Army ponders changes after insider attack in Afghanistan

Police and firemen work at the site of a deadly suicide attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (File Photo: AP)
Updated 14 July 2018
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Army ponders changes after insider attack in Afghanistan

  • According to officials, the attacker fired on the soldiers at the airfield on the base at Tarin Kowt, in southern Uruzgan Province, a hotbed of Taliban activity
  • In a message to the media last Saturday, Taliban spokesman Qari Yosuf Ahmadi said the shooting was carried out by a member of the Afghan security forces who acted alone, but the militant group “appreciated” his attack

WASHINGTON: It’s too early to tell if training or other changes must be made in light of an insider attack in Afghanistan that killed one American soldier and wounded two others, because there’s some uncertainty about whether the assailant was a disgruntled Afghan soldier or an insurgent infiltrator, the Army’s top officer says.
Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, said Friday that the three soldiers who were shot last weekend were protecting members of the new US advisory brigade that deployed to Afghanistan for the first time just five months ago. He said the Army is moving ahead with plans to create more of the training brigades and use them primarily in Afghanistan, although other locations could be considered in the future.
According to officials, the attacker fired on the soldiers at the airfield on the base at Tarin Kowt, in southern Uruzgan Province, a hotbed of Taliban activity. He was taken into custody on the day of the attack, July 7.
It was the first death involving the advisory brigade, and the first insider attack in about a year. Cpl. Joseph Maciel of South Gate, California, was shot by small arms fire and killed. The other two soldiers are in stable condition.
In a message to the media last Saturday, Taliban spokesman Qari Yosuf Ahmadi said the shooting was carried out by a member of the Afghan security forces who acted alone, but the militant group “appreciated” his attack.
The military, said Milley, is still trying to determine if the shooter was from the Taliban or another insurgency or just an angry Afghan soldier. Either way, he said, it doesn’t change the mission of the new advisory teams, working closely with their Afghan partners. Those jobs carry risk.
“Those guys are out there, and they’re in exposed positons and it is a high-risk situation,” Milley said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “So casualties are going to occur.”
That’s a reminder of the challenges facing US forces in Afghanistan in the 17th year of America’s military involvement there. The Trump administration is trying to boost the capabilities of Afghan security forces and increase military pressure on the Taliban in the hope of forcing them to negotiate a peace.
During a surge in the US military presence in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, when American forces had a greater combat role, there were dozens of so-called insider attacks.
Despite additional precautionary steps since then, the threat has continued. Last June, there were two insider attacks — in which a soldier in an Afghan uniform turns his weapon on US or other coalition troops — within a two-week period, killing three US soldiers and wounding another seven.
Speaking to reporters last month, Col. Scott Jackson, commander of the new Security Force Assistance Brigade, acknowledged the possible threat of a friendly fire attack.
“I will tell you honestly, we have had our Afghan partners come to us with intelligence that pre-empted potential attacks, and they have been proactively taking care of their own problems,” Jackson said during a June 13 briefing.
Jackson said that when the assistance brigade arrived in Afghanistan, they began vetting the higher-level Afghan forces and steadily worked their way down to the smaller units. That vetting, said Jackson, goes on continually as soldiers rotate in and out of the units, and has not delayed operations.
Just six months ago, Jackson was at Fort Benning, Georgia, pulling together the new training brigade, working to make real the vision of senior Army leaders.
The idea was formed early last year, as officials recognized the need for permanent military training teams that could be deployed worldwide to help local forces learn how to fight better. The plan was a reflection of the new reality of America at war: Army soldiers advising and building indigenous security forces, not doing the fighting for them on foreign soil.
Under the plan, the Army will build six brigades over the next several years. And Milley said Friday that the second brigade is currently doing pre-mission training to replace Jackson’s unit when it’s time for them to come home.


Bangladesh to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees despite HRW warning

Rohingya refugees at a market at the Hakimpara refugee camp on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 14 min 11 sec ago
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Bangladesh to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees despite HRW warning

  • I think the government may consider the relocation of the refugees after the general election: Bangladeshi relief management secretary

DHAKA: The Bangladesh government claims to have completed all necessary preparations to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to the newly formed Bhashan Char (floating island) in the Bay of Bengal.

The government has rendered a deaf ear to concerns raised by climate change experts, human rights activists and the refugee community itself about the idea of relocation to the floating island who call the desolate place “uninhabitable.”

Shah Kamal, disaster and relief management secretary of the Bangladesh government, said the government has completed “90 percent of preparations in this regard.” 

He told Arab News that the Bangladesh navy is assisting in construction units for Rohingya refugees and building a dam to protect the island from high tides and cyclones. 

“Our government has built 120 cyclone centers and 141 sheds to ensure comfortable living for Rohingya. Here, the inhabitants will enjoy proper sanitation and bathroom facilities as well,” Kamal said. 

“Each of the sheds will accommodate 16 families and the refugees here will get the opportunities for livelihood through cattle rearing, vegetable cultivation and other income-generating chores,” he added. 

However, although the preparations are almost over, Kamal could not confirm the exact date when the authorities will start the relocation process. 

“I think the government may consider the relocation of the refugees after the general election which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 30,” he said. 

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly opposed the relocation idea. In its recent 68-page report, the HRW warned that the floating island is still “uninhabitable” and “formed only in the last 20 years by silt from Bangladesh’s Meghna River.” 

The island can be “completely submerged during an event of high tide” which will endanger the lives of the people on the island, the report said.

Security concerns

According to HRW, the island is completely separated from the mainland by about 30 kilometers, which would “essentially turn the island into a detention center.” 

Responding to the HRW report, Kamal said: “We have taken all safety measures and addressed all the relevant security concerns.” 

The Rohingya refugees who are proposed for relocation to the island have also strongly rejected the idea.

Abdul Awal, 35, a refugee living in Kutupalang camp, told Arab News: “This relocation to the island will restrict all our movement and eventually it will be a sort of isolation from the mainland. I don’t think any of my fellow refugees will comply with this idea.”

Mohammad Akkas, 42, another refugee of the Jamtoli camp, said: “I have heard about the relocation. However, it’s not clear to me what will happen during the devastating cyclones and medical emergencies. Is it practical to travel 30 kilometers through the rough sea during any emergency situation?“

Climate experts and human rights activists in the country also echoed the voice of the HRW, which opposed the idea of relocation now. 

Dr. Shahidul Islam, a renowned climate change expert from Bangladesh, termed the island as “the most vulnerable place for human beings.”

 “This area is highly prone to high tide and cyclone. During any high tide, the island may be completely submerged under water,” said Islam, a professor at Dhaka University.

 He believes that this relocation will cause “serious ecological” repercussions and create “ocean pollution” in the Bay of Bengal.

 “It may also increase the risk of international human trafficking since the area is isolated from the mainland and accessible to the traffickers through water,” Islam said.

“Already, in Cox’s Bazar, huge environmental damage has been caused by the Rohingyas. Now, if they are relocated to the newly built Bhashan Char, it will also create irreparable loss to the ecology and environment of the island,” Islam said. 

Nur Khan, an eminent human rights activist, said the relocation would “isolate the refugees from the mainland and will make them vulnerable to natural disasters.” 

“However, if it is inevitable that the refugees will be relocated to the island, the government can make it free for all the concerned stakeholders so they all can experience the reality on ground and make suggestions on the relocation idea,” Khan pointed out.

“Considering the present circumstances, I can’t support the refugees’ relocation at this moment,” especially since the HRW has also identified six other feasible relocation sites in its report, said Khan.