Despite concerns, US to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden announced on January 25, 2023, the US will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2023

Despite concerns, US to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine

  • The US decision came on the heels of Germany agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks
  • The $400 million package announced Wednesday also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles

WASHINGTON: The US will send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, senior administration officials said Wednesday, reversing months of persistent arguments by the Biden administration that the tanks were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The US decision came on the heels of Germany agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the US put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur Russia’s wrath without the US similarly committing its own tanks.
Since then, both sides had participated in “good diplomatic conversations” that had made the difference and were part of the “extraordinary shift in Germany’s security policy” over providing weapons to Ukraine since Russia invaded 11 months ago, said a senior administration official, who briefed reporters Wednesday on the condition of anonymity to describe the new tank package in advance of the announcement.
The $400 million package announced Wednesday also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles — tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.
Altogether, France, the UK, the US, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden will send hundreds of tanks and heavy armored vehicles to fortify Ukraine as it enters a new phase of the war and attempts to break through entrenched Russian lines.
But there were few answers about what US tanks would be sent — whether they would be pulled from the existing stockpile of more than 4,000 Abrams and retrofitted, or whether the US would use the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to buy new systems to possibly backfill allies who send their own or buy new systems outright for Ukraine.
Either way, using the assistance initiative funding route means that while Abrams have now been promised to Ukraine, it will likely be many months before the tanks are actually on the battlefield, and not in time for Russia’s anticipated Spring offensive.
Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergey Nechayev on Wednesday called Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “extremely dangerous.”
Nechayev said in an online statement that the move “shifts the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about their reluctance to get involved in it.”
“We’re seeing yet again that Germany, as well as its closest allies, is not interested in a diplomatic resolution of the Ukraine crisis, it is determined to permanently escalate it and to indefinitely pump the Kyiv regime full of new lethal weapons,” the statement read.
Until now, the US has resisted providing its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicles. Washington believes it would be more productive to send German Leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the more difficult Abrams.
Just last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the Abrams is a complicated, expensive, difficult to maintain and hard to train on piece of equipment. One thing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been very focused on, he said, “is that we should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can’t afford, because it’s not helpful.”
For the Abrams to be effective in Ukraine, its forces will require extensive training on combined arms manuevuer — how the tanks operate together on the battlefield, and on how to maintain and support the complex, 70-ton weapon. The Abrams tanks use a turbine jet engine to propel themselves that burns through at least two gallons a mile regardless of whether they are moving or idling, which means that a network of fuel trucks is needed to keep the line moving.

Pakistan’s baseball team beats Palestine to clinch West Asia Cup 2023

Updated 10 min 15 sec ago

Pakistan’s baseball team beats Palestine to clinch West Asia Cup 2023

  • Pakistan beat Palestine 11-3 to clinch the seven-nation tournament
  • Pakistan’s Amjad Hussain, Muhammad Shoaib fare well in final

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s baseball team on Wednesday defeated Palestine in the final to be crowned the winners of the West Asia Cup 2023, with Sri Lanka finishing in third place. 

The seven-nation event, organized by the Pakistan Baseball Federation (PBF), was held at the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad from January 27 till February 1. Apart from the host Pakistan, teams from Palestine, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan are participating in the event.

Pakistan, who reached the final of the tournament after emphatically defeating Sri Lanka 16-1, once again put up an impressive performance in the final against Palestine, ,defeating the Middle East team 11-3 to clinch the trophy. 

Pakistan the new West Asia Cup baseball Champ,” the Pakistan Federation Baseball wrote on Twitter. “Team Palestine wins the hearts of the people with their outstanding display.”

According to the PBF, pitchers Amjad Hussain and Muhammad Zohaib fared impressively against Palestine in the final. 

Palestine, who qualified for Wednesday’s final after defeating Bangladesh 14-3 in the other semifinal, lost out to Sri Lanka who finished with the bronze medal. 

The PBF partnered with Baseball United, first-ever professional baseball league that helps develop the game across the Middle East and South Asia, to host the West Asia Cup, an official World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) tournament.

