Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve 2015 celebrations around the world - Singapore celebrates start of 2016

New Year's Eve celebrations are kicking off around the world to mark the arrival of 2016 - Read More 

Global Common Allies and Adversaries

Many countries around the world call terrorism a common enemy, but there is not a common definition for that. Terrorism is against the peace, stability and development. Their mission is to murder, demolish and spread fear. Abuse and misinterpretation of any faith in their favor are their mutual interest and shared goals. They support each other globally and they have a common definition of their foes. It is like a cancer in the world and besides the symptoms, we need to fight the causes of this illness. We should ask ourselves, what do we do to defeat them fundamentally and defend ourselves?

There is no doubt that some state sponsors terrorist groups, yet I have not heard of any government, which publicly backs or defend terrorism. While every state agrees on the threat posed by these groups, yet we do not have a common definition of terrorism, which should be widely accepted or adopted by every country in the war on terror.

Globalization has advantages and challenges. Pandemic, proliferation of WMD, climate changes, migration and terrorism, are the challenges we face universally. We live in a global village and one of the mentioned concerns in any country can affect another country or the entire world.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and since the launch of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) hundreds of thousands of people died around the globe. The war is not over yet, insecurity and threats have increased. The ongoing war and refugee crisis may last for years and decades. Though, the world community can reduce or hinder these issues by a comprehensive, strategic and long-term unified vision.

One propaganda message of an extremist, radical or terrorist spreads among their friends, associates or enemies instantly and globally, but what about the good news? Do the countering propaganda and good stories get enough coverage? Is this against our values to search for and share good stories? These are the questions that we should ask ourselves.

Of course, it is not mandatory to report and share only good news and stories, but everyone has rights, responsibilities and obligations. Are we practicing our responsibilities and are we doing enough? Should we remain indifferent or we should also engage through all possible means against terrorism? These are the vital matters that we should debate. 

Terrorism does not belong to a particular race and religion. Warfare, crimes and terrorism existed before Islam and other religions, but today Muslims mostly blamed for most of the terrorist acts. Lots of people oppose generalizing this issue and criticizing a faith community for the actions of some individuals and groups. Many Muslims may refute the claims and oppose the misuse of Islam by terrorism, but their voice is not heard. - Read More at the huffingtonpost

Global Common Allies and Adversaries - 

Top U.S. general in Afghanistan says he may seek more troops

(CNN)The U.S.'s top commander in Afghanistan said in an interview published Tuesday that he wants to keep as many troops as possible on the ground and would not rule out seeking additional forces.

In an interview with USA Today, Army General John Campbell said he intends to "keep as much as I could for as long as I could."

"If I don't believe that we can accomplish the train, advise and assist and the (counter-terrorism) missions, then I owe it to the senior leadership to come back and say, 'Here's what I need.' If that's more people, it's more people," Campbell said.

President Barack Obama has previously announced that the U.S. will reduce its military footprint from 9,800 troops to 5,500 by 2017. - Read More 

Top U.S. general in Afghanistan says he may seek more troops

Afghan leader says end to terrorism a condition for peace talks

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said international meetings next month to lay the groundwork for a possible resumption of peace talks with the Taliban had to seek an approach to the fractured insurgent movement that ensured a rejection of terrorism.

Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States are due to meet in Islamabad on Jan. 11 to try to revive a peace process that stalled in July when the news came out that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had died two years earlier.

Prospects of success have been clouded by bloody infighting in the Taliban over the leadership succession which has made it difficult to identify which parts of the movement may be open to talks and which remain committed to the insurgency.

The legitimacy of Omar's former deputy Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who assumed the leadership in July, is rejected by some militants. Rivals who accuse him of being beholden to Pakistan are suspicious that he hid Omar's death for so long.

"It is obvious that there are groups of Taliban, not a unified movement," Ghani told a news conference on Thursday. "The fundamental issue here is the choice: choose peace or terrorism," he said. "There will be no tolerance for terrorism." - Read More at the Reuters

Afghan leader says end to terrorism a condition for peace talks

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

More troops may be needed in Afghanistan, says US and Nato chief

The top US and Nato military commander in Afghanistan may seek additional American troops to help local forces as they struggle to contain the Taliban insurgency, according to reports. 

