Dunford: Afghan combat operations key to safe elections

US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. (AP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Dunford: Afghan combat operations key to safe elections

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan: Afghan security forces have identified key areas of the country that must be secure for elections later this year and have planned a series of military operations to free them from Taliban control, the top US military officer said Wednesday.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said holding secure and successful elections for parliament this year and the president next year will be key factors in determining the success of the new US war strategy approved by President Donald Trump last August.
Dunford is in Afghanistan this week meeting with senior Afghan leaders and traveling to see coalition military commanders around the country, including in Mazar-e Sharif in the north and at Tactical Base Gamberi in the east.
He and other US military officials sounded less concerned about the exact timing of the parliamentary election, which was initially scheduled for July but could slip until the fall.
US Brig. Gen. Michael Fenzel, the coalition’s director of strategic plans, told reporters traveling with Dunford that the timing of the polling this year is less important that having a successful, secure, credible election.
He said that delaying the election may give officials a greater chance to beef up security and ensure that election observers are all in place. There is still a lot of organizing yet to be done, he said.
After meetings Wednesday with commanders at Gamberi, Dunford said the Afghan forces in that region have identified the heavily populated areas that are of “most consequence to the elections and to security and so we should see over time those populated areas be secure.”
Asked about the election timing, Dunford said the commitment is to have voting for the parliament this year and the president next year. He said the particular month for the vote didn’t come up in his conversations Tuesday with Afghan leaders, which included a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani.
“The exact month would be based on the preparedness of the independent election commission,” Dunford said, adding that “securing the areas so people can vote is the most important thing.” The coalition has said the military will be ready to ensure the security of the election whenever it takes place.
One serious concern is the recent spate of high-profile, mass casualty attacks in Kabul. On Wednesday, authorities said a suicide bombing on the road to a Shiite shrine in Kabul killed at least 33 people as Afghans celebrated the Persian new year.
Wahid Majrooh, spokesman for The Public Health Ministry, said 65 others were wounded in the attack. The Daesh group claimed responsibility.
Another IS suicide bomber killed nine people and wounded 18 others earlier this month, and in January a Taliban attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives into the city, killing 103 people and wounding as many as 235.
The violence prompted the US to declare that Kabul is now the main focus of the anti-Taliban fight and the US-led coalition sent additional American military advisers into the city to work with the local police. US special forces have also been conducting raids in the city.


Japan minister apologizes after ‘sexy yoga’ claims

Updated 1 min 21 sec ago
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Japan minister apologizes after ‘sexy yoga’ claims

TOKYO: Japan’s education minister apologized Wednesday for using an official car to visit a yoga studio, but denied claims that the facility was offering “sexy private yoga.”
The row is the latest headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, which is already under fire after two cronyism scandals and sexual harassment claims against a top finance ministry bureaucrat.
The Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine on Wednesday reported that Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi visited a yoga studio in the hip Ebisu district in Tokyo using a state car and took private lessons there.
“I apologize for creating confusion amid a tense parliamentary situation,” Hayashi told reporters.
“As the government is facing severe rebuke and criticism, I will serve the public in a more disciplined manner,” he said, in an apparent reference to various scandals involving the cabinet in recent weeks.
“I should have drawn a line between the public and the private, even though this case was in line with rules,” he added.
Ministers are permitted to use government vehicles for private use in between public engagements, local media said.
The magazine described the yoga studio as a “sexy private yoga” studio run by a former porn actress that offers private lessons and oil massages.
But Hayashi said he was simply taking “regular yoga lessons and massages with finger pressure” for better health.
The president of the yoga studio has denied that she was ever a porn actress and is demanding a correction and an apology from the magazine.
“I firmly deny the article which presents an indecent image and is completely different from the facts,” she said.
The studio’s website says it offers private lessons for men or couples.
Support for Abe’s government has flagged due to two cronyism scandals and criticism of the way the finance ministry has handled claims that its top bureaucrat sexually harassed female reporters.
Around half of voters now disapprove of Abe’s administration, and a similar number want his Finance Minister Taro Aso to step down, polls published Monday found.
The polls bode ill for Abe’s bid to be reelected party chief in September in a vote he was once expected to win easily.