US coalition suspends Iraq training over coronavirus

Britain is withdrawing some of its troops from a global training mission in Iraq because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 19 March 2020

US coalition suspends Iraq training over coronavirus

  • The official said Iraqi forces had stopped training because they were avoiding large gatherings to prevent infection
  • Britain also said it was withdrawing some of its troops from a global training mission in Iraq because of the coronavirus outbreak

BAGHDAD: US-led coalition fighting Islamic State has suspended training of Iraqi forces over coronavirus fears, a senior coalition military official said on Thursday.
The move coincides with a drawdown announced this week of coalition troops in Iraq, as Iranian-backed militias step up rocket attacks on bases hosting foreign forces. Two US military personnel and a British soldier were killed in an incident this month.
Coalition officials say the reduction of troops and relocation of units into fewer Iraqi bases is because Iraqi forces are mostly capable of containing the threat from remaining Daesh militants on their own.
The US-led coalition has supported the Iraqi military since 2014 in the fight against Daesh.
Since the Sunni Muslim extremist group’s defeat in Iraq in 2017, US-Iranian tension has put the coalition increasingly in the crosshairs of Shiite militia groups backed by Tehran.
The coalition suspended training in January when militia rocket attacks increased and the United States killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraq’s top paramilitary leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad.
Training was set to resume in full but coronavirus fears have halted it again, said the coalition military official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
The official said Iraqi forces had stopped training because they were avoiding large gatherings to prevent infection and that was affecting what US forces were doing as part of their mission.
Coalition training “isn’t happening because of the health risks associated with it,” the official said, adding that some coalition trainers had left Iraq. He said it was not clear when training would resume.
Iraq has recorded 177 cases of the disease including 12 deaths, the health ministry says.
The US-led coalition withdrew from a base at Al-Qaim on the border with Syria this week, saying in a statement it would relocate personnel and equipment from several Iraqi bases this year, without elaborating.
“We’re going to focus ... on supporting the Iraqi security forces in their efforts against Daesh from fewer bases and with fewer people,” the official said.
The coalition currently deploys around 7,500 troops in Iraq, including 5,000 Americans.

Britain also said it was withdrawing some of its troops from a global training mission in Iraq because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The decision to redeploy was made because there had been a "reduced requirement for training" from the Iraqi security forces and a pause in coalition and NATO training missions.
"The Ministry of Defense has therefore decided to redeploy some of its personnel back to the United Kingdom," it said in a statement.
Britain has been working alongside coalition partners in Iraq since 2014 to train Iraqi security forces but the programme has been "paused" for 60 days as a precaution because of COVID-19.

After Soleimani was killed, Iraq’s parliament called for foreign troops to withdraw.
Military analysts fear a drawdown in coalition troop numbers could hamper efforts to fight Daesh , which is trying regroup and carrying out regular attacks across much of northern Iraq.


Debate rages over Turkey’s surging pandemic numbers

Pedestrians, wearing face masks, walk in a street of Ankara on November 20, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 24 November 2020

Debate rages over Turkey’s surging pandemic numbers

  • 20% of Israeli travelers to Turkey in October tested positive for coronavirus on their return
  • No PCR test is required now in Turkish airports for the passengers entering the country. It is a very big mistake

ANKARA: Unofficial sources have warned that numbers of COVID-19 cases in Turkey are skyrocketing.

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) estimated that daily COVID-19 cases have risen to more than 47,500, of which about 12,500 are in Istanbul. This would represent a 300 percent increase in November compared to the month before.

According to official data, however, Turkey recorded 5,103 new COVID-19 patients on Nov. 20 — the second highest new daily figure since March — and its highest daily death toll with 141 fatalities.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu announced that 186 people died from “infectious diseases” in the city on Nov. 22 — more than the official countrywide death toll. (The Turkish health ministry is accused of classifying some COVID-related deaths as "infection-related deaths")

The TTB, whose data drew on figures from 1,270 medics in 76 provinces, claimed that someone in Turkey dies from COVID-19 every 10 minutes. It declared that “they have lost control of the pandemic.”

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca previously admitted that they do not include everyone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the number of daily cases — they only count those who show symptoms. Following this admission Turkey was put on the UK’s quarantine-on-arrival list in early October.

BACKGROUND

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca previously admitted that they do not include everyone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the number of daily cases — they only count those who show symptoms.

Reports drawing on Israeli health ministry data say that 20 percent of Israeli travelers to Turkey in October tested positive for coronavirus on their return home, which experts consider a worryingly high figure.

Everyone arriving in Israel is obliged to self-isolate for 14 days. There is no such an obligation in Turkey.

“The countries which prove successful in managing the pandemic are those that apply strict quarantine rules and rigorously regulate arrivals in the country. But this is not the case in Turkey nowadays,” said Guner Sonmez, a radiologist from Uskudar University in Istanbul.

“Only one case can again trigger a whole chain of contagion and begin a new wave of pandemic. However, no PCR test is required now in Turkish airports for the passengers who enter the country. It is a very big mistake for managing the dynamics of the pandemic.”

Turkey recently re-introduced a partial evening curfew and restrictions on the weekends, although scientists have been urging a full 14-day lockdown.