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Turkey detains 200 Afghan migrants en route to ltaly – coastguard

Turkish authorities have intercepted a boat carrying more than 200 Afghan migrants in the Aegean sea heading for Europe, Turkey’s coastguard said on Wednesday. The interception near Turkey’s western shores came as hundreds of Afghans cross into eastern
Turkey from Iran, after a rise in violence in their
own country as the United States and its NATO
allies withdraw and Taliban fighters seize
territory.

According to reporters, Afghans have for years been crossing from Iran into Turkey, many of them en route to Europe, but the number of detentions this month has raised concerns about a new influx. Officials said last week they had detained 1,500 irregular migrants, most of them Afghans, near the Iranian border in the previous 10 days.

The migrants intercepted in the Aegean were believed to be en route to Italy, the coastguard official said. Of the 231 migrants on the boat, 208 were Afghans and others were from Syria, Iran, Eritrea and Pakistan, the official added. The coastguard detained two Turkish nationals steering the boat and escorted migrants to a deportation centre in the western Turkish town of Ayvacik.

President Tayyip Erdogan’s government, already hosting 3.7 million Syrian refugees, wants to avoid another refugee wave, and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said two weeks ago that Turkey was closely monitoring any influx of Afghan migrants. Turkey is building a wall along a 64-km (40-mile) stretch of the Iranian border in the eastern province of Van, where many of the migrants cross. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says there were over 100,000 Afghan asylum seekers in Turkey last year.

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France says boatload of 42 migrants rescued in EnglishChannel

French authorities said on Friday they had rescued a boatload of 42 migrants in the English channel after their boat got into difficulty.

The emergency services were alerted by the migrants, and a rescue vessel picked them up in the sea off the Pas-de-Calais area, according to a French police statement.

They were taken to the nearby port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, and all are in good health, the statement said.

Thousands of migrants each year attempt the dangerous sea crossing from France to the coast of Britain, often paying human smugglers to help them through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in overloaded rubber dinghies.

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Afghan interpreter for US Army was beheaded by Taliban. Others fear they will be hunted down too

Afghan interpreter for US Army was beheaded by Taliban. Others fear they will be hunted down too said Spokesperson

Sohail Pardis was driving from his home in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul to nearby Khost province to pick up his sister for the upcoming Eid holiday celebrations to mark the end of Ramadan.

It was supposed to be a happy occasion enjoyed with family. But during the five-hour trip on May 12, as Pardis, 32, drove through a stretch of desert, his vehicle was blocked at a checkpoint by Taliban militants.

Just days before, Pardis had confided to his friend that he was receiving death threats from the Taliban, who had discovered he had worked as a translator for the United States Army for 16 months during the 20-year-long conflict.

“They were telling him you are a spy for the Americans, you are the eyes of the Americans and you are infidel, and we will kill you and your family,” his friend and co-worker Abdulhaq Ayoubi told the Source.

As he approached the checkpoint, Pardis put his foot on the accelerator to speed through. He was not seen alive again.

Villagers who witnessed the incident told the Red Crescent the Taliban shot his car before it swerved and stopped. They then dragged Pardis out of the vehicle and beheaded him.

Pardis was one of thousands of Afghan interpreters who worked for the US military and now face persecution by the Taliban, as the group gains control of wider swaths of the country.

In a statement issued in June, the Taliban said it would not harm those who worked alongside foreign forces. A Taliban spokesperson said they were attempting to verify the details of the incident but said some incidents are not what they are portrayed to be.

But those who said their lives are now under threat as the Taliban launch revenge attacks following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. At the height of the war, there were about 100,000 US troops in the country, as part of a NATO force.

“We can’t breathe here. The Taliban have no mercy on us,” Ayoubi said.

Around 18,000 Afghans who worked for the US military have applied for a Special Immigrant Visa program that would allow them to go to the United States.

On July 14, the White House said it was launching, “Operation Allies Refuge,” an effort to relocate the thousands of Afghan interpreters and translators who worked for the US and whose lives are now at risk. The evacuation will begin in the last week of July for Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants already in the pipeline, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing.

Previously, the Biden administration said it was in talks with a number of countries to act as safe havens until the US can complete the long visa process, a clear sign the government is well aware of the looming threat posed by the Taliban.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Wednesday that the Defense Department “is considering options” where Afghan nationals and their families could potentially go.

“We’re still examining possibilities for overseas locations to include some departmental installations that would be capable of supporting planned relocation efforts with appropriate temporary residences and supporting infrastructure,” Kirby said.

