conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who held talks in Brussels with Stoltenberg ahead of a video conference of all 30 NATO allies, said the alliance would “address Russia’s aggressive actions in and around Ukraine”, without elaborating.
Russia’s relations with the United States slumped to a new post-Cold War low last month after U.S. President Joe Biden said he thought Vladimir Putin was a “killer”.
In a phone call with Putin on Tuesday, Biden proposed holding a summit between the estranged leaders to tackle a raft of issues, including reducing tensions over Ukraine.
The Kremlin on Wednesday said it was too early to talk about such a summit in tangible terms and that holding such a meeting was contingent on Washington’s future behaviour, in what looked like a thinly veiled reference to potential U.S. sanctions.
Russia has regularly accused NATO of destabilising Europe by bolstering its troops in the Baltic countries and Poland – all members of the Atlantic alliance – in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
NATO has denied a claim by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that the alliance was deploying 40,000 troops and 15,000 pieces of military equipment near Russia’s borders, mainly in the Black Sea and the Baltic regions. (Source: Google/Reuters)
15 Apr 21. U.S. Must Get ‘On the Field’ in Arctic to Defend National Interests There. As changes in climate affect ice melt, opportunities are developing in the Arctic for both resource development and transportation. Russia is already there defending what’s theirs and seeking out new opportunities. China is a player as well, as a “near-Arctic nation.” But the U.S. is going to need to develop more “persistence” in the region if it wants to be a player there, according to the commander of U.S. Northern Command.
“To compete in the Arctic, you have to be on the field,” said Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who also commands the North American Aerospace Defense Command, during a hearing yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee. “And currently, our capabilities, I would assess that we’re in the game plan development [stage]. We’re not able to have the persistence that I need to compete day-to-day in the Arctic.”
The general said the U.S. military, along with the Canadian Armed Forces, are now in the early stages of modernization in building additional military capabilities in the Arctic. A priority for VanHerck, he said, is domain awareness.
“It starts with the ability to communicate and provide data and information so that we can operate and have persistence in the Arctic,” he said, thanking lawmakers for $46 million in funding the department received toward that effort.
It’s incumbent upon us to be persistent, working with allies and partners and like-minded nations to ensure that we maintain the consistency of the international rules-based norms and laws that have served us well over time.”
Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, Commander, U.S. Northern Command
He said the U.S. currently has 10 satellites in orbit that help with that domain awareness, and about 100 more of those satellites will come in the future.
But communications and domain awareness are only part of the picture, he said. Perhaps even more critical is actually having presence on the water there.
“To be persistent, you also have to be on the playing field and that requires fuel so that Coast Guard cutters, Navy destroyers and cruisers, can remain persistent in the Arctic,” he said.
Right now VanHerck said he has a requirement for fuel at Dutch Harbor, Alaska — in the Aleutian Islands — that will help with that persistence and will also provide infrastructure for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms and fighter aircraft.
All of that, he said, will help the U.S. better compete in the Arctic and continue to be aware of Russian activities in the region.
VanHerck said Russia pulls about a quarter of its gross domestic product from its activities in the Arctic. Moreover, they have reopened and strengthened Cold War military installations that were once shuttered. “They absolutely have a vested interest in the Arctic, and they also want to ensure that it’s secure for their efforts, if you will,” he said.
China is not actually in the Arctic, but considers itself a “near Arctic” nation and seeks increased influence there, Both Russia and China are interested in changing international rules-based norms to better serve themselves, he said.
“It’s incumbent upon us to be persistent, working with allies and partners and like-minded nations to ensure that we maintain the consistency of the international rules-based norms and laws that have served us well over time,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
15 Apr 21. Russia: UK and US expose global campaign of malign activity by Russian intelligence services. The UK and US share US concerns about malign activity by Russia and have attributed a cyber attack to the Russian intelligence service.
- UK shares US concerns about a continuing pattern of Russian malign activity
- UK attributes Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) was behind SolarWinds compromise
The UK and US are today calling out Russia for carrying out the SolarWinds compromise, part of a wider pattern of activities by the Russian Intelligence Services against the UK and our allies.
Russia’s pattern of malign behaviour around the world – whether in cyberspace, in election interference or in the aggressive operations of their intelligence services – demonstrates that Russia remains the most acute threat to the UK’s national and collective security.
The UK, alongside its international partners, will continue to defend against Russia’s attempts to destabilise our societies.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said, “We see what Russia is doing to undermine our democracies. The UK and US are calling out Russia’s malicious behaviour, to enable our international partners and businesses at home to better defend and prepare themselves against this kind of action. The UK will continue to work with allies to call out Russia’s malign behaviour where we see it.”
The UK can today also reveal for the first time that Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) was behind a series of cyber intrusions, including the SolarWinds compromise.
GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) assess that it is highly likely the SVR was responsible for gaining unauthorised access to SolarWinds “Orion” software and subsequent targeting.
These incidents are part of a wider pattern of cyber intrusions by the SVR who have previously attempted to gain access to governments across Europe and NATO members.
Since the SolarWinds vulnerability was uncovered, NCSC have been conducting extensive activity to understand and mitigate the compromise. While the overall impact on the UK of the SVR’s exploitation of this software is low, the NCSC has identified a low single digit number of public sector organisations targeted through the SolarWinds vulnerability. The government, including the NCSC, has been working hard to ensure those affected were rapidly mitigated.
