The search continues after El Faro, a 790-foot cargo ship, sank last Thursday in Hurricane Joaquin. One body has been found, but family members and search and rescue crews remain hopeful.
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The U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations reached an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Monday.
A significant increase in violence has led to the deaths of eight Israelis and Palestinians in recent days, highlighting tensions and prompting an Israeli security crackdown.
Updated at 12:55 p.m. ET
The Coast Guard says it has located several objects floating in the water near the spot in the Bahamas where a 790-foot cargo ship and its crew of 33 went missing last week after issuing a distress satellite notification amid hurricane-force winds and waves.
U.S. Coast Guard pilots searching for a third day for the El Faro — a roll-on, roll-off container ship — found life jackets, containers and an oil slick on the water.
A statement issued by the Coast Guard said that “[the] objects have not been confirmed to be from the El Faro at this time.” In an earlier statement, however, the Coast Guard said that a life ring was recovered earlier and that it verified to be from the ship.
The statement said that two HC-130 Hercules, the Cutter Northland and an MH-60 Jayhawk were involved in the search.
The El Faro, built in 1975, is variously described as 735 feet and 790 feet in length. It left Jacksonville, Fla., on Sept. 29. On Oct. 1, authorities received a satellite notification saying the vessel had lost propulsion and was listing in hurricane conditions off Crooked Island, Bahamas. The message said that the ship had been taking on water, but that all flooding had been contained.
The ship has a crew of 33, 28 of them Americans.
Smoke rises from Kunduz, Afghanistan on Thursday. Government forces have reportedly retaken the city after it was seized by the Taliban on Monday.
Taliban forces stormed the Afghan city of Kunduz on Monday; after several days of fighting, Afghan forces claimed to have retaken the city. But fighting continued, an on Saturday, a U.S.-led airstrike appears to have struck and badly damaged a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing doctors, staff members and patients.
The week of violence has put the city back in the headlines. But the region’s struggles aren’t new.
Over the past 12 years, the U.S. and NATO spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Kunduz province alone building up infrastructure, all in an effort to keep insurgents out. After U.S. combat forces left the country last year, Afghan national security forces were expected to take over the fight against insurgent groups still posing a threat.
But now that stability is threatened.
This week on For The Record: The fight to keep Kunduz. We hear from two people who were there 12 years ago and worked to stabilize the city, and who were then optimistic about the city’s future.
Matin Sarfraz, now a government worker based in Kabul
Fourteen years ago this week, U.S. forces launched air strikes in Afghanistan. Afghans like Matin Sarfraz, who was 16 at the time, grew hopeful that the Taliban would soon be defeated.
“My father was telling us that, ‘Hey guys, you’ll have schools, you’ll have work, you will have a better future,’ ” he says. “The international community came to Afghanistan. We’ll have a proper government you know? We’ll have no fighting.”
Sarfraz’s family had good reason to be optimistic: After the Taliban fell, international aid started flowing in.
The U.S.-led NATO mission set up a network of bases around the country called Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs. The Americans set up the PRT in Kunduz in 2003 and the Germans took over shortly thereafter. The teams, made up of international forces, civilian aid workers and development experts, created a lot of jobs for the young Afghan generation.
Philipp Ackermann, civilian head of the German PRT, 2006-2007
Ackermann says the northern region was relatively stable when he arrived to lead the PRT.
“We were very much in the civilian mode when we came and tried to really set up … better working institutions, [a] better working education system,” he says.
German official Philipp Ackermann gives a speech with military translator Mohamed Oda in 2006, while heading the Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Courtesy of the German Embassy
Courtesy of the German Embassy
Courtesy of the German Embassy
They built schools, government buildings, water and sanitation systems and health clinics. They even set up a radio station, where Sarfraz secured a job as a freelance reporter. It was a point of pride for both him and his family.
“Everyone was so happy to work with the internationals,” Sarfraz says.
While the east and the south of Afghanistan were active war zones, the north and Kunduz were relatively safe. The Taliban felt far away — until it wasn’t.
A Turning Point
Ackermann says when the PRT needed supplies, the staff went to the local bazaars. In May of 2007, three German soldiers were killed in an attack at a Kunduz bazaar after going in to buy a fridge.
