Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. (AP/File)
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Updated 28 January 2022

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Thursday asking for the creation of a plan on civilian harm “mitigation and response” in the coming months

WASHINGTON: A study by the RAND Corporation think-tank released on Thursday faulted the US military for “considerable weaknesses” and inconsistencies in its review of allegations of civilian casualties, and the Pentagon announced a broad review.
The US military is under intense scrutiny over its procedures to guard against civilian casualties following a high-profile, mistaken drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.
Not only did the US military botch the targeting but, in the strike’s initial aftermath, the Pentagon’s assessment concluded that it killed Daesh militants preparing a bombing attack against US troops.
The independent RAND study, which was required by congressional legislation, concluded systemic weaknesses at the Department of Defense (DoD) were causing it to fall short of its duties on civilian casualties.
“DoD is not adequately organized, trained, or equipped to fulfill its current responsibilities for addressing civilian harm,” the report concluded.
In conflicts, the US military often has limited access to targeted areas before or after strikes, relying on intelligence gathered remotely from sources like drone surveillance and satellite imagery.
RAND found the US military sometimes compounds this problem by failing to adequately talk to people from outside the US government or armed forces who might have access to information on the ground.
However, a 2018 Joint Staff review found that 58 percent of civilian casualties identified between 2015 and 2017 came from external sources, RAND said.
“We found that DoD’s current approach to assessing, investigating, and responding to civilian harm has considerable weaknesses in key areas and is inconsistent across theaters,” the report found.
The report also noted that investigating civilian casualties often falls to junior personnel “who do not receive formal training.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Thursday asking for the creation of a plan on civilian harm “mitigation and response” in the coming months and the creation of civilian protection center of excellence later this year.
A senior US defense official, briefing reporters on Austin’s decision, said incorporating information from sources outside the US government and US military would be key to the reforms.
“We tend to rely heavily on what is in our own data findings, and I think we need to build a system and also an expectation that other sources of information ... are built into this and have credibility,” the official said.
“That’s not something that we do consistently well, and that’s something that we intend to change.”


Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters
Updated 13 sec ago

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters
  • Detectives detained SLPP MPs Milan Jayathilake, Sanath Nishantha and four other high-ranking officials on Tuesday
  • Suspects allegedly involved in deaths of demonstrators from the ‘Gota go gama’ and ‘Myna go gama’ movement who seek change in crisis-hit nation

COLOMBO: Two Sri Lankan ruling party lawmakers have been arrested on charges of involvement in attacks on anti-government protesters, a top police official said on Wednesday.

For over a month, citizens have been protesting across Sri Lanka, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his prime minister brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom they blame for the country’s worst economic crisis.

The prime minister resigned last week, after supporters of the Rajapaksas attacked demonstrators in Colombo. The violence left nine people dead and wounded nearly 300, leading to days of unrest.

The two lawmakers from President Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party were arrested, after a criminal investigation, on Tuesday evening and have been remanded by the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s court until May 25.

“As a result of the investigations, the detectives arrested SLPP MPs Milan Jayathilake and Sanath Nishantha on Tuesday,” Senior Superintendent of Police Nihal Thalduwa told Arab News.

He added that another four high-ranking officials were also detained “over their involvement in the attacks on the ‘Gota go gama’ and ‘Myna go gama’ peaceful protest sites.”

“Gota go gama” and “Myna go gama” are popular slogans among protesters. “Gota” is a reference to President Rajapaksa, while “Myna” to his ex-PM brother. The “go gama,” literally “go village,” is a call on them to leave and go home.

Thalduwa said 883 people have been arrested over the violence that shook the island nation between May 9 and May 11, leading to the deployment of troops in many parts of the country to impose a curfew that was only lifted on Wednesday morning.

Protesters continued to demonstrate outside the president’s office in Colombo, demanding he resign, as the country is struggling with its worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

Acute shortages of food, fuel, and essential medicines have been accompanied by record inflation and long power cuts for the past few months.

The new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed last week, said in a televised speech on Monday evening that the country urgently needed about $75 billion to help provide the nation with essential items, but its treasury was struggling to find even $1 billion.


Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India
Updated 16 min 31 sec ago

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India
  • At least 8 people have been killed in the deluge
  • More heavy rain is expected in the region this week

NEW DELHI: More than 400,000 people in northeastern India have been hit by deadly floods triggered by pre-monsoon downpours, authorities said on Wednesday, as they brace for more heavy rain.

Rescue and evacuation efforts were ongoing as incessant rains and landslides affected communication lines, as well as road and railway networks in most of Assam state in the last few days.

At least eight people have been killed by the floods, according to local media reports.

“The total number of people impacted is around 4 lakh (400,000),” Gyanendra Dev Tripathi, chief executive at the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, told Arab News.

“Hopefully, we will be able to tackle this situation,” he added. “We are ready for the worst possible scenario.”

The flooding has been worst in the districts of Cachar and Hojai.

“In Hojai district alone, at least 100 villages are submerged, which means more than 50 percent of villages are under water. At least 40,000 to 50,000 people in this area are impacted,” Ashraful Amin, a social worker in the region, told Arab News.

He estimated that around 70 percent of the people were still trapped in the flood zone. The military has already joined the rescue operation.

“Since yesterday, we have been trying to reach out to the affected people on wooden boats,” he said. “The army has started rescuing people today.”

Landslides have cut off the southern part of the state from rail connectivity.

“We have 50 bridge points where landslides have damaged the tracks,” Sabyasachi De, spokesperson for North Eastern Frontier Railway, said. “These are unprecedented landslides, cloudbursts and flash floods. We have not seen anything like this so far.”

India’s weather agency has issued a red alert notice for Assam, as heavy rain is expected in the region for the next three days.

More rainfall is expected as monsoon downpours are yet to hit the region, R. K. Jenamani, a senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department, told Arab News.

“The havoc has been caused by flash floods. It’s not the normal monsoon,” he said. “The monsoon has yet to hit India.”


Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah
Updated 18 May 2022

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah
  • Biker, vlogger Abrar Hassan has traveled to over 80 countries, 13 on his motorcycle
  • “Warm welcome” received in Makkah, Madinah compelled him to explore other Saudi cities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan had already traveled to more than 80 countries, at least 12 of them on his motorcycle, by the time he decided this year it was time to pursue possibly his greatest dream — a bike ride to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

On Feb. 9, Hassan set out from his hometown of Nankana Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab province, embarking on a journey that entailed crossing three continents and riding for 50 days before he arrived in Madinah on March 27. From there, he went to Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, and performed Umrah.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan visits the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on April 5, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)

“It was always my dream (to travel to Saudi Arabia on a motorbike) and it came true this year,” Hassan, a mechanical engineer with a German automotive company, told Arab News in video messages from Madinah.

“There are probably some feelings you can’t describe in words ... So, everything has been surreal for me, and I absolutely loved every single moment of it.”

Hassan, who has loved adventure and photography since he was a child, said it was an “amazing experience” to cross multiple borders and meet so many people along the way. But he pointed out that the special blessing was to arrive in Madinah just a few days before the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan and keep the first fast of the year there.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan visits Wadi Al-Baida in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on May 10, 2022. (Abrar Hassan) 

And he thanked the people of Saudi Arabia for the “warm welcome” given to him and the love he had received. He noted that one memorable experience had taken place soon after he entered the Kingdom and involved a group of women selling tea.

“When they came to know that I was traveling on a motorcycle from Pakistan to perform Umrah, they didn’t take any money from me and said, ‘you are our guest,’” he said.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan passes through the Iraqi city of Uruk on his way to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on March 11, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)

A video of Hassan’s interaction with the women went viral on the internet and gained him fame in the country. “Whenever I go out with my motorcycle ... the support and love I am receiving right now is just incredible,” he added.

The affection compelled Hassan to extend his stay in the Kingdom and explore other cities.

“I have visited Riyadh, Madinah, and Makkah so far, but in the next few days I am starting my travel to different cities of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I am going to Jeddah, Abha, Al-Bahah, Jazan, and AlUla near the Jordan border.”


Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’
Updated 18 May 2022

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’
  • The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano
  • She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups

GENEVA: Swiss prosecutors said Wednesday they had indicted a woman for attempted murder on behalf of Daesh group over a brutal knife attack in November 2020.
The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano.
She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups, according to the indictment. She was also charged with unlawful prostitution.
The attorney general’s office said the indictment related to an ‘extremist knife attack’ and the alleged assailant, a Swiss citizen, “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of Daesh.”
“The suspect acted willfully and with particular ruthlessness. She brutally attacked her randomly-selected victims with a knife, with the aim of killing them and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Daesh’,” it said.
One of the two victims sustained serious neck injuries while the second victim, with help from others at the scene, managed to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.
The attacker was arrested and detained.
Police quickly discovered she had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.
The woman had formed a relationship on social media with an extremist fighter in Syria and attempted to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, police alleged at the time.
She was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, they said, adding that the woman had suffered from mental health problems and been admitted to a psychiatric clinic.


Wall collapse at salt factory kills 12 in west India

Wall collapse at salt factory kills 12 in west India
Updated 18 May 2022

Wall collapse at salt factory kills 12 in west India

Wall collapse at salt factory kills 12 in west India
  • The workers stocking salt in bags were found buried in the wall debris in the factory
  • The injuries of 13 workers, mostly fractured bones, were not life-threatening

NEW DELHI: A wall collapsed in a salt packaging factory in western India on Wednesday, killing at least 12 workers and injuring another 13, a government administrator said.
The workers stocking salt in bags were found buried in the wall debris in the factory in Morbi district, 215 kilometers (135 miles) west of Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state, said J.B. Patel, the district officer.
The injuries of 13 workers, mostly fractured bones, were not life-threatening, Patel said.
He also said that the rescue work was almost over. Other details were not immediately available.
Authorities are investigating the cause of the wall collapse.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the deaths as heart-rending. “In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon,” he said.
Building collapses are common in India as many of them are poorly constructed using sub-standard material. A building collapse in 2013 killed at least 72 people in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital.