US Navy works with allies to expand use of unmanned vessels in Middle East

Special US Navy works with allies to expand use of unmanned vessels in Middle East
The US Navy has expanded its partnerships with 34 countries in the region, with Egypt last year becoming the latest. (AFP/US NAVY)
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Updated 12 May 2022

US Navy works with allies to expand use of unmanned vessels in Middle East

US Navy works with allies to expand use of unmanned vessels in Middle East
  • Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said: ‘I would describe our efforts as being focused in two main areas: one, strengthening partnerships, and two, accelerating innovation’
  • In February, the US and its allies conducted the world’s largest unmanned naval exercise, called IMX 22, in the Middle East; about 60 countries took part

WASHINGTON: The US Navy is enhancing its security operations in the Gulf and the Middle East regions, one of its commanders said on Wednesday, through the use of unmanned vessels that utilize artificial intelligence technology.
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet, in Bahrain said during a briefing, attended by Arab News, that the main focus of American naval operations in the region is to strengthen partnerships with regional allies and expand the use of innovative military systems.
“I would describe our efforts as being focused in two main areas: one, strengthening partnerships, and two, accelerating innovation,” he said
The US Navy has expanded its partnerships with 34 countries in the region, with Egypt last year becoming the latest, he added.
Cooper said the recent formation of the new, multinational Combined Task Force 153, one of four Combined Maritime Forces, aims to improve security in the Red Sea, Bab El-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden. It will also help foster better working relationships between the US and its partners within its area of operations, which is critical to regional security.
The US navy is looking to expand, in cooperation with its allies in the region, the use of unmanned systems and artificial intelligence within its fleet to improve security capabilities, he added. To help achieve this, Cooper said he established the new Task Force 59 last September.
“Integrating new, unmanned systems with artificial intelligence puts more eyes out on the water that we simply have not had in the past,” he said.
The US Navy deployed unmanned systems in Bahrain and Aqaba, Jordan, last year, Cooper revealed. In February this year, the US and its allies conducted the world’s largest unmanned exercise, called IMX 22, in the Middle East. About 60 countries took part.
Cooper called for greater cooperation between regional naval allies in efforts to utilize new technologies that can help improve security and stability.
“I believe that we are on the cusp of an unmanned technological revolution and this calls for regional navies to work together more closely,” he said.
Cooperation between the naval forces of the US and Saudi Arabia is extensive, he added, highlighting in particular the Saudi role and leadership within task forces established by the US navy and its partners in the region.
“Over a period of years, the Saudis have commanded multiple task forces within the Combined Maritime Forces,” he said. “In fact, this summer there will be a Saudi leader of Combined Task Force 150, which leads our maritime security operations in the North Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman. So we’re very excited about that.”


Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
Updated 8 sec ago

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
BEIRUT: The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal has had its cargo resold several times and there is now no information about its location and cargo destination, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said Monday.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, which left Odesa on Aug. 1, and moved through the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian corn, later passed inspection in Turkey. It was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed.
The Razoni hasn’t had its tracker on for the last three days and it appeared off the east coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at last transmission.
It was not clear if the Razoni had its tracker off because it was heading to a port in Syria, a strong ally of Russia that Ukraine had accused of importing grain stolen from Ukraine.
Syria is also under Western sanctions because of the 11-year conflict there that has killed hundreds of thousands. Syrian port officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done,” Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said in a statement in English, adding that to date, 16 vessels have left Ukraine carrying more than 450,000 tons of agricultural products since a breakthrough agreement was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The embassy said the Razoni was the first vessel that left Ukraine under the agreement and later successfully passed inspection in Istanbul before moving toward its destination.
“We don’t have any information about (the) position of the vessel and cargo destination,” it said. “We have also information that cargo has been resold a few times after that.”
The embassy said: “We are not responsible for (the) vessel and cargo, especially when it left Ukraine, moreover after vessel’s departure from foreign port.”
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain — most of it said to be destined for livestock — has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month-old war.

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17
Updated 15 August 2022

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17
  • The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region

AMSTERDAM: The Dutch court handling the murder trial of four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 said on Monday it would hand down its verdict on Nov. 17.
Prosecutors say the one Ukrainian and three Russian defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that Russian-backed separatists used to fire a rocket at the plane on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board were killed.
The prosecution is seeking life terms for all suspects.
Lawyers for Oleg Pulatov, the only defendant who has chosen to participate in the proceedings through counsel, have argued that the trial was unfair and prosecutors did not properly examine alternative theories about the cause of the crash or the involvement of Pulatov.
The other suspects, named as Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko, are being tried in absentia. Under Dutch law Pulatov, while he is also at large, is not considered to be tried in absentia because he is represented through lawyers he has instructed.
The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region by what international investigators say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. The eastern region has also become a key focus of Russia’s nearly six-month-old war in Ukraine.
Most of the victims on board MH17 were Dutch nationals. The Dutch government holds Russia responsible for the crash. Authorities in Moscow deny any involvement.
The MH17 case has seriously strained the Netherlands’ diplomatic relations with Moscow, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started on Feb. 24.


Afghan refugees in the UK told to find homes on real estate portals

Afghan refugees in the UK told to find homes on real estate portals
Updated 15 August 2022

Afghan refugees in the UK told to find homes on real estate portals

Afghan refugees in the UK told to find homes on real estate portals
  • UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 Afghan refugees, with only 7,000 having been rehoused

LONDON: Thousands of Afghan refugees who have been housed in hotels in the UK following the Kabul evacuation last year have been told by authorities to look for new accommodation on online real estate portals.

The UK Home Office has told refugees to find accommodation on Rightmove or Zoopla, The Guardian reported.

On the first anniversary of the Taliban takeover, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 Afghan refugees, with only 7,000 having been rehoused.

Although charities have welcomed government moves to end the use of hotels to accommodate the refugees, charity officials are concerned that many will fail to find suitable accommodation in the private rented sector and may end up homeless.

Afghan families with children will struggle to find affordable accommodation that is large enough using the housing benefit provided.

Charities also highlighted the fact that refugees may not be able to negotiate their own rental agreements due to language barriers, and would not have paperwork such as passports and bank statements that are required to rent a property.

Home Office sources say that in addition to encouraging Afghan families living in hotels to look for their own housing, they aim to offer each family two choices of accommodation somewhere in the UK. However, it is not known if they will be given a choice of location.

The Home Office said the accommodation offers would be “good, decent proposals,” but that if families rejected the offers, they would be provided with a further two months of hotel accommodation. It did not say what would happen if the families failed to secure accommodation after that.

Home Office sources say they are trying to encourage Afghan families to move to other parts of the UK, such as Wales, but this may be problematic for families with children who are attending school in large cities such as London.

Waiting lists for council housing are long, especially for larger properties that can accommodate Afghan families with three or more children.

Despite Afghan families having the right to rent under immigration rules and landlords being able to check this using an online tool, some are reluctant to rent to people who do not have a British passport, or evidence of life in the UK such as utility bills and payslips.

A letter sent to Afghan refugees from the Home Office says that not all councils will accept a request to put families on social housing waiting lists, urging them to start looking in the private rental sector.

“Not all councils will support you so it’s important to check,” the letters said. They urged the refugees to search for multiple properties to increase their chances of finding accommodation as the UK housing market is “very competitive.”

Eva Tabbasam, director of Gender Action for Peace and Security, expressed concern about the plans.

“Afghan families couldn’t have imagined that one year after arriving they’d still be warehoused in unsuitable accommodation, without space, privacy and stability. There is also a serious risk of homelessness for these families if suitable accommodation is not offered under the current Home Office plans, Tabbasam said.

“The government has had a year to sort things out — instead, it’s getting worse. If suitable accommodation was readily available for the 9,500 people still in hotels, families would already have been moved into it. We don’t yet know what kind of move on accommodation families will be offered,” she added.

London Councils’ executive member for communities, Claire Holland, said: “Boroughs are very concerned by the lack of alternative housing options for these families — a particular challenge in the capital due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing here.”

A Home Office spokesperson said that the use of hotels to house those resettling from Afghanistan is a temporary solution.

“We continue to work with over 350 local authorities to move Afghan families from hotels to permanent accommodation as quickly as possible,” they said.

“To support the resettlement of Afghan families, local authorities are given £20,520 ($24,789) per person over a three-year period. They have the flexibility to use this funding to contribute toward renting accommodation, including deposits, letting fees and furnishing.”


3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago
Updated 15 August 2022

3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

GURNEE, Illinois:Three people were injured in a shooting in the parking lot of an amusement park north of Chicago that sent visitors scrambling for safety, authorities said.
Officers responded about 7:50 p.m. Sunday after 911 calls reporting shots fired at Six Flags Great America, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Chicago, the Gurnee Police Department said.
“The shooting ... was not a random act, and appeared to be a targeted incident that occurred outside the park,” police said in statement posted to Facebook.
According to an initial investigation, police said a white sedan entered the parking lot and drove toward the park’s front entrance. People got out of the car and shot at another person in the parking lot before driving away, police said.
Additional detail about the suspects, including the number of people who fired shots, wasn’t immediately released. Police were investigating.
A 17-year-old boy from Aurora, Illinois, had a thigh wound and a 19-year-old woman from Appleton, Wisconsin, had a leg wound, police said. They were taken to a hospital and their wounds were described as non-life-threatening. A third victim had a shoulder injury and declined to be taken to a hospital.
In a statement, Six Flags Great America said park security responded immediately along with Gurnee officers.
WGN News in Chicago spoke with Laurie Walker and her daughter, Grace, who were inside the park when the shooting occurred. Walker said they were waiting in line for an attraction around 7:50 p.m. when she noticed people running.
“There is an active shooter, get down, get down,” Walker said she heard someone shouting. “We didn’t know what was going on, so we get down.”
Walker and her daughter climbed two fences to get where she could call her husband. Walker told WGN she was able to leave the park a short while later.
Gurnee is in Lake County, about 5 miles south of the Wisconsin border. It’s about 20 miles north of Highland Park, where seven people died in a mass shooting during a July Fourth parade.


Aid to Afghanistan should resume: Ex-British Army chief

Aid to Afghanistan should resume: Ex-British Army chief
Updated 15 August 2022

Aid to Afghanistan should resume: Ex-British Army chief

Aid to Afghanistan should resume: Ex-British Army chief
  • Lord Dannatt: ‘We went there to help the Afghan people and now we’re just watching them suffer’
  • Withdrawal of aid followed Taliban takeover of country last year

LONDON: International aid to Afghanistan should resume amid a growing humanitarian crisis in the country, a former chief of the British Army has told Sky News.

The withdrawal of aid in the wake of the Taliban takeover last year has “led to babies dying and people going hungry,” Lord Dannatt said, adding that a rollback of women’s rights by the Taliban should not deter Western governments from donating to Afghanistan.

Aid is still transferred to the country, but through NGOs and charities rather than national governments.

“We quite unnecessarily withdrew in precipitate haste a year ago, but then I think absolutely outrageously have cut aid to Afghanistan,” Lord Dannatt said.

“People are starving. We went there to help the Afghan people and now we’re just actually watching them suffer — I think it’s outrageous.

“And I think (UK Home Secretary) Priti Patel and other members of the government should take no pride in what is happening. They should be starting again — as should the Americans who are principally responsible for what happened.

“(They) should be significantly increasing their aid packages again to allow the people to have food and to thrive in Afghanistan,” he added.

“Having cut off aid to Afghanistan — that is why babies are dying in hospitals, that is why people are starving up and down the country.

“Now, is that right? As I said before, when we spent 20 years building up Afghanistan … why should we suddenly stop helping the people now because we don’t like the Taliban?

“Yes, their human rights record is not good, they have stopped girls going to secondary school. But is that the right price to pay for the majority of Afghan people to be starving and babies to be dying? I don’t think so.”