Manila cancels Canada Bell helicopter deal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Davao City on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Manila cancels Canada Bell helicopter deal

DAVAO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday abruptly canceled a $235 million contract to buy 16 helicopters from Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered a review over human rights concerns.
“I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal. Do not proceed anymore, and somehow we will look for another supplier,” he said of the deal for 16 Bell 412EPI utility helicopters announced by the two governments this week.
Ottawa said Thursday that the deal was under review due to concerns over the human rights record of Duterte, the subject of a complaint in the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the alleged extra-judicial killings of thousands of Filipino drug suspects.
Bell Helicopter said in an announcement of the deal that the aircraft were intended “for a variety of missions such as disaster relief, search and rescue, passenger transport and utility transport.”
However, Manila said they would also be used for “anti-terrorism” operations, including to evacuate soldiers wounded fighting insurgents.
Philippine troops are battling militants in the Muslim south and communist guerrillas in other parts of the mainly Catholic Asian nation.
Duterte said Friday he respected Canada’s stand but added it was unavoidable that the Philippine air force would use the choppers “against the rebels and terrorists.”
“Do not buy anymore from Canada and the US because there is always a condition attached,” he said, adding that he was referring to defense material.
“If I cannot use the gunship, the helicopter, then I might as well surrender this government to them,” he said, referring to the rebels.
“The reason I’m buying helicopters is because I want to finish them off,” Duterte added.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday that an “extremely rigorous human rights review” would be undertaken before any export permit was issued over the helicopter contract, facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corp.
“The prime minister and I have been very clear about the Duterte regime’s human rights abuses and the extra-judicial killings,” she told Parliament.
“I have the authority to deny a permit if I feel that it poses a risk to human rights, and I am prepared to do so,” Freeland added.
Trudeau said in November he had called out Duterte over “human rights, the rule of law, and specifically extra-judicial killings.”
Duterte, who has overseen a crackdown that has left nearly 4,000 drug suspects dead at the hands of the police, later described Trudeau’s comments as “a personal and official insult.”
The Philippine government says police have only shot suspects in self-defense and rejects human rights monitors’ description of the crackdown as a crime against humanity.


Further Taliban assaults likely in weeks ahead — US Defense chief Mattis

Updated 17 August 2018
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Further Taliban assaults likely in weeks ahead — US Defense chief Mattis

  • The Taliban had six objectives in and around the city of Ghazni and failed to seize any of them
  • Some Taliban fighters were still holed up in houses in the city ‘trying to get resupplied’

BOGOTA, Colombia: The Taliban is likely to keep up its recent surge of violence in advance of scheduled parliamentary elections in October but Western-backed Afghan defenses will not break, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday.
In his most detailed comments on the Taliban’s assault on the eastern city of Ghazni since it began Aug. 10, Mattis said the Taliban had six objectives in and around the city and failed to seize any of them. He would not specify the six sites.
In Ghazni, provincial police chief Farid Mashal said Thursday that roads were being cleared of mines planted by Taliban who temporarily held entire neighborhoods of the city that they had besieged. The fighting continued for five days with more than 100 members of the Afghan National Security forces killed and 20 civilians. Scores of Taliban were also killed, according to Afghan officials.
Mattis said some Taliban fighters were still holed up in houses in the city “trying to get resupplied.” He said businesses are reopening, and overall, “it’s much more stable” in Ghazni, showing that the Taliban have fallen short.
“They have not endeared themselves, obviously, to the population of Ghazni,” Mattis said. “They use terror. They use bombs because they can’t win with ballots.”
The Taliban operation followed a familiar pattern, Mattis said in remarks to reporters flying with him Thursday evening to Bogota, Colombia, where he was winding up a weeklong tour of South America.
The insurgents likely were trying to gain leverage in advance of an expected cease fire offer by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, he said. And they likely were hoping to sow fear in advance of the October elections, he added.
“They achieved a degree of disquiet,” he said, but nothing more.
“So, we’ll continue to see this sort of thing,” he said, even though the Taliban lack the strength to hold territory they seize for brief periods. “They will never hold against the Afghan army.”
The Afghan war has been stalemated for years. The Taliban lack the popular support to prevail, although they benefit from sanctuary in Pakistan. Afghan government forces, on the other hand, are too weak to decisively break the insurgents even as they develop under US and NATO training and advising.
Mattis has said he believes the Afghan security forces are gaining momentum and can wear down the Taliban to the point where the insurgents would choose to talk peace. So far that approach has not produced a breakthrough.
Next week will mark one year since President Donald Trump announced a revised war strategy for Afghanistan, declaring there would be no time limit on US support for the war and making a renewed push for peace negotiations.