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A Year after US Afghanistan exit, accountability in short supply

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WASHINGTON:

As weary U.S. military planners wrapped up the evacuation and pullout from Afghanistan one year ago, officials across the government steeled themselves for intense public scrutiny into how America’s longest war ended in shambles with the Taliban retaking power.

But as the United States marks the first anniversary of the withdrawal this month, some U.S. officials and experts say President Joe Biden’s administration has moved on without properly assessing lessons from the 20-year war and the Taliban victory.

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Nor has there been public accountability for the chaotic evacuation operation that saw 13 U.S. service members killed at Kabul’s airport and hundreds of U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghans left behind, they said.

“We need to open up that ugly history book called the 20 years in Afghanistan and see why we fail,” said John Sopko, the U.S. special inspector general tapped with tracking some $146 billion in reconstruction aid.

These lessons are especially crucial now as the administration pumps billions of dollars of assistance into Ukraine’s fight against Russia, Sopko told Reuters.

U.S. policymakers, however, are now preoccupied with Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine and soaring tensions with China, even as the Taliban erase women’s rights, harbor al Qaeda militants and execute and torture former government officials.

The Biden administration portrays the pullout and extraction operation – one of the largest airlifts ever – as an “extraordinary success” that wound up an “endless” conflict that killed more than 3,500 U.S. and allied foreign troops, and hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

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The evacuation ferried more than 124,000 Americans and Afghans to safety over 15 days. Tens of thousands of Afghans, many of whom worked for U.S. forces, now have resettled in the United States in the largest U.S. refugee operation since the Vietnam war.

To be sure, Biden was left a mess by his predecessor Donald Trump, who committed to completing the troop pullout by May 2021 without processing a massive backlog of visa applications from Afghans who worked for the U.S. government.

“We inherited a deadline in Afghanistan, but not a plan for withdrawal,” a National Security Council spokesman said.

But some U.S. officials, experts and private evacuation organizers say the administration has avoided taking responsibility for misreading the speed of the Taliban advance.

The U.S. military and the State Department have been preparing so-called “after-action reviews” on their roles in the withdrawal. But it is unclear if those reports will be made public.

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“It’s accountability for the Americans that were left behind, the allies that were left behind that are still being hunted down, for the 13 Gold Star families (of slain U.S. troops),” said U.S. Representative Michael Waltz, a Republican lawmaker who commanded special forces in eastern Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sent back the military’s initial draft review because he was dissatisfied with the limited insight it provided, two U.S. officials said.

The report is now complete and Austin is reviewing it, one official said. A State Department spokesman could not say when, or in what form, it would release its report.

“We’re going to have to take a black eye on our performance over the past year,” said another official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

‘Rearview mirror’

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In December, the Air Force inspector general concluded that no U.S. military personnel would be held accountable for a drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in the final days of the evacuation.

The Pentagon said it would compensate the family and relocate them. But nearly a year has passed without either happening, though U.S. officials said there has been progress.

A congressional commission approved by Biden to study the history of the U.S. intervention and the pullout has yet to begin work because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has not named the Republican co-chair.

Afghanistan momentarily returned to the headlines this month after a CIA drone strike killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Washington’s first known strike in Afghanistan since U.S. troops left, with Biden giving a televised address to mark the success.

The strike could complicate already difficult talks that U.S. officials are pursuing with the Taliban on releasing billions in foreign-held Afghan central bank assets and ending human rights abuses. The United States also remains Afghanistan’s largest humanitarian aid donor.

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But over the past year, Afghanistan largely has faded into the background in Washington. Congress has held few hearings to dissect how the U.S. effort there failed and many limited gains in Afghanistan reversed.

Current and former officials say that despite the Zawahiri killing, they remain concerned about the U.S. intelligence gathering capability. And the military has been unable to come to any basing agreements with countries near Afghanistan.

Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center think-tank, said that Washington had not shown a willingness to think about what went wrong in Afghanistan.

“I have been struck that much of Washington has appeared keen to essentially put Afghanistan in the rearview mirror and try to move on,” Kugelman said.



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‘Iran will act decisively after biggest protests in years’

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DUBAI:

Iran must deal decisively with protests which have swept the country after the death in custody of a woman detained by the Islamic Republic’s morality police, President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday.

At least 41 people have been killed in the week-long unrest, state television said on Saturday. It said that toll was based on its own count and official figures were yet to be released. Protests have erupted in most of the country’s 31 provinces.

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State media quoted Raisi on Saturday as saying Iran must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquillity”.

