’Youngest and brightest’ lost in Pacific ferry disaster

This undated handout photo released by Maritime New Zealand and received on January 31, 2018 shows boys jumping off the deck of the ferry MV Butiraoi, a 17.5-metre (57.4-foot) wooden catamaran, at an unknown location. (AFP)
Updated 01 February 2018

’Youngest and brightest’ lost in Pacific ferry disaster

WELLINGTON: Many children and teenagers are among those missing after a ferry sank in the remote Pacific, official figures have revealed, with victims described as their region’s “youngest and brightest.”
Radio Kiribati reported late Wednesday that a council survey of Nonouti island, where the ferry departed on January 18, showed there were 88 people aboard.
It said they included 10 children of primary age and 13 high school students.
The youngsters are believed to have been traveling to the Kiribati capital South Tarawa for the start of a new school term.
Only seven people, including a 14-year-old girl, have been found alive so far and hopes are fading of locating any more.
Four aircraft, from the United States, Australia and New Zealand, are combing vast swathes of ocean looking for survivors, along with six boats.
Kiribati President Taneti Maamau told public radio Wednesday that the sinking was a “tragic moment” for the tiny island nation but the search for survivors would continue.
“There are objects that have been spotted like wooden pieces and a gas cylinder and a few other things, but sadly there are still no signs of people spotted yet,” he said.
Former president Anote Tong said Nonouti had lost its “youngest and brightest” and the whole of Kiribati was in shock.
“This is by far the biggest disaster in terms of numbers and also in terms of the people involved,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Tong said there were questions about why it took authorities more than a week to raise the alarm after the ferry, MV Butiraoi, set off on a passage that was only supposed to last two days.
The seven survivors were found drifting in a dinghy on Sunday and the search is now concentrating on finding a life raft that was launched from the sinking ferry.

Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2019

Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.