Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe

National Guard troops walk near the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2021 as security was bolstered after intelligence uncovered a
National Guard troops walk near the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2021 as security was bolstered after intelligence uncovered a "possible plot to breach the Capitol" on March 4. (AFP / Eric Baradat)
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Updated 04 March 2021

Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe

Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe
  • The hourslong delay cost the National Guard precious minutes in the early hours of the Jan. 6 rioting by Trump supporters
  • Security boosted again amid warnings of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the Capitol on March 4

WASHINGTON: Defense Department leaders placed unusual restrictions on the National Guard for the day of the Capitol riot and delayed sending help for hours despite an urgent plea from police for reinforcement, according to testimony Wednesday that added to the finger-pointing about the government response.
Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, told senators that the then-chief of the Capitol Police requested military support in a “voice cracking with emotion” in a 1:49 p.m. call as rioters began pushing toward the Capitol. Walker said he immediately relayed the request to the Army but did not learn until after 5 p.m. that the Defense Department had approved it. Guard troops who had been waiting on buses were then rushed to the Capitol, arriving in 18 minutes, Walker said.
The hourslong delay cost the National Guard precious minutes in the early hours of the Jan. 6 rioting, with Walker saying he could have gotten personnel into the building within 20 minutes of getting approval. As it stood, the support did not happen until the evening. The delay also stood in contrast to the swift authorization for National Guard support that Walker said was granted in response to the civil unrest that roiled Washington last June as an outgrowth of racial justice protests.
A senior Pentagon official who testified, Robert Salesses, said it took time for the Army to sort out what the National Guard was being asked to do and what its support might look like, especially since the Capitol Police days earlier had not asked for any help. Mindful of criticism that the response to the demonstrations last spring was heavy-handed, military officials were also concerned about the optics of a substantial National Guard presence at the Capitol, and that such visuals could inflame the rioters, Walker said.
“The Army senior leadership” expressed “that it would not be their best military advice to have uniformed Guardsmen on the Capitol,” Walker said.
The Senate hearing is the latest about the missed intelligence and botched efforts to quickly gather National Guard troops as a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters laid siege to the Capitol. Taken together, the hearings have spelled out the challenge law enforcement officials face in sorting through an ocean of unverified tips but also highlighted how police inadequately prepared for the Trump loyalists; that FBI warnings about the threat of violence did not reach top police officials; and that requests for aid were not promptly answered.
“We in the FBI want to bat 1,000, and we want to not have this ever happen again,” said Jill Sanborn, the bureau’s top counterterrorism official and one of the witnesses. “So we’re asking ourselves exactly the questions that you’re asking: Is there a place we could have collected more (intelligence)? Is there something we could have done?”
Meanwhile, the Capitol Police disclosed the existence of intelligence of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the Capitol on Thursday. The revelation, coming as the acting police chief was testifying before a House subcommittee, differed from an earlier advisory from the House sergeant-at-arms that said police had no indication that any such violence was planned.
Much of the focus at Wednesday’s Senate hearing was on communications between the National Guard and the Defense Department. Walker described an “unusual” directive that required Pentagon approval before deploying a specialized 40-member “quick reaction force” and before relocating personnel from one traffic intersection to another.
As chaos escalated on Jan. 6, then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund asked him for National Guard help in a frantic call and then again on a call with Army officials, who said they did not “think that it looked good” to have a military presence.
“The response to the request took too long, so I think there needs to be a study done to make sure that never happens again,” Walker said. “It shouldn’t take three hours to get a yes or no answer.”
That account was consistent with the recollection of Robert Contee, the acting chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, who told lawmakers last week that he was “stunned” by the delayed response. Contee said Sund pleaded with Army officials to deploy National Guard troops as the rioting escalated.
Walker’s testimony, however, conflicts a bit with timelines that were put out and discussed by senior military and defense leaders in the weeks after the riot.
According to the Defense Department, Walker was called at 3 p.m. by Army officials, and was told to prepare Guard troops to deploy. That call was designed to give the Guard notice of the impending deployment so they would have time to move troops from their traffic posts to the armory where they would get new orders, protective equipment and weapons.
The Pentagon said acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller gave verbal authorization for the Guard troops to deploy at about 4:30 p.m., and that at 5:02 p.m., 154 members of the D.C. Guard left the armory, heading to the Capitol.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said during a break in the hearing that senators “certainly will have questions” for Miller and for former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
“Whether that’s going to require testimony or not, I don’t know, but it’s definitely going to require an opportunity to ask them questions about their view, from their perspective, of why this decision-making process went so horribly wrong,” Blunt said.
Salesses, the senior Pentagon official, stressed that military officials were concerned about responding forcefully to civil disturbance in light of what happened last spring, “where we had helicopters flying above US citizens, we had spy planes flying over folks who were protesting.”
The Capitol Police had not previously requested National Guard help, and in letters to Walker, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser laid out the city’s request for help and made it clear there would be restrictions on the Guard members.
At last week’s hearing, officials in charge of Capitol security blamed one another as well as federal law enforcement for their own lack of preparation as hundreds of rioters descended on the building, easily breached the security perimeter and eventually broke into the Capitol. Five people died as a result of the rioting.
Thousands of National Guard troops are still patrolling the fenced-in Capitol, and multiple committees across Congress are investigating Jan. 6. The probes are largely focused on security missteps and the origins of the extremism that led hundreds of Trump supporters to break through the doors and windows of the Capitol, hunt for lawmakers and temporarily stop the counting of electoral votes.
Lawmakers have grilled law enforcement officials about missed intelligence ahead of the attack, including a report from an FBI field office in Virginia that warned of online posts foreshadowing a “war” in Washington. Sund has said he was unaware of the report at the time, even though the FBI had forwarded it to the department.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the report was disseminated through the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, discussed at a command post and posted on an Internet portal available to law enforcement agencies.
Though the information was raw and unverified, Wray said, it was specific and concerning enough that “the smartest thing to do, the most prudent thing to do, was just push it to the people who needed to get it.”


Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador
Updated 22 April 2021

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador
  • Pakistani Taliban group claims responsibility for assault against high officials
  • China condemns attack; Balochistan home minister refuses to confirm envoy was target 

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: A blast that killed five people and injured 11 at a luxury hotel in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta, in Balochistan, on Wednesday night was a suicide attack, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Thursday.

The Serena Hotel Quetta, located next to the Iranian consulate in the city and the provincial parliament building, had been hosting China’s ambassador to the country, Nong Rong, whilst on a visit to Balochistan.

“It was a suicide attack. The bomber detonated his vest from inside (his) car,” Ahmed said, adding that the attacker had yet to be identified. “Around 60 to 80 kilograms of explosive was used in the attack.”

The Chinese ambassador was not at the hotel during the attack, Ahmed continued. “He was staying somewhere else and he is safe.”

Zia Ullah Langau, home minister Balochistan, declined to confirm if the Chinese ambassador was the target of the assault, saying investigations were ongoing. Quetta’s police deputy inspector general, Azhar Akram, added: “Our security was on high alert, and we are assessing all aspects.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it “strongly condemns” the bombing.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group fighting to overthrow the government, claimed responsibility for the attack, and said it was carried out “on high officials, including police officers.”

Designated a terrorist group by the US, the TTP has been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mineral rich Balochistan, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency by local nationalists who want a larger share of the region’s resources.

The province, Pakistan’s largest but also its most impoverished, is home to the recently-expanded Gwadar deep water port, a flagship part of China’s $65 billion investment in the Pakistani section of its Belt and Road Initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project.


Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif
Updated 22 April 2021

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif
  • Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly
  • His Pakistan Muslim League party quickly hailed the ruling by the court in the eastern city of Lahore

LAHORE: A Pakistani court granted bail on Thursday to the country’s opposition leader, about seven months after he was arrested by an anti-graft body over alleged involvement in money laundering.
Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. His Pakistan Muslim League party quickly hailed the ruling by the court in the eastern city of Lahore. It described the case against him as “fake.”
Shahbaz Sharif is the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, who served three times as Pakistan’s prime minister. He has been living in exile in London since 2019, after he was released on bail to seek medical treatment abroad.
Nawaz Sharif hasn’t returned home since, and the government is seeking his extradition.

