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Myanmar's presence downplayed at Thai-US military exercise

U-TAPAO AIR BASE, Thailand –  Thailand and the United States downplayed the presence of a Myanmar military officer at the opening Tuesday of the largest annual joint military exercise in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar’s military has been accused of massive human rights violations in its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority, who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring Bangladesh. U.S. lawmakers had demanded Myanmar’s exclusion from the exercise.

“The truth is Myanmar is not a participant nation,” U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davies told reporters at in the Cobra Gold exercise in eastern Thailand. “They’re not part of the exercises here.” He did not explain the Myanmar officer’s attendance.

Thai Gen. Thanchaiyan Srisuwan acknowledged inviting Myanmar to the opening ceremony. However, Myanmar’s flag was not flown at the ceremonial opening. It’s believed the Thais invited Myanmar to send three personnel though only one appeared to be attending.

In Washington last week, both Republican and Democrat members of congress criticized the invitation to Myanmar. Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press “militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside U.S. troops,” a reference to accounts of atrocities committed by Myanmar troops.

A U.S. statement said 11,075 service members from 29 countries are taking part in this year’s exercise, with Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia the seven main participants.

It said the aims of the exercise are to enhance security cooperation, develop peacekeeping forces and maintain readiness for humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.

The exercise includes humanitarian components, such as evacuation drills, as well as traditional military exercises such as amphibious landings.

Disaster relief has assumed a high profile in recent years, especially after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. Multinational forces mobilized for relief efforts after that crisis, as they did again on a more limited scale after 2008’s Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar, killing upward of 130,000 people.

Davies, in an indirect reference to such crises, told reporters that “It’s very important that everyone from around the region have an eye on what’s happening here and to some extent to be part of it, but I’ll come back to what I said earlier that Burma is not a participating nation.” Burma is the old name for Myanmar before it was changed by the country’s previous military government, and is still used by the governments of the U.S. and several other nations.

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Myanmar's presence downplayed at Thai-US military exercise

U-TAPAO AIR BASE, Thailand –  Thailand and the United States downplayed the presence of a Myanmar military officer at the opening Tuesday of the largest annual joint military exercise in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar’s military has been accused of massive human rights violations in its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority, who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring Bangladesh. U.S. lawmakers had demanded Myanmar’s exclusion from the exercise.

“The truth is Myanmar is not a participant nation,” U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davies told reporters at in the Cobra Gold exercise in eastern Thailand. “They’re not part of the exercises here.” He did not explain the Myanmar officer’s attendance.

Thai Gen. Thanchaiyan Srisuwan acknowledged inviting Myanmar to the opening ceremony. However, Myanmar’s flag was not flown at the ceremonial opening. It’s believed the Thais invited Myanmar to send three personnel though only one appeared to be attending.

In Washington last week, both Republican and Democrat members of congress criticized the invitation to Myanmar. Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press “militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside U.S. troops,” a reference to accounts of atrocities committed by Myanmar troops.

A U.S. statement said 11,075 service members from 29 countries are taking part in this year’s exercise, with Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia the seven main participants.

It said the aims of the exercise are to enhance security cooperation, develop peacekeeping forces and maintain readiness for humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.

The exercise includes humanitarian components, such as evacuation drills, as well as traditional military exercises such as amphibious landings.

Disaster relief has assumed a high profile in recent years, especially after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. Multinational forces mobilized for relief efforts after that crisis, as they did again on a more limited scale after 2008’s Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar, killing upward of 130,000 people.

Davies, in an indirect reference to such crises, told reporters that “It’s very important that everyone from around the region have an eye on what’s happening here and to some extent to be part of it, but I’ll come back to what I said earlier that Burma is not a participating nation.” Burma is the old name for Myanmar before it was changed by the country’s previous military government, and is still used by the governments of the U.S. and several other nations.

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Homeland Security: Some Muslims Should Be Under Long-term Surveillance

A report by the Department of Homeland Security urges authorities to “track” Sunni Muslim immigrants judged to have “at-risk” demographic profiles on a “long-term basis.”

The draft report, obtained by Foreign Policy Magazine[1], studied 25 terrorist attacks in the United States between October 2001 and December 2017 and concluded that there would be “great value for the United States Government in dedicating resources to continuously evaluate persons of interest.”

In the report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection identified a broad cross-section of Sunni Muslim residents as being potentially “vulnerable to terrorist narratives.”

That conclusion was based on risk factors such as being young, male, and having come to the U.S. from “the Middle East, South Asia or Africa.”

If the report’s recommendations are implemented, it would significantly expand the Trump administration’s policies toward Muslim immigrants, from those trying to enter the United States to those already legally in the country.

