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NATO boosts support to Afghanistan war,
falls short of goal
— AP
BRUSSELS: After months of
lobbying NATO allies to increase
their troop contributions and
support to the war in
Afghanistan, the alliance came
up short Thursday, meeting a
bit more than 90 percent of the
military requirements mapped
out by commanders, according
to NATO officials.
US military leaders, however, said they
have been encouraged by the continuing
discussions with several nations, who may
eventually agree to increase their commit-
ments.
“Coming out of today, it won’t be at 100
percent today,” said US Army Gen. Curtis
Scaparrotti, NATO’s top military officer.
“We’re still in discussion with more than a
few nations that are looking at an increase
above the initial one given at the force gen-
eration conference. So, I'm encouraged.”
The gap, said Gen. John Nicholson, top
US commander for Afghanistan, has con-
tributed to the lowest level of capabilities
and the “highest level of risk we faced” in
the 16-year war.
Nicholson and Scaparrotti declined to
provide details on the numbers, but other
NATO officials confirmed that coming out of
the meeting Thursday there would be a
shortfall approaching 10 percent. The offi-
cials were not authorized to discuss the
numbers publicly so they spoke on condi-
tion of anonymity.
NATO defense ministers are meeting here
to provide their countries’ latest decisions
on troop contributions, under pressure
from US and NATO leaders to beef up their
commitments. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis
sent letters to some allies in recent weeks
urging them to fill critical gaps.
The additional trainers are critical to
reaching the stated US and NATO goal of
building up the Afghan forces so that they
can take control of their own country’s
security. At the same time, officials want to
use the increased military pressure to force
Taliban leaders to the peace table.
Scaparrotti told reporters that, at the end
of the day, there will still be a need for addi-
tional trainers and advisers, particularly at
schools for Afghan forces.
“This is a complex world and there’s a lot
of demand on the military, and so all these
nations have to make hard choices between
Afghanistan, internal responsibilities and
other missions,” Scaparrotti told reporters
traveling with Mattis. “We also have budget
constraints that each of the nations are
dealing with. It’s just a fact of life today.”
Nicholson told reporters that that he
needs close to 16,000 troops to fill the NATO
training mission in Afghanistan. That num-
ber does not include other support missions
or counterterrorism operations against the
Taliban, Islamic State militants and other
insurgents.
Nicholson said he is most concerned
about getting enough trainers and advisers
for the Afghan commandoes, the Air Force
and the schools where the military and
local police are trained. In addition, he said
he has asked for more forces to provide
security for the troops.
NATO officials said Thursday that they
met their goal of 16,000 troops for
Afghanistan. That success, however, is due
in part to the increase in US troop levels.
Still, NATO and US officials lauded those
nations that came through with additional
forces.
“Over two dozen nations have stated that
they intend to raise the troop numbers that
they have on the ground there now, includ-
ing some very small nations for whom this
is the largest overseas deployment they have
been engaged in,”Mattis said during a news
conference at the close of the NATOmeeting.
“We appreciate their commitment to stabi-
lizing the South Asia region.”
Nicholson said his aim is to get enough
NATO and partner troops doing the broader
training so that American forces can do
other key military missions.
US Secretary for Defense JimMattis, center right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center left, prepare to make the opening address
during a round table meeting of NATO defense ministers and the Coalition to Defeat the Daesh at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. (AP)
Catalan lawmakers testifying in
separatist rebellion probe
— AP
MADRID: Six Catalan lawmakers were testifying
Thursday before a Spanish judge over claims that
they ignored Constitutional Court orders and
allowed an independence vote in Catalonia’s region-
al Parliament.
The Catalan Parliament’s speaker, Carme
Forcadell, was the first to be questioned by Supreme
Court judge Pablo Llarena and two prosecutors.
Together with five other members of the parlia-
ment’s governing body, she faces possible charges of
rebellion, sedition and embezzlement.
Under Spanish law, the crimes are punishable
with up to 30 years of imprisonment.
The judge is set to decide after questioning them
if any preventive measures, including ordering them
to be taken into custody, are to be applied while the
investigation continues.
The Oct. 27 independence declaration in the
Catalan parliament was boycotted by most opposi-
tion lawmakers but held despite previous court rul-
ings. It was passed by 70 votes to 10 in the 135-seat
legislative body.
Shortly after, Spain’s central authorities seized
control of the wealthy northeastern region, making
it the first time in four decades since the end of Gen.
Francisco Franco’s dictatorship that Madrid removed
powers from any of the country’s 17 regions.
Spain removed the regional government, dis-
solved the parliament and called a new regional
election for Dec. 21.
Catalonia’s deposed regional president, Carles
Puigdemont, and four of his dismissed Cabinet
members fled to Brussels, where they are fighting
Spanish arrest and extradition orders.
In a letter posted on social media Thursday, the
five made a call for support for pro-secession parties
in Catalonia’s upcoming regional election.
