beyhanyazar/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, GUY DAVIES and BRUNO ROEBER, ABC News
(LONDON) -- Meaza Gidey hasn't spoken to or heard from her family in weeks.
The 26-year-old goes to graduate school in the United States, but she was born and raised in Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia, where a deadly conflict broke out last month between federal troops and rebellious regional forces. While a communications blackout, though now partially restored, has made it difficult for journalists and humanitarian actors to obtain or verify information, it's also prevented people from getting in touch with loved ones.
"I don't know what's happening to them. They might be dead or they might be alive," Gidey recently told ABC News in a remote interview. "But to be quite honest, I'm not just worried only about my family at this point. I don't think any Tigrayan is only worried about their immediate family members. We're worried about our collective existence."
On Nov. 4, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military offensive against the Tigray People's Liberation Front, a powerful ethnically based political party that dominated the East African nation's federal government for almost 30 years, until Abiy came to power in 2018. The prime minister alleged that forces loyal to TPLF had attacked the headquarters of the Ethiopian military's Northern Command in Tigray's regional capital, Mekelle. Abiy's cabinet declared a six-month state of emergency in Tigray and ordered airstrikes that knocked out the region's electricity grid as well as telephone and internet services.
"This has been brewing for decades, if not more than three decades," Mesfin Negash, a formerly exiled Ethiopian journalist turned Sweden-based human rights analyst, recently told ABC News in a remote interview. "But for keen observers, what's happening in Ethiopia now is not surprising."
"As an Ethiopian myself," he added, "it worries me because the distrust between ethnic elites is very high."
Rise and fall of the TPLF
After Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown by members of the Ethiopian army in 1974, the Soviet-backed military junta that took power -- known as the Derg -- imposed a brutally repressive regime. Meanwhile, a grassroots resistance emerged in the Tigray region that would ultimately become the most powerful armed movement in Ethiopia. The TPLF, at its inception in 1975, "was grounded in an ethno-nationalist consciousness generated by the cumulative grievances of Tigrayans against successive central governments of Ethiopia," according to a 2004 article written by one of the leading founders, Aregawi Berhe.
The TPLF formed a multi-ethnic coalition with other liberation groups, called the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, and led a years-long insurgency to topple the Derg, securing victory in 1991. The TPLF's leader, Meles Zenawi, became president of Ethiopia's transitional government and constructed a federal system explicitly based on ethnicity that still exists today. The 1995 constitution devolved political power to the country's ethnically defined regional states, stipulating that each had the "unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession."
Zenawi served as prime minister until his death in 2012. His handpicked successor, Halemariam Desalegn, resigned unexpectedly in 2018 amid widespread anti-government protests that broke out in the Oromio and Amhara regions. The ruling EPRDF coalition chose Abiy, a former army intelligence officer from Oromia, to be the new party leader and hence prime minister, despite opposition from its dominant member party, the TPLF.
Abiy was appointed with a mandate to oversee Ethiopia's transition to democracy and rebalance power that had long been distributed on ethnic lines. He spent his first few months in office freeing thousands of the country's political prisoners, lifting media censorship and appointing female ministers to a record 50% of his cabinet. He also spearheaded a peace agreement to end 20 years of frozen conflict between his nation and neighboring Eritrea, which led to him being awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
But Abiy also made a number of controversial decisions that angered the TPLF as the party lost its grip on power. Last year, he dissolved the EPRDF and formed a pan-Ethiopian party in a move to distance the country's politics from ethno-federalism. All former member parties of the EPRDF merged to join Abiy's new Prosperity Party, except the TPLF.
Then in late March, Ethiopia's electoral commission announced it would postpone general elections scheduled for August due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers approved the decision in June, voting to extend the mandate of the current government, which was set to expire in October. Tensions apparently came to head when the Tigray region held parliamentary elections in September that Abiy deemed illegal. The TPLF argued that Abiy no longer had a mandate and thus his government was illegitimate.
Opponents of Abiy have accused him of taking an authoritarian turn, while others have suggested the current conflict in Tigray is fundamentally underpinned by the dissatisfaction of the TPLF, who themselves had governed Ethiopia with an iron fist.
"The prime minister himself made some mistakes in how he handled the reform process," said Negash, who is now the senior program officer of the Africa Department at Civil Rights Defenders, a Stockholm-based international human rights organization.
"The relationship was largely of undermining and outmaneuvering the other party from the get-go," he continued. "On the other hand, we have seen from the TPLF side that they couldn't accept that they lost and it became very personal."
'Nothing but the clothes on their backs'
Tens of thousands of people have fled the ongoing conflict in Tigray, crossing Ethiopia's border into Sudan and arriving at refugee camps. Abu Obeida El Siddig Mohamed, chief field officer for the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund in Kassala, eastern Sudan, said the Tigrayan refugees he's screened -- many women and children -- are "exhausted," "traumatized" and "in dire need of assistance."
"Looking at their faces, you can see that it's not easy," Mohamed recently told ABC News in a remote interview. "I have actually seen a few of them injured."
They were students, farmers, teachers and doctors who were unexpectedly forced to flee their homes, becoming refugees overnight. Many were separated from their families, including at least 121 unaccompanied children, according to Dana Hughes, a spokesperson for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who was at the Sudan-Ethiopia border interviewing newly arrived refugees.
"It's not hyperbole to say -- and I saw it myself -- that people literally fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs," Hughes recently told ABC News in a remote interview. "They were living ordinary lives."
There's also growing concern about the fate of some 100,000 Eritrean refugees living in camps within the Tigray region who will have now run out of food and supplies.
"With refugees being in that area, we are worried that they have been caught in the conflict," Hughes said. "And we do know that without having access to cash, fuel, food, that supplies were very much running out if they hadn't run out already."
For weeks, Ethiopia's federal government has denied humanitarian groups and aid workers access to Tigray. But the United Nations signed an agreement on Wednesday with Abiy to allow "unimpeded, sustained and secure access for humanitarian personnel and services" to the parts of Tigray now under the federal government's control, according to Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Laerke said the U.N. and its humanitarian partners in Ethiopia will engage with the federal government and all parties to the conflict to ensure humanitarian action "will be strictly based on needs and carried out in compliance with the globally agreed principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality."
"The U.N. and humanitarian partners will work to ensure that people impacted by the conflict are assisted without distinction of any kind other than the urgency of their needs," Laerke told ABC News in a statement Wednesday.
Abiy declares victory, TPLF vows to fight on
The development comes just days after federal forces took control of Tigray's capital, as Abiy declared victory in the war. But reports of clashes between federal troops and Tigrayan forces are still emerging, and the TPLF has vowed to continue fighting.
In a memo obtained by ABC News late Wednesday, a senior Tigrayan official said the region's special forces have been "on a defensive mode for the past month" but soon "will be taking offensives to leverage its land and people" and "will mount a full-scale operation of liberating the territories currently under occupation."
In the meantime, the region "has managed to undertake strategic retreat with all its military, government and party structures in tact," the official said. Tigrayan forces have captured "nearly 15,000 prisoners of war, most of whom have been handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross," according to the memo.
The official said the federal government's capture of Tigrayan cities "has been proceeded by the evacuation of many of the residents fleeing indiscriminate heavy artillery attacks and horror committed by the invading army."
"The shutting down of telecommunication in the state by the Abiy regime has further emboldened the invading forces to commit war crimes of great proportion," the official said in the memo. "We believe the denial by the Abiy regime for access to a humanitarian corridor is a testament of the disregard the Abiy regime has shown for the protection of civilians throughout this conflict."
