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17 Feb 22. France and allies to begin troop withdrawal from Mali. The withdrawal of the troops is expected to be complete in four to six months. France and its allies have agreed to commence a coordinated withdrawal of troops from Mali, after relations with the military junta ruling the Western African nation deteriorated. The French troops entered Mali in 2013 to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants, to stop them from advancing towards the capital of Bamako. French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed the pullback, but he insisted that the French forces will continue to fight against insurgents in the region.
A joint statement from the allies said: “Due to multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European States, operating alongside Operation Barkhane and within the Task Force Takuba, deem that the political, operational, and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali.”
The allies will gradually withdraw their respective troops dedicated to these operations. The withdrawal is expected to be complete in four to six months, Reuters reported, quoting President Macron.
The report added that relations between France and Mali worsened after the military government reneged on an agreement to conduct elections in February, and proposed to hold power until 2025.
The joint statement of the allied nations also committed to continuing operations against terrorism in the Sahel region, at the request of their African partners.
Political and military consultations are currently underway to establish the terms for this shared action by June 2022.
A BBC report says that France has 5,000 soldiers in the Sahel region as part of Operation Barkhane. Approximately 2,400 of these troops are located at three northern Mali bases. Last month, the French Army awarded Saab a contract for its Barracuda multispectral camouflage systems. (Source: army-technology.com)
18 Feb 22. Rebels accuse Ukraine of shelling as Russian media reports tank withdrawals. Pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine accused government forces of shelling a village on Friday while Russian media reported more infantry and tank units were returning to their bases in contrast to Western fears of an imminent Russian invasion. For a second consecutive day, pro-Russian separatists who have been at war with Ukraine for years said they had come under mortar and artillery fire from Ukrainian forces, according to the Interfax news agency. Kyiv and the rebels blamed each other for escalating tension after artillery and mortar attacks on Thursday, prompting fears that Russia, which has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, could get involved.
The Kremlin said on Thursday it was “deeply concerned” with the flare-up in Ukraine and was watching the situation closely. The United States said Russia was looking for a pretext for war.
Kyiv and the pro-Russian separatists have been facing off for eight years, and a ceasefire between them is routinely violated, but the intensity of fighting increased notably this week.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said Russia is preparing a pretext to justify a possible attack on Ukraine, whose ambition to one day join the NATO military alliance has angered Moscow.
In Europe’s biggest security crisis in decades, Russia has massed troops, tanks and heavy weapons on Ukraine’s borders and demanded assurances that Kyiv never join NATO, something the Ukrainian government has refused to do.
Even so, Russia says it has no intention to invade Ukraine and accuses the West of hysteria over its military build-up, saying some of its troops have returned to bases.
Interfax news agency cited Russia’s defence ministry as saying on Friday that several Russian mechanised infantry units had returned to their bases in the regions of Dagestan and Chechnya after completing drills in Crimea.
Interfax also cited the ministry as saying that a train loaded with tanks had departed an undisclosed location to return to their base in the Nizhny Novgorod province. TASS news agency carried a similar report about troops returning to their base.
Western leaders however say Russia remains capable of launching an invasion at any time.
“We have reason to believe they are engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to go in,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday.
“Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine and attack Ukraine.”
Diplomatic efforts will continue on Friday when Biden hosts a call with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Britain, the European Union and NATO.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet counterparts at the Munich Security Conference. He will also discuss the crisis late next week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the State Department said.
Washington said it would respond to Moscow’s “unprovoked” move to expel U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman. Russian diplomats who have stayed longer than three years must leave the United States, while Moscow is giving U.S. diplomats less time, a State Department spokesperson said.(Source: Reuters)
17 Feb 22. Duma requests Putin recognises Donetsk and Luhansk as independent: Foreign Secretary’s statement. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has criticised the Duma’s request that Vladimir Putin recognises the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “The Duma’s request that Vladimir Putin recognises the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent shows flagrant disregard for Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements. If this request were accepted, it would represent a further attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, signal an end to the Minsk process and demonstrate a Russian decision to choose a path of confrontation over dialogue. We urge Russia to end its pattern of destabilising behaviour against Ukraine and to implement the commitments it has freely signed up to, including the Minsk agreements.” (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
17 Feb 22. Ukraine fears ‘provocation’ as shelling reported in east. Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces traded accusations on Thursday of firing shells across the ceasefire line in eastern Ukraine, and Kyiv said the incidents looked like a “provocation” at a time when Russia has troops massed on the frontier. Moscow denies Western accusations it is planning to invade its neighbour and said this week it was pulling back some of the more than 100,000 troops it has sent to the area. The West disputes that there has been a significant withdrawal and the United States said thousands more troops were still arriving. Western countries have repeatedly accused Russia of planning either to incite or stage an incident in the rebel-held areas, to justify an attack. Moscow, for its part, has accused Kyiv of planning an escalation to try to recapture territory by force.
