UK govt facing new pressure over ‘chaotic’ Afghanistan exit

UK govt facing new pressure over ‘chaotic’ Afghanistan exit
Members of the British armed forces walk to the air terminal after disembarking a Royal Airforce Voyager aircraft at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 December 2021

UK govt facing new pressure over ‘chaotic’ Afghanistan exit

UK govt facing new pressure over ‘chaotic’ Afghanistan exit
  • Inquiry hears from senior figures after damning whistleblower testimony

LONDON: A UK Parliament inquiry has heard fresh evidence of the government’s mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, The Observer has reported.

The new information, which was obtained from various departments and agencies, has reinforced critical testimony from a UK Foreign Office source, whose allegations that incompetence “left people to die at the hands of the Taliban” have dealt a serious blow to the government.

Thousands of emails concerning Afghans in serious danger were left unread amid the Taliban takeover, The Observer reported in August. Critical messages from senior MPs and government ministers were also effectively ignored.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the inquiry, told the newspaper that senior figures had come forward to detail their accounts of the events.

He recounted information gathered last week from three Foreign Office officials who worked under permanent secretary Sir Philip Barton, who previously admitted to staying on holiday for 11 days after Afghanistan had fallen to the Taliban, which Tugendhat labeled as “completely extraordinary.”

The MP said he is now “more convinced” of the testimony of Raphael Marshall, the junior official whose description of events led to criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis.

“There’s nothing I’ve heard that leads me to believe he is mistaken. He and many like him deserve more than an apology,” said Tugendhat.

“They have demonstrated quite clearly the integrity and the ethical standards we should expect from senior government employees, but are finding those standards in the junior ranks, not the senior ones.”

The inquiry is now examining the new evidence, he added. “Since the hearing on Tuesday, I’ve been approached by individuals from other government departments and, indeed, other agencies offering their own perspectives on the events in the run-up to August and the aftermath,” he said.

“We’re in discussion as to how their evidence may be presented. There is a very wide feeling that this goes to the heart of something that is simply not acceptable, and that Britain deserves better.”

In response to the development in the inquiry, a UK government spokesperson said in a statement: “Government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight.

“This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others leave.

“The scale of the evacuation and the challenging circumstances meant decisions on prioritization had to be made quickly to ensure we could help as many people as possible.

“Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to, but our commitment to them is enduring.

“Since the end of the operation we’ve helped more than 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.”

Tugendhat said the committee would also discuss the military side of the withdrawal with UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

“We’re very keen to speak to the defense secretary, who has agreed to come,” he added. “We want to hear the military perspective on this. We’re very keen to speak to others who may have been involved in different areas. And we need to sit down and go through a lot of evidence.”

Tugendhat said he wants to build a final report on the events before blaming individuals or departments for specific failures.

But he labeled the scenario a “whole government failure” that includes the Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defense. Allies of Britain in Afghanistan had been abandoned as a result of the events, he warned.

“There are many people on the ground in Afghanistan today who are guilty of nothing more than hoping and wishing for a better future,” he added.

“Yet today, the Taliban victory means that what we’re likely to see is a very serious degradation in the life chances of individuals.

“In many ways we’re already seeing it. We’re seeing girls denied education and we’re seeing women excluded from work. These are very serious attacks on civil liberties.”

Questions also remain over the high-profile evacuation of almost 200 dogs and cats from the war-torn country, Tugendhat said.

Some figures have alleged that the animals were chosen for evacuation in place of people, taking up critical space on aircraft flying out of Kabul.

The animal rescue efforts were led by Pen Farthing, a former Royal Marine who heads the Nowzad Dogs charity.

Marshall, the whistleblower who described the “chaotic” events, alleged that critical resources in Kabul were redirected to the charity at the expense of Afghans, many of whom had worked for years with British forces in the country.

Tugendhat said: “The Foreign Office officials made it clear that there was absolutely no diversion of resources. They also made it clear that the military opened the gates and took time to get those animals in. How those two statements are compatible, I don’t understand.”

Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north

Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north
Updated 08 August 2022

Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north

Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north
  • Army blames the attack on ‘terrorists’, using the term it typically uses for militants

BAMAKO: At least four soldiers, two civilians and five assailants were killed on Sunday in an attack in a strategic border zone between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, Mali’s army said.
The army blamed the attack on “terrorists” in an announcement late Sunday, using the term it typically uses for militants.
Earlier, it had said its troops had been repelling an attack by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group, affiliated with the Daesh organization.
The army’s death toll could be “much higher,” an elected official said, asking not to be named for security reasons.
The two civilians killed were local elected officials, their relatives said.
Tessit is located on the Malian side of the so-called three-border area in a vast gold-rich region beyond state control.
Armed groups under the umbrella of Al-Qaeda aligned militants Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM, are fighting ISGS there.
The Malian army, which has a military camp next to the town of Tessit, has frequently been attacked in the area.
UN peacekeepers and, until a few months ago, French soldiers from Operation Barkhane, have also been deployed there.
Thousands of residents have fled the area, many heading to the town of Gao, some 150 kilometers away.
The Tessit area, like the whole of the so-called three-border zone, is even more isolated during the rainy season when heavy rainfall prevents passage.
In a separate attack Sunday morning, five police officers were killed in Sona, in the Koutiala area of southern Mali near the border with Burkina Faso.
On Friday, suspected militants killed about 12 civilians in central Mali with explosives planted in the bodies of slain civilians that relatives had come to collect.
Mali is struggling with a long militant insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Violence that began in the north has spread to the center and south of the country, as well as to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze
Updated 08 August 2022

Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze
  • 27-year-old arraigned for causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without permission

BANGKOK: The owner of a music pub in eastern Thailand where a fire last week killed 15 people and injured more than three dozen others was released on bail when he was brought to court Monday to hear criminal charges against him.
Pongsiri Panprasong, owner of the Mountain B pub in Sattahip district of Chonburi province, about 160 kilometers southeast of Bangkok, turned himself in late Saturday. Police charged the 27-year-old with causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without permission. He could face up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($5,580).
At his Monday court appearance, he was granted release on bail of 300,000 baht ($8,390) on condition he wear a tracking device.
Live bands regularly played on a stage at the pub, including as the fire started early Friday morning on the ceiling above them. Police have said the venue was licensed only for operation as a restaurant.
The site of the fire, which took place early Friday morning, remained sealed off Monday as forensic police and building inspectors worked to determine the cause of the blaze and whether the pub had met building standards.
“I am sorry. I want to say sorry to the victims’ families,” said Pongsiri to reporters through a window at the back of a police prison van at the court in Pattaya. Pongsiri, whose face was concealed by a mask, a hat and a towel, said he will compensate the victims.
Many of the injured from the fire suffered severe burns that left them in critical condition. Thirteen died at the scene, one more in a hospital on Friday and the 15th victim, Thanakrit Neenoi, died on Saturday. His sister told local media that Thanakrit went to the pub with his wife and friends to celebrate his birthday. His wife remains in the hospital for treatment.
The governor of Bangkok, Thailand’s biggest city, said Saturday that the city had inspected more than 400 entertainment venues in the city before the fire and found 83 places failing to comply with safety standards. Chadchart Sittipunt told reporters the venues would be ordered closed if they did not act to fix their problems.
Sixty-six people were killed and more than 200 injured in a fire during a Jan. 1, 2009, New Year’s Eve celebration at the Santika nightclub in Bangkok. That blaze was apparently sparked by an indoor fireworks display. Toxic smoke flooded the venue and contributed to the death toll as the entire club caught fire.

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens
Updated 08 August 2022

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens
  • Ten ships have already sailed since the first last left week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports

ISTANBUL: Two more ships, carrying corn and soybeans, departed from Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, Turkey and Ukraine said, taking the total to ten since the first ship sailed last week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the agreement last month after warnings the halt in grain shipments caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

The Sacura, which departed from Pivdennyi, is carrying 11,000 tons of soybeans to Italy, Turkey’s defense ministry said on Monday, while the Arizona, which left Chornomorsk, is carrying 48,458 tons of corn to Iskenderun in southern Turkey.

Separately, the Polarnet, which departed on Friday, reached its final destination in northwestern Turkey’s Derince on Monday morning to be unloaded, marking the completion of the first shipment since the exports were re-launched.

So far, around 243,000 tons of corn has been exported from Ukraine on seven ships since the first departure on Aug. 1, according to a Reuters tally of data from Turkey’s defense ministry.

The other ships carried 11,000 tons of soybeans, 6,000 tons of sunflower oil and 45,000 tons of sunflower meal.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, confirmed the two latest ships left on Monday, adding Pivdennyi, the third Ukrainian port included in the deal, was finally up and running as part of the initiative.

