Taliban fighters captured the major city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan on Saturday, sending Afghan forces fleeing, and drew closer to Kabul as Western countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens from the capital.
It was the latest important victory for the hardline militants, who have swept through the country in recent weeks as U.S.-led forces withdrew. Kabul and Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, are now the only big cities not in Taliban hands.
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Saturday he was authorizing the deployment of 5,000 troops to help evacuate citizens and ensure an “orderly and safe” drawdown of U.S. military personnel. A U.S. defence official said that included 1,000 newly approved troops from the 82nd Airborne Division.
Taliban fighters entered Mazar-i-Sharif virtually unopposed as security forces escaped up the highway to neighbouring Uzbekistan, about 80 km (50 miles) to the north, provincial officials said. Unverified video on social media showed Afghan army vehicles and men in uniforms crowding the iron bridge between the Afghan town of Hairatan and Uzbekistan.
Two influential militia leaders supporting the government – Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum – also fled. Noor said on social media that the Taliban had been handed control of Balkh province, where Mazar-I-Sharif is located, due to a “conspiracy.”
In a statement late on Saturday, the Taliban said its rapid gains showed it was popularly accepted by the Afghan people and reassured both Afghans and foreigners that they would be safe.
The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) “will, as always, protect their life, property and honor and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation,” it said, adding that diplomats and aid workers would also face no problems.
CAPITAL INCREASINGLY ENCIRCLED
As the capital looked increasingly isolated as a government stronghold, Afghans streamed into Kabul, fleeing the provinces and fearing a return to hardline Islamist rule .
Hundreds of people slept huddled in tents or in the open in the city, by roadsides or in car parks, a resident said. “You can see the fear in their faces,” he said.
Western governments were accelerating plans to evacuate their embassy staff, citizens and Afghans who had worked for them. American troops arrived in Kabul to protect the operation and keep control of the airport.
The British ambassador will leave the country by Sunday evening, UK media reported. The country, which was sending 600 troops, sped up the departure of Britons due to the rising risk that the Taliban would overrun the airport, the reports said.
Visa applications at embassies were running in the tens of thousands, officials said, and Washington was asking countries to temporarily house Afghans https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/desperation-us-scours-countries-willing-house-afghan-refugees-2021-08-13 who worked for the U.S. government.
CLOSING IN ON KABUL
Earlier the Taliban, facing little resistance, took Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province and 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul, according to a local provincial council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Police officials however denied reports that the Taliban had advanced closer to Kabul from Pul-e-Alam, which is a staging post for a potential assault on the capital.
Kandahar, the biggest city in the south and the heartland of the Taliban, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/kandahar-southern-hub-key-control-afghanistan-2021-08-13 fell to the militants’ control on Friday as U.S.-led forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war launched after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Biden has faced rising domestic criticism as the Taliban have taken city after city far more quickly than predicted. The president has stuck to a plan, initiated by Republican former President Donald Trump, to end the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan by Aug. 31.
Biden said it is up to the Afghan military to hold its own territory. “An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” Biden said on Saturday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday held talks with local leaders and international partners, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Ghani and Blinken discussed urgent efforts to reduce violence in Afghanistan, the State Department said.
Qatar, which has been hosting so-far inconclusive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, said it had urged the insurgents to cease fire. Ghani has given no sign of responding to a Taliban demand that he resign as a condition for any ceasefire.
Hospitals were struggling to cope with the numbers of people wounded in the fighting, with 17,000 treated in July and the first week of August in facilities supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the aid agency said.
The explosion in fighting has raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights, especially for women. Canada said it would resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans #:~:text=REUTERS%2FStephane%20Mahe%20OTTAWA%2C%20Aug%2013%20%28Reuters%29%20-%20Canada,reprisals%2C%20Immigration%20Minister%20Marco%20Mendicino%20said%20on%20Friday including women leaders, human rights workers and reporters to protect them from Taliban reprisals.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington, Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Alasdair Pal, James Mackenzie and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by William Mallard, Philippa Fletcher, Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca
Surges in coronavirus cases in several U.S. states this week, along with staffing and equipment shortages, are exacting a mounting toll on hospitals and their workers even as the number of new admissions nationwide ebbs, leading to warnings at some facilities that care would be rationed.
