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03 Sep 21. British soldiers ‘can’t unsee’ Kabul’s horrors and need help to recover, says mission leader. Speaking with The Telegraph, Brigadier James Martin says his soldiers will need time to get over the Afghan evacuation mission
British soldiers “cannot unsee” the horrors of Kabul and will need help to recover from the “harrowing” deployment, the Brigadier who led the mission has said.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Brigadier James Martin, Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, warned of the importance of his soldiers taking time to process what they had witnessed during the mass evacuation mission in Afghanistan.
He said: “Did they see some harrowing things? Did they see some wretched circumstances? Did they see some of the worst and best of humanity? Absolutely.”
Brig Martin cautioned that while he believed his troops were faring “fine” since completing the mission that saw them rescue 15,000 people in two weeks, “that doesn’t mean they don’t need help with processing this stuff”.
“We can’t make them unsee or un-experience what they have seen or experienced,” he said, explaining that the current post-operational stress management that had been conducted since soldiers returned to their barracks in Colchester was designed to help them come to terms with stressful experiences.
He added: “Our focus is in making sure that they can process it, process it with people who have been through the same thing with them, but just as importantly, understand that huge positive impact they’ve had as well, which in some ways doesn’t get rid of the negative but it offsets that, and makes them understand and provides them with a way of dealing with those harrowing circumstances better.”
As part of Operation Pitting, 600 soldiers from the Brigade’s 2 Para were the first to land in Hamid Karzai International Airport when the rescue mission was launched last month.
Based out of Kabul’s Baron Hotel, the soldiers (on little sleep) extracted the majority of British nationals within the first 24 hours of touching down, before moving onto the dual nationals and those on the ARAP (Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy) scheme and ensuring that they were brought to safety.
They also provided around the clock security, as well as nappies and milk for children.
A ‘humbling’ sight
Lieutenant Colonel David Middleton, 2 Para’s Commanding Officer, spoke of how “humbling” it was to see his soldiers perform in the role, while being physically “crushed” by the thousands of Afghans desperately trying to flee a Taliban controlled country.
He told The Telegraph: “What young soldiers, male, female, different cap badges, different colours, different creeds did, on behalf of trying to save life and recover both entitled people and even just save the lives of those that weren’t, was really humbling. From a command perspective, that was the thing that struck me most. If you wanted to see good in humanity, then you would have seen it at the Baron Hotel.”
Lt Col Middleton added that throughout the mission he was most proud of “the medics, the padre, female searchers and the young soldiers that were on the baseline having people crushed against them on a regular basis”.
Brig Martin, who has fought in warzones all over the world, added that Operation Pitting was the first non-combatant evacuation he had ever done.
“When one thinks of non-combatant evacuations they don’t tend to involve the level of febrile atmosphere, risk, and I suppose harrowing scenes that we saw on this operation,” he said.
“So that was definitely novel to me and the fact although people were trying to harm us, it wasn’t the same as a normal combat where you’ve got a very clearly articulated enemy and you’re trying to do the same to him, that he’s trying to do to you.”
Brig Martin said the “traumatic scenes” of “dead women, dead children, people being crushed to death” accentuated the difference between the combat operations he and his troops were used to.
Nonetheless, they rose to the challenge.
“I mean you know you look at paratroopers, you look at airborne forces, you know they’re going to fight and you know, they’re absolutely the right people for a scrap,” he said.
“But the one thing I learned about my soldiers on this was the almost unreasonable levels of compassion and humanity, they showed to those people, those desperate people in need, who are fearing for their lives. And I was incredibly moved by it.”
He added that the way the soldiers conducted themselves throughout such an arduous mission proved “that the men and women of this brigade are men and women for all seasons, for every operation at short notice, not just those that require a bit of muscle”.
‘Serendipity’ that no British soldiers killed
Reflecting on the loss of their US counterparts during the suicide bombing by Isis-K Brig Martin admitted it was “serendipity” that no British soldiers were killed, as they were mere “feet away” from the explosion.
He said: “There is a degree of this, which is serendipity that none of our people got hurt, but I mean, we’re talking by feet. I imagine for some of our people, that is quite difficult to deal with. But on the other hand, it wasn’t by design, per se, and therefore, you have to put that down to sometimes the vicissitudes of war of operations.”
Lt Col Middleton explained that the forces had planned for the attack which killed 13 US troops and 170 civilians and said it was “in both our interest to keep the gate open”, after leaked Pentagon documents suggested Abbey Gate was kept open longer in order to allow British allies to evacuate.
He explained that both forces had moved back to more contained areas due to the intelligence provided before the explosion.
“If you’d looked at where our forces were laid out, 24 hours earlier, it would have been far more exposed.”
Lt Col Middleton said the biggest challenge throughout the mission was not the actual enacting of the operation, but the sheer volume of people who arrived at the airport gates. “The volume of people coming to the Baron Hotel far exceeded what people anticipated,” he said.
“It was basically a physics problem. You’ve got a volume of people, you’ve got a timeline to enact something against the plan which works in theory based on the location to then extract people back.”
The volume increased, he said, because the 15,000 figure of those rescued was a “three-fold” rise on what the troops had been initially expecting, which ultimately added to the “difficult decisions” being made by soldiers on the ground regarding who could be rescued.
Lt Col Middleton said: “I think reassuringly, certainly at this stage, there is a feeling that far more positive came out of the actions rather than negative. More lives were saved, rather than lost, I think.”
Meanwhile RAF pilots have spoken of the chaotic conditions in which they operated evacuation flights during the rescue mission.
Wing Commander Kev Latchman, of 99 Squadron, said following the suicide bombing “we nearly hit a couple of aeroplanes” as they landed on the airfield, where Humvees and vehicles were driving underneath the wing as the aircraft taxied.
He explained that after reloading the plane with evacuees three vehicles crossed in front of the runway, including a bus.
“We got airborne about 200 feet from the bus and cleared the bus by about 10 feet,” he said, admitting that the whole situation was “pretty scary”.
(Source: Daily Telegraph)
03 Sep 21. Italian police raid drone maker over alleged Chinese takeover. An Italy-based defense firm that has supplied small drones to the country’s special forces was quietly and illegally purchased by Chinese state companies, Italian investigators have alleged.
On Thursday, Italian financial crimes police raided the company, which one official named as Alpi Aviation. Alpi Aviation produces the Strix UAV at its facility in Pordenone, northern Italy. The Italian Air Force has used the UAV in Afghanistan. It weighs 10 kilograms, has a 3-meter wingspan, and can relay video and infrared imagery in real time. It takes 8 minutes to set up, and then it can be launched by catapult. It’s equipped with a parachute for landing. Investigators said a a Hong Kong-based company in 2018 purchased a 75 percent share in the firm at an inflated price. They also allege the Hong Kong-based company was controlled by a series of corporate holdings.
Working their way through the tiers of ownership, police said they discovered the real owners of Alpi Aviaton were “two important government-owned companies in the People’s Republic of China.”
The statement said the sale violated Italy’s so-called Golden Power law, under which defense firms, as well as strategic companies in critical sectors like energy and telecommunications, can only be sold outside Italy with specific permission from the government.
Alpi Aviation was listed by Italy’s Defence Ministry as one of its suppliers, and thus it was covered by the law, said Col. Stefano Commentucci of Italy’s tax police.
A police statement said the firm failed to notify the Italian government of the 2018 change in ownership, a transaction it described as “opaque” and designed to conceal the new non-Italian ownership.
The takeover was only communicated to the Defence Ministry two years later after inquiries were made by ministry officials, the statement added.
The firm also broke Italian law on defense exports by failing to inform the government when it temporarily exported a drone for display at a 2019 Shanghai trade fair, police said. By listing the UAV as a “model aircraft,” the firm avoided limitations on exports set down by the law, the statement added.
Lawyers for the firm denied the allegations on Thursday, claiming managers at Alpi Aviation had not violated the Golden Power law, nor had the company broken rules on arms exports. The lawyers said the change of ownership was “transparent” and reflected the “real value of the company.”
Alpi Aviation undertakes joint research into military drones with Leonardo, the Italian state-controlled defense company, a police official said.
In its statement, the police said Alpi Aviation had been bought not as an investment but “exclusively for the acquisition of its technological and production know-how, including military,” with plans allegedly underway to transfer production facilities to the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi.
(Source: Defense News)
03 Sep 21. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Pakistan: “Pakistan is a vital UK partner on Afghanistan.”
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab today visited Pakistan to discuss how the two countries can work closely together on the situation in Afghanistan.
He held meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and was scheduled to meet Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa later.
Discussions focused on securing a safe passage for those leaving Afghanistan, combatting terrorism, the humanitarian situation and regional stability, among other issues.
The Foreign Secretary visited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at Torkham, an important crossing point, to see for himself the situation on the ground. He also met members of the team supporting the current crisis response.
Speaking at a joint press briefing with the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said:
The basis for the UK-Pakistan relationship is very strong – and the UK has the desire to take it to the next level. We also have a very clear and shared interest in the future of Afghanistan. We will judge the Taliban by their actions, not their words.
The Foreign Secretary underlined the UK’s commitment to help those fleeing Afghanistan, including by supporting neighbouring countries. The UK has announced a doubling of aid to Afghanistan to £286 million, and has released the first tranche of £30m of that to support Afghanistan’s regional neighbours, including Pakistan.
Dr Christian Turner CMG, the UK High Commissioner to Pakistan, said:
The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Pakistan today underlines just how vital the UK-Pakistan relationship is. We are committed to working closely together to help the people of Afghanistan and promote stability in the region.
- The Foreign Secretary visited Qatar before coming to Pakistan to discuss Afghanistan, and how regional partners can play a role in resolving the situation.
- The UK has announced the first tranche of £30m of life-saving aid to Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries to help those who choose to leave Afghanistan during the crisis.
