Biden names Kosovo, Iraq war veteran as Central Command chief

Lt. Gen. Michael
Lt. Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, gives a speech at the 101st Airborne Division change of command, March 5, 2021, at the division parade field, Fort Campbell, Ky. (AP)
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Updated 08 January 2022

Biden names Kosovo, Iraq war veteran as Central Command chief

Lt. Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, gives a speech at the 101st Airborne Division change of command, March 5, 2021, at the division parade field, Fort Campbell, Ky. (AP)
  • General Kurilla will succeed Marine General Kenneth McKenzie at the head of Centcom, which oversees military operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden is nominating Army Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla to lead the US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, the Pentagon announced Friday.
If confirmed by the Senate, General Kurilla will succeed Marine General Kenneth McKenzie at the head of Centcom, which oversees military operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.
According to his official biography, Kurilla, 55, currently leads the 18th Airborne Corps, which groups the majority of the United States Army’s response forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
A West Point graduate, he fought in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, where he was seriously wounded by gunshot during an assault on Mosul in 2005. Kurilla also held responsibilities at the General Staff of the United States Army and commanded the prestigious 82nd Parachute Division, known for having participated in the Normandy landings in 1944.
The US army is organized in geographic commands like Africom for Africa or Eucom for Europe, but also by issues like the strategic command (Stratcom), in charge of the nuclear armament of the country, or Spacecom, which is in charge of space.


Afghan women TV presenters cover faces on air

Afghan women TV presenters cover faces on air
Updated 7 sec ago

Afghan women TV presenters cover faces on air

Afghan women TV presenters cover faces on air
KABUL: Women presenters on Afghanistan’s leading news channels went on air Sunday with their faces covered, a day after defying a Taliban order to conceal their appearance on television.
Since seizing power last year, the Taliban have imposed a slew of restrictions on civil society, many focused on reining in the rights of women and girls to comply with the group’s austere brand of Islam.
Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada issued a diktat for women to cover up fully in public, including their faces, ideally with the traditional burqa.
The feared Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice ordered women TV presenters to follow suit from Saturday.
But women presenters defied the order and went on air with their faces visible, only to fall in line with the directive on Sunday.
Wearing full hijabs and face-covering veils that left only their eyes in view, women presenters and reporters aired morning news bulletins across leading channels like TOLOnews, Ariana Television, Shamshad TV and 1TV.
“We resisted and were against wearing a mask,” Sonia Niazi, a presenter with TOLOnews, told AFP.
“But TOLOnews was pressured and told that any female presenter who appeared on screen without covering her face must be given some other job or simply removed,” she said.
“TOLOnews was compelled and we were forced to wear it.”
Women presenters had previously only been required to wear a headscarf.
Ministry spokesman Mohammad Akif Sadeq MoHajjir said authorities had no plans to force female presenters out of their jobs.
“We have no intention of removing them from the public scene or sidelining them or stripping them of their right to work,” MoHajjir told AFP.
“We are happy with the media channels that they implemented this responsibility in a good manner.”
Akhundzada’s decree orders authorities to fire women government employees if they fail to follow the new dress code.
Men working in government also risk suspension if their wives or daughters fail to comply.
Authorities have also said that media managers and guardians of defiant women presenters would be liable for penalties if the diktat was not observed.
During two decades of US-led military intervention in Afghanistan, women and girls made marginal gains in the deeply patriarchal nation.
Soon after resuming control, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
Since the takeover, however, women have been banned from traveling alone and teenage girls barred from secondary schools.
In the 20 years after the Taliban were ousted from office in 2001, many women in the conservative countryside continued to wear a burqa.
But most Afghan women, including TV presenters, opted for the Islamic headscarf.
Television channels have already stopped showing dramas and soap operas featuring women on the order of Taliban authorities.

Ukraine rules out cease-fire as fighting intensifies in Donbas

Ukraine rules out cease-fire as fighting intensifies in Donbas
Updated 9 min 40 sec ago

Ukraine rules out cease-fire as fighting intensifies in Donbas

Ukraine rules out cease-fire as fighting intensifies in Donbas
  • Russia is waging a major offensive in Luhansk, one of two provinces in Donbas

