Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe

National Guard troops walk near the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2021 as security was bolstered after intelligence uncovered a
National Guard troops walk near the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2021 as security was bolstered after intelligence uncovered a "possible plot to breach the Capitol" on March 4. (AFP / Eric Baradat)
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Updated 04 March 2021

Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe

Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe
  • The hourslong delay cost the National Guard precious minutes in the early hours of the Jan. 6 rioting by Trump supporters
  • Security boosted again amid warnings of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the Capitol on March 4

WASHINGTON: Defense Department leaders placed unusual restrictions on the National Guard for the day of the Capitol riot and delayed sending help for hours despite an urgent plea from police for reinforcement, according to testimony Wednesday that added to the finger-pointing about the government response.
Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, told senators that the then-chief of the Capitol Police requested military support in a “voice cracking with emotion” in a 1:49 p.m. call as rioters began pushing toward the Capitol. Walker said he immediately relayed the request to the Army but did not learn until after 5 p.m. that the Defense Department had approved it. Guard troops who had been waiting on buses were then rushed to the Capitol, arriving in 18 minutes, Walker said.
The hourslong delay cost the National Guard precious minutes in the early hours of the Jan. 6 rioting, with Walker saying he could have gotten personnel into the building within 20 minutes of getting approval. As it stood, the support did not happen until the evening. The delay also stood in contrast to the swift authorization for National Guard support that Walker said was granted in response to the civil unrest that roiled Washington last June as an outgrowth of racial justice protests.
A senior Pentagon official who testified, Robert Salesses, said it took time for the Army to sort out what the National Guard was being asked to do and what its support might look like, especially since the Capitol Police days earlier had not asked for any help. Mindful of criticism that the response to the demonstrations last spring was heavy-handed, military officials were also concerned about the optics of a substantial National Guard presence at the Capitol, and that such visuals could inflame the rioters, Walker said.
“The Army senior leadership” expressed “that it would not be their best military advice to have uniformed Guardsmen on the Capitol,” Walker said.
The Senate hearing is the latest about the missed intelligence and botched efforts to quickly gather National Guard troops as a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters laid siege to the Capitol. Taken together, the hearings have spelled out the challenge law enforcement officials face in sorting through an ocean of unverified tips but also highlighted how police inadequately prepared for the Trump loyalists; that FBI warnings about the threat of violence did not reach top police officials; and that requests for aid were not promptly answered.
“We in the FBI want to bat 1,000, and we want to not have this ever happen again,” said Jill Sanborn, the bureau’s top counterterrorism official and one of the witnesses. “So we’re asking ourselves exactly the questions that you’re asking: Is there a place we could have collected more (intelligence)? Is there something we could have done?”
Meanwhile, the Capitol Police disclosed the existence of intelligence of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the Capitol on Thursday. The revelation, coming as the acting police chief was testifying before a House subcommittee, differed from an earlier advisory from the House sergeant-at-arms that said police had no indication that any such violence was planned.
Much of the focus at Wednesday’s Senate hearing was on communications between the National Guard and the Defense Department. Walker described an “unusual” directive that required Pentagon approval before deploying a specialized 40-member “quick reaction force” and before relocating personnel from one traffic intersection to another.
As chaos escalated on Jan. 6, then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund asked him for National Guard help in a frantic call and then again on a call with Army officials, who said they did not “think that it looked good” to have a military presence.
“The response to the request took too long, so I think there needs to be a study done to make sure that never happens again,” Walker said. “It shouldn’t take three hours to get a yes or no answer.”
That account was consistent with the recollection of Robert Contee, the acting chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, who told lawmakers last week that he was “stunned” by the delayed response. Contee said Sund pleaded with Army officials to deploy National Guard troops as the rioting escalated.
Walker’s testimony, however, conflicts a bit with timelines that were put out and discussed by senior military and defense leaders in the weeks after the riot.
According to the Defense Department, Walker was called at 3 p.m. by Army officials, and was told to prepare Guard troops to deploy. That call was designed to give the Guard notice of the impending deployment so they would have time to move troops from their traffic posts to the armory where they would get new orders, protective equipment and weapons.
The Pentagon said acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller gave verbal authorization for the Guard troops to deploy at about 4:30 p.m., and that at 5:02 p.m., 154 members of the D.C. Guard left the armory, heading to the Capitol.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said during a break in the hearing that senators “certainly will have questions” for Miller and for former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
“Whether that’s going to require testimony or not, I don’t know, but it’s definitely going to require an opportunity to ask them questions about their view, from their perspective, of why this decision-making process went so horribly wrong,” Blunt said.
Salesses, the senior Pentagon official, stressed that military officials were concerned about responding forcefully to civil disturbance in light of what happened last spring, “where we had helicopters flying above US citizens, we had spy planes flying over folks who were protesting.”
The Capitol Police had not previously requested National Guard help, and in letters to Walker, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser laid out the city’s request for help and made it clear there would be restrictions on the Guard members.
At last week’s hearing, officials in charge of Capitol security blamed one another as well as federal law enforcement for their own lack of preparation as hundreds of rioters descended on the building, easily breached the security perimeter and eventually broke into the Capitol. Five people died as a result of the rioting.
Thousands of National Guard troops are still patrolling the fenced-in Capitol, and multiple committees across Congress are investigating Jan. 6. The probes are largely focused on security missteps and the origins of the extremism that led hundreds of Trump supporters to break through the doors and windows of the Capitol, hunt for lawmakers and temporarily stop the counting of electoral votes.
Lawmakers have grilled law enforcement officials about missed intelligence ahead of the attack, including a report from an FBI field office in Virginia that warned of online posts foreshadowing a “war” in Washington. Sund has said he was unaware of the report at the time, even though the FBI had forwarded it to the department.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the report was disseminated through the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, discussed at a command post and posted on an Internet portal available to law enforcement agencies.
Though the information was raw and unverified, Wray said, it was specific and concerning enough that “the smartest thing to do, the most prudent thing to do, was just push it to the people who needed to get it.”


Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law
Updated 17 min 57 sec ago

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law

Guilty verdict in first trial under Hong Kong security law
  • Verdict closely watched for indications as to how similar cases will be dealt with in future
  • Defense lawyer: Impossible to prove that Tong Ying-kit was inciting secession merely by having used the slogan

HONG KONG: The first person to be tried under Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law was found guilty of secessionism and terrorism on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong High Court handed down the verdict in the case of Tong Ying-kit, age 24. He’s accused of driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers while carrying a flag bearing the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” on July 1 last year, a day after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on Hong Kong following months of anti-government protests in 2019.

The verdict was closely watched for indications as to how similar cases will be dealt with in future. More than 100 people have been arrested under the security legislation.

Tong pleaded not guilty to charges of inciting secession, terrorism and an alternative charge of dangerous driving. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty.

The trial, which ended July 20, was held in the High Court with no jury, under rules allowing this exception from Hong Kong’s common law system if state secrets need to be protected, foreign forces are involved or if the personal safety of jurors needs to be protected. Trials are presided over by judges handpicked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

Tong’s defense lawyer has said it’s impossible to prove that Tong was inciting secession merely by having used the slogan.

The defense also said there is no evidence that Tong committed the act deliberately, that he avoided crashing into officers and that his actions couldn’t be considered terrorism since there was no serious violence or harm to society.

While Hong Kong has its own Legislative Council, Beijing’s ceremonial legislature imposed the national security law on the semiautonomous city after it determined the body was unable to pass the legislation itself because of political opposition.

That followed the increasingly violent 2019 protests against China’s growing influence over the city’s affairs, despite commitments to allow the city to maintain its own system for 50 years after the 1997 handover from British rule.

