18 Nov 2020
PENTAGON TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ IN TRUMP'S WANING DAYS
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 Trumps 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
Trumps 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
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 Millers 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
Although withdrawing US forces from war theatres he believes Washington has
no business to be in was part of Trumps 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 Obamas 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 isnt in the
Middle East its China.
Separately, Trumps National Security Advisor Robert OBrien 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
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
The sizing down in Afghanistan and Iraq came amid reports that Trump is also
considering a military strike on Irans nuclear facilities because of a
significant increase in the countrys 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, AUSTRALIA REACH 'LANDMARK' SECURITY AGREEMENT
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
"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
"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.
BIDEN FILLING TOP WHITE HOUSE TEAM WITH CAMPAIGN VETERANS
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 OMalley 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.
JOHNSON RAISES IRE OVER REMARKS ON SCOTLAND
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 Blairs 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. Johnsons 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. Johnsons 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.
TRUMP FIRES ELECTION SECURITY OFFICIAL WHO CONTRADICTED HIM
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 GRILLED OVER US ELECTION ACTIONS
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.
CHINA'S IRRITATED TRADE PARTNERS PUSH BACK ON CORONAVIRUS FOOD TESTS
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
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.
IRAN SAYS US MOVE AGAINST IT WOULD FACE 'CRUSHING' RESPONSE
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
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.
UK ANNOUNCES BAN ON SALE OF PETROL, DIESEL CARS BY 2030
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.