Taliban warns Turkey against keeping troops to guard Kabul airport

Taliban warns Turkey against keeping troops to guard Kabul airport
Members of the Afghan Special Forces get ready before a combat mission against Taliban, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Sunday. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 July 2021

Taliban warns Turkey against keeping troops to guard Kabul airport

Taliban warns Turkey against keeping troops to guard Kabul airport
  • Facility has air defense system to foil rocket attacks

KABUL: The Taliban on Monday warned Turkey against keeping some of its troops in Afghanistan to run and guard Kabul airport after US and NATO forces withdraw next month, saying that any country choosing to do so would be treated as an “occupier.”

Turkey has more than 500 troops in Afghanistan as part of a non-combat NATO mission, with some soldiers training security forces and others serving at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

“Turkey has been in Afghanistan for the past 20 years with NATO, and if it wants to remain now, without any doubt, we regard it as an occupier and will act against it,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Arab News.

As NATO’s only Muslim member, Turkey’s noncombat troops have rarely been attacked by the Taliban or other insurgent groups in Afghanistan, with Mujahid saying the Taliban “always wanted to forge good relations” with Turkey and “endeavored to have normal ties.”

But he rejected Ankara’s proposal to oversee the airport’s operations.

“We have lots of commonalities with Turkey … and they are Muslim, but if they intervene and keep its troops, then it will bear the responsibility.”

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara had reached a conditional deal with Washington, DC to take over the airport’s security after the NATO withdrawal.

“Our defense minister met with the US defense secretary, and we had a meeting with US and NATO to discuss the future of the Hamid Karzai International Airport,” Erdogan said on July 9. “We decided on what we accept in this respect and which conditions we don’t agree upon.”

The airport’s security is crucial for military and civilian flights and the safe passage of international aid groups and diplomats in Afghanistan.

Ankara has, however, said it cannot carry out the mission without support and would need additional troops for it.

Since the drawdown of coalition forces began on May 1, the Taliban have made rapid territorial gains against Afghan government forces in several regions, including areas near Kabul.

The advances have stoked fears about security in the capital and its airport, which has come under rocket strikes by both Taliban and Daesh affiliates in the past, despite the presence of coalition forces at the facility. When contacted by Arab News on Monday, several government officials, including those from President Ashraf Ghani’s office, refused to comment on Turkey’s decision to keep troops.

However, a Defense Ministry spokesman said that the Kabul airport had been fitted with an air defense system, to counter incoming rockets, over the weekend.

“This system installed at Kabul airport, (which) has been tested in other parts of the world, will be highly effective in foiling rocket attacks on Kabul airport as well,” Fawad Aman said.

Following secret talks with the Taliban that lasted nearly 16 months, the former US administration under President Donald Trump agreed to a deal with the insurgent group in Feb. 2020 to pull out all troops by May 1, after nearly 20 years of occupation in Afghanistan.

However, after assuming office in January, President Joe Biden said it was technically difficult to meet the deadline and vowed to withdraw the soldiers by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks in the US.

Last week, Biden said all foreign forces would exit the country by Aug. 31, while US and British officials said they would keep hundreds of soldiers to train Afghan troops and for security reasons.

The Taliban have accused the US of failing to abide by the deal, threatening to target any country that wished to keep troops beyond Sept. 11.

In May, when Ankara expressed its readiness to run the airport, the Taliban refused to attend a crucial, US-sponsored international meeting on Afghanistan in Turkey, aimed at settling the decades-old conflict.

One expert said that seeking to take over the security and operations of Kabul airport was nothing short of treason.

“Kabul airport is more important for the world, US and Europe than any other part of Afghanistan because they will use that as an exit or fleeing path when things become worse here,” Mohammad Hassan, an analyst and former Afghan colonel, told Arab News. “The entire country is burning, but the world only wants to protect the airport for their goals. This is really a big treason against the Afghan nation.”

