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23 Aug 21. Johnson to host G7 talks on Afghanistan with role sought for China and Russia. UK acknowledges Beijing and Moscow crucial to limiting chaos US. Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, will host crisis talks on Afghanistan with world leaders, as Britain presses the US to extend the evacuation timetable amid “harrowing scenes” and deaths at Kabul airport. Johnson, as chair of the G7, will hold talks on Tuesday that will include evacuation arrangements for western nationals and Afghan citizens, with Britain saying that seven Afghans died in a crush near Kabul airport on Saturday. Johnson also wants the G7 talks to focus on a longer-term approach to the Afghan crisis but accepts, following the US retreat, that China and Russia are now key players in the region. Britain is working with France on a UN security council resolution that might win the support of Moscow and Beijing. “It’s really important we have a united front,” said one British official. The resolution is expected to cover issues including counter-terrorism work, humanitarian aid, and the terms on which the world engages with the Taliban. “We will judge them by their actions,” the UK official said. Dominic Raab, UK foreign secretary, told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper that the UK would “have to bring in countries with a potentially moderating influence like Russia and China, however uncomfortable that is”. Joe Biden, US president, suggested on Sunday that the US could extend the deadline for the withdrawal of its personnel from Afghanistan beyond August 31. “Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process,” he told reporters.
The horrific difficulties which families and individuals have in getting to the airport are clear Brig Dan Blanchford, commander of UK military operation on the ground Lloyd Austin, US defence secretary, held talks with Ben Wallace, UK defence secretary. A British official said the evacuation timetable was “tight” with the UK still trying to bring out people said to number “in the low thousands”. Downing Street has denied any rift between Johnson and Biden, but the British prime minister’s foreign policy, heavily dependent on the US, has been shaken by the crisis and has forced London to court other capitals. While UK ministers were privately scathing about the manner of the US withdrawal, Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister who took British troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago, said Washington’s strategy was based on “an imbecilic political slogan about ending the ‘forever wars’”. His comments were a reference to Biden’s promise to remove US forces from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 2001 terror attacks. The US and the UK governments have come under intense criticism since the Taliban seized power a week ago in the wake of the American troop withdrawal. A meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, France, Russia, UK and US — is expected to take place this week. “This is a big moment for the UN,” said one British official. UK officials were moderately encouraged by a call last week between Raab and Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, but no call has yet taken place with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.
Some have argued that Johnson needs to recalibrate his foreign policy towards European allies after the bitterness of Brexit. “One lesson we should draw is that if Britain and the EU countries in Nato want to play a significant role militarily we will need to work together closely to develop a capability which means we don’t have to depend on an American presence,” Damian Green, a former Tory cabinet minister, said. “The sooner we start along this path the better.” A senior UK military officer agreed. “This government has put all its eggs — and the whisk and bowl — into the US basket,” he said. “The only ‘forever war’ Britain has is with the EU. It’s ridiculous.” Johnson’s allies argue that the US has long been on a path to extricate itself from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as Washington’s focus turns to Asia. James Heappey, UK defence minister, said efforts to evacuate Britons and eligible Afghans from Kabul had improved over the past 24 hours, with more than 1,700 people airlifted out of the country. There are currently 1,000 British troops overseeing the operation at the airport. Brigadier Dan Blanchford, who is commanding the UK military operation on the ground, said on Sunday that his forces had witnessed “harrowing scenes” while assisting the evacuation. “The horrific difficulties which families and individuals have in getting to the airport are clear,” he said. UK officials warned on Friday that it was taking families between 24 and 48 hours to cross Kabul and reach the airport through Taliban checkpoints in the city. 23 Aug 21.
22 Aug 21. Decision time for Britain on sale of key defence assets. Planned takeover of Ultra by a US private equity firm will be a key test of Boris Johnson’s industrial policy. Boris Johnson faces tough decisions over industrial policy that have implications for the UK’s fleet of Trident nuclear missile submarines. When Boris Johnson defended the £4bn takeover of Cobham by a US private equity firm two years ago, the prime minister could not have foreseen the rush of foreign suitors knocking on the doors of other companies in the UK aerospace and defence sector. In the past three months, takeover proposals worth almost £10bn on a combined basis have been made for three British defence companies: Ultra Electronics, Meggitt and Senior. Of these, only Senior has repelled its suitor, the US private equity firm Lone Star. Meggitt looks set to be the subject of a bidding war between two US engineering companies, while Ultra has agreed a £2.6bn takeover by Cobham, owned by buyout group Advent International. For Johnson and his team, including Thatcherite free market ministers such as business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, the proposed takeover of Ultra is shaping up as a key test of their defence and industrial policy. Experts want to know whether Johnson will pursue the hands-off approach to deal making traditionally taken by Conservative governments, which would imply letting more UK defence companies fall into foreign hands. Johnson has made clear during the coronavirus crisis that he wants Britain to be more self-sufficient.
