Afghanistan defends move to arm people against Taliban territorial gains

Afghanistan defends move to arm people against Taliban territorial gains
Afghan militiamen join Afghan defense and security forces during a gathering in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 27 June 2021

Afghanistan defends move to arm people against Taliban territorial gains

Afghanistan defends move to arm people against Taliban territorial gains
  • ‘Spontaneous local uprising forces’ will operate under scrutiny of security sectors, says Interior Ministry spokesman

KABUL: Afghanistan on Sunday defended its controversial decision to arm nearly 30,000 people to help troops limit the Taliban from making more territorial gains, which began with the phased withdrawal of US-led forces from the country on May 1.

“These are spontaneous local uprising forces to help national security and defense forces against the Taliban because these terrorists have committed brutalities in captured areas,” Tariq Arian, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Arab News on Sunday.

He said these armed groups were not militia forces and would operate “under the scrutiny” of security sectors.

“We are not concerned that they will change into a threat but, if they act against the spirit of security forces, we will prevent that.”

Government resources for those wishing to join the “national mobilization” initiative are being channeled through factional and ethnic leaders, some of whom are accused of heinous crimes.

Factional militia bosses have repeatedly challenged past governments, including the administration led by President Ashraf Ghani, who pushed for the establishment of a “united front” and supporting local forces to strengthen peace and “safeguard the republic system" during a meeting with former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban figures last week.

Arian added that 30,000 locals had either “unearthed their arms” or been given weapons and resources by Kabul. They belong to various regions where the predominantly ethnic Pashtun Taliban have captured several dozen districts from troops in recent weeks.

Defense Ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said that most “volunteers” were from the north, where ethnic Hazara and Uzbek loyalists of warlords blocked the Taliban from capturing the area over two decades ago.

Thousands of militants were massacred, and an equal number of Taliban were reportedly left to suffocate in shipping containers after surrendering to the militias during a US-led invasion in 2001.

“The number of these people keeps rising,” Aman told Arab News.  “These are educated people who have picked up arms against the Taliban, and we can call them volunteers.”

Both officials said that the process of providing arms and resources to the locals “was not unchecked” and would not lead to another era of civil war similar to the 1990s after Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

The Taliban were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Sunday.

They have intensified their attacks in recent months, taking advantage of the reduced number of foreign forces amid an ongoing drawdown process which ends on Sept. 11.

The Taliban have overrun some strategic districts in the north, including in Kunduz where nearly 5,000 Afghan families fled their homes after days of fighting between the Taliban and government forces, according to media reports. There were also reports of an escalation in attacks in the provinces of Kandahar and Baghlan.

Ghani replaced his security chiefs last week amid increased Taliban gains, with newly appointed Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi calling on “patriots and people everywhere to stand alongside their security and defense forces,” while assuring of the government's support to “provide all equipment and resources.”

Some parliamentarians backed the move to arm locals, while others expressed concern about providing them with resources through militia bosses.

Mohammad Ibrahim Gheshtelai, an MP from southeastern Paktia province, explained why the initiative was a win-win for all.

“The nation had the desire to defend the country,” he told Arab News. “That is why they picked up arms by welcoming the government’s proposal. The government found a good source for defending the system. This is good for the survival of the system. Majority in the parliament support this, and there is no serious concern about it.”

However Ghulam Wali Afghan, a legislator from southern Helmand province, told Arab News that Kabul needed to make sure that the resources were not “misused by thieves, human rights abusers and criminals” as, otherwise, it would be civilians who suffered the most.

Some critics warned that relying on former ethnic militia leaders and informal local fighting groups could further weaken Kabul’s control over the military's effort and risk a revival of “abusive and predatory behavior by warlords” against whose narrative Ghani came to power in 2014.

“It is solidly clear that the immediate and long-term threat that militias will pose is for sure,” Zabihullah Pakteen, a political affairs analyst based in northern Afghanistan, told Arab News. “However, the government has no option but to opt for militias to stand against the Taliban. Genuine public uprising and militias are two different things, yet we do not see a mass public movement to counter the Taliban.”

Others pointed to the “dangerous” precedent being set by the government including ethnic leaders.

“The uprising movement, or making of militias, is very dangerous for now and the future of Afghanistan,” said Nasratullah Haqpal, a Kabul-based expert in political affairs, as several ethnic leaders had committed brutalities during the civil war in the past. “The public is concerned about this. Leaders benefit from this process, and it may stoke ethnic tension, and this has to stop,” he added.

In recent weeks, the Taliban have fiercely criticized the deployment of local groups by the government, referring to them as “arbakis” or former local militias who were notoriously abusive, and accusing them of “fanning the flames of war” to maintain a grip on power.

They also warned that such groups would receive “stern” treatment from Islamic authorities.


France says Biden acted like Trump to sink Australia defense deal

France says Biden acted like Trump to sink Australia defense deal
Updated 16 sec ago

France says Biden acted like Trump to sink Australia defense deal

France says Biden acted like Trump to sink Australia defense deal

PARIS: France accused US President Joe Biden on Thursday of stabbing it in the back and acting like his predecessor Donald Trump after Paris was pushed aside from a historic defense export contract to supply Australia with submarines.
The United States, Britain and Australia announced they would establish a security partnership for the Indo-Pacific that will help Australia acquire US nuclear-powered submarines and scrap the $40 billion French-designed submarine deal.
“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr.Trump used to do,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told franceinfo radio. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”
It is the latest dramatic twist in a contest that has seen naval shipbuilding powers battle for years over what many observers called the world’s largest single arms export deal.
In 2016, Australia had selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines.
Just two weeks ago, the Australian defense and foreign ministers had reconfirmed the deal to France, and French President Emmanuel Macron lauded decades of future cooperation when hosting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in June.
“It’s a stab in the back. We created a relationship of trust with Australia and that trust has been broken,” Le Drian said.
French relations with the United States soured during the presidency of Trump, who often irritated European allies by demanding they increase their defense spending to help NATO while reaching out to adversaries like Russia and North Korea.
Diplomats say there have been concerns in recent months that Biden is not being forthright with his European allies.
The French Embassy in Washington said it was canceling a gala event related to French-US ties on Friday following the day’s events.
France’s ties with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have also soured over the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Washington’s actions in Australia are likely to further strain transatlantic ties, political analysts said. The European Union was due to roll out its Indo-Pacific strategy on Thursday and Paris is poised to take on the EU presidency.
“This is a clap of thunder and for many in Paris a Trafalgar moment,” Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Paris-based think tank the Foundation of Strategic Research said on Twitter, referring to a French naval defeat in 1805 that was followed by a long period of British naval supremacy.
He said it would “complicate the transatlantic cooperation in and about the region. Beijing will benefit.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said France was a “vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific region and that Washington would continue to cooperate with Paris, comments that appeared aimed at calming French anger.
Those comments are likely to fall on deaf ears in the immediate term.
A French official said they had not been informed of the deal until a few hours before it was announced and that Paris would not fooled by platitudes.
Morrison said Australia looked forward to continuing to work “closely and positively” with France, adding: “France is a key friend and partner to Australia and the Indo-Pacific.”

