Taiwan air force suspends training after second fatal accident in 2022

Taiwan air force suspends training after second fatal accident in 2022
Two AT-3 aircraft perform stunts during a ceremony in a Taiwan airbase in Pingtung, 15 April 2006. (AFP)
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Updated 31 May 2022

Taiwan air force suspends training after second fatal accident in 2022

Taiwan air force suspends training after second fatal accident in 2022
  • The AT-3 is a domestically-developed advanced trainer that first flew in 1980

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s air force suspended flight training of new pilots on Tuesday after a jet trainer crashed killing its pilot, the defense ministry said, the second fatal accident the air force has experienced in 2022.
The ministry said the AT-3 jet crashed during a training mission from the Gangshan air base in the southern city of Kaohsiung and the body of the pilot had already been found.
The AT-3 is a domestically-developed advanced trainer that first flew in 1980 and can carry weapons.
Air force Chief of Staff Huang Chih-wei told reporters the aircraft had gone missing a few minutes after take-off, piloted by 23-year-old Hsu Ta-chun.
The aircraft was in good working order with no major maintenance issues reported over the past year, Huang added.
The air force has now suspended flight missions for its trainee pilots, he said.
President Tsai Ing-wen is “deeply saddened” by the loss and has instructed the Defense Ministry to investigate what happened, her office added in a statement.
In March, a Mirage 2000 fighter jet crashed into the sea off the island’s southeast coast, the second combat aircraft lost in three months. The pilot was rescued alive.
In January the air force suspended combat training for its F-16 fleet after a recently upgraded model of the fighter jet crashed into the sea, killing the pilot.
Last year, two F-5E fighters, which first entered service in Taiwan in the 1970s, crashed into the sea after they apparently collided in mid-air during a training mission.
In late 2020, an F-16 vanished shortly after taking off from the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast on a routine training mission.
While Taiwan’s air force is well trained, it has been strained from repeatedly scrambling to see off Chinese military aircraft in the past two years, though the accidents have not been linked in any way to these intercept activities.
China, which claims the democratic island as its own, has been routinely sending aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone, mostly in an area around the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands but sometimes also into the airspace between Taiwan and the Philippines.


Can crisis-stricken Afghanistan be prevented from becoming an extremists’ sanctuary again?

Can crisis-stricken Afghanistan be prevented from becoming an extremists’ sanctuary again?
Updated 41 sec ago

Can crisis-stricken Afghanistan be prevented from becoming an extremists’ sanctuary again?

Can crisis-stricken Afghanistan be prevented from becoming an extremists’ sanctuary again?
  • Concerns growing about the future of bankrupt, unstable and internationally isolated country
  • IS-K exploiting disunity among Taliban over whether to embrace pragmatism or ideological purity

LONDON: Nearly a year into the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan following the US military withdrawal, there is mounting concern that the bankrupt, unstable and internationally isolated country could once again become a sanctuary for extremist groups and even a launchpad for global terrorism.

The US beat a rushed retreat from Afghanistan in August 2021 after reaching a shaky peace deal with the Taliban, whose leaders pledged to never again offer sanctuary to extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, which had plotted the 9/11 attacks from Afghan soil.

The hope was that Afghanistan would not become a hotbed of international terrorism as it had been in 2001, and that a plot for an attack of 9/11’s magnitude would never again emanate from the country.

But in common with millions of Afghans, not many South Asian observers were convinced of the Taliban’s sincerity, believing instead that the country was being hijacked yet again by a violent and insular fundamentalist group.

“I do think that Afghanistan has already become a hive of terrorism,” Ahmad Wali Massoud, a former ambassador of Afghanistan to the UK, told Arab News.

“Already we can see many strands of terrorism, from Al-Qaeda to Daesh. They are already staying inside Afghanistan, they are being protected by the Taliban, they are protected by the government of Taliban inside Afghanistan.”

Massoud is the younger brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Tajik guerrilla commander who until the Taliban’s return to power last year was feted as Afghanistan’s national hero.

Daesh’s Afghanistan franchise, IS-K, remains a threat to the Taliban’s grip on power. (AFP)

“The US departure from Afghanistan was very unrealistic, very irresponsible, it was not coordinated well, and ignored the people of Afghanistan,” Ahmad Wali Massoud told Arab News.

“The US left their allies, the people of Afghanistan, the security forces of Afghanistan, which they helped for almost 20 years. They completely ignored them. They left them alone to the mercy of terrorism, of the Taliban, of extremism.”

