Category Archives: News

worldwide news

‘Can You Dig It?’ Africa Reality Show Draws Youth to Farming

As a student, Leah Wangari imagined a glamorous life as a globe-trotting flight attendant, not toiling in dirt and manure.

 

Born and raised in Kenya’s skyscraper-filled capital, Nairobi, the 28-year-old said farming had been the last thing on her mind. The decision to drop agriculture classes haunted her later, when her efforts in agribusiness investing while running a fashion venture failed.

 

Clueless, she made her way to an unusual new reality TV show, the first of its kind in Africa. “Don’t Lose the Plot,” backed by the U.S. government, trains contestants from Kenya and neighboring Tanzania and gives them plots to cultivate, with a $10,000 prize for the most productive. The goal: Prove to young people that agriculture can be fun and profitable.

 

“Being in reality TV was like the best feeling ever, like a dream come true for me,” Wangari said. But she found it exhausting. As callouses built up on her hands, her friends made bets that she wouldn’t succeed.

 

“Don’t Lose the Plot” is aimed at inspiring youth in East Africa to pursue agribusiness entrepreneurship. Producers said the show wants to demystify the barriers to starting a small business and challenge the prejudices against farming-related careers, even as many youths flee rural areas for urban ones.

“What we hope to achieve … is first to show people that you can make money out of farming, to change the age profile of farmers in Africa from 60 to the youth. And the next thing we want to do is to show farmers, young farmers, that they can use their mobile and technology in order to farm and achieve their goals,” producer Patricia Gichinga said. The show also offers training via online platforms and text message.

 

Attracting people to agriculture is no small challenge in Africa, where a booming young population is often put off by the image of punishing work and poor, weather-beaten farmers.

 

“Most young Africans think of farming as back-breaking labor that pays peanuts,” former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the committee chair for the $100,000 annual Africa Food Prize and a farmer himself, wrote in the New African magazine last year. “This view, though largely inaccurate, is to some extent understandable.”

 

If Africa’s youth, who make up about 65 percent of the population, don’t venture into agribusiness, “then there is little chance that agriculture will have a transformative impact on the continent’s fortunes,” Obasanjo wrote.

 

Most experts agree that farming growth can boost African economies by increasing trade, creating more jobs and improving food self-sufficiency on a continent with the highest occurrence of food insecurity in the world.

 

But much of the potential remains untapped. Africa has over 60 percent of the world’s fertile but uncultivated land while importing $35 billion to $50 billion in food per year, the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa says . Weak or corrupt land governance is a challenge, as well as conflict.

 

Yields for major crops remain low compared to other regions of the world. Change must come by empowering the smallholder farmers who produce 80 percent of the food consumed on the continent, the organization says.

Now Wangari is one of them. After placing second in “Don’t Lose the Plot,” she became a full-time mushroom farmer.

 

In a damp structure of mud and clay on the outskirts of Nairobi, she has harvested her first crop and is preparing for her second. She had expected to make a $2,500 profit but took in $1,000 instead after mites from a nearby chicken house invaded and lowered her yield.

 

“When I see young men in the village now sitting idle I feel disappointed because there is a lot of idle land and they can use it to make ends meet,” she said. “They don’t require a lot of capital but they don’t have the information.”

Land Fight Simmers Over Brasilia’s Shrine of Shamans

Brasilia – It is one of the most expensive areas in the Brazilian capital – and one of the most sacred.

A plot in downtown Brasilia – known as Santuário dos Pajés or Shrine of the Shamans – is at the center of a conflict between indigenous people hoping to preserve their traditional way of life and developers eager to build an upmarket neighborhood.

While property is often contested in Brazil, it is usually waged over remote jungles or distant mountains – vast swaths of land that can be mined or farmed for profit.

This conflict centers on Brasilia’s urban power base. Just minutes from the National Congress, the Shrine of the Shamans – with its unpaved roads, forest and small houses – sits surrounded by lavish high rises.

Indigenous residents say they feel cornered by the encroaching developers, with multiple interests fighting over the last undeveloped plot in Brasilia, a planned city known for its futuristic buildings designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.

“The sanctuary has been an indigenous land for more than 40 years. We have been fighting for its demarcation,” indigenous leader Márcia Guajajara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation inside the Shrine.