“It’s time to drive away from the (Catalan) insti-
tutions those who want to own them with a coup
d’etat,” Puigdemont tweeted, referring to Spain’s
decision to take control of Catalonia’s powers.
Puigdemont, who is likely to run as the candidate
for his center-right PDeCAT party, says he went to
Belgium to rally European support for the Catalan
cause and that he’s not trying to evade justice.
Although no country has publicly sided with them
so far, their presence in the Belgian capital is sowing
divisions among politicians. In Thursday’s letter, the
Cabinet criticized the European Union for turning a
blind eye to the Catalan plight.
“The time that we spend behind Spanish bars or
in exile won’t be in vain if we remain united in the
defense of Catalonia and in denouncing the demo-
cratic decadence of Spain,” the letter said.
Eight members of the now-dismissed Catalan
Cabinet and two activists have already been jailed as
the country’s National Court studies whether to
charge them with various crimes related to an
alleged roadmap to achieve secession from Spain.
One more official was released on bail, but
remains a suspect in the investigation.
Forcadell remains the parliament’s president,
heading a commission of two dozen lawmakers dur-
ing the transitional period to next month’s polls.
The Supreme Court judge delayed her question-
ing for more than a week after attorneys argued that
they weren’t given enough time to prepare the
defense.
Former speaker of Catalonia’s sacked Parliament Carme Forcadell, right, arrives
at the Supreme Court in Madrid on Thursday to be questioned over her role in
Catalonia’s independence drive. (AFP)
Here comes La Niña, El Niño’s
flip side, but it will be weak
— AP
WASHINGTON: La Niña, the cool
flip side to El Niño, is returning
for a second straight winter, fore-
casters said Thursday.
The National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration said
a weak La Niña has formed and is
expected to stick around for sev-
eral months. La Niña is a natural
cooling of parts of the Pacific
that alters weather patterns
around the globe.
La Niña typically brings drier
conditions to the US South and
wetter weather to the Pacific
Northwest and western Canada.
Indonesia, the Philippines,
northeastern South America and
South Africa often see more rain
during La Niña winters.
Last year’s La Niña was unusu-
ally brief, forming in November
and gone by February. This one
should stick around through the
end of winter. While it may last a
bit longer than last year’s La
Niña, it should be just as weak,
said Mike Halpert, deputy director
of NOAA's Climate Prediction
Center.
Texas A&M University agricul-
tural economist Bruce McCarl
said La Nina years are often bad
for Texas and the surrounding
region.
US production of most crops
— except corn — generally goes
down in La Niña years, according
to research by McCarl.
The last major La Niña several
years ago caused major crop
damage and Texas suffered a dev-
astating drought, McCall said.
On average, La Niña years hurt
Uß and China gross domestic
product about 0.3 percentage
points, but lead to growth in
India, New Zealand and South
Africa, according to Kamiar
Mohaddes, a University of
Cambridge economist.
Because La Niña shifts storm
tracks, it often brings more snow
in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys.
“Typically La Niña is not a big
snow year in the mid-Atlantic,”
Halpert said. “You have a better
chance up in New England.”
Conservative party MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt, arrives at 10 Downing
Street in London on Thursday. (AFP)
May names Brexit supporter to replace
ousted aid minister
— AFP
LONDON: British Prime Minister
Theresa May on Thursday pro-
moted a junior minister to replace
ousted aid secretary Priti Patel,
avoiding a major personnel shuf-
fle and maintaining the delicate
Brexit balance in her cabinet.
The Conservative leader named
Penny Mordaunt, a minister in
the welfare department and a
strong supporter of Britain’s with-
drawal from the European Union,
as her new international develop-
ment secretary.
On Wednesday evening, Patel
became the second minister to
quit within a week, after a row
over unauthorized meetings she
had during a holiday to Israel in
August, including with Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Patel is a prominent Brexit sup-
porter, and some Conservative
MPs had pressed for a replace-
ment that would maintain the
political — and gender — bal-
ance.
Mordaunt had initially been
tipped to replace Michael Fallon
as defense secretary when he quit
on Nov. 1 following allegations of
sexual harassment, but that job
went to one of May’s close aides,
Gavin Williamson.
“The Queen has been pleased to
approve the appointment of
Penny Mordaunt MP as secretary
of state for international develop-
ment,” a statement from Downing
Street said.
Mordaunt, a 44-year-old Royal
Navy reservist, is the MP for the
English naval town of Portsmouth,
and served as a junior defense
minister before becoming minis-
ter for disabled people last year.
Elected in 2010 after a career in
business and media, including as
head of foreign press for George W.
Bush’s 2000 presidential cam-
paign, Mordaunt has cut a rather
different path from many of her
fellow MPs.
She took part in a celebrity
television diving show in 2014,
giving her appearance fee to a
local swimming pool.
She also delivered a bizarre
speech in the House of Commons
in 2013 about Easter and poultry,
reportedly a response to a bet by
navy colleagues to use the word
“cock” as many times as she could
in parliament.
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