Lloyds Banking Group Plc said Chief Executive Officer Antonio Horta-Osorio did not break its expenses policy while on a business trip after a British newspaper raised questions about whether the bank covered personal costs. The CEO of Britain s largest mortgage lender paid his own personal expenses while he was in Singapore for the International Monetary Conference two months ago, the London-based bank said in a statement Wednesday. Chairman Norman Blackwell ordered a probe Tuesday into Horta-Osorio s spending on the trip after the Sun newspaper s report, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
In this case there is no breach of our policy and the personal expenses are paid for by Antonio, the bank said in an e-mailed statement. Antonio remains committed to the group s strategy and to the bank. A spokeswoman for Lloyds declined to comment on the personal matters raised by the newspaper and said Horta-Osorio wasn t available for comment.
Horta-Osorio, 52, announced plans last month to eliminate 3,000 jobs and close 200 more branches as he warned Britain s vote to leave the European Union would hurt Lloyds s ability to grow dividend payments. The Portuguese ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker has been at the helm of the partially taxpayer-owned lender for five years.
Lloyds said the bank would meet legitimate business expenses incurred by staff and that personal expenses are met by employees themselves. It said in practice an individual executive will pay all expenses incurred, personal and business, and then reclaim the business expenses from the company.
The first images of what appear to be British special forces operating on the ground in Syria have emerged, showing vehicles patrolling near the scene of an attack by Islamic State. The pictures were taken in June and were first published by the BBC.
It is believed to be the first time British forces have been photographed operating inside Syria, where they are engaged in relatively small numbers in wide-ranging roles that include surveillance, advisory and combat. The images depict British special forces sitting on Thalab long-range patrol vehicles as they move around the perimeter of a rebel base close to the Syria-Iraq border.
The Thalab (Fox) vehicles are essentially modified, militarised and upgraded Toyota 4x4s used for long distance reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which were developed jointly in the middle of the last decade by a state-backed defence company in Jordan and the UK company Jankel. The vehicle, which has mounted weaponry and is often used for border patrols, has been primarily used by Jordanian special forces. Al-Tanf, where the vehicles were reportedly photographed, is a border crossing between Syria and Iraq that had been under Isis control, and is also not far from the Jordanian border. It is unclear how many Nato countries have deployed the modified trucks, though Belgium ordered a shipment of modified Fox vehicles earlier this year.
The images seem to show British forces securing the perimeter of the rebel base following an attack by Isis, according to the BBC. The soldiers can be seen carrying anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles and other heavy artillery.
The BBC reported the soldiers were working at the base in a defensive role and a spokesman for the New Syrian Army acknowledged that British special forces had provided training, weapons and other equipment. The Ministry of Defence, as is standard with special forces, declined to comment on the photographs. But an independent source confirmed they were UK special forces, which are operating against Isis in Syria, Iraq and Libya. They prefer to operate in secrecy, at least until sufficient time has passed for the publication of memoirs. But, with cameras commonplace and the forces they operate alongside not feeling bound to respect that secrecy, it is becoming increasingly more difficult.
The UK has about 300 conventional forces operating in Iraq mainly in and around Baghdad, restricted to training and advisory roles, operating from behind the relative safety of secure bases. Britain has also promised to provide between 800-1,200 troops to an Italian-led international force to support the Libyan government, though there is little sign of these being deployed. The special forces have a free-ranging role, operating in the border areas between the Isis stronghold of Raqqa in Syria and the towns and villages linking it to its northern Iraqi bastion, Mosul. The US special forces established a base in the Syrian desert between Raqqa and the Iraqi border aimed both at achieving this and in support of Syrian rebel forces trying to squeeze Raqqa. The UK parliament approved an air campaign against Isis in Syria but not ground troops. Special forces, though, have always been treated differently. The government mantra is that special forces can be deployed wherever there is judged to be a threat to the UK.
The convention is that special forces are never mentioned on the floor of the British parliament but they are subject to oversight through the parliamentary intelligence committee. Defence ministers argue that it is illogical to expect special forces engaged against Isis to stop at the Iraqi border, given that the terror group does not recognise any border between Iraq and Syria. The New Syrian Army was established with American backing in 2015 as a moderate rebel force to primarily fight against Isis in Deir ez-Zor province, which is almost entirely under the control of the militants.
The American training programmes for rebel forces have been widely seen as failures, primarily because few rebel fighters are willing to exclusively fight Isis while ignoring the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The US has had more success when it closely coordinated with fighters on the ground and backed them up with airstrikes, the modus operandi it has adopted with the mostly Kurdish fighters in northern Syria known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are on the verge of taking back the city of Manbij in northern Aleppo from Islamic State, and have conquered vast tracts of land over the past few months. The US also has special forces troops operating on the ground with the Kurds. The New Syrian Army has had a halting and uninspiring track record. Their most significant operation occurred in June this year, when the group launched an attack on Al-Bukamal, a town on the Iraqi border that has long been a crossing point for foreign jihadis during the American occupation, and which is now held by Isis. The attack failed, apparently due to the lack of sufficient air power backing by its western allies.
One report in the Washington Post suggested American warplanes that were supposed to assist in the battle had to be diverted to Falluja, where they bombed a convoy of Isis vehicles fleeing the city.
