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Afghan Security Forces Kill Over 50 Taliban Fighter In Retaliatory Attacks

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The Afghan security forces have killed more than 50 Taliban insurgents in the past 24 hours reports the Anadolu Agency. Earlier, at least two dozen Afghan security forces were killed in an insider attack on their base in southern Afghanistan, according to AFP.

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The Afghan national defence and security forces killed 27 Taliban rebels, including their leader Qari Hafiz and wounded 19 others in the northern Kunduz province in “active defence”, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It added 12 more Taliban radicals were killed and 14 injured in Kandahar, eight others were neutralized and seven wounded in Helmand and five killed and six captured in Zabul.

Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, several “infiltrators” opened fire on their comrades as they slept, Zabul governor Rahmatullah Yarmal said, in one of the deadliest attacks since the US signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban last month.

The pre-dawn raid targeted joint police and army headquarters near Qalat, the provincial capital, long considered a Taliban stronghold. “In the attack, 14 Afghan army forces and 10 policemen were killed,” Zabul provincial council chief Ata Jan Haq Bayan said.

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He added that four other Afghan security forces were missing. “The militants had connections with the Taliban insurgents,” Bayan said. They fled in two military Humvee vehicles, along with a pickup truck, weapons and ammunition. Yarmal confirmed the toll to AFP.

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Americas

US outraged with India for acquiring Russian jets over American F-21s

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India recently signed a 2.43-billion deal with Russia for the acquisition of MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-30MKIs while overlooking American fighter jets including F-21s that the US claimed was a lethal combination of stealth F-35 and F-22 jets.

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Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin also said that it will not sell its newly rolled out F-21 fighter jet to any other country if India places an order for 114 planes, an offer aimed to counter other US, European or Russian jets.

Recently, amid escalating border tensions between India and China, New Delhi approved to spend billions to purchase Russian fighter jets. Moscow will sell New Delhi 33 new fighter aircraft including 12 Su-30MKIs and 21 MiG-29s along with up-gradation of 59 MiG-29s.

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The MiG 29 procurement and up-gradation from Russia is estimated to cost Rs 7418 cr, the Su-30 MKI will be procured from HAL at an estimated cost of Rs 10,730 cr.

Rahul Bedi a senior journalist and defence analyst write – the piddling issue of the US potentially sanctioning India under CAATSA for acquiring Russian military hardware including fighter jets to meet its urgent needs simply refuses to go away.

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In a statement to the UK’s Jane’s Defence Weekly after India declared its intent to procure Russian fighter jets, a senior US State Department official ominously announced that India was not ‘safeguarded’ from penalties under CAATSA.

Bedi quotes the US defence official – We urge all of our allies and partners to forego (defence) deals with Russia that risk triggering sanctions under CAATSA.

He further added that though the US could not “prejudge whether a specific transaction would result in sanctions, it was important to note that CAATSA did not have any blanket or country-specific waiver provision.

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There are stringent guidelines for considering a waiver, and each deal is assessed on a case-by-case basis,” Jane’s quoted the US official as saying. US Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo) has not made any judgment regarding the significance of any deal (with Russia) involving India, he added, but did not elaborate.

Bedi writes that the veiled CAATSA threat by the US, targeted at India for purchasing Russian fighter jets seems to be more a commercial bludgeon than a lawful effort to punish a politically intrusive Russia.

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Accordingly, it also leads to the clear picture that the CAATSA stems largely from US’ resentment with the Indian government for not acquiring US fighters like Lockheed Martin’s F-21 and instead opting for Russian Su-30MKIs and 21 MiG-29s.

The US has long been craving to sell the customized F-21s to India which was unveiled at Aero India 2019 in Bangalore.

Bedia writes that little more than a re-branded F-16 that dates back to the mid-1970s, it makes great economic sense from the US perspective to ‘sell’ India to licence-build this fighter for the IAF to meet its requirement for an additional 114 combat aircraft to make up for the depleted fighter squadrons.

Africa emerges as a new battle ground for India and China for trade, commerce war

With F-16s being phased out of the US Air Force, and their plant at Fort Worth in Texas closing down, moving the ageing fighters’ manufacturing unit to India, would keep the line going for few more years, while also providing employment opportunities in the US under Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ drive.

India going with Russia and French fighter jets has exasperated the US and could well be the motive behind its veiled threat of invoking CAATSA against India.

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Asia Pacific

Africa emerges as a new battle ground for India and China for trade, commerce war

India sees this initiative as an effort by China to flex its economic muscle and extend the reach of its influence. “However, India’s engagement with Africa is not limited to trade and commerce.

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Post the border clashes, India and China are striving to create a robust influence in Africa through humanitarian aid and investments. However, with the countries adopting different outreach strategies, analysts suggest that competition between India and China is unnecessary as there is room for both to make their presence felt. 

