Allied airlift brings urgent medical supplies to the Czech Republic – NATO HQ

A cargo plane carrying several tons of medical supplies from China, including vital respirators and millions of facemasks, landed at Pardubice airport on Tuesday night (24-25 March 2020) to help combat the coronavirus.

The AN-124 plane, one of the largest aircraft ever built, landed overnight in the city of Pardubice. The flight was made possible by the NATO-managed Strategic Airlift International Solution, which provides NATO countries participating in the programme with access to heavy transport aircraft. The Czech Government had tasked the mission.

The plane flew from the city of Shenzhen in China with over 100 tons of equipment, including millions of facemasks, goggles and protective suits. This was the second such flight to the Czech Republic. Further flights to the Czech Republic and Slovakia are planned in the coming days, bringing much needed medical supplies. Special procedures were in place to ensure the safety of the aircrew, with no direct contact with ground crews allowed.

The Strategic Airlift International Solution, or SALIS, provides NATO countries with a strategic air transport capability. Nine NATO Allies (Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) currently participate in the programme, managed by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency. The aircraft is operated by Antonov Logistics SALIS from Leipzig/Halle airport.

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Allied airlift brings urgent medical supplies to the Czech Republic - NATO HQ

Covid-19 will cause ‘severe consequences’ for members: NATO – Army Technology

]]> NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg presents his Annual Report

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has warned that Covid-19 will cause severe consequences for member states economies and defence budgets.

Speaking during the release of NATOs Annual Report, Stoltenberg said: It is clear that there will be severe economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis. And at least in the short term, there will also be severe consequences, not only for the total economy, but also for government budgets.

When we speak about the long-term consequences, that is too early to say anything with certainty about what the long-term consequences will be.

Despite this, Stoltenberg said that in the face of an uncertain world, he expected member states would continue to invest more in defence and security spending, adding that he expected countries to stay committed to their current defence spending targets.

Stoltenberg explained: We have to remember that when NATO Allies decided to invest more in defence, they did so because we live in a more uncertain, more unpredictable world, and therefore we need to invest more in defence. This has not changed. So, I expect Allies to stay committed to investing more in our security.

Stoltenberg added that investments in security often paid off in crisis situations citing how Armed Forces provide surge capacity for all our societies when it comes to responding to natural disasters and other crisis.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread a number of NATO member countries have called upon their armed forces to support civilian authorities, provide medical assistance and logistics capabilities.

Yesterday, the UKs Ministry of Defence announced that it was readying an additional 10,000 personnel for its COVID support force and will begin training 100 personnel to drive oxygen tankers to support the NHS next week.

In his speech, unveiling the report, Stoltenberg said that the Covid-19 pandemic faced NATO with an unprecedented crisis but that NATO had overcome crises before. Stoltenbergs conference on the report was held online for the first time due to social distancing measures, NATO this week also suspended media access to its HQ in Brussels.

In response to the Pandemic, NATO has also looked to modify a number of exercises, but Stoltenberg said this did not affect the organisations ability to act if needed.

The US has already made modifications to exercise Defender Europe that would have seen 20,000 troops deployed to Europe.

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Covid-19 will cause 'severe consequences' for members: NATO - Army Technology

Staff member with NATO Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk tests ‘presumptive positive’ for coronavirus – wtkr.com

NORFOLK, Va. - An employee with NATO Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk has tested 'presumptive positive' for coronavirus.

A post made by the organizations Facebook states that this is the first potential case at NATO Allied Command Transformation. The individual is in self-isolation.

NATO Allied Command Transformation says they've taken every measure possible to protect the health of military members, civilians and their families.

All official travel by NATO Allied Command Transformation has been suspended. The Command is operating on a distributed working structure.

Strict preventative measures are in place to decrease the potential exposure of staff to the virus, said officials.

The organization's post also says "To the greatest extent possible the Command has minimized the number of personnel on site. Operations continue in an adapted way that reflects the current and evolving situation."

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Staff member with NATO Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk tests 'presumptive positive' for coronavirus - wtkr.com

How NATO Hopes to Protect the Baltics From a Sudden Russian Invasion – The National Interest

Key point:The alliance knows that its Easternmost members are vulnerable to a Russian attack. Here's what NATO is doing about it.

NATO has stood up a new command whose job it is to speed alliance troops and tanks around Europe in order to defend against a Russian invasion.

The new Joint Support and Enabling Command, based in Ulm, Germany, achieved initial operating capability on Sept, 17, 2019, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu announced.

This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

The command has its work cut out for it. A recent report revealed just how vulnerable NATOs eastern flank is to a sudden Russian assault -- and how important armored forces could be in the alliances defensive efforts.

Russia keeps around 760 tanks in units within quick striking distance of NATO's Baltic members. NATO countries together keep around 130 tanks in the same region -- and around 90 of those are American M-1s on their temporary rotation.

In 2016 RAND war-gamed a Russian invasion of the Baltics. In RAND's scenario, the Russian forces quickly overrun lightly-armed NATO forces. The Western alliance quickly deploys helicopters and air-mobile troops to confront the Russian advance. But NATO tanks are too slow to arrive.

"What cannot get there in time are the kinds of armored forces required to engage their Russian counterparts on equal terms, delay their advance, expose them to more-frequent and more-effective attacks from air- and land-based fires and subject them to spoiling counterattacks," RAND explained.

Across NATO theres no shortage of tanks and other heavy forces. But very few of NATOs tanks are available on short notice to defend the alliances eastern flank. RAND counted just 129 NATO tanks that realistically could participate in a short-notice Baltic scenario.

By RANDs count they could face as many as 757 Russian tanks that Moscow keeps on high readiness in the countrys western military district. Similarly, Russia deploys around 1,280 infantry fighting vehicles near its border with NATO, while NATO has just 280 fighting vehicles in the same region.

The heaviest most sophisticated American formations in particular are thin on the ground. For decades the U.S. Army maintained heavy forces in Europe in order to defend against the Soviet Union and later Russia. Force levels precipitously decreased following the end of the Cold War, but as late as 2012 the Army had four brigades in Europe, two of them with tanks.

The Obama administration cut the two Europe-based tank brigades in the wake of the 2011 debt-ceiling squabble with Congress that resulted in the Budget Control Act and automatic "sequestration" budget cuts. Army troops permanently in Europe declined from 40,000 to around 25,000.

Two years later in 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine. The Pentagon scrambled to restore its fighting strength in Europe. The Obama administration budgeted billions of dollars for temporary deployments to Europe under the auspices of the European Reassurance Initiative.

But a permanent increase in Europe-based forces was not in the offing. And five years after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Armys 2nd Cavalry Regiment with its 300 Stryker wheeled medium vehicles is the heaviest American formation that's always in Europe.

The Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade also is based in Europe. To bolster the airborne brigade and the 2nd ACR, the Army temporarily deploys one armored brigade at a time to the continent, each on a nine-month rotation. A typical armored brigade has around 90 M-1 tanks and 130 M-2 fighting vehicles plus around 18 M-109 self-propelled howitzers.

NATOs new Joint Support and Enabling Command could help move around the U.S. vehicles as well as tanks belonging to the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Poland another other alliance states.

The new command in Ulm will help our forces become more mobile and enable rapid reinforcement within the alliance, ensuring we have the right forces in the right place at the right time, Lungescu said.

According to Stars and Stripes, the command could have 160 personnel by 2021. In a crisis its strength could swell to 600 people.

Setting up new commands to manage the flow of forces in a crisis is one of the ways the alliance has tried to adapt, Stars and Stripes noted. NATO and the European Union also have discussed the need to streamline diplomatic clearances for troop movements as well as ensure that infrastructure on the continent such as tunnels and bridges are strong enough to handle tanks and other heavy military vehicles.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is theauthor of the graphic novelsWar Fix,War Is BoringandMachete Squad.This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

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How NATO Hopes to Protect the Baltics From a Sudden Russian Invasion - The National Interest

Op-Ed: The US should rally G7, NATO and other global allies together in fight against coronavirus – CNBC

The latest plot twist is a stunner in our ongoing global drama, "Major Power Struggle in the Era of Coronavirus."

President Xi Jinping, who just days ago seemed to have been put on the ropes by this killer pathogen, appears to have turned the tables on the disease, his critics, and his ideological adversaries. Some initially thought the virus might even cost him his job.

Instead, his authoritarian colossus, the People's Republic of China, is rapidly leveraging its position of being the first country to emerge from the worst of the COVID-19. To be sure, China is still suffering its biggest economic hit since the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, with still incalculable damage to growth, industrial production and its role in global supply chains.

Yet with head-spinning speed, President Xi is revving up his stalled economy with fiscal stimulus and is tightening the screws of his authoritarian surveillance state with new technologies. He is ramping up a domestic and international publicity campaign, trumpeting his triumph over the virus and donning the garb of the global champion working to protect others.

