Briefing :- 15/4/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 15th of April, 2017 :-

Atleast 90 Islamic State fighters killed in US MOAB strike, claim Afghanistan officials :-

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The number of Islamic State fighters killed by a massive US bomb in eastern Afghanistan has nearly tripled to at least 90, Afghan officials said Saturday.

The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — dubbed the “Mother Of All Bombs” — was unleashed in combat for the first time, hitting IS positions in eastern Nangarhar province on Thursday.

The bomb smashed their mountain hideouts, a tunnel-and-cave complex that had been mined against conventional ground attacks, engulfing the remote area in towering flames.

“At least 92 Daesh (IS) fighters were killed in the bombing,” Achin district governor Esmail Shinwari told AFP on Saturday. Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani gave a toll of 90.

Afghan officials had earlier said the bombing had killed 36 IS fighters.

Shinwari insisted there were “no military and civilian casualties at all”.

Security experts say IS had built their redoubts close to civilian homes, but the government said thousands of local families had already fled the area in recent months of fighting.

The massive bomb was dropped after fighting intensified over the past week and US-backed ground forces struggled to advance on the area. An American special forces soldier was killed last Saturday in Nangarhar while conducting anti-IS operations.

President Ashraf Ghani threw his support behind the bombardment.

But some officials close to him condemned the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that controls only a tiny sliver of territory and is not considered a huge threat.

IS, notorious for its reign of terror in Syria and Iraq, has made inroads into Afghanistan in recent years, attracting disaffected members of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as well as Uzbek Islamists.

But the group has been steadily losing ground in the face of heavy pressure both from US air strikes and a ground offensive led by Afghan forces.

2. North Korea warns of retaliation in face of US ‘military hysteria’ :-

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North Korea warned the United States to end its “military hysteria” on Saturday or face retaliation as a US aircraft carrier group steamed towards the region amid fears the North may conduct a sixth nuclear weapons test.

Hundreds of military trucks carrying cheering and singing people headed for a parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founding father, celebrations that coincide with the latest threat by the reclusive state against the United States and President Donald Trump.

Concern has grown since the US Navy fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield last week in response to a deadly gas attack. That raised questions about Trump’s plans for North Korea, which has conducted missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN and unilateral sanctions.

“All the brigandish provocative moves of the U.S. in the political, economic and military fields pursuant to its hostile policy toward the DPRK will thoroughly be foiled through the toughest counteraction of the army and people of the DPRK,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency said, citing a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army.

DPRK stands for the official name of North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Our toughest counteraction against the US and its vassal forces will be taken in such a merciless manner as not to allow the aggressors to survive.”

It said the Trump administration’s “serious military hysteria” has reached a “dangerous phase which can no longer be overlooked.”

The United States has warned that a policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea is over. US Vice President Mike Pence travels to South Korea on Sunday on a long-planned 10-day trip to Asia.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally and neighbour which nevertheless opposes its weapons programme, on Friday again called for talks to defuse the crisis.

“We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.

North Korea on Friday denounced the United States for bringing “huge nuclear strategic assets” to the region as the USS Carl Vinson strike group with a flag-ship nuclear-powered aircraft carrier steamed closer, and said it stood ready to strike back.

“The Trump administration, which made a surprise guided cruise-missile strike on Syria on April 6, has entered the path of open threat and blackmail,” KCNA quoted the military as saying in a statement.

“The army and people of the DPRK will as ever courageously counter those who encroach upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and will always mercilessly ravage all provocative options of the US with Korean-style toughest counteraction.”

North Korea, still technically at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce but not a treaty, has on occasion conducted missile or nuclear tests to coincide with big political events and often threatens the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Saturday marks the “Day of the Sun,” the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

3. Eight charged with murder in Pakistan university student’s lynching case :-

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Two days after a Pakistani journalism student was lynched to death on a university campus for posting supposedly blasphemous content on social media, court officials said Saturday that eight fellow students were charged with murder and terrorism.

Police have arrested 45 people in connection with Mashal Khan’s murder and are on the lookout for more students involved in the crime, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.

“Eight students were presented before an anti-terrorism court in Mardan over murder and challenging the writ of the state,” public prosecutor Rafiullah Khan told AFP.

Mashal Khan — who was studying at Abdul Wali Khan University — was kicked, stripped and shot to death by a large mob in the conservative northwestern town of Mardan on Thursday.

Footage that was recovered showed several university students — some of them allegedly student body leaders — kicking and beating Khan’s lifeless body with wooden planks, Pakistani media reported.

Mardan’s Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Mohammad Alam Shinwari said the 23-year-old victim died of a fatal gunshot.

The police official told Dawn that Khan was brutally murdered for “promoting the Ahmadi faith on Facebook”.

Ahmadi Muslims have faced persecution since the movement began in the late 19th century. Sunni Muslims regard them as heretics.

The footage found at the crime scene also showed how people were forcing him to recite verses of Holy Quran. The video also showed Khan insisting that he was not an Ahmadi and did not promote it on Facebook.

Students had previously complained to university authorities about Khan’s alleged secular and liberal views and Khan had been in a heated debate during a class the day he was killed.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive charge in conservative Muslim Pakistan, and can carry the death penalty. Even unproven allegations can cause mob lynchings and violence.

