US to pull out troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11

US to pull out troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11
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The Taliban announcement came one day after the insurgents refused to attend negotiations, dealing a blow to the ongoing Afghan peace process. (Supplied)
US to pull out troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11
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Biden will remove all US troops from Afghanistan before this year's 20th anniversary of September 11 attacks ending America's longest war around five months later than planned (AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2021

US to pull out troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11

US to pull out troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11
  • Taliban attendance at US-backed summit in Turkey still ‘under consideration’

KABUL: President Joe Biden plans to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, 20 years to the day after the Al-Qaeda attacks that triggered America’s longest war, US officials said on Tuesday.

The disclosure of the plan came as the Taliban said on Tuesday that the group’s participation in a US-backed summit in Turkey later this week was still “under consideration.”

Dr. Muhammad Naeem, the Taliban’s Qatar-based spokesman, told Arab News: “Our lack of participation is due to the fact that consultations and deliberations are still going on.”

He added that “no agreement has been made” for the April 16 talks and that “the issue (meeting) is still under our consideration.”

On whether or not the Taliban had set any conditions for taking part in the meeting, Naeem said: “We will announce whatever decision is made based on the consultations.”

Turkey, along with the UN and Qatar, is hosting the meeting as part of an American-backed push to jump-start the stalled Afghan peace talks, which began in the Qatari capital Doha between the government and Taliban representatives in September and have been riddled with disputes.

Striking an optimistic note on Tuesday, officials from an Afghan government-appointed team said they expected to ink key agreements at the Istanbul summit, including forming a transitory administration with the Taliban.

Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, on Tuesday told Arab News: “Our expectation is that we will agree on major, important, and fundamental agreements which are cessation of war, restoration of the ceasefire, issues related to the transitory period, and over national and Islamic issues.

“The agenda for the talks will be set by the two sides (government and Taliban delegates).” However, he did not provide the names of government participants at the meeting.

The discussions in Turkey come ahead of a May 1 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign troops from Afghanistan based on a deal signed between the Taliban and Washington more than a year ago.

American President Joe Biden said recently that the pullout of troops by May 1 would be a “tough move” without elaborating on how long he intended to retain forces in Afghanistan, throwing the validity of the Qatar deal into doubt.

HIGHLIGHT

Turkey, along with the UN and Qatar, is hosting the meeting as part of an American-backed push to jumpstart the stalled Afghan peace talks.

The Taliban have warned that violence would escalate in Afghanistan if the US failed to abide by the accord, which aimed to end America’s most protracted conflict in its history, which began with the Taliban’s ousting in late 2001.

Some experts believe that the reason for the Taliban buying more time to confirm their participation in the Turkey summit was because their demands had not been met based on the Qatar accord.

Toreq Farhadi, an adviser for the former Afghan government, told Arab News: “(These include a) firm date on US withdrawal (of troops), now that we know May 1 can’t be that date, and deleting names of their leaders from the UN sanctions list.”

He said that the Taliban would “attend in the last days of the conference” and that “it is just a negotiating technique, a postponement, not a cancellation.”

Nazar Mohammad Mutmaen said that the group would not participate in the Turkey meeting “until Biden makes his stance clear on the timetable for the extension of US troops’ presence in the country, the release of remaining Taliban prisoners, and delisting of their leaders from the sanction list.”

He noted that Biden’s refusal to withdraw troops had “created doubts about the US’ intentions in Afghanistan,” adding, “the Turkey meeting won’t happen, and if it does, it will produce no major results.”

In March, Biden’s administration also proposed the formation of an interim government in Afghanistan, which would include Taliban members. This was communicated by US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been travelling the region to drum up support for a ceasefire and a peace settlement.

US-based Afghan analyst Said Azam blamed “spoilers in Afghanistan and the region who were trying to derail the peace process,” and said the “wisdom and constructivism” of the Afghan people was “the key to success.”

Farhadi added: “Peace spoilers on all sides are already busy sabotaging the post-Turkey arrangements.”

With accusations of corruption rife in the government, insurmountable debt accumulated in foreign aid, ethnic tensions, and talk of NATO and the US “losing interest in Afghanistan,” Farhadi said that the Turkey meeting was “all about passing the Afghan hot potato.”

Tameem Bahiss, a regional expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that Washington’s new administration was after a quick fix.

“It appears Biden is trying to find a quick political solution for the Afghan war. The US is proposing a conference in Turkey, where Washington wishes to see the Afghan warring sides agree on a new political roadmap for Afghanistan.

“Unfortunately, this proposal by the US administration has many problems. A quick fix for the Afghan problems will not last. It is very difficult to get (Afghan President) Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban, and the Afghan political elites on the same page. I see it very difficult for the Taliban to agree to any political settlement prior to the departure of foreign troops.”


MI5 failed to share London terrorist’s heightened threat level: Probation officer

MI5 failed to share London terrorist’s heightened threat level: Probation officer
Updated 16 min 12 sec ago

MI5 failed to share London terrorist’s heightened threat level: Probation officer

MI5 failed to share London terrorist’s heightened threat level: Probation officer
  • Kenneth Skelton decided Usman Khan presented a low threat level, but was not privy to intelligence to the contrary
  • Khan killed 2 people in a knife attack in central London in 2019

LONDON: British intelligence upgraded a terrorist’s threat level due to evidence that he was planning an attack, but failed to inform the probation officer charged with monitoring his activity, an inquest has heard.

Usman Khan killed two people in a knife attack in central London in 2019, less than a year after he was released early from jail where he was serving time for terror offenses.

Now an inquest into the murder of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones at a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge has heard that British intelligence services had evidence that Khan was planning an attack, but did not inform his probation officer.

While in jail for planning to bomb the London Stock Exchange, the court heard, Khan had associated with other terrorists and engaged in violence.

In the month of his release, MI5 upgraded his priority level after obtaining evidence that he was planning a post-release attack, but his probation officer said he was not informed about the heightened threat.

Kenneth Skelton said if he had known, “the whole management process would have been altered.”

Changes made could have included a re-evaluation of Khan’s permission to attend the event at which he carried out the attack — and was subsequently killed by police.

The inquest heard that Skelton was “disappointed” that information on the heightened threat level was not shared with him, particularly as he had attended nearly 30 meetings in which police and probation officers discussed the kind of permissions Khan should be entitled to.

Shortly before the attack, Skelton wrote an official assessment that concluded: “Khan’s likelihood of reoffending and risk of extremist offending is low.”

He added: “Since his release on 24 December 2018 … there has been no demonstration of attitudes supporting or justifying offending of any nature.”

Skelton said he was not made aware of a psychological report from May that year that suggested Khan’s engagement with prisoner rehabilitation programs was “superficial,” and he could not remember being shown a police document that described Khan as “calculating in his behaviour.”

Skelton told the inquest that he was “astounded” when he was told of Khan’s attack, adding: “From nowhere did I get any information that would suggest him returning to any of his (terrorist) behaviors.”

Representatives from MI5 will be called to give evidence at a later stage in the inquiry.


Philippine president lauds Saudi efforts on welfare, labor rights of Filipino workers

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 06 May 2021

Philippine president lauds Saudi efforts on welfare, labor rights of Filipino workers

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • The Philippines and Saudi Arabia recently organized a virtual forum on labor mobility and human rights

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has thanked Saudi Arabia for looking after the welfare and labor rights of Filipinos living in the Kingdom.

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte also expressed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination drive, the Philippine leader’s office said on Thursday.

In a statement, the presidential palace, Malacanang, added: “President Duterte recognized Saudi Arabia’s efforts to ensure that the rights, welfare, and well-being of Filipinos in the Kingdom are protected and upheld, including recent efforts aimed at labor reform.”

It said that during Wednesday’s phone call, the crown prince assured Duterte that all Filipinos in the Kingdom would be inoculated, and they also agreed to ramp up joint efforts to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.

“President Duterte has, in several public pronouncements, underscored the need for universal access to vaccines to effectively combat the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing that nations must work together toward equitable access to life-saving vaccines, particularly for developing and least-developed nations,” the presidential office added.

“King Salman also called on the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies (the G20) to work toward affordable and equitable access to vaccines,” the Malacanang statement said.

During a virtual press conference, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president and Crown Prince Mohammed also used their phone chat to discuss ways “to further improve the protection of Filipino workers in the Kingdom.”

He added that Saudi Arabia was among a number of countries supporting calls for changes to the kafala sponsorship system (for the monitoring of migrant laborers).

New measures under the Kingdom’s labor law reforms, effective since March, ensure that migrant workers in Saudi Arabia’s private sector have improved job mobility and can switch jobs or leave the country without employer consent. The rules also allow foreign workers to apply directly for government services, with all employment contracts documented online.

Duterte had previously described the old kafala system as “unjust” and “exploitative,” claiming it made OFWs in the Middle East, particularly household workers, vulnerable to abuse.

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia recently organized a virtual forum on labor mobility and human rights to discuss the sponsorship system and what Middle Eastern countries were doing to reform it. During the meeting, Duterte called for the abolition of the kafala system.


