Afghanistan Wants Foreign Firms to Continue Maintaining Its Military Hardware

The head of Afghanistan’s armed forces said that in preparation for the withdrawal of foreign troops, his country was trying to sign up the companies currently working with United States and NATO forces to repair and maintain a significant portion of Afghan military and air force equipment. “We are working with Americans (to get contracts with) those companies — that’s companies, not the U.S. government or soldiers. And every company tries to make money. Therefore, they will join us and work, and if they don’t, we need to replace them,” General Mohammad Yasin Zia told VOA. Afghanistan’s military depends on thousands of foreign contractors to maintain high-tech equipment it has received over the years, and senior U.S. officials fear the Afghans lack the technical capability required to maintain it. President Joe Biden announced April 14 that the United States would withdraw all forces from Afghanistan under a deal signed by the administration of former President Donald Trump with the Taliban last year. FILE – Members of the Afghan Police clean their rifles during a weapons maintenance training session at Narizah base in Narizah, Khost Province, Aug. 12, 2012.While the Biden decision would miss the May 1 deadline for a complete pullout set in the Trump deal, Biden said the U.S. would start withdrawing its forces on that date and complete the pullout on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Foreigners serving in nonmilitary roles, such as nondiplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors and people involved in maintenance or training, would also have to leave Afghanistan. According to John Sopko, the U.S. inspector general monitoring spending in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army was carrying out only 20% of its own maintenance until December. Of the highest concern is the maintenance of aircraft that U.S. officials think cannot survive for long without this support. “No Afghan airframe can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months in the absence of contractor support,” Sopko told an audience at Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in March. Air support has often been the deciding factor during intense fighting between the Taliban and government forces. “A Taliban offensive on Kandahar City last October — as peace negotiations were ongoing — may well have succeeded were it not for U.S. air support,” Sopko said at CSIS. FILE – Marine General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, speaks with U.S. troops while visiting Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2019.General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr., the U.S. Central Command leader of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, told journalists the U.S. was looking for alternatives to help “Afghans and their maintenance effort from a distance.” Some of those alternatives could involve videoconferencing or other televised means of interaction. “We want them to be successful; that remains a very high priority,” he said. “So we will look at innovative ways to do that. We’re still working those out right now.” An Afghan maintenance crew is already using some of those communication tools to aid their work. “We already have with our contractors WhatsApp, and Messenger, and also VTC. We have to do it,” said Colonel Abdul Fatah, the head of Afghan air force maintenance group. Under questioning from journalists, McKenzie acknowledged that providing maintenance help is going to be a lot harder to do once the U.S. is out of the country. Fatah insisted that his maintenance crew of about 1,600 had the situation under control. “For now, we are able to do our inspection and maintain our aircraft, but the main problem is that we need logistic and spare part support,” he said. When questioned on the maintenance of some of the bigger or more high-tech aircraft, such as the C-130 cargo planes, Fatah confessed that his team needed outside help. FILE – A member of the ISAF Security Forces secures the perimeter of a USAF C-130 cargo plane in Jalalabad, Sept. 17, 2008.”Yes, but they promised us they will support us,” he said. Afghan efforts to hire foreign companies were only “exploratory in nature at this point,” according to a U.S. defense official who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity. “I’m not sure if the contractors, many of whom are American citizens, would like to stay here without U.S. military presence,” the official said. In anticipation of deteriorating security after May 1, several Western embassies, including the U.S., U.K., and Canada, have issued warnings to their citizens to avoid all travel to Afghanistan. The U.S. has also ordered all government employees who can perform their duties from elsewhere to leave the country. U.S. officials have publicly expressed concerns about an increase in Taliban attacks if efforts to reach a negotiated settlement fail. Ongoing peace talks between Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha have stalled, and the Taliban recently refused to attend a multinational conference in Turkey designed to aid the process. “If we withdraw and no deal was made with the Taliban, I think the government of Afghanistan is going to be in for a very stiff fight to retain possession” of towns and cities, McKenzie told the Los Angeles Times newspaper last month. 

Germany to Return Looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

German officials say they have reached an agreement with Nigeria to return some of the famed Benin Bronzes that were looted from Nigeria in the 19th century.About 500 of the plundered artifacts are on display in several German museums.The handoff is expected to take place next year under an agreement reached between Germany and Nigeria on Thursday.The return of the artifacts is “a turning point in our approach to colonial history,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.In 1897, British soldiers snatched thousands of exquisitely decorated bronze and brass plaques and sculptures created by guilds in the Kingdom of Benin in what is now Nigeria.  The objects have become known as the Benin Bronzes and are on display in museums around the world.The British Museum has more than 900 of the objects.  Germany’s agreement with Nigeria pertains only to the artifacts that are in Germany.

Blinken Heads to Ukraine After Russia Sends 150K Troops to Border

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Ukraine next week as Washington coordinates closely with Kyiv over Russia’s recent military buildup along Ukraine border.  
Blinken will travel to Ukraine on May 5-6, “where he will meet with President Zelensky, Foreign Minister Kuleba, other officials, and representatives of Ukrainian civil society to reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Friday.
The United States is keeping a close watch on Russia’s movement after Moscow announced last Thursday that it would begin withdrawing its troops from the border of Ukraine.   
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said this week it is too soon to tell and are taking at face value Russia’s claims they are pulling everybody back, while noting “some departure of some [Russia] forces away from Ukraine.”US Keeping Wary Eye on Russian Troops Near UkrainePentagon says too soon to know if the threat from Moscow’s largest military buildup since it seized Crimea in 2014 is truly over Senior American and European Union officials had said roughly 150,000 Russian troops massed along the border of Ukraine and in Crimea, more troops in the area than seven years ago when Russia invaded and seized Crimea in 2014.  
The U.S. has reaffirmed its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrities, urging the Russian Government to immediately cease all aggressive activity in and around Ukraine.
Blinken’s trip to Ukraine would be his first as the U.S. secretary of state. In Kyiv, he “will also encourage continued progress on Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action, which is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic future,” said Price in the Friday statement.
Prior to traveling to Ukraine, the chief U.S. diplomat will attend a G-7 foreign ministers meeting in London from May 3-5, which is the first in-person such gathering in two years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.  
“The United States will discuss how we can work with other countries to address the key geopolitical issues we face as we build back better from this pandemic,” said the State Department spokesman. “Tackling the COVID-19 and climate crises will feature prominently on the agenda, as will advancing economic growth, human rights, food security, gender equality, and women’s and girls’ empowerment.”
While in Britain, Blinken will also meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Raab “to discuss shared U.S.-U.K. priorities.”
In addition to G-7 countries, officials from Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea, and Brunei, in its capacity as Chair of ASEAN, will join the G-7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ meeting as guests. Price said, “these meetings will lay the groundwork for the 46th Leaders’ Summit in Cornwall in June.”VOA’s Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

US Agency Reports ‘Insider Attacks’ on Afghan Forces Increased by 82%

A new quarterly U.S. report has documented a staggering 82% increase in “insider attacks” on Afghan government security forces in the first quarter of 2021, resulting in 115 personnel killed and 39 wounded.The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported Thursday to the U.S. Congress that overall Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) casualties also were substantially higher than during the same period last year.SIGAR is not allowed to include full ANDSF casualty data because U.S. forces in Afghanistan keep it classified at the request of the Afghan government.The report noted that ANDSF suffered a total of 31 insider attacks from Jan. 1 through April 1, and the number of casualties they caused were more than double compared to the same period in 2020.Taliban insurgents posing as Afghan police or military personnel are behind most of these insider attacks.SIGAR submitted its quarterly report as 2,500 or so U.S. troops are preparing to begin pulling out of Afghanistan beginning Saturday. The military drawdown is to end by Sept. 11 and intends to conclude America’s longest war.Nearly 17,000 U.S. Defense Department contractor personnel supporting the agency’s Afghan operations also will move out of the country along with the American troops. This includes 6,147 U.S. citizens, 6,399 third-country nationals, and 4,286 Afghan nationals, according to SIGAR.The agency noted it is unclear who, if anyone, will replace contractor personnel or perform their work after their withdrawal.“Without continued contractor support, none of the Afghan Air Force’s (AFF) airframes can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months, depending on the stock of equipment parts in-country, the maintenance capability on each airframe, and when contractor support is withdrawn,” SIGAR said, citing U.S. military assessments.The quarterly report explained that DOD contractors provide for and maintain ANDSF ground vehicles and train local technicians. Although the ANDSF has “dramatically improved its share of the work, it is still falling well below benchmarks for its share of the maintenance work orders they — rather than contractors — are supposed to perform.”The withdrawal of American and NATO forces stems from a year-old agreement Washington negotiated with the Taliban, raising expectations at the time it also would encourage the insurgents and the Afghan government to agree on a power-sharing political deal to end the war.But talks between the Afghan adversaries, which started last September, have failed to produce the desired outcome; rather, they have remained largely deadlocked, raising fears the conflict could intensify and cause more bloodshed once all foreign troops depart.American military commanders have in recent statements admitted Afghan security forces “will certainly collapse” in the face of increased Taliban assaults if the U.S. is to stop all assistance.The Afghan war, which started with the October 2001 U.S.-led international military invasion of the country, is said to have killed an estimated 241,000 people to date.This includes at least 71,344 civilians; 2,442 American service members; 78,314 Afghan military and police; and 84,191 insurgents, said a private U.S. study released earlier this month.