A senior Ukrainian government source said the shelling at the line of contact with Russian-backed separatist forces went beyond the scale of ceasefire violations routinely reported throughout the conflict.
“It is not typical. It looks a lot like a provocation,” the source told Reuters.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia was “seriously concerned” about the reports of escalation.
A Reuters photographer in the town of Kadiivka, in Ukraine’s rebel-held Luhansk region, heard the sound of some artillery fire from the direction of the line of contact, but was not able to determine the details of the incident.
The separatists accused government forces of opening fire on their territory four times in the past 24 hours.
Kyiv accused the rebels of firing shells at several locations, including some that struck a kindergarten and others that hit a school where pupils had to flee to the cellar.
Contradicting Russia’s assertions that it has been pulling back, a senior official in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said up to 7,000 more troops had moved to the border in recent days, including some arriving on Wednesday.
Russia’s defence ministry released video it said showed more departing units. Maxar Technologies, a private U.S. company that has been tracking the build-up, said satellite images showed that, while Russia has pulled back some military equipment from near Ukraine, other hardware has arrived. read more
A diplomatic source said a longstanding monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had recorded multiple shelling incidents along the line of contact in the early hours of Thursday.
Since a 2015 ceasefire brought an end to major combat in the separatist conflict, the OSCE has typically reported dozens of ceasefire violations each day, often minor incidents of test firing weapons. Reports of significant shelling or clashes that lead to injuries or death can occur several time a month.
The self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, one of two rebel regions, said Ukrainian forces had used mortars, grenade launchers and a machine gun in four separate incidents on Thursday.
“Armed forces of Ukraine have crudely violated the ceasefire regime, using heavy weapons, which, according to the Minsk agreements, should be withdrawn,” the separatists said in a statement.
Referring to the rebels, Ukraine’s military said: “With particular cynicism, the Russian occupation troops shelled the village of Stanytsa Lugansk in the Luhansk region. As a result of the use of heavy artillery weapons by terrorists, shells hit the kindergarten building. According to preliminary data, two civilians received shell shock.”
Russia denies planning an invasion of Ukraine, but says it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless a range of demands are met, including a promise never to admit Kyiv into the NATO alliance.
The West has rejected the main Russian demands but has proposed talks on arms control and other issues. The United States and Europe have threatened sanctions if Russia invades, which Moscow has largely brushed off. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Reuters)
16 Feb 22. Defence hits back at ‘false and misleading’ F-35 claims. Reports of a forced reduction of the RAAF F-35A fleet’s flight hours have been dismissed by Defence.
Budget estimates documents filed by the Department of Defence have revealed the expected flying hours of the Royal Australian Air Force’s fleet of F-35 Lightning II aircraft have been revised down over the next four years.
Flying hours have been cut by 25 per cent in the 2021-22 financial year (FY22), and are set to be reduced by 17 per cent in FY23, 14 per cent in FY24, and 13 per cent in FY25.
Media reports have suggested the revisions were a response to supposed maintenance issues associated with operating the Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs).
The federal Labo opposition also weighed in, with assistant defence spokesman Pat Conroy calling into question the government’s management of the JSF program.
“The JSF is critical to Australia’s defence and the fact that it is flying thousands of hours less than planned is a real concern,” he told The Australian.
“[Defence Minister] Peter Dutton should explain to the public why this $16.6bn project continues to be plagued with problems.”
However, Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld has rejected such suggestions, stressing the revisions are not a reflection of the fifth-generation aircraft’s capability.
According to AIRMSHL Hupfeld, the fleet’s flying hours were reduced in line with changing operational requirements.
“The criticisms contained are completely unfounded,” he said.
“The Royal Australian Air Force has revised the expected flying hours based on our maturing understanding of the F-35A capability requirements and our expected build-up of the capability.
“Forward estimate flying hours are based on training and capability requirements, not availability.”
He went on to describe claims the F-35A is not satisfying operational and training requirements as “misleading and simply false”.
“I can confirm the JSF program has met all of its tasking commitments, such as exercises, verification and validation activities and training requirements,” he added.
Thus far, RAAF F-35A aircraft have clocked over 15,000 flight hours.
The JSF program has delivered two operational squadrons, with the third scheduled to enter service later this year.
The Commonwealth government has ordered 72 F-35A aircraft under the $16.6bn JSF contract with Lockheed Martin. All 72 jets are expected to be fully operational by 2023, with an option to expand the fleet to a maximum of 100 aircraft. (Source: Defence Connect)
16 Feb 22. De-escalation is key to finding a solution to peace efforts in Yemen. Statement delivered by Ambassador Barbara Woodward at the UN Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East. Thank you Mr President. Can I start by thanking the Special Envoy, the Under-Secretary-General, and the 2140 Committee Chair, the Permanent Representative of Albania, for each of their reports. Since the previous Council meeting, we’ve heard there has been a notable escalation in the conflict, including reprehensible Houthi cross-border attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The latest attack on Abha International Airport wounded 12 civilians, whilst the 17th January attack on the UAE killed three civilians. The UK condemns in the strongest terms the Houthis’ repeated terror attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, against Yemenis and Yemen’s neighbours. There remains no military solution to this conflict. As the Special Envoy said, such a hope is futile. We call upon all parties to de-escalate urgently and to engage with the new UN-led peace process. We welcome and fully endorse the Special Envoy’s proposals to begin wide-ranging consultations with the parties to the conflict, and the principles for the UN plan. I commend the Special Envoy’s inclusive approach which will ensure that a wide range of Yemenis have the opportunity to participate. The UK encourages all parties to participate and to engage constructively in the upcoming consultations.
We are also keen to ensure that regional partners are part of the solution. The UAE’s presence on the Council is very welcome in this regard. The UK also hosted a Quint meeting on Yemen in late January where Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the US came together to coordinate our approach to the conflict in Yemen. We reaffirmed during that meeting, our mutual support for the UN’s efforts in finding an urgent and comprehensive political solution.
As you flagged Martin, the humanitarian response faces dire funding shortages. As we approach the seventh anniversary of the conflict, the humanitarian picture is bleak — in your words, a death sentence — and the World Food Program has warned that without funding now, only 3 million people will receive full food rations in February, and only 2 million in March. With the annual high level pledging event set for next month, the UK echoes your call Martin to encourage existing and new donors to pledge as generously as possible.
Finally Mr President, we welcome David Gressly’s leadership and the update on the progress towards finding a solution to mitigating the risks posed by the SAFER tanker. It remains an urgent environmental concern, and the UK stands ready to help. I thank you. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
14 Feb 22. Putin Adding Military Capabilities in Belarus, Russian Border With Ukraine, Kirby Says. Over the last couple of days, Russian President Vladimir Putin has added additional military capability along his border with Ukraine, as well as in the Belarus area that borders Ukraine, said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby, who briefed the media today.
Among those added assets, he said, are combined arms capabilities that include: artillery; air and missile defense; landing craft in the Black Sea; infantry; armor; offensive air; special operations; logistics and sustainment; cyber; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The United States is being very transparent with Kyiv about its intelligence assessments of those Russian forces, he said.
“continues to do the things that you would expect one to do if one were planning on a major military action, that is, to sharpen the readiness and to add to the capabilities of his force,” Kirby said.
“We obviously don’t want that to be the outcome, and neither do Ukrainians and certainly neither do our NATO allies,” he added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergeĭ Lavrov seemed to indicate earlier today that he still thinks there’s room for diplomacy, Kirby said. “We would welcome a pursuit of that path by the Russians, because we, too, believe that there still should be and can be a diplomatic path forward.”
Should Putin decide to invade, many Russian and Ukrainian lives would be lost, Kirby said. Russia can deescalate immediately and take a diplomatic path forward. “It’s within Mr. Putin’s power to make the right decision now. And obviously, we hope to see him do that.” (Source: US DoD)
15 Feb 22. Inking $500m deal, IAI to sell missile defense system to Morocco. Morocco requested the system and other equipment when Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Rabat in November. Israel Aerospace Industries CEO Boaz Levy reportedly secretly visited Morocco recently to discussed the system’s capabilities. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will supply the Moroccan military with Barak MX air- and missile-defense systems in a deal worth more than $500m.