General John Campbell comments to the USA Today newspaper come as the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in the second half of 2015, with an increase in insurgent attacks and higher casualties among both Taliban and national forces.

President Barack Obama has already backtracked on a pledge to pull out all but 1,000 troops, and in October he announced that 9,800 US forces would remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2016.

Campbell told USA today he would ask the Obama administration to keep that higher number of troops in country as long as possible and suggested he might call for more US personnel.

“If I don’t believe that we can accomplish the train, advise and assist and the (counter-terrorism) missions, then I owe it to the senior leadership to come back and say, ‘Here’s what I need’. If that’s more people, it’s more people,” Campbell told the newspaper.

The 9,800 US troops were scheduled to be drawn down to 5,500 by 1 January 2017.  “My intent would be to keep as much as I could, for as long as I could,” Campbell said.

This month marks a year since the US and Nato-led mission in Afghanistan transitioned into an Afghan operation, with allied nations assisting in training and equipping local forces to tackle Taliban and other groups. 

Campbell said he would be going to Washington soon to brief security chiefs about his proposals. “Some of them will not go over well with people,” Campbell said. “Some of them will get approved.” - Read More at the Guardian

More troops may be needed in Afghanistan, says US and Nato chief

Monday, December 28, 2015

Canada's Trudeau to get state dinner - The Hill

President Obama will host Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a state dinner on March 10, the administration announced Monday.  The honor will come just months after Trudeau's election in Canada.

“The visit will be an opportunity for the United States and Canada to deepen their bilateral relationship, which is one of the closest and most extensive in the world,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. 

Obama is looking to pursue closer ties with Canada under Trudeau’s leadership.

Obama reportedly extended the invitation during his congratulatory call to Trudeau following his election victory. The two already appear to have a chummy relationship. During the call, Obama encouraged Trudeau to call him by his first name. 

The Liberal Party head recalled the conversation during a recent interview with The New York Times Magazine, dropping his voice to imitate the president. 

“'Justin, I like to think of myself as a young politician. The gray hair caught up with me, and it’ll catch up with you. But calling me ‘Sir’ makes me feel old. Call me ‘Barack,’” Trudeau said.

Trudeau will be accompanied by his wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau. Obama and Trudeau will hold a meeting to discuss energy, climate change and security issues, the White House said. 

The last White House state dinner for a Canadian leader was in 1997, when Prime Minster Jean Chrétien was invited by President Bill Clinton. - Read More 

Canada's Trudeau to get state dinner

Saturday, December 26, 2015

دافغانستان ملي شورا ته دهند دصدراعظم نریندرا مودي تاریخي وینا - تاند

اته سوه کاله وړاندې ددې خاورې د بلخ ولایت یوه وتلي زوی، دبشري تاریخ یو له نوموتیو شاعرانو جلال الدین رومي لیکلي ول، خپل ږغ مه جګوئ بلکې خپلو تورو او لفظونو ته زور ورکوئ، دا تندر نه بلکې باران دی چې ګلونه غوړوي. همدا ددې ځلانده خاورې او ستر ولس پوهه ده.

دا یوه داسې خاوره ده چې له خپلې ښکلا او شاعرۍ، له ننګ او پته، له ویاړ او سخاوته یې، تلپاتې هستۍ زېږولې دي، دا یو داسې ولس دی چې په ملګرتیا کې دې ټینګ په غېږ کې نیسي خو د خپلې ازادۍ لپاره په کلک هوډ جنګېږي.
په دې پېړۍ کې ستر افغان ولس د خپل هوډ او مېړانې د مبارزې حماسه وکړه، دوی خپل راتلونکی په توپک او تاوتریخوالي نه بلکې په رایه او خبرو ټاکي.

دجرګو له دود سره پیوند دغه هېواد د ولسواکۍ پر لار تلل غوره کړل. پر دې لار د تلو پیرزوینې هغه بې نومه افغانانو ته وړاندې کوو چې د خپلې راتلونکې لپاره یې سرښندنې کړي. دا پیرزوینې د افغانستان د پخواني ولسمشر حامد کرزي مشرتابه ته وړاندې کوم چې په خپله پوهه او هوډ یې خپل ولس د نهیلۍ له شپو ورځو د امید راتلونکې ته رهبري کړ.

