Friday, January 20, 2012

U.S. Military Chief visits Israel amid Iran Tension

U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey speaks to the press with Israel 's Chief of Staff Lt. Benny Gantz on Jan. 20 at the end of Dempsey's visit to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.

JERUSALEM — U.S. Chairman of the Joints Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey on Jan. 20 urged Israel to keep the channels of communication open amid concerns the Jewish state could launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
After talks with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his first visit to Israel since taking office last October, Dempsey said both sides would benefit from greater engagement over regional issues, in an apparent reference to the Iranian nuclear standoff.
“We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we’ll all be,” he said, quoted by Barak’s office.
Israel fears a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state and has refused to rule out a resort to military action to pre-empt it, although earlier this week Barak said any such decision remained “very far away.”
Reports suggest Washington is against such a strike, and the U.S. administration is understood to be putting pressure on Israel to hold off.
In the morning, Dempsey said Israel and Washington shared a “common challenge” and stressed U.S. backing for the Jewish state in remarks addressed to Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
“Your characterization of the common challenge we face and the sacred trust we have to protect those values of freedom — I couldn’t agree with you more,” said Dempsey, whose comments were carried on Israel’s public radio.
“And I assure you that America is your partner in that regard,” said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who arrived late on Jan. 19 for the visit.
He had an early morning meeting with Gantz before talks with Barak, after which he traveled to Jerusalem with the chief of staff to meet President Shimon Peres and pay a brief visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
He concluded a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day before leaving in the early evening. Netanyahu’s bureau did not release a statement following the meeting.
Peres’s office said that at the meeting with Dempsey and Gantz, they had “discussed the political-security developments in the Middle East and the world.”
“I am sure that we shall win this battle,” Peres said in remarks carried by public radio, apparently alluding to the Islamic republic.
“It is not only for the United States of America, not only for Israel. It is really a struggle to make the world a free place, a safe place for people.”
Israeli press reports said the visit was to focus on Western sanctions against Tehran that Netanyahu said earlier this week did not go far enough, as well as on the possibility of a pre-emptive Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
“The main disagreement pertains to the possibility of a strike on the Iranian nuclear sites,” the Maariv daily said.
“While an increasing number of voices can be heard in Israel supporting such a move, U.S. officials are trying to calm the atmosphere, and fear that Israel could act without informing them or only provide a warning shortly in advance.”
Quoting officials engaged in preparatory talks ahead of Dempsey’s visit, Maariv said they “would try to reach an understanding with the Americans and set a kind of red line based on various criteria, including timetables and actions on Iran’s part.”
Israel and its U.S. ally, like many other Western governments, suspect Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability under cover of its civil program, an ambition Tehran strongly denies.

