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Tag: United States

Taliban Celebrates Victory of US

The extreme Islamist Taliban celebrated their return to total power on Tuesday with gunfire and diplomacy, after the last US troops flew out of Afghanistan. The departure of the United States marks the end of a war that raged for two decades.

This was the longest military conflict in the history of the  United States. The US military forces abandoned the Kabul airport, where it had overseen a frenzied airlift that saw more than 123,000 people flee the country and life under the Taliban.

Taliban fighters quickly swept into the airport and fired weapons into the sky and across the city of Kabul in jubilation – an astonishing return after US forces invaded in 2001 and toppled them for supporting Al-Qaeda.

“Congratulations to Afghanistan… this victory belongs to us all,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters hours later on the runway of the airport.

Mujahid also said the Taliban’s victory was a “lesson for other invaders”.

Many Afghans are terrified of a repeat of the Taliban’s initial rule from 1996-2001, which was infamous for their cruel treatment of girls and women, as well as a brutal justice system. The Taliban have however repeatedly promised a more tolerant and open brand of rule compared with their first stint in power, and Mujahid continued that theme.

“We want to have good relations with the US and the world. We welcome good diplomatic relations with them all,” he said.

Mujahid also insisted Taliban security forces would “be gentle and nice”.

TERROR THREAT

The withdrawal came shortly before the 31 August deadline set by President Joe Biden to end the war. The two-decade war claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Afghans and over 2,400 American service members.

The early finish followed a threat from the regional offshoot of the Islamic State group, rivals of the Taliban, to attack the US forces at the airport. Thirteen US troops were among more than 100 people killed when an IS suicide bomber attacked the perimeter of the airport late last week.

Their victory came after President Joe Biden withdrew nearly all American troops and then was forced to send back about 6,000 more to conduct the airlift. Biden said he would address the nation on Tuesday in Washington.

“We can’t fight endless wars, but the scope & consequence of Biden’s failure here is staggering,” Republican Senator Rick Scott said.

“Any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken Blinken said, as he announced the United States had suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul and shifted its operations to Qatar.

All eyes will now turn to how the Taliban handles its first few days with sole authority over the country. The sharp focus will be on whether it will allow free departure for those wanting to leave – including some foreigners.

Many thousands of Afghans who had worked with the US-backed government over the years and now fear retribution from the Taliban also want to flee the country. Western allies have voiced heartbreak in recent days that not all Afghans who wanted to flee could get on the available evacuation flights.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution Monday, which requires the Taliban to honour a commitment to let people freely leave Afghanistan in the days ahead, and to grant access to the UN and other aid agencies.

The control of the airport is still uncertain. The Taliban have asked Turkey to handle logistics while they maintain control of security, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not yet accepted that offer. It was not immediately clear which airlines would agree to fly in and out of Kabul after the Taliban’s return to power.

CIVILIAN DEATHS

The regional Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) group had posed the biggest threat to the withdrawal of US forces after it carried out the devastating suicide bombing outside the airport last week. They also claimed on Monday to have fired six rockets at the airport. A Taliban official said the attack was intercepted by the airport’s missile defence systems.

Make Up To R1,2 Million Driving Trucks

A severe shortage of truck drivers in the United States has led to more companies bringing in drivers from abroad, with South Africa seen as a key market for qualified and experienced truck drivers. The managing partner at Miami-based Malescu Law, Anda Malescu, told the Financial Times that companies are growing increasingly desperate due to a lack of workers.

Malescu said her firm is helping trucking companies to source drivers from key markets such as Mexico, Canada, and South Africa – despite strict travel restrictions and quotas on visas.

Companies such as Walmart are offering an $8,000 (R117,00) signing bonus for some drivers, while British retailer John Lewis announced plans to raise driver salaries by up to £5,000 (R100,000) a year as the UK also faces shortages of experienced drivers.

In 2019, the US was already 60,000 drivers short, according to the American Trucking Association. According to Bob Costello, the group’s chief economist, that number is anticipated to grow to at least 100,000 by 2023.

The US has been grappling with a chronic lack of truck drivers for years, but the shortage has reached crisis levels because of the coronavirus pandemic, which simultaneously sent demand for shipped goods soaring while also seeing a surge in early retirements.

Bringing in more foreign workers introduces a number of hurdles including visa limits and complicated immigration rules. However, trucking advocates see an opening now to overcome some of those obstacles after the Biden administration created a task force to address the supply chain problems impeding the economic recovery.

Arnoux Mare, the chief executive of Innovative Solutions Group, said that this was not a new trend and that South Africans have been in demand for several years. Mare’s company specialises in outsourcing work functions including hiring logistics experts and drivers for companies and he has also employed local drivers to drive for international companies.

Mare added that the trend was not limited to the US, with South Africans also sought after in Europe in countries such as England. While Mare could not give an exact figure on how many truck drivers are in demand, he said that there was a clear shortage and a significant demand.

He added that these drivers would still be required to do their licenses and learn the various road rules applicable, so South Africans should not expect to start working straight away. He further cautioned that immigration to the US is in high demand from other countries, so South Africans should be cautious of just quitting their jobs here and moving over without having a plan in place.

Mare warned that drivers should also be cautious of companies promising ‘R1 million a year’ as these stories can often be too good to be true. This is not necessarily a normal salary or what one would actually earn as a truck driver.