Montana, Alaska, Ohio, Wisconsin and Kentucky experienced the biggest rises in new COVID-19 hospitalizations during the week ending Sept. 10 compared with the previous week, with Montana’s new hospitalizations rising by 26 per cent, according to the latest report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday.
In Alaska, the influx is so heavy that the state’s largest hospital is no longer able to provide life-saving care to every patient who needs it, according to an open letter from the medical executive committee of Providence Alaska Medical Center this week.
“If you or your loved one need specialty care at Providence, such as a cardiologist, trauma surgeon, or a neurosurgeon, we sadly may not have room now,” the letter read. “There are no more staffed beds left.”
Some hospital workers have become so overwhelmed by the fresh wave of COVID-19 cases — a year and half after the pandemic first reached the United States — that they have left for jobs at retailing and other non-medical fields, Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety the American Hospital Association, told Reuters.
At the same time, distribution and other issues are leaving some hospitals short of oxygen supplies desperately needed to help patients struggling to breathe, Foster said.
On Friday, the hospital association held a webinar for its members on how to conserve oxygen, an effort to address a 200 per cent jump in demand at many hospitals, she said.
“There is a shortage of drivers with the qualifications to transport oxygen, and a shortage of the tanks needed to transport it.”
While there are some breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, Foster said most of the hospitalizations were among the unvaccinated.
New hospital admissions are still surging in several mostly rural and Midwestern states, even as the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals daily in the entire United States slipped to about 10,685 on Tuesday after cresting around 13,028 in late August, according to the latest data from the CDC.
What’s happening across Canada
- Health authority, N.B. working to meet demand for COVID-19 tests amid surge in cases.
- Outbreaks are ‘a weird moment’ for P.E.I. Here’s one expert’s advice on how to cope.
- N.S. reports 18 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday.
What’s happening around the world
As of Friday afternoon, more than 227.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.6 million.
The British government announced a major simplification of its rules for international travel on Friday, heeding complaints from travellers and businesses that its regulations aimed at staving off the spread of COVID-19 were cumbersome and ineffective.
Testing requirements will be eased for fully vaccinated arrivals to England from open countries, who will no longer have to take a COVID-19 test before travelling. Travellers will still need a test after landing, but from the end of October an inexpensive lateral flow test will suffice, rather than a more sensitive — but pricier — polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The new rules apply to travellers from Canada.
In the Americas, an influential panel of expert outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted against approving COVID-19 booster shots for all Americans, but endorsing them for those 65 and over and for those at high risk of severe disease.
The decision marked a huge step back from the sweeping plan proposed by the Biden administration a month ago to offer booster shots of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to nearly all Americans eight months after they get their second dose.
In Asia, Cambodia is vaccinating children ages six to 11 so students can safely return to schools that have been closed for months due to the coronavirus. Prime Minister Hun Sen opened the campaign Friday, with his grandchildren and young family members of other senior officials getting their shots.
Cambodia already has been vaccinating older children, and Hun Sen says he ordered health officials to study if children ages three to five can be vaccinated. Nearly 72 per cent of Cambodia’s almost 17 million people have received at least one COVID-19 shot since vaccinations began in February.
India gave a record 22.6 million vaccinations on Friday, three times the average daily total during the past month. The health minister called the vaccine milestone a birthday gift for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who turned 71 and was criticized heavily for India’s dramatic rise in infections and deaths in April and May.
India’s previous vaccination peak of 14.1 million was reached on Aug. 31, with a daily average of seven million doses in the last 30 days.
'Trudeau is bad for Canada,' Singh says as Liberal leader asks progressives to unite – CBC.ca
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh launched his most pointed attack yet on his Liberal opponent today, saying Justin Trudeau is a failed leader who is “bad for Canada.”
Trudeau, meanwhile, dismissed the NDP as an unserious option, saying the NDP has presented a vague plan to spend $200 billion more over the next five years while offering few details.
“We think Mr. Trudeau is bad for Canada because he’s failed on the crises and made things worse, not better,” Singh said, condemning Trudeau for voting against non-binding NDP motions on pharmacare and long-term care homes.
