Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Fuel Supplies Normalizing
The fuel supply situation in the country has improved significantly, with queues getting shorter.

Herald Reporters

Long fuel queues have disappeared in most parts of the country, with many service stations now having supplies and this is expected to continue as Government seeks a permanent solution.

Long queues were common before Christmas.

As part of the strategy to normalise supplies, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) provided Letters of Credit to fuel dealers towards this festive season, allowing them to draw on stocks already pumped into Zimbabwe, but held in bond until payment.

In particular, the Letters of Credit guaranteed the payment of the foreign currency component, usually a little over 60US cents a litre for petrol and diesel.

This is the landed price and includes all costs of procuring the fuel and pumping it from Beira into Zimbabwe.

The rest of the pump price comprises local mark-ups, pumping and handling charges, plus excise duties.

A Letter of Credit is letter issued by a bank to another bank (especially one in a different country) to serve as a guarantee for payments made to a specified person under specified conditions.

Over the past months, some filling stations had effectively closed and displayed “no petrol or diesel” signs, leaving motorists and commuters stranded.

Motorists have hailed Government’s intervention during the holiday season and are hopeful adequate supplies will continue to be available.

Herald Bureaux across the country yesterday reported that almost everywhere, petrol and diesel could be bought with either no queuing or short queues.

There was a rush for fuel before the public holidays when many managed to fill up and demand may increase from this week’s levels as people start returning home or resuming more normal work and school trips.

Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi attributed the appreciable improvement over the holidays to efforts which the Government has been making.

“We will continue in this direction,” he said. “All being equal, we are hopeful that the improvement will be sustained. We continue to work on various structures to improve the energy situation. While the energy situation is still considerably constrained, we remain cautiously optimistic that we will see an appreciable improvement in the first quarter of the coming year.”

Minister Chasi’s, deputy Cde Magna Mudyiwa said the ministry was committed to further improving fuel supplies.

“As a ministry, we have been working flat out to ensure normalcy returns in the fuel sector,” she said. “There has been excess fuel at our reserves, however, the major challenge was that we could not offload it without payment.

“RBZ had promised to offer fuel dealers Letters of Credit needed for payment to cater for the festive season and this has led to this improvement.”

In Harare, most service stations in the city centre and low-density suburbs had fuel and there were no queues.

A motorist, Mr Tinotenda Chakunga, who was refuelling at Total Service Station in Nelson Mandela Avenue applauded the improvement in fuel supplies.

“This is a welcome move. I never expected that during this festive season l would refuel this easily,” he said. “I was passing by and saw only two cars at the queue and l thought it is just for Total card holders, only to be told its accessible to everyone.”

In the Midlands Province, fuel queues have also disappeared.

In Gweru, there was fuel at all garages, but some were demanding cash only, a criminal offence that could, if the authorities act as they have before, see those service stations cut off from further supplies.

There were very short queues at Total service stations, and at the two Engen garages along Mvuma Road.

Fuel attendants at both Engine garages were reportedly demanding cash or payment in foreign currency.

A motorist at Engen garage along the Gweru-Harare Highway, Mr Vitalis Kiviti, said the fuel supply was a move in the right direction.

“We hope the situation remains if not improves next year, this is a sign that 2020 we might be headed for the good times,” he said. “However, service stations should accept EcoCash and bank swipe.”

In Masvingo, almost all service stations had fuel, especially diesel.

Big service stations like Total, Zuva, and Engen and Glow Petroleum were dispensing fuel to the few cars that queued.

Fuel dealers said they had enough stocks to meet demand.

Petrol had slightly shorter supplies than diesel yesterday, being available in fewer garages, while diesel was available at almost every service station.

Dealers told The Herald they were expecting petrol deliveries to improve sharply from yesterday, assuring motorists of sufficient stocks into the New Year.

In Victoria Falls, three of the six service stations had fuel, queues were short despite the increase in vehicles in the town due to the annual Vic Falls Carnival which started on Sunday.

In Hwange, only one garage had diesel, with the longest queue having about 30 cars.

In Mashonaland Central, there were two out of seven service stations with fuel in the provincial capital Bindura, but they had also short queues, the rest were expecting fuel deliveries today.

Glow Petroleum was serving both petrol and diesel, while Dandaro service station was serving only petrol.

Puma service station personnel said they were expecting both products today.

At Jerera Growth Point in Masvingo province, only two out of four service stations had fuel, although they were only accepting hard cash, US dollars and Rands, a situation that left most motorists with plastic money stranded.

Again this is illegal.

Mutare seemed to have the worst supplies yesterday, where most major service stations had no fuel, with only Total service stations having petrol.

There were long queues as motorists jostled to refill their vehicles ahead of the New Year festivities.

An employee at Zuva garage who pleaded for anonymity said, “We have no fuel and we do not expect any deliveries today.”

Cabinet, in its last meeting for the year, assured the nation that necessary steps were being taken to ensure that fuel supplies were normalised during the festive season and beyond.
VP Chiwenga in China for Review 
Mashudu Netsianda
Bulawayo Bureau
Zimbabwe Herald

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga is in China for medical review and is expected back home soon, President Mnangagwa has said.

He revealed this yesterday while addressing congregants at the third edition of the annual National Thanksgiving and Dedication Service in Bulawayo.

“I wish that as we pray, we also remember to pray for Vice President Chiwenga who is back in China for medical review. He will be back in the country soon,” said President Mnangagwa.

VP Chiwenga returned home last month after a four-month stay in China.

Upon arrival back home, the Vice President thanked President Mnangagwa for facilitating his treatment in China and Zimbabweans for their prayers.

Meanwhile, President Mnangagwa said it was important for Zimbabweans to join hands in thanking God for protection.

“I am pleased to join you today at this thanksgiving service as we approach the end of yet another year. We are grateful to the Almighty God for sustaining us in 2019 and indeed, He continues to be our centre, source and our sustainer.

“In the midst of all the trials and tribulations we have faced as a nation, the Lord has been a shield around us, the one who lifts our heads, we call out to Him and He answers us,” he said.

President Mnangagwa said the Second Republic espouses unity, harmony and national cohesion.

“This culture of togetherness must be our lifestyle as a nation. In Psalms 133 we read, ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity . . . for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, even life for evermore,” he said.

The President also paid tribute to Faith for the Nation Campaign chairperson Reverend Andrew Wutawunashe and Zion Christian Church (ZCC) leader Bishop Nehemiah Mutendi, who is also chairperson of the Zimbabwe Indigenous Inter-denominational Council of Churches, for organising the event.

The annual event, which started in 2017, was held under the theme: “Counting our blessings: Let us, through home-grown unity, affirm work and pray to achieve our national vision”.
Polad to Engage SADC, African Union
 31 DEC, 2019 - 00:12
Wallace Ruzvidzo
Herald Reporter

Parties under the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) plan to engage SADC, African Union, European Union and United Nations member states to explain their mandate as they press ahead with finding lasting solutions to the country’s economic  challenges.

An information desk is also being set up to raise awareness about the activities of POLAD.

In the coming year, POLAD wants to assist Government to ensure constitutional and electoral reforms are in place.

This comes after President Mnangagwa lauded POLAD members for their commitment towards nation-building and unity since its inception in May.

MDC-T vice president Mr Obert Gutu told The Herald yesterday that they plan to engage important global players.

“We are going to engage all SADC countries in order to explain to them the key objectives and major focus of POLAD. We will also engage the AU, the EU and the United Nations, our plate is already full even before the New Year starts,” said Mr Gutu.

“We are setting up a cutting-edge information sub-committee that is going to disseminate information relating to POLAD activities to all corners of Zimbabwe.

“Within the next 90 days, virtually every Zimbabwean will be hearing, thinking and even dreaming about POLAD. We have got the requisite technical skills and intellectual fire-power to repackage and rebrand   POLAD.”

National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) leader Professor Lovemore Madhuku said POLAD will make good on constitutional, electoral and economic policy reforms.

Prof Madhuku advised Government bureaucrats not to bypass POLAD, especially on constitutional amendments.