په هند کې ستاسو د ۱.۲۵ میلیارد دوستانو په استازیتوب، ستاسو لاسته راوړنې ستایم، ستاسو دملګرتیا ددرناوي په خاطر او ستاسو له راتلونکې سره د پیوستون لپاره دلته ولاړ یم.

دافغانستان دحکومت مننه کوم چې د هند د یوه لوی سیاستوال اټل بیهاري واجپای د کالیزې په ورځ یې د ملي شورا دپرانستنې ورځ غوره کړې او د هغه [اتل] په نامه یې یوه ودانۍ نومولې ده. یوولس کاله پخوا ده له کرزي صاحب سره ددې ودانۍ دبنسټ ډبره ایښې وه.

اتل په پښتو کې دقهرمان معنا لري او په هندي کې د کلک او هوډمن.

دملي شورا دودانیو دا کمپلیکس تاسو ته د یوه ملت او ولسواکۍ لور ته ستاسو دپرمختګ لپاره یو کوچنۍ ډالۍ ده. خو دا به ددوو هیوادونو داړیکو د تلپاتې توب یوه نښه وي.

درنو استازو، دهند او افغانستان اړیکې دومره لرغونې دي لکه تاریخ، د دنګ هندوکش او خیبر درې له لارې مذهبي لارویانو، سوداګرو، او واکمنانانو دعلماو او کلتور، مذهبونو، کاروبار او سلطنتونو زموږ ترمنځ یو تړاو رامنځته کړ.

دتاریخ په بدلېدونکي بهیر کې یو وخت مو جنګونه لیدلي دي. خو په دغه اوږه بهیر کې موږ یو بل پیاوړی کړی دی.

په عینک او بامیان په نه هېرېدونکو سمبولونو کې او دډيلی په جادويي یادګارونو کې، زموږ په کلتور او فن و هنر کې، په مذهب او ادبیاتو کې، په خوړو او مېلو کې، موږ دخپلو بې شانه او بې پایه اړیکو نښې وینو.

موږ له لرغوني افغانستانه دګندهاري مهابهارتا دستر کردار په سوغات نازول شوي یو.

دموریا امپراتورۍ یا دشېرشاه سوري په لاسته راوړنو کې موږ خپل پیوستون وینو چې غواړو بیرته یې راژوندی کړو.

په ډيلې کې یو افغان پاچا احمدشاه درانی دخپلو دنګو غرونو په ارمان کې شعر لیکي، چې وايي: - Read More at the taand

Death toll from severe weather in Southeast climbs to 18 - Washingtonpost

 The death toll in the Southeast climbed to 18 on Saturday after less than a week of tumultuous weather — unusual warmth, tornadoes and torrential downpours — sparked flooding and caused damage that wreaked havoc during the Christmas holiday.

Two deaths attributable to weather were reported Saturday in Mississippi: two people who have been missing since Wednesday, bringing that state’s death toll to 10. Late Saturday, one death was reported in Alabama.

In Texas, meanwhile, residents hunkered down for what the National Weather Service was calling a “historic blizzard.” Some parts of the state’s panhandle could see as many as 14 inches of snow, with sub-zero wind chills and accumulating ice. Residents in Lubbock and Amarillo prepared for a storm expected to begin Saturday night.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said 56 injuries were reported. In a statement, Flynn said preliminary damage estimates show 241 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

More than 400 homes were affected, he said. Severe storms are forecast for Sunday night through Monday as a strong cold front pushes through. Tornadoes are possible, and residents are asked to remain alert. - Read More 

Death toll from severe weather in Southeast climbs to 18

Afghanistan records 12 injured in late-night earthquake - Associated Pres

KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 12 people were injured in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province after an earthquake jolted the country just before midnight Friday, officials said on Saturday.

A number of Nangarhar University students in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, were injured during a stampede while trying to run out of a building during the quake, said Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor.

