Ex-head of UK armed forces admits nobody understood Afghanistan’s politics

Ex-head of UK armed forces admits nobody understood Afghanistan’s politics
Gen. Sir Nick Carter, former head of the British armed forces. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 30 December 2021

Ex-head of UK armed forces admits nobody understood Afghanistan’s politics

Ex-head of UK armed forces admits nobody understood Afghanistan’s politics
  • ‘We thought we had a good plan, we were going to deliver something,’ said Gen. Sir Nick Carter
  • Former military chief urged Western leaders to engage with Taliban to prevent a humanitarian crisis

LONDON: The former head of the British armed forces has admitted that no one involved in operations in Afghanistan had a “true understanding” of the politics of the country. Gen. Sir Nick Carter also described the withdrawal from the country and the collapse of its Western-backed government as “shocking.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he said it is “probably still true” that the majority of Afghans would not support the Taliban.

Discussing the calamitous end in August of NATO’s two-decade campaign in Afghanistan, Carter said: “I think at the end of the day it comes down to politics, the local politics in Afghanistan, and I don’t think there was ever a true understanding of the political dynamics on the ground, and therefore the ability to be able to rationalize that.”

Speaking of the chaotic scenes during the evacuation effort in Kabul, he said that “they were shocking moments for all of us.

“And of course you think of so many people in times like that. You think of all of those who’ve committed their lives to the cause over the last 20 years, you think of the Afghan people, and of course you wonder how it ended like that — because we thought we had a good plan, we were going to deliver something at the end of all of that. It was a true shock, I think, to most of us who’d been involved.”

Carter served as chief of the defense staff until the end of November. He said the West must now engage with the Taliban to prevent a devastating humanitarian crisis.

“I also think it’s important that we engage because we might be able to encourage them to govern in a different way,” he added. “And the fact that they are governing in an utterly uninclusive way is something that we need to worry about.”

Carter also defended his upbeat assessments of the military situation shortly before a number of important Afghan cities fell to the Taliban, saying that he had been positive in an effort to avoid undermining former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration.


US Secretary of State Blinken to visit Ukraine amid Russia invasion fears

US Secretary of State Blinken to visit Ukraine amid Russia invasion fears
Updated 5 sec ago

US Secretary of State Blinken to visit Ukraine amid Russia invasion fears

US Secretary of State Blinken to visit Ukraine amid Russia invasion fears
  • Top US official to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and ‘reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity’
WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will fly Tuesday to Ukraine in a show of support amid fears of a Russian invasion, the State Department said.
Blinken, who will meet Wednesday in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelensky, will “reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Blinken will also head Thursday to Berlin for four-way talks with Britain, France and Germany on the Ukraine crisis.
The four transatlantic powers will discuss “joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including allies’ and partners’ readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia,” Price said in a statement.
Blinken’s trip “follows extensive diplomacy with our European allies and partners about a united approach to address the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and our joint efforts to encourage it to choose diplomacy and de-escalation in the interests of security and stability,” Price said.
It comes as Blinken’s German and French counterparts also visit Ukraine, following travel to the frontlines by top EU diplomat Josep Borrell.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday was also holding talks in Moscow in hopes of defusing the crisis.
Russia last year sent tens of thousands of troops to the borders with Ukraine, according to Western officials who fear a new invasion.
Russia denies plans to invade but has demanded security guarantees from the West, including promises that NATO will not be expanded to Ukraine.
The United States and its allies last week held extensive talks with Russia, including in a meeting of the two countries’ senior diplomats in Geneva.
Russia has publicly said that it is disappointed with the results, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying Tuesday that Moscow needs answers before continuing dialogue.
The United States says that Russian demands are non-starters and that Ukraine, where thousands have died in a pro-Russian insurgency launched in 2014, has the right to make its own decisions.
European allies are cautious about admitting Ukraine to the alliance for fear of angering Russia.
The United States has warned of major economic consequences and has voiced hope that Germany would sever the soon-to-open Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline if Russia invades.

