Inspired by Ukraine, civilians study urban warfare in Taiwan

Inspired by Ukraine, civilians study urban warfare in Taiwan
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Taiwanese civilians in tactical gear and replica weapons take part in an urban warfare workshop on June 18, 2022. (AFP)
Inspired by Ukraine, civilians study urban warfare in Taiwan
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Taiwanese civilians in tactical gear and replica weapons take part in an urban warfare workshop on June 18, 2022. (AFP)
Inspired by Ukraine, civilians study urban warfare in Taiwan
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Taiwanese civilians in tactical gear and replica weapons take part in an urban warfare workshop on June 18, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Inspired by Ukraine, civilians study urban warfare in Taiwan

Inspired by Ukraine, civilians study urban warfare in Taiwan
  • Disquiet over China had been brewing in Taiwan long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine

NEW TAIPEI CITY: Dressed in military camouflage with an assault rifle at the ready, “Prof” Yeh peers from behind a vehicle in a parking lot outside Taipei, scanning his surroundings and waiting for a signal to advance.
Yeh actually works in marketing, and his weapon is a replica — but he is spending the weekend attending an urban warfare workshop to prepare for what he sees as the very real threat of a Chinese invasion.
“The Russia-Ukraine war is a big reason why I came to this workshop,” 47-year-old Yeh, whose call sign during training is “Prof,” tells AFP during a break between sessions.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine at the end of February, he gave shape to the darkest fears of many Taiwanese.
The self-governed democracy lives under constant threat from authoritarian China, which views the island as part of its territory and has pledged to take it one day.
But the war in Ukraine has also inspired Yeh.
The resilience of Ukrainian forces has given him hope that with the right tactics, Taiwan too might have a chance defending itself against its much mightier neighbor.
He is not alone — the organizers of the urban combat course say their students have nearly quadrupled since February. Firearms and first aid courses have also seen increased enrolment.

Disquiet over China was brewing in Taiwan long before the Russian invasion.
Max Chiang, CEO of the company that organizes the workshops, says there has been “a heightened sense of crisis” among Taiwanese people since 2020, when Chinese warplanes began making regular incursions into the island’s air identification zone.
Roughly 380 sorties were recorded that year — a number that more than doubled in 2021, and is on track to do so again this year, according to an AFP database.
China comprehensively outnumbers Taiwan militarily, with over one million ground force personnel to Taiwan’s 88,000, 6,300 tanks compared with 800, and 1,600 fighter jets to 400, according to the US Department of Defense.
But Ukraine has provided a practical blueprint for how to make that disparity matter less.
It has vividly demonstrated how fighting for control of cities can be difficult and costly for attacking forces — and most of Taiwan’s 23 million people live in urban areas.
As Yeh and his 15 teammates run in staggered column formation across the parking lot, stooping behind dilapidated buildings and vehicles to simulate attacks on enemy positions, they are trying to put some of the lessons learned in Ukraine’s devastated cities into practice.
“The best defense is offense,” Yeh emphasises, as instructors in bright reflective vests stand nearby taking notes.
“To put it bluntly, annihilate the enemy and stop any enemy advances.”

In a warehouse beside the parking lot, 34-year-old Ruth Lam is learning to fire a handgun for the first time.
Lam, who works at an emergency vehicle lights manufacturer, said that most of her European clients had told her there would not be a war in Ukraine.
“But it happened,” she says.
She is hoping that knowing how to handle a gun might protect her and her family if there is war, and is planning to continue target practice with friends.
“Prepare your umbrella before it rains,” she says. “We don’t know when things are going to happen.”
In a survey conducted in May, 61.4 percent of respondents said they were willing to take up arms in the event of an invasion.
“The will of the Ukrainian people to fight against aggressors has increased the resolve of Taiwanese to safeguard their homeland,” Chen Kuan-ting, CEO of Taiwan think-tank NextGen Foundation, tells AFP.
Lin Ping-yu, a former paratrooper who came to the urban warfare class “to brush up on his combat skills,” concurs.
“Only when a country’s citizens have the strong will and determination to protect their land can they convince the international community to come help them,” the 38-year-old says.
Yeh believes it is a question of when, not if, they will be called to put their new skills into action.
Citing the example of Hong Kong, where Beijing has moved to consolidate its grip in the last few years, he says simply: “Taiwan is next.”
 


