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29 Aug 21. U.S. in final phase of Kabul evacuations, Taliban says ready to take over airport.
- Civilian evacuations to end on Sunday – official
- Biden says another attack at airport highly likely
- Drone strike in province on Pakistan border
- About 113,500 people evacuated, White House says
Aug 29 (Reuters) – U.S. forces are in the final phase of leaving Kabul, ending two decades of involvement in Afghanistan, and just over 1,000 civilians at the airport remain to be flown out before troops withdraw, a Western security official said on Sunday.
The country’s new Taliban rulers are prepared to take control of the airport, said an official from the hardline Islamist movement that has swept cross Afghanistan, crushing the U.S.-backed government.
The Western security official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters a date and time for the end of the operation was yet to be decided.
President Joe Biden has said he will stick by his deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Tuesday, 20 years after they invaded Kabul and ousted the Taliban government for shielding the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“We want to ensure that every foreign civilian and those who are at risk are evacuated today. Forces will start flying out once this process is over,” said the official, who is stationed at the airport.
The Western-backed government and Afghan army melted away as the Taliban entered the capital on Aug. 15, leaving an administrative vacuum that has bolstered fears of a financial collapse and widespread hunger.
Under a deal with the United States, the Taliban has said it will allow foreigners and Afghans who wish to leave to fly out. The United States and allies have taken about 113,500 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, but tens of thousands who want to go will be left behind.
A U.S. official told Reuters on Saturday there were fewer than 4,000 troops left at the airport, down from 5,800 at the peak of the evacuation mission. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters some troops had been withdrawn but declined to say how many remained.
The Taliban official told Reuters the Islamist group had engineers and technicians ready to take charge of the airport.
“We are waiting for the final nod from the Americans to secure full control over Kabul airport as both sides aim for a swift handover,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Western security official said crowds at the airport gates had diminished after a specific warning from the U.S. government of another attack by militants after a suicide bombing outside the airport on Thursday.
The explosion killed scores of Afghans and 13 American troops outside the gates of the airport, where thousands of Afghans had gathered to try to get a flight out since the Taliban returned to power.
The United States said on Friday it killed two militants belonging to Islamic State – enemies of both the West and Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers – which had claimed responsibility for the attack.
Biden had vowed to hunt down the perpetrators of the explosion and said the strike was not the last.
The Taliban condemned the late-night U.S. drone strike, which took place in Nangarhar province, an eastern area that borders Pakistan.
“The Americans should have informed us before conducting the air strike. It was a clear attack on Afghan territory,” a Taliban spokesman told Reuters, adding that two women and a child were wounded in the attack.
The Taliban have said they have arrested some suspects involved in the airport blast.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday the Taliban would take over the airport “very soon” after U.S. forces withdraw and announce a full cabinet in the coming days.
Mujahid told Reuters the group had appointed governors and police chiefs in all but one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and would act to solve the country’s economic problems.
The Taliban, facing the loss of billions of dollars of aid for the country, appealed to the United States and other Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations after withdrawing. Britain said that should happen only if the Taliban allow safe passage for those who want to leave and respect human rights.
U.S. military and allied countries’ flights carried fewer people on Saturday as Washington prepared to end its mission.
The last British flight evacuating civilians from Afghanistan left Kabul on Saturday. British troops would take small numbers of Afghan citizens with them as they leave this weekend, a defence ministry spokesperson said. Armed forces chief Nick Carter said hundreds of people who had worked with Britain would not make it through.
While Kabul’s airport has been in chaos, the rest of the city has been generally calm. The Taliban have told residents to hand over government equipment including weapons and vehicles within a week, the group’s spokesman said.
The airport attack added fuel to criticism Biden faced at home and abroad for the chaos after Afghanistan’s government and military collapsed before a lightning Taliban advance. He has defended his decisions, saying the United States long ago achieved its rationale for invading in 2001.
28 Aug 21. Last UK military flight leaves Afghanistan after evacuating 15,000 people.
- Departure ends nearly 20 years of UK military in Afghanistan
- Hundreds of Afghans unable to reach Kabul airport for evacuation
- Johnson thanks military, urges Taliban to respect human rights
Britain’s last military flight left Kabul late on Saturday after evacuating more than 15,000 people in the two weeks since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of British military presence in the country.
“The final flight carrying UK Armed Forces personnel has left Kabul,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.
Britain on Friday had said its evacuation mission would end within hours and that its military would be unable to fly out any Afghan citizens eligible for resettlement who had not already entered Kabul airport.
“We should be proud of our armed forces, welcoming to those coming for a better life and sad for those left behind,” Defence Minister Ben Wallace said after the final British flight.
Britain was at Washington’s side from the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that overthrew the then-ruling Taliban in punishment for harbouring the al Qaeda militants behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than 450 British armed forces personnel died during two decades of deployment in the country.
President Joe Biden has set an Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military to leave Afghanistan, while allied forces including Britain have chosen to leave before then. Britain has also suspended embassy operations in Afghanistan.
Wallace estimated on Friday that between 800 and 1,100 Afghans who had worked with Britain and were eligible for resettlement would not make it out by air, and pledged to help them if they could leave by land.
General Nick Carter, the head of Britain’s armed forces, told the BBC on Saturday that the total would be in the “high hundreds.”
“People like me … we are forever receiving messages and texts from our Afghan friends that are very distressing. We’re living this in the most painful way,” Carter said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised Britain’s armed forces.
“I want to thank everyone involved and the thousands of those who served over the last two decades. You can be proud of what you have achieved,” he said.
Carter said Britain and its allies might cooperate with the Taliban in the future to tackle threats from the Islamic State militant group. The group, enemies of both Western countries and the Taliban, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack just outside Kabul airport on Thursday that killed scores of people, including 13 U.S. service members.
“If the Taliban are able to demonstrate that they can behave in the way that a normal government would behave in relation to a terrorist threat, we may well discover that we (can) operate together,” Carter told Sky News.
“But we’ve got to wait and see. Certainly some of the stories we get about the way that they are treating their enemies would mean it would be quite difficult for us to work with them at the moment,” he added.
Johnson discussed the Afghanistan situation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday, when the two leaders agreed that the Group of Seven rich nations should take a common approach to dealing with any future Taliban government.
“The Prime Minister stressed that any recognition and engagement with the Taliban must be conditional on them allowing safe passage for those who want to leave the country and respecting human rights,” Johnson’s office said. (Source: Reuters)
27 Aug 21. U.S. launches drone strike on Islamic State after Afghan airport blast.
- Drone strike in province on Pakistan border
- Residents of Jalalabad city say they heard blasts at night
- U.S. Embassy says people should leave airport gates immediately
- About 111,000 people evacuated
- U.S. expects some engagement with Taliban
Aug 28 (Reuters) – Western forces running the Afghan airlift braced on Saturday for more attacks after the United States launched a drone strike, apparently killing an Islamic State “planner”, two days after the group claimed a deadly bombing outside Kabul airport.
Among the 92 killed in Thursday’s suicide blast, claimed by Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate, were 13 U.S. service members, the most lethal incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
“Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” the U.S. military said in a statement, referring to the overnight drone strike.
U.S. Central Command said the strike took place in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul and bordering Pakistan. It did not say whether the target was connected with the airport attack.
Residents of Jalalabad city, capital of Nangarhar, said they heard several explosions from an air strike around midnight on Friday though it was not clear if the blasts were caused by a U.S. drone.
The White House said the next few days are likely to be the most dangerous of the U.S. evacuation operation that the Pentagon said has taken about 111,000 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States believes there are still “specific, credible” threats against the airport after the bombing at one of its gates.
“We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “We’re monitoring these threats, very, very specifically, virtually in real time.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid Kabul’s airport because of security threats and those at its gates should leave immediately.
U.S. and allied forces are racing to complete evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans and to withdraw from Afghanistan by the Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden after two decades of American military presence there.
While thousands have been evacuated, they are far outnumbered by those who could not get out.
Throngs of people have gathered outside the airport to try to get onto evacuation flights since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, although on Friday, Taliban guards stopped people from approaching.
Biden said earlier he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombing.
Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) after an old name for the region, appeared in eastern Afghanistan in 2014 and later made inroads into other areas, particularly the north.
The group is an enemy of the Islamist Taliban as well as the West. The Pentagon said Thursday’s attack was carried out by one suicide bomber at an airport gate, not two as it had earlier stated.
BLASTS IN JALALABAD
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the drone strike was against an Islamic State militant planning attacks.
A reaper drone, which took off from the Middle East, struck the militant who was in a car with an Islamic State associate. Both are believed to have been killed, the official said.
In Jalalabad, community elder Malik Adib said three people were killed and four were wounded in an overnight air strike, adding he had been summoned by the Taliban investigating the incident.
“Women and children are among the victims,” said Adib, though he did not have information about their identity.
A senior Taliban commander said some ISIS-K members had been arrested in connection with the Kabul attack. “They are being interrogated by our intelligence team,” the commander said.
The number of Afghans killed in the airport bomb attack rose to 79, a hospital official told Reuters on Friday, adding that more than 120 were wounded. Some media reported a death toll of up to 170.
The attack underlined the realpolitik facing Western powers: Engaging with Taliban forces they have long fought may be their best chance to prevent the country becoming a breeding ground for militancy.
The United States expects some engagement with the Taliban will be necessary after the withdrawal to facilitate further evacuations, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
“The reality is, the Taliban control large swaths of Afghanistan,” she told reporters.
Biden was already facing criticism at home and abroad for the chaos surrounding the troop withdrawal and evacuations. As the Taliban rapidly advanced to Kabul amid the pullout, Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and military collapsed. Biden has defended his decisions, saying the United States long ago achieved its rationale for invading the country in 2001.
The U.S.-led invasion toppled the then-ruling Taliban, punishing them for harbouring al Qaeda militants who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The Taliban have said Afghans with valid documents would be able to travel freely in future – comments aimed at calming fears that they planned harsh restrictions.
But the population left behind is facing a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation, U.N. officials say, and up to half a m Afghans could flee their homeland by year-end. (Source: Reuters)
27 Aug 21. U.S. on alert for more ISIS attacks after 85 killed in Kabul airport carnage.
- Bombs kill 72 Afghans, 13 U.S. soldiers
- Evacuations speed up despite ISIS threat -Western official
- Biden says U.S. will hunt bombers down
- Nearly 100,000 evacuated in 12 days
Aug 27 (Reuters) – U.S. forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee Taliban rule were on alert for more attacks on Friday after at least one Islamic State suicide bomber killed 85 people including 13 U.S. soldiers outside the gates of Kabul airport.
Two blasts and gunfire rocked the area outside the airport on Thursday evening, witnesses said. Video shot by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies strewn around a canal on the edge of the airport.
A health official and a Taliban official said the toll of Afghans killed had risen to 72, including 28 Taliban members, although a Taliban spokesman later denied that any of their fighters guarding the airport perimeter had been killed.
The U.S. military said 13 of its service members were killed in what it described as a complex attack.
Islamic State (ISIS), an enemy of the Islamist Taliban as well as the West, said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”.
It was not clear if suicide bombers detonated both blasts or if one was a planted bomb. It was also not clear if ISIS gunmen were involved in the attack or if the firing that followed the blasts was Taliban guards firing into the air to control crowds.
U.S. officials vowed retribution.
General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said U.S. commanders were watching for more attacks by Islamic State, including possibly rockets or car-bombs targeting the airport.
“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said, adding that some intelligence was being shared with the Taliban and that he believed “some attacks have been thwarted by them.”
U.S. forces are racing to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden. He says the United States long ago achieved its original rationale for invading the country in 2001: to root out al Qaeda militants and prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States that year.
Biden said he had ordered the Pentagon to plan how to strike ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said during televised comments from the White House.
Video taken after the attack showed corpses in a waste water canal by the airport fence, some being fished out and laid in heaps while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
“I saw bodies and body parts flying in the air like a tornado blowing plastic bags,” said one Afghan witness. “That little water flowing in the sewage canal had turned into blood.”
Several thousand people were back at the airport fence on Friday, according to video posted on social media.
STAKING A CLAIM
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the threat of attacks would increase as Western troops got closer to completing the huge airlift and leaving.
“The narrative is always going to be, as we leave, certain groups such as ISIS will want to stake a claim that they have driven out the U.S. or the UK,” Wallace told Sky News. He also vowed action against ISIS wherever it manifests itself.
A U.S. Central Command spokesperson said 18 soldiers wounded in the attack were “in the process of being geometrically evacuated from Afghanistan on specially equipped C-17s with embarked surgical units”.
A Taliban official lamented the number of its members killed, saying they had lost more men that the Americans, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid later said no Taliban were killed in the twin blasts.
Western countries fear that the Taliban, who once sheltered Osaka bin Laden’s al Qaeda before it was ousted from power by the U.S.-led 2001 invasion, will allow Afghanistan to turn again into a haven for militants. The Taliban say they will not let the country be used by terrorists.
ISIS-K was initially confined to areas on the border with Pakistan but has established a second front in the north of the country. The Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point says ISIS-K includes Pakistanis from other militant groups and Uzbek extremists in addition to Afghans. read more
100,000 TAKEN OUT IN AIRLIFT
The United States will press on with evacuations despite the threat of further attacks, McKenzie said, noting that there were still about 1,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan.
The pace of evacuation flights had accelerated on Friday and American passport holders had been allowed to enter the airport compound, according to a Western security official stationed inside the airport.
In the past 12 days, Western countries have evacuated nearly 100,000 people. But they acknowledge that thousands will be left behind when the last U.S. troops leave at the end of the month.
The American casualties in Thursday’s attack were believed to be the most U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in a single incident since 30 personnel died when a helicopter was shot down in 2011. read more
The U.S. deaths were the first in action in Afghanistan in 18 months, a fact likely to be cited by critics who accuse Biden of recklessly abandoning a stable and hard-won status quo by ordering an abrupt pullout. (Source: Reuters)
26 Aug 21. Afghan Military Aircraft Land in Uzbekistan. Over 45 Afghan Air Force aircraft were flown out of the country last week, likely to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Taliban. Satellite imagery of Termez International Airport in Uzbekistan captured on August 16 reveals several dozen Afghan military assets situated on the airport’s tarmac. The platforms visible in the imagery include C-208 utility aircraft, A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, and Mi-17, Mi-25, and UH-60 helicopters. According to the Associated Press, these aircraft may have been forced to land at Termez by Uzbek authorities after crossing the border. Other reports suggest that some aircraft may have carried Afghan soldiers seeking asylum. The aircraft are no longer visible in imagery of the area captured on August 21, suggesting that their stop in Termez was temporary and they have since been relocated. (Source: CSIS)
26 Aug 21. Taiwan eyes jet fighter buy amid modest hike in 2022 defence spending. Taiwan announced a more modest pace in defence spending for next year on Thursday, but will spend $1.44bn on new fighter jets, as the island bolsters its forces in the face of increased pressure from Beijing. China has stepped up its military activity near Taiwan, including holding assault drills last week near the island, which it regards as Chinese territory to be brought under Beijing’s control, by force if necessary. President Tsai Ing-wen’s cabinet is proposing military spending of T$471.7bn ($16.89bn) for the year starting in January, up from this year’s budget of T$453.4bn, the government said in a statement.
That number includes T$40.1bn ($1.44bn) for new fighter jets, though the government did not give details but likely refers to F-16s.
The United States in 2019 approved an $8bn sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a deal that would bring the island’s total to more than 200, the largest F-16 fleet in Asia.