“When the developers arrived, we were already here. They think that money always wins,” she said.

It is one of many such conflicts in Brazil, rich in land to be exploited and low on deeds and property records.

For land demarcation is controversial in Brazil, despite safeguards in both the constitution and United Nations guidelines that are supposed to enshrine rights for indigenous people.

About a third of almost a million indigenous people live in Brazil’s cities, according to government statistics.

There are several land battles wending their way through the courts, many of them pit native people against powerful business interests.

But it is the prime downtown location that makes the fight over the Shrine stand out in the capital city, declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations for its modernist architecture and artistic planning.

Conflicting Claims

Conflict began a decade ago when the local government claimed it owned the Brasilia plot, prompting indigenous groups to counterclaim, saying the Fulni-Ô Tapuya had lived and performed religious ceremonies there for decades.

To further complicate matters, the federal government said it took ownership of the area in 2008 and a year later sold it on to building firms to create a green and sustainable neighborhood called Noroeste (Northwest).

Since then, high-rise buildings have sprung up all around the sacred soil, making the Shrine one of the few areas in the city that is free of new buildings.

Forty-year-old Guajajara has been living in Santuário dos Pajés since 1996, after marrying shaman Santxiê Tapuya, considered the founder of the sacred land. She is one of 180 indigenous people who live in the area.

According to court documents, a receipt from 1980 shows Santxiê bought an area of about 4 hectares (9.8 acres), the size of almost six football pitches.

Indigenous locals say pressure to displace them from the area has steadily increased over the years.

One November afternoon last year, Guajajara said about 10 men – some armed – and three tractors invaded the Santuário dos Pajés area, knocking down trees in the hope of clearing the land sufficiently to pave an avenue down its middle.

Her 18-year-old son Fetxa said he tried and failed to stop them by blocking their path. “I did not get out of the front.

They pushed me forward, along with the soil, twice. I was shocked.”

According to Guajajara, she and her son – the only ones in the area when the tractors arrived – screamed they could not enter the indigenous land because it is protected by a court decision.

But the men said they had an order “to run it over.”

The local government’s development arm, Terracap, said its staff were doing some infrastructure works in the neighborhood close to the indigenous area but denied they were armed.

“We are removing garbage in various locations and they understood this as an affront,” Júlio César Reis, the head of Terracap, said by phone.

In an emailed statement, Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, Funai, said it would not comment.

Federal prosecutors are investigating the case.

The indigenous residents were quick to fence in the area, though it is no barrier to any possible future encroachment.

How Much Land?

In 2013, a court recognized the indigenous land ownership rights over the area of about four hectares bought by Santxiê but Funai, Terracap and federal prosecutors appealed.

Terracap said it has not been proven the indigenous people lived in the sacred area before their registered their claim.

The matter was further complicated when in October 2017 federal prosecutors, who act on behalf of indigenous people in Brazil, made a request in court to allocate a further 28 hectares to  Santxiê’s family and the ethnic group Fulni-Ô Tapuya.

Federal prosecutor Felipe Fritz Braga said the sanctuary is crucial to ensure the Fulni-Ô Tapuya’s future in the area.

An anthropological report used in the suit found evidence that indigenous tribes have been living in the area since 1956, during the construction process of Brasília, he said.

Santuário dos Pajés has been targeted by almost 30 lawsuits over the last 10 years.

“This number of lawsuits reflects the complexity of the problem,” Braga said in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Solar Power Push Lights Up Options for India’s Rural Women

In her village of Komalia, the fog swirls so thick at 7 a.m. that Akansha Singh can see no more than 15 meters ahead. But the 20-year-old is already cycling to her workplace, nine kilometers away.

Halfway there she stops for two hours at a computer training center, where she’s learning internet skills. Then she’s off again, and by 10 a.m. reaches the small garment manufacturing plant where she stitches women’s clothing for high-end brands on state-of-the-art electric sewing machines.

Solar energy powers most of her day — the computer training center and the 25-woman garment factory run on solar mini-grid electricity — and clean power has given her personal choice as well, she said.

If the mini-grid system had not been put in place, Singh — a recent college graduate without funds to pursue training as a teacher, the only job open to women in her village — would have had no alternative but to marry, she said.