In addition, the UK government is today making available further information about the SVR’s cyber programme. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
15 Apr 21. Russia: UK exposes Russian involvement in SolarWinds cyber compromise. The UK government has for the first time today exposed details of the SVR’s cyber programme. The SVR is Russia’s civilian foreign intelligence service and is the successor organization to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. It predominantly targets overseas governmental, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets for intelligence purposes. It is technologically advanced, developing capabilities to try to operate undetected against countries in Europe, NATO members and its near neighbours.
A compromise of SolarWinds IT services firm was discovered in December 2020. SolarWinds confirmed 18,000 organisations across the world including US Government departments were affected. The overall impact on the UK of the SVR’s exploitation of this software is low. National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) advice on how to protect against this threat is available
The NCSC has assessed that it is highly likely Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Services are responsible for the compromise of SolarWinds software, Orion, and subsequent targeting. Further details on the framework used by the UK Government for all source intelligence assessments, including the probability yardstick, are available from here
SVR cyber actors are known and tracked in open source as: APT29 Cozy Bear The Dukes. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
15 Apr 21. North Atlantic Council Statement following the announcement by the United States of actions with regard to Russia.
- NATO Allies support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia’s destabilising activities. Allies are taking actions individually and collectively to enhance the Alliance’s collective security.
- Russia continues to demonstrate a sustained pattern of destabilising behaviour, including its violations of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, andcontinued violation, non-implementation, and circumvention of numerous international obligations and commitments, including the Budapest Memorandum. Examples include attempted interference in Allied elections, including the U.S. presidential election; widespread disinformation campaigns; and malicious cyber activities. The United States and other Allies assess that all available evidence points to the responsibility of the Russian Federation for the SolarWinds hack. We stand in solidarity with the United States. We condemn the attack on Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition figure, with the use of a nerve agent from the banned Novichok group. Any use of chemical weapons, under any circumstances, is a clear breach of international law and contrary to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Reports that Russia encouraged attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are also of concern.
- Allies will continue to work in close consultation to address Russia’s actions, which constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security. We call on Russia to cease immediately its destabilising behaviour, and to uphold its international obligations, as Allies do theirs, including existing arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation agreements and commitments. We also call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea.
- While we continue to ensure our deterrence and defence posture, NATO remains open to periodic, focused, and meaningful dialogue, and to a constructive relationship with Russia when Russia’s actions make that possible. We regret that Russia continues to disregard NATO’s early 2020 invitation to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. (Source: NATO)
15 Apr 21. Has Indonesia ditched its neutrality policy? Has the signing of a defence agreement between Jakarta and Tokyo signalled a shift in Indonesia’s foreign policy strategy? Earlier this month, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi, and State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Namping, Fujian Province. This followed Minister Retno and Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto’s visit to Tokyo just days earlier for a meeting with their Japanese counterparts.
According to David Engel, head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) Indonesia program, the visits epitomised Indonesia’s ‘free and active’ foreign policy strategy, which emphasises regional neutrality.
However, Engel notes that the visit to Tokyo seemed to be “more substantial”, with the parties agreeing to the transfer of Japanese defence materiel and technology, signed by Prabowo and Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi.
The counterparts also discussed the importance of ‘freedom of overflight and navigation’, the rule of international law in resolving regional disputes, and the evolving political situation in Myanmar.
But Engel observes that the defence agreement was “by far the most important deliverable”.
“While its specifics are still sketchy, the official releases by the respective ministries point to a tangible increase in the level of defence and security co-operation between Tokyo and Jakarta, including formalities like more senior-level visits and dialogues, education and training, bilateral and multilateral exercises, and commitments to explore ‘defence equipment and technology co-operation’,” he writes.
“It represents the latest of a handful of such accords permitting Japanese defence exports that Tokyo has inked with ASEAN partners and just the 10th such agreement that Japan has signed with other nations.”
However, Engel casts doubt over the significance of the agreement, noting Indonesia’s “flawed history of defence procurement”.
The ASPI analyst goes on to note the benefits of the agreement, which he said would boost Indonesia’s defence capabilities amid Chinese ‘misbehaviour” in the exclusive economic zone off its Natuna Islands.
“[This] has aroused Jakarta’s anxieties enough to spark its interest in strengthening its naval posture in the region, and Japan’s maritime domain awareness technologies, including advanced radars and surveillance equipment, would help do just that,” he adds.
“So too would several modern frigates, which appear to be on Prabowo’s shopping list.”
Engel said the deal would also help realise Japan and its allies’ (including Australia) goal of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific region’, helping to “withstand Chinese coercion” in the international waterways.
“As the region’s largest and prospectively most powerful state, Indonesia is a critical part of this dynamic,” he observes.
Moreover, Engel claims that for Indonesia, closer ties with Japan would score political points, enabling Jakarta to build resilience to China without having to mend its chequered relationship with Washington.
Meanwhile, reflecting on the meeting between Indonesian officials and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Engel argues that the most significant aspect of the meeting was the “optics”, with discussions largely focusing on Myanmar, economic cooperation, and other bilateral issues.
According to Engel, despite Jakarta’s commitment to bolstering defence ties with Japan, the ministry’s visit to China suggests that Indonesian President Joko Widodo remains tethered to his neutrality policy.