The rate of increase would be smaller than the 10% rise budgeted for this year, according to Reuters calculations based on government data.
China in March said its 2021 defence spending would rise 6.8% from 2020, as the world’s second-largest economy emerges from the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic. read more
Taiwan’s proposed defence budget is the third-largest government expenditure for next year, after social welfare and combined spending on education, science and culture. The budget must be approved by parliament, where Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party has a large majority, making its approval easier. Tsai has made modernising Taiwan’s armed forces – well-armed, but dwarfed by China’s – and increasing defence spending a priority. Part of that is a making Taiwan a “porcupine” equipped with advanced, highly mobile weapons to make a Chinese invasion as difficult as possible. ($1=27.9310 Taiwan dollars) (Source: Reuters)
26 Aug 21. Australia releases four new Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities.
Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price has unveiled four new Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities to enhance the warfighting capabilities of the Australian Defence Force.
According to Defence, the four new priority areas for defence industry are:
- Robotics, Autonomous Systems, and Artificial Intelligence;
- Precision Guided Munitions, Hypersonic weapons, and Integrated Air and Missile Defence Systems;
- Space; and
- Information Warfare and Cyber Capabilities.
Minister Price outlined that the new capabilities would enable Australia to meet the evolving demands of the current strategic environment, in line with Defence’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan.
“The capabilities covered by these new Priorities are essential to maintaining the Australian Defence Force’s combat edge,” Minister Price said.
“The new additions are also focused on providing secure, long-term employment to Australians in 21st century industries and technologies.
“These priorities build on our existing work of providing guidance and support to industry to develop the critical industrial capabilities which are essential for the ADF.
“A strong partnership with industry is fundamental to developing Defence capabilities.
“The priorities announced today provide the necessary guidance to shape our sovereign industrial base.
“They will increase our self-reliance and contribute to the Australian economy as we continue our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Defence is expected to collaborate with industry in order to develop an Industry Plan to achieve developments in these critical fields. (Source: Defence Connect)
24 Aug 21. Australia extends tough counter-terror laws. The federal government has passed an extension to its Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill, allowing the continued use of the government’s tough counter-terrorism powers.
The government passed the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Sunsetting Review and Other Measures) Bill 2021 earlier this week, enabling the extension of counter-terrorism powers wielded by the government such as control orders and preventative detention orders.
The federal government however noted that the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security is currently undertaking a review of these provisions.
According to a release by the Attorney General and Minister for Home Affairs’ offices, the legislation permits federal courts to impose control orders on people within the community to manage the risk that an alleged offender could cause to the community.
Since the national terror level was raised to “probable” in September 2014, some 21 control orders had been delivered.
The government further confirmed that the bill will extend the deadline for the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor’s report on detention orders.
Speaking in the Senate, Attorney General and Minister for Industrial Relations Michaelia Cash argued that the extension of the counter-terror laws would help to combat extremism, and continue to keep Australians safe.
“The emergency stop, search and seizure powers ensure that police are able to respond consistently and effectively to a terrorist incident or threat,” Minister Cash said.
“The parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security is currently conducting a statutory review of control orders, preventative detention orders and the stop, search and seizure powers. This bill ensures that these powers do not cease while this important review is going on.”
The government’s optimism towards the bill wasn’t mirrored by those opposite.
The Greens’ senator Lidia Thorpe accused the government’s anti-terror legislation of violating people’s human rights.
“Stop, search and seizure powers in division 3A of part IAA of the Crimes Act allow a police officer to stop, question and search people as well as seize items without a warrant, as long as the police officer suspects that someone is committing or about to commit a terrorist act. That says a lot about human rights,” Senator Thorpe said.
According to a release from the ministers, Australia’s first continuing detention order was made against Abdul Nacer Benbrika in December 2020.
Benbrika in 2008 was found guilty and convicted of being the leader of a terrorist organisation. Throughout the trial, the prosecution revealed some 500 phone conversations by Benbrika and 11 other accused.