In fact, “I would already be married off,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Today, however, she earns 4,500 rupees ($70) a month working on solar-powered sewing machines. She uses part of that to pay 300 rupees ($4.70) a month for her computer education class — and is planning to start a computer training center closer to home.

Like her, most of the women at the factory earn between 2,500 and 4,500 rupees ($39- $70) a month, which has helped their families eat better, get children to school and pay for healthcare, they said.

“With a month’s earning alone we can buy new bicycles for ourselves and our school-going children,” Bandana Devi, a mother of four, told the Thomson Reuter Foundation, as she looked up from her sewing.

She bought one for her 12-year-old daughter, she said, and her 6-year-old rides pillion with her to the school, 2 km away.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a $2.5 billion plan to electrify every Indian household by 2019 — a huge task in a country where close to 240 million people still have no access to electrical power.

Solar power — including the use of small local grids — is likely to be a big part of the push, with 60 percent of new connections expected to be to renewable power, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

Stable Power, More Contracts

In a clearing in an acacia plantation, the more than 140 solar panels that make up the Kamlapur mini-grid are being cleaned early in the morning.

The 36-kilowatt plant, set up by the for-profit OMC Power Private Ltd.(formerly Omnigrid Micropower Company) in 2015, distributes solar energy over 2.4 kilometers of power lines to 70 households, two telecommunications towers, the clothing manufacturing unit and several other small businesses.

Solar mini-grids usually rely on one or two large users of power — often mobile phone towers — to provide a stable base revenue for the system. But as solar electricity becomes available in areas beyond the traditional grid, power-hungry small businesses are emerging that could become anchor users.

Kamlapur’s garment factory, for instance, consumes 10 kilowatts of power each day — the same as the telecom towers, said Ketan Bhatt, an OMC official in Uttar Pradesh state.

The state in 2016 became India’s first to put in place a mini-grid policy, recognizing private solar companies as legitimate players in India’s push to get power to all.

Company owners, in turn, say solar mini-grids — which can be more reliable than the unstable grid power their competitors rely on — is giving them a business advantage.

“Because the power supply is steady, we are regularly able to deliver on contract deadlines, which in turn enhances our reputation to bag more contracts,” said Mohammad Riyaz, who set up the Kamlapur garment unit in 2016.

Rohit Chandra, a co-founder of OMC, said he was seeing many solar power users moving beyond simply buying power for home lighting and appliances. Now, he said, they are harnessing solar energy for profit.

“We see barbers installing televisions and fans in their shops to attract more customers. Carpenters buy electric saws and wood polishers, fruit sellers are adding electric juicers. Health centers and dispensaries are coming up in underserved villages too,” Chandra said in a telephone interview.

“People are now continuously climbing,” he said.

Sangeeta Singh, of the Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency, said rural villagers “are willing to pay for assured, customized hours of supply, even at a higher price.”

“The myth that rural consumers will not pay for electricity is now demolished,” added Jaideep Mukherji, the CEO of Smart Power India (SPI). “Over the last two years we’ve discovered not only do rural consumers pay for the electricity, 93 percent pay on time.”

SPI is backed by the the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation’s $75 million Smart Power for Rural Development initiative, which aims to get power the “last mile” to users without it in India, Myanmar and sub-Saharan Africa.

SPI works with seven private mini-grid operators, including OMC, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand — some of India’s least electrified states — to boost demand for solar mini-grid power and help develop rural economies.

The aim is both to improve life for poor people in power-hungry regions and help make sure solar mini-grid power is financially feasible for its operators, Mukherji said.

Chandra, of OMC, said that, on average, after supplying reliable power for a year, “we see around 30 micro-enterprises come up in each village.”

Though most are expansions of existing businesses, some are new ventures — such as a new water purifying plant in Kamlapur.

Sanskrit language teacher Aparna Mishra has just invested 400,000 rupees ($6,240) to set up a reverse osmosis water purifier.

Starting later this month, 100 customers — including schools, hotels and homes in the area — will begin receiving 20-liter refillable jars of water, dropped off at their doorstep, the entrepreneur said.

Mishra’s two-year target is to produce 3,000 liters of clean water a day, delivered over a 12-km radius from the 5-kilowatt plant.

“If villagers can understand the link between good health and clean drinking water from my plant, that itself is the biggest return on my investment,” the 26-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An assessment of Smart Power India villages at the end of 2016 found that after two years of access to mini-grid power, small businesses using it had increased their monthly income by 13 percent.

