Half a million Afghan children have been affected by a looming drought in the country, a UN agency said on Tuesday, fearing food insecurity in impoverished Afghanistan.
At least 10 of the country’s 34 districts were worst hit while 20 to 30 percent if water sources are going dry, threatening the lives of about a million people, UNICEF said in a statement.
An additional two million people could feel effects of the drought over the coming months. "These areas have pre-existing high rates of malnutrition. Without adequate nutritious food and safe water for drinking, children's health will only worsen."
The UNICEF appealed for $10 million to help children and their families in drought-affected provinces. Food insecurity and reduced access to drinking water were beginning to take toll in the 10 worst-affected provinces, it added.
Adele Khodr, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan, said: “The priority is to prevent the situation from deteriorating, by responding to the needs of children and families in the worst affected areas.”
Some 1.6 million children and 443,000 pregnant and lactating women suffer from malnutrition across Afghanistan, according to the statement. "The priority is to prevent the situation from deteriorating by responding to the needs of children and families in the worst-affected areas," said Khodr.
The UNICEF and other partners in the nutrition cluster estimate emergency nutrition assistance is needed for 92,000 children and 8,500 pregnant and lactating women.
An estimated 100 families from the Bala Murghab district of Badghis have been forced to move to Herat to find alternative work due to failed crops and to access safe drinking water, according to the statement.
Among the affected provinces, Bagdhish, Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Helmand, Kandahar, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Nuristan, Takhar, and Uruzgan are of critical priority for nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene assistance.
The US-led coalition in Afghanistan dropped more bombs during the first quarter of 2018 than it has in the same period in any of the last 15 years, according to Pentagon data.
The increased bombing is the latest evidence the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan is significantly intensifying since US President Donald Trump announced his new military strategy for the country in August.
Coalition planes dropped 1,186 weapons on Afghanistan during the first three months of 2018, according to figures released by US Air Forces Central Command. The previous record (1,083) was set during the height of the war in 2011. The US has not released 2001 to 2003 airstrike data.
Those figures do not include activity by the Afghan Air Force (AAF), which has stepped up its aerial bombardment since gaining the ability to conduct airstrikes two years ago. The AAF carries out between 4 to 12 airstrikes every day, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
If recent trends are any indication, 2018 is likely to get even more violent. Fighting traditionally picks up during the warmer months, and the coalition has expanded its bombing campaign against the Islamic State group, as well as narcotic labs and other Taliban revenue sources.
But there is little indication the expanded airstrikes are helping end the conflict, says Thomas Johnson, an Afghanistan specialist who teaches national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
"It's basically a tactic of desperation," said Johnson, author of Taliban Narratives: The Use of Power and Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict. "There's never been an insurgency in history that's been defeated purely through air power."
Even high-level US military officials concede the conflict remains a stalemate. According to the latest US military estimate, the Afghan government controls 56 percent of Afghanistan's districts, with insurgents controlling or contesting the rest.
Insurgent attacks also have continued. Nearly 60 people died Sunday when an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked an election identification card distribution center in Kabul. The Taliban has also rejected October's scheduled parliamentary elections as "fake," and stage-managed by "foreign occupation" forces.
Civilians are increasingly dying in the conflict.
For the second consecutive year, civilian casualties remained at a record high in the first quarter of 2018, according to the United Nations. From January through March, 763 civilians were killed and 1,495 injured.
While the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties were caused by insurgents, airstrikes resulted in 67 deaths and 75 injuries during the first three months of the year, according to the U.N.
Afghans have become outraged at high-profile incidents, such as in early April, when an Afghan airstrike on a suspected Taliban gathering at a religious school in northern Kunduz killed dozens.
Kabul said 30 Taliban fighters were killed in the strike. But media reports quoted witnesses and local officials as saying the majority of the casualties were civilians.
The violence comes as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani calls on the Taliban to join the political arena and participate in the upcoming election.
In February, Ghani proposed peace talks with the Taliban without preconditions. The Taliban has not given a formal response to Ghani's offer.
Nonetheless, Ghani's offer was praised by analysts such as Johnson, who say there is no military solution to the war.
"I don't care if you double the amount of air sorties you're flying right now," he said. "We will never win this war militarily. The only solution to this war is political."
Turkmenistan can become the venue of the Afghan national dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations, said a statement of the Turkmen government.
The president of Turkmenistan was on a state visit to Uzbekistan on April 23-24, 2018.
Turkmenistan, as a neutral state, is ready to provide political space for the organization of a nationwide Afghan dialogue under the auspices and with the leading role of the UN, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said, speaking to media representatives.