Data sourced from the salary website Indeed shows that the average annual base salary for a truck driver in the US is $67,256 – almost exactly R1 million. This is obviously highly dependent on the qualifications and experience of the driver, with drivers earning substantially more depending on the company they work for and the number of years they have been driving.

This aligns closely with comparative salary data from the salary website Talent, with an average annual base salary of $67,600 (R1,005,833). Entry-level truck driving positions start at $51,676 (R768,897) per year, while most experienced workers make up to $96,183 (R1.4 million) per year.

“As many as we can get out we should,” – Biden

US President Joe Biden said in an interview that aired on Thursday that war is not the answer to growing fears for the human rights of women in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

Footage and reports of the evacuations and Afghans desperately trying to escape the country have been viral on social media. While Biden honoured Trump’s plan to evacuate the country, many have questioned the merits of the move.

Women’s rights activists and organisations have been pleading for a solution amidst growing fears for the safety of women in Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden however said that war would not be the rational solution to the problem. Instead, Biden favours economic and diplomatic pressure in an effort to ‘change the behaviour’ of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“As many as we can get out we should,” he said.

Spokespersons for the Taliban still maintains that the laws of Islam will be imposed ‘softly’ and that women will be allowed to work while following the rules of Sharia law.

“The idea that we’re able to deal with the rights of women around the world by military force is not rational,” Biden said in the ABC News interview, his first since the Taliban victory triggered a frantic final US withdrawal.

Referring to the Uighur ethnic minority in China and other areas of the world facing extreme human rights abuses, Biden said “the way to deal with that is not with a military invasion.”

“There are a lot of places where women are being subjugated,” he said. “The way to deal with that is putting economic, diplomatic, and international pressure on them to change their behavior.”

Biden told ABC that many women were trying to leave Afghanistan through the US evacuation at Kabul’s airport.

The president said he told advisors to “get them out, get their families out.”

US Opens Borders for South African Workers – These are the skills they’re looking for

The US State Department said that it will make exceptions to its recent travel ban on high-risk Covid countries like South Africa, for workers who meet critical skill requirements for the country’s agriculture sector.

The exemption will be made specifically for those taking part in the H-2 visa program, which the department said is essential to the US economy and food security. The H-2 visas permit US employers to hire foreign workers to come to the United States temporarily and perform agricultural or non-agricultural services due to an expected shortage of domestic labour.

“Therefore, we intend to continue processing H-2 applications for individuals who provide temporary labour or services essential to the United States food supply chain, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions,” it said.

H-2A and H-2B applicants who fall under the 25 January 2021 Presidential Proclamation – ie, the Covid-19 travel ban, in which South Africa was specifically named – who are necessary to ensure food supply chains, will be considered for excemption.

The department specifically mentioned needing farm workers with skills such as:

  • Seafood processors;
  • Fish cutters;
  • Salmon roe technicians;
  • Farm equipment mechanics;
  • Farm labourers;
  • and others.

The Department said that the applicants applying for a visa will be considered for an exception at the time of interview. While a number of temporary jobs are available through the visa program, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said that it specifically sent a letter to Secretary of State and Homeland Security requesting an exemption for South African farm labour.

“We appreciate the swift action by the State Department to address a critical need for American agriculture,” said AFBF president Zippy Duvall.

“Farmworkers from South Africa bring valuable and unique skills to the farms on which they are employed. America’s farmers rely on the H-2A program to provide a robust workforce and we are committed to ensuring their safety while continuing to provide healthy, affordable food for families across the country.”

 

US president Joe Biden introduced new travel restrictions for the United States last week, including a ban on travel to and from South Africa due to the new coronavirus strain.  The ban prevents most non-US citizens from entry if they have recently been in South Africa.  Biden also reimposed an entry ban on nearly all non-US travellers who have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.

“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, in an interview.

Schuchat added the agency was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic.”

The variant – currently termed the ‘501.V2 Variant’ – was identified by genomics scientists in South Africa and formally announced by government in late December.  The variant was the cause of the second wave and spreads faster than the original virus.

Daily Coronavirus Update and Statistics

Europe is experiencing a second wave of Covid-19 forcing many European countries to go into lockdown again. Scientists in South Africa called on South Africans to learn from the mistakes made by other countries and continue to observe regulations pertaining to social distancing and hygiene. “South Africans cannot become complacent and lazy. If that happens, we will face another wave of the Coronavirus which could see the country going into lockdown again. Especially with the festive season approacing, South Africans have to adhere to established protocol,” said one scientist.

It is close to a year since the coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China. Since the outbreak scientists across the globe have pleaded with people to steer clear of social gatherings, to work from home, and to wear a mask when they do venture outside. South Africans see the festive season as an opportunity for year-end functions, family braai’s, and packed beaches.

The chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, Professor Abdool Karim, however said that now was not the time to forget that we were in the grip of a global pandemic. “People are tired, they’re frustrated, they’re irritated and they just want it to end. We control our risks and we control our country’s risk. If we are just a bit more careful… we just need to hang in there.”

Professor Shabir Madhi of Wits Vaccinology said that South Africa was already experiencing a resurgence in cases. “When you go around South Africa right now, people have become more complacent in terms of the use of the face maks, in terms of the physical distancing, in terms of avoiding overcrowded places. Complacency has crept in.” It is this complacency and super spreader events that have been the key drivers in the second wave gripping Europe and the United States.

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