Afghanistan launches offensive against Taliban after Kabul attacks

Afghan military soldiers stand stand alert at the entrance gate of the new parliament building after a rocket attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)
Updated 06 February 2018
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Afghanistan launches offensive against Taliban after Kabul attacks

KABUL: Afghan security forces, backed by US troops, have increased assaults on Taliban militants following a series of deadly attacks by the insurgents in the Afghan capital.
The Defense Ministry claimed on Sunday that more than 100 militants had been killed in the previous 24 hours.
Gen. Dawlat Waziri, chief spokesperson for the Defense Ministry, said the offensive will continue until the militants surrender.
“We will keep up the offensives because the terrorists have crossed the red line. These attacks are different from their usual ones. We will force the insurgents to either come to the negotiation table or we will kill them,” Waziri told Arab News.
Afghanistan has launched air and ground offensives in Helmand, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces in the south; Faryab and Baghlan in the north; and Ghazni and Logar provinces in the east, while the Taliban suffered its heaviest losses in Kandahar, the Defense Ministry statement said.
However, while conceding it had suffered some casualties in other parts of the country, the Taliban said the victims in Kandahar were civilians, not militants.
The offensives involve Afghan Special Forces and some have also been supported by US air strikes, according to Waziri. He said the crackdown was in response to the wave of terror attacks in urban areas, mostly in Kabul, where over 150 people lost their lives in three separate attacks in recent days.
President Ashraf Ghani described last Tuesday’s horrific Taliban attack in Kabul as “Afghanistan’s 9/11” and has since ordered countrywide offensives against militants who are not interested in engaging with the peace process.
“The important point of the president’s message was that the government will not negotiate with those who take responsibility for the attacks, but will embrace those who condemn them,” chief presidential spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazavi told Arab News.
The Taliban ramped up its attacks following months of strikes by US-led troops and Afghan forces as part of US President Donald Trump’s new Afghan strategy, which focuses on rural areas, mostly in the south, the traditional Taliban stronghold.
Security analyst Abdul Jabar Qahraman, a former general, said the surge in military offensives has been “productive” and has inflicted “heavy losses” on the enemy.
“The war in Afghanistan has two factors: Local and foreign,” he explained. “The main factor is foreign, where the roots of the war lay. You can win the war when you dry up the foreign factor.”
Afghanistan has repeatedly accused Pakistan of supporting the Haqqani network, blamed for a number of terror attacks on Afghan soil. Islamabad denies the claims.
“Under pressure because of past offensives, the Taliban have changed their tactics by conducting suicide attacks …. in urban areas,” Qahraman said. “The government and foreign troops may continue to hit the Taliban in rural areas, but the Taliban in return will try to attack cities. This is not the solution. The real solution is to finish the external element.”


Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

A woman carries a placard as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalising abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 May 2018
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Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

  • Exit polls says 68 percent of voters back change
  • The country's leaders support a "yes," an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment

DUBLIN: Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.
An Irish Times exit poll released Friday night projected a landslide victory for those who want to loosen abortion laws, but official results are not expected until Saturday afternoon.
The country’s leaders support a “yes,” an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment requiring authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law. They called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalize some of Europe’s strictest abortion rules.
Voters went to the polls after a campaign that aroused deep emotions on both sides. For advocates of repeal, a “yes” vote would be a landmark in Irish women’s fight for equality and the right to control their own bodies. For opponents, it would be a betrayal of Ireland’s commitment to protect the unborn.
The vote also is a key indicator of Ireland’s trajectory, three years after the country voted to allow same-sex marriages and a year after its first openly gay prime minister took office.
The newspaper exit poll indicated overwhelming support for change. The survey by pollster Ipsos-MRBI says 68 percent of voters backed repeal of the ban and 32 percent opposed it. The pollster says it interviewed some 4,000 people and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The poll is only a prediction.
Theresa Sweeney, a repeal supporter, was one of the first to arrive at a church polling station in Dublin.
“I feel like I’ve waited all of my adult life to have a say on this,” she said.
Emma Leahy said her “yes” vote comes from her firm belief that everyone should be able to make their own choice when it comes to abortion.
“For Ireland, it’s hope for the future,” she said of the referendum. “Whether you agree or disagree, it shouldn’t be the government or anyone else making that decision.”
Vera Rooney voted against repeal.
“It is a hard decision but I just feel I don’t have the right to take life,” she said. “I think life is sacred and for that reason I had to vote no.”
The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place.
The amendment requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception. That effectively bans all abortions in Ireland, except in cases when the woman’s life is at risk. Having an illegal abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighboring Britain.
If citizens vote in favor of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament. The government proposes that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions would be allowed in special cases.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a doctor, voted in favor of repeal.
“Not taking anything for granted of course, but quietly confident,” he said, adding that the upside of a sunny day in Ireland is that people come out to vote.
Thousands of Irish people abroad traveled home to take part in the historic referendum, and supporters of repeal gathered at Dublin Airport to give arrivals an ecstatic welcome.
Some activists held a placard reading “Thank you for making the journey so other women don’t have to” — a reference to the way Irish women seeking abortions have had to leave the country to obtain them.
Tara Flynn, who 11 years ago flew to the Netherlands for an abortion, said she planned to vote “yes” to make sure future generations of women don’t endure what she did, with feelings of isolation and shame.
She said her vote would be one for solidarity and compassion, “a vote to say, I don’t send you away anymore.”
Campaigning was not allowed Friday, but Dublin was still filled with signs and banners urging citizens to vote “yes” or “no.” Many of the anti-abortion signs showed photographs of fetuses.
Voting has already taken place on Ireland’s remote islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.
Letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained several emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.
“If we vote ‘yes’ every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights,” wrote Frances Kelleher, from Killarney. “I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill.”