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US South Asia Strategy Not Changing Afghanistan’s Fundamental Challenge

PENTAGON � Efforts to bolster Afghanistan’s armed forces, along with an increased use of American air power, seem to be doing little to change the country’s reputation as a magnet for foreign fighters and jihadists.

Afghan officials have been warning for months about the flow of 3,000 foreign fighters, many of whom had been coming from Pakistan and Uzbekistan to join the Islamic State terror group’s Afghan affiliate, IS-Khorasan.

Now, officials are warning of a new surge of jihadists, many coming to Afghanistan from places like Iraq and Syria via routes that lead through Pakistan.

There has been a growth in the number of the foreign fighters in the country, Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar said during a visit to Washington last week. We’re talking about hundreds of them coming from the Middle East through Pakistan, and other regional groups.

Afghan and Western officials say that while precise numbers are hard to come by, unlike before, the fighters are not focused only on joining IS.

Many are flocking to other terror groups operating within Afghanistan’s borders, including al-Qaida, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lakshar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Afghan officials worry this current influx is helping to create a changing dynamic in which these terror organizations are forging new ties with each other and the Taliban, allowing them to collectively benefit, even as they compete for people and resources.

They have a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban, and the Haqqani and the drug networks, Atmar said.

The foreign fighters need Taliban as their local host and protector, he added. And the Taliban need them for their knowledge, their expertise and their resources.

akistan’s counterterror role

Atmar and other officials believe Pakistan could help reduce the problem if officials in Islamabad choose to help.

“There will be no foreign fighters without Taliban in Afghanistan and there will be no Taliban insurgency without sanctuaries in Pakistan,” the Afghan national security adviser said. “So, we need to see some action.”

Pakistan, though, has been pushing back.

[Nearly] half of the country is a safe haven, Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir said of Afghanistan, in an exclusive interview with VOA this week.

You don’t control 45 percent of Afghanistan and don’t know what is going on there, who is there, who is moving in and out of that safe haven, but you keep blaming us, Dastigir said.

U.S. officials say Pakistan has been somewhat more helpful when it comes to terrorism since President Donald Trump unveiled his South Asia strategy, freezing nearly $2 billion in aid unless Islamabad took more decisive action against terrorists operating along the border with Afghanistan.

But U.S. officials say they are still looking for more to be done, especially when it comes to Islamic State-Khorasan.

These IS-K fighters are primarily Pakistani Pashtun, General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in a statement last week.

Fighters flocking to Jowzjan

One area of ongoing concern for U.S. military officials has been Afghanistan’s northern Jowzjan province, a remote area where IS has been relocating fighters from Pakistan and from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

IS fighters from places like Tajikistan and Chechnya, as well as some from as far away as France and Sudan, also have been flocking to the area despite U.S. efforts to disrupt the group’s operations there.

According to Afghan security officials, at least 80 IS foreign fighters are in custody, with discussions underway about whether they should be kept in Afghanistan or returned to their countries of origin.

Making counterterrorism efforts much more difficult have been the deep ties many of the terror groups have forged with drug traffickers.

They are all drawing on the criminalized economy, said Afghanistan’s Atmar. The drug networks need them. They need the drug income.

According to U.S. military officials, the Taliban alone are bringing in an estimated $200 million a year from drugs.

Afghan officials also suspect terrorists may be getting help from countries in the region and beyond.

They accuse Russia, in particular, of trying to strengthen some terrorist groups in order to weaken others, while peddling false narratives � allegations Moscow denies.

We also get concerned when they [Russia] claim there are U.S., NATO, Afghan unmarked helicopters bringing so-called Daesh from the south or even the tribal areas of Pakistan to the north of the country, Atmar said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Source:Voice of America

Legal Matters

US Rights Group Slams Ankara Social Media Crackdown

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly criticized Turkey for “large numbers” of detentions for social media postings criticizing the Turkish-led military operation into Syria against a Kurdish militia.

The report claimed the “crackdown violates the right to peaceful expression.” Ankara is facing mounting diplomatic pressure over the country’s wider human rights record.

