German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to call the U.S. a “foe” of the European Union, despite President Donald Trump’s claims, and vowed to work through the “pressure” that his presidency has put on bilateral relations.
Merkel gave her views on a handful of issues in a broad press conference on Friday, including the challenges she has faced from within her fractious coalition in government and Trump’s recent tumultuous trip through Europe. The German leader, who once admitted Trump’s U-turn on a communique signed with Germany and five other partners was “depressing,” remained diplomatic when asked about her relationship with the president.
“One can say that the values, or our usual framework, are under strong pressure at the moment,” she said, according to a translation by Reuters. “However, the transatlantic working relationship, including with the U.S. president, is crucial for us and I will carry on cultivating it,” she added.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a press conference on July 20, 2018, in Berlin, Germany. Merkel gave her views on a handful of issues in a broad press conference on Friday.CARSTEN KOALL/GETTY IMAGES
Trump has repeatedly lambasted U.S. allies in Europe and used Germany as an example of an economically strong nation, which is increasing its defense spending too slowly, according to him. While at NATO last week, Trump chose his breakfast with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to complain about Germany. He asked about Berlin’s energy policy and whether buying gas from Russia does make Germany a “captive” of Russia. The puzzled diplomat attempted to segue into his area of expertise in extolling the virtues of the military alliance.
The modern anti-tank guided missile can hit a target several meters in diameter at ranges greater than five kilometers. While this level of precision is normally used to disable tanks, resourceful operators have often found the precise nature of ATGMs makes them useful for many other targets including infantry and even other ATGM teams. This has been especially notable during the Syrian Civil War, with the Free Syrian Army and Syrian Arab Army sometimes engaging in ATGM duels .
However, the High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warheads on most ATGMs are poorly suited to this kind of combat. While the heavy weight of some HEAT warheads may give them significant blast or fragmentation effect, the majority of explosive effect is focused on creating a hot jet of metal to penetrate armor.
Dedicated thermobaric or fragmentation warheads are more effective against infantry and structures as their explosive force is all projected outwards. They also can fit more explosives into the space given to them, as HEAT warheads have to have an empty conical or spherical portion that “focuses” the explosion into a jet. Fragmentation and thermobaric warheads fill that empty space with more explosives. The downside to these warheads is that they make the missile ineffective against heavy armor.
Russia appears to be ahead of the curve on offering fragmentation and thermobaric warheads for its anti-tank guided missiles as practically every missile in its inventory has variants with these warheads. But how effective are these weapons? Who uses them? Could they prove a viable alternative for other infantry arms like sniper rifles or conventional artillery or direct fire guns?
One of the most mainstream uses of high explosive anti-tank guided missiles is as a way to deliver precision anti-infantry or anti-structure firepower from a helicopter. Russia accomplishes this with the 9M120F missile, a version of the 9M120 “Ataka” anti-armor missile. The first combat use of the Ka-50 attack helicopter occurred in 2016 when 9M120Fs and unguided rockets were used by the Russian Air Force to destroy some opposition forces in Syria.
The United States also fields a version of an anti-armor missile optimized for blast effect in the AGM-114N Hellfire II missile, which uses a metal-augmented charge warhead to increase the lethal radius of the missile’s explosion.
But where the United States and Russia diverge is the usage of blast warheads on ground-based ATGMs. While there is a version of the BGM-71 TOW that has a large-blast warhead called the BGM-71H “ Bunker Buster ” and Russia has successfully exported it, it’s the only ground-based ATGM that features such a warhead.
In contrast, almost every Russian ATGM in current service features a high explosive or fragmentation variant. From the super-heavy vehicle mounted 9M120F “Ataka” missile (that also is employed on a ground ATGM carrier, the 9K132 Shturm-SM ), to lightweight man portable 9M131F “Metis-M” missile, thermobaric or fragmentation versions exist of almost every single ATGM in Russian service.
These variants have seen service in conflict zones. Notably, 9M113F-1 thermobaric missiles for the Kornet ATGM system have been fired at Ukranian positions in the Donbass. Other 9M113Fs have turned up in Sudan . These represent a highly dangerous capability for those who wield these missiles.
