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22 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Ministry of Defence says British soldiers not taking any combat role, amid reports that SAS and US special forces deployed to help retake lost ground in Helmand

Afghan National Army soldiers patrol in Helmand on Monday. Much of the town of Sangin has been taken over by Taliban forces.

Afghan National Army soldiers patrol in Helmand on Monday. Much of the town of Sangin has been taken over by Taliban forces. Photograph: Noor Mohammad/AFP/Getty Images

The Afghan government has suffered a serious setback after a Taliban offensive succeeded in taking control of much of Sangin, the Helmand town that became totemic for British forces, accounting for a third of their casualties.

The fall of key locations in and around the town on Sunday and Monday comes just a year after Nato pulled combat troops out of Afghanistan. Since then the Taliban have made inroads in Helmand and elsewhere around the country.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said British troops had been deployed to help local forces, but would not take any combat role and would only provide advisory support.

Reports in the Times and Wall Street Journal said the SAS and US special forces had been deployed to help retake lost ground in the province.

The MoD refused to comment on any operations involving the SAS. A spokeswoman said: “As part of the UK’s ongoing contribution to Nato’s Resolute Support mission, a small number of UK personnel have deployed to Camp Shorabak in Helmand province in an advisory role…………….

International Organisation for Migration announces latest figures, with Greek island of Lesbos now the main refugee gateway

Refugees rest on the beach after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos by boat from the Turkish coast earlier this month.

Refugees rest on the beach after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos by boat from the Turkish coast earlier this month. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

More than one million people have now reached Europe through irregular means in 2015, the International Organisation for Migration has announced, in what constitutes the continent’s biggest wave of mass migration since the aftermath of the second world war.

Out of a total of 1,005,504 arrivals by 21 December, the vast majority – 816,752 – arrived by sea in Greece, the IOM said. The overall figure is a four-fold increase from 2014’s figures, and has largely been driven by Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war. Afghans, Iraqis and Eritreans fleeing conflict and repression are the other significant national groups.

The European migration flow is nevertheless far more manageable than in the Middle East, where roughly 2.2 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey alone. In Lebanon, 1.1 million Syrians form about one-fifth of the country’s total population, while Jordan’s 633,000 registered Syrian refugees make up around a tenth of the total.

The denial of basic rights to refugees in those countries, where almost all Syrians do not have the right to work, is one of the causes of Europe’s migration crisis. Refugees who have lived for several years in legal limbo are now coming to Europe to claim the rights bestowed on them by the 1951 UN refugee convention………………

The Greek island of Lesbos is now where the refugee crisis touches Europe’s shore. More than 100,000 people came through the island in the last month alone, with the authorities struggling to cope. But among the different groups of refugees there is resentment, suspicion and confusion – and Afghans say they have fled war only to be disregarded

However, no decision yet on whether the trooper who arrested the 28-year-old black woman should face charges

Sandra Bland, an undated photo provided by the Bland family. Bland was found dead in her Texas jail cell after being arrested but a grand jury has decided no indictment over her death.

Sandra Bland, in an undated photo provided by the Bland family. Bland was found dead in her Texas jail cell after being arrested but a grand jury has decided no indictment over her death. Photograph: AP

A grand jury has decided no felony crime was committed by the sheriff’s office or jailers in the treatment of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a south-east Texas county jail last summer.

But prosecutor Darrell Jorden said the Waller County grand jury on Monday reached no decision on whether the trooper who arrested 28-year-old Bland should face charges.

The grand jury will return in January to consider that.

The Chicago-area woman was pulled over on 10 July by a Texas state trooper for making an improper lane change. Dashcam video showed their interaction quickly became confrontational and she was arrested for assault.

Bland was taken in handcuffs to the county jail in nearby Hempstead, about 50 miles north-west of Houston, and remained there when she couldn’t raise about $500 for bail.

Three days later, she was discovered dead in her cell.

Bland’s relatives, along with supporters, questioned a medical examiner’s finding that Bland killed herself. Cannon Lambert, an attorney representing Bland’s family, said Monday the decision was consistent with what the family believes has so far been an attempt by authorities to cover up the events after Bland’s arrest. “They continue to do things we are disappointed in,” he said.

Bland’s mother and sisters spoke at a news conference in Chicago before Monday night’s announcement, where they said they had no faith in the grand jury…………….

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UN High Commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres says rejecting Syrian refugees – especially Muslims – plays into the hands of extremists

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Un refugees chief has said refusal to take in those fleeing persecution helps extremists groups.<br>

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Un refugees chief has said refusal to take in those fleeing persecution helps extremists groups.

Photograph: Scott Morgan/Reuters

People who reject Syrian refugees are the “best allies” of Islamic State militants and other extremists, the United Nations refugee chief said on Monday after US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed an entry ban on foreign Muslims.

More than 4.3 million Syrians have fled a nearly five-year civil war. UN High Commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres told the Security Council they cannot be blamed for the terror they are risking their lives to escape.

“Those that reject Syrian refugees, and especially if they are Muslim, are the best allies of the propaganda and the recruitment of extremist groups,” Guterres said in a swipe at Trump and some US state governors and European leaders.

Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that Islamic State is using Trump’s rhetoric to enlist fighters to radical jihad. Trump rejected her claim and called her a “liar.”

Amid the chaos of Syria’s war, Islamic State has seized swathes of territory and proclaimed a caliphate. The group claimed responsibility for the deadly 13 November attacks in Paris and also said a married couple who carried out a mass shooting in Southern California on 2 December were its followers.

The attacks sparked warnings from politicians in Europe and North America that countries could face big risks by admitting refugees without rigorously determining if any could be dangerous extremists…………….

Women in parts of India are sent to basic huts outside their villages during their periods, as the stigma of menstruation proves hard to overcome

A sanitary napkin

‘Menstruation is not an illness’ reads a message on a sanitary napkin during a protest in Kolkata in April. Photograph: Arindam Shivaani/NurPhoto/Rex Shutterstock

Poornima Javardhan, 25, felt dread and trepidation as she got ready to spend five days in a gaokor – a hut outside her village where girls and women are banished during menstruation.

“During the rainy season, it is all the more difficult to stay in a gaokor because water comes inside and sometimes the roof leaks,” says Javardhan, who lives in Sitatola, a village in central India’s Maharashtra state. Each month, custom dictates that she must stay in the thatched hut on the edge of a forest, sometimes on her own, or, if she’s lucky, with another woman.

Since the huts are considered public property, no one takes responsibility for their upkeep. Gaokors lack a kitchen as women who are menstruating are not allowed to cook; those staying inside rely on family to bring them food and other items. Women usually sleep on the floor with just a thick sheet for a mattress, which is folded and used as a cushion during the day.

Given the location of the huts, it is not uncommon for wild animals to make an appearance, and there have been reports of women dying from snakebites while staying in gaokors.

“We visited 223 gaokors in tribal areas and nearly 98% lack even a proper bed, leave alone electricity and other basic amenities. Most of the gaokors have temporary bathrooms made with bamboo,” says Dr Dilip Barsagade, the founder of local NGO Society of People’s Action in Rural Services and Health (Sparsh), which recently brought the practice to the attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)…………….

US politics

 Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton must apologize for saying I help Isis – video

Lindsey Graham drops out of race for Republican presidential nomination

Trump mocks Clinton for taking toilet break during Democratic debate – video

Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton was ‘schlonged’ in 2008 loss to Barack Obama

 

Opinion

Our dominance on Earth comes with great responsibility. The Paris climate deal proves that there is hope for our planet – as long as we remember that

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‘Very suddenly, in evolutionary terms, we’ve exploded into a major global force.’ Photograph: Deco Images II/Alamy

Homo sapiens has become so dominant a force shaping the properties of the biosphere that scientists now refer to the past two centuries as the Anthropocene Epoch – the age of the human. This role comes with a huge responsibility; one that, it seems, we have lived up to in the climate deal recently agreed in Paris.

We are an infant species, evolving perhaps 150,000 years ago in Africa. For most of our short existence, we were nomadic hunter-gatherers, carrying our possessions while in search of food and anything useful. Compared to the vast herds of mammals in parts of the world, human numbers were small, our technology simple and our ecological impact readily absorbed by the biosphere.

Very suddenly, in evolutionary terms, we’ve exploded into a major global force, altering the air, water, soil and species diversity on a geological scale. We are the most numerous mammal on Earth, empowered by technological innovation, demanding ever more consumer items to satisfy our “wants” instead of our “needs”, driven by corporate hunger for constantly increasing profit in a globalized economy.

Climate change caused by human generation of greenhouse gases is just one of the degradations of our most fundamental needs caused by our shortsighted actions. Pollution of water, soil and air, destruction of habitat, species extinction and ocean degradation are a few of the others.

When living organisms appeared on Earth perhaps four billion years ago, the properties of the planet were very different. Life actually modified them – plants removed carbon while creating an oxygen-rich atmosphere; life created soil from inert dust, clay and sand (that’s why Matt Damon in the film The Martian had to add poop to grow potatoes on the sterile planet); life helped weather rocks and mountains and life explored ever more and different elements of the globe as species evolved. But all this involved numerous species and vast amounts of time.

Our access to clean air, water, soil and photosynthesis is a gift from the web of living things around the planet. When we understand that all humans share these fundamental realities and that we all have a responsibility to ensure their availability for everyone, then everything is possible………………

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