Daily Briefing

Briefing:- 18/12/17

1. Islamic State claims attack on Kabul spy center:-

Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack near a training facility of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency in the capital, Kabul, on Monday as gunmen exchanged fire with security forces.

Details of the attack remained unclear after a group of armed men seized a building under construction in a heavily populated area of the city.

“The number of attackers, possible casualties, and their target is not yet clear,” said Najib Danish, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.

The Afshar area of Kabul where the attack was underway is close to a training facility of the National Directorate of Security, the main Afghan intelligence agency, as well as a private university.

Another government official said the attack was near the intelligence agency training center.

Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement on its Amaq news agency, in which it said two of its fighters had attacked an intelligence agency center in Kabul.

The group, which first appeared in Afghanistan in 2015, has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Kabul over the past several months.

But much remains unknown about how it operates and many observers are skeptical about its ability to mount complex attacks on its own.

“Around 10:10 am, a group of armed attackers entered an under-construction building in (the) NDS training center in (the) Afshar area of Kabul,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP, referring to the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s spy agency.

“The fighting is ongoing and we have also launched our operation.”

Nasrat Rahim, a deputy interior ministry spokesman, said the sound of large and small arms fire could be heard from the fighting.

“There are three attackers involved… the clearance operation is ongoing,” said the spokesman, adding there were no immediate reports of any casualties.

Roads to the area were closed and dozens of police and intelligence officers were blocking access to the public. AFP reporters, who were held more than a kilometer away from the scene, saw ambulances and reinforcements headed towards the site.

“I was going toward my school. It (the attack) happened suddenly… the police arrived in the area fast and blocked the roads, not allowing anyone to get to their homes,” Naweed, a student, told AFP.

IS claimed responsibility for the attack through its propaganda arm.

“Two IS attackers raid the Afghan intelligence center in Kabul,” the jihadists’ Amaq outlet reported.

The Afghan capital has become one of the deadliest places in the war-torn country for civilians in recent months, as the resurgent Taliban and increasingly IS both step up their attacks, targeting security installations and mosques.

Security in Kabul has been ramped up since May 31 when a massive truck bomb ripped through the city’s diplomatic quarter, killing about 150 and wounding around 400 people, mostly civilians.

No group has officially claimed responsibility for that attack, which the government has blamed on the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network.

Monday’s attack represents another blow to beleaguered Afghan forces.

The Taliban have targeted military installations in recent months, including a spate of attacks in October that killed around 150 people.

Afghan forces, already beset by desertions and corruption, have seen casualties soar to what a US watchdog has described as “shockingly high” levels since NATO forces officially ended their combat mission in 2014.

Morale has been further eroded by long-running fears that the militants have insider help — everything from infiltrators in the ranks to corrupt Afghan forces selling equipment to the Taliban.

But IS, which has expanded its presence in Afghanistan since it first appeared in the region in 2015, has also dramatically scaled up its attacks in Kabul, including on the country’s Shiite minority.

In November, a suicide attacker blew himself up outside a political gathering in Kabul, killing at least 14 people in an attack claimed by IS.

2. President Trump to lay out ‘America First’ strategy:-

President Donald Trump is set to lay out Monday a new National Security Strategy built upon his trademark “America First” slogan, which is expected to have economic security at its core.

The US leader, who has dismantled the legacy of Barack Obama on issues ranging from climate change to free trade, and isolated Washington on the world stage, will unveil what is being billed as a comprehensive vision for tackling America’s complex security challenges.

The new document, released periodically by the presidency, “affirms the belief that America’s economic security is national security,” an administration official said.

It also reflects a determination to push for balance in US economic relations with the rest of the world, especially China.

“The greatest weapon we have is our strong GDP,” the official said, citing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Trump has taken an aggressive stance on trade. He vows to reduce bilateral trade deficits, particularly with China, and has said he wants to level the playing field for American companies.

Asked on Monday about the expected US strategy, Beijing’s foreign ministry Hua Chunying said US-China economic and trade relations “are mutually beneficial.”

She added that she hoped the new US policy will contribute to “our common safeguard of the international peace and security.”

Trump’s National Security Strategy was a year in the making.

Beyond its focus on economic competitiveness, it will mark a break with his Democratic and Republican predecessors when it comes to “homeland” and border security, the US official added.

Trump has cracked down on immigration and wants a wall built on the Mexican border.

The new national security document is to be released following a speech by the president.

It identifies four main priorities: protecting the country and the American people, promoting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing American influence.

Climate not a priority 

Addressing the United Nations in late September — with a virulence rarely seen in that forum — Trump hammered home his attachment to American “sovereignty” while calling into question many aspects of the multilateral world order.

But despite the fiery delivery, the address fell short of spelling out a veritable “Trump doctrine” regarding America’s place in the world.

Asked about the role of climate change in the new document, the administration official said it “is not identified as a national security threat” to the US.

Ascending to power on a message resolutely sceptical of climate change, Trump said in June that he would pull the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change signed by almost 200 countries.

Obama was one of the main architects of the Paris pact to curb global warming, and had underscored on several occasions how climate and security had become intertwined.

A year before he left office, Obama said climate change would affect the way America’s military must defend the country, through profound adjustments in organization, training and protection of infrastructure.

“Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows and conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” according to the last National Security Strategy, issued in February 2015 during Obama’s tenure.

On that occasion, he argued at length against the temptation to make hasty decisions in the management of international crises.

“In a complex world, many of the security problems we face do not lend themselves to quick and easy fixes,” Obama wrote, calling for “strategic patience and persistence.”

3. Presidential election campaign kicks off in Russia:-

Russia on Monday officially kicked off its presidential election campaign after the upper house of parliament published its resolution. The Russian Federation Council or upper house of parliament published its resolution in the Russian daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta, reported TASS.

Russia has fixed March 18 for the presidential election next year. A total of 23 people, including incumbent leader Vladimir Putin, have announced their wish to run for the post of president in the 2018 election, the head of the Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, said.

Putin has stated that he will contest the presidential election slate next year as an independent candidate while hoping for support from the political ‘forces sharing his views on the country’s development’. He won the 2012 presidential election as a candidate from the United Russia party.

The party has already voiced its support for Putin. While Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov is reportedly yet to confirm his candidacy, Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and opposition journalist Ksenia Sobchak have declared their ambitions to run for the post, reported the local media. Meanwhile, opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been barred from running for the presidential elections.

4. 10 killed in a stampede at Bangladesh politician’s funeral:-

Ten people were killed and dozens injured in a stampede Monday after tens of thousands of people gathered for a funeral feast in Bangladesh`s southern city of Chittagong, police said.

Police and hospital staff said they feared the death toll could rise.

“So far we can confirm the death toll of 10 men,” city police chief Iqbal Bahar told AFP, adding it appeared to be an “accident”.

“The death toll could rise as 15 people are critically injured,” said another police official, Mohammad Alauddin.

Police staged baton charges to clear the crowd who packed community centres for the afternoon feast commemorating a popular former city mayor.

Mohiuddin Chowdhury, a senior politician of the ruling Awami League party and a three-term mayor of the country`s second largest city, died on Friday. He was 73.

In line with local Muslim traditions his family and the party hosted the funeral feast, “Mejban”, which drew more than 100,000 people to several locations in the city to eat and pray.

Police official Masum Billah said at least 20 policemen under his command had to use force to control the crowd and prevent “heavier damage”.

“We did not want to charge batons on the mourners but we were left with no choice,” he said.

TV footage showed scores of abandoned sandals and shoes littering the community centre entrance beside broken decorative clay flower pots where the stampede happened.

Family members rushed to the local hospital where the injured were taken, where relatives also wept for their dead.

“We all mourn for them,” Shamim Reza, a local politician, told AFP.

Chowdhury`s family and local authorities had announced they would extend financial assistance to the relatives of those who died, Reza added.

5. Possibility of nuclear war in South Asia cannot be ruled out: Pakistani NSA:-

Pakistan’s security czar today said that the stability of the South Asian region hangs in a delicate balance and the possibility of a nuclear war cannot be ruled out.

National Security Advisor Lt Gen (retd.) Nasser Khan Janjua also accused the US of conspiring against the multi- billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with India, The Express Tribune reported.

Addressing a seminar on issues of national security here, Janjua claimed that India has been stockpiling a range of dangerous weapons and it threatens Pakistan continuously of conventional warfare.

“The stability of the South Asian region hangs in a delicate balance, and the possibility of nuclear war cannot be ruled out,” he claimed.

The NSA stressed that supporting US forces in the region had given birth to the rise of terrorism inside the country.

“As the Taliban grow stronger in Afghanistan, America has started to shift the blame for its failures in the country onto Pakistan,” he said.

He also alleged that as part of its policy to counter Chinese influence in South Asia, the US is conspiring against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor along with India.

“The US has given India role in Afghanistan’s political process, giving New Delhi priority over Islamabad, and has opposed the CPEC,” he said.

The nearly USD 50 billion CPEC, a flagship project of China’s prestigious One Belt One Road (OBOR), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The CPEC links China’s restive Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

“The US-India alliance has an identical stance on the Kashmir issue, and America frequently gives India preference over Pakistan,” Janjua said.

He said Pakistan encountered the menace of terrorism only after it started supporting the operations of US-led forces in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has been battling with security problems for the past forty years. Peace in Afghanistan remains our top priority,” he said.

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