Over the last 20 years, the control map of Afghanistan has been an ever-changing canvas.
After looking at the fluctuating picture of who controls which areas. It appears the Taliban have been emboldened in recent weeks by the withdrawal of US troops – retaking many districts from government forces.
Research from Afghan service shows the militants now have a strong presence across the country. including in the north and north-east and central provinces like Ghazni and Maidan Wardak. They are also closing in on major cities such as Kunduz, Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah.
Who’s in control in Afghanistan?
By control, we mean districts where the administrative centre, police headquarters and all other government institutions are controlled by the Taliban.
US troops and their Nato and regional allies forced the Taliban from power in November 2001.
The group had been harbouring Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qacda figures linked to the l September 2001 attacks in the US. But despite a continued international presence in the region, billions of dollars of support and training for the Afghan government forces, the Taliban regrouped and gradually regained strength in more remote areas.
Their main areas of influence were around their traditional strongholds in the south and south-west – northern Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Zabul provinces. But also, in the hills of southern Faryab in the north-west and the mountains of Badakhshan in the north east.
Are the Taliban holding ground? Although they now control more territory than they have since 2001, the situation on the ground is fluid. The government has been forced to abandon some district administrative centres, where it could not withstand pressure from the Taliban. Others have been taken by force.
Where the government has been able to reorganise its forces or gather local militias, it has recaptured some areas that were lost – or tighting in those areas continues. Although most US troops left in June, a handful remain in Kabul and the US Air Force has carried out airstrikes against Taliban positions over the past few days.
Pakistan on Monday reopened a major southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan that is currently under Taliban control on the Afghan side, Pakistani customs officials said, allowing over 100 trucks carrying goods to cross into Afghanistan.
The Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, a key port for landlocked Afghanistan, had been closed by Pakistan for commercial traffic since fierce fighting for control of the crossing erupted between Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces earlier this month. “Pakistan has opened its border with Afghanistan at Chaman today and resumed Afghan Transit Trade which was suspended since the last one month, Arif Kakar, a senior official of the Chaman border district, told reporters it would remain open six days a week.
Two Pakistani customs officials, requesting anonymity, said that Spin Boldak and the border town of Wesh were still under Taliban control, and they did not know what arrangements were in place across the border or who was clearing the goods through customs.
They said Pakistani officials were under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through as the goods they were carrying would otherwise perish. Afghanistan’s interior and finance ministries, and the Taliban spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.
U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that Spin Boldak was a “contested space” and the Afghan government was looking to regain control of it.
The reopening came hours after 46 Afghan soldiers sought refuge in Pakistan after losing control of military positions further north along the border following advances by Taliban insurgents taking advantage of foreign forces’ withdrawal.
The Afghan military commander requested refuge at the border crossing in Chitral in the north, the Pakistan army said in a statement, adding safe passage into Pakistan was given on Sunday night after clearance from Afghan authorities. Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border areas.
“Afghan soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms,” the statement said. Relations between neighbours Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks, particularly over repeated allegations by Kabul that Pakistan is backing the Taliban-a charge Islamabad denies. Afghanistan recalled its diplomats from Pakistan after the brief kidnapping of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad earlier in the month. Afghan officials did not respond to a request for comment on the soldiers’ crossing.
The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence. Washington has said it will continue to carry out air strikes to support Afghan forces facing insurgent attacks. Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have failed to make substantive progress since beginning in September last year.
Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, and border crossings. The Pakistan army said the soldiers who sought refuge will be returned to Afghanistan after due process, as had occurred in the case of another batch of 35 soldiers earlier in July.
South and North Korea have restored hotlines that were severed last year and the two countries’ leaders seek to rebuild strained ties, Seoul’s presidential Blue House said on Tuesday.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged multiple letters since April and agreed to reconnect the hotlines, said Moon’s press secretary, Park Soo-hyun.
North Korea’s state media outlet, KCNA, also said all inter-Korean communication channels resumed operation at 10 a.m. Tuesday (0100 GMT) in line with an agreement between Moon and Kim.
“The two leaders have explored ways to recover relations by exchanging letters on several occasions, and agreed to restore severed hotlines as a first step for that process,” Park said in a statement.
They have also agreed to regain trust as soon as possible and foster progress on relations again.” KCNA touted the reopening of the hotlines as “a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation.”
North Korea cut the hotlines in June 2020 as cross-border ties soured after a failed second summit in February 2019 between Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump, which Moon had offered to mediate.
Moon has called for a revival of the hotline and talks, pinning high hopes on U.S. President Joe Biden to restart negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
The announcement came as the two Koreas marked the 68th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Kim paid tribute to fallen soldiers and sent gifts to surviving veterans, according to KCNA.
Several factors are behind the rise of black fungus in patients after India’s second Covid wave, according to doctors — including the drugs used to treat it.
Senior health officials from India’s Covid taskforce and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences said the overuse of steroids to treat Covid-19 had suppressed patients’ immune systems and made them more susceptible to black fungus.
Under India’s Covid management protocols, steroids can be prescribed in moderate and severe cases of Covid, though the latest guidelines issued in May advise “judicious use” to prevent and manage conditions like mucormycosis.
Some doctors also suspect a shortage of medical-grade oxygen may have played a role, arguing that prolonged low levels of oxygen can make patients more vulnerable to infection.
Some doctors believe there may be a link between the rise in black fungus infection and the Delta variant, a more transmissible Covid strain first detected in India in December.
Since then, the Delta variant has spread to 96 countries, and World Health Organization expects it to soon become the world’s most dominant strain.
While several studies have confirmed that patients with Covid are more vulnerable to black fungus, researchers have not determined if the Delta variant creates greater risk factors than other strains.
The spread worldwide
India’s second Covid wave has passed, but there are fears of a third wave and what could mean for black fungus outbreaks in India. The infection is not contagious between people, but clearly the environment is suitable for its spread.
So far, no other country has reported a sharp rise in cases — even as the Delta variant spreads worldwide. For example, by mid-June, the Delta variant accounted for 99% of Covid-19 cases in the UK but no cases of mucormycosis had been reported.
Srinivas is a Covid survivor, but it will be some time before he’s able to return to work. He was unable to speak for weeks after his surgery to remove traces of black fungus, initially due to pain and swelling, then because a feeding tube had been inserted due to the loss of part of his jaw.
“I can see … I feel good, I’ll try to get back to work as soon as possible. I have two small kids. I have been in the hospital for a very long time and I haven’t even seen them,” Srinivas said in early July.
Srinivas was discharged last Saturday after two months in the hospital, though his left eye remains swollen shut, and he must visit the hospital each week to monitor his progress.
“I don’t think he can go back to work before a year, said his sister Shyamala. “But it will be difficult to make him stay home.”
What’s on offer: Days are usually dry and sunny. Arikok National Park features caves, desert landscapes and giant lizards. Wide beaches bordering clear jade water are the big draw.
Who can go? Citizens of all countries can enter with the exception of Venezuela.
Entry requirements: All visitors 15 and older must have a negative result from a molecular Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival. Aruba visitors health insurance is mandatory. No quarantine is in place. Travelers who test positive for Covid-19 are required to stay in mandatory isolation.
US CDC travel advisory: Level 3: High. Unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Aruba.
A Kenyan man, James Mwaura, who disappeared from home 47 years ago has found his way back home in Molo, Nakuru County thanks to Facebook.
James Mwaura, now 70, went missing when he was just 23 years old in 1974 after he was sent to a shop to buy rice for the family. According to Citizen Digital, he reportedly lost his way in the process, only to find himself in Nairobi with no money and no kin to turn to, as he found out that his brothers who stayed in the city had also moved out.
He then hitched a ride to Naro Moru in Nyeri County where he started a new life and later settled into marriage with a woman he met there.
Years later, like everybody else these days, he was scrolling through Facebook when he stumbled upon a seemingly familiar face.
He sent the person a message in his inbox and it turned out to be one of his nephews.
The two struck up a conversation and agreed to meet up on Wednesday, before the family reunion eventually happened on Thursday, July 22.
Mwaura, who arrived home in a blue suit, informed the family members that he is now happily married and blessed with three children and four grand children. James Mwaura is now reunited with his family members
Former US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on Friday that the CDC needs to clarify its messaging to get Americans back on board with stemming the rising tide of infections.
While the need for mask wearing never fully dissipated during the pandemic, guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May that removed restrictions for vaccinated individuals was a welcome harbinger of a possible return to normalcy.
Now, with Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations increasing throughout the nation, safety precautions such as mask mandates are once again under consideration.
The CDC’s decision “was putting trust in the American people to really do the right thing, but unfortunately people chose to go out and pull their mask off, whether they were vaccinated or not,” Adams said.
“We’ve got to trust our health officials to give the best advice they can at the time, and the CDC gave the best advice they could at the time,” he added. “But guess what? That was pre-Delta surge. The Delta variant is changing things.”
The Delta variant, believed to be more transmittable and dangerous, accounted for an estimated 83% of coronavirus cases in the US according to data this week from the CDC, which is a substantial rise from negligible numbers in early May.
Every state has a seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases that matched or exceeded the week before, according to the latest figures Friday from Johns Hopkins University.
Health experts have repeatedly pointed to preemptive vaccination as the best way to get ahead of surges due to their proven efficacy, but CDC data Friday showed that the rate of vaccinations continues to slow. The daily average of people becoming fully vaccinated is the lowest it’s been since the end of January, when the US was just beginning to ramp up its vaccination drive.
Thirty states have yet to fully vaccinate at least half of their residents, with Alabama and Mississippi at less than 35% fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday called out “the unvaccinated folks” for the rise in Covid-19 cases. “Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” she told reporters in Birmingham.
With numbers lagging, officials say more countermeasures against Covid-19 are likely needed.
Guidance on mask wearing from the CDC has not changed, but CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday localities may want to make their own call.
“Communities and individuals need to make the decisions that are right for them based on what’s going on in their local areas,” she said. “So if you’re an area that has a high case rate and low rates of vaccination where Delta cases are rising, you should certainly be wearing a mask if you are unvaccinated.”
Taiwan’s head of cybersecurity said that is using dramatic measures to guard against technological vulnerabilities — including employing roughly two dozen computer experts to deliberately attack the government’s systems and help it defend against what Taiwanese authorities estimate are some 20 million to 40 million cyberattacks every month.
As China steps up military pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island is preparing for the next big frontier of warfare: crippling cyberattacks.
Taiwan says it has been able to defend against the overwhelming majority of attacks. Successful breaches number in the hundreds, while only a handful are what the government classifies as “serious.”
But the enormous number — and where Taiwan thinks they’re coming from — has compelled the government to take the issue seriously, according to Chien Hung-wei, head of Taiwan’s Department of Cyber Security.
“Based on the attackers’ actions and methodology, we have a rather high degree of confidence that many attacks originated from our neighbor,” he said referring to mainland China.
“The operation of our government highly relies on the internet,” Chien said. “Our critical infrastructure, such as gas, water and electricity are highly digitized, so we can easily fall victim if our network security is not robust enough.”
Cyberattacks are a growing global threat. And while China is far from the only country to be accused of orchestrating such attacks, Beijing this week is facing intense scrutiny from the West on the issue.
On Monday, the United States, the European Union and other allies accused China’s Ministry of State Security of using “criminal contract hackers” to carry out malicious activities around the world, including a campaign against Microsoft’s Exchange email service in March.
The coordinated announcement has illustrated the Biden administration’s priorities in defending cybersecurity, after serious vulnerabilities had been reported in major American sectors, such as energy and food production.
Chien said Taiwan suspects that state-backed hackers were behind at least one major malware attack on the island last year. In May 2020, CPC Corporation — a government-owned refiner in Taiwan — was hacked and left unable to process electronic payments from customers. The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau accused a hacker group linked to China of carrying out the attack.
China has repeatedly denied launching cyberattacks against Taiwan and others. In his statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the island’s accusations “groundless and purely malicious.” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office also criticized Taiwanese authorities for using cyberattacks to smear the mainland as a “habitual trick,” and to shift the public’s focus away from the island’s recent Covid-19 outbreak.
And after China was accused by the West earlier this week of launching a massive, global hacking campaign, the country blasted the claims as “groundless.”
“We strongly urge the United States and its allies to stop pouring dirty water on China on cybersecurity issues,” Zhao Lijian, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said on Tuesday. “China firmly opposes and cracks down on cyberattacks of any kind, let alone encourages, supports or indulges them.”
Tensions with China
Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of the Chinese Civil War more than 70 years ago. While the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, Beijing considers the island to be an “inseparable part” of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to use force if necessary to prevent the island from formally declaring independence.
In recent years, China has stepped up its military pressure on Taiwan. In June, the country sent over two dozen warplanes near the island, prompting Taiwan to alert its air defenses. That was the largest number of warplanes sent to that zone since Taiwan began keeping records of such incursions last year. Beijing has also released military propaganda warning Taipei to “prepare for war” as it establishes stronger ties with the United States. (Analysts say the flights likely serve several purposes for China, including as a demonstration of the strength of the country’s military and as a way to gain intelligence it needs for any potential conflict involving Taiwan.)
Experts have voiced concerns not just about the prospect of military warfare, but cyber warfare, too.
Earlier this month, US-based cybersecurity company Recorded Future alleged that a Chinese state-sponsored group has been targeting the Industrial Technology Research Institute, a Taiwanese hi-tech research institution.
Recorded Future said it found that Chinese groups have been targeting organizations across Taiwan’s semiconductor industry to obtain source codes, software development kits and chip designs. It based its claims on evidence it compiled using a method called network traffic analysis, which examines such traffic to detect security threats.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to questions about that analysis, but accused Taiwanese authorities of inciting anti-China hatred and increasing cross-strait conflicts.
Preparing for risks
A number of countries are now focusing on the mounting threat of cyberattacks, which in recent months crippled one of the largest fuel pipelines in the United States and shut down major operations for meat supplier JBS USA.
In April, the US Department of Justice declared 2020 the “worst year ever” for extortion-related cyberattacks. And the first half of 2021 saw a 102% increase in ransomware attacks compared to the same time period last year, according to cybersecurity firm Check Point Software.
Allen Own, CEO of Taiwanese cybersecurity company Devcore, said hackers can often be categorized into two groups: those who are working for profit, and those who are stealing information of national importance.
He said many countries — including the United States, China, Russia and North Korea — have assembled formidable “cyber armies” to either obtain intelligence or infiltrate another country’s infrastructure, or defend against attackers that might do the same to them. That kind of power highlights the need for Taiwan to boost its own capabilities.
“In information security, many people say that World War III will happen over the internet,” he said.
Taiwan says, meanwhile, that it has been attuned to these types of risks for years.
In 2016, the Executive Yuan — Taiwan’s highest administrative organ — set up the Department of Cyber Security to mitigate security risks.
President Tsai Ing-wen at the time declared cybersecurity a matter of national security. This May, she announced the creation of a new digital development ministry, which will supervise the information and communication sector with a focus of protecting critical infrastructure, according to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency.
In an exclusive interview with the source last month, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu accused China of using military intimidation, disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks to undermine the Taiwanese population’s trust in their own government.
“They want to shape Taiwanese people’s cognition that Taiwan is very dangerous, and Taiwan cannot do without China,” he said. “[But] Taiwan has some very good capability in dealing with cyberattacks. And that is because of our long experience dealing with the cyber activities initiated by the Chinese side.”
Chien, the Taiwanese cybersecurity department leader, said the self-governing island has been subject to tens of millions of attacks monthly, a trend the government has recorded for at least the last few years.
But he said Taiwan has been able to defend against most attempts and serious breaches resulting in stolen data or paralyzed services numbered about 10 over the last year.
Chien declined to go into specific details about those attacks, and was willing only to cite successful hacks of Taiwan’s education system, which resulted in student data being stolen.
Even if a cyber intrusion is resolved, such attacks can have long-term consequences because of the kind of information that attackers can gain access to, according to Tsai Sung-ting, CEO of Team T5, a Taiwanese cybersecurity solution provider.
“We frequently observe that after they compromise an organization, the first thing is to steal the emails and documents,” he said. “So even after you clean the infection this time, they may come back next month or a few months later. So I will say the threat is persistent.”
A tragic incident occurred in the wee hours of Thursday July 22, as a gym instructor was shot dead at Tantra Hills in Ghana.
An eyewitness told UTV that the gym instructor is suspected to have been killed because of his alleged affair with another man’s wife. It was alleged that he was shot dead by unknown men who arrived at the house between 2am to 3am.
It was further reported that people who know him, were heard whispering that they warned him to stay away from the woman since it could land him in trouble but he failed to listen to them.
Winehouse, in what appears to be a recording booth, rings every emotional nuance from her song as she sings the lyrics: “Over futile odds/And laughed at by the gods/And now the final frame/Love is a losing game.”
There’s a now-famous clip of acoustic version of Amy Winehouse singing “Love Is a Losing Game.”
As the music fades we hear Winehouse ask quietly, and seemingly sadly, “Is that alright?”
It’s a heartbreaking moment from a tremendously talented star who fell too quickly.
Friday July 23 marks the ten-year anniversary of Winehouse’s tragic passing. The singer was found dead of accidental alcohol poisoning at the age of 27 in her London home.
Winehouse’s music remains resonant a decade later, while her premature death serves as a cautionary tale about the toll of stardom — a conversation at the forefront as Britney Spears fights to regain control over her life and career.
The British singer with the cat-eye makeup and massive bouffant hairstyle was far from the first artist to die too soon.
Her passing, in fact, made her a part of a morbid group of stars known as “The 27 Club,” like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain before her who also died at age 27.
British singer Adele paid tribute to Winehouse at a concert in 2016 on what would have been the late singer’s 33rd birthday, reportedly crediting her success to Winehouse.
“I feel like I owe so much of my career to her,” Adele told the audience. “That first album, ‘Frank,’ it really changed my life.”
Winehouse actually led a wave of stateside success for British female singers like Duffy, Estelle, Lilly Allen and Leona Lewis.
But Winehouse never seemed to realize how inspirational or influential she was, instead mired in highly publicized personal and legal troubles.
Even after both she and her critically acclaimed 2006 “Back to Black” album won Grammys, there was still more media focus on her fights, arrests, rehab stints and tumultuous relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil (the pair would divorce in 2009) than her music.
All that attention was the exact opposite of what Winehouse wanted.
“I don’t write songs because I want my voice to be heard or I want to be famous or any of that stuff,” Winehouse said in a 2007 interview. “I write songs about things I have problems with and I have to get past them and I have to make something good out of something bad.”
Tyler James, her best friend who met her when she 13 and he was 12, confirmed that during a recent interview with the UK show “This Morning” in an appearance to promote his new book “My Amy: The Life We Shared.”
“Amy hated being famous,” he said. “She said ‘Fame is like terminal cancer, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.'”
Her struggle to find herself in the midst of being a star is well documented in the 2015 documentary, “Amy,” which painted her as a pop star with a jazz soul who struggled with substance abuse.
A new documentary, “Reclaiming Amy,” marks the 10th anniversary of her death and is narrated by the singer’s mother, Janis Winehouse-Collins.
“It’s only looking back now that I realise how little we understood,” Winehouse-Collins, who has rarely spoken publicly about her daughter, says in the film. “She was prone to addiction, she could not stop herself. It’s a very cruel beast.”
Today, the Amy Winehouse Foundation provides resources for young people who may be struggling with substance abuse. A streaming concert featuring American artists Chris Daughtry, Ana Cristina Cash with John Carter Cash and Sweet Lizzy Project is set for Friday to raise funds for the foundation.
Founded by her family to both honor and further the singer’s legacy, the organization is just one way those who love her seek to do what Winehouse said she wanted to do with her music — transform tragedy into triumph.