According to a Sunday report in the financial daily Globes, Morocco requested the system and other equipment when Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited the country, a member of the Abraham Accords, in November.
Gantz signed a memorandum of understanding with his Moroccan counterpart during the visit.
According to defense sources quoted by the report, IAI CEO Boaz Levy secretly visited Morocco and discussed the system’s capabilities, agreeing to details of the deal.
Morocco has tense relations with Algeria and fears coming under attack by radical players in the region, according to the report.
The Barak MX system provides “a single integrated solution for multiple simultaneous aerial threats from different sources and different ranges,” IAI stated on its website.
According to specifications provided by the defense contractor, the system provides three types of interceptors from IAI’s Barak family: Barak-MRAD, a single pulse rocket motor that intercepts missiles up to ranges of 35 kilometers (22 miles); Barak-LRAD, a dual pulse rocket motor, which intercepts missiles up to ranges of 70 kilometers (43 miles); and Barak-ER dual pulse rocket motor and an additional booster for a range of 150 kilometers (93 miles).
Barak-MX is supported by radar and various launchers for the best coverage of combat aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, cruise missiles, ground-to-air missile and ground-to-ground missiles. (Source: Google/https://www.israelhayom.com/)
15 Feb 22. Australia’s defence program is dead in the water. Australia’s defence program has been mired by inferior military equipment and unwavering loyalty to the United States, writes Richard Broinowski.
THE AUKUS AGREEMENT announced by President Joe Biden and Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison in September 2021 forecast ambitious plans to provide Australia with advanced U.S. and UK defence equipment.
The package includes hardware such as sophisticated tanks and missiles, as well as advanced technology on cyber warfare, artificial intelligence and quantum analysis. Most astonishing was the announcement that the U.S. and UK are prepared to share with Australia the technology to acquire nuclear submarines.
The political consequences of such an acquisition are unsettling. The Prime Minister has already angered the French by misleading them. Without warning, Australia cancelled the joint venture with its Naval Group to build Shortfin Barracuda submarines in Australia.
We have alienated a number of Pacific Island states who consider nuclear-powered submarines will compromise the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone.
The Federal Government has spent billions on defence equipment, ignoring issues such as the climate crisis and pandemic.
We have encouraged wider proliferation among neighbouring countries with nuclear power reactors such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, who will want their own nuclear-powered boats.
And despite Morrison’s denials that Australia wants nuclear weapons, neighbours may see Australia’s acquisition of the submarines as leading inevitably to us getting such weapons, encouraging them to do the same. Further afield, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt may seek to acquire their own nuclear powered and armed submarines.
Environmentally, the acquisition could be a disaster. Where in Australia are the submarines to be based? Could their home ports become contaminated? Where do we dispose of their reactors at the end-of-service life? The British or Americans will probably say that we must dispose of reactor cores ourselves. These will contain highly-enriched, bomb-grade uranium (U-235) and plutonium (Pu-239) that will remain highly toxic for tens of thousands of years.
After enormous political difficulty, Australia is only now on the verge of identifying a possible permanent storage site for low-level nuclear waste, at Napandee Station near Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Getting agreement to dispose of high-level waste anywhere in the country is probably well beyond the collective political will.
The announcement of yet another defence contract reinforces the idea that late capitalism is all to do with destruction
Then there is Australia’s loss of strategic independence. British nuclear propulsion technology is virtually the same as American. Westinghouse sold its pressurised water reactor (PWR) technology, which powers U.S. submarines, to Rolls Royce, which powers British boats. Whichever country we choose as a partner, even if we choose both, it is highly likely that the United States will dictate the roles of Australian submarines.
Instead of providing area denial around Australia to potential invading forces, for which conventionally-powered submarines are appropriate, our submarines will likely be at the beck and call of the U.S. to help destroy China’s second-strike capability. In such a case, Australian facilities such as Pine Gap will become Chinese nuclear targets, if they are not already.
When Australia receives such assets remains left vague. But if shortcomings with existing defence programs are any guide, we may be waiting a long time, entailing much more expense than we bargained for.