Kubrakov had said previously the opening of Pivdennyi would push Ukraine’s total export capacity up to three million tons a month.

In peacetime, Ukraine exported up to six million tons of grain a month from its ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coast.

The four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening, Turkey’s defense ministry said, adding they would be inspected on Tuesday.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine for what it calls its “special military operation,” the two countries together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel are working.

The Razoni, which was the first ship to depart, was scheduled to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday but is currently at anchor off Turkey’s southern coast, according to Refinitiv ship tracker data.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said on Sunday the Fulmar S, the first foreign-flagged bulk ship to reach the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk since the conflict, was ready for loading.

A second ship traveling to Ukraine, the Osprey S, was inspected in Istanbul on Sunday and was nearing Ukraine on Monday morning, Refinitiv data also showed.

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks
Updated 08 August 2022

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks
  • The agreement also includes participation in a national, inclusive dialogue

DUBAI: Chad’s military government and some rebel groups signed a pledge Monday in Qatar ahead of planned national reconciliation talks, though the deal did not include the country’s main opposition group.

Under the terms of the deal in Doha, those who signed have agreed to a cease-fire ahead of the Aug. 20 talks planned in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. Chad’s junta also agreed to “not take any military or police operations against the signing groups” in neighboring countries.

However, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, the main rebel group in the country, did not sign the pledge. The shadowy group, known by its French acronym FACT, is blamed for the 2021 killing of Chad’s longtime President Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the country since 1990.

That immediately called into question whether the deal would be enough to ensure the success of the talks as a planned 18-month transition from military rule to democracy winds down.

FACT did not immediately comment publicly on its decision not to sign the pledge.

We hope “other groups will join the march of reconciliation and peace, with a view to achieving the aspirations and dreams of the Chadian people,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told those gathered for the signing ceremony. “The initial peace agreement we are celebrating today will be an important turning point toward stability and prosperity for the Chadian people.”

“It is no secret that the negotiations faced many challenges which were addressed through your estimated efforts,” Sheikh Mohammed added.

Those challenges include some 20 rebel groups walking out of the talks in July, accusing the military government under Deby’s 38-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, of “harassments, intimidation, threats and disinformation” amid the negotiations.

Rebels have called for Deby to declare he would not run in any coming elections, though the military junta has insisted that can only be decided in the national dialogue talks. The pledge signed Monday in Qatar do not include any prohibition on Deby running in any coming vote.

Chad had grown frustrated by the 30 years of rule by Deby’s father, leading to years of rebel uprisings in the former French colony that borders Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan. Unrest in those surrounding countries have seen Chadian rebel forces hide across the border.

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
Updated 08 August 2022

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
  • Arbery’s killing became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people
  • A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder

SAVANNAH: Months after they were sentenced to life in prison for murder, the three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood faced a second round of criminal penalties Monday for federal hate crimes committed in the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old Black man.
US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood scheduled back-to-back hearings to individually sentence each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who blasted Arbery with a shotgun after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by a neighbor.
Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, 2020, became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also resulted in the Justice Department bringing federal charges.
When they return to court Monday in Georgia, McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face possible life sentences after a jury convicted them in February of federal hate crimes, concluding that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three face were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.
Whatever punishments they receive in federal court could ultimately prove more symbolic than anything. A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.
All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of US marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.
Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have them turned them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.
In a court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to instead divert them to a federal prison, saying they won’t be safe in a Georgia prison system that’s the subject of a US Justice Department investigation focused on violence between inmates.
Arbery’s family has insisted the McMichaels and Bryan should serve their sentences in a state prison, arguing a federal penitentiary wouldn’t be as tough. His parents objected forcefully before the federal trial when both McMichaels sought a plea deal that would have included a request to transfer them to federal prison. The judge ended up rejecting the plea agreement.
A federal judge doesn’t have the authority to order the state to relinquish its lawful custody of inmates to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta lawyer and former US attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. He said the judge could request that the state corrections agency turn the defendants over to a federal prison.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery had been stealing from a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and had committed no crimes. Arbery’s family has long insisted he was merely out jogging.
Still, more than two months passed before any charges were filed in Arbery’s death. The McMichaels and Bryan were arrested only after the graphic video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.
During the February hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that Arbery’s killing was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about Black people. A woman testified to hearing an angry rant from Greg McMichael in 2015 in which he said: “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Defense attorneys for the three men argued the McMichaels and Bryan didn’t pursue Arbery because of his race but acted on an earnest — though erroneous — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.