Currently viewing the tag: "International"

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Former top general calls on Obama to wipe out Isis in wake of Foley killing” was written by Spencer Ackerman in New York and Dan Roberts in Washington, for The Guardian on Thursday 21st August 2014 17.42 UTC

An influential retired US general has called on Barack Obama to order the destruction the militant group responsible for murdering American journalist James Foley amid conflicting views in the administration on how to respond to the atrocity.

As Obama’s foreign policy team debates expanding its renewed air war in Iraq after the killing of Foley by the Islamic State (Isis), John Allen, a retired marine general who commanded the Afghanistan war from 2011 to 2013, urged Obama to “move quickly to pressure its entire ‘nervous system’, break it up, and destroy its pieces.”

Allen’s argument, presented in an op-ed for the DefenseOne website, echoes remarks by secretary of state John Kerry and comes amid internal dispute in the Obama administration over the future course of its two-week air war in Iraq. Much diplomatic effort is said to be spent broadening and hardening a region-wide effort against Isis, something Allen endorsed, with Turkey and Qatar being a particular near-term focus for Kerry.

The debate is said to be fluid. At present, a US official anticipated more continuity than change in future military operations against Isis, but said: “It may ultimately evolve.”

On Wednesday, six new airstrikes continued to hit Isis positions near the Mosul Dam, three days after Obama declared that it was no longer under Isis control. Nearly two-thirds of the 90 US strikes since 8 August have taken place near the critical dam.

In a grisly video produced by Foley’s captors, his killer says Foley’s death came as revenge for US airstrikes in Iraq. Soon after the video was released, the US confirmed that it had recently mounted a failed rescue bid for Foley. Elite US military forces secretly invaded Syria earlier this summer in a mission that involved dozens of special operations forces from all US military services, including the 160th special operations aviation regiment.

US forces flew into Syria in defiance of air defence batteries that senior military officials have described as highly threatening to pilots. Modified Black Hawk helicopters were involved, and “armed fixed-wing aircraft and drones” provided cover to forces on the ground, said an administration official. No hostages were found at the targeted location.

It emerged on Thursday that Foley’s family received a message from Foley’s captors on 13 August, warning them that he would be killed. They passed the message on to the US government, which helped with a response. Phil Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, the Boston-based online news publication that had published work by Foley, told Reuters: “It was an appeal for mercy. It was a statement that Jim was an innocent journalist,” and that he respected the people of Syria, where he was held.

Foley’s family and friends hoped the militants were bluffing and wanted a ransom, he said. The group had last year demanded a ransom of 2m for his rescue, Balboni said.

Wary of overcommitment to a new Iraq war, the Obama administration has sent mixed signals about how far it is willing to go against Isis. Kerry, who has been hawkish against Isis, said the jihadist organization “must be destroyed/will be crushed”, a goal beyond the one Obama has thus far set.

Allen proposed attacking Isis in Syria as well as Iraq “across its entire depth”, an option the Pentagon has studied after the group overran Iraq’s second largest city in June but is yet to implement.

In an interview on Thursday with National Public Radio, one of Obama’s closest advisers opened the door for attacking Isis in Syria, which would represent a significant expansion of a bombing effort whose missions have slowly evolved.

“We would not restrict ourselves by geographic boundaries,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “We haven’t made decisions to take additional actions at this time.”

Rhodes indicated that the administration believes that the incoming government of Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad will aid US efforts in assembling and deepening an anti-Isis coalition. Rejecting a recent suggestion, Rhodes ruled out a rapprochement with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to confront a mutual foe.

Writing for the DefenseOne website, Allen conspicuously praised Obama, who is wary of expansive promises made by the military. He did not propose a return to ground combat, but urged a “focused advise and assist” mission to bolster Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers and non-jihadist Syrian rebels, a commitment that would require a reintroduction of significantly more US military advisers.

Obama has ruled out US ground combat, preferring to rely on proxies, something his critics have not challenged, with memories of a bloody US occupation still fresh. The US official said working through vetted Syrian opposition groups and Iraqi and Kurdish forces “will continue to be the foundation of the US approach going forward”.

Though entire divisions of the Iraqi army fled from Isis in June, “they’ve shown a lot more capability in the last two weeks than in the previous two months,” the official said.

At the State Department, officials said the US is pressuring Qatar and Turkey to help cut off flows of financing and foreign fighters to Isis, even as they cautioned that they did not see evidence of either government supporting the extremist group officially.

“We are working with governments in the region where we believe there are private citizens funding [Isis] to get them to clamp down even further to cut off those sources of funding,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf.

“We need to attack [Isis] on a variety of fronts, one of which is the bombs that the Pentagon folks are dropping on them right now. One of them is not letting them have access to resources.”

Kerry also spoke directly to the Qatari foreign minister on Wednesday, during which Foley’s death was “likely” to have come up, according to US officials, although the call was primarily about Gaza.

Asked whether Qatar, Turkey or Saudi Arabia – another alleged source of funding – were “fully on board”, Harf responded: ”Well, look, we’re talking to them every day about what more we can all do. We know there’s more that needs to be done. We know this is a long-term fight, and we know it’s a tough one. So we’re having those conversations.”

Allen said Foley’s killing “embodies” the threat from Isis, which he called “an entity beyond the pale of humanity”. The US official said Allen’s article “serves a purpose in helping explain to the American people how dire it is”.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “How common are plane crashes?” was written by Aisha Gani, for The Guardian on Thursday 24th July 2014 16.20 UTC

There have been three aviation disasters in the last week: the shooting down last Thursday of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew, the crashing of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 while trying to land at a Taiwanese airport on Wednesday, killing 48 and injuring 10, and the crashing today of Air Algérie flight AH5017‬ from Burkino Faso to Algiers, which was carrying 110 passengers and six crew members.

It seems as though such crashes are happening very frequently at present – but, statistically, how common are plane crashes?

Last year, while more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights, there were 81 aviation accidents, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). That was below the five-year average of 86 accidents per year, and the equivalent of one accident per 2.4 million flights.

Last year, while more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights, there were 81 aviation accidents, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata). That was below the five-year average of 86 accidents per year. (Iata says that for western-built jet aircraft, there were 0.41 "hull loss" accidents per million flights in 2013, equivalent to one such accident per 2.4m flights; a "hull loss" is an accident in which the aircraft is destroyed or substantially damaged and not subsequently repaired).

Only 20% of the 81 accidents recorded by Iata last year caused fatalities; there were 210 fatalities from commercial aviation accidents in 2013, a reduction from the 414 people who lost their lives in 2012 – despite there being a record low of 75 accidents that year.

There were 490 deaths in 2011 and a total of 92 accidents. There was a much higher figure of 786 fatalities in 2010, and 94 accidents. In 2009, there were 685 fatalities and 90 accidents.

This year's high-profile disasters have put the number of fatalities for 2014 at above 700 already – indicating that this is a particularly bad year for air crashes.

Nevertheless, flying has become safer over the last two decades. Between 2001 and 2010 the accident rate was cut by 42%, and two decades ago there were around 2,000 deaths and 250 crashes per year.

The single worst aviation disaster in history before 9/11 was the 1977 Tenerife airport disaster, in which 583 people were killed in a runway collision between two Boeing 747s at Los Rodeos Airport.

• This article was amended on 25 July 2014. An earlier version suggested that the 81 accidents recorded by Iata in 2013 were the equivalent of one accident per 2.4 million flights.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Obama: US and China will co-ordinate response to North Korea rocket launch” was written by Justin McCurry in Osaka, for The Guardian on Monday 26th March 2012 13.39 UTC

The US and China have agreed to co-ordinate their response if North Korea goes through with a planned rocket launch next month, a day after Barack Obama urged Beijing to use its influence to rein in its unpredictable ally.

Speaking at the start of a two-day summit on nuclear security in the South Korean capital, Seoul, the US president said China and the US had a shared interest in preventing nuclear proliferation.

“We both have an interest in making sure that international norms surrounding non-proliferation, preventing destabilising nuclear weapons, is very important,” he said.

Obama and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, did not elaborate on how they would respond to a North Korean missile launch, which is expected to take place between 12 and 16 April to coincide with the centenary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

“The two leaders agreed to co-ordinate closely in responding to this potential provocation, and if necessary consider what steps need to be taken following a potential launch,” a senior White House aide told Reuters.

But the early show of unity is a step forward after the US leader chided China, North Korea’s biggest benefactor, on Sunday for failing to exert more pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

During bilateral talks on Monday, Hu told Obama that the North Korean issue remained “very sensitive”, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency. “We do not hope to see a reversal of the hard-won momentum of relaxation of tension on the [Korean] peninsula,” Hu was quoted as saying.

But Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said North Korea had previously ignored Chinese concerns about its nuclear and missile programmes.

“China has expressed those concerns before and North Korea has continued on with its behaviour,” he said. “China needs to look at whether it needs to be doing more above and beyond the types of messages and warnings it’s been giving to the North Koreans.”

South Korea and Japan have said they will shoot down the missile if it passes over their territory. “We are preparing measures to track the missile’s trajectory and shoot it down if, by chance, it deviates from the planned route and falls into our territory,” a South Korean defence ministry spokesman said.

The North insists that the rocket, whose main component has reportedly been moved to a launch site in the country’s north-west, is designed to carry an observation satellite into orbit.

The US, South Korea and Japan, however, say the launch would violate a UN ban on missile activity as the same technology could be used to develop long-range missiles, including those capable of striking the US mainland, possibly within five years.

The show of unity by the US and China, however ambiguous, will not be welcomed in Pyongyang, according to North Korea experts.

Shin Jong Dae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says North Korean provocations are partly motivated by a desire to divide the US and China over their response.

“North Korea doesn’t want to see an improvement in Sino-US relations, so to rupture relations between China and US, it opts for military adventurism, just as it did with the sinking of the Cheonan, bombing Yeonpyeong island and conducting missile tests,” he said.

Shin added that China’s main concern was avoiding political instability in the North. “The best-case scenario for China is a stable North Korea without nuclear weapons. The worst-case scenario is an unstable North Korea. But if China can’t achieve that ideal, then it will at least try to avoid the worst possible alternative. That means it will tolerate a North Korea with nuclear weapons, as long as it remains stable.”

The planned launch has put on hold a deal reached last month that would have required North Korea to suspend long-range missile tests and its uranium enrichment programme in return for 240,000 tonnes of US food aid.

In a speech to students at Hankuk University in Seoul, Obama warned North Korea’s new leadership under Kim Jong-un not to invite “more isolation” by developing nuclear weapons.

“By now it should be clear,” he said. “Your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they have undermined it. Instead of the dignity you desire, you are more isolated.”

His comments may also have been directed at Republicans who are seeking to exploit what they see as Obama’s failure of diplomacy on North Korea in an election year.

“The United States doesn’t want to do anything that will result in North Korea conducting nuclear tests or missile launches or anything that would be detrimental to the Obama administration,” said Kim Hyun Wook, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul.

“If that happens, there could be criticism from Republicans of Obama that his diplomatic efforts with North Korea have failed. Obama doesn’t want that; it would make his re-election more difficult.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Cash payments help cut HIV infection rate in young women, study finds” was written by Sarah Boseley, health editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 15th February 2012 00.01 UTC

Regular small cash payments to girls and young women can enable them to resist the attentions of older men and avoid HIV infection, according to a new study.

Girls and young women are at the greatest risk of HIV infection in endemic countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, between a quarter and a third have the virus by the time they reach their early 20s.

But educating girls about risks and promoting condom use has had little impact in countries where they are struggling with poor education, low status and poverty, and where older men with money offer one of the few ways out of financial difficulties.

A team of researchers from the World Bank, University of California at San Diego and George Washington University in the US carried out a randomised controlled trial in Malawi to find out whether monthly payments to schoolgirls and their families would help change the girls’ behaviour and safeguard their health.

They recruited nearly 1,300 young women, aged from 13 to 22, who were enrolled in school in the Zomba district of southern Malawi – an area of poverty, low school enrolment and high HIV prevalence.

The young women were randomly assigned, according to where they lived, either to receive between $1 and £5 a month, with their families given between $4 and $10 a month, or to get nothing. At the end of 18 months, the girls were tested for HIV and herpes infection.

The study, published online by the Lancet, found that girls who had received money were less than half as likely to have HIV as those who had not been paid – 1.25% (seven out of 490 women) compared with 3% in the control group (17 out of 796).

While the numbers who contracted HIV were relatively small, the researchers believe it shows a significant trend and would make a substantial difference across the population. There was a reduction of three-quarters in the risk of herpes, another sexually-transmitted infection.

Half of those who were given money got it only if they attended school, but there was no difference in the infection rate between those and the others who were paid regardless. Nor did the amount they and their families received make a difference.

Girls in the groups receiving payments were more likely to be in school than the others. Condom use did not go up, but the girls were less likely to be having sex frequently and less likely to have a partner over the age of 25.

“The findings suggest that financially empowering school-age girls and their families can have substantial effects on their sexual and reproductive health,” write the authors.

In a commentary also published by the journal, Dr Nancy Padian, from the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues, say the findings “add to the increasing evidence suggesting that economic development and anti-poverty programmes can alter the context of sexual decision-making and, thus, HIV infection risk”.

At a cost per case of HIV averted of $5000-$12,500 (£3,167-£7,918), paying individuals to stay healthy might seem expensive, they say, but it is still probably cost-effective and cheaper than putting people on antiretroviral drugs, which has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Hugo Chavez calls opposition candidate a ‘low-life pig'” was written by Rory Carroll in Caracas, for The Guardian on Thursday 16th February 2012 23.10 UTC

President Hugo Chavez on Thursday called the opposition’s presidential candidate a “low-life pig”, signalling a caustic start to Venezuela’s election campaign.

The socialist leader vowed to crush Henrique Capriles in October’s vote, branding him an agent of imperialism and oligarchy hiding behind a mask of moderation.

“Now we have the loser, welcome! We’re going to pulverise you,” he told an audience of medical students. “You have a pig’s tail, a pig’s ears, you snort like a pig, you’re a low-life pig. You’re a pig, don’t try and hide it.” He avoided calling Capriles by name, referring instead to “el majunche”, slang for “the crappy one”.

The speech, which all radio and television stations were obliged to broadcast live, followed Capriles’s victory last Sunday in opposition primaries. The state governor won almost two-thirds of 3m votes cast, a higher than expected turnout which jolted the government.

Since then state media have launched multiple accusations at the wealthy 39-year-old challenger, calling him, among other things, a mendacious gay Nazi Zionist.

The state news agency’s report of Thursday’s speech omitted the pig references and used a Chavez quote as its headline: “You’re going to have to stand up or run away, crappy one.”

Maria Corina Machado, an opposition leader, said Chavez had insulted not just Capriles but all those who voted for him. “We understand that these are signs of desperation.”

Opinion polls make the president favourite to win a third six-year term on the back of oil-fuelled social programmes and a growing economy. But Chavez’s supporters fear Capriles could tap frustration over crime, inflation and crumbling infrastructure to topple what they call a “21st century socialist revolution”.

Capriles, who runs Miranda state, which includes part of Caracas, has cast himself as a centre-left candidate in the mould of Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Chavez, 57, said that was a disguise to hide a pro-US bourgeois plan to dismantle social programmes. Wearing a beret and scholar’s robe, he said: “Take off your mask. You’re a pig. Don’t disguise it … the only place you’re going to govern is the land of Tarzan and his monkey Cheeta.”

The former tank commander said his rival was part of the opposition which briefly overthrew him in a 2002 coup. Capriles, a mayor at the time, was accused of being part of a mob which attacked the Cuban embassy. He said he was trying to mediate.

Conscious that a polarised climate has helped Chavez win successive elections since 1998, the opposition’s candidate has preached conciliation and unity in an attempt to woo voters disappointed with the government but still fond of the president. He tends to avoid calling Chavez by name, instead referring to him as “the candidate of the PSUV”, the ruling party.

The Hollywood actor and activist Sean Penn, who has toured south America this week in his role as roving ambassador for Haiti, also spoke at the president’s event in Vargas state, just outside Caracas. He told the graduating medical students that Chavez had told him the best thing he could do for his children was raise them as doctors.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

%d bloggers like this: