The U.S. is increasing both arms and training assistance to the Syrian rebels. Advocates of the program say they hope to change the situation on the ground, others doubt it will help much.
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President Obama is in Japan for the start of his four-nation Asia visit. The trip aims to assure U.S. allies that they’re not forgotten, even as China gets more bullish with its neighbors.
hide captionAn Afghan police officer kept watch Thursday at the gate of the Cure hospital in Kabul. Earlier, authorities say, a security guard at the hospital opened fire — killing three American citizens.
Shah Marai /AFP/Getty Images
Shah Marai /AFP/Getty Images
Three American citizens were killed Thursday at a Christian organization’s hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, when an Afghan security guard opened fire. Another American citizen was reportedly wounded.
Government spokesman Sediq Sediqqi says the gunman was shot and wounded and is now under arrest, NPR’s Sean Carberry reports from Kabul. His gunshot wound may have been self-inflicted.
As Sean tells our Newscast Desk:
“Attacks on foreigners have been on the rise this year. Last month, the Taliban attacked the guesthouse of an American aid organization — it turned out the intended target had been a neighboring Christian guesthouse. Earlier this month, an Afghan police commander opened fire on two Associated Press journalists, killing one and seriously wounding the other.”
“Over the past three months, as Afghanistan is in the midst of electing a new president, 20 foreigners have been killed in separate attacks targeting civilians. The attacks have occurred at a popular restaurant, an upscale hotel and other venues where foreigners congregate.
“The Taliban has taken credit for much of the violence, including one March 20 assault on the Serena Hotel in Kabul, which killed nine people, including two Canadians.
“The violence is accelerating the pace at which foreigners are fleeing Kabul, which until recently has provided relative security for aid workers, journalists and civilian contractors.
“With Thursday’s shooting, the dangers facing foreigners is heightened by what appears to be growing incidents of random attacks by Afghan security officials.”
The site of Thursday’s attack was a hospital run by Cure International, which is based in Lemoyne, Pa. One goal of Cure’s hospital in Kabul is to transform the lives “of children with disabilities and their families in Afghanistan through medical and spiritual healing.”
The Associated Press is referring to those who were killed as “three doctors.” Sean reports that according to the Afghan ministry of health the three Americans were a child specialist who has been working in the hospital for seven years, and “his two guests,” who were a father and son and may also have been medical workers. He also reports that the ministry says a woman, an American citizen, was wounded.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul says in a statement that “with great sadness we confirm that three Americans were killed in the attack on CURE Hospital.”
The Obama administration said Tuesday it has certified that Egypt is upholding its 35-year-old peace treaty with Israel and therefore qualifies for some military and counterterrorism assistance.
Secretary of State John Kerry informed Egypt’s foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, of the decision in a telephone call, crediting the Egyptian government with sustaining its strategic relationship with the United States and fulfilling its obligations to Israel, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The decision clears the way for the release of Apache helicopters to Egypt, which the United States has held up since July when the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informed Egypt’s defense minister, Col. Gen. Sedki Sobhi, of President Barack Obama’s decision to deliver the Apaches in support of Egypt’s counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, the Pentagon said.
“The secretary noted that we believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian and Israeli security,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in outlining Hagel’s call to his Egyptian counterpart. “This is one element of the president’s broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build their capacity to counter terrorist threats, and is the United States’ national security interest.”
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, said in a statement late Tuesday that she was encouraged by the decision to deliver the helicopters, saying it was a critical time to support Egypt as it moves toward elections and deals with security challenges.
“As Egypt continues its transition toward a new democratic government, the United States must work with the government of Egypt and support the Egyptian people,” Granger said.
Beyond the Apaches, the move allows the U.S. also to release some of its annual $1.3 billion military assistance package to Egypt, specifically those parts dealing with security in the Sinai Peninsula and counterterrorism efforts.
Kerry was to meet Egypt’s intelligence chief in Washington on Wednesday.
The notification deals specifically with Egypt’s adherence to the Camp David Accords and not its progression toward democratic rule.
Psaki said Kerry “noted that he is not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition. He urged Egypt to follow through on its commitment to transition to democracy, including by conducting free, fair and transparent elections, and easing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and the media.”
The administration notified Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid. Leahy has written legislative language restricting military aid to Egypt. He has argued that U.S. law is clear: When a military coup occurs, U.S. aid should be cut off.
