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Monday, August 10, 2020

What's Going On In The World Today 200810



Pompeo, Taliban negotiator discuss Afghan peace process: Taliban spokesman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a video meeting on Monday with the Taliban’s chief negotiator, Mullah Baradar Akhund, to discuss the state of the Afghanistan peace process, an insurgent spokesman said.

The discussions included the issue of Taliban prisoners whose release by the Afghan government the insurgents are demanding, Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman in Doha said on Twitter.

The Taliban want the prisoners freed before they join talks with government officials and other Afghans on a political settlement to decades of war...

Lockheed Proposes THAAD Variant For Hypersonic Interceptor

The THAAD kill vehicle includes a BAE Systems-designed sensor.
Lockheed Martin will propose to adapt the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to intercept hypersonic glide vehicles under a program launched last December by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), a company executive said Aug. 3.

MDA expects to release a request for prototype proposals by year’s end or early next year for the Regional Glide Phase Weapon System (RGPWS). The agency has previously selected Lockheed’s proposed variant of THAAD, called Dart, as one of five candidates under consideration for the Hypersonic Defense Weapon System (HDWS).

“We are going forward with that Dart concept,” Sarah Reeves, vice president of Lockheed’s Missile Defense Programs, told reporters during a video conference. “It uses the existing infrastructure we have today.”

THAAD is designed as an endoatmospheric interceptor, with a limited ability for exoatmospheric intercepts. But that ability to strike incoming missiles within the atmosphere makes THAAD’s kill vehicle suitable for defending against hypersonic glide vehicles, which remain within the atmosphere for most of the glide phase...

China, Russia Nearing Status as U.S. Nuclear Peers, Stratcom Commander Says

For the first time, the United States will face two peer competitors with nuclear capabilities — China and Russia — by the end of this decade, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command said. Speaking today at the Nuclear Deterrence Forum sponsored by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute, Navy Adm. Charles A. Richard discussed the rapid modernization and readiness improvements by Russia and China in both their strategic and conventional military capabilities — and the challenges those improvements pose for the United States.




Trump Looks to Arms Sales to Deepen Ties With India

Border clashes with China have reawakened New Delhi’s interest in deeper defense ties with the United States, and Washington is hoping to deliver the goods.

The Trump administration is looking to ramp up arms sales to India in the wake of the country’s deadly border clashes with China, opening a new front of tensions between Washington and Beijing, U.S. officials and congressional aides told Foreign Policy.

The Trump administration in recent months has laid the groundwork for new arms sales to India that go above and beyond what previous administrations considered, including longer-term weapons systems with higher levels of technology and sophistication, such as armed drones, according to the officials.

For senior U.S. officials, better ties with India, including a closer defense relationship, are key to countering China’s emerging superpower role. “It’s important that democracies like ours work together, especially as we see more clearly than ever … the true scope of the challenge posed by the Chinese Communist Party,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a virtual address to the U.S.-India Business Council on July 22. “The recent clashes initiated by the [Chinese military] are just the latest examples of the CCP’s unacceptable behavior...”






Afghanistan ceasefire holds as hundreds of Taliban fighters freed

Government has released 317 Taliban fighters since beginning of Eid al-Adha, office of National Security Council said.

A ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government appears to be holding for the third and final day, as hundreds of the armed group's prisoners are released in a bid to bring peace talks closer.

The government has released 317 Taliban prisoners since the beginning of the three-day Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on Friday, the country's office of National Security Council said on Twitter on Sunday...

Hundreds of prisoners flee before Afghan forces end Islamic State jail siege

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan security forces on Monday killed at least 10 Islamic State fighters who had taken control of a prison in the eastern city of Jalalabad, ending a siege in which hundreds of prisoners escaped.

At least 29 people were killed in the militants’ assault on the prison on Sunday evening and subsequent clashes with security forces, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province said before the final shootout.

“The attack is now over,” Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the provincial council, told Reuters after security forces clashed night and day with militants who had taken over the prison watchtowers...

...More than 300 prisoners were still at large, Attaullah Khugyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, said, said. Of the 1,793 prisoners, more than 1,025 had tried to escape and been recaptured and 430 had remained inside.

“The rest are missing,” he said...


Defying U.S., China and Iran Near Trade and Military Partnership

Iran and China have quietly drafted a sweeping economic and security partnership that would clear the way for billions of dollars of Chinese investments in energy and other sectors, undercutting the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate the Iranian government because of its nuclear and military ambitions. The partnership, detailed in an 18-page proposed agreement obtained by The New York Times, would vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. In exchange, China would receive a regular — and, according to an Iranian official and an oil trader, heavily discounted — supply of Iranian oil over the next 25 years.


