Thousands of Thais seek shelter as first tropical storm in decades nears coast

Locals clear out supplies from the coastline in preparation to the approaching Tropical Storm Pabuk on Friday, January 4. (AP)
Updated 04 January 2019
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Thousands of Thais seek shelter as first tropical storm in decades nears coast

  • The winds accompanying tropical storm Pabuk churned up high waves and gusts in the Gulf of Thailand
  • Weather officials warned of torrential downpours and strong winds in 15 provinces in the Thai south

BANGKOK: Thailand’s first tropical storm in three decades, packing winds of up to 80 kph (50 mph), is expected to make landfall on Friday evening, sending thousands of people flocking to shelter inland and shutting down two major airports.
The winds accompanying tropical storm Pabuk churned up high waves and gusts in the Gulf of Thailand, ahead of its arrival in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Weather officials warned of torrential downpours and strong winds in 15 provinces in the Thai south, home to one of the world’s largest natural rubber plantations and several islands thronged by tourists.
“The strong winds are forecast with waves up to 3 to 5 meters high in the Gulf and 2 to 3 meters high in the Andaman Sea. All ships (should) keep ashore,” the Thai Meteorological Department said in a statement early on Friday.
The conditions would persist into Saturday, it added.
Over the past few days, 6,176 people have been evacuated to shelters from Nakhon Si Thammarat as well as the provinces of Pattani, Songkhla and Yala, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation has said.
The Nakhon Si Thammarat airport announced it had closed, and low-cost Nok Airlines Pcl said it had canceled all eight flights to and from the province.
The Surat Thani airport will also close from Friday afternoon to Saturday, canceling flights by Nok Airlines, Lion Air, and Thai Smile, a subsidiary of national carrier Thai Airways.
Earlier, Bangkok Airways Pcl also announced it had canceled all flights to and from the holiday destination of Koh Samui, where ferry services have also been suspended.
National energy company PTT Exploration and Production said it had suspended operations at Bongkot and Erawan, two of the country’s biggest gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand.


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
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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.