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10 Jul 21. South Korea’s push to strengthen defences could trigger reaction from North and Japan, say Chinese observers.
- Seoul successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile last week as part of an ongoing drive to boost its military strength
- Nuclear-armed North Korea is the South’s biggest concern, but some analysts fear its efforts will have wider implications
South Korea’s push to develop its defensive capabilities saw it successfully test a submarine-launched ballistic missile last weekend, but some Chinese analysts have warned it risks a new arms race in east Asia.
Sunday’s launch from an underwater barge makes it the eighth country in the world to have mastered such a strategic capability, according to Yonhap television news, and it was one of many weapons Seoul has been developing amid a largely unnoticed arms race with North Korea.
In April, Korea Aerospace Industries unveiled the nation’s first prototype multirole fighter jet, the KF-X, which is being developed in partnership with Indonesia.
President Moon Jae-in said that the prototype “has opened a new era of self-defence and established a historic milestone for the development of the aviation industry”.
This year the country has also earmarked 3.2bn won ($2.8bn) to acquire dozens of new American combat helicopters and 24.3bn won for Hanwha Group to develop a device that helps laser weapons target drones flying several kilometres away.
Sun Xingjie, a Korean affairs specialist from Jilin University in northeast China, said South Korea’s military development posed a regional security dilemma.
“I think both North Korea and Japan would be alarmed to see Seoul’s visible and meaningful military improvement. If the two countries both decide to enhance their own military power, then we will face a very awkward situation, in which every country is seeking security by acquiring more powerful military capabilities but instead makes the whole situation unsafe,” said Sun.
Song Zhongping, a former People’s Liberation Army instructor, is worried that the denuclearisation in the Korean peninsula will become more difficult in the future.
“If Seoul’s military progress makes Pyongyang more determined to pursue more sophisticated weapons, then the peninsula is bound to be more dangerous than ever,” he said.
But other analysts said South Korea has legitimate reasons to build up its military.
The country’s biggest security threat comes from North Korea, which announced in 2017 that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
In January, Pyongyang also unveiled new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile at a military showcase, which it declared to be “the world’s most powerful weapon”. In the same month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed to advance the country’s nuclear capabilities.
In May, the United States gave South Korea the green light to develop longer-range ballistic missiles by removing guidelines that capped the target area to about 800km (500 miles) – effectively limiting their target area to within the Korean peninsula. Hwang Jae-ho, director of the Global Security Cooperation Centre at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said Seoul’s military build-up is aimed at deterrence.
“So far, these developments are still modest in scale, especially when compared to North Korea, which has nuclear strike capabilities,” Hwang said.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst specialising in Chinese security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, agreed. “By having a sea-based prompt-strike capability based around [submarine-launched ballistic missiles], Seoul has some potential to attack North Korean nuclear ballistic missile forces prior to launch in a damage limitation strategy.
“I suspect that this is a tactical response against a growing North Korean threat – and a hedge against future uncertainty regarding US extended nuclear deterrence security guarantees weakening, perhaps in a future administration after 2024.” (Source: Google/https://www.scmp.com/news/)
09 Jul 21. Afghan pilots assassinated by Taliban as U.S. withdraws. Afghan Air Force Major Dastagir Zamaray had grown so fearful of Taliban assassinations of off-duty forces in Kabul that he decided to sell his home to move to a safer pocket of Afghanistan’s sprawling capital.
Instead of being greeted by a prospective buyer at his realtor’s office earlier this year, the 41-year-old pilot was confronted by a gunman who walked inside and, without a word, fatally shot the real estate agent in the mouth.
Zamaray reached for his sidearm but the gunman shot him in the head. The father of seven collapsed dead on his 14-year-old son, who had tagged along. The boy was spared, but barely speaks anymore, his family says.
Zamaray “only went there because he personally knew the realtor and thought it was safe,” Samiullah Darman, his brother-in-law, told Reuters. “We didn’t know that he would never come back.”
At least seven Afghan pilots, including Zamaray, have been assassinated off base in recent months, according to two senior Afghan government officials. This series of targeted killings, which haven’t been previously reported, illustrate what U.S. and Afghan officials believe is a deliberate Taliban effort to destroy one of Afghanistan’s most valuable military assets: its corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots.
In so doing, the Taliban — who have no air force — are looking to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives. The militants are quickly seizing territory once controlled by the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, raising fears they could eventually try to topple Kabul.
Reuters confirmed the identities of two of the slain pilots through family members. It could not independently verify the names of the other five who were allegedly targeted.
In response to questions from Reuters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the group had killed Zamaray, and that it had started a program that will see Afghan Air Force pilots “targeted and eliminated because all of them do bombardment against their people.”
A U.N. report documented 229 civilian deaths caused by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the first three months of 2021, and 41 civilian deaths caused by the Afghan Air Force over the same period.
Afghanistan’s government has not publicly disclosed the number of pilots assassinated in targeted killings. The nation’s Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. The Pentagon said it was aware of the deaths of several Afghan pilots in killings claimed by the Taliban, but declined comment on U.S. intelligence and investigations.
Afghan military pilots are particularly attractive assassination targets, current and former U.S. and Afghan officials say. They can strike Taliban forces massing for major attacks, shuttle commandos to missions and provide life-saving air cover for Afghan ground troops. Pilots take years to train and are hard to replace, representing an outsized blow to the country’s defenses with every loss.
Shoot-downs and accidents are ever-present risks. Yet these pilots often are most vulnerable in the streets of their own neighborhoods, where attackers can come from anywhere, said retired U.S. Brigadier General David Hicks, who commanded the training effort for the Afghan Air Force from 2016 to 2017.
“Their lives were at much greater risk during that time (off base) than they were while they were flying combat missions,” Hicks said.
