Top Asian News 3:10 a.m. GMT
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban forces sealed off Kabul’s airport Saturday to most Afghans hoping for evacuation, as the U.S. and its allies were ending a chaotic airlift that will end their troops’ two decades in Afghanistan. Western leaders acknowledged their withdrawal would mean leaving behind some of their citizens and many locals who helped them over the years, and they vowed to try to continue working with the Taliban to allow local allies to leave after President Joe Biden’s Tuesday’s deadline to withdraw from the country. Although most of its allies had finished their evacuation flights, the U.S. planned to keep its round-the-clock flights going until the deadline, saying 113,500 people had been evacuated since Aug.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden vowed Saturday to keep up airstrikes against the Islamic extremist group whose suicide bombing at the Kabul airport killed scores of Afghans and 13 American service members. He warned another attack was “highly likely” and the State Department called the threat “specific” and “credible.” The Pentagon said the remaining contingent of U.S. forces at the airport, now numbering fewer than 4,000, had begun their final withdrawal ahead of Biden’s deadline for ending the evacuation on Tuesday. After getting briefed on a U.S. drone mission in eastern Afghanistan that the Pentagon said killed two members of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate early Saturday, Biden said the extremists can expect more.
BEIRUT (AP) — A few days after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, a convoy of militants drove through the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria in cars bearing the group’s white-and-black flags, honking horns and firing their guns in the air. The celebrations by an al-Qaida affiliate in a remote corner of war-torn Syria were an expression of the triumph felt by radical Islamic groups from the Gaza Strip to Pakistan and West Africa who see America’s violence-marred exit from Afghanistan an opportunity to reassert their presence. For such groups, the chaotic U.S. departure following the collapse of security forces it had trained for two decades is a gift, underlining their message that Washington eventually abandons its allies, and that defeating powerful armies is possible with enough patience.
Dozens of desperate Afghans who had been trying to flee the Taliban before Tuesday’s deadline for the U.S. withdrawal from Kabul made it to safety with help from an unexpected place: Instagram influencer Quentin Quarantino. Quarantino is the alter ego of 25-year-old Tommy Marcus of New York City, previously best-known for his liberal memes and his jokes about opponents of COVID-19 vaccinations. Along with his followers, Quarantino raised $7 million within days on GoFundMe to launch rescue missions into Afghanistan to evacuate as many people as possible, many of whom said they had been threatened by the Taliban. On Wednesday, their mission “Operation Flyaway” helped ferry 51 people from Afghanistan to Uganda on a privately chartered plane financed by the GoFundMe campaign.
WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s called the loneliest job in the world for a reason. Surrounded by everything a superpower can offer and watched by all, President Joe Biden wore the weight of a lonely man as he came to grips in recent days with the deadly end of the American effort in Afghanistan and tried to keep the focus on what, to him, is the bottom line. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said as the death toll mounted in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, “it was time to end a 20-year war.” The need for crisis-driven leadership comes to all presidents. Now, on several fronts at once, it has come to him, and fast.
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Saturday replaced an Australian bishop who stepped down amid a Vatican investigation into what Australian media have described as allegations of sexual misconduct. The Vatican said Francis accepted Bishop Christopher Alan Saunders’ resignation as head of the Broome diocese in Western Australia state. Francis appointed another prelate, Bishop Michael Henry Morrissey of the Geraldton diocese, to temporarily administer the sprawling Catholic diocese in Broome. The Vatican, in keeping with its custom for announcing bishop resignations, did not cite a reason for replacing Saunders. At 71, he is four years younger than the age when the Vatican requires bishops to offer their resignations to the pontiff.
From the Great Wall to the picturesque Kashmir valley, Asia’s tourist destinations are looking to domestic visitors to get them through the COVID-19 pandemic’s second year. With international travel heavily restricted, foreign tourists can’t enter many countries and locals can’t get out. In the metropolis of Hong Kong, glamping and staycations have replaced trips abroad for at least some of its 7.4 million residents. Across the Asia-Pacific region, international tourist arrivals were down 95% in the first five months of the year, compared to the same period before the pandemic in 2019, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. New variants of the virus loom — a constant threat to any recovery in even domestic tourism.
BEIJING (AP) — China’s defense ministry protested Saturday the passage of a U.S. Navy warship and Coast Guard cutter through the waters between China and Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by China. A statement posted on the ministry’s website called the move provocative and said it shows that the United States is the biggest threat to peace and stability and creator of security risks in the 160-kilometer (100-mile) wide Taiwan Strait. “We express firm opposition and strong condemnation,” the statement said. The USS Kidd guided-missile destroyer and Coast Guard cutter Munro sailed through the strait Friday in international waters, the U.S.
HONOLULU (AP) — In Singapore, in between a foreign policy speech and a roundtable talk about supply chain issues, Vice President Kamala Harris stopped to smell the flowers. Specifically, she checked out an orchid that the country named after her — a light fuschia hybrid named Papilionanda Kamala Harris — a diplomatic honor also bestowed on former President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden during past visits to the country. “Oh, this is extraordinary,” she marveled as she took a brief tour of the lush Flower Field room of Singapore’s iconic Gardens By the Bay on Tuesday. It was a brief — and rare — moment of normalcy for Harris during a diplomatic trip chock full of extraordinary circumstances.