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Donald Trump To Withdraw US Troops From Afghanistan Ahead Of Schedule

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US President Donald Trump has reiterated his resolve to “bring our soldiers back home” from Afghanistan, publicly questioning the purpose of the U.S. military presence in the war-torn region of Afghanistan.

Donald Trump reemphasised his objective amid reports that the ongoing U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan “is well ahead of schedule” outlined in a historical pact signed between the US and Taliban to end the nearly 19-year-old war.

“We are acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are, in Afghanistan,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. After 19 years, it was time for Afghan authorities to police their own country, he wrote.

Under the U.S.-Taliban pact, Washington had promised to diminish its military strength in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July before withdrawing all soldiers, along with several thousand partners in a NATO-led non-combatant mission by mid-2021.

Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential election campaign had talked about ending America’s “forever wars” and many believe that the move taken in the last year of his presidency is seen as an attempt to fulfil his electoral promises.

The US media has also been quick to interpret Trump’s actions as an effort towards strengthening his election campaign for the upcoming Presidential elections, scheduled for November 2020.

“President Trump reportedly wants to bring all U.S. soldiers home from Afghanistan by Election Day so that he can brag on the campaign trail about fulfilling his promise to ‘end endless wars’,” believes Damon Linker, a consulting editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Earlier in a media briefing when Trump was asked if he had plans to bring troops home from by Thanksgiving, he replied: “I have no target, but as soon as reasonable, over a period of time, but as soon as reasonable.”

The Thanksgiving holiday which falls in late November while the elections are scheduled for early November sum up Trump’s whole act of being ahead of the timeline (to withdraw from Afghanistan).

The CNN reports that “the closely-held discussions were sparked in part by worries that President Donald Trump may want to withdraw troops before voters go to the polls in order to fulfil his 2016 campaign promise to bring troops home, the officials said.”

The US has lost thousands of its able servicemen in the Asian country in the 19 years. The US-Taliban pact is understood as a breath of relief by many who view Trump’s actions as bold. However, Linker says “But if he (Trump) doesn’t do it right, the withdrawal from Afghanistan will blow up in his face, setting back broad-based efforts to change the course of American foreign policy.”

The aftermath of the U.S.-Taliban agreement has witnessed its own ups and downs with spikes in violent activity. However, a bit of positive momentum has been initiated in the recent days as the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire during the Eid-al-Fitr holiday, to which the Afghan government agreed and released about 2,000 Taliban prisoners.

Americas

China Imposes Sanctions On US Defence Giant Behind F-16s, F-22 Raptors

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China has threatened to impose sanctions on US defence giant Lockheed Martin – the makers of Stealth F-22 Raptors, in response to US approving of a possible deal for Taiwan to buy parts to refurbish defensive missiles built by the company.

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Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made announced at a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, adding that the US should cut defence ties with Taiwan “so that it doesn’t do further harm to bilateral relations and damage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

“China firmly opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan,” Zhao said, adding: “China decides to take measures to protect national interests. We will impose sanctions on the main contractor of this arms sale Lockheed Martin.”

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The US State Department last week approved a possible $620 million foreign military deal for Taiwan to buy parts of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles so that they can last 30 years.

Beijing’s actions come amid growing tensions between the US and China tensions over various issues including trade war, South China Sea dispute, COVID-19 pandemic, new security law in Hong Kong, 5G network and hostilities against key US allies including India and Australia.

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Despite it being a strategic American ally, the US has no official embassy in Taiwan nor does Australia, Canada, the UK or Germany. China calls Taiwan a ‘renegade province’ and has vowed it to merge it with mainland China, at all costs.

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Americas

Comet Neowise in India: Rare Neowise Comet will be visible in North-West India from Today – NASA

NASA Comet Neowise India: NASA’s Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet on 27 March. Scientists involved in the mission said the comet is about five kilometres across and its nucleus is covered with sooty material dating back to the origin of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

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The Comet Neowise, or C/20202 F3  will be noticeable in the northwest sky in India from 14 July onwards. As per NASA, Neowise should be visible just before and around the time of first light till 11 July. It will again start to be visible in the evening between 15 and 16 July.