“[The] visit’s temporal proximity to the Tokyo talks signalled that Widodo’s Indonesia has no intention of deviating one iota from its ‘free and active’ doctrine, which precludes alignment with anybody,” he writes.
“The audience for that signal was as much domestic as international, directed at those for whom the doctrine remains a sacrosanct expression of Indonesia’s post-colonial identity.
“Japan, however, which has already experienced the Widodo administration’s questionable dealings with it vis-à-vis China on infrastructure projects, could be excused for wondering about how adroit Retno’s practice of the doctrine was and how reliable a strategic partner Indonesia can be.”
Engel concludes that the agreement between Jakarta and Tokyo may still be an important step in Indonesia’s journey towards becoming a “power capable of deterring China’s more egregious challenges to its sovereignty”, but notes that it would take much more to “convert Indonesia’s defence forces into such a deterrent”.
“Inter alia, it will also need a clear-eyed re-assessment of whether a foreign policy premised on rigid non-alignment and aspirations for ‘cooperation’ irrespective of the actions of other parties remains as fit for purpose in the years ahead as it might once have been,” he writes.
(Source: Defence Connect)
14 Apr 21. Manila increases number of assets patrolling West Philippine Sea amid continued presence of Chinese vessels. The Philippines has increased the number of maritime assets deployed to areas it claims in the disputed South China Sea (SCS) amid what Manila described as a “continuous swarming” in the West Philippine Sea of Chinese coastguard and “maritime militia” vessels.
The state-owned Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported on 13 April that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has also deployed Parola-class vessel BRP Cabra to the area, while the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has despatched two more ships to “conduct maritime and sovereignty patrols, and other law enforcement activities”.
The PNA also reported that the Philippine Navy (PN) has deployed four vessels: Bacolod City (Frank S Besson)-class logistics support vessel BRP Dagupan City (LS 551), Jacinto (Peacock)-class patrol vessel BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS 36), and PCE 827-class corvettes BRP Magat Salamat (PS 20) and BRP Miguel Malvar (PS 19). It noted that the PN ships will provide “support and assistance” to the PCG and BFAR vessels in the area.
In a statement issued that same day, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) in Manila quoted the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) as saying that in the latest round of “sovereignty patrols”, conducted on 11 April, an estimated 240 Chinese vessels were observed “lingering in the WPS”. (Source: Jane’s)
14 Apr 21. Defence Secretary statement on UK forces in Afghanistan. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has made a statement on UK forces in Afghanistan. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said, “The people of Afghanistan deserve a peaceful and stable future. As we drawdown, the security of our people currently serving in Afghanistan remains our priority and we have been clear that attacks on Allied troops will be met with a forceful response. The British public and our Armed Forces community, both serving and veterans, will have lasting memories of our time in Afghanistan. Most importantly we must remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, who will never be forgotten.” (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
14 Apr 21. Biden Announces Full U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan by Sept. 11. President Joe Biden said the war in Afghanistan was never meant to be multi-generational, as he officially announced the drawdown of all 2,500 U.S. troops in that country beginning May 1 and concluding by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the war.
The president lay the path for the way forward in Afghanistan today in an address to the nation and noted that only the citizens of Afghanistan have the right and responsibility to lead their country.
“After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel, with our diplomats and our development experts, with the Congress and the vice president, as well as with [Afghan President Ashraf Ghani] and many others around the world, I concluded that it’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home,” the president said.
The United States met its objective 10 years ago with the assassination of Taliban leader Osama bin Laden, he said, adding since then, “Our reasons for staying have become increasingly unclear.”
Over the past 20 years, “the [terrorist] threat has become more dispersed, metastasizing around the globe: Al-Shabab in Somalia, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia,” he said of the terrorism threat.
“With the terror threat now in many places, keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country and across the billions [of dollars spent] each year makes little sense to me and to our leaders,” Biden said. “We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan — hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result.”
As the fourth U.S. president with the Afghanistan war on his watch, Biden said he would not pass the longest war in American history on to another president. He noted that he inherited the drawdown deadline of this year and he intends to keep the U.S. agreement with the Taliban, which was formulated during the former administration.
But the United States will withdraw its troops in a safe, deliberate and responsible manner and in full coordination with its partners and allies in Afghanistan, the president said. Diplomacy and counter-terrorism mechanisms will be reorganized to hold the Taliban accountable, Biden said.
Meeting critics of the drawdown head-on, the commander in chief said the withdrawal will not hurt the country’s reputation. The United States will be more formidable if it focuses on future challenges, and not those in the past, he said. “Our diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm’s way — U.S. boots on the ground. We have to change that thinking. American troops shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries. You know, that’s nothing more than a recipe for keeping American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.”
The challenges the United States must focus on are in front of us, Biden said. “We have to track and disrupt terrorist networks and operations that spread far beyond Afghanistan since 9/11. We have to shore up American competitiveness to meet the stiff competition we’re facing. From an increasingly assertive China, we have to strengthen our alliances and work with like-minded partners to ensure that the rules of international norms that govern cyber threats, and emerging technologies that will shape our future are grounded in our democratic values, not those of the autocrats,” he said. “We have to defeat this pandemic and strengthen the global health system to prepare for the next one, because there will be another pandemic. [We’ll] be much more formidable to threat adversaries and competitors over the long term, if we fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last one.”
