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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UK hopes to be able to consider lockdown easing in March

UK hopes to be able to consider lockdown easing in March
Updated 17 January 2021

UK hopes to be able to consider lockdown easing in March

UK hopes to be able to consider lockdown easing in March
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a target of vaccinating the elderly, including care home residents, the clinically vulnerable and frontline workers

LONDON: Britain’s government hopes it can meet its target for rolling out COVID-19 vaccines and be able to consider easing lockdown restrictions by March, foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday.
The country, which has Europe’s highest COVID-19 death toll, has been under a national lockdown since Jan. 5, when schools were closed for most pupils, non-essential businesses were shut to the public, and people were ordered to work from home where possible.
“What we want to do is get out of this national lockdown as soon as possible,” Raab told Sky News television.
“By early spring, hopefully by March, we’ll be in a position to make those decisions. I think it’s right to say we won’t do it all in one big bang. As we phase out the national lockdown, I think we’ll end up phasing through a tiered approach.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a target of vaccinating the elderly, including care home residents, the clinically vulnerable and frontline workers — or roughly more than 13 million people — by mid-February.
If all goes smoothly, he has said that England can consider easing lockdown restrictions from that time.
The Sunday Times newspaper said British ministers had reached a deal to approve a three-point plan that could lead to some lockdown restrictions being lifted as soon as early March.
Areas will have restrictions eased once their death rate has fallen, the number of hospital admissions drops and some people aged between 50 and 70 are vaccinated, the newspaper said.
The Sunday Times quoted cabinet ministers as saying they were prepared to resist pressure from health advisers to delay the changes until most people are vaccinated, a process that would take until the summer at least.
“For the first time there are no significant divisions between hawks and doves in the cabinet,” a cabinet source told the newspaper. “Everyone accepted that we need to lock down hard and everyone accepts that we need to open up before everyone is vaccinated.”
A spokesman in Johnson’s office declined to comment on the report.