The magnitude 6.2 quake struck at around 11:45 p.m. on Friday and lasted about a minute. It was also felt in the capital, Kabul, sending residents rushing into the street for safety.

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said two regions of Afghanistan were affected — east and north-east — but the expected impact was “small to medium scale.”

The quake’s epicenter was in the Zebak district of Badakhshan province in the country’s north, but no casualties or damage from the area had been reported, OCHA said.

In neighboring Takhar province, to the east, very little damage was reported aside from three houses in Taloqan city, it said. The northeastern region of Afghanistan is a mosaic of valleys and mountains; it is remote and sparsely populated, and difficult for damage assessors to reach.

In eastern Nagarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces, the damage was also limited. Overall, five provinces were affected, with 12 people injured and 16 houses damaged, OCHA said. - Read More at the washingtonpost

Afghanistan records 12 injured in late-night earthquake

OP-ED - America's drunk history, latimes

Consider this a "trigger warning": The following essay may disturb and upset your view of American history, a history mostly written by scholarly types who distill vast amounts of research into erudite narratives. The trouble with their reverence and their gravitas is that they tend to leave out the interesting bits: sex, food and, especially, alcohol.

The effect of drinking on our national story begins with the Pilgrims, a desperate group of scrappy immigrant refugees who landed illegally on Cape Cod, although their charter from King James was for Virginia. They had to land; they were running out of beer.

"We could not now take time for further search and consideration," explained William Bradford, who would become governor of the Plymouth Bay Colony, "our victuals being much spent, especially our beer." If the Pilgrims had succeeded in going to Virginia, perhaps the American character would be slow-moving and gentlemanly instead of feisty, flinty and Yankee.

One of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — was also affected by a bottle. The Secret Service agents who guarded the president and the first lady, and who rode in the car behind them in the Dallas motorcade, had been out until the early hours of the morning at the local press club and at a free-wheeling nightclub called the Cellar Coffee House. Some had been drinking. Did this impair their ability to protect the president at a moment that changed American history? - Read More at the latimes

America's drunk history

متن کامل سخنرانی محمد اشرف غنی رئیس جمهوری اسلامی افغانستان در مراسم افتتاح ساختمان جدید شورای ملی

جلالتمآب مودی، شما به افغانستان بیگانه نیستید، کسی را ما بیگانه میگوئیم که ما را نشناسد، با ما علاقه نداشته باشد، از درد ما خبر نباشد. شما دوست دوامدار افغانستان هستید، به نمایندگی ملت و دولت افغانستان از علاقه دوامدار و توجه خاص شما من ابراز تشکر میکنم و شما را خوش آمدید می گویم.

هرکسی رئیس جمهور افغانستان باشد دوستی افغانستان و هندوستان دوامدار خواهد بود چون اساس این دوستی را منافع مشترک دو دولت و علایق عمیق و وسیع دو ملت تشکیل داده. علاقه ما و آگاهی ما از یکدیگر نو نیست، کدام دو مملکت هستند که به سه هزار و چهار هزار سال تاریخ مشترک اشاره کرده می توانند! تاریخی که دوام سه هزار و چهار هزار سال دارد، هزارها سال دیگر دوام خواهد کرد. کتیبه آشوکا در کندهار بود و در طول راه و شیرشاه سوری فرزند بهار نماینده واقعی تفکر افغانیست، در پنج سال اساس گذاشت که صدها سال دیگر شاهراه عمومی را ایجاد کرد، اگر زائرین بودیایی آمدند و بامیان را ساختند، طروق صوفیه از چشت شریف به آگره رسیدند.