At least 2 dead in blasts in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad: health official, media

At least 2 dead in blasts in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad: health official, media
Updated 18 September 2021

At least 2 dead in blasts in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad: health official, media

At least 2 dead in blasts in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad: health official, media

JALALABAD: At least two people were killed and 19 more were wounded in separate explosions in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, according to a health official and local media.
The attacks, which targeted Taliban vehicles, are the first deadly blasts since the new government was established in Afghanistan.
A health official at a hospital in the city confirmed the death toll to AFP.


France says Australia-US submarine deal ‘huge mistake’

France says Australia-US submarine deal ‘huge mistake’
Updated 18 September 2021

France says Australia-US submarine deal ‘huge mistake’

France says Australia-US submarine deal ‘huge mistake’
  • The deal scraps a 90 billion Australian dollar contract with French majority state-owned Naval Group,

CANBERRA, Australia: France’s ambassador to Australia has described as a “huge mistake” Australia’s surprise cancelation of a major submarine contract in favor of a US deal, as the diplomat prepared to leave the country in an unprecedented show of anger among the allies.
French envoy Jean-Pierre Thebault delivered his comments Saturday as he left his residence in the capital of Canberra.
“This has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of the partnership,” Thebault said, explaining that the arms agreement between Paris and Canberra was supposed to be based “on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity.”
Paris recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the United States on Friday to protest a deal among the United States, Australia and Britain to supply Australia with a fleet of at least eight nuclear-power submarines.
The deal scraps a 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) contract with French majority state-owned Naval Group, signed in 2016, to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.
“I would like to be able to run into a time machine and be in a situation where we don’t end up in such an incredible, clumsy, inadequate, un-Australian situation,” the French ambassador added.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office earlier had issued a statement responding to the diplomat’s recall and noting Canberra’s “regret” over its ally’s withdrawal of its representative.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests,” the statement said. It added that Australia values its relationship with France and looked forward to future engagements together.
Payne and Defense Minister Peter Dutton are currently in the United States for annual talks with their US counterparts and their first with President Joe Biden’s administration.
Before he was recalled, French envoy Thebault said on Friday he found out about the US submarine deal: “Like everybody, thanks to the Australian press.”
“We never were informed about any substantial changes,” Thebault said. “There were many opportunities and many channels. Never was such a change mentioned.”
After the US deal was made public this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he told French President Emanuel Macron in June that there were “very real issues about whether a conventional submarine capability” would address Australia’s strategic security needs in the Indo-Pacific.
Morrison has not specifically referred to China’s massive military buildup which had gained pace in recent years.
Morrison was in Paris on his way home from a Group of Seven nations summit in Britain where he had talks with soon-to-be-alliance partners Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Thebault said he had also been at the meeting with Macron and Morrison.
Morrison mentioned “there were changes in the regional situation,” but gave no indication that Australia was considering changing to nuclear propulsion, Thebault said.
“Everything was supposed to be done in full transparency between the two partners,” he added.
Thebault said difficulties the project had encountered were normal for its scale and large transfers of technologies.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Friday that recalling the two ambassadors, on request from Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.
Le Drian said Australia’s decision to scrap the submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with US technology is “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”
Senior opposition lawmaker Mark Dreyfus called on the Australian government to fix its relationship with France.
“The impact on our relationship with France is a concern, particularly as a country with important interests in our region,” Dreyfus said.
“The French were blindsided by this decision and Mr. Morrison should have done much more to protect the relationship,” he added.

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270
Updated 18 September 2021

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270
  • In Sydney, riot squad officers, highway patrol, detectives and general duties police were deployed

