Dozens Killed in Afghanistan

In one of the most deadly insurgent attacks in the decade-long war in Afghanistan, nine Taliban fighters dressed as Afghan soldiers stormed a government compound in the western part of the country on Wednesday morning, leaving at least 44 people dead and wounding more than 100 in a hostage standoff.

The complex assault began at around 8:45 a.m., when two suicide attackers detonated explosives packed into an army truck at the entrance gate of the provincial government compound in Farah, according to police officials. After the explosion, which ripped through the mayor’s office and neighboring buildings, insurgents rushed the packed provincial courthouse, taking civilians and a handful of employees hostage.

Afghan security forces surrounded the building, firing at the Taliban fighters tucked away on the second floor. At some point during the nearly seven-hour gunfight, the insurgents took the hostages downstairs to the basement and shot them, the police said.

By 4 p.m., the fight was over, leaving behind a scene of carnage and destruction. The death toll: 34 civilians, 10 Afghan security forces and all nine insurgents, the Farah police said. More than 100 people, mostly civilians, suffered wounds.

The attack highlighted the deteriorating security situation in Farah, a restive province that borders Iran to the west. The last major assault in the province occurred in May, when four insurgents dressed as police officers staged an attack on the governor’s compound, killing at least 11 people and wounding a dozen others. But violent attacks in general have been on the rise recently in the province.

Officials from Farah said the province has become a hotbed for the insurgency and drug traffickers, as the government focuses its resources on more violent areas of the country. Humaira Ayobi, a member of the Parliament representing Farah, said a recent effort by the police to stem the drug trade may have contributed to the violence seen Wednesday. Last month, five police officers were killed in the province while conducting a poppy eradication campaign.

 “Farah is bleeding and crying today,” said Ms. Ayobi. “The province will mourn for weeks.”

On the street where the attack took place on Wednesday, witnesses described a nightmarish scene, with bodies splayed all over. Ambulances carted charred bodies from the buildings, including the offices of the mayor, prosecutor and the governor.

 “When I reached the street I saw that all shops and houses around the courthouse were destroyed,” said Jalil Khan, 47, a civil servant at the customs office. “I saw men, women and some children lying on the ground, bleeding or burned. Some of them didn’t know where they were or what had happened to them.”

The attack in Farah Province coincided with the highly anticipated return of Afghanistan’s powerful intelligence chief, Asadullah Khalid, who was seriously wounded in a December suicide attack. Mr. Khalid, who was treated in the United States and required multiple surgeries, returned to Kabul on Wednesday morning.

R.S

U.S. step up training terrorist groups

The United States have stepped up training of Syrian opposition terrorists that may be used to establish a buffer zone along Syria’s southern border, according to U.S. and Jordanian officials.

Training begun last year has been expanded .

Jordanian security officials said a previous timetable to complete training of about 3,000 Free Syrian Army officers by the end of June has been moved up to the end of this .

Two years after the start of the crisis in Syria, Western and Middle East governments are struggling to devise an effective strategy they can agree on, even as the war appears to be spinning beyond their ability to influence it, short of the direct intervention they have refused to contemplate.

The Obama administration and regional governments fear the fighting may soon spill over into other countries.

 The Obama administration, which sent a force of about 150 U.S. military personnel to Jordan last year, has repeatedly refused to comment on reports that the force is training terrorists to send them to Syria.

M.D

Moscow: Claims about Russia, China Hindering Solution in Syria Groundless

 

MOSCOW, (ST) - Igor Margolov, the Deputy Russian Foreign Minister has stressed that accusations against Russia and China claiming that they are hindering a solution to the crisis in Syria are groundless.

"Our partners, either in the West or in the region, realize well that these accusations are groundless.  In fact, the political solution in Syria is being blocked not by Russia and China but by those forces which incessantly feed the armed conflict in the country and continue their unconditional financial and arms support for one side," Margolov said in a statement on Wednesday with a clear reference to the support being provided by the West, the United States and some countries in the region to armed terrorist groups in Syria.

"Such a policy enhances the opposition extremists' stance based on using force to topple the ruling system in Syria and leaves the door widely opened for international extremists and terrorists to carry out their activities," Margolov said.

He added that Moscow and Beijing adopt a firm stance on attaining peaceful solution in Syria based on national dialogue away from any foreign interference. 

He affirmed that Russia and China will continue their fruitful cooperation at international forums to defend their principled stances which adheres to international laws, rejects interference in other countries' affairs and opposes unilateral sanctions against Syria.   

H. Mustafa

West Prepares Modified Libyan Scenario for Syria - Russian MP

The West might try implementing a modified "Libyan scenario" in Syria by supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition to oust the Syrian government, Alexei Pushkov, the head of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday.

Rebels in Libya, some of them members of Islamist groups, ousted and killed Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, after a months-long conflict  in which they received assistance from NATO forces,according to RIA NOVOSTI.

 “The political maneuver phase has come to an end, and the West is starting to implement a modified Libyan scenario in Syria, which is to ouster the Syrian government by supporting rebels and providing them with weapons,” Pushkov said.