Today, Ahmad Wali Massoud’s nephew, Ahmad Massoud, heads the National Resistance Front against the Taliban in his native Panjshir, north of Kabul, where his father had famously resisted the Soviets and the Taliban decades earlier.

Recent fighting in Panjshir does not still represent a challenge to the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan, but it is the most significant and sustained armed opposition the group has faced since returning to power.

For Massoud and others, the idea that, once in power, the Taliban would act less like an insurgent movement and more like a government for all Afghans, was not quite grounded in reality.

With political violence now rife across the country, freedom of speech curtailed, and the rights of women and girls eroding steadily, war-weary Afghans’ mood is one of deepening pessimism.

Responding to the developments since last August, the US and global financial institutions have frozen Afghanistan’s assets, withheld aid and loans, and sought to isolate the Taliban regime.

A recently released UN report says IS-K has between 1,500 and 4,000 fighters, “concentrated in remote areas” of Kunar, Nangarhar and possibly Nuristan provinces. (AFP)

As a result, the Afghan government is perpetually on the brink of economic collapse and, in some parts of the country, the specter of famine looms. Almost half the population — 20 million people — is experiencing acute hunger, according to a UN-backed report issued in May.

On Wednesday, the country faced a new humanitarian crisis when a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck the country’s east, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring another 1,500. Most of the deaths occurred in the provinces of Paktika, Khost and Nangarhar,

Additionally, the Taliban finds itself battling a violent insurgency led by Daesh’s local franchise, the Islamic State in Khorasan, or IS-K, which in recent months has repeatedly targeted members of minority communities including Shiites, Sikhs and Sufis.

A recently released UN report says IS-K has between 1,500 and 4,000 fighters, “concentrated in remote areas” of Kunar, Nangarhar and possibly Nuristan provinces. According to the study, smaller, covert cells are located in northern and northeastern provinces, including Badakhshan, Takhar, Jowzjan, Kunduz and Faryab.

While the Taliban is satisfied with setting up an Islamic polity within Afghanistan, the goal of IS-K is to create a single state for the entire Muslim world, according to scholars of political Islam.

IS-K is seeking to exploit dissension within the Taliban ranks over whether the group should embrace pragmatism or ideological purity. The tensions are intensified by the hodge-podge of entities in Afghanistan, including Daesh, the Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

INNUMBERS

* 20m Afghans experiencing acute hunger.

* 1,000+ Death toll of June 22 earthquake.

* 1,500+ UN estimate of IS-K fighters in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s dilemma as it tries to govern a country that has experienced 20 years of Western-led modernization was predicted by Kamran Bokhari in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 27, 2021.

“The Afghan Taliban have to change but can’t — not without causing an internal rupture,” he wrote. “Such changes ... require a long and tortuous process, and even then, transformation remains elusive.

“The risk of fracture is especially acute when a movement has to change behavior abruptly for geopolitical reasons.”

On the one hand, the number of bombings across Afghanistan has dropped since last August and Taliban 2.0 cannot be accused of directly sponsoring terrorism. On the other hand, the ensuing collapse of state authority in some rural areas and the loss of Western air support for counterinsurgency operations have been a blessing to extremist groups.

“The Taliban takeover has benefited militant groups in multiple ways,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center, told Arab News. 

“It has galvanized and energized an Islamist extremist network for which the expulsion of US troops from Muslim soil and the elimination of US-aligned governments are core goals. The takeover has also brought into power a group with close ideological and operational links to a wide range of militant groups.

“This means at the very least that the Taliban won’t try to expel these groups from Afghan territory, and in the case of the one group that it is targeting, IS-K, it lacks the discipline and capacity to undertake careful and effective counterterrorism tactics.

“On a related note, the Taliban lack the capacity to operate air power, which had been the main means used by NATO forces and the Afghan military to manage the IS-K threat. Furthermore, the Taliban has no ability to ease an acute economic crisis, and the widespread privation fosters an environment ripe for radicalization. This benefits the IS-K.”

One of the deadliest earthquakes in decades on June 22 has added to Afghanistan’s woes. (AFP)

Since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the international community’s patience has flagged and attention has shifted toward the war in Ukraine and the alarming prospect of a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO states.

Kugelman believes the terror threats emanating from Afghanistan fell off the radar long before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

“I would argue that the world was letting the terrorism threat in Afghanistan fester well before the Ukraine war, mainly because the US had struggled to build out the capacity to monitor and target terrorist threats in Afghanistan from outside the country,” he told Arab News.