China’s legislature has mandated changes to the makeup of the city’s Legislative Council to ensure an overwhelming pro-Beijing majority, and required that only those it determines “patriots” can hold office.

Authorities have banned the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” stating that it has secessionist connotations. Library books and school curricula have also been investigated for alleged secessionist messages.

Hong Kong’s last remaining pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced out of business last month and a court denied bail for four editors and journalists held on charges of endangering national security as part of the widening crackdown.

Beijing has dismissed criticisms, saying it is merely restoring order to the city and instituting they same type of national security protections found in other countries.


Koreas restore communication channels, agree to improve ties

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
Updated 27 July 2021

Koreas restore communication channels, agree to improve ties

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP file photo)
  • Some experts earlier said North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen

SEOUL, South Korea: North and South Korea have restored suspended communication channels between them and their leaders agreed to improve ties, both governments said Tuesday, despite a 2 ½ year-stalemate in US-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached the agreement during several exchanges of letters since April, the presidential office in Seoul said.
The two leaders agreed to “restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible,” Blue House spokesman Park Soo Hyun said in a televised briefing. Park said the two Koreas subsequently reopened communication channels on Tuesday morning.
North Korea’s state media quickly confirmed the South Korean announcement.
“Now, the whole Korean nation desires to see the North-South relations recovered from setback and stagnation as early as possible,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. “In this regard, the top leaders of the North and the South agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters.”
Last year, North Korea cut off all communication channels with South Korea in protest of what it calls South Korea’s failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border. Some experts said the North Korean action signaled the North had grown frustrated that Seoul has failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuade the United States to ease sanctions.
The nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have made little headway since early 2019, when the second of three summits between Kim and then-President Donald Trump collapsed. Kim has since threatened to bolster his nuclear arsenal and build more sophisticated weapons unless the Americans lifts policies the North considers hostile — believed to refer to the longstanding U.S-led sanctions.
Some experts earlier said North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen. Mismanagement, storm damage and border shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have further depleted North Korea’s economy and Kim in recent speeches called for his people to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions. While his remarks may indicate the potential for a worsening economic situation, outside monitoring groups haven’t seen signs of mass starvation or social chaos in the country of 26 million people.
Tuesday marks the 68th anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The Koreas remain split along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the war’s end.
About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.


Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19
Updated 27 July 2021

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19
  • Afghan public health chief: Escalation of violence will have long-term effect

KABUL: The escalation of violence in Afghanistan has led to the spread of the coronavirus and severely hampered the government’s drive against the pandemic, according to the country’s public health minister.

This will have a long-term impact on Afghanistan, Wahid Majrooh told Arab News in an interview on Sunday.

“War affects all aspects of life, and service delivery and vaccination of COVID-19 cannot be an exception, especially when there is ongoing conflict when the health facilities happen to be caught in the middle of the battlefield,” Majrooh said.

“When people are displaced and their life priorities change, these all affect our vaccination program in different parts of the country, our healthcare service delivery; it has a very detrimental effect. It will have short and long-term impacts and consequences.”

Fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan government has intensified in the past two months after international troops pulled out of the country. Militant groups since then have made rapid gains, capturing government territories in rural areas and taking over main border crossings with Afghanistan’s neighbors.

According to a UN report released on Monday, more than 783 civilians were killed and 1,609 injured during May and June this year, a 47 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020.

Estimates by various government institutions calculate that more than 40,000 families have been displaced by the fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces since May when US-led troops began withdrawing their remaining forces from Afghanistan.

The total number of displaced people due to battles in recent years stands at 3 million, officials say.

Majrooh could not provide an exact figure of how many people had been deprived of COVID-19 vaccinations but thought several million may have been affected.

“War has caused the concentration of people in small spaces like tents. Displaced people do not have the facility to use masks, do not have access to sanitation facilities. There is no doubt that the displacement and war have affected the spread and growth of COVID-19,” he said. The Taliban and Afghan government agreed during their talks in Qatar last week to allow safe access to vaccines for people across the country and to ensure the safety of medical workers.

