Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Overlooked but essential: Experts urge protection for seagrass

Issued on: 01/09/2021 -
Neptune grass meadows have long fallen prey to boating activity with some 7,500 hectares damaged along the French coastline alone
 Boris HORVAT AFP/File

Marseille (AFP)

With the world's biggest biodiversity summit set to kick off Friday in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, experts are sounding the alarm over a long-overlooked seagrass increasingly threatened by human activity.

Named posidonia oceanica -- or "Neptune grass" -- for the Greek god of the seas, the plant covers at least one million hectares (3,900 square miles) of the Mediterranean seabed from Cyprus to Spain.

The Mediterranean Network for Posidonia says the real area is probably much larger than that, with data largely unavailable for countries on the sea's eastern and southern shores.

But neptune grass meadows have long fallen prey to boating activity, with official figures estimating some 7,500 hectares in damage along the French coastline alone.

"The biggest culprit is mooring," says Thibault Lavernhe, spokesman for the Maritime Prefecture of the Mediterranean.

"When a boat drops its anchor, it hits the ocean floor and has a devastating effect... that repeats when the anchor is pulled up."

Since seagrass grows slowly -- just few centimetres each year -- the impact can take a long time to repair.

In an open letter published this month in French daily Le Monde, 10 scientists from France, Italy and Spain emphasised the essential services the humble seagrass provides "to all of humanity".

"Seagrass meadows serve as spawning beds and nurseries for species of fish living along our coasts from the most common to the rarest," they wrote.

A wide range of animals depend on them, including tiny invertebrates that are a food source to fish prized by small-scale, artisanal fishing operations.

Arnaud Gauffier, conservation director for the World Wide Fund for Nature's French branch (WWF), says the plant's ability to absorb carbon make it a crucial ally in the fight against global warming.

And he says the plants protect the coastline from erosion -- both when firmly rooted to the seabed and when they wash up on shore.

Dead blades of grass collect along beaches and mix with sand to form large banks that protect the coastline.

But for some, the phenomenon is just an unsightly inconvenience.

"Unfortunately the ecosystem is poorly understood," says Gauffier.

"Often people just think, 'Oh no, it's a dead thing on the beach that's keeping me from swimming.'"

In an effort to fight damage to Mediterranean seagrass, France has made it illegal for larger boats -- measuring longer than 24 metres (79 feet)-- to drop anchor in sensitive zones.

Spain's Balearic islands took similar measures in 2018 and enforces them with regular patrols.

Their conservation efforts, which include awareness campaigns in schools and a seagrass festival, have been highlighted as exemplary by the WWF.

© 2021 AFP

Corsica's 'ecological moorings' protect seagrass and yachts

Issued on: 01/09/2021
Guests aboard the Ocean Sapphire can once again plunge into Corsican waters thanks to anchorages designed specifically to protect seagrass 

Bonifacio (France) (AFP)

Last year when France moved to protect Mediterranean seagrass beds by barring larger boats from dropping anchor near them, Yves-Marie Loudoux found himself adrift.

Captain of the 41-metre (135-foot) Ocean Sapphire, Loudoux remembers suddenly being unable to access his usual spots near fragile beds of so-called Neptune grass off the coast of Corsica.

"We had no solution, we were pushed to very inconvenient moorings too far from the coast," he recalls. "[Instead] we had to go to Sardinia (Italy) nearby so that people could swim."

But today his clients -- who pay some 110,000 euros ($130,000) per week to cruise the Mediterranean in style -- can once again plunge into Corsican waters thanks to anchorages designed specifically to protect seagrass.

A total of 14 ecological moorings are planned for the Sant'Amanza bay to protect some 60 hectares of Neptune grass meadows, said Michel Mallaroni, director of the port of Bonifacio and head of the 2.3 million euro ($2.7 million) project.

"The challenge is to keep the southern tip of Corsica attractive for boaters while protecting the environment," he said.

- Vital role -

Unique to the Mediterranean, Neptune grass is one of 70 species of marine seagrass growing in vast underwater meadows from the Arctic to the tropics.

The plants play a vital role in improving water quality, absorbing CO2 and exuding oxygen, and provide a natural nursery and refuge for hundreds of species of fish.

Earlier this year, it was even discovered that Neptune grass helps remove plastic from Mediterranean waters, trapping it in its leaves and forming balls that wash up on shore.

In 2020 France made it illegal for larger boats to drop anchor within protected Neptune grass zones 

But the fragile ecosystems have come under increasing threat from human activity, with boat anchors a major culprit.

An estimated 7,500 hectares of Neptune grass meadows have been damaged along the French coast alone, and in 2020 the country made it illegal for boats measuring longer than 24 metres (79 feet) to drop anchor within designated zones.

"The orders by the maritime prefecture outlawing mooring in certain zones of the Mediterranean for the protection of neptune grass were historic," scientist and environmentalist Charles-Francois Boudouresque told AFP.

And with so many large yachts depending on stops along France's famed Cote d'Azur and in Corsica, the decision had a significant financial risk attached.

- Ecological moorings -

The solution: ecological moorings that "adapt to the sea floor by mimicking it" with a rough surface that "makes it easier for biodiversity to take hold", said Line Babiol of the BRL engineering firm.

She explains that the underwater components have cavities that allow fish inside and "don't impact the movement of the water".

New moorings are meant to adapt to the seafloor by mimicking its surface 

On the surface, floating chests attached to the concrete below allow boats of up to 60 metres to safely moor -- without dropping anchors that could tear up the seagrass below.

For captain Loudoux, the anchorages are a highly-anticipated solution.

"The more moorings like this, the more people will be drawn to the sublime Corsican coasts again," he said.

According to Mallaroni, some 44 percent of leisure boats navigating off Corsica stop in Bonifacio, with the majority of vessels measuring over 24 metres.

The traffic accounted for 60 percent of the port's revenues in 2019, he said.

With additional income generated by their wealthy passengers, boats stopping in Bonifacio are a vital source of income to the town's 3,000 inhabitants.

Mallaroni says some 90 moorings are needed along the island's shores, citing the French Federation of Nautical Industries.

- Example for other countries -

On the mainland, a first ecological mooring off Pampelonne beach near Saint Tropez on France's famed Cote d'Azur should be available by 2022.

Two other sites are in development, including one in the Calanques national park between Marseille and Cassis that should be operational by 2024.

In the meantime, the seagrass zones remain off-limits to boaters -- although the authority responsible for enforcing rules has so far only issued warnings.