According to Pushkov, France and Britain already voiced their intentions to begin arms supplies to terrorists in Syria in late May. Although not influencing the conflict in Syria directly, the United States, he said, is playing the role of coordinator and organizer.

 “It is no secret that American military instructors are training militants at bases in Jordan,” Pushkov said.

Last week, The New York Times reported that the United States has been assisting Turkey and Arab nations in boosting their arms deliveries to Syrian rebels in recent months.

Washington insists that it is providing only nonlethal aid to the insurgents, but concedes that some of its allies opted to deliver weapons to the rebels seeking the Syrian government's ouster.

M.D

Venezuela's acting president leads latest poll before election

With the presidential election less than two weeks away, Venezuelan Acting President Nicolas Maduro led opposition leader Henrique Capriles by 20 percent in latest polls, Xinhua reported.

According to results released Monday by local pollster company Hinterlaces, Maduro, late President Hugo Chavez's political heir, would get 55 percent of the vote against 35 percent for Capriles, who was defeated by Chavez in last year's election.

Asked about their projection of the two candidates' winning chances, 61 percent people chose Maduro and only 22 percent opted for Capriles.

The survey, conducted in March among 1,100 people across the country, has a 3-percent margin of error, the company said.

The official pollster GIS XXI on Monday released a similar poll result, predicting that Maduro would win the election with 55.3 percent of the vote.

The presidential election campaign will officially begin on Tuesday. Maduro will start his campaign in the state of Barinas, Chavez's birthplace, in honor of the late leader, while Capriles will start in Maturin in the state of Monagas.

R.S

Iraq and Afghan wars are “the most expensive wars in US history”

A 21-page report from Harvard University has dubbed the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “the most expensive wars in US history”, claiming the country has already spent $2 trillion on special operations in the regions and will have to spend much more in decades ahead on medical care and disability benefits to veterans. The total war costs could amount to $6 trillion or $75,000 for every household in America, the report says.

“The US has already spent close to $2 trillion in direct outlays for expenses related to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND),” said the report released under the title “The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets", according to The  Voice of Russia, RT, The Telegraph, The Washington Post

Because of the conflicts the country entered into under the George W. Bush administration in 2001 and 2003, the future federal budgets will be under a heavy financial burden, the report claims. Mainly due to the obligation to pay out benefits to an estimated 2.5 million veterans, the Linda J. Bilmes, a public policy professor, explains in the report.

 “Payments to Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans are still climbing,” Bilmes recalls a similar historical fact as cited by a US media.

In 2001 in an effort to expand the US Military ranks prior to the Iraq war, Washington had increased military benefits. This decision and the nation-building initiatives endorsed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan will generate expenses for years to come, Bilmes notes as cited by a US mass media.

An earlier study performed in 2011 by Brown University’s Eisenhower Research Project estimated the total war costs at $4 trillion.

Another side of the wars is human costs. The estimates are that some 300,000 people have died directly from the warfare, including approximately 125,000 civilians in Iraq.

M.D

Qaeda Dominates Syrian Opposition- German Intelligence Chief

MOSCOW, (ST)_ German Intelligence Chief Gerhard Schindler  stressed that the impact of terrorists associated with "Al Qaeda" is increasing among  the ranks  of Syrian opposition.

 (Russia Today)  online quoted Schindler as saying in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt , " Structures linked to al-Qaeda terrorist are active in Syria , where thousands of  fighters from" al-Nusra Front , " has an  increasing role in the armed confrontation with the Syrian army forces."

Worthy mentioning that  evidences  on terrorist activity by  al-Qaeda in Syria are numerous  and al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front claimed responsibilities for dozens of terrorist bombings that targeted Syrian  innocent citizens and state institutions.

 

T. Fateh

Pope Francis: Peace for Dear Syria

Pope Francis has delivered a passionate plea for peace in his first Easter Sunday message since being elected.

Francis used his "Urbi et Orbi" address to call for peace in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and across the globe.

He singled out "dear Syria", calling for a political solution for the crisis.

Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar and pilgrims have attended church across the world, according to the BBC.

In past years there have been two parts to the Pope's Easter message - a heartfelt appeal for peace in the world's trouble spots, and multilingual greetings to the crowds thronging St Peter's Square.

There were 250,000 people from more than 100 countries present this morning.

But Pope Francis decided to cut the vernacular greetings.

He is, of course, most comfortable speaking his native Spanish, and he is also completely fluent in Italian as his family is from Piedmont in northern Italy.

Pope Francis was, however, almost incomprehensible when he tried out a few words in English to the crowds in St Peter's Square last week.

So he decided not to read out the "Happy Easter" greetings that had been prepared for him in 65 different languages including difficult-to-pronounce oriental tongues.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict used to struggle to pronounce even a short phrase in Burmese, Chinese or Korean, Pope Francis chose not even to try.

Pope Francis concluded by saying: "Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st Century."

M.D