In an article published in the spring 2010 edition of Security Challenges, Fred Bennett, Chief of Capital Procurement in the Defence Department in the 1980s, lists what he calls the ‘seven deadly risks’ that confound efficient defence procurement. They are novelty, uncertainty, complexity, interdependence, resource limitations, political constraints and what he calls ’creative destruction’ — the fierce and unrelenting struggle among weapons companies for legal, financial and commercial control in free enterprise societies.
Some or all of these factors played a part in cost overruns, schedule delays and performance failures that have dogged previous defence procurement projects. The following are among the more egregious examples.
Australia’s nuclear submarine program has become less to do with our defence and more about placating the American Government.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter sold to the RAAF is admitted to be a failure by USAF experts. Designed to be a low-cost, lightweight, high-performance stealth fighter, it is none of these things. At an eye-watering U.S.$100m (AU$140m) per copy, the plane has limited range, low air-to-air combat survivability and extraordinarily high running costs. Fifth-generation Chinese and Russian fighters out-perform it.
Yet the RAAF has already taken delivery of 40 and is committed to taking another 32. Will the RAAF get more powerful engines retrofitted mid-life, as Lockheed Martin is reported to be planning? If so, at what cost?
Nine UK-designed Hunter-class frigates to be built by BAE Systems at Adelaide’s Osborne Shipyard at a cost of $6bn have been found at audit to have substantial design faults. Worst seems to be that by increasing their weight from eight to 10,000 tonnes with extra equipment, their engines will be underpowered, compromising performance, particularly the capacity to run radar at full power while driving the ships at maximum speed.
The ADF’s entire fleet of 47 European-designed MRH-90 Taipan helicopters, assembled in Australia and brought into service in 2017, is being retired because of numerous faults. Retirement is a decade earlier than expected. They will be replaced by the latest versions of American Black Hawks.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has pledged allegiance to the U.S. in defending Taiwan against attacks from China.
Upgrade of the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar program (JORN) has reportedly failed to meet engineering milestones, is years behind schedule and is over budget.
If these projects have been frustrated by Bennett’s deadly risks, how much greater will be problems associated with nuclear-propelled submarines? With an estimated production time of 20-30 years before the boats are commissioned and operational, the regional political and strategic landscape may have changed beyond recognition.
By then, future American (or British) governments may have ditched the project. Optimists might hope that future Australian governments will have done the same.
Canberra may have broken the grip of Sinophobic analysts in Canberra. The Chinese “threat” may have disappeared, or morphed into a strategic understanding.
In the shorter term, cynics may see the ramping up of the Chinese threat and the AUKUS agreement as ephemeral, as laying the groundwork for a khaki Election in 2022. If so, the submarine project may simply disappear after the elections. It would be in the interests of Australia’s capacity to exercise independent strategic judgement if it did do so. (Source: News Now/https://independentaustralia.net/)
13 Feb 22. US F-22 fighter jets arrive in UAE after Houthi attacks. U.S. F-22 fighter jets arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, part of an American defense response to recent missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeting the country. The Raptors landed at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, which hosts some 2,000 U.S. troops. American soldiers there launched Patriot interceptor missiles in response to the Houthi attacks last month, the first time U.S. troops have fired the system in combat since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. American officials declined to say how many F-22s deployed or the number of airmen supporting the aircraft, citing operational security. However, they identified the unit involved as the 1st Fighter Wing, located at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia. A photo later released by the Air Force showed six F-22s in a line on a taxiway at Al-Dhafra.
“The Raptors’ presence will bolster already strong partner nation defenses and puts destabilizing forces on notice that the U.S. and our partners are committed to enabling peace and stability in the region,” Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot, the commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Mideast command, said in a statement.
The deployment comes after the Iranian-backed Houthis launched three attacks targeting Abu Dhabi last month, including one targeting a fuel depot that killed three people and wounded six. The attacks coincided with visits by presidents from South Korea and Israel to the country.
A shadowy Iraqi group claimed launching a drone attack targeting the Emirates in early February, though authorities say they intercepted them.
Though overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis, the missile fire targeting the Emirates has sparked a major U.S. response. The American military has sent the USS Cole on a mission to Abu Dhabi.
The spillover of Yemen’s yearslong war into the UAE puts American troops in the crosshairs of the Houthi attacks — and raises the risk of a regional escalation at a crucial moment of talks in Vienna to potentially restore Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Military Times)
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