France gets help from EU neighbors as wildfires rage

France gets help from EU neighbors as wildfires rage
Updated 9 sec ago

France gets help from EU neighbors as wildfires rage

France gets help from EU neighbors as wildfires rage
HOSTENS, France: Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.
Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought — conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.
“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and... adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.
The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.
“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.
“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilized against the flames... These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.
In total, 361 foreign firefighters were dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.
A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.
Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.
It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July — the driest month seen in France since 1961 — before being contained, but it continued to smolder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.
Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lt. Col. Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.
Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.
On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.
“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic... And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.
With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.
Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.
The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.
The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.
In Portugal Thursday, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the center of the country.
It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

UK records surge in human-trafficking referrals, data shows

UK records surge in human-trafficking referrals, data shows
Updated 19 min 25 sec ago

UK records surge in human-trafficking referrals, data shows

UK records surge in human-trafficking referrals, data shows
  • More than 4,000 potential cases brought before Home Office in three months, The Guardian reports
  • Albanians and Eritreans are the biggest targets for smugglers, the figures reveal

LONDON: The UK has recorded its highest-ever number of human-trafficking referrals, with figures surging by a third over the past year, The Guardian reported.

About 90 percent of the referrals — which allow civil servants to report suspected trafficking crimes through the National Referral Mechanism — are believed to focus on the alleged victims of people smugglers.

From April to June this year, 4,171 cases were reported to the NRM, which was established in 2009. About half of the cases involved people being exploited in the UK. Of that figure, more than 1,000 cases involved people who refused to take any further action, including many who are alleged victims of labor and sexual exploitation.

The three biggest groups by nationality represented in the figures were Albanians, Britons and Eritreans, respectively.

The UK Home Office has set its sights on Albanian people smugglers as a key target. Offenders as well as asylum seekers were recently sent back to Albania on a deportation flight.

But campaigners and charities have warned that the NRM fails to offer adequate support for the victims of trafficking.

“We are worried to see a rise in recorded modern slavery cases at a time when the circumstances of so many survivors seems uncertain,” said Maya Esslemont of After Exploitation, which examines government data to monitor trafficking trends.

“Since the Nationality and Borders Act was brought into force, survivors no longer have a guarantee of support even if they are recognized as trafficking survivors by the Home Office’s own decision-makers.

“Today’s figures show just how urgently this government needs to step up and address the long-term challenges facing each of the victims recognized as an NRM statistic.”

Iryna Pona, policy and impact manager at The Children’s Society, said: “The record numbers of referrals show what huge problems modern slavery and exploitation are for all children, whether they are British or migrant children trafficked to the UK.

“More than a third are suspected to have been groomed and coerced — usually with terrifying threats — to commit crime, which can include carrying drugs … while scores more are believed to be victims of sexual exploitation.

“Children who are forcibly trafficked here from abroad — or offered an escape from war or persecution by being sold a dream of a new life of hope — are also often made to work in places like cannabis farms, car washes and nail bars, or forced to beg.”


Top Taliban cleric killed in Kabul suicide blast

Top Taliban cleric killed in Kabul suicide blast
Updated 11 August 2022

Top Taliban cleric killed in Kabul suicide blast

Top Taliban cleric killed in Kabul suicide blast
  • Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani was killed by a suicide bomber at his madrassa in the Afghan capital
  • Daesh has claimed responsibility for the blast

KABUL/PESHAWAR: A prominent Taliban cleric, Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, was killed in an attack in a seminary in Kabul when the attacker detonated explosives hidden in a plastic artificial leg on Thursday, according to officials and Taliban sources.
Rahimullah Haqqani, who had recently spoken publicly in favor of girls being allowed to attend school, had survived at least two previous assassination attempts — including one in Pakistan in October 2020.
“Very sadly informed that respected cleric (Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani) was martyred in a cowardly attack by enemies,” said Bilal Karimi, a spokesperson for the Taliban administration.
“He is the only one martyred,” Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told AFP, adding that at least four others were wounded in the blast.
Later on Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack on the school.
Four Taliban sources told Reuters the attacker was someone who had previously lost his leg and had hidden the explosives in a plastic artificial leg.
“We are investigating who this ... person was and who had brought him to this important place to enter the personal office of Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani. It’s a very huge loss for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” said one senior Taliban official of the interior ministry, referring to the group’s name for its administration.
Taliban sources said although he held no official position, Haqqani was an influential figure who had taught many of the group’s members over the years.
Scores of Taliban officials took to social media to express their condolences.
“You have fulfilled your responsibility. Destiny cannot be prevented, but the Muslim community has been orphaned,” tweeted Mobin Khan, a former spokesman for the Kabul police.
Haqqani was known for angry speeches against IS, who have claimed several attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s return to power in August last year.
In recent months he also backed the right of girls to attend school.
“There is no justification in sharia to say female education is not allowed. No justification at all,” he told the BBC in an interview in May.
Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam.
They have not allowed secondary schools for girls to reopen in most of the country.
(With AFP and Reuters)


British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport

British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport
Updated 11 August 2022

British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport

British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport
  • Davis faces three counts under UK terrorism laws, two related to terrorism fundraising in 2014 and one related to possessing a firearm
  • CPS prosecutor Kashif Malik: ‘It is plain from images that Davis sent to El-Wahabi, Davis’ wife, that he has been with fighters in Syria and was not in Syria for lawful purposes’

LONDON: A British man accused of being part of a Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” was remanded in custody Thursday on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him to the UK.

Aine Davis, 38, was an alleged member of the Daesh cell that held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.

Two of the four have already been brought to justice in the United States for the gruesome beheadings and killings of several American captives, while another of the quartet died in Syria.

British police arrested Davis after he was deported by Turkish authorities and landed at Luton airport near London late Wednesday.

He faces three counts under UK terrorism laws, two related to terrorism fundraising in 2014 and one related to possessing a firearm.

Appearing at a London magistrates’ court flanked by two suited police officers Thursday morning, Davis — sporting a short beard and grey T-shirt — spoke only to confirm his name and that he was of no fixed abode.

His lawyer confirmed he would not be entering a plea or seeking bail at this stage.

Chief magistrate Paul Goldspring said bail would in any case be refused partly due to Davis’ “propensity to travel on forged documents” and ordered him held in prison.

He referred the case to the crown court, which deals with serious criminal offenses, with a pre-trial hearing set for September 2 at the central criminal court, known as the Old Bailey.

Goldspring noted that if convicted, Davis will face “years, not months” in jail.

The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.

They were allegedly involved in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The accused cell members, who all grew up in west London, allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.

Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the UK to the US in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the US at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week.

They were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to Britain and then the US.

There they faced federal court charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

The other “Beatles” executioner, Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.

Davis was arrested in Istanbul in 2015 by Turkish authorities on suspicion of being a member of Daesh, and was using a forged travel document, the magistrates’ court heard Thursday.

He was convicted in Turkey 18 months later, sentenced to seven-and-a-half years imprisonment, and released in July into an immigration detention center where he remained until he was deported this week.

In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.

She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before going to fight with Daesh in 2013.

“It’s believed that this (money) was to be collected by Mr. Davis or an associate,” CPS prosecutor Kashif Malik told the court Thursday, noting it had been raised in the UK “to support terrorism.”

He said Davis had sent messages and photos to his wife from Syria.

“It is plain from images that Davis sent to El-Wahabi that he has been with fighters in Syria and was not in Syria for lawful purposes,” he added. “On occasions he was in possession of a firearm.”

A 2014 search of the couple’s London property found speeches by Osama bin Laden and prominent Al-Qaeda preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki, Malik said.

“We believe this was material left behind by Mr. Davis,” he added.


Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head

Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head
Updated 11 August 2022

Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head

Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head
  • Corrupt leaders, Israeli and Palestinian peace are key issues, says Edward M. Gabriel
  • ‘Beirut and Tel Aviv pact can access oil and gas in Mediterranean’

CHICAGO: Lebanon will be on the precipice of change if its people end government corruption, and Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace agreement, the head of the American Task Force on Lebanon said Wednesday.

Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel, president and CEO of the ATFL, who was recently appointed to the board of the US Institute of Peace, told Arab News there are many issues that need resolution to change regional dynamics and significantly reduce tensions. But that positive change is possible.

Gabriel, who just returned from an ATFL mission to Lebanon, said that if the Israelis and Palestinians find peace, Hezbollah would lay down its arms and become more of a political party rather than remain as one of the toughest militias to successfully stand up to Israel’s regional military presence.

“Hezbollah is a political party and they are part of the fabric of the country whether some people like it or not. The question is, they need to put down their arms and make sure they operate as a political entity in Lebanon and not continue their terrorism across the region,” Gabriel explained, saying that if this happens the group could be a positive force in the country.

“Hezbollah has said that when there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, there is no need for them to have arms. I met with the Shia mufti recently and he actually reiterated that belief. And I asked him, at what point do you see them putting down their arms, and he said exactly those words you seem to indicate.”

During an appearance on The Ray Hanania Show, Gabriel said there are other factors at play besides Hezbollah’s military strength and engagement in terrorism. They include Lebanon resolving its maritime disputes with Israel and ending the corruption of the Lebanese government in order to qualify for financial support from the International Monetary Fund.

“One thing has come up is a negotiation between Lebanon and Israel, two enemies that are trying to settle their maritime border dispute. We were encouraged that they were moving in the right direction there, and if they do it will send a great new signal that Lebanon can work with some of the tough characters in the region and find simple solutions,” Gabriel said.

Resolving the maritime issues between Israel and Lebanon can open access to huge pockets of oil and gas that lie underneath the Mediterranean Sea, he said.

“Lebanon has two problems. One is corruption and the other is Hezbollah having arms. You can’t have a country where you have a militia that can push itself around in the region over the heads of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Thank God the Lebanese Armed Forces are becoming much stronger. What they were 10 years ago and what they are today makes a big difference. No, I don’t see this as mainly a regional problem anymore. The Lebanese Armed Forces are protecting the borders and the sovereignty of the country pretty well. They have got more work to do,” Gabriel said.

“What this comes down to is a parliament that will tell the corrupt leaders enough is enough, you are out. We are going to vote for reforms and change and we are going to implement those through a good governance structure to make change. Those are two issues causing the problem today. The IMF program, the International Monetary Fund program, is a possible solution out if they react to it and pass the needed legislation in the next two months just before a presidential election. The parliament will have something to say about that. Will they elect a president that is reform oriented or will the same old guys elect the same old guys.”

Gabriel said the election results from May 2022 which weakened Hezbollah’s hold on parliament, offers a path to achieving greater reforms and rebuilding the nation’s shattered economy.

“Recent statistics put Lebanon in the bottom four of the worst (performing on the) economic (front of) countries in the world. Just a couple of decades ago — a decade ago — it was in the upper third of countries on the income scale. The World Bank says it is one of the worst economic disasters since 1850, possibly one of the worst three disasters. We have a lot to be concerned about,” Gabriel said.

“We met with the top leadership of the country, with a tough message. And that was you are in charge of a country that right now is going off the cliff. It is going to be a beggar state by next year and you will be responsible for this unless you can do something in the coming months to stave off the impending disaster.”

But he said that the reformers must find a way to come together in strength to bring change in the November presidential elections.

“Reform candidates, the opposition candidates, the change candidates took away the majority, away from Hezbollah and its allies. So there seems to be a movement there by a progressive group of parliamentarians that want to make change. Now, that is a long way to go but these phenomenal people who care about their country are doing their best under the circumstances. There is regional pressure on Lebanon,” Gabriel said, noting increased tensions and rhetoric between Israel and Hezbollah recently.

“But that’s making an excuse. Quite frankly, the reason why Lebanon is what it is, is because of corruption. There is massive amount of corruption in the country and it really has to come to a halt if there is ever to be any progress. The International Monetary Fund is come in with a proposal accepted by the government so far. But the government has to implement a number of reforms that will reduce corruption and address the needs of the people, so we will see how that happens.”

But Israel has to realize that it has major decisions to make regarding regional peace and find another alternative to violence against Palestinians, he said.

“Israel has to come to realize on Gaza and the Palestinian issue, they can have a one-state solution or a two-state solution. But to have a two-state solution they have got to enter into good faith conversations with Palestine to find a win-win solution. Otherwise they are going to get a one-state solution which more and more people are moving towards,” Gabriel said.

“And right now the one-state solution would have the Palestinian people over 50 percent of the population. So, it really is in Israel’s best interests to think how they are operating in the Palestinian arena. Having said that, terrorism by Hamas doesn’t help the situation. Right now, they need quiet in the region and now that Israel has a partner to talk to. Both of them have to come to grips with this for a win-win solution.”

Gabriel said he believes that despite some challenges, President Joe Biden offers the best route toward building up the Middle East, noting the US leader has spent much time addressing the region.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C. including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.