The president said he is immensely grateful for the bravery and backbone U.S. service members have shown through nearly two decades of combat deployments. “We, as a nation, are forever indebted to them, and to their families. … And we owe them. They’ve never backed down from a single mission that we’ve asked of them. They paid a tremendous price on our behalf. And they have the thanks of a grateful nation,” Biden said. (Source: US DoD)
14 Apr 21. Petraeus Trashes Biden Decision to Quit Afghanistan. Pulling out now is an “unforced error,” the former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan said. Other former war leaders say the threat can be managed. David Petraeus sharply criticized President Joe Biden’s decision to remove U.S. troops there, saying he worries that the “endless war” will only worsen.
“I’m really afraid that we’re going to look back two years ago and regret the decision,” said Petraeus, former commanding general of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and former CIA director.
He spoke on a conference video call originally intended to promote a new book from retired admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the 2011 mission to find Osama bin Laden.
On the call, McRaven and other leaders of that mission, including then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, were split in their support for Biden’s decision to reposition U.S. troops to support counterterrorism missions from elsewhere in the region. But Petraeus delivered a sharper rebuke.
“I understand the frustrations very much that have led to the decision,” said Petraeus. “Nobody wants to see a war ended more than those who have actually fought it, and been privileged to command it and also write the letters of condolence home every night to America’s mothers and fathers. But I think we need to be really careful with our rhetoric, because ending U.S. involvement in an endless war doesn’t end the endless war. It just ends our involvement. And I fear that this war is going to get worse.”
Petraeus said he worries the Taliban will go on the offensive, ungoverned spaces will grow, and the terrorist organizations that use them will flourish. “I don’t see how you withdraw and maintain the capabilities that one would like to have there still.”
“Frankly, we’re also going to lose that platform that Afghanistan provides for the kind of regional counterterrorism campaign,” he said. “I’m really afraid that we’re going to look back two years from now and regret the decision and just wonder if whether we might not have sought to manage it with a modest, sustainable, sustained commitment that could have ensured that al Qaeda and the Islamic State would not re-establish sanctuaries from which they undoubtedly will try to figure out over time how to conduct operations that go after the us, our allies, and our partners.”
McRaven said any decision incurs risks. He added that if the U.S. military is still tasked to respond to terrorism inside Afghanistan, he hopes the U.S. will retain the necessary capabilities in the country and the region.
“If you gave me the resources, I could figure out how to do this,” McRaven said, adding that he has spoken to key players close to the president about it.
“I will tell you from all my conversations with folks that are kind of in the inner circle, they have considered all of those problems,” he said. “All of the warts have been exposed to the president. He understands the risk that he’s taken.”
“Now, are we going to need some people on the ground? Yeah, we are,” he said. “We’re going to need at least some small footprint at a Bagram [Air Base]. We’re going to need a small footprint, obviously, in the capital. We’re going to need intelligence resources. I think the administration will figure out how to manage theat.”
Other Obama-era officials weighed in with support. James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, said, “I do have a lot of confidence in the growing capabilities that we have — that we didn’t have 10 or 20 years ago.”
“We are at a different level of capability” with intelligence and have “a lot of over-the-horizon” capability now, said Tom Donilon, former national security advisor. Meanwhile, the Taliban is not the same problem it once was, and if it grows anew, the U.S. can handle it, he said. “The Taliban is not an international threat to the United States.” And he noted that the White House is facing new global needs and changing priorities.
Petraeus warned that the pullout would create potentially destabilizing refugee flows.
“We are going to see an exodus out of this country of anybody who has an option to leave,” he said. And of those who lack that option? “I would not, certainly, want to be part of the 50 percent of Afghans that are female.”
Expect a new Taliban offensive and more extensive safe havens for other terror groups, he said.
“They are not international extremists, but they are going to enable or allow international extremists to reestablish bases in areas that they control. They have done that already. We’ve seen that repeatedly, and supposedly right now a double-digit number of provinces actually have an al Qaeda presence in areas that are controlled by the Taliban. So I’m pretty worried about this.”
Petraeus also said he felt Biden overestimated the public’s desire to leave. “It’s an unforced error,” he said, arguing that the public cares mostly about high battlefield casualties, of which there have been none in more than a year.
“It’s not just a phrase,” said Donilon. “Endless wars without specific goals in mind is not…healthy for the United States.”
“If we don’t get out now, we’ll never get out,” said Jane Harmon, former ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee. She said the country hates “this endless war thing” and that Biden’s decision does play well, in part because Congress, which is supposed to speak for the people, has been absent from the conversation. “We are taking the high ground.”
Said John Brennan, former CIA director: “I do think we are going to have some challenging times ahead…but I do think that Joe Biden, at the end of the day, felt that 20 years was enough.” (Source: Defense One)
14 Apr 21. Iranian Defence Drone crash offers insight into military ambition and UAV development. Iran International TV has reported that a research drone belonging to Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA), a subset of Iran’s Ministry of Defence and Armed Force Logistics (MODAFL) crashed this week in Shahinshahr Province due to a technical error.
It is reported that there were no injuries, and Nasser Hosseini Manjezi, the deputy governor of Shahinshahr confirmed the crash of the drone and said: “This drone crashed due to a technical defect in the clock system, but fortunately did not cause any casualties.”
The research drone’s crash offers an insight into Iran’s military ambitions and its growing drone industry, as HESA continues to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for surveillance and possible attack.
Defence expert and analyst at Iran International TV, Jason Brodsky said: “The threat to regional stability from Iran’s growing drone industry is significant. For instance, in January, reports circulated that Iran had sent advanced suicide drones to its Houthi allies.”
Brodsky added: “Given this influx of Iranian technology, Israel is eyeing Yemen as an emerging threat, and it recently transferred Iron Dome and Patriot missile defence batteries to Eilat for this reason.”
Established in 1976, HESA belongs to the Iran Aviation Industries Organization (IAIO) and is located at Shahinshahr, Isfahan.
In 2008 the US Department of the Treasury designated six Iranian military firms that are owned or controlled by entities previously designated for their roles in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, including Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA), pursuant to Executive Order 13382.
HESA was designated because it is owned or controlled by the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), and because it has provided support to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
In 2019, the US Government designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, making the first time that the United States has designated an arm of another government, rather than a non-state actor, as an FTO.
HESA conducts research on, development of, production of, and flight operations for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Iran, and produces different variants of the Ababil UAV, which can be used for surveillance and attack by the IRGC.
Commenting on HESA, Jason Brodsky said: “HESA has long been on the radar of U.S. officials. It is owned or controlled by Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and has provided support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”
“The research drone crashing tells us that Iran continues to develop its drone technology. With the expiration of the UN arms embargo in October 2020 under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, Tehran will be emboldened to export its drone technology abroad. It may also take advantage of partnerships with China and Russia to acquire more advanced technology.”
14 Apr 21. Iran to start Iranian enrichment up to 60%: E3 statement. The governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom respond to Iran’s announcement that it will start uranium enrichment up to 60%
Statement from the governments of France, Germany, and the UK:
The governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom (the E3) note with grave concern the announcement by Iran that it will start uranium enrichment up to 60% using advanced centrifuges as Iran communicated to the IAEA on 13 April.
This is a serious development since the production of highly enriched uranium constitutes an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon. Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level.
We also express our concern at the news that Iran plans to install 1000 additional centrifuges at Natanz, which will significantly increase Iran’s enrichment capacity.
Iran’s announcements are particularly regrettable given they come at a time when all JCPoA participants and the United States have started substantive discussions, with the objective of finding a rapid diplomatic solution to revitalize and restore the JCPoA. Iran’s dangerous recent communication is contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions.
In light of recent developments, we reject all escalatory measures by any actor and call upon Iran not to further complicate the diplomatic process. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
13 Apr 21. US, NATO Troops to Withdraw from Afghanistan by 9/11, US Official Says. Decision for a September pullout follows “rigorous policy review.” President Joe Biden has directed that all remaining U.S. forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September, which would end America’s longest war 20 years after it started. NATO troops will also depart, a senior administration official told reporters on a briefing call Tuesday.
“After a rigorous policy review, President Biden has decided to draw down the remaining troops from Afghanistan and finally end the U.S. war there after 20 years,” the senior administration official said. “We will begin an orderly drawdown of the remaining forces before May 1 and plan to have all U.S. troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. ”The senior administration official also said all NATO troops will depart, an announcement that came one day before Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was set to meet with NATO allies in Brussels.
“We have discussed the drawdown with our NATO allies and operational partners,” the administration official said. “We will remain in lockstep with them as we undergo this operation. We went in together, adjusted together, and now we will prepare to leave together.”
Biden was expected to make a formal announcement of his decision on Wednesday, spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at the White House press briefing Tuesday.
The administration plans to leave “sufficient” forces in the region to conduct counterterrorism missions and check the Taliban but those decisions have not been finalized. The official said Pentagon officials would announce those moves, but did not expect a decision within the next few days.
For the last several months, the administration has faced questions about whether it would abide by the May 1 withdrawal date set by former President Donald Trump.
The decision was welcomed by veterans groups on both sides of the political spectrum, who often advocated together for an end to the military’s presence in Afghanistan.
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“While we still believe a full withdrawal by the May 1st deadline in the Doha agreement best serves America’s interests, we are pleased to hear President Biden is firmly committed to bringing our troops home within the next few months. America has more pressing priorities at home and elsewhere, and President Biden must keep his promise to end our endless war in Afghanistan,” said Dan Caldwell, senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative-leaning veterans group.
“Promises made, promises kept. This is such great news, @POTUS,” tweeted the progressive veterans group VoteVets.org
On Capitol Hill, the announcement likewise generated some cross-party line support, which has been rare for Biden decisions or nominations. But it also found some notable dissent among Biden supporters including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a senior member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. Shaheen has championed Afghan women’s rights and said she was very disappointed in the administration’s decision.
“The U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave without verifiable assurances of a secure future,” Shaheen said.
The administration’s decision also generated rare support from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who told CNN he was “glad the troops are coming home.”
“Bringing our troops home should not be taken as a sign that America will be any less vigilant in protecting American lives and those of our allies, but we can do so without a permanent military presence in a hostile terrain,” he told CNN.
In its decision, the administration was weighing the costs of withdrawal, which security analysts have cautioned could cause Afghanistan to fall back into Taliban control, and roll back gains made in women’s rights and self-governance, against the long-term cost on U.S. service members and taxpayers on the 20-year military engagement.
On April 9, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the intelligence community’s annual threat report. Of Afghanistan, it said, “We assess that prospects for a peace deal will remain low during the next year. The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Tuesday’s announcement “dangerous.”
