Sunday, February 18, 2018

Exclusive: U.S. pushes motion to put Pakistan on global terrorist - financing watchlist

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The United States has put forward a motion to place Pakistan on a global terrorist-financing watchlist with an anti-money-laundering monitoring group, according to a senior Pakistani official.

Pakistan has been scrambling in recent months to avert being added to a list of countries deemed non-compliant with terrorist financing regulations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a measure that officials fear could hurt its economy.

The United States has been threatening to get tough with Islamabad over its alleged ties with Islamist militants, and last month President Donald Trump’s administration suspended aid worth about $2 billion.

Islamabad, which denies assisting militants in Afghanistan and India, has reacted angrily to U.S. threats of further punitive measures.

A meeting of FATF member states is due to take place next week in Paris, where the organization could adopt the motion on Pakistan. The FATF, an intergovernmental body based in Paris, sets global standards for fighting illicit finance.

Pakistan’s de facto finance minister, Miftah Ismail, told Reuters that the United States and Britain put forward the motion several weeks ago, and later persuaded France and Germany to co-sponsor it.

“We are now working with the U.S., UK, Germany and France for the nomination to be withdrawn,” Ismail said, speaking by telephone from Europe. “We are also quite hopeful that even if the U.S. did not withdraw the nomination that we will prevail and not be put on the watchlist.” - More

Exclusive: US pushes motion to put Pakistan on global terrorist - Reuters

Scientists Explore Ties Between Alzheimer's And Brain's Ancient Immune System

Beer has fueled a lot of bad ideas. But on a Friday afternoon in 2007, it helped two Alzheimer's researchers come up with a really a good one.

Neuroscientists Robert Moir and Rudolph Tanzi were sipping Coronas in separate offices during "attitude adjustment hour" at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard's largest teaching hospital. And, by chance, each scientist found himself wondering about an apparent link between Alzheimer's disease and the immune system.

Moir had been surfing through random scientific papers online — something he does for an hour or so on most Fridays. "I cruise wherever my fancy takes me," he says.

And on this day, he cruised to research on molecules known as antimicrobial peptides. They're part of the ancient immune system that's found in all forms of life and plays an important role in protecting the human brain.

One way antimicrobial peptides protect us is by engulfing and neutralizing a germ or some other foreign invader. That gives newer parts of the immune system time to get mobilized. - Read More, NPR

Scientists Explore Ties Between Alzheimer's And Brain's Ancient Immune System


*The full program and list of participants is available for download on the MSC website.*

The first conference day will begin with opening statements by German and French Defense Ministers Ursula von der Leyen and Florence Parly as well as UN Secretary-General António Guterres, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani. Subsequently, the participants will discuss the prospects of future European cooperation in security policy as well as persistent threats to the liberal international order.

On Saturday morning, the President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the British, French and Turkish Prime Ministers Theresa May, Edouard Philippe, and Binali Yıldırım, as well as the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel will address the audience in Munich. In the afternoon, several discussion rounds will cover topics such as security challenges in the Sahel region and in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as nuclear arms control issues and the continued threat posed by jihadist terrorism and. Senator John McCain will be awarded with this year’s Ewald von Kleist Award on Saturday evening.

The MSC 2018 will conclude on Sunday with a debate between members of the American Congress and discussions focusing on the current political tensions in the Gulf region. In this context, among others, the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Javad Zarif and Adel Al-Jubeir, will address the conference guests at Hotel Bayerischer Hof.

The full program and list of participants is now available for download on the MSC website. There, the interested public can also access select analyses, an overview of media coverage, numerous photo series, videos and more. The debates in Munich can be followed in different ways, including live broadcasts and extensive social media coverage on Twitter und Facebook for impressions both on the stage and behind the scenes of the Munich Security Conference 2018. - Read More

Diplomatic tensions at day two of Munich Security Conference - Euronews

Day two of the Munich Security Conference saw Germany come out in favour of easing some of the sanctions imposed on Russia. But only if a ceasefire could be reached in eastern Ukraine, with help from UN peacekeepers.

It has raised questions about NATO’s role in eastern European relations.

“Will NATO strengthen itself to contain Russian power in Eastern Europe giving what Russian have done illegally in Crimea, in the Donbass and in Georgia? I think the answer is positive. The NATO defence ministers have determined that they increase their findings. We have troop in Poland and three Baltic countries. I think NATO is unified. We have to continue the sanctions against Russia”, said Nicholas Burns, the former US Ambassador to NATO.