At the same time, Chinese authorities are taking aim at the United States by tossing its top journalists out of Beijing, by wooing American allies from Tokyo and Rome in common cause, and by contrasting its perhaps draconian approach to COVID-19 to that of President Trump.

"China can pull together the imagination and courage needed to handle the virus, while the US struggles," trumpeted the People's Daily, the Communist party mouthpiece. Xinhua news agency claimed that Xi's handling of the crisis has demonstrated his "pure heart, like a newborn's."

Pure heart or not, Xi is demonstrating an iron will. This week he stepped up threatening flights near Taiwan, a warning that he won't abide any move toward independence.

In the latest incident on Monday, Taiwan's Defense Ministry said it scrambled air reconnaissance and patrol aircraft to drive away Chinese J-11 fighters and KJ-500 early warning aircraft on nighttime missions.

The not-so-hidden message to Washington: We know from our experience how long this virus will drain you and distract you from your external obligations. You also have your messy elections to manage. What better time than now to demonstrate to the world the advantages of China's system and embrace?

Meanwhile, COVID-19's epicenter has moved to Europe where this week Italy surpassed China in the number of fatalities. It has spread in the United States to all 50 states, prompting an economic shutdown that could make the 2008-2009 financial crisis seem mild by comparison.

It's hard to engage in long-term strategic thinking about the neighborhood when your house is burning. However, the Trump administration needs to do precisely that. U.S. policy makers need to wake up to the geopolitical perils of the coronavirus crisis.

American global leadership has enjoyed a wide measure of acceptance not only because of military power or economic might. It also was perceived by its partners as defending larger, common interests and for convening global coalitions when required.

It was precisely that brand of leadership that characterized the U.S. response to the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Even so, that crisis shattered much of the world's confidence in the United States' financial leadership. Mismanaging the coronavirus could accelerate further the end of the American era.

"Beijing understands that if it is seen as leading, and Washington is seen as unable or unwilling to do so," writeKurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi in Foreign Affairs, "this perception could fundamentally alter the United States' position in global politics and the contest for leadership in the twenty-first century."

The authors in this must-read analysis remind us that global orders change gradually at first and then all at once. "In 1956," they remind us, "a botched intervention in the Suez laid bare the decay in British power and marked the end of the United Kingdom's reign as a global power."

So how do United States policy makers avoid their own "Suez moment?"

My columnlast week offered a starting point. It suggested that President Trump, instead of introducing a European travel ban unilaterally March 11, should have triggered NATO's Article 5 for the second time in history. That is the provision, crafted to deter the Soviet Union, that an attack on one member should be treated as an attack on all.

Overly literal readers of that column argued such a response was either ill-advised because it would militarize U.S. response or impossible, as Article 5 was designed for response to an "armed attack." What both arguments missed was the symbolic significance of such a declaration, as was the case when Article 5 was triggered by U.S. allies after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That's particularly true given current transatlantic divisions.

Even if NATO could muster such political will, it would still be insufficient. As the current chairman of the G-7, the United States could convene a "Coalition Countering COVID-19" that would rally the seven leading industrial democracies, the European Union, NATO and, perhaps most importantly, the G-20.

It would thus also involve China as a central and collaborative actor against a common foe.

Yet no other country, including China, has the wherewithal to summon that sort of global response. Failing to do so would further erode U.S. legitimacy as a global leader, a position already damaged through trade wars with its allies and the failure to join galvanizing projects from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accords.

The need is all the greater given Europe's fragmented response even as the virus rages, with the significant exception of European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde's rallying this week of eurozone central bankers.

"European solidarity does not exist," Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic

We're only in the opening scenes of this epic COVID-19 drama, which will continue without intermission. The Chinese rebound could prove to be a welcome twist in the plot.

Imagine the far-happier ending, however, if the United States and its allies manage to join forces globally even as they isolate socially.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States' most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper's European edition. His latest book "Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth" was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter@FredKempeand subscribe hereto Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week's top stories and trends.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

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Op-Ed: The US should rally G7, NATO and other global allies together in fight against coronavirus - CNBC

Russia’s Alfa-Class: The Titanium Submarine that Stumped NATO – The National Interest

The Alfa-class of Soviet submarines was truly innovative. Their hulls were made of titanium, an extremely light-weight and tensility strong metal, although significantly more expensive than steel. They were powered by a unique reactor as well cooled by a lead-bismuth mixture. They were incredibly fast as well, faster than American or British torpedos. If an Alfa sub detected a torpedo launch, standard operating procedure dictated full steam ahead, and a quick dash to safety.

Silver Subs

In 1969, a photo analystat the CIA stumbled upon the first indication of what would eventually become known as the Alfa-class submarine. Photographic evidence and human intelligence reports told of submarine hull section awaiting assembly that was an oddly reflective, silvery color.

Analysts disagreed on the material. Some said it was part of a massive disinformation campaign, that the hull pieces were simply covered in aluminum paint to confuse the United States.

Titanium itself is three to five times more expensive than steel, and successfully manipulating titanium on a large scale greatly adds to manufacturing costs. Bending and manipulating massive titanium panels for hull sections much more difficult than when working with steel.

Although extremely robust, the manufacture process and conditions required to weld titanium are difficult to implement. At high temperatures (like experienced when welding), titanium easily absorbs oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, causing imperfections in the weld known as embrittlement, which compromise the materials strength.

In order to successfully weld huge titanium panels on a large scale, Soviet engineers had to first create enormous warehouses that were hermetically sealed, then filled with argon, an inert gas that would not interfere with the welding process. Welders had to wear a large cosmonaut-like suit that would supply them with oxygen while inside these warehouses.

Analysts were highly skeptical that the normally conservative design firms would take such a risk, rather than steadily improving on proven designs. However if successful, a titanium hull would offer a few advantages. Titanium is only marginally magnetic, and would thus resist magnetic detection. Titanium submarines would also be able to dive deeper than traditional steel-hulled designs and would be better protected from depth charges or other explosions.

Engine Troubles

Another mystery to western analysts was the reactor that would power this new class of submarines. Its reactor was apparently to be cooled using liquid metal, which would reduce the size of the reactor, and offer a potentially higher output.

The United States Navy believed that liquid metal reactors were harder to maintain and thus more dangerous than the pressurized water reactors, which was the proffered choice for submarine reactors.

A high degree of automation within the Alfa-class would be required to reduce the potential dangers that a crew would face when operating a liquid-metal cooled reactor. Some reports corroborated this theory, stating that the crew would be as low as 15 an incredibly low number that indicated an enormously high degree of automation.

Intelligence Success

The years of intelligence gathering and assessments eventually paid off. Although initial sea trials were a failure, the Alfa-class submarine would become the fastest submarine ever built. Underwater, it could reach a blistering 41 knots or 47 miles per hour. For comparison, the American Arleigh Burke-class destroyers reach top speed for around 30 knots or 35 miles per hour.

The Alfa-class was not without its perfections. Its liquid-metal cooled reactor had to be constantly heated so that the coolant didnt solidify. Many of the Soviet Unions ports were not adequately equipped to service these unique submarines, so they often left their reactors running, significantly shortening the time between necessary servicing. While fast, they were also very loud and sacrificed any stealth for speed.

The last of the class was withdrawn for scrapping in 1990 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union when expensive upkeep was no longer a priority. Still, their design impacted future Soviet designs, which incorporated some Alfa features, such as a higher degree of automation, into their designs.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: Russian Military Forums.

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Russia's Alfa-Class: The Titanium Submarine that Stumped NATO - The National Interest

Spanish army asks NATO for international assistance to fight coronavirus – EL PAS in English

The Spanish army has requested international assistance to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which is now expanding at a faster rate than in Italy. Although the country has been in lockdown for over a week, the number of cases has soared in recent days, with 514 deaths in just 24 hours.

On Tuesday, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) received a request for international assistance from the Armed Forces of Spain in their response to the global pandemic.

The Armed Forces of Spain are acting in favor of civil population to mitigate the virus spread, said the EADRCC in a press release. In order to prevent the spread of the virus in the military units of the Armed Forces of Spain and in the civil population, international partners are asked to provide assistance to the Ministry of Defense of Spain in supplying humanitarian assistance.

In Madrid, the government on Tuesday announced new measures to fight the coronavirus. Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Health Minister Salvador Illa and Finance Minister Mara Jess Montero gave a virtual news conference to explain what the governments next steps are going to be.

On a day when coronavirus-related deaths reached 2,696 and infections pushed past 40,000, Illa warned that the worst has yet to pass.

Our country is responding, but the response needs to be global or it will not be at all

This week is being tough, very tough. During this phase we are going to reach the peak of the epidemic, and it is very tough to keep up the drastic measures that we are requesting to extend until April 12, he said, alluding to the executives decision to prolong the nationwide confinement measures that went into effect after the government declared a state of alarm on March 13. The decision to extend the lockdown was approved by the Cabinet today and will be debated in Congress on Wednesday.

Illa acknowledged that the Madrid region is bearing the brunt of the pandemic, accounting for over 1,500 deaths. With a healthcare system overwhelmed by the rate of infection, the citys premier exhibition center, Ifema, has been converted into a massive field hospital and a local ice rink is now being used as a makeshift morgue.

Right now we need to show solidarity with Madrid. The government has deployed medical resources from other parts of Spain, redoubled the acquisition of certain products such as ventilators, and activated the countrys capacity to produce these items, said Illa.

Regarding media reports of dead bodies found at senior homes, the health minister said that a special task force has been created to follow up on the situation.

The Cabinet has also agreed to lift the ban on flights from Italy, but only for Spanish citizens and residents of Spain. Anyone flying in from an Italian airport will have to undergo quarantine.

Government spokesperson Mara Jess Montero, who is also the finance minister, listed the upcoming measures to deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis. Montero said that 300 million from an extraordinary fund will be distributed among regional governments to shore up social benefits. The money is aimed at helping dependent individuals, single-parent households and other particularly vulnerable groups.

We will take the necessary steps to ensure that nobody is left behind, said Montero. Our country is responding, but the response needs to be global or it will not be at all.

Montero also said that the Cabinet has approved the conditions to release the first 20 billion tranche of a 100 billion guarantee scheme to bring liquidity to small and medium businesses that have been experiencing a significant drop in revenues since much of the economy ground to a halt. Prime Minister Pedro Snchez last week announced a 200 billion package that included the liquidity scheme, tax deferrals and other forms of economic relief for struggling households and businesses.

Everyone is making a titanic effort, especially our healthcare professionals, she said. I hope this crisis is resolved as soon as possible, but it is going to change our values scale, and make us more aware of the welfare state.

English version by Susana Urra.

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Spanish army asks NATO for international assistance to fight coronavirus - EL PAS in English

Op-Ed: The US should call NATO to action and defend Europe against coronavirus – CNBC

While listening to President Trump announce the European travel ban in his Oval Office address, my mind wandered back in time to the early G20 meetings of finance ministers and heads of government in 2009 when the United States and its European partners worked together to head off a global financial meltdown.

I then traveled back a little further in time to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a day on which I found myself traveling on the Eurostar between London and Brussels, my two homes at the time. For the first time in NATO's history, our European and Canadian allies triggered the alliance's Article 5 commitment to common defense.

Going back to read the language of this provision, written in 1949 to deter Soviet aggression, it struck me that Trump could have produced a far more presidential moment this week if he had done what the Europeans did for the United States back then. He should offer the transatlantic community an Article 5 declaration of war against this deadly pathogen.

If NATO could bend Article 5 to combat a non-state terrorist actor striking the United States, why not also to combat the Chinese-originated COVID-19, which by Friday had infected more than 28,000 individuals and killed more than 1,200 among NATO allies. Given current transatlantic divisions, there is far greater need now than after 9/11 for a symbolic gesture of unity.

President Trump could have confounded his critics, calmed markets and perhaps even outlined common cause efforts including travel limitations that he and his administration had agreed to during consultations with our NATO partners and the European Union. "Article 5 provides that an attack on one of us is an attack on all," he could have said, Three Muskateer-like. "It's all for one, and one for all!"

There's also a strong America First reason why President Trump should have leaned more in that direction. He's going to need Europe, just as the United States did in 2009, as this health crisis is quickly becoming a markets and financial crisis that could be addressed far more effectively through coordinated public health and fiscal stimulus measures.

Though no one wishes the world a financial crisis of the 2008 and 2009 dimensions, it would be irresponsible not to begin talks among the world's major economies and democracies about what strains they see in the system and what contingency planning they should be undertaking should the coronavirus economic slowdown continue. Compared to 2009, the world's record debt levels and its low to negative interest rates provide far less capability and then demand even more common cause.

Instead, what unfolded on 3/11/2020 in Europe and the United States were events that further underscored how divided the United States and its European partners are when they should be most united. Without consulting our allies at all, he implemented the ban which took effect at midnight Friday in an Oval Office address on all American television networks that left his own national security team scratching their heads, correcting mistakes (cargo wouldn't be banned, as the President initially said), and filling in critical omissions (Americans could still travel home from Europe).

The result was one of the harshest responses ever recorded from EU leaders to an American President. A joint statement by President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and President of the European Council, Charles Michel, read: "The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action. The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation. The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus."

"When it comes to solidarity and unity, the United States is failing the coronavirus test," Benjamin Haddad, the director of the Atlantic Council's Future Europe Initiative, wrote in the Washington Post. "President Trump's speech Wednesday on the response to COVID-19 marked one of the most consequential foreign policy turning points of his presidency. This moment represents the lowest point in transatlantic relations in recent memory."

Sadly, the recent days have also shown how divided Europeans are among themselves, with Italians that there call for help has brought insufficient assistance to the country so far hardest hit in Europe by the virus. At previous such times of European uncertainty, the United States could provide necessary glue to keep everyone together.

".it's time now for the EU to go beyond engagement and consultations," Maurizio Massari, the Italian permanent representative to the European Union, wrote in Politico, "with emergency actions that are quick, concrete and effective."

He complained that "not a single EU country" had responded to Italy's call to active the European Union Mechanism of Civil Protection for the supply of medical equipment for individual protection. "Only China responded bilaterally. Certainly, this is not a good sign of European solidarity."

Unimaginably, Italian newspapers were full of Beijing's outreach to help on the very same day that President Trump declared his European travel ban.

A plane carrying a team of specialist doctors with battleground experience fighting the virus left China on Wednesday for Italy, the European epicenter of the pandemic, with urgently needed medical equipment. That includes 2 million facemasks, 20,0000 protective suits and 10,000 ventilators.

The gesture was widely publicized in China and Italy. A report in China Daily said that thanks to donations from people living in the East China Zhejian province, some 4,556 boxes of disaster-relief materials were on their way to Italy. More than 300,000 people from the province live and work in Italy.

Crises either make institutions and relationships stronger or weaker, but they don't leave them unchanged. A pandemic's political danger is that countries just like some individuals feel that it's everyone for themselves.

Yet after an unforgivable initial delay, Europeans are beginning to show more solidarity among themselves. EU leaders have committed 25 billion euros to respond to the economic fallout, of which $7.5 billion euros should be available quickly to provide emergency necessities.

Now it's the United States' turn to mend the message of this week. As fanciful as this idea might sound, it's time to invoke NATO's Article 5 to tackle the virus. It may take that dramatic of a symbolic action to repair the transatlantic damage that has been done.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States' most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper's European edition. His latest book "Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth" was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter@FredKempeand subscribe hereto Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week's top stories and trends.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

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Op-Ed: The US should call NATO to action and defend Europe against coronavirus - CNBC

NATO’s budget virus: How the pandemic could slash military spending | TheHill – The Hill

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden commits to female VP; CDC says no events of 50+ people for 8 weeks This week: Senate balances surveillance fight with growing coronavirus concerns Juan Williams: Trump must be held to account over coronavirus MOREs 30-day travel ban on Europeans entering the United States angered the European Union, whose leaders had not been informed prior to his announcement. In fact, the baninitially was not directed at the EU per se, but rather at the 26 Schengen Area countries whose citizens can travel freely without passports anywhere within Schengens boundaries. Neither Switzerland nor Norway are EU members, for example but they are part of the Schengen group, and their citizens now cannot travel temporarily to the United States. On the other hand, Britain and Ireland are not part of the Schengen area; hence, their initial exemption now revoked from the administration's travel ban.

Health experts will debate whether an area-wide ban was called for. What is not debatable is the likely impact of the ban on the economies of the affected countries.

Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank and a former French finance minister, stated at a news conference that the heightened uncertainty negatively affects expenditure plans and their financing and that even if ultimately temporary by nature, it [the coronavirus epidemic] will have a significant impact on economic activity, in particular it will slow down production as a result of disrupted supply chains and reduce domestic and foreign demand, especially through the adverse impact of the necessary containment measures.

One of the first casualties of the virus may well be European defense spending, which long has taken a back seat to domestic spending in most EU states also are NATO members. This is especially the case in Western Europe. As Sawomir Dbski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, puts it, Defense budgets may be the first victims of [the virus], especially in so-called old Europe, to use (Donald) Rumsfelds phrase, referring to the famous description used by the U.S. defense secretary during the George W. Bush administration.

On the other hand, Dbski adds, In Central Europe, defense budgets are of high priority for obvious reasons that is, close proximity of (an) aggressive Russia. Second, the economic situation of NATO Eastern Flank countries is in much better shape than that of their Western European allies. Poland, for example, for the first time ever, has (a) fully balanced budget for the fiscal year 2020. So if the coronavirus hits Polands economy, the government simply will make necessary budget corrections allowing some deficit, without cutting defense spending.

While Polands defense budget may withstand the ravages of the coronavirus, that may not be the case elsewhere in Russias neighborhood. Spending on emergency measures to combat the virus it is estimated that a European Central Bank bailout for Italy alone could exceed $500 billion Euros, or about $560 billion could increase the pressure on European economies that have only just begun to show growth in their gross domestic products (GDP). Depending on how long the virus continues to ravage Europe, recovery could take years, not months.

