Russia poses risk to undersea cables: UK defense chief

British Prime Minister Theresa May shakes hands with Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach in London. (File photo/Reuters)
Updated 16 December 2017
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Russia poses risk to undersea cables: UK defense chief

LONDON: The head of Britain’s military said that Russia could try to sever undersea communications cables, and protecting them is a defense priority for NATO.
Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach said cutting or disrupting the cables could have a “potentially catastrophic” economic effect.
Peach told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute that “along with our Atlantic allies, we have prioritized missions and tasks to protect the sea lines of communication.”
Peach said that Russia “in addition to new ships and submarines continues to perfect both unconventional capabilities and information warfare.” He said NATO is working “to match and understand Russian fleet modernization.”
Earlier this month, the Policy Exchange think-tank highlighted how Russia had “easily” severed all digital communications to Crimea during its 2014 invasion of the Black Sea peninsula.
Separately, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Friday it had uncovered a cell of Daesh that was planning imminent terror attacks in the country’s second city Saint Petersburg.
“The FSB identified and stopped the activities of a clandestine cell of IS (Daesh) supporters who planned to commit attacks on December 16,” the security service said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
According to the FSB, the group planned a suicide attack and “the killing of citizens” in crowded areas of the northern city.
Seven members of the cell were arrested during raids that took place on Wednesday and Thursday.
The police confiscated a “large number of explosives used to make homemade bombs, automatic rifles, munitions and extremist literature,” the statement said.
On Tuesday, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov said Russia was on alert for the possible return of militants from Syria ahead of the World Cup and presidential election in 2018.
As many as 40,000 fighters traveled from all over the world, including Russia, to join Daesh in Syria after the 2014 declaration of its self-styled “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq.
In 2015, Russian security services estimated that 2,900 Russian citizens had joined the radical group, as well as “several thousand” Central Asians.
Russia has suffered several terrorist assaults in recent years, including a deadly attack in Saint Petersburg that left 14 dead in April this year.


Taliban rejects pleas by Afghan elders for a cease-fire extension

Updated 15 min 39 sec ago
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Taliban rejects pleas by Afghan elders for a cease-fire extension

  • Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed the peace “slogans”
  • The success of such local initiatives is mixed and may stand little chance as military operations pick up

KABUL: The Taliban on Monday rejected pleas by Afghan elders and activists for an extension of this month’s cease-fire and said they amounted to a call for surrender to foreign forces.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed the peace “slogans” and urged civil society activists and others not to join movements he said played into the hands of US and international forces the Taliban wants to force from the country.
“They are not speaking about the occupation or the withdrawal of foreigners. Their objective is that we lay down our weapons and accept the regime imposed by the invaders,” he said in a statement.
A truce over the three day Eid Al-Fitr festival this month, during which unarmed Taliban fighters mingled with soldiers and civilians in the capital Kabul and other cities has given fresh impetus to the calls for peace, although many also dismiss the cease-fire as a Taliban trick.
A small group of peace marchers who came to Kabul on foot from the southern province of Helmand this month have also gained prominence, with pleas to all sides to end a conflict which has now lasted for 40 years.
“Tribal elders may not be able to bring about peace and create a cease-fire to the whole country but they can for their own districts and they will,” said Dawlat Wazir, an elder in Jani Khil district in the eastern province of Paktia.
In Jani Khil, elders held a meeting that drew hundreds of people at the weekend, calling on the government and Taliban forces to refrain from fighting in their area.
“We are so fed up with operations by government forces in our areas that trigger fighting for days,” said Malek Sakhto, one of the elders behind the meeting. “We’re pleading with the government and the Taliban to agree on a cease-fire and stop killing each other and civilians.”
The success of such local initiatives is mixed and may stand little chance as military operations pick up.
President Ashraf Ghani ordered government forces to stop offensive operations against the Taliban for another 10 days after the end of the cease-fire but there has since been fierce fighting in several areas.
In Logar, to the south of the capital Kabul, local elders and religious scholars have been trying to arrange a cease-fire in Azra district, according to Abdul Wali, a member of the Logar provincial council.
He said an informal accord had been reached but local people were still waiting for an official announcement from the Taliban shadow governor for Logar, Muallah Ismail Akhondzada.
In Kunar province, on the border with Pakistan, another group of walkers is making its way to Kabul, a statement from the governor’s office said.