Pardis left behind a 9-year-old daughter whose future is now uncertain. She’s being cared for by his brother, Najibulla Sahak said they had to leave their home in Kabul for their safety, fearing they would be targeted next.

Speaking from his brother’s gravesite, on a barren hillside among rocks, tumbleweeds, and flags, Sahak said they are not safe.

“I’m so worried about the safety of my family. There’s not much work in this country, and the security situation is very bad,” he said.

The translators and those interviewed in the story agreed to be named because they believe their identities are already known to the Taliban and are actively being hunted. They feel international exposure is their last and only option to avoid being killed.

After 16 months working for the US, Pardis was terminated in 2012 after failing a routine polygraph, or lie detector, test. He was looking for a way out of Afghanistan but didn’t qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa because of his termination, his friend Ayoubi said.

The translators said polygraph tests were usually used for security clearance to access US bases in Afghanistan. They were also used as part of the screening process to apply for the visa, they said. Pardis was never told why he failed the polygraph.

The screenings were conducted by a contracted company, the translators said, and they took issue with some of the questions posed and believed them to not be reliable.

Reporters reached out to the US Department of Defense which directed questions about the use of polygraphs and visa process to the State Department.

There are hundreds of Afghan translators who had their contracts terminated for what they say was as unjust cause. And while the US government said it won’t be reviewing those cases, the translators spoke to fear if they stay in Afghanistan they will suffer the same fate as Pardis.

Abdul Rashid Shirzad is one of them. He served for five years as a linguist working alongside America’s military elite, translating for US Special Forces.

He showed reporters photographs of his time on missions in the Kejran Valley in Uruzgan province working with the US Navy’s SEAL Team 10. But according to Shirzad, his service has now amounted to a death sentence. The US government rejected his Special Immigrant Visa, and he said that’s made him a target for the Taliban.

“If they catch me they’re going to kill me, kill my kids and my wife too. It’s payback time for them you know,” he said.

The father of three said his contract with the US military was terminated in 2014 after he also failed a polygraph test. He had applied for his visa the year before.

But Shirzad’s letters of recommendation from SEAL commanders, seen by reporters, reflect a translator who went above and beyond duty. They describe him as a “valuable and necessary asset” who “braved enemy fire” and “undoubtedly saved the lives of Americans and Afghans alike.”

Shirzad said he was excited to work with the Americans, and became a lead liaison between US and Afghan Special Forces. One recommendation letter for the visa, from a US commander, described how Shirzad took part in 63 “high-risk direct action combat missions” and was “vital” to the success of his team’s operations. It detailed how he helped the recovery of a team member who was caught in a blast and left with life threatening injuries.

Shirzad said he has no idea what he did wrong and never received an explanation for his termination. His visa rejection letter from the US Embassy stated “lack of faithful and valuable service.”

“If we had peace in Afghanistan, if I had not served the US military, if the Taliban were not after me, I would never leave my country,” he said.

Shirzad cannot go back to his home province and moves locations with his family every month.

Cuddling their youngest child, his wife said they are terrified of being caught by the Taliban.

“We are very scared. My husband and children’s future are in danger,” she said. “My husband was working with them and he put his life in danger and now I want Americans to save my husband from danger.”

A US Embassy spokesperson in Kabul said they were “actively working on every possible contingency to make sure that we can help those who have helped us.”

“We have long said we are committed to supporting those who have helped US military and other government personnel perform their duties, often at great personal risk to themselves and their families,” the spokesperson said.

“To be clear, our embassy in Kabul will continue to operate after our forces draw down. SIV processing will continue, including for those individuals who remain in Afghanistan, and we will continue to surge resources to process applications to the fullest extent possible.”

The vetting process for visas is lengthy and complex, and every applicant is assessed on whether they pose a risk to US national security, according to the SIV Program Quarterly report. There are also numerous reasons why visa applications are rejected, including those who don’t qualify due to the nature of their employment or not having enough time in the job.

The US Embassy spokesperson said visa records are confidential under US law, therefore, they could not discuss the details of individual visa cases. All visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, they said.

On July 8, US President Joe Biden pledged to evacuate Afghan interpreters and their families who have worked alongside American troops in Afghanistan.

“Our message to those women and men is clear: There is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose and we will stand with you, just as you stood with us,” Biden said.

But Afghans who have been rejected say they feel America has abandoned them.

Pardis’ friend and co-worker Ayoubi said he also failed a polygraph test and was terminated despite being awarded a medal for helping to save an American sergeant who stepped on a bomb. Like Shirzad, he feels he was unfairly let go and said his chance to move his family to safety has been dashed.

