Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Afghanistan: gunmen storm government building in eastern city - The Guardian

Suicide attackers killed at least 15 people and injured another 15 when they stormed government offices in eastern Afghanistan, and took dozens of hostages during an hours-long standoff with security forces.

Three attackers arrived at the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations just after midday on Tuesday, and a bomber launched the attack by detonating his explosives at the heavily guarded entrance.

That allowed the two other gunmen to rush inside, where a group of charities were meeting to discuss support for Afghans returning from Pakistan, where many have lived as refugees for decades.

“More than 40 people were at the conference, to make decisions about people who are coming back to Afghanistan,” said Niloofar Aziz, a member of the provincial council.

The attack in Jalalabad came as 11 people were killed by a roadside bomb on the other side of Afghanistan, when a minibus in western Farah drove over explosives.

Overall 2018 has been a bloody year for Afghan civilians, with nearly 1,700 killed in the first six months of the year, according to the United Nations. That is the highest rate since the UN began keeping records nearly a decade ago. - Read More

Afghanistan: gunmen storm government building in eastern city ...

Finally, The US Ekes Out A Win In Afghanistan After 2 Dismal Years

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Finally, a bright spot amid 17 years of war in Afghanistan: insurgent control of the country has started to diminish for the first time in nearly two years, according to a quarterly report to Congress from the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published on July 30. 

Just a reminder that T&P Pentagon correspondent asked Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, explicitly how long the American public should expect to keep sending warfighters to Afghanistan. His response? “These things often take time.” - Read More

Finally, The US Ekes Out A Win In Afghanistan After 2 Dismal Years

Monday, July 30, 2018

Newest U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan Mirrors Past Plans for Retreat - nytimes

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is urging American-backed Afghan troops to retreat from sparsely populated areas of the country, officials said, all but ensuring the Taliban will remain in control of vast stretches of the country.

The approach is outlined in a previously undisclosed part of the war strategy that President Trump announced last year, according to three officials who described the documents to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity. It is meant to protect military forces from attacks at isolated and vulnerable outposts, and focuses on protecting cities such as Kabul, the capital, and other population centers.

The withdrawal resembles strategies embraced by both the Bush and Obama administrations that have started and stuttered over the nearly 17-year war. It will effectively ensure that the Taliban and other insurgent groups will hold on to territory that they have already seized, leaving the government in Kabul to safeguard the capital and cities such as Kandahar, Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad.

The retreat to the cities is a searing acknowledgment that the American-installed government in Afghanistan remains unable to lead and protect the country’s sprawling rural population. Over the years, as waves of American and NATO troops have come and left in repeated cycles, the government has slowly retrenched and ceded chunks of territory to the Taliban, cleaving Afghanistan into disparate parts and ensuring a conflict with no end in sight.

When he announced his new war strategy last year, Mr. Trump declared that Taliban and Islamic State insurgents in Afghanistan “need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms.”

After the declared end of combat operations in 2014, most American troops withdrew to major population areas in the country, leaving Afghan forces to defend remote outposts. Many of those bases fell in the following months.  - Read More

Newest U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan Mirrors Past Plans for Retreat ...

اشرف غنی: یک گروه کوچک مفسدین شهرت ۳۰ میلیون افغان را به زمین زده‌است

رئیس جمهور افغانستان می‌گوید، مبارزه جدی با فساد ضروری به خاطری است که فساد موجب فتنه می‌شود و فتنه به فاجعه می‌انجامد.

محمد اشرف غنی روز یک‌شنبه در پایان کنفرانس زیر نام صدای منبر ضد فساد اداری که در ارگ دایر شده بود گفت، یک گروه کوچک مفسدین شهرت ۳۰ میلیون افغان را به زمین زده‌است.

رئیس جمهور غنی گفت:

"به خاطر یک گروه محدود شهرت ۳۰ میلیون انسان به زمین خورده‌است، آیا ۳۰ میلیون افغان فاسد اند یا این‌که یک اقلیت کوچک فاسد اند؟ شما قضاوت کنید این یک ملت عظیم است، ملت فاسد نیست، یک گروه اقلیت است که باید از آن جلوگیری شود."

حدود ۲۰۰ عالم دین در دو روز گذشته در کابل گرد هم آمدند و در روز پایان کنفرانس صدای منبر ضد فساد اداری یک قطع‌نامه صادر کرده و در آن از ارگان‌های عدلی و قضایی خواستند تا در تصامیم‌شان علیه مفسدین قاطع باشند. - Read More

اشرف غنی: یک گروه کوچک مفسدین شهرت ۳۰ میلیون افغان را به زمین زده‌است

Trump And EU Agree To Work Toward Zero Tariffs

President Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday that they have agreed to work toward removing all trade barriers between the two sides.

In a Rose Garden announcement, Trump said the EU had also agreed to buy U.S. soybeans, a day after he announced a $12 billion bailout package for farmers hit by retaliatory tariffs. Trump said the EU will also become a "massive buyer" of U.S. liquefied natural gas.

Trump and Juncker appeared after a White House meeting, with both sides saying progress was made toward resolving some of the trade issues that have soured the relationship between the U.S. and the EU since Trump imposed tariffs on EU exports of steel and aluminum.

Juncker declared he "had the intention to make a deal today and we made a deal today."

Trump said the two agreed "to work toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods." Trump also said "We're starting the negotiation right now, but we both know every much where it's going."

While the EU agreements to buy more U.S. soybeans and energy were tangible, the bigger result of the meeting may have been the retreat from the threat of a full-scale trade war between the two sides.

Trump said they'll work to resolve the steel and aluminum tariff issues, calling it "a new phase in the relationship" between the U.S. and the EU, and "a very big day for free and fair trade." - Read More

Trump And EU Agree To Work Toward Zero Tariffs

Trump Administration Plans $12 Billion In Farm Aid To Offset Tariffs

OPINION: Imran Khan Has Declared Victory In Pakistan's Election. But The Military Won

Shamila N. Chaudhary (@ShamilaCh) is senior adviser to the dean at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, a fellow at the school's Foreign Policy Institute and senior fellow at New America. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan on the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

The Pakistani people have spoken. In Wednesday's parliamentary elections, they voted in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), a political party led by former cricket star turned politician Imran Khan, to form the next government. PTI will most likely install Khan as the prime minister.

But have the Pakistani people told us what they want? We can't be sure, and here's why: The campaign environment leading up to the elections was heavily manipulated by pro-PTI forces, namely members of the military, judiciary and the political elite — a collection of powerful individuals and institutions commonly referred to in Pakistan as "the establishment." The civilians who join forces with the military to achieve its dominance — including a politicized judiciary that historically has been used as a tool to justify the military's extra-constitutional measures — often reap benefits typically reserved for those in uniform.

Many Pakistanis believe that the establishment is behind the pressure tactics directed against the electorate during this campaign season. In this election season, assassination of candidates, intimidation of the media and the imprisonment of Khan's primary rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, no doubt silenced critical aspects of the electoral process. - Read More

OPINION: Imran Khan Has Declared Victory In Pakistan's Election. But The Military Won

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

U.S. Refugee Program 'In Danger' Amid Steep Drop In Refugee Arrivals, Advocates Warn

A snapshot of the Trump administration's unraveling of the U.S. refugee resettlement program can be found in these numbers:

Pompeo Faces Lawmakers After Trump Summits With Foreign Leaders Raise Questions

After weeks of headlines dominated by White House actions on the international stage, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will face questions from lawmakers Wednesday afternoon about how the Trump administration is managing foreign policy.

Pompeo is set to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is expected to provide updates on President Trump's approach to Russia, North Korea and Iran.

Lawmakers have said they want to know more about the outcome of Trump's high-profile meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"I am looking forward to testifying tomorrow — will testify about a lot of things, including the relationship between the United States and Russia," Pompeo told reporters at a briefing in California on Tuesday.

Trump's sit-down with Putin last week in Helsinki stirred up a firestorm of criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers after Trump questioned the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Once he was back in the United States, Trump attempted to correct his statement on Russian interference, saying that he does accept the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. 

Questions remain about what exactly Trump and Putin agreed to during their two-hour sit-down when no other advisers were present. The White House has not released a detailed readout of the meeting.

Pompeo said on Tuesday that "many things" came out of the meeting between the leaders, but he offered few specifics other than mentioning an agreement to set up a business council.

