China: United with Russia ‘like a mountain’ ahead of Biden-Putin summit

China declares its ‘unbreakable’ friendship with Russia ahead of Biden-Putin summit

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FILE – In this Nov. 12, 2019, file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and China’s President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their talks on the sideline of the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, Brazil. Putin … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

China and Russia are going to great lengths to express their warming alliance against the United States ahead of Wednesday’s much-anticipated summit between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

President Biden has played up revived U.S. relations with NATO and European Union allies this week as leverage ahead of his first meeting as president with Mr. Putin. But Moscow and Beijing are employing some leverage of their own.

China and Russia are united like a mountain, and our friendship is unbreakable,” Chinese Foreign Minister Spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday, days after Mr. Putin had heaped his own praise on China.

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During an interview with NBC News on Friday, Mr. Putin said Moscow and Beijing “have developed a strategic partnership relationship” that “previously had not been achieved in the history of our nations.”

“We do not believe that China is a threat to us,” Mr. Putin said. “China is a friendly nation. It has not declared us an enemy as the United States has done.”

Asked about those comments Tuesday, Mr. Zhao responded that ChinaRussia relations have “withstood the test of the changing international landscape, setting an example of a new type of major-country relationship.”

Western analysts say China and Russia stand together as autocratic rivals as Mr. Biden explicitly seeks to rally an alliance of democratic governments to uphold the liberal international order and prove Western governments can out-compete economically and militarily the increasingly assertive Communist regime in Beijing in the developing world.

One of the major questions in the Biden-Putin summit is whether the U.S. and Russia can work together to update the aging set of Cold War-era nuclear arms control agreements in a way that brings China, which has more than 300 of its own nuclear warheads, into the fold of a new global non-proliferation strategic architecture.

Chinese officials have so far resisted U.S. calls for Beijing to be covered by future nuclear arms agreements. Beijing has also sharply criticized what they say in the anti-China tone of the recent G-7 and NATO summits.

Mr. Putin said this week Russia wanted no part of Washington’s campaign to draw China into the nuclear talks, backing Beijing‘s argument that its nuclear arsenal is dwarfed by those of the U.S. and Russia.

“The Chinese justly say, “Why would we make reductions if we are already far behind what you have? … Making [Russia] responsible for China‘s position is just comical,” Mr. Putin told NBC News.

A NATO statement this week lumped China with Russia as a potential threat to the pro-democracy global order. The statement made reference to China‘s growing military and expanding nuclear weapons activities, asserting that “China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a larger number of sophisticated delivery systems.”

Mr. Zhao on Tuesday accused NATO of hypocrisy and described the alliance as being “up to its neck in debt morally.”

NATO urges its member states to increase their military spending to at least 2% of GDP, while criticizing China‘s normal defense development and military modernization,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “This is typical double standards. In fact, China‘s defense accounts for about 1.3% of its GDP, much lower than the standard of NATO countries.”

According to Reuters, China’s reported defense budget in 2021 is about a quarter of U.S. defense spending, which amounted to $714 billion in fiscal year 2020 and is expected to increase to $733 billion in the 2021 fiscal year.

Officials in Beijing will be watching the Biden-Putin summit closely. The Chinese Communist Party-allied Global Times newspaper on Tuesday quoted Chinese experts who said they believe the “biggest expectation for Biden” in the summit is to “stabilize U.S.-Russia relations and split ChinaRussia ties as much as he could.”

“This won’t work,” the article claimed.

Joe Biden looks to ease EU trade tensions ahead of Putin summit

Biden looks to ease EU trade tensions ahead of Putin summit

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Belgium’s King Philippe, right, gestures as he walks with U.S. President Joe Biden prior to a meeting at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) more >

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By Lorne Cook, Jonathan Lemire and Aamer Madhani

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Biden is seeking to tamp down trade tensions with European allies as he spends one last day consulting with Western democracies ahead of his highly anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After a pair of summits with Group of Seven world leaders in the U.K. and then NATO allies in Brussels, Biden meets Tuesday with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The president has sought to marshal widespread European support for his efforts to counter Russia prior to his Wednesday meeting in Geneva with Putin. But the U.S.-EU relationship is not without some tensions.

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Biden will meet with the top EU officials at a moment when the continent’s leaders are becoming impatient that the American president has not yet addressed his predecessor Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to impose import taxes on foreign steel and aluminum. There’s also a longstanding dispute over how much of a government subsidy each side unfairly provides for its aircraft manufacturing giant – Boeing in the United States and Airbus in the EU.

Biden isn’t expected to take action on the tariffs before heading to Geneva later Tuesday. He bristled that he needed more time to address the matter when asked by a reporter about the tariffs at his news conference at the end of the G-7 on Sunday. “A hundred and twenty days,” Biden said, underestimating his time in office by weeks. “Give me a break. Need time.”

Still, White House officials think they can build more goodwill with Europe ahead of the Putin face-to-face meeting.

To that end, Biden, Michel and von der Leyen are expected to announce the creation of a joint trade and technology council, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

The official said that trans-Atlantic council would work on coordinating standards for artificial intelligence, quantum computing and bio-technologies, as well as coordinating efforts on bolstering supply chain resilience. Biden is appointing Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to co-chair the U.S. side of the effort.

The U.S.-EU summit is also expected to include a communique at its conclusion that will address concerns about China’s provocative behavior, according to the official.

Tuesday’s statement would follow a NATO summit communique on Monday that declared China a constant security challenge and said the Chinese are working to undermine the global rules-based order. On Sunday, the G-7 called out what it said were China’s forced labor practices and other human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province.

Since taking office in January, Biden has repeatedly pressed Putin to take action to stop Russian-originated cyberattacks on companies and governments in the U.S. and around the globe and decried the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Biden also has publicly aired intelligence that suggests – albeit with low to moderate confidence – that Moscow offered bounties to the Taliban to target U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Both Biden and Putin have described the U.S.-Russia relationship as being at an all-time low.

The Europeans are keen to set up a “high-level dialogue” on Russia with the United States to counter what they say is Moscow’s drift into authoritarianism and anti-Western sentiment.

At the same time, the 27-nation bloc is deeply divided in its approach to Moscow. Russia is the EU’s biggest natural gas supplier, and plays a key role in a series of international conflicts and key issues, including the Iran nuclear deal and conflicts in Syria and Libya.

The hope is that Biden’s meeting with Putin on Wednesday might pay dividends, and no one in Brussels wants to undermine the show of international unity that has been on display at the G-7 and NATO summits, according to EU officials.

In addition to scolding China, NATO leaders in their communique on Monday took a big swipe at Russia, deploring its aggressive military activities and snap wargames near the borders of NATO countries as well as the repeated violation of the 30-nations’ airspace by Russian planes.

They said Russia has ramped up “hybrid” actions against NATO countries by attempting to interfere in elections, political and economic intimidation, disinformation campaigns and “malicious cyber activities.”

“Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual,’” the NATO leaders wrote. “We will continue to respond to the deteriorating security environment by enhancing our deterrence and defense posture.”

___

Associated Press writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.

Biden says Putin is a ‘worthy adversary’ as he prepares for showdown

Biden says Putin is a ‘worthy adversary’ as he prepares for showdown

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a media conference at a NATO summit in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden is taking part in his first NATO summit, where the 30-nation alliance hopes to reaffirm its unity … more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Monday, June 14, 2021

President Biden on Monday wouldn’t repeat his assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “killer,” calling him a “worthy adversary” as he prepares for a showdown with Mr. Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

Speaking at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Belgium, the president said he will seek areas of cooperation with Mr. Putin, after Moscow’s interference in U.S. elections, cyberattacks originating in Russia and human-rights violations.

“What I’ll convey to President Putin is that I’m not looking for conflict with Russia, but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities,” Mr. Biden told reporters. “And we will not fail to defend the trans-Atlantic alliance or stand up for democratic values.”

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Asked if he still believes Mr. Putin is a “killer,” as he stated in March, Mr. Biden paused for an awkwardly long time before giving a forced laugh. He noted that Mr. Putin also laughed at the question from a U.S. journalist.

“I’m laughing, too,” Mr. Biden said. “I don’t think it matters a whole lot in terms of this next meeting we’re about to have. I’m hoping that President Putin concludes that there is some interest … in changing the perception that the world has in him.”

Referring to a previous meeting with Mr. Putin years ago, Mr. Biden said, “He’s bright, he‘s tough. I found that he is, as they say when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.”

The president did say that it would be a “tragedy” if Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in prison.

“It would do nothing but hurt [Mr. Putin’s] relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me,” Mr. Biden said.

NATO calls out China for growing nuclear arsenal

NATO calls out China for growing nuclear arsenal

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Chinese military vehicles carrying DF-17 ballistic missiles roll during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. Trucks carrying weapons including a nuclear-armed missile designed to evade U.S. defenses … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Monday, June 14, 2021

NATO formally called out China’s military ambitions in a strongly-worded statement Monday, saying Beijing’s fast-growing nuclear weapons programs pose a security risk to the alliance.

China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a larger number of sophisticated delivery statements to establish a nuclear triad,” the statement said. “It is opaque in implementing its military modernization and its publicly declared military civil-fusion strategy. It is also cooperating militarily with Russia, including through participation in Russian exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

NATO members also expressed frustration with “China’s frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation.”

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“We call on China to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in space, cyber and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power,” the statement continued.

The statement represents a diplomatic win for President Biden, who has pressed NATO allies to stand up to China’s growing military strength.

China will be among the most discussed topics during a meeting of NATO members this week at his headquarters in Brussels. Chinese leaders resisted a Trump administration push to join arms control talks, arguing their nuclear stockpiles are much smaller than those of the U.S. and Russia.

During Mr. Biden’s opening remarks at the meeting, he called out China and Russia, saying they were not acting “In a way that is consistent with what we had hoped.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that China remains a concern for the NATO alliance, although it is clear some in Europe are wary of the hard line Washington is pushing against Beijing.

“I think people see challenges, they see things that we have to manage together, but they also see opportunities,” he said.

China‘s Global Times, a nationalist news website with close ties to the ruling Communist Party, argued in an editorial Monday that Washington was clearly trying to recruit other NATO powers for what it called an anti-China agenda, but that the push was meeting with resistance.

“Most of NATO member states want to handle the differences with China through political and diplomatic means,” the Global Times editorial argued. “It is difficult for Washington to bring NATO’s military power to the Western Pacific. NATO will be a peripheral support force for the U.S. to exert pressure on China, but Washington definitely wants more.”

NATO has not been hand in glove with the U.S. over the China issue. China should not allow the U.S. to strengthen the anti-China tendency in the West through NATO. We need to make more efforts to [frustrate] the U.S. plan. 

Joe Biden says America’s commitment to NATO is a ‘sacred obligation’

Biden says America’s commitment to NATO is a ‘sacred obligation’

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President Joe Biden is greeted by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Monday, June 14, 2021

President Biden on Monday asserted the United States’ commitment to the 72-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization by calling it a “sacred obligation” as he kicked off a summit at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels.

NATO is critically important,” Mr. Biden said after he was greeted by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “Article 5, we take as a sacred obligation.”

Under Article 5, an attack on one of the 30 NATO members is considered an attack on all the members and requires a collective response.

SEE ALSO: Biden hails ‘extraordinarily productive’ G-7 summit

“I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is here,” Mr. Biden continued. “I just want to thank you for your leadership.”