While finishing his sentence in 2020, the Department of Home Affairs applied to the Victorian Supreme Court to keep Benbrika in detention.
(Source: Defence Connect)
25 Aug 21. G7 Leaders Statement on Afghanistan: 24 August 2021. A joint statement from the G7 Leaders on Afghanistan. Today, 24 August 2021, under the Presidency of the United Kingdom, we the Leaders of the Group of Seven met virtually to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. We were joined by the Secretaries General of the United Nations (UN) and NATO. We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan, and support the UN Security Council statement of 16 August. We express our grave concern about the situation in Afghanistan and call for calm and restraint to ensure the safety and security of vulnerable Afghan and international citizens, and the prevention of a humanitarian crisis. We call for adherence to obligations under international human rights law, including the rights of women, girls, and minority groups, and that international humanitarian law is upheld in all circumstances. We honour the significant sacrifices made by the Afghan people, people of our own countries, and countless others, who have worked toward a more peaceful, just and secure future for Afghanistan.
The Afghan people deserve to live in dignity, peace and security, reflecting the last two decades of their political, economic and social achievements, in particular for women and girls. Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for terrorism, nor a source of terrorist attacks on others. Working with partners, in particular NATO allies, we will continue to fight terrorism with resolve and solidarity, wherever it is found. Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations and commitment to protect against terrorism; safeguard the human rights of all Afghans, particularly women, children, and ethnic and religious minorities; uphold the rule of law; allow unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access; and counter human and drug trafficking effectively. We call on all parties in Afghanistan to work in good faith to establish an inclusive and representative government, including with the meaningful participation of women and minority groups.
We affirm our enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan, including through a renewed humanitarian effort by the international community. To this end we support the UN in coordinating the immediate international humanitarian response in the region, including unfettered humanitarian access in Afghanistan, and will contribute collectively to that response. As part of that, we will cooperate together and with neighbouring and other countries in the region on supporting Afghan refugees and host communities as part of a coordinated long-term regional response. We call on all partners of Afghanistan to support this effort and wider regional stability through multilateral channels.
As part of this, our immediate priority is to ensure the safe evacuation of our citizens and those Afghans who have partnered with us and assisted our efforts over the past twenty years, and to ensure continuing safe passage out of Afghanistan. We will continue to coordinate closely on this, and we expect all parties to continue to facilitate this, and to ensure the safety of humanitarian and medical personnel, and other international service providers. We will cooperate together, and with neighbouring and other countries in the region hosting refugees, on a coordinated approach to safe and legal routes for resettlement.
We will work together, and with our allies and regional countries, through the UN, G20 and more widely, to bring the international community together to address the critical questions facing Afghanistan. As we do this, we will judge the Afghan parties by their actions, not words. In particular, we reaffirm that the Taliban will be held accountable for their actions on preventing terrorism, on human rights in particular those of women, girls and minorities and on pursuing an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan. The legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold its international obligations and commitments to ensure a stable Afghanistan. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
23 Aug 21. Putin launches construction of new nuclear subs and warships. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday launched the construction of new nuclear submarines and other warships, part of a sweeping military modernization effort amid tensions with the West.
Speaking in a video call, Putin gave orders for two nuclear submarines armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles along with two diesel-powered submarines and two corvettes at shipyards in Severodvinsk, St. Petersburg and Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
“We will continue to boost the potential of the Russian Navy, develop its bases and infrastructure, arm it with state-of-the-art weapons,” Putin said. “A strong and sovereign Russia needs a powerful and well-balanced navy.”
The Kremlin has made military modernization a top priority as relations with the West have plunged to post-Cold War lows after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Moscow has sought to reestablish a regular naval presence in parts of the world that the Soviet Union had during the Cold War.
The Russian Navy already has a major presence in the Mediterranean Sea, with a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus. It has expanded and modified the Tartus base, the only such facility that Russia currently has outside the former Soviet Union.