“That was by far the saddest moment in my career in Kunduz,” he says of the attack. “That changed, of course, our regime to a certain extent. We were much more worried and concerned, and it changed a bit the mood of the population.”
A Lesson Learned: Security Vs. Development
As extremists made their way to the province from other parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ackermann started to realize infrastructure alone couldn’t keep Kunduz safe.
“We felt that when we improved on the development side, the security side would improve, and the other way around,” he says. But in reality, the opposite was true. “If security is there, you can improve on the development, but you can’t try to get security through development projects. That was a lesson we learned in spring 2007.”
After the attack in the Kunduz bazaar, German forces didn’t go out into the local communities as often. NGOs began pulling back, and international development projects were harder to get off the ground. Ackermann’s tour of duty was up a few months after the attack.
But Sarfraz didn’t have the choice to leave. Instead, he did everything he could to make a better life for his family, despite the changes in Kunduz. He studied hard, getting a master’s degree and eventually a job with the Afghan government in Kabul.
‘A Shocking Development’
But Kunduz is still Sarfraz’s home; his wife and kids still live there and he goes back often. In fact, he was in the province early Monday when Taliban forces made their advance.
“At 3 o’clock in the morning, I heard a very loud explosion, then a gunfire, so I woke up and my kids woke up and they were crying,” he says. “Then another explosion happened and another happened.”
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The next day his family hunkered down in their house while the fighting continued. Sarfraz finally made it back to Kabul for work, but his wife and children are still in Kunduz — and he’s afraid for them.
Both Sarfraz and Ackermann believed that Kunduz was exceptional — that this place, high up in the northern mountains of Afghanistan, would somehow remain insulated from the violence in other parts of the country.
“It’s a shocking development,” Ackermann says, “because it’s the first time that the Taliban really conquer a bigger city in Afghanistan, albeit only for two days, but it’s really a new scale. I am pretty sure that the Taliban are not in a position really to hold centers like this for a long time, but we have to acknowledge that they are very present and they have a very good strategy, apparently, and that’s frustrating.”
It is hard for Sarfraz to process what’s happened to his city — all the work over the past decade to build a stable Kunduz could be destroyed by the Taliban in just a few days.
“I can’t imagine if my city is back to that time when Taliban was in power in that city,” he says.
Sarfraz is desperately trying to find a way back to Kunduz to make sure his family is safe.
Three Takeaways, From NPR’s Rachel Martin
* We asked Phillip Ackerman how he thinks about the work that he and so many other Germans and Americans, civilians and military, did in Kunduz over the past 12 years. The schools, the clinics; if those projects don’t last, if Kunduz is made unstable by Taliban insurgents, does it mean his work was in vain?
He paused and told me, ‘That’s a very personal question.’ He pivoted quickly and talked about the need for an ongoing international presence in Afghanistan, but it was clear that he is having trouble reconciling all the money spent and lives lost with the reality in Kunduz right now.
* I happened to have been in Afghanistan in 2004 when Doctors Without Borders (MSF) made the announcement that the organization was pulling out after five of their staff were killed by insurgents. MSF had been working in Afghanistan for 24 years and prided itself on continuing to work in the country through years of civil war and violence. The 2004 attack changed things for the organization, and its leaders didn’t think they could afford to put their staff at risk.
It took five years for MSF to return to Afghanistan. The bombing this weekend of the MSF clinic in Kunduz killed 12 staff members — three times the number of staff killed in that 2004 attack. It’s unclear whether this tragedy will again push MSF out of Afghanistan.
* The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014. U.S. flags were lowered; there was a ceremony. But on Saturday, the Pentagon released the names of six airmen killed Friday when a C130 military plane crashed in Afghanistan. The Secretary of Defense is now calling for an investigation into the bombing of the MSF clinic that killed 19 people.
The official combat mission may be over but the war in Afghanistan is not.
Click on the audio link above to hear the full conversation.
The burned Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after explosions in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, on Saturday. Doctors Without Borders says 12 staff members and 10 patients were killed in the attack and 37 others wounded.