"Most of the boaters pull up their anchors and move to authorised zones," says Thibault Lavernhe of the Maritime Prefecture of the Mediterranean.

"But there have been several repeat offenders and eventually sanctions will have to be applied," he says, with a maximum penalty of 150,000 euros and a year in prison at stake.

Environmentalist Boudouresque meanwhile hopes that other countries with Neptune grass ecosystems will adopt similar rules -- and solutions.

"The environment has no borders," says Boudouresque.

"Other Mediterranean countries should get inspired by these protective measures."

© 2021 AFP
Here's a look at the U.S. weaponry and military equipment left in the hands of the Taliban

Devika Desai 

Celebratory gunfire resounded across the Afghan capital on Tuesday as the Taliban took control of the airport following the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops, marking the end of a 20-year war that left the Islamist group stronger than it was in 2001.

© Provided by National Post Taliban fighters with captured M117 vehicles at Kabul airport.

Shaky video footage distributed by the Taliban showed fighters entering the airport after the last U.S. troops flew out on a C-17 aircraft a minute before midnight, ending a hasty exit for Washington and its NATO allies.

“It is a historical day and a historical moment,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference at the airport after the departure. “We are proud of these moments, that we liberated our country from a great power.”

The Taliban’s shockingly quick seizure of the country coupled with the West’s hurried departure has resulted in the terrorist group acquiring a hefty arsenal of weaponry and equipment, left behind by fleeing Afghan forces.

U.S. officials have estimated that $83 billion worth of weaponry and equipment had been invested in the Afghan force, but have not been able to say how much of that has fallen into the hands of Taliban fighters, post-takeover.

Video posted to social media shows the insurgents inspecting long lines of vehicles and opening crates of new firearms, communications gear and even military drones.

The Taliban took control of the tank park at Kandahar Airport, Large number of tanks and other heavy weapons seized by Taliban.

Follow me ➡ @TalibTimes pic.twitter.com/4XiKEB16kT— Talib Times (@TalibTimes) August 30, 2021

“Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban ‘s now,” one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

While officials haven’t yet tallied definitive numbers, it is estimated that the Taliban own over 2,000 armoured vehicles, including U.S. Humvees, as well as up to 40 aircraft, potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones.

L.A Times foreign correspondent Nabih Bulos has reported that the Taliban have also acquired some Afghan air force planes, including A29 Super Tucanos and MD 530s helicopters, some of which appear to be disabled.

In another video posted to Twitter, Bulos records several Taliban fighters fully donned in U.S military gear, including ballistic vests and helmets, entering a once Washington-controlled hangar to examine chinook helicopter abandoned by the U.S..

It’s unclear whether the Taliban have anyone trained to fly the aircraft, officials have said, but concerns have risen over what they could do with the rest of the equipment with fears that they may be used to kill civilians, be seized by Islamic State militants or be potentially handed over to political adversaries such as China or Russia.

Video: Taliban celebrate as last U.S. army flight leaves Afghanistan (cbc.ca)

A recent video posted last week by Joseph Dempsey, research associate for Defence & Military Analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, shows a Blackhawk helicopter taxiing around a tarmac at an Afghan airport, allegedly by a Taliban official.

Several days later, a video posted by the Talib Times, deemed the official news source for the Islamic Emirate Afghanistan, shows a Blackhawk plane in the sky, patrolling the city of Kandahar, with a man hanging off the helicopter.

The video was captioned: “The first flight of black hawk.”

The first flight of black hawk. pic.twitter.com/7NTWlrFJ0y— Talib Times (@TalibTimes) August 30, 2021

The account also confirmed that a large number of army tanks, including M117s have been captured by Taliban fighters.

#Taliban captured some heavy amount of M1117 armoured vehicles at #Kabul airport

Follow me ➡ @TalibTimes pic.twitter.com/vso8DHSw7Y— Talib Times (@TalibTimes) August 30, 2021

Several of the aircraft left behind have been rendered inoperable, tweeted Dempsey.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, confirmed to reporters Monday afternoon that more than 150 military vehicles and aircraft had been disabled before leaving Kabul.

US forces shut down or damaged some helicopters and other vehicles before leaving Kabul airport: pic.twitter.com/Ujit4zrP3T— Talib Times (@TalibTimes) August 31, 2021

“We demilitarized those systems so that they’ll never be used again,” McKenzie said. “We felt it more important to protect our forces than to bring those systems back.”

With additional files from Reuters
Leaving Afghanistan, U.S. general's ghostly image books place in history


(Removes reference of image being taken from window of C-17 plane in para 2. The picture was taken out of the aircraft ramp)

(Reuters) -Carrying his rifle down by his side, Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the storied 82nd Airborne Division, became the last U.S. soldier to board the final C-17 transport plane flight out of Afghanistan a minute before midnight on Monday.

Taken with a night vision device, the ghostly green and black image of the general striding toward the aircraft waiting on the tarmac at Kabul's Hamid Karzai Airport was released by the Pentagon hours after the United States ended its 20-year military presence https://www.reuters.com/world/india/rockets-fired-kabul-airport-us-troops-race-complete-evacuation-2021-08-30 in Afghanistan.

As a moment in history, the image of Donahue's departure could be cast alongside that of a Soviet general, who led an armoured column across the Friendship Bridge to Uzbekistan, when the Red Army made its final exit from Afghanistan in 1989.

Completing a military operation that with the help of allies succeeded in evacuating 123,000 civilians from Afghanistan, the last plane load of U.S. troops left under cover of the night.

Though it is a still image, Donahue appears to be moving briskly, his face expressionless. He is wearing full combat gear, with night vision goggles atop his helmet, and rifle by his side. He had yet to leave Afghanistan behind, and reach safety.

In contrast, the images of General Boris Gromov, commander of Soviet Union's 40th Army in Afghanistan, show him walking arm-in-arm with his son on the bridge across the Amu Darya river carrying a bouquet of red and white flowers.

The U.S. and Soviet withdrawals from a country that has become known as a graveyard for empires were conducted in very different ways, but at least they avoided the calamitous defeat suffered by Britain in the First Anglo-Afghan war in 1842.

The abiding image from that conflict is Elizabeth Thompson's oil painting "Remnants of an Army" depicting a solitary exhausted rider, military assistant surgeon William Brydon, swaying back in the saddle of an even more exhausted horse in the retreat from Kabul.