Coupled with ongoing immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, it likely will take the European NATO states considerably longer to reach their agreed goal of achieving defense spending that is equal to 2 percent of their respective GDPs by 2024.

NATO already is feeling the ravages of the virus in other ways. Major exercises such as Defender are being radically restructured and trimmed; others have been cancelled. At this time of worldwide crisis, it is crucial that Washington not further complicate Europes challenges by exacerbating tensions over defense spending. Moreover, it should lead the Alliances strategizing for the rapid restoration of all planned training, exercises and deployments immediately upon indications that the threat of the pandemic is beginning to wane.

Unless Washington takes these steps, the major beneficiary of NATOs travails will be none other than that soon-to-be constitutionally-engineered president for life, Russia's Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at theCenter for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for theForeign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.

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NATO's budget virus: How the pandemic could slash military spending | TheHill - The Hill

Recommitting to NATO, Resisting Putin’s Aggression – Charged Affairs

Editors Note: This article is part of our special series Predictions & Predicaments. It should be read as if written in April 2024. Read more about the special series here.

It is one thing to send little green men to attack Ukrainiansoldiers. It is another to send them to attack the 1st BrigadeCombat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division. Vladimir Putin learnedthat lesson the hard way.

NATO member states could have reacted to Putins recentoffensive by reinforcing their own defenses, preparing for the day Spetsnazcommandos and eastern Ukrainian separatist militias came to their borders. Luckily,the alliance remembered its recent history. As in Bosnia and Kosovo in the1990s, the alliance had a reason to act even though the conflict was outsideNATOs borders.

What led the alliance to dispatch U.S., UK, and Frenchparatroopers to Kyiv International Airport, daring Putins troops to continuetheir march toward the Ukrainian capital? It is possible to label any one ofhundreds of events, large or small, as the decisive one. But three decisionsmade by the United States in the last three years stand out. The fact that theywere U.S. decisions shows how indispensable the country is to Europeansecurity.

First, commanders challenged very long-held assumptions.Take heavy armor, for example. Decades after the threat of Red Army tanksdriving through the Fulda Gap vanished, the U.S. Army in 2019 was still orderingmore M1 Abrams tanks. But with Military Sealift Command strained,and its ability to transport tanks across the Atlantic compromised, plannersquestioned their reliance on armor to fight off a Russian incursion. Theyrealized cyber security was more valuable witness the swiftness with which U.S.cyber units blocked Russian hackers attempts to disable Ukrainian governmentwebsites the same day as the invasion.

Second, the Pentagon began investing more in personnel, rather than putting excessive faith in traditional warfighting technology. As impressive as the United States warships, armored vehicles, fighter planes, and other machinery are, they will be useless if the men and women operating them are not fully prepared. Learning from the two fatal collisions involving Navy destroyers in 2017, and from the Marine Corps high number of deadly aviation mishaps in 2018, the U.S. military paid more attention to the troops training and wellbeing. Today, service members have ample opportunities to upgrade their skills, rest after long missions, and learn from their comrades.

Along with this investment came a different conception of what it means to fight. After much resistance, each of the services now has a cyber auxiliary, a unit whose members, while they must be physically fit, are not expected to meet the same high fitness standards as infantrymen. Former Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller was half-joking when he said a Marine in the Cyber Auxiliary can have purple hair, but he spotted the value of flexibility in particular standards. It was the warrior ethic that mattered, the commitment to using ones skills in service to ones country, not just the number of pushups one could do.

Third, and most importantly, was simply recommitting to thealliance. With a separate European Defense Force still under discussion, andwith Americans domestic economic anxieties flaring up, it was tempting tosimply let the Europeans go their own way. It is their continent, after all, aless committed president might have said. Why not let them boost their defensebudgets, square off with Putin themselves, and leave the U.S. free to confront astill-rising China in the Pacific?

Fortunately, Washington chose the opposite path. Forexample, while continuing the multilateral TridentJuncture exercise in the Arctic, it restarted Marine Corps trainingmissions along the Black Sea, a rejection of the false choice betweenpreparing for conflict in one and in the other. So prepared were the U.S. seaservices that, when the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit sailed towardCrimea aboard an Amphibious Ready Group, in tandem with the paratrooperslanding in Kyiv, there was no doubt the United States was ready to fight.

Putin must have thought he had timed his incursionperfectly. When his troops set off for Kyiv on March 19, he saw no reason toworry. Surely, he thought, NATO members would not risk their soldiers livesfor a non-member. Ukrainian resistance would crumble by April 4, giving NATO ablack eye on its 75th birthday. But he reckoned without U.S. andallied resolve.

As his henchmen withdrew to the Donbass, unwilling to fight a U.S.-led detachment, Putin offered the laughable idea that his intention all along was simply to show the world what Russia was capable of. That remark will quickly fade from memory. Instead, the world will remember the words of dozens of ordinary people who spoke at NATOs summit last week: Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians saved from massacres by NATO airstrikes a generation ago; Ukrainians who fled Crimea and the Donbass after seeing the brutal crackdown on friends who resisted Russian domination; Russians who risked their lives to speak out against the Putin regime. None of them were citizens of NATO members, but all praised NATO eloquently a stark reminder that the alliance, when it summons the will to act, protects millions outside its ranks.

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Recommitting to NATO, Resisting Putin's Aggression - Charged Affairs

Russian Planes Are Flying Thousands of Miles to Track NATO Submarines – The National Interest

A pair of Russian navy Tu-142 patrol planes flew one of the longest-ever flights in international air space in decades on and around March 11, 2020.

The powerful, swept-wing planes with their four turboprop engines flew from Kipelovo-Fedotovo airbase near Vologda in northern Russia, skirted the Arctic Circle as they headed west around Norway and the United Kingdom then south to the waters off Spain -- and then flew back.

NATO fighters rose to intercept the 174-feet-long Tupolevs, but at no point did the planes, which are based on the Tu-95 bomber, stray into any countrys national air space.

The impressive flight was just the latest in a surge of sorties by the small fleet of around two dozen Tu-142s, which with their nearly 8,000-mile endurance are among the farther-flyest military aircraft in the world.

The Tu-142 and other Russian long-range warplanes have flown several epic missions in the spring of 2020, in part in order to keep tabs on NATO submarines conducting exercises in European and Arctic waters.

The Russian sorties mirror a similar surge by NATO patrol planes that took place in late 2019 as the Russian fleet deployed an unusually large number of submarines. The escalating missions below and above the waves point to intensifying preparation for a potential war on both sides of the former Iron Curtain.

The March 11, 2020 sortie might have targeted NATO submarines participating in the alliances Cold Response war game. NATO canceled Cold Response in reaction to the rapid spread of the flu-like novel-coronavirus, but the submarines may have lingered in the exercise zone.

The Norwegian air force scrambled fighters to check in on the Tu-142s as they passed by Norway. Its unclear which types the Norwegians launched, but Oslos air arm earlier in March 2020 sent F-16 and F-35 fighters to intercept a patrol by a Tu-142 and an escorting MiG-31 interceptor.

The Royal Air Force with its Typhoon fighters took over as the Russian patrol planes neared United Kingdom air space. These Russian bombers do not comply with international air traffic rules, are a hazard to airliners and are not welcome in our air space, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston stated. RAF Typhoons, alongside our NATO allies, ensured these Russian aircraft posed no hazard.

But the Russians were back at it a few days later with a pair of Tu-160 long-range bombers. Again, RAF fighters rose to intercept.

British and Norwegian Typhoon and F-16 fighter jets also scrambled twice in late February 2020 to intercept pairs of Tu-142s after the Russian planes flew farther south than normal and approached Norwegian air space.

The Russian patrol surge isnt limited to Europe. On March 9, 2020, a pair of Tu-142s took off from Russias Far East region and flew northeast over the Arctic.

U.S. Air Force F-22s and Canadian air force F/A-18s simultaneously intercepted the patrollers and followed them as they flew over a temporary base for two U.S. Navy submarines conducting the services biennial ice exercise.

American sailors captured dramatic images of the Russian planes buzzing USS Connecticut and USS Toledo.

The Arctic is a potential strategic corridor -- between Indo-Pacific, Europe and the U.S. homeland -- for expanded competition," U.S. Navy vice admiral Daryl Caudle explained in a statement.

As recently as late 2019, NATO was the one launching patrol planes to keep watch over Russian submarines. The Russian navy in mid-October 2019 deployed eight submarines in the countrys biggest undersea exercise since the Cold War.

More than a dozen NATO patrol planes flew back-to-back missions in order to find and track Moscows submarines.