Updated at 3:25 p.m. ET
NATO in Afghanistan says it will lead an investigation into an airstrike in Kunduz this weekend that hit a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital, killing 22 people — an attack that the humanitarian organization, also known as Doctors Without Borders, has called “a war crime.”
A U.S.-led airstrike on the northern Afghan city was carried out on Saturday but the circumstances surrounding it remain murky. NATO acknowledges only that the raid occurred near the charity’s hospital.
As we reported yesterday, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan released a statement saying that the strike “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”
The NATO coalition says it “has directed a preliminary multi-national investigation known as a Casualty Assessment Team.” It says that an initial investigation would be complete in “a matter of days.”
“Additionally, the U.S. military has opened a formal investigation, headed by a General Officer, to conduct a thorough and comprehensive inquiry,” it said in a statement.
But MSF’s General Director Christopher Stokes, saying in a statement that the group operates “[under] the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed,” insisted that anything less than a fully independent probe of the incident would be unacceptable.
“Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient,” Stokes said.
“We reiterate that the main hospital building, 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. We condemn this attack, which constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law,” he said.
In an interview on Sunday’s Weekend All Things Considered, MSF Executive Director Jason Cone, said it has been the “darkest couple of days in our organization’s history.”
Speaking with WATC host Michel Martin, Cone reiterated Stokes’ description of the attack as “a war crime.”
“This was a known structure, and for that reason we have to presume until otherwise that this act is both a grave violation of humanitarian law, and can rise to the level of a war crime until we have an independent investigation that tells us otherwise,” he said.
Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) defines a war crime as “willful killing.” However, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says that “cases in which protected persons are killed as a result of acts of war — for example, the bombardment of a civilian hospital — are more difficult to class as [willful] killing: the question is left open.”
Answering an earlier claim by the Afghanistan’s interior minister that “terrorists” had been taking refuge in the hospital, Cone fired back:
“We do not run hospitals around the world allowing combatants to enter our facilities and militarize them,” he tells NPR. “That would be a red line for us. It puts both our patients and our staff at risk and we would never accept that under any circumstances.”
Kunduz, which briefly fell to the Taliban last week before a government counteroffensive, is reportedly experiencing a growing humanitarian crisis. Even so, MSF says it has all but abandoned its Kunduz hospital in the wake of the attack.
“All critical patients have been referred to other health facilities and no MSF staff are working in our hospital,” Kate Stegeman, the communications manager for MSF, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
“Some of our medical staff have gone to work in two hospitals where some of the wounded have been taken,” she said.
As the Afghan government struggles to retake Kunduz from the Taliban, suspected U.S. airstrikes have hit a Médecins Sans Frontières facility in the city. NPR’s Philip Reeves provides an update.
People watch the waves in a rainstorm at Atlantic Ocean at Carolina Beach, N.C., on Friday. Millions along the East Coast breathed a little easier after forecasters said Hurricane Joaquin would probably stay at sea instead of joining up with a drenching rainstorm that is bringing severe flooding to parts of the Atlantic Seaboard.
A National Hurricane Center graphic that shows a cone of likely storm tracks for Joaquin.
National Hurricane Center
National Hurricane Center
National Hurricane Center
Updated at 2:55 p.m. ET
Hurricane Joaquin is moving rapidly away from the Bahamas as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of 155 mph. Although forecasters say it will stay well offshore from the U.S. East Coast, Bermuda could be in the storm’s crosshairs.
Even without a direct hit on the Eastern Seaboard, severe flooding, partly from hurricane-generated rain, was is a big concern in the Carolinas.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is continuing the search for a 735-foot cargo ship carrying 33 crew, all but five Americans, that has been missing in the Bahamas since sending out a distress call early Thursday.
At 2 p.m. ET, the storm was located about 550 miles southwest of Bermuda. After virtually stalling over the Bahamas for days, the storm has finally picked up speed and was moving northeast at 18 mph, the National Hurricane Center says.
Parts of the Bahamas are under a hurricane warning and the Bermuda Weather Service as issued a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch for the Atlantic island. Joaquin could reach Bermuda –- an island that, despite its location, tends to be missed by most tropical storms — early Monday as a Category 1 storm.
