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US begins final phase of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan | World News

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The US has begun its final phase of the withdrawal of its own and NATO’s last troops from Afghanistan – with the aim of leaving the country by the end of summer.

It will bring to an end America’s “forever war” in the country, which began with the invasion in response to the 9/11 terror attacks.

About 2,500-3,500 US and about 7,000 NATO soldiers remain.

In recent weeks, the military has been flying out equipment on massive C-17 cargo planes but now it is stepping up the job of deciding what is being shipped back to the US, handed to the Afghan security forces or sold as junk in Afghanistan’s markets.

The Taliban, which has renewed vigour in its battle to regain power in Afghanistan, continues to accuse Washington of breaching the deal it signed with Donald Trump more than a year ago.

In that agreement, the US said it would withdraw completely by 1 May.

With the deadline having passed, Kabul was on edge on Saturday, with a noticeably increased military presence and security at checkpoints.

Security sources said the Afghan capital was on “high alert”.

In a statement on Saturday, Taliban military spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the failure of the US to withdraw by the agreed deadline “opened the way for (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces”.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to withdraw American troops
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US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to withdraw American troops

But he said fighters on the battlefield would not act until their leaders told them to and any decision to do so would be based on “the sovereignty, values and higher interests of the country”.

On Saturday, it was unclear whether that vow was being adhered to.

What a US forces spokesman described as “ineffective indirect fire” at an airfield in Kandahar caused no injuries or damage and the Taliban did not comment on whether it was involved in the incident.

It prompted the commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller to warn it would be a mistake for insurgents to attack foreign troops.

The human cost of the Afghanistan war has been the lost of thousands of US and NATO troops. Pic: AP
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The human cost of the Afghanistan war has been the lost of thousands of US and NATO troops. Pic: AP

The violence in Afghanistan has been getting worse since the agreement to withdraw was signed in February 2020.

Talks between the Taliban and Afghan government, which as part of the agreement were supposed to create a lasting peace, quickly got bogged down.

The US is thought to have spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan in the past two decades, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University.

Some 2,500-3,500 US and about 7,000 NATO soldiers remain in Afghanistan. Pic: AP
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Some 2,500-3,500 US and about 7,000 NATO soldiers remain in Afghanistan. Pic: AP

It started on 7 October, 2001, with the US and its NATO allies setting out to hunt down the al Qaeda perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks who lived under the protection of the country’s Taliban rulers.

Two months later, the Taliban had been beaten and Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda forces had been forced to escape.

When he announced last month that the US withdrawal would go ahead, President Joe Biden said the initial mission was accomplished when bin Laden was killed by US special forces in neighbouring Pakistan 10 years ago.

Since then, al Qaeda has ceased to be the threat it once was perceived to be and Islamic State and other Islamist extremists have spread into a global phenomenon that Mr Biden said is not tackled by keeping a large number of troops in one country.

The US and NATO are paying $4bn a year to maintain the Afghan security forces. Pic: AP
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The US and NATO are paying $4bn a year to maintain the Afghan security forces. Pic: AP

Some 47,245 civilians have been killed since 2001, according to the Costs of War project. Millions more have been forced to move away from their homes inside Afghanistan or to flee to Pakistan, Iran and Europe.

An estimated 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops have been killed, with the US and NATO paying $4bn a year to keep its security forces going.

Some 2,442 US troops, according to the US Department of Defence, and 1,144 personnel from other NATO countries have been killed, including 454 British forces as of 2015.

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Euro 2020: Why no Scotland players have to isolate after Gilmour contracts COVID – but England pair do | UK News

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Confusion arose over the decision to force England footballers Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell to isolate after Scotland player Billy Gilmour tested positive for COVID-19.

The England duo must isolate until Monday after being deemed “close contacts” of their Chelsea teammate Gilmour when the Three Lions played Scotland on Friday.

