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US Senate clears long-delayed $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

WASHINGTON, Feb 13: In an early Tuesday morning vote, the US Senate approved a $95.3 billion foreign aid measure that includes assistance for Israel and war-torn Ukraine.

Among other priorities, the foreign aid package contains billions of dollars for security aid for Israel, humanitarian help for civilians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Ukraine, and support for Kyiv.

The legislation will now be submitted to the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans, where there is little possibility that it would pass into law. US Speaker Mike Johnson has condemned the bill.

More than a dozen Republicans voted in favor of the package, which passed 70-29, with almost all Democrats present and supporters claiming that giving up on Ukraine may give Russian President Vladimir Putin more confidence and endanger international national security.

“It’s been years, perhaps decades, since the Senate has passed a bill that so greatly impacts not just our national security, not just the security of our allies, but also the security of western democracy,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who worked closely with GOP leader Mitch McConnell on the legislation.

However, the package's future in the House is quite dubious since conservative Republicans who support former President Donald Trump – the front-runner for the Republican presidential candidate and an opponent of aiding Ukraine – oppose the proposal.

Speaker Johnson expressed fresh skepticism about the package in a statement on Monday evening, stating that Congress may not send the measure to President Joe Biden's desk for weeks or months, if at all.

In recent months, McConnell has made Ukraine his top goal, despite strong opposition from his own GOP conference.

The legislation's funds would be used to buy weapons and air defense systems manufactured in the United States, which are deemed critically necessary by the authorities as Russia continues to attack Ukraine. Along with other aid, it contains $8 billion for the Ukrainian government.

The bill would also allocate $9.2 billion for humanitarian aid to Gaza, $8 billion for Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific to oppose China, and $14 billion for Israel to fight Hamas.

At a South Carolina campaign rally last weekend, Trump hinted that if NATO allies failed to enhance their defense spending, he would allow Russia do "whatever the hell they want" to.

The Republican senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, endorsed a suggestion made by Trump on social media to provide loans to the country's friends, such as Ukraine, rather than grants.

“A loan on friendly terms allows America, who is deeply in debt, a chance to get our money back and changes the paradigm of how we help others. President Trump is right to insist that we think outside the box,” Graham said.

However, the way the legislation has been delayed so far has infuriated the White House, a large number of congressional Democrats, and some of the surviving Republican supporters of aid to Ukraine.

“It is a down payment for the survival of western democracy and the survival of American values,” said Schumer. “Nothing — nothing — would make Putin happier right now than to see Congress waver in its support for Ukraine. Nothing would help him more on the battlefield.”

India Sees US As Weak, Doesn't Trust Americans To Lead: Nikki Haley

WASHINGTON, Feb 8: Aspiring Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on Wednesday said that India wants to be a partner with the US, but as of now they don't trust Americans to lead.

The Indian-American presidential aspirant also said that New Delhi has played smart in the current global situation and stayed close with Russia.

In an interview with Fox Business News, Haley, 51, said that as of now India sees the United States as weak.

"I have dealt with India too. I have got to say, I have dealt with India too. I have talked with (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. India wants to be a partner with us. They don't want to be a partner with Russia," she said.

"The problem is, India doesn't trust us to win. They don't trust us to lead. They see right now that we're weak. India has always played it smart. They have played it smart, and they have stayed close with Russia, because that's where they get a lot of their military equipment," she said in response to a question.

"When we start to lead again, when we start to get the weakness out and stop putting our head in the sand, that's when our friends, India, Australia, New Zealand, all of them will -- and Israel, Japan, South Korea -- all of them want to do that. Japan gave themselves a billion-dollar stimulus to become less dependent on China,” Haley said.

"India gave themselves a billion-dollar stimulus to become less dependent on China," she told Fox Business News adding that the US needs to start building up its alliances.

Haley said China is not doing well economically and is preparing for a war with the US. "Financially, they're not doing well. You see their government has become more controlling. They have been preparing for war with us for years. That's their mistake,” she said.

US hits hard at militias in Iraq and Syria, retaliating for fatal drone attack

WASHINGTON, Feb 3: The U.S. military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Friday, in the opening salvo of retaliation for the drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan last weekend.

The massive barrage of strikes hit more than 85 targets at seven locations, including command and control headquarters, intelligence centers, rockets and missiles, drone and ammunition storage sites and other facilities that were connected to the militias or the IRGC’s Quds Force, the Guard’s expeditionary unit that handles Tehran’s relationship with and arming of regional militias. And President Joe Biden made it clear in a statement that there will be more to come.

The U.S. strikes appeared to stop short of directly targeting Iran or senior leaders of the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force within its borders, as the U.S. tries to prevent the conflict from escalating even further. Iran has denied it was behind the Jordan attack.

It was unclear what the impact will be of the strikes. Days of U.S. warnings may have sent militia members scattering into hiding. With multiple groups operating at various locations in several countries, a knockout blow is unlikely.