- UK to provide £30m of life-saving supplies for Afghan refugees
- Look for pictures here
02 Sep 21. SNP rules out Trident submarine base in event of secession. Removing nuclear weapons from Faslane and Coulport has been identified as a priority if Scots vote to leave the UK. The Scottish National party has long insisted Trident would have to be removed after independence though some supporters of independence would support a deal on continued use of Faslane and Coulport, partly to support the 8,000 jobs at the bases. The Scottish National party on Thursday insisted that the UK’s nuclear deterrent would not be allowed to remain in Scotland in the event of a vote for independence, rejecting the option of creating an extraterritorial “nuclear Gibraltar”. The reaction came after the Financial Times revealed that contingency planning has taken place in Whitehall looking at options to move the base of the UK’s Trident nuclear missile submarines from the west coast of Scotland, in the event of secession from the UK and the formation of an anti-nuclear state. Those with knowledge of the plans said the preferred short-term option would be to form an overseas British territory encompassing the Royal Navy’s facilities at Faslane and Coulport, near Glasgow. Government insiders likened this to a “nuclear Gibraltar”, in reference to the UK territory at the southern tip of Spain. But Stewart McDonald, SNP defence spokesperson, ruled out such a scheme, citing cross-party opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland. He said the removal of nuclear weapons from the naval bases would “happen at pace”, adding: “negotiating their removal will be one of the most important tasks a newly independent Scotland will face”. The SNP has long insisted that Trident would have to be removed after independence, forcing officials at the Ministry of Defence to consider as drastic a step as basing the Trident boats abroad as Scotland’s governing party strengthened its grip on the country in recent years. The US and France were both evaluated. Senior SNP politicians seized on the contingency planning as recognition within the UK government that independence was a real possibility, despite London’s refusal to approve a rerun of the 2014 referendum in which voters in Scotland backed staying in the union by 55 to 45 per cent. Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, is firmly set against Scottish independence but Alister Jack, Scotland secretary, recently said that the government would countenance another referendum if support for a plebiscite consistently reached 60 per cent in opinion polls. There is a historical precedent for establishing a British naval base in another sovereign state albeit not involving nuclear forces. In the early 1920s, London negotiated the use of three bases in Ireland following its independence from the UK.
But 17 years in the run-up to the second world war, Dublin demanded the bases were handed back. SNP strategists insisted the proposal to carve out part of Scotland’s sovereign territory on a long-term basis was impractical both because of local opposition and because it would not be in the UK’s own interests. “There is just not a snowball’s chance in hell of nuclear weapons being based here for any longer than is necessary,” said one senior SNP member familiar with the party leadership’s thinking on defence issues. “It will become obvious to [UK policymakers] that madcap ideas like treaty ports from 100 years ago in Ireland will not be accepted and are unworkable for any state wanting to credibly operate a strategic nuclear deterrent,” the senior party member said. Any agreement to retain the submarine base at Faslane and the Coulport weapons loading facility, would need to extend to the 2060s if it were to do more than merely delay a UK decision on where else to move its nuclear forces. The first of four new Trident missile-carrying Dreadnought submarines is expected to enter service in the early 2030s with a service life of at least 30 years. Stephen Gethins, a former SNP MP who is now professor of practice in international relations at St Andrews university, said any such deal would be vulnerable from the start to public opposition and changes of administration. One UK minister agreed, pointing to the recent decision by Johnson to break international law by ripping up part of the Brexit agreement with the EU, known as the internal market bill. “Imagine in 10 or 20 years time a mad Green government came into power in an independent Scotland. They might do an internal market bill and block access to our base. That’s untenable.” But some supporters of independence in Scotland would support a deal on continued use of Faslane and Coulport if it would strengthen the new state’s hand in what would be difficult negotiations over border and currency arrangements and the national debt. It would also support the 8,000 jobs currently at the bases. Forcing the removal of Trident could complicate an independent Scotland’s relations with the US and other allies. The party’s policy is to join the Nato alliance, which has a policy of nuclear deterrence based on the US, British and French arsenals. SNP strategists cite the example of Denmark and Norway as Nato members that do not allow nuclear weapons to be based on their territory.
