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NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Ending the Forever War

President Donald Trump could face off against Senator Elizabeth Warren, a liberal Massachusetts Democrat, in the 2020 US presidential election.

But on one issue, they won’t be sparring, wrote the Washington Post.

“I think it is right to get our troops out of Syria – and, let me add, I think it’s right to get our troops out of Afghanistan,” Warren recently told MSNBC.

Despite the counsel of many of his military advisers, Trump has ordered the “gradual departure” of around half the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda planned the September 11 attacks more than 17 years ago. However, the actual withdrawal could still be slower and smaller than the one the president first demanded, the Washington Post reported.

The question, as the New York Review of Books noted this past summer, is whether an American withdrawal will lead to the kind of disgraceful chaos that enveloped Saigon when the North Vietnamese captured the city at the end of that country’s war in 1975.

Like the South Vietnamese, the US-backed Afghan government’s power appears to be waning.

Late last year, the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction said in a report to Congress that the Kabul-based government controlled only 56 percent of the Central Asian country, compared to 72 percent in 2015, according to CNN. The Taliban, meanwhile, has expanded its territory while contesting government control in around a third of the country.

Afghan security services count 40,000 men and women – 11 percent below their target strength. The New York City Police Department can muster more officers in a jurisdiction that’s a tiny fraction of the size of Afghanistan with a quarter of the people. Lethal attacks by the Taliban on security forces are common.

“When it comes to the fundamental reason for the intervention in Afghanistan – the defeat of terrorism and extremism – we failed together and we failed miserably,” former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told Spiegel Online in June.

Afghans are exhausted.

“Afghanistan has been witnessing bloodshed for over 40 years of conflict resulting in dismantling growth and prosperity,” wrote Afghan diplomat Neelapu Shanti in the Economic Times, an Indian newspaper. “The emotional toll of the prolonged war is in immeasurable terms.”

Trump has called on India, Pakistan and Russia to send troops to Afghanistan, wrote Radio Free Europe. Turkey is also convening a summit between Afghan and Pakistani leaders later this year to discuss security issues, according to the Associated Press.

Further internationalizing the Afghan conflict is controversial because military involvement entails political, economic and other influences. The Atlantic magazine warned especially of Russian meddling in its neighbor’s affairs.

It’s hard to see how this ends nicely.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAQ

Doing the Rounds

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled stop in Baghdad Wednesday to reassure Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi that Washington remains committed to supporting its ally amid plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.

Iraqi officials are speculating the White House may reduce the 5,200 American military personnel based in Iraq as well, the Washington Post reported. But Pompeo emphasized that the US still views the fight against Islamic State, or Daesh, as it is frequently called in the region, to be of vital importance.

The meeting confirmed “a common understanding that the battle against Daesh, to counter Daesh, and the fight to counter Iran, is real and important,” Pompeo said.

That may be true. But Pompeo may face an uphill battle convincing regional leaders as he continues his tour of the Middle East this month, argues Foreign Policy, noting that the US currently has no ambassador in five of the nine countries he is visiting due to infighting on Capitol Hill and a lack of urgency from President Donald Trump.

MOZAMBIQUE

Something Fishy

The former finance minister of Mozambique’s extradition to the US was postponed and he was transferred to solitary confinement, following his indictment along with at least 17 others in connection with an alleged scam involving $2 billion in fraudulent loans to state-owned companies.

South Africa’s Kempton Park Magistrates Court on Wednesday rejected former Mozambique Finance Minister Manuel Chang’s lawyers’ claims that his arrest was unlawful, South Africa-based Eyewitness News reported. But the authorities moved him into solitary confinement following arguments that he was denied a bed and forced to pay protection money in the Modderbee prison – where he had shared a cell with 20 other inmates.

Mozambique announced the indictments Monday following the charging of three ex-Credit Suisse bankers in the US over their role in the scheme – in which the southern African country borrowed money from international investors to fund projects that included a state tuna fishery, Al Jazeera reported.

Chang, 63, was arrested in South Africa at the end of December. In Mozambique, he and the other defendants were charged with “abuse of power, abuse of trust, swindling and money laundering,” the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) said in a statement.

BRAZIL

Sing Our National Anthem

President Jair Bolsonaro announced that Brazil is pulling out of the United Nations migration pact signed last month, signaling a possible reversal of his country’s longstanding embrace of foreigners.

It’s a symbolic gesture at heart, since the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is not legally binding in any case. But the rhetoric that accompanied the announcement was in keeping with the far-right president’s unapologetic nationalism, the New York Times reported.

“Brazil has a sovereign right to decide whether or not it accepts migrants,” Bolsonaro posted on Twitter. “Anyone who comes here must be subject to our laws and customs, and must sing our national anthem and respect our culture.”

Aligning the new president with other conservative leaders who have opposed multilateralism worldwide, the statement comes in the midst of a culture war of sorts in Brazil, where Bolsonaro has drawn fire from more liberal citizens for his misogynist and homophobic comments. But it also comes as the country faces a wave of new immigrants due to the implosion of neighboring Venezuela.

DISCOVERIES

Shining a Light

The “dark side” – or far side – of the moon always faces away from Earth, but China might now shed more light on the mysterious hemisphere.

Last week, China successfully landed its Chang’e 4 space probe on the moon’s far side and launched its rover to begin the first surface exploration of the largely unseen landscape, the Guardian reported.

Scientists praised the mission as a technical feat, with project chief designer Wu Weiren declaring it “a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation.”

Experiments planned for the Chang’e probe – named after the Chinese moon goddess – could reveal new clues about the cataclysmic event that created Earth’s satellite and explain the presence of water in lunar soil.

Referring to the moon’s far side as “dark” doesn’t mean that the sun never shines on it. Rather, it remains permanently unseen from the Earth because of the synchronous timing of the moon’s rotation on its axis and its orbit of the Earth.

Chinese researchers hope to use the far side of the moon to monitor radio waves from deep space that are difficult to detect on Earth due to electromagnetic interference from human activity.

Lastly, colonization dreams are also part of its mission. The spacecraft is carrying a mini-greenhouse to test how well plants grow on the moon’s surface.

Soon they’ll be growing “moon cabbage.”