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Unequal commemoration of British Empire troops due to ‘pervasive racism’

Unequal commemoration of British Empire troops due to ‘pervasive racism’
Updated 22 April 2021

Unequal commemoration of British Empire troops due to ‘pervasive racism’

Unequal commemoration of British Empire troops due to ‘pervasive racism’
  • Investigation: Up to 350,000 Middle Eastern, African casualties may not be commemorated by name or at all
  • Commission: “This was not right then and must not be allowed to remain unaddressed now”

LONDON: Hundreds of thousands of predominantly Asian and black soldiers who died fighting for the British Empire have not been formally commemorated in the same way as their white comrades because of decisions underpinned by “pervasive racism,” according to an investigation.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) discovered that at least 116,000 — but potentially as many as 350,000 — Middle Eastern and African casualties may not be commemorated by name or at all.
The CWGC is expected to issue a formal apology for the unequal treatment of those unnamed soldiers, as well as up to 54,000 African and Asian soldiers who were commemorated “unequally” compared to their white comrades.
The Imperial War Graves Commission, later renamed the CWGC, was founded in 1917 to commemorate men and women of the British Empire who lost their lives in World War I, and was defined by the principle of equality of treatment in death.
Everyone who dies in military service is supposed to be commemorated identically, with their names engraved on a headstone or memorial.
The commission’s findings, seen by The Guardian, quote racist statements — such as a 1920s governor saying “the average native … would not understand or appreciate a headstone” — as evidence that soldiers were treated differently if they came from Commonwealth countries.
“The report highlights that, in certain circumstances, those principles so rigidly adhered to for all who fell in Europe were applied inconsistently or abandoned in the more distant corners of the globe when applied to the non-European war dead of the British Empire, in the immediate aftermath of World War One,” the commission said.
“The commissioners acknowledge that this was not right then and must not be allowed to remain unaddressed now. Those identified in the special committee’s report deserve to be remembered as much today as they did 100 years ago.”
The special committee noted that many of the decisions surrounding burial and commemoration were influenced by a lack of information, opinions of colonial administrators, or other errors.
“Underpinning all these decisions, however, were the entrenched prejudices, preconceptions and pervasive racism of contemporary imperial attitudes,” it said. 
Claire Horton, director general of the CWGC, said: “The events of a century ago were wrong then and are wrong now. We recognize the wrongs of the past and are deeply sorry and will be acting immediately to correct them.”
Troops recruited from Britain’s vast empire played important roles in various battles throughout World War I.
Units such as the Egyptian Expeditionary Force suffered thousands of casualties in the British campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, and ultimately contributed to the allied powers’ victory.


EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls — sources

EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls — sources
Updated 22 April 2021

EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls — sources

EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls — sources
  • The drugmaker cut COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the European Union
  • Under the contract, the company had committed to making its “best reasonable efforts” to deliver to the EU 180 million vaccine doses in the second quarter

BRUSSELS: The European Commission is working on legal proceedings against AstraZeneca after the drugmaker cut COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the European Union, sources familiar with the matter said.

The move would mark a further step in an EU plan to sever ties with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker after the company repeatedly cut supplies to the bloc, contributing to major delays in Europe’s vaccine rollout.

The news about the legal case was first reported on Thursday by Politico. An EU official involved in talks with drugmakers confirmed the EU was preparing to sue the company.

“EU states have to decide if they (will) participate. It is about fulfillment of deliveries by the end of the second quarter,” the official said.

The matter was discussed on Wednesday at a meeting with EU diplomats, the official and a diplomat said. Politico, citing five unnamed European diplomats, reported that a majority of EU countries at the meeting said they would support suing the company.

“What matters is that we ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of doses in line with the company’s earlier commitments,” a spokesman for the EU Commission said. “Together with the member States, we are looking at all options to make this happen.”

There was no immediate response from AstraZeneca on Thursday to a request for comment.

Brussels in March sent a legal letter to the company in the first step of a potential legal procedure.

When the deadline for a reply expired this month, a spokesman for the Commission said the matter was discussed in a meeting with AstraZeneca but the EU was still seeking further clarification from the company on “a number of outstanding points.”

The spokesman did not elaborate, but details of the letter published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera show the EU was seeking clarification on what it deemed a delayed application to the EU regulator for approval of the vaccine.

Brussels also questioned how AstraZeneca spent over 224 million euros ($270 million) granted by the EU in September to buy vaccine ingredients and for which the company had not provided sufficient documents confirming the purchases.

Under the contract, the company had committed to making its “best reasonable efforts” to deliver to the EU 180 million vaccine doses in the second quarter, for a total of 300 million in the period from December to June.

But the company said in a statement on March 12 it would aim to deliver only one third of that. The EU letter was sent a week after that statement.

Under the contract, the parties agreed that Belgian courts would be responsible to settle unresolved disputes.

The EU has already decided not to take up an option to buy 100 million extra doses of AstraZeneca under the contract, an EU official said, after supply delays and safety concerns about very rare cases of blood clots linked to the vaccine.


Indonesia in race against time to find missing submarine before air supply runs out

Indonesia in race against time to find missing submarine before air supply runs out
Updated 22 April 2021

Indonesia in race against time to find missing submarine before air supply runs out

Indonesia in race against time to find missing submarine before air supply runs out
  • KRI Nanggala-402 submarine, 53 aboard, went missing from last dive position on Wednesday
  • Submarines from Singapore, Malaysia on their way to Bali to assist in search and rescue

JAKARTA: The Indonesian navy is racing against time to rescue personnel trapped inside a missing submarine, which had oxygen supplies for only three days, the country’s naval chief said on Thursday.

The KRI Nanggala-402 submarine, with 53 people aboard, went missing from its last dive position on Wednesday morning, about 96 kilometers north of the island of Bali.

“The submarine had 72 hours of oxygen supply and it is estimated to last only until 3 a.m. on Saturday,” the Indonesian navy’s chief of staff, Adm. Yudo Margono told reporters during a press conference.

He added that there was some hope as the search party had detected a strong magnetic field at about 50–100 meters depth, but the object emitting it has not yet been identified.

The vessel went missing during a torpedo-firing drill, featuring all 21 of the navy’s ships, its two submarines, and five aircraft, which are now also deployed in the search for the missing KRI Nanggala-402.

The military said the submarine was seaworthy and its personnel were in good condition during the drill that was conducted in accordance with procedures.

As an oil slick was spotted where the vessel dived, the navy initially said it could be from a leak in the submarine’s fuel tank, which may have fractured if it submerged 500–700 meters during a blackout.

“Or it could be that when it was diving at 50–100 meters deep, the crew deliberately discharged the oil in an attempt to reduce the submarine’s load to make it lighter and stay afloat,” Margono said.

The submarine requested clearance at 3 a.m. local time to dive to periscope-level depth, or about 15 meters deep, to prepare for firing. Thirty minutes later, it was still visible to a sea rider inspection vessel.

“From 3:46 to 4:46 a.m., we tried to maintain contact with the submarine to give them the authorization to fire the torpedo, but there was no response, and its periscope was no longer visible,” Margono said, adding that in accordance with drill procedures, if contact was lost the submarine should have emerged at 5:15 a.m.

The navy dispatched the search party 90 minutes later.

Margono added that submarines from neighboring Singapore and Malaysia are on their way to help find the vessel, which has been in Indonesia’s service since 1981.

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, addressing the same press conference, said that South Korea, where the German-built Cakra class submarine was retrofitted a number of times, had also offered assistance.

He added that the incident underscored the urgency to modernize the country’s defense systems and equipment.