Indonesia, US hold biggest joint military drills as Indo-Pacific tensions rise

Indonesia, US hold biggest joint military drills as Indo-Pacific tensions rise
The “Super Garuda Shield” exercises, which were first held in 2007 with only Indonesian and US troops involved, have expanded to include 12 other countries this year. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 August 2022

Indonesia, US hold biggest joint military drills as Indo-Pacific tensions rise

Indonesia, US hold biggest joint military drills as Indo-Pacific tensions rise
  • More than 5,000 soldiers join expanded 2022 Garuda Shield combined exercises
  • 14 countries, including Australia and Japan, involved, with France, UK and India sending observers

JAKARTA: Indonesia and the US on Wednesday launched their biggest-ever joint military exercises, and were joined for the first time by troops from partner nations in what commanders said is a move to strengthen unity in the Indo-Pacific region.

The “Super Garuda Shield” exercises, which were first held in 2007 with only Indonesian and US troops involved, have expanded to include 12 other countries this year.

Defense forces from Australia, Japan and Singapore are taking part in the drills, while India, France and the UK are sending observers.

More than 5,000 soldiers are involved in the two-week exercises in East Kalimantan, South Sumatra and Riau Islands that are aimed at increasing joint military effectiveness, the Indonesian military said in a statement.

“We hope the exercises will go smoothly and everyone can deepen their bonds and interactions, so that this friendship will go on even after our exercises conclude and might be helpful in the future,” Indonesia’s military chief Gen. Andika Perkasa said at the opening ceremony in Baturaja, South Sumatra, on Wednesday.

Although the joint combat exercises are taking place amid increasing Chinese maritime activity in the region, particularly in the disputed South China Sea, Perkasa told reporters that the drills should not be seen as a response to Beijing’s growing assertiveness.

“We have been conducting these exercises annually, in whatever situation,” he said. “What creates peace in our region is not (military) might but the bonds that we share by working together regularly, exercising, getting used to meeting one another as neighbors — that’s what makes us stronger.”

Commanding General of US Army Pacific, Gen. Charles Flynn, said that this year’s Garuda Shield is an expression of  “unity” as a group of countries “seek to continue to have a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

He added: “When we’re together like this, we’re stronger. When we’re working together, we become better joint partners.”

The Indonesia-US military exercises coincided with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as the highest-ranking American official in 25 years to visit the self-ruled island. Beijing described the visit as “a gross interference in China’s internal affairs” amid fresh tensions in the region.

The joint military drills signal Indonesia’s position on balancing engagement with major powers, Muhammad Waffaa Kharisma, a researcher from the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Arab News.

“It’s strategically timely, although likely not exactly on purpose, in that it is conducted around dynamics like China’s possible increased assertiveness around the Taiwanese strait,” Kharisma said.

“Of course, the signal is not necessarily straight about deterring China, but more about that Indonesia also has ties with other powers,” he said.

“We are not leaning toward any power in particular and stand on our own interest to preserve regional peace.”

Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar, an Indonesian international relations researcher at the University of Queensland, Australia, said that the expansion of Garuda Shield this year reflects a common interest among participants to address any potential crisis and security challenges.

The joint military drills are part of Indonesia’s attempts to involve itself in maintaining regional security and defense diplomacy efforts, Umar said.

“We need to acknowledge that regional security threat is not only about China and its expansive maritime territorial claim, but also non-traditional security threats like terrorism.”


Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea

Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea
Updated 6 sec ago

Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea

Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea
KYIV, Ukraine: Massive explosions and fires hit a military depot in Russia-annexed Crimea on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people, the second time in recent days that the Ukraine war’s focus has turned to the peninsula.
Russia blamed the blasts at an ammunition storage facility in Mayskoye on an “act of sabotage” without naming the perpetrators. As with last week’s explosions, they led to speculation that Ukraine may be behind the attack on the peninsula, which Russia has controlled since 2014.
Separately, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant quoted local residents as saying that plumes of black smoke also rose over an air base in Crimea’s Gvardeyskoye.
Ukraine has stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for any of the fires or explosions, including last week’s at another air base that destroyed nine Russian planes. If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, responsible for any of the explosions, they would represent a significant escalation in the war.
Crimea holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for Russia and Ukraine. The Kremlin’s demand that Kyiv recognize the peninsula as part of Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians from the peninsula and all other occupied territories.
Videos posted on social media showed thick plumes of smoke rising over raging flames in Mayskoye, and a series of explosions could be heard in the background. The Russian Defense Ministry said the fires at the depot caused damage to a power plant, power lines, rail tracks and some apartment buildings. It said in a statement that there were no serious injuries.
Earlier, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported a fire a transformer substation after “a loud thump sound” in what appeared to be a result of the blasts at the depot.
The Dzhankoi district, where the blasts happened, is in the north of the peninsula, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Russian-controlled region of Kherson in southern Ukraine. Kyiv has recently mounted a series of attacks on various sites in the region, targeting supply routes for the Russian military there and ammunition depots.
Last week’s explosions at Crimea’s Saki air base sent sunbathers on nearby beaches fleeing as huge flames and pillars of smoke rose over the horizon. Ukrainian officials emphasized Tuesday that Crimea — which is a popular destination for Russian tourists — would not be spared the ravages of war experienced throughout Ukraine.
Rather than a travel destination, “Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves,” Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter, though he did not claim any Ukraine responsibility for the blasts.
Crimea’s regional leader, Sergei Aksyonov, said that two people were injured and more than 3,000 evacuated from the villages of Mayskoye and Azovskoye near Dzhankoi following the munitions depot explosions.
Because the explosions damaged rail tracks, some trains in northern Crimea were diverted to other lines.
The Russian military blamed last week’s blasts at the Saki air base on an accidental detonation of munitions there, but it appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack.
Ukrainian officials at the time stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions, while mocking Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused the ammunition to catch fire. Analysts also said that explanation doesn’t make sense and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.
A British Defense Ministry intelligence update said vessels in Russia’s Black Sea Fleet “continue to pursue an extremely defensive posture” in the waters off Crimea, with the ships barely venturing out of sight of the coastline.
Russia already lost its flagship Moskva in the Black Sea and last month the Ukrainian military retook the strategic Snake Island outpost off Ukraine’s southwestern coast. It is vital for guaranteeing sea lanes out of Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest port.
The Russian fleet’s “limited effectiveness undermines Russia’s overall invasion strategy,” the British statement said. “This means Ukraine can divert resources to press Russian ground forces elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, in the Donbas, which has been the focus of the fighting in recent months, one civilian was killed in Russian shelling, and two others wounded, according to the Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, one civilian was killed and nine others were wounded by Russian shelling, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said. He added that the overnight attack on the city was “one of the most massive shelling of Kharkiv in recent days.”
Officials in the central region of Dniprotpetrovsk also reported shelling of the Nikopol and the Kryvyi Rih districts.
Amid the explosions and shelling, one good piece of news emerged from the region, with a United Nations-chartered ship loaded with 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grain setting off for the Horn of Africa.
It’s the first shipment of its kind, and the United Nations’ World Food Program called it “another important milestone” in a plan to assist countries facing famine. Ukraine and Russia reached a deal with Turkey in July to restart Black Sea grain deliveries, addressing the major export disruption that has occurred since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
The worst drought in four decades in the Horn of Africa has led thousands of people across the region have died from hunger or illness this year.
That deal not only protects ships exporting Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea but also assures Russia that its food and fertilizer won’t face sanctions, safeguarding one of the pillars of its economy and helping ease concerns from insurers and banks.

WHO turns to public for monkeypox name change

WHO turns to public for monkeypox name change
Updated 50 min 19 sec ago

WHO turns to public for monkeypox name change

WHO turns to public for monkeypox name change
  • Experts warn the name can be stigmatising to the primates it was named after

GENEVA: The World Health Organization, which is looking to rename monkeypox, called Tuesday for help from the public in coming up with a less stigmatising designation for the fast-spreading disease.
The UN health agency has for weeks voiced concern about the name of the disease that emerged onto the global stage in May.
Experts warn the name can be stigmatising to the primates it was named after, but who play little role in its spread, and to the African continent that the animals are often associated with.
Recently in Brazil, for instance, there have been reported cases of people attacking monkeys over disease fears.
“Human monkeypox was given its name before current best practices in naming diseases,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva.
“We want really to find a name that is not stigmatising,” she added, saying the consultation is now open to everyone through a dedicated website: https://icd.who.int/dev11.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Worldwide, over 31,000 cases have been confirmed since the start of the year, and 12 people have died, according to the WHO, which has designated the outbreak a global health emergency.
While the virus can jump from animals to humans, WHO experts insist the recent global spread is due to close-contact transmission between humans.
The UN health agency announced last week that a group of experts it had convened had already agreed on new names for monkeypox virus variants, or clades.
Until now, the two main variants have been named after the geographic regions where they were known to circulate, the Congo Basin and West Africa.
The experts agreed to rename them using Roman numerals instead, calling them Clade I and Clade II. A subvariant of Clade II, now known as Clade IIb, is seen as the main culprit behind the ongoing global outbreak.


Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire
Updated 48 min 2 sec ago

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire
  • Firefighters elsewhere in the region were also battling two other wildfires north of Valencia city
  • So far this year, Spain has suffered 391 wildfires

MADRID: Some 300 firefighters spent a difficult night battling a huge wildfire in southeastern Spain that has burnt through nearly 10,000 hectares in an area notoriously difficult to access, officials said Tuesday.
The fire began when lightning hit the Vall de Ebo area in the province of Alicante late Saturday and it has since spread rapidly, fueled by strong winds, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 people, Valencia’s regional government said.
“It’s been a very complicated night,” regional interior minister Gabriela Bravo told Antena 3 television, saying some 300 firefighters were battling the flames, backed by 24 planes and helicopters.
“At the moment we are talking about more than 9,500 hectares burnt with a perimeter of 65 kilometers (40 miles),” regional president Ximo Puig said late Monday, describing the blaze as “absolutely huge.”
“It’s a very complicated situation... The fire is creating enormous difficulties that are absolutely impossible to tackle with the speed we would like.”
Firefighters elsewhere in the region were also battling two other wildfires north of Valencia city, with hundreds of firefighters and at least 10 firefighting planes engaged in the operation, officials said.
Further north, firefighters in the Aragon region were hoping to bring under control another major blaze that broke out Saturday that has burnt more than 6,000 hectares of land, forcing at least 1,500 people from their homes.
So far this year, Spain has suffered 391 wildfires, fueled by scorching temperatures and drought conditions, which have destroyed a total of 271,020 hectares of land, according to the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System.
This year’s fires in Spain have been particularly devastating, destroying more than three times the area consumed by wildfires in the whole of 2021, which amounted to 84,827 hectares, the figures show.
Scientists say human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events, including heatwaves and droughts, more frequent and intense. They in turn increase the risk of fires, which emit climate-heating greenhouse gases.
Fires have blazed across Europe, particularly in France, Greece and Portugal, making 2022 a record year for wildfires on the continent.
In Portugal, a wildfire brought under control last week reignited Tuesday in the UNESCO-designated Serra da Estrela natural park, the civil protection agency said.


Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan
Updated 16 August 2022

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan
  • The assailants fled the scene and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the town of Gomal

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Gunmen riding on motorcycles opened fire on Tuesday on police escorting a team of polio workers in northwestern Pakistan, killing two policemen, authorities said.
None of the polio workers were harmed, said Mohammad Imran, a local police official. The four polio workers and their police escort were all traveling on motorcycles.
The assailants fled the scene and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the town of Gomal, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
The attack came on the second day of Pakistan’s latest anti-polio campaign in the province. Pakistan has registered 14 new polio cases since April, all from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The outbreak has been a blow to the Islamic nation’s efforts to eradicate the disease, which can cause severe paralysis in children.
Pakistan’s anti-polio campaigns are regularly marked by violence as Islamic militants often target polio teams and police protecting them, falsely claiming that the vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. In 2021, Pakistan reported only one case, raising hopes it was close to eradicating polio.

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Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan
Updated 16 August 2022

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan
  • ‘The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict’
  • ‘We see this as a carefully planned provocation’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accused Washington of seeking to prolong the conflict in Ukraine and of fueling conflicts elsewhere in the world, including with the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.
“The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict. And they act in exactly the same way, fueling the potential for conflict in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” Putin said in televised remarks, addressing the opening ceremony of a security conference in Moscow via videolink.
“The American adventure in relation to Taiwan is not just a trip of an individual irresponsible politician, but part of a purposeful, conscious US strategy to destabilize and make chaotic the situation in the region and the world,” he added.
He said the visit was a “brazen demonstration of disrespect for the sovereignty of other countries and for its (Washington’s) international obligations.”
“We see this as a carefully planned provocation,” Putin said.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been in tatters since Russia in late February launched a military intervention in pro-Western Ukraine.
Pummeled by a barrage of unprecedented Western sanctions, Putin has sought to bolster ties with countries in Africa and Asia, especially with China.
Moscow was in full solidarity with key ally Beijing during Pelosi’s August visit to self-ruled, democratic Taiwan, which China considers its territory.