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

Updated 39 min 19 sec ago

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

  • As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain's umbrella labour organisation the Trades Union Congress called it the "biggest day of strike action since 2011"
  • Unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet

LONDON: Half a million workers went on strike in Britain on Wednesday, calling for higher wages in the largest such walkout in over a decade, closing schools and severely disrupting transport.
As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain’s umbrella labor organization the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called it the “biggest day of strike action since 2011.”
The latest strikes come a day after more than 1.27 million took to the streets in France, increasing pressure on the French government over pension reform plans.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for pay rises to be “reasonable” and affordable” warning that big pay rises would jeopardize attempts to tame inflation.
But unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet in the face of low paid, insecure work and spiralling costs.
Teachers and train drivers were among the latest groups to act, as well as border force workers at UK air and seaports.
“The workload is always bigger and bigger and with the inflation our salary is lower and lower,” London teacher Nigel Adams, 57, told AFP as he joined thousands of teachers marching through central London.
“We’re exhausted. We’re paying the price and so are the children,” he added as protesters held up placards reading “Pay Up” and “We can’t put your kids first if you put their teachers last.”
Britain has witnessed months of strikes by tens of thousands of workers — including postal staff, lawyers, nurses and employees in the retail sector — as UK inflation raced above 11 percent, the highest level in more than 40 years.
Job center worker and union representative, Graham, who preferred not to give his last name said workers had no choice but to strike faced with soaring costs.
“Some of our members, even though they are working, still have to make visits to food banks,” he said.
“Not only are wages not keeping up, but things like fares, council tax and rents are going up. Anything we get is eaten away,” he added.
At London’s King’s Cross rail station, Kate Lewis, a 50-year-old charity worker, said she sympathized with the strikers despite her train being delayed.
“I understand. We are all in the same boat. All impacted by inflation,” she said.
Another major commuter hub in the capital, London Bridge station, was completely closed.
One train driver who gave his name as Tony, 61, said the sort of pay rises on offer were insulting, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“We worked all through Covid. We were being praised as key workers and then there is this slap in the face,” he said.
“I was leaving (home) at 3 am to go to work. People were having barbecues, you could hear the bottles. I think we deserve a pay increase that keeps up with inflation.”
Government and company bosses are standing firm over wage demands.
With thousands of schools closed for the day, Education Minister Gillian Keegan told Times Radio she was “disappointed” teachers had walked out.
But union boss Mark Serwotka said the government’s position was “unsustainable.”
“It’s not feasible that they can sit back with this unprecedented amount of industrial action growing, because it’s half a million today,” he told Sky News.
“Next week, we have paramedics, and we have nurses, then will then be the firefighters,” he added, warning that unions were prepared to strike throughout the summer.
Prime Minister Sunak on Wednesday told parliament the government had given teachers the “highest pay rise in 30 years” including nine percent for newly qualified teachers.
He urged opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to say “that the strikes are wrong and we should be backing our school children“
The latest official data shows 1.6 million working days were lost from June-November last year because of strikes — the highest six-month total in more than three decades — according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
A total of 467,000 working days were lost to walkouts in November alone, the highest level since 2011, the ONS added.
Alongside the strikes, unions are also staging rallies across the country against the Conservative government’s plans to legislate against public sector strike action.
Sunak has introduced a draft law requiring some frontline workers to maintain a minimum level of service during walkouts.

FIFA aims at sexual offenses in updated ethics code

Updated 55 min 51 sec ago

FIFA aims at sexual offenses in updated ethics code

  • The code, said the governing body of world football, is intended "to enhance protection of football integrity"
  • It also targets match fixing and clubs that fail to pay transfer fees