The secondary option for the Scottish bases, drawn up by the MoD, is to move them to another location within the British Isles. A report for the Royal United Services Institute estimate the cost at £3bn to £4bn but more significantly military planners have failed to find a location that provides the same security as Faslane and Coulport. The most suitable site is the Devonport naval base on the south coast of England, which already refuels and overhauls the navy’s entire nuclear submarine fleet. But the base near the city of Plymouth is not without its challenges as it faces on to one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. The structure of the continental shelf around the south coast also means that submarines would not be able to dive as quickly as they can from Faslane, leaving them more susceptible to tracking by hostile foreign powers. The Rusi report also highlighted the lack of many suitable sites for a weapons handling base close to Devonport, with the most promising one identified near Falmouth, more than 90km away. Several other potential British locations have been ruled out. Milford Haven on the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales was vetoed because of the nearby refinery and oil and gas storage facilities. Barrow-in-Furness, which builds all the UK’s submarines was deemed unsuitable because of the tidal patterns. The third option of moving the Trident system abroad to an allied country may work out cheaper than relocating within the UK but it would come with significant political costs. One minister described the idea that the submarines and missiles could be moved to France as “totally absurd, a political death warrant”. Supporters says nuclear submarines provide deterrent to aggressors The UK’s nuclear Trident missiles are carried by four Vanguard-class submarines, at least one of which is always at sea on strategic patrol to provide a credible counter-strike capability intended to deter any aggressor, writes Mure Dickie. The nuclear warheads and submarines, which are due to be replaced by new Dreadnought class boats from the early 2030s, are designed and built in the UK. But the Trident system is US-designed and the D5 ballistic missiles that carry the warheads are leased from the US, under a pooling arrangement, and are cycled in and out of both American and British submarines. The Vanguard-class boats are based at the Faslane naval base, on Loch Gare, on the west coast of Scotland, about 50km north west of Glasgow. The storage and loading of the weapons is at the arms depot at Coulport on a neighbouring sea loch. Together the facilities are known as Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. Each submarine is designed to carry up to 16 D5 missiles, each capable of hitting targets more than 7,000km away. Although each D5 can be loaded with 12 warheads, the Royal Navy says submarines on patrol carry up to 40 on a maximum of eight missiles. Though much smaller than the nuclear forces of the US, Soviet Union or China, supporters have argued the UK arsenal provides an operationally independent deterrent capable of warding off any nuclear threat and that it contributes to the security of the Nato alliance. They also say that having nuclear weapons contributes to the UK’s international stature as a major power. But critics and some defence analysts said the cost of maintaining the deterrent, estimated at about £2.5bn per year, has added to the budgetary strain on UK conventional military forces. The replacement Dreadnought submarines are expected to cost at least £31bn. Opponents of nuclear weapons argue that weapons of mass destruction could not morally be used and that the ballistic missile forces have made no appreciable contribution to the safety of UK citizens over the past half century. Asked by the Financial Times in 2019 if he could think of a single situation where the continuous at-sea deterrence patrols had made a demonstrable difference to UK security, then defence secretary Gavin Williamson declined to offer any specific examples. “Every single day of those 50 years they have delivered that security,” Williamson said while visiting a Trident submarine to celebrate the 50th year of continuous at-sea patrols. (Source: FT.com)
01 Sep 21. UK’s senior military commanders back giving soldiers medals for Afghanistan evacuation. Under 30-day criteria, personnel do not qualify for a medal despite severity of operation. The UK’s most senior military commanders will back recommendations for soldiers who served on Operation Pitting to be awarded medals, The Telegraph can reveal. It emerged that military personnel who risked their lives in the Afghanistan evacuation mission will not receive medals because the two-week operation did not reach the stipulated 30-day continuous service for which they are awarded. However, senior military sources confirmed that medallic recognition for the soldiers who delivered 15,000 people to safety was “very likely”.
“Deservedly there will be one for this,” they said, adding that the heads of the forces are in unison on the matter and are all “enthusiastic” at the prospect.
“The gist is what everyone thinks,” they said.
However, they cautioned that medals “matter more” to the UK compared to other nations due to the fact that they are harder to earn.
They stressed that while they “think it will happen and we want it to”, it was imperative that the process of rewarding medals is done so properly, “because it will matter more than if it’s seen as a knee jerk”.
Earlier this week the Ministry of Defence cautioned that any changes to the medals process would undergo a “lengthy consideration”.
The sources added: “It will be faster than usual but still with enough rigour.”
The process will begin with Permanent Joint Headquarters making the initial submission for the soldiers to be awarded medals. The recommendations will then be considered by a Whitehall committee and ultimately approved by the Queen. However, sources said there was always the possibility that “politics could just intervene” and ultimately streamline the process.
At the start of the rescue mission soldiers from 2 Para of 16 Air Assault Brigade were the first to be deployed at short notice to begin the evacuation. At its height there were more than 1,000 military personnel across the forces working on the operation. On Wednesday night, General Sir Mike Jackson, who was the head of the Army from 2003 until 2006 and formerly of the Parachute Regiment, said their efforts could prove an “exception” to the rules.
Sir Mike said: “The 30 days has always been the classic period. I accept that there were very extraordinary pressures, work and circumstances on those involved and perhaps an exception could be made.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former defence secretary, also added that the Government had in its power to amend the current regulations regarding medals.
“These aren’t laws, these are rules and it’s always open to the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary to change the rules,” Sir Malcolm said. “There is certainly flexibility. It’s not sufficient to say ‘sorry the rules don’t permit it’ and this is maybe such a situation.”
Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the defence select committee, stressed that he found the point of 30 days “rather dated” and failed to “register the severity of the situation” the soldiers were placed in.
“Nor does it reward the absolute commitment that the soldiers were required to produce to make sure the mission was successful,” he said.
“If 30 days requires 30 days and 30 nights, many of these soldiers didn’t even sleep, they certainly did 30 days’ work during this tour. It’s important to recognise the hardship we put them through.”
Stephen Morgan, the shadow Armed Forces minister, said Operation Pitting was “nothing short of extraordinary”.
He said: “Having performed a landmark feat with courage, bravery and integrity it is only right that our service personnel receive medallic recognition.
“Ministers should swiftly move to formally recognise the heroic efforts of our armed forces during the largest evacuation mission since the Second World War. There is nothing standing in the way of this except stuffy conventionalism.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)
01 Sep 21. Top defense leaders kick off new phase for Europe’s next-gen fighter. Top defense leaders from France, Germany and Spain have formalized plans to begin the preliminary development phase for a lead plane under the Future Combat Air System program, committing their governments to spending billions of euros in the coming years.
