An F-16 fighter jet stands ready for departure. (Photo: Wisconsin DMA, Paul Gorman)
18:53 GMT, August 15, 2011 Defense News reports today that the Obama Administration will turn down Taiwan’s request to purchase 66 new F-16 fighters, aircraft the island nation says it needs to counter a regional military buildup by the People’s Republic of China. China has challenged the legitimacy of Taiwan’s government ever since it was set up by nationalist forces fleeing the mainland following the revolution that put communists in power in Beijing. Washington ended formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979 when it recognized Beijing as the government of China, however under the Taiwan Relations Act signed into law that same year, the U.S. government is required to supply the island with weapons suitable for defending against an attack from the mainland. Taiwan began requesting new F-16s for that purpose in 2006.
According to reporter Wendell Minnick of Defense News, the Obama Administration bowed to Chinese pressure by deciding not to approve purchase of 66 new F-16 C/Ds, which Taiwan’s air force would have used to replace the oldest fighters in its fleet. Instead, a U.S. government delegation visiting the capital of Taipei proposed upgrades to 146 existing F-16 A/B fighters in the Taiwanese inventory. A/B variants are the oldest versions of a fighter that first debuted in 1980. The U.S. delegation argued they could be kept operationally relevant through the introduction of new electronically scanned radars, defensive countermeasures and smart bombs. However, Minnick quotes an unnamed Taiwanese military official saying, “we are so disappointed in the United States” for declining to supply new F-16s.
The official has good reason to be disappointed, because even with improved on-board equipment, the earlier versions of the F-16 can’t match the performance of new-build fighters in the more advanced C/D configuration. If the White House really has decided not to sell any new planes, Taiwan will be more susceptible to military pressure from Beijing — which remains, for all its progressive flourishes, a communist dictatorship. Washington’s stance will be interpreted in some quarters as evidence that China’s rising economic and military power is forcing an American retreat in the Western Pacific. U.S. allies in the area are anxious for signs that Washington is still committed to balancing Beijing’s regional ambitions, so any decision not to meet the defensive needs of a fellow democracy is likely to be viewed with alarm. Recent letters to the White House signed by 47 Senators and 181 members of the House of Representatives have warned of the security consequences if Taiwan’s request for new F-16s is rebuffed.
But that is not the only drawback from failing to sell Taiwan new weapons with which to defend itself. According to reporter Minnick, the sale of 66 new F-16s would have been worth $8 billion and generated 16,000 jobs in the U.S. at a time when Chinese exports are gradually hollowing out much of the U.S. industrial base. It’s no secret China’s export-driven growth is made possible in part by mercantilist trade policies that violate the letter and the spirit of the agreement allowing that country to join the World Trade Organization. Those policies have enabled China to surpass the U.S. in the production of everything from steel to electronics, and according to the International Monetary Fund have now put the Chinese economy on a vector to surpass the size of America’s in 2015 (China ran a trade surplus of $32 billion last month, while America’s trade deficit — largely with China — was in excess of $50 billion).
So the willingness of the Obama Administration to pass up 16,000 jobs and billions of dollars in export earnings because of pressure from Beijing suggests that it is dreadfully out of touch not only with security trends in the Western Pacific, but also with what is needed to get America growing again.
South Korea and the United States have launched a massive joint military exercise, prompting the North to condemn the manoeuvres as provocative and warn that “all-out war” could accidentally erupt.
The two allies have described the 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise as defensive and routine but the North habitually terms such joint drills a rehearsal for invasion and launches its own counter-exercises.
“The exercise started this morning,” a spokesman of the US-South Korea Combined Forces Command (CFC) told AFP, referring to the annual computer-assisted simulation command-post exercise.
All of CFC’s major units are taking part, involving more than 530,000 troops, including some 3000 military personnel from the US and other bases around the Pacific region, CFC said.
US General James D Thurman, Combined Forces Command Commander, said the drill was focused on “preparing, preventing and prevailing against the full range of current and future external threats” to South Korea and the region.
“We are applying lessons learned out of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those garnered by the Alliance’s recent experiences with North Korean provocations on the peninsula and past exercises,” he said.
Pyongyang condemned the exercise as “extremely provocative”, calling it a preparation for an “all-out war” against the North and the “largest-ever nuclear war exercise”.
“The Korean peninsula is faced with the worst crisis ever. An all-out war can be triggered by any accidents,” the North’s ruling communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary.
Seoul and Washington wanted to use the latest exercises to build up their capability to mount surprise attacks on the North’s nuclear and missile facilities, it said.
“The US warmongers are planning to carry out a realistic war drill to remove our nuclear facilities with a mobile unit led by the US 20th Support Command which was sent to Iraq to find and disable weapons of mass destruction,” it said.
“Our military and the people will not sit idle as US imperialists mobilise massive military forces and threaten our sovereign rights.”