رفت و آمد ما همیشه متقابل بوده همیشه با یکی دیگر اعتبار و اعتماد داشتیم، قرن ۱۹ قرنی بود که به اساس پروژه های استعماری ما از همدیگر جدا شدیم، اما به یاد داشته باشید که شکست اول انگلیس در افغانستان موجب کلانترین حرکت آزادی خواهی در ۱۸۵۷ هندوستان شد و شکست دوم انگلیس اساس نهضت آزادی خواهی هندوستان را دوباره گذاشت؛ چیزی که ما با هم ثابت کردیم این است که هیچ وقت به زور تسلیم نخواهد شدیم، هندوستانی ها همیشه در قلب ما آمده اند، کسانی دیگر که به نیت شوم آمدند افغانستان گور شان بوده، اما امروز سمبولهای نو همکاری داریم، بچه ها و دخترهای افغان از سچین تندولکار، از نریندستوی و از مسدونی یاد میکنند، تیم های کرکت ما روزانه مناسبات نو فرهنگ قدیم ما را زنده می سازند. - Read More
متن کامل سخنرانی محمد اشرف غنی رئیس جمهوری اسلامی افغانستان در مراسم افتتاح ساختمان جدید شورای ملی 
رئیس جمهور غنی: اساس رابطه ما با هند منافع مشترک و علایق مردمان ماست
جمهور رئیس غني: له هند سره زموږ د اړیکو بنسټ ګډې ګټې او د خلکو لېوالتیا ده 

Unofficial Translation of Remarks Delivered by President Ghani Inauguration of the New Parliament Building 
رئیس جمهور غنی: افغانستان علاقمند است که ترکیه نقش بارزتری را در تشویق همکاری های منطقوی ایفا کند 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay flooding displaces 150,000

More than 150,000 people in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil have been driven from their homes by some of the worst flooding in years.
Heavy summer rains have caused rivers to swell across a vast area.

In Paraguay, the most affected country, President Horacio Cartes declared a state of emergency, freeing up $3.5m (£2.3m) in relief funds.

The Paraguay river in the capital, Asuncion, is just 30cm (12in) away from overtopping its banks.  That could lead to widespread flooding in the Asuncion area.

In northern Argentina, some 20,000 people have been evacuated.

Dry weather is forecast for the Brazilian-Uruguayan border region in the next few days, but in Paraguay and Argentina water levels are still expected to rise. - Read More at the BBC
Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay flooding displaces 150000 

Northern Afghanistan hit by 6.3-magnitude earthquake - BBC News

Strong earthquake hits northeast Afghanistan

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit northern Afghanistan and Pakistan late on Friday, two months after more than 300 people were killed by a quake in the same mountainous region.

Strong shocks were felt in the Afghan capital Kabul at 11:14 p.m. local time (1914 GMT) and in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, waking sleeping people and driving them out of their houses. Tremors were felt as far away as New Delhi, officials said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake, initially reported as magnitude 6.4, was at a depth of 126.5 miles (203 km) and centered 51 miles (82 km) southeast of the town of Feyzabad, capital of the Afghan province of Badakhshan.

In Pakistan, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government issued a red alert soon after the earthquake but there was no immediate information about loss of life or damage to property.

A magnitude 6.2 quake is considered strong and can cause severe damage. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties but communications can be slow in the mountainous region where the quake was centered.

With harsh winter weather setting in, any widespread destruction of buildings and houses would create severe hardship.

A magnitude-7.5 quake hit northern Afghanistan and Pakistan on Oct. 26, destroying thousands of houses and killing more than 300 people. - Read More at the reuters

Strong earthquake hits northeast Afghanistan

Struggling To Absorb Asylum-Seekers, Germany Steps Up Deportations - Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel says it is her country's responsibility to help anyone fleeing from war: More than a million people have sought asylum in Germany this year, and the German government has been generous in welcoming many of them.

At the same time, officials are stepping up deportations, targeting migrants from countries the German government considers "safe," at least in part — even Afghanistan.

Merkel embraces Syrian refugees with open arms, but had a far different message for Afghans during a recent news conference with their president, Ashraf Ghani, in Berlin. She said many Afghans seeking asylum can expect to be shipped home.

Afghans may want to come to Germany for a better life, Merkel said, but her plan is to help them by sending German troops and development aid to Afghanistan.  She urged Ghani to help keep Afghans home. The German embassy in Kabul also has started a media campaign to persuade Afghans to stay put.

Mark Hauptmann, a parliament member from Merkel's party, explains the policy in two ways. First, "If we look at the people who are leaving the country, they are the young ones, the better-educated ones and those ones are needed to build up Afghanistan," he says.

"We send our troops, we send our citizens there, to protect Afghans and to create safe environments in Afghanistan," he says. "And then people from Afghanistan are coming as so-called war refugees here to Europe."

Hauptmann says nearly 128,000 Afghans came to Germany in the first 11 months of this year to apply for asylum – a third of them in November alone.  

"This is not acceptable. I know that Afghanistan is not a place where we have 100 percent safety all over the country but the idea ... is to create areas where you can live secure and safe," he says.

But Afghans living in Germany say there is no safe place in their homeland for them to return now, given daily Taliban attacks, many of them in the heart of Kabul.

"Deportation is quite difficult in Germany because it's not in the power of the federal state, but in the power of the states," he says. "So this creates a lot of challenges." - Read More at the NPR

Struggling To Absorb Asylum-Seekers, Germany Steps Up Deportations

Indian prime minister makes surprise stopover in Pakistan

Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, made a surprise stopover in Pakistan on Friday to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif – the first time an Indian premier has visited the rival nation in over a decade. The visit, requested by Modi just hours earlier before he flew back home from Afghanistan, raised hopes that stop-and-start negotiations between the nuclear-armed neighbours might finally make progress after three wars and more than 65 years of hostility.

Modi phoned Sharif earlier in the day to wish him a happy 66th birthday and asked if he could make a stop in Pakistan on his way home, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhry, told reporters. “And the PM said to him: ‘Please come, you are our guest, please come and have tea with me.’”

Modi was on his way home after a visit to Russia. He stopped off in the Afghan capital, Kabul, earlier on Friday, where he inaugurated a new parliament complex built with Indian help. The Lahore visit comes after India and Pakistan resumed high-level contact with a brief conversation between Sharif and Modi at climate change talks in Paris late last month, part of efforts to restart a peace dialogue plagued by militant attacks and longstanding distrust.

Opening the parliament building in Kabul, Modi pledged India’s support for the Afghan government and urged regional powers, including Pakistan, to work together to foster peace. “We know that Afghanistan’s success will require the cooperation and support of each of its neighbours,” he said. “And all of us in the region – India, Pakistan, Iran and others – must unite in trust and cooperation behind the common purpose and in recognition of our common destiny.”

As well as the parliament building, India is also supplying three Russian-made Mi-35 helicopters to Afghanistan’s small air force, adding badly needed capacity to provide close-air support to its hard-pressed security forces.  - Read More at the Guardian

Indian prime minister makes surprise stopover in Pakistan ...

Pope praises nations taking in refugees in Christmas prayer

Pope Francis on Friday praised individuals and countries taking in refugees fleeing “inhuman conditions” in a Christmas prayer.

The pontiff said that such generosity helped refugees “build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them,” according to the Associated Press.

Speaking to supporters from a balcony at St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas day, the Pope made reference to November’s terrorist attack in Paris, as well as other attacks linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, calling them “brutal acts of terrorism.”

“May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples,” he said.

Francis said he hoped his prayer would encourage Catholics “to welcome God's mercy in our lives, and be merciful with our brothers to make peace grow.

"Only God's mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst," he added.- Read More at thehill

Pope praises nations taking in refugees in Christmas prayer

Thursday, December 24, 2015

US officials to deport 'border surge' families in large-scale raids

Hundreds of illegal immigrants from Central America are expected to be deported from the United States as soon as early January, The Washington Post reports.

The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly planning a series of raids in the first large-scale deportation attempt since tens of thousands fled violence in Central America. The raids will reportedly target families who crossed the southern border since the beginning of last year.

The illegal immigrants targeted for deportation will be adults and children who have already been ordered by an immigration judge to be removed from the U.S., according to anonymous officials cited in the Post report.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will reportedly be leading the raids, which come as the presidential race focuses on the intersection between border security and national security. 

Leading Republican presidential contenders Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have promised to build a giant wall along the southern border, deport illegal immigrants (all 11 million, in Trump's case) and block the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the U.S. (blocking all Muslim entries, in Trump's case).

Immigration rights activists will oppose the moves vigorously, given they would affect adults and children who fled from dangerous circumstances in Central America. 

