KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. and Afghan governments vowed Sunday to jointly investigate the attack on a hospital in Kunduz that killed 22 people, as street-by street battles continued between government forces and Taliban fighters and officials warned of a looming humanitarian crisis for civilians trapped in the city
Amid accusations that U.S. jet fighters were responsible for what Doctors Without Borders said was a “sustained bombing” of their trauma center in Kunduz, President Barack Obama and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani promised investigations. Obama said he expected a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the bombing, and that he would wait for those results before making a judgment. He said the U.S. would continue working with Afghanistan’s government and its overseas partners to promote security in Afghanistan.
Some top U.S. officials said the circumstances surrounding the incident remain murky, but others indicated the U.S. may have been responsible. Army Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan, said Saturday that a U.S. airstrike “in the Kunduz vicinity” around 2:15 a.m. Saturday morning “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”
U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said American special operations forces advising Afghan commandos in the vicinity of the hospital requested the air support when they came under fire in Kunduz. The officials said the AC-130 gunship responded and fired on the area, but U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said it’s not certain yet whether that was what destroyed the hospital.
The officials were not authorized to discuss the incident publicly. They also said the senior U.S. military investigator is in Kunduz but hasn’t yet been able to get to the site because it continues to be a contested area between the Afghans and the Taliban militants.
Carter, speaking to reporters traveling with him on a trip to Spain, said, “The situation there is confused and complicated, so it may take some time to get the facts, but we will get the facts.”
Carter said he believes the U.S. will have better information in the coming days, once U.S. and international investigators get access to the hospital site.
Doctors Without Borders issued a statement Sunday expressing its “clear assumption that a war crime has been committed,” after earlier saying that “all indications” were that the international coalition was responsible for the early Saturday morning bombing. While NATO maintains a significant military role in Afghanistan, airstrikes are conducted by U.S. forces
Christopher Stokes, the charity’s general director, said the organization is demanding an independent investigation and may not be satisfied with an inquiry conducted by the U.S. and Afghan governments.
Using the organization’s French acronym, Stokes said, “MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body. Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.”
The charity said that the main hospital building in the sprawling compound, “where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched.” It earlier said that bombing had lasted an hour, and repeated calls to NATO and the U.S. military to call off the strikes had failed.
On Sunday, the organization announced that three injured hospital patients had died, bringing the total death toll to 22, including 12 hospital staffers. It earlier said that three of the dead were children in the intensive care unit. The charity also announced it was withdrawing from Kunduz.
Afghan officials said earlier that helicopter gunships had returned fire from Taliban fighters who were hiding in the hospital. But Kate Stegeman, the charity’s communications manager, said there were no insurgents in the facility at the time of the bombing.
Meanwhile the humanitarian crisis in the city, which briefly fell to the Taliban last week before the government launched a counteroffensive, has been growing increasingly dire, with shops shuttered because of ongoing fighting and roads made impassable by mines planted by insurgents.
The Taliban seized Kunduz last Monday but have since withdrawn from much of the city after a government counterattack. Sporadic battles continue as troops attempt to clear remaining pockets of militants.
The Taliban’s brief seizure of Kunduz marked the insurgent group’s biggest foray into a major urban area since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ended their rule.
Afghan forces have been struggling to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO shifted to a support and training role at the end of last year, officially ending their combat mission in the war-torn country.
A Kunduz resident who gave his name only as Habibullah said the Afghan flag was flying over the central square — contrary to reports that it had been retaken by the insurgents. Gun battles were being fought in three districts on the outskirts of town, he said.
Acting provincial Gov. Hamidullah Danishi said most of the insurgents had fled the city and that those still standing their ground appeared to be what he called “foreigners,” non-Afghans who have been boosting Taliban forces in the north of the country for some months. Officials have said that many of them are from Central Asian states, members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Danishi said that 480 Taliban fighters had been killed as of Friday, and around 300 wounded. He put casualties among Afghan security forces at between 30 and 35 killed or wounded.
Thousands of civilian residents remain trapped inside the disputed city. Local television showed live footage of police officers handing bread to children, one of whom said he had not eaten for three days.
The deputy head of the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority, Aslam Sayas, said he was aware of the growing humanitarian crisis inside Kunduz. “We are waiting for the security situation to improve to give us an opportunity to reach those needy people,” he said.
Saad Mukhar, the Kunduz provincial public health director, estimates that more than 70 people have been killed and more than 500 wounded in the city since the fighting began.
“I’m afraid that if this situation continues, we will not be able to help our patients because right now we are facing a serious, drastic shortage of medicine,” he said.
Associated Press writers Humayoon Babur and Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan and Lolita C. Baldor in Madrid contributed to this report.
