Afghan leader urges Biden to help fight Taliban ‘terror’

Afghan leader urges Biden to help fight Taliban ‘terror’
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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday called on US President-elect Joe Biden to “help fight terrorism.” (File/AFP)
Afghan leader urges Biden to help fight Taliban ‘terror’
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(File/AFP)
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Updated 08 November 2020

Afghan leader urges Biden to help fight Taliban ‘terror’

Afghan leader urges Biden to help fight Taliban ‘terror’
  • A few weeks ago, to Kabul’s ire, Trump announced that the remaining US troops would return home by Christmas, much earlier than the timetable agreed
  • MPs, lawmakers plead with new US leader to reverse Trump troop exit

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday called on US President-elect Joe Biden to “help fight terrorism” and support Afghanistan’s shaky peace process by ensuring continued aid to Kabul.
The plea comes after Afghan lawmakers urged the new US leader to review the Trump-led campaign to force a complete withdrawal of American troops from the country.
“Afghanistan looks forward to continuing and deepening our multilayered strategic partnership with the US — our foundational partner — including in counterterrorism and bringing peace to Afghanistan,” Ghani said in a statement, congratulating Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election victory.
Ties between Ghani and US President Donald Trump’s administration turned sour in recent months over Kabul’s exclusion from crucial behind-the-door talks between Washington and the Taliban, which led to the signing of a historic peace deal in February this year.
Under pressure from Trump’s administration, Ghani freed over 5,000 Taliban inmates since March, before sending negotiators to Doha, Qatar for intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban – a key criterion of the February accord, which also pushes for all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan by next spring.
A few weeks ago, to Kabul’s ire, Trump announced that the remaining US troops would return home by Christmas, much earlier than the timetable agreed with the Taliban.
Under the deal with the US, the Taliban are required to halt attacks on foreign troops. US forces have mostly refrained from striking Taliban forces, except for a few instances where they aided Kabul in preventing militants from seizing government-held areas.
Emboldened by the accord with the US and amid plans for an early troop exit, the Taliban stepped up attacks on government forces in recent weeks, displacing thousands in Helmand province, despite the group’s delegates holding talks with Kabul negotiators since Sept. 12 in Qatar to end the protracted war in the country.
However, both have failed to agree on an agenda for the talks, let alone start negotiations, raising fears that the intra-Afghan dialogue may soon fall apart.
Several MPs in Kabul called on Biden to review the US administration’s policies on the historic accord with the Taliban and troop withdrawal.
“We hope that Biden does not follow in the footsteps of Trump who has discredited the US and committed a betrayal both to the US and Afghanistan through the deal with the Taliban,” Hamidullah Tokhi, an MP from southern Zabul province, told Arab News.
“Biden needs to think about US and Afghanistan honor. He can pull the troops out, but not in a hasty manner. First, he needs to reconcile the two sides,” he added.
Mirwais Khadem, a legislator from Helmand, a region known as a Taliban stronghold, said that Biden’s policy was of the utmost importance since Afghanistan relies on the US “politically, militarily and financially.”
He said: “With Trump’s departure, Biden can reset a new mechanism that annuls part of the deal with the Taliban which bars the US from hitting the Taliban, and also puts pressure (on the militants) to engage in talks with the government seriously.”
In the past, Biden has been vocal about the need to withdraw troops from Afghanistan after more than 19 years of war.
He alienated some sections of Afghan society with comments several years ago when he said that Afghanistan “will never become a nation.”
However, Fawzia Koofi, a government-appointed negotiator who took part in the intra-Afghan talks for over a month before returning home last week, said that Kabul believed Biden will avoid “pushing for a hasty troop departure like Trump.”
She told Arab News: “We have been saying that an irresponsible withdrawal will probably result in the collapse of institutions, if not in the short term then in the long term.”
Koofi added that the momentum in the Qatar talks needed to be maintained.
“We need to convince the Taliban to be sincere in this process, and bring necessary pressure on the Taliban and their supporters,” she said.
When contacted by Arab News on Sunday, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said it was “too early” to comment on Biden’s victory.
However, experts predict Biden “might continue Trump’s peace plans” with the Taliban in order to avoid a civil war.
“If the US decides to abandon Afghanistan altogether, a civil war will become inevitable. Most probably the Biden administration will decide to keep some troops in Afghanistan,” Said Azam, a Canada-based Afghan analyst, said.
Other analysts warned that the Taliban might increase their attacks following Biden’s win.
“The Taliban think negotiations are useless and they have to win on the battlefield. They will increase their attacks and Biden will not use the US military against the Taliban,” Rahmatullah Nabil, Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief, told Arab News.
“Biden will also put pressure on Ghani to accept the interim government. If Ghani refuses, then Biden will relocate US bases to Pakistan and will say that it is for Afghanistan to resolve its problems and that US troops are not there to fight the Taliban,” he said.
Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating the intra-Afghan peace talks. US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad expressed Washington’s gratitude to Pakistan on several occasions in recent months.
However, in such a scenario where US bases are moved to Pakistan, Nabil added that the “conflict in Afghanistan will continue and Pakistan will have an even bigger veto on internal Afghan matters.”
Torek Farhadi, an adviser to the former government, said that with US troops looking for an exit “the renewed momentum for peace will not come before an administration is firmly in place in Washington. On the ground in Afghanistan, violence will continue and political parties will attempt to make side deals with the Taliban and neighbors.”


‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
Updated 6 sec ago

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
  • Warning of ‘lone wolf’ attacks follows murder of British MP by man believed to have been radicalized online
  • Nick Aldworth: ‘lt’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it’

LONDON: The former head of Britain’s counterterrorism operations has warned that a “wave of terrorism” was heading from Europe to the UK and that Britain should raise its terror threat level accordingly.

Nick Aldworth, the UK’s ex-counterterrorism national coordinator, also told Sky News that individuals carrying out “lone wolf” attacks after being radicalized in their bedrooms were becoming the new norm.

His comments came just days after Ali Harbi Ali, believed to be an Islamist extremist radicalized online, murdered Conservative Party MP David Amess.

Authorities faced an “enormous challenge” in identifying potential attackers such as Ali that had been radicalized at home, Aldworth said.

“It’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it.

“We live in a democratic society, we don’t live in a surveillance society where the authorities can, without cause, tap your phone and monitor your internet usage. It’s an enormous challenge and an enormously resource-intensive challenge.

“My view, from what we’re seeing, is there are similarities this year with what we saw in 2016 and 2017 of a slowly developing wave of terrorism in Europe that’s starting to move toward the UK.

“My belief is we must be quite close to moving up a threat level back to severe (meaning an attack was highly likely),” he added.

During 2016 and 2017, five deadly terror attacks took place in Britain, including the Manchester Arena bombing which killed dozens of people, many of them children, and the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Amess’ killing has prompted renewed scrutiny on the effectiveness of Britain’s counter-radicalization program, Prevent, because Ali had previously been referred to it.

British Home Office figures show there were more than 6,200 referrals to the Prevent scheme in England and Wales in the year up to March 2020.

Aldworth said that the Prevent program was currently not receiving enough referrals from friends and family, who were best placed to notice changes in people’s behavior.

“Typically, about 30 percent of referrals come from education … about 30 percent come from the police, and about 30 percent come from a disparate number of places including health.

“The interesting point is that only between 2 and 5 percent come from family and friends, and the workplace. Of course, that’s the point you would expect changes in people’s behavior to be most observable. That’s where the gap in the market is,” he added.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that. We obviously constantly have to learn not just from incidents that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs.

“We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose, robust, doing the right thing. But importantly learning lessons, always building upon what is working, and addressing any gaps or issues where the system needs strengthening,” she added.


UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
Updated 19 October 2021

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
  • Sir Laurie Bristow’s urgent cables raise questions over British handling of mass evacuation
  • Two months before the takeover, Bristow predicted the Taliban would ‘escalate its campaign’ only after international military withdrawal was irreversible

LONDON: Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, sent repeated warnings of the imminent Taliban threat ahead of the militant group’s takeover of the country, diplomatic cables show.

The revelations prove that the UK was aware of the threat posed by the Taliban, raising questions over the decision to evacuate from the war-torn country.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab embarked on a holiday to Crete at the time of the takeover, despite the urgent messages sent by Bristow.

A freedom of information request saw the cables relayed to The Times newspaper, which revealed in detail the messages sent by Bristow and his deputy, Alex Pinfield.

A cable sent on June 28 saw the ambassador note that US aerial firepower was the central force deterring the Taliban from entering Afghan cities. Bristow said: “It (The Taliban) is unlikely to do so while it perceives a threat from US airpower.

“From a Taliban perspective, doing so would risk provoking a slowing or a reversal of the US withdrawal, as well as taking significant casualties for little gain.

“It is more likely that the Taliban will wait until it believes international military withdrawal is irreversible before escalating its campaign.”

But US President Joe Biden, less than a week later, on July 2, ordered a military withdrawal from Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan.

A month later, on Aug. 2, the effects of the declining US presence in the country were seen in a cable sent by Bristow, where he said: “The gloves are off ... we are entering a new, dangerous phase of the conflict.”

When the Taliban appeared prepared to stage an assault on their first city, he added, warning: “If that happens, the impact on already fragile political unity, military, and public confidence and sentiment will be significant.

“The UK legacy in Helmand may add fuel to the public debate in the UK over relocating those who have worked for us during the last two decades in Afghanistan.”

The ambassador also warned of the threat posed to the capital, Kabul, which until the takeover was largely insulated from the conflict raging elsewhere in the country.

In response to the revelations, a government source said: “While the situation in Afghanistan was clearly deteriorating, the Taliban’s final advance on Kabul was significantly faster than anyone predicted.

“Despite an extremely difficult situation on the ground, months of intensive cross-government planning allowed us to deliver the biggest evacuation in living memory, bringing 15,000 people, including 7,000 British nationals and their families, to safety.”

Another source defended the government’s decisions, saying that Bristow’s cables were only “a fraction of the advice going to ministers.”

As a result of The Times report, Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, himself a former army officer, demanded that the UK Foreign Office reveal the full extent of the decisions it made in light of Bristow’s warnings.

Smith said: “I’m glad the ambassador was telling the Foreign Office but the question now is what did Raab do and did anybody in the government say to the US ‘this is going to be a disaster if you close Bagram?’

“Did we, at any stage, say to them ‘Do not close Bagram?’”


Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis

Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis
Updated 19 October 2021

Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis

Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis
  • The speaker of the Portuguese Parliament, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, said Sousa Mendes’ conduct lent prestige to Portugal
  • The ceremony marked the completion of Sousa Mendes’ 80-year journey from ostracized Portuguese civil servant to honored international personage

LISBON, Portugal: Portugal paid official homage Tuesday to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who during World War II helped save thousands of people from Nazi persecution, by placing a tomb with his name in the country’s National Pantheon.
Leading Portuguese politicians and public figures attended the formal televised ceremony as the tomb was placed alongside other celebrated figures from Portuguese history at the landmark Lisbon building.
The speaker of the Portuguese Parliament, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, said Sousa Mendes’ conduct lent prestige to Portugal.
“People who at the decisive moment put their and their family’s safety at risk for the greater good are rare. Sousa Mendes was one of those people,” Ferro Rodrigues said in a speech.
The ceremony marked the completion of Sousa Mendes’ 80-year journey from ostracized Portuguese civil servant to honored international personage.
Perhaps Portugal’s most famous 20th-century diplomat, Sousa Mendes defied his superiors, including dictator António Salazar, when as consul in Bordeaux, France, in 1940 he handed out visas to many people who feared being hunted down by the Nazis.
The Portuguese visas allowed people, including Jews fleeing the Holocaust, to escape through neutral Portugal by air and sea to the United States and elsewhere.
The Portuguese diplomatic service was supposed to ask for the Lisbon government’s specific consent to grant visas to certain categories of applicants, as the country trod a careful path of neutrality, but Sousa Mendes gave out visas on his own initiative.
Leah Sills, a board director of the Sousa Mendes Foundation in the United States, said she flew in for the ceremony “to be able to honor the man that rescued my father and my grandparents” on May 24, 1940.
“It’s been just a beautiful experience,” she said.
Álvaro Sousa Mendes, a grandson of Aristides Sousa Mendes, said his family had seen an ambition fulfilled.
“This was a ceremony we had been requesting for a long time,” he said. “Finally he was recognized ... with National Pantheon honors.”
Breaking the rules got Sousa Mendes fired from the diplomatic service, with public shame attaching to his family at the time. He died in poverty in 1954.
Decades later, he won recognition for his key role in saving people from the Nazis.
In 1966, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, recognized Sousa Mendes as a “Righteous among the Nations.”
Last year, he drew praise from Pope Francis, and last March the US Senate in a motion saluted “the humanitarian and principled work” of Sousa Mendes.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that he earned recognition in Portugal, with authorities posthumously granting him accolades.
In 2017, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa bestowed Portugal’s highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of Liberty, on Sousa Mendes.
Last year, the Portuguese parliament voted to honor the former diplomat at the National Pantheon by placing there a plaque and a tomb without his body. Sousa Mendes wanted to be buried at his birthplace near Viseu, in northern Portugal.
Of the 19 historical figures entombed at the National Pantheon, 12 contain the person’s remains.


Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer
Updated 19 October 2021

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer
  • He said his words could not have played a role since his content was removed from social media sites 
  • Choudary, who vocally supported Daesh, was featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series

LONDON: Anjem Choudary, a notorious British hate preacher who has been jailed for terrorism-related charges, has denied radicalizing the man who murdered an MP last week.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, fatally stabbed Conservative Party MP Sir David Amess on Friday, and his former friends later told The Sun that he became radicalized when he started watching Choudary’s online videos.

Speaking to The Sun, Ali’s friends claimed the videos turned him from a “popular pupil into an extremist.”

But Choudary, who has been featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, called those accusations “spurious, non-verifiable chats.”

It was “questionable,” he said, that he radicalized Ali since he was unable to produce content online from 2015 to 2021, after being found guilty of supporting Daesh.

Choudary told the Daily Mail: “Even before any official statement by the police, they have apparently already decided that he was radicalized by me based on some spurious, non-verifiable chats with old school friends of Ali Harbi Ali years ago and mysterious YouTube clips of me. 

“In recent years, I have personally been unable to access the internet or deliver any lectures, let alone produce content on YouTube, from July 2015 when I was charged with supporting ISIS (another term for terror group Daesh) and July 2021 when my internet access and public speaking restrictions were finally lifted after release from prison in October 2018.

“Although I have delivered many talks and lectures over the years, there is currently no significant material to be found anywhere online due to its removal by social media companies at the behest of the UK authorities and others.

“It is therefore questionable as to how Ali Harbi Ali could have been ‘radicalized’ by YouTube clips of me,” he added.

Choudary has long drawn the ire of British authorities and the public for his hateful speeches and support for various terrorist organizations. His speeches have been associated with a series of terrorist attacks and extremist individuals in Britain.


Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts
Updated 19 October 2021

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts
  • 7% more terror-related content reported in 2020 than preceding year
  • Most people referred to UK’s counter-extremism program have mixed, unclear or uncertain motivations

LONDON: Engagement with extremist content has proliferated over the last 18 months as people have been forced inside and online by COVID-19 lockdowns, experts have warned.

“What we’ve seen is evidence of spikes of online activity in a wide range of extremist issues during lockdown,” Jacob Davey, head of research and policy of far-right and hate movements at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told The Guardian.

“It is not just terrorist material but a broad cocktail of online harms, as people spent more time indoors.”

Last year, the UK’s Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit said over 7 percent more pieces of suspected terrorism content were reported to them during 2020 compared with the year before.

Paul Gill, a professor of security and crime science at University College London, said the nature of the terror threat was already evolving after the defeat of Daesh’s so-called caliphate in 2019. “That has meant there were already fewer directed plots and a rise in self-initiation,” he told The Guardian.

The on-off lockdowns of the past 18 months have only served to turbocharge this change, as associating in person became more difficult and social isolation from community and family created “a perfect storm of other risk factors for radicalization,” Gill said.

“If you have any grievance you can go online and find people who will validate your grievance, and make you feel like you are part of something,” he added.

An increasing number of terrorist attacks — or closely related cases — were “hard to define,” he said.

The UK is currently coming to terms with the murder of an MP at the hands of a suspected Islamist, but as Gill alluded to, the circumstances surrounding the murder are not immediately obvious.

Some have blamed Islamist extremism, while others cite a rising tide of online hatred against public officials.

According to MI5, Islamist extremism remains the greatest threat to British public safety, but other forms — such as right-wing extremism — remain a clear threat, as does the growing category of instances with a mixed, unclear or uncertain motive.

Of all referrals to Britain’s counter-radicalization program from 2019 to 2020, the latest period for which figures are available, 51 percent were in the MUU category, while the rest were split between Islamists and right-wing radicals, at 24 and 22 percent respectively.