Mr. Biden also called NATO “essential for America.”

The president’s reaffirmation of the United States’ NATO commitment, marks a tone shift from former President Trump, who was, at times, combative with other leaders. Mr. Trump was critical of member countries’ military spending and other issues.

SEE ALSO: Blinken says U.S.-Russia relations at a low point going into summit

Mr. Trump, at times, had threatened to withdraw from the NATO pact.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, as leader of the summit’s host country, welcomed Mr. Biden to the meeting and took a thinly veiled swipe at the former U.S. president.

Mr. De Croo said Mr. Biden’s “presence emphasizes the renewal of the transatlantic partnership.”

Mr. Stoltenberg also talked about “ a new chapter in transatlantic relations.”

“No nation and no continent can deal with these challenges alone, but Europe and North America are not alone,” he said. “We stand together with NATO.”

In addition to the NATO summit itself, Mr. Biden has scheduled meetings with individual leaders during his time in Brussels. He will meet with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr. Biden is seeking to rally NATO allies to back U.S. strategy to combat China’s military rise as well as the increasing threat of Russian-based hacking groups.

He said that Russia and China were not operating “in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped,” referencing efforts to move both countries closer to western-style democracies. 

Joe Biden at NATO: Ready to talk China, Russia and soothe allies

Biden at NATO: Ready to talk China, Russia and soothe allies

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President Joe Biden is greeted by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool) more >

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By Jonathan Lemire, Aamer Madhani and Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Monday, June 14, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Biden made his entrance at the NATO summit aiming to consult European allies on efforts to counter provocative actions by China and Russia while highlighting the U.S. commitment to the 30-country alliance that was frequently maligned by predecessor Donald Trump.

The summit Monday comes as Biden tries to rally allies for greater coordination in checking China and Russia, two adversaries whose actions on economic and national security fronts have become the chief foreign policy concerns in the early going of the Biden presidency. 

Biden shortly after arriving at the alliance’s headquarters sat down with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and underscored the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the alliance charter, which spells out that an attack on one member is an attack on all and is to be met with a collective response. 

SEE ALSO: NATO nations ready to jointly respond to attacks in space

“Article 5 we take as a sacred obligation,” Biden said. “I want NATO to know America is there.”

The White House said the communique to be signed by alliance members at the end of the NATO summit is expected to include language about updating Article 5 to include major cyberattacks — a matter of growing concern amid a series of hacks targeting the U.S. government and businesses around the globe by Russia-based hackers.

The update will spell out that if an alliance member needs technical or intelligence support in response to a cyberattack, it would be able to invoke the mutual defense provision to receive assistance, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

The president will begin his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic states on NATO‘s eastern flank regarding the “threat posed by Russia,” China and the recent air piracy in Belarus, according to Sullivan. He‘ll also meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Biden‘s itinerary in Europe has been shaped so that he would first gather with Group of Seven leaders for a three-day summit on the craggy shores of Cornwall and then with NATO allies in Brussels before his much-anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

At the G-7, leaders sought to convey that the club of wealthy democracies — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — is a better friend to poorer nations than authoritarian rivals such as China and Russia.

The G-7 meeting ended with a communique that called out forced labor practices and other human rights violations impacting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province. The president declined to discuss private summit negotiations over the provision but said he was “satisfied” with the communique, although differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to call out Beijing.

Biden is focused on building a more cohesive bond between America and allies who had become wary of U.S. leadership after enduring four years of Trump’s name-calling and frequent invectives about the relevance of multilateral alliances like NATO.

Trump complained that the NATO alliance allows “global freeloading” countries to spend less on military defense at the expense of the U.S. and dismissed the alliance as “obsolete.”

Biden offered a pointed rejoinder on Sunday, saying: “We do not view NATO as a sort of a protection racket. We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security for … the remainder of the century. And there’s a real enthusiasm.”

When alliance members last met for a summit in England in December 2019, Trump grabbed headlines by calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “two-faced”  and French President Emmanuel Macron “nasty.”

Trump lashed out after Trudeau was caught on a hot mic gossiping with other leaders about Trump turning photo opportunities into long news conferences. Ahead of the summit, Macron had declared NATO “brain dead” because of a void in U.S. leadership under Trump. 

Biden has already acknowledged during his Europe tour that the alliance needs to ensure better burden sharing and needs more American leadership. He‘s also highlighted NATO members’ contributions in the war in Afghanistan, noting that “NATO stepped up” after America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

The U.S. and the alliance are winding down their involvement in the nearly 20-year war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans and more than 3,500 U.S. and allied troops. The war also raised profound questions about whether NATO‘s most ambitious effort was worth it.

For now, NATO plans to leave civilian advisers to help build up government institutions. It’s unclear who will protect them. The alliance is also weighing whether to train Afghan special forces outside the country.

NATO members are also expected to endorse the creation of a new cyber defense policy to improve coordination with countries impacted by the increasing frequency of ransomware attacks, a climate security action plan to reduce greenhouse gases from military activities in line with national commitments under the Paris agreement and a commitment to strengthen NATO‘s deterrence to meet threats from Russia and elsewhere, according to the White House.

Biden will meet with Turkey’s president, Erdogan, on the summit sidelines. 

Biden has known Erdogan for years but their relationship has frequently been contentious. Biden, during his campaign, drew ire from Turkish officials after he described Erdogan as an “autocrat.” In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide” — a term that U.S. presidents have avoided using.

The two leaders were expected to discuss Syria and Iran as well as what role Turkey can play on Afghanistan following the U.S. troop withdrawal, according to the White House. Also on the agenda: how Washington and Ankara “deal with some of our significant differences on values and human rights and other issues,” Sullivan said.

The unsettled security situation in Libya, as well as overlapping concerns on China and Russia are also expected to be discussed.

NATO nations ready to jointly respond to attacks in space

NATO nations ready to jointly respond to attacks in space

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with the media during arrivals for a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden is taking part in his first NATO summit, where the 30-nation alliance hopes … more >

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By Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Monday, June 14, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO leaders on Monday will expand the use of their all for one, one for all, collective defense clause to include attacks in space, the military organization’s top civilian official said.

Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty states that attack on any one of the 30 allies will be considered an attack on them all. So far, it’s only applied to more traditional military attacks on land, sea, or in the air, and more recently in cyberspace.

“I think it is important (with) our Article 5, which states that an attack on one will be regarded as an attack on all, that we all will respond,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, at a German Marshall Fund think tank event.

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“We will make it clear at this summit that, of course, any attack on space capabilities like satellites and so on or attacks from space will or could trigger Article 5,” he said, a few hours before chairing a summit with U.S. President Biden and his counterparts.

Around 2,000 satellites orbit the earth, over half operated by NATO countries, ensuring everything from mobile phone and banking services to weather forecasts. Military commanders rely on some of them to navigate, communicate, share intelligence and detect missile launches.

In December 2019, NATO leaders declared space to be the alliance’s “fifth domain” of operations, after land, sea, air and cyberspace. Many member countries are concerned about what they say is increasingly aggressive behavior in space by China and Russia.

Around 80 countries have satellites, and private companies are moving in, too. In the 1980s, just a fraction of NATO’s communications was via satellite. Today, it’s at least 40%. During the Cold War, NATO had more than 20 stations, but new technologies mean the world’s biggest security organization can double its coverage with a fifth of that number.

NATO’s collective defense clause has only been activated once, when the members rallied behind the United States following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Former President Trump raised deep concern among U.S. allies, notably those bordering Russia like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, when he suggested that he might not rally to their side if they didn’t boost their defense budgets.

Biden has been trying to reassure them since taking office and will use the summit as a formal opportunity to underline America’s commitment to its European allies and Canada.

Allies hope to bond, look beyond the coronavirus at G-7 summit in U.K.

Allies hope to bond, look beyond the coronavirus at G-7 summit in U.K.

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In this Aug. 25, 2019, file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, center, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second right, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, second left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center left, Canada’s Prime Minister … more >

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By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Thursday, June 10, 2021

LONDON (AP) — There will be roundtable meetings, one-on-one chats and a group photo against a picturesque backdrop. When leaders of some of the world’s richest nations meet Friday at the English seaside for a three-day Group of Seven summit, much of the choreography will be familiar.

But the world has changed dramatically.

Since the G-7 last met two years ago, the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 3.7 million people and decimated economies with lockdowns and layoffs. A planned G-7 meeting in the United States last year was postponed, then canceled.

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So when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes U.S. President Biden and the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada to the cliff-ringed Carbis Bay beach resort in southwest England, pandemic recovery — “building back better,” in a phrase both Biden and Johnson like — will top the agenda.

Johnson said the meeting would help move on from “a miserable period of competition and squabbling” that marked the early response to the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, Johnson planned this to be a climate-dominated summit. He had wanted to make it a major staging post to November’s international COP26 meeting on climate change in Glasgow, eliciting ambitious targets for slashing carbon emissions and expanding green industries.

That’s still on the agenda, but the meeting will be dominated by COVID-19, with discussions focusing on physical and economic recovery and building resilience against future pandemics. Lest anyone forget that the virus is still raging, there will be daily coronavirus tests for politicians, diplomats, staff and journalists at the summit.

Britain has been a leader in vaccinating its population, with over three-quarters of adults having received a first dose, and Johnson will urge G-7 leaders to aim to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022.

Critics say he should put his money where his mouth is. Britain has cut its international aid budget, citing the pandemic, and hasn’t exported any vaccine to other countries – a source of friction with its European neighbors. Biden is expected to announce Thursday that the the U.S. will buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to share with poor countries.

Johnson noted that the British government helped fund development at Oxford University of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which accounts for one in three doses around the world.

“That is Global Britain in action,” he said Wednesday, using a favorite catchphrase.

France said President Emmanuel Macron wanted to see “results and not just announcements” on vaccines.

“We need a specific calendar — how many people worldwide and especially in Africa will be vaccinated” before a meeting of the G-20 in Rome in October, an official in the president’s office said, noting that Africa has received under 2% of the world’s coronavirus vaccine doses. The official was not authorized to be identified by name to discuss the agenda.

Even without the pandemic, this would be a moment of flux for the rich countries’ club. It’s a first G-7 summit for Biden and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga, who took office in September. Italy’s Mario Draghi is a veteran of senior international roles but has been prime minister only since February. And it’s the swan song for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will leave office in the coming months after 16 years in power.

The summit is seen as a major test for Johnson, a divisive leader at home and abroad whose two years in office have been dominated by the consecutive crises of Brexit and the pandemic.

Johnson’s eve-of-summit meeting with Biden on Thursday will be a chance to underscore the trans-Atlantic alliance and to set out his vision of a post-Brexit “Global Britain” as a midsized country with an outsized role in international problem-solving.

That may be a challenge, given the distrust in European capitals and Washington surrounding the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU and the messy process of separation.

Biden has called the blustering Johnson a “clone” of former President Donald Trump and has expressed concern about the destabilizing effect of Brexit on Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that borders the bloc.

He is likely to press Johnson to soothe tensions. Biden‘s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president’s commitment to Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord was “rock solid.”

Like many prime ministers before him, Johnson plans to summon the spirit of wartime leader Winston Churchill as he tries to charm the president. The two leaders are set to sign a new Atlantic Charter — a 21st century version of the 1941 agreement between Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped lay the foundations for the United Nations and NATO. The British government says Biden and Johnson will pledge to work together for goals including more democracy, greater security and freer trade.