LAUSANNE: FIFA has toughened its disciplinary proceedings for cases of sexual assault or harassment in a revised Code of Ethics that was announced and came into force on Wednesday.
The code, said the governing body of world football in a press release, is intended “to enhance protection of football integrity.”
It also targets match fixing and clubs that fail to pay transfer fees.
“The changes are aimed at improving the protection of certain parties to proceedings before FIFA’s judicial bodies, while providing FIFA with further instruments against illegal, immoral or unethical methods and practices,” said the release.
The revised code removes the 10-year limitation period on prosecuting sexual offenses.
The changes make the possible victims “parties to the relevant proceedings, who enjoy all procedural rights, such as that of being notified of the relevant decision and being entitled to appeal it.”
The code also obliges “member associations and confederations to notify FIFA of any decisions rendered on sexual abuse and match-fixing.”
A series of sexual assault scandals in recent years, notably in Gabon, Haiti, the United States and Afghanistan, forced FIFA into disciplinary proceedings, particularly in cases where the local authorities refused to act.
FIFA said it would appoint an independent integrity expert to investigate match fixing and coordinate with the public authorities in assessing potential offenses, and propose “appropriate disciplinary measures.”
FIFA said it was extending transfer bans on debtor clubs that do not comply with decisions by its Football Tribunal and could charge 18 percent interest on unpaid debts.

India raises defense budget to $72.6 billion amid tensions with China, Pakistan

Updated 01 February 2023

India raises defense budget to $72.6 billion amid tensions with China, Pakistan

  • India employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces with large numbers deployed along borders with China and Pakistan
  • South Asian giant plans to spend nearly $3 billion for naval fleet construction and $7 billion for air force procurements

NEW DELHI: India proposed on Wednesday 5.94 trillion rupees ($72.6 billion) in defense spending for the 2023-24 financial year, 13 percent up from the previous period’s initial estimates, aiming to add more fighter jets and roads along its tense border with China.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated 1.63 trillion rupees for defense capital outlays — an expenditure that would include new weapons, aircraft, warships and other military hardware, as she unveiled nearly $550 billion of total federal spending in the annual budget for 2023-24 starting in April.

She said 2.77 trillion rupees would be devoted to military salaries and benefits in 2023-24, 1.38 trillion on pensions for retired soldiers, and further amounts for miscellaneous items.

Sitharaman also revised the defense budget for the current financial year ending in March to 5.85 trillion rupees from earlier estimates of 5.25 trillion.

In the past few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up spending to modernize the military, while underlining his government’s commitment to boosting domestic production to supply forces deployed along two contentious borders.

Laxman Behera, a defense expert at government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said the hike in the defense budget was “reasonable but not sufficient,” considering requirements for military modernization.

“The government has tried to allocate reasonable funds for defense forces while balancing other priorities during the pre-election budget,” he said, noting India needed more funds in view of growing friction with China along disputed borders.

The total Indian defense budget, estimated at about 2 percent of GDP, is still lower than China’s 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) in allocations for 2022, which New Delhi sees as posing a threat to neighbors including India and Japan.

“The overall increase in the armed forces’ budget is as anticipated, but likely lower than what they asked for to beef up operational capabilities,” said Amit Cowshish, former financial adviser for acquisitions at the Defense Ministry.

India plans to spend near 242 billion rupees ($3 billion) for naval fleet construction and 571.4 billion rupees ($7 billion) for air force procurements including more aircraft, the latest budget document showed.

The South Asian giant employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces, with large numbers deployed along borders with nuclear-armed rivals China and Pakistan.

Although the defense budget allocations fell short of military expectations, they are likely to grow as the economy recovers from two years of pandemic curbs, according to Behera.

India and China share a 3,500-kilometer (2,100-mile) frontier that has been disputed since the 1950s. The two sides went to war over it in 1962.

At least 24 soldiers were killed when the armies of the Asian giants clashed in Ladakh, in the western Himalayas, in 2020 but tensions eased after military and diplomatic talks.

A fresh clash erupted in the eastern Himalayas in December last year but no deaths were reported.

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

Updated 01 February 2023

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

  • Canal sources say that shipping traffic is unaffected

CAIRO: Suez Canal tugboats are working to move a broken down LNG tanker called Grace Emilia on Wednesday, two canal sources told Reuters, adding that shipping traffic is unaffected.
The incident happened in a southern section of the canal where a second channel allows for ships to bypass the blockage caused by an engine malfunction, one of the sources said.