When Russia's Red Army left, a pro-Moscow communist government was still in power and its army would fight on for three more years, whereas U.S.-backed Afghan government had already capitulated and Kabul had fallen to the Taliban a little over two weeks before the Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. troops to depart.

Making an orderly exit, the last of Gromov's 50,000 troops still suffered isolated attacks as they drove northwards to the Uzbek border, though they had paid mujahideen groups to secure safe passage along the way.

Gromov's column crossed the Friendship Bridge on Feb. 15, 1989, ending the Soviet Union's 10-year war in Afghanistan, during which more than 14,450 Soviet military personnel were killed.

Asked how he felt about returning to Soviet soil, Gromov is reported to have answered: "Joy, that we carried out our duty and came home. I did not look back."

The final U.S. evacuation of Kabul will be judged by how many people were brought out, and how many were left behind.

But Donahue and his comrades will carry harrowing images from their chaotic last days in Kabul; parents passing babies to them across the razor wire, two young Afghans falling from a plane climbing high in the sky, and worst of all, the aftermath of an Islamic State suicide bomb attack outside the airport on Aug. 26 that killed scores of Afghans and 13 of their own.

(Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

As Afghanistan adjusts to Taliban rule, music goes silent


(Reuters) - Even before the last U.S. flight left Kabul at midnight on Monday, many of the bright and garish sights and sounds of city life in Afghanistan were changing as those left behind tried to fit in with the austere tone of their new Taliban rulers.

The Taliban have so far been at pains to show a more conciliatory face to the world, with none of the harsh public punishments and outright bans on public entertainments that characterized their previous time in power before 2001.

Cultural activities are allowed, they say, so long as they do not go against Sharia law and Afghanistan's Islamic culture.

Taliban authorities in Kandahar, the birthplace of the movement issued a formal order against radio stations playing music and female announcers last week but for many, no formal order was necessary.

Already, colourful signs outside beauty parlours have been painted over, jeans have been replaced by traditional dress and radio stations have replaced their normal menu of Hindi and Persian pop and call-in shows with sombre patriotic music.

"It's not that the Taliban ordered us to change anything, we have altered the programming for now as we don't want Taliban to force us to close down," said Khalid Sediqqi, a producer at a private radio station in the central city of Ghazni.

"Also no one in this country is in the mood for entertainment, we are all in a state of shock," he said. "I am not even sure if anyone is tuning to radio anymore."

During the 20 years of Western-backed government, a lively popular culture grew up in Kabul and other cities with a mashup of body building, energy drinks, extravagant sculpted hairstyles and jangly pop songs. Turkish soap operas, call-in programmes and television talent shows like 'Afghan Star' became major hits.


For senior Taliban, many raised in religious madrassas and with the experience of years of fighting and hardship, the change is overdue.

"Our culture has become toxic, we see Russian and American influence everywhere even in the food we eat, that is something people should realise and make necessary changes," a Taliban commander said. "This will take time but it will happen."

Across the country, the change has been noticeable.

While senior Taliban officials have said repeatedly their forces should treat the population respectfully and not hand out arbitrary punishments, many mistrust them or don't believe they can control the footsoldiers on the streets.

"There is no music in all Jalalalad city, people are scared and afraid because Taliban are beating people," Naseem, a former official in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Zarifullah Sahel, a local journalist in Laghman province near Kabul said the head of the Taliban's local cultural commission told the state-run public radio and six other private stations to adjust their programming to ensure it was in line with Sharia law.

Since then music programmes and political, cultural and news programming not related to religious issues had dried up.

But even where formal orders have not been issued, the message that the freewheeling era has come to an end and that it is safer not to stand out has been clear.

"I fear the Taliban may target me if was seen wearing jeans or western shirts or a suit," said Mustafa Ali Rahman, a former tax official in Lagman province. "One just doesn't know what they can do to punish us."

A former civil activist in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif said shops and restaurants appeared to have decided for themselves and turned off their radios.

"There is no warning about music, but people themselves have stopped," he said.

(Reporting by Islamabad newsroom; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)


No future for women like me, says exiled Afghan soccer player


By Stephane Mahe

PIRIAC-SUR-MER, France (Reuters) - As a former player in the Afghanistan women's national soccer team, Fanoos Basir saw no future for herself under Taliban rule.

She fled, and is now in a reception centre for refugees in France, mourning the life she left behind.

"We had lots of dreams for our country, for our future, for the future of women in Afghanistan," she said outside the reception centre, where she arrived after being evacuated from Kabul on a French-organised flight.

"This was our nightmare, that the Taliban would come and capture all of Afghanistan," she said. "There is no future for women... for now."

The last time the Taliban ran Afghanistan, women were barred from taking part in sport, or from working outside the home, and had to cover themselves from head to toe when in public.

The Islamist movement was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, but 20 years later has taken power again and forced out a foreign military mission, leading to the evacuation of tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans. The last flights left on Monday.

In 2010, Basir had joined a fledgling national soccer team that trained in a dilapidated stadium and started to take part in tournaments abroad.

Pictures of her in her playing days show Basir, in football gear, her head frequently uncovered, smiling and with her arms draped around her teammates.

Now the Taliban is back, the national soccer team is shut down. A large contingent of current players and staff were evacuated on board an Australian military aircraft.

A former captain of the team urged players still in Afghanistan to burn their sports gear and delete their social media accounts to avoid Taliban reprisals.

Basir, who is 25, stopped playing for the national team several years ago, and has since run a club side for women. She also worked as a civil engineer.

She said that when the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul on Aug. 15, she did not go outside for days. When she did venture out, she wore a burqa covering her face and body.

Besides women's soccer being now out of the question, Basir said she faced having to give up her job.

Some Taliban officials have attempted to portray the group as willing to allow more freedoms for women than previously now that they are back in power. But many Afghans fear this is a facade.

The Taliban has in some places told women they can only go out with a male guardian, which Basir said would mean bringing her father or brother with her every time she went to work.

She decided to try to leave, along with her frail parents.

She spent three consecutive days without success trying to get through the crowds of people massing outside Kabul's airport. She described seeing Taliban fighters firing their guns and beating people with sticks.

When she spoke to Taliban representatives, she said they told her: "You are a woman, we do not want to talk with you."

Basir said she and her family had given up hope of making it, when they heard the French embassy had organised buses to pick up people eligible for evacuation, and bring them to the airport. She and her parents were able to get to the airport, and fly out.

They are now undergoing COVID-19 quarantine at the reception centre, about 450 km (280 miles) west of Paris.