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According to Maria Siow, a China-based journalist and analyst, India’s renewed focus on Africa is a result of China’s growing footprint on the continent, not just in terms of trade and commerce, but also Beijing’s rising maritime interests.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative aims at connecting Asia with Africa and Europe through land and maritime routes which would enable regional integration and growth in trade and commerce.

Recently, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a press conference that a total of 44 African countries and the African Union Commission have signed cooperation documents with China on the Belt and Road initiative.

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“It is a vote of confidence in China-Africa cooperation from our African brothers,” he added.

India sees this initiative as an effort by China to flex its economic muscle and extend the reach of its influence. “However, India’s engagement with Africa is not limited to trade and commerce.

The Indian diaspora, for instance, has been a major force in several African nations’ pursuit of prosperity and political participation,” said Swaran Singh, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of International Studies.

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India and China stand far apart in terms of the size of their economies. India’s US$2.7 trillion versus China’s US$14 trillion which acts as a roadblock for New Delhi to make further inroads in African nations.

According to United Nations trade data, 39 African countries imported more than US$71 billion worth of goods from China in 2017 and only US$21 billion from India.

“African governments are therefore aware that in spite of their rapprochement with India, China remains the most important – and at the government level, the most trusted – development and investment partner on the continent,” said Lin Minwang, the deputy director of Fudan University’s Institute for South Asian Studies.

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Nevertheless, India has not made huge loans to African countries and thus avoided being a major part of the serious debt problems facing by many African countries today.

However, it is expected that India’s investment in Africa will become more valuable especially in Africa’s health care and pharmaceutical sectors. Sizeable investments have already been made in oil and gas, mining, banking, pharma, textiles and other sectors in African countries under the strategic initiative, “Focus Africa” by the Government of India launched in 2002.

Zhang Yongpeng, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of West Asian and African Studies noted that even though India posed a challenge to China’s strategy in Africa, for instance in bidding for commercial projects, the economic threats were not daunting for now.

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African nations are unwilling to choose between China and India because of the accruing benefits and investments from both nations. Also, the African governments are avoiding being dragged in conflicts, especially during the ongoing trade and diplomatic tensions between the US and China and the border tensions between India and China.

“India tends to have largely positive perceptions as a fellow Global South democracy. China can sometimes be more controversial, for example, due to the recent ill-treatment of Africans in Guangzhou,” stated Cobus van Staden, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

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Americas

US threatens Russia with consequences for paying bounties to Taliban in Afghanistan

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The US has threatened to respond if the Pentagon confirms reports of Russian bounties to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. While Russia denies its involvement in any such operation, US-Russia relations could further deteriorate if the reports are confirmed.

The Pentagon is investigating reports of Russian bounties to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan and if found to be true, the US has promised to retaliate. Moscow on the hand has denied involvement in any such operation.

Speaking in front of the House armed services committee, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said that the Pentagon was committed to discovering whether Russian military intelligence had paid the Taliban for attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of this bounty thing. If there are bounties, I’m an outraged general, just like every one of us in uniform is,” Milley said. “That’s a real big deal. We don’t have that level of fidelity yet, but we’re still looking.”

Despite vowing to retaliate, Milley suggested that the US may not be responding to the reports as robustly as necessary in non-military ways. The 62-year old admitted that the US was perhaps not doing enough.

The issue is at the strategic level,” he said. “Is there diplomatic, and informational and economic … sanctions, are there démarches, are there phone calls, is there pressure, those sorts of things. And I can tell you that some of that is done.’’

Mark Esper, the defence secretary, was also testifying to the House armed services committee. Esper said that the reports did not come from any of the nine of the total of 17 US intelligence agencies under Pentagon’s authority, implying the information leaked to the press in recent weeks came from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or another civilian agency.

The reports first came to notice in January and were ignored because they lacked credibility. It was only in February that Gen Kenneth McKenzie and the defence secretary became aware of them in February.

Milley confirmed that the investigation is not over and promised to get to the bottom of the situation. President Donald Trump has insisted he was not briefed on the Russian bounties.

Russia Denies Involvement

While American intelligence agencies work to confirm reports, Russia denies the existence or its involvement in any such operation. Moscow says the U.S. is trying to portray Moscow as an all-purpose bogeyman.

“I would like to say officially that these allegations, distributed by the media, are downright lies. No concrete evidence has been presented,” Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said this week in an online forum with the Center for the National Interest.

Other Russian officials point out that Moscow would have little incentive to establish such a program given the high risk of getting caught.

According to NPR, the Russian military intelligence known as the GRU is believed to be behind the suspected Russian bounty program in Afghanistan. The GRU has an aggressive and high-risk culture and is hence preferred by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The New York Times was the media outlet to report about Russia secretly offering money to the Taliban in exchange for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan.

If confirmed, it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops and could have a severe impact on Washington-Moscow relations.

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