Kornets are already notorious for being one of the most powerful and precise anti-armor missiles, having penetrated Israeli Merkava tanks. Thermobaric missiles give the same teams an incredible anti-infantry and anti-structure capability The 9M113F-1 thermobaric ATGM is said to have an equivalent HE effect of ten kilograms of TNT , the same explosive content as a 155-millimeter artillery shell. The lighter 9M131F missile shot by the Metis-M ATGM system has an equivalent HE effect of five kilograms, lighter but still double that of a 105-millimeter artillery shell.
Combined with the observational capabilities of the Kornet launcher (12-20x zoom and thermals), thermobaric missiles make it a potent anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) tool against infantry. Western strategists have been concerned about the usage of super-long range sniper rifles in this role, but thermobaric ATGMs are another tool that could accomplish this mission.
In contrast to sniper rifles, the guided nature of a thermobaric ATGM would require less training to utilize and make super-long range shots easier. The maximum range of a Kornet is far beyond the longest sniper shot ever taken at 5.5 kilometers (for the man portable system), although the smaller Metis-M can only go out to two kilometers. An infantry unit being engaged by thermobaric ATGMs at five kilometers would have a very hard time determining where the shots were coming from, as they usually lack laser warning receivers or other advanced equipment tanks have to locate ATGM launches.
Trump wants the best of everything whether there will ever be used or not
For all that Donald Trump is often described as “erratic” or “unpredictable,” the basic worldview underlying his foreign policy is pretty consistent and easy to understand: He doesn’t think the U.S. should be expending resources on any initiative that he believes “helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us,” as he once said in reference to U.S. troop deployments in the Middle East. Don’t talk to him about international stability or global order. Other countries’ conflicts are not our problem, and there’s little we can do to solve them anyway.
It’s this thinking that guides his opposition to maintaining U.S. troops and military exercises in South Korea and continuing combat operations in Syria and Afghanistan. To this end, the president has spent the week so far hammering other members of NATO for spending too little on defense and free-riding on U.S. security guarantees. Trump probably doesn’t actually care that much about the specific 2 percent spending target that’s become such a flashpoint, but it’s a useful cudgel to bash an alliance that, in Trump’s view, “helps them a lot more than it helps us.”
So it was a little mind-blowing to hear Trump end his press conference in Brussels this morning by contradicting all of that. The answer came in response to what was, in fairness, a somewhat difficult-to-understand question from a Tunisian journalist about what the U.S. could do to help resolve conflicts in North Africa. Trump seemed to take it as a question about “Africa” as a whole (my emphasis):
We are looking for peace. Africa, as you know, is on our very strong list. But we are looking for peace. We want peace all over. We want to solve problems. We’re looking for peace. Africa right now has got problems that few people would understand. They have things going on there that nobody could believe in this room. If you see, some of the things I see through intelligence, what’s going on in Africa, it is so sad and so vicious and violent. And we want peace. We want peace for Africa. We want peace all over the world. That’s my number one goal, peace all over the world. And we’re building up a tremendous military because I really believe through strength you get peace. But, we’re going to have a military like we have never had before. We have given out orders for, you know, the best fighter jets in the world. The best ships, the best everything. But, hopefully we will never have to use them. That would be a dream. To buy the best stuff, to have the best stuff, to have the best equipment in the world, and to never have to use it would be a really great part of my dream.
Put aside for the moment that the president, who described some African nations as “shithole countries” in January, has reduced an entire highly diverse and varied continent to a monolith of violence and despair. (And what “very strong list” is he talking about?) What jumps out here is that Trump has spent the entire past week repeatedly arguing that the U.S.
is spending too much on countries that should be helping themselves, and is now saying that the purpose of having a strong U.S. military is to “solve problems” and bring peace to the “vicious and violent” conflicts of Africa. Sending the military overseas to solve conflicts is precisely what he has repeatedly argued the U.S. should not be doing anymore.
Perhaps Trump was just ad-libbing at the end of a long press conference following a long meeting. Regardless, if this becomes a regular feature of his rhetoric, nothing coming from him will make any sense anymore.
To save their summit, NATO leaders had to let Trump think he’d won something.