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democratic presidential candidate, blasted the administration’s plans.  “Holiday plans for raids to round up/deport Central American refugees fleeing death are wrong. We are a better nation than this,” he tweeted. - Read More at thehill

US officials to deport 'border surge' families in large-scale raids

O’Malley: Jesus was a refugee - The Hill

Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley says plans to deport hundreds of illegal immigrants in a series of raids are not befitting of the Christmas season.

“A Christmas Refugee Roundup sounds like something [Donald Trump] would concoct,” O’Malleytweeted Thursday. “Remember: Jesus was a refugee child who fled death gangs.”

O'Malley's comments come hours after reports emerged that the Department of Homeland Security is planning a push to deport hundreds of immigrants from Central America who fled violence in their homelands.

Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, has called for a halt to a Syrian refugee relocation program and has advocated a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the country.

In the nativity story recounted in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem after Caesar Augustus issued a decree calling for a census.

After Jesus was born, according to the Gospel of Matthew, Mary and Joseph were warned by an angel to flee to Egypt before King Herod issued a decree calling for all male infants to be killed. - Read More at thehill

O’Malley: Jesus was a refugee

GOP senator's Christmas message: 'We cannot take our well-being for granted'

With one day until Christmas, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is urging Americans to count their blessings and reach out to help those less fortunate.

“For many, 2015 has been a year of great challenges and impactful events,” he said Thursday the weekly Republican address.

“The terrorist attacks and the continued struggle of millions across America and around the world are a glaring reminder that we cannot take our well-being for granted,” Crapo continued.

“As this year draws to a close, I hope that those who have struggled will find optimism in the dawn of a new year.  These challenges will unite us and our compassion will match our strength.”

Crapo said Christmas season would be incomplete without recognition of the sacrifices of American law enforcement and military personnel.  

Crapo called on the nation not to abandon its support for diversity. “For those of different faiths, including those who choose not to observe a higher power or any religious faith, this season is observed with many different traditions,” he said.
“The season is a reminder of one of our greatest values ensured by the Constitution: the freedom of religion,” Crapo said. “The diversity of our celebration is part of the magic of Christmas. It brings people together in so many different ways, especially in service to others.”

He added that Christmas offers the perfect opportunity to help the less fortunate and improve the global community overall. - Read More at thehill

U.S. Pursued Secret Contacts With Assad Regime for Years - Wall Street Journal

The Obama administration pursued secret communications with elements of Syria’s regime over several years in a failed attempt to limit violence and get President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power, according to U.S. and Arab officials. Early on, the U.S. looked for cracks in the regime it could exploit to encourage a military coup, but found few.

Unlike the secret White House back channel to Iran, however, the Syria effort never gained momentum and communication was limited. This account is based on interviews with more than two dozen people, including current and former U.S. officials, Arab officials and diplomats. Most of these contacts haven’t been previously reported.

U.S. officials said communications with the regime came in fits and starts and were focused on specific issues. At times, senior officials spoke directly to each other and at others, they sent messages through intermediaries such as Mr. Assad’s main allies Russia and Iran.

Mr. Assad tried at different times to reach out to the administration to say the U.S. should unite with him to fight terrorism.

In 2011, as the regime began to crack down on protests and soldiers began to peel away from the army, U.S. intelligence officials identified officers from Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect who potentially could lead a regime change, according to former U.S. officials and current European officials.

“The White House’s policy in 2011 was to get to the point of a transition in Syria by finding cracks in the regime and offering incentives for people to abandon Assad,” a former senior administration official said.

The administration’s core message never strayedfrom the U.S. line that Mr. Assad ultimately has to step down. But instead of persuading Mr. Assad to exit, the covert communications may have fed his sense of legitimacy and impunity.

Today, when Washington wants to notify Damascus where it is deploying U.S.-trained Syrian fighters to battle Islamic State so the fighters aren’t mistaken for rebels, Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the U.N., dispatches a deputy to talk to the Syrian envoy, Bashar Jaafari, these people said.

In the months that followed, a debate within the White House emerged on whether to redouble U.S. opposition to Mr. Assad or prioritize the Islamic State fight at the expense of the mission to go after the regime. - Read More at the WSJ
U.S. Pursued Secret Contacts With Assad Regime for Years

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