He defended the summit, saying that ultimately the world will benefit from the talks. - Read More

Pompeo Faces Lawmakers After Trump Summits With Foreign Leaders Raise Questions

Pakistan Election Begins Amid Allegations Of Intimidation And Rigging

Wednesday's election in Pakistan marks the second time in the country's 71-year history that power will be passed from one civilian government to another. But the weeks leading to the vote have been marred by extreme violence. Activists, journalists and candidates say the campaign was tainted, throwing a fragile democratic process into question.

"There were huge complaints about what happened in the lead-up this time around," says Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International. "We've had very serious allegations about arbitrary detentions, about restrictions on the media, about attacks on people's rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression."

Some candidates have shifted their allegiances to rival parties or run as independents, suggesting pressure or intimidation. Journalists contend that their reporting is being suppressed. And there are accusations of interference by the military, which has used its might in the past to stage coups and oust leaders.

"The fact that you have the relentless efforts to crack down on dissent and the media — you're seeing democratic institutions being besieged in Pakistan, and that bodes ill for democratization," says Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

Voting day came after a spate of terrorist attacks killing civilians and politicians — including a suicide bombing in the provincial town of Mastung that killed more than 150 people at a campaign rally. To prepare for the tens of millions of people expected to vote, police blocked off roads and cleared buildings for the counting of ballots. Hundreds of thousands of troops were deployed to polling stations and police in Pakistan's northwest have deployed surveillance vehicles to stream live video. - More

Pakistan Election Begins Amid Allegations Of Intimidation And Rigging

Swedish student's plane protest stops man's deportation 'to hell'

Elin Ersson refused to sit down on Gothenburg flight until man being sent to Afghanistan was removed

A lone student activist on board a plane at Gothenburg airport has prevented the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker from Sweden by refusing to sit down until the man was removed from the flight.

Her successful protest, footage of which spread rapidly across the internet, shines a spotlight on domestic opposition to Sweden’s tough asylum regime, at a time when immigration and asylum are topping the agenda of a general election campaign in which the far right is polling strongly.

“I hope that people start questioning how their country treats refugees,” Elin Ersson, 21, told the Guardian in an interview. “We need to start seeing the people whose lives our immigration [policies] are destroying.”

The social work student at Gothenburg University bought a ticket for the flight from Gothenburg to Turkey on Monday morning, after she and other asylum activists found out that a young Afghan was due to be deported on it. In fact he was not on the plane but activists discovered another Afghan man in his 50s was onboard for deportation.

As she entered the plane, Ersson started to livestream her protest in English. The video received more than 4m hits on Tuesday.

Facing both sympathy and hostility from passengers, the footage shows Ersson struggling to keep her composure. “I don’t want a man’s life to be taken away just because you don’t want to miss your flight,” she says. “I am not going to sit down until the person is off the plane.”

Repeatedly told by a steward to stop filming, Ersson says: “I am doing what I can to save a person’s life. As long as a person is standing up the pilot cannot take off. All I want to do is stop the deportation and then I will comply with the rules here. This is all perfectly legal and I have not committed a crime.” - Read More

Swedish student's plane protest stops man's deportation 'to hell ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Transcript: Obama's Speech At The 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Cheers and applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you so much. (Laughter.) 

AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

OBAMA: Thank you. To Mama Graça Machel, members of the Mandela family, the Machel family, to President Ramaphosa who you can see is inspiring new hope in this great country – (cheers and applause) – professor, doctor, distinguished guests, to Mama Sisulu and the Sisulu family, to the people of South Africa – (cheers and applause) – it is a singular honor for me to be here with all of you as we gather to celebrate the birth and life of one of history's true giants.

Let me begin by a correction – (laughter) – and a few confessions. The correction is that I am a very good dancer. (Laughter.) I just want to be clear about that. Michelle is a little better. - Read More, NPR

Transcript: Obama's Speech At The 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture

اشرف غنی: مخالف انحصار قدرت هستم

محمد اشرف غنی، رئیس‌جمهوری افغانستان گفته که به قدرت در این کشور نباید به چشم انحصاری دیده شود.

