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American University reopens, defying threats of attack

Defying threats of another deadly attack, the American University of Afghanistan, or AUAF, has re-opened in Kabul with upgraded security. Classes restarted on Tuesday, seven months after militants stormed its compound[1], located on a busy street in the western part of the Afghan capital, leaving 13 dead, including seven students, one lecturer, and a member of the Afghan security forces.

The attack forced the university which is the country s leading higher education institution to shut down and left the fate of hundreds of students in limbo, until it officially reopened on 25 March, although its Professional Development Institute, which is also a major test centre for international examinations including TOEFL, GRE and international accountancy qualifications, reopened in January. The university has moved all of its faculty staff and some students into housing on the campus. It has fortified and almost doubled the height of the boundary walls, with guard towers and checkpoints manned by heavily armed foreign guards employed by a Canadian private security firm.

We are very grateful to the Afghan government, particularly President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani who granted us an exemption to hire a foreign security firm, which is not usually allowed in Afghanistan anymore, Zubaida Akbar, the university s director for communications, told University World News. Private security guards had previously been banned in Afghanistan since 2010.

Akbar noted that against all the predictions, the turnout at the university has been impressive. In fact, the enrolment rate has been higher than ever; we have 80 new students this year, the campus is much larger and with many more facilities and features than before, she added. She said the university had been in touch with its students via the internet throughout the past seven months to ensure they stay on track with the syllabus.

Upbeat mood

Despite haunting memories of the horror last August, the mood on campus has been upbeat upon re-opening. Students embraced each other warmly, and Afghan Year greetings the new year began on 21 March resounded around campus as students resumed their studies. Political science student Rahmatullah Amiri was shot with three bullets during the deadly assault on the campus last year. We will never give up on our quest for knowledge; what the militants did [at the university] was absolutely wrong from all perspectives, he said this week, showing a resistance typical of Afghan people after decades of conflict.

Another student, Mohammad Haseeb, 21, said AUAF is his best chance for a quality education. I am determined to complete my studies here no matter what, he told University World News. Shukria Sultani is among many young Afghan women at the university, a third-year student at the faculty of business and administration. Sultani praised AUAF for taking care of students post-education life by helping them seek internships and jobs and said she was content with the faculty members and academic system at the university. Parents of students have been invited to visit the campus to see the new security measures, to allay their fears of another attack militants have targeted educational institutions in recent years.

Established in 2006, the AUAF, with some 1,700 students, offers graduate and undergraduate programmes based on the United States system. However, due to its association with the US, it has been targeted by militants. Two of its professors, American Kevin King and Australian Tim Weeks, who were abducted[2] last year, remain in the custody of militants. The Taliban have never officially claimed responsibility, but David Sedney, the university s president[3] who was appointed after the attack, and US officials in Afghanistan have blamed Taliban militants for the attack . The university administration has said the university s security officials will work more closely with Afghan and international agencies to be better informed about possible threats.

Related Links
AFGHANISTAN
Video appeal by professors abducted by armed group[4]
AFGHANISTAN
New leader at American university after terror attack[5]
AFGHANISTAN
American University of Afghanistan closed after attack[6]

References

  1. ^ militants stormed its compound (www.universityworldnews.com)
  2. ^ abducted (www.universityworldnews.com)
  3. ^ David Sedney, the university s president (www.universityworldnews.com)
  4. ^ Video appeal by professors abducted by armed group (www.universityworldnews.com)
  5. ^ New leader at American university after terror attack (www.universityworldnews.com)
  6. ^ American University of Afghanistan closed after attack (www.universityworldnews.com)

Report warns that Beijing’s military bases in South China Sea are ready for use

Major construction at three of China s large man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea is wrapping up, allowing Beijing to deploy fighter jets and mobile missile launchers to the area at any time, a think tank said Monday. The building of military and dual-use infrastructure on the so-called Big 3 islands in the contested Spratly chain Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross reefs is in the final stages, with the naval, air, radar and defensive facilities largely complete, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI). All three islands boast hangers that can accommodate 24 fighter jets and four larger planes, including surveillance, transport, refueling or bomber aircraft. Hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers have also been built on the islands.

