US announces sharp reduction of troop numbers in Afghanistan and Iraq | World News


US President Donald Trump will cut his country’s military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon has announced.

Acting defence secretary Christopher Miller said the number of US soldiers in Afghanistan will fall from 4,500 to 2,500 by the time Mr Trump leaves office early next year.

The number of troops in Iraq will be reduced from around 3,000 to 2,500.

This is expected to be completed just five days before Joe Biden takes over as president on 20 January, although President Trump has still refused to acknowledge his election loss.

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These US soldiers returned from Afghanistan in 2013 but thousands of their colleagues remain

The plan comes despite arguments from senior military officials in favour of a slower withdrawal, especially in Afghanistan.

It also stops short of the full withdrawal Mr Trump had perhaps been envisioning when promising to “end the forever wars” and bring home the troops.

US forces have been in Afghanistan since October 2001 and there are concerns that the Taliban is still involved in attacks on Afghan government soldiers.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Monday that a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could leave the country at risk of again becoming “a platform for international terrorists to plan and organise attacks on our homelands”.

He expressed fears that IS could “rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq”.

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Son’s joy at surprise reunion with soldier dad

Earlier in November, dozens of people were killed when gunmen attacked Kabul University. It was the second attack on an educational institution in the capital in just over a week and both were claimed by IS.

US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell also voiced concerns about the cut in troop numbers, saying that a “precipitous drawdown (of US troops) in Afghanistan or Iraq would be a mistake”.

Mr Miller did not take questions from reporters after announcing the plans but he did say the US would remain ready to respond if conditions worsened in either country.

He said: “If the forces of terror, instability, division and hate begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we stand ready to apply the capabilities required to thwart them.”

Mr Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the drawdown had been the president’s policy “since he took office”, adding: “By May, it is President Trump’s hope that (the troops) will all come home safely and in their entirety”.



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NSW revises travel advice as new SA coronavirus hotspot locations revealed; Morrison signs defence agreement in Japan; 19th consecutive day of zero COVID-19 cases, no deaths in VIC; Trump orders Pentagon to drop troop levels to 2500 in Iraq and Afghanistan


Australia’s peak medical group is calling on the Federal Government to abandon the final step of its reopening framework in light of South Australia’s fresh coronavirus outbreak.

It comes as contact tracers are under enormous pressure to contain the growing cluster before it spirals out of control.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) wants the government to halt its plan, which would allow large gatherings and a mass return to workplaces.

National president, Perth surgeon Omar Khorshid, wants moderate restrictions to remain in place permanently until a vaccine is delivered, under a ‘COVID Cautious’ plan instead of ‘COVID Normal’.

That includes within states with little to no community transmission.

Vice-President of the AMA Dr Chris Moy told Today the lifting of all restrictions could lead to complacency.

“What we’ve found in South Australia already is that this thing is so infectious that if we only rely on testing and contact tracing then we don’t have the safety net or hand brake of reduced movement throughout the community,” Dr Moy told Today.



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India, China hold fresh talks; Indian Army strengthens troop presence near Pangong


The two sides held talks for around six hours on Monday as well but no concrete outcome emerged from the engagement, the sources said

New Delhi: India and China on Tuesday held another round of military talks to ease escalating tension triggered by fresh confrontation between the two sides on the southern bank of the Pangong lake in eastern Ladakh, government sources said.

The Brigade Commander-level talks began at 10 am in Chushul on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh with a specific agenda to discuss the situation around the Pangong lake, they said, adding the meeting is underway.

 

Following the Chinese attempt, the Indian Army has significantly strengthened its presence on a number of “strategic heights” around the Pangong lake besides further bolstering its presence in the area.

On Monday, the Indian Army said the Chinese military carried out “provocative military movements” to “unilaterally” change the status quo on the southern bank of Pangong lake on the intervening night of August 29 and 30 but the attempt was thwarted by the Indian troops.

The two sides held talks for around six hours on Monday as well but no concrete outcome emerged from the engagement, the sources said.

They said a sizeable number of Chinese troops attempted to occupy the area in a bid to open a new front as the two sides continue to hold talks to resolve the three-and-half-month-long border row.

 

The two sides were earlier engaged in a confrontation on the northern bank of Pangong lake but it was for the first time such an incident occurred on its southern bank, they said.

A battalion of the Special Frontier Force was also deployed in the area. It is learnt that Chief of Army Staff Gen M M Naravane reviewed the overall situation in eastern Ladakh at a high-level meeting in the Army headquarters.

The sources said the Indian Air Force (IAF) has also been told to enhance its surveillance on increasing Chinese air activities along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.

There have been reports that China has deployed J-20 long-range fighter jets and several other key assets in strategically located Hotan airbase which is around 310 kms from eastern Ladakh.

 

In the last three months, the IAF deployed almost all its frontline fighter jets like Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar and Mirage 2000 aircraft in the key frontier air bases in eastern Ladakh and elsewhere along the LAC.