“No one wants a forever war, but I’ve consistently said any withdrawal must be conditions-based. Arbitrary deadlines would likely put our troops in danger, jeopardize all the progress we’ve made, and lead to civil war in Afghanistan,” Inhofe said.
More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan and more than 20,000 wounded there during the 20-year war, according to the Pentagon’s defense casualty reports. Attempts to fully withdraw forces from Afghanistan have failed for years as political instability and rising levels of attacks on Afghan civilians and their security forces led to calls at home to stay, and in some cases, increase U.S. levels of military involvement.
The cost of military operations and reconstruction in Afghanistan have totaled more than $815bn, according to the Defense Department’s most recent “Cost of War” report, which was issued in September 2020. Those costs do not include the lifelong benefits and medical care needs that are incurred by the Department of Veterans Affairs to assist service members with chronic conditions onset by physical injuries, post-traumatic stress, and toxic exposure. If you add those and other costs in, according to researchers at Brown University’s Costs of War project, spending on Afghanistan since 2001 comes to around $2trn.
“It’s been a tremendous relief. Today has just been a very emotional day of this overwhelming feeling of ‘finally,’ ”said Perry O’Brien, a member of the progressive-leaning veterans group Common Defense. O’Brien deployed to Kandahar in 2003 as a U.S. Army medic paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.
O’Brien said that over the years he was frustrated by politicians who argued that a withdrawal would sully the sacrifices made by forces who had died there.
“I’ve always been frustrated and frankly outraged with that argument,” O’Brien said. “We heard it in Iraq, we’ve been hearing it in Afghanistan, we heard it in Vietnam.”
“I can’t think of anything that does greater disservice to the people who died than to force more Afghans and more young service members to give up their lives without a clear plan or even a clear cause.”
When Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley was asked in March about how soon a withdrawal might be possible, he said, “You have American troops there, but you also have NATO troops, you also have contractors from third countries, and then you have Afghans that have supported the United States, etc., And NATO. So on. All of these are factors bearing on the problem of whether or not and how and how long it takes to get out, stay in.”
The departure also raises questions about the welfare of thousands of locals who have worked with U.S. forces as translators or in other capacities over the last two decades, and what the U.S. is willing to do to protect them as forces depart.
“The United States has dealt with foreign countries in the past and we have always tried to help out those that were supporting us throughout this armed conflict, and I think that there’s a degree of moral obligation to support those who have supported us in these various conflicts,” Milley said, noting he did not know the specifics of each potential case. (Source: Defense One)
12 Apr 21. Russian military buildup in the Arctic has northern NATO members uneasy. Russia’s continued military investments in the Arctic may spur NATO to accord the region a more prominent focus in the alliance’s defense planning, according to Nordic officials and analysts.
The push comes amid a delicate dance by northern European governments to both deter and cooperate with Moscow — simultaneous efforts that risk drowning in a pit of fresh geopolitical ambitions laid bare by climate change.
A warming Arctic is opening new fronts of competition in the resource-rich region — even faraway China is getting involved — that could spill over into a security problem for the alliance. If that happens, NATO should have a strategy in place to manage the conflict, the thinking goes.
“You have so many components for a classic security dilemma increasing in the Arctic,” Anna Wieslander, the Stockholm-based director of the Atlantic Council’s Northern Europe program, said in an interview. “It’s not about immediately putting more surveillance up there, or more troops and military installations; it’s more about getting a joint understanding of how to deal with it and find ways forward, if it’s possible, with the Russians.”
NATO member Norway, which shares a border with Russia, has long walked the line between alarm over Russia’s military buildup on the nearby Kola Peninsula, home to Russia’s Northern Fleet, and seeking good neighborly relations on fisheries management and coast guard cooperation.
The Norwegian military headquarters and the Northern Fleet headquarters near Murmansk have maintained a hotline even after Oslo cut all other defense ties following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
“We are working on an open dialogue with Russia,” Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said at a March 19 virtual conference organized by the Atlantic Council. The idea is to “lift” whatever successful instruments are still in place, he added, namely the joint search-and-rescue service and the crisis telecommunications channel.
But Norwegian officials are getting increasingly spooked by Russian long-range missiles, new underwater weaponry and naval exercises inching closer to the coastlines of NATO allies. They see Moscow returning to a version of the Cold War-era “bastion concept,” a kind of area-denial strategy that sought to create safe waters for Soviet nuclear submarines to stage a nuclear counterstrike in the case of an atomic war.
“We cannot shy away from the fact that the security landscape in the Arctic is getting more difficult,” said Ine Eriksen Soreide, Norway’s foreign minister. “We don’t see Russia as a direct threat to Norway, but we see more and more signaling towards NATO and thereby Norway as a NATO member.”
With little appetite for the eight-nation Arctic Council to pick up military and defense topics, that leaves the alliance as the logical forum for crisis prevention and management in the High North, according to analysts. The fact that the Biden administration has rejoined the Paris Agreement to battle climate change has given a boost to the prospect of increased cooperation through NATO.
The alliance has found itself in something of a soul-searching mode for about a year, brooding over a reform process known as NATO 2030. In addition, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wants members to agree on a strategic concept that takes into account new challenges connected with Russia and China.
That period of introspection could open new avenues for anchoring Arctic security topics on the trans-Atlantic agenda.