Although Taliban assassinations of pilots have happened in years past, the recent killings take on greater significance as the Afghan Air Force is tested like never before. Just last week, U.S. forces left America’s main military bastion in Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, as they complete their withdrawal from the country 20 years after ousting the Taliban following the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (Source: Reuters)
09 Jul 21. Five years after South China Sea ruling, China’s presence around Philippines growing. Filipino fisherman Randy Megu has often braved the storms that spring up in the South China Sea, but these days he has a greater fear: seeing a Chinese maritime enforcement vessel on the horizon. Five years after a landmark international arbitration court ruling repudiated China’s claims to the waters where Megu fishes, the 48-year-old complains that his encounters with Chinese boats are more frequent than ever.
“I was so scared,” said Megu, describing how a Chinese vessel had tracked his wooden outrigger boat for three hours some 140 nautical miles (260 km) from the coast in May.
He said other fishermen had reported being rammed or blasted with water cannons while working in what they considered their historic fishing grounds – which they had hoped to secure after the ruling in The Hague in 2016.
China rejected the ruling and has stood by its claim to most of the waters within a so-called Nine Dash Line, which is also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In just one incident in March, the Philippines complained of incursions by what it said were more than 200 Chinese militia vessels into the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles from its coast.
Chinese diplomats said the boats were sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard.
“The data here is very clear,” said Greg Poling of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Chinese Coast Guard ships and the militia are in the Philippines’ EEZ more than they were five years ago.”
A July 2020 opinion poll showed that 70% of Filipinos want the government to assert its claim in the South China Sea.
“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it; nay, even erase it from law, history and our collective memories,” Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said in a statement last month.
The country has made 128 diplomatic protests over China’s activities in contested waters since 2016, and coast guard and bureau of fisheries vessels have conducted “sovereign” patrols in the Philippines’ EEZ.
But the Philippines has done little else to press its claim under firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte, who has made the relationship with China a plan of his foreign policy and said it is “inutile” to try to challenge its vastly bigger neighbour.
After some of his cabinet stepped up rhetoric over the waters early this year, Duterte barred them from speaking out.
“China is more in control. The only thing the Duterte government can point to is they haven’t had a major incident,” Poling said. “If you just keep surrendering to the bully, of course there won’t be a fight.”
The Philippine coast guard and ministry of defence did not respond to requests for comment.
China’s presence has also grown elsewhere in the South China Sea. It has continued to strengthen artificial islands equipped with secured ports, airstrips and surface-to-air-missiles.
Confrontations with Vietnam have set back energy projects. Malaysia has complained about the actions of Chinese vessels. Their presence have also drawn concern in Indonesia – even though it is not technically a claimant state.
Occasional freedom of navigation operations by the U.S. Navy have challenged China’s claims but show no sign of discouraging Beijing from deploying vessels around the Philippines or elsewhere.
Before his election in 2016, Duterte had said he would stand up for his country’s claims in the South China Sea.
He is due to step down at the end of his single six-year term next year, but talk that he could be vice president or be succeeded by his daughter have raised doubts that policies will change.
The fishermen of Pangasinan see little hope of a challenge to the Chinese vessels that now dictate their movements.
“Now, it is as if we are the ones stealing from our own backyard,” said 51-year old fisherman Christopher de Vera.
08 Jul 21. Operation TORAL draws to an end as UK transitions to new phase of support to Afghanistan. As Operation TORAL draws to a close, a small number of UK military personnel will temporarily remain to support the transition to a new phase of UK Government support to Afghanistan.
As Operation TORAL, the UK’s contribution to NATO Resolute Support, draws to a close, a small number of UK military personnel will temporarily remain to support the transition to a new phase of UK Government support to Afghanistan.
Operation TORAL has been the UK’s mission in Afghanistan since the end of UK combat operations in 2015. In line with the orderly and coordinated withdrawal of NATO Forces which began on 1 May, the Prime Minister confirmed earlier today that the UK has now withdrawn the majority of our personnel from the country.
A number of troops will remain to offer diplomatic assurance to the international community in Kabul as we transition to the end of the NATO mission. This is consistent with the continued diplomatic presence and retaining a bi-lateral relationship with Afghanistan.
The Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace MP, said:
Operation TORAL is drawing to an end, but our enduring support for the Afghan Security Forces and Afghan Government has not.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those who have served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, particularly those who lost their lives. Their efforts have helped prevent international terrorism and set the country on the path to peace. We hope the deal struck last year will form the basis for progress.
We will now continue this important work as we transition to a new phase in Afghanistan.
Since 2001, 457 members of the UK Armed Forces have sadly lost their lives in Afghanistan, with more sustaining life-changing injuries. The country owes them a huge debt of gratitude, and their sacrifice must never be forgotten. Over 150,000 UK personnel have served in the country, and their efforts have not been in vain.
UK Armed Forces have helped deny terrorists a safe haven from which they could plan and launch attacks on the UK and its Allies. There has been no international terrorist attack mounted from Afghanistan in the past 20 years.
Alongside NATO Allies, we have trained 5,000 ANDSF cadets, including 330 women, at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA). The ANDSF have led security in Afghanistan for the last six years and are countering security threats across the country.
The logistical withdrawal of UK Armed Forces from Afghanistan has been conducted by elements from across the Armed Forces. The Royal Air Force has flown more than 50 flights, covering more than 100,000 nautical miles.
This includes the return of RAF Puma Helicopters, which have transported 126,000 passengers and moved 660,000kg of freight during their deployment in Afghanistan.
Brigadier Oliver Brown, outgoing Commander of Operation TORAL, said, “The men and women who have served as part of Op TORAL should be immensely proud. They have trained thousands of Afghan troops, helped prevent international terrorism and created the conditions for the Afghan Security Forces to succeed.”
