Thursday, June 28, 2018

Trump and Putin to hold first summit in Finland in July - NBCNews

President Donald Trump and Russian Vladimir Putin will hold their first summit in Helsinki, the Finnish capital, on July 16, both governments announced Thursday.

The meeting will be their first not on the sidelines of a larger gathering of world leaders.

"The two leaders will discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues," a White House statement said.

The Kremlin said the pair would talk about the "prospects for the development of relations between the two countries and current international issues," Russia's state news agency Tass reported. 

Trump told reporters Wednesday that topics of discussion would include Syria and Ukraine. - More

Trump and Putin to hold first summit in Finland in July - NBC News

US anti-narcotic effort in Afghanistan is a costly failure, official report finds - The Guardian

AFP in Washington
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan hit a record high last year, a US government watchdog has said, describing American-funded counternarcotics efforts in the war-torn country as a failure.

Since the American-led invasion in late 2001, the US has spent about $8.6bn on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, yet the country remains the world’s largest producer of opium.

According to a new study by the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (Sigar), opium cultivation reached about 328,000 hectares (1,265 square miles) in 2017 – a 63% jump from the year before and the greatest amount tallied since 2002.

“To put it bluntly, these numbers spell failure, and the outlook is not encouraging,” John Sopko, the special inspector general, said in prepared remarks at the launch of his office’s new report.

The amount grown last year is enough to produce 900 tons of export-quality heroin, Sigar said, and the money from sales is helping fuel insurgent violence across Afghanistan.

In an effort to cut back on the cash flow, US and Afghan planes last year conducted a series of air strikes on drug labs that were being used to process opium, including in the poppy-rich southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.

But Sigar said it was hard to measure the effectiveness of the expensive air campaign, as new labs can be set up in three or four days.

“There is also the risk that expanded airstrikes by Afghan and international forces could result in civilian deaths, alienate rural populations and strengthen the insurgency,” the report states.

The report found that no program by the US, the Afghans or by coalition partners had succeeded in causing lasting reductions in poppy or opium production.

“Their overall impact has been negligible,” Sopko said. - Read More

US anti-narcotic effort in Afghanistan is a costly failure, official report ...

Being back in the NHS 'reminded me of Afghanistan' - By Michael Mosley

The first patient that I ever got my hands on in A&E, when I was a medical student 30-plus years ago, was an alcoholic who had fallen over and badly cut his skull.

I was asked to stitch him up. But I was really nervous and when I'd finished and tried to take my hand away... I realised I'd stitched my glove to the top of his head!

I'm back in an NHS hospital, working in the busy casualty department at King's College Hospital in London as part of Celebrities on the NHS Frontline, marking the health service's 70th birthday.

I was there with former MP Ann Widdecombe, Paralympian Jonnie Peacock - who underwent a below-the-knee amputation as a result of meningitis aged five - and reporter Stacey Dooley who had a heart condition when she was young.

It feels far busier in A&E than when I was training and there are more senior staff, keeping an eye on proceedings.

Given my training, I was thrown in at the deep end, helping the junior doctors out in resus - where the most seriously ill patients go.

The good news for doctors training now is that, ever since the European Working Time directive was introduced in 2004, it has been illegal to make juniors work the sort of 100-hour weeks that were standard in the 1980s

The bad news is that when they are on the job, most junior doctors are working harder than ever. - More, BBC

Being back in the NHS 'reminded me of Afghanistan' - BBC News

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

World Cup 2018: Germany exit at group stage after shock South Korea loss - Deutsche Welle

Two late South Korean goals have sent Germany crashing out of World Cup 2018 at the group stage after another poor display. The reigning champions finish bottom of Group F, while Sweden and Mexico make the last 16.

Two late South Korean goals have sent Germany crashing out of World Cup 2018 at the group stage after another poor display. The reigning champions finish bottom of Group F, while Sweden and Mexico make the last 16.

