Not that reminders were needed, but just in case: It’s a dangerous world out there.
The weekend brought a barrage of headlines which, when considered together, checked quite a few boxes on the list marked “ongoing threats.”
Social media was understandably fascinated by the minuscule chance that a piece of a Chinese rocket might crash into someone’s living room, but a hodgepodge of more serious stories managed to outcompete “uncontrolled space debris re-entry” for a spot above the digital fold.
Most obviously (and most tragically) a bombing in Kabul killed at least 30 and left scores injured. Americans have a tendency to be apathetic when it comes to violence in Afghanistan. It’s not the disinterested aloofness the public demonstrates towards other conflict zones. Rather, it’s a kind of fatalistic despondency brought about by two decades of war. America’s youngest adults weren’t even alive on 9/11. They know why American troops are in Afghanistan, but in a strictly literal sense, they don’t remember why.
Saturday’s tragedy was particularly horrific. The attack targeted teenage girls leaving class. One of the most pressing questions as the US prepares to pull all troops out of the country is what will become of the nation’s young women. “The blast — and the targeting of girls as they left Sayed Ul-Shuhada high school — comes as rights groups and others have raised alarm that the American troop withdrawal will leave women, and their educational and social gains, particularly vulnerable,” The New York Times wrote.
For what it’s worth (which isn’t much), the Taliban denied responsibility. “We condemn today’s bombing, which was carried out on civilians,” the group said. The Times went on to note that the attack took place in a Western district of the capital “where many residents are Hazara, a mostly Shiite group.” A similar bombing in the same area killed two-dozen in October. In a nation festering with Sunni extremists, definitively ascribing unclaimed attacks is impossible. The government blamed the Taliban, which has stepped up offensive operations as US and NATO troops begin the process of exiting the conflict (with no end in sight for locals).
The horrific targeting of school girls will doubtlessly pile more pressure on Joe Biden, whose decision to pull all remaining US troops from Afghanistan drew criticism in some corners. Mitch McConnell, for example, warned this week that the Taliban would be back in power within a year. “I think there’s a high likelihood that the Taliban will be back in control of the country, maybe as early as the end of the year,” he said, responding to a question during a press conference in Kentucky. “I worry about the future of Afghan women and girls, and that we will end up in a situation much like we found ourselves in before.”
Frankly, it’s hard to argue with McConnell on that point, even as it’s equally difficult to dispute the notion that from a purely selfish perspective, there’s little utility in maintaining the American troop presence. While it doubtlessly serves as a deterrent, it hasn’t stopped civilians from being killed in attacks like Saturday’s bombing, and there’s a very plausible argument to be made that America’s capacity to conduct targeted operations isn’t severely diminished by pulling up the stakes. DEVGRU can be deployed anywhere in the world and besides, the Pentagon loves its drones.
In any case, Saturday’s attack in Kabul complicates an already vexing situation. “I have lost count of attacks harming children. I have lost count of attacks on education. I have lost count of attacks on Hazaras and in Hazara neighborhoods. I have lost count of civilians killed even just this month,” Shaharzad Akbar, the chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said. “Denials and condemnations don’t stop the bloodshed,” she added, responding to the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the COVID situation continued to deteriorate in India. A full-page, macabre visual that could have walked straight out of a Hollywood apocalypse film greeted readers who clicked on “At India’s Funeral Pyres, Covid Sunders the Rites of Grief” (another Times feature).
“The lifeless are picked up from infected homes by exhausted volunteers, piled into ambulances by hospital workers or carried in the back of auto-rickshaws by grieving relatives,” the opening line reads. “At the cremation grounds, where the fires only briefly cool off late at night, relatives wait hours for their turn to say goodbye.”
The country logged a record 4,187 deaths over 24 hours (figure below). As bad as that is, it surely understates the total, likely by a huge margin.
“India must reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission,” The Lancet said, in an editorial published Saturday. “As cases continue to mount, the government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including the possibility of a new federal lockdown.”
The international community is likely to lose patience with Narendra Modi in relatively short order. “The federal government has an essential role in explaining to the public the necessity of masking, social distancing, halting mass gatherings, voluntary quarantine, and testing,” the same linked editorial insisted, calling Modi’s actions, including attempts “to stifle criticism and open discussion” amid the worsening epidemic, “inexcusable.”
A pair of lions tested positive in Uttar Pradesh Saturday. They’re self-isolating.
Finally, rounding out the bad news, Colonial Pipeline was forced to “shut its entire network” (as Reuters put it, summing up) following a ransomware attack. FireEye is reportedly trying to sort out what happened. The Biden administration has been briefed.
The breach has the potential to push up gas prices and create all manner of disruptions depending on how long the situation takes to resolve. The company described the decision to halt “all pipeline operations” as a “proactive” measure aimed at “contain[ing] the threat.”
Colonial’s investigation was “ongoing,” as of Saturday evening. Law enforcement and federal agencies were contacted. The company said it’s “working diligently to… minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline.”
Apparently, “those who rely on Colonial Pipeline” is a group that includes damn near everybody on the East Coast.
As one professor explained in remarks to Reuters, “this is as close as you can get to the jugular of infrastructure in the United States.” “It’s not a major pipeline. It’s the pipeline,” she added.
One wonders if the ransom is payable in Dogecoin.