’JAW-DROPPING’
It is the second setback to French defense exports in three months after Switzerland spurned Dassault’s Rafale to buy US-made Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters.
Analysts said the loss of the much bigger submarine contract was a significant blow to France, whose experienced arms sales machine had gone all out to wrest the submarine deal from likely winner Japan under then defense minister Le Drian in 2016.
Germany had also been in the race.
The 2016 win came a decade after France radically overhauled the way it handled arms sales following Paris’ embarrassment over the loss of a contest to sell fighters to Morocco.
Word of its cancelation dominated Europe’s largest arms fair in London where one delegate called it “jaw-dropping.”
France’s Thales, which analysts say stood to gain about $1 billion from sales of sonars and optronics — the eyes and ears of the French submarines — swiftly reassured investors its 2021 finances would not be hit.
But some analysts warned France’s furious reaction over the Australian contract could backfire and noted there had been reports of Australian doubts over the pace of implementation.
Thales, which owns 35 percent of Naval Group, remains Australia’s biggest local defense contractor through a subsidiary.
“Betrayal is the wrong language and hurts France’s position in Australia; it can poison the well,” said UK-based defense analyst Francis Tusa, adding France would now be more reliant on selling Rafales to secure its place in the global arms market.


British study to test mixed COVID-19 vaccine dose schedules in children

British study to test mixed COVID-19 vaccine dose schedules in children
Updated 17 September 2021

British study to test mixed COVID-19 vaccine dose schedules in children

British study to test mixed COVID-19 vaccine dose schedules in children
  • The study, called Com-COV3, will test different vaccine schedules in 12- to 16-year-olds, looking at the immune responses and milder side-effects

LONDON: A British study will look into the immune responses of children to mixed schedules of different COVID-19 vaccines as officials try to determine the best approach to second doses in adolescents given a small risk of heart inflammation.
Children aged 12-15 in Britain will be vaccinated from next week, while those aged 16-17 have been eligible for shots since August.
However, while the children will be offered a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, officials have said that advice about second doses will be given at a later date, while more data is gathered.
Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) initially declined to recommend shots for all 12- to 15-year-olds, citing uncertainty over the long-term impact of myocarditis, a rare side effect of mRNA-based vaccines such as Pfizer’s. The heart condition typically resolves itself with mild short-term consequences, health experts have said.
Hong Kong has advised children only get one shot, owing to similar concerns over heart inflammation.
The study, called Com-COV3, will test different vaccine schedules in 12- to 16-year-olds, looking at the immune responses and milder side-effects.
“The concern here is about the risks of myocarditis, particularly with the second dose with Pfizer vaccine in young men,” the trial’s lead researcher, Matthew Snape of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told reporters.
“This will provide the JCVI with information crucial to informing their advice about immunizing teenagers in the UK,” he said.
The trial will give all participants a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That will be followed eight weeks later by either a second full dose or a half dose of the Pfizer shot, a full dose of Novavax’s vaccine or a half dose of Moderna’s shot.
The trial is recruiting 360 volunteers, not large enough to directly assess the myocarditis risk of the different combinations, which Snape said was 1 in 15,000 after two doses of the Pfizer shot in young men.
But, he added, it “would be reassuring to see if there was a lower inflammatory response after one of these changes compared to Pfizer (followed by) Pfizer,” and that it might be “reasonable to infer that the risks of myocarditis might be lower” in such an instance.
Snape is running another arm of the trial in adults, giving mixed vaccine schedules both four and 12 weeks apart, and comparing the responses. He said the results of that would be coming “very shortly.”


Not gone yet: Angela Merkel to hang on as active caretaker

Not gone yet: Angela Merkel to hang on as active caretaker
Updated 16 September 2021

Not gone yet: Angela Merkel to hang on as active caretaker

Not gone yet: Angela Merkel to hang on as active caretaker
  • Germany votes in national election on Sept. 26

BERLIN: After 16 years in power, Chancellor Angela Merkel is not seeking reelection in Germany’s Sept. 26 election but she is anything but a lame duck.

The likelihood of protracted coalition talks after the vote means Merkel will not be leaving office any time soon and she fully intends to use her time after the election to press on with foreign policy initiatives, government officials say.

Under the German constitution, Merkel will remain chancellor until a majority of Bundestag lawmakers elects a successor, who is then sworn in.

There are no formal restrictions on her powers in this time, though Merkel is a consensus seeker and previous chancellors have not taken radical decisions during the window.

Ukraine and European Union climate talks are two issues in her sights.

