THURSDAY, APRIL 15
US President Joe Biden says America will finally end its 20-year war in Afghanistan from May 1, with US and allied forces to completely depart no later than September 11 this year.
In a White House speech on Wednesday (local time), Mr Biden said there was little justification for the US’s continued military engagement in Afghanistan, adding it was time to end the “forever war” launched in 2001.
“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats,” Mr Biden said.
“I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
There are roughly 7,000 NATO forces still in Afghanistan in addition to the remaining 2,500 US troops.
Australia’s remaining military personnel in Afghanistan are soon expected to leave alongside their NATO-led coalition colleagues, in coordination with the withdrawal decision.
And according to the Defence Department, “Australia currently contributes around 80 defence personnel in Afghanistan” as part of Operation HIGHROAD.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed his government had been discussing withdrawal plans with the United States and other allies.
“Without going into national security matters you can be assured that the Australian government has been working closely with our American partners and allies on these issues,” Mr Morrison said.
Military insiders believe Australia will continue to provide aid to the war-ravaged country through defence cooperation programs, but the federal government will no longer provide any “in-country support”.
While President Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September breaks a May 1 withdrawal deadline set by the Trump Administration, it leaves no room for additional extensions.
The current withdrawal plan sets a firm end date on two decades of war that has seen more than 2,200 US troops killed, 20,000 wounded and cost as much as $US1 trillion ($1.3 trillion).
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he expected the allies to withdraw together but maintained that neither the US nor NATO would abandon the country despite the impending exodus of troops.
The royal family has released new photographs of the late Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, in a touching tribute to the father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
The monarchy is observing two weeks of mourning for Philip, who died on April 9 at the age of 99.
His funeral will take place on Saturday at Windsor Castle, and while attendance is limited to 30 because of coronavirus restrictions, hundreds of servicemen and women from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force are expected to take part in the funeral procession.
In a series of posts on social media, Philip was remembered as an avid sailor and family man, who “took a special interest in science, technology and the revival of British industry after the war years”.
In her first public appearance since her father’s death, Princess Anne — dressed in black and wearing sunglasses — visited the Royal Yacht Squadron on the Isle of Wight, where they had sailed together.
“During the visit, Her Royal Highness spoke fondly of learning to sail with her father, and later attending sailing events with him,” the royal family tweeted, alongside a photo of the Princess Royal with the late Duke of Edinburgh at Cowes Week in 1970.
“The Duke of Edinburgh was a keen sailor. From 1956 to 1970 and then again from 1975 to 1980, he served as President of the [Royal Yachting Association].”
Among the homage was a photo of the Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh, surrounded by seven of their great-grandchildren at Balmoral Castle in 2018.
The image — which does not feature the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son Archie, who was born in 2019, or Princess Eugenie and Princess Zara’s sons, August and Lucas — was taken by Kate the Duchess of Cambridge, who has become known for publicly releasing her original photography, including portraits of her family and documentation of royal trips abroad.
Prince Philip was also photographed playing polo with a young Prince Charles, and spending time with his family, including the Cambridge’s, Prince Harry, and sisters Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice.
In a separate tribute, published on her personal Instagram account, Princess Eugenie said her grandfather would be remembered “in your children, your grandchildren and great grandchildren”.
“I remember laughing at your jokes and asking about your spectacular life and service in the navy,” she wrote.
“I remember incinerating the sausages and you swooping in to save the day.
“I remember your hands and your laugh and your favourite beer.”
She went on to thank him for his “dedication and love for us all, and especially Granny, who we will look after for you”.
Virgin Australia says it plans to reach 100 per cent capacity by the end of the calendar year in the aftermath of crippling COVID-19 restrictions, with 373 aircraft and 220 cabin crew set to return to the skies, reports the ABC.
As part of its staged comeback, the airline announced plans to bring in an additional 10 Boeing 737-800 aircraft to meet an expected surge in domestic tourism.
Between now and the June school holidays, Virgin has committed to add more than 220 return flights per week to its schedule on key travel routes across the country.
It comes after a year of rolling travel restrictions, which grounded hundreds of aircraft and left thousands without jobs across Australia as the airline’s capacity plummeted to 20 per cent at the height of the pandemic in June last year.
Speaking in Brisbane, the airline’s chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka outlined the airline’s recovery plan, with plans to reach 80 per cent capacity by mid-June.
“We are hopeful we will get back to 100 per cent by the end of this calendar year – that’s the burning desire,” Ms Hrdlicka said at a cabin crew training event.
“Today, we are operating around 850 weekly return flights, and as we approach the June school holidays, we will add another 220 return flights per week to our schedule.”
It comes at a time when Ms Hrdlicka said Australians were increasingly hungry to travel again, with more than 75 per cent of tickets booked with the recovering airline from May onwards.
“We see a lot of demand in Australia. Those people who get back in the air are so excited to take their first steps to get back to normal,” she said.
New flight routes will be created between Melbourne and Hamilton Island and Melbourne and Darwin as part of the airline’s fast-tracked recovery efforts.
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