Royal Navy rejects UK govt plan to push back migrant boats

Royal Navy rejects UK govt plan to push back migrant boats
Updated 18 January 2022

Royal Navy rejects UK govt plan to push back migrant boats

Royal Navy rejects UK govt plan to push back migrant boats
  • Military source: Plan ‘will never work. You can’t do that in the Channel, it’s too narrow’
  • London also pursuing plans to process migrants, refugees in offshore centers in Africa 

LONDON: The UK’s Royal Navy has rejected a plan by Home Secretary Priti Patel that would see the use of military vessels to push back small boats in the English Channel.

The navy has been called in by the government to prevent migrants from arriving in the UK from France.
Military sources have said the navy would focus on escorting migrants to shore for processing at hubs, not forcing them back to France.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, chief of the defense staff, said the plan ensures “no one gets to the UK on their own terms.”

Last year was a record one for arrivals via the Channel, with 28,381 people making the dangerous crossing.

Ministers expect more to arrive in 2022, and almost 500 people have crossed so far in January.

Patel insisted on Monday that the government is still pursuing the pushback policy. She told MPs that it is “absolutely the policy of this government,” adding: “Means are being tested, technology is being used, but also the way in which boats can be pushed back has also been well tested.”

However, a military source told The Times that the policy would not be pursued. “This isn’t about bumping small boats and turning them round — that will never work. You can’t do that in the Channel, it’s too narrow,” the source said.

Ministers have also been working on plans to process migrant and refugee arrivals in offshore processing centers in Ghana or Rwanda.

Under the plans, London would pay hundreds of millions to partner governments to process and settle migrants in their own countries, rather than process them in the UK.

In theory, those plans mean that legitimate refugees could ultimately be granted asylum in Britain. Government sources have admitted that any deal remains some way off.


Thailand to lower COVID-19 alert, ease curbs as infections slow

Thailand to lower COVID-19 alert, ease curbs as infections slow
Updated 18 January 2022

Thailand to lower COVID-19 alert, ease curbs as infections slow

Thailand to lower COVID-19 alert, ease curbs as infections slow
  • Among measures being considered are establishing more ‘sandbox’ areas for tourists
  • Thailand has recorded 2.3 million cases of COVID-19 and almost 22,000 deaths overall

BANGKOK: Thailand will lower its COVID-19 alert level and is considering easing more restrictions to boost its economy, its health minister said on Tuesday, in response to a slower infection rate.
Among measures being considered are establishing more “sandbox” areas for tourists, who can skip quarantine if they stay in specified areas for seven days and undergo two COVID-19 tests.
Nightclubs, pubs and bars will remained closed for now, however, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters, adding the COVID-19 alert level will be lowered to 3, from 4, on the government’s 5-level system.
New Sandbox areas could include Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Khon Kaen and Samut Prakan provinces, he said.
The scheme, a calibrated move to rebuild Thailand’s decimated tourism sector, currently operates in Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi and Koh Samui.
Anutin on Monday said he would propose the return of a ‘Test and Go’ scheme that allows free movement to tourists who pass one COVID-19 test on arrival.
Thailand has recorded 2.3 million cases of COVID-19 and almost 22,000 deaths overall. Nearly two-thirds of its residents are vaccinated and 13.5 percent have received boosters.


Texas synagogue shooter was known to MI5: Report

Texas synagogue shooter was known to MI5: Report
Updated 18 January 2022

Texas synagogue shooter was known to MI5: Report

Texas synagogue shooter was known to MI5: Report
  • Briton Faisal Akram had ranted about 9/11 attacks a day after they happened
  • Brother: ‘He’s known to police, got a criminal record. How was he allowed to get a visa and acquire a gun?’

LONDON: The British man killed by police after taking people hostage in a US synagogue was known to British security services, The Independent has reported.

Faisal Akram, from the town of Blackburn, also had previous criminal convictions but was still able to obtain a visa and travel to his target in Texas.

The Independent reported that it was not known when MI5 became aware of Akram, 44, but that he had not been considered an imminent threat.