Between Oct. 25 and Nov. 7, 2019, the NATO planes flew more than 40 missions. Six Norwegian air force P-3s, four U.S. Navy P-8s and a Canadian air force CP-140 flew from Andoya in Norway. At least one additional P-8 flew from Keflavik in Iceland. A French navy Atlantic 2 patroller staged from Prestwick airport in Scotland.

The Russian exercise seemed to highlight Moscows new approach to undersea warfare. While the war game reportedly was defensive in nature, the same submarines with their long-range cruise missiles could conduct offensive operations from the same waters.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is theauthor of the graphic novelsWar Fix,War Is BoringandMachete Squad.

Image: Royal Air Force Facebook.

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Russian Planes Are Flying Thousands of Miles to Track NATO Submarines - The National Interest

NATO warships unable to collect intel on Russian Navy in the Black Sea: report – AMN Al-Masdar News

The US and its Western European allies regularly send warships to the Black Sea, with other NATO countries bordering the body of water including Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey maintaining a sizable permanent presence in the region.

NATO warships sailing near Russias borders in the Black Sea around the Crimean peninsula are virtually incapable of carrying out any useful reconnaissance thanks to the Russian militarys powerful coastal electronic warfare systems, a source in the regions security apparatus has said.

Commenting on the alliances attempt to penetrate the regions communications and digital networks, the source indicated that this was made impossible as a result of the deployment and real-world testing of the latest electronic warfare countermeasures.

As a result [of these measures] NATO warships turn around and leave, the official said.

According to the source, Russias electronic countermeasures are powerful enough not only to make snooping impossible, but to screw up warships navigation systems, resulting in false readings on their current coordinates.

The US and its NATO allies have substantially increased their reconnaissance patrols along Russias borders in recent years, deploying dozens of warships in the Black Sea and sending hundreds of drones and spy planes on intelligence-gathering missions around Crimea, the home to Russias Black Sea Fleet.

Late last month, the US deployed the USS Ross guided-missile destroyer into the body of water for drills. The Russian Navy assured observers that it had the capabilities to monitor the warships movement. Earlier this month, the Russian military reported detecting 25 foreign aircraft engaged in reconnaissance activities near the countrys borders, with fighters scrambled twice to prevent illegal entry into Russian airspace.

Moscow has repeatedly condemned the US and its NATO allies over their maritime exercises, drone and spy plane flights and bomber drills near Russias borders, warning that such behaviour only serves to stoke tensions. The alliance has so far ignored these objections.

Credit: Sputnik

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NATO warships unable to collect intel on Russian Navy in the Black Sea: report - AMN Al-Masdar News

Exclusive Von Storch: Turkey Should Be Removed from NATO Following Migrant Aggression – Breitbart

Deputy leader of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Beatrix von Storch has slammed the Turkish government for opening its borders to Europe, demanding that the country be removed from the NATO military alliance.

Ms von Storch commented on the situation along the Greek border, where thousands of migrants have gathered, in an interview with Breitbart London this week, stating that President Recep Tayyip Erdogans government had committed an act of aggression by opening the border.

First of all, what is our approach to this situation? We stand with Greece. This is, I think, the bottom line. We have to strengthen the Greek border and border police and we should do everything we can to help them keep the border clear, von Storch said.

On the actions of President Erdogan, Ms von Storch said: Its an act of aggression, what he is proposing.Its the fight of an Islamic country against a small Christian country and he did it with purpose. He uses it as a weapon.

The AfD deputy leader went on to note the multiple times that Erdogan has threatened the European Union, including as recently as last December when he stated that migrants displaced by military activity in the Syrian province of Idlib could go on to Europe.

Von Storch also referenced threats by Erdogan to transport migrants into buses and ship them to the border. The Turkish government has been accused of bussing in migrants to the Greek border earlier this month as well as transporting them to the area by train.

Many have questioned the suitability of Turkey within the NATO alliance, of which Greece is also a member, following Erdogans latest action and Ms von Storch is no exception.

This is in our basic programme, we have included a passage that says Turkey shouldnt be a member of NATO. Turkey is not alongside all of our national interests and the interests of Western societies, she said.

[Erdogan] is not acting as a member, he is acting like a threat and an opponent of the NATO alliance, she added.

While Turkey has called for aid from NATO in recent weeks to help with the migrant crisis, not everyone within Erdogans own AKP party is supportive of the country remaining a NATO member.

In 2017, MPSamil Tayyar said Turkey should leave NATO, accusing the alliance of helping stage a military coup in the country in 1980 and adding that NATO has become a threat and is spreading terror organisations across the region.

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Exclusive Von Storch: Turkey Should Be Removed from NATO Following Migrant Aggression - Breitbart

The EU Is Abandoning Italy During the Coronavirus Crisis – Foreign Policy

Italy is in lockdown. Schools and universities are closed, soccer games suspended, and restaurant visits banned amid a rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in the country. Just grocery stores and pharmacies are allowed to stay open, and only absolutely necessary travel is permitted. One might think that fellow European Union countries would count their blessings and send their Italian friends a few vital supplies, especially since the Italians have asked for it. They have sent nothing.

EU countries shameful lack of solidarity with the Italians points to a larger problem: What would European countries do if one of them faced an even greater crisis?

The Union Civil Protection Mechanism is the bland name under which the EUs crisis hubthe Emergency Response Coordination Centreoperates. It monitors natural and manmade disasters around the clock, and when an EU member state can no longer handle a crisis on its own it can turn to the crisis hub. The hub forwards the appeal to other member states, which can then volunteer assistance. (The assistance is later reimbursed by the recipient country.)

Two years ago, for example, with devastating forest fires spreading around the country, Sweden turned to the Emergency Response Coordination Centre, and Stockholms plea yielded a heartwarming response. Portugal sent two firefighting aircraft; Germany contributed five helicopters and 53 firefighters; Lithuania sent one helicopter and Norway eight. France dispatched 60 firefighters and two aircraft; Denmark sent 60 firefighters; Poland sent over 130 firefighters and more than 40 fire trucks. Italy, itself in a dangerous forest-fire season, sent two aircraft.

When the European helpers arrived in Sweden, locals greeted them with applause. It was a powerful illustration of a frequently forgotten reality: The European Union is about more than tedious financial transactions; its also about helping fellow European countries in need.

Last month, when COVID-19 began spreading rapidly in Italy, the country appealed for help via the Emergency Response Coordination Centre. We asked for supplies of medical equipment, and the European Commission forwarded the appeal to the member states, Italys permanent representative to the EU, Maurizio Massari, told me. But it didnt work.

So far, not a single EU member state has sent Italy the needed supplies. Thats tragic for a country with 21,157 coronavirus infections and 1,441 deaths as of March 14, and with medical staff working under severe shortages of supplies.

To be sure, all governments need to make sure they have enough supplies for their own hospitals, patients, and medical staff. But no European country is suffering remotely as badly as Italy. Spain and France have a high caseload, but as of March 14, Finland has just 225 cases, and Italys neighbor Austria only 655. Portugal has 169 cases; Ireland 90; Romania, 109; Poland, 93; Bulgaria, 37; and Hungary has 25 cases. Many of those countries have benefited greatly from European solidarity in the past; a number of them are net beneficiaries of the EU, meaning they get more money out of their membership than they pay into it. The United Kingdom, no longer a member of the European Union, has 1,140 coronavirus casesand it, too, has failed to help the Italians.

In the meantime, a partial and flawed savior has arrived. Close to midnight on March 12, a Chinese aircraft landed in Rome carrying nine medical experts and 31 tons of medical supplies including intensive care unit equipment, medical protective equipment, and antiviral drugs. Around the same time, a Chinese truck arrived in Italy bringing more than 230 boxes of medical equipment. It was less than Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi had promised Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio of Italy in a phone call on Tuesday, but two days after the phone call the supplies were on their way.

Italy has already had a taste of Europes lack of solidarity. During the 2015 refugee crisis some 1.7 million people arrived on EU territory, mostly in Italy and Greece (with Germany and Sweden the most common destinations), but in 2017 some EU member states were still refusing to accept them under a solidarity scheme. The coronavirus crisis is similar to the refugee crisis: Countries that are not immediately affected are mostly not willing to help, Massari said. Different countries obviously have different threat perceptions. We [Italy] feel that the coronavirus is a global and European threat that needs a European response, but other countries dont see it that way.

Europes selfishness is morally lamentable, and its unwise, because misery loves company. A struggling Italy will drag its European friends down, too, starting with their economies. But the cold response to Italys plea points to a larger issue: How would European allies respond in case of crisis even more devastating than the coronavirussay, a massive cyberattack that knocks out power for a prolonged period of time? Without electrical power, other critical functions quickly cease to function, too. Brno University Hospital home to one of the Czech Republics largest COVID-19 testing labshas already been hit by a serious cyber attack.

The fact that no countrywith the possible exception of Chinacan survive without close allies is the reason that NATO was founded 71 years ago and the European Coal and Steel Community three years later. NATOs member states are supposed to do their best to defend their countries, but they all know that they need one another: Collective defense is NATOs raison dtre. Only the United States has considerable supplies of ammunition; all the other member states know that they can turn to the U.S. military if they run out, as happened during NATOs 2011 intervention in Libya.

