Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former high-profile British defense figures have urged the expansion of a relocation initiative for Afghan interpreters who supported Britain’s role in the country’s conflict. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 28 July 2021

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

  • Relocation scheme to bring to Britain former colleagues who risked their lives is “inadequate,” letter warns

LONDON: Former high-profile British defense figures have urged the expansion of a relocation initiative for Afghan interpreters who supported Britain’s role in the country’s conflict, after it emerged that hundreds were denied the right to live in the UK.
The group raised “grave concerns” in a letter to The Times newspaper that the UK scheme was inadequate in protecting Afghans who risked their lives to help coalition forces in the conflict with the Taliban.
The letter includes the signatures of six former heads of the armed forces, and in total was signed by 45 former military officers and officials.
It urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider the scheme, warning: “It is not being conducted with the required spirit of generosity and urgency.”
The initiative, formally titled the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, was launched this year to urgently relocate Afghans — who previously worked for British forces as interpreters —   to the UK amid a NATO withdrawal from the war-torn country.
In past years, more than 2,200 Afghans and their families arrived in Britain.
But through the letter, the former military figures raised urgent concerns that too many relocation applications had been “unreasonably rejected” by UK officials.
It read: “The UK should be as generous and welcoming as we know it can be. These individuals have stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We must now do the same for them.”
Other campaigners have also joined the campaign in urging the government to update the scheme. The Sulha Alliance, which was founded to promote the relocation of former Afghan interpreters, warned that policy should be “more generous.”
About 450 Afghans who worked for British forces told the alliance that their applications had been formally rejected, Ed Aitken, a former captain and co-founder of the group, said.
One former interpreter who was rejected, Muhammad, 30, warned that “it is only a matter of time before the Taliban find and kill me.”
He said that he was being “left behind to die after being denied sanctuary in the UK.
“I am sure I will suffer the same fate as interpreters before me and be beheaded.”
But despite his warnings, as well as personal recommendations from British commanders, his application has been continuously denied by officials.


US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’

Updated 27 October 2021

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’

  • Iran has said for more than a month that it would ‘soon’ return to indirect talks in Vienna with the US on resuming compliance with the accord

WASHINGTON: Efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are at a “critical phase” and Tehran’s reasons for avoiding talks are wearing thin, a US official has said while raising the possibility of further diplomacy even if the deal cannot be resuscitated.

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley told reporters Washington was increasingly worried Tehran would keep delaying a return to talks, but said it had other tools to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and would use them if need be.

“We’re in a critical phase of the efforts to see whether we can revive the JCPOA,” Malley said, referring to the deal formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We’ve had a hiatus of many months and the official reasons given by Iran for why we’re in this hiatus are wearing very thin.”

While saying that the window for both the US and Iran to resume compliance with the agreement would eventually close, Malley said the US would still be willing to engage in diplomacy with Iran even as it weighed other options to prevent Tehran from getting the bomb.

He also hinted at the economic benefits that might flow from Iran’s return to the agreement, under which Tehran took steps to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from US, EU and UN economic sanctions.

While saying the window for returning to the JCPOA will not be open forever because eventually Iran’s nuclear advances will have overtaken it, Malley said Washington would continue to look for diplomatic arrangements with Tehran.

“You can’t revive a dead corpse,” he said, stressing that the US had not reached that point yet. “We will continue to pursue diplomacy, even as we pursue other steps if we face a world in which we need to do that.”

Malley refused to describe those other steps. Since talks in Vienna on reviving the deal adjourned in June, Washington has increasingly spoken of pursuing other options, a phrase that hints at the possibility, however remote, of military action.

The envoy, who spent last week consulting US partners in the Gulf and in Europe, emphasized that all sides had “a strong preference for diplomacy, for an effort to revive the JCPOA and, were that to happen, to find ways to engage Iran economically.”


Bangladesh to launch Myanmar curriculum for Rohingya refugee children

Updated 27 October 2021

Bangladesh to launch Myanmar curriculum for Rohingya refugee children

  • Stalled by COVID-19 lockdowns, pilot program now set to swing into action

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities and the UN are preparing to introduce formal education using a Myanmar curriculum for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

The fishing port in southeastern Bangladesh, hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims — members of an ethnic and religious minority group who fled persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in northern Rakhine state in 2017.