'Tip of the iceberg'
Both sides have been accused of committing atrocities against civilians in Tigray, with reports of massacres and ethnically targeted killings. ABC News has been unable to independently verify the claims, and the exact number of civilian causalities from the conflict is unknown.
However, in one of the few independently verified reports from Tigray, the International Committee of the Red Cross found that food, medical supplies and even body bags for the dead were running "dangerously low" at one hospital in the regional capital, Mekelle, due to an "influx of injured."
And according to a report from human rights watchdog Amnesty International, it appears "scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death" in the southwestern town of Mai-Kadra on the night of Nov. 9. The victims appeared to be daily wage workers who were not involved with the conflict. Amnesty International said it had not been able to independently confirm who was responsible but that several witnesses blamed fighters loyal to TPLF, apparently after they had suffered a defeat by federal troops.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a state-appointed but independent body, later dispatched its own team to the scene to investigate. Citing accounts from survivors and witnesses, the commission estimated that at least 600 civilians of non-Tigrayan ethnic origin were slaughtered in Mai-Kadra. The commission said the "massacre" was carried out by a Tigrayan youth group in collusion with local security forces.
But there have been other reports that ethnic Tigrayans also have been targeted for attacks in the war-torn region, according to Fisseha Tekle, a researcher for Amnesty International in Ethiopia, who called the situation "extremely concerning."
"What we have managed to document in Mai-Kadra town can be foretelling of the situation in other places," Tekle recently told ABC News in a remote interview. "And this conflict can be a fertile ground for ethnic violence."
Tekle said there are fears of potential genocide, "but it needs further investigation," adding, "what Amnesty knows about the situation is just the tip of the iceberg."
Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the accounts of violence and civilian casualties in Tigray are incredibly difficult to corroborate but nonetheless alarming.
"We're receiving very worrying reports of mass killings," Shamdasani recently told ABC News in a remote interview. "We're receiving reports of people in very dire humanitarian situations, but we're not able to verify them. Now, we do have 43,000 who have crossed the border over into Sudan. So we are conducting interviews there to try to understand what exactly it is they are fleeing, and what we're hearing is that there have been indiscriminate attacks from both sides."
"Again, we're not able to really verify these reports," she added, "but we are hearing people fleeing fighting, people fleeing shelling, people complaining of racial profiling as well."
The communications blackout makes accountability "very unlikely" and has caused misinformation to spread like wildfire, according to Negash.
"I think for the government, the communication blackout is one strategy of winning the war, by denying the other party the ability to communicate with the external world, and, for that matter, probably even with the population that is in the region," Negash told ABC News, adding that it's "very harmful not only to those in the region but for their families in other parts of Ethiopia and outside."
"There is a high risk of losing evidences to bring perpetrators to account," he said.
As of Wednesday, internet and telephone services were partially restored in six towns of Tigray, including Mai-Kadra, and fully restored in one town, Alamata, according to Ethiopia's state-owned telecommunications provider. All seven towns were overtaken by federal forces.
"Currently, we are able to resume telecom service using alternative power solutions and after conducting necessary maintenance and rehabilitation works on damaged telecom infrastructures," Ethio Telecom said in a statement to customers Wednesday. "We would like also to inform you that we are working to restore telecom services in all areas of the region within short period of time."
The trickle of information about alleged atrocities will have an impact on how Abiy and his government move forward, according to Bronwyn Bruton, director of programs and studies of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, an international affairs think tank in Washington, D.C.
"The big question is whether the people of Ethiopia will emerge from this conflict more or less united, and a lot will depend on whether the government is found to have committed atrocities against the Tigrayan people," Bruton recently told ABC News in a remote interview. "Any perception that ordinary Tigrayans have been targeted on the basis of ethnicity would make a grassroots insurgency in Tigray more likely, and it will inform opinion across the country about the nature of Abiy's government itself -- whether this battle was part of a necessary struggle to create a more effective democracy, or preparation for an authoritarian turn."
'There's a lot at stake'
Despite decades of authoritarian leadership, Ethiopia has long been seen as the biggest driver of peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, a region plagued by armed conflict, drought and terrorism. The outcome of what's happening in Tigray will be "a critical factor" in deciding the future of Ethiopia and, by extension, the region, according to Negash.
"I can link the risk of this conflict [in Tigray] to the American experience of 9/11," he told ABC News. "If things deteriorate and go out of control, this region can create a safe haven for future terrorists."
Since a devastating famine in the 1980s, which was estimated to have claimed more than 1 million lives, Ethiopia has come a long way, and the situation in Tigray "could set the country back decades," according to Shamdasani.
"There's a lot at stake," she said. "We fear that such a conflict could be a huge setback."
'The worst is yet to come'
Blen Mulu lives in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, where she works for an insurance company. Her father is ethnic Amhara while her mother is ethnic Tigrayan. Although she hasn't been able to get in touch with her relatives in Tigray since the conflict began last month, Mulu said she's not worried because her family lives in a town now under the control of the federal government.
"They are free from TPLF so they will be fine," Mulu recently told ABC News in a remote interview. "TPLF is definitely against the civilians."
The 26-year-old called the TPLF "evil" and "corrupt," accusing the party of coordinating the slaughter of ethnic Amharas in recent years. She also blamed the TPLF for starting the current conflict and putting civilian lives at risk.
"What they are doing is mostly risky for Tigrayans because they start the war when they are in Tigray," she said. "They are not in forest, they are not in dessert, they are in the middle of civilians."
"I'm not saying the federal government is innocent," she added, "but mainly, the main responsibility is TPLF."
Part Tigrayan herself, Mulu said the TPLF and its actions can "never ever" be representative of the Tigray region and its people, that "TPLF doesn't mean Tigrayan, and Tigrayan doesn't mean TPLF."
"If TPLF does not surrender," she thought aloud, "the worst is yet to come."
In Gidey's eyes, a TPLF defeat could mean death for any Tigrayan civilian who at one point supported the party.
"I am an activist and we have some activists on the ground who try to feed us with some information from time to time," Gidey told ABC News. "But the the one thing that we're hearing predominantly is the cities that are controlled by forces loyal to Abiy Ahmed are going through horrific, horrific experiences. Mothers are being raped, properties and houses are being looted. The young generation, particularly those who are believed to have the capacity to mobilize the youths, are being shot at."
Gidey said there are old photos in her family's home -- and in many homes -- in Tigray of TPLF soldiers and of Zenawi, the late Ethiopian prime minister and TPLF leader. She worries what federal forces will do to her loved ones if they find those photos.
"I am scared," she said, tears streaming down her face. "I am scared for everyone."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Circle Creative Studio/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News
(LONDON) -- Like millions of families around the world, Britain's royal family plans to celebrate Christmas differently this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The family will break a decades-long tradition of spending Christmas at Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth's estate in Norfolk.
Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth, 94, and Prince Philip, 99, will instead spend the Christmas holiday at Windsor Castle, their home outside London where they have spent much of their time since March, when the United Kingdom began its first stay-at-home orders.
"Having considered all the appropriate advice, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh have decided that this year they will spend Christmas quietly in Windsor," a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said in a statement.
In years past, the queen and Philip would welcome family members to Sandringham, where they oversee a multi-day Christmas celebration.
The royal family traditionally holds their gift exchange on Christmas Eve, following the German tradition, where they often swap funny or homemade gifts.