Raisi was speaking by telephone to the family of a member of the Basij volunteer force killed while taking part in the crackdown on unrest in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

The president “stressed the necessity to distinguish between protest and disturbing public order and security, and called the events … a riot,” state media reported.

The protests broke out in northwestern Iran a week ago at the funeral of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died after falling into a coma following her detention in Tehran by morality police enforcing hijab rules on women’s dress.

Her death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, the strict dress codes for women, and an economy reeling from sanctions.

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Read more: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards issue warning as protests over woman’s death spread

Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils. Some have publicly cut their hair as furious crowds called for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The protests are the largest to sweep the country since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019, when Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown on protesters – the bloodiest confrontation in the Islamic Republic’s history.

On Friday, state-organised rallies took place in several Iranian cities to counter the anti-government protests, and the army promised to confront “the enemies” behind the unrest.

In neighbouring Iraq, dozens of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds rallied outside the United Nations compound in the northern city of Erbil on Saturday, carrying placards with Amini’s photograph and chanting “Death to the Dictator”, referring to Khamenei.

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State television in Iran, which has accused armed exiled Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest, said Iranian Revolutionary Guards had fired artillery on bases of Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

‘Deadly response’

At least three times this week, mobile Internet has been disrupted in Iran, the NetBlocks watchdog has reported. Activists say the move is intended to prevent video footage of the violence reaching the world.

On Saturday NetBlocks said Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Skype video calling app was now restricted, the latest such measure after platforms including Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn were targeted.

In an effort to help sustain internet connection, the United States is making exceptions to its sanctions regime on Iran – a move which Tehran said on Saturday was in line with Washington’s hostile stance.

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Rights group Amnesty International said protesters face a “spiralling deadly response from security forces” and called for an independent United Nations investigation.

On the night of Sept. 21, shootings by security forces left at least 19 people dead, including three children, it said.

“The rising death toll is an alarming indication of just how ruthless the authorities’ assault on human life has been under the darkness of the internet shutdown,” Amnesty said.

State television showed footage purporting to show calm had returned to many parts of the capital Tehran late on Friday.

“But in some western and northern areas of Tehran and certain provinces rioters destroyed public property,” it said, carrying footage of protesters setting fire to garbage bins and a car, marching, and throwing rocks.

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The activist Twitter account 1500tasvir carried videos of protests near Tehran university on Saturday. Riot police were seen clashing with protesters and arresting some.

Videos posted on social media showed continued protests in Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province, late on Saturday, despite a heavy police presence. Reuters could not verify the videos.



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At least 26 killed in rain-related incidents in India

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NEW DELHI:

At least 26 people were killed in rain-related mishaps in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the last 48 hours, officials said on Saturday.

According to state officials, the casualties occurred as a result of building collapse, lightning strikes, and drowning reported from different parts of Uttar Pradesh affected severely by torrential rains.

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“In the last 24-48 hours, 26 people have died in rain/lightning-related incidents across the state,” relief commissioner Prabhu N Singh said. “We have sent an alert to all district magistrates. The immediate rescue and relief operation is the top priority, and teams are hard at work on it.”

Read more: India’s monsoon to start its retreat in next two days

Rainfall also lashed other regions of northern India, including the national capital New Delhi, causing life to grind to a halt due to severe waterlogging and snarled-up traffic.

The authorities have ordered the closure of schools on Friday in the cities of Noida and Gurugram on the outskirts of the capital.

Mahesh Palawat, the chief meteorologist of Skymet Weather Services, told Anadolu Agency that the current rainfall is the final phase of monsoon rains across northern India.

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“The northern parts of India have been experiencing intermittent rainfall for the last three days, which has also resulted in waterlogging at some places,” he said, adding that the intensity of the rainfall will decrease on Sunday and the current weather trend will end on Monday.

 



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Indian nationals in Canada to exercise caution citing hate crimes

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NEW DELHI:

The Indian government on Friday advised its nationals in Canada to exercise caution citing “incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities in Canada.”

Police in Texas arrested a woman who they said shouted racial abuse at four Indian women in a viral video, telling them to “Go back to India,” in an incident happened earlier in August brought to the attention of federal authorities.

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“This incident is a hate crime in accordance with Texas laws,” police in Plano, Texas, where the incident occurred, said in a statement on Saturday.

“This incident may also be a hate crime based on federal law, and we are working closely with the FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division on this case.”

In a video of the incident, which was shared on social media and got millions of views, the woman was seen shouting racist comments in a parking lot at a group of four women of Indian origin.



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