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The civilian price of the 17 year war on terror in Afghanistan

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The commander of Kabul’s elite police unit has told Sky News the threat of attacks in the Afghan capital is worse than ever, despite security of the city being a key plank of the US-led forces strategy for the country.

It comes after a bloody month in which the Taliban and Islamic State targeted civilians in their war against international forces and the country’s central government.

The conflict in Afghanistan is now entering its seventeenth year and it appears that there is no end in sight to the fighting.




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Hunting for Taliban car bombers

The Taliban, or other insurgent groups, control or contest nearly half of the country.

That is according to official sources, but the actual figure may be much higher.

Meanwhile, the UN’s latest report on the country has recorded huge losses of life amongst the civilian population.

Some 10,453 people were killed or injured in 2017, which the UN describes as a “chilling statistic”.

And although that figure is down by 9% on 2016, the report highlights the high number of people killed by suicide attacks, or improvised explosive devices.

Police act on information that two suspected car bombs have entered the city
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The threat of attacks is worse than ever

We joined the capital’s quick reaction forces to try to understand how the security situation is changing in the capital.

We weren’t at their base long before they received information that two suspected car bombs had entered the city.

But in a place choked with traffic, finding them before they strike is almost impossible.

The intelligence the police get is not strong this time but until they are certain that it is a false alarm, the threat level remains significant.

QRF Commander, Shah Mahmood Azizi, tells me of the difficulties he faces.

He said: “There are reports of threats which are pretty high right now. The reason we are here is to stop the enemy to reach their targets.

“We have been given instructions to set up check points to stop and check suspicious vehicles and this is based on intelligence reports that we received.

A bomb hidden in an ambulance killed 105 people in January
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An ambulance packed with explosives killed 105 people in January

“The past few attacks have been painful, a lot of lives have been lost here. There have been a lot of casualties in civilian and also security persons. But I assure everyone that I will sacrifice my life to stop these attacks.”

The police teams are having some success. Last week a truck laden with explosives was intercepted and the bombers were arrested.

But other vehicle bombs have detonated in the heart of the city.

In a series of attacks this year, one of the worst saw a Taliban bomber driving an ambulance detonate in a densely populated area in the heart of the city.

One hundred and five people were killed in that attack, and it has left many here asking whether the fight in Afghanistan is being lost.

The US strategy continues to centre on creating a well-trained Afghan national force and a strong central government in Kabul.

But the police and the military are taking heavy casualties.

Security in the city is being strengthened in response and much of the centre of Kabul now resembles a military zone with blast walls and closed compounds.

The US-led coalition claimed that it is winning the war against the Taliban but after 17 years of fighting the capital is still insecure and people are scared.

It is the civilian population that continues to pay an appalling price in this war without end.

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COVID-19: Global coronavirus deaths pass two million – just over a year since outbreak began | World News

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Global deaths linked to coronavirus have passed two million – just over a year since it was first identified in China.

The US has recorded the highest number at over 389,000 – and more than 23 million cases, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Brazil – where several new variants have recently been identified – is second with over 207,000 deaths.

India and Mexico are next, with roughly 152,000 and 137,000 respectively.

The UK has recorded the fifth-highest death toll – and the highest in Europe – with more than 87,000 deaths recorded within 28 days of a confirmed positive test. Italy follows closely behind with around 80,000.

Global deaths from coronavirus hit one million on 29 September – it has taken 108 days to reach two million.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the death toll had been “made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort” on vaccination.

“Science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed,” he said.

While wealthy nations have already given millions of doses, things have barely got off the ground in poorer countries with large populations – meaning deaths from the virus are likely to remain high for a long time.

“Behind this terrible number are names and faces – the smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one,” said Mr Guterres.

It is little over a year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) put out its first bulletin on COVID-19, warning that a “pneumonia of unknown cause” had been identified in China.

At that stage, it said the country had reported 44 patients of which 11 were severely ill, and that the outbreak had been linked to a wet market in the sprawling city of Wuhan.

Thailand confirmed the first case outside China on 13 January, and France reported three cases – the first in Europe – on 24 January.

America’s first case was in Washington state on 21 January – in a man who had recently been to Wuhan.

By the end of January, the WHO’s emergency committee declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The first UK cases were confirmed on 31 January – in two Chinese nationals at a York hotel – one of whom was a student at the city’s university.