Eventually, she said, she hoped she could work as a civil engineer in her new home. But for now, she felt she was in limbo.

"Leaving our country, our dreams, everything, is so hard for everyone," she said. "Now we will start from zero."

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Afghanistan pullout chills US-German relations

The US pullout from Afghanistan after 20 years has made the erratic Trump years look like more than a blip of American unilateralism. But German-American relations have a long history of highs and lows. 

After 20 years of Afghanistan deployments, the last German troops came home on August 27

After the Taliban took Kabul and desperate Afghans flooded the airport trying to escape the country, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her dismay: "The developments are bitter, dramatic and terrible," she said at a press conference on August 16. "It seems right now like it was all in vain."

For Germany, whose military has spent nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the human and financial cost has been significant. The Bundeswehr, Germany’s army, entered Afghanistan to support the US after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 — in what would become its largest and longest military deployment abroad. Along the way, Germany committed to the nation-building project. Now those hopes have been dashed. 

The chancellor candidate for Merkel's Christian Democrats, Armin Laschet, spoke of a major blow to the trans-Atlantic relationship and dismay at US President Joe Biden's actions: "I was disappointed by his announcement on April 14 that he would implement Donald Trump's Afghanistan withdrawal order one-to-one without fully involving the allies in this momentous decision," Laschet told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in mid-August.

"It is a big loss of confidence. In particular in America's competency as a military power," says political analyst Stephan Bierling of Regensburg University. "After four catastrophic years under Trump, we had a very positive view of Joe Biden. Now that mood is changing."

Watch video 02:17 Germany's evacuation from Afghanistan faces scrutiny

An unequal relationship 

After World War II the US played the lead role in establishing West Germany as a liberal democracy, setting up democratic institutions and a free press. The US then provided the security throughout the Cold War that ensured West Germany continued to exist alongside communist East Germany.

"The US defeated Germany in World War II and then as an occupying power was part of restructuring German society," explains Ruth Hatlapa, a historian specializing in how Germany views the US.

There was pro-Americanism in West German society that supported deeper connections, she says, but also resentment — particularly concerning West Germany's security dependence on the US, creating a "contradictory relationship," according to Hatlapa.

After WWII, the US took an active role to reshape West German society and its democratic institutions

Vietnam was different for Germany

The relationship has seen its low points. The Vietnam War was such a case. 12,000 anti-war protesters took to the streets of West Berlin in 1968. One of them was the author Friedrich Christian Delius.

"This disappointment that the Americans, whom we admired, were going into a war that was, so to speak, completely contrary to their own principles, that stirred us up and upset us, just as it upset hundreds of thousands of American students at the time," he told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, looking back 50 years after the events unfolded.

Germany had rejected US calls to participate militarily in Vietnam. Instead, it embarked on a humanitarian relief mission, sending a hospital ship to the war zone in 1966, coordinated by and equipped with personnel from the German Red Cross (DRK).

Watch video 02:55 Looking back on Germany's involvement in Afghanistan

German-US divide over Iraq

Another blow to the US image in Germany came in 2003. Although the US, under President George W. Bush, urged the German government to participate in the war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, then-foreign minister Joschka Fischer from the Green Party stood by his legendary phrase: "I am not convinced."

Doubts that the invasion of Iraq was justified were based on the findings of Germany's foreign intelligence service. "According to our information at the time, the reasons Colin Powell had given before the United Nations Security Council were not substantiated, contrary to his account, and proved to be false," August Hanning, then president of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), told Die Welt newspaper.

"The mistakes made by the US are still having an effect today: the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, the rise of the terrorist organizations al-Qaida and IS, the political instability," terrorism and security analyst Rolf Tophoven of the Institute for Crisis Prevention Iftus told German broadcaster ntv, looking back after 15 years. "We would also not have the refugee problem if there were peace in the region. Then people wouldn't have to flee to Europe."

However, the current situation is unprecedented. "The main difference is obvious: In Afghanistan we have had soldiers as long as America has had soldiers there," says historian Klaus Schwabe, a professor at RWTH Aachen University.

Germany took a very positive view of Biden after four years of strained relations with Trump

Blow to the trans-Atlantic relationship

"Afghanistan is a reality check for those who had big plans for a revived trans-Atlantic relationship," says Bastian Giegerich of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"Germany's direct involvement has made recent events much more painful. It mixes a sense of failure, disappointment and humiliation," he says. "The fall of Kabul shows crystal clear that Germany and other European powers don't have the means to pursue an independent strategy."

In the wake of events in Afghanistan, calls for greater German and European military independence are getting louder. "The EU must be able to act without its American partner. We must be able to secure an airport like the one in Kabul on our own," said Laschet in his interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

When the Biden administration entered office, it called on Germany and other European partners to take tougher lines on China and Russia, hoping to mobilize the EU into taking a stronger stance on protecting liberal democracies. 

Recent events in Afghanistan may have been counterproductive, says political analyst Giegerich. "Afghanistan was a mission that from a German and European point of view was undertaken out of solidarity with the US. Many here will feel, 'we did this for the US and look how it ended.'"

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year's elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.
Taliban Warn Against Future Invasions of Afghanistan, Seek Global Legitimacy

By Ayaz Gul
Updated August 31, 2021 

Taliban fighters stand guard inside Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban were in control of the airport Tuesday, after the last U.S. planes left its runway.

The Taliban hailed Tuesday the departure of international forces from Afghanistan and their return to power as a “big lesson for other invaders,” urging the United States and the rest of the world to recognize Taliban rule.

Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made the remarks, hours after the last American military plane left the international airport in the capital, Kabul.

Mujahid, while speaking to reporters at the tarmac, congratulated Afghans and declared the foreign military exit a victory “that belongs to us all.”

The U.S. and its Western allies invaded the war-torn South Asian country nearly 20 years ago and removed the Taliban from power for allowing the al-Qaida terror network to organize the September 2001 attacks on America.

After Nearly 20 Years, Last US Troops Leave Kabul

US commander admits ‘we did not get everybody out’ despite largest US airlift in American military history

The Taliban have repeatedly promised a more tolerant and broad-based governance system compared with their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, when the fundamentalist group imposed a brutal justice system, barred Afghan women from working outside the home and girls from receiving an education.

Mujahid attempted to ally concerns while speaking to a unit of the Taliban’s elite Badri force on the tarmac Tuesday and admonished them to not treat Afghans harshly.
“Treat the Afghan population kindly and nicely,” he told them. “The public deserves this.” He also reminded them that they were the “servants” of the population and should not be heavy handed with their fellow countrymen.

“We want to have good relations with the U.S. and the world. We welcome good diplomatic relations with them all," Mujahid insisted, saying Afghanistan needs international assistance to overcome many crises after four decades of war.

Later, speaking to a seminar in Kabul organized in connection with the foreign troop withdrawal, Mujahid called on the international community to recognize the Taliban rule and to help them address multiple crises facing the country.

Taliban officials also reported that consultations on the formation of an “inclusive Islamic government” in Kabul have concluded and said an announcement will soon be made.

International stakeholders remained skeptical about whether the Islamist movement would deliver on its pledges and prevent Afghanistan from being diplomatically isolated again.

“The Taliban now face a test. Can they lead their country to a safe & prosperous future where all their citizens, men & women, have the chance to reach their potential? Can Afghanistan present the beauty & power of its diverse cultures, histories, & traditions to the world?,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special Afghan peace envoy, wrote on Twitter Tuesday

He noted the foreign military withdrawal had offered “a moment of decision and opportunity” for all Afghans.

“Their country's future is in their hands. They will choose their path in full sovereignty," Khalilzad wrote. "This is the chance to bring their war to an end as well.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday the international response to Taliban’s bid for legitimacy would depend on the nature of the government they introduce in Afghanistan. He spoke in neighboring Pakistan.

“Soon the Taliban are going to present a new government. It remains to be seen that this government is as inclusive a government as we demanded it to be. It is important for us that Afghans who do not support the Taliban feel represented by this government,” Maas emphasized when asked whether Germany was ready to give legitimacy to the Taliban-held Kabul.

Maas said that “the important lesson I draw out of the failure in Afghanistan” is that military interventions are suited only to combat terrorist attacks, wars, human rights violations, but not to export any form of political governance system to another country.

“In the West in the international community at large, we have to ask ourselves if military interventions are suitable to export a form of government which we prefer. This was not successful in Afghanistan,” said the chief German diplomat.

“This is why we have to draw the necessary lessons that … military interventions are not suited to export a specific form of government. We need to think about the purposes and also the duration of military interventions.”

The Taliban have promised to get the airport up and running for commercial flights as soon as possible. However, some of the airport infrastructure was damaged during the first few days of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, when thousands of Afghans, in a panic over the arrival of the militant group, massed around it and many managed to get inside and onto the tarmac.

Several Afghans died as they tried to hang onto the outside of an American C-17 military cargo plane or climb into the wheel wells.

The last U.S. troops left Afghanistan moments before the expiration of an August 31 deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden.

The head of U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, said Monday the last U.S. aircraft took off from Kabul just before midnight local time, a minute ahead of the deadline.

The United States and its coalition partners helped more than 123,000 civilians flee Afghanistan, though countless more were left behind.

"The Taliban has made commitments on safe passage and the world will hold them to their commitments,” McKenzie said.

VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeen, Jeff Seldin and Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.
The Story Of The Mysterious White 727
That Appeared In Kabul After The Bombing Of Abbey Gate

The old 727 showing up among the military transports at Kabul International drew a lot of interest among flight trackers and open-source intel gurus.
AUGUST 31, 2021

  View Tyler Rogoway's Articles

The evacuation of Kabul is like none other in history. With open-source intelligence tools abound, including daily satellite images, flight tracking, and even a live camera feed overwatching Hamid Karzai International Airport, the average person can keep tabs on this historic event and unprecedented multi-national military operation in their own homes. In the panopticon that is today's internet age, peculiarities stand out. One such surprise was seeing a gleaming-white, but quite geriatric 727-200 appear on Kabul's ragged skyline, landing at the under siege airport amongst the constant flow of C-17s, A400Ms, C-130s, a few modern airliners, and other usual suspects.

While all-white airframes aren't supposed to attract much attention, that paint scheme is also synonymous with clandestine operations, including "whitewashed" aircraft often used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) for low-profile operations abroad. With that reality in mind, keen observers keeping an eye on traffic at Hamid Karzai International rightfully started thinking this may be some CIA asset that was slipping in on a unique mission. It turns out, that wasn't necessarily the case. Thanks to a wonderful story by Erika Gibson of South Africa's Mail and Guardian, we learned the backstory on this most interesting of participants in the tumultuous aerial evacuation of Afghanistan.


The 727, which belongs to a firm called Safe Air Company, takes off from Kabul.

It turns out that Niel Steyl, the Captain of a four-decade-old 727-200 that flies for Safe Air Company, an airline and charter outfit based in Kenya, answered an emergency call from the U.S. State Department for immediate airlift assistance after a complex terrorist attack, which started with a suicide bombing, killed 13 U.S. troops, as well as at least 170 Afghans, on August 26th.

At the time, Steyl, his crew, and their 727, which carries the Kenyan registration number 5Y-IRE and is aptly nicknamed Irene, were forward based out of neighboring Kulob, Tajikistan. In the past, they had supported what was a relatively steady drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan before the final dangerous push out of Kabul, which fell to the Taliban on August 15th.

Steyl told the Mail and Guardian:

“We received a desperate call from the US state department’s officials in Kabul after the suicide bombing attack on Thursday night asking whether we would be willing to assist with mercy flights... The urgency became critical to evacuate a group of Afghan special forces and their families. They have been assisting the US forces in the country for many years. As such, they would certainly have been killed by the Taliban as they are seen as traitors".
Their cargo for the dangerous sortie would be hundreds of ex-Afghan special operations forces that were being lodged in a warehouse within the confines of the airport. These troops had worked with the Americans for years and they would be top Taliban targets, but finding room on military airlifters leaving the country became a huge challenge. Hence the mercy flights by Irene.

It only took just 40 minutes to load up 308 people onto the cargo-configured 727, which would normally carry between a half and a third of that load during the type's career as an airliner.

Steyl recounted the following about the flight to the Mail and Guardian:

“We expected a haggard group but were pleasantly surprised by the well-spoken and neatly dressed group – despite them being holed up in a warehouse under trying conditions for a week. It was humbling to experience the sheer relief and appreciation from their side that we came in time to save them.”

Here's a video of Irene in action, albeit on a far less volatile mission:

Because the soldiers and their families could not fit on a single 727 flight, another trip would be needed.