او که در بیست و یکمین نشست بورد مشترک نظارت و انسجام (JCMB) در کابل سخن می‌گفت، بیان داشت که حد اقل برای مدتی باید تقاضای انحصار قدرت کم شود.

آقای غنی افزود که از آغاز کارش این هدف را داشته که "روند انحصاری قدرت را از میان بردارد، و خوش بختانه به این هدف خود با تشکیل حکومت وحدت ملی رسیده و از آن نگهبانی خواهد کرد."

ولی آقای غنی معتقد است تغییراتی که در دوران ریاست جمهوری سه و نیم ساله‌اش ایجاد شده، ظهور "شبکه‌ رهبران نسل جدید" در افغانستان است که در عرصه جهانی درخشش داشته‌اند.

رئیس جمهوری افغانستان گفت که براساس طرح او تحول و بهبود در بخش‌های امنیتی، مالی، دستگاه عدلی و قضایی هر روز در حال نمایان شدن است.

قای غنی می‌گوید هدفش این بوده که مسئولیت‌ها از سطح افراد به نهادها انتقال داده شوند. به طور مثال شوراهای عالی در ارگ ایجاد شده که برخی مسئولیت‌های رئیس جمهوری به آنها منتقل خواهد شد.

سازمان ملل اعلام کرده که حکومت افغانستان باید تا نوامبر سال جاری میلادی که قرار است نشستی درباره اوضاع افغانستان در ژنو برگزار ‌شود، در زمینه برگزاری انتخابات و مبازره با فساد دستاوردهای لازم را داشته باشد. - Read More

اشرف غنی: مخالف انحصار قدرت هستم - BBC News

Trump Putin: US president defends meeting and press conference

US President Donald Trump has lashed out at "haters" who condemned his meeting with Russia's president.
On Twitter, Mr Trump said his critics were suffering from "Trump Derangement Syndrome".

The broadside came a day after he said he misspoke during Monday's Helsinki summit when he appeared to side with Vladimir Putin over claims of Kremlin meddling in US elections.

Despite the controversy, Republican voters seem to be sticking by Mr Trump.

Responding on Twitter on Wednesday morning, the Republican president said his critics would "rather go to war" and "wanted to see a boxing match" between him and Mr Putin.

During a cabinet meeting later in the day, a journalist asked Mr Trump if Russia was still targeting the US. He answered: "Thank you very much, no."

The remark generated headlines in US media, because such an assessment would contradict the views of US intelligence chief Dan Coats, who said on Monday that Russia was involved in "ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy".

But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said later on Wednesday that Mr Trump was responding "no" to further questions from reporters.

Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found that despite a firestorm of media criticism, Mr Trump's Finland summit had no real impact on his overall approval ratings.

What now?

US lawmakers are calling for a court demand to be issued for the notes of the US translator who accompanied Mr Trump to his two-hour meeting with Mr Putin.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to testify before the Senate next week about the summit. - Read More
Trump Putin: US president defends meeting and press -

Thai cave rescue boys relive 'moment of miracle'

The 12 boys rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand last week have spoken publicly of their ordeal for the first time, describing the "moment of miracle" when divers found them.
Adul Sam-on, 14, the only member of the group who speaks English, told reporters he could only say "hello" when the British divers surfaced.

The boys were trapped in the Tham Luang caves for more than two weeks.

They left hospital earlier on Wednesday and are on their way home.

The 12, who are members of a junior football team, the Wild Boars, appeared in their club's kit at a news conference in Chiang Rai.

They were greeted by a banner that read "Bringing the Wild Boars Home" on a stage designed to look like a football pitch.

The boys sat alongside members of the Thai Navy Seals who helped rescue them.

One boy described how they had lived on water from the stones of the cave. "Water is clean," he said. "Only water, no food." - Read More

Thai cave rescue boys relive 'moment of miracle' - BBC News

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

U.S. general says remarks on Afghan peace talks 'mischaracterized'

KABUL (Reuters) - The NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan on Tuesday rejected reports its commander General John Nicholson had said the United States was ready to join direct negotiations with the Taliban, saying his comments were “mischaracterized”.

In a statement, it referred to reports on Monday in which Nicholson reiterated comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the possibility of talks with the Taliban involving the United States.

“The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” Nicholson said in a statement.

