America’s Afghanistan fiasco leaves allies weakened, adversaries emboldened

Afghans fleeing the Taliban run in desperation as a US Air Force cargo plane lifts off from Kabul airport. (AFP)
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Afghans fleeing the Taliban run in desperation as a US Air Force cargo plane lifts off from Kabul airport. (AFP)
Afghans fleeing the Taliban run in desperation as a US Air Force cargo plane lifts off from Kabul airport. (AFP)
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Afghans fleeing the Taliban run in desperation as a US Air Force cargo plane lifts off from Kabul airport. (AFP)
Medical staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two blasts  outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar / AFP)
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Medical staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two blasts outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar / AFP)
Kabul airport has become a virtual war zone, surrounded by barbed wires to keep Afghans fleeing the Taliban from swamping departing planes. (AFP)
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Kabul airport has become a virtual war zone, surrounded by barbed wires to keep Afghans fleeing the Taliban from swamping departing planes. (AFP)
US soldiers assist Afghans fleeing Taliban rule. (AFP)
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US soldiers assist Afghans fleeing Taliban rule. (AFP)
A group of Afghan women wait for their turn to board plane at Kabul International Airport. (AFP)
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A group of Afghan women wait for their turn to board plane at Kabul International Airport. (AFP)
Afghans fleeing the Taliban join a queue to board a US Air Force cargo plane at Kabul International Airport. (AFP)
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Afghans fleeing the Taliban join a queue to board a US Air Force cargo plane at Kabul International Airport. (AFP)
An Afghan woman and her children are lucky enough to be able to board a US cargo plane flying out of Kabul. (AFP)
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An Afghan woman and her children are lucky enough to be able to board a US cargo plane flying out of Kabul. (AFP)
A US paratrooper helps in the evacuation at Kabul airport. (AFP)
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A US paratrooper helps in the evacuation at Kabul airport. (AFP)
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Updated 28 August 2021

America’s Afghanistan fiasco leaves allies weakened, adversaries emboldened

America’s Afghanistan fiasco leaves allies weakened, adversaries emboldened
  • US allies will be watching how it deals with challenges from Middle East to Korean Peninsula
  • The strategic map of the region will look different after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan

LONDON: The late Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was reportedly quoted as saying after he lost power that “whoever is covered by the Americans is naked,” in reference to how Washington abandoned him during the Egyptian uprising.

This might be the best way to describe the feelings of the former President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani as he settles down in his new life in the UAE after fleeing Kabul, having watched his American allies give the Taliban almost a free hand to take Afghanistan back at lightning speed.

America’s allies and enemies are mulling over the consequences of the Afghanistan withdrawal — and the chaos that it has caused — for Washington’s international standing, its leadership and its global power.




A US Marine reaches for an infant over a fence of barbed wire during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 19, 2021. (Photo Courtesy of Omar Haidiri / AFP)

Some are comparing it to the humiliating withdrawal from Saigon. But many see this as a worse defeat than Vietnam and a “defining geopolitical moment” for the US. It is being described as the end of the “American era” on the global stage. If true, the “cemetery of empires” has added one more victim to its long list.

The Soviets drank the cup of Afghan defeat before the Americans did, but the government they set up in Kabul at least lasted a little longer, while the US-backed Ghani administration could not survive a week. The Afghan army melted like an iceberg in a hot sea.

Few disagree that the US should eventually have left Afghanistan, but the chaotic manner of its departure, and the mess that is unfolding now, has astonished many. This is raising questions about the credibility and the reliability of the US as an ally and as a superpower. It is also emboldening America’s enemies and weakening its friends.

 

 

We are not witnessing another Saigon but rather another Suez, this time for the US, say some experts. The 1956 Suez debacle was the closing chapter of the British empire and its outreach as a military power in the Middle East and beyond. Could this be a similar American moment? Could Afghanistan indeed be America’s Suez?

Looking at the reactions from around the world, this is exactly the lesson that many are drawing from Afghanistan. From Europe to Asia and Africa, and even on the home front, people are appalled at the incoherence of the Afghanistan withdrawal plan and its botched implementation.

