7 more dead in Kabul airport mayhem as thousands try to flee Afghanistan

Afghan evacuees queue before boarding an Italian military aircraft during evacuation at Kabul's airport on August 22, 2021. (Italian Defense Force/Handout via REUTERS)
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Afghan evacuees queue before boarding an Italian military aircraft during evacuation at Kabul's airport on August 22, 2021. (Italian Defense Force/Handout via REUTERS)
 Taliban fighters search a vehicle at a checkpoint on a road in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
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Taliban fighters search a vehicle at a checkpoint on a road in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
People are shown onboard a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021. (Australian Defense Force via AFP)
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People are shown onboard a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021. (Australian Defense Force via AFP)
A US Air Force security forces raven maintains a security cordon around a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul. (File/AFP)
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A US Air Force security forces raven maintains a security cordon around a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 August 2021

7 more dead in Kabul airport mayhem as thousands try to flee Afghanistan

7 more dead in Kabul airport mayhem as thousands try to flee Afghanistan
  • Taliban blames US military for airport chaos
  • Family tell Arab News of ‘bullets raining down’

KABUL: At least seven Afghans died in a panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport, the British military said Sunday, as thousands were still trying to flee the country a week after the Taliban takeover.
The victims may have been trampled, suffocated or suffered heart attacks as Taliban fighters fired into the air to try to drive back the crowds. Soldiers covered several corpses in white clothing. 
The latest fatalities has brought the death toll from a week of chaos at Kabul airport to more than 20. 
Kabul’s airport, now one of the only routes out of the country, has seen days of chaos since the Taliban entered the capital on Aug. 15. Several Afghans plunged to their deaths after clinging to a US military cargo plane as it took off, some of the seven killed on Aug. 16.
Western troops in full combat gear tried to control the throngs on Sunday. As temperatures rose to 34C, they sprayed water over the crowd, handed out bottled water and removed people who were clearly ill. Other troops stood on concrete barriers, trying to calm the crowd. 

“The situation at Kabul airport remains extremely challenging and unpredictable,” a NATO official said.One family told Arab News of “bullets raining on the tarmac” as they tried to flee. Zarmina, her husband, and their eight-month-old son and five-year-old daughter spent two days trying to get into the airport before giving up and returning home.
“Bullets were landing left and right,” said Zarmina, who works for a Western organization and is eligible to be evacuated.  “They even used tear gas to scatter the crowd, but no use. The baby was screaming, some people got injured before our eyes, we thought to leave before being killed or injured.
“I am too exhausted to speak because of what we went through. It is not worth going this way unless they sort out the growing chaos. You might get killed here at the airport, which is the most violent place in Afghanistan now.”

US military blamed
The Taliban blame the chaotic evacuation on the US military, saying there’s no need for Afghans to fear them, even though their fighters shoot into the air and beat people with batons as they try to control the crowds outside the airport.“The US is responsible for what is going on at the airport,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told Arab News. 
“When it cannot control the situation and the evacuation, why did it create hope for so many people? We have said these people will face no harm as we have announced an amnesty.”

“All Afghanistan is secure, but the airport, which is managed by the Americans, has anarchy,” Amir Khan Motaqi, a senior Taliban official, said Sunday. The US “should not embarrass itself to the world and should not give this mentality to our people that (the Taliban) are a kind of enemy.”
Speaking to an Iranian state television channel Saturday night in a video call, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem also blamed the deaths at the airport on the Americans.
“The Americans announced that ‘we would take you to America with us,’ and people gathered at Kabul airport,” Naeem said. “If it was announced right now in any country in the world, would people not go?”
 

Moderate image
The Taliban have sought to project a more moderate image than when they last ruled the country, from 1996 until the US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which Al-Qaeda carried out while being sheltered by the Taliban. During their earlier rule, women were largely confined to their homes, television and music were banned, and public executions were held — all in accordance with the Taliban’s harsh version of Islamic rule.
This time, the Taliban are holding talks with Afghan officials from previous governments on a political transition and say they will restore peace and security after decades of war. Afghan officials familiar with the talks say the Taliban have said they will not announce a government until after the Aug. 31 deadline for the US troop withdrawal.
But they already face stirrings of resistance.

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In Baghlan province, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Kabul, fighters calling themselves the “People’s Uprising” claimed to have seized three districts in the Andarab Valley, nestled in the towering Hindu Kush mountains.
Khair Mohammad Khairkhwa, the former provincial head of intelligence, and Abdul Ahmad Dadgar, another leader in the uprising, said Taliban fighters had burned down homes and kidnapped children. Two other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, made similar allegations. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the nearby Panjshir province — the only one yet to fall under Taliban control — a group of militia leaders and officials from the ousted government have pledged to defend it against the Taliban, who circulated video showing their fighters heading toward the region.
The province is a stronghold of the Northern Alliance fighters who joined with the US to topple the Taliban in 2001, and Ahmad Massoud, the son of a famous Northern Alliance commander assassinated days before the 9/11 attacks, has appeared in videos from there.
But it appears unlikely a few thousand guerrilla fighters will soon succeed where the Afghan national security forces failed despite 20 years of Western aid, assistance and training.
“If Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will of course face staunch resistance from us,” Massoud said in an interview with the Al-Arabiya news network. But he also expressed openness to dialogue with the Taliban.

Continuing evacuation
The US Embassy, which has relocated to the military side of the airport, has told American citizens and others not to come to the airport until they receive precise instructions.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that 3,900 people had been airlifted out of Kabul on US military flights in the past 24 hours, up from 1,600 the previous day. That’s in addition to about 3,900 people airlifted on non-US military flights over the past 24 hours. It remains far below the 5,000 to 9,000 that the military says it has the capacity to airlift daily.
Britain said it had airlifted more than 5,000 people, including 1,000 in the last 14 hours.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, requesting 18 aircraft from US carriers to assist in transporting Afghan refugees after they are evacuated to other countries. The voluntary program, born in the wake of the Berlin airlift, adds to the military’s capabilities during crises.
President Joe Biden has vowed to bring home all Americans from Afghanistan and to evacuate Afghans who aided the US war effort. US military helicopters have been used to collect 169 Americans from outside the airport. Tens of thousands of Americans and others are still hoping to fly out.
In Riyadh, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it would seek to help achieve peace in Afghanistan and to facilitate evacuation operations.
During an emergency meeting called by Saudi Arabia, Secretary-General Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen called on the Taliban to respect international humanitarian law and the right to life and security.


 


Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID-19 fears

Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID-19 fears
Updated 8 sec ago

Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID-19 fears

Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID-19 fears
  • The government halted classes in primary schools and kindergartens early this month
HONG KONG: Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from January 24, the Education Bureau said on Thursday, because of a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools in the Chinese-ruled territory.
The government halted classes in primary schools and kindergartens early this month, and imposed curbs, such as a ban on restaurant dining after 6 p.m. and the closure of venues such as gyms, cinemas and beauty salons.

North Korea suggests it may resume nuclear, missile tests

North Korea suggests it may resume nuclear, missile tests
Updated 20 January 2022

North Korea suggests it may resume nuclear, missile tests

North Korea suggests it may resume nuclear, missile tests
  • N. Korea has not tested nuclear bombs, ICBMs since 2017
  • Politburo says US threats ‘reached a danger line’

SEOUL: North Korea would bolster its defenses against the United States and consider restarting “all temporally-suspended activities,” state media KCNA reported Thursday, an apparent reference to a self-imposed moratorium on testing its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
Tension has been rising over a recent series of North Korean missile tests. A US push for fresh sanctions was followed by heated reaction from Pyongyang, raising the spectre of a return to the period of so-called “fire and fury” threats of 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened a meeting of the powerful politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party on Wednesday to discuss “important policy issues,” including countermeasures over “hostile” US policy, the official KCNA news agency said.
The politburo ordered a reconsideration of trust-building measures and “promptly examining the issue of restarting all temporally-suspended activities,” while calling for “immediately bolstering more powerful physical means,” KCNA said.
The politburo decision appears to be a step beyond Kim’s previous remarks at the end of 2019 that he would no longer be bound by the moratorium on testing nuclear warheads and long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), after the United States did not respond to calls for concessions to reopen negotiations.
Washington’s policy and military threats had “reached a danger line,” the report said, citing joint US-South Korea military exercises, the deployment of cutting-edge US strategic weapons in the region, and the implementation of independent and UN sanctions.
“We should make more thorough preparation for a long-term confrontation with the US imperialists,” the politburo concluded.
The US State Department and White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Biden made no mention of North Korea during a nearly two-hour news conference on Wednesday held to mark his first year in office.
“We should brace for more sabre-rattling designed to create a warlike atmosphere — and possibly more provocation testing,” said Jean Lee, a fellow at the Washington-based Wilson Center, adding that Kim will use every opportunity to justify further weapons testing.

‘Vicious cycle’
North Korea could possibly test a long-range missile or other powerful weapon in time for the 80th and 110th anniversaries of the birthdays of Kim’s late father and grandfather in February and April, both major holidays in the country, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“It’s possible that the situation could go back to the vicious cycle of provocations and sanctions we saw in 2017,” he said.
After test firing a ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland in 2017, North Korea launched a flurry of diplomacy and has not tested its ICBMs or nuclear weapons since.
But it began testing a range of new short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) after denuclearization talks stalled and slipped back into a standoff following a failed summit in 2019.
Pyongyang has defended the missile launches as its sovereign right to self-defense and accused Washington of applying double standards over weapons tests.
On Monday, North Korea conducted its fourth missile test this year, following two launches of “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and manoeuvring after lift-off, and another one involving a railway-borne missile system.
The unusually rapid pace of launches prompted US condemnation and a push for new UN sanctions, and Pyongyang threatened stronger actions.
Jenny Town, director of the Washington-based Stimson Center’s 38 North program, said despite its strong language, the politburo report left room for Kim to “ratchet rhetoric up or down as he sees fit” depending on future developments.
The Biden administration needs to lead more concerted, high-level international efforts to restart negotiations on step-for-step actions toward peace and denuclearization, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.
“The North Korean nuclear and missile problem has not disappeared and will only grow worse in the absence of active, serious diplomacy,” he said.  


