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  • China accuses US of interfering as Japan says Beijing is using pandemic to push territorial claims

    China accuses US of interfering as Japan says Beijing is using pandemic to push territorial claimsChina has attacked a US State Department statement rejecting Beijing's disputed claims in the South China Sea and called Washington's accusations of China bullying its neighbours "completely unjustified". The comment came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday rejected China's disputed claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea, saying they were "completely unlawful". "The United States is not a country directly involved in the disputes. However, it has kept interfering in the issue," the Chinese Embassy in the United States said in statement published on its website. "Under the pretext of preserving stability, it is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region." Beijing insists its intentions in the waterway, through which around $3 trillion of global trade passes each year, are peaceful. But Japan's annual defence review accuses China of pushing its territorial claims amid the coronavirus pandemic and suspects Beijing of spreading propaganda and disinformation as it provides medical aid to nations fighting Covid-19. China "is continuing to attempt to alter the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea," Japan said in the defence white paper approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government on Tuesday. The white paper described "relentless" intrusions in waters around a group of islets claimed by both nations in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. In the South China Sea, it said Beijing was asserting territorial claims by establishing administrative districts around disputed islands, that forced countries distracted by the coronavirus outbreak to respond. Japan sees China as a longer-term and more serious threat than nuclear-armed North Korea. Beijing now spends four times as much as Tokyo on defence as it builds a large modern military. Japan's defence review also claimed China appeared to be responsible for "propaganda" and "disinformation" amid "social uncertainties and confusion" caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Such disinformation included online claims that the coronavirus was brought to China by a US military member, or that Chinese herbal remedies could treat Covid-19, a defence ministry official said at a briefing. Other threats faced by Japan include North Korea's ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as well as a resurgence of military activity by Russia in the skies and waters in Japan, at times in joint drills with China, the defence review said

  • UN: Airstrike in northwest Yemen kills 7 children, 2 women
  • EU summit may not reach recovery fund deal: Merkel

    EU summit may not reach recovery fund deal: MerkelGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday it is unclear whether EU leaders will reach agreement on a 750-billion-euro pandemic recovery fund at this week's summit, amid resistance from more frugal member states. "The road that we have to tread is still rocky," said Merkel ahead of Friday's EU special summit. "Because the task is enormous, the answer must also be huge," she said, after hosting Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for talks.

  • US discusses five-power summit with Russia

    US discusses five-power summit with RussiaThe United States said Monday that it spoke with Russia about convening a summit of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a key priority for President Vladimir Putin. In a telephone call, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "discussed convening P5 leaders in the near future to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations," the State Department said. Putin has been urging such a summit that would bring him together with US President Donald Trump, potentially just before the Republican vies for reelection in November.

  • Fake pharmaceutical industry thrives in West Africa

    Fake pharmaceutical industry thrives in West AfricaLaw enforcement agencies are battling to break foreign-linked criminal syndicates.

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  • US eyes world power summit for UN anniversary amid crises

    US eyes world power summit for UN anniversary amid crisesSecretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke Monday to his Russian counterpart about convening the leaders of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the State Department said. The department said Pompeo spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the possibility of a commemorative event “in the near future” that would involve President Donald Trump and the leaders of Britain, China, France and Russia.

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  • Immigration courts reopen despite rising coronavirus cases

    Immigration courts reopen despite rising coronavirus casesThree immigration courts reopened Monday as the government extended its push to fully restart the clogged system despite rising coronavirus cases in states where many of the small courtrooms are located. In Baltimore, people with hearings to reach final decisions were allowed to enter the federal building housing the immigration court only if they wore masks. Benches in a courtroom and seats in a waiting area were blocked off with tape, and social distancing signs were placed on the floor and elevators.

  • Brexit: Get ready because this time it’s for real

    Brexit: Get ready because this time it’s for realA new government document on preparing for Brexit presents a daunting checklist for business.