It was also said that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan share similar views on trends in regional and international development, speak with one or close positions on key issues on the global agenda, such as the maintenance of peace and stability, countering the threats of international terrorism, extremism, disarmament issues, and settlement of the situation in Afghanistan.
During the talks in Tashkent, the parties separately focused on the situation in Afghanistan, reiterating their mutual firm commitment to peaceful, political means of resolving the situation in that country and the need to integrate it into international economic processes.
In this context, the importance of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, the started laying of the power line and the fiber-optic communication line along the route of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP), the construction of the railway along the Serkhetabat (Turkmenistan) – Turgundi ( Afghanistan) route was emphasized.
In a major push to spread its influence in the neighborhood, India has decided to supply weapons and equipment to friendly foreign countries, including Afghanistan.
And, for the first time, India is likely to provide Afghanistan with troop carriers, spares for tanks, and rocket systems that are used in counter-insurgency operations.
Top sources have told India Today that the Defense Ministry had asked the three services to draw-up a list of weapon systems that they can spare.
Sources said New Delhi wants to give Afghanistan the Indian Army's excess stocks.
The Afghan National Army is comfortable handling Russian-origin platforms, which comprise at least 60 per cent of India's arsenal.
Apart from this, India is also looking to procure weapon systems from the erstwhile Soviet Block.
"We will be providing them improved and strengthened weapons systems and platforms needed for effective counter-insurgency operations," top sources told India Today.
Sources indicate that India is likely to provide four more helicopters, besides repairing and refurbishing helicopters it had gifted Afghanistan earlier.
India will be providing friendly foreign countries "improved and strengthened weapon systems that we can spare besides sourcing from former Soviet-Bloc countries," a top Defense Ministry source told India Today.
Breaking from the past of not supplying lethal platforms to counties like Afghanistan, the Modi-led NDA government had supplied four Russian made Mi-25 helicopters to Afghanistan.
The helicopters were to bolster the capabilities of the Afghan National Army to fight the Taliban. These helicopters are, however, grounded and need to be overhauled.
"We will overhaul and provide spares to make them operational again," a top source told India Today.
Till recently, keeping in mind the sensitivities of Pakistan, India had confined itself to providing training and non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan.
As well, New Delhi was worried about the risks of providing lethal platforms.
Indian facilities have been attacked in Afghanistan by Pakistan backed terror groups to deter closer ties between New Delhi and Kabul. Pakistan considers Afghanistan to be under its sphere of influence, despite its deep cultural and historic ties with India.
Apart from directing terror attacks on Indian installations in Afghanistan, Pakistan has protested the presence of Indian consulates there.
A driver deliberately plowed his white Ryder rental van into a lunch-hour crowd in Toronto on Monday, killing 10 people and injuring 15 along a roughly mile-long (1.6-km) stretch of sidewalk thronged with pedestrians, police said.
Although the attack had the hallmarks of recent deadly vehicle assaults by Islamic State supporters in the United States and Europe, federal officials said it did not represent a larger threat to national security.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders identified the suspect as Alek Minassian, 25, who he said had not previously been known to authorities. Police, who quickly arrested Minassian, do not know his motives.
“The actions definitely looked deliberate,” Saunders told a late-night news conference close to the site of the incident in the northern section of Canada’s biggest city, noting the van had been driven along sidewalks.
The brutal incident - which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a “tragic and senseless attack” - was one of the most violent in recent Canadian history.
Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, standing next to Saunders, said: “There would appear to be no national security connections.”
Global Television said Minassian would appear in a Toronto court at 10 am ET (1400 GMT) on Tuesday.
The attack shook the usually peaceful streets of Toronto, a major tourist destination. The city, which has a population of 2.8 million, recorded 61 murders last year.
“This kind of tragic incident is not representative of how we live and who we are,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters. Downtown Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, which is normally lit up in the evening, went dark on Monday evening.
The drama started just before 1:30 p.m. when the driver steered his vehicle into the crowds.
A man who gave his name as Ali told CNN he saw the van and that the driver appeared to have been targeting people.
“This person was intentionally doing this, he was killing everybody,” the man said. “He kept going, he kept going. People were getting hit, one after another.”
The street was soon covered in blood, empty shoes and bodies.
Video footage shot by a bystander showed police arresting a suspect at the scene as he shouted: “Kill me” and pointed an unidentified object at a policeman.
The officer replied, “No, get down.”
When the suspect said, “I have a gun in my pocket,” the officer responded: “I don’t care. Get down.”
The tragedy struck as Canada was still recovering from the shock of a highway crash in Saskatchewan earlier this month that killed 16 people on a bus carrying a junior hockey team.
“It was with great sadness that I heard about the tragic and senseless attack that took place in Toronto this afternoon,” Trudeau said in a statement. “We should all feel safe walking in our cities and communities.”
Last October eight people died in New York when a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path.
The Islamic State militant group encourages its supporters to use vehicles for attacks.
Last month, a former Canadian university student pleaded guilty to killing six men praying in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.
In September, a Somali refugee was charged with attempted murder over allegations he ran down four pedestrians with a car and stabbed a police officer outside a sports stadium in Edmonton, Alberta.
US President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, presided over a propaganda origination that has promoted misleading and false news against Muslims, according to a report.
Bolton was chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a New York-based advocacy group that tells people that Muslims would take over Europe leading to a “Great White Death,” from 2013 until March 2018, NBC News reported on Monday.
The group has published numerous reports on its website against Muslims and immigrants in Europe.
Gatestone is “a key part of the whole Islamaphobic cottage industry on the internet,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group.
He added that Bolton’s association with Gatestone, "and in one of the most powerful positions on the planet, is very disturbing.”
Gatestone is “putting out content that was clearly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim” disinformation propaganda being spread on social media., said Alina Polyakova, a Brookings Institution fellow who studies far-right populism and disinformation campaigns in the European Union.
Polyakova said it was surprising for several people that Bolton had presided over the group.
Last month, Trump announced Gen. H.R. McMaster's replacement, making Bolton -- a former US ambassador to the United Nations -- his third national security adviser, part of a shake-up that creates one of the most hawkish national security teams of any White House in recent history.
Bolton formally started as national security adviser in early April.
Democrats and others have expressed concerns about Bolton's pro-war views, particularly during his time in the administration of George W. Bush leading up to the 2003 Iraq War.
Some analysts have said that the appointment of Bolton as US national security adviser indicates that the Trump administration plans to escalate hostilities towards Islamic countries, particularly Iran.
Shortly before the US and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003, Bolton reportedly told Israeli officials that once Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was removed, it would be necessary to deal with Syria, Iran and North Korea.
Foreign policy experts say Bolton is likely to encourage President Trump toward military confrontation with Iran.
Bolton has also called on Washington to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic, even though UN inspectors have repeatedly verified Iran’s compliance with the accord.
An Indonesian court on Tuesday jailed a former speaker of parliament for 15 years for his role in causing state losses of around $170 million linked to a national electronic identity card scheme.
The case has shocked Indonesians already used to large corruption scandals, and reinforced a widely held perception that parliament, long regarded as riddled with corruption, is a failing institution.
Setya Novanto was speaker from 2014-15 and again from 2016-17.
“The defendant is found guilty of conspiring to commit corruption and is sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined 500 million rupiah,” Yanto, the head of a panel of five judges, told the Jakarta court. The fine is equivalent to $36,000.
Novanto would be barred from holding public office for five years after serving his sentence and have to repay $7.3 million he had plundered, added the judge, who goes by one name.
In a session that ran for more than three hours, judges read out dozens of case notes, including descriptions of where the former speaker held meetings to divvy up cash made from a mark-up on a contract for the identity card.
Novanto showed little emotion as the judge read the verdict.
After a quick consultation with his legal team, he told the court he would take time to consider whether to appeal against the sentence.
Novanto was accused of orchestrating a scheme to steal $173 million, or almost 40 percent of the entire budget for a government contract for the national identity card.
Prosecutors, who had questioned 80 witnesses in the case, had sought a jail term of at least 16 years.
The Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials KPK, has remained one of Southeast Asia’s most effective and independent agencies, despite repeated efforts to undermine it.
The KPK has jailed ministers, governors, judges and other high-ranking officials and members of parliament.
“This is a warning to anybody not to act against the law,” Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Metro TV when asked to comment on the verdict.
Novanto, who had been implicated in five graft scandals since the 1990s but never convicted, was detained by KPK investigators in November after repeatedly missing summonses for questioning over the case, saying he needed heart surgery.
He gained a measure of international fame in September 2015 when Donald Trump, then U.S. presidential candidate, hailed him as a “great man” at a news conference in New York.
Even with successes in the fight against corruption, Indonesians have to contend with high levels of graft in many areas of their lives and the country placed 96th among 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index last year, on a par with Colombia and Thailand.
The political leader of Yemen's Houthi rebels has been killed in Saudi-led air strikes on Hudaida province, the group has said.
The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV network reported late on Monday that Saleh al-Sammad, the president of the Supreme Political Council that runs Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and other rebel-held areas, was killed on Thursday.
The group said it had elected Mahdi al-Mashat as Sammad's successor.
