US to begin evacuating Afghans who aided American military

File photo of a US soldier of a team protection squad near Kabul. The US will evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters and others who helped US forces starting in late July, a senior administration official said on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 14 July 2021
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US to begin evacuating Afghans who aided American military

  • Operation Allies Refuge flights out of Afghanistan during July’s last week will be available first for special immigrant visa applicants
  • White House press secretary declined to detail how many Afghans are expected to be among those evacuated in the first flights

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration said Wednesday that it is prepared to begin evacuation flights for Afghan interpreters and translators who aided the US military effort in the nearly 20-year war.
The Operation Allies Refuge flights out of Afghanistan during the last week of July will be available first for special immigrant visa applicants already in the process of applying for US residency, according to the White House.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to detail how many Afghans are expected to be among those evacuated in the first flights or where those evacuated will be taken, citing security concerns.
“The reason that we are taking these steps is because these are courageous individuals,” Psaki said. “We want to make sure we recognize and value the role they’ve played over the last several years.”
President Joe Biden has faced pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come up with a plan to help evacuate Afghan military helpers ahead of next month’s US military withdrawal. The White House began briefing lawmakers on the outlines of their plans last month.
The evacuation planning could potentially affect tens of thousands of Afghans. Several thousand Afghans who worked for the US — plus their family members — are already in the application pipeline for special immigrant visas.
The Biden administration has also been working on identifying a third country or US territory that could host Afghans while their visa applications are processed.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said that much about the Biden evacuation plan remains unknown, including how the administration will help those in areas outside the capital of Kabul evacuate. The Taliban has made rapid gains in taking over huge swaths of the country, particularly in more rural areas.
“Unfortunately, there are still far too many questions left unanswered, including who exactly and how many people are eligible for evacuation. ... How will those outside the capital access safety?” said Vignarajah, whose group has helped resettle thousands of Afghans in the US “And to what countries will they be evacuated? We have serious concerns about the protection of our allies’ human rights in countries that have been rumored as potential partners in this effort.”
The administration is weighing using State Department-chartered commercial aircraft, not military aircraft, according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. But if the State Department requests military aircraft, the US military would be ready to assist, the official said.
Tracey Jacobson, a three-time chief of mission in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo, is leading the State Department coordination unit that will deliver on the president’s commitment under Operation Allies Refuge. That unit also includes representatives from the defense and homeland security departments.
Russ Travers, deputy homeland security adviser and former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, is coordinating the interagency policy process on Operation Allies Refuge, officials said.
Separately, the White House announced that Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the White House homeland security adviser, would lead a US delegation to a security conference in Uzbekistan this week to discuss Afghanistan’s security issues with leaders from the Central 5 — Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia — and other regional players.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy on Afghanistan reconciliation, are also expected to take part in the conference.
US officials have said that one possibility under discussion is to relocate the Afghan visa applicants to neighboring countries in Central Asia, where they could be protected from possible retaliation by the Taliban or other groups.
The White House and State Department have declined to comment on the exact numbers to be relocated or where they might go. The US Embassy in Kabul issued 299 special immigrant visas in March, 356 in April and 619 in May, according to the State Department. Biden said last week that the federal government has approved 2,500 special immigrant visas to come to the US since his January inauguration.
Biden announced last week that the US military operation in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31.
The firming of the date to end the war comes after former President Donald Trump’s administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban to end the US military mission by May 1, 2021. Biden, after taking office, announced that US troops would be out by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The attacks were plotted by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan, where he had been given refuge by the Taliban.
Former President George W. Bush, who launched the war, criticized the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan in an interview with a German broadcaster released Wednesday, saying he fears for Afghan women and girls as the Taliban regains control of much of the country.
“It’s unbelievable how that society changed from the brutality of the Taliban, and all of a sudden — sadly — I’m afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm,” Bush said.


US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

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US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

  • The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters

WASHINGTON: The United States expressed deep concern Thursday over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to supply North Korea with weapons, warning such a move would “destabilize” the Korean peninsula.
Putin, during a rare visit to Pyongyang, signed a mutual defense pact on Wednesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who pledged his country’s “full support” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on Thursday in Vietnam, Putin said Moscow would not rule out sending weapons to Pyongyang, calling it repercussions for the West supplying Ukraine.
The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“It would destabilize the Korean peninsula, potentially, depending on the type of weapons, and might violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself has supported,” Miller said.
Washington and its allies have previously accused North Korea of supplying Russia with missiles and artillery that it has used to attack Ukraine.
Putin warned Seoul on Thursday not to supply Ukraine with weapons, after South Korea said it was reconsidering its current ban.
Seoul has a longstanding policy that bars it from selling weapons into active conflict zones, which it has stuck to despite calls from Washington and Kyiv to reconsider.
Miller said such a decision was “for every country to make in terms of whether they’re going to supply weapons to Ukraine.”
“We welcome any support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he added.
 

 


Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

Young Sikh migrant workers walk on a street in the Agro Pontino area, south of Rome. Picture taken May 19, 2019 (REUTERS)
Updated 42 sec ago
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Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

  • “These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said, in comments relayed by her office

ROME: The death of an Indian farm laborer in a gruesome accident in which his right arm was severed by machinery has put a spotlight the conditions of migrant agricultural workers in Italy, whom trade unions say are often employed illegally and exploited.
Satnam Singh, 31, died in a hospital in Rome on Wednesday, two days after being injured while working in a melon greenhouse in the Agro Pontino, a rural area south of the capital.
According to media reports, Singh was left outside his home after suffering injuries to his arm and legs, with his severed limb placed in a fruit crate.
“We heard shouting outside, the guy’s wife threw herself at me saying, ‘call an ambulance, call an ambulance’,” a neighbor told RAI public television.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni deplored the tragedy as she chaired a cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” she said, in comments relayed by her office.
The owner of the farm, Renzo Lovato, expressed his sorrow over the accident, but said Singh had been warned not to get close to the machine that injured him.
“The worker did it his own way. It was carelessness, unfortunately,” Lovato told RAI.
An investigation into Lovato’s son, who allegedly left Singh outside his home, has been opened over potential charges of manslaughter and failure to assist a person in danger, the lead prosecutor in the case, Giuseppe De Falco, said in an email.
“He spontaneously went to the judicial police an hour after the events, as any decent person would do,” Lovato’s family lawyer told Reuters. He added that his client was waiting for the charges to be formalized to defend himself.
Responding to the allegation that Singh had been abandoned without calling an ambulance, the lawyer, Valerio Righi, said: “You will see during the proceedings that maybe help was called sooner than people think.”
Some politicians and trade unions said the tragedy highlighted the broader issue of “caporalato,” the illegal gangmaster system of hiring migrant workers common in the Agro Pontino and other parts of Italy.
Righi declined to comment on reports that Singh and his wife were employed illegally. Other details of the conditions in which he worked were unclear.
Maria Grazia Gabrielli, from Italy’s largest trade union Cgil, decried an “event of unprecedented brutality,” linking it to what she said were slave-like conditions endured by many farm hands.
“Exploitation in the fields very often results in starvation wages, unsafe and inhuman working rhythms and conditions, psychological and physical violence,” she said in a statement.
According to 2021 data from national statistics office Istat, about 11 percent of Italian workers were employed illegally, rising to more than 23 percent in agriculture.
The Lazio region, which includes the Agro Pontino, offered to cover Singh’s funeral costs.
Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, responding to the furor over Singh’s death, said the government was “first in line on all fronts to counter any form of exploitation at work.” 

 


Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Updated 29 min 32 sec ago
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Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

  • Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months
  • Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have formally dismissed a deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and accused by Kremlin critics of living a lavish lifestyle, Russian media reported Thursday. A court ordered that his pre-trial detention be extended for three more months.
Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months. He was a close associate of Sergei Shoigu, whom President Vladimir Putin replaced as defense minister last month.
Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe. His lawyers said he maintains his innocence. The Basmanny District Court in Moscow on Thursday extended his detention pending investigation and trial until at least Sept. 23. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Russian media, citing an online registry of government officials, said Thursday that Ivanov was dismissed from his post. His lawyer Denis Baluyev confirmed the dismissal in comments to Russian business news site RBK. It wasn’t immediately clear from the reports when exactly Ivanov was fired.
Other top military officials arrested in recent months include deputy chief of the Russian military general staff Lt. Gen. Vadim Shamarin; Gen. Ivan Popov, a former top commander in Russia’s offensive in Ukraine; and Lt. Gen. Yury Kuznetsov, head of the Defense Ministry’s personnel directorate. All three have been accused of bribery.
According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.
Ivanov’s arrest came nearly a month after Putin called on the Federal Security Service to “keep up a systemic anti-corruption effort” and pay special attention to state defense procurement.
Russian media reported that Ivanov oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war. Ivanov has been sanctioned by both the United States and European Union.
Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.
That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate.
The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.


Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

Updated 20 June 2024
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Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

  • The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year

MILAN: The Italian coast guard on Thursday recovered 12 more bodies from a weekend shipwreck in the Ionian Sea off the southern Italian coastline, bringing to 20 the number of known victims from the sinking. Dozens more are missing and presumed dead.
The bodies, including women and children, were being transferred to a port in Calabria. Two more coast guard ships were on their way to join the air-and-sea search, some 190 kilometers (120 miles) from shore.
Survivors reported that the boat motor had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast overnight Sunday about eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. Eleven survivors were being treated on shore.
The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy.


Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system

Updated 20 June 2024
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Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system

  • “Life in Ukraine must be preserved and that includes in particular energy security,” Zelensky said
  • Drone and missile strikes have knocked out half of energy generating capacity since March

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Thursday a set of measures to protect Ukraine’s energy system, including protection for plants coming under Russian fire and the development of alternative renewable energy sources.
“Life in Ukraine must be preserved and that includes in particular energy security,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.
Russia pounded Ukraine’s energy system in the first winter of the war, launched in February 2022, and renewed its assault on energy targets last March as Ukraine was running low on stocks of Western air defense missiles.
Drone and missile strikes have knocked out half of energy generating capacity since March, according to official accounts.
Attacks overnight on Thursday hit four regions and cut power to more than 218,000 consumers, the Energy Ministry said.
Zelensky outlined plans to minimize the effects of such attacks, including a program of developing solar energy and energy storage facilities and a schedule for critical infrastructure sites to come up with alternative energy sources.
The work, he said, must be completed before winter and the increased energy demand associated with the change in seasons.
Zelensky said the government would “continue to work on creating new energy generation and new decentralized energy capacities.” Also planned was “the construction of new balanced and manoeuvrable capacities for energy.”
“This process is quite challenging in wartime conditions, but we must implement it just as we have already implemented many difficulty projects,” he said.
And work was proceeding, Zelensky said, on measures to protect existing energy sites.
Russia says energy infrastructure is a legitimate military target and denies targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure.