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Posts tagged ‘Military Alliance of NATO’

Bigger is better? NATO opens up to Macedonia as rifts linger

July 11, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO has invited Macedonia to start membership talks, a step toward adding its 30th member despite Russia’s objection and a show of unity at a time of growing discord between the Trump administration and Europe.

The invitation Wednesday came at a NATO summit at which U.S. President Donald Trump demanded more military spending by some allegedly deadbeat allies, as countries like Canada and Britain committed more to new manpower than new money.

Macedonia was given a pathway to membership on condition that it finally iron out its years-long standoff over its name with Greece, which took a big step forward with their deal last month that could rename the country North Macedonia.

Macedonian voters and the Greek parliament still must sign off on that deal, which could also dissipate any Greek objections to the Skopje government’s ambition to join the European Union. “Once all national procedures have been completed to finalize the name agreement, the country will join NATO as our 30th member,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “It cannot become a member if it doesn’t change its name. That’s in a way the simple choice, and that’s up to the people.”

Russia, NATO’s most prominent rival, has bemoaned the possible addition of another alliance member — reviving Cold War-style tensions. Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev hailed the invitation but noted objections from Moscow.

“Very obviously, they are against our integration in NATO,” he said during a panel talk on the sidelines of the summit. Zaev alleged “some activities” by Russia had attempted to thwart the deal, but he did not elaborate.

The overture toward expansion came amid a backdrop of strain in NATO, notably continued pressure by Trump on allies to shoulder a bigger share of military spending — including a swipe at Germany for being “captive” to Russia.

Instead of new money, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his country will lead NATO’s new military training mission in Iraq, with up to 250 troops. Canada isn’t meeting an informal alliance target for member states to devote at least 2 percent of their economic output to defense spending.

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, which is meeting that target, announced it would send 440 military personnel for a similar training mission in Afghanistan — by far the alliance’s biggest foreign venture.

The pledges came as NATO has been keen to play a major role in the fight against terrorism and demonstrate its resilience against an aggressive Russia that has annexed Crimea and sown instability in Ukraine.

Canada’s offer is part of NATO’s attempt to help Iraq rebuild and ensure the Islamic State group can’t gain a new foothold there. The commitment was part of the alliance’s expansion of the number of trainers from around a dozen currently to several hundred operating out of the capital, Baghdad.

“Those sorts of tangible elements are at the heart of what NATO stands for,” Trudeau said, in an apparent bid to outflank Trump’s call for money. “You can try and be a bean counter and look at exactly how much this and how much money that, but the fundamental question is: is what you’re doing actually making a difference?

The British commitment in Afghanistan came as NATO agreed to fund the Afghan army through 2024. Britain’s addition will beef up efforts that are already training some 16,000 troops. “I think that shows when NATO calls, the U.K. is one of the first to step up,” May told reporters.

In another show of resolve to Russia, the leaders rubber-stamped a plan to ready a crisis response contingent that can be rapidly deployed — 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 battleships within 30 days. It also endorsed two new command headquarters — in Norfolk, Virginia and Ulm, Germany — to help better move troops and equipment across the Atlantic and through Europe.

Questioned repeatedly about Trump’s attacks on European allies and Canada, Stoltenberg acknowledged trans-Atlantic differences, but refused to say whether the U.S. leader’s attacks were damaging the alliance.

“My task is to make sure that we stay together, so if I started to freely reflect on all possibilities, then I would undermine the unity of this alliance,” Stoltenberg said. Trump’s “America First” policies have exposed major differences between the U.S. and many parts of Europe on issues as diverse as climate change, trade and tariff policies, and the Iran nuclear deal that the U.S. leader has rejected.

Stoltenberg sought to depict his alliance as a force for unity that gives Washington a way to project power from Europe into Asia, the Middle East and Africa. “A strong NATO is good for Europe and good for the United States,” he said. “Two world wars and a Cold War taught us that we are stronger together than apart.”

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New naval command created to step up presence in Atlantic

May 05, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid rising tensions with Russia, the Pentagon on Friday announced the official launch of a new naval command that will bolster the U.S. and NATO presence in the Atlantic Ocean. Outlines of the plan were approved at the February meeting of NATO defense ministers, as part of a broader effort to insure the security of the sea lanes and lines of communication between Europe and North America.

“The return to great power competition and a resurgent Russia demands that NATO refocus on the Atlantic to ensure dedicated reinforcement of the continent and demonstrate a capable and credible deterrence effect,” said Johnny Michael, a Pentagon spokesman. He said the new NATO command “will be the linchpin of trans-Atlantic security.”

The decision reflects escalating worries across Europe and within NATO over Russia’s increased military presence and patrols in the Atlantic region. Under the new plan, the U.S. will set up NATO’s new Atlantic Command headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in February that “we have seen a much more assertive Russia, we have seen a Russia which has over many years invested heavily in their military capabilities, modernized their military capabilities, which are exercising not only conventional forces but also nuclear forces.”

