Briefing :- 23/8/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 23rd of August, 2017 :-

1. Tough talk unlikely to move Pakistan: US experts :-

In military terms, Donald Trump’s long-awaited new Afghanistan strategy looks very much like the old one. But, on the diplomatic front, he took a risk in confronting unruly, nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s provision of cross-border safe havens to some of the Taliban factions and armed Islamist groups fighting against US troops and their Afghan allies.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama risked triggering a breakdown in the long US alliance with Islamabad when, without forewarning, he sent commandos into Pakistan in 2011 to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

But, rhetorically at least, Trump’s much anticipated national address on Monday, in which he laid out a new strategy to win the United States’ longest war, marked a dramatic increase in pressure on Pakistan.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” Trump said.

“That will have to change and that will change immediately.”

Following up on Trump’s speech on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that Pakistan could lose its status as a major US ally and see its US military aid halted.

While Washington may hope that this motivates Islamabad to crack down on the groups that launch attacks into Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir, it does not come without risk.

Pakistan holds the Muslim world’s only known nuclear arsenal and its government is a sometimes shaky balancing act between elected civilians and a powerful military that maintains ties with the militants.

Harsh US measures could provoke Pakistan and, if the government feels its Cold War-vintage pact with America is under threat, it could turn towards China — the great rival of both India and America.

And, much more than the implied threat to cut military aid to Pakistan, Trump’s request that India play a greater role in stabilizing Afghanistan will rattle New Delhi’s most bitter and long-standing foe.

But, US experts agree, Pakistan is unlikely to step up its support for the Haqqani extremist group and the Afghan Taliban if that would mean the collapse of the Kabul government and driving out US troops.

Instead, despite some of his more vainglorious rhetoric, Trump’s revamped strategy could lay the basis for dealing with Afghanistan as a long-term chronic problem rather than an imminent threat.

James Jeffrey, a fellow of the Washington Institute and former senior national security adviser to the George W. Bush White House, said: “There’s really no way to pressure Pakistan.”

Pakistan has made the decision that keeping Kabul out of India’s orbit is more important that clamping down on cross-border militancy, and cutting aid would only be counterproductive, he argues.

Beyond Afghanistan, the United States has an interest in preventing Pakistan from going to war with India or collapsing and allowing its government or nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of extremists.

And, while the US footprint is smaller now that it was at the height of the occupation, its forces still need access to Pakistani supply lines and airspace.

“There’s really very little we can do,” Jeffrey said. “To cut all aid or, even more dramatically, to start striking the Haqqani network and all that … doesn’t guarantee that they’ll do what we say.”

But Pakistan also has no interest in driving the United States out, and Jeffrey saw Monday’s speech as confirmation that Trump has come around to the idea of a strategy of “long-term containment.”

“Other than the unfortunate reference to ‘winning’ there — that’s something that nobody can promise because no one can achieve it — I think that this is basically sensible strategy,” he said.

2. US Navy dismisses commander after warship collision :-

The US Navy confirmed Wednesday it had sacked the commander of its Seventh Fleet after a deadly collision between a destroyer and a tanker off Singapore, the latest of several accidents involving an American warship in Asian waters.

Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin was relieved “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command”, a navy statement said.

The navy is undertaking a fleet-wide global investigation after Monday’s incident involving the USS John S. McCain, which left 10 sailors missing and five injured after a gaping hole was torn in the warship’s side.

The Seventh Fleet, headquartered at Yokosuka in Japan, is the centrepiece of the US military presence in Asia, undertaking sensitive missions such as operations in the South China Sea and around the Korean peninsula.
Aucoin, who had held the post since September 2015, had been in the navy for almost four decades and US media reports said he had been due to retire in weeks.

He was replaced by Rear Admiral Phil Sawyer.

Monday’s accident was the second fatal collision in two months, both involving ships from the Seventh Fleet, after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo vessel off Japan in June, leaving seven sailors dead.

There have been four accidents in total in the Pacific this year involving American warships, sparking concerns the US Navy could be overstretched as it tackles China’s rising assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The latest happened before dawn in busy shipping lanes around the Strait of Singapore, leaving a big hole in the hull of the warship and flooding it with water.