“This isn’t a big problem now, given that the threat is not what it used to be. But if this neglect allows the global terrorism threat in Afghanistan to gradually grow back and the US and its partners still don’t have a plan, then all bets are off and there could be big problems.”

To be sure, the situation in Afghanistan is still very different from that of pre-2001, when the entire Al-Qaeda leadership was based in the country as guests of Mullah Omar, the founder and then-leader of the Taliban.

Al-Qaeda and its then-leader Osama bin Laden had initially been welcomed to Afghanistan by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a Mujahideen leader, after bin Laden’s 1996 expulsion from Sudan.

In Afghanistan’s political and geographic isolation inherited by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda was able to freely plot its attacks against the US.

In April 2001, just a few months before 9/11 and his own assassination at the hands of Al-Qaeda operatives, Ahmad Shah Massoud had addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, warning the West would pay a heavy price if it continued to allow extremism to fester in Afghanistan.

Does that fateful speech have any relevance to the current situation?

Afghan residents and family members of the victims gather next to a damaged vehicle inside a house, day after a US drone airstrike in Kabul on August 30, 2021. (AFP)

“While one should never be complacent, it’s safe to say the global terrorism threat emanating from Afghanistan isn’t as serious today as it was when Massoud issued his warning in 2001,” said Kugelman.

“Al-Qaeda has become much weaker and the only other group in Afghanistan with globally focused goals is a Daesh chapter that currently can’t project a threat beyond the immediate region.

“That said, let’s be clear: With NATO forces out of Afghanistan and an Al-Qaeda-allied regime now in power, the ground is fertile in the medium term for international terror groups to reconstitute themselves — and especially if we see new influxes of foreign fighters into Afghanistan that can bring shock troops, arms, money, and tactical expertise to these groups.”

In exile in Europe, Ahmad Wali Massoud is convinced that the Trump and Biden administrations made a grave error in deciding to negotiate with the Taliban and in withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Allowing the group to return to power, he believes, will inevitably transform Afghanistan into a terror heartland — a development he is convinced, just as his brother warned, will come back to haunt the West.

“I think, by now, they must have realized, after almost a year, that they have made a mistake, because they know now that the Taliban is out of control,” Massoud told Arab News.

“I do think that if the situation remains like this, they will pay a very high price. Of course, Afghanistan has already paid a very high price. But I’m pretty sure the US will also pay a very high price.”


World faces unprecedented global hunger crisis, UN chief says

World faces unprecedented global hunger crisis, UN chief says
Updated 24 June 2022

World faces unprecedented global hunger crisis, UN chief says

World faces unprecedented global hunger crisis, UN chief says
  • More than 460,000 people in Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan are in famine conditions
  • Millions of people in 34 other countries are on the brink of famine

UNITED NATIONS: There is a “real risk” of multiple famines this year, UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Friday and urged ministers meeting on food security to take practical steps to stabilize food markets and reduce commodity price volatility.
“We face an unprecedented global hunger crisis,” Guterres told the meeting in Berlin via video. “The war in Ukraine has compounded problems that have been brewing for years: climate disruption; the COVID-19 pandemic; the deeply unequal recovery.”
More than 460,000 people in Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan are in famine conditions under the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) — a scale used by UN agencies, regional bodies and aid groups to determine food insecurity. This is the step before a declaration of famine in a region.
Millions of people in 34 other countries are on the brink of famine, according to the IPC.
“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022. And 2023 could be even worse,” said Guterres, calling mass hunger and starvation unacceptable in the 21st century.
Guterres said there could be no effective solution to the crisis unless Ukraine and Russia, which produce about 29 percent of global wheat exports, find a way to properly resume trade.
Shipments from Ukrainian ports have been halted by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. Moscow wants certain Western sanctions lifted in order to resume its grain and fertilizer exports.
The United Nations and Turkey are trying to broker a deal.
Guterres did not elaborate on the talks, saying: “Public statements could hinder success.”
He also asked ministers at the Berlin meeting to address a finance crisis in developing countries.


Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes
Updated 24 June 2022

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes
  • Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader who became prime minister after the revolution, expressed joy at the country's candidate status
  • “Thank you to our soldiers - they won this decision," Yatsenyuk tweeted

KYIV: The European Union’s decision to make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership offered war-weary Ukrainians a morale boost and hope of a more secure future Friday as the country’s military ordered its fighters to retreat from a key city in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the decision of EU leaders as vindication for his nation’s fight against Russia’s aggression and said he was determined to ensure Ukraine retained the ability to decide if belonged in Europe or under Moscow’s influence.
“This war began just when Ukraine declared its right to freedom. To its choice of its future. We saw it in the European Union,” Zelensky told the nation in a televised address late Thursday. “That is why this decision of the EU is so important, motivates us and shows all this is needed not only by us.”
Others recalled the 2014 revolution that ousted Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president, sparked in part by his decision not to complete an association agreement with the EU. Russian President Vladimir Putin had opposed the agreement, just as he demanded before he sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader who became prime minister after the revolution, expressed joy at the country’s candidate status but also “bitterness” over the “terrible price that Ukraine pays for the desire to be a free, independent European state.”
“Thank you to our soldiers — they won this decision,” Yatsenyuk tweeted. “Ukraine is a great country that will inevitably become a member of the EU and, just as inevitably, a member of NATO.”
Ukraine applied for membership less than a week after Russia invaded the country and must undergo a complicated process of many months to be eligible to join the 27-nation bloc.
The EU also granted candidate status to the small nation of Moldova, another former Soviet republic that borders Ukraine and also has territory controlled by pro-Russia separatists. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday called the decision “internal European affairs” that shouldn’t complicate already difficult regional dynamics.
“It is very important for us that all these processes do not bring more problems to us and more problems in the relations of the countries mentioned with us. There are enough of these problems anyway,” Peskov said.
In Pokrovsk, a small town close to the four-month-old war’s frontline in eastern Ukraine, few resident wanted to share their thoughts on EU candidacy as they hurried to collect their daily aid handouts. Those who did said the decision would send a strong message to the Russians trying to seize cities and villages a few miles away.
“The next stop is NATO. There is no way back now. I was born during the USSR, but there is no return (to that)” Pokrovsk resident Valerii Terentyev said. “Ukraine wanted a different thing, and in my opinion it is the right thing.”
The chairman of Ukraine’s parliament said that a path toward EU membership would remind the country’s soldiers that their fight is worth the hardship and won international admiration.
“This is a powerful political message. It will be heard by soldiers in the trenches, every family that was forced to flee the war abroad, everyone who helps bring our victory closer. But it will also be heard in the bunker,” Stefanchuk said.
Encouragement aside, the reality remains that the European Union sometimes is long on words of solidary and support but short on the kind of concerted action that might deter outside threats, even though a treaty obligates EU countries to assist a fellow member facing armed aggression.
To gain EU membership, countries must meet a detailed host of economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles. The EU’s executive arm has indicated that Ukraine also will have to curb entrenched corruption and adopt other government reforms.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the EU’s embrace of Ukraine was “an important symbolic signal, but it’s the beginning of the beginning.”
Some Ukrainians understood that their country still has much to do in order to meet the tough membership criteria.
“We still need to grow” resident Yevhen Zaitsev said. “There is much corruption. There are a lot of lies“
While the EU fast-tracked its consideration of Ukraine’s application for membership, the ongoing war could complicate the country’s ability to fulfill the entry criteria. Russian forces in recent weeks have slowly advanced in their offensive to capture the Donbas region, where pro-Russia separatists have controlled much of the territory for eight years.
Ukrainian forces were ordered to retreat from the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk, one of the last Ukrainian-held areas of Luhansk province, to avoid being completely surrounded.
The city has faced relentless Russian bombardment while Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the city’s edge.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the retreat order was given to prevent encirclement by Russian forces that made gains around Sievierodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysychansk in recent days.


British doctor with 15 Hajj trips shares top tips

British doctor with 15 Hajj trips shares top tips
Updated 24 June 2022

British doctor with 15 Hajj trips shares top tips

British doctor with 15 Hajj trips shares top tips
  • Use umbrellas, sunscreen and stay indoors in the afternoons if you can to avoid summer heat, says Dr. Imran Zia
  • “Carry important medication in hand and hold luggage, with repeat prescriptions, covering letters,” he advised

LONDON: A British Muslim doctor on Thursday shared his tried and tested tips with pilgrims who are about to participate in the first post-pandemic Hajj open to foreigners, which includes preparing for the intense summer heat, and carrying important medicines.

Dr. Imran Zia, clinical director for emergency medicine at Barts Health NHS Trust, has accompanied British groups on Hajj as both a medical expert and a guide at least 15 times.