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Uganda: Are armed government troops using intimidation tactics? | World News

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Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has a large house about an hour outside Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

After sending out a couple of panicky-sounding tweets on Friday saying members of the military were encroaching on his property, that his property had been essentially surrounded by the military, we drove out there as quickly as we could.

We found him at the edge of the lawn, where there is then a gate and a fence and a hill which leads down to more of his property, which is forested.

Bobi Wine with the security guard he claims was attacked
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Bobi Wine with the security guard he claims was attacked

He was somewhat anxiously examining his land.

Mr Wine told us that he had seen troops – soldiers on the property – that they had come and beat one of his guards up.

We were introduced to the guard who had suffered some facial injuries. And then he took us and a small number of other journalists on a tour of his property.

We went down a hill into some of the trees, around the corner and we saw a group of about five uniformed men armed with automatic weapons.

A spokesman for the military said troops were in the area to protect Mr Wine
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A spokesman for the military said troops were in the area to protect Mr Wine

One of them picked up his weapon and pointed it at us. And we, along with Bobi Wine, ran for cover.

I must say, at no stage was one of the weapons discharged, but it was a frightening experience.

We ran back up to the main house, had a chat with Bobi Wine, who said this was an example of the intimidation that he has faced during the campaign and increasing intimidation now that the election results are expected.

Polls have closed in Uganda with president Yoweri Museveni, who is 76, seeking a sixth term in office.

But he is facing a strong challenge from Mr Wine, a former reggae singer who is half his age.

Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986. File pic
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Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986

Results are expected to be delivered by the Election Commission on Saturday.

But Mr Wine says the government is trying to put him in his place.

It is certainly an unusual, a highly unusual way to treat a presidential candidate in this election or in any election.

He has run a very strong campaign. He has fired up certainly younger members of the electorate in this country.

A military spokeswoman said any soldiers in the area were there to protect him.

And a Kampala police spokesman told NTV Uganda that three unidentified people had tried to enter Mr Wine’s property and one had been arrested.

But this does sound and look like government intimidation to me. On another side of the property, through a chain link fence, we could see soldiers and plainclothes men with weapons as well.

I tried to speak to them. They said nothing.

Bobi Wine is the country’s best known and most effective opposition leader – but this is a very uncomfortable place for him to be at the moment.

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Dutch government resigns over childcare subsidies scandal | World News

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The Dutch government led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte has resigned over a childcare subsidies scandal.

Mr Rutte, who leads the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy as part of a four-party ruling coalition, stepped down following a cabinet meeting.

In a statement, Mr Rutte said: “We are of one mind that if the whole system has failed, we all must take responsibility, and that has led to the conclusion that I have just offered the king, the resignation of the entire Cabinet.”

FILE- In this Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, file photo, Prime Minister Mark Rute, center left, and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, center, pose with the ministers for the official photo of the new Dutch government on the steps of Royal Palace Noordeinde in The Hague, Netherlands. The Dutch Cabinet was meeting Friday Jan. 15, 2021, amid strong speculation that Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government will resign to take political responsibility for a scandal involving child benefit investigations.(AP Photo
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Mark Rutte, centre left, pictured with King Willem-Alexander, centre, and other government ministers. File pic

He added that he would continue to work to compensate affected parents.

The other parties in the Netherlands’ leadership had called for Mr Rutte to go after an inquiry labelled the mismanagement a decade of “unprecedented injustice”.

The report found last month that around 10,000 families had been made to repay tens of thousands of euros of subsidies after being wrongly accused of fraud.

This lead to cases of unemployment, bankruptcy and divorce.

Previously, €500m (£445m) had been earmarked to compensate around 20,000 families.

Janet Ramesar, a parent who was waiting for the news of Mr Rutte’s resignation, said: “It’s important for me because it is the government acknowledging, ‘we have made a mistake and we are taking responsibility,’ because it’s quite something what happened to us.”

Parliamentary elections are due to be held on 17 March, with the current government expected to stay on until then in a caretaker role.

Mr Rutte is expected to lead his party to the polls, with polling suggesting it will win the most seats and in the driving position to form the next coalition.

Lodewijk Asscher, has already stepped down as the leader of the Dutch Labour Party.

While he is not in the current coalition, he had been involved in a previous government.

Mr Rutte’s resignation to King Willem-Alexander is the first government collapse in the country since 2012.

Then, it was again Mr Rutte at the helm, although that dissolution was due to disagreements over austerity measures.

The Netherlands is currently amid its tightest lockdown of the pandemic, and Mr Rutte has been considering tighter action.

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