- ^ Islamic State (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ published by the BBC (www.bbc.com)
- ^ Battles rage across Aleppo as Assad regime fights to quell rebels (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Syria (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ August 8, 2016 (twitter.com)
- ^ https://t.co/WwxbBi6bAT (t.co)
- ^ Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com)
A man walks through debris on the street the day after a truck ran into a crowd at high speed killing scores celebrating the Bastille Day July 14 national holiday on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, July 15, 2016.
In some ways, the most worrying thing about 2016 is that there are still more than five months of it left. Given just how much bad news has been packed into the year so far, the question has to be asked what else could go wrong?
The answer, of course, is a lot.
It may well be that the mass casualty assaults in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Munich and Orlando as well as a smattering of smaller attacks in France and Germany in particular are only the beginning. Not all are necessarily linked to Islamist militant groups, but in each case they are raising the temperature of local domestic politics in a distinctly dangerous way.
In the Middle East, Islamic State is unquestionably losing ground in Iraq and Syria, but that may not make the group any less likely to strike out. This weekend s bombing in Kabul as well as other similar incidents in Iraq and elsewhere act as a savage reminder that the level of terror attacks in the West remains incredibly low in comparison.
Nor are these the only or necessarily even the greatest dangers. Tensions with both Russia and China could well ratchet higher. The European Union remains in turmoil it s not just Brexit; the euro zone crisis remains entirely unresolved.
The number of countries suffering some kind of internal political crisis is also alarmingly high. After its attempted coup on July 15, Turkey appears more unstable than at any time in recent history which is awkward, as it is something of a linchpin to Western policy on a variety of fronts. Russia must deal with a falling oil price, China with potentially flagging growth. Many Western countries, including the United States, UK, France and Germany are socially divided on a scale not seen in decades if not generations.
And, of course, it s still far from impossible that the United States will elect Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to the White House in November.
On balance, of course, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton remains the favorite although polls from the Republican convention last week suggest her lead might be slipping. Attacks like those in Brussels and Orlando have tended to help Trump. So, quite possibly, might a string of recent attacks on U.S. police officers although the widespread outrage over killings of often unarmed African-Americans may also boost turnout for the Democrats.
It s hard to escape the conclusion that the worse the rest of the world looks, the more it likely plays into Trump s narrative even though it s equally difficult to conclude he would be anything other than disastrous at handling those crises.
In almost every country, there are some deeply disturbing political trends. Even without deliberately coordinated attacks by militants like IS, there seems to be a worrying tendency for more erratic individuals to become politically radicalized and conduct sometimes devastating attacks a common thread that looks to run from the Nice attack through many of the mass shootings in the United States to the apparently politically motivated killing of British parliamentarian Jo Cox in June.
These political divisions are getting more dangerous in part because the center ground in many countries has been drastically eroded. In the British EU referendum, one of the things that was both striking and disappointing was that neither side seemed willing to acknowledge that the other might have a point. That s true in many other places as well, from the United States to Turkey.
When the center ground vanishes, there s inevitably a tendency for those on all sides to be pushed more towards extremes and absolutes. Even when that doesn t lead to violence, it makes consensus and decision-making that much more difficult. (That s even true within established political parties, as evidenced by infighting within both the Republicans and Democrats as well as overseas in entities such as the UK Labour Party.)
In short, it s entirely possible the rest of the year will continue along similar lines to the first half, with periodic unpleasant and often violent events even if only carried out by one or a handful of people continuing to raise the political temperature in a variety of locations. Even without that, political crises will continue and with that bring a rising risk of unorthodox and sometimes very unpleasant political outcomes. Brexit is a clear example of this, a Trump victory could yet be another. And, of course, we have elections in both France and Germany next year.
Both countries have seen the rise of the far right, with Germany s Alternative for Deutschland party winning a share of the vote unthinkable since the Nazis.
Summer seasons often also throw up their own unexpected dramas, both conflict-related and financial. Russia could yet decide to make another land grab against its neighbors, perhaps non-NATO Ukraine and Georgia or even the Baltic states. We don t yet know how China will react to this month s international court decision pushing back against its territorial claims. At worst, such conflicts could yield nuclear war.
We could also yet see another Lehman Brothers 2008-style market crisis, perhaps triggered by an incident in the euro zone or the UK finally biting the bullet on invoking Article 50 to quit the EU (although this now looks more likely to be put off until next year). The collapse of the euro still entirely possible if a country like Italy leaves could be even worse.
Despite all that, however, it s worth noting that on some fronts things are not getting worse. Migrant arrivals in the European Union have dropped significantly from last year, giving European governments a much-needed respite even as they struggle with the militant threat. The market turmoil from the UK referendum has yet been less than many feared. And while political parties may continue to polarize and divide, opinion polls generally show that voters in the West and the United States in particular are hungry for a much less partisan, more consensual approach.
In many ways, the years to come could be among the most dangerous in recent human history, particularly with the risk of both outright collapse and great power conflict higher than they ve ever been. Many of the drivers that had been seen delivering greater stability globalization, international consensus, a move to the political center in many countries are now under threat or have unraveled completely.
Things will hopefully be okay. But it looks likely to be one hell of a ride, with some more distinctly unpleasant as well as deeply, deeply uncertain days to come.
(Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist, writing on international affairs, globalization, conflict and other issues. He is founder and executive director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century; PS21, a non-national, non-partisan, non-ideological think tank in London, New York and Washington. Before that, he spent 12 years as a reporter for Reuters covering defense, political risk and emerging markets. Since 2016, he has been a member of the British Army Reserve and the UK Labour Party. Follow Peter Apps on Twitter @pete_apps)