“We will continue to show the Russian flag in strategically important ocean areas,” Putin said.
Monday’s ceremony for the new ships was part of the Army-2021 show intended to showcase military might and attract foreign customers for Russia’s arms industries. The weeklong show features aircraft, tanks, missiles and other weapons.
“Many of our weapons have the capabilities that have no analogues in the world, and some will remain unrivaled for a long time to come,” Putin said. (Source: Defense News)
24 Aug 21. Afghanistan’s Precarious Networks: Will The Taliban, Once Again, Go Dark? The Taliban now faces a decision: Ban the internet as the group did during its first rule, while hindering its propaganda windfall and other online activities, or leave the country’s networks intact, allowing an avenue for continued US electronic surveillance. As the Taliban swept across Afghanistan in recent months, the militant group reportedly destroyed dozens of communications antennas, power pylons, and other infrastructure critical to supporting the country’s rudimentary communications networks, raising the specter of Afghanistan “going dark.”
Were the Taliban to destroy or shut down the country’s networks, it could seriously impede US efforts to conduct electronic surveillance and signals intelligence (SIGINT) to track the new government and many of the terrorist organizations it will likely harbor.
But whether the Taliban will, in fact, destroy or shut down the country’s domestic networks remains to be seen. The Taliban has, in recent weeks, taken a page out of other terrorist organizations’ playbooks and used the internet to great effect in spreading propaganda.
The Taliban now faces a decision: Shut down the country’s networks, while hindering its propaganda and other online activities, or leave them intact, allowing an avenue for continued US electronic surveillance.
Notably, late last week, the Taliban’s official websites, in multiple languages, all disappeared offline. It’s unclear right now who might have been behind the website takedowns, but it’s unlikely the Taliban shuttered its own sites, given their recent value to spreading propaganda. (US Cyber Command and the National Security Agency both declined Breaking Defense’s request for comment on the matter.)
US surveillance of Afghan networks has, for the past two decades, been significant. NSA files leaked in 2013 by former contractor Edward Snowden contained information on Boundless Informant, a tool NSA used to track global surveillance and which showed Afghanistan to be among the most heavily surveilled foreign countries by the US. Because the country has been an area of active conflict, the focus and intensity of intelligence activities are not surprising, and the US will be keen to retain as much capability as possible to continue monitoring the Taliban’s and other terrorist groups’ communications.
Given the US has now closed its military bases and embassy in Afghanistan — along with the majority of intelligence operations based out of those locations — losing networks as a source of intelligence would be a major blow to the military and Intelligence Community.
Should Afghanistan “go dark,” it would be a return to the recent past. During the Taliban’s first rule over the country, from 1996 to 2001, the internet was banned. The Taliban governed by relying heavily on written communications, couriers, and walkie-talkies.
Of course, 25 years ago, the World Wide Web was still in its early years, and the country had not begun to move online in any meaningful way when the Taliban first came to power. That hardly any internet infrastructure existed made an internet ban much easier then. Indeed, the World Bank said that zero percent of the Afghan population was online in 2001.
But things have changed over the past two decades. To be sure, Afghanistan is still far behind many countries in terms of modern communications infrastructure and the number of its citizens online. The Central Intelligence Agency’s most recent World Factbook says that, in 2020, approximately 13.5 percent of the country (roughly 4.7 m people) have internet access and about 22.5 m have mobile cellular service. Afghans who are online, including the Taliban, rely heavily on social media, email, and messaging apps. One factor inhibiting greater online presence of Afghans is a low literacy rate, which the World Bank in 2015 estimated to be just 43.02 percent of Afghans over the age of 15.
Should the Taliban shut down networks, there are alternative options to spread its messages. For decades, the Taliban has used “night letters” (shabnamah) to communicate with target audiences. These are hand-written communications delivered by human couriers, sometimes posted in local mosques. Naturally, this system bypasses digital and electronic means of delivery, making it nearly impossible to gather intelligence from night letters without human assets on the ground.