The logistical effort to draw the Operation to a close quickly and safely has been an excellent demonstration of the Armed Forces’ extraordinary professionalism.
Most of the soldiers who have departed Afghanistan are from the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland. These soldiers have led the Kabul Security Force (KSF), which provided force protection for coalition mentors, including a Quick Reaction Force in Kabul. The Regiment marked the drawdown of Operation TORAL with a flag lowering ceremony on 24 June, attended by General Miller, Commander of Resolute Support Mission.
The withdrawal of British forces does not mean the end of our commitment to Afghanistan and we will continue to use diplomatic and humanitarian levers to support Afghanistan’s development and stability. The UK has already provided £3.3bn of aid funding since 2002, which has helped improve the rights of all Afghans, including:
- 8.2 million more children who are now in school than in 2001.
- 3.6 million who girls are now in school.
- The Girls Education Challenge Fund has helped over a quarter of a million Afghan girls into the classroom.
- Maternal mortality has almost halved and infant mortality has decreased faster than any low income country since 2001.
Through our Afghanistan Multi Year Humanitarian Response Programme, we will continue to provide urgent lifesaving assistance to immediate humanitarian need. The UK is also a substantial contributor to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which continues to fund infrastructure development, resilience to climate change, and rural development.
The Government also remains committed to the many interpreters and other locally employed staff who risked their lives working alongside UK forces in Afghanistan. Through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), we will continue to relocate them to the UK and support them in building their lives here. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
08 Jul 21. Russian aggression against Ukraine: UK response to OSCE. Ambassador Neil Bush responds to Ambassadors Çevik and Grau and discusses OSCE’s efforts in response to Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.
Thank you Madam Chairperson. Ambassador Çevik, Ambassador Grau we are grateful for your reports today and all your efforts towards a peaceful and sustainable resolution of the conflict.
The UK still has significant concerns about the heightened tensions caused by the increased Russian military activity on Ukraine’s border and in illegally annexed Crimea in April. We continue to call on Russia to engage with the OSCE processes and mechanisms available to provide necessary transparency regarding this activity.
Ambassador Çevik, the Special Monitoring Mission’s impartial, facts-based reporting remains crucial. Your written report outlined that the SMM recorded over 20,900 ceasefire violations between 21 March and 6 June – an almost threefold increase compared with the previous reporting period. While the average number of ceasefire violations recorded remains below those seen prior to July 2020, the UK is concerned by this overall upward trajectory.
We are particularly alarmed that the SMM recorded 150 instances of the use of weapons that should have been withdrawn under the Minsk agreements, compared with two instances in the last reporting period. It is noteworthy that of the 670 weapons observed by the Mission in violation of their respective withdrawal lines, 87 per cent were in non-government controlled areas.
Given the SMM’s vital role, we condemn ongoing impediments to the Mission’s monitoring through the targeting of its equipment. During the reporting period, the instances of GPS signal interference encountered by the SMM UAVs, assessed as caused by jamming, increased almost four-fold, with 43 per cent of all UAV flights experiencing signal interference.
The SMM also continues to face systematic restrictions on its freedom of movement in non-government controlled areas, where 82 per cent of restrictions occurred. It is unacceptable that COVID-19 continues to be used as a pretext to impose restrictions, particularly given the numerous measures the mission has taken. We commend the SMM on its vaccination programme and Poland for its contribution.
We urge Russia to use its undeniable influence over the armed formations it backs to ensure SMM monitors and equipment have safe, unconditional and unimpeded access throughout Ukraine, including in Crimea and areas near the Ukraine-Russia state border.
Sadly, civilians also continue to face restrictions on their freedom of movement. Your report outlines that the partial closure of crossing points – now for 15 months – has severely restricted civilians’ ability to cross the line of contact.
Ambassador Grau, we are grateful to you and your team for your ongoing efforts to make progress on the opening of new checkpoints at Zolote and Shchastia. We note that these checkpoints have now been open for nearly 8 months on the government-controlled side. It is unacceptable that Russia and the armed formations it backs continues to keep them closed on their side.
Women have been particularly affected by these closures. Ambassador Çevik, we welcome the inclusion in your report of the SMM’s findings from its interviews with over 150 women living near the line of contact. The concerns raised ranged from economic difficulties, to security risks stemming from shelling and the presence of mines and unexploded ordnance.
Tragically, the SMM has corroborated 14 civilian casualties occurring due to mines, unexploded ordnance and other explosive devices in April alone. Ambassador Grau, we commend you and your team for your efforts to make progress on plans agreed in the Trilateral Contact Group for demining in 19 locations and for 4 new disengagement areas. If implemented, these plans would greatly improve the lives of civilians living in conflict-affected areas. We call on Russia to match the political will shown by Ukraine, so that progress can be made.
I would like to thank Ambassadors Frisch and Morel for their work in the Trilateral Contact Group, and to congratulate Ambassador Bermann and Relander on their appointments. They have the UK’s full support. Finally, Ambassador Grau, I would like to pass on the UK’s immense gratitude to you. The professionalism, dedication and patience you have demonstrated have been exemplary and will be sorely missed. We wish you all the very best in your future endeavours.
Madam Chair, we reiterate our support for the Minsk agreements to deliver a peaceful resolution to the conflict in full respect of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the work of the Trilateral Contact Group and the Normandy Four in this regard. We call on Russia to withdraw its military personnel and weapons from the territory of Ukraine and cease its support for the armed formations it backs.
The UK strongly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, including its territorial waters. We do not and will not recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The UK has consistently stood with Ukraine in opposing all instances of Russian aggression towards Ukraine and we will continue to do so, including through sanctions, together with our international partners. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
08 Jul 21. Nigerian lawmakers approve $2.4bn to fight violence, fund vaccines. Nigeria’s parliament passed a 983bn naira ($2.4bn) supplementary budget on Wednesday to address rising insecurity in the country and fund COVID-19 vaccines.
Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, is grappling with mass abductions at schools, kidnappings for ransom, conflict between herdsmen and farmers, armed robberies and various insurgencies in the north of the country.
Senate leader Ahmad Lawan said parliament should be vigilant in monitoring how the extra funds will be used, in a country that has struggled for decades with corruption.
“It is very important that we have a review of the application of these funds before we pass the 2022 Appropriation Bill,” Lawan added. “But this is a very necessary intervention by this National Assembly particularly this Senate and indeed the administration in the country.”
The government had not made a provision to cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccinations when it adopted the 2021 budget in December. President Muhammadu Buhari has said health authorities plan to vaccinate 70% of adults this year and next.
The supplementary budget will now go to the Lower House of Assembly before being submitted to Buhari for his signature.
Parliament also approved the external borrowing of about 6.2bn dollars through the issuance of a Eurobond.
Nigeria emerged from its second recession since 2016 in the fourth quarter, but growth is fragile. The government expects a 2021 budget deficit of 5.6trn naira to be financed largely from foreign and local borrowings. The government says it wants to moderate debt servicing costs by accessing relatively cheaper funds abroad, especially as global interest rates fall below 2020 levels while local rates begin to rise. (Source: DefenceWeb)
08 Jul 21. Addressing the State of Siege in DRC and MONUSCO’s transition plan. Statement by Ambassador James Roscoe at the Security Council briefing on MONUSCO. Mr President, before I begin my statement, let me just join others and you in condemning the abhorrent murder of President Moïse of Haiti. We send our condolences to the people of Haiti and to his family, and our thoughts are with the injured First Lady. This Council should continue to monitor developments in Haiti closely and we must ensure accountability for those responsible for the murder.
Mr President, let me begin my response to our briefing today by thanking SRSG Keita for her comprehensive presentation and also for her reassuring leadership. I’d like also to pass to SRSG Keita our condolences on the killing of the peacekeeper Corporal Kamanga. Corporal Kamanga was simply trying to protect civilians in the DRC and do her job, and it’s appalling that she should be murdered and we condemn that.
I’m also very grateful to Dr Kibambe for her firsthand account to respond to COVID against what are very challenging circumstances.
Mr President, I will focus my intervention on three issues: the State of Siege in eastern DRC; the humanitarian situation; and MONUSCO’s transition, including SRSG Keita’s action plan.
The UK continues to be concerned by the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC, particularly in North Kivu and Ituri. The civilian population continues to withstand appalling attacks by armed groups, and MONUSCO and DRC armed forces personnel continue to lose their lives as they attempt to tackle these armed groups. Concerted efforts are required to combat armed groups and critically to disrupt support from their political and economic backers.
We take note of the State of Siege announced by President Tshisekedi on 6 May, and his acknowledgement of and commitment to addressing the challenges the DRC armed forces need to overcome in order to tackle armed groups effectively.
The manner in which the state of siege is implemented will determine its success. In this regard, the United Kingdom urges the Government of DRC to ensure that the state of siege remains transparent, time-limited, and continues to be implemented with full respect for human rights and international law.
We also encourage the Government of DRC to increase the armed forces’ collaboration, including joint planning, with MONUSCO to ensure coordinated efforts to tackle the armed groups. On a related note, we look forward to the completion of the enhancements to MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade later this month. And we also agree wholeheartedly with SRSG Keita’s assessment that military means alone cannot provide or guarantee security. The Government of DRC must focus on using security to enhance government.
Mr President, as we have noted several times before, the humanitarian situation in DRC is dire. We remain concerned about the ongoing threat posed by COVID-19 in DRC, as we’ve heard today, which remains extremely vulnerable to the health, food security, social and economic impacts of the pandemic. The United Kingdom has provided almost $17m to support the DRC’s response to COVID-19. The rapid and effective response to the recent resurgence of Ebola in North Kivu demonstrated the importance of responding to health emergencies through local health structures and leadership.
Mr President, turning to the transition of the UN presence in DRC, the United Kingdom welcomes the establishment of the joint working group between the Government and the UN. We encourage the Government of the DRC to engage fully with MONUSCO and the UN Country Team through the joint working group, including on the articulation of a joint transition plan that is to be provided to the Council in September.
Effective coordination between MONUSCO and the UN Country Team will also be essential to the success of the transition and we encourage continued efforts to overcome the remaining coordination challenges.
In this respect, we welcome the progress that has been made in Tanganyika to bring MONUSCO, the UN Country Team, local authorities and civil society together to operationalise the provincial transition plan. In addition to the cessation of MONUSCO’s operations in the Kasais, these joint efforts in Tanganyika will enable MONUSCO to focus its efforts on the three remaining provinces heavily affected by conflict in eastern DRC. As MONUSCO’s transition progresses, it will be important to reflect on the experiences and lessons learnt in provinces the Mission has already departed from.
Finally, Mr President, we want to support SRSG Keita’s four objectives, which she clearly set out in her briefing just now. We agree that it is critical that the Mission support the Government in implementation of the Government’s action plan. We agree it is particularly critical that elections in 2023 happen on time and we urge her to continue to press for the right appointments now so that the DRC can finally deliver credible elections. We also think that political engagement to ensure non-military solutions to violence should be pursued energetically.
I thank SRSG Keita again for her leadership.
Thank you. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
08 Jul 21. Russia shows off nuclear submarine firepower after Black Sea skirmishes. Show of strength at naval parade following recent altercation with Royal Navy destroyer. Russia has sent three nuclear submarines to a naval parade for the first time in a “show of strength” after recent skirmishes in the Black Sea. On Monday, a Russian Oscar-II Class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine was spotted entering the Baltic Sea.
