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Civilian deaths in Afghan war hit record in 2018

KABUL: More civilians were killed in the Afghan war in 2018 than during any other year on record after nearly two decades of fighting, according to a UN report released Sunday.
The report’s release comes a day before the US and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace along with fears that an American withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war.The talks in Doha follow years of escalating violence in Afghanistan. According to the UN, at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the last decade when the organisation began compiling the data.
The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the “deliberate targeting of civilians”, according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by insurgents allied with the Taliban or Islamic State (IS).”It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.”The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting,” he said. At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 — the majority hitting Kabul — with militants responsible for the death of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.
An increase in air strikes by US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by “aerial operations for the first time on record”, the report noted.The US intensified its air campaign against Taliban and IS fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the militants, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were “wholly unacceptable” and called on all parties to take “immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed”.Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.
The escalating violence comes as US President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.Marathon talks held in Doha in January sparked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides agreed to a “draft framework” that included a Taliban vow to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups.But US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — who is leading the American side negotiating with the Taliban — has emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground. Critics remain skeptical of the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.
Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent from 2017 with 3,804 people killed and another 7,189 wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across the war-torn country.The report’s release comes a day before the US and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace along with fears that an American withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war.
The talks in Doha follow years of escalating violence in Afghanistan. According to the UN, at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the last decade when the organisation began compiling the data.
The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the “deliberate targeting of civilians”, according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by insurgents allied with the Taliban or Islamic State (IS).”It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.
“The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting,” he said. At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 — the majority hitting Kabul — with militants responsible for the death of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.An increase in air strikes by US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by “aerial operations for the first time on record”, the report noted.The US intensified its air campaign against Taliban and IS fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the militants, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.
Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were “wholly unacceptable” and called on all parties to take “immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed”.Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.The escalating violence comes as US President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.Marathon talks held in Doha in January sparked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides agreed to a “draft framework” that included a Taliban vow to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups.But US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — who is leading the American side negotiating with the Taliban  has emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground. Critics remain skeptical of the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.

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Thousands of Venezuela volunteers receive US aid

CARACAS: Thousands of volunteers in Venezuela will begin mobilizing on Sunday to bring American aid into their crisis-hit country despite a blockade by President Nicolas Maduro who claims the assistance could be cover for a US invasion.
But even as the political battle pitting Guaido against Maduro continued to deepen, Caracas confirmed talks had taken place with an envoy for US President Donald Trump’s administration.The oil-rich country’s economic meltdown under Maduro has left millions in poverty facing shortages of medicine and food, with hyperinflation making purchases impossible.US aid that has been piling up in the Colombian border town of Cucuta has become the frontline of the confrontation between Guaido and Maduro.
“Venezuela is preparing for the humanitarian avalanche,” Guaido told about 4,000 supporters clad in white T-shirts and green scarves who gathered Saturday to sign up as volunteers.The throng included doctors, nurses and students.Six hundred thousand people have registered to help bring aid in through border points, Guaido told the Caracas rally, asking the volunteers to meet in town councils on Sunday to get instructions about the process.Without revealing details that could jeopardize the operation, Guaido said volunteer brigades will travel in a bus caravan to entry points for the aid which he wants to come in next Saturday.
Coromoto Crespo, 58, told AFP he volunteered because of the urgent need for supplies. “To find medicines requires a miracle.I need tablets for high blood pressure, and what I find, I cant pay for,” Crespo said.”One of my relatives died because of a lack of antibiotics.” Guaido has targeted February 23 for entry of the aid, more of which arrived for the stockpile on Saturday. Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons (tonnes) of food assistance to Cucuta.
Another US aircraft is due in the Caribbean island of Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido’s team said. The US shipment Saturday was accompanied by a delegation led by Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development.
US assistance has been blocked by containers which Maduro loyalists placed on a border bridge to prevent access. On another front, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza confirmed having held two meetings with special US envoy Elliott Abrams.
Arreaza, who traveled to New York on February 13, said he held the talks with Abrams at the request of the State Department. He declined to comment on the substance of their discussions.Guaido repeated his call on Venezuelas military — whose support for Maduro has been crucial — to let the aid pass. “You have, in your hands, the possibility of fighting alongside the people who are suffering the same shortages you are,” Guaido said in a tweet addressed to soldiers.A State Department spokeswoman, Julie Chung, issued a similar plea during a news conference in Cucuta, urging the military to stand aside at a time when Venezuelans are “dying of hunger.”Maduro asserts that aid could be used as a way for the United States to invade.
He called for reinforced border security and dismissed the arriving “crumbs” as “rotten and contaminated food.”On Friday Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.He said he would examine “what new forces” might be needed to keep the frontier “inviolable.”Maduro has assailed the US aid as a “show” but Arreaza said he would be willing to meet with “the devil” if it helped ensure Venezuelan sovereignty.About 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015 as the crisis intensified, according to the United Nations.Guaido accuses Maduro of being a “usurper” over his controversial reelection last year in polls widely branded as fraudulent. Maduro, the hand-picked successor to socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, blames Venezuelas woes on US sanctions, more of which were added on Friday.He said six million families had benefited from subsidized food boxes and he claimed to have bought 933 tons of medicines and medical supplies from China, Cuba and Russia, his main international allies. “We paid for it with our own money because we’re beggars to no one,” Maduro said.