Britain may be the host, but Renata Dwan, deputy director of the Chatham House international affairs think-tank, said it’s striking how much the summit agenda is U.S.-driven.

A proposal for a minimum 15% tax on multinational companies, agreed by G-7 finance minister last week, came from the U.S. Biden took allies by surprise when he announced a patent waiver on coronavirus vaccines last month — a move no other G-7 country has yet followed.

Biden will reassure allies at the G-7 — and NATO, when he attends a meeting of the military alliance in Brussels next week — that the U.S. is back as a reliable ally after the Trump years.

But this is a nervous global moment, with Russia increasingly destabilizing its neighbors and Biden continuing Trump’s strong stance against economic and political rival China. Many in Europe feel that American attention is increasingly focused eastward.

Dwan said the G-7 summit is “a chance to say ‘multilateralism is back,’” but big differences lurk beneath the surface.

“You have no real fundamental agreement on whether the focus of the G-7 is on the future — build back better, which is what the U.K. wants to do — or immediate issues: crisis response now in terms of vaccine supply, manufacturing, distribution,” she said.

“Everyone’s going to try to play really nice,” she said. But “in terms of real deals, there’s some real problems.”

___

Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

Biden to stress strengthening alliances before fraught Putin meeting

Biden to stress strengthening alliances before fraught Putin summit

Says he will let Russian leader 'know what I want him to know'

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U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive on Air Force One at Cornwall Airport Newquay, near Newquay, England, ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall, early Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Phil Noble/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr., Dave Boyer and Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

President Biden arrived in England on Wednesday for his first foreign trip, telling U.S. troops at an air base that he’s on a mission to reinforce alliances with the world’s leading democracies before his showdown next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Biden said his talks with allies in the meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations, NATO and the European Union are important preludes to his summit next week in Geneva with Mr. Putin “to let him know what I want him to know.”

The line drew a loud cheer from the troops.

SEE ALSO: Allies hope to bond, look beyond the coronavirus at G-7 summit in U.K.

“Our alliances weren’t built by coercion or maintained by threats,” Mr. Biden said. “They’re grounded on democratic ideals … where the rights of all people are protected. No nation can defeat us as long as we stick to our values.”

Mr. Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, the only permanent American refueling wing in Europe, as the first stop on their weeklong trip. As Mr. Biden took the stage and started his speech, he quickly interrupted himself.

“Please, at ease,” he told the troops. “I keep forgetting I’m president.”

Mr. Biden is seeking to revamp trans-Atlantic ties, forge a vaccine strategy against the COVID-19 pandemic and unite the world’s most economically advanced democracies to fight Russian and Chinese geopolitical provocations and a rising menace in cyberspace.

Administration officials will push the unity theme repeatedly during the high-level meetings, starting with the three-day G-7 summit in England, followed by a gathering of NATO allies and a one-day meeting with Mr. Putin on Wednesday.

The president noted that he was making his first overseas trip as the U.S. and other nations were working to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. Although Mr. Biden spoke outdoors, his audience wore masks, as did the president and first lady when they weren’t speaking at the podium.

The United Kingdom reported 7,540 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, the highest daily number since February.

The G-7 agenda is slated to feature discussions on ways to spur vaccination for COVID-19 in developing countries and the sensitive issue of a coordinated plan to tax multinational corporations at a minimum rate of 15%.

Mr. Biden told reporters as he left Washington on Wednesday that he plans during the coming days to announce a vaccine strategy for the world.

White House officials were reluctant to get ahead of the president, but a source familiar with the plan said the administration will buy 500 million doses to donate to the rest of the world — 200 million doses this year and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.

“By announcing it ahead of the G-7 summit, it hopefully raises the bar for other G-7 members and [the European Union] to also step up,” said Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

He said fellow experts project that the G-7 nations and European Union will have enough supply to donate at least 1 billion doses by the end of this year, potentially up to 2 billion, while still meeting domestic needs.

“Hopefully, this 500 million is the ‘ante’ from which the pot will grow substantially,” Dr. Udayakumar told The Washington Times.

The president also has backed a plan to ease vaccine patent protections to speed the production of the shots, but many Europeans are cool to the idea. They have offered a counterproposal before the World Trade Organization that would safeguard drugmakers’ intellectual property.

Mr. Biden’s meetings with allies are scheduled to consume all but one day of the trip, but his summit with Mr. Putin looms large on his agenda.

“Only after these meetings with our closest democratic partners to develop a common agenda and renewed purpose, I’ll be traveling to Geneva to sit down with a man I’ve spent time with before, Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re not seeking conflict with Russia … [but] want a stable, predictable relationship.”

He vowed, “I’m going to make clear that the trans-Atlantic alliance will remain a vital source of strength for the U.K., Europe and the United States … and make sure there’s no doubt as to whether the United States will rise in defense of our most deeply held values and our fundamental interests.

“We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe,” Mr. Biden said. “We have to expose as false the narrative that decrees of dictators can match the speed and scale of the 21st [century] challenges.”

Among the topics sure to be raised at the summit with Mr. Putin are a rising number of ransomware attacks believed to originate from Russia and Moscow’s continued aggression toward Ukraine.

“At every point along the way, we’re going to make it clear that the United States is back and the democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and the issues that matter most to our future,” Mr. Biden said. “These nations that have shed blood alongside us in defense of our shared values, they’ve made the world safer for all of us. This is how we’re going to meet the challenges of today, which are changing rapidly. We’re going to meet it from a position of strength.”

The G-7 summit will be the first since 2019 among the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. Mr. Biden has made no secret of his desire to seize on the summit to send a clear message of togetherness and revive a forum that suffered badly in influence under President Trump.

Mr. Biden has said he wants to restore alliances and multilateralism in a sharp break from his predecessor. Mr. Trump preferred bilateral dealmaking, questioned the value of the EU and NATO, sparked trade wars and often criticized NATO partners as free riders who didn’t pay enough for defense compared with the U.S.

Trans-Atlantic analysts say the G-7 summit could be consequential. The group, which had been the Group of Eight, has held head-of-state gatherings only a handful of times since 2014, when Russia was purged after annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

The G-7 was formed in the 1970s to give industrial democracies a stabilizing influence over the global economy during oil and energy crises. More recently, it has been held up as a vehicle for free market unity in the face of rising Chinese economic power.

“This could be the most consequential G-7 summit since the aftermath of Sept. 11th,” Matthew P. Goodman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said about the manner in which the group, which had Russia as a member at the time, came together behind the George W. Bush administration’s global war on terror.

The public agenda this weekend includes combating climate change and spurring investment in technology-based industrial growth. But Mr. Goodman told a conference call this week that he expects “lots of private conversations, and those will be dominated by China and Russia.”

G-7 leaders are hoping to develop global investment subsidies and vehicles capable of countering the billions of dollars China is pumping into its Belt and Road Initiative to finance infrastructure projects in countries across Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

In private, G-7 members are likely to talk about issues “like subsidies and response to the Belt and Road Initiative, corruption [and] other values-related issues,” said Mr. Goodman. He predicted “pretty pointed discussions about shared concerns about maritime security [and] about Taiwan.”

China has ramped up its military aggression in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait in recent years, increasingly menacing the tiny island democracy aligned with the United States and others in the G-7.

Administration officials have suggested that talks during the trip will focus just as heavily on Russia. Mr. Biden is slated to pursue an “action plan” at the G-7 summit to deal with increasing ransomware cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies and companies.

U.S. intelligence sources say the Kremlin has supported such attacks. The issue is getting fresh attention after criminal organizations tied to Russia struck the Colonial Pipeline, a critical fuel artery, and JBS Foods, a major meat processing company.

Hackers also have hit transportation systems in the Northeast and the Irish health service. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said ahead of Mr. Biden‘s departure for Europe that Western allies must develop norms for repelling hacks and responding to countries that harbor rogue actors.

In comments Monday, Mr. Sullivan said cryptocurrency “lies at the core” of how ransomware transactions play out, so that will be a key issue among the G-7. “We will also speak in the NATO context about cyberthreats, particularly as they relate to critical infrastructure, of being a different order of magnitude,” the national security adviser said of a meeting Monday with treaty partners in Brussels.

“It’s got to become a priority,” Mr. Sullivan said. “We will treat it as such in the G-7. We will treat it as such in every stop of the way on this trip.”

After the meeting with troops and their families, the Bidens flew to the seaside village of St. Ives in Cornwall, where the president will participate in the G-7 summit through Sunday.

One highlight of the trip for the president: a meeting with Queen Elizabeth on Sunday as Buckingham Palace prepares for national celebrations next year of the monarch’s 70th year on the throne.

Biden will seek ‘action plan’ on ransomware attacks at G-7, NATO summits: White House

Biden will seek ‘action plan’ on ransomware attacks at G-7, NATO summits: White House

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U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, left, and Eurogroup President Paschal Donohoe share a light moment as finance ministers from across the G7 nations meet at Lancaster House, in London, Saturday, June 5, 2021, ahead of the G7 leaders’ summit. (AP … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, June 7, 2021

The U.S. will pursue an “action plan” at the Group of Seven meetings in the U.K. to deal with increasing ransomware attacks, the White House said Monday, arguing Western allies must develop norms for repelling hacks and responding to countries that harbor rogue actors.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said cryptocurrency “lies at the core” of how the transactions play out, so that will be a core part of the talks between President Biden and foreign partners.

“We will also speak in the NATO context about cyber threats, particularly as they related to critical infrastructure, of being a different order of magnitude,” Mr. Sullivan said of a meeting with treaty partners in Brussels. “It’s got to become a priority … We will treat it as such in the G-7, we will treat it as such in every stop of the way in this trip.”

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The urgency comes after criminal organizations tied to Russia struck the Colonial Pipeline, a critical fuel artery, and JBS Foods, a major meat-processing company. Hackers also hit transportation systems in the Northeast and the Irish health service.

The White House says President Biden will raise the issue when he sits down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16 in Switzerland.

Mr. Biden will depart for the G7 on Wednesday before heading to NATO meetings in Belgium and then Geneva.

Annual NATO naval maneuvers near Russia start Sunday

Annual NATO naval maneuvers near Russia start Sunday

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Soldiers from NATO countries attend a opening ceremony of military exercise ‘Saber Strike 2015’, at the Gaiziunu Training Range in Pabrade some 60km.(38 miles) north of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, June 8, 2015. The annual multinational Exercise Saber Strike … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Sunday, June 6, 2021

The Navy is joining almost 20 other NATO countries in a half-century-old annual naval exercise near Russia’s front door.

The annual BALTOPS (Baltic Operations) maneuvers that kicked off Sunday are considered the premier maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic region. Organizers say it is meant to “increase interoperability and enhance flexibility” among the participants.

From June 6-18, the Navy will take part in a variety of activities, ranging from air defense and amphibious operations to mine-countermeasure drills.

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Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet, called BALTOPS “an exercise that sets the foundation of interoperability across the [North Atlantic] Alliance.”

He also serves as commander of NATO’s Naval Striking and Support Forces, and will command the maneuvers from the headquarters in Portugal, officials said.

The BALTOPS maneuvers began in 1972, when NATO’s adversary was the former Soviet Union. But even after 50 years, Russia remains critical of the operation.