Кабмін заборонив в’їзд в Україну з Індії іноземців з 2 травня

Дозволено в’їзд з Індії українцям, а також іноземцям, які постійно проживають на території України, або перебувають у шлюбі з громадянами України

Biden to Help Amtrak Mark 50 Years on the Rails

President Joe Biden, once a regular Amtrak rider, is set on Friday to help the nation’s passenger rail system celebrate 50 years of service.As a U.S. senator, Biden was a fixture on Amtrak trains between his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., when the Senate was in session. He continued riding Amtrak as vice president. He has sometimes been referred to as “Amtrak Joe.”But with a presidential train trip unlikely because of security concerns, Biden instead will fly to Philadelphia for Amtrak’s celebration at its busy 30th Street Station. He is to be introduced by a conductor who worked the route when Biden was a regular passenger, while the next generation of Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train, scheduled to enter service next year, will be on display.“He knew just about everybody that worked in the station and the conductors and other people and Amtrak folks who were on the train for those many, many years that he rode the rail,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said of the president.“He regularly engaged with them and knew quite a bit about them, and I think that’s why he was anxious or willing to be part of our 50th anniversary,” Flynn said.Biden’s appearance in Philadelphia, his third visit to Pennsylvania while in office, comes as he marks his first 100 days as president. It also follows his speech to Congress on Wednesday, when he outlined his $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan and previewed some $1.8 trillion in proposed spending on education, childcare and other family needs.The Amtrak party will be Biden’s latest stop in a post-speech tour to sell the infrastructure, jobs and families plans. He campaigned in Atlanta on Thursday and plans a stop in Yorktown, Virginia, on Monday.Joe Biden, then a US Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to supporters after arriving on an Amtrak train for a campaign stop in Alliance, Ohio, Sept. 30, 2020.The infrastructure proposal would devote $621 billion to improving roads, bridges, public transit and other transportation infrastructure. Of that, $80 billion would go toward tackling Amtrak’s repair backlog, improving service along the Northeast Corridor and expanding service across the U.S.Amtrak said after Biden announced the plan that the corporation would upgrade and expand service, including by adding 30 new routes and adding trains on 20 existing routes across the U.S. by 2035. New service would begin in portions of northeast Pennsylvania including Scranton, where Biden was born, as well as Nashville, Tennessee; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; Las Vegas; Houston; Dallas; and Austin, Texas, if approved by Congress.But while the $80 billion represents a significant investment, the money would not go far in terms of funding high-speed rail. Amtrak has estimated that it has a $31 billion repair backlog for its trains in the Northeast Corridor alone, and transportation analysts say adding new lines in that region could easily use up the funds that remain.A Senate Republican counteroffer to Biden’s plan, totaling $568 billion, would devote a much slimmer $20 billion to U.S. rail service.Amtrak was formed after President Richard Nixon signed the Rail Passenger Service Act in 1970.Biden’s lifelong association with Amtrak began soon after rail service began in May 1971.His first wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident in Delaware, weeks after he was elected to the Senate. His young sons, Beau and Hunter, were seriously injured.Biden considered not taking his Senate seat but ultimately took office. He then decided to return home every night from Washington to be with his sons — and Amtrak was the vehicle. He made the round trip every day the Senate was in session, for the 36 years he held the seat, through his remarriage to current wife, Jill, and the birth of their daughter, Ashley.He also rode the train when he was President Barack Obama’s vice president. After he and Obama were elected, they rode an Amtrak train together into Washington for the inauguration.Biden also rode Amtrak at points during the 2020 campaign. He had wanted to recreate the 2009 train ride for his own inauguration in January, but those plans were shelved after the insurrection at the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.When he returned to Delaware after the Obama administration ended, Biden estimated to CNN that he had taken more than 8,200 round trips and had traveled more than 3.2 million kilometers on Amtrak.Amtrak renamed its Wilmington, Delaware, train station after Biden in 2011.