He said the new Atlantic Command will be vital for the alliance to be able to respond. NATO also created a new logistics command, which is expected to be located in Germany. At the same time, the U.S. Navy is re-establishing its 2nd Fleet command, which was eliminated in 2011 in a move to save costs. It was merged with the navy’s Fleet Forces Command.

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said the move comes as the security environment “continues to grow more challenging and complex.” The command will oversee ships, aircraft and landing forces on the East Coast and northern Atlantic Ocean, and will be responsible for training forces and conducting maritime operations in the region.

Restarting the command was recommended in the Navy study done following the two deadly ship collisions last year that killed a total of 17 sailors. The destroyer USS Fitzgerald struck a commercial ship off the waters of Japan in June, killing seven U.S. sailors. The destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in coastal waters off Singapore in August, killing 10 U.S. sailors.

The Navy concluded that the two crashes, as well as a third collision in May and a ship grounding, were all avoidable, and resulted from widespread failures by the crews and commanders who didn’t quickly recognize and respond to unfolding emergencies.

A report called for about 60 recommended changes to address the problems. They ranged from improved training on seamanship, navigation and the use of ship equipment to more basic changes to improve sleep and stress management for sailors.

The command will begin operations July 1. It will report to U.S. Fleet Forces, and will initially include 11 officers and 4 enlisted personnel. Those numbers will eventually increase to more than 250 personnel.

Tunisia rejects NATO’s proposal to support establishment of anti-terrorism center

February 13, 2018

On Monday, the Tunisian defense ministry said it had rejected a NATO proposal that would grant Tunisia a 3 million euro grant in exchange for closer ties with the organization. The plan would have engaged a permanent role for NATO experts at an operations center in the country.

Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi said his ministry, “rejected a proposal by NATO to give his country a grant of 3 million euros to receive permanent experts who would provide technical advice to the Tunisian military at an operations center in which the armies cooperate to secure borders and fight terrorism which Tunisia plans to develop.”

During a hearing at the Tunisian parliament’s security and defense committee, on Monday, Zbidi explained that “The ministry is working on a project to complete a joint center for planning, leading operations, for information analysis and to lead joint operations between the military forces.”

He added that his ministry “requested the provision of a grant to Tunisia, provided that no party from outside the Tunisian military establishment would intervene in this center, and that the location where the center is to be established be inside Tunisian territories and chosen by the Ministry of Defense.”

Zbidi also pointed out that the terrorist threat still persists in his country especially on the western borders with Algeria and eastern borders with Libya.

He added: “Some terrorist combatants are still active in the western highlands of the governorates of Kasserine, El Kef and Jendouba.”

According Zbidi, the Tunisian military units carried out about one thousand military operations in suspicious areas in different governorates of the country, which led to the elimination of 5 terrorist combatants, uncovering 28 hideouts, the destruction and neutralization of more than 100 mines, the seizure of equipment and various possessions, the killing of two military agents together with 45 others injured at different degrees.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180213-tunisia-rejects-natos-proposal-to-support-establishment-of-anti-terrorism-centre/.

NATO prolongs chief Stoltenberg’s term for 2 more years

December 12, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO extended Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s tenure for two more years at the head of the world’s biggest military alliance on Tuesday. Stoltenberg has held the post since 2014 and his term has been marked by a spike in security challenges, including a resurgent Russia and foreign fighters returning to Europe from Syria and Iraq.

NATO said in a statement that the 29 NATO nations decided to prolong the former Norwegian prime minister’s term until Sept. 30, 2020. It said the allies “congratulate the Secretary-General and have full confidence in his ability to continue his dedicated work to advance NATO’s adaptation to the security challenges of the 21st century.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May lauded Stoltenberg as a “true champion of the NATO alliance.” She said “he has made sure that NATO has stood strong but not stood still, meeting Russian aggression in eastern Europe while reforming to face developing threats such as cyberattacks and hybrid-warfare.”

Last week, the German government backed a two-year extension of Stoltenberg’s term. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Stoltenberg had “the full support of Germany,” adding that he had “done excellent work modernizing NATO and adapting its structures to a changed security situation.”

She also praised his strong support of closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union, which have 22 member states in common. Stoltenberg took up the position just after Russia had annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and the Islamic State group had seized cities in Syria and Iraq, inspiring a new, more brutal form of terrorism that would wreak havoc in European capitals.

For the NATO secretary-general “2014 was a turning point,” he told The Associated Press during a trip to Poland in late August for talks with top officials and to thank some of about 4,000 NATO troops stationed in eastern Europe to deter an increasingly aggressive Moscow.

“Suddenly the world really changed,” Stoltenberg said.

Ukraine says it will focus on reforms, not NATO membership

July 10, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says his country will focus on reforms and will not seek NATO membership for the time being. Poroshenko was elected in 2014 after a pro-Western government took over from the pro-Russian president who fled the country following months of protests.

Shortly after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind separatist rebels in the east. Russian officials have claimed the new Kiev government would have turned Crimea, home to a Russia-leased naval base, into a NATO base.

Speaking at a meeting Monday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Kiev , Poroshenko said Ukraine would not be applying for a NATO membership “immediately” but would instead “build a genuine program of reforms” to meet NATO requirements for membership in the future.

Taliban leader: Afghan war will end only when NATO leaves

June 23, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leader of the Afghan Taliban said on Friday that a planned U.S. troop surge will not end the protracted war in the country and vowed to fight on until a full withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.

The remarks by Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah came in a message ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan — something the Taliban do every year to rally followers.

It also followed a horrific suicide car bombing claimed by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that targeted Afghan troops and government workers waiting to collect their pay ahead of the holiday.

By Friday, the death toll from that attack rose to 34 people, most of them civilians, provincial government spokesman Omar Zwak told The Associated Press. In the Taliban message this year, the militant leader seemed to harden his stance, saying the Afghan government is too corrupt to stay on and warning of another civil war in Kabul — along the lines of the 1992 fighting when mujahedeen groups threw out the Communist government in Afghanistan and turned their guns on each other. That conflict killed more than 50,000 civilians and gave rise to the Taliban.

The Taliban say they are waging war against the Kabul government and not targeting civilians. In their claim of the Helmand attack, they insisted no civilians died. Zwak, however said, most of the dead in the attack in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, were civilians, although there were soldiers inside the bank at the time of the explosion. Witnesses said children were among the dozens wounded.

Earlier, the Defense Ministry had urged soldiers to collect their salaries from banks located inside army bases. If they do go to banks elsewhere, they should refrain from wearing their uniforms, the ministry’s deputy spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told the AP.

Outside a hospital in Lashkar Gah, Esmatullah Khan, 34, said Friday he had donated blood to help some of the nearly 70 wounded in the attack. Akhunzadah, the Taliban leader, also boasted of allegedly growing international support, saying “mainstream entities of the world admit (the Taliban) effectiveness, legitimacy and success,” an apparent reference to reports of overtures by Russia and China to the Taliban amid concerns of an emerging Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan.

While the IS affiliate’s stronghold is in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the branch has managed also to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul and other cities. The presence of battle-hardened Uzbek militants in the ranks also further worries Moscow.

After urging Afghans to embrace holy war, or jihad, to oust foreign troops, Akhunzadah’s rambling message went on to touch upon the conflict between Gulf Arab states and Qatar, saying he was “saddened” by the feud.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have accused Qatar of supporting extremists, a charge that Doha denies.

Associated Press Writers Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Abdul Khaliq in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

NATO agrees to send more troop trainers to Afghanistan

June 29, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Two years after winding down its military operation in Afghanistan, NATO has agreed to send more troops to help train and work alongside Afghan security forces. The move comes in response to a request from NATO commanders who say they need as many as 3,000 additional troops from the allies. That number does not include an expected contribution of roughly 4,000 American forces. They would be divided between the NATO training and advising the mission in Afghanistan, and America’s counterterrorism operations against the Taliban, al-Qaida and Islamic State militants.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Thursday that 15 countries “have already pledged additional contributions.” He expected more commitments to come.

Britain has said that it would contribute just under 100 troops in a noncombat role. “We’re in it for the long haul. It’s a democracy. It’s asked for our help and it’s important that Europe responds,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters. “Transnational terror groups operate in Afghanistan, are a threat to us in Western Europe.”

European nations and Canada have been waiting to hear what U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will offer or seek from them. U.S. leaders have so far refused to publicly discuss troop numbers before completing a broader, updated war strategy.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Afghanistan this week, meeting with commanders to gather details on what specific military capabilities they need to end what American officials say is a stalemate against the resurgent Taliban.

The expected deployment of more Americans is intended to bolster Afghan forces so they eventually can assume greater control of security. Stoltenberg said the NATO increase does not mean the alliance will once again engage in combat operations against the Taliban and extremist groups. NATO wants “to help the Afghans fight” and take “full responsibility” for safeguarding the country.

He did acknowledge “there are many problems, and many challenges and many difficulties, and still uncertainty and violence in Afghanistan.” Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s defense ministry, welcomed NATO’s decision and said Afghan troops were in need of “expert” training, heavy artillery and a quality air force.

“We are on the front line in the fight against terrorism,” Radmanish said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Kabul, the Afghan capital. But Afghan lawmaker Mohammad Zekria Sawda was skeptical. He said the offer of an additional 3,000 NATO troops was a “show,” and that NATO and the U.S. were unable to bring peace to Afghanistan when they had more than 120,000 soldiers deployed against Taliban insurgents.

“Every day we are feeling more worry,” he said, “If they were really determined to bring peace they could do it,” Sawda said. As the war drags on, Afghans have become increasingly disillusioned and even former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has questioned the international commitment to bringing peace.

Many Afghans, including Karzai, are convinced that the United States and NATO have the military ability to defeat the Taliban. But with the war raging 16 years after the Taliban were ousted, they accuse the West of seemingly wanting chaos over peace.

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