The World Today for March 14, 2019

NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Small Expectations

The Americans want to leave in five years. The Taliban want them to go within a year.

The gap between the two reflects the US desire not to retreat from Afghanistan, which American-led NATO troops invaded after the September 11 attacks in 2001, as the Soviets did in the late 1980s, Bloomberg explained.

The Afghan people are also divided.

Women’s rights activist Zarlasht Halaimzai is nervous that the US will leave too abruptly, giving the Taliban free rein to pursue their misogynistic ultraorthodox Islamic agenda.

“Everyone we talk to just wants to live their life in peace,” Halaimzai told National Public Radio. “We want peace. This is not the way.”

But the New York Times reported that cosmopolitan urbanites like Halaimzai don’t speak for Afghans living in rural areas that have become battle zones where Western, Afghan-government and Taliban fighters have been duking it out for years – with the Taliban now controlling more territory than when the Americans arrived. Those folks want a peace deal now so they can get on with their lives.

In the meantime, the negotiations haven’t kindled affection between the two sides even if they did produce a draft deal Wednesday — the details have not made public yet, NBC News reported.

Breaking with rhetoric that American officials have employed for generations, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said his diplomats were negotiating with “Taliban terrorists,” a turn of phrase that Reuters said he refused to correct.

Perhaps Pompeo agrees with the Atlantic, where writer Kori Schake recently predicted that the Taliban would join an Afghan coalition government, then wait until American forces quit the country for good before massacring everyone who might oppose their rule.

In 1996, when they took control of Kabul, the Taliban seized ex-Afghan President Mohammed Najibullah from a United Nations compound, then tortured and killed him.

The conservative National Interest similarly saw “no obvious solution to Kabul’s ongoing power struggle.”

NATO is not necessarily leaving Afghanistan entirely. American leaders want to withdraw the 14,000 US troops in the country. But British forces are likely to at least temporarily fill the vacuum they leave behind, the Independent wrote.

Writing in the Hill, former Pentagon official Dov Zakheim noted that the US has spent $75 billion on training Afghan forces who still desert their posts and fail to defeat Taliban insurgents. The Europeans could do no worse, he wrote, so they might as well try.

The ancient Persians and Greeks, the British and the Soviets and now almost surely the Americans will have come, seen and quit Afghanistan. Generations fail to learn from history, so they repeat it.

WANT TO KNOW

BRAZIL

Not Off-limits Now

Two gunmen stormed into a Brazilian school Wednesday and shot dead at least five teenagers and two school officials before killing themselves.

The motives of the shooters – former pupils aged 17 and 25 – are not yet known, Reuters reported.

Before the attack on the Raul Brasil school in Suzano, a city on the eastern outskirts of metropolitan Sao Paulo, the pair shot and killed the owner of a car rental agency from which they stole a car.

Although Brazil tallies more annual homicides than any other country, school shootings remain rare, with the last one occurring in 2011. Gun laws are also strict, though it is not hard to get a gun illegally and President Jair Bolsonaro is working to make getting a licensed one easier as well.

The post-shooting debate echoed similar discussions in the United States, with some saying armed teachers might have limited the death toll and others arguing more guns would lead to more killings, Reuters said.

NIGERIA

Dereliction and Tragedy

Emergency workers were scrambling to rescue scores of schoolchildren trapped in the rubble of a three-story building that collapsed Wednesday in the Nigerian city of Lagos.

At least 10 people have been confirmed dead and 40 others have been rescued alive, BBC reported. Witnesses said that at least 100 children were in the primary school on the building’s top floors when the structure collapsed.

The cause of the accident is not yet known, but such disasters are relatively common in Nigeria due to poor regulatory oversight, the agency said.

Plan International Nigeria, a children’s rights group, called for a government inquiry that ensures “all persons found culpable for dereliction of duties are punished,” the Associated Press reported.

Akinwunmi Ambode, the governor of Lagos State, said the school had been operating illegally in a residential building and most buildings in the area had been marked for demolition, the New York Times reported. But locals blamed the government for failing to carry out those plans – saying that the building had instead recently been refurbished.

BRITAIN

Another Day, Another No

Britain’s Parliament voted not to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement on Wednesday, after rejecting Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed deal a day earlier. The legislators will now vote later Thursday on whether to seek an extension from Brussels of the March 29 deadline to leave the EU.

An extension is likely, but how long it will last is in question, the BBC reported. On Thursday, legislators will vote whether to try to extend the deadline to June 30 to facilitate related legislation, but that will only apply if Parliament also supports May’s Brexit deal in yet another vote planned for March 20.

If they yet again reject her plan, the delay could be much longer, the prime minister warned.  

Meanwhile, a European Commission spokesperson said voting against a no-deal Brexit isn’t enough to stop it from happening. “There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal. The EU is prepared for both,” the spokesman said.

DISCOVERIES

The Unlucky One

Today’s sloths are harmless and extremely slow creatures, but their prehistoric counterparts were a real challenge to human hunters. They had giant claws, could grow up to 20 feet long from nose to tip of tail, stand 13 feet tall, and weigh 14,400 pounds.

Archaeologists recently discovered that the ancient giant mammals were also adept survivalists during the Ice Age period, Business Insider reported.

In 2014, divers discovered bones from a giant sloth in a sinkhole in Belize. In a recent study, scientists analyzed one of the remains – a four-inch tooth – and found out that the giant sloth would change its diet season to season in order to survive the harsh environment.

“They were able to survive dramatic seasonality, with about a nine-month dry season and short three-month wet season,” said lead author Jean Larmon.

It’s unclear how the sloth – scientifically known as Eremotherium laurillardi – ended up in the sinkhole, but scientists speculate that it fell in while foraging for food and water around 27,000 years ago.

During the Ice Age, freshwater was scarce and sinkholes would have been valuable resources for animals.

The giant creature was probably unlucky or clumsy.

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