The national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, said the draft “ignores the main extremist threat to our nation — that of violence committed by white supremacists.”

References

  1. ^ obtained by Foreign Policy Magazine (foreignpolicy.com)
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APS-5 combat configuration concept put to test during rapid issue exercise

Sgt. Jordan Gassie, mechanic, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division inspects an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
1 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. Jordan Gassie, mechanic, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division inspects an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL[1]
1st Lt. Emmanuel Aurigue (right), maintenance officer, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division inspects an accountability checklist for basic issue items with Chad Taylor, accountability specialist, URS during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
2 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – 1st Lt. Emmanuel Aurigue (right), maintenance officer, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division inspects an accountability checklist for basic issue items with Chad Taylor, accountability specialist, URS during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL[2]
Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division remove a faulty 25 mm auto-cannon from an M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
3 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division remove a faulty 25 mm auto-cannon from an M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL[3]
Don Mallette (left), logistics management specialist, Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, and Staff Sgt. Anthony Allen, quality assurance specialist, AFSBn-Kuwait inspect a potential leaking hub seal on an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the AFSBn-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
4 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Don Mallette (left), logistics management specialist, Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, and Staff Sgt. Anthony Allen, quality assurance specialist, AFSBn-Kuwait inspect a potential leaking hub seal on an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the AFSBn-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL[4]
Staff Sgt. Christopher Hart (right), quality assurance specialist, Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait assists a Soldier with the inspection of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the AFSBn-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
5 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. Christopher Hart (right), quality assurance specialist, Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait assists a Soldier with the inspection of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the AFSBn-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL[5]
Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division inspect an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
6 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division inspect an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL[6]
Sgt. 1st Class Erick Moody, quality assurance specialist, Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait participates in an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the AFSBn-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
7 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. 1st Class Erick Moody, quality assurance specialist, Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait participates in an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the AFSBn-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL[7]
Sgt. Jordan Gassie, mechanic, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division inspects an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
8 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. Jordan Gassie, mechanic, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division inspects an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank during an issue exercise for combat configured Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 equipment led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Jan. 27. (U.S. Army Photo by Justin Graff, 401st AFSB Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL[8]

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — The 401st Army Field Support Brigade issued 257 pieces of equipment from an Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 armored brigade combat team set during an issue exercise here, Jan. 27.

The exercise, led by the Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, was intended to test the battalion’s ability to rapidly issue newly combat configured equipment and test the overall functionality of combat configuration concepts.

“It went tremendously well and proved to be a valuable exercise,” said Lt. Col. Mike Jordan, commander, Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait.

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division acted as the gaining tactical unit for the exercise.

“We were able to help identify some things for the APS-5 team and for our team as well,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Kutter, commander, 47th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd ABCT, 1st Armored Division. “There’s a lot of muscle memory and refreshers in an exercise like this that benefit our Soldiers. The teamwork here puts everyone in position to gain information, and that’s how we reach success.”

Partnering specifically with an armor unit was a priority for 401st AFSB leadership from the earliest stage of planning the exercise, said Jordan.

“We were fortunate to team up with a unit from an ABCT that is very familiar with the equipment to help us assess our readiness and our configuration,” Jordan said. “I think that’s valuable not only for APS programs, but also for the Army as we continue to bolster our power projection platforms.”

One of the basic tenants of the combat configuration concept is the ability to prepare any equipment set for issue within 96 hours.

AFSBn-Kuwait leadership notified the contracted support element, URS, with the task order to issue 17 vehicles — totaling 257 pieces of equipment — only 96 hours before the scheduled issue in an effort to realistically test the process of assembling various platforms for delivery to the warfighter.

“The timeline was essential for us to see where we gained efficiencies by mounting all of the basic issue items, Soldier technologies and combat enablers on the platform to make sure we have this process down and right,” Jordan said.

A vehicle that is combat configured includes all of its corresponding basic initial issue, combat enablers, and Soldier technologies mounted on and inside the vehicle. The vehicle also contains high performance fluids and receives more frequent routine maintenance.

As a result, APS-5 vehicles are maintained at a higher state of readiness and require less movement and fewer man hours throughout the process of issuing large equipment sets to gaining tactical units.

“We were able to provide the gaining tactical unit with critical combat equipment that was ready to fight,” Jordan said. “That’s a huge accomplishment for this team. It’s a huge accomplishment for Army logisticians who have dedicated their careers to delivering materiel readiness to the warfighter.”

Part of the exercise’s success came in the form of challenges that arose during the issue process because they allowed the AFSBn-Kuwait to both affirm the team’s ability to make quick corrections and also modify some procedures moving forward, said Jordan.

“There are a couple key things we learned during this exercise,” he said. “The first thing is that the majority of our Soldiers and our operators have never seen basic issue items mounted on a platform in accordance with the technical manual.”

The exercise provided an opportunity for the AFSBn-Kuwait to show and teach Soldiers how equipment is supposed to be arranged on a platform. It also provided an opportunity for the gaining tactical unit to give feedback about the equipment based on combat experience.

“The feedback is seriously valuable information because in some instances it might not be best for the items to be stored in accordance with the technical manual for various safety or access reasons,” Jordan said. “So we can look at those things and we can modify how we store some of the basic issue items on these platforms to better support the warfighter’s needs.”

The second key takeaway from the exercise was that maintenance challenges are nearly inevitable, but APS-5’s maintenance experts proved they can overcome those challenges, said Jordan.

Maintenance challenges occurred primarily with the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks in the form of outer hub seal leaks and software errors.

“Fortunately for us, our team is extremely knowledgeable, and they are very swift,” Jordan said. “So we were able to fix those things on the spot within two hours so we could issue proper functioning combat power to the gaining tactical unit.”

When a fault on a vehicle is identified during the issue process, the contracted maintenance teams attempt to fix the fault within two hours. If a repair can’t be made within two hours, the vehicle is replaced with another of the same platform.

The speed at which a non-mission capable vehicle can be replaced with a fully functioning vehicle is greatly improved through combat configuration of APS-5 equipment sets.

“There’s no longer a need to slow the whole process to a crawl to go collect up all the Soldier technologies and combat enablers from different locations and assemble a new platform for a quick swap,” Jordan said. “That vehicle is ready, it’s located nearby, and we can perform the swap immediately. It’s the beauty of combat configuration.”

No vehicles were swapped out during the exercise.

The AFSBn-Kuwait workforce includes Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians who are maintenance experts and serve as contract officer representatives and quality assurance specialists.

These maintenance experts oversee the contracted maintenance teams to ensure APS-5 equipment is maintained in accordance with Army standards. They also participate in the issue process to help identify faults in the equipment and provide guidance to the APS-5 maintainers and the gaining tactical unit.

“Our Soldiers deserve to have the best equipment in the world without any degradation to readiness or functionality,” said. Don Mallette, logistics management specialist, AFSBn-Kuwait.

“Units would lose trust in the rapid equipment draw process if the equipment isn’t up to standard and fitted with the best combat enablers,” Mallette said. “It’s the best feeling for me to know that the equipment we issue to the warfighter is fully mission capable, ready to fight, and equipped to complete the mission and get these Soldiers back home to their families safely.”

Combat Configuration of APS equipment is a U.S. Army Sustainment Command priority for several APS sites across the globe. The 401st AFSB continues to transition more of APS-5’s equipment into combat configured sets.

Information gained by the 401st AFSB during this exercise will be shared with leadership at other APS sites as ASC continues to operationalize equipment sets to support combatant commanders’ operations and contingency plans, said Jordan.

“This concept provides the combatant commander with an enormous amount of flexibility as we navigate a series complex environments,” Jordan said.

“We’re in the business of providing readiness,” he said. “Combat configured platforms are more ready, plain and simple.”

RELATED LINKS

References

  1. ^ View Original (www.army.mil)
  2. ^ View Original (www.army.mil)
  3. ^ View Original (www.army.mil)
  4. ^ View Original (www.army.mil)
  5. ^ View Original (www.army.mil)
  6. ^ View Original (www.army.mil)
  7. ^ View Original (www.army.mil)
  8. ^ View Original (www.army.mil)
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Amid Continued Criticism, Myanmar Still Spending Big on Military

YANGON — 

A reported deal for Myanmar to buy fighter jets from Russia is drawing criticism from some who say the country spends too much on the military and not enough on education and other priorities.

On January 22, the Russian news agency TASS reported that Myanmar is planning to buy six Su-30 fighter jets from Russia, in a deal that a Myanmar media report estimated at $200 million.

Myanmar government officials could not be reached for comment on the Tass report.

The deal was reached during Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Myanmar, according to the deputy defense minister Lieutenant General Alexander Fomin, who said the planes would “become the main fighter aircraft of Myanmar’s air force to protect the country’s territorial integrity and repel any terror threats.”

Fomin added that an estimated 600 Myanmar military personnel are studying in Russia’s higher military educational institutions.

On January 25, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters the move was part of Russia’s “continued efforts” to arm militaries that violate human rights.

“While the Russian Federation says it favors constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis in Burma, the reports of plans to sell advanced military technology, if true, show otherwise,” she said.

