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Archive for Afghanistan

Newsline: Afghans jostling for Pakistan’s visas sparks stampede killing 15

At least 15 people were killed in stampede among thousands of Afghans gathered near Pakistan’s consulate on Tuesday as jostling broke out between people applying for visas, officials in the eastern city of Jalalabad said. An estimated 3,000 Afghans had congregated on the open ground, usually used for sports or pubic gatherings, outside the consulate, waiting to collect tokens needed to apply for a visa. An Afghan news channel transmitted images of them holding passports aloft to secure a token. Images taken after the stampede showed scores of passports strewn across the ground. “The visa applicants jostled to secure their token from the consulate officials…the crowd got out of control, leading to a stampede,” said an Afghan official. (https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2760J0) A survivor described to Reuters how tempers frayed and the crowd became unruly in the lead up to the stampede. “I stood in the queue all night but at some point people got angry and started pushing, many of us fell on the ground,” said Farmanullah, who goes by a single name. Eleven of the 15 victims were women, and several senior citizens were among more than a dozen injured, Sohrab Qaderi, a provincial council member, said. Tens of thousands of Afghans every year travel to neighbouring Pakistan to secure medical treatment, education and jobs. The two countries share a nearly 2,600-kilometre border. The Pakistan embassy in Kabul issued a statement expressing “deep grief and sadness”, and officials said Afghan authorities had been responsible for marshalling the crowd on the sports ground.

Newsline: US Embassy in Kabul paid $8.4 million for meals it didn’t need

Poor oversight led the State Department to pay almost $8.4 million for unneeded meals at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and other facilities in Afghanistan, a government watchdog agency said. An audit by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General found multiple deficiencies and insufficient monitoring of a contract awarded to the McLean, Va.-based DynCorp International. (https://www.stripes.com/news/us-embassy-in-kabul-paid-8-4-million-for-meals-it-didn-t-need-ig-audit-finds-1.646916) Because of poor record keeping, the U.S. can’t recover the $8.4 million paid for the meals and can’t be sure DynCorp followed the terms of its contract, the IG said. The State Department has paid DynCorp about $353 million since 2015 to provide food, security, and medical and other services. The contract required DynCorp to provide three meals a day, seven days a week, at a rate of about $21 each to cafeterias at the U.S. Embassy and other consular facilities, the audit said. DynCorp receives a fixed amount to provide about 2.9 million meals each year. But the actual number of meals served has dropped for several years as Embassy staff levels have steadily decreased.

Newsline: Sewage from US Embassy dumped into Kabul River

Raw sewage pours into the fetid waters of Kabul River each day, including some of what comes from the U.S. Embassy and the military headquarters for Resolute Support NATO. The only public facility in Kabul for sewage treatment hasn’t worked for almost two years because of poor maintenance, leading to untreated wastewater being dumped into the river and endangering the health of thousands of families, Afghan officials said. (https://www.stripes.com/news/sewage-from-us-embassy-nato-headquarters-dumped-into-kabul-river-due-to-aging-infrastructure-1.644860) At least 21,000 gallons of raw sewage from portable toilets at the U.S. Embassy are unloaded each month at the aging Makroyan Waste Water Treatment Plant, which pipes the untreated sewage into the river, according to Afghan officials and a representative for the contractor Oryx-Afghanistan, who handles waste for the compound.

Newsline: Trump announces new US ambassador to Afghanistan

President Trump announced his intent to nominate a new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, looking to fill a role left empty since the previous ambassador stepped down in January. The president said he intends to nominate William Ruger, a Naval reserve officer and think-tank senior researcher to represent America in Afghanistan. (https://thehill.com/policy/defense/515914-trump-announces-new-us-ambassador-to-afghanistan) Ruger is a veteran of the U.S. war in Afghanistan who now serves as the vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute. He is also vice president for foreign policy at the philanthropic organization Stand Together, also founded by Charles Koch. He has held academic positions at Texas State University and the University of Texas at Austin.

Newsline: US Embassy in Kabul battling COVID-19 infections

The U.S. State Department says COVID-19 infections have been reported at its embassy in the Afghan capital and the staff who are affected include diplomats, contractors and locally employed staff. The State Department did not say how many were affected. An official at the embassy in Kabul, who could not be identified because of not being authorized to talk to the media, said as many as 20 people were infected, the majority of whom are Nepalese Gurkhas, who provide embassy security. “The embassy is implementing all appropriate measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the U.S. State department said. (https://www.startribune.com/us-embassy-in-kabul-battling-covid-19-infections/571385871/) The infected staff are in isolation in the embassy while the remainder on the compound are being tested, said the embassy official, who also said the embassy staff have been told they can expect tighter isolation orders. Afghanistan has 28,424 confirmed coronavirus cases. International aid organizations monitoring the pandemic’s spread in the country say the numbers are much higher because of a lack of testing capabilities as well as access to testing.

Newsline: Iran Summons Afghan Envoy over Violation of Embassy

The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tehran over recent offensive moves against the Iranian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. The ambassador of Afghanistan to Tehran was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday morning to provide an explanation for a series of recent moves against Iranian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. In the Saturday meeting in Tehran, Director General of West Asia of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concern about the impact of the wrong measures by that small group on the neighborly relations between Iran and Afghanistan. (https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2020/06/13/2285294/iran-summons-afghan-envoy-over-violation-of-embassy) A few days ago, a group of demonstrators gathered outside the Iranian Embassy in Kabul in protest at what they called mistreatment of Afghan nationals by Iran’s security forces after three Afghan migrants were killed and a number of others injured when a vehicle of human traffickers crashed in Iran’s central province of Yazd.

Newsline: Ex-Royal Marine took his life at Canadian embassy in Kabul

A former Royal Marine who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) shot himself while working as a security officer in Afghanistan, an inquest has heard. The inquest was held via video-link because of the Covid-19 lockdown. (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/mar/31/ex-royal-marine-took-his-life-at-embassy-in-kabul-inquest) Stuart McBrearty, 39, from Aldershot, Hampshire, was found dead in the shower of his accommodation at the Canadian embassy in Kabul on 17 October last year. Hampshire coroner Jason Pegg said McBrearty had visited a psychiatrist, Dr David Oyewole, at the private Nightingale Hospital in London a month before his death and told him that, during his periods of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, he had a “number of horrific and frightening experiences”. The coroner said McBrearty had served with the Royal Marines before leaving in 2013 to become a close protection officer and at the time of his death was working at the Canadian embassy in Kabul for the Olive Group, part of the security firm Constellis. Pegg said a postmortem examination showed that McBrearty, who carried a pistol at all times, had suffered a gunshot wound. A toxicology report had showed McBrearty had been more than three times the drink-drive limit and also had therapeutic levels of diazepam, a drug used for depression and anxiety, in his system. The inquest was told the company had a zero-tolerance policy to alcohol but drink could be obtained in Kabul.

Newsline: Pakistan embassy in Kabul halts operation

Pakistan embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan closed its visa service Sunday after its diplomats were harassed there, official said. A statement issued by the embassy in Kabul said due to security reasons, the consular section will be closed Nov. 4 until further intimation. The foreign ministry of Pakistan also summoned the Afghan charge d’affaires in Islamabad and lodged protest for “harassment” of diplomatic personnel in Kabul and its sub-missions. (https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/pakistan-embassy-in-kabul-halts-operation/1634659) “The Afghan Cd’A was informed that the Officers and Staff of the Embassy of Pakistan were being harassed over the past two days. They were obstructed on the road and the Embassy vehicles were also hit by motorcycles while going towards the Embassy,” said Mohammad Faisal, spokesman for the foreign ministry.

Newsline: The Taliban’s Diplomatic Reemergence

In a fresh move to reinvigorate the “dead” peace talks, China announced it would host Taliban and Afghan delegates in a two-day meeting slated to begin on October 28 in Beijing. Although there was no official announcement from China, both Taliban and Afghan delegates confirmed they received invitation from Beijing. This will be the first such meeting since the abrupt ending of talks between U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Doha-based Taliban leadership last month. Separately, diplomats from the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan were scheduled to meet in Moscow on October 25 to discuss the Afghan peace process. (https://thediplomat.com/2019/10/the-talibans-diplomatic-reemergence/) Disregarding the Taliban’s past and present violence, support for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda or its dreadful human rights record, the group’s once reclusive militant leadership is gradually and rapidly strengthening and expanding their diplomatic outreach. Long before the launch of the Qatar peace talks in October 2018, the Taliban leadership received positive signals from regional countries as well as some European capitals. Such signals helped the group put forward a diplomatic front with a soft image alongside continuing its fighting across Afghanistan.

Newsline: Expensive airfares harm U.S. embassy operations in Afghanistan and Iraq

An airline set up to support U.S. embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq has begun charging such high fares that it is hampering some diplomatic operations, according to a report released by the State Department Inspector General. A 7-minute helicopter trip with Embassy Air in Afghanistan costs nearly $1,500, while a 1-hour plane journey in Iraq is priced at nearly $4,800, the report said. (https://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/report-expensive-airfares-harm-embassy-operations-in-afghanistan-and-iraq-1.600300) Tenuous security means embassy staff almost always have to travel within each country by air rather than road, and some bureaus have been unable to afford the prices on Embassy Air, said the report. The Embassy Air program was established in 2009 to support the diplomatic missions in Kabul and Baghdad. High ticket prices have forced some offices to use other means of transportation, such as military or commercial airlines, and have forced officials to cancel visits to government project sites, the IG found in an audit of the airline, which maintains fleets of several planes and about two dozen helicopters in the two countries. The $1,500 ticket price for a 7-minute helicopter trip from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to nearby Camp Alvarado near the airport represents a nearly 400% increase from the price four years ago, the audit found. A 1-hour flight from the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center to the southern Iraq city of Basra, where the U.S. has a consulate, is priced at nearly $4,800, a 770% increase, it said. The increases stem from a move by the board that oversees funding of the Embassy Air program to cover a larger share of operational costs through ticket sales instead of congressionally appropriated funds. But, as ticket prices rose, ridership fell, and the IG audit found that officials did not routinely adjust the frequency of flights or the number of aircraft to align with changing demand. As a result, the State Department “will continue to pay for significant costs associated with Embassy Air operations that are underused in addition to paying the costs associated with alternative modes of transportation,” the report said. For fiscal year 2019, the total cost of Embassy Air services was more than $320 million.