200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC

200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC
An Afghan soldier gestures outside the gates of a British-run military academy on the outskirts of Kabul on Aug 5, 2014. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2023
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200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC

200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC
  • Gen. Richard Barrons: ‘It reflects that either we’re duplicitous as a nation or incompetent’
  • Ex-commando: ‘We never thought that heroes would be abandoned. It is really disappointing’

LONDON: About 200 former Afghan special forces whose anti-Taliban operations with Britain’s military were “incredibly important” have been denied relocation to the UK, the BBC reported on Monday.

A further 32 former government officials, as well as a number of civilian leaders who aided Britain’s mission in the country, have also been denied by the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Programme.

The former soldiers’ “abandonment” by the UK government has been labeled a “betrayal” and “disgrace” by senior British military figures, including Gen. Richard Barrons, who served in Afghanistan for more than a decade.

He told the BBC that the UK’s failure to relocate the former soldiers “is a disgrace, because it reflects that either we’re duplicitous as a nation or incompetent.”

Barrons added: “It is a betrayal, and the cost of that betrayal will be people who served with us will die or spend their lives in prison.”

The UK’s then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2021 described the work of the former Afghan special forces as “incredibly important.”

Britain set up two major units composed of elite Afghan soldiers in an effort to combat opium production and the Taliban presence in Afghanistan.

Commando Force 333, and its sister unit, Afghan Territorial Force 444, were known as “the Triples,” and “quickly gained a reputation for effectiveness, honesty and courage,” the BBC reported.

One of the former CF333 members, known as Ali, described being “abandoned and betrayed” by the UK after spending “day and night” together with British soldiers.

He added: “During training we slept under one tent, eating from the same dish. During operations we fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the British, as members of one family.”

During the evacuation from Kabul in August 2021, Ali oversaw the protection of British passport holders as they left the country on emergency flights.

But he was denied entry on the same flights, and eventually fled to Pakistan by land out of fear of reprisal attacks from Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers.

“We never thought that heroes would be abandoned. We took all those risks. We were ready to help the international community, we respected freedom of speech and human life, then everything turned upside down. It is really disappointing,” he said.

Figures compiled by a network of Afghan veterans, seen by the BBC, show that there are up to 200 other former soldiers in the same position as Ali. Their applications to Britain’s ARAP scheme have faced delays or rejection.

Civilian leaders who helped Britain’s mission in Afghanistan have also been denied by the scheme.

Among them is Mohammad Fahim, a former governor of Helmand province’s Garmsir district, a key Taliban stronghold before 2001.

Despite working “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Britain, he says he was “betrayed” and “never thought that I would be left alone like this.”

He added: “We arrested a number of Taliban leaders when I was governor. They knew that we were fighting together with the international forces, so the threat to me is real.

“We ran programmes shoulder-to-shoulder, with the shared aim of bringing security for the people who lived in Helmand, giving them a good life and making peace.”

His work to counter the Taliban presence in his district resulted in the murder of his brother and two cousins, and in 2018 Fahim was almost beaten to death.

Barrons said: “I’m personally ashamed because I feel very deeply that we made an obligation to them and we have not fulfilled it.

“It’s beyond absurd to say they don’t qualify and that they should be left behind to a fate at the hands of the Taliban.”

Lt. Gen. Abdul Hadi Khalid, former first commanding officer of CF333, said Britain’s treatment of the Triples will diminish the country’s standing in the region.

He added: “I’m 100 percent sure that when other nations, other progressive forces, see Afghanistan, when they look at Afghan people, Afghan miseries, how can they trust the West?”

In response to the BBC’s reporting, a UK Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “So far, we have brought around 24,600 people to safety, including thousands of people eligible for our Afghan schemes.

“Each ARAP application is assessed individually and in accordance with published policy, and we do not automatically make a decision on eligibility based on a job role.”


Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
Updated 22 sec ago
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Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
  • More than 100,000 voters heed call to snub president by choosing ‘uncommitted’ option on ballot, amid anger about his unflinching support for Israel during war in Gaza
  • This could prove significant during the presidential election in November, in which Michigan is likely to be one of the most closely contested states

CHICAGO: Arab American leaders hailed as a “victory” the results of a Democratic presidential primary election in Michigan on Tuesday, in which more than 100,000 voters snubbed President Joe Biden’s nomination bid by choosing the “uncommitted” option on the ballot.

Campaigners had urged Arab voters to do this in protest against the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, despite the thousands of civilians who have been killed or injured as a result.

Primaries are elections held by the Democratic and Republican parties in every state to select their candidates for the presidential election. The “uncommitted” voting option is only offered by some states. Campaigners said the number of Arab Americans in Michigan who voted “uncommitted” represented a solid rejection of Biden’s candidacy.

He still comfortably won the primary. With more than 95 percent of the votes counted on Wednesday afternoon, he had received 618,441, representing 81.1 percent of the total. The number of “uncommitted” votes stood at 101,107, or 13.3 percent. Two other candidates, Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips, each received about 3 percent of the vote.

The “uncommitted” vote could nevertheless prove significant in the presidential election if it translates into loss of support for Biden or a switch of allegiance to his likely rival, Donald Trump. Biden claimed victory in Michigan at the 2020 presidential election by the relatively narrow margin of 154,188 votes out of more than 5.5 million cast. There are more than 500,000 Arab and Muslim voters in Michigan. In addition, turnout for a presidential election is usually significantly higher than for a primary; about 1.8 million people voted in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, for example, compared with the 5.5 million at the 2020 presidential election.

In Michigan’s Republican primary, Trump comfortably won with 68.2 percent of the vote. Closest rival Nikki Haley received just 26.6 percent, which 3 percent were uncommitted.

The Michigan primary was the first among several identified by Arab American campaign groups as taking place in key swing states where Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020 was particularly narrow.

Arab Americans have launched anti-Biden protest movements in several of those states, the most prominent of which has been #AbandonBiden. Its leaders cite as the main reason for Arab anger the president’s support for and defense of Israel during the war in Gaza, including: the allocation of more than $34 billion in aid and weapons; what they view as the pro-Israel bias of Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and the US decisions to veto three UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

The #AbandonBiden campaign launched on Nov. 1, shortly after Israel invaded Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7. It criticized Israel for the “brutality” of its military campaign, which has razed cities to the ground, destroying civilian buildings and infrastructure in the process, including mosques, hospitals, churches, schools, homes and businesses. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in the past four months.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Michigan-based Arab American News, which describes itself as the largest Arab American publication in the US, told Arab News that “empty words” from the Biden administration seeking to placate Arab voters will not work.

“The message has been delivered to Biden loud and clear from Michigan’s Arab Americans: Defeat is waiting for you in November,” he said. “This is only a down payment.”

Imad Hamad, the executive director of the American Human Rights Council, told Arab News: “The community delivered and fulfilled its solid commitment not to commit to the reelection of President Biden.

“The uncommitted votes, as well as the votes of those who flipped the party affiliation from the Democratic Party to Republican speaks for itself, setting the record straight moving forward toward the general elections in November.”

The possibility that the #AbandonBiden campaign might help return Trump to the White House has caused alarm among many traditional Democrat supporters.

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a longtime political activist, said many movements have emerged in response to discontent over Biden’s policies on Israel and Gaza.

“We hoped to send a message that couldn’t be ignored by President Biden and we did just that,” he told Arab News.

“The turnout in the Arab community was great and with the support of our allies we topped over 100,000 votes. This is a huge win.”

Samir Khalil, founder of the Arab American Democratic Club in Illinois, where Biden could face another Arab voter backlash in that state’s primary on March 19, said that the president’s abandonment of Palestinians was “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

He told Arab News: “Four years of Donald Trump doesn’t even come close to comparing to four months of Israel’s killings in the Gaza Strip.

“Over 100,000 people voted for ‘uncommitted’ in the Michigan presidential primary yesterday. This record-breaking total for the uncommitted option sent a loud and clear message to the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign: It is time to take action to end the genocide in Gaza.

Abed Ayoub, president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee echoed these comments and said: “Uncommitted voters represent diverse demographics, including young voters, progressive voters, and a significant number of voters from ally communities.”

In a message posted on social media platform X, Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the Michigan city of Dearborn wrote: “I am overwhelmed by the power of the people, demonstrated today by the number of Michiganders who voted ‘uncommitted’ … Every person who voted ‘uncommitted’ today was personally compelled to use their voice to speak out against President Biden’s support of (Israeli President) Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden has faced harsh criticism from other groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations; Our Revolution, founded by progressive Democratic US Senator Bernie Sanders; and Listen to Michigan.