On the second trip, they had to stop all movement on the ground at Kabul and could not load and depart quickly because U.S. forces were executing a departure ceremony for the 13 Americans who died during the bombing at Abbey Gate. Once cleared to load and leave, the second flight saw 329 souls packed aboard the old 727. All of the refugees were taken back to Tajikistan where they would wait in a tent community until a further airlift arranged by the U.S. government could move them on to other locations once the evacuation of Kabul was complete. The passengers didn't even know where they were when they landed, they were just happy to be out of Afghanistan and away from the Taliban.

While Safe Air and Irene's crew are no strangers to flying into dangerous areas in Africa, basically saving hundreds of people, entire families, from the clutches of the Taliban certainly must have been very rewarding. Still, an old 727 loaded with over three hundred people, while not having the millions of dollars worth of defensive capabilities that their military airlifter counterparts have, and flying into what is basically a war zone under extreme terrorist threat in the middle of the day, takes guts.

Irene and her crew are one of many groups of heroes that risked life and limb for others during this tragic endcap to the two-decades-long war in Afghanistan. Once the last American boots leave Kabul and the dust settles, we know that there will be many other incredible stories to tell. But this one, about the little old 727 that could, is definitely worth spreading.

You can check out Erika Gibson's Mail and Guardian piece on Irene's missions into Kabul, which includes more details and some great photos, here.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

US may use drone strikes to destroy billions of dollars worth of military hardware left in Afghanistan

As the final troops prepare to leave Kabul, US defence officials do not believe the aircraft, vehicles and ammunition left behind pose a threat to the US or its allies
A Taliban Badri fighter stands guard on Humvee vehicle at the main entrance gate of Kabul airport (Photo: Wakil Koshar/Getty)

By David Parsley
August 30, 2021 7:28 pm(Updated August 31, 2021 9:41 am)

The US may use drone strikes in Afghanistan to destroy military hardware left behind during its evacuation of Kabul in order to prevent the Taliban from using it or selling it to terrorist groups and rogue nations.

A US defence source has told i that the Pentagon “hasn’t ruled out the possibility” of bombing equipment worth billions of dollars – such as Black Hawk helicopters, light attack aircraft, armoured transport vehicles, and more than 3,000 Humvees – in order to ensure they are inoperable.

The Afghan Air Force was operating 167 aircraft at the end of June, according to a report by the US-based Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. However, many are believed to have been decommissioned and rendered redundant in the lead-up to the evacuation deadline for US troops.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) declined to comment on the likelihood of drone strikes to destroy the abandoned military kit.

A spokesman for the DoD said: “I’m not going to speak to what the ultimate disposition of this equipment may be.”

However, he added the US was not concerned the hardware poses a threat to western nations that formed the coalition in Afghanistan.

He told i: “We are aware there is likely a large amount of equipment provided to Afghan forces now in Taliban hands. We are not concerned with the loss of any significant technological or sensitive capability – the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces were not provided with these kinds of capabilities.

“While seizing this equipment may be beneficial to the Taliban, it does not represent a threat to the US, allies or partners”.

US Defence experts also suggested the Taliban will not have the expertise to maintain any of the aircraft for long.

Professor Michael Desch, from the International Security Center at the University of Notre Dame, told i that the US had sent around $90bn (£65.40bn) of hardware into Afghanistan in the last 20 years, but much of that would have been on expendables “like boots, bullets, and beans”.

“The US has dumped a lot of money, along with our Nato allies, into equipping the Afghan security forces,” said Professor Desch, who has previously held roles in the Department of State. “The best estimate I’ve seen is somewhere around $90bn over the years.”

As for the aircraft and military vehicles, Professor Desch believes they will not be of use to the Taliban in the long term.

He said: “Maybe they can go for a joy ride once or twice, but if you know anything about the maintenance that it takes to keep a Black Hawk or a Chinook helicopter air worthy, you almost don’t need the waste the hellfire missile from a drone on it because these things will very quickly become junk.”

West vows to step up fight against Isis after Taliban victory boosts global terror threat

Sharon Weiner, an associate professor in the School of International Service at the American University in Washington DC, added: “Anything that has fairly significant technology does not work well in dusty environments like Afghanistan.

“It needs to be repaired or at least maintained fairly frequently. Even in better environments, the equipment requires a lot of maintenance. That requires spare parts and technicians, neither of which the Taliban has.”

The final US soldiers are expected to leave Kabul airport on Tuesday with around 1,500 US citizens expected to be left behind.

The Biden administration has said it expects the new Taliban Government to allow them to leave the country and return to the US via border crossings.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will comment on how much military hardware the UK had left in Afghanistan following the departure of its final troops on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: “As part of our withdrawal we have been recovering equipment but at all times have prioritised the safe evacuation of people over equipment.

“We have left humanitarian supplies, such as water, food and sanitisation and will be able to provide a further update in due course.”

'Not a great day for America's service dogs': US military abandoned dozens of K-9s alongside planes, Chinooks and Humvees worth BILLIONS in scramble to leave Kabul

American Humane said working dogs will likely face 'torture' by the Taliban, condemned the 'death sentence'

The organization called on Congress to load the dogs onto available cargo space for evacuation from Kabul

US has also left up to 200 civilians and 'demilitarised' equipment in city, with Taliban pictured with hardware


PUBLISHED: 08:28 EDT, 31 August 2021

Dozens of contracted working dogs have been abandoned by the US in Afghanistan, along with up to 200 civilians and military equipment, according to an animal charity.

The animal welfare group condemned the 'death sentence' for the animals who now face 'torture' at the hands of the Taliban, who took control of the city earlier this month.

American Humane has called on Congress to rescue the purpose-trained dogs who perform a wide range of duties and work alongside military dogs.

The news of the abandoned animals comes as the Taliban celebrated the full withdrawal of U.S. and western forces from Afghanistan after almost 20 years of occupation in the country.

Tuesday saw coffins draped with the US, UK and French flag as well as NATO's insignia were paraded through the streets of Khost by crowds flying the Taliban's emblem.

It comes after celebratory scenes in Kabul overnight, where fireworks exploded and gunfire rattled through the air moments after the final US jet departed.


Dozens of contracted working dogs have been abandoned by the US in Afghanistan after the troop withdrawal

Afghan Air Force's A-29 attack aircraft and armoured vests are left on the ground inside a hangar at the airport in Kabul

American Humane's CEO Robin R. Ganzert said in a statement: 'I am devastated by reports that the American government is pulling out of Kabul and leaving behind brave US military contract working dogs to be tortured and killed at the hand of our enemies.