In France, Chauvin Conviction Has Not Brought Comfort

The trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin made headline news in France. But much of the reporting about the trial, and its underlying themes of police violence and racism, largely zoomed in on the United States.“I think it’s viewed as an American problem with some resonance in France,” said Steven Ekovich, a U.S. politics and foreign policy professor at the American University of Paris.American University of Paris professor Steven Ekovich says the French viewed the Derek Cauvin trial in the death of George Floyd as an American problem, but with some resonance in France. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)”It also feeds into a certain strain of French anti-Americanism, on the left and on the right, so that the French can moralize about the United States, and its difficulties and its flaws,” he said.That wasn’t the case last year, when George Floyd’s death caused many French to look inward. They joined spreading global protests for police accountability. Traore deathAlong with Floyd, many chanted the name of Frenchman Adama Traore, 24, whose family said he died under circumstances similar to Floyd’s, although that claim is disputed. The Black American’s death opened a broader spigot here of soul-searching about France’s colonial past and continuing injustices today.French authorities vowed zero tolerance of police racism and brutality and pledged to ban a controversial police chokehold. President Emmanuel Macron called racial profiling “unbearable.”Police representatives deny systemic racism. They say police are overworked and underappreciated as they tackle violence in tough neighborhoods, and they sometimes become targets of terrorism.David-Olivier Reverdy of the National Police Alliance union said the country’s police aren’t racist. To the contrary, he said, they’re Republican and diverse, from all ethnic origins and religions. There may be some problematic individuals, he added, but the force itself isn’t racist.Critics argue otherwise. A 2017 report by an independent citizens rights group found young Black or Arab-looking men here are five times more likely to be stopped for police identity checks than the rest of the population. Four Paris police officers were suspended last November after TV footage showed them punching a Black music producer. In January, six nongovernmental groups announced the country’s first class-action lawsuit on alleged racial profiling by police.’Struggling’ for a decade“We’ve been struggling with the state for 10 years,” said Slim Ben Achour, one of the lawyers representing the groups in the case.“The French Supreme Court convicted the state in November 2016 for discrimination, and after that we could have expected from the state … which should respect the rule of law — to do police reform. They have done nothing,” he said.Allegations of police violence and racism are an old story in France. In 2005, the deaths of two youngsters fleeing police sparked rioting in the banlieues — code word for the multicultural, working-class suburbs ringing cities here. Activists point to bigger, long-standing inequalities going far beyond policing.Some aren’t waiting for change from above. In the Paris suburb of Bobigny, youth group Nouvel Elan 93 is mentoring youngsters, helping them with schoolwork and giving them alternatives to hanging in the streets.Aboubacar N’diaye, left, helped launch a youth group in the Paris suburb of Bobigny. He says police profiling is something that could happen to him. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)One of Nouvel Elan’s founders, Aboubacar N’Diaye, said the group is trying to push youngsters to the maximum of their potential. They’re talented, he said, in sports, music, theater — everything.N’Diaye said Floyd’s death has resonated in this community and that it could happen to Blacks here like him. There’s a close relationship, he added, in the protests for Floyd and Traore.He and other activists said it would take time for the lessons from Floyd’s death — and France’s colorblind creed of liberty, equality and fraternity —to take hold.

In France, Derek Chauvin Verdict Brings No Comfort  

Reports of police violence and racial injustice resonate especially strongly in France, with its large population of ethnic Africans and Arabs. Yet cautious optimism by some in the United States and elsewhere that the guilty verdict in American former police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial might trigger societal change is less shared in France. From the Paris suburb of Bobigny, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA.   Camera:   Lisa Bryant, Agencies  

US Wants to Help India Produce Oxygen Fast

The United States, which has sent emergency aid to India, wants to quickly help the country increase its oxygen capacity to treat patients suffering from COVID-19, a U.S. official said Thursday.A first military plane loaded with equipment, including nearly 1 million rapid screening tests and 100,000 N95 masks, arrived early Friday in New Delhi. The shipment is part of a more than $100 million support plan, according to the White House.The priority “is to try to meet some of their immediate needs to deal with the serious challenges they face in their hospitals,” said Jeremy Konyndyk of the U.S. Agency for International Development.”We also need to help them address some of the underlying challenges, on the volume of oxygen the country can produce,” he told AFP.The United States is discussing with India how to develop its oxygen supply chain, including using technologies to convert industrial-grade oxygen into medical oxygen and improving its transport.Washington has also promised to help India by providing it with vaccines. But according to Konyndyk, for a country of more than a billion people facing skyrocketing cases, that is more of a medium-term measure.”Right now, there just aren’t enough vaccines in the world and not the ability to deliver them quickly enough to control this kind of outbreak,” he said.The United States announced Monday that it will provide other countries with 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not authorized for use in the U.S.Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is sending equipment to India to produce more than 20 million doses of Covishield, a cheaper version of the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in India.Biden has been criticized by those who believe he should have shared vaccine doses with the rest of the world more quickly.