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50 passengers dead in Taiwan train crash 

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Reuters
(Last Updated On: April 2, 2021)

A Taiwan express train with almost 500 aboard derailed in a tunnel on Friday after hitting a truck that had slid down a bank onto the track, killing at least 50 passengers and injuring 146 in the island’s worst rail disaster in seven decades.

Images from the scene showed some carriages ripped apart by the impact, with others crumpled, hindering rescuers in their efforts to reach passengers.

By mid-afternoon no one was still trapped, though the fire department said it had found body parts, meaning the number of those killed, who included the driver, was likely to rise.

“People just fell all over each other, on top of one another,” a woman who survived the crash told domestic television. “It was terrifying. There were whole families there.”

Taiwan’s government said there were 496 people on the train, including 120 without seats. Many were tourists and people heading home at the start of a traditional long weekend holiday to tend to family graves. One French citizen was amongst the dead, officials said.

The train was traveling from Taipei, the capital, to the southeastern city of Taitung.

It came off the rails north of the eastern city of Hualien after hitting a truck that had slid off a road from a nearby construction site, Feng Hui-sheng, the Taiwan Railways Administration’s deputy director, told reporters.

Feng said the manager of the site, which was stabilizing the mountainside to prevent landslides, visited around 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) and stopped his truck in front of the site office.

“At present, it is suspected because the vehicle wasn’t braked properly, it slid for around 20 meters along the site access road and entered the eastern trunk line,” he added.

The official Central News Agency said police had taken in the manager for questioning.

The fire department showed a picture of what appeared to be the wreckage of the truck beside the derailed train, with an aerial image of one end of the train still on the track next to the construction site.

Survivors described their terror as the train slammed into the truck and ground to a halt.

“It suddenly came to a stop and then everything shook,” one told local television. “It was all so chaotic.”

Passengers in some carriages still in the tunnel had to be led to safety, the railway administration said.

Images showed an injured passenger carried away on a stretcher, with her head and neck in a brace, while others gathered suitcases and bags in a tilted, derailed carriage as some walked on the train’s roof to exit the tunnel.

The accident occurred at the beginning of a long weekend for the traditional Tomb Sweeping Day holiday.

Taiwan’s mountainous east coast is a tourist destination. The railway that snakes down from Taipei hugs the coast and is known for its tunnels, in one of which the crash took place. The link to Taipei opened in 1979.

Taiwan’s state-owned railways are generally reliable and efficient but have had a patchy safety record over the years.

The last major crash was in 2018 when 18 people died and 175 were injured when a train derailed in the island’s northeast.

In 1948, 64 people are estimated to have died when a train burst into flames in northern Taiwan.

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SIGAR finds single key factor to ANDSF collapse was withdrawal of US troops

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2022)

The United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has found that the single most important factor behind the Afghan National Defense and Security Force’s (ANDSF) collapse in August last year was the US’ decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan.

This decision was taken after the US signed an agreement in February 2020, under former president Donald Trumps administration, with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) – an agreement adhered to by President Joe Biden.

In their latest report, SIGAR stated that due to the ANDSF’s dependency on US military forces, these events destroyed ANDSF morale.

The ANDSF had long relied on the US military’s presence to protect against large-scale ANDSF losses, and Afghan troops saw the United States as a means of holding their government accountable for paying their salaries.

The US-IEA agreement made it clear that this was no longer the case, resulting in a sense of abandonment within the ANDSF and the Afghan population, SIGAR reported.

The agreement set in motion a series of events crucial to understanding the ANDSF’s collapse, SIGAR stated.

Among those included a drop in the number of US airstrikes; the fact that ANDSF remained reliant on the US military, especially as “the United States designed the ANDSF as a mirror image of US forces.

“This created long-term ANDSF dependencies. The United States created a combined arms military structure that required a high degree of professional military sophistication and leadership,” SIGAR stated adding that the ANDSF had stockpiles of US-provided weapons and supplies, but did not have the logistics capabilities to move these items quickly enough to meet operational demands and had to rely on a thinly-stretched Afghan Air Force to do so.

“As a result, ANDSF units complained that they did not have enough ammunition, food, water, or other military equipment to sustain military engagements against the Taliban (IEA).

“Additionally, the Afghan government failed to develop a national security strategy and plan for nationwide security following the withdrawal of US forces,” SIGAR stated adding that instead, former president Ashraf Ghani frequently changed ANDSF leaders and appointed loyalists, while marginalizing well-trained ANDSF officers aligned with the United States.

The constant turnover weakened military chains of command, trust, and morale in the ANDSF. “Young, welltrained, educated, and professional ANDSF officers who grew up under US tutelage were marginalized and their ties to the U.S. became a liability.”

SIGAR also stated that the United States created more long-term dependencies by providing the ANDSF with advanced military equipment that they could not sustain and that required a US military or contractor presence and that the US lacked any real way to measure the ANDSF’s development.

“The metrics DOD used were inconsistent and unable to measure the development of ANDSF capabilities and capacities over time,” SIGAR stated.

SIGAR also stated that while ANDSF members have either left Afghanistan, or are in hiding, there are those who “have joined extremist groups in Afghanistan.”

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IEA confirms mediation talks between Pakistan govt and TTP held in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2022)

Talks were held in Kabul between the government of Pakistan and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), acting as mediator, spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted.

Good progress has been made in the talks and both sides agreed to a short-term ceasefire, Mujahid tweeted.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, in good faith, strives for a successful negotiation process and expects both sides to be tolerant and flexible,” Mujahid said.

This comes after reports circulated in news outlets that a Pakistani delegation led by Lt General Faiz Hameed, former director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), visited Kabul and reportedly held talks with representatives of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

However, there was no official confirmation from either side about the development but reports suggested that it was part of a renewed push by the IEA in Afghanistan to broker some kind of a deal between Pakistan and the TTP, The Express Tribune report said.

TTP members and official sources in Kabul also confirmed to VOA that Gen Faiz was in Kabul for talks with the TTP.

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U.S. takes control of Afghan embassy and consulates

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2022)

The United States has taken control of the Afghan Embassy in Washington and Afghan consulates in two U.S. states, the State Department has said.

The State Department has assumed “sole responsibility” for the security and maintenance of the diplomatic missions and their “furnishings, archives, and financial assets” and will bar anyone from entering them without its permission until further notice, the department said in a notice to be published on May 18 in the Federal Register, the Associated Press reported.

The move came after the department determined that the embassy and the consulates in Little Neck, New York, and Beverly Hills, California, had “formally ceased conducting diplomatic and consular activities in the United States” at noon on May 16.

Washington does not recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) led government in Afghanistan, which took power last year after the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops, and does not have formal diplomatic relations with the country.

A department official told AP the step did not signal any change in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.

The United States took control of the facilities in an agreement with diplomats from the former Afghan government who faced “severe financial constraints that made continued operations unsustainable,” the official said.

The department noted Afghanistan had not requested a third country to serve as a “protecting power” for its U.S. facilities or interests. Since Washington closed its embassy in Kabul, Qatar has served as the U.S. protecting power in Afghanistan.

The Islamic Emirate, has however, emphasized the need for the establishment of diplomatic relations with the countries and says that interaction with Afghanistan will benefit all countries.

Bilal Karimi, Deputy Spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, said: “The Islamic Emirate is working on diplomatic issues and has good diplomatic relations with many countries, and it is hoped that diplomatic avenues will be open and there will be no problems in this area, and this will benefit all countries to have diplomatic relations with Afghanistan.”

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