With Afghan pullout, US ditches ‘forever wars’

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits Bagram Air Base north of Kabul on July 9, 2021 after the US troops' departure. Afghan Presidential Palace photo via REUTERS)
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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits Bagram Air Base north of Kabul on July 9, 2021 after the US troops' departure. Afghan Presidential Palace photo via REUTERS)
Former Mujahideen in Herat province take up arms again to support Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. (REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad)
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Former Mujahideen in Herat province take up arms again to support Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. (REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad)
 Followers of Ata Mohammad Noor, chief of Jamiat-e-Islami and a powerful northern warlord, stand guard in Mazar-e-Sharif ready to fight the Taliban. (AP)
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Followers of Ata Mohammad Noor, chief of Jamiat-e-Islami and a powerful northern warlord, stand guard in Mazar-e-Sharif ready to fight the Taliban. (AP)
Former Afghan interpreters, who worked with US troops in Afghanistan, demonstrate in front of the US embassy in Kabul on June 25, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Former Afghan interpreters, who worked with US troops in Afghanistan, demonstrate in front of the US embassy in Kabul on June 25, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 11 July 2021

With Afghan pullout, US ditches ‘forever wars’

With Afghan pullout, US ditches ‘forever wars’
  • The US and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government, which had protected Al-Qaeda, and got stuck
  • iden announced Thursday that US military involvement would conclude by August 31

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden’s pullout from Afghanistan has stunned with its speed, but Washington already decided four years ago that it was fed up with “forever wars” and turned its attention to traditional great power competition with China and Russia.
Fighting stateless terror groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State consumed the US security establishment, and trillions of dollars, since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Biden predecessor Donald Trump came to office in 2017 promising to quit Afghanistan, calling the war there a “mess” and a “waste.”
The conflicts there and in Iraq had come to be characterized by unending troop deployments, persistent levels of violence, and no ability to conclusively defeat the enemy.
By 2020 Trump had overcome resistance and laid the ground for pullouts, leaving only 2,500 troops in each country by the time he stepped down in January. Biden accepted that trajectory, announcing Thursday that US military involvement in Afghanistan would conclude by August 31.
“We are ending America’s longest war,” he said. “The United States cannot afford to remain tethered to policies created to respond to a world as it was 20 years ago.”The 9/11 attacks blindsided the US security establishment, forcing a whole-of-government refocus and the launching of the “War on Terror.”
The US and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government, which had protected Al-Qaeda.
And then-president George W. Bush took advantage to also invade Iraq to overthrow strongman Saddam Hussein, hoping to remake the Middle East and snuff out a broader threat.
The initial assaults largely succeeded quickly, with Al-Qaeda fractured and on the run in Afghanistan, and Saddam deposed and captured in Iraq.
But in both cases the United States and allies remained on the ground, hoping to rebuild each country, and unable to pull out without risking a return to the pre-9/11 situation.
Then, starting in 2013, US security leaders rebooted their views when new Chinese President Xi Jinping began aggressively expanding his country’s military.
Seeking to counter and surpass US military strength, China began building armed bases on disputed islets in the South China Sea, added a base in Djibouti and planned other bases around Asia and the Middle East.




Former Mujahideen in Herat province take up arms again to support Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. (REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad)

Meanwhile in 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin sent forces to seize Ukraine’s Crimea and supported an insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Two years later Moscow mustered an aggressive campaign to influence the US presidential elections.
During the same period, young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un embarked on an ambitious plan to develop nuclear weapons with missiles that could threaten the United States.
Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy confirmed the pivot.
“China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity,” it said.
“They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.”

Reminiscent of the Cold War, the reorientation meant a Pentagon push to expand its navy, build stronger long-range bomber and submarine strike forces, and update its nuclear weapons.
It has also meant countering the Chinese and Russian challenge in new domains, with the Pentagon establishing both Space Command and Cyber Command.
The new priorities took root under Trump, and Biden confirmed them in March in his own national security policy.




