Washington [US], September 30 (ANI): Top US Generals has said they had warned USPresident Joe Biden that a rushed withdrawal from Afghanistan could increase risks to Pakistan nuclear weapons and the country’s security, Dawn reported. During a Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said: “We estimated an accelerated withdrawal would increase risks of regional instability, the security of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenals.” “We need to fully examine the role of Pakistan sanctuary,” the general said while emphasising the need to probe how the Taliban withstood US military pressure for 20 years. On August 31, the US completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistanunder the Doha accord it signed with the Taliban last year. The top military officials have appeared first time before the Senate after the Afghanistanpullout.
General Milley and General Frank McKenzie, the leader of US Central Command, also warned that the Taliban Pakistan will now have to deal with would be different from the one they dealt with earlier, and this would complicate their relations. “I believe Pakistan‘s relationship with the Taliban is going to become significantly more complicated as a result of the USwithdrawal from Afghanistan,” General McKenzie told the lawmakers. The Centcom chief also said that the US and Pakistan were involved in ongoing negotiations over the use of a vital air corridor to access Afghanistan. “Over the last 20 years we’ve been able to use what we call the air boulevard to go in over western Pakistan and that’s become something that’s vital to us, as well as certain landlines of communication,” he said. During the testimony, another top USGeneral Mark Milley said that Washington “would have gone into war with the Taliban if it had stayed after the August 31 deadline”.Both generals also disputed Biden’s claim that al-Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan. Underlining the concerns over Afghanistan‘s future, General McKenzie said that it’s ‘yet to be seen’ if terrorists can be stopped from using Afghan soil as the launchpad”, according to Sputnik. (ANI)
As top US officials variously meet leading Saudis, Iran’s deputy foreign minister calls for Riyadh to open its atomic sites to full inspection and for Israel to sign NPT.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Reza Najafi Tuesday urged Saudi Arabia to be transparent over its nuclear activities and open up the access of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Najafi rejected remarks by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan earlier Tuesday to the UN General Assembly criticising “Iran’s continued breaches and violations of international agreements and treaties related to the nuclear agreement, and its escalation of its nuclear activities in addition to research and development activities.”
Addressing the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting held to commemorate and promote International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (September 26), Najafi said Iran rejected the retention, stockpiling, development, use, and proliferation of nuclear arms.
Iran is in a dispute with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over traces of previously undeclared radioactive material that it has failed to fully explain and over monitoring access to the UN nuclear watchdog.
Reza Najafi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for legal affairs. FILE PHOTO
It has also been enriching uranium to 60 percent and stockpiling it in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.
Najafi condemned the modernization and strengthening of nuclear arsenals by the United States and other nuclear-weapon states in violation of their arms-reduction commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Najafi said Israel continued to “threaten peace and security in the Middle East and beyond through its clandestine nuclear program,” and urged the world to invite Israel to join the NPT and place its nuclear facilities under IAEA monitoring.
Unlike Israel, which is believed to hold around 180 nuclear bombs, both Iran and Saudi Arabia are NPT signatories. Saudi Arabia – which has no nuclear reactor but reportedly past nuclear links with both Iraq and Pakistani scientist AQ Khan – has limited the Safeguards access of the IAEA under a ‘small quantities protocol.’
Saudi Arabia backed former United States president Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 deal with world powers limiting its nuclear program – the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The new administration of President Joe Biden has continued Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions as Iran has continued to expand its atomic program with steps that began in 2019.
Prince Faisal this week met with US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss recent developments in Iran’s nuclear case. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia Tuesday to discuss Yemen and Iran – the White House kept Sullivan’s visit low-profile and no photos were issued.
In his speech to the annual UN General Assembly last week, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz expressed hope that continuing talks with Iran, brokered by Baghdad, to restore relations would build confidence. The kingdom cut diplomatic ties in 2016 when protestors attacked its Tehran embassy after Riyadh executed 47 dissidents including leading Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr
This is a highly appropriate time to read “2034: A Novel of the Next World War,” a thriller published in March that describes a chain of events leading to a third world war.
Its coauthors are seasoned veterans of the U.S. military. One is James Stavridis, 66, a retired Navy admiral who served in a variety of command positions. In 2009 he was named supreme commander of NATO and the top U.S. commander in Europe, positions he held until his retirement in 2013. The second, Elliot Ackerman, is 25 years his junior. A journalist and author, he served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry and special operation officer, including a brief stint with the Ground Branch of the CIA’s Special Activities Division. Ackerman served multiple tours of duty with elite covert CIA units in the Middle East and southwest Asia, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
North Korea is apparently getting into the hypersonic arms race.
The nuclear-armed nation conducted a test launch Tuesday (Sept. 28) of a new “hypersonic missile” called Hwasong-8, state-run outlet KCNA reported on Wednesday (Sept. 29), according to KCNA Watch, which aggregates news released by official North Korean media.
Hwasong-8 was topped with a hypersonic gliding vehicle (HGV) warhead, KCNA wrote. Hypersonic craft travel at least five times faster than the speed of sound, or Mach 5, and are highly maneuverable. They’re much tougher to track and intercept than intercontinental ballistic missiles, which follow predictable trajectories.
The United States, Russia and China have prioritized the development of hypersonic weapons in recent years. The U.S. has been working on a number of different hypersonic designs over the past decade, for instance, and scored an important success with one, the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, during a trial last week, Pentagon officials announced Monday (Sept. 27).
KCNA declared Tuesday’s Hwasong-8 mission, which launched from North Korea’s east coast, a success as well.
“In the first test launch, national defense scientists confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile in the active section and also its technical specifications, including the guiding maneuverability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead,” KCNA’s report reads.
Outside experts aren’t so sure, however. Missile specialist Chang Young-keun told Reuters that the Hwasong-8’s HGV reached a top speed of just Mach 2.5 during Tuesday’s test, citing analyses by South Korean military intelligence.
“The North’s HGV technology is not comparable to those of the U.S., Russia or China and for now seems to aim for short-range that can target South Korea or Japan,” Chang, who’s based at the Korea Aerospace University in Goyang, South Korea, told Reuters.
In addition, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that North Korean hypersonics tech is far from battle ready and that both the U.S. and South Korea are capable of detecting and neutralizing the Hwasong-8, the BBC reported Wednesday.
As the BBC noted, Tuesday’s test was the third missile launch that North Korea has performed in September, suggesting that the nation may be accelerating some of its weapons programs. Work on those programs has proceeded despite numerous sanctions imposed over the past 15 years by the United Nations Security Council, as well as the United States and some of its allies.
North Korea is an isolated autocracy run by the dictator Kim Jong-un. In recent years, the nation’s top officials have repeatedly indulged in saber-rattling against North Korea’s perceived enemies — for example, threatening to turn major U.S. cities into “seas of fire.” North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, which gives such threats an edge and explains why experts track the country’s rocket and missile programs so assiduously.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for Space.com since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, “Out There,” was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.
Ongoing tensions between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank remain high, months after a two-week period of violence this past May into June.
The Human Rights Watch has recently accused the Israeli and Palestinian militias of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip and Israel. These areas are recognized as occupied Palestine under international law, declared by the United Nations.
The violence began on May 6, when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled to evict six Palestinian families from the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which is recognized by international law as Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation.
Tensions reached a breaking point when the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was stormed by the Israeli Police during the final night of Ramadan, the most important holiday for Muslims, injuring hundreds of worshippers.
This coincided with Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday celebrating the reunification of the city of Jerusalem under Israeli control. Israelis celebrated with the annual Dance of Flags and paraded around the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. The Western Wall is located directly adjacent to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as both lie on the Temple Mount, considered one of the holiest sights in Judiasm, Islam and Christianity alike.
According to the Associated Press, immediately after the celebrations ended violence broke out between the two groups, as Israeli nationalists began to taunt Palestinians outside of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians responded and the clashes intensified until they were broken up by police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.
These actions angered not only Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but Arabs all over the world.
Jerusalem, which is home to the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic Patriarchs, as well as clergy from the Syriac and Coptic Churches, blamed the growing tensions on the increase of right-wing radicals moving to Jerusalem, according to a statement by the Middle East Council of Churches.