The trilateral agreement, signed in Paris on Aug. 30, follows Germany’s parliamentary approval in June to invest nearly €4.5bn (U.S. $5.3bn) in the program through 2027. The other nations are expected to contribute similar amounts, though it’s unclear if France and Spain will finance separate, national industry programs — as planned by Berlin to the tune of €750m — on FCAS-related technologies.
The program entails a new fighter aircraft, dubbed the Next-Generation Fighter, to be accompanied by a smattering of drones for reconnaissance and strike missions. A sophisticated network of data links, collectively known as a “combat cloud,” is meant to provide the glue between the flying program elements during operations, the idea goes.
The new agreement entails phases 1B and 2, covering research and development activities and the construction of an initial, flyable prototype.
German lawmakers have criticized the unusual sequence of events for the program, as they were asked before the summer break to clear the spending request without a chance to study an industry contract. Many of the program’s travails so far have played out between the major national players: Dassault for France, and Airbus for Germany.
The two companies previously disagreed on the degree of influence they would have in the program. Another sticking point has been the treatment of intellectual property rights, including the status of predeveloped components each company brings into the FCAS mix at the outset.
The German Defence Ministry suggested on Twitter on Aug. 31 that an accord was still not simply a formality. “Now it’s industry’s turn — come to an agreement,” the ministry tweeted.
German defense officials told lawmakers Aug. 30 that a deal among the companies would be forthcoming in September, with a chance for the Bundestag’s legislators to sign off once more.
French defense procurement office DGA is the government’s lead agency for all contractual matters. Officials there will eventually sign a final pact with Airbus, Dassault and Spain’s formal lead company, Indra, after all governments give the thumbs up.
The FCAS program comes with a huge amount of political ambition, as leaders in Berlin, Paris and Madrid have pinned much of the European Union’s newfound defense aspirations on its success. The high-level backing so far has managed to smooth over serious industry-level disagreements and cultural differences between Germany and France, in particular.
The French, who have long owned the industrial capacity to make jets on their own, have at times feared that German industry is out mostly to poach their know-how. The Germans, in turn, are suspicious that the French essentially could upgrade their Rafale fleet on Berlin’s dime. (Source: Defense News)
02 Sep 21. MoD could move UK nuclear subs abroad if Scotland breaks away. Contingency plans for Trident consider US and France if no long-term lease possible on navy facilities such as Faslane. The UK has drawn up secret contingency plans to move its Trident nuclear submarine bases from Scotland to the US or France in the event of Scottish independence. Another option under consideration is for the UK to seek a long-term lease for the Royal Navy’s nuclear bases at their current location in Faslane and Coulport on the west coast of Scotland. This would create a British territory within the borders of a newly separate Scotland, said people briefed on the plans. The UK government is fiercely opposed to Scottish independence but the prospect of a potential break-up of the Union is worrying Whitehall. The governing Scottish National party returned to power in May and has pledged to ban all nuclear weapons in an independent Scotland. Several senior officials told the Financial Times that the contingency plans for moving the submarines underscored the difficult choices ministers will have to make for Britain’s nuclear programme after a potential Scottish breakaway. The exercise was undertaken recently, said people briefed on the plans, although one senior government official disputed the timing. The exercise concluded that the Trident programme would have three options after the formation of an anti-nuclear independent Scottish state. The first would be to relocate the bases elsewhere on the British Isles, with the Royal Navy’s Devonport base cited as the most likely location to replace Faslane. An analysis by the Royal United Services Institute think-tank written just ahead of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum estimated the relocation costs of such a move at £3bn to £4bn. HMS Vengeance leaves harbour at Devonport,
The second option would be to move the UK’s nuclear bases to an allied country such as the US, with one defence expert citing Kings Bay, Georgia, the base for the US Navy’s Atlantic fleet of Trident submarines. Officials also examined moving the UK’s submarine base to Île Longue in Brittany, France. Moving the bases to the US is the preferred option of the UK Treasury, as it would require minimal capital investment, according to officials. But basing Trident outside Britain could be politically difficult, as it would likely be viewed as a threat to defence sovereignty. The third option is to negotiate a new British Overseas Territory within an independent Scottish state that would contain the Faslane and Coulport bases, dubbed by one insider as a “Nuclear Gibraltar”. Following negotiations on Scotland exiting the UK, Whitehall would hope to lease the land for “several decades”, according to officials. The Ministry of Defence said there were “no plans” to move the nuclear deterrent away from Scotland, noting its contribution to the security and economy of Scotland and communities across the UK. “The UK is strongly committed to maintaining its credible and independent nuclear deterrent at HM Naval Base Clyde, which exists to deter the most extreme threats to the UK and our Nato allies,” a spokeswoman said. The MoD declined to comment on contingency plans for a Scottish breakaway. Asked about the UK contingency plans, the Scottish government said it firmly opposed the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons and was “committed to the safe and complete withdrawal of Trident from Scotland”. Tom Plant, director of proliferation and nuclear policy at Rusi, described such contingency planning as “sensible”, but said that all options have “major drawbacks”. Moving the base to another country, such as the US, would also have operational repercussions. “If we’re sharing infrastructure [with the US] then there are presumably intersections with US submarine patrol timings,” Plant said, explaining that the logistics of deploying the deterrent would have to be negotiated with the hosting nation. “Once the boats are at sea, they would still be as independent as they are now. But once they’re tied up alongside, they would no longer be independent.” The “Nuclear Gibraltar” option — whereby the bases remain in an independent Scotland but are leased back by the UK — is preferred by some in Whitehall as the most realistic as it would not require immediate changes to the Trident programme following Scottish independence. But any negotiation to retain the bases for an extended period after independence would be likely to face strong opposition from the SNP, which has for decades made nuclear disarmament one of its core policies.
