World Newsletter

18 Nov 2020



Pentagon outlines plans to reduce number of US forces in Afghanistan from

approximately 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.

Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said about 2,000 troops would be

pulled out of Afghanistan by January 15 and 500 more would come back from

Iraq, leaving 2,500 in each country.

The moves reflect Trump’s policy “to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

to a successful and responsible conclusion and to bring our brave service

members home”, Miller said.

The announcement came days after Trump fired former Defense Secretary Mark

Esper, who had insisted on the need to maintain troop levels in Afghanistan

to support the Kabul government while it negotiates a peace deal with the


The new plans will accelerate troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in

Trump’s final days in office, despite arguments from senior military

officials in favour of a slower, more methodical pullout.

Critics said the Afghan withdrawal will undermine fragile security in the

nation and hurt the continuing peace talks between the Afghan government and

Taliban fighters.

Halkett said it could put President-elect Joe Biden in the difficult

position of considering redeploying troops to Afghanistan, even as the US

faces economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and public opinion largely

against the war.

Shortly after Miller’s announcement, the top Republican in the Senate,

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, warned against any major changes in US

defence or foreign policy in the next couple of months – including

significant troop reductions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill that “a precipitous drawdown in

either Afghanistan or Iraq is a mistake,” although he did not directly

criticise Trump.

Although withdrawing US forces from war theatres he believes Washington has

no business to be in was part of Trump’s election pledges, the plan is

sundering the Republican Party. “A rapid withdrawal of US forces from

Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us

harm,” Mitch McConnell, said. “The consequences of a premature American

exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq

back in 2011, which fuelled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global

terrorism... The spectacle of US troops abandoning facilities and equipment,

leaving the field in Afghanistan to the Taliban and ISIS, would be broadcast

around the world as a symbol of US defeat and humiliation and of victory for

Islamic extremism. It would be reminiscent of the humiliating America

departure from Saigon in 1975... .” But other GOP lawmakers backed the

president. “In the longterm, our biggest threat in the world isn’t in the

Middle East — it’s China.

Separately, Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said the

president is keeping his promise to the American people to get US troops out

of war zones.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Tuesday that the military

organization could pay a heavy price for leaving Afghanistan too early;

after a U.S. official said President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw a

significant number of American troops from the conflict-ravaged country in

coming weeks.

NATO has fewer than 12,000 troops from dozens of nations in Afghanistan

helping to train and advise the national security forces. U.S. troops

frequently make up about half that number, and the 30-nation alliance relies

heavily on the United States armed forces for transport, logistics and other


"We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20

years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the

same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could

be very high,” Mr. Stoltenberg said in a statement.

U.S. lawmakers appeared deeply divided on the pullout plans, offering a mix

of responses.

The sizing down in Afghanistan and Iraq came amid reports that Trump is also

considering a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities because of a

significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material.

According to the New York Times, which first reported the story, a range of

senior advisers, including Vice President Mike Pence and secretary of state

Mike Pompeo, dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military

strike, warning that it could easily escalate into a broader conflict.





Japan and Australia agreed a breakthrough defence pact on Tuesday

facilitating reciprocal visits for training and operations.

The Reciprocal Access Agreement strengthens defence ties between the two US

allies at a time when China is asserting its role in the region and the

United States is going through a leadership transition.

A legal framework allowing Japanese and Australian troops to visit each

other's countries and conduct training and joint operations, it was agreed

in principle by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Australian

counterpart, Scott Morrison, who is visiting Tokyo.

"In the Indo-Pacific region, security and defence cooperation between Japan

and Australia, which have the will and capacity to contribute to regional

peace and stability, is becoming increasingly important," Suga told a joint

news conference.

"I hereby announce that we reached agreement in principle on a reciprocal

access agreement, which had been negotiated to elevate security and defence

cooperation between Japan and Australia to a new level."

It will be Japan's first agreement covering foreign military presence on its

soil since a status of forces agreement in 1960 that allowed the United

States to base warships, fighter jets and thousands of troops in and around

Japan as part of an alliance that Washington describes as the bedrock of

regional security.

"Our special strategic partnership became even stronger, in particular

because today we have taken a significant step forward in Japan and

Australia reaching in principle agreement on landmark defence treaty, the

Reciprocal Access Agreement," Morrison said.

The countries have been negotiating the defence deal for six years.





President-elect Joe Biden has announced top White House staff positions,

drawing from the senior ranks of his campaign and some of his closest


Biden confirmed that former campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon will serve

as a deputy chief of staff.

Campaign co-chair Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond and campaign adviser Steve

Ricchetti will hold senior roles in the new administration.

The new hires represent an initial wave of what will ultimately be hundreds

of new White House aides hired in the coming weeks.

The latest round reflects his pledge to have diversity in his staff — the

team includes four people of color and five women.





British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has inflamed Scottish discontent with

his Conservative government by reportedly saying that giving governing

powers to Scotland had been a “disaster.”

Mr. Johnson made the remarks during a video meeting with Conservative Party

lawmakers on Monday evening, in which he also said Scottish devolution had

been former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake.”

Scotland has an Edinburgh-based government and Parliament, set up in 1999,

with broad powers in areas including health and education. Wales and

Northern Ireland also have their own legislatures and regional


Mr. Johnson’s office did not deny he made the comments. But it said he was

not criticising devolution, only its use “by separatists and nationalists to

break up the U.K”. “The PM has always supported devolution,” Downing St.

said in a statement.

The Scottish National Party, which wants Scotland to become an independent

country, leads the government in Edinburgh. It is strongly critical of the

decision to leave the European Union.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that Mr. Johnson’s remarks

showed his government was “a threat to the powers of the Scottish

Parliament.” “The only way to protect & strengthen ScotParl is with

independence,” she said.





Donald Trump says he has fired a top election official who contradicted the

US president's claims of voter fraud.

President Trump said he "terminated" Cybersecurity and Infrastructure

Security Agency (Cisa) chief Chris Krebs for his "highly inaccurate" remarks

on vote integrity.

Mr Trump has refused to concede the US election, making unsubstantiated

claims of "massive" voter fraud.

Election officials said the vote was the "most secure" in US history.

Mr Krebs reportedly incurred the White House's displeasure over a Cisa

website called Rumor Control, which debunked election misinformation, much

of it amplified by the president himself.

Cisa assistant director Bryan Ware stepped down last week. The White House

had asked for his resignation.

Following his dismissal on Tuesday, Mr Krebs appeared to have no regrets

about speaking out.

Chris Krebs tweeted, "Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today,

Secure Tomrorow. #Protect2020".





Facebook and Twitter's chief executives have been challenged over their

handling of the US election in their latest appearance before the US Senate.

Democrats questioned whether steps taken to flag that President Trump's

claims of election fraud were "disputed" had gone far enough.

Republican members of the Judiciary Committee asked whether the tech firms

should be taking such action at all.

This was the second time the CEOs had been cross-examined in three weeks.

They were previously questioned by the Senate Commerce Committee last month

in what was a more rowdy event.

Once again, the issue of a law known as Section 230 loomed large.

It says the platforms are generally not responsible for illegal or offensive

things users post on them.

President-elect Biden has suggested the regulation should be "revoked" since

it encourages the spread of falsehoods, and several of the Democratic

senators at the latest hearing followed his lead.

Republicans also voiced concern of their own.

They said the social media companies were taking editorial decisions about

what to take down, label or leave unaltered.

This, they said, made them publishers rather than just distributors of

information, and as a consequence they should not be covered by Section 230

in its current form.





Major food-producing countries are growing increasingly frustrated with

China's scrutiny of imported products and are calling on it to stop

aggressive testing for the coronavirus, which some say is tantamount to a

trade restriction.

China says it has found the virus on the packaging of products from 20

countries including German pork, Brazilian beef and Indian fish, but foreign

officials say the lack of evidence produced by authorities means it is

damaging trade and hurting the reputation of imported food without reason.

In a World Trade Organization meeting on Nov 5 and Nov 6, Canada called

China's testing of imported foods and rejection of products that had

positive nucleic acid tests "unjustified trade restrictions" and urged it to

stop it, said a Geneva-based trade official briefed on the meeting who

declined to be identified.

Supported by Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Britain and the United States,

Canada argued that China had not provided scientific justification for the

measures, said the official.

Canada's Geneva-based mission to the WTO did not immediately respond to a

request for comment.

China has only intensified its imported food screening since then.





Any US attack on Iran would face a "crushing" response, an Iranian

government spokesman said on Tuesday, following reports US President Donald

Trump asked for options for a strike on Iran's main nuclear site last week

but decided against doing so.

"Any action against the Iranian nation would certainly face a crushing

response," spokesman Ali Rabiei said, in remarks streamed on an official

government website.

Citing a US official, Reuters reported on Monday that Trump, with two months

left in office, conferred with top advisers about the possibility of

attacking the Natanz uranium enrichment plant - but was dissuaded by them

from that option.

One of the advisers named in the report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is

on Wednesday due to visit Israel, which has long hinted at possible military

action against its arch-enemy Iran.

"If I were the Iranians, I would not feel at ease" after the report, Israeli

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said, adding that he was not aware of the

Oval Office deliberations last Thursday.

"It is very important that the Iranians know that if, indeed, they suddenly

dash toward high levels of enrichment, in the direction of nuclear weaponry,

they are liable to encounter the military might of the United States - and

also, perhaps, of other countries," Steinitz told Israel's Army Radio.

Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful needs. Rabiei accused Israel

of "psychological warfare" against Iran.

"I personally don't foresee that it's probable that they (the United States)

would want to cause insecurity in the world and the region," Rabiei said.





Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday night announced a ban on the sale of

petrol and diesel cars by 2030 as part of a £12 billion green agenda,

including £1.3 billion to rollout charge-points for electric vehicles in

homes, streets and on motorways across England.

Outlining his 10-point plan for a ‘UK Green Industrial Revolution’, Johnson

said £582 million has been allocated as grants for those buying zero or

ultra-low emission vehicles to make them cheaper to buy and incentivise more

people to make the transition. Nearly £500 million will be spent in the next

four years for the development and mass-scale production of electric vehicle

batteries, officials said, adding that the ban on sale of petrol and diesel

cars by 2030 had been agreed with car manufacturers and sellers.

Johnson said: “Although this year has taken a very different path to the one

we expected, the UK is looking to the future and seizing the opportunity to

build back greener. The recovery of our planet and of our economies can and

must go hand-in-hand”.

“As we look ahead to hosting the COP26 climate summit next year, I am

setting out an ambitious plan for a green industrial revolution that will

transform the way we live in the UK. This is a shared global challenge -

every country in the world needs to take action to secure the future of the

planet for our children, grandchildren and generations to come,” he added.

The agenda covers clean energy, transport, nature and innovative

technologies, officials said. The UK is due to co-host the Climate Ambition

Summit on December 12 and COP26 in Glasgow next year.

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