Austin hopes F-16 fight jet training for Ukrainian pilots will begin in coming weeks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday he hopes that training for Ukrainian pilots on American-made F-16 fighter jets will begin in the coming weeks, bolstering Ukraine in the long run but not necessarily as part of an anticipated spring counteroffensive against Russia.
Austin spoke as defense leaders from around the world assembled for a virtual meeting to discuss the ongoing military support for Ukraine. They were expected talk about which countries will provide F-16s, and how and where the pilot training will be done.
The officials will also get an update on the war effort from Ukrainian leaders, including preparation for that anticipated counteroffensive and how the allies, who have faced their own stockpile pressures, can continue to support Kyiv’s fight against Russia.
“We’re going to have to dig deeper, and we’re going to have to continue to look for creative ways to boost our industrial capability,” Austin said before the military leaders began their closed session. “The stakes are high. But the cause is just and our will is strong.”
European countries have said they are talking about which countries may have some of the F-16s available. The United States had long balked at providing the advanced aircraft to Ukraine, and only last weekend did President Joe Biden agree to allow other nations to send their own U.S.-made jets to Kyiv.
“We hope this training will begin in the coming weeks,” Austin said. “This will further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force in the long term. And it will complement our short-term and medium-term security agreements. This new joint effort sends a powerful message about our unity and our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”
The leaders will also likely discuss Ukraine’s other continuing military needs, including air defense systems and munitions, artillery and other ammunition.
It was not immediately clear whether they will make any firm decisions on the F-16 issue, but initial steps have begun.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Tuesday that training for Ukrainian pilots had begun in Poland and some other countries, though Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said training was still in the planning phase. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for training.
“We can continue and also finalize the plans that we’re making with Denmark and other allies to start these these trainings. And of course, that is the first step that you have to take,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said, adding that initial discussions about who may have F-16s available to send is underway.
Ukraine has long sought the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year.
The Biden administration’s decision was a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year because of worries that doing so could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also had argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said this week that the U.S. decision on the F-16 was part of a broader long-term commitment to meet Ukraine’s future military needs. He said the jets would not be relevant in any counteroffensive expected to begin shortly.
Court of Appeal overturns ruling directing Ottawa to help repatriate men in Syria
OTTAWA — The Federal Court of Appeal has overturned a judge’s declaration that four Canadian men being held in Syria are entitled to Ottawa’s help to return home.
In a ruling released Wednesday, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal said the federal government is not obligated under the law to repatriate the men.
The Canadians are among the many foreign nationals in Syrian camps and jails run by Kurdish forces that reclaimed the strife-torn region from the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The latest ruling sets aside a January decision by Federal Court Justice Henry Brown, who directed Ottawa to request repatriation of the men from the squalid conditions as soon as reasonably possible and provide them with passports or emergency travel documents.
Brown said the men were also entitled to have a representative of the federal government travel to Syria to help facilitate their release once their captors agree to hand them over.
The men include Jack Letts, whose parents John Letts and Sally Lane have waged a campaign to pressure Ottawa to come to his aid.
“The Federal Court of Appeal made a clear choice to perpetuate the arbitrary detention and torture of my son and the other Canadian detainees,” Lane said Wednesday.
“The decision is nothing but victim-blaming and narrow legalese that stands in utter contempt of human rights law and fails to rise to the challenge of the moment. From the very start, Canada has held the key to their release, and it refuses to unlock the prison doors that the Kurds are willing to hold open for them.”
The identities and circumstances of the three other Canadian men are not publicly known.
The federal government had argued that Brown mistakenly conflated the recognized Charter right of citizens to enter Canada with a right to return — effectively creating a new right for citizens to be brought home by the Canadian government.
The Federal Court of Appeal agreed, saying the judge’s interpretation “requires the Government of Canada to take positive, even risky action, including action abroad,” to facilitate the men’s right to enter Canada.
“Such a right would have potentially limitless scope. It would cover cases ranging from the repatriation of someone detained abroad for whatever reason, including the alleged violation of foreign law in a foreign land, to the payment of ransom to foreigners holding a Canadian citizen hostage.”
The Court of Appeal stressed that Canadian state conduct did not lead to the men being in northeastern Syria, prevent them from entering Canada, or cause or continue their plight. “The respondents’ own conduct and persons abroad who have control over them alone are responsible.”
The appeal judges said while the government is not constitutionally or otherwise legally obligated to repatriate the men, their ruling “should not be taken to discourage the Government of Canada from making efforts on its own to bring about that result.”
Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, who represents the three men other than Letts, said Wednesday their families were “disappointed with the result.”
He said they are “seriously looking at appealing” by way of an application for a hearing in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Amid the legal proceedings, Greenspon reached an agreement with the federal government earlier this year to bring home six Canadian women and 13 children who had been part of the court action.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
EU welcomes F-16 jet decision for Ukraine; pilots already being trained
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting with EU defense ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday May 23, 2023. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday that the U.S. green light to allow Ukrainian pilots get training to fly F-16s has created an inexorable momentum that will inevitably bring the fighter jets to the Ukrainian battlefield. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
By Raf Casert in Brussels
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Tuesday that the U.S. green light to allow Ukrainian pilots to get training to fly F-16s has created an inexorable momentum that will inevitably bring the fighter jets to the Ukrainian battlefield.
“You know, it’s always the same thing: we discuss, at the beginning everybody is reluctant,” said Josep Borrell, giving the example of the long debate and initial opposition to the dispatch of advanced Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.
“And at the end — with the Leopards, with the F-16 at the end — the decision comes to provide this military support because it is absolutely needed.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the training decision was the exact thrust necessary toward making the jets available to Ukraine.
“Announcing clearly that they will start training — this is an important step that partly will enable us to deliver fighter jets at some stage,” Stoltenberg said before meeting with EU defense ministers. He said it also proved that the West wouldn’t stand down in the face of Russia, saying such a decision “is sending a very clear signal that we are there for the long term and that Russia can not wait us out.”
Borrell added that training for Ukrainian pilots had already begun in Poland and some other countries, though authorities in Warsaw couldn’t immediately confirm the news. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for such training.
No decision on actually delivering fourth-generation fighter jets has been taken yet, but training pilots now — a process that takes several months — will help speed up battle readiness once a formal decision is made.
“We can continue and also finalize the plans that we’re making with Denmark and other allies to start these these trainings. And of course, that is the first step that you have to take,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said.
“We will continue discussing with our allies and with countries that might have F-16s available about that next step. But that’s not on the table right now,” Ollongren said.
Ukraine has long begged for the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year. And this new plan opens the door for several nations to supply the aircraft and for the U.S. to help train the pilots.
With the decision, the Biden administration has made a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year because of worries that it could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also have argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.
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