  • Rights group: Reporter jailed in Egypt dies from virus
  • Row erupts over exclusion of social care workers from health visa despite their sacrifices during pandemic

    Row erupts over exclusion of social care workers from health visa despite their sacrifices during pandemicCare home staff have been virtually excluded from the new post-Brexit, fast-track visa for health and social care workers, as the Government insisted British workers could make up the shortfall. Government officials admitted the vast majority of care staff - many from Eastern Europe - will fall short in the new points-based immigration system that will only allow in migrants from January 1 next year if they have skilled job offers, speak English and meet minimum salary thresholds. The visa, which has cut-price fees and exempts workers from the immigration health surcharge, was trailed at the weekend as being targeted at “health and care” workers. It raised hopes in the social care sector which claims it faces shortages of 122,000 staff. But, despite the visa’s name, the list of professions who can use it, in an appendix of the 130-page Government policy document, does not cover care staff. They are only referred to in the lists of skilled workers but then as higher-grade care “managers” or “owners.” The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We want employers to invest more in training and development for care workers in this country. "On care workers specifically, our independent migration advisers have said that immigration is not the sole answer here, which is why we have provided councils with an additional £1.5 billion of funding for social care in 2021/22, as well as launching a new recruitment campaign." The move provoked anger in the industry. Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, the biggest body for UK social care services, said he was “irritated” at the treatment of a social care workforce who had “proved themselves” in the midst of a pandemic. He said it demonstrated that Government claims to be integrating health and social care were hollow and would leave the sector facing chronic shortages. “Social care workers are being treated as second class citizens. There is a mismatch between rhetoric and reality. The Government needs to close the gap,” said Professor Green. It also sparked a political row. Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow home secretary, said it was “yet another insult from this Tory party to those who have been at the frontline of this crisis.” However, a Tory source said: “Petty and pathetic for the Labour party to use care workers as a political cover as they try and keep mass unskilled unlimited immigration into this country – despite the repeated votes of the British people.” The points system: The points-based immigration system - a centrepiece of Mr Johnson’s election manifesto - aims to end businesses’ reliance on cheap low-skilled migrants and instead force them to recruit more British workers from an anticipated pool of unemployed likely after the Covid-19 pandemic. With the ending of free movement, skilled EU and non-EU migrants will be treated the same and have to earn 70 points to work in the UK. To get the first 50, they need to have a job offer from an approved employer, speak English and have a job at the appropriate skill level (A-level or above). They must obtain a further 20 “tradeable” points through a combination of points for their salary, a job in a shortage occupation or a PhD relevant to their work. They can get 20 points if their salary is above a threshold of £25,600 or the “going rate” for their job. Applicants can drop below that and still trade for points if, for example, they are a new entrant or under 26, but no-one can be paid less than £20,480, £4,000 more than the average in the care sector. Criminality: The document confirms that foreign criminals, from both the EU and rest of the world, who have been jailed for more than a year could be banned from coming to Britain or deported under the new rules, as revealed in Monday’s Telegraph. Border Force and immigration officials will also be able to bar foreign migrants found guilty of serious harm even if they have been sentenced to less than a year in jail as well as persistent offenders such as prolific thieves, burglars and pickpockets. There is also a catch-all where “the 12-month criminality deportation threshold is not met, a foreign criminal will still be considered for deportation where it is conducive to the public good, including where they have serious or persistent criminality.” Language tests: Foreign students coming to the UK will be expected to speak to A-level or equivalent standard,while skilled workers will have to be up to AS-level standards, which means being able to hold a conversation, explain plans and understand instructions. They will be expected to pass a test or have an academic degree taught in English or be a national of a majority English speaking country. Employers’ £1,000 fees: Employers who sponsor migrant workers must pay £1,000 per skilled worker for the first year with an additional £500 charge for each subsequent six-month period. Charities and small and medium-sized businesses have discounted rates of £364. The money raised through the levy will pay for training up British workers but is expected to be reviewed in 2020 depending on migrant numbers. Exemptions for highly-skilled workers: A special “highly-skilled” worker group is to be created at some point next year for “small numbers” who would not need a job offer before being allowed into the UK. It supplements the “global talent” route where “global leaders and the leaders of tomorrow in science, humanities, engineering, the arts” can get visas without job offers but must have the approval of a recognised UK body like a royal academy or arts council. There will be no limit on the number of international students to approved universities or colleges, while foreign graduates at UK universities will be allowed to stay in the UK for two years, rising to three years for PHD graduates.

  • Protest in Pennsylvania after cop uses knee to restrain man

    Protest in Pennsylvania after cop uses knee to restrain manActivists against police brutality expressed outrage and demanded accountability Monday after video emerged over the weekend of an officer placing his knee on a man’s head and neck area outside a Pennsylvania hospital. Allentown police released a much longer surveillance video of the incident that showed the officer putting his knee on the man's head and neck area twice while he was being restrained a few steps from the emergency room entrance — the first time for eight seconds, the second for 20 seconds. The man appeared to be “suffering from a medical, mental health or drug and alcohol crisis,” police said in a statement late Monday.

  • Fly without flapping? Andean condors surf air 99% of time

    Fly without flapping? Andean condors surf air 99% of timeA new study sheds light on just how efficiently the world’s largest soaring bird rides air currents to stay aloft for hours without flapping its wings. The Andean condor has a wingspan stretching to 10 feet and weighs up to 33 pounds, making it the heaviest soaring bird alive today. For the first time, a team of scientists strapped recording equipment they called “daily diaries” to eight condors in Patagonia to record each wingbeat over more than 250 hours of flight time.

  • As virus spreads, Bolsonaro ties with military under strain

    As virus spreads, Bolsonaro ties with military under strainAfter 35 years of civilian-led democracy, President Jair Bolsonaro has created the most militarized Brazilian government since the fall of the country’s dictatorship. Packing his Cabinet with retired and active-duty generals and giving more than 3,000 government jobs to soldiers, Bolsonaro has prompted criticism from political opponents that he is co-opting the prestige of the Brazilian military in order to erode democratic institutions. In recent weeks, however, influential figures in military spheres have begun a pushback against his use of the armed forces.

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  • Ten-Hut! Mask On! Class of 2024 to West Point amid pandemic

    Ten-Hut! Mask On! Class of 2024 to West Point amid pandemicNew cadet candidates arriving at the U.S. Military Academy on Monday were promptly tested for COVID-19, stood at attention in face masks and were given shouted orders to wash their hands. The transition from civilian to West Point cadet is different for the Class of 2024 as the academy adapts to the pandemic, starting with Reception Day, or R-Day.

  • Family told no footage of shooting of autistic Palestinian

    Family told no footage of shooting of autistic PalestinianThe family of an autistic Palestinian man who was killed by Israeli police was informed by investigators on Monday that a security camera at the site of the shooting was not working, their lawyer said. The revelation raised new fears by the family of Eyad Hallaq that no one will be punished in the death of their son. “We were informed today that the security camera in the place of the killing was not working, so there is no evidence about what happened,” said lawyer Jad Qadamani.

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  • US rejects nearly all Chinese claims in South China Sea

    US rejects nearly all Chinese claims in  South China SeaThe Trump administration escalated its actions against China on Monday by stepping squarely into one of the most sensitive regional issues dividing them and rejecting outright nearly all of Beijing’s significant maritime claims in the South China Sea. The administration presented the decision as an attempt to curb China’s increasing assertiveness in the region with a commitment to recognizing international law. It also comes as President Donald Trump has come under growing fire for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, stepped up criticism of China ahead of the 2020 election and sought to paint his expected Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, as weak on China.

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  • Prosecutors: Epstein victim to speak at associate's hearing

    Prosecutors: Epstein victim to speak at associate's hearingOne or more victims of Jeffrey Epstein will tell a judge Tuesday that his ex-girlfriend should be denied bail on charges that she recruited teenage girls for him to sexually abuse in the 1990s, prosecutors said Monday. Prosecutors made the revelation in court papers as they argued there is no reason to free British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell on bail. “As the agents approached the front door to the main house, they announced themselves as FBI agents and directed the defendant to open the door," prosecutors wrote.

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  • Victims' relatives most vocal opponents of man's execution

    Victims' relatives most vocal opponents of man's executionFamily members of three people slain in Arkansas more than 20 years ago have been among the most vocal opponents to the federal government's plan to execute one of the men convicted of killing their loved ones. Hours after the scheduled time for Lee’s execution, it was unclear whether any of the executions would go forward.

  • Millennials and boomers: Pandemic pain, by the generation

    Millennials and boomers: Pandemic pain, by the generationFor baby boomers, named for the post-World War II surge of births, that means those who are retired or are nearing retirement are seeing their 401(k) accounts and IRAs looking unreliable while their health is at high risk. Millennials, who became young adults in this century, are getting socked again just as they were beginning to recover after what a Census researcher found were the Great Recession's hardest hits to jobs and pay. “The long-lasting effects of the Great Recession on millennials, that was kind of scarring,” said Gray Kimbrough, a millennial and an economist at American University in Washington.

  • New Jersey woman survives mile-long ride through storm drain
  • Judge seeks more details on Trump's clemency for Roger Stone

    Judge seeks more details on Trump's clemency for Roger StoneA federal judge on Monday demanded more information about President Donald Trump's decision to commute the prison sentence of longtime ally Roger Stone. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered that the parties provide her by Tuesday with a copy of the executive order that commuted Stone's sentence.

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  • More than 200 schools back lawsuit over foreign student rule

    More than 200 schools back lawsuit over foreign student ruleMore than 200 universities are backing a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s new restrictions on international students, arguing that the policy jeopardizes students' safety and forces schools to reconsider fall plans they have spent months preparing. The schools have signed court briefs supporting Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as they sue U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in federal court in Boston. The lawsuit challenges a recently announced directive saying international students cannot stay in the U.S. if they take all their classes online this fall.

  • Justice Department to investigate Portland protest shooting

    Justice Department to investigate Portland protest shootingThe U.S. Marshals Service is investigating after a protester was hospitalized in critical condition over the weekend after being hit in the head by a less-lethal round fired by a federal law enforcement officer, authorities said Monday. The investigation into the shooting will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy J. Williams said. “I want to make it very clear so that there’s no confusion,” Portland's Democratic mayor, Ted Wheeler, said on Monday.

  • Coronavirus: Infections rising amid economic downturn in Africa

    Coronavirus: Infections rising amid economic downturn in AfricaCountries have taken different routes in lifting restrictions - and some are reinstating them.

  • Mobile roaming: What will happen to charges after Brexit?

    Mobile roaming: What will happen to charges after Brexit?Will Britons be able to use their mobile phones in Europe after Brexit transition without paying extra?

  • Nelson Mandela's daughter Zindzi dies at 59

    Nelson Mandela's daughter Zindzi dies at 59The youngest daughter of South Africa's first black president dies in Johannesburg.

  • UN: Pandemic could push tens of millions into chronic hunger

    UN: Pandemic could push tens of millions into chronic hungerThe United Nations says the ranks of the world’s hungry grew by 10 million last year and warns that the coronavirus pandemic could push as many as 130 million more people into chronic hunger this year. The grim assessment was contained in the latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, an annual report released Monday by the five U.N. agencies that produced it. The U.N. agencies estimated that nearly 690 million people, or nearly 9% of the world's population, went hungry last year, an increase of 10 million since 2018 and of nearly 60 million since 2014.

  • Sudan: Armed groups attack protest camp in Darfur, kill 13
  • World hunger worsening as coronavirus weighs and obesity rises: UN

    World hunger worsening as coronavirus weighs and obesity rises: UNNearly one in nine people in the world are going hungry, with the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating already worsening trends this year, according to a United Nations report published Monday. Economic slowdowns and climate-related shocks are pushing more people into hunger, while nutritious foods remain too expensive for many, contributing not only to undernourishment, but to growing rates of obesity in adults and children. "After decades of long decline, the number of people suffering from hunger has been slowly increasing since 2014," said the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World annual report.

  • Time to make masks mandatory? It's not just a US debate

    Time to make masks mandatory? It's not just a US debateAmid pervasive backsliding on social distancing, Britain has made masks mandatory in shops and France is weighing whether to require people to wear them in public places. Scientists say the two countries' governments should have done so ever since they started easing lockdowns — like many other European nations did – instead of exposing their populations to the risk of infections from mass dance parties and summer vacationers who think there’s no longer anything to worry about. Whether to make masks mandatory isn't just a matter of debate in the United States, where infection rates are still climbing fast.