“The strategic concept should highlight that NATO has a role in the Arctic,” Henning Vaglum, the director general for security policy at Norway’s Defence Ministry, said at the Atlantic Council event. “There have historically been some doubts about that.”
However, U.S. policymakers don’t view the region as a source of imminent conflict.
“It’s the region where, in many respects, the status quo is enviable,” said James DeHart, the U.S. State Department’s coordinator for the Arctic region.
“I’m not downplaying the risks here,” he added. “We have to have our eyes open.”
At the same time, Pentagon officials are cleareyed that tensions elsewhere could quickly spill over to the High North. “We have to be able to connect some dots and think forward about what we should be anticipating from Russia in the region,” said Jennifer Walsh, a senior Defense Department policy official.
While Moscow’s current objective may be to bolster its territorial defense in the Arctic, “how far will it go to increase its oversight or control of northern sea routes?” she wondered.
The same goes for China, Walsh said. With Beijing’s stated ambitions to be a player in the region, its attempts to influence existing Arctic governance mechanisms should be judged in light of its behavior elsewhere.
But how NATO could realize a planning mandate for the Arctic remains to be seen, according to analysts.
NATO as an institution has not dealt that much with the Arctic, leaving the heavy lifting to individual countries of the region, said Wieslander of the Atlantic Council think tank.
“If you have an increased amount of military activity but you [don’t have a] political forum to put these activities into some kind of perspective, then you have a problem,” she told Defense News.
Regionally focused alliance groups on the Baltic and Black Sea regions, which produced common threat assessments, could serve as a model, the analyst argued. The Baltic Sea focus, in particular, could help shift attention to the Arctic, Wieslander said. “It’s one strategic area, and the theaters are really interconnected. You could easily expand upward those discussions.” (Source: Defense News)
12 Apr 21. Ukraine: G7 Foreign Ministers’ statement. A statement from the Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the High Representative of the European Union.
We, the G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and the High Representative of the European Union are deeply concerned by the large ongoing build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea.
These large-scale troop movements, without prior notification, represent threatening and destabilising activities. We call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions in line with its international obligations. In particular, we call on Russia to uphold the OSCE principles and commitments that it has signed up to on transparency of military movements and to respond to the procedure established under Chapter III of the Vienna Document.
Recalling our last statement of 18 March, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. We support Ukraine’s posture of restraint.
We underline our strong appreciation and continued support for France’s and Germany’s efforts through the Normandy Process to secure the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, which is the only way forward for a lasting political solution to the conflict. We call on all sides to engage constructively in the Trilateral Contact Group on the OSCE’s proposals to confirm and consolidate the ceasefire. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
13 Apr 21. Casting a wide net to counter China. Canberra and Washington must counter the growing Chinese threat by leveraging their long-standing relationship to ramp up engagement with Indo-Pacific partners, one analyst observes. The escalation in Chinese aggression across the Indo-Pacific has generated a new sense of urgency among regional governments for a new counter strategy.
According to Erik Jacobs, analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies, Beijing’s multi-pronged bullying tactics have provided actors with a frightening glimpse into a China-dominated future.
“[Regional] governments are right to be concerned about what a future of economic coercion, maritime disputes, and contested resource rights and shipping lanes may hold,” he writes.
This threat, Jacobs argues, can be countered by renewed efforts to build a coalition of regional nations with a shared interest in keeping Beijing at bay.
Jacobs proposes that Australia and the US leverage their long-standing relationship to “deepen existing partnerships, build nascent strategic ties, and find new ways to co-operate” with regional governments.
“The long-term importance of these relationships is apparent in strategic outlooks coming out of both Washington and Canberra,” he continues.
“The existing US-Australia Alliance should be a key pillar underpinning an Indo-Pacific region free from coercion and open to unhindered navigation and overflight, with the reborn Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (Quad) serving as another pillar.”
According to Jacobs, strengthening ties with Tokyo must be Canberra and Washington’s first priority.
The CIS analyst suggests that greater engagement with Japan could involve a ramp-up in defence training cooperation, or the tracking and sharing of intelligence on Chinese maritime operations in the East China Sea.
Jacobs also calls on Canberra and Washington to conduct more intelligence-sharing with India in future Malabar Exercises, particularly on Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Straits.
He goes on to note that Australia and the US could explore opportunities to enhance cooperation with nations like Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, which he says are “hedging” the changing Indo-Pacific dynamics in a “more deliberative fashion”.
Jacobs concedes that building ties with such nations would likely be “incremental”, but suggests that Japan could play a “potentially prominent” role.
He claims that Australia and the US should encourage Japan to build on recent defence exports and transfers to the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Jacobs also notes the potential for increased cooperation on maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) training to bolster the defensive capabilities of south-east Asian states, which could participate in future Quad discussions on maritime security.
Moreover, Jacobs proposes that deeper co-operation between the US, Australia and other nations on non-military issues — supply chain integrity, advanced and emerging technologies, critical minerals, and vaccines — could foster relationships with other regional nations, weary of dependence on China.
He adds: “Increased Australian energy exports to Japan also present an opportunity for trade diversification and growth in the face of Beijing’s campaign of economic coercion.” (Source: Defence Connect)
12 Apr 21. U.S. Engagement Needed to Build Security, Prosperity on African Continent. Generalizations on Africa are tough to make except for this: U.S. engagement with the nations of the continent is crucial for peace, democracy and development, said acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Africa Affairs Ronald W. Meyers during a recent interview.