The crisis she was referring to was the Myanmar military’s crackdown in northern Rakhine State, which has seen almost 700,000 people, overwhelmingly Muslim Rohingya, flee over the border into Bangladesh.

Many have arrived with harrowing tales of mass rape, torture and extrajudicial killings at the hands of the Myanmar military, which is known as the Tatmadaw. Authorities in Yangon have largely denied the accusations.

But even though the military operation in Rakhine State has largely attracted support domestically, some residents inside the country have criticized the high expenditure on the jets.

“Why do they need to spend that much? It could be spent on more schools, or better healthcare,” Thura Aung, a computer programmer in Yangon, told VOA.

When the country was under direct military rule, the ruling junta would regularly prioritize spending on defense over issues such as health and education.

The budget

For the budget for the 2017-18 financial year, the first under the administration led by the National League for Democracy, Myanmar, also known as Burma, set aside $2.1 billion to be spent on the Ministry of Defense, the third highest government expenditure behind Planning and Finance and Electricity and Energy.

Although spending on defense dropped slightly from the previous year, it was still more than spending by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Sports combined.

It’s not clear if they were linked, but days after the Russian announcement, protests were held at universities in Myanmar, calling for an increase in the country’s education budget.

Of those who protested, almost 40 students have been expelled from their universities, Sai Khaing Myo Tun, president of the Myanmar Teachers Federation told VOA.

“They were expelled immediately after the demonstration. We believe this is not a good way to deal with this situation … because we think this would make students scared, and not allow them to demonstrate,” he said.

He said that while he did not agree with the students’ approach, in which they reportedly tried to enter university classrooms, he supported their calls for the government to spend more on education.

“The salaries for teachers are still very low. There are still a lot of requirements for the development of education across the country,” he said.

In October, Myanmar ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which obliges parties to work towards granting the rights of health and education to its citizens. The agreement went into force on January 6.

Sean Bain, a legal consultant for the International Commission of Jurists, said Myanmar signing the agreement meant it was obliged to protect people’s rights to health and education.

“A budget that prioritizes military expenditure to the detriment of health and education needs may be a violation of the state’s new international human rights law commitments,” Bain told VOA by email. “The next budget will be the first in which Myanmar’s government has to consider its new international law obligations to protect the right to health and education.”

Officials from the government and the NLD (National League for Democracy) could not be reached for comment on the size of government spending or the spending priorities of the Myanmar government.

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Amid Continued Criticism, Myanmar Still Spending Big on Military

YANGON — 

A reported deal for Myanmar to buy fighter jets from Russia is drawing criticism from some who say the country spends too much on the military and not enough on education and other priorities.

On January 22, the Russian news agency TASS reported that Myanmar is planning to buy six Su-30 fighter jets from Russia, in a deal that a Myanmar media report estimated at $200 million.

Myanmar government officials could not be reached for comment on the Tass report.

The deal was reached during Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Myanmar, according to the deputy defense minister Lieutenant General Alexander Fomin, who said the planes would “become the main fighter aircraft of Myanmar’s air force to protect the country’s territorial integrity and repel any terror threats.”

Fomin added that an estimated 600 Myanmar military personnel are studying in Russia’s higher military educational institutions.

On January 25, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters the move was part of Russia’s “continued efforts” to arm militaries that violate human rights.

“While the Russian Federation says it favors constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis in Burma, the reports of plans to sell advanced military technology, if true, show otherwise,” she said.

The crisis she was referring to was the Myanmar military’s crackdown in northern Rakhine State, which has seen almost 700,000 people, overwhelmingly Muslim Rohingya, flee over the border into Bangladesh.

Many have arrived with harrowing tales of mass rape, torture and extrajudicial killings at the hands of the Myanmar military, which is known as the Tatmadaw. Authorities in Yangon have largely denied the accusations.

But even though the military operation in Rakhine State has largely attracted support domestically, some residents inside the country have criticized the high expenditure on the jets.

“Why do they need to spend that much? It could be spent on more schools, or better healthcare,” Thura Aung, a computer programmer in Yangon, told VOA.

When the country was under direct military rule, the ruling junta would regularly prioritize spending on defense over issues such as health and education.

The budget

For the budget for the 2017-18 financial year, the first under the administration led by the National League for Democracy, Myanmar, also known as Burma, set aside $2.1 billion to be spent on the Ministry of Defense, the third highest government expenditure behind Planning and Finance and Electricity and Energy.

Although spending on defense dropped slightly from the previous year, it was still more than spending by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Sports combined.

It’s not clear if they were linked, but days after the Russian announcement, protests were held at universities in Myanmar, calling for an increase in the country’s education budget.

Of those who protested, almost 40 students have been expelled from their universities, Sai Khaing Myo Tun, president of the Myanmar Teachers Federation told VOA.

“They were expelled immediately after the demonstration. We believe this is not a good way to deal with this situation … because we think this would make students scared, and not allow them to demonstrate,” he said.

He said that while he did not agree with the students’ approach, in which they reportedly tried to enter university classrooms, he supported their calls for the government to spend more on education.

“The salaries for teachers are still very low. There are still a lot of requirements for the development of education across the country,” he said.

In October, Myanmar ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which obliges parties to work towards granting the rights of health and education to its citizens. The agreement went into force on January 6.

Sean Bain, a legal consultant for the International Commission of Jurists, said Myanmar signing the agreement meant it was obliged to protect people’s rights to health and education.

“A budget that prioritizes military expenditure to the detriment of health and education needs may be a violation of the state’s new international human rights law commitments,” Bain told VOA by email. “The next budget will be the first in which Myanmar’s government has to consider its new international law obligations to protect the right to health and education.”

Officials from the government and the NLD (National League for Democracy) could not be reached for comment on the size of government spending or the spending priorities of the Myanmar government.

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Afghanistan conflict: Deadly attack on Kabul military post

Militants have killed at least 11 soldiers in an attack on an army post in Kabul, the fourth major assault in a surge of violence in just over a week.

Sixteen other soldiers were injured in the raid near the main military academy in the west of the Afghan capital.

Four militants were killed, a defence ministry spokesman told the BBC. A fifth was arrested. Islamic State (IS) militants claimed the assault.

Taliban and IS attacks have soared this month, leaving scores dead.

On Saturday an ambulance packed with explosives killed more than 100 people in the Chicken Street shopping area[1]. The Taliban claimed the attack, the deadliest in months.

Marshal Fahim National Defense University is sometimes referred to as “Sandhurst in the Sand” as it is closely modelled on the British officer training academy.

It has been attacked before. In October 2017, 15 military cadets were killed in an explosion outside it[2] as they were leaving by minibus.

That attack was attributed to the Taliban.

How did Monday’s attack unfold?

Several explosions were heard, as well as small-arms fire, as the attack began at about 05:00 local time (00:30 GMT) at the military base in western Kabul.

Two attackers blew themselves up, two others were killed by security forces and a fifth was arrested, defence ministry spokesman Gen Dawlat Waiziri told the BBC.

Four AK-47 assault rifles, one suicide vest and one rocket-launcher were seized, he said.

The president’s spokesperson said none of the attackers had been able to get further than the first gate, Afghan news website Tolo reports.

The attack was carried out by IS, according to the militant group’s Amaq news outlet.

Afghan military institutions are frequently targeted by militants.

Militants change tactics

Secunder Kermani, BBC News, Kabul

Both the Taliban and IS seem now to be focusing their energies on carrying out attacks in Kabul. Government officials say it is a response to progress made by the security forces elsewhere in the country. US air strikes have helped push the Taliban back from some parts of Helmand Province for example.

However, it could also just be that the militants have decided attacking the capital is a more effective way of undermining confidence in the government and attracting international attention than trying to capture and retain territory in rural areas.

The chief of the Afghan intelligence services said on Sunday he believed the upsurge in attacks was a response to increased US pressure on Pakistan. The US and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of providing safe havens to militants and President Donald Trump recently suspended security aid to Islamabad. Pakistan has denied the claims.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that violence in Kabul is on the rise.

How bloody has the surge in attacks been?

Apart from the ambulance bomb and the attack on the academy, an aid agency and a hotel have been targeted in the past week.

  • • IS said it had carried out a suicide attack on the international charity Save the Children[3], in the city of Jalalabad last week. killing three members of staff and at least two others
  • On 20 January, another attack on a Kabul hotel killed 22 people[4] – mostly foreigners. Six militants stormed the hotel in suicide vests the attack continued for several hours until Afghan troops regained control of the building
  • In October, 176 people were killed in bomb attacks across Afghanistan in one week. The country’s security forces in particular have suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the Taliban, who want to re-impose their strict version of Islamic law in the country.
  • In May, 150 people were killed by a suicide bomb attack in Kabul. The Taliban denied any role, but the Afghan government says its affiliate, the Haqqani group, carried it out with support from Pakistan.

How strong are the militants?

The Taliban control large swathes of Afghanistan – but IS militants hold sway in a much smaller number of districts.

However, both groups have demonstrated their ability to hit targets across the country.

They have often come into conflict with each other, too.