American public growing wary about US war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON //Americans are increasingly questioning the rationale for the war in Afghanistan after the killings of 16 Afghan villagers by a US soldier, even as the US administration signalled it was committed to staying the course until 2014.

Barack Obama, the US president, said on Monday that while the mass killings in Kandahar were "absolutely heartbreaking and tragic" they would not hasten a US exit.

"It's important for us to make sure that we get out in a responsible way," Mr Obama told KDKA, a local Pittsburgh TV station, cautioning against a "rush for the exits".

Hillary Clinton, Mr Obama's secretary of state, echoed those sentiments at a news conference at the United Nations in New York.

"I hope that everyone understands in Afghanistan and around the world that the United States is committed to seeing Afghanistan continue its move toward a stable, secure, prosperous, democratic state."

But the war is already deeply unpopular in America, and the US administration may now have a political battle on its hand over its handling of what Mr Obama once called "the good war".

An ABC/Washington Post poll released on Monday, but conducted before the Sunday killings, found that 60 per cent of Americans did not think the war has been worth fighting, while 54 per cent said the US should withdraw its troops without first training Afghan forces to be self-sufficient.

The US and it allies are scheduled to withdraw the last of their troops at the end of 2014.

To some, the withdrawal cannot come soon enough. Alan Jones, a fitness instructor from north-east Washington DC, described the Sunday killings as "disturbing" and said the US should have withdrawn all troops after Osama bin Laden was killed in May last year.

"If you ask me, we shouldn't have been there in the first place," said Mr Jones, 32. "At the very least we should have left when we got bin Laden."

Waiting outside the White House for a class of students, tour guide Brian Syfert agreed. Most Americans, he said, including him, struggled to understand what good staying any longer in Afghanistan would do America. And the more incidents like Sunday's killings or the accidental Quran burnings by US soldiers last month, the clearer it became, the 28-year-old said, that it was "time for US troops to move on".

Mike and Kathy Hester disagreed, however. Retirees on holiday from Texas, the couple said the US still had an "important" mission to stabilise Afghanistan. And while Mrs Hester said she was "devastated for the victims" she said she didn't think the killings alone would turn US public opinion irreversibly against the war.

In that way, her husband said, it could not be compared to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, when a unit from a US army battalion killed between 347 and 504 villagers, mostly elderly men, women and children.

When the My Lai massacre became public knowledge, six months after it happened, the killings caused a public outrage and increased domestic pressure on the administration of Richard M Nixon to withdraw US troops. US military involvement in Vietnam ended in 1973.

Mr Obama on Monday said the comparison did not bear up because the soldier in Kandahar "appeared " to have acted alone.

Forced Deportations

While the Lebanese government has deported a number of refugees back to Syria since 2011, the latest round is the first en-mass campaign of its kind, say the Access Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization which monitors the conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

“In the past, the Lebanese General Security was responsible for the forced deportation operations of refugees, after forcing them to sign papers stating that they wished to return to Syria of their own free will. Now, the Lebanese army, specifically military intelligence, is responsible for the security operation,” said Mohammad Hasan, head of ACHR.
In just the first four months of 2023 the number of forced deportations is nearly double that of the entirety of 2022.

Since the beginning of 2023, ACHR has reported 407 forced deportations – 200 of which occurred in April alone.

In comparison, just 154 people were forcfully deported in 2022.


Instances of violence against Syrian refugees are not uncommon.

Just last month, security camera footage of men violently attacking and stabbing an employee at a mini-market went viral. The store’s employees had engaged in a verbal altercation with the men who had come to enforce an order to shutter shops, following the announcement of a municipal curfew for Syrian refugees.
“They thought they were Syrian,” said the mayor of the Nahr el Bared municipality, Charbel Bou Raad, of the attackers.
It later emerged the beaten employees were Lebanese. But the video was an exemplary instance of violence at a time when anti-Syrian rhetoric is particularly heated as Lebanese politicians call for the return of Syrian refugees to Syria.

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Gender equality in the workplace still 200 years away

It will take centuries to achieve gender parity in workplaces around the globe, according to a December report from the World Economic Forum.

The WEF study said there had been some improvements in wage equality in 2018 compared to 2017, when the global gender gap widened for the first time in a decade.

But it warned that these were offset by declining representation of women in politics, coupled with greater inequality in their access to health and education.

At current rates, the global gender gap across a range of areas will not close for another 108 years, while it is expected to take 202 years to close the workplace gap, WEF found.

The Geneva-based organisation's annual report tracked disparities between the sexes in 149 countries across four areas: education, health, economic opportunity and political empowerment.

After years of advances in education, health and political representation, women registered setbacks in all three areas this year, WEF said.

Only in the area of economic opportunity did the gender gap narrow somewhat, although there is not much to celebrate, with the global wage gap narrowing to nearly 51 per cent.

And the number of women in leadership roles has risen to 34 per cent globally, WEF said.

At the same time, the report showed there are now proportionately fewer women than men participating in the workforce, suggesting that automation is having a disproportionate impact on jobs traditionally performed by women.

And women are significantly under-represented in growing areas of employment that require science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, WEF said.

* Agence France Presse

Our legal advisor

Ahmad El Sayed is Senior Associate at Charles Russell Speechlys, a law firm headquartered in London with offices in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong.

Experience: Commercial litigator who has assisted clients with overseas judgments before UAE courts. His specialties are cases related to banking, real estate, shareholder disputes, company liquidations and criminal matters as well as employment related litigation. 

Education: Sagesse University, Beirut, Lebanon, in 2005.

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