  • After court losses, Texas GOP to consider online convention

    After court losses, Texas GOP to consider online conventionThe Republican Party of Texas said Monday it would consider moving its convention online after several courts refused to force Houston to allow in-person events the city canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hours after the Texas Supreme Court dismissed the party's appeal, the state GOP said in a statement that its executive committee would meet Monday night to vote on canceling a three-day event that would have drawn potentially thousands of people. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, said last week that he had directed city lawyers to terminate the contract because he believed the event could not be held safely.

  • Legal experts review Black Minnesota teen's life sentence

    Legal experts review Black Minnesota teen's life sentenceAn independent panel of national legal experts will review the conviction of an African American man sentenced as a teenager to life in prison for the murder of a little girl struck by a stray bullet, Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and the New York-based Innocence Project announced Monday. Myon Burrell, 34, has spent nearly two decades behind bars.

  • Coronavirus: South Africans divided over second alcohol ban

    Coronavirus: South Africans divided over second alcohol banWhile some back the government restrictions others say citizens are being blamed for state failures.

  • Anti-Kremlin protests rock Russia's once sleepy hinterland

    Anti-Kremlin protests rock Russia's once sleepy hinterlandTens of thousand people have been rallying on the streets of the regional capital of Russia’s Far East since Saturday to protest the arrest of opposition governor Sergei Furgal and voice a general frustration with Moscow’s perceived heavy-handed tactics. Khabarovsk, a city of 600,000 people on the border with China and seven time zones away from Moscow, erupted in protest on Saturday when an estimated 30,000 people took to the streets chanting “Free Furgal!” and “Putin, resign!” Local media have described the rally as the largest in the city’s history. Protests persisted on Sunday and Monday when hundreds of angry residents came out in defiance of an explicit ban on public gatherings. Khabarovsk's local government on Monday broke the silence on the weekend of peaceful protests, warning citizens against rioting “We cannot allow mass unrest and clashes with law enforcement,” the government said in a statement on Monday. “If you stand against lawlessness, don’t break the law!” About a thousand people gathered on Monday evening in central Khabarovsk and marched through the streets, chanting “Bring Furgal home!” and “Furgal is our choice!” “I’ve never seen that many people in my living memory,” Alexei Vorsin, a local activist aligned with opposition politician Alexei Navalny, told the Telegraph on Monday. With Mr Furgal beating the Kremlin candidate in 2018 “people felt there was a chance for change, and it’s all been destroyed.” Alexei Izotov, a Khabarovsk businessman who is moving to western Russia this autumn, says the protests are channeling long-harboured frustrations with Moscow. “The region is in disarray,” he told the Telegraph. “Everything that’s being said on TV about development and big projects is just fiction. People in the region feel both geographically and financially cut off from the rest of Russia.”