This story deletes a reference to weaponry in the hospital windows as seen in AP video after further review of the images cast doubt on whether they were rifles and a machine gun or simply charred debris from the bombing.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s President Bashar Assad said in comments Sunday that the air campaign by Russia against “terrorists” in his country must succeed or the whole region will be destroyed, stressing that the fight against terrorism must precede a political process.
In the interview with Iran’s Khabar TV, Assad also accused Western nations of fueling the refugee crisis and said the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State group will only spark more instability in his country and the region.
These were Assad’s first comments since Russia launched its air campaign against multiple armed groups in Syria Wednesday. While the IS controls large swaths of eastern Syria, the Russian attacks have largely focused on the northwestern and central provinces — the gateways to the heartland of Assad’s power in the capital and on the Mediterranean coast. Russia’s only naval base outside of its territories is also located on the coast, in the Syrian city of Tartus.
On Sunday, a suicide attack in the center of Homs city, controlled by the government, killed one person and injured 18 others, state TV said. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement circulated by supporters on Twitter. This is the first such attack by the militant group in Homs following the start of the Russian campaign, which has hit parts of the province controlled by rebel groups. But an ancient town in Homs province, which is controlled by IS, was spared.
Assad said the Russian campaign has the potential to succeed because it is supported by Iran and has international, if not Western, support. He called on countries that support the armed opposition to stop, which would increase the chances of the campaign to succeed.
“It must succeed or we are facing the destruction of a whole region, and not a country or two,” he said. “The chances for success are large, not small.”
He said the Russian intervention is open-ended, and was planned in cooperation with the Syrian military.
Syria’s war is entering its fifth year, with at least 250,000 people killed and half of the pre-war population on the move— 4 million refugees and 8 million internally displaced.
Assad has accused Western countries, neighboring Turkey and some Gulf states of fuelling the war by supporting the armed opposition, all of which he calls terrorists. Militant groups the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, are among the strongest groups operating in Syria. But there are dozens of other rebel groups, some western-backed and armed, fighting against Assad and the IS.
Assad said combatting terrorism is “the basis for any solution in Syria.”
“The only solution for us is to strike at terrorism. Implementing any solution or political ideas agreed upon will need a state of stability. Otherwise it will have no value,” he said.
Russia said it is launching its campaign to target IS and other terrorists groups, but some of the targets so far have included Western-backed groups. A top official with Russia’s general staff, Col.-Gen. Andrei Kartapolov, said Saturday that militants are leaving the areas they control in panic, estimating that 600 of them have left their positions and are trying to reach Europe. It was not clear how the Russians were able to determine their intended destination. He vowed that the air campaign will intensify in the coming days.
On Sunday, the fifth day of the air campaign, Russia said its warplanes had carried out 20 missions in the past day, attacking Islamic State positions in the northwestern province of Idlib. The province is controlled by a rebel coalition known as Jaish al-Fatah, which includes the Nusra Front, but not IS. The statement also said the warplanes attacked a training camp in Raqqa province, which is controlled by the Islamic State group.
Activists reported raids on Sunday in the central province of Homs, where at least two children and a shepherd were killed in the town of Talbiseh and nearby areas. A video posted on an activist media platform posted showed panicked residents fleeing.
Assad has in recent months suffered a series of battlefield setbacks, conceding that his army has had to relinquish some areas in the north to be able to better defend core areas seen as more critical to the government. Some say Russia’s campaign is essentially a mission to prop up the embattled president. President Barack Obama on Friday vehemently rejected Russia’s military actions in Syria, saying the campaign will only strengthen IS.
Assad said the U.S.-led coalition against IS has failed to achieve any results. “I don’t think that coalition will achieve anything except a certain balance between those forces on the ground to keep the fire raging.”
Assad said that the West’s failure to achieve its goals in Syria has forced them to change their positions on excluding him from a future political settlement. In recent weeks, some European officials said Assad must be part of a negotiated settlement to the conflict— a position rejected by the Syrian opposition, the U.S., and Gulf allies.
In the more than hour long interview, Assad said it is up to the Syrian people to decide who rules the country and under what political system, not foreign leaders.
“What is for certain is that the Western officials are lost, lack clarity of vision and are feeling the failure of their plots (toward Syria),” he said. “The only goal that was realized … is the destruction of much infrastructure in Syria, shedding lots of blood.”
Now, the Western governments are paying the price of their failed policy in Syria, he said, because terrorism has been exported to them as well as a huge influx of refugees.
Assad blasted Western countries, accusing them of fuelling terrorism by supporting rebel groups, and ultimately the refugee crisis.
