Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Militant group backs former cricket star’s party ahead of Pakistan polls

July 18, 2018


© AFP/File | Former cricketer Imran Khan has repeatedly called for holding talks with militants, earning him the moniker ‘Taliban Khan’ in Pakistan

A US-designated terrorist group has announced its support for Imran Khan and his party in nationwide elections on July 25, the latest controversial outfit to back the former cricket star’s bid to lead the country.

The al Qaeda-linked Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) announced their support for Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in a Facebook post Tuesday along with a photo of the group?s leader posing with a PTI candidate.

“Maulana Fazal ur Rehman Khalil along with hundreds of his followers have joined PTI and announced their support for its candidates,” wrote PTI hopeful Asad Umar.

Umar later edited the post saying Khalil and other clerics had only announced their support for PTI.

A PTI spokesman also confirmed Wednesday that Khalil was backing their party in elections but will not be joining their ranks officially as a party member

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Fazal ur Rehman Khalil

Khalil, an Islamabad-based cleric, is accused by the United States of plotting terror attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India and of nurturing close links with Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan?s northern city of Abbottabad during a raid by US special forces in 2011.

The US State Department describes HuM as “a Pakistan-based terrorist organisation that seeks the annexation of Kashmir into Pakistan and poses a direct risk to U.S., Afghan, and allied interests in Afghanistan”.

Pakistan earlier this year amended its anti-terror laws to ban those listed as terrorists by the United Nations from running in elections.

Former cricketer Khan — who led Pakistan to World Cup victory in 1992 — has repeatedly called for holding talks with militants, earning him the moniker “Taliban Khan” in Pakistan.

Khan was also lambasted by critics for entering into an political alliance earlier this year with Sami ul Haq — the so-called Father of the Taliban whose madrassas once educated Taliban supremos Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.



Afghanistan: General John Nicholson says his comments were “mischaracterized”

July 17, 2018

The NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan on Tuesday rejected reports its commander General John Nicholson had said the United States was ready to join direct negotiations with the Taliban, saying his comments were “mischaracterized”.

In a statement, it referred to reports on Monday in which Nicholson reiterated comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the possibility of talks with the Taliban involving the United States.

Image result for General John Nicholson, photos
General John Nicholson

“The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” Nicholson said in a statement.

“My reaffirmation of Secretary Pompeo’s statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the United States is ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people toward lasting peace was mischaracterized,” he said.

The Taliban have rejected talks with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they see as illegitimate and instead insisted they would only talk with the United States.

In his comments on Monday, Nicholson said the United States recognized it had an important role to play in the peace process.

“Our Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces,” he said. “We hope that they realize this and that this will help to move forward the peace process.”

The remarks come amid growing speculation about moves to open talks with the Taliban following an unprecedented three-day ceasefire during last month’s Eid holiday.

Last month, Pompeo said the United States was ready to “support, facilitate and participate” in discussions with the Taliban over the role of international forces in Afghanistan but that the peace process would be Afghan-led.

Reporting by James Mackenzie. Editing by Lincoln Feast.


Civilian deaths in Afghanistan hit record as suicide attacks surge

July 15, 2018

The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan reached a record in the first half of the year, despite last month’s ceasefire, with a surge in suicide attacks claimed by Islamic State, the United Nations said on Sunday.

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Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

Deaths rose 1 percent to 1,692, although injuries dropped 5 percent to 3,430, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in its latest civilian casualty report. Overall civilian casualties were down 3 percent.

Hopes that peace may one day be agreed in Afghanistan were raised last month by a three-day truce over the Eid al-Fitr holiday which saw unprecedented scenes of Taliban fighters mingling with security forces in Kabul and other cities.

“The brief ceasefire demonstrated that the fighting can be stopped and that Afghan civilians no longer need to bear the brunt of the war,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the senior U.N. official in Afghanistan said in a statement.

But with heavy fighting seen across the country during the first half the year and repeated suicide attacks in Kabul and major provincial cities like Jalalabad, the report underlines the dire security situation facing Afghanistan.

It also pointed to increased activity by Islamic State, reflected in a doubling in casualties in Nangarhar, the eastern province whose capital is Jalalabad, where the militant group has conducted a series of attacks over recent months.

The main causes of casualties were ground engagements between security forces and militants, roadside bombs, as well as suicide and other so-called complex attacks, which caused 22 percent more casualties than in the same period last year.

Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks on targets as diverse as Shi’ite shrines, offices of government ministries and aid groups, sports events and voter registration stations.

Fifty-two percent of the casualties from suicide and complex attacks were attributed to Islamic State, often known as Daesh, while 40 percent were attributed to the Taliban.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for October, there is concern about more violence as polling day approaches.

The Taliban, fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law, have rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks, demanding that foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

Sunday’s report said that the biggest cause of civilian casualties continued to be ground engagements between government forces and militant groups, with 360 deaths and 1,134 wounded.

But it noted that these casualties had nonetheless declined by 18 percent.

At the same time, casualties from air strikes, which have risen sharply under the U.S. strategy of trying to force the Taliban to accept peace talks, went up by 52 percent, with 353 casualties including 149 dead and 204 wounded.


Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Robert Birsel

Pakistan: Bomb targeting convoy of Akram Khan Durrani, running against Imran Khan, kills four

July 13, 2018

At least four people were killed and 39 injured after a bomb hidden inside a motorcycle detonated as a Pakistani politician’s convoy passed by Friday, police said, as the country gears up for an election.

The bomb near the northwestern town of Bannu was targeting the convoy of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) candidate Akram Khan Durrani, who survived the attack, police said.

“The bomb was planted in a motorcycle,” regional police officer Kareem Khan told AFP. Other local authorities confirmed the attack.

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (left) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan (right) condemned an attack on a Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal rally, that left four dead and 31 others injured. Photo: File

The MMA is a coalition of religious parties based in Pakistan’s northwest.

Durrani is running against cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) is one of the front-runners in the July 25 vote.

“Strongly condemn the terrorist attack on Akram Durrani and his convoy,” Khan tweeted after the attack.

“There seems to be a conspiracy to sabotage the 25 July elections but the people of Pakistan will not allow any design intended to target these historic elections to succeed,” he continued.

The blast comes days after a bomb claimed by the Pakistani Taliban targeted a rally by the Awami National Party (ANP) in the city of Peshawar on Tuesday. Hospital officials said Friday that the toll in that attack had risen to 22.

Local ANP leader Haroon Bilour was among those killed. Thousands flocked to his funeral the next day.

Pakistan’s security has dramatically improved in recent years, with the military cracking down on militancy that has cost tens of thousands of lives in the past decade.

But analysts have long warned that the country has not tackled the root causes of extremism.



Politicians condemn attack on MMA candidate Akram Durrani’s rally in Bannu

Politicians condemned an attack on Friday morning here in Bannu that claimed the lives of at least four people, injuring 31 others.

The blast, 50 metres away, from an election rally site of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) occured in Haved area of Bannu on Friday morning.

Earlier reports that said the explosion targetted the convoy of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl’s Akram Khan Durrani, who is contesting on an MMA ticket from NA-35 Bannu, were put to rest when the politician showed up at the hospital to tend to his supporters.

`Ensure security of contesting candidates’

Strongly condemning the terrorist attack on Durrani, Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari demanded that the security of contesting candidates be ensured.

“The entire nation and institutions must unite to counter terrorism,” Bilawal said in a statement.

‘No lapses in security should occur’

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan expressed sorrow over the loss of precious lives.

Condemning the attack on Durrani, Imran expressed satisfaction on the safety of the MMA leader.

The PTI chief stressed that lapses in the security of election candidates should not occur.

He demanded that those injured in the attack should get state-of-the-art medical facilities.

“The enemy wants instability during the extremely important electoral process,” Imran said. “Interim [provincial] governments should make it a priority to protect the contesting candidates.”

Imran demanded that the opportunity to wreak havoc in the country not be given to anyone. “Impartial polls in a peaceful environment are extremely necessary for Pakistan’s future,” he said.

‘Entire nation united against terrorism’

Condemning the attack, Punjab interim Chief Minister Dr Hasan Askari said that those targetting innocent citizens were enemies of humanity.

He expressed sympathy with the families of the deceased and offered prayers for the recovery of the injured persons.

“None of the religions in this world allow the targetting of innocent people,” Askari said in a statement.

Paying homage to the martyrs in the war against terrorism, he said that the entire nation stood united against terrorists.

Trump criticism on defence spending prompt special session at NATO summit

July 12, 2018

US President Donald Trump launched a fresh attack on NATO allies’ failure to raise defence spending on Thursday, prompting leaders to huddle in a special session excluding other summit participants.

At one point, in a break with diplomatic protocol, a source said Trump addressed German Chancellor Merkel by her first name and told her: “Angela, you need to do something about this.”

© Benoit Doppagne, Pool, AFP | Belgian PM Charles Michel (2L) and his partner Amelie Derbaudrenghien (L) greet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Brussels on July 11, 2018.
“We had a very intense summit,” Merkel herself told reporters after the meeting. Trump also prepared to make a previously unscheduled public statement, the White House said.

Invited leaders from non-NATO countries Afghanistan and Georgia were asked to leave along with most NATO leaders’ retinues of officials, as the heads of state and government of the Western alliance sought to deal with the man whose nation
commands much of the budget and forces for Europe’s defence.

Trump had opened the first day of talks in Brussels on Wednesday with a public diatribe against Germany, the second biggest state in the Western defense alliance, before the mood appeared to have calmed as the summit went into its second day, focusing on operations beyond Europe.


NATO Members Defend Military Contributions Amid Trump’s Demands

July 12, 2018

Germany says sole focus on spending is misplaced as U.S. president presses allies to target to 4%

Delegations arrive for a working session of NATO leaders in Brussels a day after President Donald Trump pressed allies to double their military spending target to 4% of GDP.
Delegations arrive for a working session of NATO leaders in Brussels a day after President Donald Trump pressed allies to double their military spending target to 4% of GDP. PHOTO: SEAN GALLUP/GETTY IMAGES

BRUSSELS—President Donald Trump’s demand at the NATO summit for members to double military-spending commitments has reignited a debate among allies about what constitutes contributions to the alliance.

At the start of two days of meeting with NATO leaders, Mr. Trump signaled he would push the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to raise its defense-spending target—currently obliging members to spend 2% of economic output on defense—to as high as 4%. Only the U.S. spends more than 3%, with seven other countries above or near the 2% level.

In a tweet Thursday morning, Mr. Trump reiterated his new target.

Donald J. Trump


….On top of it all, Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia. Not acceptable! All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!

But Germany, which has been in Mr. Trump’s crosshairs for spending only 1.24% of its gross domestic product on defense, said the sole focus on military spending is misplaced.

“I would like to see the businessman Donald Trump…not only look at the balance sheet, but also look at the output,” German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on the sidelines of the alliance gathering.

Germany, she said, is the second-largest troop contributor to NATO and the second-largest net payer into the alliance. Germany pays 14% of NATO’s annual budget, behind only the U.S., which finances 22%.

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, French President Emmanuel Macron, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg and U.S. President Donald Trump
Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, French President Emmanuel Macron, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg and U.S. President Donald TrumpPHOTO: POOL/REUTERS

Germany’s position was echoed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after Canada at the summit agreed to lead a new NATO training mission in Iraq. “A lot of people talk about the 2%,” Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday. “Announcing money put in, announcing inputs, isn’t nearly as important as demonstrating outputs.”

NATO members this year are poised to spend around $1 trillion on defense combined, dominated by $706 billion from the U.S. If all NATO members made their 2% commitment, alliance spending would rise by roughly $110 billion, a NATO official said. The amount is roughly equivalent to the combined French and British defense budgets. A spending level of 4% would boost overall NATO spending by roughly 50%.

Mr. Trump has said the imbalance is “unfair” to the U.S. During the summit, he tweeted “the U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billion on Trade.” He said European NATO members needed to reach the 2% spending target immediately, rather than by the agreed deadline of 2024. The U.S. now spends 3.5% of GDP on defense, according to NATO.

How much of the U.S. money actually benefits NATO is a matter of debate. NATO data includes all U.S. military spending but the outlays are spread far wider. The U.S. has large military forces in Japan and South Korea. Others are in the Middle East and Africa. Much of the U.S. Navy is oriented toward the Pacific Ocean.

“At least some political claims about the “burden” seem to grossly exaggerate the size and cost of the U.S. forces actually dedicated to European defense, and ignore the value to the U.S. of forward deployments and staging capabilities in Europe, along with the value of allied forces in supporting the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Anthony H. Cordesman, analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said in a recent report.

Calculating the U.S. contribution is difficult, because some military capabilities, such as the flotilla of aircraft carriers or the fleet of B-2 bombers based in the U.S., can support military operations globally.

Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, defense economics research fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, estimates the U.S. contributes about $36 billion directly to European security. European NATO members spend $286 billion, according to NATO data.

“America is spending its defense dollars principally for its own security needs, as well as to support a range of interests and allies in other regions around the world, not exclusively Europe,” Ms. Béraud-Sudreau said.

Write to Robert Wall at

NATO summit focus shifts to Afghanistan

July 12, 2018

AFP and Reuters

© Benoit Doppagne, Pool, AFP | Belgian PM Charles Michel (2L) and his partner Amelie Derbaudrenghien (L) greet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Brussels on July 11, 2018.

NATO leaders will try on Thursday to move beyond Donald Trump’s demands for higher defence spending, and focus on ending the long war in Afghanistan, in the second day of a summit in Brussels underscored by transatlantic tensions.

On a trip that will also take the U.S. president to Britain and to Helsinki to meet Russia’s Vladimir PutinTrump spent the first day of the NATO summit lambasting allies for failing to spend the targeted 2 percent of GDP on defence and accused Germany of being a prisoner to Russian energy.

On day two, leaders will welcome non-NATO partners including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko to the alliance’s new glass-and-steel headquarters as they seek to focus on policy rather than politics.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May tried to set the tone on Wednesday by announcing more troops for NATO’s Afghan training mission.

“We will be deploying an additional 440 personnel to NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and I think that shows when NATO calls, the UK is one of the first to step up,” May told reporters.

NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg wants leaders to agree to fund Afghan security forces until 2024, despite public fatigue in Western countries about their involvement in the conflict.

Funding has averaged at about $1 billion annually and Stoltenberg has said he expected that level to be met.

Leaders will be keen to hear more about Trump’s military approach to Afghanistan, which he revamped last August to include a surge in air strikes to force Taliban militants to the negotiating table.

U.S. officials have told Reuters Washington is preparing another review of strategy, a year after Trump begrudgingly agreed to extend involvement in the 17-year-old war.

Trump was opposed to remaining in America’s longest war, but his advisers convinced him to give it more time. He authorized the deployment an additional 3,000 troops, bringing the total to around 15,000.

At the summit, leaders will discuss ties with Georgia and Ukraine, two NATO membership hopefuls who contribute to troop levels in Afghanistan but have seen their chances of joining the alliance hampered by Russian incursions into their territory.

Under NATO rules, countries with territorial conflicts cannot join the Western alliance and neither country is expected to progress in membership talks.

Macedonia, however, which was formally invited to start accession talks on Wednesday, will be part of a special ceremony on Thursday as the alliance sets the stage for expanding to its 30th member state.


Two dead in militant attack on Afghan govt office: officials

July 11, 2018

Gunmen stormed an education department compound in Afghanistan’s restive east Wednesday and were battling security forces in an ongoing attack that has left at least two people dead, officials said.

Five others have been wounded in the second attack in Jalalabad city in as many days and a number of employees were trapped inside the building, Nangarhar provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.

© AFP | Map of Afghanistan locating attack in Jalalabad

Security forces were trying to clear the militants from the compound and rescue the workers. It was not clear how many gunmen or employees were inside.

A security guard employed by the department was among the dead, Khogyani said.

Jalalabad health director Najibullah Kamawal confirmed five wounded people had been brought to hospital so far.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the raid.

Nangarhar’s provincial capital has seen an uptick in violence in recent weeks, with the Islamic State group claiming most of the attacks.

On Tuesday, a suicide attack in the city killed at least 12 people and ignited a nearby petrol station, with witnesses describing screaming victims “swallowed” by flames.

The bomber was targeting Afghan security forces when he blew himself up. Ten civilians were among the dead.

IS claimed that attack via its Amaq propaganda agency.

The group has claimed a series of high-casualty suicide bomb attacks in the province in recent weeks, as US and Afghan forces continue offensive operations against the group.

While the Taliban is Afghanistan’s largest militant group, IS has a relatively small but potent presence, mainly in the north and east of the country.

Wednesday’s attack comes a day after President Ashraf Ghani flew to Brussels to attend a NATO summit where he will be hoping to get a greater commitment from members to the nearly 17-year conflict.

Currently, there are about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, providing the main component of the NATO mission there to support and train local forces.

The attack also coincides with the start of a university entrance exam for more than 16,000 students in Jalalabad, but it was not clear if the two events were linked.