“She will have to play an important role, because everybody in Berlin will be involved in the coalition talks,” a leading conservative in Berlin said of negotiations on the EU’s climate protection plans.

Armin Laschet, Merkel’s would-be conservative successor, and Greens co-leader Robert Habeck both expect coalition negotiations to run for the rest of the year. After the Sept. 24, 2017 election, they went on until the following March.

A fractured vote means coalition formation could be more complicated this time, meaning Merkel could easily surpass her former mentor, Helmut Kohl, as the longest-serving post-war chancellor — a record she would set on Dec. 17.

Such a scenario would give Merkel the chance to broker a new round of so-called “Normandy format” talks with Russia, Ukraine and France in an effort to quell the conflict in eastern Ukraine — negotiations she pushed for during a trip to Kyiv last month.

“I advocate working on having another meeting at the political leadership level with myself, the French president and of course the Russian and Ukrainian presidents,” she said during that trip, making clear this could happen after Sept. 26.

One person is especially nervous about her future role: French President Emmanuel Macron.

French diplomats say they are worried that coalition talks could drag on into the first half of next year, when Macron will need a strong German partner both to champion his European agenda during France’s rotating EU presidency and when he faces French presidential elections.

“In that case it would be even best for Macron if Merkel remained in office until the presidential election in April 2022,” said Claire Demesmay, France expert at the DGaP German Council on Foreign Relations.

 

Turbulent climate

Merkel and Macron’s governments have been scoping out what they can agree during the French EU presidency, and a productive tenure would boost Macron’s reelection chances, Demesmay said.

“It would be very bad for him if a new coalition were to form at the beginning of 2022 — because the German partner would then be largely absent for agreements,” she added.

Merkel has already indicated she will have a role to play beyond September in the EU’s climate protection plans, titled “Fit for 55.”

Saying tough negotiations on this could begin while a new German government was being formed and she was still acting chancellor, she said in July: “We want to make sure we have a good handover.”


Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads
Updated 16 September 2021

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads
  • Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, popularly known as Farmajo, Italian for cheese, inherited a deeply unstable nation where Al-Shabab extremists still hold swathes of countryside
  • Mohamed Hussein Roble, the Swedish-trained civil engineer, is seen by many as a straight talker who understands Somalia’s complex makeup and is ready to discuss issues openly

MOGADISHU: When Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was elected president of Somalia in February 2017, his supporters hoped he could be the answer to corruption and extremism in Africa’s most notorious failed state.

But the veteran diplomat triggered a political crisis when he extended his mandate and failed to hold elections, and is now locked in an escalating standoff with Mohamed Hussein Roble, the man he appointed premier just a year ago.

The 59-year-old father of four is popularly known as Farmajo, a name derived from the Italian word for cheese, although it is unclear why he earned this nickname.

He spent several years studying and working in the United States but gave up his American citizenship in 2019.

Farmajo was elected president by MPs in a converted aircraft hangar after a six-month voting process marred by widespread allegations of vote-buying and corruption.

He inherited a deeply unstable nation where Al-Shabab extremists still hold swathes of countryside despite being routed from the capital Mogadishu in 2011.

“This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation, the beginning of the fight against Shabab and corruption,” a triumphant Farmajo said.

Born in Mogadishu to activist parents from the Darod clan, the politically savvy Farmajo was welcomed by many Somalis who wanted change after a series of Hawiye presidents in a country where clan divisions dominate politics.

He himself had served as prime minister for a brief stint in 2010-11 when he notably implemented the first monthly stipends for soldiers and established an anti-corruption commission.

In 2011, after months of infighting over the staging of a presidential election, a deal was struck to postpone the vote in exchange for Farmajo’s resignation.

He agreed to step down as premier in “the interest of the Somali people.”

The following year Farmajo and members of his former cabinet set up the Tayo (Quality) party, but after he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency he stepped back from politics for several years.