Explosion in Iran's Kermanshah province, no casualties reported: Mizan

An explosion has set a fuel tank on fire in Iran’s western province of Kermanshah on Tuesday, Iran’s Mizan news agency reported, in the latest in a series of fires and explosions, some of which have hit sensitive sites. “An explosion in a fuel tank occurred in Dolat Abad industrial area parking area,” Mizan said, but there were no reports of casualties. Iran’s Student News Agency ISNA said six fuel tanks were exploded that caused a major fire in the area.


Iraq sends reinforcements to Syria border after Daesh attack

Iraq has sent reinforcements to its borders with Syria and other bordering countries after two senior army officers were killed in an attack by the Daesh in the western province of Anbar. Brigadier General Ahmed Al-Lami, the commander of the Army’s 29th Brigade, and a lieutenant were killed in a Daesh attack on Tuesday. One day after the attack, military reinforcements were sent to the borders with Syria and neighbouring countries in parallel with the launch of a military operation by the Iraqi army to prevent terrorists infiltrating the borders


Thousands demonstrate as anti-Netanyahu protests gain steam

JERUSALEM — Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday and thronged the streets of central Jerusalem, as weeks of protests against the Israeli leader appeared to be gaining steam.

The demonstration in central Jerusalem, along with smaller gatherings in Tel Aviv, near Netanyahu’s beach house in central Israel and at dozens of busy intersections nationwide, was one of the largest turnouts in weeks of protests.

Throughout the summer, thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets, calling for Netanyahu to resign, protesting his handling of the country’s coronavirus crisis and saying he should not remain in office while on trial for corruption charges. Though Netanyahu has tried to play down the protests, the twice-a-week gatherings show no signs of slowing.

Israeli media estimated at least 10,000 people demonstrated near the official residence in central Jerusalem. Late Saturday, thousands marched through the streets in a noisy but orderly rally. Demonstrators hoisted Israeli flags and blew loud horns as they marched. Many held posters that said “Crime Minister” and “Bibi Go Home” or accused Netanyahu of being out of touch with the public...

Israel's Netanyahu warns Hezbollah after Syria attack

Israeli army says air raids in southern Syria were a response to an attempt to lay explosives in occupied Golan Heights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged a tough response to any threats against Israel after it struck Syrian military targets in retaliation for an attempted attack in the occupied Golan Heights.

"We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers. We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves," he said on Tuesday during a tour of a military facility in central Israel...

...Israel launched air raids on military targets in southern Syria late on Monday. The army said it was retaliating after an attempt to lay explosives in the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.

Syrian state-run news agency Sana said Israeli helicopters attacked Syrian army positions near Quneitra in the south but caused only material damage. It also said air defences had gone into action near the Syrian capital.

Several Israeli media outlets reported that Monday's actions were in response to an increased threat from the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has a significant presence in Syria...


UN report warns against N Korea's 'miniaturised' nuclear devices

Confidential report says Pyongyang is still producing enriched uranium, constructing experimental light water reactor.

North Korea is pressing on with its nuclear weapons programme, and several countries believe it has "probably developed miniaturised nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles," according to a confidential UN report.

The report by an independent panel of experts monitoring UN sanctions said the countries, which it did not identify, believed North Korea's past six nuclear tests had likely helped it develop miniaturised nuclear devices.

Pyongyang has not conducted a nuclear test since September 2017.

The interim report, seen by Reuters, was submitted to the 15-member UN Security Council North Korea sanctions committee on Monday.

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is continuing its nuclear programme, including the production of highly enriched uranium and construction of an experimental light water reactor. A Member State assessed that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is continuing production of nuclear weapons," the report said...

With the Drawdown of U.S. Forces in Germany, Is South Korea Next?

With the drawdown of U.S. forces in Germany underway, a reduction of U.S. forces in South Korea is now more likely than ever, given evolving U.S. defense priorities and longstanding trends on the Korean Peninsula. Rumors of an imminent U.S. force drawdown in Korea have been circulating since at least 2019, and President Donald Trump has made it clear he wants to reduce large overseas basing. South Korea, however, is a particularly contentious case, as any changes to the size and structure of U.S. forces must take into consideration both the local mission of deterring against North Korea, as well as the broader U.S. strategic mission of refocusing on great power competition, particularly with China. And that will require reassessing South Korea's own national defense capabilities, the benefits and risks of having a large forward force based on the Asian mainland, and the impact of any shift in forces on the overall perception of U.S. commitment and reliability with other allies and partners in the region...


Russia Is Winning the Information War in Afghanistan

The country’s former occupier is using Kremlin-backed media to fuel anger toward the United States.

Since 2015, when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suspended Moscow’s participation in the Northern Distribution Network supply route, which facilitated the transit of food, fuel, and hardware for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Russia has transformed from an inconsistent partner to a multipronged adversary of the United States in Afghanistan.