The government has also shown — at times — a more interventionist approach to industrial policy: it has taken a stake in satellite broadband operator OneWeb and nationalised Sheffield Forgemasters, a supplier of critical parts for Britain’s nuclear submarines. MPs and trade union officials have warned that the rush of takeovers in the UK defence sector could lead to Britain losing control of industrial assets that are crucial to the armed services. The government only has golden shares — a mechanism that can be used to block takeovers — in the UK’s two large defence companies: BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. There is no such protection for Ultra, but it is a critical supplier to the Royal Navy, providing warfare technology as well as control systems for the UK’s fleet of Trident nuclear missile submarines. Kwarteng last week launched a government investigation into Cobham’s proposed takeover by referring it to the competition regulator, which will advise ministers on whether the deal would impinge on national security. He tweeted that the “UK is open for business, however foreign investment must not threaten our national security”. Lord Michael Heseltine, minister in the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, has criticised the government’s approach on the Ultra takeover, saying anything appeared to be up for sale because ministers did not have an industrial strategy.
But he welcomed Kwarteng’s decision to refer the Ultra takeover to the Competition and Markets Authority. “Despite the fact that we have no industrial strategy any more we have actually acted as though we have,” he said. “That’s at least some small consolation.” Paul Everitt, former chief executive of ADS, the UK aerospace and defence trade body, said Britain was at a “tipping point” with deal making in the sector. He wants the government to consider three areas in evaluating takeovers affecting the industry: the business model of the prospective owners, the governance proposed and the cumulative impact on Britain’s industrial resilience. Everitt questioned whether private equity’s model, which is typically more short-term than that of an industrial buyer, was the right one for technology that has national security implications. Minimum commitments to hold a business need to be iron-cast, he said. The government “should not be worried about the potential buyer walking away”, he added. Advent’s purchase of Cobham, which was completed last year, has been dogged by controversy. Although the government conducted a review of this deal before approving it after Advent agreed to a series of commitments, the private equity firm has gone on to sell off large parts of the company. Cobham now has no UK manufacturing presence. Cobham said last week it would offer “legally binding and enforceable commitments” on Ultra, including “appropriate protections for sovereign UK capability, continuity of supply and critical capabilities in the UK”. Kevan Jones, a Labour member of the House of Commons defence select committee, said the government should conduct a “root and branch review of those companies and their supply chains which are critical to UK defence and security”. Ministers needed to know which skill sets and what intellectual property have be protected before a bid comes in, he added. The government, with its current approach, was “flying blind”, said Jones. In the spring, ministers launched a new defence and security industrial strategy, promising a greater focus on UK assets, but critics said they have so far seen little evidence of those ambitions put into practice. There is also a view among some experts that if the government does take a harder line on potential takeovers, it needs to put in place long-term relationships with UK suppliers and offer a more reliable stream of domestic contracts.
The UK’s piecemeal approach to foreign bids An added complication for ministers is that takeovers are still being examined under the 2002 Enterprise Act rather than the new National Security and Investment Act, which broadens government powers to intervene on security grounds and is due to come into full force in January. Darren Jones, Labour chair of Commons business select committee, said that, while the overarching government narrative of a greater focus on national security was clear, there was still uncertainty about how this would be put into practice via the National Security and Investment Act. “At the moment, we are operating in a kind of vacuum where there is some legal framework on the books, a huge amount of activity in the market but no real understanding as to what this set of ministers think and therefore how they might apply the laws that they put on the books,” he added. The government said it was “committed to competitive, innovative and world-class defence and security industries”. New legislation would enhance the government’s powers to “screen and, where necessary, intervene with regard to foreign investment in the UK defence sector and across the most sensitive areas of the economy”, it added. (Source: FT.com)
18 Aug 21. Britain is ‘weary’ of soldiers dying in Afghanistan, says Armed Forces minister. James Heappey, a former solider who fought in Afghanistan, defends No 10’s withdrawal of troops and says veterans should still be proud.