“In reality, they are the biggest contributor for reaching this stage by supporting terrorism and imposing a siege on Syria,” he said, in reference to Western countries. “They attack terrorism but they are terrorists in their policies either by imposing the siege of by supporting the terrorists.”
Over a half million people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, more than double the figure for all of 2014, most of whom are Syrians.
European countries have grappled with the crisis, described as the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer James Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The only gun store in San Francisco is shuttering for good, saying it can no longer operate in the city’s political climate of increased gun control regulations and vocal opposition to its business.
The High Bridge Arms will close Oct. 31. It first opened in 1952 and has served as San Francisco’s only gun store in the city since 1999.
Manager Steve Alcairo says the store’s owner decided to close after a law was proposed that would require High Bridge to video record every gun sale and report every ammunition transaction to the police department.
Alcairo said the proposal would add more paperwork to the burdensome steps already required to comply with local, state and federal regulations.
San Francisco Board of Supervisor member Mark Farrell said his proposal is meant to help combat gun crime.
Have you ever wondered what life on Mars could be like? Did you envision how people could live, what technologies they could use and how they would survive?
Then read on because this project might just be for you.
According to information on the NASA website, Imagine Mars is a “hands-on, STEM-based project that asks students to work with NASA scientists and engineers to imagine and design a community on Mars, then express their ideas through the arts and humanities, integrating 21st Century skills.” There’s a place for everyone, whether you are interested in Design Arts, Performance Arts, Visual Arts or Language Arts.
Schools — individual K-12 classes or school-wide teams
Out-of-school groups — mixed-grade teams in extra-curricular organizations such as, after-school arts and science clubs
Community organizations — mixed-grade teams in programs sponsored by museums, libraries, local businesses and local civic organizations
You can get all information you need about getting started on your creative project here.
Image Source: NASA
Watch the NASA video below to learn what it actually takes to get a spacecraft to Mars:
BANGKOK (AP) — At a military facility outside Bangkok, a drill sergeant barks orders at a group of film students learning the hard way that creative license has its limits in Thailand.
“You are here to learn discipline,” the officer shouted. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir!” shouted back the group of 53 aspiring artists — boys with shaggy hair, girls with tattoos and yoga pants.
“Discipline means respecting the rules and regulations,” he told them. “If you misbehave, you must be punished.”
In military-ruled Thailand, this is how university hazing is handled. The offense: a video posted online that showed a half-dozen fully clothed freshman doing an erotic couples dance as upperclassmen cheered. Social media dubbed it a “love-making dance.” The punishment: three days of boot camp for a new type of disciplinary punishment known as “attitude adjustment.”
The military junta that seized power over a year ago pioneered the idea of “attitude adjustment” as a technique to silence critics. The junta summons politicians and others who voice dissent to military bases where they are typically incarcerated several days, interrogated and made to “confess” to their transgressions and sign a contract to not repeat them — a practice that has been widely criticized by human rights groups.
Now there are signs that the mentality of military rule is being applied to civilian issues — like college discipline.
For the students from the film school of Bangkok’s Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, a three-day boot camp included reprimands, public humiliation and a grueling endurance test.
“We’re not telling our film students don’t make creative films, but in Thailand there are social limits. They need to be creative within the limits,” said Chin Tangtarntana, a lecturer in cinematography and one of several professors who chaperoned the 3-day session last month that included silent meals and group lodging on a barrack floor lined with mattresses. “We have to reset their clocks. That’s why we’re here, to rewind. We’re saying, ‘Go back. Start over. OK, now be creative.'”
After a 2-hour bus drive northeast of the capital to the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, a 33-square-kilometer (20-square-mile) facility surrounded by mountains, the students’ cellphones were confiscated to ensure no outside communication and primarily to prevent more videos, Chin said.
“The activities that will take place here will be good for you, and help you to become civilized people. Do you understand?” the drill sergeant, Sgt. Maj. Kongsak Klaeiklang, asked rhetorically. He led what he called an “ice-breaking” session that bore close resemblance to hazing: An overweight female student was singled out as a “hippopotamus” as others were told to “dance like hippos.” Team games ended with the losers ordered to “walk like elephants,” bent over in a human chain, clutching each other’s hands between legs.
Then they were driven to a steamy, mosquito-infested jungle. Under a steady rainfall, the students were put through a different type of hazing.
Loud bangs exploded in the distance, and the students were ordered to run.
“Faster! Just keep breathing, you won’t die,” shouted Kongsak, after one student nearly fainted and was allowed to sit on the sidelines. He then ordered them to “DROP!” and crawl on their stomachs through muddy puddles and at one point to hurdle a barricade of fire.
“The idea is to break them down. Break down their ego. Humiliate them. And then we build them back up,” Kongsak said, as soldiers led small groups on an arduous 5-kilometer (3-mile) jungle trek that included scaling rope ladders and balancing on swinging logs to cross a river.
The boot camp incident sparked little public uproar in a country where the education system has always had a militaristic streak — public schools have mandatory uniforms, hair must be kept short and some teachers still wield bamboo canes to enforce discipline through secondary school. Problem teens in violent high-school gangs have been sent to boot camps in the past.
But using the military to punish university hazing is a new approach, which commentators say sends a chilling message that the military is needed to solve society’s problems even at institutions of higher learning.
“This order to the students to report to a military base is at least as inappropriate as the hazing incident,” the Bangkok Post said in a recent editorial on the subject. The university “lost a little public respect with the hazing violation. It continues to lose even more respect with its reaction.”
The very same university was also home to last year’s infamous hazing ritual, which involved upperclassmen dripping hot candle wax on incoming freshman and burning the arms of several students. But in that case where bodily harm was actually caused nobody was punished, the editorial noted.
Critics say the hazing case highlights a trend toward militarization of Thai society under the junta, where those in charge don’t believe that “attitude adjustment” will actually brainwash people — but the aim is to intimidate and discourage the outspoken from speaking out.
The former army chief who led the coup, Prayuth Chan-ocha, and is now serving as interim leader has launched a crackdown on dissent and has blocked public discussions about democracy. He regularly lashes out at those who question his authority and warns the public to stop asking for elections, which he says won’t be held until 2017.
Hundreds of politicians, journalists, professors and other critics have been hauled in for “attitude adjustment” in the name of maintaining peace and order.
“People who say bad things and cause harm with their words, should they say those things?” Prayuth said to reporters last month, defending the latest round of political detentions that included a three-day incarceration of a prominent journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk, and two politicians. “You cannot oppose me. No one will let you to do that.”
Social commentator Sanitsuda Ekachai called it a sign of the times that the rector of a university chose to resort to military-style “attitude adjustment.”
“When someone in his position believes that militarism is the answer … it explains why the military still retains a strong grip on society,” Sanitsuda wrote in a column for The Bangkok Post. In a separate column, she wrote that educators who rely on military discipline are sending a stifling message: “Those who resist will be punished. The country is heading full force toward being a military state.”
Whether or not attitude adjustment works on students appears to depend on the individual.
An exhausted freshman, Natdanai Kedsanga, 20, ended the first day of boot camp with a realization.
“We were having too much fun, that was the problem,” said about the video in which he was one of the dancers. “Now that I think about it, maybe it wasn’t appropriate.”
Pongpat Puchiangdang, a university senior, said the attitude adjustment had taught him a lesson — if you want to do something socially unacceptable just don’t share it on social media.
“Stuff like this happens everywhere at all schools, and sometimes it’s even worse. They just don’t post it online,” said Pongpat, a 22-year-old aspiring cameraman. “I don’t think making that video was wrong. It’s a good memory. We just shouldn’t have publicized it.”
Associated Press journalist Nattasuda Anusonadisai contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton was endorsed Saturday by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor union, giving her campaign a boost in an increasingly competitive Democratic primary race.
With 3 million members, the NEA’s support will help Clinton in her primary bid against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has galvanized liberal Democrats and announced this week he had raised nearly as much money as Clinton during the past three months.
“We chose Hillary Clinton because she chose kids. She’s had kids in her heart from pre-school to graduate school,” said NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia in a phone interview. She said Clinton addressed the 175-member NEA board on Saturday for more than an hour, answering questions about testing, special education and college affordability.
Many rank-and-file union members have backed Sanders and pressured labor leaders not to endorse Clinton with four months remaining before the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Eskelsen Garcia said 75 percent of the union’s board supported Clinton and the union felt it could have more influence by endorsing during the primaries. The NEA declined to issue an endorsement in the 2008 primaries, waiting until Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination to offer support.
Clinton has outlined plans to bolster early childhood education by creating a universal pre-K system and boosting money for Head Start education programs. Thanking the union, Clinton said in a statement she would “ensure that teachers always have a voice and a seat at the table.”
Sanders did not address the NEA board but, like Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, was interviewed by Eskelsen Garcia, submitted a questionnaire and recorded a video statement that aired during the union’s summer convention.
Sanders said in a statement he was proud to have the support of “many hundreds of thousands” of NEA members and trade unionists across the nation.
The former secretary of state has been endorsed by eight labor unions, accounting for about 7 million members, including both of the nation’s teachers’ unions. The American Federation of Teachers was the first labor union to endorse Clinton, during the summer.
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