Afghanistan/Taliban/Paktia and Ghazni Provinces – At least 71 people have been killed in a series of attacks by the Taliban in Paktia and Ghazni provinces, officials in Afghanistan said on the 18 Oct 17. Of them, up to 41 people have died in a suicide bombing and gun battle, which injured 150 others, at a police training centre in Gardez, Paktia's provincial capital. At least 30 others have been killed in car bombings in neighbouring Ghazni province. The initial double attack in Paktia occurred when fighters attacked the regional police headquarters at around 0900 hrs local (0430 hrs GMT) on the 17 Oct 17 in Gardez, less than 161km from the capital, Kabul. The attackers used a truck and an armoured vehicle stolen from security forces to carry out the bomb attack, which left 41 people, including police chief Brigadier-General Toryali Abdiani, dead and more than 100 wounded, Hidayatullah Hamidi, Paktia's deputy governor, told Anadolu Agency. According to officials, a large number of Paktia University students and civilians, who were present near the police headquarters to collect their identity cards and passports, were among the victims. General Murad Ali Murad, deputy interior minister, said in Kabul that 21 civilians were among the dead in the Paktia blasts. In a statement, the interior ministry said seven men took part in the attack: two carried out the bombings while the rest of the attackers engaged with the police in armed clashes. Special police units later overpowered the remaining five attackers, the statement said. In a statement on Twitter, Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, claimed the Paktia attack. He said the special police unit was the primary target; up to 450 police officers were living in the headquarters at the time of the attack. Bordering North Waziristan, one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal areas or "agencies", Paktia in Afghanistan is the birthplace of the Taliban's Haqqani Network. Pakistan's military regained control of North Waziristan from the Pakistan Taliban after an offensive launched in mid-2014 that lasted until the end of 2016. The Ghazni provincial administration said in a statement released on the 17 Oct 17 that fighters blew up an armoured vehicle at the entrance of the Andar district administration in the early hours, and later engaged in a gun battle. The Taliban's Mujahid gave a higher death toll, saying 44 police officers died in the Ghazni attack while a large cache of arms and ammunition was also seized. Afghanistan's deputy interior minister said the "enemies and their foreign backers" - without identifying them - were under immense pressure from Afghan and allied forces, which was why they had chosen this time for such attacks when efforts for peace talks were gaining momentum. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month that he believed Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency maintained links to armed groups. "It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups," he said, referring to groups that are actively engaged in the Afghan conflict, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. In response, the Pakistani military said it is the job of intelligence agencies to maintain such connections, but rejected the notion that it supported groups such as the Afghan Taliban.
Afghanistan/Taliban/Kandahar – The Taliban launched a major attack on an army base in southern Kandahar province, killing at least 43 Afghan soldiers it was reported on the 19 Oct 17. The brazen assault on the 19 Oct 17 began with two suicide car bombings, setting off several hours of fighting. Of 60 soldiers manning the base, 43 were killed, nine wounded, and six missing after Taliban fighters stormed the camp in the middle of the night, the defence ministry said in a statement. At least nine Taliban were also reported killed at the base in the Chashmo area of Maiwand district. It was the third assault on a security installation this week. Eighty people were killed and 300 wounded in attacks on the 17 Oct 17 in Afghanistan's southeast - the bloodiest day in the war-torn country in almost five months. The Taliban claimed responsibility for this attack. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said at least 60 Afghan soldiers were killed and wounded many others, he said. Defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said the assailants detonated at least one explosive-packed truck and razed the compound. "We think the militants used an explosive-packed Humvee vehicle to detonate the gate of the base and we are looking to see if there was more than one," Waziri said. "Unfortunately there is nothing left inside the camp. They have burned down everything they found inside. We have sent a delegation to assess the situation. The base is under ANA [Afghan National Army] control," he added. The US launched an air strike in response to the attack, a spokesman at the coalition military command in Kabul said. Afghan forces have struggled to combat a resurgent Taliban since the US and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.
Afghanistan/Taliban – 20 Oct 17 suicide bombing, Kabul More than 60 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in two separate attacks on mosques in Afghanistan. In one attack, a suicide bomber targeted worshippers in a Shia mosque in Kabul, police said on the 20 Oct 17. A man "entered the mosque in Police District 13 of Kabul city ... [and targeted] worshippers," General Mohammad Salim Almas, Kabul crime branch chief said describing the attacker as a suicide bomber. Major-General Alimast Momand, of Afghanistan's interior ministry said that the suicide bombing at the Imam Zaman Mosque in the city's Dashti Barch area killed at least 30 people and wounded 45 more. He said the attacker was on foot and walked into to the mosque where he detonated his explosives. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group said in the statement that a suicide bomber had detonated a vest but did not provide evidence to support its claim. Reports said the victims were members of the minority Hazara Shia community. The 20 Oct 17 second attack during prayers occurred at a Sunni mosque in the central province of Ghor. Mohammad Iqbal Nezami, a spokesman for the provincial police, said at least 33 people were killed in the bombing that appeared to target a local commander. Initial reports had 10 dead in that attack. The target was Abdul Ahed, a former militia commander and Jamiat party leader who had sided with the government. Later on the 20 Oct 17 the Afghan president issued a statement condemning the two mosque attacks.
361 COMMENT: With the onset of winter the Taliban will be keen to create more incidents to their credit. They will probably want a spectacular to end the 2017 campaign so that when the 2018 spring campaign starts there will be a distinct difference and will show their supporters and fighters that they are very much in control despite what the Afghanistan government will claim. The group are attempting to gain as much ground as possible before winter sets in and both sides come to a standstill which then gives the Taliban time to consolidate their positions before 2018 spring. As the group gains more ground so it gains in confidence and if there are peace talks in Oman then it gives them a better bargaining chip. Even if the group does not hold ground it fought for it certainly shows it can attack a government target at will, in force and win. This will also have a detrimental effect on the Afghan military who will be wondering why they are losing and the Taliban are winning in incidents as these. Whatever way, the Taliban will hope to end the year on a high. However if it is the Da’esh group operating in the country they are certainly having an upsurge in attacks which could mean a better infrastructure and logistical element to the fight. But who is supplying them? COMMENT ENDS
China – China has entered a "new era" where it should "take centre stage in the world", President Xi Jinping said on the 18 Oct 17. The country's rapid progress under "socialism with Chinese characteristics" shows there is "a new choice for other countries", he told the Communist Party congress. The closed-door summit determines who rules China and the country's direction for the next term. Mr Xi has been consolidating power and is expected to remain as party chief. The congress, which takes place once every five years, will finish on the 24 Oct 17. More than 2,000 delegates are attending the event, which is taking place under tight security. Shortly after the congress ends, the party is expected to unveil the new members of China's top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, who will steer the country. Listing China's recent achievements in his three-hour speech, Mr Xi said that "socialism with Chinese characteristics in this new era" meant China had now "become a great power in the world", and had played "an important role in the history of humankind". The Chinese model of growth under Communist rule was "flourishing", he said, and had given "a new choice" to other developing countries. "It is time for us to take centre stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind," he added. Since Mr Xi took power in 2012, China's economy has continued to grow rapidly. But correspondents say the country has also become more authoritarian, with increasing censorship and arrests of lawyers and activists. He also introduced measures to increase party discipline, and touched on his wide-reaching corruption crackdown that has punished more than a million officials, report BBC correspondents in Beijing. Beijing is decked out in welcome banners and festive displays for the congress. However, the capital is also on high alert. Long queues were seen earlier this week at railway stations due to additional checks at transport hubs. The congress has also affected businesses, with some restaurants, gyms, nightclubs and karaoke bars reportedly shutting down due to tightened security rules. An austerity drive, instituted by Mr Xi, has meant a more pared down congress, with reports this week of delegates' hotels cutting back on frills such as decorations, free fruit in rooms and lavish meals. Meanwhile, state media have said the Party is expected to rewrite its constitution to include Mr Xi's "work report" or political thoughts, which would elevate him to the status of previous Party giants Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Some see Mr Xi as accruing more power than any leader since Mao, and the congress will be watched closely for clues on how much control now rests in the hands of just one man. Mr Xi has tightened control within the Party and also in Chinese society, but continues to enjoy widespread support among ordinary citizens.
Turkey/Europe – Tensions with Turkey will be high on the agenda of the European Union summit of the weekend of the 21/22 Oct 17 amid calls within the bloc to freeze relations. Turkish and European officials have been in a war of words, with Ankara accusing members of the EU of supporting "terrorism" and EU politicians alleging a deterioration of democratic and human rights in Turkey. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that EU leaders would not make a decision on whether to freeze Ankara's EU membership bid during the upcoming summit in Brussels, which began on the 18 Oct 17. "We will certainly not take any decision, but I would like to listen to the views of my colleagues on bilateral relations with Turkey," she said in her weekly podcast on the 14 Oct 17. In Sep 17 in a televised debate before Germany's parliamentary elections, Merkel said that Turkey "should not become a member of the EU". Merkel's ultimate aim is to convince other member states to approve suspending membership talks with Turkey, said Can Baydarol, the deputy chairman of the Ankara-based European Union and Global Research Association. "However, after Emmanuel Macron's presidency in France, Berlin and Paris have been in a power struggle within the EU. It is not possible to achieve that consensus due to France's stance against such a move towards Turkey," Baydarol said. "France and certain other countries believe Turkey has a crucial role in the Middle East, given the currently ongoing multiple crises. This is the reason why Merkel recently said that they will not make a decision on suspension of talks in this summit."
Areas of cooperation
Turkey and the EU have been cooperating on issues such as the refugee crisis, security and Syria's war - a situation that appears to have made some member states hesitant to cut ties. As part of a 2015 deal, Ankara received EU funds in exchange for the return of refugees to Turkey, but questions remain over the efficacy of the agreement's implementation in light of the rising tensions. Erdogan, accusing Brussels of not keeping its side of the deal about visa-free travel for Turks, various times threatened to open his country's border with the EU for refugees to pass freely. The EU member states and Turkey also share intelligence and are allies in the coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sharply rebuffed the bloc in the recent months, stating publicly that his country "does not need the EU" any more. "They do not accept us. But have they put an end to the [membership] process? No. They are wasting our time … If you're honest, make your statement and we will finish the job. We don't need you," Erdogan said in a public address this month. The declining relations between Ankara and the EU took a dive in Mar 17 when the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Denmark banned Turkish ministers from addressing immigrants and expatriates in rallies within their borders for a referendum that changed Turkey's parliamentary system to an executive presidency a month later. Dutch authorities actively intervened after a Turkish minister tried to reach a consulate in the country to address Turks living there, leading to a diplomatic crisis. Erdogan compared the ban on ministers to "Nazi practices" and called Dutch authorities "Nazi remnants". The members of the European Parliament (EP), an EU legislative body with limited influence over Turkey's membership talks, have at various times called for the process to be suspended in non-binding votes. The latest was in Jul 17 when the EP called on the European Commission, the EU's executive body, and member states to "suspend the accession negotiations with Turkey without delay if the constitutional reform package is implemented unchanged". The constitutional changes, passed in Turkey's Apr 17 referendum, give the president to be elected in 2019 new powers to appoint vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials and senior judges. It allows the president to dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees and impose states of emergency. Following the referendum, far-right parties in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium had called for people with Turkish origins living in those countries to return to Turkey if they voted "Yes". EU member states have been united in their condemnation of the Turkish government's detentions and purges of tens of thousands of people after a failed coup attempt in Jul 16. Local and international rights groups have accused the government of using the coup attempt as a pretext to silence opposition in the country. The government has said that the purges and detentions aimed to remove from state institutions and other parts of society the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based, self-exiled religious leader on whom Ankara blames the attempted coup
The Turkish government accuses several EU member states of actively supporting "terrorism". Ankara has alleged that EU states are harbouring Kurdish and far-left fighters, as well as people linked to the failed coup. "Germany is abetting terrorists," Erdogan said earlier this year, adding that Berlin did not respond to thousands of documents requesting extradition of suspects wanted by Ankara. The accusation was echoed by other top Turkish officials. The Turkish president has also targeted the governments of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and non-EU Switzerland for allowing rallies in support of "terrorism" within their borders. In one such rally in Switzerland in March, a banner showing a gun pointed at Erdogan's head was caught on camera.