Hassan Abdel Salam, the national coordinator of #AbandonBiden, and the group’s Michigan coordinator, Khalid Turani, released a statement on Wednesday in which they said: “Abandon Biden leaders stand before the nation today, not just as victors in the Michigan primary, but as bearers of a profound and indignant message against President Joe Biden’s oversight of the ongoing US-Israeli genocide in Gaza. This isn’t just a political setback for Biden; it’s a damning indictment of his presidency’s moral bankruptcy.

“Our motivation is driven by the harrowing realities of Gaza, where the statistics of death and despair climb daily under the shadow of a genocide facilitated by Biden’s administration. At least 29,606 innocent men, women and children have been murdered, including more than 12,300 children and 8,400 women; and more than 69,737 wounded, including at least 8,663 children and 6,327 women.

“These aren’t just numbers; they’re a damning testament to the horror and suffering supported by Biden’s foreign policy.”

They added: “As we move from Michigan to the national stage, our message remains unequivocal: We will accept nothing less than justice, accountability and an end to US funding, arming and support of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden faced no significant challengers in the Michigan primary, so voting “uncommitted” was the best and clearest way to express the outrage and anger of the Arab American community, campaigners said.

To become president, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs. Each of the 50 states receives a set number of Electoral College votes based on population size, and they are normally awarded to the candidate that wins the popular vote in the state.

In 2020, Biden won 306 Electoral College votes compared with Trump’s 232. If Arab Americans votes prevent Biden from winning 36 of these votes in three key swing states at the presidential election in November, he could lose, #AbandonBiden leaders said. Michigan has 16 Electoral College votes up for grabs.

Biden is particularly vulnerable in several swing states where his 2020 margins of victory over Trump were even closer than in Michigan. They include: Arizona, which has 11 Electoral College votes and in which he won the popular vote by a narrow margin of 10,457; Wisconsin (10 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 20,682); Georgia (16 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 11,779); and Nevada (6 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 33,596).


Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria
Updated 22 min 27 sec ago
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Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria
  • Fears that landlocked Transnistria could become a new flashpoint in Russia’s conflict with neighboring Ukraine
  • Russia’s foreign ministry: ‘Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities’

KYIV, Ukraine: Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Wednesday cautioned against any meddling from Russia in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, whose separatist leaders earlier appealed to Russia for “protection.”
The move from Transnistrian separatists raised fears that the landlocked territory could become a new flashpoint in Moscow’s conflict with neighboring Ukraine.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine... calls for a peaceful resolution of economic, social and humanitarian issues between Chisinau and Tiraspol without any destructive external interference,” the ministry said.
Transnistria is a primarily Russian-speaking region that has long depended on Moscow for support.
After the separatist lawmakers’ resolution was passed, Russia’s foreign ministry said it considered “all requests” for help.
“Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities,” the ministry told Russian news agencies.
Officials in Moldova and analysts have downplayed concerns.
But the move has fueled comparisons with February 2022, when Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine asked for protection against what they said was relentless attacks by Kyiv’s forces.
“Our country knows the horrors of war and the price of peace better than anyone else,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.
“We are making and will continue to make every effort... to prevent any attempts by Russia to destabilize Moldova or other countries in our region,” it added.


S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats
Updated 28 February 2024
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S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

SEOUL: South Korean and US troops will begin their expanded annual military drills next week in response to North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats, the two countries said Wednesday, a move that will likely enrage North Korea because it views its rivals’ joint training as an invasion rehearsal.

In recent months, North Korea has inflamed animosities on the Korean Peninsula with fiery rhetoric and continued missile tests. While it’s unlikely for North Korea to launch full-blown attacks against South Korea and the US, observers say the North could still stage limited provocations along the tense border with South Korea.

On Wednesday, the South Korea and US militaries jointly announced that the allies will conduct Freedom Shield exercise, a computer-simulated command post training, and a variety of separate field training, from March 4-14.

Col. Lee Sung-Jun, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the allies’ drills are designed to bolster their joint capabilities to prevent North Korea from using its nuclear weapons. He said the allies are to carry out 48 field exercises this spring, twice the number conducted last year, and that this year’s drills would 

involve air assault, live-firing and bombing training.

“Our military is ready to punish North Korea immediately, strongly and to the end in the event of its provocation, and we’ll further strengthen our firm readiness through the upcoming drills,” Lee said. 

Col. Isaac L. Taylor, a spokesperson for the US military, said the allies’ exercises have been defensive in nature and that there is solid evidence that “a high readiness rate” helps ensure deterrence.

North Korea didn’t immediately respond to the drills’ announcement. North Korea has reacted to previous major South Korea-US military drills with its own missile tests.