Two other nuclear-powered submarines were also identified, one likely to have been armed with nuclear missiles and the other an attack boat.
A nuclear ice-breaker and several powerful surface ships are also expected to attend the event in St Petersburg, planned for July 25.
HI Sutton, a defence analyst, said the annual naval parade was a display of strength but “this is a significant amount of firepower to put on show”.
“Russia has been sending nuclear submarines to the naval parade in St Petersburg for several years, but this is the first time three submarines have been sent,” he told The Telegraph.
“They are the only nuclear submarines in the Baltic. These deployments act as a show of strength for both home and foreign audiences. Nato and unaligned Baltic States will likely keep a careful eye on this submarine.”
The inclusion of three significant submarines is likely to be in part a response to the recent incident in the Black Sea when the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender was confronted by Russian forces whilst transiting the internationally recognised maritime route between Ukraine and Georgia.
Russia said the passage of the British Type-45 air defence ship was a “provocation” as it passed close to Crimea, Ukrainian territory annexed illegally by Russia in 2014.
The Oscar Class submarine, designated K-266 Orel, passed under the Great Belt Bridge, which spans the entrance to the Baltic, at about 8.50am local time on Monday.
It will be joined in St Petersburg by the K-549 Knyaz Vladimir, a Borei-A Class nuclear-armed submarine and the K-157 Vepr, an Akula-Class attack boat, which passed under the Great Belt bridge at 8.30am local time on Wednesday.
The Oscar-II Class boat is a large cruise missile submarine designed during the Cold War.
Its primary mission is to attack Nato’s Carrier Strike Groups, for which it is equipped with 24 P-700 Granit supersonic anti-ship missiles, designated by Nato as SS-N-19 SHIPWRECK. These missiles have a range of 340 nautical miles and can carry a 500 kiloton thermonuclear or 750kg conventional warhead.
Some Oscar-II submarines have been upgraded and may carry up to 72 smaller missiles in their place, but most are still armed with P-700.
The UK has four nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
08 Jul 21. PM statement to the House of Commons on Afghanistan. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a statement to the House of Commons on Afghanistan.
Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a statement on the UK’s policy towards Afghanistan.
Twenty years ago, Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership had turned Afghanistan into the epicentre of global terrorism where, in the words of the author, Ahmed Rashid, “everything was available – training, funding, communications and inspiration”.
And it was in the mountain ranges of this sanctuary that al-Qaeda operated a formidable network of terrorist training camps, drilling and indoctrinating thousands of recruits.
The terrorists who acquired their murderous skills in Afghanistan – or who were organised from its soil – dispersed across the world, inflicting bloodshed and tragedy on three continents.
They detonated truck bombs in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998, killing 224 people; they attacked the USS Cole in Aden in 2000, killing 17 people; and then they perpetrated their most heinous atrocity, claiming almost 3,000 lives in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington on September 11th 2001.
Today – thankfully – the situation is very different.
The training camps have been destroyed, what remains of al-Qaeda’s leadership no longer resides in Afghanistan, and no terrorist attacks against Western targets have been mounted from Afghan soil since 2001.
We should never lose sight of these essential facts.
On the morning after September 11, few would have predicted that no more terrorist attacks on that scale would be launched from Afghanistan in the next 20 years.
These gains were achieved by an American-led military intervention, mounted with overwhelming international support – including troops from dozens of countries and the first and only invoke of NATO’s Article V security guarantee – and we can take pride that Britain was part of that effort from the beginning.
Over the last two decades, 150,000 members of our Armed Forces have served in Afghanistan, mainly in Helmand province which was, from 2006 onwards, a focus of our operation.
In the unforgiving desert of some of the world’s harshest terrain – and shoulder-to-shoulder with the Afghan security forces – our Servicemen and women sought to bring development and stability.
The House will join with me in commending their achievements and paying heartfelt tribute to the 457 British service personnel who laid down their lives in Afghanistan to keep us safe.
We always acted in the closest partnership with the Government and people of Afghanistan, and we owe an immense debt to the translators and other locally employed staff who risked their lives alongside British forces.
We have already helped more than 1,500 former Afghan staff and their families to begin new lives here in the UK.
This year we adopted a new policy, offering priority relocation to the UK to any current or former locally employed staff assessed to be under serious threat to their lives, together with their close families.
British diplomats and development experts worked alongside our allies to rebuild the country, opening schools and clinics where there had been none, and bringing safe water and electricity to millions of people for the first time.
Anyone who lives in comfort as we do should not underestimate the importance of their advances.
In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, virtually no girls attended school: they were, as a matter of declared policy, driven from the classroom and forbidden from returning.
Today 3.6 million girls are going to school in Afghanistan, seizing their chance to escape from illiteracy and poverty.
The Girls Education Challenge Fund, established by the British Government, has helped over a quarter of a million Afghan girls into the classroom, and our priority now must be to work alongside our Afghan and other partners to preserve these vital gains and the legacy of what has been achieved.
Under the Taliban, women were excluded from governance; today women hold over a quarter of the seats in Afghanistan’s parliament.
And since 2002, over 5 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan under the UN’s voluntary repatriation programme, aided by the fact that Britain, the UN and our Afghan and international partners have together cleared over 8.4 million landmines or other unexploded munitions, restoring 340,000 acres of land for productive use.
In 2018, Herat province was declared free of mines after 10 years of painstaking work by the HALO Trust, based in Dumfriesshire, in a UK-funded programme.
So no-one should doubt the gains of the last 20 years, but nor can we shrink from the hard reality of the situation today.
The international military presence in Afghanistan was never intended to be permanent.