America’s friends, from its major NATO allies to the small emerging democracies, are concerned about what this might mean to the free world and Washington’s leadership in it.

They are monitoring how the US deals with the current strategic challenges around the world — from the Middle East to the Korean Peninsula, and in between.




A scene at Kabul’s airport as crowds sought to make their escape after the Taliban seized the city. (AFP)

The first shots were fired from the British parliament. In an emotional speech, Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign relations committee, slammed President Joe Biden without naming him. He criticized the West for not having patience: “Patience wins, the Cold War was won with patience.”

The British parliamentarian called on the UK to “set out a vision ... for reinvigorating our European NATO partners to make sure we’re not dependent on a single ally, on the decision of a single leader.”

Norbert Rottgenn, the chairman of the German parliaments’ foreign relations committee, saw in the withdrawal a “serious and far-reaching miscalculation by the current administration. This does fundamental damage to the political and moral credibility of the West.”

In Asia, America’s allies are watching the rapidly changing Afghanistan situation with keen interest but also trepidation. The reassurances of Washington’s commitment to Asia offered by Vice President Kamala Harris — who is visiting the region this week — were in sharp contrast to the widespread perception that depending on the US is a risky insurance policy and that self-reliance is the best security strategy.

There is no doubt that the governments of Japan and South Korea have been closely following events in Afghanistan. If the US is weakened as a superpower, what does this mean to their security as they face a more aggressive and assertive China?

Taiwan is learning the Afghanistan lesson too and its officials are emphasizing the importance of self-reliance.




The US national flag, reflected on the windows of the US embassy building in Kabul in this  photo taken on July 30, 2021, had been hastily taken down amid the Taliban onslaught. (AFP)

China is rubbing that in. The Chinese news agency wrote “the fall of Kabul marks the collapse of the international image and credibility of the US.” An editorial in the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times detected in the Afghanistan withdrawal an “omen of Taiwan’s future fate.”

It wrote that “once a cross-straits war breaks out while the mainland seizes the island with forces, the US would have to have a much greater determination than it had for Afghanistan, Syria, and Vietnam if it wants to intervene.”

Biden is putting the withdrawal in the context of America’s national security interests and taking the Afghanistan card from the hands of its rivals. “If you are sitting in Moscow or Beijing, are you happy we left?” he said. “They love nothing better for us than to continue to be bogged down there, totally occupied with what is going on there.”

 

 

This is not how America’s opponents saw it though. Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah saw a “humiliated, failed and defeated” America, while Hamas congratulated the Taliban on its victory and “the end of occupation.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan praised the breaking of “the chains of slavery.” The wagons are being circled.

Russia is gloating at the fact that the US met the same defeat as it did a quarter of a century ago. It is happy that the US military will not be on its borders anymore.

Iran is elated that the US seems humiliated in Afghanistan and that American power will leave the region, but despite their constant contacts with the Taliban, they have to contend with a Sunni fundamentalist regime next to them, which might cut their laughter short. But they see what happened in Afghanistan as a reassurance that the US power in the region has been dealt a big blow.

The strategic map of the region will look different after the American withdrawal. China and Russia will have a stronger influence than the US on the future of Afghanistan.

At home, some experts believe that it was not Afghanistan that marked the end of the American era. Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History and The Last Man,” has argued in The Economist that the “end of the American era had come much earlier. The long-term sources of American weakness and decline are more domestic than international.”




Afghans fleeing the Taliban join a queue to board a US Air Force cargo plane at Kabul International Airport. (AFP)

He predicted that the US will remain a “great power for many years, but just how influential it will be depends on its ability to fix its internal problems, rather than its foreign policy.”

He might have a point. Internal divisions inside the US are deeper now than any other time in its history; they can be the foremost threat to its international standing and power.

The lesson that America’s domestic extremists are drawing from the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban is alarming. Someone who went to Washington, D.C. during the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots told CNN correspondent Donie O’Sullivan: “It took 11 days for them (the Taliban) to take over Afghanistan ...  How many days would it take the patriots to take over this country?”

This comment shows how much damage control the US needs to do to reassure allies and deter enemies, both foreign and domestic.


