Venezuela’s military said it seized three abandoned Colombian light combat vessels that soldiers found on Saturday while patrolling the Orinoco river, several days after the government accused its neighbour of aiding a failed invasion.
The boats were equipped with machine guns and ammunition but had no crew, the defence ministry said in a statement, adding they were discovered as part of a nationwide operation to guarantee Venezuela’s “freedom and sovereignty”.
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Colombia’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request to comment. President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday accused Colombian President Ivan Duque of enabling the operation, which Duque denied.
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Venezuela charged two former US soldiers with “terrorism” and “conspiracy” for allegedly taking part in a failed armed incursion aimed at toppling Maduro.
Luke Alexander Denman and Airan Berry were among 31 people captured by the Venezuelan military, which said it thwarted an attempted invasion by mercenaries in the early hours of May 3.
Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab said on Friday they had been charged with “terrorism, conspiracy, illicit trafficking of weapons of war and [criminal] association”, and could face 25-30 years in prison.
Several attackers were reportedly killed in the ill-fated incursion.
Saab said Venezuela requested an international arrest warrant for the capture of Jordan Goudreau, a former US Army veteran who leads a Florida-based company that says it offers paid strategic security services. Goudreau said in media interviews he organised the operation in Venezuela.
Saab claimed Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido was behind the mission [Manaure Quintero/Reuters]
Maduro has accused US President Donald Trump of being directly behind the invasion, which came at a time of high tension between Washington and Caracas, and Saab said on Friday the Venezuelans involved would be tried for “conspiracy with a foreign government”.
Trump rejected the accusation, telling Fox News on Friday: “If I wanted to go into Venezuela, I wouldn’t make a secret about it.
“I’d go in and they would do nothing about it. They would roll over. I wouldn’t send a small little group. No, no, no. It would be called an army,” he said. “It would be called an invasion.”
Venezuela announced on Monday it arrested the two former US special forces soldiers and on Wednesday Maduro, who showed the pair’s passports on state television, said they would be tried.
The US Army has confirmed they were former members of the Green Berets who were deployed to Iraq.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government would “use every tool that we have available to try to get them back”.
In announcing the arrests, Saab claimed Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed in his challenge to Maduro’s authority by the US and more than 50 countries, was behind the mission.
Saab accused Guaido of signing a $212m contract with “hired mercenaries” using funds seized by the US from the state oil company PDVSA.
Guaido has denied having any involvement in the incursion.
Saab blamed Goudreau and two opposition Venezuelan politicians, Miami-based political strategist Juan Rendon and exiled lawmaker Sergio Vergara, for involvement in the “design, financing, and execution” of the plan to invade and overthrow Maduro.
Rendon has said while he negotiated an agreement with Goudreau’s company Silvercorp USA late last year, he cut ties with him in November. He said Goudreau went forward with the failed operation on his own. Vergara did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The bungled operation has put pressure on Guaido, who has failed in his campaign to replace a president who has overseen a six-year economic collapse of the once prosperous OPEC nation and stands accused of human rights violations and rigging his 2018 re-election.
Guaido has largely held together a broad coalition of the anti-Maduro political parties that make up Venezuela’s notoriously divided opposition. But on Friday, one of the largest opposition parties aligned with Guaido – Justice First – criticised him over the failed raid.
“We radically reject the hiring of illegal groups,” Justice First said in a statement, calling on Guaido to “immediately dismiss the officials who – in the name of the interim presidency of the republic – established links with these illegal groups.”
Trump says will pull US troops from ‘delinquent’ Germany |NationalTribune.com
President Donald Trump said on Monday that he would cut the number of US troops in Germany to 25,000, claiming the country had failed to meet NATO’s defence spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of the United States on trade. The reduction of about 9,500 troops would be a remarkable rebuke to one of the…
President Donald Trump said on Monday that he would cut the number of US troops in Germany to 25,000, claiming the country had failed to meet NATO’s defence spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of the United States on trade.
The reduction of about 9,500 troops would be a remarkable rebuke to one of the US’s closest allies and trading partners and undermine a pillar of post-war European security: that US forces would help defend alliance members against Russian aggression.
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It was not clear whether Trump would be able to carry through on his plan, which first emerged in media reports on June 5, given criticism from some of the president’s fellow Republicans in Congress who have argued a cut would be a gift to Russia.
Speaking to reporters, Trump accused Germany of being “delinquent” in its payments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and pledged to stick with the plan unless Berlin changed course.
“So, we’re protecting Germany, and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense. So, I said, ‘we’re going to bring down the count to 25,000 soldiers,'” Trump said, adding that “they treat us very badly on trade” but providing no details.
In 2014, NATO set a target that each of its 30 members should spend 2 percent of GDP on defence. Most, including Germany, do not.
Plan triggers unease
Trump’s remarks were the first official confirmation of the planned troop cut, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and later confirmed to Reuters by a senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
That official said it stemmed from months of work by the US military and had nothing to do with simmering tensions between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who recently declined the president’s invitation for an in-person summit of the G7 nations.
Asked about Trump’s statement, German Ambassador to the United States Emily Haber said US soldiers were in Europe to defend transatlantic security and in an arrangement that also benefitted the United States.
“This is about transatlantic security but also about American security,” she told a virtual think-tank audience, saying US-German security cooperation would remain strong, and that her government had been informed of the decision.
Last week, sources told Reuters that German officials as well a number of US officials at the White House, State Department and Pentagon were surprised by the Wall Street Journal report and they offered explanations ranging from Trump’s pique over the G7 to the influence of Richard Grenell, the former US ambassador to Germany and a Trump loyalist.