His counterpart, former Russian Ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko, declined to speak to euronews in Munich.

But the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian senate said a united approach – which included Russia - was needed. - Read More

Diplomatic tensions at day two of Munich Security Conference ...

Munich Security Conference: Europe′s elusive common security ...

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Millions of Afghans tell court they're war crimes victims - CBS News

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Since the International Criminal Court began collecting material three months ago for a possible war crimes case involving Afghanistan, it has gotten a staggering 1.17 million statements from Afghans who say they were victims.

The statements include accounts of alleged atrocities not only by groups like the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but also involving Afghan Security Forces and government-affiliated warlords, the U.S.-led coalition, and foreign and domestic spy agencies, said Abdul Wadood Pedram of the Human Rights and Eradication of Violence Organization.

Based in part on the many statements, ICC judges in The Hague would then have to decide whether to seek a war crimes investigation. It's uncertain when that decision will be made.

Civilian casualties down, but airstrike deaths up in Afghanistan

The statements were collected between Nov. 20, 2017, and Jan. 31, 2018, by organizations based in Europe and Afghanistan and sent to the ICC, Pedram said. Because one statement might include multiple victims and one organization might represent thousands of victim statements, the number of Afghans seeking justice from the ICC could be several million.

"It is shocking there are so many," Pedram said, noting that in some instances, whole villages were represented. "It shows how the justice system in Afghanistan is not bringing justice for the victims and their families."

The ICC did not give details about the victims or those providing the information.

"I have the names of the organizations, but because of the security issues, we don't want to name them because they will be targeted," said Pedram, whose group is based in Kabul.

Several powerful warlords, many of whom came to power after the collapse of the Taliban in 2001 following the U.S.-led intervention, are among those alleged to have carried out war crimes, said Pedram, who also is cautious about releasing any names.

After receiving death threats last year, Pedram fled Kabul briefly and now keeps a lower profile, no longer speaking to local media.

"The warlords are all here. You have to be very careful," he said. "In the morning, I kiss my little son goodbye, I kiss my wife goodbye because I don't know what will happen to me and when, or if I will see them again."

Established in 2002, the ICC is the world's first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The ICC can only investigate any crimes in Afghanistan after May 2003, when the country ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the court. 

In November, when ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda sought judicial authorization to begin the investigation, she said the court had been looking into possible war crimes in Afghanistan since 2006.

Bensouda said in November that "there is a reasonable basis to believe" that crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed by the Taliban as well as the Haqqani network. She also said there was evidence that the Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan National Police and its spy agency, known as the NDS, committed war crimes.

Bensouda also said evidence existed of war crimes committed "by members of the United States armed forces on the territory of Afghanistan, and by members of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secret detention facilities in Afghanistan," as well as in countries that had signed on to the Rome Statute. The secret detention facilities were operated mostly between 2003 and 2004, she said. - Read More
Afghanistan war crimes statements to International Criminal Court implicate Taliban, ISIS, Afghan and US coalition forces

Millions of Afghans tell court they're war crimes victims - CBS News

Military helicopter crashes in Mexico, killing 13 quake survivors on the ground - latimes

After a powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, frightened survivors near the quake's epicenter gathered in a field, opting to spend the night sleeping under the stars or in vehicles instead of in damaged homes vulnerable to aftershocks.

And then, a second unexpected crisis hit. This time, it fell from the sky.

A military helicopter carrying top officials assessing quake damage was preparing to land nearby when the pilot lost control. A few seconds later, the helicopter crashed to the earth — directly onto several vehicles packed with earthquake survivors.

Fourteen people on the ground died and least 21 people were injured, according to the state prosecutor's office in Oaxaca, where the crash took place. The dead include at least three children.

Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete, Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat and everybody else aboard the helicopter survived with only minor injuries, officials said.

Navarrete told a local journalist that the pilot of the Blackhawk helicopter lost control about 100 feet above the ground as it was preparing to land in the town of Jamiltepec, about 20 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.