The Defense Department has a role to play in support of U.S. African policy, but it is very much an enabling role in line with the State Department’s overall direction.
The DOD wants to continue building partnerships that will help African nations combat the threats posed by violent extremism. This includes providing humanitarian/disaster assistance, when needed, in areas where the U.S. has played an outsized role in countering pandemics, such as Ebola, and mitigating the harm caused by natural disasters, Meyers said. U.S. Africa Command is the combatant command responsible for military-to-military connections on the continent. The command engages with partners to counter transnational threats and malign actors in order to promote regional security, stability and prosperity.
Africa is not a monolithic entity. The continent has countless mixtures of languages, religions, races, histories and more. What works in Morocco in North Africa will be of limited use in Angola, for example. Understanding these differences and working with the countries individually on the basis of mutual respect and shared interest, while staying cognizant of their colonial legacy, is key to U.S. outreach to the nations of the continent, Meyers said.
Violent extremist organizations are a problem for governments and people throughout the continent, but even these organizations have differences. These differences can range from extorting funds by use of violence to organizations seeking to gain local or regional control to some with more global ambitions, the acting deputy assistant secretary said.
Al-Shabab in Somalia is a group that once held the capital of Mogadishu and was supported by al-Qaida, DOD officials said. The group has suffered setbacks, especially since African Union peacekeepers went into the country in 2007. The troops were from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti and received some U.S. support. The U.S. launched airstrikes against al-Shabab forces and U.S. trainers have worked to build capability and capacity in Somali government forces – with the ultimate goal of enabling these forces to provide security in lieu of U.S. troops.
Boko Haram is a terror group that is centered in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger and affiliated itself with ISIS in 2015. The actions of the group – including the kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls in 2014 and the killings of tens of thousands of people – have resulted in the “displacement” of more than 25 million people over the past seven years. The United States, France and the United Kingdom are working with Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Benin and Chad as part of a multinational joint task force against the group.
We probably sometimes forget the outsize role that African partners or African countries play in not only global affairs, but in the world economy. If the European and Asian nations are investing more on the continent, maybe we should be asking what do they see that we should?”
Ronald W. Meyers, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Africa Affairs
The latest terror group is another al-Shabab group that is affiliated with ISIS. The group seized Palma, a city in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. Government troops retook the city, but the group is extremely violent with reports from the city detailing beheadings and torture, but information is sketchy.
These groups, and more, grow in ungoverned, or little governed areas, of the continent. The Sahel region – stretching from East to West Africa – is particularly vulnerable with groups proliferating in Sudan, South Sudan, Southern Algeria, Mali and more.
The problems these groups pose are compounded by external factors, Meyers said. Climate change, desertification, inadequate or non-existent infrastructure, disease and more affect national governments throughout the region. The coming boom in the continent’s population will tax these governments and, in fact, the migration challenge seen today will become worse unless the governments can build the capabilities and capacity needed to educate, feed and provide economic opportunities for their peoples, he said.
Africa is also an emerging front in global power competition. China and Russia are looking for any advantage on the continent. China has sponsored infrastructure projects in many nations and has used money lending practices that have strings attached that lead right back to Beijing, DOD officials have said.
“We look to position the United States to be ‘the partner of choice’ on the continent,” Meyers said. “We look to sustainably build national capabilities. Most of this is in the governance and economic sectors, but we are active in the national security sector as well. We do not undermine the economic, political and security institutions. We build them. The Chinese and Russian aid – often just dumped at a dock for a photo op – often increases instability.”
The U.S. military’s competitive security edge lies with equipment and with the “soup to nuts” paradigm America uses to ensure partner nations can use and sustainably maintain the equipment, Meyers said. U.S. equipment comes with training, education, spare parts and more.
The U.S. military – notably Africom – partners with nations to combat terrorism. The command works with Pan-African groups to encourage regional solutions and security, and it looks to help the nations and groups to find solutions that work in Africa.
There are many nations on the continent that are doing well. “I definitely believe that there’s a lot of opportunity there,” Meyers said. “We probably sometimes forget the outsize role that African partners or African countries play in not only global affairs, but in the world economy. If the European and Asian nations are investing more on the continent, maybe we should be asking what do they see that we should?” (Source: US DoD)
11 Apr 21. Ukraine says it could be provoked by Russian ‘aggression’ in conflict area. Ukraine’s defence minister said on Saturday his country could be provoked by Russian aggravation of the situation in the conflict area of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.
The minister, Andrii Taran, said Russian accusations about the rights of Russian-speakers being violated could be the reason for the resumption of armed aggression against Ukraine.
“At the same time, it should be noted that the intensification of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine is possible only if an appropriate political decision is made at the highest level in the Kremlin,” he said in a statement.
Kyiv has raised the alarm over a buildup of Russian forces near the border between Ukraine and Russia, and over a rise in violence along the line of contact separating Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in Donbass.
The Russian military movements have fuelled concerns that Moscow is preparing to send forces into Ukraine. The Kremlin denies its troops are a threat, but says they will remain as long as it sees fit.
Senior Kremlin official Dmitry Kozak last week said Russia would be forced to defend its citizens in eastern Ukraine depending on the scale of the military conflict there.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his French and German counterparts on Friday called on Russia to halt a troop buildup and reaffirmed their support for Kyiv in its confrontation with Moscow. (Source: Reuters)
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