“Provocative maneuvers of BALTOPS close to the (Russian) border (will) raise tensions and risks of unintentional incidents (and) lead to militarization of the Baltics,” the Russian Embassy in Washington tweeted. “These actions have nothing in common with the claim of the (U.S.) Navy.”

BALTOPS 50 will consist of two, at-sea training phases and the final tactical phase of the exercise. The participants will provide 40 ships, 60 aircraft and 4,000 personnel. The Marines also will take part in an “amphibious demonstration” in Lithuania, organizers said.

“Lessons learned in BALTOPS enable international strike group operations, advanced missile defense capabilities and seamless surface action group missions,” Vice Adm. Black said.

NATO ships and aircraft will transit through the Danish Straits during the first six days of BALTOPS 50. They will be focusing on maritime operations in critical checkpoints and ensuring freedom of navigation in the region, officials said.

The BALTOPS maneuvers have evolved over the years. This year it will incorporate defensive cyber warfare tactics and procedures as the NATO nations train to fight in the era of modern warfare, officials said.

Joe Biden to highlight transatlantic ties, multilateralism in his first foreign trip

Biden to highlight transatlantic ties, multilateralism in first foreign trip

Marks pivot from Trump's brusque 'America First' strategy

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 3, 2021

President Biden will highlight his “commitment to multilateralism” at the Group of Seven meetings in Britain and his support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at its summit in Belgium before meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Switzerland in his first foreign trip since taking office, the White House said Thursday.

Mr. Biden and first lady Jill Biden will meet Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle while in England, and the president will try to work through thorny issues with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of NATO meetings in Brussels.

“This trip will highlight America’s commitment to restoring our alliances, revitalizing the transatlantic relationship, and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America’s interests,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

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Mr. Biden’s message to foreign leaders is a sharp break from his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who preferred bilateral dealmaking and often criticized NATO partners as free riders who didn’t pay enough in defense costs relative to the U.S.

G-7 summits during Mr. Trump’s term were also marked by acrimony.

While dropping the sharp tone, though, the Biden White House said U.S. officials will continue to speak about “effective burden-sharing” with NATO allies who are falling short of defense spending goals.

The White House said Mr. Biden will use the G-7 Summit in Cornwall to reaffirm U.S. ties with Britain and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and hold one-on-one meetings with other western leaders.

Mrs. Biden will return to the U.S. after the June 13 meeting with the queen, while Mr. Biden will head to Belgium for the June 15 NATO summit.

“The leaders will discuss a common agenda to ensure global health security, stimulate global economic recovery, tackle climate change, enhance digital and trade cooperation, strengthen democracy and address mutual foreign policy concerns,” Ms. Psaki said.

Mr. Biden will meet with King Philippe of Belgium and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Yet his sit-down with Mr. Erdogan will be a bigger highlight since the countries haven’t seen eye to eye on a number of issues.

Mr. Erdogan purchased a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, causing a rift with NATO and leading the Trump administration in 2019 to kick Turkey out of the F-35 fighter jet program.

Mr. Biden also officially recognized the former Ottoman Empire’s mass killing of Armenians during World War I as genocide, enraging Ankara.

The final leg of Mr. Biden’s trip, in Geneva, will be dominated by the president’s sit-down with Mr. Putin. The president said he wants a  “stable and predictable” relationship with the rival, though some critics say Mr. Biden appears to be rewarding Mr. Putin with a one-on-one meeting after a string of cyberattacks from his country and the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The White House said Mr. Biden will bring up recurring ransomware attacks out of Russia and push Mr. Putin to do more to stop them.

Showdown: U.S., NATO wage war games in Europe; Russia to send troops west

Showdown: U.S., NATO wage war games in Europe; Russia to send troops west

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, May 31, 2021

The U.S. and its NATO allies on Monday conducted a set of major war games across Europe, while Russia responded by announcing plans to send at least 20 new military units to its western border.

The Memorial Day maneuvers are the latest signs of rising tensions between Washington and Moscow, coming just weeks before President Biden is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for a high-stakes summit in Geneva.

The U.S.-NATO exercises included thousands of ground troops, warships and aircraft from more than a dozen NATO nations. While traveling aboard a British aircraft carrier off the coast of Portugal, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the drills underscore the 72-year-old alliance’s military capabilities.

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“NATO is there to defend all our allies, and this exercise sends a message about our ability to transport a large number of troops, equipment across the Atlantic, across Europe and also to project maritime power,” Mr. Stoltenberg told The Associated Press, which is traveling with the NATO leader.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials on Monday announced Operation Allied Sky, which will see U.S. and NATO fighter aircraft fly over all 30 NATO nations on Monday.

“Bomber missions demonstrate the credibility of our forces to address a global security environment that is more diverse and uncertain than at any other time in our history,” Gen. Jeff Harrigian, NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander, said in a statement. “Today’s mission is an awesome demonstration of NATO air superiority and together there is no challenge we cannot tackle.”

Russia quickly condemned the exercises and announced a provocative move of its own.

Kremlin officials said Russia will establish “20 new military units and formations” in the country’s western districts, near its borders with NATO nations.

“Our Western colleagues’ actions are ruining the world security system and forcing us to take appropriate measures in response. We are constantly improving the troops’ combat structure.

About 20 military formations and units will be set up in the Western Military District by the end of the year,” said Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu, according to Russia’s state-run TASS News Agency.

The military tensions are sure to be another item on a packed agenda for the June 16 meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin.

Mr. Biden is expected to confront Mr. Putin over election interference in 2016 and 2020, the SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline cyberattacks that have been linked to Russia, the poisoning and detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a host of other issues.

As U.S. packs up, concern for allies left behind in Afghanistan grows

As U.S. packs up, concern for allies left behind in Afghanistan grows

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Pentagon is scrambling to evacuate thousands of Afghans who are in danger of becoming targets in a looming Taliban offensive, adding more pressure to the U.S. military as it exits Afghanistan after two decades of war.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and other top officials say that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to ensure that those Afghan allies — many of whom worked as interpreters and in other key roles alongside American military personnel — aren’t killed by the Taliban once all American and NATO troops leave. The U.S. withdrawal is set to be completed no later than Sept. 11 but could be done as soon as July.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that America’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, being held in parallel with the pullout of thousands of foreign troops from allied nations, is “slightly” ahead of schedule, but he provided no details. There were between 2,500 and 3,2500 U.S. troops in the country when Mr. Biden took office.

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Pentagon leaders said Thursday that by the end of the summer, the U.S. will enter a new phase in  Afghanistan, one that will no longer include the number of troops needed on the ground to protect innocent Afghans from the Taliban.

“We will now transition to a new bilateral relationship with our Afghan partners … one that continues to help them meet their responsibilities to their citizens, but one that will not require a U.S. footprint larger than what is necessary to protect our diplomats,” Mr. Austin told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense Thursday.

The tight time frame means the Biden administration must act quickly. 

There’s even greater urgency around the effort amid signs that the Taliban is capturing territory faster than expected in the rural countryside and could mount major attacks against the capital of Kabul and other key cities within a matter of weeks. 

“There are plans being developed very, very rapidly,” Gen. Milley told the media outlet Defense One, which was traveling with the general on Wednesday. “We recognize that a very important task is to ensure that we remain faithful to them, and that we do what’s necessary to ensure their protection, and if necessary, get them out of the country, if that’s what they want to do.”

It’s unclear exactly how many Afghans might be evacuated, but the number is believed to be in the thousands. It’s all but certain that the Taliban would seek revenge on Afghans who aided the American military at any point over the last 20 years.

Lawmakers and regional analysts have suggested that the U.S. take an interim step of moving the Afghan allies to Bahrain, Kuwait and other friendly nations in the Middle East. Such a step may be necessary because while many of the Afghans may qualify for visas that would allow them to come to America, the visa process is so backlogged that there is no chance they can all be brought to the U.S. ahead of the military withdrawal.

Meanwhile, international leaders expressed cautious optimism that the Afghan security forces — which have benefited from years of Western military training and billions of dollars in aid — will be able to withstand the Taliban offensive. 

Afghanistan has come a long way, both when it comes to building strong, capable security forces, but also when it comes to social and economic progress. At some stage, it has to be the Afghans that take full responsibility for peace and stability in their own country,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Associated Press in an interview Thursday.

U.S. military officials, however, have said that the Afghan military will be in for a difficult fight against a Taliban energized by the belief that it successfully pushed American forces out of its country. 

The U.S. government is committed to pay $4 billion annually until 2024 to finance Afghanistan’s security budget.

U.S. tells Russia it won’t rejoin Open Skies arms control pact

U.S. tells Russia it won’t rejoin Open Skies arms control pact

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In this file photo taken on Friday, April 26, 2019, a Russian Air Force Tu-214 flies over Offutt Air Force Base, Friday, April 26, 2019, in Omaha, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP, File) more >

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By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Thursday, May 27, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration informed Russia on Thursday that it will not rejoin a key arms control pact, even as the two sides prepare for a summit next month between their leaders. 

U.S. officials said Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Russians that the administration had decided not to reenter the Open Skies Treaty, which had allowed surveillance flights over military facilities in both countries but that former President Trump had withdrawn from.

Thursday’s decision means only one major arms control treaty between the nuclear powers — the New START treaty — remains in place. Trump had done nothing to extend New START, which would have expired earlier this year, but after taking office the Biden administration moved quickly to extend it for five years and opened a review into the Open Skies Treaty withdrawal.

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The officials said the review had been completed and that Sherman had informed Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of the U.S. decision not to return to Open Skies on Thursday. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. 

The move comes just weeks before President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are to meet on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland in a bid to try to find common ground amid a sharp deterioration in ties that have sunk relations to their lowest point in decades. 

The Open Skies Treaty was intended to build trust between Russia and the West by allowing the accord’s more than three dozen signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities. More than 1,500 flights have been conducted under the treaty since it took effect in 2002, aimed at fostering transparency and allowing for the monitoring of arms control and other agreements. 

The Trump administration announced the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty last year, and the lower house of Russia‘s parliament voted last week to follow suit. But, until Thursday the two sides had said the treaty could still be salvaged with Russian officials saying they were willing to reconsider their withdrawal if the U.S. did the same.

The upper house of Russia‘s parliament, the Federation Council, was expected to approve the withdrawal bill on June 2 and once Putin signed the measure, it would take six months for the Russian exit to take effect.

Thursday’s notification, however, appears to put the final nail in the coffin of the treaty that was broadly supported by U.S. allies in Europe and Democrats in Congress as a trust-building measure between the former Cold War adversaries.

In pulling out of the pact, Trump argued that Russian violations made it untenable for Washington to remain a party to the agreement. Washington completed its withdrawal from the treaty in November.

Moscow deplored the U.S. withdrawal, warning that it will erode global security by making it more difficult for governments to interpret the intentions of other nations, particularly amid heightened Russia-West tensions over myriad other issues ranging from Ukraine to cyber malfeasance and the treatment of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and his supporters. 

Leading congressional Democrats and members of the European Union had urged the U.S. to reconsider its exit and called on Russia to stay in the pact and lift flight restrictions, notably over its westernmost Kaliningrad region, which lies between NATO allies Lithuania and Poland.

Russia had insisted the restrictions on observation flights it imposed in the past were permissible under the treaty and noted that the U.S. imposed more sweeping restrictions on observation flights over Alaska.

