The World Today for May 30, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Harvest of Woes

An Afghan bomb squad recently tried but failed to defuse an explosive device in a car parked in an auto repair garage in Kandahar. Sixteen people, including four security officers, perished when the device detonated. Another 38 were wounded, including children.

Interestingly, the car was also filled with suicide vests, suggesting jihadists were planning to use the car in an attack during Ramadan, which ends in mid-June, the New York Times reported.

The incident is one reason why Afghans have grown so frustrated with their leaders in Kabul.

On a recent visit of US officials to the country, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani celebrated his soldiers’ recent progress against the Taliban in cities like Farah. But local Afghans gave the American visitors an earful on the “corruption, cowardice and perhaps worst of all, indifference” of the local military, the Wall Street Journal wrote.

A Congress-mandated report came to a similar conclusion, Newsweek said, citing reports that found that Taliban or Islamic State militants controlled almost 15 percent of the country as of January, more than double the area they controlled three years ago. The Afghan government controlled less than 60 percent of the country.

The Journal also reported that the Pentagon probably also believed things needed to change. President Donald Trump has appointed a new commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Scott Miller, to carry out a new strategy. He will be the ninth US general in a conflict that has raged since shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US.

Meanwhile, the carnage continues. In Farah, the militants remain active despite US-led airstrikes. “The Taliban are moving very fast. If the government does not take serious and speedy action, the province is going to collapse,” Hamidullah, a resident of the city, told Reuters.

A series of blasts killed eight at a cricket match in Jalalabad recently: They occurred after evening prayers on May 18 at a football stadium that was hosting the match to mark the start of Ramadan.

Unfortunately, things could get worse. The Islamic State controls mineral mines in Afghanistan that give the group revenue streams from unlikely goods like baby powder, according to the Intercept.

Imagine the resources that the terrorists might gain if the heroin yield from last year’s bumper crop of opium poppies is as huge as the United Nations has warned it might be. Opium is now the single largest sector in the Afghan economy, eclipsing even the mountains of international aid that have gone to the country, the Telegraph wrote.

It’s a race to see whose state will survive.

WANT TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Wheels within Wheels

Israeli officials believe Russia may exert its influence to pull Iranian troops back from the Syrian border with Israel in order to avoid undermining the position of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as, separately, tensions escalate in the Gaza Strip.

Reports suggest that the Assad regime is planning a major offensive against rebel groups in the area of Syria bordering Israel. But Russia and Israel have allegedly agreed that the push won’t include militias loyal to Iran, marking an “unprecedented level of cooperation and agreement” between Moscow and Jerusalem over Syria’s future, Newsweek reported.

The news comes amid heightened tension following Israeli strikes against Iranian forces stationed in the border area, as well as deadly protests and cross-border attacks in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas holds sway.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired more than 70 rockets and mortar shells into Israel on Tuesday, the Washington Post cited the Israeli military as saying, and Israel struck back against military training bases belonging to both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another militant group.

HUNGARY

When Aiding Is Abetting

Just after Austria unveiled plans to cut benefits for immigrants and refugees who can’t speak German, Hungary’s government has introduced a bill that would make helping undocumented immigrants stay in the country a crime punishable with a prison term of up to a year behind bars.

Posted on the website of the Hungarian parliament on Tuesday, the so-called “Stop Soros” bill says “those who provide financial means … or conduct this organizational activity on a regular basis will be punishable with up to one year in prison,” Al-Jazeera reported. A separate bill was introduced proposing changing the constitution to make ineligible for asylum any immigrant who entered Hungary from a third country where they were not subject to persecution.

In recent elections, Prime Minister Viktor Orban demonized billionaire financier George Soros. Orban has also staunchly opposed European Union refugee policies.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) criticized the bills as likely to further inflame xenophobia.

PUERTO RICO

The True Toll

Hurricane Maria likely killed more than 4,000 people in Puerto Rico last year, rather than the 64 victims acknowledged by local authorities, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Just in time for the beginning of this year’s hurricane season, the study explained that Puerto Rico’s Institute of Forensic Sciences must confirm deaths as disaster-related for them to be included in the official tally, so the system only considers bodies that are brought to San Juan or were confirmed by a medical examiner traveling to a local municipality. Puerto Rico also doesn’t count indirect deaths resulting from worsening of chronic conditions or from delayed medical treatments, USA Today reported.

Meanwhile, similar storms like the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 killed more than 6,000 and 1,800 people in the US, respectively, according to the study.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has approved $1 billion in individual assistance grants for residents of Puerto Rico. More than $500 million has been designated for repairs to bridges, government buildings and other structures.

DISCOVERIES

Joy in Paradise

In another odd case of an unaware pregnancy, a 22-year-old woman unexpectedly gave birth to a healthy baby girl in her bathroom earlier this month.

But the birth was unexpected for another reason: This was the first birth in 12 years on the woman’s native Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, located in the Atlantic Ocean, Newsweek reported.

The island, the largest in an archipelago 215 miles off the northeastern coast of Brazil, houses a population of around 3,000 people, an ecological sanctuary and a national marine park.

Authorities had closed down the local hospital’s maternity ward, arguing that it would be too costly to operate the unit with only 40 births per year. As a result, island authorities require mothers in the seventh month of pregnancy to travel to the mainland to give birth, which the moms say is traumatic.

Despite the de facto rule – and that it was unwittingly broken – locals are overjoyed at the news that the island received a new addition to its community, and have prepared clothes and other gifts for the new islander.

“For us it is a joy to have a Noronha born on the island, finally after so much time,” a local resident told the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, according to Newsweek. “We are mobilizing to help the family.”

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