Fatah, the left-wing nationalist party who governs the West Bank, condemned the increase right-wing nationalism and violence that occurred in Jerusalem.
Hamas, the Islamist party that controls the Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum to Israel to withdraw from the al-Aqsa mosque and Sheikh Jarrah by 6:00 p.m. on May 10, or they would take revenge. When Israel refused, Hamas began firing rockets into Israeli territory. The Israeli government responded forcefully, igniting further tension between the two.
The result was a 12 day long conflict between the Israeli government and Hamas, which caused casualties on both sides. However, the civilian casualties in Gaza were much higher due to Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system, which is designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells before they can reach populated areas.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that Israel suffered 15 casualties, while the Palestinians suffered 256 casualties. Much of the infrastructure in Gaza was destroyed as a result, including homes, schools, hospitals, and the al-Jalaa high-rise building, which housed the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera in Gaza City.
Reporters Beyond Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists called these attacks war crimes. Gary Pruitt, CEO of the Associated Press, said he was “shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building,” and declared that, “the world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” according to a statement by the Associated Press.
In addition to the airstrikes and rocket attacks between the two, riots broke out across Israel between its Jewish and Arab populations, leading to several synagogues being vandalized in response to the Al Aqsa Mosque being rushed, and Israeli nationalists attacking Arabs on the streets. The most contentious rioting happened in Jerusalem, as well as the cities of Ashkelon and Lod, which are all home to large Arab populations.
In response to the escalation of violence, the United Nations called for an immediate ceasefire. According to The Independent, diplomats from France, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and the United States all drafted a ceasefire, which went into effect on May 21.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as other Arab states, dates back to 1948, when the UN partitioned the former British mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. Many Jews see Israel as a reclamation of their ancestral homeland in Judea. However, Palestinians view Israel as an illegal occupation of land they have inhabited for many generations, with both Muslim and Christian Arabs living alongside Jews for centuries before the partition, Elon University reported.
This led to subsequent wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2000 and 2006. The only decade without violence between the two groups was in the 1990s, when the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the leader of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat nearly signed a peace deal.
The peace treaty almost led to a two-state solution, which would have resulted in an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, both being recognized by the internal community with diplomatic relations with one another. The alternative to this plan is the one-state solution, which would incorporate both the Jewish and Arab communities into one multiethnic state.
The situation sparked an international outcry and led to worldwide pro-Palestine as well as pro-Israel demonstrations.
In Boston, protestors gathered outside Boston Public Library on May 15, where they shouted, chanted, waved Palestinian flags and held banners.
The protestors then marched over to the Israeli Consulate General near Beacon Hill, where they continued to shout and chant and play patriotic music, climbing onto awnings and up lampposts in order to wave their flags and banners in the windows of the Consulate General.
The protestors consisted of not only Palestinians and other Arabs, but many other Americans as well supporting their cause. Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as U.S. military veteran organizations, such as Veterans for Peace, were both noticeably present, as they marched alongside the protestors to express their resentment towards the actions of the Israeli government.
Although there were a few pro-Israel counter protestors present, the interactions between the two groups remained peaceful throughout the entire duration of the march.
The new Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan has inherited an entire nation to run, and with it a wide range of responsibilities, one of them being a fledgling peaceful nuclear agency established a decade ago under the previous government.
With the naming of a new atomic chief, the Taliban appears poised to press forward in this field. That has raised questions as to whether the Islamic Emirate could seek to militarize nuclear energy to develop a weapon of mass destruction, though experts remain deeply skeptical of such an endeavor at this juncture.
Officially, no policy to this end appears to have been adopted, nor has the Taliban yet ruled out such an outcome.
“There has been no decision so far on the development of nuclear weapons,” one Taliban official told Newsweek on the condition of anonymity.
But a number of observers took notice last week when a list of official postings for the Taliban’s interim government decreed by Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and shared by the group’s spokespersons identified “Engineer Najeebullah” as “Head of Atomic Energy.”
Out of the 17 names on this list and dozens of others announced since the formation of the acting Taliban government earlier this month, Najeebullah has the distinction of only being mentioned by surname, casting intrigue on his identity and why the new administration sought to obscure it.