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Ben Chilwell (L) and Mason Mount are having to self-isolate
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Ben Chilwell (L) and Mason Mount

But questions were raised over why Mount and Chilwell were affected after the entire England squad tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday, while no other Scotland player has been ruled out of their final Euro 2020 group game on Tuesday as a result of Gilmour’s infection.

As Euro 2020 is played in multiple countries against the backdrop of the pandemic, strict rules are in force to try to ensure the tournament is not disrupted.

So what happens when players test positive for COVID, could matches be abandoned as a result, and what steps are being taken to avoid outbreaks? Sky News explains.

What were the concerns about Mount and Chilwell’s contact with Gilmour?

Mount, Chilwell and Gilmour were seen embracing at the end of England’s match with Scotland at Wembley on Friday evening.

However, it is understood the contact that caused most concern was a 25-minute conversation between the three players in the tunnel following the game.

Billy Gilmour (left) and Mason Mount
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Billy Gilmour (L) and Mason Mount during the England v Scotland match on Friday

The Chelsea trio had not seen each other since returning to London after they won the Champions League final in Porto on 29 May.

Government guidance states that close contacts of COVID cases include people who had face-to-face conversations within one-metre, and anyone who was within two-metres for more than 15 minutes.

The FA said the decision for Chilwell and Mount to isolate was taken in consultation with Public Health England.

The two players are now isolating and training individually in private areas at England’s training base St George’s Park.

Ben Chilwell during a training session last week
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Ben Chilwell is now having to self-isolate

How long do players with COVID have to isolate?

Players at Euro 2020 are tested regularly, and those who are positive must self-isolate for 10 days.

Any other players or staff deemed to have been in close contact with someone with COVID during the tournament also have to isolate for 10 days.

It means Gilmour will be unavailable for Scotland’s final group match against Croatia tonight. If they progress, he will also miss their last-16 tie, Sky Sports News understands.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Group D - England v Scotland - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - June 18, 2021 Scotland's Billy Gilmour celebrates after the match Pool via REUTERS/Facundo Arrizabalaga/File Photo
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Billy Gilmour will miss Scotland’s final group game and last 16-tie if they progress

The Scottish FA and Public Health England are said to be satisfied that Gilmour had “no close contact issues” with any other member of the Scotland squad.

The isolation period for close contacts of COVID cases includes the date of their last contact and the next 10 full days, according to government guidance.

Mount and Chilwell, who came into contact with Gilmour on 18 June, must now isolate until Monday 28 June.

With England already through to the knockout stages of the tournament, it means Mount and Chilwell could miss their last-16 tie, with the round being played on 26, 27, 28 and 29 June.

Could matches be abandoned due to a COVID outbreak in a squad?

Euro 2020 squads were expanded from 23 players to 26 to account for the chance that some teams could be hit by COVID outbreaks.

If multiple players have to isolate, matches will still go ahead providing the team can name 13 players in their squad – a minimum of 12 outfield players plus one goalkeeper.

If a team cannot named 13 players in their squad, the game can be postponed by up to 48 hours.

If the affected team still cannot meet the minimum requirements for a matchday squad, they will forfeit the game and suffer an automatic 3-0 defeat.

Both teams line up to sing their national anthems. Pic: AP
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If a team cannot field 13 players in their squad, the match can be postponed. Pic: AP

Can players who contract COVID be replaced?

Outfield players cannot be changed but UEFA states that “goalkeepers can be replaced during the tournament in the event of physical incapacity, even if one or two goalkeepers in the squad are still available”.

Players that have been replaced cannot then return to the squad.

Can players see their families during the tournament?

UEFA has banned families visiting players at their training camps during Euro 2020.

England manager Gareth Southgate had hoped that players would be able to see family members at their St George’s Park training base, but UEFA’s strict COVID bubble rules forbid it.

“We’re not going to be able to let people in,” Southgate said before the tournament.

“There’s a clear edict from UEFA on what the bubbles need to look like to be as secure as we can make them, it’s never going to be 100% failsafe but we’ve got to comply with as much as we can.”