As a condition for staying in the pact after the U.S. pullout, Moscow had unsuccessfully pushed for guarantees from NATO allies that they wouldn’t hand over the data collected during their observation flights over Russia to the U.S.

U.S. military to ‘rapidly’ evacuate Afghan allies targeted by Taliban

U.S. military to ‘rapidly’ evacuate Afghan allies targeted by Taliban

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Afghan soldiers patrol outside their military base on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. By Sept. 11 2021, at the latest, the remaining U.S.and allied NATO forces will leave Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement. … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Defense Department is “very, very rapidly” developing an ambitious plan to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. over the past two decades but will soon be Taliban targets as American troops depart, the Pentagon’s top general said Wednesday.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said that America has a responsibility to ensure that those Afghan allies — many of whom worked as interpreters and in other key roles alongside American military personnel — aren’t killed by the Taliban as the U.S. exits the country. The U.S. and NATO military withdrawal is set to be completed no later than Sept. 11 but could be done as soon as July, putting more pressure on Pentagon leadership to quickly come up with a strategy.

“There are plans being developed very, very rapidly,” Gen. Milley told the media outlet Defense One, which was traveling with the general on Wednesday. “We recognize that a very important task is to ensure that we remain faithful to them, and that we do what’s necessary to ensure their protection, and if necessary, get them out of the country, if that’s what they want to do.”

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It’s unclear exactly how many Afghans might be evacuated, but the number is believed to be in the thousands. 

The Taliban is quickly capturing territory across rural parts of Afghanistan. The insurgent group is expected to mount a major offensive against the capital, Kabul, and other key cities once the U.S. withdrawal is complete.

It’s all but certain that the Taliban would seek to exact revenge on Afghans who aided the American military at any point over the last 20 years.

“I believe we need to get them out. We owe a moral responsibility to get them out before the Taliban kills them,” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at a congressional hearing earlier this month.

Mr. McCaul and other lawmakers, along with regional analysts and observers, have suggested that the U.S. take an interim step of moving the Afghan allies to Bahrain, Kuwait, and other friendly nations in the Middle East.

Many of the Afghans may qualify for visas that would allow them to come to America, but lawmakers say the visa process is so backlogged that there is no chance they can all be evacuated before the U.S. military withdrawal is completed.

Afghan forces demoralized, rife with corruption

Afghan forces demoralized, rife with corruption

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An Afghan man lies at a hospital after clashes between Taliban and Afghan security forces in the province of Laghman, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, May 24, 2021. This week some of the heaviest fighting since President Biden announced the … more >

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By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Thursday, May 27, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Abdullah Mohammadi lost his two legs and an arm below the elbow in a ferocious battle with the Taliban. As a young soldier, he had been eager to fight for his country, but now he’s furious at a government he says ignores him and hasn’t paid his veteran’s pension in almost one year.

Afghanistan’s National Defense and Security Forces, meant to be the bulwark against advancing Taliban insurgents, are rife with corruption, demoralized and struggling to keep territory. The government says the army can hold its own, but military experts warn of a tough fight ahead for poorly trained, ill-equipped troops whose loyalties waver between their country and local warlords.

By Sept. 11 at the latest, the remaining 2,300-3,500 U.S. troops and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces will have left Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement. Also leaving is the American air support that the Afghan military has relied on to stave off potentially game-changing Taliban assaults, ever since it took command of the war from the U.S. and NATO in 2014.

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“Without U.S. military support, it is a matter of time before the Taliban consolidates its gains, particularly in the south, east and west,” said Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the American Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and editor of its Long War Journal, which tracks militant movements.

This week, some of the heaviest fighting since President Joe Biden announced the end to America’s ‘forever war’ took place in eastern Laghman province with the Taliban threatening the provincial capital of Mehtar Lam. Particularly worrisome going forward, police and army deserted several posts protecting the city, allowing Taliban to walk in and keep abandoned military equipment as their own.

At least half the country is believed to be contested ground, often with the government holding only the main towns and cities in local districts and the Taliban dominating the countryside.

Within the Afghan army, soldiers complain of substandard equipment, even shoddy basic items like army boots that fall apart within weeks because corrupt contractors used inferior material. The Associated Press witnessed boots with gaping holes being worn, insufficient helmets available and weapons that often jammed.

At a police outpost seen by the AP earlier this month, eight men lived in a partially built bunker that looked big enough for only half that number. They had only a few rifles as they watched sentry from two turret-style posts on the outpost’s high brick walls. They overlook a busy road where the Taliban frequently attack security convoys.

The commander, who wore sandals, said the outpost is occasionally hit by rocket or gunfire and would have a hard time fending off a full-fledged attack.

“There’s no other option but peace,” he said, asking not to be identified because he did not have permission to allow the media into his compound.

Mohammadi, the veteran, was wounded six years ago in Zhari district in southern Kandahar province, once the spiritual heartland of the Taliban until their ouster in 2001 by U.S.-led coalition forces.

He led a company of 18 men airlifted into battle in a grape field, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from their nearest base. The fight went on all day and night until eventually the Taliban surrounded them.

For a year he recovered in hospital. He received two wooden legs and an artificial plastic hand. The legs are painful to wear and he can manage them only for 15 minutes at a time. It takes two people to help him get them on, and he sometimes pays a neighbor to help.

“I am proud of what I have sacrificed for this country. What I gave for my country I gave with pride,” he said.

But Mohammadi is fuming at the government. For years, his veteran’s pension, around 16,000 Afghanis ($200) a month, has been erratic, and for the past 11 months he hasn’t received it at all. “They tell me to wait,” he said.

Mohammadi says has had to borrow from family and friends. It wounds his pride, but it’s better than begging, he said.

Speaking to the AP, Defense Ministry’ Deputy Spokesman Fawad Aman promised to look into the complaint. He said that corruption, while it exists, is not widespread and efforts are being made to tackle it and that the spirit of the fighting force was high.

“With the withdrawal of United States forces there will be no security vacuum or gap in Afghanistan because our forces can defend Afghanistan independently,” he said.

Washington’s chief watchdog overseeing U.S. spending in Afghanistan, John Sopko, told a Congressional hearing in March that corruption is one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan’s security force and is fueling the insurgency.

The U.S is committed to pay $4 billion annually until 2024 to finance Afghanistan’s security forces. As of Dec. 31, 2020, Sopko said the U.S. has spent $88.3 billion to help the Afghan government provide security in Afghanistan – roughly 62% of all U.S. reconstruction funding.

Yet, according to Attiqullah Amarkhiel, the Afghan army of today is half as good as the army left by the former Soviet Union when it withdrew in 1989, ending its 10-year occupation of Afghanistan.

Amarkhiel was major general in the 1989 Moscow-allied Afghan army and served in the post-Taliban government of President Hamid Karzai. He helped build the security forces following the Taliban’s fall in 2001.

The army of 1989 were professional educated soldiers, unlike the mostly uneducated post-Taliban force. Then the army numbered 150,000 troops, compared to the 300,000 today. “But then we had quality. Today we have quantity.”

Russia’s northernmost base projects its power across Arctic

Russia’s northernmost base projects its power across Arctic

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A soldier walks at a radar facility on the Alexandra Land island near Nagurskoye, Russia, Monday, May 17, 2021. Once a desolate home mostly to polar bears, Russia’s northernmost military outpost is bristling with missiles and radar and its extended … more >

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By Kostya Manenkov and Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

NAGURSKOYE, Russia (AP) — During the Cold War, Russia‘s Nagurskoye airbase was little more than a runway, a weather station and a communications outpost in the Franz Josef Land archipelago.

It was a remote and desolate home mostly for polar bears, where temperatures plunge in winter to minus-42 Celsius (43 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) and the snow only disappears from August to mid-September.

Now, Russia‘s northernmost military base is bristling with missiles and radar and its extended runway can handle all types of aircraft, including nuclear-capable strategic bombers, projecting Moscow‘s power and influence across the Arctic amid intensifying international competition for the region’s vast resources.

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The shamrock-shaped facility — three large pods extending from a central atrium — is called the “Arctic Trefoil” and is painted in the white-red-and-blue of the national flag, brightening the otherwise stark vantage point on the 5,600-kilometer (3,470-mile) Northern Sea Route along Russia‘s Arctic coast. Other buildings on the Island, which is called Alexandra Land, are used for radar and communications, a weather station, oil storage, hangars and construction facilities.

Russia has sought to assert its influence over wide areas of the Arctic in competition with the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway as shrinking polar ice from the warming planet offers new opportunities for resources and shipping routes. China also has shown an increasing interest in the region, believed to hold up to one-fourth of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $30 trillion.

Tensions between Russia and the West will likely loom large over Thursday’s meeting of the Arctic nations’ foreign ministers in Reykjavik, Iceland, where Moscow is set to take a rotating chairmanship in the Arctic Council.

The base, which sits about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of the geographic North Pole, was built using new construction technologies as part of Kremlin efforts to bolster the military amid spiraling tensions with the West following Russia‘s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

The following year, Russia submitted a revised bid for vast territories in the Arctic to the United Nations, claiming 1.2 million square kilometers (over 463,000 square miles) of Arctic sea shelf, extending more than 350 nautical miles (650 kilometers) from shore.

While the U.N. pondered that claim and those from other nations, Russia has said it sees the Northern Sea Route as its “historically developed national transport corridor,” requiring authorization from Moscow for foreign vessels to navigate along it. The U.S. has dismissed Russia‘s claims of jurisdiction on parts of the route as illegitimate.

Moscow has declared its intention to introduce procedures for foreign ships and assign Russian pilots for guidance along the route, which runs from Norway to Alaska.

As part of that effort, Russia has rebuilt and expanded facilities across the polar region, deploying surveillance and defensive assets. A base in the similar trefoil shape and patriotic colors to the one in Nagurskoye is on Kotelny Island, between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea on eastern end of the shipping route, also with missiles and radar.

Adm. Alexander Moiseyev, chief of Russia‘s Northern Fleet, said last week that Moscow has the right to set navigation rules along the shipping lane.

“Practically the entire Northern Sea Route goes through Russia‘s territorial waters or the country’s economic zone,” Moiseyev told reporters aboard the Peter the Great missile cruiser. “The complex ice conditions make it necessary to organize safe shipping, so Russia insists on a special regime of its use.”

NATO is increasingly worried about the growing Russian military footprint in the Arctic, and Washington sent B-1 bombers to Norway this year.

“Increased Russian presence, more Russian bases in the High North, has also triggered the need for more NATO presence, and we have increased our presence there with more naval capabilities, presence in the air, and not least, the importance of protecting transatlantic undersea cables transmitting a lot of data,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Moiseyev fretted about the U.S. military assets in Norway, saying it has led to an “increase of the conflict potential in the Arctic.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry last week fumed at a U.S. nuclear submarine calling at a Norwegian port, saying it reflected what it described as “Oslo’s course for the militarization of the Arctic.”

On the sidelines of this week’s Arctic Council meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is set to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken — an encounter intended to lay the groundwork for Putin’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden planned for next month.

Blinken has pointed out that with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the global average, Russia has moved to increase its presence in the region.

Russia is exploiting this change to try to exert control over new spaces,” he said last month. “It is modernizing its bases in the Arctic and building new ones.”

Since Putin visited the Nagurskoye base in 2017, it has been strengthened and expanded. It now houses a dedicated tactical group that operates electronic surveillance, air defense assets and a battery of Bastion anti-ship missile systems. 