In a televised address later on Monday, the Houthis' leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, said that, overall, seven people were killed in Thursday's air raids.
"This crime will not break the will of our people and state ... [and] will not pass without accountability," he added.
"The forces of this aggression led by Washington and the Saudi regime are legally responsible for such a crime and all its implications."
There was no immediate comment by the Saudi-led coalition.
Traditionally based in Yemen's northwest, the Houthis overran much of the country, including Sanaa, in 2014, citing anger with the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
In March 2015, a coalition of Arab countries assembled by Saudi Arabia launched a massive bombing campaign aimed at rolling back the rebels' advances.
Since then, the Saudis have carried out more than 16,000 air raids, resulting in mass civilian casualties with weddings, hospitals and funerals targeted. The United States has been helping the coalition with weaponry and logistical support.
On Sunday, two Saudi-led coalition air attacks killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens in northwestern Yemen, according to residents and medical personnel.
Most of the dead were women and children who were gathering in a tent set up for a wedding party in Hajjah's Bani Qays district, a medical official told Al Jazeera.
Hakim Almasmari, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post, said al-Sammad's death was a "very significant" development.
"He was the acting president in the Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, so this is considered the biggest blow for the Houthis, politically, since the war started," he told Al Jazeera.
Almasmari noted that the location of the incident was also important.
"Hudaida is considered the most secure place for the Houthis, where they have all their intelligence," he said.
"This is a big backlash for the Houthis, security-wise as well," he added.
"It's not a secret that Hudeida is much more secured than even Sanaa itself, so for him to be killed in Hudeidah, under all the extreme security measures that they go through there, [raises questions] whether they are infiltrated in Hudeida province itself or within the intelligence apparatus in general."
Almasmari also said it was not surprising that al-Sammad's had been replaced by al-Mashat, whom he described as "a very influential figure within the movement".
The first Islamic Bank was inaugurated during a ceremony in Kabul and in the presence of the senior government officials including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
In his speech during the ceremony, Abdullah said the Islamic Banking was a branch of the banks as he welcomed the inauguration of an exclusive Islamic Bank in the country
He said the Islamic Banking is a good experience in the world and fortunately Afghanistan is also experiencing the services of the Islamic Banking.
However, he insisted that the success of the Islamic Banking has links with generosity of the bank employees to provide better services, good cooperation of the State and government’s support to pave the way for the operations of such a bank.
Abdullah expressed hopes that the first Islamic Bank would maintain the confidence of the people as he pointed towards the services of the Azizi and Bakhtar Banks.
He said to maintain and preserve the confidence of the people is a major investment and the Islamic Bank should do its best to keep the confidence of the people.
The Chief Executive said the government is committed to support the private sector in all situations and conditions as he emphasized that the days are gone when the governments were considering the private sector as their competitors.
He said the people expect to see the results of the promises being made and expressed hopes that the inauguration of the bank will help to bolster the banking, trade, production, and economic sectors of the country.
Nangarhar was considered one of the country’s most secure provinces until a few years back. In addition to the capital of this eastern province, many of its districts were safer than other areas of the country. Although located on the border with Pakistan -- the Taliban’s main backer, the militants were not able to gain as much foothold as in other provinces. After 2014 when reports of Daesh’s emergence in the province surfaced, the security situation in the province has been deteriorating. Besides districts, now Jalalabad as one of the country’s major population centers is faced with serious security challenges.
Two things simultaneously threaten Nangarhar security. The insurgents – both Taliban and Daesh – on the one hand, and irresponsible armed men and mafia networks on the other hand have turned the province into a hell for its residents. Militant activities are not limited to only this province; it is a common issue across the country, which the government has unfortunately failed to tackle. If the government has strong will, it can curb the issue of irresponsible armed men and racketeers with its existing resources. If the government clears the path for fight against corruption and proper utilization of existing potential by purging regional administrations of mafia, it can confront at least this menace.
The cause of the recent spate of violence and insecurity in Jalalabad is irresponsible gunmen and mafia networks. Doctors in Jalalabad have gone on strike for the last few days, saying they are threatened. They claim that two doctors have been killed, a number of them have been kidnapped, and tens more have been intimidated over the last six months for refusing to pay money to racketeers. The striking doctors have given the government ten days to take concrete actions for their security, or else they will quit their jobs.
The government may fabricate pretexts for the continuation of militant activities, yet it cannot find any justification for the threats faced by doctors in Jalalabad city. Despite the complaints of doctors, the central government unfortunately has not taken satisfactory measures, and paid keen attention to issue. The government has to pay undivided attention to the life threats faced by doctors, and not allow this class, which is needed more than ever in the society given the country’s critical situation to suspend their operation.