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U.S. force in Afghanistan may be cut to less than 10,000 troops

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U.S. force in Afghanistan may be cut to less than 10,000 troops | Thaiger

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U.S. force in Afghanistan may be cut to less than 10,000 troops
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan may drop well below 10,000 – the minimum demanded by the U.S. military to train Afghan forces – as the longest war in American history winds down, Obama administration officials briefed on the matter say.

Since Afghanistan’s general election on April 5, White House, State Department and Pentagon officials have resumed discussions on how many American troops should remain after the current U.S.-led coalition ends its mission this year.

The decision to consider a small force, possibly less than 5,000 U.S. troops, reflects a belief among White House officials that Afghan security forces have evolved into a robust enough force to contain a still-potent Taliban-led insurgency. The small U.S. force that would remain could focus on counter-terrorism or training operations.

That belief, the officials say, is based partly on Afghanistan’s surprisingly smooth election, which has won international praise for its high turnout, estimated at 60 percent of 12 million eligible votes, and the failure of Taliban militants to stage high-profile attacks that day.

The Obama administration has been looking at options for a possible residual U.S. force for months.

“The discussion is very much alive,” said one U.S. official who asked not to be identified. “They’re looking for additional options under 10,000” troops.

There are now about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in 2011, when troop numbers peaked a decade into a conflict originally intended to deny al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

QUESTIONS ABOUT AFGHAN FORCES

With British and other foreign troops scheduled to depart in lock step with U.S. soldiers, the size of any residual U.S. force could add fuel to a debate in Washington over whether Taliban-led violence will intensify amid the vacuum left by Western forces, as some U.S. military officials expect.

Military leaders, including American General Joe Dunford, who heads U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has identified 10,000 soldiers as the minimum needed to help train and advise Afghan forces fighting the insurgency, arguing a smaller force would struggle to protect itself.

During a March visit to Washington, Dunford told lawmakers that without foreign soldiers supporting them, Afghan forces would begin to deteriorate “fairly quickly” in 2015. The Afghan air force, still several years away from being self-sufficient, will require even more assistance, he said.

A smaller U.S. force could have other unintended consequences, possibly discouraging already sceptical lawmakers from fully funding U.S. commitments to help fund Afghan forces.

At their current size, Afghan forces will cost at least $5 billion in 2015, a sum far beyond the reach of the Afghan government. The United States has been widely expected to be the largest outside funder for those forces.

The Taliban and other militants have been weakened by more than 12 years of Afghan and NATO assaults, but they still can obtain supplies and plan attacks from Afghanistan’s remote mountain regions and tribal areas of neighbouring Pakistan.

Some analysts are wary of reducing the U.S. presence to less than 10,000 troops.

“If the White House opts to keep a lower number of troops, it will put more pressure on the Afghan forces and run the risk of squandering their recent progress against the Taliban,” said Lisa Curtis, a former CIA analyst and State Department official now with the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington.

A U.S. force significantly below 10,000 might focus almost exclusively on counter-terrorism, tracking militants affiliated with a greatly weakened but resilient al Qaeda insurgency based on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, officials said.

Debate over the size of a residual U.S. force follows the failure of the U.S. and Afghan governments to finalize a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to authorize a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the deadline for U.S. and NATO troops to conclude their fight against the Taliban.

“The longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission,” said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a White House spokeswoman. “Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.”

Results of the recent presidential election may not be known for weeks, or months if runoffs take place. But leading candidates have said they will sign the agreement, which has been on hold because of reservations from current Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

In late February, Obama announced that the United States might seek to sign the deal with Karzai’s successor and possibly keep troops there after 2014 to train and advise Afghan forces and pursue al Qaeda militants.

Some U.S. officials believe Afghan forces will require substantial, hands-on support from foreign troops, in addition to help from the United States.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs

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Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs | Thaiger
Stock photo of Pfizer vaccine via Flickr

The CEO for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines says it is likely that people will need a 3rd dose of the vaccine and to receive it annually. Albert Bourla, told CNBC, that the booster, or 3rd dose, will be needed less than a year after being fully vaccinated.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a 3rd dose, somewhere between 6 and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus.”

Bourla’s comment echoes that of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO when he stated in February, that people may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, just like seasonal flu shots. Both statements reflect the fact that since the vaccine is new, and testing periods are shorter than most vaccines in the past, researchers are still unclear about how long the vaccine will protect against the virus.

Pfizer says that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the coronavirus and more than 95% effective against severe diseases up to 6 months after the 2nd dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to be highly effective at 6 months.

Just yesterday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, noted that new Covid variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment. We are studying the durability of the antibody response. It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Late last month, the National Institute of Health started testing a new Covid vaccine from Moderna in addition to the one it already has, designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa. The variant is similar to that of the UK one that has recently made landfall in Thailand.

Recent findings, by The Lancet, however, have stated that the UK variant, known as B117, has a higher reproductive rate than other strains, and it’s more transmissible. However, it refuted earlier reports that the strain is more severe. Meanwhile, Thailand’s health minister is confirming his commitment to making AstraZeneca the nation’s chosen vaccine.

SOURCE: CNBC

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Economy

China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020

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China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020 | Thaiger
PHOTO: China - the second largest economy, and only major economy to grow last year.

China’s economy set a record for growth in Q1, 2021, marking an 18.3% jump in year-on-year figures, the biggest quarterly growth in almost 30 years. China only started publishing growth statistics in 1992, and this drastic increase is the fastest growth recorded since then.

The figures, however impressive, are mainly due to what is called a “low base effect” where the change from a low starting point translates into big percentage statistics. Because of the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Q1 2020 figures were dismal, allowing the big gain over the last year.

Quarter to quarter, the last 3 months saw only a 0.6% growth, but in the last quarter of 2020 China recorded an economic boom of 6.5% according to the Chinese government. Still, the figures are admirable, as China was the only major economy in the world to achieve growth in 2020. Most of the planet struggled to contain global Covid-19 outbreaks, crippling economies across the globe. But China, now the second-largest economy in the world, managed a 2.3% overall expansion. Even Chinese officials called the impressive statistics “better than we had expected.”

China has been growing in terms of imports and exports as well, with exports expanding nearly 31% and imports up 38% by price over last years.

SOURCE: CNN

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine

Maya Taylor

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Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Denmark has announced that it is abandoning the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first European country to do so, amid concerns about very rare but serious blood clots. The rollout of the vaccine has run into problems in several countries, with its use either temporarily suspended or restricted to older age groups.

When concerns first arose over the vaccine’s rare side-effects, Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend its use. In Thailand, use of the vaccine was suspended last month, before officials judged it safe to proceed, with Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul going on to confirm it would become the Kingdom’s primary Covid-19 vaccine.

Both the European drugs regulator and the World Health Organisation are standing by the jab, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. However, health officials in Denmark have now decided to ditch it for good.

“Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Denmark has reported 2 cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) linked to administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of which proved fatal. The blood clot incidents arose after 140,000 people had received the jab. The Bangkok Post reports that 8% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated and 17% have received their first dose.

The country plans to continue its rollout using the Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Officials say they are confident that the availability of other jabs, coupled with the fact that Covid-19 is relatively under control in Denmark, means the country’s mass inoculation can continue without issue.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has released a statement acknowledging the decision taken by Danish health authorities.

“We recognise and respect the decision taken by the Danish Health Authority. Implementation and rollout of the vaccine programme is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities to provide all available data to inform their decisions.”

SOURCE: Euro News | Bangkok Post

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