China has also constructed significant radar and sensor arrays on all three islands, positioning them close to point defense structures to provide protection against air or missile strikes. The think tank s analysis of satellite images offers some of the most conclusive evidence that, contrary to Beijing s assertions, China has continued to militarize the waters as it seeks to reinforce effective control of much of the waterway, through which $5 trillion in trade passes each year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims. China has built seven man-made islets in the hotly contested Spratlys, with three boasting military-grade airfields despite a 2015 pledge by Chinese President Xi Jinping not to further militarize them.

China s three air bases in the Spratlys and another on Woody Island in the Paracels will allow Chinese military aircraft to operate over nearly the entire South China Sea, AMTI said in the report. The same is true of China s radar coverage, made possible by advanced surveillance/early-warning radar facilities at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Cuarteron Reefs, as well as Woody Island, and smaller facilities elsewhere.

China has maintained HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems on Woody Island in the South China Sea s Paracel chain for more than a year and has deployed anti-ship cruise missiles to the island on at least one occasion, the report noted. Experts have said that deployment could be a blueprint for how China will proceed with its Spratly facilities.

Building a network of outposts in the South China Sea is a strategically assertive way to tilt the regional military balance in China s favor, according to a report released last year by Australia s Lowy Institute think tank entitled Shifting Waters: China s New Passive Assertiveness in Asian Maritime Security.

These strategic outposts will permit Beijing to enhance its power projection capabilities and establish anti-access zones right across the South China Sea, the report said. China will be able to extend the range and endurance of military and coast guard patrols; forward deploy air force, navy, and coast guard assets; and conduct aerial patrols over disputed waters, possibly in support of a future ADIZ (aid defense identification zone). The same report also said that a combination of ground-based radar facilities, air defenses, anti-ship missiles and forward-based fighter jets would facilitate the development of mini-denial zones extending southward from China s Hainan Island that it could use to effectively chase the U.S. Navy out of the waterway.

Monday s revelations of the near-complete construction at the three islands in the Spratlys comes ahead of plans by Japan to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May.

Which country are Trump officials talking to the most? (Hint: It’s not Russia)

In its first two months, the Trump administration arguably has spent more time with the Mexican government than with any other.

But experts are divided on whether that augurs well or poorly for U.S. relations with a nation that has been on the receiving end of President Donald Trump s harshest and most humiliating rhetorical attacks.

It s better if we cooperate, talk to each other, instead of pointing fingers at each other, Mexico s new ambassador to the United States, Ger nimo Guti rrez, said at a seminar in Washington last week. While the relationship is at a critical stage, Guti rrez stopped short of calling it a crisis. Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pe a Nieto canceled their first meeting over Trump s plan to build a wall on the border, but in the ensuing weeks there have been at least a half-dozen Cabinet-level meetings almost one a week and more phone calls between U.S. and Mexican diplomats. Whether it was at the White House or over Italian dinners at Caf Milano in Washington s Georgetown district, diplomats like Guti rrez and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray have spent hours with Jared Kushner, Trump s son-in-law and senior adviser, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Guti rrez said that never before at least that he could remember had Mexico been such a major focus of a new administration. That s a good and bad thing, he said, noting that Mexico has felt neglected in the past. He said he needed to be cautious but wanted to say the early meetings had been fruitful. He said it was important to keep the lines of communication open, and he warned of the reviving anti-American sentiment in Mexico and anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States. As the Chinese proverb says, Be careful what you wish for, because we were very much front and center from the outset. Mexican ambassador to the United States Ger nimo Guti rrez

Mexico experts like Andrew Selee, executive vice president of the Wilson Center, a Washington research center, see a deliberate effort to prevent a crucial relationship from sliding off the rails.

