Turkey considering troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: Report

As the US begins pulling out what remains of its mighty army in Afghanistan, Turkey is also said to be planning an exit amid a surge in violence perpetrated by extremist forces. (AFP file photo)
As the US begins pulling out what remains of its mighty army in Afghanistan, Turkey is also said to be planning an exit amid a surge in violence perpetrated by extremist forces. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 11 May 2021

Turkey considering troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: Report

Turkey considering troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: Report
  • Ankara has provided security to Kabul airport for years as the potential absence of Turkish troops will affect other Western countries’ missions
  • Security at Hamid Karzai International Airport can ensure the opening of Afghanistan to the outside world and prevent the Taliban from gaining ground, expert says

ANKARA: As NATO allies are asking US President Joe Biden and his administration to delay its troop withdrawal date from Afghanistan for an extra couple of months, Turkey informed its NATO allies and the US that it is also considering a withdraw from the country, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Turkish authorities have not yet released any official statement about the WSJ report. 

Turkey has provided security to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul for years. The potential withdrawal of Turkish troops will complicate things as other Western nations are trying to keep their diplomatic missions open in the country following the end of NATO’s longest-ever mission. 

In the absence of an international security provider, foreign contractors will be on their own when it comes to airport security operations if NATO does not provide support. 

On Sunday, at least 30 people — mostly schoolgirls — were killed and 52 people were injured in three blasts that targeted a school in Kabul when students were leaving for the day.

Magdalena Kirchner, director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation office in Kabul, said the Turkish decision is driven by the US withdrawal.

“On one hand, Turkey has an interest in Afghanistan’s stability and has deployed troops there since 2001,” she told Arab News. “But on the other hand, its direct military engagement is tied to NATO’s mission there and public approval has been low traditionally.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Turkey and Afghanistan. Between 2001 and 2014, Turkey was an active partner in NATO’s Afghanistan mission, which was called the International Security Assistance Force and then the Resolute Support Mission from 2015 until the present. 

“As there is no appetite among other allies for a Resolute Support Mission 2.0 or a similar NATO framework, the withdrawal is inevitable in my opinion,” Kirchner said.

“This does not mean that Turkey’s engagement with Afghanistan would end completely.” 

Experts underline that the Kabul airport is of key importance for ensuring the opening of Afghanistan to the outside world. Humanitarian aid, as well as military flights, have already been channeled through the airport.

But the airport’s security is of utmost importance. Not only for preventing the Taliban from gaining ground in the country but also to support the international organizations and NGOs that are sending humanitarian aid.

According to Kirchner, the importance of commercial air travel between Afghanistan and other countries through ongoing Turkish Airlines flights is extremely high in the war-hit country. 

“A disruption of air travel could put the implementation of pledges for ongoing civilian support severely at risk in a critical phase for the country,” she said. “Efforts to facilitate a smooth handover to Afghan or other international forces are underway and will hopefully be successful.”

The US-backed Afghan peace conference, scheduled to be held from April 24 until May 4 in Istanbul, was postponed until after Ramadan. The Taliban had earlier refused to attend any Afghan peace summit until all foreign forces were pulled out of Afghanistan.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan called on the Taliban to keep its promise and reach a negotiated settlement for lasting peace in Afghanistan. The countries are also urging the Taliban to help launch a political transition with the Afghan government after the US completes its troop withdrawal from the country on Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that spurred the US invasion.

Kirchner thinks Turkey had hoped for more political support from Washington and other allies regarding the Istanbul conference and a possible extension of the NATO mission. 

“Enhanced cooperation pertaining to Afghanistan could certainly have helped alleviate other, more conflictual issues on the transatlantic relationship, but Turkey’s leverage is limited there,” she said.

“Although Turkey has significant inroads in Afghan politics and good relations with a high number of stakeholders, the US remains the most important power broker for the foreseeable future.”

Last December, the Turkish parliament approved a motion to extend the deployment of Turkish troops in Afghanistan for 18 months as part of NATO’s support mission in the war-torn country.


