Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, September 25, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment
  • PM Scott Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in line with the US decision to end its military operations there
  • Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Scott Morrison choked back tears as he read the names Thursday of 41 Australians killed in Afghanistan to mark the end of his country’s involvement in the 20-year war.
Speaking at a televised news conference, Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in September in line with the US decision to end its military operations there.
Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, but has only 80 support personnel there today.
Morrison called the decision to leave Afghanistan “a significant milestone in Australia’s military history” that marked the end of a costly chapter for the country’s defense force.
He then read out the names of the 41 Australian soldiers killed in the conflict, halting several times as he choked back sobs, especially when mentioning Brett Till, a 31-year-old sergeant from his own Sydney constituency.
“The loss is great. The sacrifice immense,” he said.
“These brave Australians are among our greatest ever, who have served in the name of freedom.”
While Australia has not had a significant troop presence in Afghanistan in recent years after withdrawing its combat troops in late 2013, the war continues to take a toll and fuel controversy at home.
Veterans groups have pressured the government into launching a formal inquiry into a high number of suicides among Afghan veterans and other ex-servicemen and women.
The military and police are both actively investigating numerous war crimes alleged to have been committed by members of elite Special Air Services soldiers in Afghanistan.


HRW slams anti-immigration bill as ‘perhaps the most draconian in UK history’

HRW slams anti-immigration bill as ‘perhaps the most draconian in UK history’
Updated 56 min 32 sec ago

HRW slams anti-immigration bill as ‘perhaps the most draconian in UK history’

HRW slams anti-immigration bill as ‘perhaps the most draconian in UK history’
  • It ‘seeks to dismantle core tenets of the international refugee regime, one which the UK helped establish’

LONDON: A bill being debated by British MPs would cause “more suffering” and “less protection” for asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch warned on Wednesday.

“Perhaps the most draconian immigration bill in the United Kingdom’s history is moving swiftly through parliament, currently in its final days of scrutiny in the Commons,” HRW said in a statement.

The Nationality and Borders Bill would see London introduce new measures that would crack down on a range of methods that asylum seekers use to enter the UK, including by introducing offshore processing for asylum seekers and introducing pushbacks at sea.

The bill “seeks to dismantle core tenets of the international refugee regime, one which the UK helped establish,” HRW said.

“It would see vulnerable Afghans and other asylum seekers being criminalized and imprisoned for up to four years; pushed back at sea; sent abroad for offshore asylum processing, and afforded lesser rights as refugees simply for exercising their basic right to seek asylum in the UK.”

The recent exodus of NATO allies from Afghanistan, HRW said, is an example of how these new rules are not fit for purpose.

“Less than two weeks ago, at least 27 people died after their boat capsized crossing the English Channel. Among those rescued and brought safely to British shores was an Afghan soldier who had served alongside British forces in Afghanistan and his family,” the rights group added.

“Under the proposed law, refugees like this Afghan soldier would face the prospect of being pushed back at sea or taken to an offshore detention site … Many Afghans are at imminent risk and don’t have the luxury of waiting to see if they’ll get a place under the UK’s resettlement scheme, forcing them to hastily flee by boat or on foot.

“Under this bill, they would face pushbacks and, if lucky enough to arrive, criminalization, and discriminatory treatment in the asylum system.”


UK’s Afghan evacuation email hotline still broken, says whistleblower

UK’s Afghan evacuation email hotline still broken, says whistleblower
Updated 08 December 2021

UK’s Afghan evacuation email hotline still broken, says whistleblower

UK’s Afghan evacuation email hotline still broken, says whistleblower
  • More than 5,000 emails from desperate Afghans sat in inbox at any given time
  • Inquiry into Britain’s handling of evacuation continues

LONDON: An error in the UK Foreign Office’s IT systems which prevented staff from opening emails sent by desperate Afghans hoping for evacuation has still not been fixed, a whistleblower has revealed.

During the emergency evacuation of British citizens and their Afghan allies, officials from different parts of the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office were restricted from opening some emails because they were using separate computer systems.

In damning testimony former civil servant Raphael Marshall said officials trying to assist were “visibly appalled by our chaotic system.”

Marshall said there were usually more than 5,000 unread messages in the inbox at any given moment, with desperate subject lines such as: “Please save my children.”

It has emerged that the issue — related to the merger of the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office — has not yet been resolved.