This week’s NATO summit ended Thursday on a positive note, but only after the allied leaders soothed President Trump’s ego, letting him believe—in at least one case, telling him explicitly—that they were spending more on defense as a result of his pressure and leadership.
And so, after a very shaky start that found him threatening to pull the U.S. out of the alliance if its members didn’t pay what they owed, Trump held an impromptu news conference at which he congratulated his colleagues for “stepping up,” boasted that “everybody in the room thanked me” for prodding them onward, and proclaimed his “very strong” commitment to their security.
In reality, the summit produced no real changes in NATO’s policy or spending. That was fine, as most of the allies—as well as many U.S. officials—were hoping, at best, to avoid a catastrophe. In that sense, mission accomplished.
Most of the allies were hoping, at best, to avoid a catastrophe. In that sense, missionaccomplished.
However, the essence of any security alliance is trust: the belief that its members will rally to the common defense in the event of an attack. And on that score, Trump’s harsh impetuousness, his clear hostility toward America’s oldest allies, and his indifference toward crucial facts, not least the dangers posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin—all kept the allies in a state of perpetual jitters.
His news conference confirmed both sides of this picture. The allies succeeded in making Trump feel that NATO’s progress was his doing alone—and therefore, kept him bound to NATO for a while longer. Yet, because of how easy it was to sway his thinking, they couldn’t help but wonder how pliable he might be at the hands of others, not least Putin, who will meet him on Monday.
Certainly, Trump made many false statements at the news conference. It’s unclear whether he knows they were false.
His main claim, repeated over and over, was that the NATO members agreed to spend more money on defense, “like they never have before,” “to levels they’ve never thought of before.” This boost in spending, he added, “started last year.” Before he became president, “the numbers”—their defense budgets—“were going down,” but “now the numbers were going up like a rocket ship.” And at this summit, he added, they didn’t just say they’d vaguely try to devote 2 percent of their GDP to defense; they “committed” to doing so—“that’s very different”—and they were doing this at a “faster clip” than before.
All of these remarks are false.
First, official NATO data clearly show that the current rise in spending began in 2014—that is, while Barack Obama was still president—mainly in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its incursions into eastern Ukraine, and its threats against the Baltic States. The spending continued to rise in 2015, 2016, and 2017—Trump’s first year in office. Spending was not going down before he entered the White House, nor has it shot up like a rocket since.
Second, French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on Thursday that, contrary to Trump’s claims, the allies had agreed to no further increases in defense spending at this year’s summit. The “Brussels Summit Declaration,” the official statement that came out of this week’s summit, backs up Macron. The key passage reads as follows:
We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all aspects of the Defence Investment Pledge agreed at the 2014 Wales Summit, and to submit credible national plans on its implementation, including the spending guidelines for 2024.
As Macron said, there was no agreement either to boost spending beyond what was agreed four years ago or to accelerate the schedule.
Trump told other puzzlers. He said the United States pays 90 percent of NATO’s costs, when the real figure is 67 percent. He said the United States spends 4.2 percent of its GDP on defense, when it actually spends 3.5 percent. He said NATO is “much stronger than it was two days ago,” which is simply absurd. He even said Germany has increased its defense spending “very substantially”—a welcome backpedaling to his harsh criticism of Germany on Wednesday, but still not true: Germany has increased its spending only slightly.
Finally, he couldn’t help boasting, as he does at nearly every public forum, that he won 306 Electoral College votes in the 2016 election (even though he won 304), though this time he added a new fact: that his win in Wisconsin was a special triumph in that it was the only state Ronald Reagan lost in 1984. (Actually, Trump was wrong: Reagan did win Wisconsin that year.)
Still, at the end of his 20-minute banter with the press, he said something that must have made the allies and some of his own officials sigh in relief. Asked if he regarded Putin as a security threat, Trump replied, “Hey, I don’t want him to be, and I guess that’s why we have NATO.”
Then he boasted, out of nowhere, that the American stock market had gained $8 trillion in value since he came to the White House. Actually, it’s up $6.5 trillion, but who’s counting?