The minister for the Armed Forces has defended the Government’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, saying that Britain is weary of soldiers being killed at the hands of the Taliban and extremist groups.
Speaking to The Telegraph, James Heappey said: “How many more tours like the tour I did in 2009 are we, as a nation, willing to accept our people going out there to do it?
“Is 2,000 dead acceptable? Is two-and-a-half thousand dead acceptable? Every single person that died in Afghanistan is a life too many.”
For Mr Heappey, the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan is personal.
His job as a government minister overseeing the military means he is directly involved in getting Britons and UK forces out of Afghanistan. However, he is also a veteran who was involved in some of the fiercest fighting seen by troops over the past 20 years.
As a captain in 2 Rifles in 2009, Mr Heappey was there when troops tried to sweep the Taliban out of Sangin, a town widely acknowledged at the time as being one of the most dangerous places in Helmand. That tour saw 35 of his colleagues killed and 200 wounded.
Speaking about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, he said he felt it “deeply” and rejected suggestions the Armed Forces should have recommitted to fighting the insurgents.
“I feel quite deeply as an Afghan veteran who was on the bloodiest of tours in Afghanistan, that if what people are saying is… we should have been ready to fight them again, okay, for how many more fighting seasons?,” he questioned.
“The answer to veterans is not ‘we should commit to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely and accept any amount of human financial cost’, because that doesn’t validate the death of Mark Hale or Paul Mervis, who died from the 2 Rifles officers’ mess on my tour.
“It doesn’t validate the other 455 people that died.”
‘Losses should not distract from veterans’ deep sense of pride’
Mr Heappey also countered veterans questioning whether the 20-year war was worth it, insisting that it was.
“None of the strategic outcomes should in any way distract veterans from a deep sense of pride in the success of them as individuals, soldiers, sailors, airmen, their unit, their brigade, their tour,” he said.
“To people who are still grieving the loss of their sons and daughters and are questioning whether it was worth it, to people who were looking down at their trousers and seeing prosthetic limbs rather than real ones and questioning whether it was worth it, they need to answer that question deep down based on how they feel about their tour, rather than putting it in the context of what’s happening in Kabul right now.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)
20 Aug 21. UK call over Afghan interpreters not made. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is under growing pressure over his failure to phone his Afghan counterpart to seek help for locally-hired UK staff, as Taliban fighters surrounded the country’s capital, Kabul. It has now emerged that the call was never made – with the Foreign Office saying “it was not possible to arrange” before the Afghan government collapsed. Opposition parties are calling for Mr Raab’s resignation after it was reported that the task was passed on to junior minister Lord Goldsmith because the foreign secretary was said to be unavailable while on holiday in Crete last week. Mr Raab insisted on Thursday he was not going to quit.
It’s been reported that Foreign Office officials advised Mr Raab that he should make the call to his Afghan counterpart seeking his help to rescue interpreters who had worked with the UK military. The Afghans refused to arrange a call with Lord Goldsmith – pushing it back to the next day.
While cabinet colleagues have defended Mr Raab, there are some backbench Conservative MPs who are unhappy with his handling of the crisis. Labour has set out 18 urgent questions it wants the foreign secretary to answer about his trip and his response to the Taliban takeover.