As president since 2017, he has adopted a strong nationalist stance, and at one stage broke off diplomatic ties with Kenya — an approach that earned him support from some Somalis, although he has also made plenty of enemies.

A supporter of a strong central state, Farmajo has been accused of meddling in several state elections by attempting to place his allies in power there.

In April 2021, parliament extended Farmajo’s term after a failure to agree on terms for new elections, setting off an unprecedented constitutional crisis and street battles in Mogadishu.

One rival described him as a “dictator” who wanted to stay in power by force.

Mohamed Hussein Roble won the unanimous approval of parliament in 2020 to become premier despite being a political neophyte, and has won over even the opposition with his even-keeled approach to organizing the long-delayed elections.

While lacking the oratory skills of his predecessor Hassan Ali Khaire, the Swedish-trained civil engineer is seen by many as a straight talker who understands Somalia’s complex makeup and is ready to discuss issues openly.

The 57-year-old technocrat, who had worked at the UN’s International Labour Organization in Nairobi, initially took a back seat to Farmajo.

But the two men increasingly clashed as the premier took on a more high-profile role and challenged his boss on several key issues.

After the crisis over the delayed polls descended into violence this year, he vowed to lead the country into “just, free, fair and transparent elections.”

“I have no personal interest in this election and I have no one to be allied to — all I am working for is justice for all,” was his lofty declaration in June.

People who know Roble describe him as a man of simple tastes but who likes doing things his own way.

But some say his lack of experience and tendency to hasty decisions could make him vulnerable to exploitation by more powerful players.


German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat
Updated 16 September 2021

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat
  • On Wednesday afternoon, police had cordoned off the synagogue after receiving tips about a possible attack
  • Dozens of police officers secured the building overnight and were still on the scene Thursday morning

BERLIN:German security officials said Thursday they had detained four people, one of them a 16-year-old, in connection with a suspected plan to attack a synagogue in the western city of Hagen.
The detentions took place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, and two years after a deadly attack in another German city on the Yom Kippur holiday.
“One of the four people was a teenager living in Hagen,” police spokeswoman Tanja Pfeffer in nearby Dortmund told The Associated Press. She declined to comment on a report by news magazine Der Spiegel saying the teenager was a Syrian national.
Without identifying sources, newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that a foreign intelligence service tipped off German security officials abut the threat.
It said the teenager told someone in an online chat that he was planning an attack with explosives on a synagogue, and the probe led investigators to the 16-year-old, who lived with his father in Hagen.
The detentions Thursday were preceded by police searches of several homes in Hagen, police said.
The interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Hagen is located, confirmed that there was an attack threat, news agency dpa reported.
Speaking to young police officers in the city of Cologne, Herbert Reul said: ”Your colleagues probably prevented” an attack.
On Wednesday afternoon, police had cordoned off the synagogue after receiving tips about a possible attack. Dozens of police officers secured the building overnight and were still on the scene Thursday morning.
The threat came as Jews were preparing for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. Following the threat, a festive service planned for Wednesday night at the synagogue was canceled, dpa reported.
Hagen police said Wednesday night that they were in close contact with the Jewish community.
Two years ago on Yom Kippur, a German right-wing extremist attacked a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle. The attack on is considered one of the worst anti-Semitic assaults in the country’s post-war history.
The attacker repeatedly tried, but failed, to force his way into the synagogue with 52 worshippers inside. He then shot and killed a 40-year-old woman in the street outside and a 20-year-old man at a nearby kebab shop as an “appropriate target” with immigrant roots.
He posted an anti-Semitic screed before carrying out the Oct. 9, 2019, attack in the eastern German city of Halle and broadcast the shooting live on a popular gaming site.
German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht sharply condemned the foiled Hagen attack.
“It is intolerable that Jews are again exposed to such a horrible threat and that they cannot celebrate the start of their highest holiday, Yom Kippur, together,” the minister said.