Afghan army helicopter crash kills nine in Helmand

The two Soviet-era Mi-17 helicopters crashed due to technical problems while taking off in Nawa district. (AFP)
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Updated 14 October 2020

Afghan army helicopter crash kills nine in Helmand

  • The helicopters had been assigned to drop off new troops and evacuate soldiers who had been wounded during an overnight attack in Nawa
  • Afghan forces in the province, backed by US aerial support, have been fighting to block Taliban attacks that have displaced nearly 35,000 people

KABUL: An investigation is underway after two Afghan army helicopters crashed in southern Helmand province on Wednesday, killing nine people on board.

The MI-17 helicopters went down due to technical issues while they were taking off in Nawa district after 1 a.m., the Defense Ministry in Kabul said.

“Unfortunately nine individuals on board were martyred in the crash and the Defense Ministry is investigating the incident,” the statement added.

Afghan forces in the province, backed by US aerial support, have been fighting to block Taliban attacks that have displaced nearly 35,000 people in the past three days alone.

Omer Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, said the helicopters had been assigned to drop off new troops and evacuate soldiers who had been wounded during an overnight attack in Nawa, which serves as the gateway to Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s  capital.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the incident, officials blame the Taliban for the rise in attacks across the country and province.

“Additional troops and commandos have been deployed to join the fighting,” Zwak told Arab News. “The Taliban have been pushed back from some areas, and we have redeployed troops to some post from where we had a tactical withdrawal.”

He added that Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid was on his way to Helmand, which lies 693 km from Kabul, to “review the situation” in the province.

The Taliban is alleged to have launched a multi-pronged attack to capture Lashkar Gah since Sunday, seizing several security checkpoints in the area as part of the initiative.

A spokesperson for the armed group was unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Wednesday.

The uptick in attacks has added to the woes of Helmand residents as fighting has displaced tens of thousands of them since Sunday, according to a UN statement.

“Fighting between the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and a non-state armed group (NSAG) that started on 11 October continues to intensify near Lashkargah city in Helmand province,” the organization said Tuesday. “Local authorities report that some 35,000 people have been displaced into Lashkargah city.”

It added that the worst affected areas in the province were: Nahr-e-Saraj, Bolan, Babaje, Nad-e-Ali/Marja and Nawa-e-Barakzaiy. Some parts of Maywand district in Kandahar had also been affected.

The surge in strikes has disrupted power and telecommunication services in the area, with people finding it difficult to access mobile phone networks.

“The main highway running through Helmand, linking it with adjacent provinces, has been blocked due to fighting since Monday,” Helmand lawmaker Ghulam Wali Afghan told Arab News. “Those displaced live a miserable life. They have no shelter or food. The numbers of those forced to leave their houses are not in the tens or hundreds, they are in the thousands.”

Sayed Mohammad Ramin, head of the refugee department for the government in Helmand, said the displaced had not received any assistance from authorities or aid groups.

“Many live in the open air,” he told Arab News. “They have no food, shelter or water. We asked the traders and people to help at least those with kids and women, and fortunately, those who had the means have come forward and have helped.”

The UN said health facilities had also reported “hundreds of casualties” since Oct. 12, while local officials said several Taliban, Afghan forces and civilians had been killed in the attacks.

But the UN and Afghan officials did not provide an approximate number of casualties.

The spike in attacks comes as intra-Afghan talks continue in Doha based on an historic accord signed with the US in February.

The Taliban, at that time, pledged to refrain from violence or attacks on US-led troops, with Washington saying it would reciprocate the commitment.

However the Afghan army, while accusing the insurgent group of being “inconsistent” in its commitments, said it had carried out aerial attacks on Taliban positions during the current wave of fighting in Helmand.

It follows the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, and the US ambassador Ross Wilson urging the Taliban to halt its offensive.

There is a stalemate in the Doha talks, which began on Sept. 12, and the government and Taliban negotiators have yet to agree on a mechanism to end more than four decades of war in the country.

Former Afghan diplomat to Pakistan, Ahmad Saeedi, said the talks had emboldened the Taliban and “given it the feeling” that it could gain political concessions at the negotiating table.

“The other thing that has emboldened the Taliban is the announcement by Trump last week that it will pull the troops by Christmas," he told Arab News, referring to Washington's pledge to withdraw forces earlier than planned. “Since the announcement, I have learnt that some officials in provinces have been trying to get in touch with the Taliban for making a deal too. The announcement has brought down the morale of some soldiers and commanders and weakened some of them.”

Related


UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

Updated 15 min 51 sec ago

UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

  • Decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism
  • A minister has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right”

LONDON: The British government faced fury Wednesday over its decision to ditch its long-standing target for overseas aid in the wake of what it described as the deepest recession in over three centuries.
In a statement to lawmakers, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the target to allocate 0.7% of national income to overseas aid will be cut to 0.5%. The move is expected to free up 4 billion pounds ($5.3 billion) for the Conservative government to use elsewhere, money that critics say could be used to save tens of thousands of lives in the poorest parts of the world.
While expressing “great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target,” Sunak said “sticking rigidly” to it “is difficult to justify” to people at a time when the economy has been so battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices,” he said.
Without giving a timetable, he said that the government aims to return to the target first laid out by the Labour government of Tony Blair in 2004. And he said that even with the new target, the UK will still be the second biggest aid spender among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.
The decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum, including within Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party.
Liz Sugg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right.”
The UK has for years been considered one of the world’s leaders in development and aid so the government’s decision to lower the target was met with anger and dismay from poverty campaigners.
“Cutting the UK’s lifeline to the world’s poorest communities in the midst of a global pandemic will lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths,” said Oxfam Chief Executive Danny Sriskandarajah.
Save the Children Chief Executive Kevin Watkins also said the decision had “broken Britain’s reputation for leadership on the world stage” ahead of its hosting of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference next year.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby joined the chorus of disapproval, describing the cut as “shameful and wrong” and urging lawmakers “to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the UK’s own reputation and interest.”
In a sobering assessment that provided the backdrop to the cut, Sunak sought to balance ongoing support for the economy with a longer-term commitment to heal public finances after a stark deterioration.
“Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” he said.
Sunak said the government’s independent economic forecasters are predicting that the British economy will shrink 11.3% this year, the “largest fall in output for more than 300 years.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility expects the economy to grow again next year as coronavirus restrictions are eased and hoped-for vaccines come on stream. The agency is predicting growth of 5.5% in 2021 and 6.6% the following year. As a result the output lost during the pandemic won’t have been recouped until the final quarter of 2022.
Sunak warned that the pandemic’s cost will create long-term “scarring,” with the economy 3% smaller in 2025 than predicted in March, before the spring lockdown.
The massive fall in output this year has led to a huge increase in public borrowing as the government sought to cushion the blow and tax revenues fell. Sunak said the government has pumped 280 billion pounds into the economy to get through the pandemic. Public borrowing this fiscal year is set to hit 394 billion pounds, or 19% of national income, “the highest recorded level of borrowing in our peacetime history.”
He warned that underlying public debt is rising toward 100% of annual GDP.
“High as these costs are, the costs of inaction would have been far higher,” he said. “But this situation is clearly unsustainable over the medium term.”
Sunak said the 1 million doctors and nurses in the National Health Service will get a pay rise next year, as will 2.1 million of the lowest paid workers in the public sector. However, he said pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be “paused” next year.
Sunak also announced extra money to support Johnson’s program of investments in infrastructure across the UK, particularly in the north of England, where the Conservatives won seats during the last general election. A new infrastructure bank will also be headquartered in the north of England.