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Afghan interpreters who worked with British military land in UK today after fleeing Taliban | World News

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The first group of former Afghan interpreters whose lives are in danger because they worked for the British military are due to arrive in the UK from Afghanistan in the coming hours under a new government scheme, Sky News understands.

An aircraft reportedly carrying more than a dozen Afghans who were employed by UK forces, as well as family members, is expected to land at an airport in the Midlands later on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) declined to comment on the flight – first reported by the Daily Mail – because of security concerns for the men, women and children who have asked to flee Afghanistan after receiving threats from the Taliban.

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Afghan nationals given chance to live in UK

Taliban militants are growing in strength across the country, regaining more territory from the UK and US-backed Afghan government. It comes as British, US and other NATO forces prepare to withdraw over the next three months following almost 20 years of conflict.

The Taliban views anyone associated with the US and NATO-led mission in Afghanistan as a traitor who deserves to die.

The increased influence of the militant group means a corresponding risk for such personnel.

Concerns over the safety of former staff, most of them interpreters, prompted the MoD and the Home Office in May to expand the eligibility criteria of a relocation scheme for Afghans seeking to flee.

Previously, the government had resisted pressure to allow large numbers of men and women to relocate, saying such a move would deprive Afghanistan of a talented pool of young individuals, vital for the future prosperity of the country.

More than 3,000 Afghans are expected to take advantage of the offer, on top of some 1,300 who have already made the journey under a previous, more restrictive policy. They are expected to be flown to the UK in groups.

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‘It’s the right thing to do’ – Defence secretary

It is understood that the first flight left Kabul earlier on Tuesday. Everyone had to undergo stringent security as well as COVID-related health checks.

Afghanistan is on the red list of countries, which means the group will be put into quarantine upon their arrival in the UK.

The Daily Mail spoke to a 37-year-old former interpreter called Hash, who served in Helmand with the Army between 2007 and 2012 and is reported to be part of the first party along with his wife and two sons.

“We are so happy and so thankful,” he was quoted as saying. “The British government has taken its time but it has done the right thing and we are truly grateful.”

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Aston Martin sues Swiss car dealer over deposits on £2.5m Valkyrie model | Business News

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Aston Martin is suing a Swiss car dealer which it claims failed to hand over customer deposits for its £2.5m Valkyrie supercar.

The luxury vehicle maker said civil proceedings had been filed against Nebula Project and that, backed by some of its customers, it was asking prosecutors to consider a criminal investigation.

Aston Martin said the saga was expected to dent annual profits by £15m as it tries to recoup the money.

General view of an Aston Martin logo on the bonnet of an Aston Martin Rapide.
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UK-based Aston Martin is famous for making cars driven by James Bond

It said it was fully committed to customers receiving delivery of their supercars on schedule despite not having received the deposited funds.

The company added that it was on track to make its first deliveries of the Valkyrie – a limited edition supercar which uses Formula One technology – in the second half of this year.

It said in future it would take deposits for “special vehicles” directly and not through a third party.

Nebula had signed an agreement in 2016 to help finance the Valkyrie, which would have entitled it to potentially “significant” royalty payments as they rolled off the production line, alongside commission on sales of Valhalla and Vanquish models – but this has now been terminated, Aston Martin said.

The deal had been signed at a time when the carmaker was struggling financially.

Aston Martin also said that it was scrapping dealership arrangements with AF Cars, a company operating in Switzerland with the same board members as Nebula, “after learning that vehicles have been sold in breach of terms of the dealership agreement”.

Aston Martin, famous as the maker of cars driven by fictional spy James Bond, said that aside from the “short term negative financial impact” of this issue, it was on course to meet financial guidance for 2021.

An Aston Martin Valkyrie car is seen during the 87th International Motor Show at Palexpo in Geneva, Switzerland March 8, 2017.
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Aston Martin said in future it would take deposits directly

Reuters news agency reported that Nebula and one of its board members, Andreas Baenziger, did not respond immediately to emailed requests for comment.

Florian Kamelger, another board member, said in an email that Nebula would release a statement later on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

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