Since the post-coup attempt arrests started, EU member states have discussed economic sanctions on Turkey, such as cutting EU aid. Last month, Germany's Merkel threatened to restrict her country's economic ties with NATO ally Turkey to pressure Ankara to release eleven German citizens arrested after the coup attempt. They include journalists Deniz Yucel and Mesale Tolu, and human rights activist Peter Steudtner. "We will have to further cut back our joint economic cooperation with Turkey and scrutinise projects," Merkel said. Those threats, however, were never implemented. Austria, another staunch opponent of Turkey's EU bid, has on multiple occasions pushed to suspend talks, only to be rebuffed by other member states. Regardless, the talks have been practically frozen for years, with no progress made. Baydarol said that the European Commission's annual progress report on the membership talks with Turkey, to be released in Nov 17 would be an important follow-up to this weekend's summit, as the report is expected to sharply criticise Turkey. "Taking these criticisms in the report and the Commission's recommendation into consideration, the EU leaders might make a concrete decision on Turkey's EU bid in the coming summits," he said. 361 COMMENT: This will be an interesting summit due to the importance of the roles that Germany and Turkey play currently within the EU. There is the security of the European Union to consider, considering Turkeys global position not only with the EU but with NATO as well. Border control along with immigration control will also play an important factor. As the war with Da’esh comes to a close and with some European countries supporting the Kurds it will be interesting to see how Turkey and the EU react to the current Kurdish issue. However, Erdogan is not doing himself or Turkey any favours when he states that Turkey no longer needs the European Union. This maybe a double bluff because Turkey has no immediate friends and is burning bridges with those who could help them but at the same time rebuffing them. Turkey will also need the hard currency from the EU to assist itself. If Turkey was to be suspended then who would help them; Russia? The United States? The Middle East? Friends at this time may be very difficult to come by. COMMENT ENDS
Turkey/Military Spending – Turkey plans to boost its military spending significantly next year, according to preliminary budget figures revealed on the 18 Oct 17. Turkey is currently the world's 18th-largest military spender, with an estimated 2016 outlay of $14.8 billion, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Fact Sheet, which was released in April. SIPRI notes the figure is an estimate because, since the attempted military coup in July 2016, detailed data has become difficult to obtain. But one fact is beyond dispute: The government is planning to meet an expected 30% increase in military defence expenditures by direct taxation of its citizens and a series of price hikes to be borne by the public. The Finance Ministry gave parliament a draft 2018 budget Oct. 16 and expects to hand legislators the final proposal Oct. 25. Though education is to receive the largest chunk of the budget, Minister Naci Agbal told local media the huge hike in military spending reflects a "war economy." He cited "geopolitical risks and the budget increases these risks require." He said that of about $7.2 billion in extra revenues to be derived from surcharges on vehicles, fuel, real estate and personal income taxes, about $2.3 billion will be directly allocated to the defence industry. Turkey is expecting a $5.2 billion increase in 2018 defence expenditures. According to Agbal, in 2018 a supplementary $7.5 billion will be transferred to Turkey’s military/defence budget. Of this new funding, about $2.3 billion will be allotted to the Defence Industry Under secretariat, which procures Turkey’s weapons systems and equipment. Moreover, the Defence Ministry budget will rise by 41% to $12 billion. The budget of the Interior Ministry will be augmented by 25%, the Gendarmerie Command budget will increase by 42%, while the national police budget will go up by 18% and the National Intelligence Service budget will get an additional 20%. All told, about $26 billion will be spent on military defence expenditures, out of a total national budget of $195 billion. That amount is likely to put Turkey in SIPRI’s top 15 defence spenders in 2018. According to Arda Mevlutoglu, a well-placed expert on the Turkish defence industry, a new trend is visible in Turkey’s defence and security spending. He said that because of Turkey’s growth rate, rapid increases in military defence expenditures are not reflected in gross domestic product. Mevlutoglu also cited a notable increase in national manufacturers' income, saying, “For example, while the total revenue of the Turkish defence and aeronautic industries was $1.855 billion between 2006-2016, it is now $5.968 billion.” Turkey, while updating its national defence and deterrence capacity during the past 10 years, also has been focusing on long-term investments and mobilizing national resources. There was little off-the-shelf procurement to combat security threats, as Ankara believed its defence and security resources were adequate to cope with existing and anticipated threats. But Mevlutoglu emphasized that, especially with developments in Syria and Iraq, "the nature and dimensions of threats in the region usually exceed the capacity of any one regional country to cope with." "This requires that a sensitive balance has to be