“This would be with a view to the removal of Trident within the first term of the Scottish parliament following independence,” it said. Experts have suggested that this timetable could be softened as part of wider discussions between an independent Scotland and the UK over issues such as currency arrangements, responsibility for the national debt and management of the new border between England and Scotland. However, a long-term or extraterritorial compromise on Trident would go against the fundamental principles of Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as a teenager even before she joined the SNP. “Like many other Scots, I’ve always been appalled that Britain’s nuclear arsenal has been kept in my backyard,” Sturgeon wrote in 2019. (Source: FT.com)
02 Sep 21. The EU has “learnt the hard way” from the Afghanistan crisis about the need to build up its own defence capabilities and develop the “attributes of hard power”, Brussels’ commissioner in charge of defence industry issues has said. Thierry Breton told the Financial Times that common defence was “no longer optional” and that the EU must become capable of operating military missions in “full autonomy” at its border and elsewhere. The US-led exit from Afghanistan has sparked renewed concern within Europe over how far it can rely on Washington. It has fed into the debate over how the EU can establish itself as a foreign policy power, matching its economic weight with diplomatic and potentially military heft. The EU has a lengthy history of false starts when it comes to the idea of common defence and some diplomats and analysts question whether this time will be different. Ben Hodges, formerly the commanding general of the US Army in Europe, told the FT that the EU should not create parallel structures to Nato that end up draining resources and personnel without adding to Europe’s security. The latest discussions in Brussels focus on a mooted rapid-reaction force to intervene in international crises, but the EU has failed to utilise previous attempts to pool defence resources. In 1999 the EU agreed on a common defence policy that included building the capability for member states to jointly undertake an overseas deployment of 50,000-60,000 troops within 60 days, and in 2007 established a system of having two national battle groups of 1,500 troops each on standby to be sent to hotspots around the world. They have never been deployed. Breton insisted the EU is not talking about replacing Nato but rather complementing it in areas where the alliance is less active, adding that the US decision to pull out of Afghanistan had been “pretty difficult” for some European states that were not consulted. “We understand our allies will be much more focused on China, Asia maybe,” said Breton. “We learnt the hard way, including with what happened in Afghanistan, that one way or the other we have to enhance our global solidarity of defence.” Those arguments appear to have gained traction in capitals including Paris, where president Emmanuel Macron has long argued for a rethink of Nato strategies and methods. Macron on Tuesday met Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte at the Elysée Palace, after which the two countries emphasised the need for the EU to develop “strategic autonomy” on economic and military fronts, while continuing close co-operation with Nato. The two countries “recognise that Europe must prove resilient and capable of taking more responsibility for its security and defence by allocating the resources necessary for this aim”, a joint statement said. At an EU level, member states have put forward proposals for a 5,000-strong unit that could be backed by ships and aircraft. Josep Borrell, who as high representative oversees EU foreign policy, is facing sceptical capitals, however.
Emmanuel Macron and Mark Rutte said this week that the EU should step up responsibility for security and defence © Ian Langsdon/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock “Look at the number of US troops to secure Kabul airport: around 5,000. Look at the number of troops that the French have in Operation Barkhane [in the Sahel]: 5,000-6,000 people. This is a number that can make a big difference in a number of different situations,” insisted a senior commission official. EU ministers are expected to discuss the topic during informal talks in Slovenia this week, as well as at a foreign affairs council meeting in October ahead of a self-imposed deadline for the EU to agree on defence strategy by March 2022. The commission official said the initiative was about ensuring the EU has a stake in emerging areas of security that are not always covered by member states’ Nato participation. “This is about getting access to global commons — cyber, space and maritime . . . here we really want the EU to play a bigger role,” the official said. European countries are also concerned that Turkey’s membership of Nato could create a conflict of interest for EU states when seeking to rely on the alliance to tackle potential threats in the Middle East. Hodges, who is now at the Center for European Policy Analysis think-tank, said he was in favour of Europe building up its defence capabilities but warned that the EU would be “putting the cart before the horse if it is talking about building a European army and you have to ask the question ‘to do what?’” EU members such as Poland and Baltic states will remain wary of any initiative that could raise doubts about the role of Washington or Nato in the European theatre. Kristi Raik, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, said: “Seen from Tallinn, there is no doubt that Nato should remain the main framework for strengthening collective defence in Europe. This is not changed by the failure of the US — and Nato collectively — in Afghanistan.” Nato itself echoes that message. Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told the FT the “transatlantic bond” remained critical for a credible defence of Europe. The role of the UK is also a key factor even after its departure from the EU, as shown by the recently established, 10,000-strong UK-France combined joint expeditionary force. Claudia Major, a defence analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, questioned whether the Afghanistan withdrawal would mark a true turning point in the debate over whether individual EU member states were taking their defence capacities seriously enough. The looming German and French elections meant the two biggest regional powers are going through an “inward looking” period, which will also hold back discussions, she argued. “Everyone agrees we need more European sovereignty and capacity to act,” she said. “But we have to move beyond rhetoric.” (Source: FT.com)
01 Sep 21. ASRC session on arms control and CSBMs: UK statement. Mr Jonathan Worgan, Deputy Head of Euro-Atlantic Security Policy Unit (EASP), reaffirmed the UK’s full commitment to OSCE’s conventional arms control and confidence and security building instruments. The speech took place at the Annual Security Review Conference (ASRC). Mr. Chairperson, the UK remains fully committed to our existing conventional arms control and confidence and security building instruments. Where they are implemented fully, in letter and spirt, they increase transparency and trust, and reduce risk and the room for misunderstanding and unintended escalation. Where there is selective implementation, exploitation of loopholes, or application that is not in the spirit of the agreements, it degrades our instruments, reduces transparency and trust, and increases risk.