Since January when Ankara launched the Operation Olive Branch military offensive into the Syrian Afrin enclave, critics claim dissent over the offensive has been crushed.

Citing figures from the Interior Ministry, HRW said 648 people were detained between Jan. 20 and Feb. 26 for social media postings criticizing the operation and expressing support for people holding street protests against the offensive.

The rights group said the Interior Ministry confirmed that further detentions have continued into March.

“Detaining and prosecuting people for tweets calling for peace is a new low for Turkey’s government,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkish authorities should respect people’s right to peacefully criticize any aspect of government policy, including military operations, and drop these absurd cases.”

The report highlighted that many of the detainees included prominent figures of Turkish civil society, four members of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP, as well as academics.

HRW cited as one of most egregious cases the detention of 11 senior members of Turkish Medical Association (TTB), including its chairman, Rasit Tukel, for social media postings expressing concern for the humanitarian situation caused by the Turkish operation in Syria.

Turkish ministers have routinely dismissed concerns over Operation Olive Branch as “terrorist propaganda,” insisting not a single civilian had been killed or injured by its forces.

The 11 doctors were subsequently released after an international outcry. In fact, HRW acknowledged that in most cases, those detained were subsequently released, subject to ongoing investigations.

But the rights group suggested the detentions, which usually occur late at night or in early-morning hours, are being used as a means of intimidation.

“I was visible from the outside [to the police]. I was watching TV at the time,” said Nurcan Baysal, a journalist and human rights activist. “They tried to break in the door without ringing the doorbell. About 20 policemen entered my house wearing masks, and trained their automatic rifles on me.”

Baysal’s case was one of five cited by HRW for being detained for social media postings. The manner of her detention follows a similar pattern, according to the rights group, which accuses authorities of intimidating critics.

“After examining the cases, Human Rights Watch believes that some of the police raids and criminal investigations are being used as a form of punishment rather than out of genuine belief that criminal behavior has occurred,” the HRW report said.

HRW claims its investigations revealed that in all the cases it studied, the social media postings were nonviolent and fell within international standards of freedom of expression. Ankara has so far failed to comment on the report, but has frequently dismissed such criticism as “terrorist propaganda.”

The publication of the report comes as Ankara is under growing pressure from its western allies. At a European Union summit on Monday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, EU head commissioner Jean Claude Juncker, and European Council president Donald Tusk, human rights concerns spoiled the gathering, which was intended to reset relations.

“What I can say is that I raised all our concerns,” Tusk said. “As you know, it was a long list, including the rule of law and press freedom in Turkey, and Turkey’s bilateral relations with member states. Also the situation in Syria.”

Tusk added: “My position is clear � only progress on these issues will allow us to improve EU-Turkey relations, including the accession process.”

To underline such concerns, police on Monday raided the dormitories of Istanbul’s Bosphorus University and arrested a number of students. This was the second consecutive day of raids at Bosphorus University, one of Turkey’s top schools, as police searched for students who protested against the Turkish-led offensive into Syria.

“These students were mistreated, suffering beatings and harassment while under custody,” said an academic who teaches at Bosphorus University, speaking anonymously. “Now undercover policemen are roaming the campus looking for students to take under custody. Currently, 11 students are still under custody. Besides, our students are scared to be on campus and come to classes, as they are severely traumatized. Their right to an education is violated.”

The detentions followed Erdogan’s condemnation of anti-war protests, calling the students “communist, traitor youths” at a political rally. Observers point out that when Erdogan publicly targets an opponent, arrests invariably follow. The government disputes such accusations, insisting the judiciary is independent.

The student arrests have again prompted international criticism.

“Anti-war protesters labelled ‘terrorists’ by President Erdogan,” tweeted Kati Piri, the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur. “Critical thinking dangerous endeavour in ‘new’ Turkey.”

