US will maintain Niger presence after ambush deaths of four soldiers

Nearly three weeks after jihadists attacked a joint US-Niger patrol in a sensitive border area, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said the US was firmly committed to supporting Nigerien forces in counter-insurgency operations.

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With some 800 US forces deployed in the country, “our intent is to continue operations there,” Gen Dunford told a news conference on Monday,

The October 4 clash, the deadliest US combat incident since President Donald Trump took office in January, has shocked many Americans unaware of the military presence in the African country, the largest US deployment on the continent.

The four troops died on a reconnaissance patrol on the Niger-Mali border directly north of Niamey. Dunford said five Nigerien solders were killed, and another two Americans wounded.

The 12 American and 30 Nigerien soldiers on the mission were attacked by about 50 fighters Dunford characterized as locals associated with the Islamic State group. 

Questions have been raised over why it took hours before backup support reached the patrol, and why one US soldier’s body was left behind and only recovered the following day.

‘Very complex situation’ 

Gen Dunford said the October 3-4 mission was originally approved based on an intelligence assessment they were “unlikely” to come into conflict with any local forces.

The unit went to a village near the border and was attacked as they returned to their base to the south.

Gen Dunford said based on what investigators know so far, the patrol did not call for support until one hour after first being attacked, suggesting perhaps they believed they could handle the situation.

A surveillance drone was sent to the location quickly after they did call for support and two French Mirage jets arrived overhead an hour later.

But Gen Dunford gave no details of what took place on the ground and said he did not know, for example, why the French jets did not drop bombs.

“This is a very complex situation that they found themselves in,” he noted.

“When they didn’t ask for support for that first hour, my judgement would be that that unit thought they could handle the situation without additional support.”

The incident has drawn calls from Congress for an investigation into the US presence in Niger.

A US special operations raid on Mogadishu in 1993 became a massive firefight leaving 19 US soldiers dead and resulted eventually in the pullback of US forces from Somalia.

The 800 deployed in Niger are part of around 6,000 US forces on the continent, mostly there to train local partners.

“We mitigate the risk to the US forces with specific guidance that we will only accompany those (local) forces when the prospects of enemy contact is unlikely,” Gen Dunford said.

Gen Dunford said the Niger clash reflected the globalisation of the fight against IS, even as it loses ground in Syria and Iraq.

Google’s iPhone rival off to a rocky start

The launch of Alphabet Inc’s second-generation Google Pixel smartphones has been hampered by display screen problems and pricing and shipping issues, prompting the company to open an investigation and issue multiple apologies to customers.

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The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which start at $US649 ($A831) and debuted in US stores on Thursday, are the lynchpin of Google’s efforts to take on Apple Inc’s iPhone directly.

Early Pixel 2 users have voiced frustration with mishaps, including a potentially serious problem with the screen.

Google said on Sunday it is investigating whether graphics are burning into the display of the Pixel 2, following a report on the AndroidCentral blog detailing the issue after a week of use. Burn-in, which usually becomes a problem only after several years of activity, can make it difficult to see information on the display.

Google likely would need to halt production if there is problem, said Ryan Reith, a mobile device analyst at research firm IDC.

Reviewers and users in online support forums have also reported a clicking noise during calls and poor Bluetooth connections between the Pixel 2 and other devices. Google did not immediately comment on the issues.

On Friday, the company vowed to reimburse an undisclosed number of people who were charged $US30 extra for the Pixel 2 by a Verizon Wireless reseller operating at Google pop-up stores in the United States.

The surcharge “was an error,” Google said in its apology.

Prior complaints led Google to drop the price of an adapter used to connect headphones to $US9 from $US20), matching the price of a comparable iPhone adapter.

Google also sent emails over the weekend to buyers advising that delivery of their Pixel 2 may be delayed as much as one month.

Musician’s focus on finishing Year 12 and further education a growing trend for Indigenous students

Young musician Kakira Brennan wanted to be a singer from an early age.

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She was just as determined to complete Year 12.

“Education and being an intelligent person has always been the number one thing my family’s been focused on,” she tells SBS World News. “You go to school, you study and that’s how you get somewhere in life.”