Lithuanian villagers back tough line on Belarus migrants

Lithuanian villagers back tough line on Belarus migrants
Updated 1 min 30 sec ago

Lithuanian villagers back tough line on Belarus migrants

Lithuanian villagers back tough line on Belarus migrants

SILIAI, LITHUANIA: From her green-painted homestead near the Belarusian border, Lithuanian pensioner Jadvyga Mackevic remembers the day she saw three migrants coming out of the forest and being detained.
“I barely saw them through my window. The border patrol immediately caught them,” the 80-year-old recalled.
Officers have now placed razor wire along the bottom of her garden in the small village of Siliai in an area that is almost entirely surrounded by the border.
While much of the migrant crisis has been focused on Poland’s border with Belarus, fellow EU and NATO member Lithuania has also been faced with an unprecedented influx of migrants.
The area around Siliai, known as the Dieveniskes Loop because of the shape of the border, has seen large numbers of migrants trying to cross.
The EU blames Belarusian strongman President Alexander Lukashenko for orchestrating the migrant influx as retaliation against the sanctions the bloc imposed on his regime.
The crisis will be a key topic at a meeting this week of NATO foreign ministers and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in neighboring Latvia, which also shares a border with Belarus.
Lithuania, which has a population of 2.8 million, has taken in more than 4,000 people this year, the vast majority of them asylum seekers.
Numbers have fallen sharply since it passed a law allowing border guards to send the migrants back across the border.
But border guards say small groups of migrants still regularly try to cross different parts of the largely forested border between the two countries.
“It seems we won’t be able to return to normal life soon,” Rustamas Liubajevas, head of Lithuania’s border guards, told AFP.
The border guard chief said he “pities” migrants trying to cross the border, because they were “tricked” by the Belarusian regime into believing that entering the European Union would be easy.
But he said that Lithuania could not let people in because this would fulfil Lukashenko’s goal to “destabilize” the country.
The government’s tough line has strong support in Lithuania.
On a visit to a military base near the border this week, President Gitanas Nauseda told troops it was “not easy to fulfil your duty and reject civilians seeking a better life.”
“Nevertheless, you have a sacred duty to guard our border.”
But charities, which are banned from the immediate border area under state of emergency laws, said they are worried about the welfare of migrants still stranded in freezing temperatures.
Giedra Blazyte from Diversity Development, a non-governmental organization, said aid groups should be allowed to access the border to help border guards identify vulnerable people.
“The main task for border guards is to defend the state border and not to take care of people. We understand that and this is why we want to be present,” she told AFP.
Even after Lithuania saw its first snowfall this week, Liubajevas warned it was unlikely that migrants would stop trying to cross as might be expected.
“This is not organic migration. This is Lukashenko’s organized migration, so the weather won’t have any effect,” he said.
In the village of Krakunai, also in the Dieveniskes Loop, resident Josif, 56, voiced support for the government’s tough line on the border and said he did not want migrants.
“I don’t know how this will end. I hope they go back to their countries. No one wants them here,” he said.
“They are from a different country, they are different people, they live differently.”


Kaspersky, Saudi Technology Control to combat cyberattack

Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (Supplied)
Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (AN photo by Rahaf Jambi)
Updated 3 min 34 sec ago

Kaspersky, Saudi Technology Control to combat cyberattack

Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Arabia is currently developing digitization and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, fintech and 5G across its public and private sector

RIYADH: Global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky has signed a strategic agreement with Technology Control Company, a security services, digital services and big data company in Saudi Arabia, at the @Hack Infosec Conference 2021.
The managed security service provider agreement was marked at the conference, one of Saudi Arabia’s most anticipated information-security events of the year.
The move is in line with Technology Control Company’s commitment to providing its customers in Saudi Arabia with enhanced managed security services.
Mohamad Hashem, country manager at Kaspersky, told Arab News how new technologies increased the risk and exposure to cyberattacks by opening new avenues of attack.
“Taking this into account, Kaspersky is delighted to expand and strengthen Technology Control Company’s portfolio and offer customers in Saudi Arabia the most effective prevention, detection and response capabilities to the market,”  he said.

Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain from TCC and Mohammad Hashem singing the agreement in @hack conference. (AN photo by Rahaf Jambi)

“Our innovative solutions and extensive expertise will ensure that our customers in the region receive the best data protection possible via a trusted local technology and service provider,”  he said.
Technology Control Company will be offering Kaspersky’s resources and services such as Security Operations Center consulting, security assessment, awareness and training.
The Kingdom is currently developing digitization and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, fintech and 5G across its public and private sector.

Taking this into account, Kaspersky is delighted to expand and strengthen Technology Control Company’s portfolio and offer customers in Saudi Arabia the most effective prevention, detection and response capabilities to the market.

Mohamad Hashem, Country manager at Kaspersky

As the country continues its road to digitization and adoption of these technologies, Kaspersky expects a steady rise in cyberattacks.
The partnership will play a key role in navigating these risks by helping Technology Control Company deliver security monitoring, incident response, threat hunting, threat intelligence, managed detection and response, security assessment and security awareness services in a cost-efficient, scalable and flexible way.
Technology Control Company’s customers in Saudi Arabia will be able to subscribe to next-generation SOC services based on solutions in line with global industry standards. Providing training such as incident response, malware analysis and digital forensics is another essential element of the alliance.
Hashem expressed his excitement about participation at @hack event and said that this was the first time the event was being held outside the US.
“Of course, we had to be a part of this great event because Kaspersky is one of the leading companies in the cybersecurity realm, and we are glad to be here,”  Hashem said.
He said that the company had signed an initiative with Cyberkids to help promote a better understanding of cybersecurity.
Muhammad Alwashmi, security services director at Technology Control Company, said that they were glad to partner with an international company with worldwide exposure and intelligence specific to the region.
“This agreement will support and provide our customers with premium protection to their businesses through the best solutions available in the market. Having Kaspersky on board will contribute to our success, and we are looking forward to a prosperous collaboration,”  Alwashmi said.


Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
Updated 12 min 27 sec ago

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
  • Diplomats: Tehran simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how

PARIS: World powers and Iran return to Vienna on Monday in a last ditch effort to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
The US will also send a delegation, headed by Washington’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, to participate in the talks indirectly.
Israel worries Iran will secure sanctions relief in renewed nuclear negotiations with world powers, but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb making potential, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions (of dollars) to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Bennett told his Cabinet in televised remarks.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran.”
Few expect a breakthrough in the talks as Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have escalated in an apparent bid to gain leverage.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other world powers involved.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.
The latest round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic.
Two European diplomats said it seemed Iran was simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how.
Western diplomats say they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June, and have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, then they will review their options.
Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that the full lifting of sanctions would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one European diplomat.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to re-install monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Several diplomats said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponize it.
Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the US and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.


Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds
Updated 30 min 18 sec ago

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds
  • Prime minister directs government to take all precautionary measures against new COVID-19 variant Omicron

CAIRO: Egypt authorized on Sunday Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12-15, the cabinet said in a statement.
The step effectively lowers the minimum age of eligibility to receive the two-shot vaccine in Egypt, which was 15 years old previously.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly directed the government to take all precautionary measures against the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, noting the decision to halt all direct flights with South Africa.
His comments came during a meeting of a medical group to combat coronavirus, the state news agency (MENA) reported. 
Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, higher education and acting health minister, reviewed a report on the current local and international epidemical situation and the developments of the new variant, adding that the report confirmed there are no Omicron cases detected in Egypt till now.
He said that about 45.2 million vaccine doses had been administered, with 15.6 million people having received both doses.
On Friday, Egypt suspended direct flights to and from South Africa due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus.
(With Reuters)


Police officer stabbed in Paris, inquiry opened, Interior Minister says

Police officer stabbed in Paris, inquiry opened, Interior Minister says
Updated 35 min 37 sec ago

Police officer stabbed in Paris, inquiry opened, Interior Minister says

Police officer stabbed in Paris, inquiry opened, Interior Minister says

PARIS: An off-duty police officer was stabbed and seriously wounded in Paris on Sunday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
Darmanin said in a Twitter post that an investigation had been opened and everything was being done to find the perpetrator. He did not give a motive for the stabbing.