"It is unfortunate that this happened," Navarrete told Televisa news Friday night, adding that it was good that "there was no greater loss of human lives." - Read More

Military helicopter crashes in Mexico, killing 13 quake survivors on the ground

Friday, February 16, 2018

رئیس استخبارات آلمان: وضعیت در افغانستان بهتر نشده است

وضعیت خطرناک امنیتی در افغانستان سبب نگرانی فزاینده اداره استخبارات خارجی آلمان شده است. رئیس این اداره گفته است که کنترول سراسر افغانستان، چالش بزرگی برای نیرو‌های امنیتی این کشور است.
برونو کال، رئیس اداره استخبارات خارجی آلمان به روزنامه "تاگس شپیگل" (شماره روز جمعه) گفته است: «تصور ما چنین است که حدود ۴۰ درصد خاک افغانستان دیگر تحت کنترول نیرو های امنیتی افغانستان نیست، بلکه به دست طالبان و گروه های دیگر مخالف دولت سقوط کرده است.» او افزوده است: «در حال حاضر همه نشانه ها گواه بر این اند که وضعیت امنیتی در این کشور به گونه قابل توجهی بهتر نشده است.»

رئیس اداره استخبارات خارجی آلمان افزوده است که طالبان و شاخه گروه تروریستی "دولت اسلامی" یا داعش در افغانستان توانایی آن را دارند که "حتی در کابل، که از نیرو‌های کافی امنیتی برخوردار است، حملات سنگینی را انجام بدهند". به قول کال این وضعیت به مفهوم یک خطر دوامدار، از جمله برای "سربازان و تأسیسات آلمانی" در این کشور است. او تأکید کرده است که در همه مناطق افغانستان "هر زمانی امکان دارد حمله ای صورت بگیرد". کال علاوه کرده است که طالبان حدود ۳۰ هزار جنگجوی فعال در اختیار دارند. این درحالیست که کارشناسان امنیتی ایالات متحده امریکا اخیراً حتی از ۶۰ هزار جنگجوی طالبان سخن گفته بودند.

رئیس اداره استخبارات خارجی آلمان یک دورنما برای پیروزی در جنگ علیه طالبان و سازمان های دیگر تروریستی در افغانستان را با شک و تردید ارزیابی کرده و گفته است: «سخن گفتن از موفقیت های پایدار در افغانستان دشوار است.»
کال ساحات کوهستانی افغانستان را یکی از دلایل این دشواری عنوان کرده است. او گفته است: «تاریخ نشان داده است که امپراتوری استعمارگر بریتانیا و اتحاد شوروی (پیشین) در این کشور شکست خورده اند. امروزه نیز داشتن کنترول بر سراسر این کشور، چالش بزرگی برای نیرو های امنیتی است.»
به گفته رئیس استخبارات خارجی آلمان، امریکایی ها، در مشارکت با نیرو‌های امنیتی افغانستان، برای عقب راندن و سرکوب طالبان تلاش می‌کنند. او یادآور شده است که هدف از این تلاش ها تضعیف طالبان بوده تا این گروه در نتیجه آن حاضر به مذاکرات صلح شود. - Read More, DW

رئیس استخبارات آلمان: وضعیت در افغانستان بهتر نشده است ...

Mueller Issues First Charges Alleging Interference in 2016 - NYTimes

WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations on Friday with illegally using social media platforms to sow political discord, including actions that supported the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump and disparaged his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The indictment represents the first charges by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for meddling in the 2016 presidential election — the fundamental crime that he was assigned to investigate.

In a 37-page indictment filed in United States District Court, Mr. Mueller said that the 13 individuals have conspired since 2014 to violate laws that prohibit foreigners from spending money to influence federal elections in the United States.

The indictment charges that the foreigners falsely posed as American citizens, stole identities and otherwise engaged in fraud and deceit in an effort to influence the U.S. political process, including the 2016 presidential race.

“The nature of the scheme was the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists,” Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing Mr. Mueller’s inquiry, said in a brief news conference on Friday afternoon at the Justice Department.

Though the Russians are unlikely to be immediately arrested, they are now wanted by the United States government, which will make it hard for them to travel or do business internationally.

All were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Three defendants were also charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.

The Internet Research Agency, operating out of St. Petersburg, was described in the indictment as a hub for a sophisticated operation designed to reach millions of Americans to disrupt the political process in the United States. Its annual budget was millions of dollars; its stated goal was to “spread distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general.” 

[Read our 2015 profile of the Internet Research Agency »]

Individuals involved in the conspiracy traveled to and around the United States, visiting at least eight states, court papers show, and worked with an unidentified American. That person advised them to focus their efforts on what they viewed as “purple” election battleground states, including Colorado, Virginia and Florida, the indictment said.

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told the RBC news website that Russian officials haven’t familiarized themselves with the document yet.

Mr. Rosenstein said repeatedly that the indictment does not allege that the Russian operation changed the outcome of the presidential election.