“I thought we would have a beautiful Afghanistan. We never thought of this situation like now,” he said.

“We kindly request President Biden to save us. We helped you and you have to help us.”

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US and Germany reach deal on controversial pipeline that Biden sees as a Russian ‘geopolitical project’

US and Germany reach deal on controversial Pipeline that Biden sees as a “malign influence project” that Russia could use to gain leverage over European allies.

“While we remain opposed to the pipeline, we reached the judgment that sanctions would not stop its construction and risked undermining a critical alliance with Germany, as well as with the EU and other European allies,” a senior State Department official.

The announcement is unlikely to end bitter divides over the pipeline, with US lawmakers condemning the agreement, Ukrainian officials immediately weighing in to say they are lodging diplomatic protests and even the US acknowledging their opposition to the project remains firm.

“I would just say emphatically that we still oppose Nord Stream 2, we still believe it’s a Russian geopolitical malign influence project, none of that has changed,” the senior official said.

In an attempt to prevent Russia from using the pipeline to increase European dependence on its energy supplies, Germany has agreed to take a series of measures meant to mitigate the risks to European energy security, to Ukraine, and to European Union and NATO countries close to Russian borders. In the past, Russia has cut off energy supplies to other countries, including Ukraine.

“Germany has really committed to taking swift action,” the senior official said in a call with reporters. “There are a number of tools that Germany and the EU have at their disposal to push back against Russian aggression or malign activities.”

‘Differences’

“We may have differences over Nord Stream 2, but we are united in pushing back against Russian aggression,” the senior official said.

The pipeline, which was more than 90% complete when the Biden administration took office and would carry gas from Russian fields to Germany via the Baltic Sea, has generated bipartisan anger and opposition in Congress, where some lawmakers have charged that the US strong-armed Ukraine into accepting the arrangement.

“We don’t threaten our partners,” the senior State Department official said, adding that the administration engaged Ukraine on deliberations with Germany, and expects to work trilaterally with Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials immediately registered their disappointment and disapproval, with the country’s foreign minister taking to Twitter.

“Under art. 274 of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, Ukraine is officially initiating consultations with EU Commission & Germany on NS2, which threatens Ukraine’s security, violates the diversification principle of the EU Energy Union,” Dmytro Kuleba wrote. “Notes to Brussels & Berlin already sent.”

Lawmakers made their unhappiness clear as well. The leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Jim Risch, said in a statement that “not a single member of Congress supports the completion of this pipeline.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the New Hampshire Democrat who has co-authored legislation to halt construction of Nord Stream 2, said the pipeline would empower Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

“Germany is a critical U.S. ally and I welcome steps by the administration to try to negotiate a diplomatic path forward and consult with our European allies to mitigate the impact of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project,” Shaheen said in a statement. “However, I am not yet convinced that this agreement — or any bilateral agreement — can sufficiently provide assurances to our European allies and minimize the considerable economic impact and security implications of this pipeline’s completion.

I’ve long contended that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should not be completed because it empowers the Kremlin to spread its malign influence throughout Eastern Europe, threatens the economic security of our European partners and puts our global stability at risk. I continue to believe that.”

The senior official said that the pipeline is at this point more about 95% complete, but would not say when it may become operational, whether the Biden administration would lift existing sanctions or its threat to drop the sanctions waiver it issued in May for the company building the pipeline and its German CEO.

The senior State Department official repeatedly pointed out that the Trump administration chose to levy only two sanctions against the pipeline, and that it waited until its very last day in office to do so. The Biden administration has applied 19 sanctions to entities and vessels related to the pipeline.

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Biden has just a few weeks left to make key decisions that will shape the future of Afghanistan

With the Taliban advancing across rural parts of Afghanistan, and criticism mounting over what some view as an overly hasty departure, the Biden administration is staring down a few short weeks to make a handful of critical decisions it’s put off until the last minute.

How will it safely evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families? What policy will it implement on drone strikes? How will it secure the largest civilian airport in Kabul? And, perhaps most importantly, what will it do with the hundreds of American contractors in the country who service and maintain complex, expensive military equipment the Afghans need to fight the Taliban?

The answers to those questions will essentially determine the kind of relationship the US has with Afghanistan, and by extension the likely fate of the country for the foreseeable future.

President Joe Biden didn’t want to address any of these questions last Friday, growing visibly frustrated when asked by reporters. But he won’t be able to avoid the issue this week. Biden meets with his national security team Thursday ahead of a speech he’ll deliver in the afternoon in which he will detail his plans for US assistance to Afghanistan going forward.