MELBOURNE: Australia’s police arrested 235 people in Melbourne and 32 in Sydney on Saturday at unsanctioned anti-lockdown rallies and several police officers were injured in clashes with protesters.
Victoria police said six officers required hospitalization. Several officers were knocked to the ground and trampled, the police said and television footage showed.
About 700 people managed to gather in parts of Melbourne, as 2,000 officers made the city center virtually a no-go zone, setting up checkpoints and barricades. Public transport and ride shares into the city were suspended.
In Sydney, riot squad officers, highway patrol, detectives and general duties police were also deployed to the streets, preventing large gatherings.
Australia has been grappling with an outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus since mid-June, with both Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra, in strict lockdowns for weeks now. On Saturday, there were 1,882 new coronavirus cases reported, most of them in Sydney.
Most of the restrictions in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra are to remain until at least 70 percent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, which based on the current pace of inoculations could be in late October or early November.
A high rate of compliance with public health orders has helped Australia keep the number of infections relatively low, with just under 85,000 total cases and 1,145 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The vast majority of Australians support vaccinations and the public health measures, but there have been sporadic and sometimes violent protests against the management of the pandemic.
“It was extremely disappointing to see another example of a small minority of the community showing a complete disregard for the health and safety of not only police, but each and every other Victorian,” Victoria Police said in a statement.

Girls excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan

Girls excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan
Updated 18 September 2021

Girls excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan

Girls excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan
  • The United Nations said it was “deeply worried” for the future of girls’ schooling in Afghanistan

KABUL: Girls were excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan on Saturday, after the country’s new Taliban rulers ordered only boys and male teachers back to the classroom.
The hard-line Islamist group ousted the US-backed government last month, promising a softer brand of rule than their repressive reign in the 1990s, when women were mostly banned from education and work.
But the diktat from the education ministry was the latest move from the new government to threaten women’s rights.
“All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions,” a statement said ahead of classes resuming Saturday.
The statement, issued late Friday, made no mention of women teachers or girl pupils.
Secondary schools, with students typically between the ages of 13 and 18, are often segregated by sex in Afghanistan. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they have faced repeated closures and have been shut since the Taliban seized power.
Since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001, significant progress has been made in girls’ education, with the number of schools tripling and female literacy nearly doubling to 30 percent — however, the change was largely limited to the cities.
The United Nations said it was “deeply worried” for the future of girls’ schooling in Afghanistan.
“It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays. For that, we need female teachers to resume teaching,” the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF said.
Primary schools have already reopened, with boys and girls mostly attending separate classes and some women teachers returning to work.
The new regime has also permitted women to go to private universities, though with tough restrictions on their clothes and movement.
In a further sign that the Taliban’s approach to women and girls had not softened, they appeared to have shut down the government’s ministry of women’s affairs and replaced it with a department notorious for enforcing strict religious doctrine during their first rule.
In Kabul on Friday, workers were seen raising a sign for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice at the old Women’s Affairs building in the capital.
Videos posted to social media showed women workers from the ministry protesting outside after losing their jobs.
No official from the Taliban responded to requests for comment.
Although still marginalized, Afghan women have fought for and gained basic rights in the past 20 years, becoming lawmakers, judges, pilots and police officers.
Hundreds of thousands have entered the workforce — a necessity in some cases as many women were widowed or now support invalid husbands as a result of decades of conflict.
The Taliban have shown little inclination to honor those rights — no women have been included in the government and many have been stopped from returning to work.
Meanwhile, a top United States general admitted it had made a “mistake” when it launched a drone strike against suspected Daesh militants in Kabul last month, instead killing 10 civilians, including children.
The strike during the final days of the US pullout was meant to target a suspected Daesh operation that US intelligence believed with “reasonable certainty” was planning to attack Kabul airport, said US Central Command commander General Kenneth McKenzie.
“The strike was a tragic mistake,” McKenzie told reporters after an investigation.
McKenzie said the government was looking into how payments for damages could be made to the families of those killed.
“I offer my deepest condolences to surviving family members of those who were killed,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
The UN Security Council voted Friday to extend the UN political mission in Afghanistan for six months, with a focus on development issues but not peacekeeping.

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election
Updated 18 September 2021

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election
  • The race for governor is being closely watched to gauge how much anger remains in the region

KHABAROVSK, Russia: The handful of demonstrators gathering each evening in Khabarovsk are a shadow of the masses who took part in an unusually sustained wave of protests last year in the Russian Far Eastern city, but they are a chronic reminder of the political tensions that persist.
The demonstrators have been demanding the release of the region’s popular former governor, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested last year on charges of being involved in killings.
Now, his Kremlin-appointed replacement, Mikhail Degtyaryov, is on the ballot for governor in the three days of regional voting that concludes Sunday. The regional election is taking place at the same time that Russians are voting for members of the State Duma, the national parliament.
The race for governor is being closely watched to gauge how much anger remains in the region, located seven time zones and 6,100 kilometers (3,800 miles) east of Moscow.
“The region really worries the Kremlin because they don’t want a repeat of those incidents (last years’ protests) of course. Khabarovsk is now under close supervision,” said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
Three other people are on the ballot for governor, but supporters of Furgal and others in the city of about 600,000 complain they are insignificant candidates who were allowed to run to give the appearance of a democratic and competitive race.
“Whoever posed even the smallest threat was barred from running, and they left only spoiler candidates,” said 64-year-old protester Zigmund Khudyakov.
Notably, United Russia — the country’s dominant political party and loyal backer of President Vladimir Putin — is not fielding a candidate for governor in Khabarovsk. Nor is Russia’s second-largest party, the Communists.
Degtyaryov, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, is widely believed to be backed by the Kremlin with both advice and money.
The man who wanted to run on the Communist ticket was kept off the ballot because he was unable to get enough signatures from officials. That aspiring candidate, Pyotr Perevezentsev, told The Associated Press that municipal authorities in some districts had been told by their superiors whose nominating petitions to sign.
“People representing the presidential administration curated these elections,” he said.
Separately, Furgal’s son Anton says he was kept off the ballot for the national parliament. “There is an opinion that if my last name had been Ivanov, for example, I would likely be allowed to run,” he said.
Degtyaryov rejects such claims.
“As head of the Khabarovsk regional government, I am obligated to ensure transparent, legal, free and fair elections, and we are following all of these provisions,” he said on a recent televised question-and-answer session with residents.
The weeks of protests that arose after Sergei Furgal’s arrest in July 2020 appeared to catch authorities by surprise. Unlike in Moscow, where police usually move quickly to disperse unsanctioned rallies, authorities didn’t interfere with the unauthorized demonstrations in Khabarovsk, apparently expecting them to fizzle out.
A Liberal Democratic Party member, Furgal won the 2018 regional gubernatorial election even though he had refrained from campaigning and publicly supported his Kremlin-backed rival.
His victory was a humiliating setback for United Russia, which also lost its control over the regional legislature.
While in office, Furgal earned a reputation as a “people’s governor,” cutting his own salary, ordering the sale of an expensive yacht bought by the previous administration, and offering new benefits to residents.
His arrest, which was shown on Russian TV stations, came after the Investigative Committee, the nation’s top criminal investigation agency, said he was accused of involvement in the murders of several businessmen in the region and nearby territories in 2004 and 2005. During interrogation in Moscow, Furgal denied the charges, according to the Tass news agency.
Ultranationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a veteran politician with a reputation for outspoken comments and also a member of the Liberal Democrats, once called Furgal “the best governor the region ever had.”
Furgal’s arrest brought hundreds, and then thousands, of people into the streets of Khabarovsk in a regular Saturday protest. A year later, the rallies — albeit much smaller — continue.
Local activists say that’s because of sustained pressure from authorities interested in ensuring Degtyaryov wins the election.
Under new rules enforced by police who monitor and film the protests, the rallies are restricted to 10 people at most. Officers disperse anything larger.
The protesters say they are pressured at work and at university, with some adding that they lost their jobs after being seen at the demonstrations.
Many wear T-shirts with the face of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, while others carry signs depicting Furgal or denouncing the new governor.
“We constantly live in fear because any day we can be arrested,” said Denis Pedish, a 47-year-old education worker who says he now comes to protests with a packed bag of essentials in case he is detained.
“It’s difficult. But people have hope and faith and are actively fighting the lawlessness of the authorities and the lawlessness of the elections, which are a laughingstock for the world to see,” Pedish said.