On Christmas Day, the family walks to St. Mary Magdalene Church for the Christmas service. Last year, Prince William and Kate's two oldest children, 7-year-old Prince George and 5-year-old Princess Charlotte, joined the family's walk for the first time.
After the service, the royals enjoy a Christmas lunch at Sandringham and then gather to watch Queen Elizabeth II deliver her annual Christmas message.
In the evening, the royal family will get together again for a Christmas buffet dinner with 15 to 20 different delicacies prepared by the queen's chef.
On the day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day in the U.K., the royals traditionally partake in a pheasant shoot on the grounds of Sandringham.
Prince William and Kate, also the parents of 2-year-old Prince Louis, have not yet announced their plans for the Christmas holiday. The family has a country home in Norfolk, Anmer Hall, where they usually stay for the holiday.
Prince William and his father, Prince Charles, both tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year, although neither were reported to have suffered serious complications.
Kate's mom, Carole Middleton, who with her husband Michael owns a party supply company, shared in an Instagram post that she is figuring out ways to virtually celebrate the Christmas holidays with her grandchildren.
“For me, what really matters is that my family feels connected," she wrote. "I normally let my grandchildren help me decorate the tree. This year, I’ll ask them by video call to decide which decoration should go where. It may need to be tastefully rearranged later…!"
William's younger brother, Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan and their 19-month-old son Archie, are expected to celebrate Christmas in California, where they now live. Last year, the family of three skipped the Sandringham festivities and instead spent Christmas together in Canada with Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland.
Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla have also not yet publicly announced their Christmas plans.
The last time the extended royal family was together was in early March when they attended the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey.
The service marked Harry and Meghan's final engagement as working members of the royal family.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
JodiJacobson/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- Twenty people won South Africa's national lottery this week by picking the numbers 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
The unusual sequence sparked thousands of comments on Twitter and Facebook, as many questioned if a scam occurred. The outcry prompted the country's lottery regulator to respond over the "public scrutiny" of the draw.
The South African Lottery Commission's internal investigation into Tuesday night’s lottery reportedly concluded the drawing wasn’t rigged.
"This occurrence, while uncommon, is not impossible," the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) said in a statement.
The odds of correctly guessing all five numbers and the PowerBall are one in 42 million, according to the operator, Ithuba Holdings.
In Tuesday's lottery, the draw's order was 8, 5, 9, 7, 6 and, for the PowerBall, 10.
"These numbers may be unexpected, but we see many players opt to play these sequences," the lottery said in a social media post following the live televised drawing.
The winners all split Tuesday's jackpot of 114 million South African rand, or nearly $7.5 million -- for about 5.7 million rand ($369,000) each.
Another 79 people correctly guessed the first five numbers, but not the PowerBall.
An Ithuba spokesperson denied accusations of fraud and urged winners to claim their prizes in a report by radio station Jacaranda FM.
The NLC issued a statement on Wednesday to "assure" South Africans about the lottery's integrity. The methods used to conduct the draws "undergo a rigorous process of review" to ensure that the lottery is "conducted with integrity and all players are afforded an equal chance of winning prizes," it said.
The operator's "random number generator" system also undergoes periodic testing to ensure integrity, and independent auditors and NLC officials observe the draws, it added.
The NLC said it received a report from Ithuba on Tuesday's drawing. Based on that, it only recommended that the operator educate the public on the odds of winning and how its random number generator system works.
In the national lottery, a player chooses five numbers between 1 and 50, and a single PowerBall number from 1 to 20. The five numbers do not have to be in order, while the PowerBall number has to match to win the jackpot.
Mathematician Grant Sanderson, who is behind the YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown, told ABC News that there's a one in 23,541 chance of a consecutive sequence like Tuesday's draw winning. Which, it turns out, isn't all that unusual.
"We should expect one-in-23,000-chance events to happen all the time," he said. "If every second there's a one-in-23,000 chance of something 'interesting' happening somewhere in the world, we'd expect there to be something 'interesting' about three to four times a day."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
nigelcarse/iStockBy HAKYUNG KATE LEE, ABC News
(SEOUL, South Korea) -- It's a chilly, silent Thursday morning. Thousands of students, warmly dressed in padded jackets, hasten their steps to schools which have been closed and disinfected for a week in the lead-up to a momentous event in South Korea: the national college entrance exam.
The exam, officially called the College Scholastic Ability Test, provides South Korean students a final report card for the public education they received from elementary school through high school. The results of this annual exam play a big part in determining to which university students can apply.
But this year, with COVID-19 upending traditional protocol, exam inspectors dressed in hazmat suits greet applicants with hand sanitizers and thermometers.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the exam day would be filled with exuberant cheering squads at the school gate, and parents handing out snacks or praying outside the school until the exam ends.
In fact, the entire nation celebrates the event. Authorities clear air traffic to make sure the exam's listening sections are done in a silent environment. Businesses, including the stock market and public facilities, also open an hour late so students can make it to their test sites in less traffic.
This year, however, is different. Social distancing and a heavy focus on hygiene have replaced the celebrations.
"My daughter is taking the exam for the third time, and I am just relieved that she wasn't diagnosed with COVID-19," Kim Migyeong told ABC News. "Our whole family was nervous that one of us may be infected without symptoms and spread to our daughter, already exhausted with a long-term prep for examination."
"I wish for the best, although this year high school seniors have had a hard time taking classes online and staying home to avoid COVID-19 infection," Michelle Oh, who stood in front of Yangjae High School to send her son off to take the exam, told ABC News. "I saw on the news that confirmed patients can also take the exam, but there aren't any alternatives for university interviews, so it's best to avoid the virus."
This year, authorities have prioritized preventing cluster infections from inside test sites.
At the entrance of each site, supervisors take students' temperatures twice, and for the first time in exam history, a semi-transparent acrylic panel is glued to each desk to prevent potential droplet infection.
"We are operating a 24-hour emergency workforce under cooperation of the Ministry of Education, the Korean CDC and the local government ahead of the exam," vice minister of education Park Baegbeom said in a briefing Wednesday. "The Ministry of Education will do its best to ensure that all examinees take the exam in a safe environment."
Exam inspectors, dressed in hazmat suits, ensure there are no conversations during lunch and break times, and that students' masks are on at all times during the exam -- all of this on top of their main duty of handing out exam papers and watching for cheaters.
Applicants who did not pass the temperature checks at the gate were still given a chance to take the exam, but at a separate testing site within the school for closer monitoring.
The Ministry of Education also secured 205 hospital beds across the country for COVID-19 patients and a total of 35 applicants who tested positive for coronavirus actually took the exam in a hospital negative-pressure room.
"There are 29 hospitals for confirmed COVID-19 patients, and 113 separate test centers for applicants under self-quarantine," Sung Ki-Sun, an official from the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation overseeing the exam, said in a press briefing Thursday.
A total of 387 applicants in quarantine took the exam in a separate facility. Those without rides were brought to the test site by disinfected vehicles or ambulances.
Nearly half a million students -- 490,000 -- took the exam this year; 10% less than last year and the smallest number of applicants since the exam began in 1994.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
KeithBinns/iStockBy CONOR FINNEGAN, MATT SEYLER and ALEEM AGHA, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- After three months of deadlocked talks, the Taliban and the Afghan government have made a breakthrough in peace negotiations, the two sides announced Wednesday, although that incremental progress is still challenged by a long road ahead and high levels of violence on the ground.
Despite the slow movement of talks so far, President Donald Trump is drawing down U.S. troops to 2,500 before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in next month. In the face of a repeated U.S. commitment to a "conditions-based" withdrawal, their exit now comes as the top U.S. military chief says the U.S. has achieved "a modicum of success" in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of fighting.
The three-page agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban is focused on rules and procedures that will govern the talks, including the schools of Islamic jurisprudence the talks will consult to resolve differences. Before peace negotiations can begin in earnest, however, the two schools still need to agree on an agenda.
The U.S. urged them to make "rapid progress" on that and toward a "comprehensive ceasefire" and a political road map to governing the country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. Pompeo met both teams last month in Doha, Qatar, which has hosted talks.
"This agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues. We congratulate both sides on their perseverance," added chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad in a tweet.
Khalilzad and his team have been pushing the two sides along, but are no longer a direct party to the talks after the U.S. and Taliban signed their own agreement in February. In that deal, the U.S. agreed to a phased withdrawal of all U.S. forces by May 2021 in exchange for the militant group agreeing to prevent terror groups gaining safe haven in Afghanistan that threatened the U.S. or its allies and starting negotiations with the Afghan government.
The deal did not commit the Taliban to a ceasefire, but said a halt to fighting would be "an item on the agenda" of Afghan negotiations.
Those negotiations finally began in mid-September, six months after their scheduled start and 19 years after the Sept. 11th attacks that brought U.S. troops to the country. Since talks were launched, violence has spiked, with Taliban fighters attacking Afghan security forces -- but keeping U.S. forces largely on the sidelines by avoiding attacks on American or NATO troops.
A car bombing Sunday killed at least 30 Afghan service members and injured 24 more, according to local government officials -- among the deadliest of recent attacks, although no group claimed responsibility. One Afghan official told ABC News last week the Taliban have shown "no appetite for peace. ... They know nothing but war."
The Taliban control or hold sway over nearly half of the country now, but no major provincial capitals or urban centers. Amid assassinations of journalists or mid-level government officials, many Afghans -- especially women -- fear a return of Taliban rule, even as the group says it has abandoned some of its past views.
The three-page document has not been released and further details were not yet available. But according to the Taliban's political office headquartered in Doha, the two sides have already moved ahead and held a meeting to start drafting an agenda.
"The current negotiations of both negotiation teams show that there is willingness among Afghans to reach a sustainable peace and both sides are committed to continue their sincere efforts to reach a sustainable peace in Afghanistan," the group said in a tweet.
Setting an agenda is expected to be even more contentious, with disagreements on a ceasefire, women and minorities' rights, governance and the status of various fighting forces.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also welcomed the news Wednesday, saying a negotiated settlement was clearly the only way to end the conflict.
"That's very odious for many, many people -- to think that we're going to negotiate with someone like the Taliban," he added. "But that is in fact the most common way that insurgencies end is to negotiate a power-sharing settlement."
Milley also defended the draw down of U.S. troops despite a lack of progress in talks and the high levels of violence. The decision was been heavily criticized by U.S. and Afghan officials, one of whom told ABC News it "emboldens the Taliban to overthrow the current government."
"We believe that after two decades of consistent effort there, we've achieved a modicum of success," Milley told the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank -- a statement that was met with a sweep of jaded critique, given the approximately $1 trillion U.S. investment and 2,400 American lives lost in the 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11th attacks.
Milley and Trump's national security adviser Robert O'Brien publicly feuded over troop levels earlier this fall, with Milley saying that O'Brien's comments about a draw down were "speculation" and he would rely instead on "rigorous analysis of the situation based on the conditions and the plans."
O'Brien fired back, "It's been suggested by some that's speculation. I can guarantee you that's the plan of the president of the United States" -- one that was announced two months later on Nov. 17 by Trump's new acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Smart-Photography/iStockBy LESLEY HAULER, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- Keep a close look at the night sky in December and you may see a rare occurrence between the two biggest planets in our solar system.
From now until Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will continue to get closer until they are just 0.1 degrees apart and form a "double planet," according to NASA. And there's a chance you'll be able to see it for yourself.
The space agency describes the rarity of the 2020 event in-depth in its December Skywatching page. The rare event is officially called a "great conjunction."
"These occur every 20 years this century as the orbits of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn periodically align making these two outer planets appear close together in our nighttime sky," NASA writes.
NASA program officer and astronomer Henry Throop explained the phenomenon to ABC News' Good Morning America.
"Jupiter takes 12 years to go around the sun. And Saturn is about twice as far away as Jupiter and it takes 30 years to go around the sun. And so about every 20 years, Saturn is lapped by Jupiter," Throop said.
And while these occurrences happen every 20 years, the Earth's proximity to the sun can worsen visibility and prevent the majority of people from seeing it, as happened in 2000.
"This is the closest they've been in hundreds of years," Throop said of the historical significance of this year's conjunction.
The last time the two planets were this close and visible from Earth was in 1623, just 14 years after Galileo built his first telescope and around the time Jupiter's moons were discovered. Humankind was still learning about the two planets and solar system in general, the astronomer said.
"I guess you could say it ties the discovery of Galileo's discovery of the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn back because those two bodies are coming together again," Throop said.
The planets will appear so close that "if you were to stick your finger out at your at arm's length ... and look up in the sky, you can cover both Jupiter and Saturn with your finger," Throop told GMA.
Sky watchers can differentiate Saturn and Jupiter from the stars because the planets will appear "brighter and more solid in the sky."
Most locations will have an excellent vantage point of the celestial event with the naked eye. And for those with a telescope or DSLR camera with a long lens, you can likely see Jupiter's four moons lined up, as well.
It's best to look for the planets low in the southwest sky in the hour after sunset.
"What's cool about Jupiter and Saturn is that they are really, really bright. And you can see them pretty much from anywhere on the Earth. And so anybody in any city, once it is not cloudy, you can go out and see these things and they appear as two really bright points in the sky," said Throop.
Even if it's cloudy on Dec. 21, Throop said the planets will be visible as they get closer leading up to the date and as they slowly separate afterward, giving you about a month to witness it in the sky for yourself.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
artisteer/iStockBy GUY DAVIES, MAGGIE RULLI and ANGUS HINES, ABC News
(LONDON) -- Supporting a team in the lower tiers of British soccer has never been a fashionable enterprise.
Rainy days, financial troubles and die hard loyalty is par for the course as fans regularly make long, thankless journeys to watch teams like Bromley FC and the Solihull Moors.
It’s a life that doesn’t seem to take place in the same universe, let alone the same sport, as the world-renowned, cash rich giants of super teams like Chelsea and Manchester United.
Yet for one club, and one oft-neglected town in North Wales, a painful year is about to end with an injection of Hollywood glamour.
That’s because actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are buying Wrexham Association Football Club from the Wrexham Supporters Trust (WST) that currently owns it.
Rumors of the pair’s takeover began to emerge at the end of the summer, and the fans voted over 98% in favor of the move, which will see the actors invest an initial $2.6 million into the club.
“I wake up and the first thing I think is ‘are we really being taken over by two Hollywood stars?’” Wayne Jones, a WST member and owner of the Turf Hotel, a pub next door to the Racehorse Ground -- the stadium where Wrexham play -- told ABC News. “Deadpool really who has bought Wrexham football club… and then I go to bed at night and think exactly the same things. It’s probably going to take a little while before that settles in. It’s strange. Football and sport at the moment -- especially at this level -- is struggling financially. So it’s almost like we’ve hit the jackpot isn’t it? It’s surreal. Things like this don’t happen to little old Wrexham.”
The story itself has the flavor of a feel-good movie.