We continue to have significant concerns about the heightened tensions caused by the recent increased Russian military activity on Ukraine’s border and in illegally annexed Crimea. We are disappointed that Russia did not, and still chooses not to, engage with OSCE processes and mechanisms available to provide the necessary transparency with regards to this activity.
Mr Chair, the Vienna Document is a vital confidence and security building measure. However, as we have said many times, there is an urgent need to modernise the Vienna Document to ensure it is fit for current purpose. Russia’s ongoing failure to respond effectively to the legitimate concerns raised by its military build-up on Ukraine’s border and in illegally annexed Crimea only serves to highlight this priority.
We continue to draw attention to the joint proposal to modernise the Vienna Document, supported by thirty-four participating States, as the first and most obvious step for those states who are serious about rebuilding trust and reducing risk. We continue to point to the joint statement supported by forty-five participating States at the Tirana Ministerial Council expressing their determination to support constructive discussions on Vienna Document modernisation, with a view to making substantial progress on an update by the Stockholm Ministerial Council. And we continue call on Russia to change course, and to engage constructively to this end.
Mr. Chair, the security challenges we face are not the result of any lack of appropriate architecture. We do not need to reinvent any wheels. Instead we need the political will from all OSCE participating states to restore respect for fundamental OSCE principles, to fully and faithfully implement our existing politico-military instruments, and to update them beginning with modernisation of the Vienna Document. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
30 Aug 21. RAF ready to launch fresh IS strikes in Afghanistan. Head of the Air Force says Britain will continue to take the fight to Islamic State wherever necessary. The RAF is prepared to launch fresh air strikes against Islamic State in Afghanistan, the chief of the air staff signalled in the wake of rocket attacks by the terror network. Just three days after the British military presence in Afghanistan ended after 20 years of conflict, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, head of the Royal Air Force, told The Telegraph: “Ultimately, what this boils down to is that we’ve got to be able to play a global role in the global coalition to defeat Daesh [IS] – whether it’s strike or whether it’s moving troops or equipment into a particular country at scale and at speed.”
His comments come after Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said on Monday that Britain was willing to use “all means necessary” to combat IS amid warnings that the chaos in Afghanistan has increased the terror threat to the UK.
Mr Raab signed a joint statement issued by the US-led coalition that previously targeted IS in Syria and Iraq, vowing to “draw on all elements of national power – military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic, law enforcement” to crush the terror group.
He said: “The UK stands united with our coalition partners in mourning those killed by Daesh’s horrific attack at Kabul airport and in our unwavering collective resolve to combat Daesh networks by all means available, wherever they operate.”
Sir Mike said: “If there’s an opportunity for us to contribute, I am in no doubt that we will be ready to. That will be anywhere where violent extremism raises its head and is a direct or indirect threat to the UK and our allies. Afghanistan is probably one of the most inaccessible parts of the world, and we’re able to operate there.”
The Telegraph understands that government officials have examined logistics for air strikes raising questions about where RAF jets would be based, how they would refuel and how targets would be identified on the ground.
Sir Mike said he was in discussion with his international counterparts about long-term plans to base more RAF units overseas, including the Protector drone which is due to come into service in 2024.
It comes as the Pentagon said on Monday that the terror threat in Kabul was “real, active, and in many cases specific” as the US ended its withdrawal.
Five rockets were fired at Kabul airport as the US flew out its key diplomats. Three missed, one was shot down by defence systems and the fifth landed on the airport but caused no casualties.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said a US drone strike on Sunday had stopped an IS car bomber suspected of planning to attack the airport. But reports emerged in the Afghan capital that a family of 10, including seven children, had been killed in the strike. The Pentagon said it was investigating.
Commenting on the risk to civilians, Sir Mike said: “These [IS] are nasty, devious people who hide behind the civilian population and they fight from the civilian population. And it’s one of those awful consequences of tackling the violent extremists that, however hard we try, is in the back of my mind. I know there will be instances where there will be unavoidable civilian casualties.”
However, he added that the latest Brimstone missiles were able to effectively eliminate a target without collateral damage.
The projection of unity from the global coalition to defeat IS came as the Pentagon faced a backlash from Tory MPs over the leaked minutes of classified calls among American commanders that took place last week.
The conference call transcripts were said to cite the UK evacuation effort as the reason for keeping open Abbey Gate at Kabul airport, where 13 American personnel were later killed by a suicide bomb.
However, a UK Government source hit back at the claim, insisting: “I don’t think it was just the UK using the gate.” The Pentagon said the Politico story was based on “unlawful disclosure of classified information”.
A flurry of diplomatic activity took place on Monday, aimed at building international consensus on Afghanistan.
In New York, the UK’s ambassador to the UN joined her counterparts from the four other permanent members of the security council to discuss the situation. Britain and France are spearheading a UN motion to create a safe zone at Kabul airport to protect humanitarian operations.
The Ministry of Defence did not rule out British troops being deployed to secure such a safe zone if agreement can be reached on setting it up. “There are a number of options being considered, and at this time we are unable to comment on specifics,” said a department spokesman.
Mr Raab joined a meeting with counterparts from the G7, Qatar, Turkey and Nato on Monday, in which he emphasised the importance of working with like-minded partners on safe passage for refugees out of Afghanistan.
While the Taliban has given assurances that foreign nationals and Afghan citizens with travel authorisation will be allowed to exit, the Foreign Secretary said: “We must judge them on their actions.”
A diplomatic source said: “Everyone is testing each other about how you work with the Taliban and what goes next. The world is a bit shell-shocked.”
James Cleverly, minister for the Middle East, said the Government remained “quite sceptical” about the commitments the new regime in Kabul has made.
“They have said that they want to be treated like a legitimate government, and there’s a long way to go before we might consider that,” Mr Cleverly told the BBC. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
29 Aug 21. Afghan commandos could fight for British Army like Gurkhas. Government considering proposals to create brand new regiment consisting of Afghan special forces troops evacuated from Kabul. Afghan special forces personnel could become a new regiment of the Army akin to the Gurkhas under proposals put forward to ministers, The Telegraph understands. Hundreds of commandos from Afghanistan have arrived in the UK this month after training and serving with British troops for more than a decade.
A former head of the Army, former ministers and Tory select committee chairmen are backing calls for the Government to incorporate the specialist soldiers into the British Armed Forces.
The Telegraph understands that ministers are aware of the proposals and are expected to study them in detail as attention turns to the resettlement of thousands of Afghans who have arrived in Britain in the past fortnight.
On Sunday, Boris Johnson promised those arriving from Afghanistan that the Government would help them “contribute in any way possible to the life and economy of the country”.
Releasing a video to mark the end of Britain’s deployment, the Prime Minister assured the families of those who had died fighting that their suffering and hardship was “not in vain”.
Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, who arrived at RAF Brize Norton on Sunday, pledged to “protect the gains of the last 20 years and above all to help the Afghan people achieve the security and the peace that they deserve”.
Ministers have already decided to allow Afghans enrolled at Sandhurst to join the Army if they pass their course. Three Afghan cadets are due to start at the college next weekend, joining four officer cadets already enrolled. All seven had originally been due to join the Afghan National Army.
Today the crucial role played by Afghan special forces in Operation Pitting, Britain’s mission to airlift 15,000 people out of Kabul, can be reported.
The elite troops were sent undercover into the crowd outside Kabul airport to identify those eligible for resettlement in Britain. They helped find and collect Afghan translators and their families, risking their lives by venturing into Taliban controlled areas, and brought the refugees to the front of the queue where they were handed over to British paratroopers.
All Afghan security personnel who worked with British troops throughout the airlift were brought out on the final flights on Saturday, defence sources said.
Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow (left) is greeted by Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as he exits a plane after being evacuated from Kabul, upon its arrival at RAF Brize Norton base in Oxfordshire CREDIT: Jonathan Brady
Their role in the operation was disclosed by Major-General Nick Borton, Chief of Staff (Operations) at Permanent Joint Headquarters, in a private briefing to MPs last week.
Gen Sir Richard Barrons, former head of Joint Forces Command, praised the Afghan special forces, describing them as “very good by international standards”. Sir Richard added that Britain should support the Afghan special forces and suggested they could be deployed back in Afghanistan against Islamic State.
On Sunday, senior Tory MPs set out proposals for the creation of a new regiment of Afghans, similar to the brigade of Gurkhas, which comprises more than 4,000 Nepalese soldiers and was first recruited by the British 200 years ago.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said: “We trained and fought alongside many Afghans who are now in the UK. They’ve proved their loyalty a thousand times. If they want to serve, we should welcome them. I would love to see a regiment of Afghan scouts.”
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defence select committee, said: “Given that we’ve helped train these forces, it’s certainly something that needs to be a consideration. One avenue is they are kept as a unit, as the Gurkhas have operated. The other avenue is they are blended into our own system.”
Johnny Mercer, the former defence minister, also backed the proposal. “It would be an absolute waste not to make use of them,” he said.
Gen Lord Dannatt, former head of the Army, said: “I would be quite happy for Afghan former soldiers to join the British Army.”
On Sunday, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said of the thousands of Afghan nationals welcomed into the UK: “We are currently assessing how to best support them and utilise their skills and expertise going forward.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)
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