Sunday Headlines

Number Of Civilian Deaths In Afghanistan Reaches Peak
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose to record levels for the seventh year in row in 2015, as violence spiked in response to the withdrawal of most international troops, the United Nations said. According to the report, at least 3,545 noncombatants died and another 7,457 were injured by fighting last year in a 4-percent increase over 2014.

“The most important finding in the report is that 11,002 Afghans — civilians, noncombatants — have died or been injured in 2015; this figure surpasses by 4 percent the same figure for 2014,” said the head of the U.N.’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom.

“The truth is the figures in themselves are awful — over 11,000 Afghans died or were injured last year as a result of this conflict,” he said.

Could NATO’s Aggressive Posture Set Up Showdown With Putin?
Although it is long overdue, it appears in recent weeks that NATO has started to take a firmer hand toward Russia. Almost two weeks ago, NATO Secretary General demanded Russia de-escalate its bombing in Syria, which have been targeting groups opposed to Syrian President Bashir al-Assad and undermining efforts to resolve the crisis.

“Intense Russian air strikes, mainly targeting opposition groups in Syria, are undermining the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg a week and a half ago.

And just this week, NATO took a more aggressive stance toward Russia’s aggression in Ukraine by agreeing to “an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance that would “make clear that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all Allies, and that the Alliance as a whole will respond,” noted Stoltenberg last week.

It follows a separate earlier announcement by the Pentagon that the Obama administration would quadruple its spending to defend Eastern Europe. Some $3.4 billion (U.S.) would go toward war-fighting gear, training and exercises involving 3,000 troops deployed to protect countries that include Ukraine, the Baltics, Hungary and Romania.

NATO’s new boldness may be directly challenged, however, as a consequence of the so-called cease fire which has been discussed leading up to the peace talks in Geneva. The cease fire, says London Telegraph columnist David Blair will not prevent Russia from bombing “terrorists” in Syria, nor to stop Putin from aiding Syrian forces retake the city of Aleppo.

And with Turkey considering sending troops across the border into Syria, NATO soon could be called to defend one of its newest members.

“The tragedy now unfolding in and around Aleppo poses a direct threat to European security, combining the dangers of terrorism with the risk of direct conflict between NATO and Russia. We tend to associate the latter peril with NATO’s most exposed European members and the possibility of Vladimir Putin invading the Baltic states. But never forget that Turkey is also part of NATO,” Blair writes.

Book Review: How One Afghan School Proves To Be Beacon Of Hope In his newly published book, The Last Thousand: One School’s Promise in a Nation at War, Jeffrey Stern chronicles the efforts of one school called Marefat in Afghanistan that chose to focus on ideas, not guns. The school, which was founded in 2002 in the Western slums of Kabul, is known for being liberal by comparison to surrounding strict Islamic communities because it teaches students to think critically and to question their leaders.

The new book is reviewed by Daniel Couch in The Washington Post.

Many see it as a beacon of hope for those who would like to see a more liberated Afghanistan, and a bane for conservative Muslims. Those include Stern, who characterizes the educational outpost as “paean to the power of education and its potential to peacefully revolutionize a violent nation.”

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