US warns abortion ruling could increase extremist violence

US warns abortion ruling could increase extremist violence
Updated 19 May 2022

US warns abortion ruling could increase extremist violence

US warns abortion ruling could increase extremist violence
  • Opponents of abortion have carried out at least 10 killings as well as dozens of arson and bomb attacks against medical facilities in their long campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade

WASHINGTON: The leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion striking down the constitutional right to abortion has unleashed a wave of threats against officials and others and increased the likelihood of extremist violence, an internal government report says.
Violence could come from either side of the abortion issue or from other types of extremists seeking to exploit tensions, according to a memo directed to local government agencies from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
It’s an added element to what is already a volatile environment in the US, where authorities have warned repeatedly over the past two years that the threat posed by domestic extremists, such as the gunman who committed the racist attack over the weekend in Buffalo, has surpassed the danger from abroad.
The memo, dated May 13 and obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, seeks to differentiate between illegal activity and the intense but legal outpouring of protests that are all but guaranteed when the Supreme Court issues its ruling at the end of its term this summer, regardless of the outcome.
“DHS is committed to protecting Americans’ freedom of speech and other civil rights and civil liberties, including the right to peacefully protest,” the agency said in a written response to questions about the memo.
Those protests could turn violent. The memo warns that people “across a broad range of various ... ideologies are attempting to justify and inspire attacks against abortion-related targets and ideological opponents at lawful protests.”
Violence associated with the abortion debate would not be unprecedented nor would it necessarily be confined to one side or the other, the memo says.
Opponents of abortion have carried out at least 10 killings as well as dozens of arson and bomb attacks against medical facilities in their long campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade.
DHS said there is also a potential for violence from the other side, citing recent damage to buildings used by abortion opponents in Wisconsin and Oregon.
“Historically, violent acts related to this issue were primarily committed by abortion-related violent extremists that opposed abortion rights,” it said. “Going forward, grievances related to restricting abortion access could fuel violence by pro-choice abortion-related violent extremists and other” (domestic violent extremists).
In the Wisconsin incident, it noted, the building was set on fire and the perpetrators left graffiti that said “If abortions aren’t safe (then) you aren’t either.”
The leak of the opinion this month, authorities prompted a “significant increase” in threats through social media of Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and other public officials as well as clergy and health care providers, the memo said.
At least 25 of those threats were forwarded to law enforcement agencies for further investigation.


Monkeypox cases detected in Spain, Portugal and US

Monkeypox cases detected in Spain, Portugal and US
Updated 10 min 43 sec ago

Monkeypox cases detected in Spain, Portugal and US

Monkeypox cases detected in Spain, Portugal and US
  • Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox, though milder
  • WHO says coordinating with authorities over the outbreak; CDC confirms first US case

MADRID/BOSTON: Spain and Portugal have detected over 40 suspected cases of monkeypox, while US authorities reported the country’s first confirmed case.

Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox, though milder. The virus causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash.

The outbreaks were concentrated in the Spanish and Portuguese capital cities, officials said Wednesday.

The lone US case was detected in Massachusetts, with health officials saying the man found with the infection had recently traveled to Canada.

The announcements came just days after British health authorities said they had detected seven cases so far this month, with the World Health Organization working with the government to investigate the outbreak.

Health officials have noted some of these infections may be through sexual contact — in this instance among gay or bisexual men — which would be a new development in understanding how the virus is transmitted.

In a statement, health authorities in the Madrid region said they had detected “23 possible cases of monkeypox,” indicating all of them were believed to have been transmitted through sexual activity.

An image created during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 1996 to 1997, shows the arms and torso of a patient with skin lesions due to monkeypox. (CDC Handout via REUTERS)

“In general, its transmission is via respiratory drops but the characteristics of the 23 suspected infections point to it being passed on through bodily fluids during sex relations,” the statement said, without giving further details.

“All of them are young adult males and most of them are men who have sexual relations with other men, but not all of them,” Elena Andradas, head of public health in the Madrid region, told Cadena Ser radio.

Another 20 suspected cases of monkeypox have been detected in the Lisbon region, Portugal’s health ministry said in a statement.

“The cases were all among males, the majority of them young, who had ulcerated lesions,” it said.

Symptoms of monkeypox in humans include a rash which often starts on the face then moves to other parts of the body, fever, muscle ache and chills. Most people recover from the illness within several weeks.

Transmission is usually via close contact with infected animals such as rodents and monkeys, and is limited between people. It has only been fatal in rare cases.


ALSO READ: EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe


The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), a public health protection body, on Monday said it had detected four new cases after registering three cases earlier in May.

All four of the additional cases were men who have sex with men or self-identify as gay or bisexual, it said.

None have known connections with the three earlier confirmed cases, the first of which was linked to travel from Nigeria, raising fears of community spread of the virus.

In the US, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said it was working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and relevant local boards of health to carry out contact tracing, adding that “the case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada late on Wednesday issued a statement saying it is aware of the monkeypox cases in Europe and is closely monitoring the current situation, adding no cases have been reported at this time.

Monkeypox was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. The number of cases in West Africa has increased in the last decade.

Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body.

The Massachusetts agency said the virus does not spread easily between people, but transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, items such as bedding or clothing that have been contaminated with fluids or sores, or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact.

It said no monkeypox cases had previously been identified in the US this year. Texas and Maryland each reported a case in 2021 in people with recent travel to Nigeria.

The CDC also said it is tracking multiple clusters of monkeypox reported in Europe within the past two weeks.

 


EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe

EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe
Updated 4 sec ago

EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe

EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe

LONDON: A handful of cases of monkeypox have now been reported or are suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.
The outbreaks are raising alarm because the disease mostly occurs in west and central Africa, and only very occasionally spreads elsewhere.
Here’s what scientists know so far.

’Highly unusual’
Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash. It is usually mild, although there are two main strains: the Congo strain, which is more severe – with up to 10 percent mortality – and the West African strain, which has a fatality rate of more like 1 percent of cases. The UK cases are least have been reported as the West African strain.
“Historically, there have been very few cases exported. It has only happened eight times in the past before this year,” said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who said it was “highly unusual.”
Portugal has logged five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 potential cases. Neither country has reported cases before.

Transmission
The virus spreads through close contact, both in spillovers from animal hosts and, less commonly, between humans. It was first found in monkeys in 1958, hence the name, although rodents are now seen as the main source of transmission.
Transmission this time is puzzling experts, because a number of the cases in the United Kingdom — nine as of May 18 — have no known connection with each other. Only the first case reported on May 6 had recently traveled to Nigeria.
As such, experts have warned of wider transmission if cases have gone unreported.
The UK Health Security Agency’s alert also highlighted that the recent cases were predominantly among men who self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, and advised those groups to be alert.
Scientists will now sequence the virus to see if they are linked, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this week.

Why not?
One likely scenario behind the increase in cases is increased travel as COVID restrictions are lifted.
“My working theory would be that there’s a lot of it about in west and central Africa, travel has resumed, and that’s why we are seeing more cases,” said Whitworth.
Monkeypox puts virologists on the alert because it is in the smallpox family, although it causes less serious illness.
Smallpox was eradicated by vaccination in 1980, and the shot has been phased out. But it also protects against monkeypox, and so the winding down of vaccination campaigns has led to a jump in monkeypox cases, according to Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California.
But experts urged people not to panic.
“This isn’t going to cause a nationwide epidemic like COVID did, but it’s a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we should take it seriously,” said Whitworth.


UN urges Ukraine grain release, World Bank pledges extra $12 bn

UN urges Ukraine grain release, World Bank pledges extra $12 bn
Updated 19 May 2022

UN urges Ukraine grain release, World Bank pledges extra $12 bn

UN urges Ukraine grain release, World Bank pledges extra $12 bn
  • UN chief says the Russia-Ukraine war “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity”
  • Russia and Ukraine alone produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply

UNITED NATIONS: The UN warned Wednesday that a growing global food crisis could last years if it goes unchecked, as the World Bank announced an additional $12 billion in funding to mitigate its “devastating effects.”
Food insecurity is soaring due to warming temperatures, the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to critical shortages of grains and fertilizer.
At a major United Nations meeting in New York on global food security, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity.”
He said what could follow would be “malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years,” as he and others urged Russia to release Ukrainian grain exports.
Russia and Ukraine alone produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and international economic sanctions on Russia have disrupted supplies of fertilizer, wheat and other commodities from both countries, pushing up prices for food and fuel, especially in developing nations.
Before the invasion in February, Ukraine was seen as the world’s bread basket, exporting 4.5 million tons of agricultural produce per month through its ports — 12 percent of the planet’s wheat, 15 percent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.
But with the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can only travel on congested land routes that are far less efficient.
“Let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production,” Guterres said.
“Russia must permit the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who chaired the summit, and World Food Programme head David Beasley echoed the call.
“The world is on fire. We have solutions. We need to act and we need to act now,” implored Beasley.
Russia is the world’s top supplier of key fertilizers and gas.
The fertilizers are not subject to the Western sanctions, but sales have been disrupted by measures taken against the Russian financial system while Moscow has also restricted exports, diplomats say.
Guterres also said Russian food and fertilizers “must have full and unrestricted access to world markets.”

Food insecurity had begun to spike even before Moscow, which was not invited to Wednesday’s UN meet, invaded its neighbor on February 24.
In just two years, the number of severely food insecure people has doubled — from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today, according to the UN.
More than half a million people are living in famine conditions, an increase of more than 500 percent since 2016, the world body says.
The World Bank’s announcement will bring total available funding for projects over the next 15 months to $30 billion.
The new funding will help boost food and fertilizer production, facilitate greater trade and support vulnerable households and producers, the World Bank said.
The bank previously announced $18.7 billion in funding for projects linked to “food and nutrition security issues” for Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia.
Washington welcomed the decision, which is part of a joint action plan by multilateral lenders and regional development banks to address the food crisis.
The Treasury Department described Russia’s war as “the latest global shock that is exacerbating the sharp increase in both acute and chronic food insecurity in recent years” as it applauded institutions for working swiftly to address the issues.
India over the weekend banned wheat exports, which sent prices for the grain soaring.
The ban was announced Saturday in the face of falling production caused primarily by an extreme heatwave.
“Countries should make concerted efforts to increase the supply of energy and fertilizer, help farmers increase plantings and crop yields, and remove policies that block exports and imports, divert food to biofuel, or encourage unnecessary storage,” said World Bank President David Malpass.


Tesla’s Musk says he ‘can no longer support’ Democrats, ‘will vote Republican’

Tesla’s Musk says he ‘can no longer support’ Democrats, ‘will vote Republican’
Updated 19 May 2022

Tesla’s Musk says he ‘can no longer support’ Democrats, ‘will vote Republican’

Tesla’s Musk says he ‘can no longer support’ Democrats, ‘will vote Republican’
  • Musk rejects proposals by Democrats to tax billionaires and give more tax incentives to union-made electric vehicles
  • Electric vehicle maker Tesla, founded and led by Musk, does not have unions at its US factories.

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk said on Wednesday that while he voted for Democrats in the past, he will now vote for Republicans.
“In the past I voted Democrat, because they were (mostly) the kindness party. But they have become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican,” he tweeted.
“Now, watch their dirty tricks campaign against me unfold,” said Musk, the world’s richest man, who has agreed to buy Twitter Inc.
The 50-year-old billionaire recently said he would reverse Twitter’s ban on former US President Donald Trump, a Republican, when he buys the social media platform. He also said Twitter is far-left-biased because it is headquartered in California, a state known for its progressive politics.
Musk has been a vocal critic of the Biden administration and Democrats for their proposals to tax billionaires and give more tax incentives to union-made electric vehicles. Tesla does not have unions at its US factories.
Last year, Tesla, which counts California as its biggest market in the United States, moved its headquarters from California to the more politically conservative Texas.
Musk moved his personal residence from California to Texas, where there is no state income tax. He has sold about $25 billion worth of Tesla stock since last year in order to pay taxes and finance his proposed acquisition of Twitter. Analysts said the sales helped him cash in on Tesla’s stock rally and diversify his wealth.