It accused the US of seeking to bring war to the Korean peninsula after Afghanistan and Iraq as a way to “extricate itself from its worsening economic crisis”.
The CFC spokesman said that during the exercise, troops would train for a “wide variety of missions including those involving the location and security of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological threats”.
The North’s military urged Seoul and Washington last week to show their willingness to work towards denuclearisation by scrapping the exercise.
In an open letter published by its official news media, Pyongyang also called for a peace-keeping mechanism to replace the current armistice that ended the 1950-1953 war.
A flurry of diplomatic efforts have been under way to resume stalled six-party disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States.
Senior Pyongyang officials met their counterparts in Seoul and Washington last month, raising hopes that the talks – last held in December 2008 – could resume.
The North has repeatedly expressed a desire to return to the forum but the US has urged it to show more sincerity and mend ties with the South first.
© 2011 AFP
Pakistan plans to borrow $300 million from local banks to build a pipeline that will carry natural gas from neighboring Iran, easing its worst energy crisis that is curbing economic growth.
Local state-owned companies will provide about $210 million in equity for the $1.3 billion pipeline, said Mobin Saulat, acting managing director of Inter State Gas Systems Ltd., the agency responsible for the project. Pakistan may approach foreign companies including OAO Gazprom, International Petroleum Investment Co. and China National Petroleum Corp. for the rest of the financing, he said.
“We’ve done the market testing to see the appetite among local banks,” Saulat said in an interview Aug. 11. “The signal we’ve got is that around $300 million can be raised from a local consortium.”
Domestic funding is crucial because U.S. and international sanctions against Iran, imposed over concerns that the country is trying to build nuclear weapons, are likely to block Western and multilateral funding.
Pakistan is pursuing the Iranian gas deal as its ties with the U.S. have come under strain this year following a seven-week standoff over Pakistan’s detention of an American CIA contractor who had killed two Pakistanis, and the May assault by American forces that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad.
“The biggest question mark on this project is still the availability of funding,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Lahore- based analyst. “There are signs that the Americans are softening their opposition to this project given the severity of the energy crisis in Pakistan.”
Fuel shortages in Pakistan have forced the government to ration supplies, cutting power for as much as half the day in major cities and triggering street protests against the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Inter State Gas, based in Islamabad, is responsible for completion of the pipeline by 2014, a deadline agreed on by the two countries last year after political and security concerns delayed the project by a decade. Under an accord signed in June 2010, Iran will provide about 21.5 million cubic meters of gas a day to Pakistan for 25 years. The deal can be extended by five years and volumes may rise to 30 million cubic meters a day.
The U.S. last year tightened its sanctions, which target Iran’s energy sector, and the administration of President Barack Obama has publicly supported an alternative gas pipeline project, from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, that would bypass Iran.
Economic sanctions by the United Nations, the EU and the U.S. over Iran’s nuclear programhave discouraged investment in the Persian Gulf country. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s biggest oil company, and Repsol YPF SA of Spain pulled out of a project in Iran’s South Pars gas field last year.
China National Petroleum, known as CNPC, replaced Total SA at the field in 2009 after the French company postponed an investment citing Iran’s strained relations with the West.
“So far, the sanctions primarily focus on development of the fields,” Saulat said. “Iran is currently engaged in exporting gas to Turkey through a pipeline and importing gas from Turkmenistan. There was never a pipeline-specific sanction.”
State-owned companies that may collectively buy a majority stake in the planned pipeline include Government Holdings Ltd., Sui Southern Gas Co. and Sui Northern Gas Pipeline (SNGP), he said. Pakistan is seeking $900 million in debt and $400 million in equity funding for the project.
Gazprom, the Russian gas-export monopoly, International Petroleum Investment, an arm of the Abu Dhabi government, and CNPC have all shown interest in the venture, Saulat said. Gazprom may fund and help build the 780-kilometer (485-mile) pipeline, he said, declining to elaborate.
Liu Weijiang, Beijing-based director of CNPC’s international department, didn’t answer three calls to his office and mobile phones. Calls and an e-mail to an IPIC spokesman yesterday after business hours in the Ramadan holy month weren’t immediately returned. A press officer at Gazprom, who couldn’t be identified in line with company policy, declined to say whether the company is interested in the project.
Pakistan’s gas shortfall is forecast to reach 2.22 billion cubic feet a day in the fiscal year that began July 1, according to government data. The shortage has forced the government to ration supplies to cars that run on compressed natural gas, while the biggest cities have faced blackouts for as long as 12 hours a day.
Last year, 53 percent of Pakistan’s energy came from natural gas, 30 percent from oil and the rest from coal, nuclear and hydropower, according to data from BP Plc. Pakistan produced 39.5 billion cubic meters of gas in 2010, or 3.8 billion cubic feet a day, according to BP.
Inter State Gas invited banks last month to help arrange the funding and plans to seek bids for construction next month, Saulat said.