We and our NATO allies were always going to withdraw our forces: the only question was when – and there could never be a perfect moment.
As long ago as 2014, the UK ceased all combat operations and brought the great majority of our troops home, re-orientating our role and our involvement.
About 750 service personnel stayed in Afghanistan under NATO’s mission to train and assist the country’s security forces.
Last year, the US decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban undertook to prevent “any group or individual, including al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies”.
President Biden announced in April that all American forces would leave by September at the latest, and the NATO summit declared last month that the alliance’s military operations in Afghanistan were “coming to an end”.
As a result, all British troops assigned to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan are now returning home.
And for obvious reasons, I will not disclose the timetable of our departure, though I can tell the House that most of our personnel have already left.
I hope that no-one will leap to the false conclusion that the withdrawal of our forces somehow means the end of Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan.
We are not about to turn away, nor are we under any illusions about the perils of today’s situation and what may lie ahead.
We always knew that supporting Afghanistan would be a generational undertaking and we were equally clear that the instruments in our hands would change over time.
Now we shall use every diplomatic and humanitarian lever to support Afghanistan’s development and stability.
We will back the Afghan state with over £100m of development assistance this year, and £58m for the Afghan national security and defence forces, and we will of course continue to work alongside our Afghan partners against the terrorist threat.
Our diplomats are doing everything they can to support a lasting peace settlement within Afghanistan, and they are working for regional stability, particularly by promoting better relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and here I commend General Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, for his steadfast efforts.
I spoke to President Ghani on 17th June to assure him of the UK’s commitment and I was moved once again to hear his tribute to the British soldiers who strove so hard to give the Afghan people better lives.
We must be realistic about our ability alone to influence the course of events: it will take combined efforts of many nations, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, to help the Afghan people to build their future.
But the threat that brought us to Afghanistan in the first place has been greatly diminished by the valour and by the sacrifice of the armed forces of Britain and many other countries.
We are safer because of everything they did.
Now we must persevere alongside our friends for the same goal of a stable Afghanistan, but with different tools in our hands, and I commend this statement to the House. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
06 Jul 21. Russia drills attack helicopters, pledges help to secure Tajik-Afghan border. Russian military helicopters based in Tajikistan fired air-to-surface missiles during a training exercise on Tuesday as Moscow said its forces in the Central Asian nation were fully equipped to help secure the border with Afghanistan. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon on Monday ordered the mobilisation of 20,000 military reservists to bolster the border with Afghanistan after more than 1,000 Afghan security personnel fled across the frontier in response to Taliban militant advances.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Rakhmon on Monday that Moscow would help the impoverished former Soviet republic contend with the fallout from NATO’s exit from neighbouring Afghanistan if necessary.
Russia, which operates one of its largest military bases abroad in Tajikistan equipped with tanks, helicopters, drones and ground attack aircraft, would help stabilise the border with Afghanistan if needed, both directly and through a regional security bloc, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko repeated that pledge on Monday and was cited by the Interfax news agency as saying it appeared that the Taliban was now in control of most of the border on the Afghan side.
“The situation there is rather tense because according to some sources, up to 70% of the Tajik-Afghan border is now controlled by the Taliban,” Rudenko was quoted as saying.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday that two MI-24 attack helicopters and two military transport helicopters had taken part in a training exercise in Tajikistan during which unguided missiles had been launched at more than 15 ground targets.
The exercise had simulated an attack on illegal armed groups along with a convoy of cars, enemy firepoints and arms caches. (Source: Reuters)
06 Jul 21. U.S. to Maintain Robust Over-the-Horizon Capability for Afghanistan if Needed. Following the safe and orderly drawdown of forces and equipment from Afghanistan by the end of August, the Defense Department plans to maintain robust over-the-horizon capability if needed, the Pentagon press secretary said.
John F. Kirby held a press briefing today, discussing Afghanistan support and assistance to the Department of Homeland Security at the Southwest border, as well as other topics.
As for the over-the-horizon capability, Kirby said DOD is in active discussions with the State Department regarding the nature of what that capability will be. He mentioned that there’s a carrier strike group in the region and facilities throughout the Middle East that could be useful if needed.
“Our commitment to the future of a stable and secure Afghanistan has not changed. It’s just going to look different. We’re just not going to be on the ground the way we are now,” he said.
Kirby also discussed other bilateral activities with Afghanistan.
There are still contractors in Afghanistan providing support to their security forces and air force, he said. “We are actively working [on ways] in which that contract support can be done remotely or virtually or even physically outside the country.”
There was coordination with Afghan leaders, both in government as well as in the Afghan security forces, about the eventual turnover of Bagram Airfield, the seventh and final base that the U.S. turned over to Afghan National Security Forces, he noted.
Today, U.S. Central Command provided a press release on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
As of July 5, DOD has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 984 C-17 aircraft- loads of material out of Afghanistan and has turned over nearly 17,074 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition, the release stated, noting that 90% of the entire withdrawal process has been completed.
In other news, Kirby said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to extend DOD support to Customs and Border Protection on the Southwest U.S. border with Mexico into fiscal year 2022.
The department will provide up to 3,000 personnel to support DHS through the end of September 2022. The majority of these will be federalized National Guard personnel under the command and control of the U.S. Northern Command. (Source: US DoD)
06 Jul 21. A judicial inquiry has been launched into the 2016 multi-billion-dollar deal between France and India, long shrouded in allegations of corruption, favouritism and involvement from the highest offices in both countries. In the latest development to surface over France’s controversial 2016 Rafale jet deal with India, an independent probe has been launched to investigate suspected corruption and favouritism surrounding the €7.8bn ($9.2bn) purchase.