“My reaffirmation of Secretary Pompeo’s statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the United States is ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people toward lasting peace was mischaracterized,” he said.

The Taliban have rejected talks with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they see as illegitimate and instead insisted they would only talk with the United States.

In his comments on Monday, Nicholson said the United States recognized it had an important role to play in the peace process. - Read More

U.S. general says remarks on Afghan peace talks 'mischaracterized'

Monday, July 16, 2018

Afghan King Overthrown; A Republic Is Proclaimed - By REUTERS JULY 18, 1973

Shah, who is on a visit to Italy.

Within an hour, the country of 15 million people — largely farmers and herdsmen — was placed under martial law. Be tween periods of martial music, the Kabul radio proclaimed the loyalty of the army and asked the people to cooperate with the “military Government.”

There was no mention of the fate of the royal family or the members of the ousted Govern ment of Premier Mohammad Musa Shafiq.

In his broadcast, General Daud, who is 64 years old and a cousin as well as brother‐in law of the King, pledged that Afghanistan would continue her policy of nonalignment and would not join any military pact.

The nation, which depends heavily on foreign aid, has re ceived substantial assistance under Zahir Shah from its neighbors, the Soviet Union and. China, and from the United States. Its armed forces are equipped mostly by the Soviet Union.

Key points in Kabul, the, Afghan capital, were reported under military guard, but the city was said to be quiet. Dip lomatic sources in New Delhi said, however, that they had heard that there had been small‐arms fire and explosions during the day, with jets patrol ling the skies.

Afghanistan appeared virtu ally sealed off from the outside world. There were reports that the Kabul airport was closed and closely guarded, and that the telephone lines were cut.

The deposed king, who is 59 years old, had occupied the throne of his landlocked cen tral Asian country since 1933, when his father was assassi nated. Zahir Shah was 19 at the time, and for many years there after he was a near prisoner of his uncles and cousins. General Daud was Premier from 1953 to 1963, the last decade of the King's reign as a figurehead.

In 1963, the King shook off the restrainig influences shook of ousted General Daud. In 1965 he set up a constitutional mon archy with the King retaining paramount power, including the power to nominate the Premier. 

Under the 1965 constitution, a parliament was established made up of a House of Elders, a third of whose 84 members were chosen by the King and the rest elected, and a House of the People, with 215 elected members. - Read More

Afghan King Overthrown; A Republic Is Proclaimed - The New York

Mohammed Zahir Shah - Wikipedia

Trump-Putin summit: After Helsinki, the fallout at home

The Helsinki summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump is over, and after nearly two hours behind closed doors and another hour in front of the press, there's plenty of material to sort through.

Leading into the meeting, Democrats were warning Mr Trump to be careful in dealing with his Russian counterpart - with some suggesting that it was unwise for the US president to even hold such an event, given Friday's indictments of 12 Russian military officers for conducting cyber-warfare against the US during the 2016 elections.

Many Republicans, on the other hand, were cautiously optimistic that the president would push back against Mr Putin on a range of issues. Congressman Steve Scalise, a Republican house leader, said that Mr Trump entered into the negotiations "from a position of American strength to combat Russian aggression". - Read More

Trump-Putin summit: After Helsinki, the fallout at home - BBC News

Trump Press Conference With Putin Sparks Bipartisan Ire - NPR

President Trump's effort to reset relations with Russia backfired at home, when he failed to side with U.S. intelligence over Moscow's interference in the 2016 election. The president's equivocation drew bipartisan condemnation, capping a week in which Trump alienated allies and cozied up to adversaries.

Trump himself declared his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki a success, in what he called the "proud tradition of bold American diplomacy."

The president said he pressed Putin about Moscow's interference in the election, but he appeared to take Putin's denial at face value, just days after a grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents on election-related charges.

U.S. intelligence officials are in agreement that Russia interfered in the 2016 election using a wide array of methods, including but not limited to hacking the Democratic National Committee's emails, breaking into American voting infrastructure and launching a sprawling misinformation campaign.

But asked directly if he believed that assessment, Trump was non-committal.

"I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said. "Dan Coats [the Director of National Intelligence] came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be." - Read More

Trump Press Conference With Putin Sparks Bipartisan Ire

Transcript: Trump And Putin's Joint Press Conference