Former Mujahideen in Herat province take up arms again to support Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban. (REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad)

“The distribution of power across the world is changing, creating new threats. China, in particular, has rapidly become more assertive,” it said.
“Both Beijing and Moscow have invested heavily in efforts meant to check US strengths and prevent us from defending our interests and allies around the world.”
Instead of Afghanistan and Iraq-Syria, Ukraine and Taiwan are the new flashpoints.
Both have recently received more and more advanced US weaponry to deter, respectively, Russia and China.
The Pentagon created a new office focused on China. US naval vessels regularly sail the waters around Taiwan and in the South China Sea, implicitly challenging China’s territorial claims.
As for Russia, Biden has sought to strengthen bonds with NATO allies.
Over the past week, too, US vessels took part in exercises in the Black Sea where Russian forces were conducting their own manuevers.
Counter-terrorism doesn’t end with the Afghanistan pullout, the Pentagon stresses.
But it is turning more remote-directed — using air and missile strikes from remote bases and vessels to act in Afghanistan where Al-Qaeda still operates.
“We are repositioning our resources and adapting our counterterrorism posture to meet the threats where they are now,” Biden said.


As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Updated 27 May 2022

As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
  • Prolonged dry periods have been more frequent in recent years due to climate change
  • Farmers build soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water

KATHMANDU: Water scarcity in Kuinkel Thumka, a mountainous village in eastern Nepal, has for years made life difficult for residents — until a few months ago, when they started to capture excess rainfall during the monsoon season.

Located in the Middle Hills, between the Himalayas and Tarai, the village of 850 people lies in Kavrepalanchok district of Bagmati province, where the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), has introduced soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water.

“We built a soil-cement tank in our village eight months ago and started to collect rain,” Gita Kuinkel, a 53-year-old farmer, told Arab News.

“Before this tank, we didn’t have enough water and our lives were hard. It was not enough for our cattle, household chores and irrigation. Now, the water is enough,” she said.

“We don’t have to buy vegetables, we grow and eat vegetables from our own home gardens.”

Cheap soil-cement conservation ponds are constructed in the region with the help of ICIMOD, an intergovernmental research center serving countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, and the Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), a leading Nepali developmental NGO.

The ponds capture excess rainfall during the monsoon, making water available during prolonged dry periods, which in recent years have been more frequent, even in the Himalayas, as South Asia is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves due to climate change.

Sanjeev Bhuchar, a water management expert at ICIMOD, told Arab News that more than 80 percent of Nepal’s 13 million population was dependent on mountain springs as the primary source of water. But the springs are drying up.

“In Nepal and other Himalaya-Hindu Kush countries, depletion of springs is one of the major emerging water crises,” he said.

“There is increasing evidence that spring discharge is decreasing, or in some cases, ceasing altogether.”

Within the past three years, more than 400 ponds have been built across the country, according to Kiran Bhusal, project coordinator at CEAPRED.

“Farmers can easily build such tanks because the procedure is very easy. It is built with mixtures of soil, sand and cement,” he said. “It is helping the people so much.”

Kamala Adhikary, another resident of Kuinkel Thumka, said that it cost the village about $160 to build a water conservation pond, and the standard of living has changed ever since.

“We didn’t have enough water for drinking, we had to buy water from other areas,” she said.

“Now we can wash our clothes, use it for our cattle and even we do farming, and earn money because of it. It improved our economic condition. A lot of problems have been solved.”

 


Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
Updated 27 May 2022

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
  • Number being granted refuge hits 30-year high
  • Most enter via small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risk of prosecution

LONDON: Charities have raised concerns over the potential for asylum seekers to be criminalized or transferred to Rwanda as the number being granted refuge in the UK hits a 30-year high.
The Guardian reported on Friday that Home Office data for the 12 months to March shows 75 percent of asylum claims were granted, with Syrians, Eritreans and Sudanese forming the majority of people making their way from countries with typically high approval rates.
However, most of them entered the UK by small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risks of prosecution under the Nationality and Borders Act passed last month.
The same dataset also showed an increase in the number of Afghans making their way to the UK via the dangerous English Channel crossing, indicating that the resettlement schemes launched after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last year are not working.
“The government has said it is giving Afghans a ‘warm welcome,’ but these figures reveal that many have felt they have been left with no option but to take this dangerous route to make it to the UK,” said Marley Morris, associate director for migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
“The government’s new plans in response to the Channel crossings could mean that Afghan asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda.
“Contrary to the government’s claims, there are few safe routes for people forced into small boats to make it to the UK.”


Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
Updated 27 May 2022

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
  • "We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily," said Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness
  • So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries

GENEVA: Countries should take quick steps to contain the spread of monkeypox and share data about their vaccine stockpiles, a senior World Health Organization official said on Friday.
“We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the UN agency’s annual assembly.
Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa.
It spreads chiefly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases in Europe, the United States and other areas has raised alarms.
So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating.
“For us, we think that the key priority currently is trying to contain this transmission in non-endemic countries,” Briand told a technical briefing for member states.
Needed measures included the early detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing, she added.
Member states should also share information about first generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can also be effective against monkeypox, Briand said.
“We don’t know exactly the number of doses available in the world and so that’s why we encourage countries to come to WHO and tell us what are their stockpiles,” she said. A slide of her presentation described global supplies as “very constrained.”
Currently, WHO officials are advising against mass vaccination, instead suggesting targeted vaccination where available for close contacts of people infected.
“Case investigation, contact tracing, isolation at home will be your best bets,” said Rosamund Lewis, WHO head of the smallpox secretariat which is part of the WHO Emergencies Programme.


Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school
Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school
  • Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto

MONTREAL: Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle, local media reported, in an incident that forced several schools into lockdown just two days after a deadly assault on a US primary school.
Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto, and the circumstances of what transpired next were not immediately clear.
But city police chief James Ramer told reporters that the suspect, described as a man in his late teens or early 20s, was dead after he had “confronted” responding officers, without elaborating.
The police force’s Twitter account said that after officers located the man, a “police firearm” was “discharged.”
A spokeswoman for the Special Investigations Unit told the CBC that preliminary evidence showed that two police officers had fired their weapons, and the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
It was not clear if the man was holding the weapon when police shot him.
Ramer said he was unable to offer more details, as the incident was under investigation.
“There’s no threat to public safety,” he said.
“Due to the proximity to a school, I certainly understand the trauma and how traumatic this must have been for staff, students and parents, given recent events that have happened in the United States,” the chief added.
On Tuesday, a shooting at a Texas elementary school left 21 dead — 19 children and two teachers.


Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan
Updated 26 May 2022

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan
  • Iranians and Iraqis combined make up almost a third of those seeking a better life in the UK
  • The BBC reported 1,094 Afghans made the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2022

LONDON: One in four migrants crossing the English Channel in the first quarter of the year are people fleeing Afghanistan, according to figures released by the UK Home Office.
The BBC reported 1,094 Afghans made the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2022, almost as many as the 1,323 Afghans that attempted the crossing in the entirety of 2021.
Iranians made up the next highest demographic at 16 percent, with Iraqis the third highest at 15 percent.
While the figures claim 90 percent of Afghans who made it to the UK were granted asylum, they do not include the UK’s two resettlement schemes set up in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the country in August.
The plans have faced criticism from politicians and sections of the public for leaving thousands of UK translators and others who worked for coalition forces behind after the UK withdrawal.
Compounding that failed operation, the numbers of non-Afghan refugees awaiting an asylum decision in the 12 months to March almost doubled from 66,000 to 109,000.
Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon said: “Increased numbers waiting for a decision is desperately worrying, and it leaves thousands of vulnerable men, women and children trapped in limbo.
“Adults, banned from working, living hand to mouth on less than £6 ($7.55) and left not knowing what their future holds; this simply is not good enough,” he added.
Amnesty International has pointed the finger of blame for the backlog in asylum decisions at the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, accusing her of a “disastrous leadership” over a department that has become “a byword for backlogs and dysfunction”.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said it had “helped thousands” of people fleeing Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.