The administration’s decision means aid is now flowing to the Egyptian military.
Sending a full certification to Congress for the resumption of Egypt aid would signal U.S. approval for Egypt’s path toward a return to democracy.
Once Kerry issues that certification, the U.S. can resume other military and civilian assistance programs.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.
In some of the towns where pro-Moscow militants have occupied government buildings, it is clear that someone is giving orders. In other places, a state of near chaos reigns.
hide captionProtesters play chess in Independence Square in Kiev last winter. Some would say that Russian President Putin is playing geopolitical chess when it comes to Ukraine.
The game of chess is a national pastime in Russia. And you might say that Vladimir Putin is playing a high-stakes game of geopolitical chess when it comes to Ukraine.
Western leaders are plotting how to counter Putin’s latest moves with economic sanctions. So to get some insight into what might come next, we talked to an economist who knows Russia — who is also extremely good at chess.
Putin Playing From A Weak Position
Kenneth Rogoff is a world-renowned economist and professor at Harvard. He was also recognized as a chess prodigy when he was a teenager and became a chess grandmaster when he was 25.
Back in his chess-playing days — and later as an economist — Rogoff made friends across Russia and Ukraine — including Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion who also ran against Vladimir Putin for president.
“Putin is playing from a very weak position,” says Rogoff of Putin’s game plan. “But he’s very good at it. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to win. A really strong chess player doesn’t need a good position to win.”
Putin’s position is weak because Russia’s economy is weak, Rogoff says: It’s too dependent on oil exports, which aren’t supporting a decent standard of living for most of the country. Corruption is rampant, and most industries are not competitive with the rest of the world.
Most Russians live in near poverty by U.S. or European standards.
Russia has a large military, but an actual war with the West is extremely unlikely.
“It’s going to be an economic war, [as] far as we’re willing to push it,” says Rogoff of this contest.
Putin’s Style Of Play — Good Tactics, Bad Strategy?
In chess, you also want to know your opponent’s style of play. So, what kind of player is Putin?
Chess players draw a distinction between strategy and tactics, Rogoff says.
Strategy is “where you’re really looking far down the road: If I take the Ukraine, what does that really do for me? Does that make me better off?” he explains.
Tactics, on the other hand, “are very short-term ways to gain pieces and positions,” he says. “He’s a master of the tactics. He sort of sees a few moves ahead and he’s very good at it. But what is the long term strategy? It’s really hard to see.”
So far Putin’s move to grab Crimea has helped and hurt him. It helped by making him more popular at home in the short-term, the former grand master says.
But longer term, taking Crimea is probably hurting, he says. Nervous investors are pulling tens of billions of dollars out of Russia. Russia now has to support Crimea, and it is a poor region. The West is imposing economic sanctions, and if they haven’t been tough so far, they may get tougher.
That leads Rogoff to think that Putin has not carved out a long-term strategy.
“I just don’t see it,” he says. “This definitely seems like they’re flailing out, looking to try to grab some pieces, grab some territory, without thinking what they’re going to do with it.”
Putin’s End Game: Russian Pride
So what is the ultimate goal behind his moves? Rogoff says, “I think there’s no question the end game for him, what he’s looking for, is pride.”
Rogoff thinks Putin is most interested in returning some greatness to Russia. He says, “I understand he has portraits of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great in his office and I suppose he would like to have [himself] thought of in those terms — of restoring greatness to Russia.”
If Putin’s weakness is the economy and his end-game is pride, Rogoff suggests the West should show Putin an opening, something bigger than a few pieces in Ukraine
“The best thing for us is if Russia starts doing well and feel that they’re benefiting from the world order,” he says.
So what moves should the West make to push Russia in that direction? Rogoff says world leaders are still trying to figure that out.
A key part of that strategy is the Trans Pacific Partnership — a free trade agreement among 12 Asian-Pacific nations. The trade pact would influence geopolitics and the reshape global trade.
Many in the Eastern Ukraine town have close links with Russia. They say they weren’t consulted about Ukraine moving closer to the EU, and they won’t stand for the West dictating their future.
The oil and natural gas that Egypt depends on for power generation is heavily subsidized. But the state doesn’t want to raise prices and anger a population already frustrated by political uncertainty.
Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s most famous journalists, was shot and wounded by gunmen as he was driving down a busy street in Karachi. It’s the second such attack this month on a journalist.