It really is a surprising level of engagement, Selee said in an interview. The only other country I can think of where we re seeing this kind of visible engagement is probably Israel. I don t see any other relationship where we re seeing as much. EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM

Mexico is arguably the United States most important bilateral relationship. It s a top trading partner and an ally on security and migration issues.

The concerns run the gamut: Last week, Mexican Attorney General Ra l Cervantes Andrade spent two days in Washington, meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Jeff Sessions, after Mexico helped recover New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady s Super Bowl jersey, then with Homeland Security chief Kelly on collaborating to battle drug trafficking and money laundering. That followed at least two earlier visits by Videgaray, who came to Washington earlier this month to object to a U.S. proposal to split children from their parents when families are apprehended trying to cross the border. Commerce Secretary Ross met with Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajarodo Villarreal. The two Mexican officials later had a dinner meeting with Ross and Secretary of State Tillerson. In February, Tillerson and Kelly visited Mexico City to explain an American plan to require migrants awaiting court hearings to do so in Mexico, regardless of where they came from.

EDITORS: END OPTIONAL TRIM

The two countries have had so many meetings that other governments are looking to Mexico for advice on dealing with the Trump administration. That s often a question that comes up when Latin American and European diplomats travel to Mexico to meet with government officials there.

They re saying Hey, tell me what is going on in the Trump administration. What is your experience? said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington organization focused on Latin America. They ve been sort of the specialists on the Trump administration because they ve had more exposure to them. It s unclear how productive the meetings actually are. Each side is sizing up the other. What is clear, though, is Mexico is the only country that combines the two issues that are pillars of Trump s campaign: trade and immigration. As they fill jobs, officials are discussing who might be best to deal with whom in the Mexican government.

Trump has staked out a politically caustic position on Mexico. He can t back down from building the wall without losing support among his base. And Pe a Nieto is under major pressure to distance himself from the United States.

This may be the calm before the storm, said Shifter, who frequently talks to officials from around the hemisphere. These issues of trade and immigration are not going away. EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE

While the Obama administration also had plenty of dealings with the Mexican government, that relationship was more one of continuity following the Bush administration. It was former President George W. Bush and former Mexican President Felipe Calder n who, in 2007, signed a bilateral security agreement the M rida Initiative to crack down on drug trafficking. The accord set up direct channels for U.S. and Mexican officials to share intelligence and the United States agreed to provide help to Mexican authorities. Under President Barack Obama, things were already in place. The two governments didn t need to talk as much, Shifter said.

Now they re saying, Is M rida going to continue? Shifter said. A working relationship that took three decades to develop is now in jeopardy because the politics have become so poisonous.

It really is a surprising level of engagement. The only other country I can think of where we re seeing this kind of visible engagement is probably Israel. Andrew Selee, Wilson Center

But after weeks of back and forth, the temperature of the rhetoric has dropped and diplomacy looks to have taken hold. Behind the scenes, senior members of both administrations see too much at stake to let relations spiral down. That means trying to ensure cooperation continues while finding a way to allow both presidents to save face. Mexico is the U.S. s third largest trading partner. The two countries collaborate on everything from drug trafficking to human trafficking. The United States has invested more than $2 billion through the M rida initiative, and the Mexican government, after decades of hostility, is now allowing U.S. investment in its oil industry.

The extent of shared interests was on display, noted former Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarakhan, when Videgaray and Villarreal dined earlier this month with Ross and Tillerson at Caf Milano, a tony destination for Washington s movers and shakers. The restaurant was to have been the site of a planned assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States by the Al Quds Force, a branch of Iran s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The plot was broken up by U.S. authorities with the help of Mexican officials who had discovered that the Iranians had reached out to a Mexican drug cartel to arrange the killing.

Guti rrez does see opportunities. He thinks the two countries relationship will be stronger once they get through this rough patch. He got several laughs recently when he half-joked to former ambassadors and business leaders about the odd feeling of being the focus of a new administration, when in the past Mexican officials have been critical of the United States for neglecting them.

As the Chinese proverb says, Be careful what you wish for, because we were very much front and center from the outset, Guti rrez said. And that is both bad and good.

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