For the past 12 years Wrexham have languished in the National League, five tiers below the division in which Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool play -- and celebratory times have been hard to come by.
The pair immediately endeared themselves to the fans by mixing a “humble” attitude with a sense of humor, according to club Director Spencer Harris, and their viral takeover announcement video took a tongue in cheek look at the club’s sponsors, Ifor Williams Trailers.
“They’re comedians, right?” Harris told ABC News. “But they also have other business interests. Ryan in particular is very well known for his business interests. As well as being really funny guys on camera, they’re quite humble guys off it -- but serious when they need to be.”
According to the fans who took part in a zoom meeting with the actors which saw them pitch their vision for the club, the pair had clearly done their research.
“Wrexham fans have been really enthusiastic about this deal,” Harris said. “99% of people voted. I mean these two Hollywood stars had to put themselves up to scrutiny. And then a vote -- not just any vote -- but a vote that had a 75% hurdle rate. So they took a bit of a risk and out their reputations on the line and it’s come through for them.”
While the news has come as a shock to Wrexham locals and the whole world of soccer, the investment Reynolds and McElhenney are making may be more astute than appears at first sight.
The pair have pitched to fans their ambition to make Wrexham a “global force.” According to Harris, the club is debt free with cash in the bank and plans to renovate a new stand to increase the capacity of the Racehorse Ground -- the oldest international stadium in the world -- are already under way.
Wrexham also comes with quite a history. It is the third oldest professional soccer club in the world and, being the only team in the whole of North Wales, it has a catchment area of some 800,000 people to rally around the project if their fortunes improve.
A documentary based on the club takeover is already in the works, and a recent Bloomberg article suggested that streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime could end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode on such a show which would be a huge boost to club coffers.
Even so, the new owners have a responsibility to not just the club and fans, but the community it lies at the heart of.
In 2011, the club became supporter-owned as locals rallied to raise more than $133,585 in a matter of hours to save the club from going bust after years of mismanagement.
“It was a horrible time,” Andrew Pollard, another WST member and local journalist who follows the club, told ABC News. “We had pretty much 24 hours to save the club and the fans rallied together and saved some money which is insane. You had people going around with buckets collecting money, you had people, you hear stories of people mortgaging their house and properties. Dipping into personal savings of thousands and thousands of pounds… it was a big effort from a lot of people.”
The team, according to club captain Shaun Pearson, is unique in its passion.
However, the centrality of soccer to communities in working class towns such as Wrexham is something you can see across the U.K., particularly as previously thriving market towns see their business taken away by online shopping. Pearson himself was furloughed over the summer, and pitched in to help deliver food to the most vulnerable in the community.
“I think it’s just ingrained in you,” he told ABC News. “Generally, when you come to the U.K., something that generally happens is where you are born, you support the team where you’re from. And especially when you go to working class towns, which Wrexham is, you see that passion the football club generally drives.”
“For lots of people it’s well -- going to sound hyperbolic -- it is their life. Because that’s all some people have to hold onto is the football club,” Pollard said.
Local business owners and residents said that they were hopeful that the investment will provide a much-needed stimulus to a town that has experienced years of economic decline.
“If this club does well, the town will do well,” Peter Maddox, the Racehorse Ground’s turnstile operator who has supported Wrexham since the 1960s, told ABC News. “The two are inextricably linked. And if this club revives -- and it certainly needs to -- there will be a lot of economic benefits to Wrexham town center and neighboring businesses round here. I’m reasonably confident that if the club’s fortunes improve, the town will feel tangible economic benefits.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
RobsonPL/iStockBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News
(LONDON) --At least four people have died after a car drove into a pedestrian area in the city of Trier, Germany, on Tuesday.
In the wake of the attack, two were pronounced dead, but officials confirmed four people had died -- including an infant -- and at least 15 were injured. Four of those remain in the hospital with life-threatening injuries, officials said.
Police said the male driver, a German citizen who was arrested on the scene, had a high blood alcohol content and there was reason to believe he was mentally ill.
"We arrested one person and one vehicle was seized," Trier Police posted on Twitter. "According to initial findings, two people have died. Please continue to avoid the city center."
The driver, a 51-year-old from Trier-Saarburg, was driving a Land Rover, and investigators said he may have been living in the vehicle.
The authorities have called on the public to avoid the city center and avoid spreading speculation about the incident.
There is no ongoing threat. The pedestrian zone -- which in verified footage from the scene appears to be a shopping district in the center of Trier -- has been cordoned off. Trier lies just inside the German border with Luxembourg, and the suspect is a 51 year-old from the Trier-Saarburg.
Police tweeted a map of the driver's 900-meter path -- about half a mile -- through the city, swerving into pedestrians.
Officials said there did not appear to be a terror or political motive in the incident.
Roger Lewentz, interior minister of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, seemed to condemn speculation online that it had been an Islamist attack, while not saying so directly.
"The perpetrator is from the region with a German background and we can already see on the internet that there are certain speculations, which nobody here will confirm," Lewentz said.
An official said the man had recently been psychologically evaluated by a doctor at the health ministry.
"I am shocked and deeply shaken by the crime in my hometown #Trier," Malu Dreyer, a local lawmaker, said in a statement. "My deepest sympathy goes to the relatives of the dead. I wish all the injured will recover soon and quickly.Thanks to all the emergency services. I will be in #Trier soon."
The investigation is still ongoing, and the Trier Police spokesperson told ABC News it was "way too soon" to establish a motive.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
KeithBinns/iStockBy MINA KAJI and AMANDA MAILE, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning Americans against all travel to Mexico as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the country.
In the past two weeks, Mexico surpassed 100,000 deaths due to the virus and reported over one million cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The agency assigned Mexico its highest advisory, saying travel there “may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
The warning comes as U.S. airlines bolster their winter schedules with flights to popular beach destinations in Mexico. Last month, Mexico was the "clear leader" for U.S.-International air travel, according to Airlines for America (A4A).
Data from travel itinerary app TripIt showed while air travel from the U.S. to Mexico in December is down overall, "the share of U.S.-origin flight reservations to the country have increased 179 percent year-over-year."
One possible attraction is Mexico does not require U.S. citizens to present a negative COVID-19 test to enter, unlike other beach locales in Hawaii and the Caribbean.
Brittany Bamrick, 31, plans to take her first international trip in January since the pandemic began. Her company bought out a "remote" yoga retreat center in Todos Santos, Mexico, that allows a maximum of 30 guests.
"I feel that I know the situation I'm getting into and assume the risk," she said. "It's an optional retreat, so if anyone wants to cancel, they can, it's what you feel comfortable with."
Bamrick and a majority of the people headed to the yoga retreat live in San Diego, California.
"It's like going into a neighboring state for us," she said. "It's a shorter flight than others I've taken, so I almost feel better going to Mexico."
Ashley Lewis, 36, has traveled to Mexico three times since March.
"I felt more safe there than I would at a Target or market in Los Angeles," Lewis told ABC News. "The resorts were secluded, they weren't selling the hotels to 100 percent capacity, and everyone was wearing masks and abiding by the rules. So much in those areas are dependent on tourism, and you could tell they were working incredibly hard to make the guests feel safe."
Lewis says she is trying to take advantage of being able to work from anywhere -- also traveling to Hawaii, Turks and Caicos, and Las Vegas during the pandemic.
"When I come home from a trip I quarantine in my home for a week or week and a half," Lewis explained. "Then I go get that test and that's for peace of mind that I can see my family without the fear of being an asymptomatic spreader."