A Price Too High?

While Smart Power India is reaching a growing share of communities without electricity, a 2017 study by the International Center for Research on Women found that large numbers of women and poor families still lack access to clean energy, even in areas where it is available.

For some of them, the cost of private mini-grid power is a deterrent to using it.

Riyaz’s clothing factory, for instance, pays 25 rupees (39 cents) for each kilowatt of the 10 kilowatts of power it uses each day — well above the 11 to 17 rupees that rural users of grid power pay.

“The electricity bill pinches,” the 45-year-old tailor said.

Chandra, of OMC, admitted that “on the face of it, our charges for reliable power might look high.”

But grid power users in Uttar Pradesh must pay a minimum monthly fee of 1,000 rupees, he said. With many small solar businesses — such as phone recharging — using less power, and even larger businesses often saving energy by using efficient machines, solar mini-grid power can come out cheaper, he said.

US Postal Service Enters Digital, Virtual, Augmented Worlds to Attract Customers

Even though the U.S. Postal Service delivers about 46 percent of the world’s total mail, competition is getting tougher every day. The post office is turning to technology to stay current. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee shows how the USPS is using virtual and augmented realities, along with email, to attract business.

US Social Media Firms Step Up Help on Security Efforts, Intelligence Leaders Say

Leaders of U.S. national security and law enforcement agencies said Tuesday the U.S. private sector has been helpful in efforts to keep the country safe.

While the leaders did not name companies, industry sectors or what specific help has been provided, they did discuss the challenges of monitoring social media.

The comments may reflect a shift in what law enforcement has seen as the technology industry’s adversarial approach when it comes to fighting crimes and addressing national security issues.

The most notable example of this tension was support by tech industry groups for Apple’s battle with law enforcement over breaking the encryption of an iPhone used by the man who killed 14 people in the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California.

‘Forward-leaning engagement’

At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday, Dan Coats, director of National Intelligence, said the U.S. government has received more support from those in the private sector “who are beginning to recognize ever more the issues that are faced with the material that comes through their processes.”

Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, referred to the help from the private sector as a “more forward-leaning engagement.”

“So, it’s teamwork within the intelligence community and then partnership with the private sector, which is, I think, the other big change I’ve noticed — is a lot more forward-leaning engagement with the private sector in terms of trying to share information and raise awareness on their end,” said Wray, also speaking at the hearing.

“Because at the end of the day, we can’t fully police social media, so we have to work with them so that they can police themselves a little bit better as well,” Wray added.

Gates: Be careful of arrogance

Separately, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, said in an interview that tech firms need to be careful of being too arrogant when working in realms outside their businesses or they’ll face the kind of government intervention his firm experienced in its antitrust dispute.

“The tech companies have to be careful that they’re not trying to think their view is more important than the government’s view, or than the government being able to function in some key areas,” said Gates in an interview with Axios.

Gates cited Apple’s iPhone battle with the government, criticizing “their view that even a clear mass-murdering criminal’s communication should never be available to the government.”

“There’s no question of ability,” he said about unlocking the iPhone. “It’s the question of willingness.”

He also cited companies’ “enthusiasm about making financial transactions anonymous and invisible.”

Microsoft’s consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department came to an end in 2011, a result of the government’s settlement with the software giant in its antitrust case.

Remarks on Trump administration

On Tuesday, Gates and his wife, Melinda, issued their foundation’s annual letter.

In terms of the Trump administration, Gates wrote that while “we disagree with this administration more than the others we’ve met with, we believe it’s still important to work together whenever possible. We keep talking to them because if the U.S. cuts back on its investments abroad, people in other countries will die, and Americans will be worse off.”

Melinda Gates wrote that the president is a role model of “American values in the world.” She continued, “I wish our president would treat people, and especially women, with more respect when he speaks and tweets.”

Here’s How Points-based Immigration Works

The Senate is beginning its immigration debate with a bill that encapsulates all of President Donald Trump’s immigration priorities.One of those is a shift from an immigration system based largely on family reunification to a policy that would be points-based, sometimes called merit immigration.

Points-based systems are not new. Britain has one, and Germany is starting a pilot immigration program based on points.The two oldest points-based systems are in Canada and Australia.

