November's top stories: US extends Afghanistan mission, UK counter-terrorism bill

US President Barack Obama authorised American soldiers to continue combat operations in Afghanistan through to 2015, PAX said major banks were investing billions in firms that produce cluster munitions, and the UK Home Office presented a new bill to counter terrorism. Army-technology.com wraps up the key headlines from November.


Soldiers

President Obama extends US combat mission in Afghanistan through to 2015

US President Barack Obama reportedly authorised American soldiers to continue combat operations in Afghanistan through to 2015.

The move expands on earlier plans that limited US soldiers to counter-terrorism strikes against al-Qaeda after this year, by giving them a wider role to fight against the Taliban alongside the Afghan Army, The New York Post reported.

Devised as part of Nato's Operation Resolute Support in May, the plan had permitted a small contingent of 1,800 US troops for counter-terrorism operations against remnants of al-Qaeda.

Major banks investing billions in firms that produce cluster munitions, says PAX

Cluster

A total of 151 global financial institutions, including investment, insurance and asset management companies, have provided loans and financial services to firms that produce cluster munitions, a report from PAX claimed.

Entitled 'Worldwide Investments in Cluster Munitions: a shared responsibility', the report alleges that the companies provided $27bn to companies involved in cluster munition production between 2011 and 2014.

PAX, a Netherlands-based peace and security group, said the loans from financial institutions to cluster munitions manufacturers have reportedly increased from $2.3bn in 2013 to $4.5bn this year.

UK Home Office presents new bill to counter terrorism

The UK Home Office unveiled a new bill that will give the country tougher powers to combat the increasing threat from international terrorism.

Presented by the UK Home Secretary Theresa May, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is intended to allow the UK to stop citizens from travelling abroad to fight, reduce the risks they pose on their return and tackle the underlying ideology that feeds, supports and sanctions terrorism.

May said: "These powers are essential to keep up with the very serious and rapidly changing threats we face."

Chuck Hagel steps down as US Defense Secretary

Chuck Hagel

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned from his post after serving for less than two years at the Pentagon.

US President Barack Obama's third Pentagon chief and a former Republican senator, Hagel was appointed in February 2013.

He replaced Leon Panetta in Obama's second term.

Obama said: "When I asked Chuck to serve as secretary of defence, we were entering a significant period of transition."

Azerbaijan bans flights over Nagorno-Karabakh after Armenian Mi-24 shot down

Azerbaijan declared a no-fly zone throughout the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), a breakaway Azerbaijani region predominantly controlled by ethnic Armenians.

The move came after the Azerbaijani Armed Forces shot down an Armenian military Russian-built Mi-24 helicopter gunship in the region.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement: "Azerbaijan announces that the airspace above the occupied territories is closed for flights and, in line with the established procedures, has informed all the members of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of this."

Nato confirms Russian military incursion into eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russia rebels

Russian combat soldiers, along with heavy military equipment, entered separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine, a senior Nato official said.

Speaking at a news conference in Bulgaria, Nato Allied Command Operations Supreme Allied Commander Europe US Air Force general Philip Breedlove said: "We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops, entering into Ukraine.

"We do not have a good picture at this time of how many. We agree that there are multiple columns that we have seen," Breedlove added, noting that their goal may be to consolidate the separatist enclaves.

Australian Special Forces cleared to start advisory mission in Iraq

An Australian Special Forces group secured permission from the Iraqi Government to advise and assist its security forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.

Deployed to the Middle East in September, the 200-strong group has been stationed in the UAE, awaiting clearance from the government to begin its mission in Iraq.

Speaking during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in China, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: "Our priority at the moment is getting our Special Forces into Baghdad and then into the field on the advice and assist mission that we have set them."

US Army to deactivate Iron Brigade in South Korea in 2015

US soldiers

The US Army is set to deactivate the 2nd Infantry Division's 1st Armoured Brigade Combat Team after nearly 50 years of service in South Korea, in June 2015.

Approved by the US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the disbandment forms part of the Army Force Generation rotational plan to increase theatre readiness and manoeuvre capabilities on the Korean peninsula and worldwide.

A new rotational brigade combat team comprising nearly 4,600 soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, is scheduled to arrive in South Korea to replace the deactivating brigade.

France and Saudi Arabia sign $3bn weapons deal to arm Lebanese Army

France and Saudi Arabia signed a $3bn agreement to provide weapon systems to the Lebanese Army.

The deal, which is the largest aid offered in Lebanon's history, was first announced in December and comes at a time when the Lebanese Army is battling jihadists in the north and at its border with Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement: "I welcome the signing of the contract to assist the Lebanese Army."

HRW claims new landmine use at Tripoli International Airport

Anti-personnel landmines

Human Rights Watch (HRW) found credible evidence that indicates the use of anti-personnel landmines during the recent armed conflict involving the Zintan alliance and the Libya Dawn alliance at Tripoli International Airport, Libya.

The US-based watchdog claims that the landmines were used by one or more militia groups between July and August, but failed to reveal the name of the organisation.

Human Rights Watch arms director and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines chair Steve Goose said: "The use of anti-personnel landmines by any party anywhere is unacceptable."