She said the CDC's travel advisory wouldn't deter her from flying to Mexico a fourth time in January.
"I feel like I take all the necessary precautions and am smart about the type of things that I do," Lewis said. "You wouldn't find me close to a nightclub or anything like that, and so I feel like from what I've seen on my trips to Mexico I don't believe that I'm at any more of a heightened risk."
Health experts are still warning against all non-essential travel, especially during the holidays, as they worry a surge in travel could translate to a surge in cases.
"People that think they can escape the virus in Mexico are in for a potentially different scenario," ABC News medical contributor Dr. Jay Bhatt said. "We're in a time where the pandemic is getting worse, we're setting records we don't need to set, and it's not getting better. If you're going to a place that has higher prevalence, you're more likely to be at higher risk for transmission."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
ABC NewsBy HAKYUNG KATE LEE, ABC News
(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Globally accomplished K-pop stars like BTS will now be granted a chance to put off military conscription until the age of 30 following a new amendment to South Korean law.
South Korea’s National Assembly passed a bill to amend the Military Service Act on Tuesday, stating that a pop artist can postpone military service upon the culture minister’s recognition that he has dedicated to elevating the national reputation.
According to the revised Military Service Act, "a pop culture artist who was recommended by the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism to have greatly enhanced the image of Korea both within the nation and throughout the world" would be allowed to postpone their military service until the age of 30 if they do not have an extraordinary reason. Before revision, the Military Service Act only gave deferral exceptions to athletes, classical musicians, and those who enrolled in Ph.D. programs abroad.
The amendment to the act was proposed in September, shortly after the seven-member boy band BTS hit the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with its song "Dynamite."
“A number of Korean men in their 20's, including BTS, often had trouble proving their talents due to concerns about the military service. This amendment has solved that concern by a little,” Jeon Yong-gi of the Democratic Party, one of the lawmakers who drafted the bill, told ABC News.
Article 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea mandates all South Korean citizens to enlist in the military between the ages of 18 and 28. One’s original career is put on hold until the military service is completed.
However, there’s an exemption to sports figures or artists who have won designated national or international competitions so that they may continue their careers. But as K-pop stars have become more and more influential in the pop music scene over the last decade, questions have been raised on whether to give exemption to pop stars who are at the height of their careers as well.
Despite the debate, the Military Manpower Administration in charge of enlisting soldiers, has made it clear through a written statement in October that pop singers were not eligible for military exemption. The administration explained that it is not in line with the government's basic stance to improve fairness and equality in the implementation of mandatory military service.
BTS’ military enrollment has been under the spotlight this year as the oldest member of BTS, Jin, turns 28 in December. During a press conference of their new album last month, Jin told the press that “military service is a matter of course, and as our [BTS] members had discussed many times, we all plan to enroll in the military some day.”
“It is prime time for K-pop idols in their 20's to perform and meet with fans, so the military enlistment is an obstacle for not just the artist himself but also the management company in making marketing plans,” K-pop columnist Ha Ja-Keun told Abc News. “Knowing that they can postpone until 30 will definitely loosen the emotional anxiety over military conscription.”
Military service lasts between 18 to 21 months unless the individual is eligible for an exemption.
Last year, 86% of those who joined the military were between the ages of 18 and 21, according to the Military Manpower Administration in charge of enlisting soldiers.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
anouchka/iStockBy IBTISSEM GUENFOUD, ABC News
(PARIS) -- The alleged beating of a Black music producer by three police officers inside his Paris studio is stirring outrage in France.
Paris' court of justice on Monday indicted four police officers, including three for "voluntary violence by a person holding public authority" and "forgery in public writing" for allegedly lying on police reports, according to local radio station Europe1.
Two of the police officers, a brigadier and a peacekeeper, were placed in pre-trial custody. The third, also a peacekeeper, was placed under judicial supervision. A fourth police officer suspected of having thrown a tear gas canister inside the studio during the arrest was charged Sunday, over a week after the alleged attack occurred on Nov. 21 in the 17th arrondissement of Paris.
In a seven-minute video recorded on surveillance cameras, producer Michel Zecler is seen being beaten several times with a police baton and kicked by three police officers in his studio. Zecler was first approached by police after being seen on camera without a mask on and leaving his car to enter his studio.
The videos were shared with journalists of French outlet Loopsider. According to Loopsider's reporting, the officers claimed Zecler dragged them inside the studio, hit them and then called for reinforcements, a version that the surveillance camera videos refute.
"It's going so fast, I wonder if they are real police," Michel said in an interview with Loopsider.
The officers also allegedly attacked young artists, including a minor, who were present in the studio.
Two lawyers for three of the officers did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.
France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said last week the police officers had "screwed up" and asked for their suspension "as a precaution."
Zecler's lawyer, Hafida El Ali, called the beating "despicable" and described the officers' behavior as similar to "thugs and delinquents."
El Ali told ABC News media coverage of this case helped speed up the indictments.
French President Emmanuel Macron has also weighed in, saying the alleged attack was "unacceptable" and adding that the nation "will never accept the violence perpetrated against our police and our gendarmes, all those who wear the uniform."
The French government has been accused of attacking public freedoms through a much-criticized bill on global security that was approved in France's National Assembly on Nov. 24.
More than 133,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday to protest the bill, which protects the faces and identity of police officers from being disseminated with a "malicious intent" online. Some protestors carried "Je Suis Michel" signs in support of the music producer.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP via Getty ImagesBy JULIA JACOBO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- The "world's loneliest elephant" has been resettled at a sanctuary in Cambodia after receiving some assistance from iconic singer Cher.
Kaavan, a 36-year-old, 9,000-pound elephant, was given the nickname after he was diagnosed as being emotionally and physically damaged while living in a zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan, for 35 years. During that time, Kaavan was mostly chained in his enclosure, and when his partner died in 2012, her body laid next to him for several days before it was removed. Veterinarians have diagnosed Kaavan as being overweight, malnourished and suffering from behavioral issues due to isolation.
Cher, who has been advocating for Kaavan's resettlement along with her animal welfare group Free the Wild, met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday and later visited Kaavan before his flight on Sunday.
Kaavan was tested for COVID-19 before his seven-hour journey, which was complete with 440 pounds of snacks. Very few elephants have been relocated by plane, according to Four Paws.
On Monday, Kaavan was greeted in Cambodia by chanting Buddhist monks before he made his way north by truck to his new home in the Oddar Meanchey province. Once he feels settled, he will be released from his temporary enclosure and allowed to roam the sanctuary, which houses about 600 Asian elephants, Neth Pheaktra, a spokesman for Cambodia's Environment Ministry, said in a statement.
Animal rights groups and activists lobbied for years to relocate Kaavan into better conditions.
Kaavan will require years of psychological and physical assistance, experts have said. Living in an enclosure with improper flooring caused his nails to crack and overgrow, and he developed a habit of shaking his head back and forth for hours, which veterinarians attributed to boredom.
The elephant has lost half a ton since his diet was changed to fruit and vegetables, Khalil said. He was previously eating about 550 pounds of pure sugarcane every day and some fruits and vegetables.
The Islamabad zoo where he spent much of his life has been ordered to shut down.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Bo Zaunders/Getty ImagesBy: MICK MULROY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) – Much is being written today about the changing characteristics of modern warfare as a consequence of revolutionary technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, unmanned systems, and the access and use of outer space. These developments will undoubtedly impact how war is fought. They will not, however, alter war’s fundamental nature that is unchanged since the dawn of human civilization.
War’s unalterable essence still requires soldiers to possess critical attributes of physical and mental fitness, discipline, and the will to fight and never quit – often against overwhelming odds. Georgetown philosopher Dr. Nancy Sherman argues that these qualities – central to Stoicism – comprise the mindset needed for military forces. Her work details how the Stoic concepts of anger, fear, resilience, mourning, and brotherhood can be incredibly helpful for contemporary and future warriors. Consequently, she recommends the military embrace the Stoic approach to combat, while tempering the warrior spirit with humor and humility.
Though many service members may not be formally educated in the tenets of Stoicism and the works of Epictetus or Seneca, their attitudes and way of thinking resonate with the basic tenets of the philosophy often due to their military training.
Stoicism was developed during a period of near-constant war in the third century B.C.E. at the philosophical center of the Greek world – Athens. Stoics taught that your wealth may go up or down, careers may falter or succeed, but none of these changes truly matter because material wealth is not that important. What matters is being just, being wise, and having courage. All these components help a person deal with uncertainty and especially danger — the kind that military professionals face regularly.
The following details the importance of Stoicism to the warrior mindset, to the mental well-being of our fighting men and women, and the effective use of military force according to societal values, exploring the need for a more conscious and formal adoption of Stoic principles into the core of the American military profession and specifically addresses the Stoic view of anger, fear, and the concept of universal brotherhood.
Entering the world of Epictetus
James Stockdale is one of the most decorated Naval Officers in the history of the United States, having received the Medal of Honor, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts. He was a Vice Admiral, the President of the Naval War College, the President of the Citadel, and a Vice Presidential candidate in 1992.
During a September 1965 flight over North Vietnam, Stockdale’s A-4 Skyhawk aircraft was struck and completely disabled. He ejected and parachuted to the ground. As described in his book, Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, before landing, he whispered to himself, “Five years down there, at least. I’m leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.”
Stockdale was held as a prisoner of war for seven and a half years, including four in solitary confinement He was repeatedly tortured — his arms were torn from their sockets, his back broken and his legs injured so severely that he walked with a painful limp for the rest of his life. He said Stoicism, specifically Epictetus’s Discourses, was the key to his survival.
Epictetus believed one should not fear death because it was inevitable. The only choice we have is how we will live. He also believed adversity would inevitably happen to people, so it was how you dealt with that adversity that mattered. Your response to that adversity is the only thing you can control.
During his time in captivity, Stockdale maintained the morale of his fellow prisoners. When they were tortured, he told them they should not feel guilty if they had broken and that everybody breaks eventually. Epictetus wanted to free men of guilt like this. Once your actions are behind you, it is out of your control.
After four years of isolation and torture, Stockdale tried to kill himself with shards of glass. A fellow prisoner scratched out lines of the poem Invictus where he knew Stockdale would see it. A poem known by Stoics everywhere. The last two lines were, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Stockdale never attempted to kill himself again.
On anger and fear
The Stoic ideal is a person in control of their emotions, making rational decisions based on facts. Stoicism promotes the image of a warrior standing stone-faced in battle despite the passions unleashed by mortal combat. The Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote extensively on the topic of anger, its negative consequences, and techniques to avoid those consequences. Uncontrolled anger leads to bad decisions. For this reason, these techniques are helpful for soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in combat.
Military training attempts to remove emotion from tactical responses and operational decisions by repetition in realistic scenarios. People who have been in combat commonly note how impressed they were with others who maintained their “coolness” under pressure as opposed to those who went into a rage — an uncontrolled emotion. Conversely, rage has often become a factor in many of the war crimes we have seen in the United States and around the world. Controlling emotions through the practice of Stoic techniques could serve as a key aid in preventing similar tragic events in the future.
Seneca also addressed the other unhelpful emotion for warriors – fear. "Two elements must therefore be rooted out once for all — the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet." Perhaps this was the intent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he said in 1933, “the only thing we have to fear is …. fear itself.”
Seneca’s counsel on controlling fear easily applies to warfare. The build-up to an operation includes extensive planning, preparation, and rehearsal. All these seek to limit the unknown – a key contributor to fear. Extreme fear can cause paralysis in battle, leading to defeat. Consequently, warriors must practice the discipline of controlling fear to engender courage. In my own experiences on the battlefield, I have seen heroism and people overcoming their fear – the essence of courage – in the direst of circumstances.
I once watched two of my friends engaged in fierce combat from video recorded from an aircraft overhead. One of them was engaged by heavy enemy fire and was severely wounded. Despite his wounds, he continued to fight, calling out the location of the enemy to guide friendly forces. My other friend, in a moment of pure courage, selflessly rushed through withering fire to come to our comrade’s aid. Side by side, they fought to the end and now are buried next to one another in Arlington National Cemetery.
Others who observed the actions of these two courageous men – all of them combat veterans – hoped they would have shown the same level of courage had they been in that situation. To run into the fray to save a friend is the height of valor. Overcoming fear is what we respect most in our military and sets apart a great military from a good one. The best weapons and technology are critically important, but the will to fight, largely rooted in courage, is required for victory.
We highlight acts like these to get our young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to emulate them. Service members need to understand that fear can be overcome in an act of courage. Stoicism is one of the few philosophies that directly addresses the overcoming of fear, explaining why many in the military follow it and why many advocate its adoption in the formal training of military professionals.
One distinct concept of Stoicism is the idea of Universal brotherhood and sisterhood. It is a complex concept but generally speaking it holds that all people are part of something much bigger than themself. That rank, race, ethnic groups, wealth, or other external divisions don’t really matter. It is therefore completely counter to things like racism, xenophobia, narcissism, and sexism. It holds that your service is beyond just what is beneficial to you.
Soldiers may join the service for lofty patriotic goals. But they fight for the soldier standing next to them. The brotherhood and sisterhood of the profession of arms outlast any one person. This was the point of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s movie Full Metal Jacket, “Today, you are Marines. You're part of a brotherhood. From now on, until the day you die, wherever you are, every Marine is your brother. Most of you will go to Vietnam. Some of you will not come back. But always remember this: Marines die. That's what we're here for. But the Marine Corps lives forever and that means you live forever. ”
While I do not agree that Marines are here to die, I (and most marines I know) agree that if the Marine Corps lives forever, marines do as well. The Marine Corps may be an extreme example of camaraderie, and proud of it, but every service in the U.S. military holds this value as do the best military units around the world. Regardless of differences, all American warriors are part of something larger than themselves. These shared concepts mutually support one another and further add to the argument that Stoicism should be the official philosophy of the military.
Stoicism in Review
Stoicism provides a basic set of values: courage, justice, and wisdom and seeks to control the rash impulses of anger and fear. It helps our service members deal with decisions in complex circumstances with dire consequences with maturity beyond their years. Stoicism may also add to our troops’ sense of belonging to something larger than themselves, helping them cope with the loss of their brothers and sisters in arms.
Society has a set of values that we expect our military to live by. It is one thing to dictate those values and another to provide the means to help our military deal with the extremes of anger that lead to war crimes and harm to innocent civilians. We owe our service members more than just the best weapons and equipment to operate on the battlefield. We must provide them with a pragmatic and applicable philosophy that can fit with any background or religious belief. We should embrace Stoicism and formalize it in our military training.
You can read the full essay here.