Here is what those programs look like and how they stack up against the current U.S. system and the one Trump proposes:

Canada, Australia, U.S.

In 1967, Canada became the first nation to establish a points-based system. It allows 100 possible points for education, work experience, job offer, age of applicant and family adaptability. In the Canadian system, applicants can get the greatest number of points, 28, for language proficiency in English and French.

WATCH: Points-Based Immigration: How It Compares

To qualify as one of Canada’s skilled immigrants, an applicant must accrue 67 points and pass a medical exam.

In 2017, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada planned for more than half of its total immigrants to come through its workers’ program (172,500) and a smaller number (84,000) to be admitted as family members.

Australia’s points system was instituted in 1989 as a departure from the country’s previous racial- and ethnic-based policy. 

To gain entry, applicants must accrue 60 points for such attributes as English proficiency, skilled employment, educational background and ties to Australia. Australia awards the greatest number of points (30) to people of prime working age. Applicants must also pass a medical exam and character test.

In 2016-17, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection reported that “123,567 places were delivered in the skill stream; 56,220 places were delivered in the family stream.”

In contrast, the United States has had a system based on family reunification since the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. There are 480,000 family visas allotted every year, while work visas are set at 140,000.

Pluses, minuses

Supporters of Trump’s plan argue the family-based approach brings in low-skilled workers compared with a point system. His proposal and one in the Senate would reward points based on high-salary job offers, past achievements, English language ability and education. The plans would also cut legal immigration by about 50 percent.

Critics say a points system would cost more; the government would have to review the applications and pay resettlement costs that are currently covered by sponsoring families. 

Results

In 2016, the United States admitted almost 1.2 million immigrants.The top five countries they came from were Mexico, China, Cuba, India and the Dominican Republic.

That same year, Canada took in about 296,000 immigrants. The top five countries of origin were the Philippines, India, Syria, China and Pakistan.

In 2016-17, Australia admitted 184,000 immigrants. India, China, Britain, the Philippines and Pakistan were the leading countries of origin.

The Australian Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in November 2016, “The unemployment rate for recent migrants and temporary residents was 7.4 percent, compared with 5.4 percent for people born in Australia. Migrants with Australian citizenship had an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent, temporary residents 8.6 percent and recent migrants on a permanent visa 8.8 percent.”

Statistics Canada reported an overall unemployment rate of 5.4 percent in 2017. For immigrants who had just landed it was 6.4 percent, and for those in the country for five years or less, it was 9.6 percent. For those in the country more than 10 years, the unemployment rate approached the national average at 5.6 percent.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2016, the unemployment rate for the foreign-born population, both new and longtime residents, was 4.3 percent, which was lower than the 4.9 percent rate for the population in general.

Much Senate Sniping, Little Action on Immigration

Partisan sniping dominated U.S. Senate deliberations one day after the chamber voted to launch debate on immigration reform, including the fate of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on Tuesday signaled his intention to conclude the immigration debate by week’s end and accused Democrats of needlessly delaying floor action.

“If we’re going to resolve these matters this week, we need to get moving,” McConnell said.

Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York objected when McConnell moved to begin floor debate on legislation cracking down on so-called “sanctuary cities” — municipalities that do not cooperate with federal authorities in identifying and handing over undocumented immigrants.

Schumer said the proposal “doesn’t address Dreamers, nor does it address [U.S.] border security,” and “would be getting off on the wrong foot.”

Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, sometimes referred to as Dreamers, received temporary permission to work and study in the United States under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration program that President Donald Trump rescinded last year.

Trump challenged Congress to pass a law addressing DACA beneficiaries’ legal status, reigniting an immigration debate that reached the Senate floor this week.

“The key here is an immigration debate, not a DACA-only debate, not an amnesty-only debate,” Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said. “An immigration debate has to include a discussion about enforcement measures … how to remove dangerous criminal aliens from our country.”

Trump has proposed a path to eventual citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, but also demanded funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a reduction in the number of legal immigrants America accepts, and prioritizing newcomers with advanced work skills.

“Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th.”

‘We’re on the verge’

Trump set March 5 as the termination date for DACA, after which former beneficiaries would be at risk of deportation unless Congress acts.