Though one of the main Iran-backed militias, Kataib Hezbollah, said it was suspending attacks on American troops, others have vowed to continue fighting, casting themselves as champions of the Palestinian cause while the war in Gaza shows no sign of ending.

“Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing," Biden warned, adding, “let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.” He and other top U.S. leaders had been saying for days that any American response wouldn't be just one hit but a “tiered response” over time.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the targets "were carefully selected to avoid civilian casualties and based on clear, irrefutable evidence that they were connected to attacks on U.S. personnel in the region.” He declined to detail what that evidence was.

The strikes took place over about 30 minutes, and three of the sites struck were in Iraq and four were in Syria, said Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of the Joint Staff.

U.S. Central Command said the assault involved more than 125 precision munitions, and they were delivered by numerous aircraft, including long-range B-1 bombers flown from the United States. Sims said weather was a factor as the U.S. planned the strikes in order to allow the U.S. to confirm it was hitting the right targets and avoiding civilian casualties.

It's not clear, however, whether militia members were killed.

"We know that there are militants that use these locations, IRGC as well as Iranian-aligned militia group personnel,” Sims said. “We made these strikes tonight with an idea that there there would likely be casualties associated with people inside those facilities.”

Syrian state media reported that there were casualties but did not give a number. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 18 militants were killed in the Syria strikes.

Iraqi army spokesman Yahya Rasool said in a statement that the city of al-Qaim and areas along the country’s border with Syria had been hit by U.S. airstrikes. The strikes, he said, “constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, posing a threat that will pull Iraq and the region to undesirable consequences.”

Kirby said that the U.S. alerted the Iraqi government prior to carrying out the strikes.

The assault came came just hours after Biden and top defense leaders joined grieving families to watch as the remains of the three Army Reserve soldiers were returned to the U.S. at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Just Friday morning, Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated earlier promises by Tehran to potentially retaliate for any U.S. strikes targeting its interests. We “will not start a war, but if a country, if a cruel force wants to bully us, the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a strong response,” Raisi said.

In a statement this week, Kataib Hezbollah announced “the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government." But that assertion clearly had no impact on U.S. strike plans. Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the other major Iran-backed groups, vowed Friday to continue military operations against U.S. troops.

The U.S. has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a broad coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the attack in Jordan, but hasn't narrowed it down to a specific group. Kataib Hezbollah is, however, a top suspect.

US Clears Sale Of 31 MQ-9B Armed Drones To India For Nearly $4 Billion

WASHINGTON, Feb 1: The US has cleared the sale of MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones to India in a deal nearly worth $4 Billion. The Defence Security Cooperation Agency has delivered the required certification, notifying the US Congress of the possible sale today.

India had proposed to purchase 31 MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to the US last year. The Biden administration's approval is a landmark in the government-to-government deal.

"This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defence partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region," Defence Security Cooperation Agency said.

"The proposed sale will improve India's capability to meet current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation. India has demonstrated a commitment to modernizing its military and will have no difficulty absorbing these articles and services into its armed forces," the agency added.

The critical defence deal was in the works for close to six years and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's US visit marked the final go-ahead and the government-to-government $3.99 billion deal was finalized. The 31 drones will be used by the Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force.

The approval by the US agency comes at a time when media reports were circulating that the US has put the deal on hold over the alleged failed plot by an Indian national to kill India-designated Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

The Biden administration's sign-off indicates the deal's progress, though the spokesperson of the US State Department, Matthew Miller, earlier, neither accepted nor denied the report and said, "Of course, Congress plays an important role in the US arms transfer process. We routinely consult with members of Congress on the foreign affairs committees before our formal notification so we can address questions that they might have, but I don't have any comment on when that formal notification might take place," adding that he has not seen reports appearing on this in the Indian press.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson, Randhir Jaiswal, in a press conference, tried to clear the air surrounding the report and the sale of drones and said, "This particular matter relates to the US side. They have their internal processes in place and we are respectful of that. That is where I would like to leave my comment."

The Indian Navy will get 15 SeaGuardian drones and the Army and the Air Force will get eight each of the land version of the drones - SkyGuardian. The MQ-9B is manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical, a private defence firm in the US, but the procurement is part of a government-to-government deal.

The proposed procurement had also figured in US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin's talks with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh in Delhi in November. The Defence Acquisition Council last year, accorded the Acceptance of Necessity or initial approval for the acquisition of 31 MQ-9B drones from the US under the foreign military sale route.

The drones, also 'Predators', are remotely-piloted aircraft systems, which can be used for offensive missions, reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence operations around the globe. They can fly over the horizon through a satellite for up to 40+ hours and termed as High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones.

The drone can also carry the laser-guided four Hellfire Missiles and 450kg bombs and is part of the landmark defence deal. The drones may see deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and on warships for missions in the Indian Ocean region. The use of remotely piloted systems marks a shift in warfare, where platforms like drones play an important role along with human-powered platforms.




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