France considers Afghan pull out after Troop loss

PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Jan. 20 he may accelerate the French withdrawal from Afghanistan after an Afghan soldier shot dead four unarmed French troops during a sports session inside a base.
Sarkozy suspended French military training and joint combat operations and dispatched Defence Minister Gerard Longuet to probe Friday’s attack in which at least 15 French soldiers were wounded, eight seriously.
“The French army stands alongside its allies but we cannot accept that a single one of our soldiers be wounded or killed by our allies, it’s unacceptable,” Sarkozy said.
“If security conditions are not clearly established, then the question of an early return of the French army will be asked,” he said.
A security source said the shooting happened as “the French were just finishing their sports session” at the Gwam base.
“The soldiers were not protected. They could not defend themselves. He fired at the group. Then they neutralized him,” the source said.
Longuet described the attack as “murder.”
“They were not armed, they were literally murdered by an Afghan soldier. We don’t yet know if it was a Taliban who infiltrated or if it was someone who decided to act for reasons as yet unknown,” Longuet said.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France would await a report from Longuet and military chief of staff Admiral Edouard Guillaud on their return from Afghanistan before taking any decision on an early pull-out.
“Their main task will be to establish the circumstances and responsibilities of this tragedy and then report to the French government what measures the Afghan authorities promise to undertake to sort out Afghan army recruitment and ensure the French contingent’s security,” Juppe said.
“Based on this report, the president and the government will decide whether the security conditions are credible.
“If this is not the case, we will draw the conclusions... including the acceleration of a complete withdrawal of our contingent set for the end of 2013,” Juppe said.
France has about 3,600 soldiers serving in the country, mainly in the provinces of Kabul and Kapisa, the scene of Friday’s shooting.
Their deployment is deeply unpopular in France, and Sarkozy is facing a tough reelection battle in less than three months.
French troops have fanned out around their base in the eastern province and are not allowing any Afghan soldiers to approach, a security source told AFP. The French force currently in Afghanistan will be reduced to 3,000 by late 2012, with 200 due to leave in March. NATO is due to hand security over to Afghan forces before withdrawing all its combat troops by the end of 2014.
Training Afghan forces and accompanying them into battle against rebels is the core of the French mission within the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, the force having already scaled down its own operations.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai sent his condolences to the French people over the deaths, saying relations between the two countries had “always been based on honesty, which makes Afghans happy.”
“The president is saddened at the incident and expresses his deep sympathy and condolences to the president and people of France and the victims’ families,” his office said in a statement.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen also expressed his condolences, but insisted the attack was isolated.
“This is a sad day for our troops in Afghanistan and the French people,” Rasmussen told reporters during a visit to NATO ally Latvia.
“I would like to express my condolences for the four French soldiers who were killed today and my sympathy to those who were wounded,” he said, warning against seeing a new trend of attacks from renegade Afghan troops.
“Such tragic incidents are terrible and grab headlines but they are isolated,” he said, noting that 130,000 NATO-led international forces are still serving alongside more than 300,000 Afghans.
The latest deaths brought to 82 the number of French soldiers killed in Afghanistan since French forces deployed there at the end of 2001.
Suicide attacks, roadside bombs and insurgent attacks had a heavy toll on French troops in 2011. A total of 26 were killed, the most in a single year during the 10-year war.
The shooting was the latest in a string of incidents of Afghan soldiers turning their weapons on members of the foreign force fighting an insurgency by hardline Taliban Islamists.
Last month, two soldiers of the French Foreign Legion serving in Afghanistan were shot dead by a man wearing an Afghan army uniform during a mission in Kapisa, site of the main French base in Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.
In April last year eight U.S. soldiers were killed in a shooting at a military airport in Kabul, but a Pentagon report this month said the killings were the actions of a disturbed Afghan military officer who acted alone.
While some attacks have been claimed by the Taliban, others have been put down to arguments or personal animosity between soldiers from the two forces serving together.

Nexter signs multi layer Ammo deal with France

PARIS — Nexter Munitions has signed a multiyear contract worth an initial 138 million euros ($178 million) with the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) procurement office to develop and produce large caliber ammunition, the Ministry of Defense said.
The first tranche order is worth 138 million euros, with conditional tranches to be placed, a DGA spokesman told journalists.
Under the contract, signed Dec. 30, Nexter will be responsible for development, qualification and production of 100mm shells for the Navy, and 105mm, 120mm and 155mm for the Army, with delivery in stages to 2019, the ministry said in a Jan. 19 statement.
Nexter has been anxious to seal a munitions deal as there was concern over workload for its ammunitions factory at La Chapelle, near Bourges in central France.
The contract reflected a response to the operational needs of the forces, based on recent lessons learned, and was intended to support critical industrial capacities, the DGA statement said.
“The visibility afforded to Nexter Munitions allows the company to adapt its industrial capability and to increase its competitiveness in export markets,” the DGA said.
Nexter Munitions has annual sales of 160 million euros, of which exports account for about 20 percent, the DGA said.
“This package contract covers the Armed Forces' requirements for large-caliber ammunition and gives France guarantees regarding the short and medium-term sustainability of the business of its supplier, Nexter Munitions, for both development and production of large- caliber ammunition,” the company said in a statement.
“The multi-annual nature of the supply contracts also ensures better price control in an extremely competitive global market,” Nexter said.
The orders covers development and qualification of 155/52-caliber illumination and smoke shells, supply of modular charges for Caesar artillery, supply of explosive 120mm cartridges for the Leclerc tank, and 105mm practice cartridges for AMX 10R CR armored vehicles.
The deal also restarts production of 100mm cartridges for the French Navy, Nexter said.
Nexter had shown interest in the Munitions Acquisition Supply Solution contract signed between BAE Systems and the British Ministry of Defense in 2008, which guaranteed a long-term supply at an agreed price, and allowed a reorganization of industrial facilities.