Rockets fired at Kabul airport as US troops race to complete evacuation

Service members gather for a vigil for Max Soviak, one of 13 U.S. service members killed in the airport suicide bombing in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, in Berlin Heights, Ohio, U.S., August 29, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 August 2021

Rockets fired at Kabul airport as US troops race to complete evacuation

  • The mission became more urgent and dangerous after a Daesh suicide bomb attack on Thursday killed 13 US military personnel
  • Scores of Afghan civilians were also killed outside the airport

US anti-missile defenses intercepted as many as five rockets that were fired at Kabul’s airport early on Monday morning, a US official said, as the United States rushed to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan to end its longest war.
US and allied forces are hurrying to evacuate their remaining citizens and at-risk Afghans before completing their own withdrawal by Tuesday to meet a deadline agreed between the Taliban and Washington.
The mission became more urgent and dangerous after a Daesh suicide bomb attack on Thursday killed 13 US military personnel and scores of Afghan civilians outside the airport.
The US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters initial reports did not indicate any US casualties from the latest rocket attack, but that information could change.
Afghan media reports said the rocket attack was mounted from the back of a vehicle. According to Pajhwok news agency several rockets struck different parts of the Afghan capital.
The United States and allies have evacuated about 114,400 people — including foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans — in an operation that began a day before Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, but tens of thousands more desperate Afghans face being left behind.
“We tried every option because our lives are in danger. They (the Americans or foreign powers) must show us a way to be saved. We should leave Afghanistan or they should provide a safe place for us,” said one woman outside the airport.
Two US officials told Reuters evacuations would continue on Monday, prioritising people deemed at extreme risk. Other countries have also put in last minute requests to bring out people under that category, the officials said.
US President Joe Biden attended a ceremony on Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honor members of the US military killed in Thursday’s attack.
Biden shut his eyes and tilted his head back as the flag-draped transfer caskets carrying the remains emerged from a military plane.
None of the fallen service members was over the age of 31, and five were just 20, as old as the war in Afghanistan itself.
Biden has vowed to avenge the Islamic State attack.
A US drone strike on Sunday killed a suicide car bomber who Pentagon officials said was preparing to attack the airport on behalf of Daesh-K, a local affiliate of Islamic State that is an enemy of both the West and the Taliban.
US Central Command said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties from the strike, the second by the US military against suspected Daesh-K militants.
“We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties,” it said.
The departure of the last troops will mark the end of the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan, which began in late 2001, after the Al-Qaeda Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
US-backed forced ousted a Taliban government that had provided safe haven for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was finally killed by US forces in Pakistan in 2011, and have involved in a counter-insurgency war against the Islamist militants for the past two decades.
The Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule was marked by a harsh version of sharia, Islamic law, with many political rights and basic freedoms curtailed and women severely oppressed.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said the group will announce a full Cabinet in the coming days, and that the difficulties will subside quickly once the new administration is up and running.
But with its economy shattered by decades of war, Afghanistan now faces a sudden halt in inflows of billions of dollars in foreign aid.


Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Updated 13 August 2022

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

  • Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages

KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”


Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Updated 13 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.


‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.


Salman Rushdie, whose writing made him target of Iranian death threats, on ventilator after stabbing

Updated 13 August 2022

Salman Rushdie, whose writing made him target of Iranian death threats, on ventilator after stabbing

  • Police identified the suspect involved in the attack as Hadi Matar, a resident of New Jersey
  • Rushdie’s literary agent said the novelist could lose one eye and was not able to speak

NEW YORK: British author Salman Rushdie, whose writings have made him the target of Iranian death threats, was on a ventilator and could lose an eye after he was repeatedly stabbed at a literary event in New York state Friday.
Following the attack just before 11:00 am local time, Rushdie was airlifted to the hospital where he needed emergency surgery, and his agent said in a statement obtained by The New York Times that “the news is not good.”
“Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” said agent Andrew Wylie, who added that as of now Rushdie cannot speak.
New York state police identified the suspect involved in the attack as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from Fairfield, New Jersey. A probable motive remained unclear.
Police said Rushdie was stabbed in the neck as well as the abdomen. A number of people rushed to the stage and took the suspect to the ground, before a trooper present at the event arrested him.
A doctor in the audience administered medical care until emergency first responders arrived. An interviewer onstage, 73-year-old Ralph Henry Reese, suffered a facial injury but has been released from the hospital, police said.
The attack occurred at the Chautauqua Institution, which hosts arts programs in a tranquil lakeside community 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Buffalo city.
Carl LeVan, an American University politics professor attending the event, told AFP he saw the suspect run onto the stage where Rushdie was seated and “stabbed him repeatedly and viciously.”
LeVan, a Chautauqua regular, said the suspect “was trying to stab him as many times as possible before he was subdued,” adding that he believed the man “was trying to kill” Rushdie.
“There were gasps of horror and panic from the crowd,” the professor said.
LeVan said witnessing the event had left him “shaken,” adding he considered Chautauqua a safe place of creative freedom.
“To know that this happened here, and to see it – it was horrific,” he said. “What I saw today was the essence of intolerance.”
Another witness, John Stein, told ABC that the assailant “started stabbing on the right side of the head, of the neck. And there was blood ... erupting.”
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India.
But his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” brought attention beyond his imagination when it sparked a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for his death by Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The novel was considered by some Muslims as disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).
Rushdie, who was born in India to non-practicing Muslims and today identifies as an atheist, was forced to go underground as a bounty was put on his head – which remains today.
He was granted police protection by the government in Britain, where he was at school and where he made his home, following the murder or attempted murder of his translators and publishers.
He spent nearly a decade in hiding, moving houses repeatedly and being unable to tell his children where he lived.
Rushdie only began to emerge from his life on the run in the late 1990s after Iran in 1998 said it would not support his assassination.
Now living in New York, he is an advocate of freedom of speech, notably launching a strong defense of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after its staff were gunned down by Islamists in Paris in 2015.
Global leaders voiced anger over the attack and support for Rushdie, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying the author “embodied freedom” and that “his battle is ours, a universal one.”
British leader Boris Johnson meanwhile said he was “appalled,” sending thoughts to Rushdie’s loved ones and praising the author for “exercising a right we should never cease to defend.”