“From July 14, C/2020 F3, a comet discovered on March 27, will be clearly visible in the north-western sky. It will be visible after sunset for around 20 minutes for the next 20 days. People can observe it from naked eyes,” said Subhendu Pattnaik, deputy director of Pathani Samanta Planetarium in Bhubaneswar told ANI.

“In the evenings to follow, the comet will rapidly climb higher in the sky and will be visible for a longer period,” he added.

Comet Neowise swept within Mercury’s orbit a week ago. Its close vicinity to the sun caused dust and gas to burn off its surface and create an even bigger debris tail. According to CNET, Neowise passed a critical point when it survived its closest brush with the sun without cracking up from the heat last week.

NASA’s Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet on 27 March. Scientists involved in the mission said the comet is about five kilometres across and its nucleus is covered with sooty material dating back to the origin of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Soon after, numerous amateur photographers began sharing stunning images of the comet just above the horizon during predawn hours. Twitter user Jeremy Perez shared the image shot from close to the Wupatki National Monument showcasing the bright celestial body.

According to the CNET report, as the comet moves farther away from the sun and closer to Earth, it will be visible in the evening sky and not before dawn. As per NASA solar system ambassador Eddie Irizarry, Neowise should be visible just before and around the time of first light till 11 July. It will again start to be visible in the evening between 15 and 16 July.

While it’s visible with the naked eye in dark skies with little or no light pollution, binoculars are needed to see the long tail, according to NASA. It will be about 7,000 years before the comet returns, “so I wouldn’t suggest waiting for the next pass,” said the telescope’s deputy principal investigator Joe Masiero of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Recently, astronauts from the International Space Station managed to get a stunning glimpse of a natural light show from a comet this weekend. NASA astronaut Bob Behnken shared a tweet highlighting Neowise. He captioned the post, “Last night’s fireworks, for real. Because Science.”

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Americas

US-China ties to worsen as Trump set to block all Chinese claims in South China Sea

Ties between US and China could dramatically worsen over the South China Sea after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington now regards virtually all Chinese maritime claims outside its internationally recognised waters to be illegitimate. 

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Ties between the US and China are set to further deteriorate over the South China Sea as the Trump administration is set to outrightly reject almost all of Chinese maritime claims in the contentious waterbody.

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The Trump government presented the decision as an endeavour to restrain China’s increasing belligerence in the region with a commitment to recognising international law. This move in the South China Sea will further enrage the Chinese, who are already countering against various US sanctions and other penalties.

Previously, US policy had been to insist that maritime spats between China and its smaller neighbours be settled peacefully through UN-backed arbitration.

But in a statement released on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington now regards virtually all Chinese maritime claims outside its internationally recognised waters to be illegitimate.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo said. “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law. We stand with the international community in defence of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.”

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Although the US will continue to remain impartial in territorial conflicts, the announcement means Washington is now directly supporting Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all of which oppose Chinese declarations of sovereignty over maritime areas surrounding disputed islands, reefs and shoals.

“There are clear cases where [China] is claiming sovereignty over areas that no country can lawfully claim,” the State Department said in a fact sheet that accompanied the statement.

The announcement was released a day after the fourth anniversary of a binding decision by an arbitration panel in favour of the Philippines that discarded Chinese maritime claims around the Spratly Islands and neighbouring reefs and shoals.

China has declined to recognise that ruling, rejected it as a “sham” and withdrew from the arbitration proceedings. It has continued to oppose the decision with aggressive actions that have brought it into territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia in recent years.

However, as a result, the administration said China has no valid maritime claims to the fish- and potentially energy-rich Scarborough Reef, Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal. The US has repeatedly said areas regarded to be part of the Philippines are covered by a US-Philippines mutual defence treaty in the event of an attack on them.

In addition to reemphasising support for that decision, Pompeo said China cannot legitimately claim the James Shoal near Malaysia, waters surrounding the Vanguard Bank off Vietnam, the Luconia Shoals near Brunei and Natuna Besar off Indonesia. As such, Washington said it would regard any Chinese intimidation of fishing vessels or oil exploration in those areas as unlawful.

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