Separately, the Times has reported that the top civil servants at the Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defence are all on holiday – but a government spokesman insisted Whitehall is “working intensively” on Afghanistan. (Source: BBC)
17 Aug 21. Nato allies urge rethink on alliance after Biden’s ‘unilateral’ Afghanistan exit. Criticism from European leaders emerges as alliance’s longest-running mission suffers messy end. European allies had hoped Joe Biden’s election to the US presidency would bolster Nato’s relevance after Donald Trump’s acrimonious years. Washington’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan is prompting a rethink. After the fall of Kabul, EU defence and security officials have been strikingly critical of the US decision to send home its troops, arguing it has weakened Nato and raised questions about Europe’s security dependence on Washington. Their reaction marks a bitter end to the alliance’s longest-running mission, which shifted over two decades from combat to a training programme involving 10,000 personnel from 36 countries by the time it ended. “This kind of troop withdrawal caused chaos. Chaos causes additional suffering,” Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s defence minister, told local radio on Tuesday. Such long-term missions were unlikely in the future, he added: “This era is over. Unfortunately, the west, and Europe in particular, are showing they are weaker globally.” He echoed Ben Wallace, UK defence secretary, who appeared on the verge of tears on Monday as he reckoned “some would not get back” from the war-torn country. “It’s sad. Twenty years of sacrifice is what it is,” he said. Armin Laschet, Germany’s conservative candidate to succeed chancellor Angela Merkel, on Tuesday called the allied troop withdrawal “the greatest debacle that Nato has experienced since its foundation”. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, right, shakes hands with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg in Kabul in February last year © Stringer/Reuters “It looks like Nato has been completely overtaken by American unilateral decisions,” Lord Peter Ricketts, the UK’s former national security adviser, said. “First of all, Trump’s decision to start talking to the Taliban about leaving and then the Biden decision to set a timetable. The Afghanistan operation was always going to end some time, it was never going to go on forever, but the manner in which it’s been done has been humiliating and damaging to Nato.” Nato’s intervention in Afghanistan, prompted by the al-Qaeda-led 9/11 attacks on the US, was the first and only time the alliance invoked its article five collective defence principle, in which an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all. Almost 20 years on, there have been cracks in the unity over the best way to end “America’s longest war”. As the Taliban encircled Kabul on Friday, Wallace revealed he had tried this year to form a coalition of “like-minded” Nato countries that would keep some troops in Afghanistan independently of the US. Lord George Robertson, who was Nato secretary-general on the day of the twin towers attack in New York, and who triggered the article five a few hours later, suggested the US decision to withdraw even as other allies were mounting objections was damaging. “It weakens Nato because the principle of ‘in together, out together’ seems to have been abandoned both by Donald Trump and by Joe Biden,” he told the Financial Times. Biden administration officials have made a point of consulting with allies as they try to unstitch Trump’s isolationist legacy. On Afghanistan, however, some alliance members complain Washington presented them with a fait accompli. “This was discussed at length, and the US listened, but Biden had made a political decision,” said one person familiar with the withdrawal planning. Once the decision was formalised, the UK, Turkey and Italy were keen to find a way to keep forces in place to help stabilise the country. But this was considered impossible without the vast military infrastructure provided by the US, notably air support from the US-run Bagram air base just north of Kabul. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that the collapse of the Afghan government had thrown into doubt Turkey’s plan to continue securing Kabul’s international airport. “We must realise that when it comes to the Nato mission to Afghanistan, it was not possible to have an independent role for Germany or the European forces,” Merkel said on Monday. “We always said that we are basically dependent on the decisions of the US government.” One former military commander who served in Afghanistan said there were “big implications” for perceptions of Nato’s deterrence capabilities. “It’s all very well Nato talking up its ability to fight off Russia, but it couldn’t even find 3,000 to 5,000 troops to ensure Afghanistan was stable enough to force a stalemate, and eventually a ceasefire on the Taliban, without American underpinning,” he said. In its 2030 strategy, Nato outlined a promise for deeper political co-ordination and renewed commitment from its members to the 2 per cent defence spending target. But the crisis in Afghanistan has underlined unease over a lack of strategic focus. “Afghanistan today is the umpteenth expression of Nato’s failed, supine policy,” Ione Belarra, Podemos leader and Spain’s social policy minister, wrote on Twitter. Lilith Verstrynge, another leading Podemos official, argued that Nato’s failures provided all the more reason for Europe to move towards a more independent stance of its own, a stance pushed by French president Emmanuel Macron. “It is time to make a shift towards greater sovereignty and the defence of our own interests,” she said. Asked on Monday if Nato should move away from “nation-building”, Merkel agreed: “The goals [of such deployments] should be made much narrower.” Lord Mark Sedwill, who served as a former ambassador and senior Nato representative to Afghanistan, suggested this week that the alliance should focus its efforts on rebuilding the practical capabilities to intervene when necessary, “avoiding the over-reach and impatience which proved fatal to the Afghan campaign”. The Afghan drawdown might act as a cautionary tale for Nato nations that had failed to recognise that US security guarantees were time limited, Robertson said. “If this is a wake-up call to the Europeans — that in the future they’ll have to safeguard their own security much more than before because . . . the American global policeman is not necessarily going to be around all the time — then it will have served a purpose.” (Source: FT.com)
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