An employee working in the FCDO told the Daily Mail: “To this day, the FCDO and DFID IT systems are not synchronized. In some instances we cannot send emails or messages to our ex-DFID counterparts and have to do it instead using our personal phones.

“We run two different softwares, on which the majority of our work is done. They are not compatible with each other. On email, it is common for our messages not to go through because of security limitations.”

They warned that if a “major crisis” happened, the office would be hampered by the same issue.

A parliamentary inquiry into the UK’s chaotic evacuation efforts during the fall of Kabul is continuing.

The British government said it had evacuated 18,000 people from Afghanistan — 15,000 during the initial wave of airlifts, and a further 3,000 since the Taliban consolidated full control of Afghanistan’s capital.


London’s handling of Kabul evacuation ‘unforgivable,’ says ex-official

London’s handling of Kabul evacuation ‘unforgivable,’ says ex-official
Updated 08 December 2021

London’s handling of Kabul evacuation ‘unforgivable,’ says ex-official

London’s handling of Kabul evacuation ‘unforgivable,’ says ex-official
  • ‘The entire operation was to manage the political fallout rather than to manage the crisis’
  • Government spokesperson: ‘This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations’

LONDON: An anonymous official from the UK’s Foreign Office has described the government’s handling of the Kabul evacuation as “unforgivable.”

The senior civil servant, who remains anonymous, told the BBC program “Newsnight” that the way the evacuation was handled caused “huge amounts of trauma and suffering … and most probably lives (were) also lost.”

In August, British forces evacuated around 15,000 Afghan allies and their families from Kabul as the Western-backed government fell to the Taliban.

“The entire operation was to manage the political fallout of what was happening, rather than to actually manage the crisis and that, for me, was the most upsetting and most difficult aspect of it,” she said.

Her condemnation comes as the British government faces a parliamentary inquiry that has exposed damning information about the evacuation operation and its failings.

Former Foreign Office official Raphael Marshall told MPs that hundreds of thousands of emails went unread during the evacuation of Britons and their allies — an account corroborated by the BBC’s source.

She said: “You had dozens of people reading harrowing horrific bits of information in emails and knowing full well that nothing was going to be done with any of it, other than a report at the end of the day to say the email had been read.”

The official, who has decades of experience working in diplomacy, said the evacuation was the worst operation she had witnessed in her career.

The government told the BBC that 1,000 Foreign Office staff worked tirelessly alongside others to carry out the evacuation.

“This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. They are still working to help others leave,” a spokesperson said.

“Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to, but our commitment to them is enduring, and since the end of the operation we have helped more than 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.”


With vaccine resistance high, Poland faces surge of COVID-19 deaths

With vaccine resistance high, Poland faces surge of COVID-19 deaths
Updated 08 December 2021

With vaccine resistance high, Poland faces surge of COVID-19 deaths

With vaccine resistance high, Poland faces surge of COVID-19 deaths
  • Poland and several other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are battling their latest surges of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to record much lower vaccinations rates
  • The mortality rate in Poland, while lower than it was than in the spring, recently has caused more than 500 deaths per day and still has not peaked

