With Afghan pullout, US ditches ‘forever wars’

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits Bagram Air Base north of Kabul on July 9, 2021 after the US troops' departure. Afghan Presidential Palace photo via REUTERS)
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Former Mujahideen in Herat province take up arms again to support Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. (REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad)
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Followers of Ata Mohammad Noor, chief of Jamiat-e-Islami and a powerful northern warlord, stand guard in Mazar-e-Sharif ready to fight the Taliban. (AP)
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Former Afghan interpreters, who worked with US troops in Afghanistan, demonstrate in front of the US embassy in Kabul on June 25, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 11 July 2021

With Afghan pullout, US ditches ‘forever wars’

  • The US and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government, which had protected Al-Qaeda, and got stuck
  • iden announced Thursday that US military involvement would conclude by August 31

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden’s pullout from Afghanistan has stunned with its speed, but Washington already decided four years ago that it was fed up with “forever wars” and turned its attention to traditional great power competition with China and Russia.
Fighting stateless terror groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State consumed the US security establishment, and trillions of dollars, since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Biden predecessor Donald Trump came to office in 2017 promising to quit Afghanistan, calling the war there a “mess” and a “waste.”
The conflicts there and in Iraq had come to be characterized by unending troop deployments, persistent levels of violence, and no ability to conclusively defeat the enemy.
By 2020 Trump had overcome resistance and laid the ground for pullouts, leaving only 2,500 troops in each country by the time he stepped down in January. Biden accepted that trajectory, announcing Thursday that US military involvement in Afghanistan would conclude by August 31.
“We are ending America’s longest war,” he said. “The United States cannot afford to remain tethered to policies created to respond to a world as it was 20 years ago.”The 9/11 attacks blindsided the US security establishment, forcing a whole-of-government refocus and the launching of the “War on Terror.”
The US and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government, which had protected Al-Qaeda.
And then-president George W. Bush took advantage to also invade Iraq to overthrow strongman Saddam Hussein, hoping to remake the Middle East and snuff out a broader threat.
The initial assaults largely succeeded quickly, with Al-Qaeda fractured and on the run in Afghanistan, and Saddam deposed and captured in Iraq.
But in both cases the United States and allies remained on the ground, hoping to rebuild each country, and unable to pull out without risking a return to the pre-9/11 situation.
Then, starting in 2013, US security leaders rebooted their views when new Chinese President Xi Jinping began aggressively expanding his country’s military.
Seeking to counter and surpass US military strength, China began building armed bases on disputed islets in the South China Sea, added a base in Djibouti and planned other bases around Asia and the Middle East.




Former Mujahideen in Herat province take up arms again to support Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. (REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad)

Meanwhile in 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin sent forces to seize Ukraine’s Crimea and supported an insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Two years later Moscow mustered an aggressive campaign to influence the US presidential elections.
During the same period, young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un embarked on an ambitious plan to develop nuclear weapons with missiles that could threaten the United States.
Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy confirmed the pivot.
“China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity,” it said.
“They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.”

Reminiscent of the Cold War, the reorientation meant a Pentagon push to expand its navy, build stronger long-range bomber and submarine strike forces, and update its nuclear weapons.
It has also meant countering the Chinese and Russian challenge in new domains, with the Pentagon establishing both Space Command and Cyber Command.
The new priorities took root under Trump, and Biden confirmed them in March in his own national security policy.




Former Mujahideen in Herat province take up arms again to support Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. (REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad)

“The distribution of power across the world is changing, creating new threats. China, in particular, has rapidly become more assertive,” it said.
“Both Beijing and Moscow have invested heavily in efforts meant to check US strengths and prevent us from defending our interests and allies around the world.”
Instead of Afghanistan and Iraq-Syria, Ukraine and Taiwan are the new flashpoints.
Both have recently received more and more advanced US weaponry to deter, respectively, Russia and China.
The Pentagon created a new office focused on China. US naval vessels regularly sail the waters around Taiwan and in the South China Sea, implicitly challenging China’s territorial claims.
As for Russia, Biden has sought to strengthen bonds with NATO allies.
Over the past week, too, US vessels took part in exercises in the Black Sea where Russian forces were conducting their own manuevers.
Counter-terrorism doesn’t end with the Afghanistan pullout, the Pentagon stresses.
But it is turning more remote-directed — using air and missile strikes from remote bases and vessels to act in Afghanistan where Al-Qaeda still operates.
“We are repositioning our resources and adapting our counterterrorism posture to meet the threats where they are now,” Biden said.


Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy

Updated 5 sec ago

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy

WASHINGTON D.C.: Iran added demands unrelated to discussions on its nuclear program during the latest talks and has made alarming progress on enriching uranium, the US envoy for talks on reinstating a nuclear deal said on Tuesday.
US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that there was a proposal on the table for a timeline by which Iran could come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and Washington could ease sanctions on Tehran.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week without the hoped-for progress.
Malley said Iranian negotiators added new demands.
“They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio.
The demands included some that the United States and Europeans have said could not be part of negotiations.
“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself,” Malley said. “They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.”
Under the nuclear pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy.
Then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.
Now, Tehran is much closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, Malley said, though they do not appear to have resumed their weaponization program.
“But we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field,” Malley said.
Iran has enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb and could do so in a matter of weeks, he said.
Malley said Americans were also working a parallel track to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran. Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and is the longest-held Iranian American prisoner, made a plea for help in a New York Times piece on Sunday headlined: “I’m an American, Why Have I Been Left to Rot as a Hostage of Iran?“
“We hope that regardless of what happens with the nuclear talks, we’ll be able to resolve this issue because it weighs in our minds every single day,” Malley said.

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Updated 05 July 2022

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

  • The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines

MANILA: A land mine set by suspected communist guerrillas wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the insurgents’ first known attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last week.
Army troops were checking reports from villagers of anti-personnel mines laid by New People’s Army rebels along a village trail in Mapanas town in Northern Samar province when an explosion wounded the seven soldiers, regional army commander Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon said.
Two of the wounded soldiers were in critical condition, he said, adding that no villagers were injured.
“Some of the soldiers were tossed away because the rebels have been using really powerful land mines,” de Leon said.
The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines, de Leon told reporters.
The soldiers were not able to open fire at the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being hunted by government forces, he said.
On Friday, a day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in after winning a landslide victory in a May 9 election, government troops assaulted eight communist rebels, killing one, in a brief gunbattle in central Negros Oriental province, the army said.
Marcos Jr. must deal with decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies, along with longstanding territorial disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea.
During the campaign, he said he would pursue peace talks with communist insurgents and expressed support for a government task force established under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.
The task force has drawn criticism for linking several left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents said was baseless “red-tagging” aimed at muzzling legitimate dissent.
Despite battle setbacks, infighting and factionalism, the communist insurgency has continued to rage, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. It currently has an estimated 2,700 armed fighters.
The new president is the son of the late leader Ferdinand Marcos, whose counterinsurgency program was known for killings, torture and disappearances of suspected rebels, left-wing activists and their supporters.
The elder Marcos was overthrown in an army-backed 1986 “People Power” pro-democracy uprising that drove him and his family into US exile.
After Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, his widow and children returned to the Philippines, where they achieved a stunning political comeback by whitewashing the family image on social media, critics say.


US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

Updated 05 July 2022

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

  • The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement

SEOUL: US Air Force F-35A stealth fighters arrived in South Korea on Tuesday on their first publicly announced visit since 2017 as the allies and nuclear-armed North Korean engage in an escalating cycle of displays of weapons.
Joint military drills had been publicly scaled back in recent years, first in 2018 because of efforts to engage diplomatically with North Korea and later because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has sought to increase public displays of allied military power, including exercises, to counter a record number of missile tests conducted by North Korea this year.
North Korea also appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.
The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
“The purpose of this deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrent and joint defense posture of the US-ROK alliance while at the same time improving the interoperability between the ROK and US Air Force,” the ministry said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name.
The aircraft deployed from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, US Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.
A USFK spokesperson said it was the first public deployment of the 5th generation fighter aircraft to South Korea since December 2017, but did not elaborate whether there had been unannounced visits.
A former senior US official previously told Reuters that during diplomatic talks many drills had in fact continued but had not been publicized.
South Korea has purchased 40 of its own F-35As from the United States, and is looking to buy another 20. The South Korean air force F-35As will be among the aircraft participating in the joint drills, USFK said.
North Korea has denounced joint exercises as well as South Korea’s weapons purchases as an example of “hostile policies” that prove US offers to negotiate without preconditions are hollow.


NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

Updated 05 July 2022

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

  • A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two

BRUSSELS: The process to ratify Sweden and Finland as the newest members of NATO was formally launched on Tuesday, the military alliance’s head Jens Stoltenberg said, marking a historic step brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This is a good day for Finland and Sweden and a good day for NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters in a joint press statement with the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers.

“With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” he added.

The NATO secretary general was speaking ahead of a meeting in which the ambassadors from NATO’s 30 member states were expected to sign the accession protocols for the two Nordic countries, opening a months-long period for alliance countries to ratify their membership.

 

“We are tremendously grateful for all the strong support that our accession has received from the allies,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

“We are convinced that our membership would strengthen NATO and add to the stability in the Euro Atlantic area,” she added.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Sweden and Finland in parallel announced their intention to drop their military non-alignment status and become part of NATO.

A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two, after Turkey won concessions over concerns it had raised and a US promise it would receive new warplanes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Sweden and Finland of being havens for Kurdish militants he has sought to crush, and for promoting “terrorism.”

He also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed for Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.

But Erdogan has kept the rest of NATO on tenterhooks by saying he could still block Sweden and Finland’s bids if they fail to follow through on their promises, some of which were undisclosed, such as possible extradition agreements.

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Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Updated 05 July 2022

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

  • Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens

QUETTA, Pakistan: At least six people, including women and children, were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed in heavy rains lashing southwestern Pakistan and other parts of the country, a provincial disaster management agency said Tuesday.
There were fears the death toll could be higher as several people went missing after flash flooding hit southwestern Baluchistan province’s remote areas overnight, according to a statement from the agency.
Authorities say the latest spell of torrential rains, which started on Monday and continued on Tuesday, also damaged dozens of homes in Baluchistan.
Since June, rains have killed 38 people and damaged more than 200 homes across Pakistan, including in Baluchistan, where over the weekend, a passenger bus skidded off a road and fell into a deep ravine amid heavy rain, killing 19 people.
Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens.