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Posts tagged ‘Military Alliance of NATO’

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.

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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.

NATO top brass recommend joining anti-IS coalition

May 17, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO top brass are recommending that the military alliance join the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group. U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that NATO do more to combat terrorism.

NATO Military Committee head General Petr Pavel said Wednesday that “there is a merit for NATO becoming a member of that coalition.” Pavel said armed forces chiefs agreed “that NATO can and should do more” to increase the capacity of Iraq and other countries fighting IS to better defend themselves.

NATO’s role could include training local forces and helping to build militaries and institutions. NATO countries do not want the alliance engaged in active combat against Islamic State militants, even though all are individual members of the anti-IS coalition.

Trump is scheduled to meet NATO leaders in Brussels next week.

Polish leader welcomes NATO troops, hails ‘historic moment’

April 13, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish leaders welcomed a new multinational NATO battalion to Poland on Thursday, with the president calling it “a historic moment for my country.” The near-permanent deployment of a NATO battalion under U.S. command marks the first time NATO troops have been placed so close to Russian territory, a step the Kremlin denounces as a threat to its own security.

But Polish President Andrzej Duda said the deployment, to Poles, stands as a symbol of liberation and inclusion in the Western democratic world. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that generations of Poles have waited for this moment since the end of the Second World War,” Duda said in the northeastern town of Orzysz as he addressed the troops and the U.S. and British ambassadors.

The battalion of about 1,000 troops is led by the United States, but includes troops from Britain and Romania. Croatian troops are expected to join later. Their base of operations, Orzysz, is 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the border with Kaliningrad, a Russian territory on the Baltic Sea separated from the Russian mainland.

While NATO has held exercises in the region in past years, the deployment marks the alliance’s first continuous troop presence in the area that was considered by defense experts as vulnerable. Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said the NATO presence guarantees the security of NATO’s eastern flank.

The NATO deployment is separate from a U.S. battalion of 3,500 troops that arrived in Poland earlier this year and which is headquartered in southwestern Poland, near the German border. Both missions are responses to calls for greater U.S. and NATO protection by a region fearful after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for a rebel insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Purged from Turkish army, NATO officers get asylum in Norway

April 08, 2017

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Norway and Turkey — NATO’s northern and southern frontiers in Europe — have been pillars of the Western military alliance for more than 60 years. But the diplomatic temperature between the two has fallen steadily since Turkey recalled dozens of military officers as suspects in an aborted coup — and Norway became the first nation to grant some of them asylum.

The government in Oslo agreed last month to protect four Turkish officers who had been assigned to NATO and, like colleagues in Germany and Brussels, fear they could be imprisoned as terrorists if they go back to their country. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Norwegian ambassador for an explanation while the officers remain in Stavanger, a city on Norway’s west coast that lies 3,800 kilometers (2,360 miles) from Ankara.

“We see that this is a difficult decision for Norway because of the alliance, and it can cause big problems for NATO, so we appreciate that they have put human rights over political decisions,” one of the officers given asylum said. “Norway still says you are innocent until proven guilty … in Turkey, you have to prove your innocence.”

The men trying to forge new lives in Stavanger are among a cadre of commissioned Turkish officers who were working at NATO facilities around Europe during Turkey’s July 15 thwarted coup. The Turkish government suspects of playing a role in the failed coup, and the men have asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families in Turkey.

“Some of my colleagues in other NATO headquarters did return to Turkey. They were detained at the airport in front of their families, their children. It would be very difficult to go back to Turkey now,” one senior officer said. “We have small kids, and we have to save their lives.”

The former officers bristle at being branded “traitors.” Each man was on leave when the plot unfolded and claims he has a firm alibi. With their bank accounts frozen, their successful military careers suddenly cut short and hopes for fair trials in Turkey shattered, they say they had no choice but to seek asylum in Norway, where they filed for protection between August 13 and October 19.

One of the men was fired by telephone. Another received a call ordering him to leave Norway within three days. Two watched in horror as their names appeared on “blacklists” of soldiers commanded back to Turkey.

“When I saw the list and my name in the list, I tried to understand the reason … but there was nothing about this on the paper. There were just one or two or three sentences calling us back,” one said. “It was a terrible period. I knew I would lose my rights, my past, my family, everything.”

The men say they have seen social media videos of other Turkish officers being tortured in jail and have desperately tried to reach military friends back home. They say some have disappeared, while others were forced into giving confessions.

“After the coup, 160 generals and 7,000 military officers have been arrested,” one of the officers said bitterly. “If these persons were involved in this coup, the result must have been different.” The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleges that the coup was carried out by followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies orchestrating a takeover. More than 150,000 people have been taken into custody, fired or forced to retire from Turkey’s armed forces, judiciary, education system and other public institutions since the coup attempt.

Even Gulenists who did not take part in the coup attempt are considered a serious security threat now and are being purged from Turkey’s military. The four former officers in Norway deny being Gulen supporters and think the government is using the coup as an excuse to crush its critics.

“We are hearing that people’s wives are accused of being plotters and traitors. If one of your relatives has money in a certain bank, or you were using certain social media on the day of the coup, you are accused of being involved,” one said.

Turkey responded angrily to Norway granting the officers asylum, protesting that a NATO ally offered the men “support to abuse the country’s political, social and economic opportunities” instead of ensuring their return to Turkey.

The men’s lawyer, Kjell Brygfjeld, thinks the four cases were fast-tracked through the sometimes clogged Norwegian asylum system. One of the former officers said his asylum petition was approved without his needing to provide documents proving he was in danger.

“Norway can see what is going on,” he said. As political refugees, they face the possibility of never returning to Turkey and uncertain futures in NATO’s northern outpost. Dressed in the casual cold-weather wear of Norwegian civilians during an early spring evening on the Stavanger fjord, the four officers joked that they’ve already embraced a Nordic lifestyle.

And even though the winter nights seem long in Norway, they know that their situations could have been much darker. “It’s impossible for me to disconnect from Turkey,” one of the officers said. “All of my friends — most of the friends are now in jail. And their families suffer because of this. And there is just one voice in Turkey, so no one hears their screams.”

David Keyton contributed to this report in Stavanger.

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