“The war appears to be forcing the administration to make some quick decisions,” said Seth Jones, director of the International Threat Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan.

Although the Biden administration has stressed that it will maintain its commitment to Afghanistan through diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian support, Jones said, “The Afghans haven’t gotten the message. They see essentially abandonment. That has a lot of consequences if we see fragmentation [of Afghan security forces].”

“If we see that fracturing, they’re not going to care about US financial assistance. They’re not going to care about over-the-horizon support,” he added, using the military’s term for support from outside the country.

Disjointed messaging

The orange-red radar dish near Bagram Air Base’s two-mile runway was still spinning four days after the final US flight took off in the early morning light last Friday, one of the few signs of activity at the sprawling complex that was the heart of the American military presence in Afghanistan for two decades. Empty white pickup trucks sat next to abandoned white buses, a ghost fleet to match this newly deserted ghost town.

The speed of the US withdrawal from Bagram caught many by surprise, including even the Afghan military. One senior Afghan officer told CNN that he was given less than 24 hours to secure the perimeter of the massive compound before the last Americans left.

The Biden administration said last week it would take up to two additional months to withdraw the last few remaining troops from Afghanistan. Pentagon officials denied there was any slowdown, but multiple officials told CNN the complete drawdown had been expected to be completed by mid-July, a faster timetable than what now seems planned.

This week, Gen. Scott Miller visited Brussels to update NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the withdrawal of US forces. But several US officials have indicated their frustration to CNN with Miller in the final steps of the drawdown, which led to some disjointed messaging on the departure from Bagram and may have damaged US relations with the Afghans.

The way that the handover of Bagram Air Base went down appears to have been very poorly coordinated and that reality and perception is not helpful to American interests. It’s almost a microcosm of what we’ve seen more broadly, and that is poor planning,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

“The truth is that their success is our success,” Bowman told CNN. “We want and need them to be successful for our national security interests.”

The fight is now largely in the hands of the Afghan military, even as it rapidly loses ground to the Taliban, which has advanced with a narrative of inevitable victory, announcing its successes on Twitter as it pushes toward multiple district capitals.

The Taliban has already taken more than 100 districts in Afghanistan, including in the north and northeast, but has yet to launch attacks on major cities. The Afghan military has retaken some districts, but the ongoing fighting speaks to a country that is and will remain the site of ferocious battles for territorial control.

Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann said it remains to be seen whether popular militias join the fight against the Taliban, but “there’s no real reason why the Afghan army should lose those battles.”

“They have the forces, they have the equipment, so it’s a question of Afghan morale and leadership,” Neumann said.

Contractors

There’s also the question of expertise when it comes to the Afghan forces being able to use all the equipment left by the US.

For 20 years, America’s troops fought al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while its contractors trained the Afghan military and maintained its equipment.

A few hundred US contractors remain in Afghanistan, largely to support and maintain the Afghan Air Force’s fleet of Black Hawk helicopters. The powerful but complex helicopters rely on contractor support, without which the entire fleet could be grounded within months.

The Doha Agreement, signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban in February 2020, called for the removal of these contractors, not just the troops. Even as the Biden administration, criticized the agreement, it stuck by the terms of the withdrawal, shifting only the deadline for its completion.

“The decision to withdraw all contractors at the same time you’re withdrawing all troops was not the right decision,” said Lisa Curtis, director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, “but the administration recognizes that now and the Pentagon has been looking for a way to maintain some contractors to help with repairs and maintenance and assist with air missions.”

Curtis, who was the National Security Council director for South and Central Asia from 2017 to 2021, said it’s her understanding that the administration aims to keep “about 200 contractors to perform maintenance and repair for the US Black Hawks.”

The US has consistently advocated for an end to the fighting and a peaceful resolution between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but that possibility seems more remote by the day, as negotiations in Doha between the two sides appear at a standstill.

Final Conclusion

About 1,000 Afghan soldiers fled to neighboring Tajikistan earlier this week as the Taliban gained ground. Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their homes in several parts of the country and sought refuge in major cities, and the US is still working on plans to relocate 18,000 Afghan interpreters and translators, along with their families, many of whom fear for their lives of Taliban retribution.

Biden made a key commitment to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani late last month to support Afghan forces with strikes against the Taliban, officials told CNN, but it’s unclear if or how often the US will carry out such strikes after the withdrawal is complete. Defense officials were also skeptical the strikes could stem Taliban advances, though they could give a short-term boost of much-needed morale to the Afghan military.