The Miami Herald reports that “initial damage reports said roofs were ripped off, trees uprooted and utility poles downed” in the Bahamas, but that it was too early to do a complete assessment of the damage:
” ‘As the hurricane continues to cross some of our small islands, we are eagerly awaiting to hear about the outcome,’ said Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.
“Nearly two dozen homes in a settlement on Crooked Island were destroyed on Thursday, said Marvin Hanna, an Acklins representative.
” ‘At that time, vehicles were floating around and the water level was up to the windows of some homes,’ he said.”
Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami’s Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science writes in his blog: “Joaquin has devastated parts of the central Bahamas with nearly 2 feet of rain, destructive storm surge, tropical storm force winds for 3 days, and hurricane-force winds for 1.5 days. It will begin to clear up there today, so I’m sure we will start seeing more photos and videos of the aftermath.”
The Weather Channel reports that “historic flooding” is possible in the Carolinas and other mid-Atlantic states as a result of Joaquin:
“Relentless onshore winds and potentially unprecedented rainfall will lead to a double whammy of freshwater and oceanwaterflooding over the next several days for many states on the U.S. East Coast, despite the fact that all of those states will be well west of Hurricane Joaquin as it follows a track several hundred miles offshore over the Atlantic.
“Flash flooding is already ongoing and has become serious in a few locations, including the Charleston, South Carolina metro.”
The Herald reports that the Coast Guard on Friday repeatedly flew a C-130 through the storm looking for the El Faro, the missing vehicle carrier, which was in an area of 20 to 30-foot waves.
“This vessel appears very close to where the eye of the storm appears to be, and we cannot send our aircraft into the eye,” [Lt. Commander Gabe Somma] said. “They’re working as hard as they can, but they are pushing the envelope.”
“The crew of the El Faro sent a mayday call about 7:30 a.m. Thursday as it was making its way from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico and lost propulsion near Crooked Island. A satellite report sent by the crew said the ship had taken on water and was listing at a 15-degree angle. The Coast Guard alerted two Air Force hurricane hunter planes flying over the storm, but the planes were unable to make contact, Somma said. The C-130 then searched throughout the day, returning only to refuel.”
Somma said the Coast Guard would resume its search today. “We’ll be hitting this thing very hard in the morning,” he said.
Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, left, and his partner Eduard, surname not given, leave a restaurant after a news conference in downtown Rome, on Saturday. The Vatican on Saturday fired Charamsa who came out as gay on the eve of a big meeting of the world’s bishops to discuss church outreach to gays, divorcees and more traditional Catholic families.
Monsignor Kryztof Charamsa, a 43-year-old Polish priest who revealed his homosexuality, and a same-sex relationship on the eve of gathering of bishops from around the world, has been stripped of his doctrinal responsibilities for what the Vatican says are “very serious and irresponsible” actions.
“The decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the synod assembly to undue media pressure,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement.
The 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, a meeting of the world’s bishops to discuss church outreach to gays, divorcees and more traditional Catholic families. The meeting begins on Sunday at the Vatican.
In an interview published in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Saturday, and later at a news conference with his partner, Charamsa called the Church’s attitude on homosexuality “backwards” and said he was “happy and proud” to be gay.
At the news conference, Charamsa said he wanted to make “an enormous noise for the good of the Church” and apply “good Christian pressure” on the Synod not to forget homosexual believers, according to Reuters.
“This decision of mine to come out was a very personal one taken in a Catholic Church that is homophobic and very difficult and harsh (towards gays),” he said.
Charamsa, who had been a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith since 2003.
The Associated Press writes that Charamsa said he has written a book in Italian and Polish to “lay bare” his experience “in front of all those who want to confront me.”
“Charamsa told … Gazeta Wyborcza that he was motivated to make his sexual orientation public by hate mail that he received after publicly criticizing a right-wing Polish priest who is strongly anti-gay in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.
” ‘I have to say who I am. I am a gay priest. I am a happy and proud gay priest,’ he told [the newspaper].”
NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. On Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.
This week, we bring you three items.
