NATO chief warns EU over defense pact

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned the EU its new defense cooperation pact must not undermine the alliance, as US officials voiced fresh concerns about the flagship initiative. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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NATO chief warns EU over defense pact

BRUSSELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday warned the EU its new defense cooperation pact must not undermine the alliance, as US officials voiced fresh concerns about the flagship initiative.
The European Union launched the scheme with great fanfare in December, touting it as a way to get member states to work more closely post-Brexit and spend more effectively on defense projects.
But the plan has come under fire in recent days from US officials who fear it could draw resources away from NATO and even become a “protectionist” umbrella for European defense manufacturers.
Stoltenberg, speaking on the eve of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, said there was “no way” the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security.
Efforts to boost European defense spending were welcome, he said, but only if they were coordinated with NATO plans.
“It will be absolutely without any meaning if NATO and the EU start to compete,” the former Norwegian premier told reporters.
“European allies are absolutely aware that the defense, the protection of Europe is dependent on NATO.”
The EU’s so-called permanent structured cooperation on defense agreement, known as PESCO, has projects in view already to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.
But on Sunday Katie Wheelbarger, a senior official at the US Department of Defense, said Washington regarded some of the proposed initiatives as “pulling resources or capabilities away from NATO.”
And the US stepped up its criticism on Monday, with Ambassador to NATO Kay Baliey Hutchison warning the EU there could be serious consequences if it shut US defense companies out of cooperation projects.
“Certainly we do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for the EU and we’re going to watch carefully because if that becomes the case then it could splinter the strong security alliance that we have,” she told reporters.
“We want the Europeans to have capabilities and strength but not to fence off American products or Norwegian products or potentially UK products.”
Britain, which is leaving the EU, is one of only three member states along with Denmark and Malta not to sign up to the pact.
Under the rules of the cooperation agreement, as a non-EU state Britain will be able to take part in specific missions but will have no decision-making role.


Over 50,000 Afghan troops deployed to secure election

Updated 31 min 3 sec ago
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Over 50,000 Afghan troops deployed to secure election

  • The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the poll, which has been delayed by more than three years and is viewed as crucial for the country’s stability
  • More than 2,000 polling centers will remain shut on election day due to security threats, the government said

KABUL: The Afghan government has deployed more than 50,000 troops to secure parliamentary elections that will be held on Saturday, officials said on Monday. 

The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the poll, which has been delayed by more than three years and is viewed as crucial for the country’s stability. Afghanistan’s last elections were marred by allegations of widespread rigging. 

“All security arrangements have been made,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh.

“We have enough troops to deal with any security threat, and more than 50,000 security personnel — including police, army and intelligence — have been deployed and put on high alert.”

US-led troops will have no direct role in providing security during the voting, but will advise and assist Afghan forces if necessary, officials said.

A wave of attacks have hit election rallies and claimed scores of lives, including at least nine candidates.

More than 2,000 polling centers will remain shut on election day due to security threats, the government said.

Watchdogs and candidates say with the expansion of Taliban control and the spread of Daesh activities, even regions in the north and northeast that were safe during previous polls are now under threat.

“Almost two-thirds of voters in (the northern province of) Faryab will not be able to vote… after insecurity prevented them from registering,” the Afghan Analyst Network (AAN), a foreign-funded think thank, said in a recent report. “In 2014, Faryab province had one of the highest audited turnouts in the country.” 

Voting cannot take place in the central province of Ghazni due to political and tribal tensions, and turnout will be very low in at least four provinces in the southwest that have seen a rise in deadly Taliban attacks in recent days, tribal elders said.

“This year’s parliamentary elections were never going to be easy,” AAN said. “Nationwide, disenchantment with elections themselves, after the disastrous 2014 poll, has been coupled with a resurgent Taliban, who by controlling more districts than four years ago have been able to prevent millions of Afghans from even registering to vote.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said all sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been dispatched to more than 5,000 polling stations, and the transportation of biometric devices will be completed in the coming days.

But some observers and candidates say the biometric devices are not connected to a data center, allowing people to vote multiple times.

Under pressure from political parties, the government bought the devices from abroad in order to hinder election fraud.

They “will make fraud a little harder, but it is still possible,” said civil rights activist Ahmad Shuja.

IEC spokesman Sayed Hafizullah Hashimi said watchdogs, observers and the media will monitor election day.

The Taliban last week urged its fighters to “halt this American-led process throughout the country… while taking… care of civilian Afghan lives and their properties.”

The new US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held his first direct talks with the Taliban in Doha on Friday.