“In 2020, we will make concrete all our proposed reforms in various aspects, particularly constitutional and electoral reforms and economic policy reforms.

“We will seek to ensure that all the constitutional and electoral reforms required for the 2023 general election are in place by end of 2020.

“We will seek to ensure that all arms of Government appreciate the role of POLAD. For example, we will expect the Minister of Justice to delay his proposed Constitutional amendments until POLAD has completed its proposals so that only one omnibus Constitutional Amendment Bill incorporating POLAD proposals that would have been accepted by Government is presented to Parliament,” he said.

POLAD co-convener Retired Justice Selo Nare said some of their successes this year include visiting Cyclone Idai victims and mobilising resources for the affected communities.

“Another major highlight was the positive response by Government in subsiding mealie-meal after POLAD’s engagement with responsible ministers.

“The response by SADC to POLAD in solidarity with the Government on the unconditional removal of sanctions was also a major success,” said Rtd Justice Nare.
Angola Court Orders Seizure of Isabel dos Santos' Assets
Isabel dos Santos, 46, currently lives abroad

BBC World Service

An Angolan court has ordered the seizure of the assets and bank accounts of the billionaire daughter of ex-President José Eduardo dos Santos.

The seizure appears to be part of an anti-corruption drive by the current government in oil-rich Angola.

The administration of President Joao Lourenço is seeking to recover $1bn (£760m) it says it is owed by Isabel dos Santos and her associates.

She has repeatedly denied wrongdoing during her father's term in office.

Often described as Africa's richest woman, Ms Dos Santos is estimated by Forbes magazine to have a fortune of $2.2bn.

The 46-year-old lives abroad, saying she moved from Angola because her life had been threatened.

She runs a huge business empire with stakes in companies in Angola and Portugal, where she has shares in cable television firm Nos SGPS.

The court ordered the freezing of Ms Dos Santos' Angolan bank accounts and the seizure of her stake in local companies, including telecoms giant Unitel and bank Fomento de Angola (BFA), the state-owned news agency reported.

In a statement, she said she condemned what she described as a "politically motivated attack" against her.

"I discovered that a trial had been held in total secrecy in Angola and the decision taken to issue a freezing order on my assets. There were no lawyers from my side present, nor the directors of my companies. We were only informed about it after the decision had been taken behind our backs.

"I have spent the last 24 hours trying to give assurances to my staff and all the families affected by this order that we must not give in. I will use all the instruments of Angolan and international law at my disposal to fight this order and ensure the truth comes out."

Ms Dos Santos gained a high public profile in 2016, when her father controversially appointed her as the head of Angola's state-owned oil firm Sonangol.

She was sacked from the post in 2017 by Mr Lourenço, her father's handpicked successor.

Her brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, is on trial in Angola on charges of corruption.

The prosecution alleges that he and his co-accused helped spirit $500m out of the country during his time as head of Angola's Sovereign Wealth Fund. They have pleaded not guilty.

Serious about reforms?

By Andrew Harding, BBC Africa correspondent

The court order was read out on state television - a powerful gesture in a country where, for decades, the Dos Santos family had seemed untouchable.

Now, the fate of the vast business empire of Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of the former president, is in doubt.

Two years ago, Mr Dos Santos stepped down after 38 years in power. And to the surprise of many, his successor turned against the family, promising a major crackdown on corruption.

Since then, billions of dollars in stolen assets have been recovered from abroad.

Angolans are waiting to see if one alleged kleptocracy will simply be replaced by another or whether, as many hope, this vast oil-rich but impoverished nation is now serious about reforms and justice.
Iran’s LPG Exports Up Thanks to Gas Network Expansion: NIGC Chief
Tuesday, 31 December 2019 4:59 PM

Iran’s natural gas chief says LPG exports have increased because of expansion in gas network.

Iran’s exports of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) keeps surging mainly because the country has linked more homes and industries to the natural gas network, says head of the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC).

Hossein Torbati said on Tuesday that an investment of around $4 billion in Iran’s natural gas network had saved the country more than $9 billion mainly through the creation of new LPG export capacity.

Iran’s gas pipelines have reached thousands of towns and villages, many of them in remote areas, over the past years, allowing refineries to supply customers in countries as far as China with LPG, an oil product which has a high demand in industries, households and even in transportation where it is used as popular fuel.

Torbati said replacing each liter of LPG consumed in Iran with one cubic meter of natural gas leads to $0.3 in new exports income, adding that expansion of natural gas network had also enabled Iran to open new gas export terminals on the border with Iraq.

He said consuming more natural gas by households and industries across Iran also means more care for environment protection.

Iran begins extraction of natural gas from an offshore rig at South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf.
Iran has managed to develop its natural gas infrastructure at a rapid pace over the past year despite a harsh regime of sanctions imposed by the United States which aims to stifle any progress in the country’s oil and gas industry.

International analysts believe US sanctions on Iran have helped the country increase its oil product exports, including for LPG.

They believe the bans have even backfired on the US as they have enabled Iran to outdo the Americans in supplying LPG to China.

Iran is currently exporting over half a million ton of LPG to China each month, pocketing more than $200 million in revenues.
Europeans Unlikely to Quit Iran Nuclear Deal: FM Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the three European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are unlikely to pull out of the agreement.

Zarif — who is on an official visit to Beijing — told IRNA on Tuesday that China and Russia are unanimous in the position that the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and ensuing schemes to cause problems for the other parties seeking to respect the international document have put the nuclear accord in jeopardy.

“Unfortunately, the Europeans have failed to carry out practical measures independent of the United States over the past years,” the top Iranian diplomat said.

He once again reaffirmed the reversibility of Iran’s retaliatory steps to reduce its commitments under the JCPOA and said if the Europeans take practical action in order to fulfill their side of the bargain, “we are also ready to gradually reverse the measures we adopted.”

In May 2018, US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled his country out of the JCPOA in defiance of global criticism, and later re-imposed the sanctions that had been lifted against Tehran as part of the agreement.

Iran has so far rowed back on its nuclear commitments four times in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, but stressed that its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as the European signatories — France, Britain and Germany — find practical ways to shield mutual trade from the US sanctions.

European members since last month have begun raising the possibility of triggering the JCPOA’s “dispute resolution mechanism,” which is also known as the trigger mechanism, and whose activation can lead to the return of the UN sanctions on Iran.

Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi said on December 23 that if the European signatories to the JCPOA activate the ‘trigger mechanism’ to mount pressure on Iran, it will mean the demise of the deal.

Elsewhere in his interview, Zarif described Russia and China as Iran’s close political and strategic partners and said Tehran, Moscow and Beijing should hold regular consultations given their bilateral, regional and international cooperation.

He added that he held talks with his Chinese and Russian counterparts over the past two days about the future of the JCPOA as well as ways to counter illegal US measures.

Stressing the importance of ensuring regional security, the Iranian foreign minister said, “Our region needs cooperation. It will be possible to reach peace and security only through cooperation and not within the framework of dangerous military coalitions.”

He also said the recent naval maneuvers jointly carried out by Iran, Russia and China in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean conveyed the message that the trio is opposed to Washington’s unilateralism.

“You cannot form a coalition against one of the regional countries” under the pretext of securing the region, said Zarif in an address to the US. “All the countries must become involved and cooperation must replace the conflict method.”

“That was the message of Iran, China and Russia as powerful countries that stood against the US unilateral measures,” Zarif pointed out.

The three-day dills were held last week, covering 17,000 square kilometers in the northern part of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. The maneuvers featured various tactical exercises, such as target practice and rescuing ships from assaults and fires.

The drills comes as the United States has been seeking to set up a so-called international maritime coalition in the Persian Gulf following a series of suspicious attacks on passing takers in the waterway it blamed on Iran.

Tehran has firmly rejected the accusations, describing the incidents as false flag operations.
Pentagon Deploying Extra Troops to Baghdad After Attack by Protesters
Tuesday, 31 December 2019 5:28 PM

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that the United States is sending additional troops to Baghdad to provide security for the American embassy there following an attack by protesters.

