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US pullout from Afghanistan ‘slightly’ ahead: Defense Chief

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(Last Updated On: May 28, 2021)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Thursday that America’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is “slightly” ahead of schedule, but he provided no details.

While President Joe Biden has ordered a full U.S. troop withdrawal by September 11, Austin did not say when the retrograde may be complete.

Austin said at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing that the Defense Department’s proposed $715 billion budget will include money to help the military develop the capabilities to prevent attacks against the United States by terrorist groups in Afghanistan, AP reported.

With the defense department’s budget set to be released Friday, Austin provided few spending specifics to committee members asking about various priorities.

U.S. military commanders have said they will monitor and counter threats from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (Daesh) group from outside the country once U.S. forces leave Afghanistan.

So far, officials have acknowledged that the U.S. does not yet have any agreements for basing or overflights from any of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, AP reported.

On Wedensday, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said week that it has “completed between 16-25 percent of the entire retrograde process.”

CENTCOM said in a statement the United States Department of Defense has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 160 C-17 loads of material out of Afghanistan and has turned over more than 10,000 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition.

The U.S. has officially handed over five facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the statement said.

CENTCOM did not elaborate on the installations.

“For operational security reasons we will only be providing an approximate range of the percentage of the exit process that is complete,” the statement noted.

“As the responsible and orderly exit continues, the size of the range will increase to preserve operational security. This update includes the progress on the retrograde of troops and equipment from Afghanistan, the turning over of equipment and facilities to the ANDSF, as well as the destruction of some equipment,” the statement concluded.

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Motorists concerned about rising fuel prices in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 20, 2021)

Afghans have raised concerns over the increase in fuel prices on the local market, despite the resumption of fuel imports from neighboring countries.

Officials from Balkh’s Chamber of Commerce and Investment said last week that imports of fuel and gas through Hairatan and Aqina ports have resumed.

Motorists have however called on the Islamic Emirate to monitor and control market prices.

According to them, petrol currently costs 65 AFN per liter; diesel is 56 AFN; and gas costs between 72 and 80 AFN per kilogram in Kabul.

The Council of Fuel Merchants, however, says that limited access to cash and banking transactions, along with a monopoly of the industry by a few companies, are the key reasons for rising fuel prices.

Mohammad Asif, a member of the organization, stated: “If the Islamic Emirate wants to control the issue, they should control it at the [border] customs. Although [import] tariffs have been cut by 50%, prices are still high due to a monopoly of imports by some companies. They (merchants) set prices as they wish.”

Khan Jan Alokozay, Deputy Head of the Chamber of Commerce and Investment, stated: “The problem is that wholesalers have not set the market price, and when retailers distribute the goods to other areas that causes an increase in rates.”

People also called on property owners to reduce rental rates of houses in Kabul city, amid a looming economic crisis in Afghanistan.

Landlords, however, stated that the average rental has dropped by 50% compared to last year.

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40 suspects arrested in connection with Nangarhar explosions

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(Last Updated On: September 20, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s head of intelligence directorate in Nangarhar said on Monday that 40 people have been arrested in connection with explosions that rocked Jalalabad city on Saturday and Sunday.

The intelligence chief, Dr Bashir, also confirmed that four people had died and six others were wounded in the explosions – three on Saturday and one on Sunday.

He said intelligence officials are being targeted.

Bashir did not give any further details on who was behind the explosions but Islamic State (ISIS-K/Daesh) claimed responsibility for the blasts on Sunday.

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Thousands flee as volcano erupts on Spain’s La Palma island, homes destroyed

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(Last Updated On: September 20, 2021)

The Canary Islands’ first volcanic eruption in 50 years has forced the evacuation of about 5,000 people, including around 500 tourists, and destroyed about 100 houses, officials said on Monday.

The volcano erupted on Sunday, shooting lava hundreds of metres into the air, engulfing houses and forests, and sending molten rock towards the Atlantic Ocean over a sparsely populated area of La Palma, the most northwestern island in the Canaries archipelago.

No fatalities have been reported but the volcano was still active on Monday. A Reuters reporter saw heavy smoke coming from the volcano and houses burning.

Officials said they were hopeful they would not need to evacuate any more people.

“The lava is moving towards the coast and the damage will be material. According to experts there are about 17-20 million cubic metres of lava,” regional president Angel Victor Torres told Cadena Ser radio.

The lava flow has destroyed about 100 houses so far, Mariano Hernandez, president of La Palma‘s council, told Cadena Ser.

About 20 houses were engulfed in the village of El Paso along with sections of roads, Mayor Sergio Rodriguez told state broadcaster TVE. The lava was spreading through neighbouring villages, putting hundreds more at risk, he said.

A group of 360 tourists were evacuated by boat to Tenerife from the beach resort of Puerto Naos, ferry operator Fred Olsen said, and more could be transferred later in the day.

Despite the destruction, Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto told Canal Sur radio the eruption should be seen as an opportunity to entice visitors to the island.

“The island is open, if your hotel is affected we will find you another one,” she said. “Make the most of this opportunity to enjoy what nature has brought us.”

Volcanologist Nemesio Perez said there were unlikely to be fatalities as long as no-one behaved recklessly.

La Palma had been on high alert after thousands of tremors were reported over a week in Cumbre Vieja, which belongs to a chain of volcanoes that last had a major eruption in 1971 and is one of the Canaries’ most active volcanic regions.

One man was killed in 1971 as he took photographs near the lava flows. A submarine eruption occurred about 10 years ago close to the islands but caused little damage.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in La Palma on Sunday to coordinate with regional authorities and said citizens could “rest easy.” He will visit affected areas later on Monday.

Emergency services said it was unclear what path the lava would take to the ocean. Authorities had evacuated people with mobility issues from several coastal towns, including the Puerto Naos resort.

Airspace around the Canaries remained open with no visibility problems, the Enaire civil air authority said. Local airline Binter cancelled four flights but said it would resume its service later on Monday.

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