US army investigating plane crash in Taliban-held area

Afghan National Army forces go towards the site of an airplane crash in Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan January 27, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 January 2020

US army investigating plane crash in Taliban-held area

  • The Taliban said it had shot down a US military plane
  • US officials said they were still investigating the cause of the crash

KABUL: A US military aircraft crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, a Taliban spokesman and Afghan journalist affiliated with the militant group said.
Tariq Ghazniwal, a journalist in the area, said that he saw the burning aircraft. In an exchange on Twitter, he told The Associated Press that he saw two bodies and the front of the aircraft was badly burned. He added that aircraft's body and tail were hardly damaged. His information could not be independently verified.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a US airforce plane crashed in the Ghazni province. He claimed the crash killed “lots" of US service members. The militant group often exaggerates casualty figures.
Ghazniwal said the crash site was about 10 kilometers from a US military base.
US Army Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for US Central Command, declined to comment when told about the Taliban claim. She earlier acknowledged American military officials were investigating reports of a crash in Afghanistan. She said that it remained unclear whose aircraft was involved in the crash.
Riordan declined to immediately comment further.
However, pictures on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft, which the US military uses for electronic surveillance over Afghanistan.
Images on social media purportedly of the crashed plane showed an aircraft bearing US Air Force markings similar to other E-11A surveillance aircraft photographed by aviation enthusiasts. Visible registration numbers on the plane also appeared to match those aircraft.
The so-called Battlefield Airborne Communications Node can be carried on unmanned or crewed aircraft like the E-11A. It is used by the military to extend the range of radio signals and can be used to convert the output of one device to another, such as connecting a radio to a telephone.
Colloquially referred to by the US military as “Wi-Fi in the sky,” the BACN system is used in areas where communications are otherwise difficult, elevating signals above obstacles like mountains. The system is in regular use in Afghanistan.
Local Afghan officials had said earlier on Monday that a passenger place from Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines had crashed in the Taliban-held area of the eastern Ghazni province. However, Ariana Airlines told The Associated Press that none of its planes had crashed in Afghanistan.
The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled. The number of people on board and their fate was not immediately known, nor was the cause of the crash.
Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the plane went down around 1:10 pm local time (8:40 am GMT) in Deh Yak district, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the capital Kabul. He said the crash site is in territory controlled by the Taliban. Two provincial council members also confirmed the crash.
But the acting director for Ariana Airlines, Mirwais Mirzakwal, dismissed reports that one the company's aircraft had crashed. The state-owned airline also released a statement on its website saying all its aircraft were operational and safe.
The mountainous Ghazni province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter. The Taliban currently control or hold sway over around half the country.
The last major commercial air crash in Afghanistan occurred in 2005, when a Kam Air flight from the western city of Herat to Kabul crashed into the mountains as it tried to land in snowy weather.
The war, however, has seen a number of deadly crashes of military aircraft. One of the most spectacular occurred in 2013 when an American Boeing 747 cargo jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram airbase north of Kabul en route to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. All seven crew member were killed. The US National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that large military vehicles were inadequately secured and had shifted during flight, causing damage to the control systems that "rendered the airplane uncontrollable."


Australia offers safe haven to Hong Kongers, sparking China fury

Updated 09 July 2020

Australia offers safe haven to Hong Kongers, sparking China fury

  • In addition to extending the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers already in the country, Australia threw open the door to thousands more wanting to start a new life Down Under
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decisions were taken in response to China’s imposition last week of a tough new security law in Hong Kong

SYDNEY: Australia offered pathways to permanent residency for thousands of people from Hong Kong on Thursday in response to China’s crackdown on dissent, drawing a furious reply from Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was suspending its extradition agreement with the city and, in addition to extending the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers already in the country, threw open the door to thousands more wanting to start a new life Down Under.
Morrison said the decisions were taken in response to China’s imposition last week of a tough new security law in Hong Kong, which he said “constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances” for the semi-autonomous territory.
“Australia is adjusting its laws, our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration program, things that we have responsibility for and jurisdiction over, to reflect the changes that we’re seeing take place there,” he said during a press conference.
Beijing shot back, condemning the Australian announcements as violations of “fundamental principles of international relations.”
“China... reserves the right to take further reactions, all consequences will be borne by Australia,” warned Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
“Any attempts to suppress China will never succeed.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said China’s moves in Hong Kong were discussed earlier Thursday with Australia’s so-called “Five Eyes” security partners — New Zealand, the United States, Britain, and Canada.
The new law, which followed sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests, is the most radical change in Hong Kong’s freedoms since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997 under an agreement designed to preserve its way of life for 50 years.
China has bristled at widespread global criticism of the law.
Beijing in recent months has imposed tariffs on some Australian imports and impeded trade in other key commodities in response to Australian steps to counter Chinese interference in the country.
China, Australia’s biggest trade partner and a competitor for influence in the Pacific, was notably infuriated when Canberra led calls for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Zealand is also reviewing its relationship with Hong Kong because of the new law, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Thursday, “including extradition arrangements, controls on exports of strategic goods, and travel advice.”
Canada has also suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, while the British government has offered more than three million Hong Kongers a broader path to citizenship.
Morrison brushed aside questions about whether the challenge over Hong Kong would likely lead to further Chinese retaliation.
“We will make decisions about what’s in our interests, and we will make decisions about our laws and our adviseries, and we will do that rationally and soberly and consistently,” he said.
He also appeared undaunted by China’s angry response, issuing a joint statement with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe following a video summit hours later challenging Beijing’s moves to assert control over the strategic South China sea.
In a thinly veiled reference to China, the two leaders condemned “recent negative developments” in the region, including the militarization of disputed islands and the “dangerous and coercive use” of naval ships and “maritime militia” against other nations’ vessels.
Under the measures announced Thursday, 10,000 Hong Kong citizens and residents in Australia on student or temporary work visas will be allowed to remain in the country for an additional five years, with a pathway to permanent residency.
The program was also offered to Hong Kong entrepreneurs or skilled workers who wish to relocate to Australia in the future.
“If there are businesses that wish to relocate to Australia, creating jobs, bringing investment, creating opportunities for Australia, then we will be very proactive in seeking to encourage that,” he said.
The move echoed Australia’s response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown when Canberra offered refuge to thousands of Chinese students and their families.
But it contrasts with the current conservative government’s policy of restricting immigration.
Morrison said he did not expect a rush of new visa applications from Hong Kongers, in part due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
And he added that it would be “very disappointing” if China tried to prevent Hong Kong citizens from taking advantage of the offer.