Source: Voice of America

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Legal Matters

Amref Health Africa and GE Healthcare Partner to Strengthen Healthcare Systems in Africa

Amref Health Africa and GE to develop joint programs aimed at improving primary and referral care with initial focus on reducing preventable maternal and infant mortality;

First joint program in Ethiopia will equip and develop a sustainable delivery model in 24 healthcare facilities and aims to increase number of healthy mothers and healthy births, expand access to family planning and sustain lower rates of under-five mortality;

Early GE pilot study in Ethiopia shows a 24% reduction in neo-natal mortality in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU);

GE plans 20 programs, from 13 currently, to reach 3.5 million expectant women, mothers and new-borns and train over 3,000 primary healthcare workers by 2020, together with partners including Amref.

GE Healthcare (www.GEHealthcare.com) and Amref Health Africa (www.Amref.org) today announced a framework agreement that aims to develop a range of in-country health care service collaborations across reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, non-communicable diseases, water, sanitation and hygiene and safe surgery.

Initially, Amref Health Africa and GE will work together with Intrahealth and Project HOPE on a new program in Ethiopia, where GE will provide medical equipment at 20 health centers and 4 primary hospitals to widen access to antenatal screenings, essential newborn care and to upskill health workers. The technology will include portable ultrasound for antenatal screening, baby warmers, anesthesia and resuscitation equipment used during childbirth and phototherapy devices which help mitigate jaundice in babies.

Through a focus on task-shifting, health workers such as midwives who operate in remote communities where access to medically trained personnel is often limited or non-existent, will be taught essential skills to perform additional tasks such as antenatal scans, ensuring that critical, potentially life-saving services are available to the most at-risk patients.

Amref Health Africa is the largest non-governmental organization founded and based in Africa and has more than 60 years#39; experience in health development. GE Healthcare is a leading global provider of healthcare technology and services and brings more than 100 years’ experience in the continent. The collaboration allows the partners to develop new in-country programs that will combine their respective technical expertise, capacity building know-how and ability to convene large-scale funding into programs.

The new GE program with Amref Health Africa will build on results from a 6-month GE pilot during which 22 NICU nurses and paediatricians were trained on the provision of essential newborn care. It showed a 24% reduction in facility-based neo-natal mortality, from 82 in every 1000 admissions to 62 in every 1000 admissions. [1] The study was conducted by the Ethiopian Paediatric Association in consultation with the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health for Ethiopia, at four sites across Ethiopia, and involved more than 2,400 neonates. It also showed a 50% reduction in patient referrals and a 1-day reduction in overall hospital length of stay after an NICU intervention to 7 days.

Amref Health Africa stands at the forefront of creating stronger community-based health systems that ensure access to quality health services for all. Training health workers on essential skills for mother and child health is a key component of addressing the high rates of maternal, newborn and child mortality that still exists in far too many communities,rdquo; said Dr. Githinji Gitahi Group CEO, Amref Health Africa.

Strengthening primary care and the broader referral system is an essential building block towards the attainment of universal health coverage in Africa,rdquo; said Farid Fezoua, President and CEO, GE Healthcare Africa. To that end, Amref Health Africa – as a proven and trusted partner in African healthcare, has been at the forefront of primary care development. Leveraging their unique insights and local know-how is an important step in GE’s plan to contribute meaningfully to the reduction of preventable maternal and child mortality.rdquo;

He added: Our approach combines relevant technologies, skills development and localized service delivery into one scalable deployment model. Early pilots have shown promising results and together with Amref Health Africa and our other implementation partners, we have a dedicated and local team monitoring and evaluating these programs to share learnings across the continent.rdquo;

Today there are more than a dozen GE Healthcare programs in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Sierra Leone aimed at reducing preventable maternal and infant mortality underway together with a range of implementation partners. With a plan to deliver more than 20 such initiatives with several partners including Amref Health Africa, GE aims to reach 3.5 million expectant women, mothers and new-borns and train over 3,000 primary healthcare workers by 2020.