  • How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an Enemy

    How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an EnemyKABUL, Afghanistan -- During one of the most violent stretches of fighting in northern Afghanistan, as the Taliban scored victories that had eluded them since the beginning of the conflict, the top U.S. commander went public with a suspicion that had nagged for years: Russia was aiding the insurgents.In diplomatic circles in Kabul around the time of that accusation, in 2017, there were murmurs that the Russian assistance had included night-vision goggles and armor-piercing ammunition.But Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander, offered no definitive evidence, and that spoke to how confusing the battlefield had become as three longtime adversaries -- the Taliban, Russia and Iran -- agreed on their common interest in seeing the Americans leave Afghanistan. In the maze of corruption, cash and foreign hands in Afghanistan, it was no easy task to pin down who was doing what."We've had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and said, 'This was given by the Russians to the Taliban,'" Nicholson said a year later. "We know that the Russians are involved."The recent revelation of an American intelligence assessment that Russia had provided the Taliban with bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops stunned political leaders in Washington and added a potent dose of Cold War-style skulduggery to deliberations over Afghanistan's future. Both Russia and the Taliban have rejected the assertion.But while that would be a notable escalation of Russian interference in Afghanistan, it was clear to many officials that Russia had been working to hedge its bets with the Taliban for years. The Russians saw the Afghan government as entirely controlled by the United States, and at worst so fragile that it would struggle to survive the U.S. withdrawal.In interviews, Afghan and U.S. officials and foreign diplomats with years of experience in Kabul say that what began as a diplomatic channel between Russia and the Taliban just under a decade ago has more recently blossomed into a mutually beneficial alliance that has allowed the Kremlin to reassert its influence in the region.The shift coincided with increasing hostility between the U.S. and Russia over Syria's civil war and other conflicts, analysts say, as well as Russia's frustration with rising instability in Afghanistan and the slow pace of the U.S. pullout.Now, the U.S. is conducting the troop withdrawal it agreed to with the Taliban even without a final peace deal between the insurgents and the Afghan government which the U.S. has supported for years. But Russia's covert efforts, officials and analysts say, are aimed at harassing and embarrassing the U.S. as the troops leave rather than profoundly changing the course of the conflict."It was in modest quantities; it was not designed to be a game changer on the battlefield," Nicholson, who has since retired from the military, told the House Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday about Russian arms and aid to the Taliban. "For example, the Taliban wanted surface-to-air missiles, the Russians didn't give it to them. So I always concluded that their support to the Taliban was calibrated in some sense."Some pointed out the considerably more extensive U.S. efforts to support the mujahedeen insurgency against the Soviet Union in the 1980s."We did the same," said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA field officer in Afghanistan who retired last year as the agency's acting chief of operations in Europe and Eurasia. "We turned the heat up as the Russians were leaving Afghanistan.""Putin," he said, "is a student of history."As things began turning on the battlefield in recent years, officials described increasing suspicions of a greater Russian role in helping the Taliban. But they often struggled to pin down specifics, other than occasional influxes of new weapons and munitions that could have had several sources. In addition to Pakistan's well-established support to the Taliban, Iran was taking a greater hand in helping the insurgents, and often using similar channels as the Russians, Afghan intelligence officials say.The dots began connecting more clearly during a stretch of alarming violence in northern Afghanistan, when the Taliban twice overran Kunduz city, a provincial capital, in 2015 and 2016, sending the U.S. military scrambling.As Afghan intelligence narrowed in on the ambitious regional Taliban commander behind those assaults, they tracked his travel back and forth across the nearby border with Tajikistan, a Russian intelligence stronghold, according to current and former senior Afghan security officials. Kunduz is also the base of operations for two Afghan businessmen who U.S. intelligence officials say acted as middlemen in the bounty scheme between Russian intelligence officers and Taliban fighters.U.S. officials say they confronted Russia about its aid to the Taliban on several occasions, but their public claims lacked detail, and it never amounted to a major issue. Russian officials said they received no documented evidence.Three decades after the Soviet military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia's cultural, economic and personal ties in the country remain deep. When Russia has looked to exert influence, whether benign or otherwise, it has had a host of friends to call on: Soviet-trained generals who led the Afghan forces for years on American pay; businessmen who bragged of friendship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia; politicians who kept homes in Moscow even as they grew rich on U.S. contracts.For much of the first decade of the war, the U.S. did not really have to worry about the deep Russian reach into Afghan society, as Putin's government was aligned with the U.S. mission of defeating al-Qaida and Islamist groups that Moscow also saw as a threat -- including the Taliban.Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show genuine attempts by both sides to coordinate efforts in Afghanistan. Russian officials spoke of a "collective fist" in the fight against terrorism, and urged unity "with one voice -- the American voice."But as the war in Afghanistan dragged on, and the two powers took opposing sides in the crises in Syria and Ukraine, the Russians increasingly saw the U.S. mission as failed, and the American presence in the region as a threat.U.S. intelligence officials now date Russia's discreet outreach to the Taliban as beginning about eight years ago -- around the time that Putin, after a four-year hiatus as prime minister, reassumed the presidency with a more confrontational posture with the West.The mistrust soon became intense enough that Russian officials accused the U.S. of playing a hand in the rise of an Islamic State group chapter in Afghanistan around 2015, with many of its earliest fighters being extremist militants from Central Asia who yearned to bring a holy war against Russia.At a meeting of the Russian Security Council in 2013, Putin said his country could no longer stand by in the face of failures by the U.S. and its partners."We need a clear action strategy, which will take into account different possible developments," Putin said at the meeting. "The task is to reliably protect the interests of Russia under any circumstances."Leading the portfolio on the diplomatic front was Zamir Kabulov, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and reportedly a former Russian intelligence operative.Kabulov began publicly criticizing the U.S. for weaknesses in the Afghan government and for failing to rein in Islamist militancy there -- and increasingly describing the Afghan Taliban as a national entity that posed no threat beyond the country's borders and could be worked with.Reports increased about Taliban figures making trips to Russia. And just as the U.S. and Taliban were finalizing details of the U.S. withdrawal, Russia brought the same Taliban leaders into Moscow meetings with a large number of Afghan political figures for discussions over the political future of the country.As the U.S. has drawn down its military presence, it has increasingly relied on Afghan partners for intelligence and counterintelligence. What Afghan security officials were seeing in recent years, particularly in the north, was a deeply messy reality.Around the time they began focusing more on Russian activities, the Afghans also unraveled an Iranian scheme of distributing arms to discontented warlords and militia commanders -- the weapons were Russian, and the route was through Tajikistan, officials said. The Iranian scheme was short-lived, one senior Afghan official said, after Iran realized the weapons it was providing were turning up in the saturated black market.The Russians often used the hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel imports for NATO and Afghan forces as a way to inject cash into Afghanistan to ensure influence and keep intelligence assets on their side. One former senior Afghan official said that instead of direct cash transfers, the Russians would mostly arrange for the convoys of oil tankers snaking into Afghanistan to be topped with extra fuel that would be cached for circulation inside the country.Though the countries of Central Asia gained their independence after the Soviet collapse, Russia has never let go of its foothold in the region. In one cable, a Russian diplomat described the borders of countries like Tajikistan, where the Russian air force still has about 7,000 troops, as "an extension of its own border."When the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan in 1990s, Tajikistan was a hub for the resistance commanders who received aid from Russia and Iran. In the 20 years since the U.S. invasion, the country has become a center of criminal traffic and of vice, a kind of adult playground for many of the Afghan elite who frequently travel back and forth to Tajikistan and often have family there.In that mix of spies, money and mafia, the Taliban, too, found a foothold. The insurgents made a point of taking and maintaining control of some of the border crossings from Kunduz province into Tajikistan. From the south of the country all the way to the north, they had border access to evade military pressure, maintain ties with friendly foreigners and keep a channel for the opium trade that partly finances the insurgency.Several Afghan officials, including Asadullah Omarkhel, who was the governor of Kunduz at the time, said they shared with the Americans intelligence that Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban commander who led the assaults on Kunduz, repeatedly crossed into Tajikistan for what they suspected were discussions with Russian agents. A Tajik news outlet reported meetings between Russian officials and Taliban commanders at a Russian air base in Tajikistan as early as 2015. And it was these border crossings that the Taliban used to bring weapons in, officials say.Omarkhel said Americans initially were not confident about claims of Taliban ties to Russia, but then they started striking the Taliban bases along the border, including a strike that killed Salam.At Thursday's congressional hearing, Nicholson repeated his accusation of Russia arming the Taliban, noting that even though the aid was not extensive, it still had an effect."In the northern part of Afghanistan, in particular in Kunduz, the Russian assistance did help the Taliban inflict higher casualties on the Afghan security forces and more hardship on the Afghan people," he said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

  • Fire ravages ship for 2nd day; sends acrid haze over city

    Fire ravages ship for 2nd day; sends acrid haze over cityFlames tore through a warship for a second day Monday as a top Navy official revealed that a fire suppression system was inoperable when the blaze erupted while the ship was docked in San Diego. Meanwhile, acrid smoke from the blaze wafted across San Diego and health officials urged people to stay indoors if they smelled it. Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck said fire temperatures had reached up to 1,000 degrees, causing the mast of the ship to collapse and threatening the central control island where the captain operates the vessel.

  • Romance scam: US woman freed after year as hostage in Nigeria

    Romance scam: US woman freed after year as hostage in NigeriaThe 46-year-old woman from Washington DC was held for more than a year and lost $48,000, police say.

  • Iran says virus death toll tops 13,000

    Iran says virus death toll tops 13,000Iran reported on Monday more than 200 new coronavirus fatalities that took the overall toll in the Middle East's deadliest outbreak beyond 13,000. "Unfortunately, in the past 24 hours, we have lost 203 of our compatriots due to the COVID-19 disease," said health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari. Lari said another 2,349 people had tested positive for the virus, raising the overall figure in the country's outbreak to 259,652.