The children, who constitute half of the refugee population, now attend 6,250 informal learning centers run by UN agencies and aid partners at 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar, which provide basic education to more than 354,000 students.

The Bangladeshi government in January 2020 agreed with the UN that the Rohingya children should be provided with Myanmar education to prepare them for a future return to their country. Stalled by coronavirus disease pandemic lockdowns for one-and-half years, a pilot program is now set to be launched as Bangladeshi schools reopened last month.

Regina de la Portilla, UN refugee agency spokesperson at Cox’s Bazar, recently told Arab News: “The Myanmar curriculum is to be introduced in learning centers, as per the government of Bangladesh request, with the objective that children can restart their education when they are able to safely and voluntarily return to their home country. Preparations are completed to roll out the pilot.”

The foreign ministry expected the program to be launched soon as final preparations are underway. A ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We are working on it and are currently busy with last-minute preparations. We hope to roll out the curriculum anytime soon.

“We have made some observations in the curriculum to incorporate Myanmar culture. Our objective is to prepare them to integrate with the Myanmar society once they are repatriated,” he said.

BRAC, the largest development organization based in Bangladesh, which has been running learning centers for 65,000 Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar, plans to teach them in Myanmar’s main language, Burmese.

Khan Mohammed Ferdous, BRAC’s education program chief at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News: “Teachers at our learning centers have received basic training but are yet to be trained for the new curriculum.

“Currently, we are following a learning competence framework and approach, a government-approved guideline for the informal education system. Gradually, the framework will jump into the Myanmar curriculum.”

Rohingya parents in Cox’s Bazar are waiting for the introduction of the new curriculum, which would help prepare them for future repatriation.

Fatema Begum, 35, said she had been worrying about her four children as formal education was not available at the camps.

“The introduction of the Myanmar curriculum in the camps is inspiring news to me because my children will have the opportunity to learn more about their homeland. They will have the eligibility to pursue higher education,” she added.

Abdur Rahim, 41, a father-of-three, was also hoping for a better future for his children.

He said: “The boys and girls at Rohingya camps have nothing to do except roam around. When the Myanmar curriculum is launched, they will be able to receive some quality education, which will help them to pursue a better career in Myanmar.”

Prof. Amena Mohsin from the University of Dhaka’s international relations department described the move as a “message” to the world that Rohingya refugees were Myanmar citizens whose opportunities in Bangladesh were limited.

She said: “There is no point in teaching the refugee children with the Bangladeshi curriculum since they are not allowed to get engaged in any formal job in Bangladesh. The Myanmar curriculum will help them prepare for livelihoods when they return to Myanmar.”


UK monarch won’t visit UN climate conference in person

Updated 26 October 2021

UK monarch won’t visit UN climate conference in person

  • The 95-year-old monarch has “regretfully’’ decided that she will no longer travel to Glasgow to attend the reception on Nov. 1
  • “Her Majesty is disappointed not to attend the reception but will deliver an address to the assembled delegates via a recorded video message,’’ the palace said

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II has canceled her planned engagement at the UN climate conference, accepting doctors’ advice to rest, Buckingham Palace said Tuesday.
The 95-year-old monarch has “regretfully’’ decided that she will no longer travel to Glasgow to attend the reception on Nov. 1 — a move that will dash the hopes of Britain’s Conservative government, which is hosting the event. The climate conference runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.
“Her Majesty is disappointed not to attend the reception but will deliver an address to the assembled delegates via a recorded video message,’’ the palace said.
The news came after the sovereign held virtual audiences Tuesday at Windsor Castle — the first work obligations since revelations that her doctors ordered her to rest last week.
The 95-year-old sovereign greeted the ambassador of the Republic of Korea during her first technology-aided appearance since she was driven to London’s King Edward VII’s Hospital on Oct. 20 for “preliminary investigations.” She returned to her Windsor Castle home at lunchtime the next day.
The queen underwent the medical tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, and the palace said she had “reluctantly” accepted advice to rest for a few days. The matter was not related to COVID-19.
The period of rest followed a hectic few days for the monarch in which she held audiences with diplomats, had a reception at Windsor Castle for global business leaders and attended the horse races at Ascot.
Her hospital visit last week came amid general disquiet about Elizabeth’s health. Days earlier, she was seen using a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion, an armed forces charity. Though she had used a cane in 2003, it was after she underwent knee surgery.
The queen’s husband, Prince Philip, died in April 2021 at age 99. Though Elizabeth has enjoyed robust health throughout her life, she is Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch. She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year.