Health Ministry figures as of Sunday showed that 144,285 Afghans have been infected by the coronavirus and 6,477 had died. However, officials said that the actual numbers for both could be higher as almost all Afghans quickly bury their dead without knowing the cause of death, and possibly thousands of COVID-19 affected patients may have died without reaching health facilities.

Majrooh said that the ministry’s data showed that Afghanistan had lately passed through the peak of UK and delta types of the virus and the trend was declining. 

However, he added there were fears of another spike “given the lack of attention of people to public health measures we have proposed to the society.”

He said that authorities on Sunday had begun the gradual lifting of a two-month lockdown, mostly applied to schools, universities, wedding halls and swimming pools.

The minister warned that the curb would be reimposed as officials detected that the virus was spreading in an impoverished society where many, particularly in rural and war-affected regions, have less access to health services.

Majrooh thanked the world for offering “generous” support in cash, technical and health equipment and vaccines to foreign-aid reliant Afghanistan, which has been affected by a long drought and continual fighting.

However, he said that “COVAX failed to fulfill its commitment” of sending the millions of jabs the country was promised this year, adding they would be delivered in 2022.

“We are planning to vaccinate about 60 percent of our population. If it is a single dose, we need 24 million, if it is a double dose, we need 48 million doses,” he said.

So far Afghanistan has received more than four and half millions of doses of vaccine, 3.3 million of them (Johnson and Johnson) provided by the US, ministry officials told Arab News.

Majrooh warned that the escalation of war would severely impact Afghanistan and outlined the issues the country faced. “The context is deteriorating war, and inaccessibility issues of logistics in insecure provinces are huge challenges for the health sector. The health sector is overburdened with mass casualties caused by the ongoing conflict.”

Other challenges included people not following health recommendations, budgetary shortages and lack of oxygen, he said.


Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen
Updated 27 July 2021

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen
  • Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the one-week extension of restrictions in a press statement on Sunday

JAKARTA: Small and medium-sized businesses in Indonesia have been given the green light to resume limited operations despite a government decision to extend coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions for another week.

Partial lockdowns imposed on Indonesia’s most populated island of Java and neighboring Bali began in early July amid a surge in virus infections triggered by the highly contagious delta variant and had been due to end on Sunday.

The latest move by Jakarta was aimed at balancing public safety with the need to restart economic activity.

The curbs, which had ordered the closure of nonessential public places such as shopping malls, for all office employees to work from home — except for those working in sectors listed as essential or critical — and included a ban on in-restaurant dining, have now been expanded to other cities on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Papua where there has been a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the one-week extension of restrictions in a streamed press statement on Sunday and pointed out that the decision was taken in consideration of health and economic aspects and social dynamic.

“But we will make some adjustments in regard to people’s activities and mobility in stages and they will be executed extra carefully,” he said.

The leeway for smaller businesses, the informal sector, and its workers who rely on a daily income, to resume operations will allow eateries with open-air settings to take dine-in customers for 20 and 30 minutes, and markets selling non-essential goods to open for limited hours, depending on local infection rates.

Indonesia has applied a four-tier system for identifying levels of infection based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The capital Jakarta is among 21 regions in Java currently classed in the most severe category level four.

Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister in charge of the Java and Bali restrictions, said on Sunday that the continuation of preventative measures was necessary to slow the spread of the delta variant while “ensuring that the small (businesses) can still operate.”

Public health professor, Tjandra Yoga Aditama, former director of the WHO’s southeast Asia regional office, told Arab News that the devil was in the detail when implementing COVID-19 curbs.

“What is necessary is to find a balance for the informal sector to remain operating while the formal sector continues to work from home.

“Markets should also be the main target for testing and tracing and the informal sector workers should be encouraged to contact the local health officers to get tested should they feel any symptoms,” he said.