At least 65 people have been murdered by vigilantes over blasphemy allegations since 1990.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has urged that all those involved in the lynching be brought to justice.

At his funeral on Friday, Khan’s father said he hoped his son’s murder would “evoke realisation among people that killing an innocent is a sin”.

4. Thousands of Syrians stuck as evacuation deal frays :-

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Thousands of Syrians were stuck in and around Aleppo on Saturday as a deal to evacuate people from two Shi’ite villages in return for Sunni rebels and their families leaving two towns near Damascus halted, a war monitor and activists said.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the problem was that rebels from Zabadani, one of the towns included in the deal, had not yet been granted safe passage out.

The agreement is one of several over recent months that has seen President Bashar al-Assad’s government take back control of areas long besieged by his forces and their allies.

In the latest deal, hundreds of rebels and their families left the town of Madaya near Damascus, and were taken on buses to the government-held city of Aleppo. From there they will travel to Idlib province, an insurgent stronghold.

In return, pro-government fighters and residents from the Shi’ite villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib, both surrounded by rebels, left the area and reached Aleppo’s outskirts.

On Saturday, those from Madaya sat outside rows of coaches in a bus garage in government-held Aleppo, waiting to move onto Idlib, pictures sent by a pro-opposition activist showed.

Meanwhile, residents from the Shi’ite villages were still waiting in insurgent territory on Aleppo’s outskirts to enter the city, the Observatory and a witness said.

The pro-opposition activist said insurgents blamed the delay partly on the fact that a smaller number of pro-government fighters had left the Shi’ite villages than was agreed.

At the transit point outside Aleppo, where the buses from al-Foua and Kefraya were waiting, one resident said he was not yet sure where he would live.

“After Aleppo I’ll see what the rest of the group is doing, if there are any preparations. My house, land and belongings are all in al-Foua,” Mehdi Tahhan said.  A Madaya resident, speaking from the bus garage inside Aleppo, said people had been waiting there since late on Friday night, and were not being allowed to leave. “There’s no drinking water or food. The bus garage is small so there’s not much space to move around,” Ahmed, 24, said.

“We’re sad and angry about what has happened,” he said. Many people felt that they had been forced to leave, he said. “There was no other choice in the end – we were besieged inside a small area in Madaya.”

Syria’s opposition says the evacuation deals, which include areas of Aleppo and a district in the city of Homs, amount to forced displacement of Assad’s opponents from Syria’s main urban centres in the west of the country. The agreements are also causing demographic changes, they say, because those who are displaced are mostly Sunni Muslims.

Syria’s population is mostly Sunni. Assad is from the Alawite religious minority, often considered an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. He has been backed militarily by Russia, and by Shi’ite fighters from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group in Syria’s six-year-old conflict.

Assad has the military advantage over rebels in the west thanks to Russia’s intervention in 2015, although the insurgents are still fighting back and have made gains in some areas.

5. West, Russia nix opposing UN resolutions to end Syria war :-

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A divided UN security council failed to adopt two Syria resolutions on Saturday.

The council was to vote on the rival draft resolutions – a French text requiring an end to air strikes and military flights over Aleppo city and a Russian draft that was similar but made no mention of ending its bombardment of the city.

During the meeting, Russia first vetoed the French draft, making it the fifth time that the country has used its power to veto to block UN action on ending the five-year war in Syria.

The draft by France had won 11 votes in favour but two votes against, from Russia and Venezuela. There were two abstentions which included veto-holder China.

Shortly after the Russian veto, the security council rejected the rival draft presented by Moscow by a vote of nine against, four in favour and two abstentions.

Russia, China, Egypt and Venezuela voted in favour of the Russian measure while Angola and Uruguay abstained.

“A lonely veto and just four votes in favor of your text,” British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the Russian ambassador after the second vote, AFP reported.

“A double humiliation”, he called it.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he expected his draft text to be rejected, but stressed that he had warned France repeatedly that its measure was “doomed.”, an AFP report said.

The Syrian and Russian bombing campaign has escalated in the past few weeks, inviting an international scrutiny. The failed September 9 ceasefire deal between US and Russia has also been a blow to the already tense ties between the two countries.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that the mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow over the conflict had created a situation “more dangerous” than the Cold War.

“It’s a fallacy to think that this is like the Cold War,” Steinmeier said in an interview published by Bild newspaper.

“The current times are different and more dangerous.”

Since the regime offensive began a few days after a US- and Russian-brokered ceasefire collapsed, at least 290 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in rebel-held areas, 57 of them children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

50 civilians including nine children have been killed in rebel shelling on regime-held areas of the city, according to the Britain-based monitoring group, AFP reported.

It said government forces were making further advances on Saturday ahead of the Security Council session.

“The battle is unfolding in the center, particularly in the Bustan al-Basha district where the army is advancing, in Sheikh Said in the south, and on the northern outskirts where the regime has taken the Uwaija neighborhood,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The monitor reported heavy air strikes on the rebel-held Fardos and Sukari neighborhoods. An AFP correspondent said the raids mostly hit combat zones in the city.

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