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Afghanistan’s deadly fight for democracy

International | The United States says Afghan troops can handle the intensified violence
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 10/23/18, 03:34 pm

As Afghanistan wraps up a parliamentary vote marred by nearly 200 violent attacks and 50 deaths, U.S. officials insist the country can manage the violence and protect the democratic process.

Last weekend’s vote was the first to take place in war-torn Afghanistan since 2010. Afghan officials deployed about 70,000 police and soldiers to guard polling stations after the Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) vowed to target voters.

On Saturday, at least 36 people died, including 27 civilians, officials said. The next day, 11 people, including six children, were killed after their car hit a roadside bomb in eastern Nangarhar, said Attahullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Another four men headed for a polling station died in Balkh province when extremists opened fire. Deputy Interior Minister Akhtar Mohammed Ibrahimi said security forces killed at least 31 extremists in clashes.

Despite the violence, officials reported about 4 million out of about 8.8 million registered voters turned out to vote at more than 4,000 polling stations before the polls closed on Sunday evening. Preliminary results will be released next month.

In a televised speech, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanked voters for turning out, saying, “Afghans did not only show their enemies that they would not surrender to any threats or warnings, but that they also have the power and will to defeat their enemies.”

Ahead of the vote, the Taliban claimed responsibility for multiple attacks that killed seven parliamentary candidates. In one of its more brazen moves, the insurgent group on Thursday targeted a high-level security meeting in Kandahar province, killing two prominent provincial officials and injuring U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jeffery Smiley. Gen. Scott Miller, the U.S. and NATO military commander in Afghanistan, was present but escaped unhurt.

Following the strike, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he believed the Afghan forces are capable of quelling the Taliban’s insurgency. “We remain absolutely committed to an Afghan-led Afghan reconciliation,” Mattis said at a conference last week in Singapore.

On Saturday, Gen. Joseph Votel, the lead U.S. military commander in the Middle East, similarly said the Afghan troops could handle the unrest. “My assessment is the Afghans are resilient to this,” he said. “I don’t consider it to be something that will change the security situation.”

The United States currently has about 14,000 troops stationed in the country to assist Afghan forces and has spent nearly $900 billion on U.S. military and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, but the violence persists. Seven U.S. troops have died in combat this year in the country as the Taliban’s insurgency continues.

Graeme Smith, a consultant with the International Crisis Group, acknowledged Afghanistan’s forces continue to lose ground to the Taliban. But despite the surge in violence triggered by the elections, Smith said the Afghan unrest requires a diplomatic solution.

“There needs to be more serious negotiations with the Taliban.” Smith said. “There aren’t any formal talks happening yet, but I think we’re actually getting closer to that.”

Associated Press/Photo by Kim Sun-woong Associated Press/Photo by Kim Sun-woong Anti-immigration protesters in Seoul

South Korea rejects Yemeni refugees

South Korea denied refugee status and instead granted temporary permits to hundreds of Yemeni asylum seekers after their arrival sparked anti-immigrant protests in the country. Some 500 Yemenis arrived on the South Korean island of Jeju between January and May this year.

The South Korean Justice Ministry said it granted one-year humanitarian stays to 339 Yemenis and rejected the applications of 34 others. The ministry postponed the cases of 85 other applicants, saying they required more interviews. The refugees can reapply after their one-year permits expire, but South Korea retains the right to reject them if the situation in Yemen improves, the ministry said.

Since the Yemenis’ arrival, South Korean anti-immigrant groups have staged protests saying they came in to steal jobs and pose a threat to local safety.

South Korea has granted refugee status to 839 of 40,470 asylum applicants since 1994. Justice Party spokesman Choi Seok criticized the government for allowing negative public sentiment to hinder human rights protection. “It’s no different from the people of our own country half a century ago, when they wandered around foreign countries as refugees through war and division,” Choi said. “We should no longer ignore the voices of people who seek to live.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Jonathan Paye Layleh Associated Press/Photo by Jonathan Paye Layleh More Than Me Academy

U.S. charity in Liberia under investigation

The Liberian government last week opened an investigation into an independent U.S. charity after a report detailed how a former local employee raped several girls in its care. More than Me, an academy launched by American Katie Meyler, set out to provide education for children in the West Point slum in Monrovia, the capital city.

ProPublica on Oct. 11 published a report detailing how former staffer Macintosh Johnson assaulted dozens of girls at the school for years despite suspicions from the founder and other staffers. Some 10 girls testified against Johnson during a sexual assault trial in 2015. He died from AIDS in 2016 while awaiting a retrial in jail.

Liberian Education Minister Ansu Sonii said the government obtained all documents to ensure a meticulous investigation, adding, “The interests of the children count first.”

Since its founding in 2013, More than Me raised more than $8 million, including nearly $600,000 from the U.S. government, ProPublica reported. Meyler announced she is stepping aside as the investigation continues to allow for a “thorough and impartial review.” —O.O.

Rebel attack strikes again at Ebola epicenter in Congo

Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday killed 15 civilians and abducted a dozen children in an attack at the center of the latest Ebola crisis, once again halting efforts to curb the virus.

Beginning Saturday, rebels with the Allied Democratic Forces targeted Congolese army posts and multiple neighborhoods in the city of Beni. The United Nations peacekeeping mission said its troops exchanged gunfire with the rebels in the city’s Mayangose area.

The Congolese health ministry said the casualties included at least two medical workers. The size of the Ebola outbreak in the northeastern provinces has reached 202 cases, including 118 deaths.

“It will be very hard to stop the outbreak if this violence continues,” said Peter Salama, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief. Similar attacks last month in Beni and another town of Oicha led WHO to limit its response activities. —O.O.

Vietnam activist goes free

Jailed Vietnamese activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh arrived in Houston last week after authorities released her on the condition she left for the United States.

Quynh, popularly known as “Mother Mushroom,” began a 10-year sentence last year for Facebook posts that authorities considered anti-state propaganda. She regularly wrote about human rights violations and civilian deaths in the country. Quynh joined her two children and mother on a plane that landed in Houston last Wednesday. She said she knows that other activists in her country will continue to speak up for freedom.

Vietnamese authorities have arrested more than 100 “prisoners of conscience,” according to Amnesty International. In June, human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai left for Germany after authorities released him from prison. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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