Two late goals from South Korea hammered the final nails in the coffin, though, in truth, the writing had been on the wall since Germany’s opening clash with Mexico. For all the talk of wakeup calls and character after that defeat, there was little sign of either, as Germany became the fourth reigning champion to fall at the first hurdle in the last five World Cups.

Germany dominated possesion for much of the first half but did little with it. A champion team with A-list talent, woefully short of ideas. When Mesut Özil found Timo Werner on the edge of the Korean penalty area shortly before halftime, Germany’s only real chance of the half was snuffed out by some dogged defending. - Read More

World Cup 2018: Germany exit at group stage after shock South Korea ...

Afghanistan extends ceasefire with Taliban; UN urges both sides to work towards lasting peace

“The Secretary-General urges the Taliban to heed the call for peace from the Afghan people and also extend the ceasefire,” according to a statement issued by a UN spokesperson.

Following an initial truce announced by both sides that was to run through the Eid-ul-Fitr festival period, which began this past Friday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday announced that the Government would extend indefinitely its ceasefire, which had been due to end on Tuesday.

“[Mr. Guterres] believes that the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is through an inclusive political process,” said the UN spokesperson’s statement, adding that the world body stands ready to work with the Afghan people and Government, and all stakeholders to achieve lasting peace in the country.

Reportedly, celebrations in support of the announcement continued in the country even as a deadly bombing in the eastern Afghan province of Nangahar targeting Eid celebrations claimed more than two dozen lives. That attack was reportedly carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Through the statement, the UN chief condemned the attack in Nangahar and urged the Afghan Government and the Taliban “not to allow those who try to derail peace efforts to prevail.” - More

Afghanistan extends ceasefire with Taliban; UN urges both sides to work towards lasting peace

Supreme Court To Lose Its Swing Voter: Justice Anthony Kennedy To Retire

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, setting the stage for what promises to be an epic political battle over his replacement.

A Trump nominee is likely to be far more conservative than Kennedy, who, though appointed by President Ronald Reagan, voted with the court's liberals in some key cases.

Kennedy, who will turn 82 next month, made the announcement the same day the court handed down its last pending opinion for the 2017-18 term. He said he would continue to serve through July 31 of this year.

Speaking from the Oval Office soon after Kennedy's announcement, President Trump said Kennedy has "been a great justice of the Supreme Court." Trump also said the process to replace Kennedy will "begin immediately." The president pointed to a list of potential nominees he put together and made public previously. "It will be somebody from that list," Trump said, adding "hopefully we will pick someone who is just as outstanding [as Kennedy]."

Trump also told journalists Wednesday that Kennedy came to the White House to meet with him prior to making his announcement. The president met with the Supreme Court justice for about 30 minutes, Trump said. The president also said he asked Kennedy for any recommendations as to his replacement but would not reveal whom Kennedy suggested.

In a separate statement, the White House described Kennedy as "a tireless voice for individual rights and the Founders' enduring vision of limited government. His words have left an indelible mark not only on this generation, but on the fabric of American history." - Read More, NPR

Supreme Court To Lose Its Swing Voter: Justice Anthony Kennedy To Retire

World Cup 2018: Germany out of tournament after losing to South Korea

Defending champions Germany have been eliminated from the World Cup at the group stage following defeat by South Korea, in one of the biggest shocks in the competition's history.
The four-time winners crashed out in ignominious fashion - conceding twice in injury time as they pressed for the goal which would have sent them through.

In an astonishing and enthralling end to the match, Kim Young-gwon's 92nd-minute goal - which was initially ruled out for offside before being awarded after a video assistant referee decision - left Germany on the brink of elimination.

Worse was to come for the world's number one ranked side, however, when deep into stoppage time and appearing increasingly desperate, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer lost possession in the opponents' half. - Read More

World Cup 2018: Germany out of tournament after losing to South

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Germany vs. Sweden 2018 World Cup: Germans get win, keep hopes alive on stoppage-time goal

With the score tied 1-1 with stoppage time nearly up, Germany’s Toni Kroos found the back of the net on a free kick, giving his team a 2-1 lead and the eventual victory. That goal kept Germany’s hopes of advancing to the round of 16 alive.

While Germany appeared to be the superior team throughout the match, taking 18 shots and controlling the ball 76 percent of the time, Sweden had the lead halftime, after scoring in the 31st minute.

But Germany came out of the intermission and quickly scored a game-tying goal two minutes after returning to the pitch. The German side kept pressure on Sweden the rest of the way, but didn’t break through again until the final seconds of stoppage, despite playing with 10 men late in the second half.

The result evens Germany with Sweden in the standings with three points apiece and goal differentials of zero.


Seconds before full time, Germany’s Toni Kroos scored off a free kick. The goal gave Germany the lead, three much-needed points in the standings and staved off elimination from the knockout rounds. - Read More

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Afghanistan May Be on ‘Edge of Opportunity’ for Peace -

The Eid al-Fitr ceasefire and the burgeoning peace movement in Afghanistan lead NATO officials in the country to believe the country is on the “edge of opportunity.”
British army Lt. Gen. Richard J. Cripwell, the deputy commander for the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s call for a cease-fire over the Eid holiday “courageous.” The Taliban agreed to the cease-fire and the nation saw what peace could look like as government and Taliban marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan this past weekend.
Ghani extended the ceasefire, but the Taliban, sadly, did not choose to honor that and attacked Badghis, a city in western Afghanistan. Thirty Afghan soldiers were killed in the attack.
The scenes in Kabul with Taliban entering the city to snap selfies and eat ice cream, show peace is possible. - Read More

Baby Powder Is the Secret Weapon in the Afghanistan War

Mining materials like talc could bring the country great wealth, but for now only fuels corruption and violence.

After a few days of hopeful cease-fire for the Eid holiday -- and remarkable images of Taliban and government security forces embracing -- Afghanistan seems headed back to the insurgency that has plagued it for 15 years. 

America’s longest war grinds on with little hope, with neither side able achieve a lasting victory. What could break the deadlock? Where should the U.S. focus its efforts to find a path to a negotiated ending to a violent civil war, such as we saw in the Balkans in the 1990s and in Colombia this decade?

Two vital fronts of this challenge are closely linked:  addressing the endemic problem of corruption and finding a viable economic model for the country.  And a key source of both potential wealth and ongoing corruption is Afghanistan’s abundance of minerals, thought to be worth as much as $1 trillion by some sources

Yes, instability is adding to the difficulty of attracting initial investment, but over time there is every possibility for large-scale mining of lithium, gold, iron, copper, lead, rare earths, gemstones and talc.

But right now, that wealth is more likely to do harm than good. For example, consider talc, an unglamorous industrial mineral used in everything from baby powder to plastics. The U.S. and Europe are the ultimate markets for much of Afghanistan’s talc production. Yet new research from Global Witness, an international nonprofit that monitors links between natural resources and corruption, reveals that almost all Afghan talc producers pay a tax to insurgents.

As for the Taliban, Global Witness estimated they are raking in $300 million a year from the nation's mineral bounty. Indeed, mining is thought to be the second-largest source of revenue for the insurgency after narcotics. Militias supposedly on the side of the government and corrupt provincial strongmen also benefit. These various groups often find themselves in bloody confrontations over the mines.

Unlike illegal drugs, mineral resources could be generating major revenue for the Afghan government. Instead, they are fuelling conflict and corruption.

And that directly relates to one of the key weaknesses of the U.S. mission since 2001. Afghanistan’s mines powerfully illustrate how governance problems like corruption and illegal mining are not just about development -- they are hard-edged issues of national security.  

Yet U.S. efforts to improve governance have consistently fallen short of the mark. Since 2001, the U.S. has invested hundreds of millions in developing the mining sector -- but the money was spent with inadequate coordination and oversight, and had very little impact, as a 2016 report from the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction documented.

When I was the supreme commander of the 150,000 international forces there, we concentrated on getting new contracts off the ground. This was a laudable goal, but was always likely to fail without strengthening oversight and addressing the massive abuses that have held back the sector.

In the end, the point of military action is to create space to deal with the underlying drivers of the conflict. Corruption, along with a wider lack of justice and rule of law in politics and the economy, is among the most important.

By one estimate, there are about $3.3 billion in bribes passed every year in Afghanistan.  This weakens the already fractured Afghan government, holds back development and increases support for the insurgency. Unfortunately, short-term security challenges tend to take priority over longer-term reforms.

So how do we help Afghanistan fight corruption? Initially, by breaking the military and civilian approaches out of their silos so we can strike a better balance between short-term military action and longer-term goals like fighting corruption. That’s not easy, and it needs leadership from the top -- in this case, the incoming commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller. - More

For Next U.S. Commander In Afghanistan, 'This Is About Protecting U.S. Citizens'

Just as darkness fell, Capt. Austin S. "Scott" Miller was hunkered down in a building in Mogadishu, Somalia, together with his soldiers from the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force.

It was Oct. 3, 1993, and a Black Hawk helicopter had just been downed by local militants in the battle of Mogadishu, what would become the core of the book and movie Black Hawk Down. Miller was awarded a Bronze Star with a valor device for the nearly day-long battle that left 18 Americans dead and 73 wounded — including Miller.

"What you have to figure out is how to work your way through it," Miller told a reunion of those soldiers three years ago, according to the Columbus, Ga., Ledger-Enquirer. "I will tell you, I never thought we would get overrun. I know there were some people there who thought we were close to getting overrun. I never thought that, not with birds coming into the zone putting rockets in 10 or 15 feet away from us."

Now, Miller is getting ready to work his way through something else: the war in Afghanistan. The three-star lieutenant general is expected to be approved by the Senate for another star and take over from Gen. John "Mick" W. Nicholson Jr. as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Miller, a 57-year-old West Point graduate, has spent much of his career with Special Operators, working in the shadows on battlefields that include Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently, he was commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, which includes Delta Force and SEAL Team 6.

But not all of his career has been in the shadows. Some of it has been in the spotlight.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday for his confirmation hearing, Miller said he couldn't guarantee a timeline for removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, nearly 17 years after the U.S. invasion to overthrow the Taliban.

He said the two-pronged U.S. mission continues: training Afghan troops and going after terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State together with Afghan commandos. Like the eight generals who have preceded him, Miller said the U.S. must prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists who could mount attacks against the United States. - Read More

Denmark, Norway eye Kabul center for minors denied asylum

COPENHAGEN/OSLO (Reuters) - Denmark and Norway are working on establishing a center in Kabul where unaccompanied Afghan minors who have been denied asylum can be sent back, the Danish and Norwegian governments said on Wednesday.

Asylum and immigration have been controversial political topics in the Nordics, as in other Western countries.

The European Union is discussing setting up centers outside of its borders for denied asylum seekers in regions such as Northern Africa.

In the United States, the Trump administration is facing a growing outcry over its practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

If the Danish-Norwegian plan goes ahead, unaccompanied Afghan minors who have been denied asylum would be forced to return to a center in Afghanistan’s capital.

“We don’t have a deal yet, but we have a good dialogue (with Afghan authorities),” Norwegian deputy justice minister Torkil Aamland told Reuters.

“We want to set up a safe, good center with real educational opportunities in line with U.N. children’s rights,” he said, adding that 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds would be returned to Afghanistan under the plan, but not those 15 years and younger.

The Danish immigration ministry declined to further comment aside from confirming the news, which was first reported by Denmark’s Politiken and Norway’s Aftenposten newspapers. - Read More

Denmark, Norway eye Kabul center for minors denied asylum

Prospects for U.S.-Taliban talks rise after Afghan ceasefire

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Prospects have risen for negotiations between the Taliban and the United States after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a ceasefire and allowed militants to roam into cities in a gamble to encourage peace talks.

The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by U.S.-led troops, insist that any negotiations with what it calls the “puppet” Afghan government on a peace plan can begin only after talks with the United States about withdrawing foreign forces.

Analysts and Western diplomats said Ghani’s offer to hold unconditional peace talks set the stage for U.S. officials to open back-channel negotiations with the Taliban.

“Ghani has done his bit,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank.

“It is now for the U.S. to cut through this blockade,” he said, although that would be a departure from U.S. policy that talks to end the 17-year-old war must be wholly Afghan-led.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a ceasefire that is currently due to end on Wednesday. The Taliban said its ceasefire ended on Sunday.

“As President Ghani emphasized in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces,” Pompeo said. “The United States is prepared to support, facilitate and participate in these discussions.”

Richard Olson, a former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, described the statement as significant “in that it signals that the U.S. is prepared to ultimately discuss the issue that is paramount to the Taliban, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces.”

Nolen Johnson, a State Department spokesman, said Ghani had invited the United States to “participate in an Afghan-led peace process,” and there was no substitute to the Taliban engaging with the “sovereign” Kabul government.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the start of the ceasefire, said, however, there were a number of issues that made direct talks between the Taliban and the United States unlikely in the short term. - Read More

Prospects for U.S.-Taliban talks rise after Afghan ceasefire

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Trump signs executive order to keep families together at border, says ‘zero-tolerance’ policy will continue - PBS

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bowing to pressure from anxious allies, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday ending the process of separating children from families after they are detained crossing the U.S. border illegally.

It was a dramatic turnaround for Trump, who has been insisting, wrongly, that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of federal law and a court decision.

The news in recent days has been dominated by searing images of children held in cages at border facilities, as well as audio recordings of young children crying for their parents — images that have sparked fury, question of morality and concern from Republicans about a negative impact on their races in November’s midterm elections.

Read Trump’s full executive order on family separation

“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” said Trump who said he didn’t like the “sight” or “feeling” of children separated from their parents.

He said his order would not end the “zero-tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes all adults caught crossing the border illegally. The order aims to keep families together while they are in custody, expedite their cases, and ask the Department of Defense to help house families. - Read More

Trump signs executive order to keep families together at border - PBS

Trump's Executive Order On Family Separation: What It Does And Doesn't Do

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday ending his administration's policy of separating migrant children from their parents who were detained as they attempted to enter the U.S. illegally.

The action came after a firestorm of protest from administration opponents and allies, reacting to pictures and sounds of young children traumatized by their separation from their parents at the hands of U.S. authorities.

"So we're going to have strong — very strong borders, but we're going to keep the families together. I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," said Trump.

He is, in effect, ordering family separation to be replaced with the detention of whole families together, even after earlier arguing that "you can't do it by executive order."

What does the executive order say? - Read More, NPR

Trump's Executive Order On Family Separation: What It Does And Doesn't Do

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What We Know: Family Separation And 'Zero Tolerance' At The Border

Since early May, 2,342 children have been separated from their parents after crossing the Southern U.S. border, according to the Department of Homeland Security, as part of a new immigration strategy by the Trump administration that has prompted widespread outcry.

Here's what we know about the policy, its history and its effects:

In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors along the border to "adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy" for illegal border crossings. That included prosecuting parents traveling with their children as well as people who subsequently attempted to request asylum.

White House officials have repeatedly acknowledged that under that new policy, they separate all families who cross the border. Sessions has described it as deterrence.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection explains on its site and in a flyer that border-crossing families will be separated.

The policy is unique to the Trump administration. Previous administrations did not, as a general principle, separate all families crossing the U.S. border illegally. And the current administration could choose to end this practice and release families together from detention at any time.

The process begins at a Border Patrol detention facility. But many details about what happens next — how children are taken from their parents and by whom — are unclear. - More, NPR

What We Know: Family Separation And 'Zero Tolerance' At The Border