US government shutdown compromises Miami airport operations

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In this file photo taken on June 2, 2016, travelers go through the TSA PreCheck security point at Miami International Airport. (AFP)
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This image shows the passenger area of the Miami International airport Terminal G on January 11, 2018 one day before it closes. (AFP)
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This image shows the passenger area of the Miami International airport Terminal G on January 11, 2018 one day before it closes. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2019
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US government shutdown compromises Miami airport operations

  • There is no sign of a compromise to end the shutdown so far: Trump is insisting on funding for a wall on the border with Mexico, but opposition Democrats are not budging

MIAMI: The international airport in Miami has been forced to shut down one of its terminals early for three days due to a shortage of security agents sparked by the partial US government shutdown now in its 21st day.
From Saturday through Monday, Terminal G — one of six at the airport — will close at 1:00 p.m. (1800 GMT).
“Flights that were previously scheduled to depart from Concourse G this Saturday, Sunday and Monday will be relocated either to Concourse F or Concourse H,” airport spokesman Greg Chin told AFP.
At issue is a lack of agents from the US Transportation Security Administration, who are seen as “essential” federal workers and hence are still on the job — but without pay until the shutdown ends.
Agents are reportedly staging “sickouts” — calling in sick in a silent protest at their situation. According to The Miami Herald, absenteeism among the Miami airport agents has more than doubled since the shutdown began.
“Right now, there’s approximately some 40 employees that are calling in sick from TSA,” meaning that “this terminal doesn’t have the manpower to accommodate all the passengers,” airport spokesman Jack Varela told AFP.
“The airport, the airlines, TSA, customs we are all doing everything possible to make the passengers happy,” Varela said.
Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson, the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the TSA chief in a letter this week that it was “only reasonable to expect officer call outs and resignations to increase the longer the shutdown lasts.”
“No employee can be expected to work indefinitely without pay,” Thompson said.
With the shutdown soon to drag into its fourth week, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the administration of US President Donald Trump, alleging that members have been “unlawfully” deprived of their wages.
There is no sign of a compromise to end the shutdown so far: Trump is insisting on funding for a wall on the border with Mexico, but opposition Democrats are not budging.


Taliban says talks with the US enter fourth day in Qatar

Updated 24 January 2019
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Taliban says talks with the US enter fourth day in Qatar

  • Washington has been stepping up efforts for a peace deal that could pave the way for the Taliban's participation in the next government
  • Washington wants the insurgents to enter talks with the Afghan government, but they have long refused

KABUL: Negotiations between the Taliban and US officials in Qatar entered a fourth straight day Thursday, according to the insurgents, as the two sides pursue a potential deal to bring an end to Afghanistan's 17-year conflict.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to AFP that "discussions are still ongoing".
"We will talk in detail later when we reach agreement," the spokesman added.
Washington has been stepping up efforts for a peace deal that could pave the way for the Taliban's participation in the next government.
"Both sides are discussing the various aspects of the US troops' withdrawal," a senior Taliban commander based in an unknown location in Pakistan told AFP, adding that a statement could be released later in the day or on Friday.
The Pakistan foreign ministry also confirmed that talks were ongoing between the two sides. However, there was no immediate comment from the US embassy or NATO in Kabul.
The US said Tuesday it had resumed talks with the insurgents in Qatar, where special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was meeting Taliban representatives.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on the Taliban, said the continuation of the talks represented "unprecedented" progress.
"I have never seen anything like this before," he said.
"This is the first serious effort. And it has continued since July... they have agreed to disagree and continued to meet. That's why it's unprecedented."
Talks have primarily focused on three major points: the withdrawal of US troops, a vow to prevent Afghan soil from being a base for attacks on other countries, and a potential ceasefire, according to Yusufzai.
Washington wants the insurgents to enter talks with the Afghan government, but they have long refused, denouncing Kabul as a US puppet.
The talks come after Khalilzad spent the weekend in Pakistan where he met with Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of a regional tour that saw the envoy shuttling between India, China and Afghanistan.
The US is not the only country engaged in talks with the militants.
Russia and Iran have held meetings with the Taliban in recent months, while China has also made overtures. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan are all participating in the US efforts.
"Pakistan has influence with the group, and the Russians also are somewhat supporting the Taliban," said Ateequllah Amarkhail, a Kabul-based military analyst.
"The meetings will continue in the future," he added.
The resumption of talks comes over a month after President Donald Trump ordered a halving of the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan as he voices eagerness to end America's longest-ever war, launched in 2001 after the September 11 attacks.