A massive search involving planes and aircraft was launched and US Navy divers joined the hunt Tuesday, scouring the ship’s flooded compartments.

The divers had found remains of some of the sailors, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, said Tuesday without giving further details.

Malaysian authorities, which have deployed 10 ships and two helicopters for the search, also said they found a body and a US Navy helicopter collected it on Wednesday.

Five countries, the US, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, are now involved in the search covering an area of about 2,600 square kilometres (1,000 square miles).

The accident happened as the McCain headed for a routine stop in Singapore after carrying out a “freedom of navigation operation” in the disputed South China Sea earlier in August, sparking a furious response from Beijing.

On Monday the Chief of US Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson ordered commanders within a week to set aside time, perhaps “one or two days,” for crews to sit down together for discussions.

A “comprehensive review” of practices would also begin.

The admiral did not rule out some kind of outside interference or a cyber-attack being behind the latest collision, but said he did not want to prejudge the inquiry. His broader remarks suggested a focus on “how we do business on the bridge.”

The damaged vessel is named after US Senator John McCain’s father and grandfather, who were both admirals in the US navy.

The tanker involved in the collision, which was used for transporting oil and chemicals.

3. Two new suspects arrested in Turku stabbing incident by Finnish Police :-

Finnish police said on Wednesday they had arrested two more suspects in connection with last week’s stabbing spree that killed two women and wounded eight other people.

Police have previously detained the main suspect, a Moroccan asylum seeker, and three other Moroccan men in connection with the killings on Friday in the city of Turku. An international arrest warrant has been issued for a fifth.

The incident has been treated as Finland’s first suspected Islamist militant attack.

The two new suspects gave different stories to Finnish and Swedish authorities, telling the former they were from Algeria and the latter they were Moroccan, the National Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

The main suspect has been named as 18-year-old Moroccan Abderrahman Mechkah, who on Tuesday told a court he was responsible for the attack but denied a terrorist motive.

Police said his identity is likely to be false.

“We have reasons to suspect that he has given wrong information to authorities when coming to the country,” Detective Superintendent Markus Laine of the National Bureau of Investigation told Reuters.

The man identified as Mechkah arrived in Finland in 2016, lived in a reception center in Turku and was denied asylum before the attack.

He had earlier spent time in Germany, according to authorities. German media reported on Tuesday that he had used several false identities in the country and that he was charged with causing bodily harm.

“We can’t comment yet on his motives… he has not been willing to answer all questions,” Laine said.

He said the police had not so far found any links to the van attack in Barcelona, Spain, which killed 13 people and wounded scores of others a day earlier.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack in Spain. Police said all members of a 12-man cell they believe to have been responsible for the attack had been either killed or arrested in the days after.

4. Barcelona terror suspect tells judge that a bigger carnage was under planning :-

An alleged member of the terror cell that unleashed carnage in Spain last week admitted to a judge Tuesday that he and other suspects had planned a bigger attack, a judicial source said.

Mohamed Houli Chemlal, 21, was the first of four surviving suspects to be questioned in Madrid’s National Court, which deals with terror-related cases, over the attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort that claimed 15 lives and wounded more than 100 people.

The Spaniard was injured in an accidental explosion at a makeshift bomb factory on Wednesday evening that killed an imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, thought to have radicalised him and other young suspects.

Police had previously revealed that the suspected jihadists had been preparing bombs for “one or more attacks in Barcelona”.

Josep Lluis Trapero, head of police in Catalonia, said 120 gas canisters and traces of TATP components — a homemade explosive that is a hallmark of the Islamic State group that claimed the attacks — had been found at their bomb factory.

The accidental explosion in the house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona, may have forced the suspects to modify their plans.

The questioning of the four suspects caps five days of angst following the vehicle ramming attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils.

Spanish police shot dead Younes Abouyaaqoub, the suspected Barcelona van driver, on Monday in a dramatic end to the manhunt for the Moroccan national, who shouted “God is greatest” when he was killed.

He was the last fugitive member of a 12-man cell suspected of plotting the attacks.

Besides the four men detained, the rest were killed, either by police or in the explosion in Alcanar.

While Catalan police say the cell has been dismantled, investigators are trying to determine if it had logistical or other forms of support from other individuals.

Questions are also arising about the group’s possible international connections.

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