“There is sure to be significant bipartisan opposition to this move in Congress, so it is possible any actual moves are significantly delayed or even never implemented,” said Phil Gordon of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.
“This move will further erode allies’ faith in NATO and US defence guarantees,” Gordon added, saying it may also “weaken the deterrence of Russia or anyone else who might threaten a NATO member.”
Active-duty troops on ‘short alert status’ outside Washington, Pentagon says
Active-duty U.S. troops are on “short alert status” at bases outside the District of Columbia, Pentagon officials said Tuesday, but so far forces have not mobilized in any other region of the country following President Trump’s threat to use the full weight of the American military to quell riots and violent protests. Pentagon officials told…
Active-duty U.S. troops are on “short alert status” at bases outside the District of Columbia, Pentagon officials said Tuesday, but so far forces have not mobilized in any other region of the country following President Trump’s threat to use the full weight of the American military to quell riots and violent protests.
Pentagon officials told reporters that the military’s response to the demonstrations, including in Washington, so far has centered on National Guard troops. At least 1,300 National Guard personnel are on duty in Washington, with additional forces from Utah and New Jersey also activated. Reinforcements from Indiana, South Carolina and Tennessee are expected to arrive Tuesday, officials said.
But so far there’s been little in the way of preparations to deploy active-duty forces anywhere in the country, with the exception of Washington. A Defense Department official said the forces arrived in the capital region yesterday and are staged at bases outside of the District.
No active-duty forces have actually been deployed and were not involved in Monday night’s efforts to contain protests outside the White House.
Mr. Trump on Monday said he’ll mobilize all “civilian and military resources” to protect American citizens in the face of widespread rioting and looting after the death of George Floyd last week during a confrontation with police in Minnesota.
“I am mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military, to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans,” the president said. “I am also taking swift and decisive action to protect our great capital, Washington, D.C. What happened in this city last night was a total disgrace.”
The Insurrection Act of 1807 allows the president to deploy active-duty forces to states if requested by a governor. National Guard forces operate under different regulations and are routinely employed to aid in natural disaster response or civil unrest.
Pentagon officials also defended Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s statement Monday that leaders must “dominate the battlespace” to control the chaos. Officials said the secretary was merely using military language and did not intend to imply that U.S. citizens are the enemy or that American cities are a battleground.
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Indian troops kill top Kashmir rebel commander Riyaz Naikoo
Indian troops killed four rebel fighters in gun battles in Indian-administered Kashmir, including the senior commander of the biggest separatist group fighting New Delhi in the disputed Himalayan region. Hundreds of Indian soldiers launched an operation late on Tuesday after receiving intelligence that Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo was hiding in a village in south…
Indian troops killed four rebel fighters in gun battles in Indian-administered Kashmir, including the senior commander of the biggest separatist group fighting New Delhi in the disputed Himalayan region.
Hundreds of Indian soldiers launched an operation late on Tuesday after receiving intelligence that Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo was hiding in a village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Naikoo’s death is being seen as a major victory for India’s counterinsurgency efforts and is likely to spark more unrest in the disputed region.
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Police and army soldiers launched the operation in the Awantipora area in southern Kashmir based on a tip that some rebel commanders were sheltering there.
They used earth movers to dig up several patches of land, including a school playground, looking for possible underground hideouts, residents said.
Troops blasted at least two civilian homes with explosives, a common tactic employed by Indian troops in Kashmir.
“He was trapped in a house and early today a gun battle took place during which he and his associate were killed,” Kashmir’s inspector general of police, Vijay Kumar, told Reuters news agency on Wednesday.
Two rebels were killed in another firefight nearby, Kumar added.
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Naikoo, 35, joined the separatists in 2012, two years after about 100 people were killed by troops during a restive summer marked by protests and violence.
A former mathematics teacher with a bounty of 1.2 million rupees ($15,800) on his head, Naikoo was an aide to the charismatic Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, who was killed in July 2016, leading to months of unrest.
After Wani’s death, Naikoo helped give new life to the rebel movement. He unified the ranks, which had been divided by splinter factions.
Dibyesh Anand, who teaches international relations at the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom, told Al Jazeera that Naikoo’s killing will make “the relationship between Kashmir and India much worse than what it is”.
“What’s likely to happen is more frustration, more anger, more anxiety that ordinary Kashmiri population would have,” he said.
“The main intention of [India’s] Hindu nationalist government is not only to completely occupy Kashmir, but also to erase any form of resistance that Kashmiris have.”
People gather after Naikoo was killed in a gun battle with Indian soldiers at Beighpora village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district [Younis Khaliq/Reuters]
Protests over the killings
Authorities disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region early on Wednesday to prevent large crowds from gathering in the streets to mourn Naikoo’s killing.
Still, locals came out and pelted soldiers with stones in an attempt to disrupt the operation in which Naikoo was killed, Kumar said, adding that demonstrators had to be beaten back by troops.
“Several protesters have received pellet injures and three of them have bullet wounds. They have been hospitalised,” he said.
In all, at least 30 people were injured as protesters clashed with security forces in around a dozen spots across Kashmir, including in the main city of Srinagar, another police official said.
Protesters set fire to two police vehicles in Pulwama, the official said, declining to be named since he was not authorised to speak to media.
India at 142 on World Press Freedom Index over Kashmir blackout
Amid a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Indian troops have intensified operations in Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state, which was split into two federally administered territories last August.
Since late March, Indian forces have killed 36 rebels while losing about 20 soldiers, including a high-ranking army officer.
For decades, separatists have fought against Indian rule in Kashmir, wanting independence for the Himalayan region or to join Pakistan.
Kashmir is claimed in whole but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan. About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
There also has been almost daily fighting over the last several months along the rugged and mountainous frontier that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
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