Indonesia has become the latest global COVID-19 hotspot after a recent jump in virus infections which since mid-July has seen the number of deaths per day rise to more than 1,000, with many patients unable to get treatment in overstretched hospitals.

On Monday, the country reported 28,228 new cases — taking the national tally to more than 3.1 million — and 1,487 new deaths, putting at 84,766 the total number of COVID-19-related fatalities. Daily infection rates are still way above the target set by authorities for the partial lockdown to reduce numbers to 10,000 per day.

In a recent situation report on Indonesia, the WHO said that the country’s very high transmission rate was “indicative of the utmost importance of implementing stringent public health and social measures, especially movement restrictions, throughout the country.”


UK charities collaborate to tackle Britain’s minority mental health crisis 

Young British South Asian and black men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues including anxiety and depression — but significantly less likely to come forward to seek out help, say charities. (PCORI.org)
Young British South Asian and black men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues including anxiety and depression — but significantly less likely to come forward to seek out help, say charities. (PCORI.org)
Updated 26 July 2021

UK charities collaborate to tackle Britain’s minority mental health crisis 

Young British South Asian and black men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues including anxiety and depression — but significantly less likely to come forward to seek out help, say charities. (PCORI.org)
  • Men from South Asian and black communities seek out mental health support 13 years after their white counterparts
  • The two charities will focus on tackling mental health, but the positive effects of this work could translate to other areas, such as homelessness

LONDON: Two British charities have teamed up to combat the crisis of mental health among Britain’s minority communities, with a particular focus on struggling young men. 

Young British South Asian and black men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues including anxiety and depression — but significantly less likely to come forward to seek out help than other demographics. 

But two British charities have now teamed up to counter this crisis, which they said began long before the pandemic — but Covid-19 served to exacerbate and bring to the fore the importance of mental health care among these men. 

Manchester-based charity Human Appeal works across Africa, the Middle East and in the UK to provide life saving humanitarian assistance to those in need, and it has collaborated with local Bradford charity Breaking The Silence to deliver desperately needed culturally sensitive mental health care to Britain’s many South Asian men — a significant proportion of whom are Muslim. 

Breaking The Silence was founded in 2012 by psychotherapist Imran Manzoor, in response to a clear rise in mental health disclosures from South Asian boys and young men. His organization now supports over 600 men and boys from across the UK, offering one-to-one counselling and group therapy programmes.

Manzoor said: “Men from ethnic minority communities come to the attention of professional mental health services on average 13 years later, and in a more severely ill state than their white counterparts.

“Whilst the masculine maxim of ‘strength in silence’ plays an important role in their reluctance to get help, it is also the cultural-specific beliefs about the causes of mental health that impacts how they experience these issues and their disposition to disclose. They fear being ridiculed. Our service makes clear that we are aware of and understand these beliefs, and that we can help despite them.”

Fahad Khan, a manager at Human Appeal, told Arab News that this is a mission his organization were only too happy to support.

“We were blown away by Imran and the work he was doing,” Khan said. “As a charity we want to be involved in causes that are providing much-needed support to the community and what Breaking the Silence is doing is right at the fore of that.”

Human Appeal, Khan explained, will fund Manzoor’s work for the next year, and the knock-on effects of the collaboration could do far more than tackle mental health problems alone.

Mental health and homelessness, he said, often go hand-in-hand and so by tackling declining mental health among minority communities, their work could also help those living rough on the streets to get back on their feet and access the help they need.

And some of these people, particularly from minority backgrounds, need mental health care tailored to their own ethnic or spiritual backgrounds — and this is what makes Breaking The Silence such an important charity for the UK’s millions of Muslims.

Khan said: “What Imran Manzoor is doing at Breaking The Silence is providing support to people who may not be able to access other mental health services, because they're culturally sensitive, or they don't have the capacity to support people who have cultural or religious sensitivities.