The pipeline will carry gas from the South Pars field via Baluchistan province in southwest Pakistan to an off-take point in Nawabshah. South Pars, which extends from Qatar’s North Field, is the largest known gas deposit in the world.
“We are doing things in parallel for the expeditious completion of this project,” Saulat said. “There is a huge shortfall and we need to work on many options to meet that growing demand.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Haris Anwar in Islamabad at firstname.lastname@example.org
KHAR: Militants crossed over from Afghanistan and shot dead an anti-Taliban tribal elder and his son in the Bajaur tribal region on Wednesday, a Pakistani official said.
Tariq Khan said Afsar Khan and his son Sher Alam were standing guard at a border post manned by members of a citizens’ militia in the tribal region when around 15 insurgents attacked them.
Police official Fazal Rabbi said Afsar Khan had been among volunteers who had burned the homes of a militant faction some two months ago.
The Pakistani army has fought militants in the tribal belt for years, but militants still mount attacks there.
In recent months, several of the attacks have originated from across the porous border in Afghanistan.
[Private security firms like Blackwater are not up to the tasks being entrusted to them. Their very existence undermines Pentagon plans to rehire veteran retirees, since the private security companies will pay many times higher than the military is willing to pay. Despite this advantage, they have proven over and over that they do sub-standard work. Failing to provide 60% of the contracted trainers is just the latest example of this.]
Audit finds contractor DynCorps failed to provide nearly 60 per cent of the instructors needed to train Afghan police.
A US-based military contractor has failed to provide nearly 60 per cent of the instructors needed to train Afghan police under a contract with the US government, according to an audit issued on Monday.
The audit focused on the transfer of the Afghan police training programme from the US State Department to the US Defence department.
The investigation, carried out jointly by both departments, criticised both institutions for a lack of co-ordination in regards to police training in Afghanistan, which is a priority for the US-led NATO coalition as it prepares to transfer security to Afghan forces.
Under a $1 billion, two-year contract signed between the Defence Department and DynCorps International in December 2010, the firm was required to have instructors in place within a 120-day deadline.
Defence officials “reported that the incoming contractor did not have 428 of the 728 required personnel in place within the 120-day transition period,” said the audit.
The most notable discrepancy was in the number of police mentors that DynCorps was supposed to provide to the Afghan forces.
The audit said that 213 of the 377 required “Fielded Police Mentors” were not in their positions during the transition period.
It said the shortage “placed the overall mission at risk by not providing the mentoring essential for developing the Afghan government and police force.”
A spokesman for the Afghan ministry of interior declined to comment on the matter, saying he needed time to study nuances of the report.
But a former deputy minister of interior, aware of previoud deals with contractors, said he was not surprised by the findings.
“We have repeatedly stressed that we need to train our trainers and Afghanise the process,” General Hadi Khaled told Al jazeera.
“This system right now is not sustainable. They pay lots of money for brief contracts, without actually listening to the needs of the Afghan police.”
The audit criticised both the US state and defence departments for a lack of co-ordination on training programmes and for failing to create a clear plan to oversee and monitor the transition from one contractor to another.
State and defence “officials relied on independently developed contractor plans, some of which were not feasible and did not address inherently governmental tasks,” it said.
One example of such lack of co-ordination was in the training weapons transfered from one contractor to the next.
The audit said “39 days into the transition, Department of State officials announced that some of the weapons the outgoing contractor used could not transfer to the new Department of Defense contractor because the weapons were purchased with Department of State funds”.
An understanding was reached in regards to the transfer of weapons only 67 days into the transition period.
The two departments also failed to develop a security clearance process for the personnel that transferred from the previous contractor to the new.
“Not until … 95 days into the transition, did DoD [Department of Defence] and DoS [Department of State] officials develop a strategy to mitigate this issue,” the audit said.
Sustainability in question
The report comes amid a major increase in efforts to train and expand Afghan security forces, paving the way for the eventual exit of NATO-led coalition troops.
The NATO mission aims to train a 134,000-strong police force by October as it prepares the Afghan forces to take over security responsibility by 2014.
But many, like General Khaled, raise questions about the quality of the trainers flown into the country and the system put in place.
Contractors such as DynCorps bring in trainers who are not professional police officers, but rather former army or private guards, he said.
“The trainers are not professional, they have turned the police into a fighting force such as the army and NATO. The police are supposed to be following the judiciary, as a preventive force,” he said.
Problems of co-ordination, both within US entities as well as with other NATO member nations, has often been cited as one of the reasons for the Afghan police being less prepared than the Afghan army as transition looms.
“A GOA [US Government Accountability Office] official testified that DoD and DOS had a history of being unable to effectively collaborate and co-ordinate on previous Afghan National Security Forces projects,” the audit said.
“[An] official stated that despite a prior 2005 audit recommendation for DoD and DOS to develop a co-ordinated and detailed plan to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces, the agencies developed no such plan.”
Al Jazeera and agencies