WARSAW: As 83-year-old Hanna Zientara endured subfreezing temperatures to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot in Warsaw, her 30-year-old grandson was starting a Canary Islands vacation while unvaccinated and stubbornly refusing his grandmother’s repeated pleas to protect himself.
“I am worried about him, but I have no influence over him. None,” Zientara said. “He has many doctor friends who aren’t getting vaccinated, and he says if they aren’t getting vaccinated, then he doesn’t have to.”
Poland and several other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are battling their latest surges of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to record much lower vaccinations rates than in Western Europe.
In Russia, more than 1,200 people with COVID-19 died every day for most of November and on several days in December, and the daily death toll remains over 1,100. Ukraine, which is recording hundreds of virus deaths a day, is emerging from its deadliest period of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the mortality rate in Poland, while lower than it was than in the spring, recently has caused more than 500 deaths per day and still has not peaked. Intensive care units are full, and doctors report that more and more children require hospitalization, including some who went through COVID-19 without symptoms but then suffered strokes.
The situation has created a dilemma for Poland’s government, which has urged citizens to get vaccinated but clearly worries about alienating voters who oppose vaccine mandates or any restrictions on economic life.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki received his vaccine booster publicly last week and urged others to get their shots to protect older adults at Christmas. He noted that some family gatherings during the pandemic have “ended tragically, ended with the departure of our grandfathers, grandmothers.”
To promote vaccines, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski pointed out Monday that of the 1,085 people under age 44 who died with COVID-19 so far this year in Poland, only 3 percent were fully vaccinated. “This black statistic could be different thanks to vaccinations,” he said.
With a health system already stretched to its limits, Poland’s government announced Tuesday that it is requiring doctors, other medical personnel, teachers and uniformed workers like police officers, members of the military and firefighters to be vaccinated by March 1.
Critics of the right-wing government denounced the step as too little too late, while a far-right party, Confederation, slammed it as discriminating against unvaccinated Poles.
The resistance to vaccines in Eastern Europe is rooted in distrust of pharmaceutical companies and government authorities, while disinformation also appears to be playing a role.
As worried grandmother Zientara received a Pfizer vaccine booster dose on Tuesday, the Polish government reported 504 more deaths, bringing the pandemic death toll to over 86,000 in the nation of 38 million.
Sitting nearby was Andrzej Wiazecki, a 56-year-old who needed no convincing to come in for a booster shot. He said he has several friends hospitalized with COVID-19, including a previously healthy and athletic 32-year-old who is fighting for his life.
“I expect him to die, especially since there is no room for him in the intensive care unit because there are so many patients that he is lying somewhere in a corridor,” he said.
“He didn’t want to get vaccinated,” Wiazecki said. “His siblings are also not vaccinated, and even though he is dying, they still don’t want to get vaccinated.”
With 54 percent of Poles fully vaccinated, the country has a higher coronavirus inoculation rate than some nearby countries. Ukraine’s vaccination rate is 27 percent, and in Russia, where domestically developed vaccines like Spuntik V are on offer, it is about 41 percent. Bulgaria, which like Poland belongs to the European Union, has a vaccination rate of 26 percent, the lowest in the bloc.
The discovery of the omicron variant last month has fueled fears in Poland, where experts believe the variant is likely already circulating though no cases have been confirmed. Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past COVID-19 illness or vaccines.
According to Polish media reports, the variant’s emergence led some holdouts to finally get their first vaccine shots in the southern mountain region of Podhale, where the vaccination rates are far below the national average.
But at the vaccination center in Warsaw, located in a blood donation center, there were not many first-timers. Coordinator Paula Rekawek said only one person had turned up in the center’s first three hours of operation Tuesday to request an initial dose.
Warsaw restauranteur Artur Jarczynski has found a business opportunity in the high level of vaccine resistance. His popular Der Elefant was the first restaurant in Poland, and until recently the only one, to require customers to show proof of vaccination to enter.
Jarczynski said that while traveling in Western Europe, he was asked for proof of vaccination to dine and thought it was a good practice. When he first introduced the requirement at Der Elefant, anti-vaxxers demonstrating in front of parliament brought their protest to his restaurant and he sought police protection. Jarczynski says he also was bombarded by hateful phone calls for a couple of days.
Yet many patrons appreciate the rare public space where they can feel safe while enjoying a meal, such as the mussel soup, steaks and other fare served for lunch on Tuesday. One diner, Ryszard Kowalski, said he liked knowing everyone around him was vaccinated but the restaurant’s policy was proof “there is no need for government orders” to create safe environments.
But Jarczynski has not yet dared to impose the vaccine requirement in several other Warsaw restaurants he owns.
He described Der Elefant as “an island in a country of almost 40 million people, which on the one hand makes us happy, but also sad that we are just such a tiny island.”


Philippines bans travelers from France to prevent omicron spread

Philippines bans travelers from France to prevent omicron spread
Updated 08 December 2021

Philippines bans travelers from France to prevent omicron spread

Philippines bans travelers from France to prevent omicron spread
  • This adds to an earlier ban on travelers from South Africa and 13 other countries

MANILA: The Philippines will ban travelers coming from France to prevent the spread of the omicron COVID-19 variant, the presidential office said on Wednesday.
The ban, which applies to everyone who has been in France in the past 14 days, runs from Dec. 10 to Dec. 15.
This adds to an earlier ban on travelers from South Africa and 13 other countries to prevent omicron, which has yet to be detected in the Philippines.