Ukraine ruled out a cease-fire or concessions to Moscow while Russia intensified an offensive in the eastern Donbas region and stopped providing gas to Finland, as Polish President Andrzej Duda prepared to address the Ukrainian parliament on Sunday.
After ending weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern city of Mariupol, Russia is waging a major offensive in Luhansk, one of two provinces in Donbas.
Russian-backed separatists already controlled swathes of territory in Luhansk and the neighboring Donetsk province before the Feb. 24 invasion, but Moscow wants to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Donbas.
“The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address. The Russian army was trying to attack the cities of Sloviansk and Sievierodonetsk, but Ukrainian forces were holding off their advance, he said.
Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak ruled out agreeing to a cease-fire and said Kyiv would not accept any deal with Moscow that involved ceding territory. Making concessions would backfire on Ukraine because Russia would hit back harder after any break in fighting, he said.
“The war will not stop (after concessions). It will just be put on pause for some time,” Podolyak, Ukraine’s lead negotiator, told Reuters in an interview in the heavily guarded presidential office. “They’ll start a new offensive, even more bloody and large-scale.”
Recent calls for an immediate cease-fire have come from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
The end of fighting in Mariupol, the biggest city Russia has captured, gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after a series of setbacks in nearly three months of combat.
The last Ukrainian forces holed up Mariupol’s vast Azovstal steelworks surrendered on Friday, Russia said.
Full control of Mariupol gives Russia command of a land route linking the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, with mainland Russia and areas of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists.
Ukrainian forces in the separatist-controlled regions of Luhansk and Donetsk said on Saturday they had repelled nine attacks and destroyed five tanks and 10 other armored vehicles in the previous 24 hours.
Russian forces were using aircraft, artillery, tanks, rockets, mortars and missiles along the entire front line to attack civilian structures and residential areas, the Ukrainians said in a Facebook post. At least seven people had been killed in the Donetsk region, they said.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Russia was deploying its BMP-T “Terminator” tank-support vehicles in that offensive. With only 10 available for a unit that already suffered heavy losses in the failed attempt on Kyiv, however, the ministry said they were “unlikely to have a significant impact.”
Russian troops destroyed a bridge on the Siverskiy Donets River between Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was fighting on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk from morning through the night, he said on the Telegram messaging app.
Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to overrun since mid-April after failing to capture Kyiv.


Joe Biden says ‘hi’ to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, despite weapons test fears

Joe Biden says ‘hi’ to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, despite weapons test fears
Updated 22 May 2022

Joe Biden says ‘hi’ to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, despite weapons test fears

Joe Biden says ‘hi’ to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, despite weapons test fears
  • Joe Biden ‘not concerned’ about Pyongyang’s possible weapons test
  • US President has used his visit to call for the democratic allies to deepen ties

SEOUL: President Joe Biden had a short message for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un: “Hello. Period.” he told reporters Sunday in Seoul, before heading to Japan for the second leg of his Asia trip which has been overshadowed by fears of a nuclear test by Pyongyang.
Biden is leaving South Korea, after spending two days with newly elected President Yoon Suk-yeol, with the pair discussing possibly expanding joint military exercises to counter Kim Jong Un’s sabre-rattling.
His goal to reinforce US leadership across Asia has been dogged by fears the unpredictable, nuclear-armed North could conduct a weapons test while Biden is in the region, but on his last day in Seoul, he told reporters he had a short message for Kim: “Hello. Period.”
He said he was “not concerned” about Pyongyang’s possible weapons test, saying: “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.”
Early Sunday, Biden met with the chairman of Hyundai to celebrate a decision by the auto giant to invest $5.5 billion in an electric vehicle plant in the southern US state of Georgia.
He will also meet US and South Korean troops with Yoon, a schedule that a senior White House official said was able to “reflect the truly integrated nature” of the countries’ economic and military alliance.
Biden has used his visit to call for the democratic allies to deepen ties, saying at a joint press conference with Yoon that Asia was a key battleground in the global “competition between democracies and autocracies.”
“We talked in some length about the need for us to make this larger than just the United States, Japan, and Korea, but the entire Pacific and the South Pacific and Indo-Pacific. I think this is an opportunity,” Biden said.
While China is the main US rival in that struggle, Biden illustrated the acute challenge from Russia when he signed a $40 billion aid bill late Saturday to help Ukraine fight the invasion by Moscow’s forces.
The bill, passed earlier by Congress, was flown to Seoul so that Biden could make it law without having to wait for his return to Washington late next Tuesday.
In Japan, Biden will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Emperor Naruhito on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s Quad summit, bringing together the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
Also on Monday, Biden will unveil a major new US initiative for regional trade, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.
Biden and Yoon said in a statement Saturday that “considering the evolving threat” from North Korea, they “agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean peninsula.”
The possible beefing up of joint US-South Korean military exercises comes in response to North Korea’s blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests this year.
Joint exercises had been scaled back due to COVID-19 and in order for Biden and Yoon’s predecessors, Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in, to embark on a round of high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy with the North.
In contrast to the dovish Moon, Yoon said he and Biden discussed possible “joint drills to prepare for a nuclear attack” and called for more tactical US assets to be deployed to the region.
Any build-up of forces or expansion of US-South Korea joint military exercises would likely enrage Pyongyang, which views the joint drills as rehearsals for invasion.


African scientists baffled by monkeypox cases in Europe, US

African scientists baffled by monkeypox cases in Europe, US
Updated 22 May 2022

African scientists baffled by monkeypox cases in Europe, US

African scientists baffled by monkeypox cases in Europe, US
  • "This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” says Nigerian virologist

LONDON: Scientists who have monitored numerous outbreaks of monkeypox in Africa say they are baffled by the disease’s recent spread in Europe and North America.
Cases of the smallpox-related disease have previously been seen only among people with links to central and West Africa. But in the past week, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, US, Sweden and Canada all reported infections, mostly in young men who hadn’t previously traveled to Africa.
There are about 80 confirmed cases worldwide and 50 more suspected ones, the World Health Organization said. France, Germany, Belgium and Australia reported their first cases Friday.
“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several WHO advisory boards.
“This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he said.
To date, no one has died in the outbreak. Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals. WHO estimates the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people, but smallpox vaccines are protective and some antiviral drugs are being developed.

A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey infected with monkeypox virus, is seen at 50X magnification. (CDC/Handout via REUTERS)

British health officials are exploring whether the disease is being sexually transmitted. Health officials have asked doctors and nurses to be on alert for potential cases, but said the risk to the general population is low. The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended all suspected cases be isolated and that high-risk contacts be offered smallpox vaccine.
Nigeria reports about 3,000 monkeypox cases a year, WHO said. Outbreaks are usually in rural areas, when people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels, Tomori said. He said many cases are likely missed.
Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, head of the country’s Center for Disease Control, said none of the Nigerian contacts of the British patients have developed symptoms and that investigations were ongoing.
WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, described the outbreak as “atypical,” saying the disease’s appearance in so many countries across the continent suggested that “transmission has been ongoing for some time.” He said most of the European cases are mild.
On Friday, Britain’s Health Security Agency reported 11 new monkeypox cases, saying “a notable proportion” of the infections in the UK and Europe have been in young men with no history of travel to Africa and who were gay, bisexual or had sex with men.
Authorities in Spain and Portugal also said their cases were in young men who mostly had sex with other men and said those cases were picked up when the men turned up with lesions at sexual health clinics.
Experts have stressed they do not know if the disease is being spread through sex or other close contact related to sex.
Nigeria hasn’t seen sexual transmission, Tomori said, but he noted that viruses that hadn’t initially been known to transmit via sex, like Ebola, were later proven to do so after bigger epidemics showed different patterns of spread.
The same could be true of monkeypox, Tomori said.
In Germany, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the government was confident the outbreak could be contained. He said the virus was being sequenced to see if there were any genetic changes that might have made it more infectious.
Rolf Gustafson, an infectious diseases professor, told Swedish broadcaster SVT that it was “very difficult” to imagine the situation might worsen.
“We will certainly find some further cases in Sweden, but I do not think there will be an epidemic in any way,” Gustafson said. “There is nothing to suggest that at present.”
Scientists said that while it’s possible the outbreak’s first patient caught the disease while in Africa, what’s happening now is exceptional.
“We’ve never seen anything like what’s happening in Europe,” said Christian Happi, director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases. “We haven’t seen anything to say that the transmission patterns of monkeypox have been changing in Africa. So if something different is happening in Europe, then Europe needs to investigate that.”
Happi also pointed out that the suspension of smallpox vaccination campaigns after the disease was eradicated in 1980 might inadvertently be helping monkeypox spread. Smallpox vaccines also protect against monkeypox, but mass immunization was stopped decades ago.
“Aside from people in west and Central Africa who may have some immunity to monkeypox from past exposure, not having any smallpox vaccination means nobody has any kind of immunity to monkeypox,” Happi said.
Shabir Mahdi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said a detailed investigation of the outbreak in Europe, including determining who the first patients were, was now critical.
“We need to really understand how this first started and why the virus is now gaining traction,” he said. “In Africa, there have been very controlled and infrequent outbreaks of monkeypox. If that’s now changing, we really need to understand why.”


WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally

WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally
Updated 22 May 2022

WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally

WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally
  • 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 member states
  • 23 new confirmed cases reported in Spain were linked to a sex den, authorities said

LONDON : The World Health Organization said it expects to identify more cases of monkeypox as it expands surveillance in countries where the disease is not typically found.
As of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic for the virus, the UN agency said, adding it will provide further guidance and recommendations in coming days for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox.
“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic,” the agency added.
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It is spread by close contact, so it can be relatively easily contained through such measures as self-isolation and hygiene.


EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe


“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” WHO official David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist, told Reuters.
Heymann said an international committee of experts met via video conference to look at what needed to be studied about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, who are at most risk, and the various routes of transmission.
He said the meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation.” The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest form of alert, which applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said close contact was the key transmission route, as lesions typical of the disease are very infectious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as are health workers, which is why some countries have started inoculating teams treating monkeypox patients using vaccines for smallpox, a related virus.
Many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.

On Friday, health authorities in Spain reported  23 new confirmed cases mainly in the Madrid region where the regional government closed a sauna linked to the majority of infections.
The total tally in Spain has now reached 30, while 23 confirmed cases have now been identified in neighbouring Portugal, where nine new cases were detected on Friday.
Madrid authorities have been working on tracing the cases mainly from a single outbreak in a sauna, regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero told reporters on Friday. The word sauna is used in Spain to describe establishments popular with gay men looking for sex rather than just a bathhouse.
Early genomic sequencing of a handful of the cases in Europe has suggested a similarity with the strain that spread in a limited fashion in Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018.
Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” the virus had been circulating outside of the countries where it is endemic, but had not led to major outbreaks as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions.
He stressed that the monkeypox outbreak did not resemble the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it does not transmit as easily. Those who suspect they may have been exposed or who show symptoms including bumpy rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others, he said.
“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is, you can protect yourself,” he added.