Daesh in Afghanistan could be able to attack US in 6 months-Pentagon official

Updated 26 October 2021

Daesh in Afghanistan could be able to attack US in 6 months-Pentagon official

  • Afghanistan could still pose serious national security concerns for the US even after it ended its two-decade-old war in defeat in August
  • Undersecretary of defense for policy said it was still unclear whether the Taliban has the ability to fight Daesh effectively following the US withdrawal

WASHINGTON: The US intelligence community has assessed that Daesh in Afghanistan could have the capability to attack the US in as little as six months, and has the intention to do so, a senior Pentagon official told Congress on Tuesday.
The remarks by Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, are the latest reminder that Afghanistan could still pose serious national security concerns for the United States even after it ended its two-decade-old war in defeat in August.
The Taliban, which won the war, are enemies of Daesh and have seen its attempts to impose law and order after the US pullout thwarted by suicide bombings and other attacks claimed by Daesh.
They include bombings targeting the minority Shiite sect and even a Daesh beheading of a member of a Taliban militia force in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kahl said it was still unclear whether the Taliban has the ability to fight Daesh effectively following the US withdrawal in August. The United States fought the Taliban as well as striking groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
“It is our assessment that the Taliban and Daesh-K are mortal enemies. So the Taliban is highly motivated to go after Daesh-K. Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” Kahl said, using an acronym for Daesh in Afghanistan.
Kahl estimated Daesh had a “cadre of a few thousand” fighters.
Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi of the new Taliban government has said the threat from Daesh militants will be addressed. He also said Afghanistan would not become a base for attacks on other countries.
Kahl suggested Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan posed a more complex problem, given its ties to the Taliban. It was those ties that triggered the US military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 following Al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Taliban had harbored Al-Qaeda leaders.
Kahl said it could take Al-Qaeda “a year or two” to regenerate the capability to carry out attacks outside of Afghanistan against the United States.
Democratic President Joe Biden, whose supervision of the chaotic end to the war last summer has damaged his approval ratings, has said the United States will continue to be vigilant against threats emanating from Afghanistan by carrying out intelligence-gathering operations in the country that would identify threats from groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
Kahl said the goal was to disrupt those groups so that Daesh and Al-Qaeda don’t become capable of striking the United States.
“We need to be vigilant in disrupting that,” he said.
Still, US officials privately warn that identifying and disrupting groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh is extremely difficult without any troops in the country. Drones capable of striking Daesh and Al-Qaeda targets are being flown in from the Gulf.
Kahl said the United States did not yet have any agreement with countries neighboring Afghanistan to host troops for counterterrorism efforts.


Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone

Updated 26 October 2021

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone

  • An official said it was difficult to say whether Sweden has an unusually high excess mortality due to the virus
  • Denmark has recorded 2,703 deaths, Norway 895 and Finland nearly 1,150

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Sweden which has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has passed the threshold of 15,000 deaths with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to official figures released Tuesday.
Thomas Linden of the National Board of Health and Welfare, told Swedish public radio that it was difficult to say whether Sweden has an unusually high excess mortality due to the virus.
“Internationally, Sweden has not had a higher mortality rate. But if you compare with the other Nordic countries, we are significantly higher,” Linden told SR.
In comparison, Denmark has recorded 2,703 deaths, Norway 895 and Finland nearly 1,150. Each of those countries has slightly over half as many people as Sweden.
According to the Public Health Agency of Sweden, 15,002 people — 6,793 women and 8,209 men — have died with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sweden had opted for keeping large sections of society open. It has not gone into lockdowns or closed businesses, relying instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control infections.