Taliban delivers US military vehicles to Iran

Taliban delivers US military vehicles to Iran
Short Url
Updated 03 September 2021

Taliban delivers US military vehicles to Iran

Taliban delivers US military vehicles to Iran
  • ‘Serious questions should be asked of Washington’s intelligence agencies,’ defense analyst tells Arab News
  • ‘The loss of these vehicles is another embarrassment for the US, and could be damaging’

LONDON: A convoy of US military vehicles has been filmed being directed toward Tehran after the Taliban handed it over to Iranian authorities.

“The loss of these vehicles is another embarrassment for the US, and could be damaging in the future if these vehicles are used to either extract valuable technical information or to impersonate US forces in Iraq,” Jonathon Kitson, a writer on defense and security issues, told Arab News.

“Serious questions should be asked of Washington’s intelligence agencies, who wrongly believed this scenario wouldn’t happen.”

The propaganda blow comes after the Taliban were seen parading American kit and equipment in Kabul after US forces left Afghanistan’s capital on Aug. 31, the deadline set for US-led forces to leave the country under the Doha peace agreement between Washington and the militant group. 

The convoy included humvees — the bread and butter of American military manoeuvrability — and heavily armored mine-resistant vehicles.

A social media channel that posted the clip claimed that the Iranians had also recovered some US tanks.

Over 70,000 vehicles were provided to Afghan security forces before their defeat to the Taliban. 

Washington says Iran, its main rival in the Middle East, supported the Taliban’s sudden rise to power by training them in military doctrine and the use of specialist equipment.


Putin hopes WHO soon approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

Putin hopes WHO soon approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine
Updated 8 sec ago

Putin hopes WHO soon approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

Putin hopes WHO soon approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday voiced hope for a quick approval of the country’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine by the World Health Organization, saying the move is essential to expand its global supplies.
Speaking during a video call with Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Putin said receiving the WHO’s vetting is necessary to spread the Russian vaccine more broadly around the world, including free supplies.
“We intend to expand such assistance,” Putin said.
The Russian leader also argued that WHO’s approval should open the door for Russians and others who have had the Sputnik V vaccine to travel more freely around the world. He said about 200 million people worldwide have received Sputnik V.
Putin was vaccinated with Sputnik V in the spring, and last month he received a booster shot of Sputnik Light, the one-dose version. He also said he took an experimental nasal version of Sputnik V days after receiving his booster shot, adding that he was feeling fine and felt no side effects.
The Gamaleya Institute that developed Sputnik V has said the vaccine should be efficient against the omicron variant of COVID-19, but announced that it will immediately start working on adapting it to counter the new variant.
Russia was the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine, launching Sputnik V in August 2020, and has plentiful supplies. But uptake has been slow, blamed in part on conflicting signals from Russian authorities.
Russia in recent months has faced its deadliest and largest surge of coronavirus cases, with infections and deaths climbing to all-time highs and only slowing in the last few weeks. Russia has Europe’s highest confirmed pandemic death toll at over 281,000, according to the government’s coronavirus task force. But a report released Friday by the state statistics agency Rosstat, which uses broader criteria, put the the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 to over 537,000 — almost twice the official toll.
Putin, who despite a surge in infections in Russia has repeatedly argued that vaccinations should remain voluntary, emphasized Sunday that Russian authorities have been tried to use “persuasion and not pressure” and worked to dispel “prejudices and myths driving the aversion to vaccination.”
Russia’s quick approval of Sputnik V drew criticism abroad, because at the time it had only been tested on a few dozen people. But a study published in British medical journal The Lancet in February showed the Sputnik V is 91 percent effective and appears to prevent inoculated individuals from becoming severely ill with COVID-19.
Russia has actively promoted Sputnik V around the world but faced bottlenecks in shipping the amounts it promised. Countries in Latin America have complained about delays in getting the second Sputnik V shot.
The World Health Organization has been reviewing data about Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as part of the approval process. Such approval could pave the way for its inclusion into the COVAX program that is shipping COVID-19 vaccines to scores of countries around the world based on need.


In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival
Updated 06 December 2021

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

KHAPLU GILGIT, Pakistan: When autumn arrives in the Khaplu Valley with its foliage of vibrant reds, yellows and copper browns, families welcome it as a “blessing” — not for the colorful spectacle but for the fuel the falling leaves will serve as when burnt come winter, helping locals survive the harsh weather in Pakistan’s mountainous north.

The valley in the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan, surrounded by some of Pakistan’s highest peaks and glaciers, is home to over 24,000 people who remain largely cut off from the rest of the country in the winter months, when temperatures can fall below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

In the absence of reliable gas or electricity sources, residents have had to find alternative means of heating their homes. One option is burning the colorful leaves that fall in autumn, which locals call “gold” and diligently collect between late November and early December to use as burning fuel in the winter ahead.

“We don’t waste dried leaves because they are the main source of heating for us,” Mohammed Jaffar, a 68-year-old resident of Garbong village, told Arab News.

Jaffar, a member of the village’s welfare committee, which is responsible for leaf collection and distribution, said the dried leaves were “the biggest blessing.”

FASTFACTS

•Villagers collect dry leaves between late November and early December to use as fuel during freezing winters.

•In the absence of reliable gas or electricity sources, people have found alternative means to heat their homes. 

The collection and distribution of dried leaves among Garbong’s 130 households take almost a week. Each household nominates a woman representative and does not receive leaves if it fails to do so. The same practice is observed in all other villages in Khaplu valley.

Mohammed Ali, who summons residents using a mosque loudspeaker every morning during the week to collect their share of leaves from the nearby Stronpi village, said leaf collection rules and exact dates were established years ago to avoid conflict.

“Fifteen years ago, women would fight each other for dried leaves,” he said. “Now, the committee monitors all the affairs of the village, from the mosque to working in the fields and personal disputes as well as dried leaf collection.”

Once distributed among village households, the leaves are burnt in the open air. When they stop giving off smoke, they are brought into the kitchen in a metal pot, placed under a special square table and covered with a blanket or quilt.

“Family members nestle around the table with the burnt leaves placed under it,” Stronpi resident Sajid Ali said.

Fatima, a village elder who only gave her first name, said there was a special room in her basement to store the leaves during winter. 

“Without dried leaves, how could we spend the winter days?” she said. “It’s only seasonal dried leaves, but for us, it is like gold.”


India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland
Updated 06 December 2021

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland
  • Assam Rifles patrol opened fire on group of miners returning home after work

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Sunday ordered a special investigation into the killing of at least 14 civilians by paramilitary forces who mistook them for insurgents in the northeastern
state of Nagaland bordering Myanmar.

The Indian army has been battling separatist militants in Nagaland for years.

On Saturday night, an Assam Rifles patrol in Oting village, Mon district, opened fire on a group of miners returning home after work, killing six. Local police told reporters eight more civilians and a soldier died when angry villagers confronted troops.

The army said in a statement on Sunday it acted “based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents” and that it “deeply regretted” the incident.

The central and local government immediately ordered a probe.

BACKGROUND

Local media reported that telephone and internet services have been suspended in Mon district as the incident has fueled anger among members of the Konyak tribe, which constitutes a majority in the region.

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said in a tweet that a “high-level” special investigation team “will thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families.”

The Nagaland chief minister appealed for calm and tweeted that justice will be “delivered as per the law of the land.”

Local media reported that telephone and internet services have been suspended in Mon district as the incident has fueled anger among members of the Konyak tribe, which constitutes a majority in the region.

“I spoke to my relatives in Mon. There is tension in the area and people are angry about the incident,” Langphong Konyak, a civil society leader based in Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland, told Arab News.

“The people killed are miners working in a coal mine,” he said. “Locals confirm that 14 people were killed in the army firing, with seven injured. You cannot solve the Naga problem by killing innocent people.”

There are dozens of ethnic insurgent groups in India’s remote, predominantly tribal northeast. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the main nationalist separatist group in Nagaland, signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government in 1997.

But its splinter group, formed under the late Burmese insurgent leader Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, remains active in Mon district, aiming to establish a sovereign state out of all Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar and India.


Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance
Updated 06 December 2021

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military this week regained control of territory previously claimed by Tigrayan rebels, a potential validation of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to join soldiers in conflict-hit areas.

Yet how the government scored its wins and what they mean for an eventual outcome in the year-old war remain points of fierce debate as fighting enters a new, uncertain phase.

Just a month ago, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front rebel group appeared to be on the offensive, claiming to have captured Dessie and Kombolcha, towns on a key highway headed toward the capital Addis Ababa.

They reportedly reached as far as Shewa Robit, around 220 kilometers (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.

But after Abiy announced last week he would lead operations in the field, the government announced a string of victories and the rebels acknowledged making adjustments to their strategy.

State media has responded with triumphalist wall-to-wall coverage.

“The enemy is destroyed, disintegrated,” the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Abiy as saying Thursday.

There’s little doubt the government can claim to have the “upper hand” in specific areas, said Awet Weldemichael, a Horn of Africa security expert at Queen’s University in Canada.

“Only time will tell if these can be translated into [the] upper hand in the war,” he said.

The war in northern Ethiopia broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Though Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, promised a quick victory, by late June the TPLF had retaken most of Tigray, and it soon launched offensives into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions.

The rebels’ march toward Addis sparked international panic, with a host of embassies urging their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

All the while, though, the exact nature of the TPLF advance was in dispute.

“I don’t know whether we should call it an advance,” one Western security official told AFP in mid-November.

“There’s not a huge column of tanks and armored vehicles driving down the road toward Addis. It’s more complex than that. There are foot soldiers going into the mountains, they shoot and surround certain areas” but do not seem to fully control cities and towns, the official said.

The TPLF also never explicitly said it wanted to enter Addis Ababa, instead simply declining to rule out such a move.

The latest battlefield shifts unfolded swiftly.

The government first claimed towns in Afar, near a critical highway bringing goods to Addis Ababa, then on Wednesday it declared victory in Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site that fell to the TPLF in August.

On Friday state media announced that towns on the road heading north toward Dessie and Kombolcha had been “liberated.”

The news could be a sign that government forces, as well as many thousands of new recruits who have enlisted in recent months, have more fight than they’ve gotten credit for.

“I was quite surprised by the latest counteroffensive by the government,” said Mehdi Labzae, a sociologist who studies land issues and mobilization in Ethiopia.

“I have seen all the people who were mobilized ... but the thing is I thought they were not trained and I thought they would just be destroyed.”

The African Union is trying to broker a cease-fire to avert further bloodshed, though there has been little progress so far.

The TPLF insists it will have the advantage in whatever fighting is to come.

“In battle, it’s known there will be adjustments and limited retreat as well as significant moves forward,” TPLF military boss Tadesse Worede said in an interview that aired Friday.

“We decided that to reduce problems and vulnerabilities in some areas we had reached, to leave some of those places voluntarily.”

For Labzae, such statements recall the government’s announcement that it was withdrawing from most of Tigray in late June — a claim that elided military setbacks even as TPLF fighters celebrated in the streets of the regional capital Mekele.

“They were so close [to Addis]. Why would they turn back now?” Labzae said of the TPLF.

“It means there was something worrying them or something that did not look good for them.”

One possibility, said Awet of Queen’s University, is that the government’s superior air power has turned the tide — at least for now.

“Drones are claimed to have played a decisive role in active combat, the full extent of which we are yet to find out,” he said.

“But so far, it appears like they have helped halt Tigrayan counterattacks and advances.”


Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit
Updated 06 December 2021

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit
  • Pope Francis has long championed cause of migrants, visit comes a day after he made a stinging rebuke to Europe

LESBOS ISLAND: Pope Francis on Sunday returned to the island of Lesbos, the migration flashpoint he first visited in 2016, calling the neglect of migrants the “shipwreck of civilization.”

The pope has long championed the cause of migrants and his visit comes a day after he delivered a stinging rebuke to Europe which he said was “torn by nationalist egoism.”

“In Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them,” the pope said as he spent some two hours at Lesbos’ Mavrovouni camp where nearly 2,200 asylum seekers live.

On the second day of his visit to Greece, he met dozens of child asylum seekers and relatives standing behind metal barriers and stopped to embrace a boy called Mustafa. 

People later gathered in a tent to sing songs and psalms to the pontiff.

Pope Francis warned that the Mediterranean “is becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones” and that “after all this time, we see that little in the world has changed with regard to the issue of migration.”

He said the root causes “should be confronted — not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda.”

The European Union has been locked in a dispute with Belarus over an influx of migrants traveling through the former Soviet state seeking to enter Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in recent months.

Britain and France have traded barbs over the increasing number of migrants making the deadly Channel crossing to reach the UK in the wake of the November 24 mass drowning which claimed 27 lives.

“His visit is a blessing,” said Rosette Leo, a Congolese asylum seeker at the site.

The temporary Mavrovouni tent camp was hurriedly erected after the sprawling camp of Moria, Europe’s largest such site at the time, burned down last year.

Greek authorities blamed a group of young Afghans for the incident and security was substantially enhanced for the pontiff’s visit.

The pope’s trip to Lesbos was shorter than his last as he will hold a mass for some 2,500 people at the Megaron Athens Concert Hall later Sunday.

In Cyprus, where the pope visited before Greece this week, authorities said that 50 migrants will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.

Greek officials have not ruled out the possibility that some migrants from Mavrovouni could accompany him back to Italy.

He took 12 Syrian refugees with him during his last visit to Lesbos in 2016.

At the start of his Athens visit on Saturday, Francis “today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” , warning against populism’s “easy answers.”

In 2016, Francis visited Moria with Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Archbishop Ieronymos II, head of the Church of Greece.

The Mavrovouni camp currently holds 2,193 people and has a capacity of 8,000, a facility official said this week.

Authorities insist asylum procedures and processing times are now faster.

With EU funds, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on Greek islands with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that are closed at night.

Three such camps have opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, with Lesbos and Chios to follow next year.

Once migrants receive asylum they are no longer eligible to remain in the camps with many then unable to find accommodation or work, drawing criticism from NGOS and aid agencies.

The groups have also raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted as well as claiming Greek border officers have pushed back migrants.

Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting its coast guard saves lives at sea.

The pope flew back to Athens after the visit and will return to Rome on Monday.