Yet at a moment of extreme hardship for a key EU (and NATO) member, Italys allies are showing that they cant be counted on in a severe crisisand that means Italy may increasingly turn toward China. It will remain stalwart member of the EU and NATO, but why should it support its various European allies next time theyre in a pinch? And why should it pay heed to European allies calls for it to reverse its participation in Chinas Belt and Road Initiative, which it joined last year?

The Belt and Road, Chinas vast global infrastructure program, involves investments and constructions in a range of countries, primarily developing countries. Italy and China have, however, been deepening their cooperation through the Belt and Road Initiative and beyond; last year, a police cooperation program saw Chinese police officers patrol the streets of Rome and Milan.

And why should Italy keep its some 6,000 troops on foreign missions, troops who lead and make up large parts of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and NATOs forces in Kosovo, soldiers who help defend Latvia as part of NATOs Enhanced Forward Presence, and sailors who participate in the EUs mission combating Somali piracy and who police the western Mediterranean for the benefit not just of Italy but the rest of Europe, too?

La maledizione! cries Rigoletto, the title character in Giuseppe Verdis famous opera. La maledizionethe cursesometimes seems to be Italys destiny. EU membership has been mostly good for Italy. Its economy has been propelled upward by the single market and the euro, and its citizens have benefited enormously from free movementsome 2.7 million Italians currently live in other EU member states. And Italians appreciate the alliance: a 2018 Pew Research Center survey showed that 58 percent of Italians have a favorable view of the EU, somewhat lower than the EU median of 62 percent but far higher than Greeces 37 percent. On March 13, the European Commission stepped in to at least help Italys economy, but so far no medical assistance from member states has materialized.

Indeed, with the current lack of solidarity, the EU might lose Italys affectionand China will happily continue to take advantage of the situation. That mustnt happen.

Instead, the EUs net beneficiaries (and low-coronavirus-count nations) such as Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Poland should send Italy face masks and whatever else the country might need. Indeed, would it be too much to ask those countries to fulfill their obligations under the EUs solidarity scheme?

Otherwise, dont expect Italian soldiers to come to the aid of European allies when Russia stages a surprise on a European country of its choice, or when a hostile state or its proxies knock out Polands power grid.


The EU Is Abandoning Italy During the Coronavirus Crisis - Foreign Policy

U.S., NATO and Russia engage in cat-and-mouse game during Arctic training – Eye on the Arctic

North American Aerospace Defence Command F-22s, CF-18s, supported by KC-135 Stratotanker and E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, intercepted two Russian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft entering the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone on Monday, March 9, 2020. (NORAD)The United States and its NATO allies have been engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with Russia on the opposite sides of the Arctic over the last week as each sides military tries to parry the others moves amid increasingly overt geopolitical competition in the region.

The commander of U.S. Northern Command told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday that a pair ofRussian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft intercepted by U.S. and Canadian jets in the international airspace off Alaskas northern coast two days earlier were sent to keep an eye on a U.S. submarine exercise known as ICEX.

The encounter with the Russian submarine hunters over the Beaufort Sea came only two days after Norway and Britain had to scramble their fighter jets to shadow another pair of Russian Tu-142s accompanied by a MiG-31 fighter jet and Il-78 tanker on a 13-hour flight over the Barents, Norwegian and Northern seas.

Video released by the Russian military shows the Russian Tu-142s being shadowed by Norwegian and British fighter jets.

Capt. Cameron Hillier, a spokesperson for the binational North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), said the Russian submarine hunter aircraft entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on March 9 andremained within it for approximately four hours.

NORAD dispatched U.S. F-22 and Canadian CF-18 fighter jets, supported by KC-135 Stratotanker and E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft to shadow the Russian Tu-142s.

The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace over the Beaufort Sea, and came as close as 50 nautical miles (92 km) to the Alaskan coast, Hillier said. However, the Russian aircraft did not enter U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace, he added.

A video posted by NORAD on its Twitter account shows the pair of Russian submarine hunters accompanied by U.S. and Canadian fighter jets flying over an ice camp set up by the U.S. military on the ice floe in the Beaufort Sea about 300 kilometres (190 miles) north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Terrence J. OShaughnessy, was quoted by The Military Times Wednesday telling U.S. lawmakers that theRussian aircraftwere operating in one of our ICEX exercises we had where submarines actually pop up out of the ice.

This year the three-week biennial ICEX exercise in the Arctic Ocean featured the construction of a temporary ice camp, Camp Seadragon, and two U.S. Navy submarines the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN-22) and the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Toledo (SSN-769).

The U.S. submarines practised surfacing through the multi-year Arctic ice and operating under ice.

U.S. Naval War College associate professor Rebecca Pincus said the ICEX exercises demonstrate to the international community that U.S. Navy maintains top notch capabilities in the Arctic that even Russia would have a hard time matching.

I do think that the visibility of this exercise is a useful way for the Navy to remind the world that it is in fact operating in the Arctic Ocean, it can operate in the Arctic Ocean year around, its the most advanced and capable navy operating in the Arctic Ocean, Pincus said.

The Russian response to these exercises, which in this case is appears to be limited to sending out maritime surveillance patrols to shadow the U.S. forces, shows that the Russian submarine fleet has different priorities and probably different constraints, Pincus said.

The U.S. Navy does this publicly as a visible public signal of its war capability and if Russians were able to respond in kind, its pretty likely they would, because we know they respond to other kinds of demonstrations, Pincus said.

When there is a large NATO exercise, we often see some kind of Russian response that might be like a snap military drill or some other kind of in kind response.

Rob Huebert, a Canadian defence expert, said Russia dispatched the maritime surveillance aircraft to not only keep tabs on the American exercise but also to demonstrate its own ability to counter U.S. and NATO moves in the region.

They are probably listening, they probably have all sorts of electronic equipment set up to try to pick up on frequencies, behaviour, any indication that is going to give them a heads up if things go violent in the future, Huebert said. This is a very normal action that weve seen ever since the Russians resumed their activities [in the Arctic] in 2007.

The long history of ICEX exercises underline the fact that even at the height of the dtente between Russia and the U.S. following the collapse of the USSR, the two countries maintained their most important defensive capabilities in the Arctic.

I think what they do they provide us with a clear indication that even back in the days when we used to wish there was such a thing as Arctic exceptionalism, the reality is that both the Americans and the Russians were continuing to maintain their highest level of capability, the most important elements of their defensive forces their attack subs, their long-range bombers, Huebert said.

And weve had this dance going on since at least 2007. And the nature of these games became that much more serious in the current era.

Canada:Canada, U.S. must do more to check Russian military in the Arctic, says NORAD chief, CBC News

Finland:Finnish Defence Minister tells party leaders shrinking fighter fleet would be irresponsible, Yle News

Iceland:Iceland talks Arctic, Trumps ditching of climate accord, with U.S. Secretary of State, Eye on the Arctic

Norway:Russian jets led mock attack on Arctic Norway radar, intel director says, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:Russia accuses Norway of northern military buildup, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:Arctic Sweden to welcome thousands of international troops for Northern Wind exercise, The Independent Barents Observer

United States:U.S. experts call for vigilance on Russian military buildup in Arctic, Alaska Public Media

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U.S., NATO and Russia engage in cat-and-mouse game during Arctic training - Eye on the Arctic

Italy is not China but Must Change Pace with NATO Intervention – eTurboNews | Trends | Travel News

In news today, COVID-19 infections in Italy hit 10,149 more than anywhere else in the world except for China. The number of deaths from the coronavirus rose in Italy by 168 in just one day, from 463 to 631.

This is the point of view of Prof. F. Sisci, an Italian sinologist from Beijing, China:

So far, the government has chased the emergency, but in this way, Italy will be overwhelmed. We need a 3- to 6-month emergency government and NATO intervention.

Dear director, Italy must regain control of a situation that is getting out of hand and is in danger of blowing everything up as soon as possible.

Coronavirus can be overcome, but clarity is needed. The country needs a special 3 to 6-month government that will introduce martial law, to be agreed strictly with the allies, and specifically NATO, to defeat the virus and stop the collapse of the economy. It is, in fact, a situation of war.

China is an extremely conservative and prudent country. It sounded the alarm on January 23 after almost 2 months of waiting and quarantined, in fact, not only Wuhan and Hubei but the whole country. Now, perhaps in a couple of weeks, some cities will return to normal life.

So, beyond the official numbers provided, at some point, there was a real fear that if the epidemic had not been brought under control there would have been a massacre.

Lets look at some numbers. It is known that 13.8% of those infected get sick in serious conditions and are saved in most cases only if they go to intensive care. Otherwise, they die. So, the subtle point is to avoid the spread of the infected with coronavirus.