(Asked about the possibility of the Taliban resurrecting night letters as a primary method for government communication, the NSA declined to comment.)
The Internet’s Central Role to 21st Century Terrorism
Still, the prospect of Afghanistan going dark might be overstated. The rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the US-backed Afghan government has been a propaganda windfall for the Taliban and other global terrorists organizations, and the organization is savvy enough to want to use that to its advantage.
“It’s huge,” Paul Cobaugh, an Army veteran and vice president of Narrative Strategies, told Breaking Defense about the propaganda win for the Taliban. Cobaugh joined the Army in the 1970s and then rejoined 26 years later as a Warrant Officer specializing in counterterrorism, serving tours in Afghanistan every year from 2009 to 2013.
“What we don’t realize that the Taliban keeps showing us,” Cobaugh said, is that, “It’s always been an influence war. This has always been about opinion, public opinion.”
If pictures that have emerged during the country’s dramatic fall are any indication, the Taliban represents a significant slice of the Afghan population that does use modern communications. Pictures of the Taliban in the presidential palace on Aug. 15 showed many militants snapping photos, shooting videos, and making calls with smartphones. Some have observed that Taliban members have proven to be “sophisticated” social media users, managing to remain on Twitter after overthrowing a US-backed government even while a former US president is banned from the platform for life.
“The Taliban do influence from the day they’re born. They get it. They’re good at it,” Cobaugh said. “They understand a lot about what we don’t in the West, which is how to actually analyze the target audience so they can influence predictably. They know their audience intimately.”
Over the past decade, terrorist groups have used the internet — and social media, in particular — as a central platform for propaganda, recruiting, operational planning, and other purposes. While terrorists have at times defaced websites, the groups have not, historically, shown anywhere near the offensive cyber capabilities that countries such as Iran, Russia, and China possess.
So, while the Taliban has in the past sought to suppress online activities, global terrorist online operations have changed significantly since the Taliban last ruled. Which means, once again, the key question is whether the Taliban feels it gains more benefit from taking down the networks or leaving them online.
“They’ll go dark in some areas of operations, most likely, and that’s just for their own good, so they can operate with less scrutiny,” Cobaugh said. “But I don’t see how in the world they’re going to try to run a country now without the internet. There will probably be foreign powers, Russia and China types, that will be assisting them on the technical end of things. I have no doubt about that.”
China is already there: The Afghan Ministry of Communications in 2006 announced that Chinese telecom company ZTE, which has been banned by the US and other Western countries over concerns about security flaws in the equipment that could allow espionage, would build a nationwide fiber-optic network. In recent years, China has stepped up its investments in Afghan networks, including a fiber-optic link between the two countries.
So the Taliban very well may pause on flipping the off-switch for all Afghan networks because, in the Taliban’s view, the propaganda upside could outweigh the surveillance downside.
“They are promoting a full-scale [public relations] campaign at the moment, for a variety of reasons,” Cobaugh said. “They cannot do that without connectivity to the outside world.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
20 Aug 21. Ukraine reinforces export credit agency. Ukraine’s Ministry of Economy announced on 18 August that it was reinforcing its export credit agency with a further UAH1.8bn (USD66.9m) as part of efforts to increase the country’s export capabilities. Funding for the move is coming from the country’s budget, with the Ukrainian cabinet of ministers approving the funding increase at the end of March. As a result, the agency now has a total capitalisation of UAH2bn. Ukraine first established its export credit agency in July 2018, with a capital value of UAH200m. The agency’s aim was to provide insurance, reinsurance, and guarantees to Ukrainian manufacturers in undertaking export orders. The formation of the agency was a component of Ukraine’s 2017–21 export strategy, which sought to promote sectors that would provide high added value to the country, the potential to support development of small and medium-sized enterprises, and those in high demand. As a result, support for information and communication technology; creative industries; tourism; aircraft maintenance and repair; aerospace and aircraft component manufacturing; engineering; and food and food processing industries was prioritised. (Source: Jane’s)
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