US-led forces pull out of 3rd Iraqi base this month

US soldiers stand guard before a handover ceremony of K-1 airbase from US-led coalition forces to Iraqi security forces, in Kirkuk governorate, Iraq March 29, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 March 2020

US-led forces pull out of 3rd Iraqi base this month

BAGHDAD: The US-led coalition in Iraq withdrew Sunday from a military base in the country's north that nearly launched Washington into an open war with neighboring Iran.
The K1 Air Base is the third site coalition forces have left this month, in line with US plans to consolidate its troops in two locations in Iraq.
A rocket attack on the base in late December killed one American contractor and lead to a series of tit-for-tat attacks between the US and Iran-backed Iraqi militia groups. The attacks culminated in the US-directed killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Coalition forces handed over the K1 base in the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk to Iraq's military, according to a coalition statement. At least $1.1 million of equipment was transferred to the Iraqis as 300 coalition personnel departed.
Until last month, there were some 7,500 coalition troops based in Iraq, including 5,000 US forces.
Withdrawals are planned “in the coming days” from two bases in western Iraq, said Col. Myles Caggins, a coalition spokesman. He said troops have so far been relocated to other bases in the country and some will head home in the coming weeks, but did not specify how many.
He said the two bases are the Nineveh Operations Command in Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city and which was under the Daesh group's control from 2014 until 2017 — and the Taqaddum military airport outside the city of Habbaniya, on the Euphrates River.
K1 has hosted coalition forces since 2017 to launch operations against Daesh in nearby mountainous areas. Areas south of Kirkuk, and north of neighboring provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh remain hotbeds of Daesh activity.
The stretch of territory is also disputed between the federal Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdish region, which has created security gaps benefiting IS militants. The coalition's presence had at times been a mediating force between the two competing authorities.
A senior coalition official earlier this month claimed Daesh forces weren't as able to exploit the “security gap” between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, as the militants did in the past.
“That (gap) doesn’t necessarily mean that Daesh is free to operate in the way that they wish," said the official, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “They’re still pretty constrained.”
The coalition official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
US-led forces have already withdrawn this month from the Qayara base in Nineveh province followed by the Qaim base near the border with Syria. All the withdrawals were in line with plans to pull out from bases across Iraq and consolidate coalition forces in Baghdad and at the Ain al-Asad Air Base in the country’s western desert.
The plan has been in the works since late last year, the senior coalition military official has said, and accelerated when Iraqi forces proved they were capable of facing the Daesh threat with limited coalition assistance.
Coalition officials said they would still assist Iraqi forces with air support and surveillance, but significantly cut back on training and ground operations, as the limited withdrawal continues.


Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

Updated 29 May 2020

Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

  • Intelligence, immigration officials investigating illegal facilities that catered mostly to foreigners

MANILA: The Philippines has intensified its crackdown on uncertified medical facilities offering treatment to people, particularly foreigners, with COVID-19 symptoms.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to help the Philippine National Police (PNP) track down foreign nationals behind the illegal clinics.
“It seems that clandestine medical clinics catering mostly to foreign nationals have sprouted and have been operating without proper authority,” Guevarra told reporters.
He said the facilities could have compromised the health of those who had undergone treatment.
“I’ll therefore ask the NBI and the BI to help the police in locating other similar underground clinics and the people running them, and if warranted, to file the appropriate charges against them,” he added.
Guevarra issued the order following a raid on Tuesday on an illegal clinic catering to Chinese patients in Makati City. Arrested in the operation were Chinese nationals Dr. David Lai, 49, and Liao Bruce, 41.
The clinic was reportedly operating without a permit, while the arrested did not have a license to practice medicine in the country.
Seized from the site were swab sticks, vials, syringes and boxes of medicine with Chinese labels — believed to be unregistered with the Food and Drug Administration.
Last week, law enforcers also swooped on a makeshift hospital for Chinese patients in the Fontana Leisure Park in Clark, Pampanga province.
The raid came after police received information that a COVID-19 patient was “undergoing medical attention” in a Fontana villa.
Arrested during the raid were Chinese nationals Liu Wei, who reportedly supervised the facility, and Hu Shiling, allegedly a pharmacist. Both were released on the same day without charge.
Immigration officials on Thursday said the duo had been placed on their watch list to prevent them from leaving the country while an investigation is underway.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said intelligence operatives will trace four of the patients, and are looking into the case of the Chinese nationals arrested in Makati.
“I’ve instructed our intelligence division to investigate if these alleged Chinese doctors are legally staying in the country,” he said.
“Should we find they violated our immigration laws, they’ll be charged with deportation cases before our law and investigation division,” he added.
“Even if no criminal charges were filed against them, they can be charged for immigration law violations if we can establish that they violated the conditions of their stay in the country.”
If criminal charges are filed, however, the BI will only deport them after their cases have been resolved or they have served their sentences, if convicted.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for the “immediate deportation and blacklisting” of the Chinese nationals because of their “blatant disregard of our laws.”
She added that while the Philippines is working hard to protect its people from the virus, “these criminals freely roam and pose a danger to public health.”