Any immigration proposal will need three-fifths backing to advance in the Senate, and Democrats argued that only a narrowly-tailored bill focusing on areas of general bipartisan agreement — a DACA fix and boosting border security — can pass.

“We can get something done, we’re on the verge,” Schumer said. “Let’s work toward that.”

Senate Republicans have unveiled a proposal that encompasses Trump’s immigration priorities, including “merit-based” legal immigration that gives preference to those who can best contribute to U.S. economic output.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said such criteria would have excluded his relatives who came to America from Lithuania.

“My grandparents and my mother didn’t come to this country with any special skills or proficiency. They came here with a determination to make a better life, and they did — for themselves and for me,” Durbin said. “That’s my family’s story. That’s America’s story.”

US Postal Service Rolls Out Virtual Mail

A new service that sends virtual images of the day’s mail to inboxes, before snail mail arrives in actual mailboxes, is now a reality in the United States.  

“Informed Delivery” is the latest way the United States Postal Service (USPS) is trying to stay competitive.  

“Informed Delivery is a way for you to receive an email every single day of all the digital images of all your mail,” explained David Rupert, media relations specialist at USPS.  Rupert said his digital images arrive around 9 a.m. each day.

Though the USPS delivers about 46 percent of the world’s total mail, it is battling email, text messages, online advertising, television and other delivery services for consumers’ attention and business.

 

“In a digital world, more and more people are having their bills delivered online, paying them on line. And that’s starting to cut into the overall letter volume, as well as the handwritten letter and the notes that we used to send. The reality is, we’re not doing that anymore. That’s not just a U.S. trend, that’s a worldwide trend,” Rupert said.

WATCH: USPS Enters Digital, Virtual, Augmented Worlds to Attract Customers

Battling that trend also means using virtual and augmented technology in advertising, often called “junk” mail.

“What you can do is to take your cellphone, and you can take a mail piece, and it will interact with that mail piece,” Rupert described.

If there is a special digital code on an ad, consumers can scan it with their mobile device and an animated, augmented reality ad will appear.  An advertiser can also send a cardboard virtual reality headset along with a code for mobile phone users to scan.  What shows up is a VR ad that can be inserted into the headset for a 360-degree experience.

Virtual and augmented reality advertising are getting mixed results from consumers.

“Not all junk mail [pieces] are junk mail. You can find some good [things] within the junk mail. It’s a good idea. We’ll see how it works out,” said consumer Victor Teah.

 

“For some, that might be fun. But for me, I wouldn’t have any use for it,” consumer Jocelyn Coatney said.

Informed Delivery has broader appeal.

“I think I would like that a lot, especially with checks and things coming in, and things coming in from grandkids. That would be a nice service,” said Coatney.

 

Rupert added: “We don’t want to be a world leader on technology, but we certainly want to make our services relevant to you — in your home and in your neighborhood.”

Tillerson: Keep Focus on Defeating Islamic State

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Tuesday of the need to remain focused on an “enduring defeat” of the Islamic State group, even though the militants have largely been ousted from the areas the once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Tillerson spoke at a conference in Kuwait for members of the coalition the United States set up in late 2014 with a multi-prong strategy of countering Islamic State, including through U.S.-led airstrikes and working to cut off the group’s financing and flow of foreign fighters.

“ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe,” he said, using an acronym for the group.

Tillerson said the militants are no longer in control of 98 percent of the territory they held at their height in 2014 when they declared the establishment of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, but that they now pose a different threat.

“In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is attempting to morph into an insurgency. In places like Afghanistan, the Philippines, Libya, West Africa and others it is trying to carve out and secure safe havens,” he said.

Tillerson announced $200 million in new aid to liberated areas of Syria. Later Tuesday, he is taking part in a donor conference aimed at rebuilding areas of Iraq.

Ahead of the meeting, a senior State Department official said “the eyes have to be on the prize” when describing the need to focus on defeating Islamic State, and highlighted recent conflicts in the Afrin area of northern Syria between Turkish forces and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as a distraction from that goal.

The official, and Tillerson in his Tuesday comments, recognized Turkey’s concerns about Kurdish militants it considers a threat.

“We believe there’s a way to work through, walk through, these problems, and that’s why the secretary is going to Ankara, to have those discussions,” the official told reporters.

Tillerson is on a five-nation trip in the region, which began in Egypt and includes stops in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.