To expedite a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and once again establish a geopolitical foothold in the war-torn country, Russia allegedly supplied light weaponry to the Taliban and hosted alternative peace negotiations, which undermined Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s sovereign authority.

The controversy surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump’s nonchalant response to Russia’s alleged payment of bounties to Afghan militants targeting U.S. forces has inspired a flurry of news stories about Moscow’s relationship with the Taliban, but media outlets have paid little attention to a similarly insidious threat to U.S. national security: Russia’s information war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan...


U.A.E. Becomes First Arab Nation to Open a Nuclear Power Plant

The launch is raising concerns about the growing number of nuclear programs in the volatile Middle East.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to open a nuclear power plant on Saturday, raising concerns about the long-term consequences of introducing more nuclear programs to the Middle East.

Two other countries in the region — Israel and Iran — already have nuclear capabilities. Israel has an unacknowledged nuclear weapons arsenal and Iran has a controversial uranium enrichment program that it insists is solely for peaceful purposes.

The U.A.E., a tiny nation that has become a regional heavyweight and international business center, said it built the plant to decrease its reliance on the oil that has powered and enriched the country and its Gulf neighbors for decades. It said that once its four units were all running, the South Korean-designed plant would provide a quarter of the country’s electricity...

...“The UAE’s investment in these four nuclear reactors risks further destabilizing the volatile Gulf region, damaging the environment and raising the possibility of nuclear proliferation,” Paul Dorfman, a researcher at University College London’s Energy Institute, wrote in an op-ed in March...

...But the U.A.E. has said it considered natural gas and renewable energy sources before dismissing them in favor of nuclear energy because they would not produce enough for its needs.

Offering evidence that its intentions are peaceful, it points to its collaborations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has reviewed the Barakah project, and the United States, with which it signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement in 2009 that allows it to receive nuclear materials and technical assistance from the United States while barring it from uranium enrichment and other possible bomb-development activities...


US Government Warns of a New Strain of Chinese 'Taidoor' Virus

Intelligence agencies in the US have released information about a new variant of 12-year- old computer virus used by China's state-sponsored hackers targeting governments, corporations, and think tanks. Named "Taidoor," the malware has done an 'excellent' job of compromising systems as early as 2008, with the actors deploying it on victim networks for stealthy remote access. "[The] FBI has high confidence that Chinese government actors are using malware variants in conjunction with proxy servers to maintain a presence on victim networks and to further network exploitation," the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Defense (DoD) said in a joint advisory.






Israel Can’t Hide Evidence of Its Occupation Anymore

For more than 20 years, an obscure U.S. law concealed satellite imagery of Israel’s activities in the occupied territories. Because of an abrupt reversal, satellite technology can now be used to defend Palestinians’ human rights.

For the past two decades, there has been a general—and mostly unchallenged—understanding that satellite imagery is restricted over Israel and the Palestinian and Syrian territories it occupies. This was due to a 1996 U.S. regulation known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) which has limited the quality and availability of high-resolution satellite imagery produced by U.S. companies covering Israel (and by implicit extension, the occupied Palestinian territories and the occupied Golan Heights). The result is that publicly available imagery on platforms such as Google Earth has been deliberately coarse and blurred.

On June 25, following two years of sustained pressure from academia and civil society, the 97-word KBA was unexpectedly reformed, making higher-resolution satellite imagery legally accessible and readily available to all. The news, though welcome, raises certain questions: First, what were the effects of the KBA? Second, since satellite imagery has advanced significantly both in scale and diversity in the 24 years since the KBA was passed, why did it take so long to reverse?

The KBA was a byproduct of the aftermath of the Cold War, when the satellite imagery industry was still young. President Bill Clinton sought to refashion technology formerly used for espionage for a wider, commercial usage. He also moved to declassify U.S. spy satellite imagery from the 1960s and 1970s...

...After all, high-resolution satellite imagery allows researchers to understand, identify, and document landscape changes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the U.S. Department of Commerce is responsible for implementing the regulations concerning remote sensing. Since the KBA did not specify the resolution permitted, the regulation was fixed at 2 meters per pixel.

By contrast, commercial imagery available today is more likely to range from 0.25-0.6 meters per pixel. It is the difference between seeing the broad outline of a large building and being able to see individual vehicles parked outside. It is possible to identify substantial changes in land use (for instance, the building of city-size settlements or the bulldozing of Palestinian structures) at the two-meter limit, but subtler changes—such as the growth of outpost settlements or small military emplacements—are harder to discern. For 24 years, the legislation obfuscated the damaging effects of the Israeli occupation by literally hiding them from view...

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