At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry
Updated 06 May 2021

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry
  • Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants
  • At the week's end more than 2,200 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million

TORONTO: Intensive care nurse Farial says the health care system in Canada’s Ontario province is nearing the breaking point as it fights a fast-moving new wave of Covid-19 infections.
The caregiver at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital is looking after two patients in their 60s who are on ventilators.
“We’re overwhelmed,” she told AFP, conveying the feelings of her peers who often say they feel powerless against a tidal wave of new cases, and angry at times — especially with the Ontario government’s arguably slow response and with Ontarians who are not following public health orders to contain the coronavirus.
“We’re stretched thin. We’re tired and exhausted. Just exhausted.”
Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants. The latest surge in the number of cases was so big that authorities this week dispatched the military and the Red Cross to help care for critical patients.
“It’s the worst wave I’ve ever seen,” says head nurse Kimisha Marshall. “We have younger patients coming in, sicker and lots more patients coming in.”
“We’re short of nurses. We had some nurses that left, but also we have nurses that are getting sick, too,” she adds.
At the week’s end, there were more than 2,200 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million. Nearly 900 patients were listed in critical condition.
Medical staff have been redeployed from other wards to the ICU to lend a hand, and transferring patients to facilities in less affected areas has alleviated some of the pressure on this Toronto hospital.
But more than a year after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, “the team is tired,” comments Raman Rai, head of the intensive care unit where a few children’s drawings thanking caregivers hang on the walls, bringing a glimmer of cheer.
At times overcome by a deep sadness, Rai says: “You see people who have not only lost a loved one, but who have lost several members of their family. It is very hard.”
More than 60 percent of patients in Humber River Hospital’s intensive care unit on Wednesday were being treated for Covid-19. In one of the rooms, relatives and a priest gathered around a patient’s bed, praying.
Every day, several more patients must be placed on ventilators. On Wednesday, a 52-year-old man with low blood oxygen levels was intubated by a team of four caregivers fully dressed in protective gowns, gloves, masks and visors.
“He was so scared, he could barely breathe,” recounts Melody Baril, who performed the intubation.
“You try and give them a little bit of hope,” she says, “but the death rate is so high, once you get to this point.”
More than 8,000 people in Ontario have died from Covid-19, representing one-third of the nationwide pandemic death toll. The number of cases in the province has risen to over 450,000, or almost 40 percent of the total in Canada.
After peaking in mid-April, the number of new daily infections has fallen slightly over the past 10 days and a vaccine rollout is accelerating. But the number of patients in intensive care continues to rise.
Fearing the crisis will persist, some caregivers say they are angry with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government — which has faced a storm of criticisms over its pandemic response of late — but also against a segment of the population that has stubbornly resisted following public health restrictions.
“I feel frustrated,” says nurse Sarah Banani. “I think perhaps things could have been shut down harder and faster as we saw the variants take hold within the population.”
“I think we all feel we have been let down a little bit by society,” comments physician Jamie Spiegelman, adding that many health care providers “feel powerless to change things.”
“When I go outside and see traffic, people in a shopping center not taking the necessary precautions, that’s a letdown,” he says.
“We’re sick of patients with Covid-19 dying.”


Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
Updated 06 May 2021

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
  • Sweden now has among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, said health official
  • With 1,002,121 covid19 cases recorded since the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data

STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Thursday announced it had recorded over one million cases of Covid-19, nearly a tenth of the population, as the Nordic nation struggles to rein in a third wave of the virus.
“In Sweden we now have among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe,” Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of microbiology at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told a press conference.
Tegmark Wisell noted however that there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.
With 1,002,121 cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since the start of the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data compiled by AFP.
The Public Health Agency published a series of projections, with the most likely scenario showing the virus spread starting to subside in mid-May before reaching “very low levels” in July and August.
The Scandinavian country has famously never imposed the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe, controversially relying on mostly non-coercive measures.
It has however gradually tightened restrictions since November, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8:00 p.m. and on public gatherings of more than eight people.
Since March, cafes, bars and restaurants have also been required to shut their doors by 8:30 pm.
Despite being in the midst of a third wave of cases, the rise in deaths has been much slower in recent weeks, with 156 deaths in the last seven days, which authorities say is the result of the rollout of vaccines among vulnerable groups.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 since the start of pandemic reached 14,158 on Thursday, putting Sweden in the middle of the pack in Europe, although well ahead of its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Denmark,
European mortality statistics however also show that Sweden had a lower than average excess mortality in 2020, compared to the rest of Europe.


Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
Updated 06 May 2021

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
  • Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system
  • Delhi government and a non-profit organization kitted out over 12 autorickshaws with sanitizers and masks while oxygen cylinders are provided based on need

NEW DELHI: It’s not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.
Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the health care system.
Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.
The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.
Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi’s largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation,” said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.
“If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?“
Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.
“Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments,” he said.
Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.