Pentagon plans stronger US posture toward China, Russia

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, left, listens to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Mara Karlin speak during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 30 November 2021

Pentagon plans stronger US posture toward China, Russia

  • The US Defense Department will be upgrading and expanding military facilities in Guam and Australia

WASHINGTON: The US military will re-inforce deployments and bases directed at China and Russia, while maintaining forces in the Middle East adequate to deter Iran and jihadist groups, the Pentagon said Monday, referencing results of a review.
The US Defense Department will be upgrading and expanding military facilities in Guam and Australia, underscoring its focus on China as the country's leading defense rival, officials said.
The details of the "global posture review," commissioned by President Joe Biden's administration early this year, would remain classified, the officials added, so as not to reveal plans to rivals.
The move comes in the wake of the formation of a new defense alliance, dubbed AUKUS, between the United States, Britain and Australia to counter a rising China, which has been building up its own navy and testing decades of US military dominance across Asia.
That pact was formed as Beijing solidifies its control over the disputed South China Sea and intensifies its military threats towards Taiwan, for which the United States is a key ally and arms supplier.
The review confirmed the priority region for the US military was the Indo-Pacific, said Mara Karlin, a top Pentagon policy official.
The review "directs additional cooperation with allies and partners across the region to advance initiatives that contribute to regional stability and deter potential military aggression from China and threats from North Korea," she told reporters.
In addition, it "strengthens the combat-credible deterrent against Russian aggression in Europe and enables NATO forces to operate more effectively," she said.
The Middle East, however, remains an area of flux for the Pentagon after the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Global responsibilities "require us to make continuous changes to our Middle East posture, but we always have the capability to rapidly deploy forces to the region based on the threat environment," Karlin said.
Speaking separately, a senior Pentagon official who declined to be identified, downplayed any idea of radical shifts.
"In the first year of an administration, it's not the time when we would develop a major strategic-level change to our posture," the official said.
However, the official added, the Biden team felt the review necessary after the disruptive approach of his predecessor Donald Trump, who altered US commitments abruptly.
Under Trump, "there were oftentimes a devaluing of ally and partner input and engagement, which eroded US credibility and hard-won trust," the official said.
The officials declined to answer questions on how the global posture review sees US force presence in ongoing conflict zones like the Middle East, East and West Africa, and Eastern Europe.
But they confirmed previously announced plans to do more in Guam and Australia.
"In Australia, you'll see new rotational fighter and bomber aircraft deployments, you'll see ground forces training and increased logistics cooperation," said Karlin.
In Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Australia there will also be upgrades to airports and fuel and munitions storage facilities, she said.
Asked if the review foresaw more increases in the US presence in the Pacific region, Karlin said: "We're moving the needle a bit."
"And what I'd like to think is, over the coming years, you will see that needle move more," she said.


UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’

Updated 27 May 2022

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’

  • Johnson said after the report was issued that he took responsibility for the events but refused to quit
  • Other Conservative lawmakers this week have said they had submitted letters calling for a confidence vote in Johnson

LONDON: A Conservative lawmaker submitted a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson on Friday and another quit a role as an assistant to Britain’s interior minister, putting new pressure on the prime minister over illegal parties at his Downing Street residence during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Bob Neill, the chair of parliament’s justice committee, said an official report on the parties issued on Wednesday showed a pattern of “unacceptable behavior” over months during Britain’s coronavirus crisis, and said he did not find Johnson’s explanations to be credible.
“Trust is the most important commodity in politics, but these events have undermined trust in not just the office of the prime minister, but in the political process itself,” Neill said in a statement. “To rebuild that trust and move on, a change in leadership is required.”
Johnson said after the report was issued that he took responsibility for the events but refused to quit.
Another Conservative lawmaker, Paul Holmes, said earlier on Friday he was resigning from his government role as parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office to focus on representing his constituents.
“It is clear to me that a deep mistrust in both the government and the Conservative Party has been created by these events ... It is distressing to me that this work on your behalf has been tarnished by the toxic culture that seemed to have permeated Number 10,” Holmes said in a statement.
Other Conservative lawmakers this week have said they had submitted letters calling for a confidence vote in Johnson to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee — which would be triggered if 54 such letters are written.
The letters are confidential, so only the chairman of the 1922 Committee knows how many have actually been submitted.
However, Holmes confirmed to Reuters he had not written a letter to call for Johnson to resign.


Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Updated 27 May 2022

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

  • "We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily," said Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness
  • So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries

GENEVA: Countries should take quick steps to contain the spread of monkeypox and share data about their vaccine stockpiles, a senior World Health Organization official said on Friday.
“We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the UN agency’s annual assembly.
Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa.
It spreads chiefly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases in Europe, the United States and other areas has raised alarms.
So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating.
“For us, we think that the key priority currently is trying to contain this transmission in non-endemic countries,” Briand told a technical briefing for member states.
Needed measures included the early detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing, she added.
Member states should also share information about first generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can also be effective against monkeypox, Briand said.
“We don’t know exactly the number of doses available in the world and so that’s why we encourage countries to come to WHO and tell us what are their stockpiles,” she said. A slide of her presentation described global supplies as “very constrained.”
Currently, WHO officials are advising against mass vaccination, instead suggesting targeted vaccination where available for close contacts of people infected.
“Case investigation, contact tracing, isolation at home will be your best bets,” said Rosamund Lewis, WHO head of the smallpox secretariat which is part of the WHO Emergencies Programme.


Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

  • Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto

MONTREAL: Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle, local media reported, in an incident that forced several schools into lockdown just two days after a deadly assault on a US primary school.
Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto, and the circumstances of what transpired next were not immediately clear.
But city police chief James Ramer told reporters that the suspect, described as a man in his late teens or early 20s, was dead after he had “confronted” responding officers, without elaborating.
The police force’s Twitter account said that after officers located the man, a “police firearm” was “discharged.”
A spokeswoman for the Special Investigations Unit told the CBC that preliminary evidence showed that two police officers had fired their weapons, and the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
It was not clear if the man was holding the weapon when police shot him.
Ramer said he was unable to offer more details, as the incident was under investigation.
“There’s no threat to public safety,” he said.
“Due to the proximity to a school, I certainly understand the trauma and how traumatic this must have been for staff, students and parents, given recent events that have happened in the United States,” the chief added.
On Tuesday, a shooting at a Texas elementary school left 21 dead — 19 children and two teachers.


UN rights envoy says Taliban must reverse restrictions on Afghan women

Updated 26 May 2022

UN rights envoy says Taliban must reverse restrictions on Afghan women

  • Bennett expressed concerns over access to education after the Taliban made a U-turn on allowing girls to go to high school in March
  • Taliban deputy spokesman Inamullah Samangani denied human rights concerns

KABUL: The United Nations rights envoy in Afghanistan said on Thursday the country faces “severe” human rights challenges and called on Taliban authorities to reverse growing restrictions on women and investigate attacks against religious minorities.
Richard Bennett, UN special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan spoke to reporters at the end of an 11-day visit to the country, his first since his position was created.
“I urge the authorities to acknowledge human rights challenges that they are facing and to close the gap between their words and the deeds,” he said.
Bennett expressed concerns over access to education after the Taliban made a U-turn on allowing girls to go to high school in March and this month announced that women must cover their faces, to be enforced by punishing their closest male relatives.
“Directives on maharams (male guardians), enforcing a strict form of hijab and strong advice to stay at home feed the pattern of absolute gender segregation and making women invisible in society,” he said.
Taliban deputy spokesman Inamullah Samangani denied human rights concerns, saying authorities had paid attention to the issues mentioned and were working on the issue of girls’ secondary education.
Bennett also called for investigation of attacks targeting Afghanistan’s Shia and Sufi religious minorities, a trend he said bore “hallmarks of crimes against humanity.” Recent months have seen more attacks on mosques and other civilian targets, some of which have been claimed by Daesh.
The militant group said it was behind three explosions in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Wednesday that killed at least 15 in predominantly Shia areas.
Another, unclaimed, blast the same day tore through a Sunni mosque in the capital Kabul, killing at least five people.


Four bombings, some claimed by Daesh, kill at least 16 in Afghanistan

Updated 26 May 2022

Four bombings, some claimed by Daesh, kill at least 16 in Afghanistan

  • Regional branch of Daesh has repeatedly targeted Shiites and other minorities
  • Daesh wants an Islamic caliphate stretching from Turkey to Pakistan and beyond

KABUL: The death toll from four bombs that ripped through minibuses and a mosque in Afghanistan has risen to at least 16, officials said Thursday, with some of the attacks claimed by the Daesh group.

While the number of bombings has dropped across the country since the Taliban seized power last August, several deadly attacks rocked the country last month during Ramadan.

On Wednesday, at least 10 people were killed when three bombs placed on separate minibuses exploded in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a health official and police said.

"The bombs were placed on three minibuses in different districts of the city," Balkh provincial police spokesman Asif Waziri told AFP, adding that 15 other people were wounded.

Najibullah Tawana, head of the Balkh health department, said three women were among the 10 killed in the blasts.

Hours after the explosions, the Daesh group claimed responsibility for the minibus attacks on social media.

It said on Telegram its "soldiers" were behind the three bombings.

Another bomb exploded inside a mosque in the capital Kabul late Wednesday.

Early on Thursday, Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran tweeted that six people had been killed in that blast and another 18 wounded.

In the immediate aftermath of the mosque attack, the interior ministry had said two people were killed and 10 wounded.

The ministry also said the bomb was placed inside a fan in the mosque.

It was still unclear whether Wednesday's bombings targeted any specific community.

Dozens of civilians were killed in Kabul and other cities in primarily sectarian attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on April 30 in Afghanistan, with some claimed by IS.

On April 29, at least 10 people were killed in a Sunni mosque in Kabul in an attack that appeared to have targeted members of the minority Sufi community who were performing rituals.

On April 21, a bomb at a Shiite mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif killed at least 12 worshippers and wounded scores more.

The deadliest attack during Ramadan came in the northern city of Kunduz, where another bomb targeting Sufi worshippers tore through a mosque on April 22.

At least 33 people were killed in that blast and scores more were wounded.

The regional branch of Daesh in Sunni-majority Afghanistan has repeatedly targeted Shiites and minorities such as Sufis, who follow a mystical branch of Islam.

Daesh and the Taliban are both Sunni groups but bitter rivals.

The biggest ideological difference is that the Taliban pursued an Afghanistan free of foreign forces, whereas Daesh wants an Islamic caliphate stretching from Turkey to Pakistan and beyond.

Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated Daesh, but analysts say the group remains a key security challenge.