'These brave dogs do the same dangerous, lifesaving work as our military working dogs, and deserved a far better fate than the one to which they have been condemned.

'This senseless fate is made all the more tragic, as American Humane stands ready to not only help transport these contract K-9 soldiers to US soil but also to provide for their lifetime medical care.'

American Humane has worked with the military for more than a century to rescue stranded military animals, having previously worked in World War One.

Contract working dogs are normally owned by private contractors to work alongside military dogs who are owned by the Department of Defense, often performing similar duties.

Ganzert added: 'As the country's first national humane organization and largest certifier of animal welfare in the world, it sickens us to sit idly by and watch these brave dogs who valiantly served our country be put to death or worse.

'In order to prevent this tragedy from occurring, these K-9's should be loaded into whatever cargo space remains and flown to safety. Irrespective of the outcome, this gross oversight of justice must be stopped from happening again, as it did in Vietnam too.

'To that end, we call on Congress to take action to classify contract working dogs on the same level as military working dogs. Failure to do anything less, is a failure of humanity and a condemnation of us all.'

Sharing photos of dogs in cages stranded in Kabul, one person commented: 'Not a great day for America's service dogs that are still in the airport.'

The news that U.S. service dogs were left behind contrasts with the UK's evacuation efforts, which saw almost 200 rescue dogs and cats saved from Kabul, along with a former Royal Marine Paul 'Pen' Farthing, who founded an animal rescue charity while in Afghanistan.

Mr Farthing's campaign to get his animals to safety became hugely topical in Britain over the past fortnight, with some arguing that the choice to rescue the animals resulted in resources that could have been used to evacuate more people being occupied.

The veteran has said he is still working to help evacuate 68 Nowzad animal shelter staff and family members, including 25 children and one new-born baby, from Afghanistan as part of his Operation Ark campaign.
Taliban deliver speech to Badri army on airport runway after US depart

The US has also abandoned as much as 70 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters sit in the cockpit of an Afghan Air Force aircraft at the airport in Kabul in the hours following the US departure

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (centre) spaks to the media in the shadow of a plane which the terror group have seized

Badri 313 units post for the cameras at Kabul airport today, carrying American-made rifles and wearing US military gear

'Latest addition to the Taliban airforce': warplanes left for Taliban

Along with the dogs, there are up to 200 US citizens still in Afghanistan after the US withdrew its final troops, bringing an end to the 20-year campaign.

Critics slammed Biden for breaking his promise to stay until all citizens were airlifted to safety after he pulled out the last forces 24 hours before the August 31 deadline.

The US has also abandoned as much as 70 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft in Afghanistan, although much of the equipment has been disabled.

General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said the aircraft were 'demilitarised,' or rendered useless, before American troops wrapped up the two-week evacuation.

He said the Pentagon, which built up a force of nearly 6,000 troops to occupy and operate Kabul's airport when the airlift began on August 14, left behind around 70 MRAP armoured tactical vehicles - which can cost up to $1 million a piece - that it disabled before leaving, and 27 Humvees.

Before the last US troops left, they disabled scores of aircraft and armoured vehicles - as well as a high-tech rocket defence system - at the airport, a US general said.

Cockpit windows had been shattered, instrument panels smashed, and aircraft tyres shot out.

The US also left behind but disabled the C-RAM system - counter rocket, artillery, and mortar - that was used to protect the airport from rocket attacks.

The system helped fend off a five-rocket barrage from the jihadist Islamic State group on Monday.


Taliban fighters stand guard at the Hamid Karzai International Airport after US troops departed following a 20-year campaign in Afghanistan


The XVIII Airborne Corps released an image Monday of the last U.S. soldier to leave Afghanistan – Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division

Amid the celebratory scenes in Afghanistan - and surrounded by Taliban special forces units dressed head to toe in American gear - spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid hailed the 'victory' over western forces.

'It is an historical day and an historical moment.... we liberated our country from a great power,' he added, saying the last 20 years should serve as a 'big lesson for other invaders [and] a lesson for the world.'

Calling the day a 'big lesson for other invaders and for our future generation,' he then told gathered journalists: 'It is an historical day and an historical moment. We are proud of these moments, that we liberated our country from a great power'.

Hundreds of American and British citizens were left behind when the last US evacuation plane took off late Monday, along with thousands of Afghans who helped western troops on a promise of sanctuary that was ultimately broken. Many now fear for their lives.

Mujahid insisted today that Taliban security forces will be 'pleasant and nice' to those left behind, despite reports already emerging of summary executions and persecution against women reminiscent of the Taliban of old.


A Taliban fighter takes a picture of a damaged MD 530 helicopter that was abandoned at Kabul airport by retreating troops


An American MRAP vehicle is pictured at Kabul airport alongside other armoured vehicles after falling into Taliban hands


A Russian Mi-17 helicopter is pictured alongside Taliban fighters after it was seized from retreating western troops


Taliban fighters inspect a US Humvee at the airport in Kabul, after seizing a huge number of vehicles from western forces

Meanwhile at Bagram air base, the former stronghold of western forces, its new Taliban commander was boasting of having 'beaten' America using little more than Kalashnikov rifles while saying the airfield will now be 'a base for jihad for all Muslims'.

Speaking to The Times, 35-year-old Maulawi Hafiz Mohibullah Muktaz said: 'Never in our wildest dreams could we have believed we could beat a superpower like America with just our Kalashnikovs.

'When you do jihad all doors open, we defeated America with our faith and our guns and we hope now that Bagram can be a base for jihad for all Muslims

'For any foreign power considering attacking Afghanistan then look at Bagram now and learn your lesson well before embarking on foolish endeavour. See the West's mighty technology humbled here by mujahidin.

'In 15 years as a mujahid fighting the Americans I wondered often if I may fail or die. Yet here is proof of the power of faith and God and jihad. On the back of victory I hope we can use Bagram as a place to spread jihad further into the region and Muslim world.'

Reflecting on America's withdrawal from the other side of the conflict, General McKenzie said on Monday night: 'There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure.

'We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we'd stayed another 10 days, we wouldn't have gotten everybody out,' he insisted.

Afghan interpreter’s regret over working with UK as he’s left behind in Kabul: ‘Biggest mistake of my life’

The Afghan interpreter, codenamed Steve-O by American forces, said he is disappointed with the UK and US for ‘leaving behind thousands of their allies’

By Taz Ali
August 31, 2021 

An Afghan interpreter says working with British and American troops was the “biggest mistake of his life” after he was left behind in the country following the withdrawal of international forces.

