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European Country Moldova likely to stick to European Union path regardless of the Election Outcome

The vote is the first since 1997 where the president will be elected by national balloting instead of by parliament

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A girl walks by campaign posters for socialist presidential candidate Igor Dodon, in Chisinau, Moldova, Nov. 12, 2016. VOA
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November 12, 2016: Moldovans are facing a critical choice for the presidency, as the country votes in a run-off election that will determine whether it moves closer to Moscow or the European Union.

Igor Dodon, a Socialist former trade minister, had a sizable lead in the first round of voting last month, but failed to gain an outright majority and avoid facing second-place finisher Maia Sandu in the November 13 run-off.

Sandu, a former World Bank economist and education minister, has called for closer ties with the European Union, and warned about the danger of closer economic relationship with Russia, which is Moldova’s leading energy supplier.

FILE - Leader of the Socialists Party, Igor Dodon, shown with his son Nikolai and wife Galina, casts his ballot, during the presidential elections in Chisinau, Moldova, Oct. 30, 2016. Dodon and second-place finisher Maia Sandu will face off in a November. VOA
FILE – Leader of the Socialists Party, Igor Dodon, shown with his son Nikolai and wife Galina, casts his ballot, during the presidential elections in Chisinau, Moldova, Oct. 30, 2016. Dodon and second-place finisher Maia Sandu will face off in a November. VOA

Dodon wants to reverse the country’s move toward European integration, which included a historic association agreement signed in 2014 despite bitter opposition from Russia.

The vote is the first since 1997 where the president will be elected by national balloting instead of by parliament.

The tiny country of 3.5 million is one of Europe’s poorest, a situation only worsened by the turmoil that erupted in late 2014 when nearly $1 billion — around 10 percent of the country’s GDP — disappeared from three banks.

FILE - Leader of the Action and Solidarity Party, Maia Sandu, casts her vote during the presidential elections in Chisinau, Moldova, Oct. 30, 2016. Sandu and Igor Dodon, a Socialist former trade minister, will face off in a November 13 run-off. VOA
FILE – Leader of the Action and Solidarity Party, Maia Sandu, casts her vote during the presidential elections in Chisinau, Moldova, Oct. 30, 2016. Sandu and Igor Dodon, a Socialist former trade minister, will face off in a November 13 run-off. VOA

Moscow fears Moldova moving closer to the European Union, similar to what happened in Ukraine in 2014.

Russia also has thousands of troops stationed in the disputed military presence in the mainly Russian-speaking territory of Transdniester, which broke away following a short war that killed some 1,000 people.

Russia still keeps a contingent of troops ostensibly as peacekeepers in the territory.

Polls show the banking crisis sapped many Moldovans’ enthusiasm for European integration. It also prompted the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to suspend financial aid.

Map, VOA
Map of Ukraine, VOA

Earlier this week, however, the IMF approved nearly $180 million of loans for Moldova ahead of a presidential runoff election that could see the former Soviet republic move closer to Europe or tilt toward Russia.

The Washington-based fund cited what it said was Moldova’s improving economy and government reform to strengthen the banking sector. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)