She’s now four weeks away from completing a Certificate Four in music industry performance at New South Wales TAFE. 

“Doing my Certificate Three and Four has given me the confidence to actually go out and find somewhere to do a gig. So for me, after the Cert Four, doing a diploma and gigging is going to be my thing.”

Related ReadingObtaining qualifications

She is one of a growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people obtaining qualifications.

Census figures released on Monday show nearly half of Aboriginal people aged between 20 and 24 finished Year 12, up 15 per cent from 2006.

Just over 15,000 went onto university or TAFE last year, more than double a decade ago. 

That’s led to a 150 per cent jump in Aboriginal people holding Certificate Three or Four-level qualifications.

The government says it is funding more support for Aboriginal students, such as mentoring programs.

More resources needed

Aboriginal education groups say the latest census figures are encouraging but more resources are needed to ensure more students stay in school.

The executive officer of Aboriginal Education Council, Bev Baker, says: “We’ve had older women take up their chances through education to get back what they lost […] as young people. They have passed that value of education down to their children and then their children are passing it on to their children. That’s how changes are made.”

Creating safe spaces in schools and tertiary institutions is critical, she believes.

“Even simple things, like renaming things into the local Aboriginal language, values the Aboriginal culture. Therefore the Aboriginal people realise that they are in a place that is welcoming and safe and they are prepared to engage fully, rather than engage with a wary eye.”

Reconciliation Australia’s CEO Karen Mundine adds: “We need to make sure that young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have high expectations when they come into the classroom, that they have high quality teachers and the communities that they work in are engaged as well.”

 

US director James Toback accused of sexual harassment by 38 women after Weinstein scandal

The Hollywood sexual abuse scandal widened on Monday after 38 women were said to have accused US film director James Toback of unwanted sexual encounters over a period of decades.

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Toback reeled them in with boasts about his movie career and connections, as well as claims he could make them a star, according to their accounts to the Los Angeles Times.

But in meetings framed as interviews or auditions, he allegedly would turn disturbingly personal, with questions veering to masturbation and pubic hair, the Times said.

“He told me he’d love nothing more than to masturbate while looking into my eyes,” Louise Post, who met Toback in 1987 while attending Barnard College, told the Times.

“Going to his apartment has been the source of shame for the past 30 years, that I allowed myself to be so gullible,” Post, who is now a guitarist and singer for indie rock band Veruca Salt, said.

Toback denied the allegations, telling the Times he had never met the women or if he did, it “was for five minutes and (I) have no recollection.”

His representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Toback, now 72, has been a writer and film director since 1974.

His most recent movie, ‘The Private Life of a Modern Woman’ starring Sienna Miller, premiered this year at the Venice Film Festival. 

In 1987, he made the semi-autobiographical ‘The Pick-up Artist’ and other credits include the Oscar-nominated screenplay for ‘Bugsy’, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.

‘Intimidating power’

The Times said it interviewed all 38 women who came forth separately – 31 of them on the record – as well as people they had spoken with about the incidents at the time.

None had reported the encounters to the police at the time.

A cascade of accounts by women of sexual abuse has flooded social media under the hashtag #MeToo since a similar scandal surrounding movie mogul Harvey Weinstein erupted earlier this month.

A who’s who of actresses and models have come forward to accuse Weinstein of rape, sexual assault and harassment, and of using his intimidating power in Hollywood to keep his behaviour hushed up.

Weinstein, who is reported to have checked himself into a rehab program in Arizona for sexual addiction, insists all his sexual encounters have been consensual.

Criminal investigations in his case are underway in London, Los Angeles and New York.

The scandal has prompted fresh calls for justice from 46-year-old former child star Corey Feldman who took to social media on Thursday last week to share his own experience of abuse.

“4 THE RECORD: I WILL NOT B GOING ON A TALK SHOW 2 DISCLOSE NAMES OF MY ABUSER OR ANY1 ELSES ABUSERS. SO PLEASE STOP ASKING ME 2 DO SO,” he said, launching into a seven-message Twitter tirade.

Hollywood ‘paedophile ring’

He went on to say he had been “mocked & shamed” and had his career destroyed for campaigning against what he describes as a Hollywood paedophile ring that abused him as a child.