Michael "Mick" Patrick Mulroy is the co-founder of Lobo Institute, a consulting firm, advising, and teaching on current and future conflicts. Mulroy is a former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, a retired Central Intelligence Agency Paramilitary Operations Officer, and a U.S Marine. Also, he is a Senior Fellow for National Security and Defense Policy at the Middle East Institute, a member of the Board of Directors for Grassroots Reconciliation Group, a nonprofit to help rehabilitate child soldiers in Africa, the co-founder of End Child Soldiering, a nonprofit to help rehabilitate child soldiers globally, and an ABC News National Security Analyst.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
visual7/iStockBY: CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Edith Bartley had just arrived in Tennessee to visit family members in August 1998 when she got the call from her grandmother: Had she seen the news?
The 25-year-old law student was on break between her summer internship at the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office and returning to University of Missouri Law School for the fall. She had planned on visiting Nairobi, Kenya, to see her father, mother and brother, but her father, the consul general at the U.S. Embassy there, said he'd be traveling to the U.S. in a couple weeks and would see her then.
"It probably saved my life," Bartley told ABC News this week.
Her father, Julian Bartley, and brother, Julian Bartley Jr., who was interning at the embassy, were killed in the bombing -- two of 12 Americans among the dead in twin attacks on the U.S. missions in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The blasts by al-Qaida operatives killed 224 in total and wounded more than 4,500 -- among the deadliest terror attacks to target Americans before the Sept. 11 attacks.
But for Bartley, losing her dad and brother also launched a lifelong mission -- lobbying for protection and support for American diplomats and their families and pursuing justice for the killing of half her family.
For some of the victims of the 1998 embassy bombings, a sense of justice appears as close now as it ever could be.
Under an agreement signed with the U.S. one month ago, Sudan's government has agreed to pay $335 million to the victims and families for its role harboring the al-Qaida operatives that masterminded the attack. Abu Muhammad al Masri, al-Qaida's No. 2, who was indicted for helping plan the attacks, was also reportedly assassinated by Israeli operatives at U.S. request in Iran this past August -- 22 years to the day after the attacks -- The New York Times reported this month.
ABC News has not confirmed al Masri's killing. The Iranian government denied the report, while al-Qaida has remained quiet.
But his reported death and the deal for compensation are a sign that the victims of the embassy attacks haven't been forgotten, according to Riz Khaliq.
"I am happy that our government didn't give up on trying to hold people accountable for what they perpetrated against us. I'm grateful for that," said Khaliq, who was a 27-year-old economics officer at the time of the bombing.
On a brief assignment in Nairobi before his posting in South Africa, Khaliq was across the street from the embassy at a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and Kenya's trade minister when the blast ripped through the buildings. Khaliq carried Bushnell to safety, his own face bloodied and dirtied by debris.
Twenty-two years later, his heart still races as he tells the story. Like his unease with loud noises, it's a physical manifestation of the horrors of that day, a reminder as real as the shards of glass he still occasionally finds in his skin.
The compensation deal in particular "acknowledges the suffering and the pain that we have been victim to, the 20-plus years that we have been living with and our families have been living with and dealing with," he told ABC News. "Absolutely it would help. But it doesn't mean that it erases that pain or suffering.”
That suffering is every day for Ellen Richards, who was also on a temporary assignment in Nairobi when the blasts blinded her -- although she has found one benefit of blindness. "I don't eat as much," she said laughing. "I can't see the food on the plate, so I don't eat it -- and it's so wonderful."
Like Bartley and Khaliq, Richards has found deep meaning in the attacks. But she said she never searched for justice.
"I don't worry about that. I didn't worry about that. I always figured that God will take care of them. They will get the justice they deserve because they took everyday people who went to work for their government ... and [they] stopped us from breathing," she said.
Richards, who got married two years ago at 72 years old, added, "Life is good. You just can't demand things. God loves each of us, and he knows us each by name, and because he loves us, he'll give us what we need."
Still, robbed of years of work because of her blindness, Richards said money from the settlement deal would help. But while Sudan has transferred the funds to a third-party bank, the money will be held in escrow until the U.S. Congress passes necessary legislation.
The deal stipulates that the victims won't receive any compensation until Congress restores Sudan's "sovereign immunity," a legal term that means it can't be sued as a sovereign state. Sudan lost its immunity when it was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993. But President Donald Trump lifted the designation last month as part of a historic deal where Sudan and Israel agreed to move toward diplomatic ties.
But the legislation is being held up by two Democrat senators who say it threatens Sept. 11 victims' right to sue Sudan. While the government has never been found responsible for those attacks, restoring Sudan's sovereign immunity would limit 9/11 victims' ability to sue for any alleged role.
Advocates are now racing against the clock to end their opposition. If the money isn't paid out in months, it will return to Sudan -- and Bartley, Khaliq, Richards and others won't get a penny, but a strong sense of betrayal.
"It makes me really upset and puts a bitter taste in my mouth because it's our own government that's frankly holding this up," said Khaliq. "It's nobody else but our own elected officials who are supposed to look out for us as citizens, but instead they're playing politics.”
Even if the deal is approved in this lame-duck session, he and Bartley agreed there's no coming "closure." For Bartley, that's in part because her important work will continue beyond the Nairobi embassy community whose lives were transformed that day.
"In no way will my work as an advocate be complete or over because the very nature of the work that diplomats do and who they are is not very well known to the average American," let alone members of Congress, Bartley said.
"There will be plenty of work to do ... to raise the visibility, the value and the importance of our diplomatic corps and others who serve at our U.S. embassies," she said, like her family did in Colombia, Spain, Israel, South Korea and Kenya.
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Martin Zabala/Xinhua via Getty ImagesBy JOE GOLDMAN and MATT ZARRELL, ABC News
(BUENOS AIRES) -- Police shot tear gas and rubber bullets into a massive crowd that lined the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Thursday to pay their respects to soccer legend Diego Maradona, who died on Wednesday at the age of 60.
The procession line, which stretched from Constitution rail station to the government house where Maradona lies in state, includes people from all walks of life, many of whom have come from faraway provinces where COVID-19 has hit hard, with many having been in lockdown for weeks or months.
It is unclear what lead police to take action against the crowd -- an unknown number of injuries were reported in the incident. Police in Buenos Aires did not immediately return ABC News' request for comment.
"We demand that the mayor and city security minister stop this craziness carried out by the city police force," said Interior Minister Waldo de Pedro.
Following the news of Maradona's death, millions of Argentines went out on their balconies, sidewalks and streets all over the country -- even in the throes of a deadly pandemic -- to give their idol a sustained round of applause. The city's landmarks, stadiums, parks, plazas and the house where he died in the northern suburbs was filled with wreaths left by admirers.
In response to the death, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning.
Maradona died of a heart attack after being released from a hospital in Buenos Aires following brain surgery, according to reports.
Born in Villa Fiorito in October 1960, Maradona first turned pro in his early teens, dominating at two Argentine clubs, Argentino Juniors and Boca Juniors, before becoming a household name with professional clubs in Europe including Barcelona and Napoli.
"I remember Diego living in an apartment in Naples when he played there and I would visit and there were always, I mean always a crowd of fans outside his window," local sports writer Alejandro Apo said on Wednesday.
Maradona's crowning achievement came as he led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup championship, which included his infamous "Hand of God" goal, to defeat England in the quarterfinal.
The soccer legend's career was not without controversy -- drug and alcohol addictions, along with a heavy interest in nightlife led to a steep downfall. During the 1994 World Cup in the United States, he failed a routine post-game drug test and was suspended for the remainder of the tournament.
The importance of Maradona to Argentina's national identity is perhaps best embodied by writer Roberto Fontanarrosa, who said, "It's not important to me what Diego did with his life, it's important what he did to mine."
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