Afghanistan’s Kam Air struggles to stay afloat after deadly Kabul attack

An Afghan security force personnel keeps watch close to the entrance gate of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan. January 21, 2018.(REUTERS)
Updated 01 February 2018
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Afghanistan’s Kam Air struggles to stay afloat after deadly Kabul attack

KABUL: Capt. Samad Osman Samadi, director general and pilot of Afghanistan’s Kam Air, could clearly hear on the phone the repeated firing and explosions punctuated by the yelling of his colleagues who begged him for help when the assailants stormed Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel on Jan. 20.
He was up all night at a home nearby, talking by phone either with police outside the hotel or 35 of Kam Air’s foreign staff members who were caught up among scores of others in the attack.
Samadi thought the failure of any of the 35 men and women to answer the group’s exchange of message created on Viber meant they must have been killed in the assault, which clearly was targeting foreigners.
“I was in touch with them to find out where they were, to give them confidence and morale and give the information of their room numbers to the police to see if they could be rescued,” he told Arab News.
The next day, after more than 16 hours of gunbattle, nine staff members of Kam Air — seven Ukrainians and two Venezuelans — were among the 14 foreigners who lost their lives in addition to more than 30 Afghans.
One Kam Air employee was shot while dining. Another female employee hid on her room’s balcony. She could not bear the freezing cold weather in the open and returned to her room where she died in an exchange of gunfire.
The attack was the deadliest targeting foreigners in Afghanistan since Taliban’s ousting in 2001.
Exhausted and in shock, the first thing that 26 of Kam Air’s foreign staff who survived the attack did was leave the country.
The attack and the departure of the airline’s foreign staff left five of the company’s nine planes grounded and led to the cancelation of many of its local international flights.
Samadi, who is British of Afghan descent, recalls the moment of his encounter with the survivors.
“Everybody was in shock. They were not able to work and do not know when they will be OK and will come back,” he said.
Samadi, who has been flying for 26 years, knew many of the victims well and was in regular contact with them.
The incident haunts him. “It is not easy to forget. It is really devastating.”
In a country where the roads are usually not safe because of militants’ attacks and banditry, flying is the safest and quickest option.
The company, which covers 90 percent of local flights and was usually chartered by the country’s president and other Afghan leaders for domestic and foreign flights, is struggling with a large number of flight cancelations.
Only two other expatriate staff of the airline, who were out of the country at the time of the attack, have returned to help bring the operation of the carrier back to normal because there is a shortage of professional aviation staff in Afghanistan, he said.
“No doubt Kam Air was affected adversely. We canceled many flights because of shortages of pilots, engineers and cabin crew and of course it will take time to come back to normalcy,” he said.
Foreign and local flights have suffered deadly accidents, and sometimes even direct attacks in the past in Afghanistan, but the assault on the hotel was the most devastating event for the aviation business in the country’s history.
With Afghanistan’s future uncertain after decades of conflict and after the recent terror attack, Samadi’s family in England have urged him to leave Afghanistan, but he has not yet made up his mind.
“We are used to this war and abnormal occurrences,” he said.


Russia’s Port of Vladivostok prepares to host Kim Jong Un

Updated 36 min 42 sec ago
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Russia’s Port of Vladivostok prepares to host Kim Jong Un

  • Russian media were quick to report preparations were underway for the summit to take place in Vladivostok
  • Proximity is no doubt important for Kim, who is rumored to travel aboard his armored train

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected in Russia’s far-eastern port Vladivostok in the coming days, according to reports that have prompted excitement and concern among local residents.
After weeks of speculation, the Kremlin announced that Kim will visit Russia to hold his first talks with President Vladimir Putin in late April. It gave no details on a date or place, citing “security reasons.”
Russian media were quick to report preparations were underway for the summit to take place in Vladivostok, home to Moscow’s Pacific Fleet.
The port lies only about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Russia’s short border with North Korea. This proximity is no doubt important for Kim, who is rumored to travel aboard his armored train.
The 35-year-old will be following in the footsteps of his father Kim Jong Il, who met the newly elected Putin in Vladivostok in 2002.
The far eastern city rarely sees major international events, and some locals are happy for the city to be in the spotlight.
“Any visit is good, whether it’s an enemy or a friend,” said Danil, a student at Vladivostok’s Far Eastern Federal University, billed by the media as a possible venue for the summit.
He welcomed the talks, saying “you can only make decisions through dialogue and communication.”
Nadezhda, a native of the city, said it will be a global event and “will be a boost for development in our city.”
Authorities this week were busy cleaning garbage near railways leading to the city, Russian media reported.
“The depressing view from the train window does not give a positive impression to guests of Vladivostok arriving by train,” an official from the local branch of Russian Railways told the Interfax news agency.
Nadezhda said she was “absolutely not afraid of (North Korea’s) nuclear program” and would like to see the country.
North Korea said this week it was testing nuclear weapons after a round of talks with the US ended in failure.
But Anna Marinina was less enthusiastic about the summit, and said that if Pyongyang did use its weapons, Vladivostok would be in the firing line.
“The people that panic the most about North Korea are safe on the other side of the ocean,” she said.
“If something were to happen, it would fall on us.”
Putin has long said he was ready to meet with Kim and is preparing to play a bigger role in nuclear negotiations with Moscow’s Cold War-era ally.
The last meeting between Russian and North Korean heads of state was in 2011, when Kim’s father traveled by train to Siberia, where he took a boat ride on Lake Baikal and held tightly guarded talks with then president Dmitry Medvedev.
There is a chance however that fresh talks will not take place at all, as Kim pulled out of 2015 celebrations in Moscow for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II at the last minute.