Even though the Russians recruited and paid Americans to help them stage political rallies and promote political candidates, he said, the indictment also does not allege that any of the Americans knowingly conspired with the Russian operation.

“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge,” he said. - Read More

13 Named in Russia Indictment by Special Counsel in First Charges ...

Grand Jury Indicts Russians Linked To Interference In 2016 Election

A federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities in connection with the attack on the 2016 presidential election.

The defendants are "accused of violating U.S. criminal laws in order to interfere with U.S. elections and political processes," according to a statement from the special counsel's office. The indictment charges them with "conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft."

Some of the people described in the court documents even traveled to the United States or "communicated with unwitting individuals associated with" President Trump's campaign "and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities," the indictment says.

The charges include some of the most detail yet from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller about who inside of Russia waged the broad campaign of "active measures" against the United States.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller's investigation, called the Russian efforts "information warfare" with "the stated goal of spreading distrust against the candidates and the political system in general."

However, Rosenstein underscored that there is "no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity" and "no allegation that this activity actually altered the outcome of the 2016 election."

The actions the Russian individuals and entities allegedly carried out — some of which date back to 2014 — are extraordinarily detailed and complex. The largest company indicted, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), was based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was funded through shell companies by another individual indicted. The IRA employed as many as 80 people focused on the sole project of disrupting and influencing U.S. elections, according to the indictment. By September 2016, the company had a monthly budget of more than $1.25 million.

The government alleges two defendants traveled to the U.S. and others attempted to hide their Russian origins, even using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) in the U.S. so it would appear their activity originated there. The Russians also paid real Americans to work for them as part of their interference campaign, however, "the Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians," according to the indictment.

Other actions the defendants allegedly undertook, according to the indictment, include "buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and organization affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates." - More, NPR

Grand Jury Indicts Russians Linked To Interference In 2016 Election

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Hamid Karzai’s dark theories are gaining traction in Afghanistan - washingtonpost

 He has long been dismissed by critics as a cranky, embittered has-been, given to provocative rants against the American government whose might and money sustained his government for years — and whose relationship with him eventually soured into a recrimination-filled frost.

But former Afghan president Hamid Karzai is not finished yet. The cagey politician and onetime Western protege, 60, maintains a wide circle of contacts from his artfully appointed, steel-walled compound in the Afghan capital. And as the current government struggles to cope with relentless violence by the Taliban and ­Islamic State amid a tangle of domestic political battles, Karzai’s criticisms are beginning to gain an audience in Afghanistan. 

His theories often sound conspiratorial and his proposals self-serving. It is not always easy to tell whether he believes his more far-fetched assertions, such as that the United States is secretly supporting the Islamic State offshoot in Afghanistan to justify establishing a large permanent military presence, dominate the country and control the volatile surrounding region.

American and Afghan special operations forces have been fighting together against Islamic State militants since 2014, and the U.S. and NATO continue to train and equip Afghan security forces. U.S. military officials say their long-term intentions are to establish a bulwark here against Islamist extremism and foreign aggression in a strategic neighborhood that includes Russia, Iran and China.

“The United States is not here to go to a party,” Karzai said in a recent interview with The Washington Post, sipping espresso in his book-lined study. “There is no need for them to build so many bases just to defeat a few Taliban. They are here because all the great American rivals are in the neighborhood, and we happen to be here, too. They are welcome to stay but not to deceive us.”

As the insurgent conflict drags into its 17th year and the once-diminished U.S. military role expands under the Trump administration, Karzai has repeatedly expressed strong opposition and fears of further escalation. “Too many Afghans are dying for an uncertain future,” he said. “We are too small and poor to ask the U.S. to stop, but we are a country, and our interests must be respected.”

Such comments can seem like a throwback to Karzai’s final years in power, when he took to angrily denouncing U.S. and NATO troops as foreign occupiers who bombed villages and raided homes with no regard for civilian life. As he left office in 2014, Karzai refused to sign an agreement allowing U.S. bases to remain in the country, although his successor Ashraf Ghani signed it as soon as he assumed the presidency.

These days, the former president is also voicing fears and suspicions that are shared by frustrated, confused and war-weary Afghans. Like him, many remain ambivalent about the American presence, deeply suspicious about next-door Pakistan’s role in abetting insurgents— a charge Pakistan has repeatedly denied — and fearful that an expanded U.S. military role may sink any prospects of peace. The Taliban has said repeatedly that it will not negotiate as long as foreign troops remain.

“Karzai is not alone in his paranoia,” said Davood Moradian, executive director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. 