The 36-year-old, who was code-named “Steve-O” by American soldiers, told i that he worked with the US army for 20 months from 2009 and with British troops for 13 months from 2010.

Like thousands of other desperate Afghans, he tried to enter the airport to be evacuated from the country but found it impossible to get through the large crowds.

Steve-O, whose real name has been withheld to protect his identity, said he is angry at the US and UK for leaving behind thousands of their allies.

When asked whether he regrets working with western forces, he replied: “Yes, I regret, that was the biggest mistake of my life.

“We (made) sacrifices for the US army and the British troops, our friends lost their lives for them. We put our lives in danger to work with them and now they left us behind.”
Steve-O pictured with a US army soldier (Photo: Submitted by ‘Steve-O’)

He said he has worked with western troops on more than 250 operations against the Haqqani network including al-Qaeda, adding: “We have been in very dangerous operations.

“In Helmand when I was with the British army, every day we had contact with Taliban, they were attacking us. But thanks to Allah I am still alive.

“But now, the situation has changed and I am very disappointed with the US and the British, I don’t know what I should do. Me and my friends, we are still looking for help.”

Steve-O said he had applied for the special immigrant visa programme (SIV), designed for Afghans who worked for American and Nato military operations, in 2014 but it was rejected as he was four months shy of the required two years of minimum service. More recently, the visa rules have changed and the minimum service requirement was reduced to one year
An US Air Force aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul on Monday (Photo: Aamir Qureshi / AFP via Getty Images)

He also applied for the UK’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme, which offers current or former locally employed staff deemed to be under serious threat priority relocation to the UK.

After he received an email from the British embassy in Kabul that he was eligible for Arap on 14 August, the day before the city fell to the Taliban, he was advised to head to the airport to process his application.

However, Steve-O lives in a small village within Kabul province about 40km (25 miles) north of the capital city, and the journey is dangerous due to Taliban fighters patrolling every street.

“I have gone two times, I tried to get to the airport but it was impossible, it was dangerous,” he said.

He alleged that Afghan forces manning the gates at the airport were also taking bribes from desperate people who were trying to get their relatives through, claiming they were taking as much as $500 (£360).

“Afghan special forces were at every gate, they were searching, they were corrupted, they took money from people entering relatives to the airport,” he said.

And it is not just the Taliban he fears. He said villagers near where he lives with his 11 family members, including his two small children, are mostly supporters of the insurgents.

He described them as “extremists” and said that he and his family are shunned due to his involvement with western forces. “They say ‘you supported the infidels,'” he added.

Steve-O worked with UK forces in Afghanistan in 2010 (Submitted by ‘Steve-O’)

His children have not been back to school after it shut due to the lack of teachers and books. The Taliban has also sent out letters which gave orders such as “do not shave your beard, do not make your haircut stylish” and “women should wear burqa”, Steve-O said.

After the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Thursday, which killed more than 180 people including 13 US Marines, Steve-O has been told by the embassy that he can no longer be relocated to the UK but that his Arap application can be processed in a third country.

Steve-O made a direct plea to Prime Minister Boris Johnson for interpreters to be given help getting to Pakistan where they can continue with their visa applications to the UK.

He said it was “very easy” to get to the Pakistani border discreetly without the Taliban finding him, adding: “There are many smuggling ways.”

“I want to pass my message to Boris Johnson and the UK parliament that we still need help, we are still looking for the UK government to help us,” he said.
Taliban in power: Moscow prepares for war in Afghanistan
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Special military exercises organised in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Russians have several bases in the region. The Kremlin's ties with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Afghan extremists likened to Ukrainian anarchists of the 1917-1921 period.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Russia is preparing new military exercises in Central Asia to be ready for possible conflicts after the Taliban seizure of power in Afghanistan. At the beginning of September, a number of maneuvers will be carried out in Kyrgyzstan by contingents of the "Collective Forces for Rapid Deployment" (Ksbr). This is a military coordination group created in 2001 between the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Csto), founded in 1992 by the Russians and some former Soviet nations.

Called "Border 2021", the maneuvers had been planned for some time, but given the turn of events in Central Asia, the goals have been recalibrated to take account of developments in Afghanistan. Military experts fear that a new Afghan civil war will begin, similar to the one that pitted the Taliban against the Northern Alliance nearly 30 years ago. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Šojgu places emphasis on the huge arsenal remaining in Taliban hands, and does not rule out instability spreading to neighboring states.

The Kremlin has mobilized over 400 soldiers from its mountain troops, mostly transferred from the Tuva Republic in Siberia: these are the units considered most suitable to face possible Afghan conflicts.

The Kyrgyz maneuvers follow two other similar initiatives in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, other states where there are several Russian military bases. Šojgu specified that all these facilities "will be used to defend the borders of the Csto countries in case of aggression from Afghanistan". Tajikistan's "Base 201" has been supplied with new "Verba" portable surface-to-air missiles and other state-of-the-art weapons, together with 60 armored vehicles, which will remain in Kyrgyzstan after the end of the exercises.

Tajikistan is the only country in the Csto that borders Afghanistan, with which it also shares a part of the same ethnic composition, but in post-Soviet history it has already happened that rebels and terrorists have poured into Kyrgyzstan through the mountains, and from there into other Central Asian countries. The internal conflict has already somehow started in Panjshir, a small province close to the mountains that wind their way to Tajikistan and Pakistan. Militias of opponents to the Taliban are gathered in the narrow valley. They are led by former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh and commanded by Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the leaders of the Northern Alliance killed by the Taliban in 2001.

Before the arrival of the USA in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance was supported by Russia, together with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Massoud has announced that he is now flanked by Abdul Rashid Dostum. Of Uzbek origin, he is a historic "warlord" and former Afghan vice-president, now a refugee in Uzbekistan. If a political solution is not found that guarantees ethnic minorities, the Uzbeks will also take up arms against the Taliban.

Russian-Uzbek Colonel Šamil Gareev, who participated 20 years ago in organizing support for the Northern Alliance, believes that inter-ethnic conflict in Afghanistan is possible only if the most radical members of the Taliban prevail, as he told Nezavisimaja Gazeta on August 29. He compared the Taliban "to the army of batka Makhno," an anarchist group of peasants in southern Ukraine who attempted to seize power between 1917 and 1921 during the Austrian occupation and also fought against the Soviets. For the Russians, it is an almost anecdotal example of disorganized militarism to indicate the general chaos that might emerge with Taliban rule.