Singh also pointed to higher greenhouse gas emissions and a tax system he said is skewed toward the “ultra rich.”
“He is bad for Canada. He was an abject failure,” Singh said of Trudeau.
WATCH: Singh says ‘Mr. Trudeau is bad for Canada’
With just three days left in the 44th general election, Singh and Trudeau are scrambling to shore up support among the progressive voters who could decide which party governs the country after Monday’s vote.
Trudeau wants a majority government. Singh, meanwhile, is trying to avoid a repeat of the last election — which saw NDP support crater, leading to a loss of 15 seats.
Trudeau said a vote for the NDP would amount to a vote for the Conservatives because vote-splitting could put Erin O’Toole in the Prime Minister’s Office. Singh said left-wing voters shouldn’t fall for Liberal pressure tactics.
“The Liberal Party is not only the only party that can stop the Conservatives, but we’re also the only party with a real plan to get things done,” Trudeau said, pointing to experts who have criticized the NDP’s climate plan as unrealistic.
“Progressives are quite rightly worried. I know there are a lot of people out there who are torn. You don’t have to make an impossible choice and vote strategically. You can actually vote for the party that is going to stop the Conservatives and move forward with the strongest plan to get things done.”
Trudeau prompted this election last month, saying the opposition parties have blocked the Liberal agenda by delaying government bills and disrupting the work of parliamentary committees.
WATCH: A roundup of where the leaders were on Day 34 of the campaign
Since the election call, Trudeau has been asked over and over to explain why he’s sending Canadians to the polls during the fourth wave of the pandemic. The CBC Poll Tracker suggests some Liberal supporters soured on Trudeau after the campaign launch — and the majority government the party wanted may now be out of reach.
When asked Friday how he’d handle another minority government, Trudeau said he’s asking voters to return as many Liberal MPs as possible to prevent that outcome.
Singh dodged questions today about the concessions he’d try to extract from the next government in exchange for NDP support on confidence motions.
Singh said he hasn’t given this much thought because he’s running to be prime minister. Polls suggest the NDP will be hard pressed to do better than third place, let alone form a government.
Asked today why his campaign has failed to catch on with more voters, Singh said the election isn’t over.
“We’re working hard and the Liberals often take people’s votes for granted,” he said. “I’m always prepared to work hard.”
U.S. senators push Biden to lift border closure with Canada – CBC.ca
Four U.S. senators on Friday asked President Joe Biden to lift restrictions that have barred travel by Canadians across the northern U.S. border since March 2020.
Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana and independent Angus King of Maine asked Biden to allow Canadians vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel to the United States before October.
The border state senators said in a letter the restrictions have led to “economic and emotional strain in our communities.”
The senators added: “A plan with some indication of when your administration would feel comfortable lifting border restrictions based on public health data would provide clarity to businesses and families along the northern border.”
They also noted that Canadians can fly to the United States. “We struggle to understand the public health rationale for the disparate treatment in modes of travel,” the senators wrote.
NEW: Today I sent a letter to <a href=”https://twitter.com/POTUS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@POTUS</a> urging him to lift restrictions on vaccinated Canadians’ travel to the U.S. by October. NH communities are hurting from the border’s continued closure – it’s time to create a plan to ease entry & get back to regular trade & commerce. <a href=”https://t.co/XzsCflA6QS”>pic.twitter.com/XzsCflA6QS</a>
The White House did not immediately comment on Friday, but White House coronavirus response co-ordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday that given the delta variant of the coronavirus, “we will maintain the existing travel restrictions at this point.”
U.S. officials and travel industry executives say the White House is set to renew the restrictions before the latest extension expires on Sept. 21.
In August, the United States again extended restrictions closing its land borders with Canada and Mexico to nonessential travel such as tourism despite Ottawa’s decision to open its border to vaccinated Americans. Canada on Aug. 9 began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors for non-essential travel.
The United States has continued to extend the extraordinary restrictions on Canada and Mexico on a monthly basis since March 2020, when they were imposed to address the spread of COVID-19. The U.S. land border restrictions do not bar U.S. citizens from returning home.
The United States separately bars most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
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