Afghan army helicopter crash kills nine in Helmand

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

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.”

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Filipinos abroad cautioned on new strain of COVID-19

Filipinos abroad cautioned on new strain of COVID-19
Updated 19 min 9 sec ago

Filipinos abroad cautioned on new strain of COVID-19

Filipinos abroad cautioned on new strain of COVID-19
  • Manila brings home 400,000 overseas workers affected by the pandemic

MANILA: Philippines Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III reminded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to remain vigilant against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and follow the health and safety protocols of their host countries, especially with the emergence of a new and more contagious strain.

More COVID-19 infections have been recorded among Filipinos abroad, with the highest number of cases reported in the Middle East.

“There is no room for complacency. We cannot let our guard down. Despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in your country of work, the virus remains an imminent threat to your health and safety,” Bello said in a statement on Monday.

Citing a report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), Bello said the Middle East remains the region with “highest recorded cases of infection among OFWs at 7,844 as of Jan. 13.”

The region also has the highest number of OFW deaths due to COVID-19, reaching 619 according to the report.

On Sunday, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said that “Qatar reported the single biggest number of cases at 3,873, with 14 new COVID-19 infections among OFWs in the last 24 hours. Nineteen OFW casualties were recorded.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a report on Monday, confirmed a total of 13,591 COVID-19 cases among Filipinos abroad as of Jan. 18. Of the total number, 3,968 are undergoing treatment; 8,682 have recovered, while 941 died.

Based on the DFA data, countries in Europe and the Americas have over 3,000 cases with 317 deaths, while there were 2,746 OFW infections in Asia and the Pacific, with 21 deaths.

More than 400,000 overseas Filipino workers affected by the pandemic have been brought home by the government, the DOLE reported during the weekend.

Latest figures from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) showed that 8,273 OFWs were transported to their respective provinces last week alone, up from 7,895 the previous week.

In a report to Bello, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said total repatriates who have undergone quarantine and been cleared of COVID-19 stood at 410,211 as of Jan. 16.

“After their ordeal in their country of origin, our dear OFWs were all provided accommodation, food, transportation and cash assistance by the government. Now, they are safely home with their families,” Bello said.

It is estimated that about 60,000 to 80,000 more OFWs will be repatriated this year. Those awaiting repatriation form part of the over 520,000 OFWs displaced by the pandemic.