The removal of American troops has led to the Taliban gaining large swaths of territory, as well increased efforts by American lawmakers to support Afghans who helped U.S. soldiers over the last 20 years.
U.S. officials claim the country could be “days away” from completely pulling out of Afghanistan after 20 years, according to a Tuesday report from Reuters.
The report said 4,000 troops could be out by mid-July, well ahead of the original Sept. 11 deadline. Only 650 American troops will remain to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. American troops will also defend the capital’s airport for a short period while its security is being transferred to Turkish forces. Those Turkish troops will be among the last NATO forces in the country by the end of the year as most European nations have already ended their mission to Afghanistan.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which began in widespread numbers last month, has led to a massive surge in fighting between the various factions across the country as they try to position themselves for what happens next. That fighting has Coalition generals concerned that the country is facing a civil war, with American General Scott Miller telling reporters in a press conference on Tuesday, “The security situation is not good right now.”
“Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if this continues on the trajectory it’s on right now. That should be a concern to the world.”
It’s increasingly likely that much of Afghanistan will revert back to Taliban control, as they’ve made major territorial gains as Coalition troops withdraw. Since May, they’ve captured 50 out of 370 districts in the country, have circled many cities, and are slowly closing in on Kabul.
Special Immigrant Visas
One major concern as the U.S. departs, especially as insurgent groups gain territory, is thes Nearly all of these workers were promised visas, known as Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), for themselves and their families in return for helping American forces.
For years, the SIV process has been slow and ineffective, sometimes resulting in years between applying and receiving the document. The lengthy time period between applying for the visa and actually getting it has allowed groups like the Taliban to hunt down and kill at least 300 of these workers, according to the non-profit No One Left Behind.
After a lawsuit that was resolved in 2020, the Trump administration sought to expedite the process by approving or denying SIVs within 120 days rather than leaving them in bureaucratic limbo for years. As the American withdrawal approaches, the Biden administration has further sped up the process, although it faces practical limitations such as the size of the American embassy in Kabul, on top of certain legal requirements Afghans must complete before arriving.
One such requirement is that they must pass a medical examination in Afghanistan, but there’s only one clinic run by Germany that actually performs them. That creates a massive bottleneck and often requires people to travel far, in dangerous conditions, to get the examination in order to obtain an SIV.
To help with that, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday that would allow applicants to instead undergo a medical exam within 30 days of arriving in the States. The Senate is expected to take up the bill relatively soon as helping Afghans who worked with American soldiers has widespread bipartisan support.
This legislation is the first in a series of bipartisan bills being discussed and voted on that are meant to smooth over the visa application process. Other bills on the table include raising the number of eligible applicants by 8,000.
There are also reports that the Biden administration could do mass evacuations of these applicants and house them in a U.S. territory like Guam until their application process is finished. President Joe Biden is on board with most of these proposals.
“Those who helped us are not going to be left behind,” he vowed last week.
At least 38 Dead, Including Many Children, in Thai Daycare Shooting
The motive for the attack is still unclear, but a recent arrest for drug possession may point to some answers.
The Deadliest Mass Shooting in Thai History
Thailand spent Thursday afternoon grieving after a gunman massacred dozens of people, including kids as young as two years old, in a childcare center.
The tragedy happened in the northeastern rural Nong Bua Lamphu province, one of the poorest in the country.
At around 1:00 p.m., while the children were in naptime, a 34-year-old former police officer armed with a nine-millimeter handgun and a knife barged into the center and began shooting and stabbing those inside. He left in a white pickup truck, reportedly shooting at people from the car and running others over.
Police issued a “most wanted” notice for the gunman, but before they could apprehend him he barricaded himself in his home, where he shot himself, his wife, and their four-year-old child.
At least 38 people were left dead, including the shooter. At least 24 of those people were children.
Ten others were also wounded, six of them critically.
It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single perpetrator in the history of Thailand.
Survivors Search for Answers
Among the dead at the childcare center was a teacher who was eight months pregnant. Her husband wept on local television.
“My wife is due next month,” he said. “I never got to see my wife and child.”
The prime ministers of Britain and Australia, as well as the U.S. embassy in Bangkok and leaders from a host of other nations, sent their condolences to the victims’ families.
“We stand with the people of Thailand and offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” the embassy said in a statement.
The shooter’s motive is still unclear, but authorities said he had been fired from the police force in June after getting arrested for possession of methamphetamine. National Police Chief Damrongsak Kittiprapat told reporters he believed the gunman was on drugs during the shooting, though he provided no evidence for the claim.
He added that the gunman was due to appear in court Friday on drug-related charges.
Regional police spokesman Paisal Lauesomboon offered a different explanation of the attack, saying that the shooter had been in court earlier Thursday to attend a hearing and subsequently drove to the childcare center where his own son was enrolled. When he could not locate his son, this account claims, he began the massacre.
A teacher who survived the attack contradicted that story, however, telling reporters the gunman began shooting as soon as he approached the center.
She said he struck a group of teachers eating lunch outside, but she managed to escape alive because he ran out of ammunition.
Thailand has some of the highest gun ownership and gun homicide rates in Asia, partially owing to the immense underground traffic of firearms through the black market.
A mass shooting of similar scale scarred the country in 2020, when a soldier used an assault rifle to slaughter at least 29 people at a shopping mall.
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Students Across Iran Lead Anti-Regime Protests
The supreme leader finally broke his silence on the unrest to blame the “riots” and “chaos” on a plan by the United States, the “Zionist regime and their followers.”
The Hijabs Come off
As the new academic year began this week, students across Iran turned their classrooms into stages for anti-regime demonstrations.
Videos posted to social media show female students removing their hijabs and chanting “Death to the dictator!” as they stomped on pictures of “their rulers,” as one post put it.
In one viral video, girls who had shed their headscarves at a school in Karaj, just outside Tehran, surrounded their principal and screamed at him while throwing objects.
The principal, whom the post describes as “pro-regime,” fled the scene as they yelled that he is “without honor.”
“Typically, when protests occur in Iran, they usually are restricted to streets or university campuses or they are led by workers or teachers,” Vahid Yücesoy, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Montreal who shared the video, told Newsweek. “The fact that they have now arrived at high schools is a very unprecedented development.”
It’s been roughly three weeks since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested by morality police for violating Iran’s dress code and ended up comatose in a hospital.
Multiple reports claimed that officers beat her head with batons, though authorities countered that her death was rather due to a “sudden heart failure.”
The death toll from clashes between law enforcement and protesters may be as low as 41, according to Iranian state media last week, or as high as 133, according to the Norway-based group Iran Human Rights. Amnesty International has put the number at 52, and it said on Friday that hundreds of people had been injured and thousands arrested.
Campus Becomes a Bloody Warzone
Security forces trapped hundreds of students from Tehran’s elite Sharif University in a campus parking lot, assailed them with tear gas, and shot at them with less lethal rounds Sunday, according to reports and videos posted to social media.
“They had guns, they had paintball guns, they had batons,” Farid, whose name was changed for his safety, told CNN. “They were using gases… [that are] banned internationally… it was a war zone… there was blood everywhere.”
A video reviewed by the outlet shows security forces detaining students and carrying them on motorbikes.
The event took place on the first day of school after many students chose to protest the regime instead of attending classes. Farid said a group of protesters was confronted on campus by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was called in by campus security.
“They told them that ‘if you go near the subway station, we will start shooting, go back to the university,’” He added. “And then after half of the students got back into the university, they let the others into the parking lot. And after that, they started shooting them with paintballs and taking them into custody in a very, very savage way.”
The university’s Students Islamic Association urged in a Monday statement that all “professors and students at Sharif University not to attend classes until all arrested students are released.”
Iranian state news agency IRNA said Monday that 30 of the 37 students arrested during the protests had been released, citing a source at the university.
On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei finally broke his silence regarding the protest movement, saying he was dismayed at Amini’s death during a graduation ceremony for military cadets at the Imam Hassan Training Center.
“Yes, this was a bitter incident. My heart was also pained,” he said.
But he also condemned the protest movement as “not natural” and “planned” by the United States, the “Zionist regime and their followers,” using his term for the state of Israel.
Police Cause Stampede Killing 125 at Indonesian Soccer Stadium
The sports game turned bloodbath was among the deadliest in the sport’s history.
Trampled by the Crowd
At least 125 people died after police fired tear gas, sparking a chaotic stampede toward the exits at a soccer match in Indonesia, according to local officials.
The game between Arema, the home team in East Java’s Malang city, and Persebaya Surabaya took place Saturday night at the Kanjuruhan Stadium.
The event organizer had prohibited Persebaya fans from attending the game in an effort to prevent rivalrous brawling, but that only ensured the stadium would be exclusively packed with riled-up Arema fans.
When Arema lost 3-2, hundreds of spectators poured onto the field and some reportedly threw bottles and other objects at the players and managers. Several cop cars were also toppled outside the stadium and set ablaze.
Eyewitness accounts claim that riot police beat people with shields and batons, then fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd and even into the stands.
Hordes of people, many of them dizzy and blinded by the chemical, clambered desperately for the exits.
The ensuing stampede quickly left 34 people dead, both from being trampled and suffocated, including two police officers and possibly some children, according to some reports. Many more were badly hurt and rushed to hospitals, but as dozens of them succumbed to their injuries, the death toll climbed to at least 125.
An official estimate initially put the number at 174, but it was later revised down due to some deaths being counted twice.
As many as 300 other individuals may have sustained injuries during the incident.
Who is to Blame?
Some human rights groups pointed fingers at the police for provoking the mayhem by improperly deploying tear gas.
“The excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities,” Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.
The Foundation also blamed the local soccer committee, which sold 42,000 tickets in a stadium only meant to seat 38,000 people, for filling the venue over capacity.
Typically, tear gas is meant to put distance between the rioters and police, dispersing the crowd in an intended direction, not to be used indiscriminately in a secure location like a sports stadium.
Moreover, the global soccer governing body FIFA prohibits the use of tear gas.
“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” President Joko Widodo said in a televised address. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”
He said he had asked National Police Chief Listyo Sigit to investigate the incident and ordered an evaluation of security at soccer matches.
East Java’s police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas in a news conference on Sunday.
“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” he said.
Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.
Dozens of Indonesians have died in soccer-related violence since the 1990s, but Saturday’s tragedy is among the deadliest in soccer history.