During a webinar hosted by the Council of British Hajjis, the veteran health worker explained how pilgrims should prepare for summer temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius.

“Umbrellas are very useful, especially in the heat and the temperature at the moment is likely to be between 40 and 45 degrees. We are not used to such high temperatures in the UK and I would encourage you to wear light colors and use sunscreen. Avoid going out in the afternoon if you can,” Zia said.

As the Hajj involves a lot of walking between the holy sites in the scorching heat, Zia advised pilgrims to break-in the footwear they plan to use.

“Please walk in the sandals that you are going to take with you. Every year we see people buying a new pair of sandals, taking them to Saudi Arabia, and then getting blisters. You need to wear in those sandals now.

“If you feel that the soles of your feet are going to give you problems, then I’d encourage you to buy good quality insoles, and glue them to the inside of your sandal. You’ll find that that will give you an immense amount of relief. It’s like you’re walking on air.

“If you’re diabetic, I would discourage you from taking flip-flops as they encourage infections, skin breakages, sweatiness, and will likely give you problems. So it’s better to get sandals with straps that you can secure,” the medical professional said.

Zia also addressed the notorious Hajj cough that many pilgrims get due to the dry and dusty environment and the fact that people from all over the world have gathered in one place.

“With the Hajj cough, which unfortunately many people get, the onset is pretty rapid. It comes on very suddenly and your temperature will go up and down. You will have a pronounced headache and it’s really quite severe. Having a sore throat is very common. It’s a dry cough and you’ll feel really achy, like you’ve been hit by a bus,” Zia said.

“Unfortunately, there is no medicinal tablet I can recommend that you take other than using simple measures such as paracetamol to keep the temperature down, lozenges to help with the sore throat, gargling with saltwater, and having a rest.”

He said the best way to prevent getting the Hajj cough is to wear a face mask, keep one’s mouth covered, and practice good hygiene.

“If you see someone coughing, keep your distance,” the doctor said.

He also highlighted the importance of pilgrims taking a sufficient amount of medicine for those who have existing health conditions.

“Take plenty of medication. One thing I will say about medication is that you should take it in your hand luggage. Also pack some in your hold luggage. And if it’s really important medication that you do not want to get lost, pack it with the person who’s accompanying you as well, with a covering letter,” Zia said.

“Some medications, especially for cancer or diabetes are just not available. Take a repeat prescription with you so that if you do become ill, people know what medication you’re on. If you have a serious condition, I will always encourage you to take the name of your hospital consultant, the hospital consultant’s contact number or the secretary of their department, and your hospital number with you.”

He also advised people who usually wear contact lenses to avoid doing so during the pilgrimage and to pack a spare pair of spectacles.

“I would encourage all of you to avoid contact lenses, if possible. It’s likely that you’re going to be awake for many hours in the dusty environments and suffer from lack of sleep. The last thing you want to do is to get an eye infection. And take a spare pair of spectacles,” Zia said.

Lastly, the doctor shared his golden list of “Ps”:

Prescription list, of all prescribed medication

Patient details with contact numbers, especially if you have an ongoing problem

Paracetamol will help reduce a temperature

Plasters for blisters 

Petroleum jelly (unscented) will ease chafing between the legs

Penicillin/antibiotic if you can obtain this medication


Taiwan confirms first imported case of monkeypox

Taiwan confirms first imported case of monkeypox
Updated 24 June 2022

Taiwan confirms first imported case of monkeypox

Taiwan confirms first imported case of monkeypox
  • Patient flew back to Taiwan on June 16 and returned home for mandatory COVID-19 quarantine
  • The man is being treated in isolation ward

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s government on Friday confirmed its first imported case of monkeypox, a man in his 20s who had studied in Germany from January until June this year when he returned to the island.
Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said the man flew back to Taiwan on June 16 and returned home for mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for all arrivals.
On June 20, he developed symptoms including a fever, sore throat and a rash and sought medical attention, where he was tested and confirmed to have monkeypox, it added in a statement.
He is now being treated in an isolation ward and his close contacts are showing no symptoms, it said.
In the Asia Pacific, Singapore, South Korea and Australia have also all reported cases.
More than 40 countries where monkeypox is not endemic have reported outbreaks of the viral disease as confirmed cases exceed 3,000.
Monkeypox, which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys, mostly occurs in west and central Africa and occasionally spreads elsewhere.