Officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan say they have reached a preliminary agreement aimed at clearing the way for the filling and operation of a $5 billion dam project on the Nile River.
The foreign ministers and water resources officials of the three countries concluded three days of meetings in Washington Wednesday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass.
The project, called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is around 70% complete and promises to provide much needed electricity for Ethiopia's 70 million people. However, Egyptian officials are concerned that filing the reservoir behind the dam could significantly reduce the amount of Nile water available to Egypt.
The discussions this week were aimed at developing the rules and guidelines that would mitigate drought conditions based on the natural flow of the Nile and water release rates from the dam's reservoir.
In a joint statement, officials from the three countries said that they had agreed that the filing of the damn should be done in stages during the rainy season, which generally runs from July to August.
The guidelines said that filing the reservoir could continue into September under certain conditions with the goal of achieving the early generation of electricity while providing mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan in case of severe droughts.
"The ministers agree that there is a shared responsibility of the three countries in managing drought and prolonged drought," the officials said in their joint statement.
The joint statement said these preliminary decisions on the damn's operation will not become final until the countries agree on all points in a final operating agreement.
The countries plan to meet again in Washington on Jan. 28-29 with the goal of reaching a final agreement on the dam's filing and operation.
"The ministers recognize the significant regional benefits that can result from concluding an agreement ... with respect to trans-boundary cooperation, regional development and economic integration," the joint statement said.
In an address to the United Nations General Assembly last fall, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he would never allow Ethiopia to impose a "de facto situation" by filing the dam without an agreement on its operation.
Sudan said it reopened its airspace on Wednesday after an armed revolt from within its security forces shut down the capital's airport for hours and left at least two people dead.
In a press conference, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the country's ruling transitional council, announced that "life has returned to normal," following a tense stand-off between the armed forces and rogue intelligence officers who had fired shots in the air to demand better severance benefits.
The burst of unrest paralyzed street life in several parts of the capital, Khartoum, along with another western city. Videos circulated on social media showing vast deployment of security forces and heavy exchanges of gunfire.
The armed forces will "not allow any coup to occur," said Burhan, adding that it's a "shame that weapons were raised in the faces of the people."
The army quickly quelled the short-lived mutiny with "minimal losses," said General Mohamed Othman al-Hussein, its chief of staff on Wednesday. Clashes killed two people and injured four others, including two officers, he added.
After trying to persuade the renegade officers to turn over their arms, the military stormed and retook the headquarters of an intelligence agency "using the least amount of force possible," al-Hussein said.
The mutiny was the latest twist in Sudan's fragile democratic transition after three decades of authoritarian rule under former President Omar al-Bashir. A sweeping protest movement ousted al-Bashir and led to the creation of a joint military-civilian government last summer.
During the transitional period, Sudan is devising ways to reorganize its armed forces. The program, al-Hussein said, requires dismantling an intelligence agency branch and merging it with a paramilitary unit known as the Rapid Support Forces, notorious for their brutal suppression of insurgencies in Sudan's restive provinces.
Unrest ensued as angry intelligence officers, who were dismissed without receiving what they considered fair compensation, took to the streets.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok described the mutiny as "discord" aimed at "cutting off the nation's transition to building a solid democracy."
The Kenyan government has imposed curfew in the coastal county of Lamu following recent terror attacks from Somalia based al-Shabab militants.
Lamu County police commander Perminius Kioi said on Thursday the curfew will enable security agencies to monitor, and carry crackdown on any suspicious criminal activities on the island that is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
"The curfew is meant to allow security agencies in the area to easily access, monitor and investigate suspicious activities during the set time," Kioi told reporters.
The curfew will begin on Thursday from 10 p.m. to 4.a.m. daily. He urged local communities to adhere to the curfew in order to boost the government's effort to restore peace in Lamu County.
The police commander said the public service vehicles, private vehicles and motorcycles, will undergo thorough security checkups in the highways and other ports of entry.
The decision to impose curfew in Lamu was announced in the wake of al-Shabab attack on a joint Kenya-United States military base where one U.S. military officer and two contractors died.
Four people died on Jan. 2 when al-Shabab militants attacked a bus plying along Mombasa-Lamu highway.
Envoys from 15 countries including the United States arrived in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday, the first visit by New Delhi-based diplomats since the government stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status and imposed a harsh crackdown five months ago.
The diplomats were driven by Indian authorities in a motorcade amid tight security from the airport to the military headquarters in Srinagar, where they were briefed on the security situation, an army officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
They also held discussions with some government officials at a luxury hotel and were expected to meet civil society members and some pro-India Kashmiri politicians later Thursday.
India's Hindu nationalist-led government ended Muslim-majority Kashmir's semi-autonomous status in August. The move was accompanied by a harsh crackdown, with New Delhi sending tens of thousands of additional troops to the already heavily militarized region, imposing a sweeping curfew, arresting thousands and cutting virtually all communications.
Authorities have since eased several restrictions, lifting roadblocks and restoring landlines and cellphone services. The internet service is yet to be restored in the Kashmir valley.
They have encouraged students to return to school and businesses to reopen, but top political leaders from the region continue to be under arrest or detention.
Outside access to the region remains limited, with no foreign journalists allowed to visit since the clampdown began.
In October, a group of European Parliament members had visited the region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan in its entirety.
Diplomats representing the United States, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, the Maldives, South Korea, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Argentina, the Philippines, Fiji, Uzbekistan, Peru and Togo comprised the delegation visiting Thursday.
Jairam Ramesh, a leader of the opposition Congress party, on Thursday criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government for not yet allowing Indian political leaders to visit the troubled region.
Al-Shabab extremists overran a key military base used by U.S. counterterror forces in Kenya before dawn Sunday, destroying several U.S. aircraft and vehicles, Kenyan authorities said. It was the al-Qaida-linked group's first attack against U.S. forces in the East African country, and the military called the security situation "fluid" several hours after the assault.
It was not clear whether U.S. or Kenyan forces were killed. A U.S. Africa Command statement, issued after al-Shabab released photos of blazing aircraft, said "an accountability of personnel assessment is underway" at the Manda Bay airfield. Kenyan military spokesman Paul Njuguna said five attackers were dead.
Al-Shabab, based in neighboring Somalia, claimed responsibility. In a statement Sunday evening proclaiming the 10-hour attack over, it asserted 17 U.S. "casualties," nine Kenyan soldiers killed and seven aircraft destroyed. The U.S. Africa Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claim. Earlier, it called the al-Shabab claims exaggerated and said U.S. and Kenyan forces repelled the attack.
Kenya is a key base for fighting al-Shabab, one of the world's most resilient extremist organizations. A large plume of black smoke rose above the airfield Sunday and residents said a car bomb had exploded. Lamu county commissioner Irungu Macharia told The Associated Press that five suspects were arrested and were being interrogated.
An internal Kenyan police report seen by the AP said two fixed-wing aircraft, a U.S. Cessna and a Kenyan one, were destroyed along with two U.S. helicopters and multiple U.S. vehicles at the Manda Bay military airstrip. The report said explosions were heard at around 5:30 a.m. from the direction of the airstrip. The scene, now secured, indicated that al-Shabab likely entered "to conduct targeted attacks," the report said.
The U.S. military said only that "initial reports reflect damage to infrastructure and equipment." The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority said the airstrip was closed for all operations.
The military's Camp Simba in Lamu county, established more than a decade ago, has under 100 U.S. personnel, according to Pentagon figures. U.S. forces at the adjoining Manda Bay airfield train and give counterterror support to East African partners. A U.S. flag-raising at the camp in August signaled its change "from tactical to enduring operations," the Air Force said at the time.
According to another internal Kenyan police report seen by the AP, dated Friday, a villager that day said he had spotted 11 suspected al-Shabab members entering Lamu's Boni forest, which the extremists have used as a hideout. The report said Kenyan authorities did not find them.
Al-Shabab has launched a number of attacks inside Kenya, including against civilian targets such as buses, schools and shopping malls. The group has been the target of a growing number of U.S. airstrikes inside Somalia during President Donald Trump's administration.
The latest attack comes just over a week after an al-Shabab truck bomb in Somalia's capital killed at least 79 people and U.S. airstrikes killed seven al-Shabab fighters in response.
Last year al-Shabab attacked a U.S. military base inside Somalia, Baledogle, that is used to launch drone strikes but reportedly failed to make their way inside. The extremist group also has carried out multiple attacks against Kenyan troops in the past in retaliation for Kenya sending troops to Somalia to fight it.
This attack marks a significant escalation of al-Shabab's campaign of attacks inside Kenya, said analyst Andrew Franklin, a former U.S. Marine and longtime Kenya resident.
"Launching a deliberate assault of this type against a well-defended permanent base occupied by (Kenya Defence Forces), contractors and U.S. military personnel required a great deal of planning, rehearsals, logistics and operational capability," he said. Previous attacks against security forces have mainly been ambushes on Kenyan army or police patrols.
The early Sunday attack comes days after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran's top military commander and Iran vowed retaliation, but al-Shabab is a Sunni Muslim group and there is no sign of links to Shiite Iran or proxies.
"No, this attack was no way related to that incident" in the Middle East, an al-Shabab spokesman told the AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
One analyst, Rashid Abdi, in Twitter posts discussing the attack agreed, but added that Kenyan security services have long been worried that Iran was trying to cultivate ties with al-Shabab.
"Avowedly Wahhabist Al-Shabaab not natural ally of Shia Iran, hostile, even. But if Kenyan claims true, AS attack may have been well-timed to signal to Iran it is open for tactical alliances," he wrote.
But a former member of the U.N. committee monitoring sanctions on Somalia, Jay Bahadur, said in a tweet that "the attack is far more related to AS wanting a do over on their spectacular failure at Baledogle four months ago."
When asked whether the U.S. military was looking into any Iranian link to the attack, U.S. Africa Command spokesman Col. Christopher Karns said only that "al-Shabab, affiliated with al-Qaida, has their own agenda and have made clear their desire to attack U.S. interests."
The al-Shabab claim of responsibility said Sunday's attack was part of its "Jerusalem will never be Judaized" campaign, a rarely made reference that also was used after al-Shabab's deadly attack on a luxury mall complex in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, in January 2019.