“People all over the region think Daesh is an American import,” Moradian said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. He said there was “historic precedent” for such suspicions, noting that the U.S. supported Islamist militias here during the Cold War and then abandoned the country. “Now Islamic extremism is out of control.” 

Some former associates wince at Karzai’s unrelenting attacks on his onetime U.S. benefactors and thinly veiled suggestions that Afghans should be courting powerful neighbors like Moscow instead. They argue that despite rough patches, Washington remains a far more trustworthy ally and that its support is crucial to the country’s survival. Ghani has developed a close relationship with U.S. military officials here, and American aid pays the lion’s share of government salaries. - Read More

U.S. intelligence agency chiefs warn against using Huawei phones - Mercurynews

If you are shopping for a new smartphone, stay away from Huawei phones, warn U.S. national security agency chiefs.

Six top U.S. intelligence chiefs told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that they would not recommend phones made by China-based Huawei as they may pose a cybersecurity risk for private U.S. citizens. The chiefs — including the heads of CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence — extended their concerns to the telecom company ZTE for the same reason.

“We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks,” said FBI Director Chris Wray, according to CNBC.

U.S. government officials have long been wary of the relationship between Huawei — which has been trying to break into the U.S. market in recent years as a new smartphone alternative to Apple — and the Chinese government. - Read More

US intelligence agency chiefs warn against using ... - The Mercury News

Pakistan slipping out of US influence, say intelligence agencies - Dawn

WASHINGTON: Seventeen US intelligence agencies have warned Congress that Pakistan will continue to slip out of America’s influence and into China’s orbit in 2019, and will become a threat to Washington’s interests in the South Asian region.

The review is part of an annual report that Director of US National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, underlining worldwide threat assessment of the American intelligence community.

The 17 agencies that jointly produced this report include Central Intelligence Agency, Defence Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency.

In their report on Pakistan, the agencies warned that the country will continue to threaten US interests by “deploying new nuclear weapons capabilities, maintaining its ties to militants, restricting counterterrorism cooperation, and drawing closer to China”.

The report claimed that Islamabad-backed militant groups will continue to take advantage of their alleged safe haven in Pakistan to “plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests”.

In a brief assessment of Islamabad’s nuclear programme, US intelligence agencies informed Congress that Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons and develop new types, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer-range ballistic missiles. - Rad More

Pakistan slipping out of US influence, say intelligence agencies - Dawn

Senate Fails To Advance Any Immigration Proposals

The Senate failed to pass any immigration legislation before a self-imposed Friday deadline, leaving lawmakers with no plan to address the roughly 700,000 immigrants who stand to lose legal protections as early as March 5.

The defeat follows a rocky 24 hours of negotiations on a bipartisan bill that failed following a veto threat from President Trump. By a 39-60 vote, senators rejected a White House-backed plan that became a partisan lightning rod after Trump insisted his plan was the only one he would sign.

Ahead of the failed vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, implored senators to vote for the White House bill.

"This is it in a sense," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "The only plan that can become law because the president said he would sign it. This is it. This is your last chance."

Republicans abandoned the bipartisan plan following the White House veto threat. That plan, negotiated by a group of roughly 22 Republicans and Democrats, would pair a 12-year path to citizenship for all immigrants eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program with $25 billion in border security spending and limits on which family members the beneficiaries can sponsor for citizenship.

The bill failed 54-45, with all but three Democrats voting in favor. Among those voting against the bill was California Democrat Kamala Harris. A large share of the DACA population lives in California and Harris was under intense pressure from immigrant rights activists to oppose the bill. - Read More, NPR

Senate Fails To Advance Any Immigration Proposals

UN says more than 10,000 civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan conflict last year

More than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the Afghanistan conflict during 2017, a nine per cent drop over 2016, according to a United Nations report out Thursday which also revealed rising casualties caused by suicide bombings and attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“The chilling statistics in this report provide credible data about the war’s impact, but the figures alone cannot capture the appalling human suffering inflicted on ordinary people, especially women and children,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

A total of 10,453 civilian casualties – 3,438 people killed and 7,015 injured – were documented in the 2017 Annual Report released Thursday by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Although this figure represents a decrease of nine per cent compared with 2016, the report highlights the high number of casualties caused by suicide bombings and other attacks using IEDs. 

“I am particularly appalled by the continued indiscriminate and unlawful use of IEDs such as suicide bombs and pressure-plate devices in civilian populated areas. This is shameful,” said Mr. Yamamoto, who also heads UNAMA.