He was known to local police for criminal offenses, and in 2001 had been banned from a local court after ranting about the 9/11 terrorist attacks a day after they took place.

A letter sent to Akram from the court at the time read: “In a clear reference to the terrorist attack on New York the previous day you said on more than one occasion to one of my court ushers ‘you should have been on the ******* plane’.”

Speaking with Sky News, Akram’s brother Gulbar questioned how he had been allowed to travel to the US in the first place and then acquire a gun while there.

“He’s known to police, got a criminal record,” Gulbar said. “How was he allowed to get a visa and acquire a gun?”

US President Joe Biden branded the attack an “act of terror,” and said Akram had made “antisemitic and anti-Israel comments.”

The FBI, with support from British counterterror police, is investigating why Akram targeted the synagogue and took hostages.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged “full support” from the UK police and security services throughout the investigation.

Two British teenagers were arrested on Sunday in relation to the attack, but no further details have been released.

During the attack, Akram had demanded the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is jailed in Texas for trying to kill US military officers in Afghanistan.

An FBI agent said after the attack that they believed Akram was “singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” but added that they will continue to “work to find motive.”


Hong Kong to cull 2,000 animals after hamsters get COVID-19

Hong Kong to cull 2,000 animals after hamsters get COVID-19
Updated 18 January 2022

Hong Kong to cull 2,000 animals after hamsters get COVID-19

Hong Kong to cull 2,000 animals after hamsters get COVID-19
  • Customers who bought hamsters in Hong Kong from Dec. 22 will also be subject to mandatory testing

HONG KONG: Hong Kong authorities said Tuesday that they will cull some 2,000 small animals, including hamsters after several of the rodents tested positive for the virus at a pet store where an infected employee was working.
The city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals, according to officials from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. The move came after the pet shop employee tested positive for the delta variant on Monday. Several hamsters imported from the Netherlands at the same store tested positive as well.
“If you own a hamster, you should keep your hamsters at home, do not take them out,” said department director Leung Siu-fai at a news conference.
“All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after you have been in contact with animals and their food, you should wash your hands.”
“Do not kiss your pets,” he added.
Even though authorities acknowledged that there is “no evidence” that pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, as a precautionary measure, customers who had purchased hamsters from the affected store after Jan. 7 will be traced and be subject to mandatory quarantine.
They must also hand over their hamsters to authorities to be put down.
Authorities said that all pet stores selling hamsters in Hong Kong must cease operations and that around 2,000 small mammals, including hamsters and chinchillas, will be culled in a humane manner.
Customers who bought hamsters in Hong Kong from Dec. 22 will also be subject to mandatory testing and are urged not to go into the community until their tests have returned negative. If their hamsters test positive, they will be subject to quarantine.
For now, authorities said they would not rule out transmission between human and animals.
Separately, Hong Kong police have arrested two former flight attendants for allegedly leaving their homes when they should have been in isolation for possible coronavirus infections, which were later confirmed.
The two arrived from the US on Dec. 24 and 25. While in medical surveillance, they had “conducted unnecessary activities,” according to a government statement posted late Monday.
While the statement did not name their employer, the arrests came after flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it had fired two crew members for breaching coronavirus protocols. Both later tested positive for the omicron variant.
Cathay previously said the actions of the crew who had broken coronavirus protocols was “extremely disappointing” and apologized for the disruption. The company had to cut back on flights — both passenger and cargo — in January amid tightened virus curbs.
The duo have been released on bail and will have their case heard in court on Feb. 9. If convicted of violating anti-epidemic regulations, they could face up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($642).
Hong Kong has been grappling with a local omicron outbreak traced to several Cathay Pacific crew members who had dined at bars and restaurants across the city before later testing positive for the omicron variant.
Previously in Hong Kong, certain air and sea crew members could isolate at home under certain quarantine exemptions. Regulations tightened Dec. 31 require crew members to isolate in a designated quarantine hotel for about a week to safeguard public health.