If the number of infected remains under control, mortality, due to that 14% who needs intensive care, is not dramatic in the end. The problem, on the other hand, is if the number of infected people goes out of control; in this case, hospitals are no longer able to offer intensive care to everyone.

If unchecked, the coronavirus could affect the entire Italian population, but lets say that in the end, only 30% become infected, about 20 million. If of these making a discount 10% goes into crisis, this means that without intensive care it is destined to succumb. It would be 2 million direct deaths, plus all indirect deaths resulting from a collapse of the health system and the resulting social and economic order.

During the plague, half of the deaths are due to evil, the other half to social unrest. Manzoni (Italian writer, 1785-1873) recalls that in the plague in Milan there were bloody attacks on the ovens; today riots have started in prisons. What will happen next?

As a comparison, just think that during the First World War there were 650,000 military casualties out of a population of 40 million. The disaster caused by the prospective coronavirus is worse than an armed conflict. This does not only concern Italy; this would require a NATO summit on health, safety, and economics. Is it an apocalypse scenario? Yes: it must frighten, but not panic, because it is not carved in stone.

It should be understood that if you dont prepare yourself, if you dont protect yourself, then it will be a massacre. But if, vice versa, and only if you really prepare and organize yourself, the dead can be almost those of a normal influence.

The cost to the economy is another chapter. It is like flying: if you do it by plane, it is safer than walking; if you try it by jumping from the tenth floor believing you have the wings of a bird, it is certain death. So, preparation is everything. We cannot choose the coercive method of China, which has blocked everything for 40 days. But even in that case, not everything is to be discarded.

Perhaps [we] can also learn from the more sophisticated method employed by Taiwanese democracy, which stopped the epidemic with a series of precise and capillary measures. In both cases, the active cooperation of the population, who trusted the government, was crucial.

In Italy, perhaps it is not the same thing. So, you need to change your pace, and, forgive me, maybe only you can do it, Mr. President Sergio Mattarella. The indecisions, alarmism, and optimism spread by alternating current, the leaks denied and not denied, like the last sensational one, which concerned the provision signed by the Prime Minister Conte Sunday night, reduced the government[s] credibility.

Britain, in the midst of the Battle of England, when the Nazis bombed London and threatened a landing, changed government, did not surrend[er] and won the war. Italy must change pace and must do so immediately before health care collapses and coronavirus deaths count in the thousands. From there to the millions, the step could be very short.

As transcribed by eTN Italy correspondent Mario Masciullo

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Italy is not China but Must Change Pace with NATO Intervention - eTurboNews | Trends | Travel News

Milestones: 19451952 – Office of the Historian

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union.

Signing of the NATO Treaty

NATO was the first peacetime military alliance the United States entered into outside of the Western Hemisphere. After the destruction of the Second World War, the nations of Europe struggled to rebuild their economies and ensure their security. The former required a massive influx of aid to help the war-torn landscapes re-establish industries and produce food, and the latter required assurances against a resurgent Germany or incursions from the Soviet Union. The United States viewed an economically strong, rearmed, and integrated Europe as vital to the prevention of communist expansion across the continent. As a result, Secretary of State George Marshall proposed a program of large-scale economic aid to Europe. The resulting European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan, not only facilitated European economic integration but promoted the idea of shared interests and cooperation between the United States and Europe. Soviet refusal either to participate in the Marshall Plan or to allow its satellite states in Eastern Europe to accept the economic assistance helped to reinforce the growing division between east and west in Europe.

In 19471948, a series of events caused the nations of Western Europe to become concerned about their physical and political security and the United States to become more closely involved with European affairs. The ongoing civil war in Greece, along with tensions in Turkey, led President Harry S. Truman to assert that the United States would provide economic and military aid to both countries, as well as to any other nation struggling against an attempt at subjugation. A Soviet-sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia resulted in a communist government coming to power on the borders of Germany. Attention also focused on elections in Italy as the communist party had made significant gains among Italian voters. Furthermore, events in Germany also caused concern. The occupation and governance of Germany after the war had long been disputed, and in mid-1948, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin chose to test Western resolve by implementing a blockade against West Berlin, which was then under joint U.S., British, and French control but surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany. This Berlin Crisis brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of conflict, although a massive airlift to resupply the city for the duration of the blockade helped to prevent an outright confrontation. These events caused U.S. officials to grow increasingly wary of the possibility that the countries of Western Europe might deal with their security concerns by negotiating with the Soviets. To counter this possible turn of events, the Truman Administration considered the possibility of forming a European-American alliance that would commit the United States to bolstering the security of Western Europe.

Signing of the Brussels Treaty

The Western European countries were willing to consider a collective security solution. In response to increasing tensions and security concerns, representatives of several countries of Western Europe gathered together to create a military alliance. Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the Brussels Treaty in March, 1948. Their treaty provided collective defense; if any one of these nations was attacked, the others were bound to help defend it. At the same time, the Truman Administration instituted a peacetime draft, increased military spending, and called upon the historically isolationist Republican Congress to consider a military alliance with Europe. In May of 1948, Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenburg proposed a resolution suggesting that the President seek a security treaty with Western Europe that would adhere to the United Nations charter but exist outside of the Security Council where the Soviet Union held veto power. The Vandenburg Resolution passed, and negotiations began for the North Atlantic Treaty.

In spite of general agreement on the concept behind the treaty, it took several months to work out the exact terms. The U.S. Congress had embraced the pursuit of the international alliance, but it remained concerned about the wording of the treaty. The nations of Western Europe wanted assurances that the United States would intervene automatically in the event of an attack, but under the U.S. Constitution the power to declare war rested with Congress. Negotiations worked toward finding language that would reassure the European states but not obligate the United States to act in a way that violated its own laws. Additionally, European contributions to collective security would require large-scale military assistance from the United States to help rebuild Western Europes defense capabilities. While the European nations argued for individual grants and aid, the United States wanted to make aid conditional on regional coordination. A third issue was the question of scope. The Brussels Treaty signatories preferred that membership in the alliance be restricted to the members of that treaty plus the United States. The U.S. negotiators felt there was more to be gained from enlarging the new treaty to include the countries of the North Atlantic, including Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, and Portugal. Together, these countries held territory that formed a bridge between the opposite shores of the Atlantic Ocean, which would facilitate military action if it became necessary.

President Truman inspecting a tank produced under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program

The result of these extensive negotiations was the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. In this agreement, the United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom agreed to consider attack against one an attack against all, along with consultations about threats and defense matters. This collective defense arrangement only formally applied to attacks against the signatories that occurred in Europe or North America; it did not include conflicts in colonial territories. After the treaty was signed, a number of the signatories made requests to the United States for military aid. Later in 1949, President Truman proposed a military assistance program, and the Mutual Defense Assistance Program passed the U.S. Congress in October, appropriating some $1.4 billion dollars for the purpose of building Western European defenses.

Soon after the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the outbreak of the Korean War led the members to move quickly to integrate and coordinate their defense forces through a centralized headquarters. The North Korean attack on South Korea was widely viewed at the time to be an example of communist aggression directed by Moscow, so the United States bolstered its troop commitments to Europe to provide assurances against Soviet aggression on the European continent. In 1952, the members agreed to admit Greece and Turkey to NATO and added the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955. West German entry led the Soviet Union to retaliate with its own regional alliance, which took the form of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and included the Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe as members.

The collective defense arrangements in NATO served to place the whole of Western Europe under the American nuclear umbrella. In the 1950s, one of the first military doctrines of NATO emerged in the form of massive retaliation, or the idea that if any member was attacked, the United States would respond with a large-scale nuclear attack. The threat of this form of response was meant to serve as a deterrent against Soviet aggression on the continent. Although formed in response to the exigencies of the developing Cold War, NATO has lasted beyond the end of that conflict, with membership even expanding to include some former Soviet states. It remains the largest peacetime military alliance in the world.

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Milestones: 19451952 - Office of the Historian

Will NATO come to Turkey’s aid in Syria? – Ahval

The United States has limited its reaction to the killing of at least 36 Turkish soldiers in a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in Idlib, northwest Syria on February 27 to a statement expressing concern over the attack and pledging solidarity with Turkey.

We stand by our NATO ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia, and Iranian-backed forces, the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Friday.

While refraining from blaming Russia - which has total superiority over Syrian air space - for the deaths, Turkey has informed NATO of its plans for a cross-border operation into Idlib and requested support from the alliance to enforce a no fly zone over the region ahead of the offensive.

NATO, without signalling any intention to take the action that Turkey seeks, issued a statement that said: The North Atlantic Council, which includes the ambassadors of 29 NATO allies, will meet on Friday 28 February following a request by Turkey to hold consultations under Article 4 of NATOs founding Washington Treaty on the situation in Syria.

Article 4 of the charter stipulates that any NATO member can request talks when they believe their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened. Turkey could also invoke the alliances Article 5, which states that an armed attack against one member is an attack against all and creates the possibility of collective self defence.

Yet, most NATO members are very reluctant to be drawn into conflicts. France in particular has been trying to initiate a debate on what the alliance should do if Ankara requests assistance under NATOs Article 5.