Feldman says he and fellow child star Corey Haim, who died in 2010, were abused by studio executives as they were making a name for themselves, including “some of the most richest, most powerful people in this business”.

Filmmaker Paul Haggis, who made ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘Crash’, told the London-based Guardian newspaper he did not believe sexual harassment and abuse were endemic, but added that Feldman’s accusations merited serious investigation.

“Were people covering for paedophiles, too? We have to think that may have happened as well, because no one speaks out about being abused just to benefit their career,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hollywood’s Agency for the Performing Arts placed talent manager Tyler Grasham on leave, according to the Hollywood Reporter, after he was accused of sexually assaulting and harassing several young, male clients. 

And Reese Witherspoon weighed into the scandal last week in a speech to an Elle Women in Hollywood event in Beverly Hills, during which she revealed she was attacked by a director when she was 16 – the first of “multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault”.

Two new women have also emerged to accuse Oscar-winning French-Polish director Roman Polanski of sexually assaulting them in the early 1970s, when they were 10 and 15.

Polanski’s lawyer Herve Temime said his client was innocent of all “baseless accusations” of sexual misconduct apart from the statutory rape of Samantha Geimer, for which he has been on the run from US authorities for four decades.

Polanski, 84, fled the United States in 1978 before he could be sentenced after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with Geimer.

Chinese-Australians prone to undiagnosed cases of Hepatitis B

Sydney man Jackie Cheng lost his brother to liver cancer eight years ago.

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It was only recently that Mr Cheng learnt his brother’s death could have been prevented; the cancer was caused by Hepatitis B.

“If he had known earlier that he was meant to regularly monitor his Hepatitis B, and that monitoring would’ve prevented liver cancer and premature death, then of course he would have done it,” Mr Cheng said.

He still remembers the final moments he spent by his brother’s side: “He was really frail. He became physically terrible.”

Mr Cheng and his brother were both born in Tianjin, China. Up to eight per cent of Australians born in China have Hepatitis B, much higher than the general population.

Community leaders and health experts launched a campaign on Monday promoting awareness of Hepatitis B, specifically targeting the Chinese community.

Hepatitis NSW CEO Stuart Loveday addresses the audience at the Hepatitis B campaign launch in Sydney. SBS

CEO of Hepatitis New South Wales, Stuart Loveday, said the campaign is about prevention as much as ensuring those who test positive seek necessary treatment. 

“We want to send the message to people who have moved here from the Asia Pacific region, who have moved here from China, to ask ‘Could I have Hepatitis B?’ and go for a test at their doctors. And if they haven’t been exposed to Hepatitis B in the past, get a vaccine.”

Often known as the ‘silent killer’, Hepatitis B is a virus that targets the liver. 

It is commonly transmitted from mother to child at birth, but can also be spread sexually, or through blood-to-blood contact.

Ernest Yung from the Chinese Australian Services Society said stigma and discrimination surrounding Hepatitis B is rife in the Chinese-Australian community. 

“They are afraid that if they do the test and they find out they are a Hepatitis B carrier, other people will stay away from them,” Mr Yung said, adding that people might be afraid of getting transmission just by talking or having dinner with a carrier.

Dr Alice Lee is a Sydney-based liver specialist and has worked with many Chinese patients suffering from Hepatitis B.

She also believes the stigma surrounding the virus needs to be lifted to ensure there is more discussion, especially between family members.

“If there’s stigma around something, you don’t tend to talk about it. So you don’t tell your family that you have Hepatitis B, and your family members may also have Hepatitis and need to be screened. That shame surrounding Hepatitis B may actually prevent you from getting access to care.”

She said there is often a misconception that it is a “dirty disease” and she has seen examples where it has led to family breakdowns.

“One of my patients said, ‘My in-laws want me to get divorced because I have Hepatitis B.’ The in-law is saying to the husband you have to divorce this women because she has this virus. It is so ludicrous. It’s unimaginable why people would think that way.”

Nearly 240,000 Australians have chronic Hepatitis B, but 38 per cent remain undiagnosed.

Health organisations hope this latest campaign will not only raise awareness about Hepatitis B within the Chinese community, but also dispel myths about the illness and break down stigma.

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