The attack comes exactly a month after militants raided the education department in the city.

In that incident a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the department, triggering a fierce battle between gunmen and security forces.

At least 10 people were wounded after terrified employees jumped out of the windows.

A recent ceasefire between Afghan security forces and the Taliban during the Islamic holiday Eid had raised hopes that an end to hostilities in the war-weary country was possible.

Since then, however, the Taliban has returned to the battlefield and IS, which was not involved in the truce, has continued to carry out deadly attacks.

Nangarhar borders Pakistan, which has been under growing US pressure to crack down on extremist groups operating in the country.

Pakistan has long been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban and providing safe haven to its leaders, charges Islamabad denies.

Pakistan, in return, has accused Afghanistan of sheltering the Pakistani Taliban.



Gunmen trap Afghan workers in attack on education department office

July 11, 2018

Gunmen attacked an education department office in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday and were holding out against security forces who had surrounded the compound, officials said.

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Afghan security forces arrive at the site of gunfire and attack in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan. FILE

Two explosions were heard near the scene and at least two people had been killed and five wounded, the provincial governor’s office said.

However, with an unknown number of people trapped in the building, the final casualty figure may be much higher.

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers arrive at the site of gunfire and attack in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

“Our first priority is to rescue those people who are stuck inside,” Jalalabad police chief Ghulam Sanayi Stanekzai told Tolo News TV.

It was the third major attack in less than two weeks in Jalalabad, the main city of Nangarhar province, following a blast that killed a group of Sikhs on July 1 and a second that killed at least 12 people on Tuesday.The attacks have underscored the instability in many parts of Afghanistan following a brief three-day truce with the Taliban over the Eid al-Fitr holiday last month.

Backed by intensive U.S. air strikes, Afghan forces have claimed success in holding the Taliban back from major cities and U.S. commanders say they have been hitting other militant groups like Islamic State hard.

But attacks on civilian targets have continued, causing heavy casualties.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday’s attack but both of the other assaults in the city this month were claimed by Islamic State, which is opposed to both the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban.

The attack on the education department appeared to be following the pattern of previous attacks including an assault on an office of the Save the Children aid group in Jalalabad in January and another on the city accounts office in May.

Nangarhar province, on the porous border with Pakistan, has become a stronghold of Islamic State, which has grown into one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous militant groups since it appeared around the beginning of 2015.

Additional reporting by Qadir Sediqi in KABUL; Editing by Robert Birsel and Paul Tait


EU’s Tusk hits back at Trump criticism ahead of Nato summit

July 10, 2018

EU Council president calls on America to ‘appreciate its allies’

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Donald Tusk spoke ahead of a NATO summit © EPA

By Jim Brunsden

EU Council president Donald Tusk has refuted Donald Trump’s criticisms of European defence spending, urging the US president not to denigrate a contribution that has included the deaths of more than 800 European soldiers in Afghanistan.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of Nato leaders in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr Tusk said he wanted “to address President Trump directly”, as the US leader “for a long time now has been criticising Europe almost daily for, in his view, insufficient contributions to the common defence capabilities and for living off the US”.

“Europe was first to respond on a large scale when the US was attacked and called for solidarity after 9-11,” Mr Tusk said, referring to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “European soldiers have been fighting shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in Afghanistan. 870 brave European men and women sacrificed their lives, including 40 soldiers from my homeland, Poland.”

Mr Tusk was speaking alongside EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, ahead of a summit that is expected to be among the most tense in the history of the Atlantic alliance, with Mr Trump determined to pressure countries to spend more on their military capabilities.

Mr Tusk’s comments appeared to have been provoked by a tweet from Mr Trump as he prepared to travel to the summit, saying “the US is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the US taxpayer.”

The EU Council president said that he wanted “to dispel the American president’s argument which says that the US alone protects Europe against our enemies and that the US is almost alone in this struggle.”

He said that Europe spends “many times more than Russia and as much as China [on defence].”

“I think you can have no doubt Mr President that this is an investment in common American and European defence and security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian and about Chinese spending.”

Mr Tusk said that his comments were made both in view of the summit and of an upcoming meeting that Mr Trump will have with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It is always worth knowing who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem,” Mr Tusk said.

“First of all, dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many. And dear Europe, spend more on Europe defence because everyone respects an ally that is well prepared and well equipped.”