A runway has been extended to accommodate all types of aircraft, including Tu-95 nuclear-capable strategic bombers, said Maj.-Gen. Igor Churkin, who oversees air force operations at the base.

“The modernization of Arctic airfields significantly increases the potential of the Northern Fleet’s aviation to control the airspace in the area of the Northern Sea Route and allows to ensure its security,” he said.

In March, the Russian military conducted drills at Nagurskoye with ground troops and a pair of MiG-31 fighters flying over the North Pole. The exercise also saw three nuclear submarines smash through the Arctic ice next to one another in a carefully planned show of force.

On Monday, Lavrov rebuffed Western criticism of Russia‘s Arctic expansion and bristled at what he described as Norway’s push for a stronger NATO presence there.

“We hear whining about Russia expanding its military activities in the Arctic,” Lavrov said. “But everyone knows that it’s our territory, our land. We bear responsibility for the Arctic coast to be safe, and everything our country does there is fully legitimate.” 

Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

Afghans who helped the U.S. now fear being left behind

Afghans who helped the U.S. now fear being left behind

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In this Friday, April 30, 2021, photo former Afghan interpreters hold placards during a protest against the U.S. government and NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) more >

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By Rahim Faiez and Ben Fox

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — He served as an interpreter alongside U.S. soldiers on hundreds of patrols and dozens of firefights in eastern Afghanistan, earning a glowing letter of recommendation from an American platoon commander and a medal of commendation.

Still, Ayazudin Hilal was turned down when he applied for one of the scarce special visas that would allow him to relocate to the U.S. with his family. Now, as American and NATO forces prepare to leave the country, he and thousands of others who aided the war effort fear they will be left stranded, facing the prospect of Taliban reprisals.

“We are not safe,” the 41-year-old father of six said of Afghan civilians who worked for the U.S. or NATO. “The Taliban is calling us and telling us, ’Your stepbrother is leaving the country soon, and we will kill all of you guys.’”

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The fate of interpreters after the troop withdrawal is one of the looming uncertainties surrounding the withdrawal, including a possible resurgence of terrorist threats and a reversal of fragile gains for women if chaos, whether from competing Kabul-based warlords or the Taliban, follows the end of America’s military engagement.

Interpreters and other civilians who worked for the U.S. government or NATO can get what is known as a special immigrant visa, or SIV, under a program created in 2009 and modeled after a similar program for Iraqis.

Both SIV programs have long been dogged by complaints about a lengthy and complicated application process for security vetting that grew more cumbersome with pandemic safety measures.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters last month that the U.S. is committed to helping interpreters and other Afghan civilians who aided the war effort, often at great personal risk. The Biden administration has also launched a review of the SIV programs, examining the delays and the ability of applicants to challenge a rejection. It will also be adding anti-fraud measures.

Amid the review, former interpreters, who typically seek to shield their identities and keep a low profile, are becoming increasingly public about what they fear will happen should the Taliban return to power.

“They absolutely are going to kill us,” Mohammad Shoaib Walizada, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army, said in an interview after joining others in a protest in Kabul.

At least 300 interpreters have been killed in Afghanistan since 2016, and the Taliban have made it clear they will continue to be targeted, said Matt Zeller, a co-founder of No One Left Behind, an organization that advocates on their behalf. He also served in the country as an Army officer.

“The Taliban considers them to be literally enemies of Islam,” said Zeller, now a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. “There’s no mercy for them.”

Members of Congress and former service members have also urged the U.S. government to expedite the application process, which now typically takes more than three years. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said May 10 that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had temporarily increased staff to help process the visas.

In December, Congress added 4,000 visas, bringing the total number of Afghans who can come with their immediate family members to 26,500, with about half the allotted amount already used and about 18,000 applications pending.

Critics and refugee advocates said the need to relocate could swell dramatically if Afghanistan tumbles further into disarray. As it is, competing warlords financed and empowered by U.S. and NATO forces threaten the future along with a resurgent Taliban, which have been able to make substantive territorial gains against a poorly trained and poorly equipped Afghan security force largely financed by U.S. taxpayers.

“While I applaud the Biden administration’s review of the process, if they are not willing to sort of rethink the entire thing, they are not going to actually start helping those Afghans who are most at need,” said Noah Coburn, a political anthropologist whose research focuses on Afghanistan.

Coburn estimates there could be as many as 300,000 Afghan civilians who worked for the U.S. or NATO in some form over the past two decades.

“There is a wide range of Afghans who would not be tolerated under the Taliban’s conception of what society should look like,” said Adam Bates, policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project.

Those fears have been heightened by recent targeted killings of journalists and other civilians as well as government workers. The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for several, while the Taliban and government blame each other.

Biden raised the nation’s overall cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 this month, weeks after facing bipartisan blowback for his delay in replacing the record low ceiling set by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The U.S. is not planning to move civilians out en masse, for now at least. “We are processing SIVs in Kabul and have no plans for evacuations at this time,” a senior administration official said.

The White House is in the beginning stages of discussing its review with Congress and will work with lawmakers if changes in the SIV program are needed “in order to process applications as quickly and efficiently as possible, while also ensuring the integrity of the program and safeguarding national security,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Former interpreters have support in Congress, in part because many also have former American troops vouching for them.

Walizada, for example, submitted a letter of support from an Army sergeant who supervised him in dozens of patrols, including one where the interpreter was wounded by Taliban gunfire. “I cannot recall a linguist who had a greater dedication to his country or the coalition cause,” the sergeant wrote.

Walizada was initially approved for a visa, but it was later revoked, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services telling him that it had “adverse information you may be unaware of,” in a letter he provided to The Associated Press. Walizada said he has appealed the decision and hasn’t received a response.

Hilal, who translated from Dari and Pashto to English for the Army from June 2009 to December 2012, was rejected by the U.S. Embassy, which said he did not meet the requirement for “faithful and valuable service,” because he was fired by the contracting firm that hired him after 3 1/2 years of service.

It was a stinging response, considering the dangers he faced. “If I haven’t done faithful and good service for the U.S. Army, why have they given me this medal?” he says, holding the commendation, in an AP interview at an office in Kabul used by the former interpreters to meet with journalists.

Why he was fired by the U.S.-based contractor, Mission Essential, is unclear. Hilal said he had a conflict with supervisors that started with a dispute over a work assignment. The company says it does not discuss current or former employees and declined to comment.

But whatever happened eventually, a November 2019 letter of support from his platoon commander was highly complimentary of “stellar” service that “rivals that of most deployed service members.”

Hilal was by his side on hundreds of patrols and dozens of firefights, monitoring enemy radio traffic and interpreting during encounters with locals, Army Maj. Thomas Goodman said in the letter.

“He was dependable and performed admirably,” Goodman wrote. “Even in firefights that lasted hours on end, he never lost his nerve, and I could always count him to be by my side.”

As it happens, an AP journalist was embedded with the unit for a time, amid intense fighting in eastern Afghanistan, and captured images of Hilal and Goodman, surrounded by villagers as American forces competed with the Taliban for the support of the people.

Goodman said he stands by his recommendation but declined to comment further.

Coburn, who interviewed more than 150 special immigrant visa recipients and applicants for a recently released study of the program, said Hilal‘s denial reflects a rigid evaluation process. “There is no nuance to the definition of service,” he said. “You either served or you didn’t serve.”

The special immigration visa program allows applicants to make one appeal, and many are successful. Nearly 80% of 243 Afghans who appealed in the first quarter of 2021 were subsequently approved after providing additional information, according to the State Department. Hilal says his appeal was rejected.

Bates, of the International Refugee Assistance Project, says the fact that there is a U.S. Army officer willing to support should count for something. “Even if he doesn’t qualify for the SIV program, this plainly seems like someone who is in need of protection,” he said.

___

Fox reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Julie Watson in San Diego and Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Afghan police say Kabul mosque bombing kills 12 worshipers

Afghan police say Kabul mosque bombing kills 12 worshipers

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Afghan journalist take photos and film inside a mosque after a bomb explosion in Shakar Dara district of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, May 14, 2921. A bomb ripped through a mosque in northern Kabul during Friday prayers killing 12 worshippers, Afghan … more >

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By Tameem Akhgar

Associated Press

Friday, May 14, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A bomb ripped through a mosque in northern Kabul during Friday prayers and killed 12 worshippers, Afghan police said.

Spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz said the mosque’s imam, Mofti Naiman, was among the dead. Another 15 people were wounded.

The bomb exploded as prayers had begun. No one claimed responsibility for the bombing, but initial police investigations suggest the imam may have been the target, Faramarz said.

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A worshipper at the mosque, Muhibullah Sahebzada, said he had just stepped into the mosque when the explosion went off. Stunned, he heard the sound of screams, including children, as smoke filled the mosque. Sahebzada said he saw several bodies on the mosque floor and at least one child was among the wounded.

It appeared the explosive device had been hidden inside the pulpit at the front of the mosque.

“I was afraid of a second explosion so I came immediately to my home,” he said.

An image circulating on social media showed three bodies lying on the floor of the mosque, which showed minor damage.

The explosion comes on the second day of a three-day cease-fire announced by the warring Taliban and Afghan government. The pause was for the Islamic festival Eid-al-Fitr, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan.

Until now many of the attacks in the capital have been claimed by the local Islamic State affiliate, but both the Taliban and government blame each other.

The most recent attack last week killed over 90 people, many of them pupils leaving a girls’ school when a powerful car bomb exploded. The Taliban denied involvement and condemned the attack.

The relentless violence comes as the U.S. and allied NATO forces continue with their final withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war.

Just this week the last of the U.S. troops left southern Kandahar Air Base, while some NATO troops still remained. At the war’s peak, more than 30,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Kandahar, the Taliban heartland. Kandahar was the second-largest U.S. base in Afghanistan after Bagram north of the Afghan capital.

Biden, Eastern European allies discuss regional threats, democracy in ‘Bucharest Nine’ summit

Biden, Eastern European allies discuss regional threats, democracy in ‘Bucharest Nine’ summit

Virtual meeting with 'B9' precedes big June meeting of NATO

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President Joe Biden speaks about the economy, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 10, 2021

President Biden promoted democracy and the need to deter “strategic competitors” during a virtual summit Monday with the Central and Eastern European allies who make up the “Bucharest Nine,” the White House said.

The B9 summit preceded a wider summit on June 14 with the rest of the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“President Biden underscored his commitment to rebuilding alliances and strengthening transatlantic relations,” a White House description of the meeting said. “He conveyed his desire for closer cooperation with our nine Allies in Central Europe and the Baltic and Black Sea regions on the full range of challenges, including global health security, climate change, energy security, and global economic recovery.”

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The readout did not mention Russia by name, but the superpower looms over relations with NATO’s eastern flank.

Russia recently withdrew some troops but roughly 80,000 remain near the border with Ukraine amid long-running tensions there, spurring Mr. Biden to show support for allies in the region.

“President Biden expressed his support for enhancing NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, as well as the importance of allies increasing their resilience against harmful economic and political actions by our strategic competitors,” the White House said. “In addition, he welcomed the opportunity to engage with these Allies — as well as with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was also in attendance — about alliance efforts to meet future threats.”

“Finally,” it added, “President Biden stressed the importance of strengthening democratic governance and rule of law — at home, within the alliance, and around the world.”