From Sarah McCammon, a reporter on NPR’s Washington Desk:
This piece put a surprising twist on a subject that many Americans have strong opinions about: China’s one-child policy and the cultural preference for boys over girls. The story of a young American woman, Ricki Mudd, reconnecting with her Chinese birth parents and brother speaks to the larger relationship between the United States and China.
“I’ve learned not to be nostalgic about what might have been. The one-child policy brought my family, and many Chinese families, immense pain. But by forcing my parents to give me up, it also opened incredible opportunities for me — opportunities so irresistible that my brother, the child my parents kept, moved here from China last year for the education and other advantages that time in America can provide.”
What I didn’t expect was this sense that Mudd, incidentally, benefited from policies designed to exclude her from Chinese society or even from existing at all. Her connection with her Chinese brother and her efforts to maintain ties to both her American and Chinese families make this a fascinating personal study in an international issue.
From NPR producer Brakkton Booker:
Pat Sajak is a Republican? Who knew?
That’s probably the first thing that struck me when I read Kyle Preston’s feature piece in The Wall Street Journal titled, “The Conservative Wheelman.” The article highlighted some of Sajak’s recent tweets about Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. A more recent check at his account shows he’s up to date on the will-he-or-won’t-he saga playing out with one of her would-be challengers.
Breaking news: Biden waiting until after Nov ’16 election to decide on his candidacy.
— Pat Sajak (@patsajak) October 1, 2015
Sajak held jobs as a weather forecaster and a radio host for Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War, according to the piece. When he was offered the Wheel of Fortune host job in 1981, he thought it would only last a season or two and then he’d move on.
If that would have happened, we could not have enjoyed these gems, as the Journal reports.
” ‘Sesame Street’ once paid tribute to Mr. Sajak in a pig-themed parody called ‘Squeal of Fortune.’ Billy Joel sang about the show in 1989 in his headline-spitting No. 1 hit ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire,’ wedging ‘Wheel of Fortune’ right between ‘Russians in Afghanistan’ and ‘Sally Ride.’
“Yet Mr. Sajak seems slightly mystified by his own success. ‘If I went in to pitch this show today, the pitch would last about 12 seconds,’ he says. ‘I would say, “OK we’re going to play hangman. Here’s the show: ‘R.’ ‘No.’ ” And the guy would go, “Excuse me? That’s the show?” ‘ “
In case you were wondering, Wheel of Fortune is mentioned at about 3:10 into the song.
From Carol Ritchie, an NPR digital editor:
If you follow baseball even a little, you probably heard about Jonathan Papelbon’s attack on teammate Bryce Harper over a spurious violation of the game’s unwritten rules. The incident inspired some crackling-good writing by some of the best journalists covering sports. And why wouldn’t it? The story arcs are irresistibly multilayered and rich. A team with World Series ambitions hires a bully midseason to fill in bullpen gaps; bully ends up assaulting a presumptive MVP for alleged violations of the baseball unwritten rules.
On Vice.com, former major league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst lays out the trouble with a warped culture and its unwritten codes under which “the preferred tool for teaching is assault”:
“Oddly, while baseball’s social norms are about as clear as mud, one thing is crystal: baseball is full of fragile narcissists who justify a great deal of their behavior by citing sources that don’t exist. They rationalize their foolish behavior as customary or, worse, crucial to the development of a younger generation. The system that makes Jonathan Papelbon a narcissistic borderline fascist is the same system that encourages Bryce Harper to be a narcissistic egomaniac.”
But don’t miss these other great pieces on the incident:
Thomas Boswell rips the team apart in the Washington Post: “A public viewing was held at Nationals Park on Sunday for one of the worst professional team failures in D.C. sports in a generation.”
Ben Lindbergh on Grantland spies, in the much-played assault video, a bright-eyed fan in the seats, oblivious to the ruckus about to erupt and thrilled to just wave at Harper: “This is the saddest four-second silent movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a baseball remake of the ‘Daisy’ ad, with Papelbon playing the part of the mushroom cloud.”
But Barry Svrluga, also of the Post, has the definitive story on the Nats’ season (Part 3 of three): “They should have been rolling. They were reeling.”