US defense department releases first video of botched Kabul airstrike

US defense department releases first video of botched Kabul airstrike
Updated 20 January 2022

US defense department releases first video of botched Kabul airstrike

US defense department releases first video of botched Kabul airstrike
  • The drone strike killed 10 civilians in the final hours of a chaotic American withdrawal that ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has declassified and publicly released video footage of a US drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians in the final hours of a chaotic American withdrawal that ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan.
The New York Times obtained the footage through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against US Central Command, which then posted the imagery to its website. It marks the first public release of video footage of the Aug. 29 strike, which the Pentagon initially defended but later called a tragic mistake.

The videos include about 25 minutes of footage from what the Times reported were two MQ-9 Reaper drones, showing the scene of the strike prior to, during and after a missile struck a civilian car in a courtyard on a residential street. Indistinct images show individuals moving in or near the attack zone.
The military has said it struck what it thought was an extremist with the Daesh group’s Afghanistan affiliate who might imminently detonate a bomb near the Kabul airport, where a hurried evacuation was still under way.

Three days earlier a suicide bombing at the airport had killed 13 US troops and more than 160 Afghans. When it later acknowledged its error in the Aug. 29 drone strike, Central Command said it determined that the man driving the car had nothing to do with the Daesh group.
The man was Zemari Ahmadi, who worked for Nutrition and Education International, a US-based aid organization.

 


First aid flight leaves for isolated Tonga after big volcano eruption

First aid flight leaves for isolated Tonga after big volcano eruption
Updated 20 January 2022

First aid flight leaves for isolated Tonga after big volcano eruption

First aid flight leaves for isolated Tonga after big volcano eruption
  • The deliveries will be done with no contact because Tonga is desperate to make sure foreigners don’t bring in the coronavirus

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: The first flight carrying fresh water and other aid to Tonga was finally able to leave Thursday after the Pacific nation’s main airport runway was cleared of ash left a huge volcanic eruption.
A C-130 Hercules military transport plane left New Zealand carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies and communications equipment, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.
Australia was also preparing to send two C-17 Globemaster transport planes with humanitarian supplies. The flights were all due to arrive in Tonga on Thursday afternoon.
The deliveries will be done with no contact because Tonga is desperate to make sure foreigners don’t bring in the coronavirus. It has not had any outbreaks of COVID-19 and has reported just a single case since the pandemic began.
“The aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” Defense Minister Peeni Henare said.
UN humanitarian officials report that about 84,000 people — more than 80 percent of Tonga’s population — have been impacted by the volcano’s eruption, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said, pointing to three deaths, injuries, loss of homes and polluted water.
Communications with Tonga remain limited after Saturday’s eruption and tsunami appeared to have broken the single fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world. That means most people haven’t been able to use the Internet or make phone calls abroad, although some local phone networks are still working.
A navy patrol ship from New Zealand is also expected to arrive later Thursday. It is carrying hydrographic equipment and divers, and also has a helicopter to assist with delivering supplies.
Officials said the ship’s first task would be to check shipping channels and the structural integrity of the wharf in the capital, Nuku’alofa, following the eruption and tsunami.
Another New Zealand navy ship carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of water is on its way. The ship can also produce tens of thousands of liters of fresh water each day using a desalination plant.
Three of Tonga’s smaller islands suffered serious damage from tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross said.
The UN’s Dujarric said “all houses have apparently been destroyed on the island of Mango and only two houses remain on Fonoifua island, with extensive damage reported on Nomuka.” He said evacuations are under way for people from the islands.
According to Tongan census figures, Mango is home to 36 people, Fonoifua is home to 69 people, and Nomuka to 239. The majority of Tongans live on the main island of Tongatapu, where about 50 homes were destroyed.
Dujarric said the most pressing humanitarian needs are safe water, food and non-food items, and top priorities are reestablishing communication services including for international calls and the Internet.
Tonga has so far avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.


Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU
Updated 19 January 2022

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU
  • The men were arrested without incident near Venice before dawn

FOSSALTA DI PIAVE, Italy: Police in Italy and Albania have arrested more than 20 people accused of cashing in several hundred million euros to smuggle hundreds of refugees and migrants into the EU from Turkey on rented yachts and other leisure vessels, authorities said on Wednesday.

Two brothers who are Iraqi citizens are accused of masterminding a smuggling ring that mostly involved people fleeing Iraq and Syria. The men were arrested without incident near Venice before dawn.

The suspects, identified as Alaa Qasim Rahima, 38, and Omar Qasim Rahima, 30, are accused of running a ring that helped bring Syrians from Turkey to the EU using a network of associates in various countries.

They are believed to be part of a wider ring with as many as 80 members that allegedly organized at least 30 smuggling operations that transported at least 1,100 people by boat from Turkey to Europe.