Monday’s summit was hosted by presidents Klaus Iohannis of Romania and Andrzej Duda of Poland.

Other members of the group include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Rights report: State of Afghan women’s health care grim

Rights report: State of Afghan women’s health care grim

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – After nearly 20 years since the ouster of the Taliban and billions of dollars spent on infrastructure and aid, many Afghan women still have desperately poor access to health facilities and adequate health care, a leading rights group said Thursday.

Human Rights Watch offered a bleak assessment of women’s health care in Afghanistan in its latest report, saying that even basic information on health and family planning is not available to most Afghan women. And even when women can get the care they need, the quality is often poor, the New York-based group said.

New health facilities that have opened over the years are often insufficiently staffed and inadequately equipped, HRW said. The group’s researchers visited several health facilities in the capital of Kabul, where many of the country’s better clinics and hospitals are located.

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The report says there are 4.6 medical professionals to 10,000 people in Afghanistan; the World Health Organization considers 23 medical professionals to 10,000 people a critical shortage.

“What emerged is a picture of a system that is increasingly unaffordable to the estimated 61% to 72% percent of Afghan women, who live in poverty, and one in which women often have more children than they want because of lack of access to modern contraception; face risky pregnancies because of lack of care; and undergo procedures that could be done more safely with access to and capacity to use more modern techniques,” the report said.

Most women cannot afford the increasingly costly medicines they need or even the cost of a taxi ride to a clinic, often at least a half hour away. Most Afghans live on less than $1.90 a day.

Patricia Gossman, associate director of HRW’s Asia division, said the money that came to Afghanistan after 2001 was squandered due to widespread corruption. Before that, the Taliban regime, which was also heavily sanctioned, had mostly ignored women’s health issues.

Washington alone committed $1.5 billion to rebuild Afghanistan‘s health care sector, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. watchdog overseeing the billions of dollars America invested in Afghanistan‘s reconstruction.

“The question everyone should be asking is why after 20 years and hundreds of millions of dollars the state of women’s health care is so grim,” said Gossman in an email. “Where did the money go … a horrendous amount has been lost to corruption, and nothing – nothing – has really ever been done about it.”

Gossman said some organizations have done better than others delivering aid, particularly in rural areas and even in Taliban-controlled parts of the country.

International aid to Afghanistan has also been dwindling in recent years, in part because of the deteriorating security amid relentless violence, but also because of increasing demands on funds exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

As U.S. and NATO troops continue their final withdrawal from Afghanistan, expected to be completed by Sept. 11 at the latest, assistance is likely to further decrease.

“This is a critical moment in Afghanistan,” said Humans Rights Watch, citing fears of a growing Taliban influence and escalating violence as U.S. and other NATO troops pull out.

“The need for international assistance is greater than ever,” it said.

U.S. base in Afghanistan hit by rocket fire as troops begin withdrawal

U.S. base in Afghanistan hit by rocket fire as troops begin withdrawal

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A key airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan, was hit by rockets Saturday, prompting American forces to fire back with a “precision strike” that could be a preview of further violence over the next several months as the Taliban vows to resume attacks on U.S. troops.

The rocket fire that hit Kandahar base came just hours after the original May 1 deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan passed. 

President Biden has ordered the roughly 3,500 American forces out of Afghanistan by September, but he disregarded the May 1 date laid out in a deal struck last year between former President Trump and the Taliban.

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The Pentagon did not explicitly say that the Taliban was responsible for the rocket fire that struck Kandahar, but the insurgent group has repeatedly warned that U.S. bases and personnel will be targeted after May 1.

”Kandahar Airfield received ineffective indirect fire this afternoon; no injury to personnel or damage to equipment,” Col. Sonny Leggett, spokesperson for U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said in a Twitter post Saturday. 

“U.S. forces conducted a precision strike this evening, destroying additional rockets aimed at the airfield.”

The U.S. has deployed additional military personnel and equipment to the region to protect the troops leaving Afghanistan. In addition to the nearly 3,500 American forces exiting, another 10,000 NATO troops also will leave the country after nearly two decades of war.

Mr. Biden and military leaders have vowed to retaliate if the Taliban targets U.S. forces as they withdraw.

”A return to violence would be one senseless and tragic. But make no mistake, we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the Afgan security forces,” said Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. “That would be a mistake to move in that direction.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban over the weekend claimed to have overrun an Afghan military base in Ghazni province in the southeastern part of the country. Afghan officials told Voice of America that the insurgent group had taken control of the base. 

A Taliban spokesperson said at least 17 Afghan soldiers had been killed and another 25 taken prisoner, but those figures were not immediately confirmed by the Afghan government. Critics of the Afghan withdrawal fear such incidents will become commonplace as the U.S. and NATO leave the country. 

They warn that the Taliban could quickly overpower Afghan security forces and could potentially overrun the nation’s capital, Kabul.

Against the recommendations of some top military commanders, Mr. Biden has stuck by his decision to withdraw.

”Today we have service members serving in the same warzone as their parents once did. We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11,” the president told a joint session of Congress last week. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking of nation-building.”

AP INTERVIEW: Peace chief says Afghan gov’t must step up

AP INTERVIEW: Peace chief says Afghan gov’t must step up

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Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation gives an interview to The Associated Press at the Sapidar Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, May 1, 2021. Afghanistan’s chief peace negotiator says the often fractured Afghan political leadership must … more >

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Saturday, May 1, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghanistan‘s chief peace negotiator said Saturday the often fractured Afghan political leadership must unify in its peace talks with the Taliban or risk the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops bringing more bitter fighting.

Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council, said the time is now for Afghanistan’s political leaders to stand united in the talks. But some of them are former warlords with fierce reputations, heavily armed militias and deep seated grudges.

In an interview with The Associated Press in the Afghan capital, Abdullah warned that history and millions of Afghans – already frustrated by what they see as government ineptitude and runaway corruption – will judge them harshly if unity eludes the powerful leaders now in Kabul. In the early 1990s bitter fighting between many of the same leaders killed thousands of mostly civilians in the capital and gave rise to the Taliban, who took power in 1996.

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Abdullah said the withdrawal that officially began Saturday of the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. troops and about 7,000 NATO allied forces will present “huge challenges.”

“I wouldn’t call it the end of of the world for our people. I would say that it will be very challenging and that’s why I am of the opinion that the whole focus has to be on achieving peace, that does not only take us, it takes the other side,” he said.

Still, Abdullah said he is unconvinced the Taliban want peace. He said the National Reconciliation Council, of which he is the chairman, has put out countless calls for the Taliban to put all their demands on the table.

Messages go back and forth between a variety of Taliban to senior negotiators, including himself, said Abdullah. He noted that he has received countless messages from Taliban officials, some written, some as voice messages. Sometimes they are detailed, and other times terse and brief. But he said he has yet to see a commitment to peace from the insurgent group on which he can rely.

Abdullah said his response to the Taliban has been consistent: “Put everything that you want on the negotiating table. We are ready to discuss it. We are ready to find ways that it works for both sides.”

He said the withdrawal adds pressure on both sides to find a peace deal.

The Taliban cannot win militarily, he said, and even regional powers – including Pakistan with its influence over the insurgent group – have steadfastly rejected a military takeover in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders are headquartered in Pakistani cities.

An “inclusive, peaceful settlement, this is what everybody believes in. … God forbid if we don’t have peace then, of course, nobody has forgotten the recent history of the country. So everything has to be done in order to mitigate the serious consequences of the withdrawal.”

Meanwhile, Abdullah questioned assurances Washington has received from the Taliban to reject terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaida, the reason Washington and NATO invaded 20 years ago. Links between the Taliban and al-Qaida have continued to surface and al-Qaida publications and websites pledge allegiance to the Taliban leadership.

“What has happened to al-Qaida?” he asked. “That’s a big question.”

Formal start of final phase of Afghan pullout by U.S., NATO

Formal start of final phase of Afghan pullout by U.S., NATO

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By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Saturday, May 1, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The final phase of ending America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began Saturday, with the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops by the end of summer.

President Joe Biden had set May 1 as the official start of the withdrawal of the remaining forces – about 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops and about 7,000 NATO soldiers.

Even before Saturday, the herculean task of packing up had begun.

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The military has been taking inventory, deciding what is shipped back to the U.S., what is handed to the Afghan security forces and what is sold as junk in Afghanistan‘s markets. In recent weeks, the military has been flying out equipment on massive C-17 cargo planes.

The U.S. is estimated to have spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan in the past two decades, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University, which documents the hidden costs of the U.S. military engagement.

Defense department officials and diplomats told The Associated Press the withdrawal has involved closing smaller bases over the last year. They said that since Biden announced the end-of-summer withdrawal date in mid-April, only roughly 60 military personnel had left the country.

The U.S. and its NATO allies went into Afghanistan together on Oct. 7, 2001 to hunt the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks who lived under the protection of the country’s Taliban rulers. Two months later, the Taliban had been defeated and al-Qaida fighters and their leader, Osama bin Laden, were on the run.

In his withdrawal announcement last month, Biden said the initial mission was accomplished a decade ago when U.S. Navy SEALS killed bin Laden in his hideout in neighboring Pakistan. Since then, al-Qaida has been degraded, while the terrorist threat has “metastasized” into a global phenomenon that is not contained by keeping thousands of troops in one country, he said.

Until now the U.S. and NATO have received no promises from the Taliban that they won’t attack troops during the pullout. In a response to AP questions, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the Taliban leadership was still mulling over its strategy.

The insurgent group continues to accuse Washington of breaching the deal it signed with Biden‘s predecessor more than a year ago. In that agreement, the U.S. said it would have all troops out by May 1.

In a statement Saturday, Taliban military spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the passing of the May 1 deadline for a complete withdrawal “opened the way for (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces.”

However, he said fighters on the battlefield will wait for a decision from the leadership before launching any attacks and that decision will be based on “the sovereignty, values and higher interests of the country.”

Violence has spiked in Afghanistan since the February 2020 deal was signed. Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government, which were part of the agreement, quickly bogged down. On Friday, a truck bomb in eastern Logar province killed 21 people, many of them police and students.

Afghans have paid the highest price since 2001, with 47,245 civilians killed, according to the Costs of War project. Millions more have been displaced inside Afghanistan or have fled to Pakistan, Iran and Europe.

Afghanistan‘s security forces are expected to come under increasing pressure from the Taliban after the withdrawal if no peace agreement is reached in the interim, according to Afghan watchers.

Since the start of the war they have taken heavy losses, with estimates ranging from 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops killed. The Afghan military has been battered by corruption. The U.S. and NATO pay $4 billion a year to sustain the force.

Some 300,000 Afghan troops are on the books, although the actual number is believed to be lower. Commanders have been found to inflate the numbers to collect paychecks of so-called “ghost soldiers,” according to the U.S. watchdog monitoring Washington’s spending in Afghanistan.

Last year was the only year U.S. and NATO troops did not suffer a loss. The Defense Department says 2,442 U.S. troops have been killed and 20,666 wounded since 2001. It is estimated that over 3,800 U.S. private security contractors have been killed. The Pentagon does not track their deaths.

The conflict also has killed 1,144 personnel from NATO countries.

The Taliban, meanwhile, are at their strongest since being ousted in 2001. While mapping their gains and territorial holds is difficult, they are believed to hold sway or outright control over nearly half of Afghanistan.