An inquiry into the inter-governmental deal for 36 fighter jets was formally opened on June 14 following a decision by France’s public financial prosecutor (PNF), French investigative outlet Mediapart reported last Friday.
Appointed by the PNF, a judge will take aim at the top offices involved in the approval of the deal and question the actions of former French president Francois Hollande, who was in office when the deal was signed; current president Emmanuel Macron, who was economy and finance minister at the time; and then-defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is now Macron’s minister for foreign affairs.
The probe has been launched in the wake of a series of investigative reports published by Mediapart in April, which, apart from possible financial crimes, also revealed the role of a middleman named Sushen Gupta, now under investigation in India in connection with another defence deal.
Gupta was allegedly paid several million euros in secret commissions to offshore accounts and shell companies by French aeronautical company Dassault Aviation and defence electronics firm Thales, ostensibly to influence the Rafale deal.
In their investigations into the routes of those funds, India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) – an anti-money laundering agency – discovered that Gupta also “received kickbacks” with the aim of influencing the outcome of “other defence deals” like Rafale, said Mediapart.
Separately, those payments were on top of an additional €1m ($1.2m) “gift” from Dassault to an Indian company to create 50 replicas of its Rafale jets, models which Dassault was not able to prove existed after an audit by the French anti-corruption agency (AFA).
That company, Defsys Solutions, is one of Dassault’s subcontractors in India – and was linked to Gupta, who had sent the invoice within six months of the 2016 deal being signed.
In March 2019, Gupta was arrested by the ED over a scam dubbed “Choppergate”, which centred on a €550m ($650m) contract for the sale to India of helicopters manufactured by Italian-British firm AgustaWestland.
Despite being aware of the Rafale-related disclosures, ED chose not to investigate any further. Nor did PNF at the time.
That the ED had information regarding allegedly corrupt actions in connection with the Rafale deal are particularly relevant in light of reporting by the Hindu in 2019, which found that standard procurement-related anti-corruption clauses penalising companies for employing agents or middlemen were dropped by the government at Dassault’s behest before the agreement was finalised.
Following Mediapart’s expose in April, French anti-corruption NGO Sherpa filed a complaint with the tribunal of Paris citing “corruption”, “money laundering”, “influence peddling”, “favouritism” and unwarranted tax waivers pegged to the deal.
Sherpa’s complaint initiated the PNF to designate a magistrate to investigate the alleged crimes.
Sherpa’s lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth said in a statement to Mediapart that the launch of the probe “will necessarily favour the emergence of the truth and the identification of those responsible in what increasingly resembles a state scandal”.
In response, Dassault said that it “acts in strict compliance with the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and national laws”.
“Numerous controls are carried out by official organizations, including the French Anti-Corruption Agency. No violations were reported, notably in the frame of the contract with India for the acquisition of 36 Rafales”, Dassault added.
Speaking to The Wire, Prashant Bhushan, an eminent Indian lawyer who had previously demanded a probe into the deal by the India’s Supreme Court, said: “The Mediapart story further corroborates the whole string of evidence which we had placed before the Supreme Court seeking an independent investigation into the deal.”
He added that it was “unfortunate that the Indian media did not follow up” on the scandal.
What is the controversy about?
In what was India’s largest defence procurement deal, prime minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist government inked an agreement with France in September 2016 to deliver 36 Rafale warplanes by 2022, choosing Dassault Aviation over its traditional Russian MiGs.
So far, India has received three batches of the jets.
The deal has a 50 percent “offset” clause to be executed by Dassault and its partners. Indian defence procurement rules state that foreign firms need to invest at least 30 percent of a deal’s worth back into the country, in order to boost domestic manufacturing.
What kicked off a political storm was when the main opposition Congress party accused the government of crony capitalism by favouring a private Indian company – Anil Ambani’s Reliance group, and a man with close ties to Modi – to be Dassault’s offset partner.
Saddled with ageing Soviet-era aircrafts, India made the decision to upgrade its squadron of fighter jets in 2001 and officially put out a tender in 2007 to purchase 126 planes.
In 2008, Dassault along with the likes of Boeing and Saab had put in bids. In 2012, Dassault submitted the lowest bid, and was shortlisted. State-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was selected as its offset partner to produce 108 jets in India.
But the deal stalled as the two partners couldn’t finalise an agreement, and in 2014 it was put on hold after the BJP’s election victory.
During a visit to France in 2015, Modi decided to upend the original tender to purchase 36 “ready to fly” Rafale jets instead, cutting out HAL from the equation.
Documents seen by Mediapart show Dassault and Reliance had in fact signed their first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on March 26, 2015 – fifteen days before Modi’s decision to overturn the prior agreement.
Then two months after the 2016 deal was approved, Dassault and Reliance signed a “shareholders’ agreement” which set out their relationship in a future joint venture company created in 2017 called Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL).
The joint venture had extraordinary financial terms where Dassault, which held a 49 percent stake, pledged to provide 94 percent of the total €169m ($200m) investment into the subsidiary.
According to confidential documents it managed to obtain, Mediapart revealed how Dassault had no industrial interest in forming a partnership with Reliance other than for political reasons and “marketing for programs and services with the GOI (Government of India)”.
India’s response to the allegations
In India, there are fresh calls to investigate the deal following the Mediapart expose.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a press briefing that in light of the emerging facts, his party renewed its call for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the matter.
“We have always maintained that a JPC probe into the Rafale deal, and not a court hearing, will clear the air,” he said.
“The scandalous expose of the Rafale scam, involving massive corruption, treason and loss to the public exchequer, has finally been uncovered and laid bare.”
“If France can probe the role of its former president, its former defence minister and perhaps its current president in facilitating the controversial deal, why shouldn’t India come clean on the matter?”