Once-wealthy Venezuela is gripped by a power struggle between socialist leader Maduro and Juan Guaido, the head of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself interim president last month and now has the backing of more than 50 countries.But even as the political battle pitting Guaido against Maduro continued to deepen, Caracas confirmed talks had taken place with an envoy for US President Donald Trump’s administration.The oil-rich country’s economic meltdown under Maduro has left millions in poverty facing shortages of medicine and food, with hyperinflation making purchases impossible.US aid that has been piling up in the Colombian border town of Cucuta has become the frontline of the confrontation between Guaido and Maduro.
“Venezuela is preparing for the humanitarian avalanche,” Guaido told about 4,000 supporters clad in white T-shirts and green scarves who gathered Saturday to sign up as volunteers.The throng included doctors, nurses and students.Six hundred thousand people have registered to help bring aid in through border points, Guaido told the Caracas rally, asking the volunteers to meet in town councils on Sunday to get instructions about the process.Without revealing details that could jeopardize the operation, Guaido said volunteer brigades will travel in a bus caravan to entry points for the aid which he wants to come in next Saturday.
Coromoto Crespo, 58, told AFP he volunteered because of the urgent need for supplies. “To find medicines requires a miracle.I need tablets for high blood pressure, and what I find, I can´t pay for,” Crespo said.”One of my relatives died because of a lack of antibiotics.” Guaido has targeted February 23 for entry of the aid, more of which arrived for the stockpile on Saturday. Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons (tonnes) of food assistance to Cucuta.Another US aircraft is due in the Caribbean island of Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido’s team said. The US shipment Saturday was accompanied by a delegation led by Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development.US assistance has been blocked by containers which Maduro loyalists placed on a border bridge to prevent access. On another front, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza confirmed having held two meetings with special US envoy Elliott Abrams.
Arreaza, who traveled to New York on February 13, said he held the talks with Abrams at the request of the State Department. He declined to comment on the substance of their discussions.Guaido repeated his call on Venezuela´s military  whose support for Maduro has been crucial — to let the aid pass. “You have, in your hands, the possibility of fighting alongside the people who are suffering the same shortages you are,” Guaido said in a tweet addressed to soldiers.A State Department spokeswoman, Julie Chung, issued a similar plea during a news conference in Cucuta, urging the military to stand aside at a time when Venezuelans are “dying of hunger.”Maduro asserts that aid could be used as a way for the United States to invade.He called for reinforced border security and dismissed the arriving “crumbs” as “rotten and contaminated food.”On Friday Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.He said he would examine “what new forces” might be needed to keep the frontier “inviolable.”Maduro has assailed the US aid as a “show” but Arreaza said he would be willing to meet with “the devil” if it helped ensure Venezuelan sovereignty.About 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015 as the crisis intensified, according to the United Nations.Guaido accuses Maduro of being a “usurper” over his controversial reelection last year in polls widely branded as fraudulent. Maduro, the hand-picked successor to socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, blames Venezuela´s woes on US sanctions, more of which were added on Friday.He said six million families had benefited from subsidized food boxes and he claimed to have bought 933 tons of medicines and medical supplies from China, Cuba and Russia, his main international allies. “We paid for it with our own money because we’re beggars to no one,” Maduro said.

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