Reached for comment, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was following the situation.
“We are aware of the media reports you are referring to,” IAEA head of media and spokesperson Fredrik Dahl told Newsweek.
But as a matter of protocol, he declined to weigh in on how this might affect the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s relationship with Afghanistan.
“In line with standard practice related to Member State decisions and appointments,” he added, “we have no comment.”
Afghanistan was among the founding members of the IAEA in 1957, and cooperated with the international organization for more than two decades. That relationship was interrupted in the late 1970s by civil unrest and an intervention by the Soviet Union against mujahideen rebels backed by the United States and Pakistan. The conflict stretched throughout most of the following decade, ultimately ending with a Soviet withdrawal and an eventual Taliban takeover in the 1990s.
IAEA cooperation would not restart until after the first iteration of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate was dismantled by a 2001 U.S.-led invasion that followed the 9/11 attacks conducted by Al-Qaeda, a Taliban ally at the time. In 2011, the Afghanistan Atomic Energy High Commission was established to explore nuclear technology for civil society.
As the Taliban began to resurge nationwide, however, the Afghanistan Nuclear Energy Agency began to voice concerns that instability could endanger its work.
In an address to the IAEA given in February of last year, then-Afghan ambassador to Austria Khojesta Fana Ebrahimkhel warned that “the current security situation in Afghanistan is such that some areas of the country are controlled by insurgent groups and national and international terrorist groups are active across the country,” and “as a result, we have a serious concern about the illegal transportation of nuclear materials through Afghanistan by these groups.
“In light of this, we believe that such illegal activities will make the current situation more complex and may put the lives of thousands of people in danger,” he said at the time. “Thus we sincerely request IAEA members to pay careful attention to this matter.”
Unrest in Afghanistan only worsened, however, and two weeks later, the Trump administration reached a deal with the Taliban that paved the way for a U.S. militarywithdrawal from the country. The Biden administration completed the exit last month.
But the leadup to the pull-out was accompanied by rapid Taliban gains nationwide, and by the time the last U.S. military plane left Afghanistan, the group had established full control of Kabul with little resistance. For the second time in a quarter of a century, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was officially declared.
Though the new Taliban-led government remains unrecognized by any nation, it has pledged cooperation with the international community. This includes pledges to curb the spread of transnational militant groups, combat climate change and foster trade.
But in addition to worries about how the developments in Afghanistan could affect human rights issues, especially as they relate to vulnerable groups such as women and non-Pashtun minorities, some officials and commentators have raised the alarm over how any turmoil might undermine the security of neighboring Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
In a testimony that contradicted White House claims that the Pentagon backed a timely U.S. withdrawal by the August 31 deadline that had been set, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley told lawmakers Tuesday he and his team “estimated an accelerated withdrawal would increase risks of regional instability, the security of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenals, a global rise in violent extremist organizations, our global credibility with allies and partners would suffer, and a narrative of abandoning the Afghans would become widespread.”
Adding to these concerns, Pakistan has a history of extraterritorial nuclear proliferation. Nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan, commonly referred to as “the godfather” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, has long been at the center of international accusations that he provided classified information, including centrifuge designs, to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
Libya shuttered its nascent nuclear program as part of a deal reached in 2003 with the United States, which earlier that year had invaded Iraq over what proved to be false allegations of weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. would also go on to intervene in Libya and help overthrow its government in 2011.
Iran maintains a robust nuclear program, despite international accusations and assassinations of its scientists. Tehran has consistently denied any military aspirations for its program and has blamed the assassinations on Israel, which is also widely believed to have nuclear weapons.
North Korea possesses a full-fledged nuclear weapons program, complete with far-reaching missiles it credits with staving off foreign interference.
Pakistan, for its part, set out to attain nuclear weapons in response to rival India’s first test in 1974. That test came a decade after China, also locked in a violent territorial dispute with India, conducted its first nuclear weapons test.
The Taliban finds itself in the midst of these geographic and geopolitical feuds, which persist to the present day, as it seeks to govern Afghanistan once again.