As the 2018 NATO summit kicked off Wednesday, there seemed to be some tension between high-power world leaders. And people on Twitter are saying a supremely awkward NATO summit photo of President Trump and other officials captures the uncomfortable vibe perfectly.
The photo, taken by Sean Gallup in Brussels, Belgium, includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and Trump. The group photo was taken at the opening ceremony and shows presidents, chancellors, and prime ministers alike looking in (mostly) one direction.
Although these leaders have traditionally been allies with the United States, both when it comes to military operations and the economy, some of these relationships have been strained since Trump took office, as Business Insider reported. This has to do with Trump’s policies about trade and his relationship with and statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Twitter had plenty to say about the the photo, in which Trump seems to be the odd man out, staring up into the air in an opposite direction from other leaders. Adam Best wrote on Twitter, “This photo is the perfect metaphor. Donald Trump clearly sees the world the wrong way when compared to other NATO leaders. Is it because he’s a moron, because Putin tells him to or a mixture of both?”
It’s true that Trump’s relations with Putin are complicated at best, and he’s tried to improve ties with Moscow since he was sworn into office. He’s planning to meet with the Russian president on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, and analysts have told CNBC that this move on top of the NATO summit could “bring about the most dramatic geopolitical sea change since the end of the Cold War.”
And the Russia meeting wasn’t the only reason to believe things were frosty between world leaders at the NATO summit. Just last month, Business Insider reported that there was an air of drama at the G7 summit in Canada. This included Trump allegedly throwing Starbursts on a table in front of Germany’s Merkel and saying “Don’t say I never give you anything.”
Although Starbursts are a sweet candy, Trump also kicked off NATO on a more sour note with Germany, saying the country was “totally controlled by Russia” because it relies on Russian natural gas, The New York Times reported.
Merkel later retorted: “I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union,” Merkel said, according to Business Insider. “I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany.”
The coordinated suicide bomb attacks in Kabul, for which the militant group Islamic State has claimed responsibility, took the lives of three members of RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi. “Our colleagues will be mourned and deeply missed,” said Kent. “They had families and dreams, and embodied courage and hope for their country.”
The attacks followed a year of threats, assaults and both legal and extra-judicial actions against RFE/RL reporters in Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, and elsewhere.
Ten journalists have died in Afghanistan in a coordinated double suicide bombing in Kabul and a shooting in the eastern Khost province, on the deadliest day for media workers in the country since the fall of the Taliban.
Nine journalists died in the Afghan capital when they gathered at the scene of the first of two blasts. Ahmad Shah, a BBC reporter, was shot dead in a separate incident in Khost province, near the border with Pakistan.
In Kabul, a suicide attacker riding a motorbike blew himself up in the Shash Darak neighbourhood, near the Nato headquarters and the US embassy, at about 8am on Monday. A second bomber, holding a camera and posing as a journalist, struck 20 minutes later, killing rescue workers and journalists, including an Agence France-Presse photographer, who had rushed to the scene. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Kabul attacks, which left at least 25 people dead and 45 injured in total.
Hours later, a suicide bomber targeting a Nato convoy in southern Kandahar province killed 11 children at a religious school located near where the explosion occurred. At least 16 people, including five Romanian Nato soldiers, nine civilians and two police officers, were also wounded.
Sabawoon Kakar was among the first journalists at the scene of Monday’s first attack; he died from his injuries at a hospital in Kabul several hours after the second blast. Just one day before, he had produced a video report about a battle between Afghan security forces and Taliban militants in the country’s northern Baghlan province. Kakar, 30, also reported on social issues, including the changing role of women in the country. A native of Kabul, he died one day before his fifth anniversary with RFE/RL.
Abadullah Hananzai was a video journalist reporting on drug addiction and international narcotics trafficking, and the author since October 2016 of an antinarcotics project called Caravan of Poison. A graduate of Kabul University, Hananzai was 26 years old and was planning to celebrate his first wedding anniversary on May 8.
Maharram Durrani was on her way to a training session at RFE/RL’s Kabul bureau when she was killed. A 28-year old Islamic law student at Kabul University and former online music host at Radio Salam Watandar, she was due to start working on a weekly women’s program for Radio Azadi on May 15.