LONDON — Tony Blair, the British prime minister who deployed troops to Afghanistan 20 years ago after the 9/11 attacks, says the U.S. decision to withdraw from the country has “every Jihadist group round the world cheering.”
In a lengthy essay posted on his website late Saturday, the former Labour Party leader said the sudden and chaotic pullout that allowed the Taliban to reclaim power risked undermining everything that had been achieved in Afghanistan over the past two decades, including advances in living standards and the education of girls.
“The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours,” said Blair who served as prime minister during 1997-2007, a period that also saw him back the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003.
“The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics,” he added.
Blair also accused U.S. President Joe Biden of being “in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’, as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even 10 years ago.”
The former prime minister, whose reputation in the U.K. took a dive from the failure to find the alleged weapons of mass destruction that were cited as justification for U.S. coalition’s invasion of Iraq, said Britain has a “moral obligation” to stay in Afghanistan until everyone who needs to be evacuated is taken out.
“We must evacuate and give sanctuary to those to whom we have responsibility — those Afghans who helped us and stood by us and have a right to demand we stand by them,” he said.
Like other nations, Britain is trying to evacuate Afghan allies as well as its own citizens from Afghanistan, but with a U.S.-imposed Aug. 31 deadline hovering into view, it’s a race against time.
In addition to the 4,000 or so U.K. citizens, the country is thought to have around 5,000 Afghan allies, such as translators and drivers, earmarked for a seat on a plane. The Ministry of Defense said Sunday that nearly 4,000 people had been evacuated so far.
Blair conceded that mistakes were made over the past two decades but added that military interventions can be noble in intent, especially when challenging an extreme Islamist threat.
“Today we are in a mood which seems to regard the bringing of democracy as a utopian delusion and intervention virtually of any sort as a fool’s errand.” he said.
Blair also warned that the decision by the U.S. to keep Britain largely in the dark about the withdrawal risks relegating the country to “the second division of global powers.”
However, he said the U.K., in its role as the current president of the Group of Seven nations, was in a position to help coordinate an international response to “hold the new regime to account”.
Britain’s Conservative government has been working diplomatically to ensure there is no unilateral recognition of a Taliban government in Afghanistan.
“We need to draw up a list of incentives, sanctions, actions we can take including to protect the civilian population so the Taliban understand their actions will have consequences,” Blair said.
A breath of fresh air: First smog tower installed in Delhi to fight pollution
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New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown extended as outbreak tops 100 cases
WELLINGTON: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday extended New Zealand’s strict nationwide COVID-19 lockdown saying the current outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus had not yet peaked.
The level 4 national lockdown was extended by three days until midnight on Aug. 27 while Auckland, the epicenter of the outbreak, will have restrictions in place at least until Aug. 31.
“The safest option for all of us right now is to hold the course for longer,” Ardern said at a news conference.
“If the world has taught us anything it is to be cautious with this variant of COVID-19,” she added.
Ardern said contacts in the community by people infected with the Delta variant were reported all over the country. There are more than 320 locations of interest linked to the outbreak and 13,000 contacts have been recorded, far more than in previous outbreaks.
“Delta has changed the rules of the game,” Ardern said.
New Zealand earlier in the day reported 35 new cases of COVID-19 taking the total number of infections in the outbreak to 107.
The health ministry said in a statement that 33 new cases are in Auckland and two are in the capital Wellington.
Vietnam deploys troops to enforce COVID-19 lockdown in largest city
HANOI: Vietnamese soldiers on Monday were deployed on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City to help enforce a lockdown in the country’s business hub, which has become the epicenter of its worst coronavirus outbreak so far during the pandemic.
Panic-buying broke out at supermarkets in the city of nine million people over the weekend ahead of the tighter lockdown, which started on Monday and prohibits residents from leaving their homes.
Vietnam’s toughest order yet comes amid a spike in fatalities and infections.
Soldiers on Monday were checking permits of residents on the streets and delivering food, according to witnesses and photographs on state media.
The city began movement restrictions early last month, but infections have continued to surge after authorities said there had not been strict enough enforcement of the curbs.
The city has recorded a total of 176,000 COVID-19 infections and 6,670 deaths, accounting for half of the Southeast Asian country’s overall cases and 80 percent of fatalities, according to the health ministry.
Vietnam has over the recent weeks sent 14,600 additional doctors and nurses to the city and its neighboring provinces to support its overwhelmed medical system, the ministry said.
Patients with mild or no symptoms have been told to self-isolate at home.
People in the city’s Phu Nhuan and Go Vap districts said they had received packages of rice, meat, fish and vegetables.
The government announced on Friday it would send 130,000 tons of rice from state stockpiles to Ho Chi Minh City and 23 other cities and provinces.
After managing to contain COVID-19 for much of last year, Vietnam has so far recorded 348,000 infections and at least 8,277 fatalities, with the majority recorded in the current Delta-driven outbreak since late April.
Around 1.8 million of 98 million people, or 1.8 percent of the country’s population, have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the region.