Meanwhile, the US is still developing the framework for much of the defense support and logistics work, as well as the counterterrorism operations, which will have to be carried out from outside of Afghanistan.

The UAE has emerged as one part of that plan, according to two sources, where contractors will provide maintenance and logistics support to at least some of the Afghan Air Force’s fleet of helicopters.

“We’re still working out what that contract supports going to look like,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday. “We are actively working ways in which that contract support can be done remotely or virtually or even physically outside the country.”

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San Antonio, Texas Shooting: A man was fatally shot by Texas police after he allegedly fired at family members and a TV news crew

The man, who authorities have not yet named, was digging through debris from a house fire in San Antonio when a news crew arrived to report on the blaze, according to the affiliate.

The suspect was described as a man in his 20s and a nephew of person whose house burned down, MB reported.

As the news crew interviewed family members about the house fire, the man emerged with two handguns and allegedly fired at them multiple times, according to San Antonio Police Chief William McManus.

The team from KSAT ran from the scene and family members tried to flee in an SUV while the man fled to another home with “a number of people” inside, who were known to the suspect, McManus said.

Officers were able to get the people out of the house and the man went behind the residence and began moving between two sheds, according to the chief.

Police locked the man out of the house at that point, and when he saw officers at the screen door, he began shooting at them, McManus said.

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“We did not intend to engage the individual, this was a plan to keep him locked out of the house to make it easier for us to apprehend him, but he saw the officers at the door and started shooting at them through the door,” the chief told reporters.

“Five officers returned fire and he is deceased in the backyard right now,” he said.

The officers involved in Monday’s fatal shooting have between five and 18 years with the department, and they will all be placed on administrative duty until the district attorney reviews the case, McManus told reporters.

San Antonio firefighters have labeled the house fire as suspicious, according to MB.

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A Boeing 737 cargo plane makes emergency landing in the water near Honolulu after pilots reported engine trouble

The pilots early Friday morning told air traffic controllers one of their engines had failed moments before the flight went down, the FAA said in a statement.

“The pilots had reported engine trouble and were attempting to return to Honolulu when they were forced to land the aircraft in the water,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement, adding both crew members were rescued. “The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.”

The plane, a Boeing 737, had taken off from Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport at 1:33 a.m., according to Flightradar 24. The flight-tracking website shows that shortly after it took off, the plane — referred to by the FAA’s statement as Transair flight 810 — began turning right and then signaled it was diverting to a nearby airport, Kalaeloa Airport. 

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One survivor who was seen on the tail of the aircraft was carried out of the water by the rescue helicopter and airlifted to a Honolulu hospital, while the other was rescued by officials from the Airport Rescue Fire Fighters based at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

The pilots reported they could not maintain airspeed and altitude following the failure of one of two engines on the Boeing 737-200, according to the recordings, and that they suspected the second engine would also fail.

“We’ve lost number one engine and we’re coming straight to the airport,” a crew member said, requesting that air traffic controllers begin dispatching the airport fire department. “We’re going to lose the other engine, too. It’s running very hot.”

The plane went down approximately two nautical miles south of Kalaeloa, Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West of the US Coast Guard District 14 Hawaii Pacific said.

Both crew members were brought to Queens Medical Center, West said, though he did not have information about their conditions.

“The weather on scene at the time of the rescue was winds of 17 mph and seas up to 5 feet,” the spokesman said in a subsequent news release.

According to the company website, Transair uses their Boeing 737 fleet to provide air cargo and charter services throughout Hawaii. The company has been in business since 1982.

“We are working with the Coast Guard, the FAA and NTSB to secure the scene and investigate the cause,” Riahi said. “Our most immediate concern is the care and recovery of our colleagues.”

FAA records show the plane was manufactured in 1975. It’s last airworthiness certificate was issued in 2015 and was set to expire in 2024.

A Boeing spokesperson said the company was “aware of the reports out of Honolulu, Hawaii and are closely monitoring the situation.”

“We are in contact with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and are working to gather more information.”

The NTSB initially said they will be sending a team of seven investigators to look into the incident, but the agency later said it would send ten.

it responded to a report of a downed plane south of the island of Oahu at around 1:40 a.m. and that both people on board were rescued, with help from the Honolulu Fire Department.

Transair, a Hawaiian cargo carrier, which specializes in flying freight between the islands, didn’t immediately return a request for comment. The airline has been operating since 1982, according to its website.

We are proud of our unblemished record in providing the longest running All Cargo operation in the State of Hawaii,” says a message on Transair’s website.

The plane was a 737-200, part of the first generation of 737s developed in the 1960s.