And while Pakistan has maintained close ties to the Taliban throughout its rise, fall and resurgence, there remain concerns even in Islamabad that certain separatist and fundamentalist groups could take advantage of the situation to threaten the region.
Former Trump national security adviser and veteran Washington war hawk John Boltonhas amplified this anxiety to the point of suggesting that the Taliban’s return to ruling Afghanistan creates an imminent threat to Pakistan and the security of its nuclear weapons.
“The Taliban in control of Afghanistan threatens the possibility of terrorists taking control in Pakistan too, and there are already a lot of radicals in the Pakistani military,” Bolton told the WABC 770 radio show on Sunday. “But if the whole country gets taken over by terrorists, that means maybe 150 nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, which is a real threat to us and our friends.”
Pakistani permanent representative to the United Nations Munir Akram responded to this take by Bolton, whom the senior diplomat argued had sought to disarm Islamabad’s nuclear stockpile to no avail.
“Well, I believe that Mr. Bolton tried very hard to get his hands on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and he failed miserably,” Akram told Newsweek. “If Mr. Bolton couldn’t get his hands on our weapons. I do not believe that somebody like the Taliban are capable of doing so.”
Daryl Kimball, who has served for two decades as the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Arms Control Association nonprofit membership group, shared skepticism toward the notion that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal faced any heightened threat in the wake of the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan.
“I just don’t think that there’s an added risk today versus a year ago vis-à-vis Pakistan, even though John Bolton is out there making some wacko claims,” Kimball told Newsweek. “Is Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure more vulnerable today than it was a year ago? I don’t think that anybody can say it is.”
He argued that when it comes to the Taliban itself, acquiring or developing nuclear weapons was far from being in their interest, both as a result of technological shortcomings and their proven strategy of beating superpowers through conventional methods.
“I think the motives for the Taliban…to acquire nuclear weapons is extremely low or it should be, because their strategy of guerrilla resistance for the last two decades against the United States and the U.S.-supported government in Kabul has ultimately succeeded,” Kimball said. “So their lesson from their history is that they can resist and they can do that without resorting to the most destructive of all weapons, nuclear weapons, which are outside of their reach.”
But he did raise the prospect of another threat that has existed for some time: a more rudimentary “dirty bomb” in the hands of militants less invested in Afghanistan’s stability and more focused on wreaking havoc in the region. He recalled how evidence emerged in past years that Al-Qaeda had explored plans to obtain such a device.
Such a scenario, however, would almost certainly prove as devastating for the Taliban as it would the intended target. The new Afghan administration already finds itself in conflict with the Islamic State militant group’s national Khorasan affiliate (ISIS-K), and has attempted to portray the Islamic Emirate as the answer to Afghanistan’s decades-long security issues.
Toby Dalton, co-director and a senior fellow of the Carnegie Endowment’s Nuclear Policy Program, found a more compelling argument for the Taliban to continue the previous administration’s relationship with the IAEA, and saw the appointment of an atomic chief as likely evidence of this.
“Presumably the new Taliban government in Afghanistan would wish to continue cooperation with the IAEA for the good of the Afghan people, so the appointment of a new minister to oversee these issues makes sense,” Dalton, who formerly served as acting director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Safeguards and Security and senior policy adviser to the Office of Nonproliferation and International Security, told Newsweek. “Most countries have ministries for such applications, so Afghanistan is not unusual in this respect.”
And, like Kimball, he emphasized how far away Afghanistan was from establishing even the most basic foundation for a nuclear weapons program. Such an effort would require “substantial outside assistance, whatever the political or military rationale it might have for seeking such weapons.”
He also said the group’s hesitation on taking a nuclear weapons stance might be strategic. By seeking to ensure continued cooperation with the IAEA, they could open yet another door to the international community.
“I’m not especially concerned that the government has not reiterated its commitment as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to not seek nuclear weapons,” Dalton said. “If the Taliban government formally renounced its commitment to abjure nuclear weapons, that would be pretty noteworthy and unusual – only North Korea has done that before. It would also, practically, end Afghanistan’s ability to cooperate with the IAEA on peaceful uses of nuclear technology.”