According to WHO, approximately 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth [2], with maternal mortality higher in women living in rural areas and among poorer communities [3]. Almost all maternal deaths (99%) occur in developing countries. More than half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa [4]. The situation remains challenging for infants and newborns. While the total number of under-five deaths dropped to 5.6 million in 2016 from 12.6 million in 1990, 7,000 newborns still die every day, according to UNICEF [5]. In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 1 child in 13 dies before his or her fifth birthday, while in the world’s high-income countries the ratio is 1 in 189.[6]

One target under Sustainable Development Goal 3 is to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 births, with no country having a maternal mortality rate of more than twice the global average. To that end, skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies according to WHO.

Amref Health Africa has a strong regional presence, working with over 100 poor and marginalized rural and urban slum communities as well as district health authorities and Ministries of Health and Education in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda; pioneering experience in community based healthcare � emphasizing community ownership of projects and programs to encourage sustainability; and extensive experience in health development training targeted at a diverse range of health professionals from primary healthcare workers to field surgeons.

[1]Improving Neonatal-health outcomes in Ethiopia through an innovative and sustainable healthcare modelrdquo; Bogale Worku, Ethiopia Journal of Pediatric Child Health, 2016 Vol XIII, No 2.

[2]https://goo.gl/avwKj7

[3]Ibid reference 2

[4]Ibid reference 2

[5]https://goo.gl/r7EB7W

[6]Ibid reference 5

Source: GE.Media Contact

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Legal Matters

SOMALIA: ‘WE ARE NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET’ ON DROUGHT RELIEF EFFORT – UN

The top United Nations humanitarian official in Somalia has commended the drought relief and recovery efforts of the authorities in the northern state of Puntland, while cautioning that the current humanitarian crisis is far from over.

We took stock, together with [Puntland’s] leadership, of the drought response as it has been so far, looking back to what has been a good year in terms of close cooperation and a very successful drought relief effort, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, said in Puntland’s capital, Garowe, in the wake of a series of meeting with officials, including the Federal Member State’s President Abdiwali Mohamed Ali.

At the same time, we talked about the remaining challenges because we are not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination, he added.

de Clercq � who also serves as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia and the UN Resident Coordinator � was visiting Puntland to meet with security, planning and humanitarian officials from the local government, as well as representatives of civil society organizations, to discuss the current drought response and other challenges in the region.

Speaking on the collective response so far to the drought that has affected Puntland and the rest of Somalia for over five failed rain cycles, de Clercq said that, while 2017 was a good year in terms of close cooperation to avoid the worst impact of the drought, further effort would be needed.

He added that, in areas like Sool and Sanaag, there are still massive needs and a strong possibility that famine-type conditions would develop. The two areas, located on the north-eastern tip of the Horn of Africa, form part of a disputed region claimed by both Puntland and neighbouring ‘Somaliland.’

Mitigating the effects of the drought and helping the people who have been displaced by it was one of the main topics covered in the UN official’s meeting with President Mohamed Ali. Our discussion was frank and candid, very fruitful, the President noted afterwards.

At the end of the visit, which included discussions at the ministries of security and planning, together with Puntland’s disaster management agency, de Clercq said that it was important to get the right resources to the right place and work with the right partners, such as the Puntland authorities, and to consider longer-term factors.

We try to address the underlying causes of the crisis, like food insecurity and livestock depletion, and to think of alternatives for people to make a living and to rebuild their lives, he said.

In 2017, drought-related famine was averted through the efforts of Somalis and their international partners. However, the risk is not yet overcome as there are 5.4 million people in Somalia needing life-saving humanitarian assistance.

Work is being done in all regions, including Puntland, to build and sustain resilience in all communities, especially the populations affected the most by the recurring cycle of drought and famine risk, such as pastoralists, displaced persons and fishing communities.

There is a resilience and recovery framework in Somalia, to help it transition from humanitarian intervention to sustainable recovery and disaster preparedness. Led by the authorities and supported by the United Nations and the World Bank, it is tightly linked to its development plan.

It enables the national and regional governments to take the lead in medium- and long-term developments solutions, going to the root of communities’ vulnerability to droughts, and helping them withstand recurrent shocks.

Source: NAM News Network

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