Responding to the allegations, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra attacked the Congress party for trying to mislead the Indian public and resorting to peddling “lies” and that “no corruption in the deal has been proven”.
He instead blamed “corporate rivalry” in France for the allegations.
Even if the government tries to brush it under the carpet, it won’t be easy. As the case progresses in France, India is set to feel its ripples too. The question is, will the allegations be put in cold storage or fervently pursued this time around? (Source: Google/https://www.trtworld.com/magazine)
06 Jul 21. Royal Brunei Air Force acquires Insitu Integrator unmanned aerial system. The Royal Brunei Air Force (RBAirF) has acquired at least one Insitu Integrator unmanned aerial system (UAS) to enhance its maritime surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, according to the US Embassy in Brunei. The embassy said in a statement that the UAS was unveiled during an event held in June to mark the 60th anniversary of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, which was attended by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the supreme commander of the country’s armed forces.
No further details were provided by the embassy, including the contract value and number of UASs procured, but Janes understands they will be used to contribute to the protection of territorial waters as well as the country’s exclusive economic zone. In this regard the country’s longstanding territorial disputes in the South China Sea with neighbouring countries, including China, are among the drivers behind the recent acquisition of the system.
The country reiterated in its recently published 2021 Defence White Paper the need to build more effective and integrated maritime security capabilities to face growing tensions in the South China Sea, with the paper listing these as one of the strategic threats the country has to respond to over the next 15 years. (Source: Jane’s)
05 Jul 21. Washington approves establishment of ‘US Forces Afghanistan Forward’ command. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has approved the establishment of a new command in Afghanistan that will be tasked with overseeing the few hundred US troops that will remain in the Central Asian country once Washington completes its military drawdown by the end of August.
The Kabul-based ‘US Forces Afghanistan Forward’ command will be in charge of protecting the US diplomatic presence in the country, supporting security requirements at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, providing continued advice and assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), and supporting US counter-terrorism efforts, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on 2 July.
The new command, which is currently being stood up, will be led by US Navy Rear Admiral Peter Vasely, whose command will be supported by US Army Brigadier General Curtis Buzzard, who will lead the Defense Security Management Office Afghanistan. That office will be based in Qatar and administer funding support for the ANDSF to include ‘over-the-horizon’ aircraft maintenance support, noted Kirby.
As part of the ongoing drawdown process, Austin also approved a plan to transfer command authority over US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) from US Army General Scott Miller to US Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command (USCENTCOM), added Kirby, pointing out that the transfer is set to become effective later this month. (Source: Jane’s)
04 Jul 21. Putin OKs Revised Russian National Security Strategy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved a revised version of Russia’s national security strategy that envisages “symmetrical and asymmetrical measures” in response to foreign states’ “unfriendly actions that threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Russia.
Putin signed a decree approving the strategy on Friday, according to the Kremlin website.
The 44-page document was published Saturday on a government website and outlined Russia’s national interests and priorities. It stated that “actions of some countries are aimed at instigating disintegration processes in the Commonwealth of Independent States in order to destroy Russia’s ties with its traditional allies,” and claimed that “a number of states call Russia a threat and even a military adversary.”
Russia remains committed to using political and diplomatic means to resolve international and national conflicts, the document read. At the same time, Moscow “considers it legitimate to take symmetrical and asymmetric measures” to thwart and prevent “unfriendly actions” by foreign states that “threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.”
Russia’s relations with the U.S. and its allies have been at post-Cold War lows over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, accusations of Russian interference in U.S. elections, hacking attacks and other events.
Earlier this week Putin described as a “provocation” a June 23 incident in the Black Sea in which Russia said one of its warships fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs in the path of Britain’s HMS Defender to force it from an area near Crimea that Moscow claims as its territorial waters.
Britain, which like most other nations does not recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, insisted the Defender wasn’t fired upon and said it was sailing in Ukrainian waters.
“It was clearly a provocation, a complex one involving not only the British but also the Americans,” Putin said Wednesday during his annual televised call-in show, charging that a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that took off from the Greek island of Crete was operating in concert with the British ship to monitor the Russian military’s response to the British destroyer.
The Russian leader lamented that the incident closely followed his summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva.
“The world is undergoing a radical change,” he said. “Our U.S. partners realize that, and that’s why the Geneva meeting took place. But on the other hand, they are trying to secure their monopolist stance, resulting in threats and destructive action such as drills, provocations and sanctions.” (Source: Military.com/AP)
05 Jul 21. Taiwan lines up revision of industry co-operation guidelines. Taiwan is considering a major revision to its Industrial Cooperation Program (ICP) to support the island’s effort to enhance defence-industrial capabilities and better integrate its companies into international supply chains, Janes has learnt. The potential changes to the ICP reflect Taipei’s growing concerns about regional security, weaknesses in its defence-industrial supply chains, and opportunities to leverage the island’s strong partnership with the United States.
The requirement to boost Taiwan’s economy through greater local industrial involvement in defence procurements is another contributing factor.
Official sources in Taipei have confirmed to Janes that while the ICP has remained largely untouched in recent years, the policy is currently being assessed, with a view to introduce an overhauled industrial scheme in the next few months. The review is being led by the ICP Office: an agency under the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Industrial Development Bureau.
Details about the proposed changes to the ICP policy have not been disclosed, but Janes understands that they are expected to be aligned with trends across the Asia-Pacific region for heightened emphasis on industrial collaboration – in terms of facilitating production and export opportunities – instead of technology transfers.
Recent updates to the defence-industrial policies implemented by countries including India, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand have seen the emergence of similar priorities.
In addition, Taiwan’s recently issued defence policy, the 2021 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), outlines a requirement for the island to lean on the ICP policy to support local capability advancement and efforts towards self-reliance. (Source: Jane’s)
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