maintained between long-term capacity development nationally" and urgent needs to procure items from outside sources.” Mevlutoglu elaborated: “In modern combat and similar operations, ammunition consumption usually exceeds all predictions. We saw examples of this in the 1999 NATO operation [against Yugoslavia], 2003 Gulf War, 2011 Libya operation, Yemen operations of the Arab coalition and lately in the US-led coalition operation against the Islamic State. [Long-running] struggles against asymmetric threats in the combat zone [require] serious production and accumulation of ammunition. ... Because of the asymmetric and urban warfare requirements, the need for specific equipment and vehicles, which are usually high-cost items, exceed all expectations.” Although the predicted budget increases to defend Turkey’s national interests in Syria and Iraq appear high, it's possible such amounts are still inadequate for procurement from national and foreign defence industries. In short, the additional economic burden of further military operations in Syria will be considerably higher than before. According to the Turkish military's latest figures, released in April, Turkey has 362,284 armed military personnel, excluding the Gendarmerie and the Coast Guard. Of that figure, 201 are generals, 25,728 officers, 64,655 non-commissioned officers, 47,167 contract sergeants, 16,018 contract privates first-class and 208,515 nonprofessional conscripts. Only 45% of the Turkish Armed Forces can be classified as fully professional. With this structure, Turkey has Europe’s second-largest army, if Russia is included. According to a military source who asked to remain anonymous, about 70% of Turkey’s military/defence spending goes toward personnel expenses. Of the remaining funds, 25% is spent on new weapons systems and only 5% goes to modernization and research and development projects. Obviously, Turkey has to find ways to curtail personnel expenses while transforming to its military to a professional force and reducing its size, without sacrificing operational effectiveness. The source added that Turkey currently buys more than 60% of its military equipment and supplies from national resources. This ratio will increase to about 70% in three years. Local production is of vital importance for Turkey, but when compared with foreign resources, local costs are far too high. Turkey has to find new markets for its local production to ensure its defence industry's sustained growth. However, given the lengthy state of emergency, it's been difficult to conduct a transparent debate in parliament and in public on how to cut the number of military personnel effectively. That might explain why I couldn’t find a single reliable report, analysis or academic study during my research for Turkey's 2016-2017 defence and security expenditures. There is simply no reliable data for the past two years. Turkey’s already-opaque defence/military expenditures are now concealed behind a screen of secrecy.
Pakistan – A suicide bomber has killed at least seven police officers and wounded 22 others in the south-western Pakistani city of Quetta. The attack targeted a vehicle carrying police personnel on the city's main Saryab road on the morning of the 18 Oct 17 local police official Muhammad Akbar. Provincial home minister Sarfaraz Bugti, speaking to media at the site of the attack, said those attacked were "elite" officers. Six police officers and a civilian were killed and 22 wounded, said provincial chief minister Sanaullah Zehri, speaking to reporters at the hospital where the wounded were being treated. "It was a suicide attacker who appeared to be in a car with between 70 to 80kg of explosives," Zehri said. Television footage from the scene showed the mangled and scorched wreckage of the truck lying by the side of the road. Police cordoned off the area around the blast site immediately following the attack. Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, has often been at the centre of attacks by both religious armed groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and armed ethnic Baloch separatists fighting for independence from Pakistan. "The people of Balochistan are fighting this war on the frontline," Bugti said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the 18 Oct 17. Balochistan has, however, increasingly come under attack from groups such as the TTP, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and others. Last week, five people were killed in an attack targeting the city's minority Hazara Shia Muslim community. Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed 18 people when he targeted a Sufi shrine near the town of Jhal Magsi, about 165km south of Quetta. The province has also been the site of a decade-long armed separatist campaign by ethnic Baloch fighters who are fighting for independence in the resource-rich province. Earlier this week, the Baloch Liberation Army, one of the main armed groups, claimed it killed two Pakistani security personnel deployed to protect the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the Panjgur district. CPEC, a $56bn infrastructure project, will see a major trade corridor constructed from China's south-western Xinjiang province that runs through the length of Pakistan, culminating in a major port in the Balochistan town of Gwadar. The project envisages the linking of Chinese markets directly to Arabian Sea trade routes through the construction of road, rail and other infrastructure, as well as the construction of at least 19 power generation projects across Pakistan.