North Korea has sharply intensified its weapons testing activities since 2022 in part of its efforts to expand its nuclear and missile arsenals. This year, the North already conducted six rounds of missile tests — five of them reportedly involving cruise missiles — and other weapons launches.


UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say

UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say
Updated 28 February 2024
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UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say

UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say
  • Cleverly said that the protesters had “made their point” and were putting “huge pressure” on police

LONDON: Pro-Palestinian marches in the UK will continue to take place with thousands participating despite calls by British Home Secretary James Cleverly to end demonstrations, organizers have said.

The UK capital has been the scene of some of Europe’s largest pro-Palestine protests since October, with regular marches every fortnight in central London drawing hundreds of thousands.

Protest organizers said that the demonstrations would continue “at the very least until we see an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, The Times reported.

Organizers vowed to continue taking to the streets even if a “humanitarian pause” was agreed on, arguing that this would only be a “stay of execution” for Palestinians.

Cleverly said that the protesters had “made their point” and were putting “huge pressure” on police. He added that the demonstrations in London, as well as those in other towns and cities across the UK, were “not really saying anything new.”

Ministers are concerned about the drain on police resources, with estimates suggesting that the protests have cost £25 million and caused thousands of rest days for officers to be canceled, The Times reported.

The government is debating changing protest rules to require organizers to give police more than the current six days’ notice.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemned the UK government’s “growing attacks on the right to protest.”

According to PSC Director Ben Jamal, people will “continue to march in huge numbers because the genocide has not stopped.”

He promised to fight back against the “repressive environment” being “whipped up” by the government.

Other groups that have joined the protests criticized the police’s response to the marches, which began in October, after Israel began its bombardment and military invasion of Gaza with nearly 30,000 people killed.

Chris Nineham, a founding member of the Stop the War Coalition, said that there were fewer arrests per person at pro-Palestinian marches than at the Glastonbury Festival or a Premier League football match, The Times reported.

He accused Scotland Yard of “extraordinary hysteria” and “overpolicing.”

UK Policing Minister Chris Philp said that there had been 600 arrests at the marches to date, but emphasized that free speech and the right to protest were the foundations of a democratic society.

On Saturday, the PSC plans to stage protests at dozens of Barclays bank branches across the country, which has financial ties to arms companies that sell weapons to Israel.

Earlier in February, a group of pro-Palestinian activists blocked the bank’s Canary Wharf headquarters and protested with a banner that read: “Are you sure you want to close your account? YES.” They chanted, among other things: “Barclays, Barclays, you can’t hide, you’re enabling genocide,” as well as “Your profits are covered in Palestinian blood.”
 


Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says

Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says
Updated 28 February 2024
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Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says

Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says
  • “We cannot allow a delay in attracting external financing,” Marchenko said
  • The EU finally approved its 50 billion euro four-year facility for Ukraine this month

KYIV: Ukraine needs about $3 billion in foreign financial aid on a monthly basis to get through 2024, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said on Wednesday, highlighting the challenges Kyiv faces as US support begins to falter.
Marchenko said Ukraine’s macroeconomic stability during the war with Russia had been possible due to a steady inflow of international financial aid from Kyiv’s allies, something he added remained crucial this year.
“In 2024, the monthly need for external financing will reach about $3 billion. We cannot allow a delay in attracting external financing,” Marchenko said in a statement.
Ukraine has received more than $73 billion in financial aid from its Western partners in the two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
So far this year the level of support has been much lower as major packages from the European Union and the United States have suffered major delays.
The EU finally approved its 50 billion euro four-year facility for Ukraine this month but the US financial and military support package remains stuck in Congress, blocked by Republican lawmakers.
Addressing finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations on Wednesday, Marchenko said the government had been more active on the domestic debt market this year and looked for other ways to increase its budget revenues.
Senior executives of several of Ukraine’s biggest state-owned companies have told Reuters they had paid some of their obligatory budget payments in advance to help the government cover the budget deficit.
Ukraine’s budget gap is about $37 billion this year.
Ukraine channels most of its budget revenues into the defense effort and relies on foreign aid to pay pensions and state employees’ wages, and to cover social and humanitarian spending.
Finance ministry data shows Ukraine received about $1.2 billion from Japan and Norway in the first two months of this year.
“International donors’ help is not just a financial issue, but an opportunity to support millions of Ukrainians who need it and to save the lives of thousands of soldiers,” Marchenko said.