Ankara had called for consultations on Article 4 several times in the past, including after one of its jets was downed by Syrian forces in 2012, and in 2015 after a spate of terrorist attacks in Turkey. NATOs reaction in those instances was confined to verbal condemnations of the incidents and is likely to remain limited to that this time as well.

In what appeared to be an attempt to pacify Turkeys anger with the alliance, after an emergency meeting in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday called on Russia to halt the offensive in Idlib. He said that NATO stood in solidarity with Turkey, and expressed condolences for the death of Turkish soldiers.

Stoltenberg said that NATO has provided political and practical support to Turkey and that the allies are looking to make further contributions, without going into detail. "The allies will continue to follow developments on the southeastern border of NATO very closely," he concluded.

Well aware that no action beyond verbal condemnation of of its actions would be forthcoming from NATO, Russia blamed Turkey for failing to provide them with accurate coordinates of its forces deployed in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Turkish troops were among terrorists in the area hit by Syrian fire. However, Turkey maintains the attacks occurred after Turkey had informed Russian authorities of its deployments.

NATO is unlikely to assist the Turkish military in the multilateral conflict in Syria, despite Turkeys strategic importance to the alliance due to its location straddling the Bosporus strait and bordering the Black Sea, and by hosting the ncirlik air base in southeastern Turkey from which the alliance operates aerial surveillance flights.

Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

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Will NATO come to Turkey's aid in Syria? - Ahval

Data science pusher Dataiku hooks arms with NATO on battlefield AI contract – The Register

Data science platform Dataiku is teaming up with military alliance NATO to create a system to help it build and "deploy" AI projects.

The deal with NATO's Allied Command Transformation (ACT) aims to use Dataiku's tech and data scientists to solve some of the most "challenging use cases in the field", NATO said, vaguely, without specifying the type of thing they were referring to.

"We were looking to expand our use of data science, machine learning, and AI in the organisation," said General Andr Lanata, NATO supreme allied commander for transformation. "We are invested in sharing ACT's progress with other member states, with the goal of expanding competencies and successful, deployed use cases of AI projects in the field."

Dataiku makes Data Science Studio - an advanced analytics and collaborative data science tool - which comes up against the likes of Teradata, Talend, and IBM. The seven-year-old startup has been valued at $1.4bn and inhaled $101m in its last funding round in December last year.

Dataiku CEO Florian Douetteau said of the military deal: "NATO ACT is in the unique position to leverage data science and machine learning to have global impact."

Earlier this week, the US Department of Defense adopted a set of "ethical principles" on the controversial topic of the deployment of AI technology for military use. Google dropped its association with computer-vision software Pentagon project, Maven, after internal and external backlash last year.

Dataiku got its introduction to NATO via an "innovation hub" competition in Paris, 2018. In an incredibly prescient imaginary scenario, participants were asked to assist in the control of a disease outbreak in a landlocked country.

The outbreak led to a public health crisis complicated by the emergence of rebel groups attacking medical supplies.

The Dataiku team won two of the three gongs up for grabs by applying object detection with deep learning on aerial imagery. Let's hope it does not need to put any of the lessons learned into practice any time soon.

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Data science pusher Dataiku hooks arms with NATO on battlefield AI contract - The Register

Afghan conflict: US and Taliban sign deal to end 18-year war – BBC News

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The US and the Taliban have signed an "agreement for bringing peace" to Afghanistan after more than 18 years of conflict.

The US and Nato allies have agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants uphold the deal.

President Trump said it had been a "long and hard journey" in Afghanistan. "It's time after all these years to bring our people back home," he said.

Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are due to follow.

Under the agreement, the militants also agreed not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

Speaking at the White House, Mr Trump said the Taliban had been trying to reach an agreement with the US for a long time.

He said US troops had been killing terrorists in Afghanistan "by the thousands" and now it was "time for someone else to do that work and it will be the Taliban and it could be surrounding countries".

"I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show we're not all wasting time," Mr Trump added. "If bad things happen, we'll go back with a force like no-one's ever seen."

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The US invaded Afghanistan weeks after the September 2001 attacks in New York by the Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda group.

More than 2,400 US troops have been killed during the conflict. About 12,000 are still stationed in the country. President Trump has promised to put an end to the conflict.

The deal was signed by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a witness.

In a speech, Mr Pompeo urged the militant group to "keep your promises to cut ties with al-Qaeda".

Mr Baradar said he hoped Afghanistan could now emerge from four decades of conflict.

"I hope that with the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan the Afghan nation under an Islamic regime will take its relief and embark on a new prosperous life," he said.

Meanwhile US Defence Secretary Mark Esper was in the Afghan capital Kabul alongside Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani - whose government did not take part in the US-Taliban talks.

Mr Esper said: "This is a hopeful moment, but it is only the beginning. The road ahead will not be easy. Achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan will require patience and compromise among all parties." He said the US would continue to support the Afghan government.

Mr Ghani said the country was "looking forward to a full ceasefire". The government said it was ready to negotiate with the Taliban.

Within the first 135 days of the deal the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600, with allies also drawing down their forces proportionately.

The move would allow US President Donald Trump to show that he has brought troops home ahead of the US presidential election in November.

The deal also provides for a prisoner swap. Some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners would be exchanged by 10 March, when talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are due to start.

The US will also lift sanctions against the Taliban and work with the UN to lift its separate sanctions against the group.

In Kabul, activist Zahra Husseini said she feared the deal could worsen the situation for women in Afghanistan.

"I don't trust the Taliban, and remember how they suppressed women when they were ruling," the 28-year-old told AFP.

"Today is a dark day, and as I was watching the deal being signed, I had this bad feeling that it would result in their return to power rather than in peace."

This historic deal has been years in the making, as all sides kept seeking advantage on the battlefield.

The agreement is born of America's determination to bring troops home and a recognition, at least by some Taliban, that talks are the best route to return to Kabul.

It's a significant step forward, despite deep uncertainty and scepticism over where it will lead. When the only alternative is unending war, many Afghans seem ready to take this risk for peace.

Taliban leaders say they've changed since their harsh rule of the 1990s still seared in the memory of many, and most of all Afghan women.

This process will test the Taliban, but also veteran Afghan leaders of the past, and a new generation which has come of age in the last two decades and is hoping against hope for a different future.

Since 2011, Qatar has hosted Taliban leaders who have moved there to discuss peace in Afghanistan. It has been a chequered process. A Taliban office was opened in 2013, and closed the same year amid rows over flags. Other attempts at talks stalled.

In December 2018, the militants announced they would meet US officials to try to find a "roadmap to peace". But the hard-line Islamist group continued to refuse to hold official talks with the Afghan government, whom they dismissed as American "puppets".

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Following nine rounds of US-Taliban talks in Qatar, the two sides seemed close to an agreement.

Washington's top negotiator announced last September that the US would withdraw 5,400 troops from Afghanistan within 20 weeks as part of a deal agreed "in principle" with Taliban militants.

Days later, Mr Trump said the talks were "dead", after the group killed a US soldier. But within weeks the two sides resumed discussions behind the scenes.

A week ago the Taliban agreed to a "reduction of violence" - although Afghan officials say at least 22 soldiers and 14 civilians have been killed in Taliban attacks over that period.

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It began when the US launched air strikes one month following the 11 September 2001 attacks and after the Taliban had refused to hand over the man behind them, Osama bin Laden.

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The US was joined by an international coalition and the Taliban were quickly removed from power. However, they turned into an insurgent force and continued deadly attacks, destabilising subsequent Afghan governments.

The international coalition ended its combat mission in 2014, staying only to train Afghan forces. But the US continued its own, scaled-back combat operation, including air strikes.

The Taliban has however continued to gain momentum and in 2018 the BBC found they were active across 70% of Afghanistan.

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Nearly 3,500 members of the international coalition forces have died in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.

The figures for Afghan civilians, militants and government forces are more difficult to quantify. In a February 2019 report, the UN said that more than 32,000 civilians had died. The Watson Institute at Brown University says 58,000 security personnel and 42,000 opposition combatants have been killed.

There are many reasons for this. But they include a combination of fierce Taliban resistance, the limitations of Afghan forces and governance, and other countries' reluctance to keep their troops for longer in Afghanistan.

At times over the past 18 years, the Taliban have been on the back foot. In late 2009, US President Barack Obama announced a troop "surge" that saw the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan top 100,000.

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The surge helped drive the Taliban out of parts of southern Afghanistan, but it was never destined to last for years.

The BBC World Service's Dawood Azami says there are five main reasons the war is still going on now. They include:

There's also the role played by Afghanistan's neighbour, Pakistan.

There's no question the Taliban have their roots in Pakistan, and that they were able to regroup there during the US invasion. But Pakistan has denied helping or protecting them - even as the US demanded it do more to fight militants.


Afghan conflict: US and Taliban sign deal to end 18-year war - BBC News