"The Department of Defense is working closely with the Department of State to ensure the security of our Embassy and personnel in Baghdad," Esper said in a statement on Tuesday.

"We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the embassy,” he added.

"We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense," Esper said.

"As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so," he continued.

The Pentagon chief gave no further details, but the deployment is reportedly likely to involve a small number of American marines.

On Tuesday, the US embassy was evacuated after thousands of angry Iraqi demonstrators gathered outside the gates of the compound to condemn Washington’s fatal military aggression that targeted Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) on Sunday.

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the "unacceptable vicious assault" by the US that killed more than two dozen Iraqis and injured scores more.

Thousands of angry protests managed to reach the US diplomatic mission which is located in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, chanting “Death to America” and burning US flags.

The protesters further held up signs calling for the US mission to be shut down and for the parliament to order US forces to leave Iraq.

“Parliament should oust US troops, or else we will,” one poster read.

Reuters cited two Iraqi Foreign Ministry sources as saying that the US ambassador and other staff were evacuated from the embassy out of security concerns as protests raged outside.

Only a few embassy protection staff were left behind, according to the news agency.

American forces deployed inside the compound have fired tear gas, flash bangs and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

The United States evacuates its Embassy in Baghdad as thousands of angry Iraqi demonstrators gather outside the gates of the compound to condemn Washington’s fatal military aggression against the PMU.
The protesters have breached the outer wall of the high-security compound. They have sprayed the words “Closed in the name of the people” on the gates of the American mission, throwing bricks and stones at the surveillance cameras around the building.

Reacting to the developments in Iraq, US President Donald Trump said in a tweet that Iran was to blame and would be held “fully responsible.”
US Embassy in Iraq Evacuated Amid Angry Protests Over Airstrike on PMU
Tuesday, 31 December 2019 5:52 PM

Iraqi protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US Embassy building in the capital Baghdad to protest against the weekend’s air strikes by US planes on several bases belonging to Hashd al-Sha’abi, December 31, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The United States’ Embassy in Baghdad has been evacuated after thousands of angry Iraqi demonstrators gathered outside the gates of the compound to condemn Washington’s fatal military aggression that targeted Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

Also on Tuesday, Iraqis held a massive funeral procession in the capital Baghdad for the victims of the US air raids, which killed at least 31 PMU fighters from the Kata’ib Hezbollah faction and injured dozens of others in near the Syrian border in Anbar Province.

Caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has announced three days of public mourning.

Thousands of angry protests managed to reach the US diplomatic mission which is located in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, chanting ‘Death to America’ and burning US flags.

The protesters further held up signs calling for the US mission to be shut down and for the parliament to order US forces to leave Iraq.

“Parliament should oust US troops, or else we will,” one poster read.

Reuters cited two Iraqi Foreign Ministry sources as saying that the US ambassador and other staff were evacuated from the embassy out of security concerns as protests raged outside.

Only a few embassy protection staff were left behind, according to the Reuters.

American forces deployed inside the compound have fired tear gas, flash bangs and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

The protesters have breached the outer wall of the high-security compound. They have sprayed the words “Closed in the name of the people” on the gates of the American mission, throwing bricks and stones at the surveillance cameras around the building.

Outside the mission, Iraqi security forces fired teargas and stun grenades as they tried to prevent the protesters from making their way into the diplomatic compound. At least 12 people were wounded in the clashes.

Only a small amount of teargas was used and the PMU members taking part in the rallies, using loud speakers, urged the crowd to disperse, a Reuters witness said.

The Iraqi caretaker premier called on the protesters to “immediately” leave the compound.

“We recall that any aggression or harassment of foreign embassies will be firmly prohibited by the security forces,” Abdel Mahdi’s office said.

The protester remained defiant, with a group of them storming and burning a security post at the entrance of the embassy.

US sending additional troops to Baghdad embassy

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday that the United States was sending additional forces to its embassy in Baghdad, and called on the Iraqi government to help protect American personnel.

“We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense,” Esper said in a statement.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held phone conversations with the caretaker premier and President Barham Salih, warning that Washington will "defend its people,” according to a State Department statement.

The two Iraqi leaders also assured Pompeo “that they took seriously their responsibility for and would guarantee the safety and security of US personnel and property.”

‘US unwanted in Iraq’

Hashd al-Shabi commander Faleh al-Fayyadh and Kata’ib Hezbollah commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes along with other senior Hashd leaders were among the protesters.

Speaking to Reuters, Qais al-Khazali, the head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq — another PMU faction — said “Americans are unwanted in Iraq. They are a source of evil and we want them to leave.”

Many protesters have set up tents, announcing plans for an indefinite sit-in until the embassy is closed and the ambassador expelled from the country.

Earlier in the day, Iraqi lawmakers chanted anti-US slogans during a parliamentary session.

Trump blames Iran

Reacting to the developments in Iraq, US President Donald Trump said in a tweet that Iran was to blame and would be held “fully responsible.”

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,” Trump tweeted. “We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the US Embassy in Iraq.”

Those casualties came in what the US described as a rocket attack targeting a military base located near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Friday.

Washington pointed the finger at Iran for that attack, an allegation vehemently rejected by Tehran.

In response to the incident, the US military launched the deadly air raids on Iraq’s PMU, which Washington and its allies claim is an ally of the Islamic Republic.
Iran, Iraq Governments Condemn U.S. Air Strikes Targeting Iraqi Militia
By Ghana News Agency
Dec 31, 2019

Deadly weekend air strikes carried out by U.S. forces against members of an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia were condemned Monday by the governments of both Iran and Iraq.

The United States on Sunday carried out what it called “precision defensive strikes” in Western Iraq and Eastern Syria targeting the Iraqi paramilitary group Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the United States claimed was responsible for recent attacks on bases hosting coalition forces in the region to help fight the terrorist group ISIS.

One of those attacks on Friday killed an American civilian contractor on a base near Kirkuk, Iraq.

Kata’ib Hezbollah, which is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah political and military organization, is part of a group of Shiite militias with strong ties to Iran and sanctioned by the state of Iraq, known as the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units.

The PMU said Sunday’s U.S. air strikes killed at least 25 militia members and injured 51.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called the air strikes “deplorable military aggression against the Iraqi soil” and labelled the action “a clear sign of terrorism.”

Contending that Iran-backed Iraqi militias have played a key role in the fight against ISIS, Mousavi alleged that the U.S. goal in Iraq and Syria is actually to target Iranian influence in the region.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh, meanwhile, called the U.S. air strikes “unacceptable” and considered them “an aggressive action and violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, released a statement saying he urged U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper not to carry out the strikes shortly before they were launched.

“Bombing PMU bases is a dangerous aggravation which endangers the security of Iraq and the region,” he said.

Abdul-Mahdi resigned last month in the wake of mass uprisings in Iraq but has remained in a caretaker capacity.
Hanukkah Stabbing Suspect Charged With Hate Crimes
DEC 30, 20194:08 PM

A police officer stands with another man in front of the house.

Federal prosecutors charged the man accused of stabbing five people celebrating Hanukkah in a rabbi’s home with hate crimes Monday as they cited journal entries that included references to Jews and anti-Semitism. Grafton E. Thomas, 37, will be facing five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon and causing injuries.

A criminal complaint hints at a possible motivation for the attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, which is home to lots of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Law enforcement agents found journals in the suspect’s Greenwood Lake, New York, home with comments that included “why ppl mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide.” The journal also had drawings of a Star of David and a swastika, as well as references to Adolf Hitler and “Nazi culture.” The phone that was recovered in his car included recent searches for phrases including “German Jewish Temples near me” and “Why did Hitler hate the Jews.” That last phrase was searched four times in the past month.

It seems the suspect was well aware that there had been a series of attacks targeting Jews in the region over the past few weeks. Authorities said that on Saturday the suspect used his phone’s browser to access an article titled “New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here’s What To Know.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday’s attack marked the 13th anti-Semitic attack in New York since Dec. 8. Officials don’t believe Thomas is connected to any of the other recent attacks.

Thomas’ family said through his lawyer that he had no history of anti-Semitism and had “a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations.” The family said Thomas “was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races” and “is not a member of any hate groups.” In court papers filed in 2013 as part of an eviction case in Utah, Thomas said he suffered from schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. He also characterized his ailments as “spontaneous and untamed.”

Thomas was arrested shortly after the Saturday night attack, when he allegedly stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration in the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg. Four were treated and released, and one victim was in critical condition with a skull fracture. Thomas pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary on Sunday.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Sudan Sentences 29 to Death for Teacher's Killing in Custody
BBC World Service

Protesters gathered outside court ahead of the verdict to demand justice

A Sudanese court has sentenced 29 intelligence officers to death for the torture and killing of a teacher.

Ahmad al-Khair, 36, died in custody in February following his arrest for taking part in protests against then President Omar al-Bashir's government.

These are the first sentences handed down over the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the months before Bashir was toppled in April.

The prosecution said the death sentences were a just punishment.

After the sentencing, the judge asked al-Khair's brother, Sa'd, whether he wanted the 29 men to be pardoned – but he said he wanted them to be executed instead.

A lawyer for the defence said he would appeal.

The court found that Ahmad Al-Khair was beaten and tortured to death by the officers at a detention centre in the eastern state of Kassala.

Under the former President Bashir, Sudan enforced the death penalty, and two people were executed in 2018.

Ahmad Al-Khair's case drew widespread attention in Sudan, and his killing fuelled the protests against the 75-year-old Bashir. A huge crowd rallied outside the court in Omdurman, the twin city of the capital, Khartoum, to hear the verdict.

At least 170 people were killed during the months-long crackdown against the protest movement. Bashir was eventually overthrown by the military, 30 years after he took power in a coup.

Earlier this month, he was sentenced to two years for corruption. The court ruled that he should serve the sentence in a correctional facility, as he was too old to be in prison.

The corruption case was linked to a $25 million (£19 million) cash payment he received from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Bashir also faces other charges – including some related to the 1989 coup that brought him to power, along with genocide and the killing of protesters.

Bashir claimed the payments were made as part of Sudan's strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, and were "not used for private interests but as donations".
It's understood that 18 people have been hacked to death in eastern DR Congo's troubled region of Beni.

FILE: Members of the rebel group on board a truck from the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Picture: United Nations Photo.
Republic of Congo Beni


BENI - Eighteen people in eastern DR Congo's troubled region of Beni have been killed in a fresh attack by a notorious armed group, a local official said on Monday.

"There was an incursion in Apetina-Sana by the ADF last night," Beni administrator Donat Kibwana told AFP, referring to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia. "(They) hacked 18 civilians to death."
Iran’s FM Zarif Urges World to Counter US Unilateralism
Monday, 30 December 2019 5:52 PM
Press TV

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called for collective cooperation among world countries to counter unilateralism propagated by the US administration across the globe.

Zarif made the remark in a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in the capital Moscow on Monday, adding, “The US government attempts to dictate its intentions to other countries, and Russia and Iran have confronted this approach through the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and other fields.”

The JCPOA was reached in Vienna in July 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 group of states, the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany. It lifted nuclear-related sanctions against Tehran, which, in turn, voluntarily changed some aspects of its nuclear energy program. 

The US, however, left the accord last May and reinstated its unilateral sanctions against Iran. The European deal partners, meanwhile, have bowed to Washington’s pressure, failing to honor their contractual obligations to protect Iran’s economy in the face of America’s “toughest-ever” bans.

“Although most European countries threw their weight behind the JCPOA politically, they failed to adopt practical measures to counter the US sanctions and fulfill their commitments,” the top Iranian diplomat said at the joint presser.

Zarif said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified in 15 reports that Iran has lived up to all its nuclear obligations with absolute goodwill, which is indicative of the fact that the Iranian nation and government not only embrace interaction but also fully abide by their commitments, however, they would not accede to the unilateral implementation of the 2015 landmark deal.

Unlike others who embark on "defensive" warmongering 1000s of miles from their own shores, Iran and Russia have cooperated for peace in Syria and are now presenting important proposals for peace in the Persian Gulf.

In response to the renewal of the sanctions after the US withdrawal, Tehran has so far rowed back on its nuclear commitments four times, in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, but stressed that its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as the European signatories — France, Britain and Germany — find practical ways to shield mutual trade from the US sanctions.

An Iranian official says Tehran has started different steps to reduce its peaceful nuclear commitments.
“Iran’s measures over the past nine months have been fully in compliance with the terms of the JCPOA and no individual can act against those measures,” Zarif said.

“Iran and Russia are of the opinion that the JCPOA is a major achievement in the international community and the world countries had better meet their obligations under the accord than seek to destroy that,” he added.

Since last month, European members of the deal have begun raising the possibility of triggering the JCPOA’s “dispute resolution mechanism,” which is also known as the trigger mechanism, and whose activation can lead to the return of the UN sanctions on Iran.

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said earlier this month that if the European signatories to the JCPOA activate the ‘trigger mechanism’ to mount pressure on Iran, it will mean the demise of the deal.

“Europe wants the JCPOA to survive. The JCPOA is of security importance to them, but whether this demand is commensurate with their ability [to resist US pressures] is a different issue. The ability of Europe depends on its resistance against the United States, but unfortunately they have proven that the 28 [member] states [of the European Union] are less resistant and independent than a single [US] state like California,” Ali Akbar Salehi said on December 23.
Iraqi Forces, People Entitled to Retaliate US Attack on PMU Bases: IRGC
Monday, 30 December 2019 6:59 PM
Press TV

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has strongly condemned the United States’ latest military aggression against Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), commonly known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi, saying Iraqis reserve the right to retaliate such a "crime."

The PMU on Sunday confirmed that US forces in Iraq have carried out an airstrike on a number of its facilities in the western Anbar Province, which led to the killing of nearly 30 people and injuring of over 50 others.

In a statement on Monday, the IRGC said, "The airstrikes by the American terrorists on Hashd al-Sha’abi bases … constitute a violation of the national sovereignty of this country (Iraq) and once again show that the US is the main factor behind insecurity, chaos, tension and warmongering in this region."

Iran's IRGC emphasized that no "free and independent nation" would tolerate that its youths become targets of foreign forces' aggression and lust for crime, adding, "Naturally, the brave people and heroic Hashd al-Sha'bi forces of Iraq reserve the right to retaliate and give [proportionate] response to the recent 'big crime of Americans according to international laws and conventions."

The US attack came after American officials said on Friday that a “US civilian contractor” had been killed in what they described as a rocket attack targeting an Iraqi military base housing US and Iraqi forces in the Arab country’s north.

American officials say a “US civilian contractor” has been killed in, what they describe as, a rocket attack targeting a military base in northern Iraq.

Several US service members and Iraqi personnel were also wounded in the reported incident, Reuters added, citing a US-led military coalition, which has stationed itself in Iraq under the pretext of fighting the Takfiri terror group of Daesh.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday that the US airstrikes targeting the forces that have helped defeat Daesh in Iraq are a “clear example of terrorism."

Iran says US airstrikes on forces that have helped defeat Daesh in Iraq is a “clear example of terrorism".

"These attacks have once again proved America's false claims in fighting the Takfiri group of Daesh as the United States has targeted the positions of forces that over the years have inflicted heavy blows to Daesh terrorists," Mousavi said.
US Under Barrage of Criticism Over Strikes in Iraq
Monday, 30 December 2019 12:01 PM
Press TV

The United States’ latest military aggression against Iraq's popular Hashd al-Sha'abi forces that left dozens of casualties continues to draw widespread condemnation from officials and groups across the region.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi has said that the US airstrikes targeting forces that have helped defeat Daesh in Iraq are a “clear example of terrorism."

The US said Sunday it had targeted weapons caches or command and control facilities linked to Kata'ib Hezbollah in western Iraq, as well as eastern Syria.

"These attacks have once again proved America's false claims in fighting the Takfiri group of Daesh as the United States has targeted the positions of forces that over the years have inflicted heavy blows to Daesh terrorists," Mousavi said Monday.

"With these attacks, America has shown its firm support for terrorism and its disregard for the independence and sovereignty of countries and it must accept responsibility for the consequences of its illegal act," he said.

In a statement on Monday, Iraq's popular Hashd al-Sha'abi said the death toll from the US airstrikes had risen to 25, vowing to avenge the “aggression of evil American ravens.”

The attacks came after the US said a barrage of more than 30 rockets fired on Friday against a military base in Kirkuk had killed an American civilian contractor.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday accused Tehran, saying the US "will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy."

Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and President Barham Salih, strongly condemned the airstrikes. Kata'ib Hezbollah commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes warned of a strong response to the aggression.

"The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq," he said.

Iraq's Parliament speaker Mohammad al-Halbusi also condemned the airstrikes, saying they “indubitably constituted a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

Iran offered condolences to the families of those killed in the "terrorist attack" and reiterated its support for Iraq's independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Mousavi also called on the United States to end its "occupying" presence in the region, which he called the cause of insecurity, tension and crisis.

The spokesman urged the US to "respect Iraq's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and stop interfering in its internal affairs."

Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units say US forces attacked their base in the western Anbar province.
In Lebanon, the resistance movement of Hezbollah released a statement, saying the attacks amounted to Washington's “alignment with and reinforcement” of Daesh terrorists.

The strikes were carried out against the forces which protect Iraq’s stability and security, Hezbollah said, adding they were aimed at weakening the foundation of Iraq's popular defensive structure.

“The US plan for the Middle East is to deny regional countries, including Iraq, freedom of action, public security, genuine sovereignty, and a bright future,” the statement said.

"The Americans will soon see the consequence and fallout of their idiotic move," Hezbollah added.

Pentagon chief Mark Esper on Sunday boasted that the airstrikes were “successful” and pledged “additional actions” may still be taken in the region which is already reeling from US escalation of tensions.

The US invaded Iraq in 2003 under the pretext of “war on terror”, plunging the country into a cycle of violence which continues to this day.

In 2014, Iraq was invaded by Daesh as the US and its allies looked on, putting the Arab country on the brink of being overtaken by Takfiri terrorists.

Iran was the first country to rush to Iraq's assistance, famously preventing the fall of capital Baghdad to Daesh. Iranian military advisers also helped train Iraqi volunteers for battle following Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's fatwa for Jihad.

Those volunteers now constitute the backbone of popular forces such as Hashd al-Sha'abi which have formally been integrated into Iraq's regular armed forces. 

Iraqi President Barham Salih on Sunday decried the US airstrikes as unacceptable which contradicted security agreements signed between Baghdad and Washington.
The Afghan War: A Failure Made in the USA
The US-made mess in Afghanistan has much to do with its failed policies and shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude.

by Ahsan I Butt
23 Dec 2019

US army soldiers fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan on June 12, 2011 [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Last week, the Washington Post published a six-part investigative series on the United States' war in Afghanistan, based on thousands of government documents the newspaper procured.

The paper has shone a light on the disjuncture between what has been occurring on the ground in Afghanistan and what successive American governments have been saying about it. It has highlighted the strategic drift that has marked the US engagement with what was once considered the "good war" but is now the war that just will not end.

Most of all, these documents reveal that the failure of Afghanistan is mostly made in the US - something those who have closely observed the conflict knew all along.

Pakistani perfidy, Afghan avarice

Officials quoted in the Washington Post investigation repeatedly blame Pakistan and its partners in Afghanistan for undermining their war effort.

In taking Washington's dollars but supporting its opponents, Pakistan certainly played a double-game, one whose effects were especially felt in the mid-2000s, when the Taliban was on the defensive. Pakistani aid and sanctuary ensured that the Taliban would have the space to regroup physically, politically, militarily, and organisationally.

Washington insiders, while correct in their descriptions of Pakistan's policies as duplicitous, are prone to exaggerating their implications as the most important factor in the war. Even if Islamabad had done exactly what Washington wanted, US forces would still have strained to pacify a rural-based insurgency with as few troops as the Bush administration had in Afghanistan.

For most of Bush's presidency, the US had 10,000-20,000 troops in Afghanistan. This was a paltry commitment when juxtaposed with the administration's stated goals. After all, the US had roughly 150,000 troops in Iraq during Bush's second term and, in more direct comparison, the Soviets had more than 100,000 soldiers occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Furthermore, this relatively light American presence in Afghanistan was aimed not just at fighting but also building hospitals and schools, digging irrigation canals, directing traffic, and cooking.

What about the lack of a credible, popular, and competent ally on the ground? From the perspective of many officials, the roots of US failure in Afghanistan lie exactly there - within Afghan society. There are two main variants of this argument.

First, the corruption of Hamid Karzai, the warlordism of his governor allies, and the wider kleptocratic system that Americans found themselves against never gave the occupation a chance. Widespread corruption undoubtedly played an important role in delegitimising the governments the US set up in Kabul - first Karzai's and then Ghani's.

But Washington made its own bed on this score: it chose to centralise power in Kabul despite Afghanistan's political history being marked by relatively autonomous regions and provinces, and it chose to do so in the person of Hamid Karzai. It also chose to solve problems in Afghanistan by throwing money at it.

As the New York Times sensationally reported in 2013, American fingerprints could be found all over Karzai's behaviour. The CIA, invoking B-grade action movies, was delivering duffel bags of cash to Karzai's office for distribution to his allies. The Obama administration also looked the other way as Karzai ballot-stuffed his way to re-election in 2009.

Second, alongside the major problem of corruption, US officials considered Afghans too uneducated, too undisciplined, and essentially too backward to mould into a fighting force worthy of a sovereign state. According to the Washington Post, interviewed sources "depicted the Afghan security forces as incompetent, unmotivated, poorly trained, corrupt and riddled with deserters and infiltrators".

It is true that the Afghan rank and file suffered from illiteracy and observed cultural mores very different from what GI Joes and Janes were accustomed to. Nonetheless, it hardly seems fair to blame Afghan recruits if they could not read aircraft repair manuals or if they confused urinals for drinking fountains, as some American officers have claimed.

The Afghan forces' petty corruption or their attacks on coalition troops were admittedly a much bigger problem. But even here, it stretches credulity that smuggled fuel and around 150 casualties can defeat a hegemonic superpower. Rather, there were bigger forces at play.

American failure

Pakistan may have been an unhelpful ally and Afghanistan may have been an unruly client - pesky foreigners with their own world views, agendas, and customs - but the central causes of American failure in Afghanistan were located in the US. Most importantly, the George W Bush administration, whose neoconservative foreign policy was dictated by the triumvirate of Vice President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, made two fateful choices that doomed the US effort.

First, the decision to invade Afghanistan was more an emotional response aimed at satisfying the collective psychological need for revenge for the 9/11 attacks than a result of careful strategic consideration. As one writer puts it, American decision-making in the aftermath of 9/11 seemed rooted in "a kind of irrational, all-encompassing, post-traumatic breakdown".

Understandably, the US leadership felt it needed to engineer a military response to the gruesome attacks of 9/11. But in the autumn of 2001, the Bush administration did not adequately think through the precise aims of military action in Afghanistan.

Officially, the war that began in October 2001 was aimed at eliminating al-Qaeda as a threat. As a corollary, this meant a government in Kabul that would deny that terrorist organisation sanctuary. Could the Taliban be such a government? The US seemed to believe that because Taliban leader Mullah Omar had not taken a sterner line against al-Qaeda during the late 1990s, that he could not be relied upon to do so post-2001.

This was a reasonable but tragically flawed line of thinking. It was reasonable because the US had made several overtures to the Taliban before 9/11 to abandon Osama bin Laden and force him out of the country, most likely back to Saudi Arabia, where he would face that regime's particular form of justice.

On the other hand, it is instructive that the Washington Post series quotes national security leaders like Jeffrey Eggers, diplomatic officials like Zalmay Khalilzad, and academic experts like Barnett Rubin to exactly that effect: the US could indeed have reached a deal with the Taliban had it adopted a more accommodationist course.

And while it was one thing to avoid talks with the Taliban, the Bush administration went much further, rejecting agreements that the Afghan government itself struck with the Taliban in 2001 and 2004 that conceivably could have ended major combat 15 years ago.

Simply put, the Bush administration failed to weld negotiations to its military strategy. About five years later, President Barack Obama's administration would repeat the same mistake of not contemplating negotiations seriously enough.

Rubin, who worked under Secretary Hillary Clinton at the State Department, argues that the Obama administration's reluctance to reach out to the Taliban was a product of her impending presidential run, and the attendant need to demonstrate her militaristic bona fides to an electorate suspicious of women's perceived "softness" on national security.

In addition, Obama's timeline for withdrawal of US forces, almost universally panned in the documents, was similarly born of domestic political calculations, since he wanted his 2012 re-election campaign to be inoculated against any backlash to his 2009 troop "surge".

Aside from these major errors, Obama's exclusive focus on al-Qaeda was also anachronistic - such a strategy might have worked in 2001, but by the 2010s, the Americans were facing a different war than the one they started with.

The 'side war'

Just as fateful as the confusion over the mission in Afghanistan, and the degree to which the Taliban was to be designated an enemy with whom negotiation was possible, was the decision to invade Iraq.

In general, the Beltway does not like to talk much about the Iraq war when it comes to its failures in Afghanistan because it was an entirely unforced error that cannot be laid at the feet of conniving Pakistani generals, corrupt Afghan elites, thuggish warlords, Islamist extremists, backstabbing soldiers, or buffoonish police.

The Washington Post's series only briefly delves into the question of Iraq, but the tranche of documents it released paint a bigger, and uniform, picture: Iraq represented a severe diversion.

In the documents it released, James Dobbins, a diplomat and special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan during 2013-14, is quoted as saying. "First, you know, sort of just invade one country at a time." He explains that until roughly 2005, Iraq took attention away from Afghanistan; after that point, it began to take resources too.

Echoing Dobbins, Douglas Lute, the White House "Czar" for Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, said that the Bush administration's "attention would break down to about 85 percent on Iraq and 15 percent on Afghanistan, or maybe even 90 percent attention on Iraq and 10 percent attention on Afghanistan".

David Richards, a British general who led NATO in 2006 and 2007, stated plainly: "The US was sending the best minds and resources to Iraq." Most ominously, at the time that the Taliban was militarily resurgent in the mid-2000s, the Bush administration was pushing NATO to take the lead because "the US had too much on their plates".

The idea that the US should have fought one war at a time is well-taken, and the level of self-criticism displayed in these documents is laudable. Nevertheless, the critiques of the Iraq war are striking for not going nearly far enough.

The basic premise seems to be that the biggest problem with invading Iraq was that it diverted resources for war-fighting. Conspicuous by its absence, at least in these documents, is any sense of the regional and global implications of an aggressive war where the US invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and that had not threatened it.

These included the loss in sympathy, soft power, and political capital the world over, in many cases most sharply in NATO countries. In addition, the slogan that the US is at war with Islam - popular with both Islamists and Trumpist Republicans - became much harder to debunk.

Most significantly, the documents betray no collective reckoning with why the Iraq war was fought. The Bush administration attacked Iraq because it believed that merely attacking Afghanistan would not sufficiently demonstrate the might of its military and the toughness of its resolve to the rest of the world.

Indeed, rather than the "good war" monicker the Afghanistan conflict has been cloaked with since its inception, it was ironically the "not good enough" war. A bigger bang was needed to show the US meant business.

Both the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq stemmed from a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude, one especially prevalent among neocons but shared by a significant cross-section of the "respectable" foreign policy establishment. Such a cavalier approach to the use of deadly force permeates American behaviour among citizens, between citizens and the police, as well as between the military and other states, raising questions about US society beyond the ambit of foreign policy.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.


Ahsan I Butt is an Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
The Frantic Effort to Save Lives After a Deadly Attack on the CIA in Afghanistan
Surgeon Joshua Alley at Centra Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia. It has been 10 years since he and his military colleagues tried to save lives after an attack on the CIA in Khost, Afghanistan.


The Washington Post
Published: December 30, 2019

Joshua Alley and two medical colleagues were getting ready to watch "The Hangover" at their military hospital in eastern Afghanistan when the loudspeaker blared with the worst possible code: Shamrock Black! Shamrock Black!

Alley, an Air Force surgeon from Virginia stationed at Forward Operating Base Salerno, felt confused. Had there been a firefight? A rocket attack? He'd heard no commotion. Shamrock Black meant one thing: His one-story hospital in Khost was going to receive four or more trauma victims. Moments later on Dec. 30, 2009, more intel: An explosion had hit the adjacent Camp Chapman, a small base he'd never visited and knew only as the locale of CIA operatives and other military personnel.

Chapman was just a couple of miles away, so the injured would arrive quickly. Alley, then 33, didn't know it yet, but he was about to be swept into one of the most tragic days in modern CIA history.

"I couldn't fall to pieces because we had so many people we needed to take care of," said Alley, now a general surgeon and father of five in Lynchburg, Virginia. "All my training kicked in. In the moment, you don't process it. You just act and do."

Before Khost, Langley had acknowledged the deaths of 90 operatives since the birth of the CIA in September 1947. The agency's single-worst tragedy came April 18, 1983, when eight of its people at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut were killed by a truck bomb detonated by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group.

But after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA put itself on the front lines of the war in Afghanistan and the desperate search for Osama bin Laden. It dispatched thousands of officers to Central Asia, some traditional spies, others paramilitary operatives. The first American killed in Afghanistan was a CIA operative: Johnny "Mike" Spann.

The agency also set up bases all over Afghanistan, including one in Khost, named after Nathan Ross Chapman, a Green Beret killed in 2002 in the area while officially detailed to the CIA.

By 2009, CIA operatives at Camp Chapman were helping select the locations of drone strikes and recruiting agents who could help find al-Qaida's chief architect. On Dec. 30, its officers at Camp Chapman were scheduled to meet someone they considered the informant of all informants: Humam al-Balawi, a Jordanian pediatrician who had claimed that he penetrated al-Qaida's highest echelons. The CIA thought he could lead them to the terrorist group's co-founder and No. 2 commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

When Balawi was driven to Camp Chapman at about 4:30 p.m. that day, multiple CIA officers arrayed themselves around the red Subaru Outback carrying their supposed golden source. But after he exited the back seat, Balawi, dressed in a shawl and a beige kameez, detonated a suicide vest packed with bars of C4 explosive. The prized asset, it turned out, was a double agent, an al-Qaida operative bent on avenging the death earlier that year of a Pakistani Taliban leader who had been killed by a CIA missile.

Some died instantly, including Balawi, the driver and several CIA operatives. But within minutes, all of them would be flown by helicopter to Salerno, where Alley and a small crew of military doctors would try to save those lives.
Everything in Alley's training had prepared him for this moment: The youngest of five children of a Baptist pastor in Lynchburg, Alley studied medicine at the University of Virginia, graduating in 2002 on an Air Force scholarship. By 2008, he was on his first war deployment, in Iraq, where he performed 300 surgeries on his four-month tour, treating soldiers and civilians injured by enemy fire or roadside bombs. A year later, when he was dispatched to Khost, Alley was considered tiny Salerno's most battle-tested surgeon. A sign in red, white and blue advertised the hospital's motto: Care for those in harm's way.

Inside Salerno's low-ceiling fluorescent-lit trauma bay, Alley and a handful of other doctors, nurses, and lab and pharmacy technicians positioned themselves at four beds, though they knew they'd have at least six patients.

The attack itself was still a mystery. Salerno was a frequent target of rockets, earning its "Rocket City" nickname. But soon, confirmation came that Chapman had been hit by a suicide bomber.

"We'd been hearing all along that the insurgency wanted to target an American military hospital with a suicide bomber, so that whole night, we were a little freaked out," Alley said. "Is this the first wave? That night, all the doctors wore our 9mm Berettas in our leg holsters."

Just outside Salerno's entrance was the helicopter landing pad. Two of the first victims brought in were women, one in her 40s, another who looked like she was in her 20s.

"I thought they were aid workers or journalists," Alley said.

First, Alley assessed the older woman. He was examining, he'd learn later, the CIA's base chief, Jennifer Matthews, a mother of three from Fredericksburg, Virginia, and one of the agency's top al-Qaida experts. But Matthews had no pulse. She had lost her vital signs en route in the helicopter. Her neck, shredded by shrapnel, was purple and swollen. One of her leg bones was exposed.

In this moment, only time was the enemy: Who could be saved? Who could not? Another doctor rushed in with the younger woman, who appeared to have better chances. She had a tiny hole in her chest. Later, Alley would find out the woman's name: Elizabeth Hanson, an accomplished 30-year-old targeter whose intel frequently led to successful drone strikes against key terrorists.

"I was thinking maybe we go full-court press on the older woman, but we had to see what else was coming," Alley said.

He handed off Matthews to another doctor and began working intensely on Hanson, who he thought might survive. He and a team of medics performed an emergency thoracotomy, opening up her chest and ribs like a clamshell. Once inside, what Alley and his colleagues saw was unsalvageable: shrapnel had torn up the vessels above her inactive heart.

"I see my own daughters and out of my mind goes all the data and [mass casualty] triage resource-allocation wisdom," Alley would write on his personal blog that night. "She's somebody's daughter, I think. I HAVE to do something, anything, to give her a chance."

Alley massaged the young woman's heart manually, hoping to circulate the blood in the right directions. He injected her heart with epinephrine.

Nothing worked. He assigned her a time of death.

"Feeling the empty and motionless heart, the empty, collapsed aorta, my own heart sinks," Alley wrote on his blog.

Then, he was told that the older woman, Matthews, might have regained a pulse. He and his team performed a cricothyrotomy, cutting into her neck and inserting a tube to create an airway into her lungs. Then, he pressed an ultrasound probe on her heart. Nothing. No cardiac activity.

"I look again at the neck wounds, the abdominal wounds, the leg wounds, and for the second time in minutes I again realize that I can't fix this," Alley wrote on his blog. "What good is a surgeon that can't fix people?"

He began treating a third victim: a young bearded man on a green stretcher. The man's left leg was fractured and had open wounds vulnerable to contamination. Shrapnel was lodged under his kneecap. A CT scan showed that shrapnel had penetrated his skull and sat on his brain.

By now, Alley had come to understand that many if not all of the victims that night were with the CIA. The brain-injured man before him was awake, alert and could speak coherently. Unlike the women, he had a chance.

An Air Force orthopedic surgeon, Chris Linberg, working alongside Alley, stuffed the man's leg wounds with gauze soaked in Betadine, a golden-brown antiseptic that contains iodine. Then, Linberg wrapped the leg in gauze and attached a temporary splint.

But Alley also knew the young officer required more sophisticated care. He had to see a neurosurgeon — fast. Alley needed to get the officer on a helicopter for an hour-long flight to the much larger military hospital at Bagram Airfield north of Kabul.

One hitch, though. Alley was worried about the flight. What if the officer's brain injury caused him to lose consciousness? It would be virtually impossible for flight medics to insert a breathing tube during the rocky ride.

"This is a thing I second-guess myself about all the time because he was talking to me and alert, and could he really be that badly injured?" Alley recalled. "But we tend to treat that helicopter ride like it's a black box where you can't do anything. If he lost his airway from Khost to Bagram, that would have been on me for failing to protect his airway."

"I told him, 'We have to put you to sleep and put in a breathing tube, and he was like, 'Aw, man,' " Alley said. "Don't worry," Alley told the officer. "You're entering the best worldwide system of trauma care ever. They'll take care of you."

Once Alley had the officer placed under anesthesia and on the next flight to Bagram, he didn't think he'd ever learn how things turned out. More patients needed help. He joined two other doctors trying to save the leg of another CIA officer. Then, he treated others with shrapnel in their backs or shoulders.

"One CIA medic told me, 'Just do me in the morning,' " Alley recalled. " 'You need sleep.' "

The rest of the night, as Alley wrapped up, others sorted body parts, matching them up and placing them in the refrigerated trailer that served as a morgue. There, the remains of the bomber sat alongside those he killed.

The CIA death toll was now official: Seven. Matthews; Hanson; Dane Paresi, a former Green Beret; Harold Brown Jr., a former Army intelligence officer; Darren LaBonte, an ex-Army Ranger; Scott Roberson, a former narcotics detective in Atlanta who was less than a month away from becoming a father; and Jeremy Wise, a former Navy SEAL, whose younger brother Benjamin, a Green Beret, would be killed in a firefight in northern Afghanistan in 2012. Six other CIA operatives were wounded.

Before he finally went to bed, Alley began writing a post for his personal blog — headline "Inferno" — recounting his attempts to save Matthews, Hanson and the CIA officer with the brain injury. His thoughts were revolving around one nagging question: Did I do the right things?

"Most of it is a blur to me now," he wrote in the final paragraphs of his blog entry. "I don't even really have pictures to post; we didn't stop to take any."
Two years later, Alley was out of the Air Force and living with his family in Ithaca, New York. Every now and then, he still thought about the CIA attack, which would later that year become the subject of a book, "The Triple Agent," by Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick and depicted in an Oscar-nominated movie, "Zero Dark Thirty."

Three times, he had received emails from victims' relatives via his website — one from Brown's mother, a second from Hanson's older brother offering gratitude, and a third from Paresi's widow asking for details about her husband's final moments.

Then, on Feb. 1, 2012, another Khost email landed in his inbox.

"Dr. Alley," the woman wrote. "My son . . . is the young officer with the brain injury you treated in Khost. . . . He was part of the CIA team that was attacked by the suicide bomber."

The mother said her son nearly died. His ankles were shattered, knees blown out. He had blood clots in his lungs and legs. His fever spiked to 106 for almost a week. After he was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, "we were shuttled into a small room with a chaplain and told to call our family and start making arrangements for [his] funeral," she wrote.

Alley couldn't believe it. He figured that the officer would have recovered fairly quickly once in the United States. As he kept reading her email, he grew more astounded. The mother said she called her eldest son and told him that an airline ticket was "waiting for him and that he needed to come."

When that son arrived the next day, he walked into the ICU and told his sibling that he was there.

"All of a sudden out of nowhere [my injured son] put his left thumb up," the mother wrote. "From that day forward God performed a miracle in [my son]. He kept on fighting to get better. Six months after the bombing our son was back at the CIA. He has ZERO neuro deficits . . . he has never had a headache . . . does have the perfect facelift!!! He will never wrinkle!"

He even went back to Afghanistan, she said.

"My husband and I can never thank you enough for giving us our son back . . . whole," she wrote. "You are truly a hero to us. We are forever in your debt."

Alley appreciated the mother's gratitude but knew her son's life was saved by multiple doctors — not just him. Still, when the officer extended a lunch invitation, Alley agreed.

"When we met, we gave each other a big hug," Alley said. "He had a bit of a limp. He said he had to learn how to walk again. From such a small brain injury!"

The officer was so grateful that he made a donation in Alley's name to a charity of the doctor's choice.

"I'm glad I did what I could do," said Alley, who now spends his days performing weight-loss surgeries, appendectomies and handling the occasional gunshot victim at Centra Lynchburg General Hospital. "He was one of the ones we were supposed to help save."

The officer still works undercover for the CIA. He declined an interview request through an agency spokeswoman but released a short statement calling the medical team that worked on him "the reason there are survivors."

"I'm grateful daily," he said. "I'm able to continue the fight."

The officer is fortunate to be in the fight at all. On the CIA's Memorial Wall, 133 black stars honor agency operatives who have perished in the line of duty. Seven stars honor those killed at Camp Chapman. He came close to being the eighth.
60 Years on, Africa Still Seeks Right Model for Economic Growth
8:06 pm, December 30, 2019

PARIS (AFP-Jiji) — As 1960 dawned, sub-Saharan Africa braced for historic change: that year, 17 of its countries were destined to gain independence from European colonial powers.

But six decades on, the continent is mired in many problems. It is struggling to build an economic model that encourages enduring growth, addresses poverty and provides a future for its youth.

Africa’s population grew from 227 million in 1960 to more than 1 billion in 2018. More than 60 percent are aged under 25, according to the Brookings Institution, a US think tank.

“The most striking change for me is the increasing reality of disaffected youth... a younger population that is ready to explode at any moment,” Cameroonian sociologist Francis Nyamnjoh told AFP.

“They are hungry for political freedoms, they are hungry for economic opportunities and they are hungry for social fulfillment .”

Joblessness is a major peril. Unemployed youths are an easy prey for armed groups, particularly jihadist movements in the Sahel, or may be tempted to risk clandestine emigration, often at the cost of their lives.

The continent’s population is expected to double by 2050, led by Nigeria, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The proportion of Africa’s population living below the poverty line — less than $1.90 per day — fell from 54.7 percent in 1990 to 41.4 percent in 2015, according to the World Bank.

But this average masks enormous differences from one country to another, exemplified by Gabon (3.4 percent of the population in 2017) and Madagascar (77.6 percent in 2012).

“The inequalities between countries are as extreme as in Asia and the inequalities within countries as as high as in Latin America, where landless peasants coexist with huge landowners,” said Togolese economist Kako Nubukpo.

Christophe Cottet, an economist at the French Development Agency (AFD), pointed out that inequality in Africa is “very poorly measured.”

“There are notably no figures on inequalities of inherited wealth, a key issue in Africa.”

Recent decades have seen the expansion of megacities like Lagos and Kinshasa, typically ringed by shantytowns where people live in extreme poverty, although many medium-sized cities have also grown.

More than 40 percent of Africans now live in urban areas, compared with 14.6 percent in 1960, according to the World Bank.

In 1960, Cairo and Johannesburg were the only African cities with more than a million residents. Consultants McKinsey and Company estimate that by 2030, about 100 cities will have a million inhabitants, twice as many as in Latin America.

But this urban growth is not necessarily the outcome of a rural exodus, said Cottet.

“The population is rising across Africa as a whole, rather faster in towns than in rural areas,” said Cottet.

“There is also the problem of unemployment in towns — [rural] people have little interest in migrating there.”

Growth in Africa slammed to a halt in the early 1980s, braked by a debt crisis and structural adjustment policies. It took two decades to recover.

Per-capita GDP, as measured in constant U.S. dollars, shows the up-and-downs, although these figures are official and do not cover Africa’s large informal economy: $1,112 in 1960, $1,531 in 1974, $1,166 in 1994 and $1,657 in 2018.

“If you do an assessment over 60 years, something serious happened in Africa, with the loss of 20 years. But there is no denying that what is happening now is more positive,” Cottet said.

The IMF’s and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs “broke the motors of growth,” said Nubukpo, whose book, “L’Urgence Africaine,” [The African Emergency] makes the case for a revamped growth model.

The belt-tightening programs “emphasized the short term, to the detriment of investments in education, health and training.”

Africa has a low rate of industrialization, is heavily dependent on agriculture and its service sector has only recently started to emerge.

“We have not escaped the colonial model. Basically, Africa remains a producer and exporter of raw materials,” said Nubukpo.

He gave the example of cotton: 97 percent of Africa’s cotton fiber is exported without processing — the phase which adds value to raw materials and provides jobs.

For Jean-Joseph Boillot, a researcher attached to the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, “Africa is still seeking an economic model of development.”

“There is very little development of local industries,” he said.

“This can only be achieved through a very strong approach, of continental industrial protection — but this is undermined by the great powers in order to pursue free trade.

“The Chinese, the Indians and Westerners want to be able to go on distributing their products.”
South Africa Traditional Circumcision Deaths Prompt Bans, Debate
By Anita Powell
December 30, 2019 09:41 AM

FILE - Traditional Xhosa initiate Fezikhaya Tselane, 20 years old, stands during a traditional initiation process in a rural hut in the Coffee Bay area in Umtata, South Africa, July 11, 2017.

JOHANNESBURG - For hundreds of years, teenage boys and young men from South Africa’s Xhosa and Ndebele groups have followed a sacred, secret coming-of-age ritual that culminates in ritual circumcision by a traditional surgeon. Initiation, as the practice is called, is part of the rich fabric of South African society.

But in recent years, as dozens of young men have died during the process each year -- most from exhaustion and dehydration, but some from botched surgeries -- it has also become a legal and cultural minefield.

Both the practice’s traditional defenders and those agitating for reform agree on one thing: No more boys should die. But how exactly they will get there is a question no one can answer.

This year, amid reports of more than 25 deaths during the recent initiation season, South Africa’s Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities called for the immediate suspension of initiation schools in the Eastern Cape province, where most of the deaths occurred.

That call has earned the ire of the gatekeeper of this tradition, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa. The group’s president, Kgosi Mathupa Mokoena, said he agrees that schools that have seen deaths should be investigated, but that a ban is not just foolhardy, but futile.

"We totally disagree with the call from the CRL, because unfortunately, we were never consulted when they made this call," he said from South Africa’s eastern Mpumalanga province. "Unfortunately for them, even if they had made a call or even forced parliament to legislate to do away or ban the running of initiation schools, unfortunately it is not enforceable. Therefore we’ll just advise them, nicely, to say, ‘come, let’s sit down and talk about this.’ Because If you legislate on something you cannot then enforce, it is as good as wasting public funds."

‘Life is more important’

While the independent, government-funded group has called for suspensions in previous years, this year their call was backed by a powerful men’s group. Ntando Yola is Chairman of the South African National AIDS Council’s Men’s Sector. The organization supports the suspension, and is pushing for an open conversation about the practice.

But, he stresses, he isn’t against the ritual itself.

"It’s a practice that is held in high regard, that a boy grows up looking forward to doing that," he told VOA from Johannesburg. "And I think that is fine. I have gone through that myself and I went through it willingly. However, we have got to put measures to make sure that it does not cost life. Life is more important — is equally important as the ritual."

Civil society groups have proposed several changes, such as tightening regulations on the schools, which can cost between $35 and $70 -- a large amount in a nation where a minimum wage worker can make as little as $250 a month.

They’ve also called for more medical supervision over the two- to four-week retreats. In recent years, Zimbabwe has integrated medical circumcision into its initiation schools, leading to a drastic reduction in deaths. Mokoena said that is not an option for South Africa, though traditional leaders allow doctors to intervene if initiation leaders call on them. 

"How they do it in Zimbabwe, it’s foreign, we don’t even know why, don’t understand why, they do it that way," he said. "It’s still allowed for that medical doctor to go to the mountain and assist. But unfortunately, you cannot do it in the mountain and again in hospital. It’s never done that way. That is no more an initiation school; it’s something else.”"

But maybe it’s time for change, Yola said. His group is also floating the idea of giving women a voice in the process. When it comes to initiation, the women in these boys’ lives are forbidden from having any oversight or authority. And while the group isn’t suggesting anything as radical as letting women witness or learn more about the process, he says the fact that they are left completely in the dark seems unfair.

"One of the things that happens with the secrecy that is happening around the practice is the fact that women who are mothers or who are carers to these young men have to just sit and wait until the son comes back from there and they have no role or no part in it," he said. "And women, sometimes they're able to call out, to cry out around this and say ‘this is unacceptable that I raised a child, and oftentimes as a single mother, and then there's just this period in the life of my child where I have to not be involved in any way, and just wait and hope that my son comes alive.’ So it's really a range of all of these issues that we're really calling out against."