The second leading cause of civilian casualties in 2017 was ground engagements between anti-government elements and pro-government forces, although there was a decrease of 19 per cent from the record levels seen in 2016.

The report attributes close to two-thirds or 65 per cent of all casualties to anti-government elements: 42 per cent to the Taliban, 10 per cent to Da’esh/Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP), and 13 per cent to undetermined and other anti-government elements.  - Read More

UN says more than 10,000 civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan conflict last year

Ashraf Ghani is not an ethnonationalist -- by Ajmal Shams

On February 5, in an article published in the opinion section of Al Jazeera English, author Eisa Khan Ayoobi classified Afghan PresidentAshraf Ghani as an "ethnonationalist", surprising many people who have been following Ghani's political career and tenure as president closely.

I have known Ghani personally for several years - I served as the senior policy adviser at the Afghanistan Security Transition Commission which he chaired, I was a member of his electoral campaign team on behalf of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party, and for the past year, I have been serving as a deputy minister in his National Unity Government. I can confidently say that the president I know and work closely with is not an ethnonationalist.

In his article, Mr Ayoobi implied that President Ghani came to power as result of a fraud-ridden election. It is true that the 2014 presidential election in Afghanistanwas a difficult one, with widespread allegations of irregularities. But in September 2014, Afghanistan's election commission conducted a UN-sponsored audit of all votes to lay the aforementioned fraud allegations to rest and declared Ghani as the legitimate winner of the election.

Even though Ghani's victory was confirmed by both local authorities and independent international observers, the Afghan society was still deeply divided following the challenging electoral process. The Pashtun majority in the country, who overwhelmingly voted for Ghani, was content with the final election result, but his rival Abdullah Abdullah's supporters were still dissatisfied. To bridge these divisions within the society, even though he was under no obligation to do so, Ghani agreed to the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) in which he would share power with Abdullah. When President Ghani visited Washington in March 2015 along with Abdullah - who had become Afghanistan's first chief executive officer thanks to the agreed power-sharing mechanism - the then US foreign secretary John Kerry applauded Ghani for taking such a unifying stance following the election.

"[Ghani] was not required by any law, by any rule, by any precedent to share power and create a unity government," Kerry said. "But, he did so because he believed it was in the best interests of Afghanistan and it was the best way to move forward." - Read More, Aljazeera

Ashraf Ghani is not an ethnonationalist | Ashraf Ghani | Al Jazeera

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

More than 10,000 Afghan civilians killed or wounded last year, U.N. says

KABUL (Reuters) - More than 10,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in violence last year, the United Nations said on Thursday, with militant bombings the main cause while air strikes by U.S. and government forces inflicted a rising toll.

U.S. President Donald Trump introduced a more aggressive U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in August including a surge in air strikes. The militants have responded with attacks in Kabul in the past few weeks, killing nearly 150 people.

The overall civilian toll last year of 3,438 killed and 7,015 wounded was 9 percent lower than the previous year. But the figures highlighted the high number of casualties caused by militant bombs, the United Nations said.

“Attacks where anti-government elements deliberately targeted civilians accounted for 27 per cent of the total civilian casualties ... mainly from suicide and complex attacks,” the United Nations said in a statement.

The deadliest attack since the U.N. mission began recording civilian casualties in 2009 was in Kabul on May 31 when a suicide attacker detonated a truck bomb, killing 92 civilians and injuring 491.

Two-thirds of all casualties last year were inflicted by anti-government forces, with the Taliban responsible for 42 percent, Islamic State 10 percent and 13 percent caused by undetermined anti-government elements. - Read More

More than 10,000 Afghan civilians killed or wounded last year, U.N. says

Trump Offers Spending Blueprint, But Congress Already Wrote The Check

President Trump released his 2019 budget proposal Monday calling for increased spending on the military, border security and the opioid crisis. But the White House blueprint has already been overtaken by events. The two-year budget deal passed by Congress last week boosts spending for both the military and domestic programs by nearly $300 billion over the next two years, complicating White House efforts to reorder federal priorities.

"We really thought we could cut a deal with the Democrats that would increase defense spending in order to defend the nation," White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday. "But when the doors closed, what happened was they would not give us a single dollar worth of additional defense spending without giving us additional money for welfare spending and that's just the world we live in."

The White House offered an amendment to its 2019 budget to account for the additional spending. It also suggested cuts that Congress could make in the current fiscal year. - Read More, NPR

Trump Offers Spending Blueprint, But Congress Already Wrote The Check