The fresh attempt by China to change the status quo in the Pangong lake area is the first major incident in the area after the Galwan Valley clashes on June 15 in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed.

China also suffered casualties but is yet to make the details public. According to an American intelligence report it was 35.

India and China have held several rounds of military and diplomatic talks in the last two-and-half months but no significant headway has been made for a resolution to the border row in eastern Ladakh.

 



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What’s behind the massive troop movements and war of words?


Military leaders from China and India will hold talks today in a bid to de-escalate tensions between the two nations, which have both assembled a mass of troops along a long stretch of border.

But neither side looks overly willing to backdown and uncertainty around what happens next is causing worry globally, thanks to the increasingly bitter rhetoric from Beijing and New Delhi.

China has displayed its increasingly bolshie approach to foreign affairs in recent months in the wake of criticism over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic ramped up.

As well as smacking trade restrictions on Australia, it has thrown barbs at the United States and President Donald Trump, while also clamping down on democracy protests in Hong Kong and making sinister overtures towards Taiwan.

India is also keen to assert its dominance and defend its border, while cozying up to Washington and extending trade and defence ties with Australia.

Friction over the border isn’t new, but the current climate is, foreign policy experts say – and that makes the situation highly volatile and unpredictable.

WHAT’S GOING ON?

India and China share one of the world’s longest border stretches and an agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC) separates the two nations.

Both have accused the other of breaching the LAC in recent weeks, leading to skirmishes and an escalation in shows of force.

RELATED: Beijing ready to deploy troops ‘within hours’ to tense border stretch with India

China’s military began its border build-up in mid-April while the world, including India, was distracted with the worsening COVID-19 crisis.

New Delhi became angry when People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces intruded into Indian territory at multiple points in late April and early May, in what local media described as “a well-planned operation”.

China had quickly amassed troops, built bunkers and installed “other fortifications”, leading to a “violent clash” in the Pangong Tso region on May 5 and 6 that left several soldiers on both sides badly injured, the Times of India newspaper reported.

Pangong Tso is one of several areas of build-up along the disputed stretch of border, which has been a source of contention for decades.

But tensions have increased recently due to the construction of a 255-kilometre road on the Indian side, with three dozen bridges providing strategic links – for business and trade, New Delhi insists, but also clearly for military movements.

A WAR OF WORDS

This past week, various Chinese-controlled media outlets have published images of troop mobilisations, including a photograph of a plane load of heavily armed soldiers on their way to the region.

At the weekend, state broadcasters aired vision of PLA military movements in the region featuring planes and trucks filled with soldiers.

State media called it a demonstration of “China’s capability of quickly reinforcing border defences when necessary”.

Social media was also filled with videos purporting to show scuffles between troops, although some have been debunked and labelled as propaganda or troublemaking attempts.

A number of senior Indian Government figures have become increasingly aggressive in their public commentary.

Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah spoke at a rally on Monday and declared that “any intrusion into the borders of India will be punished”.

“Some used to say that US and Israel were the only countries which were willing and capable of avenging every drop of the blood of their soldiers,” Mr Shah said.

“(Prime Minister Narendra Modi) has added India to that list.”

The same day, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “I would remind everyone, India’s leadership will not let our self-respect suffer. India’s policy is clear, we won’t hurt any country’s integrity and dignity.

“At the same time, we will not let any country to hurt our integrity.”

A NERVOUS WAIT

Overnight, troops on both sides made subtle movements back from standoff points along the LAC, particularly in the Galwan and Hot Springs areas of Ladakh, The Indian Express reported.

However, there have been no signs of retreat from either side in the crucial and volatile Pangong Tso region.

The Indian Express quoted a government source as saying, “We note the developments along the LAC and will be monitoring them closely in the next few days.”

The border territory has long been disputed, with a bloody war between China and India erupting in 1962.

A period of relative peace that followed has been interrupted on several occasions in recent years with minor conflicts and political stoushes.

But numerous points along the LAC are heavily militarised on both sides.

A NEW DYNAMIC

Relations between India and China have deteriorated over the past decade as New Delhi sought to firm up its ties with Washington.

Foreign Policy magazine reports that the political manoeuvring was borne partly out of India’s concerns over Beijing’s growing political and economic influence.

Its activities in strategic ports in the Indian Ocean region have also not gone unnoticed.

Beijing’s efforts to strengthen ties with India’s old foe Pakistan also caused the shaky friendship to sour.

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a state visit to India in 2014 and Mr Modi gave permission for political exiles from Tibet to protest – an unprecedented action.

In contrast, when US President Donald Trump visited this year, the PM threw him a welcome rally attended by 100,000 people and broadcast to some 50 million TV viewers.

“One thing is clear – while India and China have faced off in the region before, nobody knows what’s coming next,” Foreign Policy wrote.



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