Taliban seize four more provincial capitals in Afghanistan

Insurgents’ seemingly unstoppable advance continues as they close in on Kabul

The Taliban’s seemingly unstoppable advance across Afghanistan continued on Friday, as insurgents took control of four more provincial capitals after their seizure on Thursday of Kandahar and Herat, the country’s second and third largest cities.

With Afghan government forces in disarray, and amid reports that the country’s vice-president has fled, the Taliban are heading inexorably towards Kabul. They control more than two-thirds of the country, just as the US plans to pull out its last remaining troops.

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Whatever happens next in Afghanistan, a humanitarian catastrophe is already in train | Hameed Hakimi

Even before the western withdrawal and Taliban resurgence, the country was on its knees. A refugee crisis is now inevitable

In recent days, a ferocious wave of fighting has enveloped Afghanistan as the Taliban take more and more territory from the Afghan government. The developing situation makes it extremely difficult to predict how the coming weeks and months will unfold in the country. One thing we do know, however, is that while most media commentary focuses on who has the upper hand militarily, the country inevitably faces a humanitarian catastrophe. Ordinary Afghans are confronted with a triple calamity: dire security, health and economic prospects. These cruel conditions predate the Trump administration’s Doha agreement with the Taliban in February 2020, which began the process of US military withdrawal; they also predate President Biden’s confirmation that full withdrawal will occur by 11 September this year.

Afghanistan entered 2021 already in dire straits, with more than 18 million Afghans – nearly half the population – in humanitarian need. Dwindling international aid, a violent conflict, weak governance and environmental challenges such as droughts have all contributed. The impact of the pandemic last year meant that in January 2021 Afghanistan had the world’s second-highest number of people facing emergency food insecurity.

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‘Nowhere to go’: divorced Afghan women in peril as the Taliban close in

As horror stories emerge from areas that have fallen to the Islamist militants, women living alone fear they have no route of escape

There’s an old saying in Afghanistan that encapsulates the country’s views on divorce: “A woman only leaves her father’s house in the white bridal clothes, and she can only return in the white shrouds.”

In this deeply conservative and patriarchal society, women who defy convention and seek divorce are often disowned by their families and shunned by Afghan society. Left alone, they have to fight for basic rights, such as renting an apartment, which require the involvement or guarantees of male relatives.

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North Korea military threats ‘intended to deflect from economic crisis’

Regime looking to shift focus from domestic problems with rhetoric around US-South Korea military drills, say analysts

North Korea’s threat to boost its military capacity to counter hostility from Washington before joint US-South Korea military drills is intended to divert attention from its economic crisis but could lead to a resumption of missile tests, according to analysts.

While there is nothing unusual about North Korean opposition to the summer exercises involving American and South Korean forces, its warning this week that Seoul and Washington faced “greater security threats” comes from a position of weakness not seen since Kim Jong-un came to power a decade ago.

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US withdrawal from Afghanistan a mistake, says UK defence secretary

Ben Wallace says troop pullout had given Taliban momentum and ‘international community will probably pay the consequences’

The UK defence secretary has criticised the US decision to leave Afghanistan as a “mistake” that has handed the Taliban “momentum”.

Speaking to Sky News, Ben Wallace warned that “the international community will probably pay the consequences” and said he was worried al-Qaida would regain a base in Afghanistan.

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Torrential rain lashes central China, leaving 21 dead

Hundreds of homes destroyed and almost 6,000 people evacuated amid power cuts and landslides in Hubei province

At least 21 people died as heavy downpours struck central China’s Hubei province, authorities said today, weeks after record floods wreaked havoc and killed hundreds in a neighbouring province.

China has been battered by unprecedented rains in recent months, extreme weather that experts say is increasingly common due to global warming.

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Afghanistan likened to fall of Saigon as officials confirm Taliban take Kandahar

As Lashkar Gah is also captured, US senator Mitch McConnell says exit could be ‘sequel’ to Vietnam humiliation

Mitch McConnell has warned that America’s retreat from Afghanistan risks a replay of the nation’s humiliating withdrawal from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam conflict in 1975.

As thousands of American soldiers were ordered back to Kabul to evacuate embassy staff amid a rapid advance by the Taliban, US Senate minority leader McConnell said the US was “careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster”.

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Sticking to a Covid-19 elimination strategy keeps New Zealand’s options open | Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig and Nick Wilson

The approach buys the country time to get a better understanding of the virus’ impact on people’s long-term health and on children

Aotearoa New Zealand’s new national strategy for loosening border restrictions closely follows scientific advice from an expert panel that was specifically asked to advise on the future of New Zealand’s elimination strategy and phased loosening of border controls.

Covid-19 elimination has been the dominant strategy for a number of jurisdictions across the Asia-Pacific region, including New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia. This approach contrasts with the suppression and mitigation strategies of Europe and North America.

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Warning of Covid ‘disaster’ in Japan as cases explode

Local media report Paralympics will be held without spectators as infections rise to more than 18,000 a day in wake of Olympics

Health experts in Japan have said the country is confronting a coronavirus “disaster” and urged the government to take immediate action to stem a surge in infections.

The warning came as local media reported that spectators will be banned from almost all events at the Paralympics, which are due to open on 24 August.

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‘Can we ever return?’ Tears and heartbreak as Hongkongers leave for a new life in the UK

Residents fearing China’s tightening grip are departing in droves, not knowing if they will be back

It was a heartbreaking scene. A family get-together on a Sunday morning, not for a leisurely lunch at a traditional Chinese restaurant, but for a tearful farewell at the airport.

Amid the Covid pandemic, Hong Kong airport is quiet except for twice a day, when long queues form at airlines desks for London-bound flights. Friends and families turn out in droves to see them off – grandparents hand out “lucky money” in red envelopes to grandchildren, aunts and uncles joke with children to lighten the otherwise melancholic mood. With tearful eyes, many stop for a final hug and pose for one last photo with their loved ones before passing through the departure gates. The waving continues long after they have disappeared from view.

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