“We are telling the departing Americans … you fought a meaningless war and paid a cost for that and we also offered huge sacrifices for our liberation,” Shaheen told the AP on Friday.

Striking a more conciliatory tone, he added: “If you … open a new chapter of helping Afghans in reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country, the Afghans will appreciate that.”

In announcing the departure, Biden said waiting for ideal conditions to leave would consign America to an indefinite stay.

In the Afghan capital and throughout the country, there is a growing fear that chaos will follow the departure of the last foreign troops. After billions of dollars and decades of war, many Afghans wonder at whether it was worth it.

Taliban violence in Afghanistan surged in Biden’s first months

Taliban violence in Afghanistan surged in Biden’s first months

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Afghan national army (ANA) Soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, April 17, 2021. The Biden administration’s surprise announcement of an unconditional troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, appears to strip the … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Friday, April 30, 2021

Even as the United States begins its troop withdrawal, Afghanistan experienced a rising wave of violent attacks against security forces and civilians during President Biden‘s first three months in office.

The attacks, blamed mainly on the Taliban insurgency, raise fresh questions about the country’s fate as President Biden sets a definitive end date for U.S. combat troops in the country. Power-sharing talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul have largely stalled even as the Pentagon and NATO countries begin the process of bringing their troops home.

In a just-released report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, “enemy-initiated attacks” in the first quarter of 2021 increased nearly 37% compared to the same quarter last year. Officials from both NATO’s Operation Resolute Support and the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, recorded “strikingly high” civilian casualties during the same time period, auditors reported.

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The number of so-called insider attacks on Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) troops increased by 82% this year over the same period last year. NATO reported more than 2,000 civilian casualties — including 643 deaths — in the latest January-to-March quarter. Anti-government forces, predominantly the Taliban, are believed responsible for more than 90% of civilian casualties, according to the SIGAR report.

Afghan security forces conducted more than 90% of their missions during the first quarter of 2021 independent of any support from the U.S. or coalition partners, NATO reported. Officials with SIGAR said that figure is well above the percentage of independent operations during the same period last year.

Almost 17,000 civilian contractors — a mix of U.S. citizens, third-country nationals and Afghan civilians — were working in Afghanistan during the first quarter of the year. Pentagon officials said the American contractors will be joining the U.S. troops in fully withdrawing from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021 as ordered by President Biden earlier this month.

“It is unclear who, if anyone, will replace them or perform their work after their withdrawal,” SIGAR officials said in the report.

The contractors provide the bulk of the maintenance work for the airplanes and vehicles used by Afghan government forces. The report says local Afghan employees have “dramatically improved” their ability to take on the work, but remain well below the benchmark for how much they are supposed to perform.

The conditions for local Afghans will continue to be grim once U.S. military forces are no longer in the picture. More than 40% of its population — up to 17 million people — will likely face drought and food insecurity, according to the SIGAR report. According to the U.N. Children’s Fund, child mortality rates in Afghanistan increased by 2.7% while neonatal rates increased by 3.6%. Maternal deaths rose by 3.6% during this period, officials said.

Russian defense chief scoffs at Western warnings on Ukraine

Russian defense chief scoffs at Western warnings on Ukraine

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This handout photo released on Thursday, April 22, 2021 by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service shows, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu watches drills form a board of military helicopter in Crimea. The Russian military is conducting massive drills in … more >

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By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s defense chief said Tuesday that a troop pullback from areas near Ukraine had nothing to do with Western pressure, adding that Moscow will continue doing what is necessary to protect itself.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also voiced concern about NATO forces’ presence near Russia.

The recent Russian troop buildup near Ukraine worried the West, which strongly urged the Kremlin to withdraw its forces. Shoigu, who ordered the drawdown on Thursday after massive drills, scoffed at the Western calls as inappropriate.

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“Some even warned us that our activities on our own territory will have consequences,” Shoigu said. “I would like to emphasize that we don’t see such warnings as acceptable and will do everything that is necessary to ensure the security of our borders.”

He pointed to the deployment of NATO troops near Russia as a cause for Moscow’s concern.

“The U.S. and NATO activities to increase combat readiness and build up their presence have contributed to an increase in military threats,” Shoigu said, noting that Moscow was closely monitoring the deployment of U.S. troops and weapons in Europe as part of NATO’s Defender Europe 2021 drills.

The Russian troop buildup came amid a rise in cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, stoking fears of large-scale hostilities. The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine‘s eastern industrial heartland, called Donbas, erupted shortly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine‘s Crimean Peninsula. More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting.

In 2015, France and Germany helped broker a peace deal that was signed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The agreement helped end large-scale battles, but skirmishes have continued and a peace settlement has stalled.

The deal obliged Ukraine to grant broad autonomy to the rebel regions and declare an amnesty for the rebels, and stipulated that Ukraine would regain full control of its border with Russia in the rebel-held territories only after they elect local leaders and legislatures. Many in Ukraine saw the deal as a betrayal of national interests and opposed it.

The latest round of the so-called “Normandy Format” talks between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in December 2019 brought no progress.

Ukrainian officials have continuously pushed for revising the Minsk agreement and inviting the U.S. and other powers to join the peace talks, ideas Russia has rejected.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reaffirmed a call for modifying the Minsk agreement and inviting other countries to help broker peace talks.

“I believe that the Minsk agreement should be flexible,” Zelenskyy said. “The ”Normandy format” could be extended to involve other serious, powerful players on a parallel track,” Zelenskyy added, without specifying what other nations could be invited to help broker peace talks.

Zelenskyy on Tuesday visited Ukrainian troops near Crimea.

He welcomed the Russian troop pullback, saying it helped de-escalate tensions. At the same time, he noted that “we don’t have a 100% guarantee that the Russian troops won’t return.”

Zelenskyy voiced hope that an agreement could be reached quickly to secure a cease-fire in the east during the celebration of Orthodox Easter this coming Sunday.

___

Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed to this report.

Top general says military in Afghanistan begins closing down

Top general says military in Afghanistan begins closing down

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Sunday, April 25, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – America’s top general in Afghanistan said Sunday that the U.S. military has begun closing down operations in the country and that Afghanistan’s security forces ‘must be ready” to take over.

“I often get asked, how are the security forces, can the security forces do the work in our absence? And my message has always been the same. They must be ready. They must be ready,” Gen Austin Miller told Afghan journalists at a press conference in the capital Kabul.

He also said the Taliban not returning to peace talks “does not make sense’.

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His comments came just hours before Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai appeared to indicate a breakthrough in negotiations.

In a terse tweet, Stanikzai said “soon the Taliban leaders name will be removed from blacklist. And 7,000 Taliban prisoners will be released.”

Until now Afghanistan‘s Council for National Reconciliation has tied the Taliban’s twin demands to a cease fire. Stanikazai made no mention of a cease fire and there was no immediate comment from the reconciliation council headed by Abdullah Abdullah.

The Afghan government and President Ashraf Ghani has until now refused to release any more Taliban prisoners, charging the 5,000 his government released last year were at least in part responsible for the stepped up violence, having returned to the battlefield. The Taliban deny the charges.

The 5,000 prisoners were released in keeping with the peace deal the previous U.S. administration negotiated with the Taliban, which the Biden administration reviewed and has largely followed.

Meanwhile, peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government which were to begin in Turkey this weekend were cancelled after the Islamic militia dismissed the U.S.-promoted conference in Istanbul as a political spectacle serving American interests.

“From a purely military perspective, the idea of them not returning to a peace process is, again, does not make sense,” Miller said. “A return to violence would be one senseless and tragic.”

While the official start to the withdrawal of Washington’s 2,500 to 3,500 troops and NATO’s 7,000 allied forces is May 1, Miller said “at the same time, as we start taking local actions, we’ve already begun that. ”

The U.S. military and NATO would be shipping some military equipment out of Afghanistan while deciding what would remain behind with the Afghan Defense and Security Force, he said.

In February last year, the U.S. military began closing its smaller bases. In mid-April, the Biden administration announced that the final phase of the withdrawal would begin May 1 and be completed before Sept. 11.

Biden to visit United Kingdom, Belgium in first overseas trip

Biden to visit U.K., Belgium in first overseas trip

G-7, NATO and EU summits on president's itinerary

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President Joe Biden waves as he boards Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del. Wednesday, March 17, 2021, en route to Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) more >

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By Seth McLaughlin

The Washington Times

Friday, April 23, 2021

President Biden plans to make his first overseas trip in June to the United Kingdom and Belgium.

The White House announced Friday the trip will be focused on “restoring our alliances, revitalizing the Transatlantic relationship, and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America’s interests.”

Mr. Biden is set to attend the G-7 Summit in the United Kingdom, where he plans to hold bilateral meetings with fellow G-7 leaders. The summit will be held in Carbis Bay, a seaside village on the Atlantic Coast in Cornwall.

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He will then travel to Brussels to participate in the NATO summit on June 14 and take part in a US-EU Summit.

Biden to make first overseas trip in office to UK, EU

Biden to make first overseas trip in office to UK, EU

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President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By ZEKE MILLER

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden will embark on his first overseas trip in office in June, the White House announced Friday, with the aim of demonstrating his administration’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance and reengagement with key allies.

Biden will attend the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, set for June 11-13, followed by a visit to Brussels, where he will hold meetings with European Union leadership and attend the June 14 summit of leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The meetings with the United States’ closest allies come as Biden has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to a summit in the coming months in a third country, though no date has yet been set.

Most recent American presidents have selected North American neighbors for their first cross-border trips, though former President Donald Trump, whose penchant for unilateral action and open skepticism of the NATO alliance unsettled American allies, made his first overseas stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. For Biden, the first trip is meant to turn the page from Trump’s approach to alliances.

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“It’s both a practical chance to connect with key allies and partners on shared opportunities and challenges,” said Yohannes Abraham, the chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security Council, in an interview with the AP. “But also it’s an illustration of something that the president has been clear about that the transatlantic alliance is back, that revitalizing it is a key priority of his, and that the transatlantic relationship is a strong foundation on which our collective security and shared prosperity are built.”

Biden, for his part, held “virtual bilateral” meetings with the leaders of Canada and Mexico in February and March, respectively. The June trip will follow after Biden‘s first in-person bilateral meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House last week and next month’s planned visit by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.

In Cornwall, Biden will hold bilateral meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders. He will hold additional one-on-one meetings in Brussels with NATO allies, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

“This trip will highlight his commitment to restoring our alliances, revitalizing the Transatlantic relationship, and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America’s interests,” she said in a statement.

The announcement comes shortly after the conclusion of Biden’s two-day virtual climate summit, in which he received praise from leaders, particularly those in Europe, for returning the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement and reengaging on a host of other issues of shared concern.

The trip will mark the most ambitious travel schedule yet for Biden since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as the president has sought to model safe behavior for the nation.

It comes as the U.S. has stepped up its travel warnings for much of the world due to the virus. Both the U.K. and Belgium are listed by the State Department under level four, the highest, “do not travel” advisory, and are the subject of specific prohibitions preventing most travel to the U.S. by noncitizens.

The White House said it is working closely with host countries to ensure the safety of all attendees at the summits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month lifted quarantine guidance for international travel for those fully vaccinated for COVID-19, but still recommends that vaccinated individuals returning from overseas monitor their symptoms and take a test 3-5 days after returning to the U.S.