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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A suicide bombing at a political rally near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan has killed dozens of people and injured some 200.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It was one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan this year. And it comes as the country prepares for elections this fall.

FADEL: On the line with us is NPR's international correspondent, Diaa Hadid. She covers Pakistan. Good morning.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So what do we know about what happened?

HADID: Well, more details are emerging now. Local media report the bomber was carrying over 22 pounds of explosives. And he struck just as a guest speaker got onstage. Videos shared on Twitter showed the aftermath. In one, a man with bloodied legs dangling off the back of an open-backed jeep is rushed away. And another shows medics placing body parts into coffins.

FADEL: Disturbing descriptions. Do we know why this rally, this place, was targeted?

HADID: Well, it occurred in a district called Bajaur, and it straddles the Afghan border. And it spotlights in part how violence has been spilling over into Pakistan since the Taliban seized Afghanistan nearly two years ago. And that violence has largely been attacks on soldiers and police. It's the work of a Pakistani offshoot of the Taliban and a local insurgent group. But this attack was different. It had the hallmarks of the Islamic State. And it signaled a different kind of spillover that's just as worrying.

FADEL: So what do you mean by a different kind of spillover?

HADID: Right. Well, the Taliban have been killing suspected Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan and clerics sympathetic to the group. And Islamic State has been striking back against the Taliban and its ideological enablers. And this political party is sympathetic to the Taliban, but it's in Pakistan. So it seems that ISIS may be taking this fight across the border. Iftikhar Firdous is the founding editor of the Khorasan Diary. It's a publication that focuses on militancy in South and Central Asia. And he says ISIS has had this political party in its sights for a while.

IFTIKHAR FIRDOUS: In the last couple of months, we've seen their propaganda. And it's not just the Pashto and the Farsi versions of the Islamic State of Khorasan publications, but also some of the Arabic publications now clearly said that the group was a target.

HADID: And, you see, the Taliban-ISIS conflict has spilled over into Pakistan in the past. But this attack was big and politically sensitive because the party in question is part of the current Pakistani government coalition. So for this, I also spoke to security researcher Abdul Basit. He's at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

ABDUL BASIT: So these two groups have been going back and forth, killing each other. The war has now extended and spilling over into - I mean, it was already in Pakistan, but now it is expanding.

FADEL: So how is Pakistan responding to this?

HADID: Well, security researchers like Abdul Basit say Pakistan's military has to improve intelligence gathering and win over the hearts and minds of locals. It's not something, though, that the Pakistani military has done well in the past. But the stakes are quite high right now. Elections are expected in October this year. And it's hard to see how that will happen if a political party remains targeted like this.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thank you for your reporting, Diaa.

HADID: Thank you, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Ukraine's troops are inching forward on the battlefield, slowly pushing Russian forces out of occupied Ukrainian land.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, they recently liberated a village in the southeast that's key to Ukraine's success on the southern front, but there's still a long way to go. Meanwhile, Russia is blaming Ukraine for a series of drone attacks in Moscow. Ukrainian leaders say Russians should know what it feels like to be under attack.

FADEL: Joining us now from Kyiv is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So Ukraine is touting the liberation of this small town in the southeast. Why are Ukrainians calling it a strategic victory?

KAKISSIS: So yeah, this village is called Staromaiorske. And President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced its liberation himself on his social media accounts. He posted a video of soldiers in the village holding a Ukrainian flag and shouting glory to Ukraine. We spoke to one of the soldiers who was there. He goes by the call sign Kherson, which is another liberated city in southern Ukraine.

FADEL: Right.

KAKISSIS: And he told us that they captured Russian soldiers, but it was a very, very tough win. Russians were attacking from all sides. And, he says, they were using cluster bombs. The Ukrainians lost soldiers. And when his unit entered the village, he says what he saw broke his heart.

KHERSON: (Through interpreter) The destruction there is catastrophic. There is not a single surviving house. There is not even an entire surviving tree. There is only scorched earth.

KAKISSIS: No people, he said, there were only some abandoned animals.

FADEL: Wow.

KAKISSIS: But from a military standpoint, he and his commanders call this a strategic win in a counteroffensive where progress has been very slow and very hard-fought. They say that reclaiming Staromaiorske is just one line of attack in the south that aims to cut off resupply routes for Russia's troops. This line of attack goes through Staromaiorske to the occupied port city of Berdiansk on the Sea of Azov. And another line to the west goes through the occupied city of Melitopol. Ukrainian forces have been hitting Russian barracks and stockpiles in these areas with artillery and long-range missiles provided by the West.

FADEL: So very strategic, but also, what you're describing, quite tragic as they go into the city. Now, this area isn't the only major front in the counteroffensive.

KAKISSIS: Yeah.

FADEL: What's going on elsewhere?

KAKISSIS: So Ukraine is fighting on at least three major fronts. The one we just talked about is in the south. There's another one in the east around another absolutely destroyed city, Bakhmut. The soldiers we spoke to there say there is steady but very slow progress in recapturing that city and surrounding villages. And there's another front in the northeast where the Russians are attacking. The spokesman for the eastern military command told us that the Russians have thrown a large number of troops and weapons there. And Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar told us that especially in the south, the battles are intense and grinding.

HANNA MALIAR: (Through interpreter) It's really a story of exhaustion. Our armed forces are trying to wear down our enemy's defenses, and our enemy is fighting back hard. At the same time, we're eager to move forward to continue our offensive.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, what about the spate of drone attacks on Moscow?

KAKISSIS: So Ukraine is not officially claiming those drone attacks. But after one hit a high-rise in Moscow, President Zelenskyy said, quote, "war is returning to Russia. And such attacks on Russia's symbolic centers are fair, considering that Russia has been attacking Ukraine's cities nearly every day for the last 18 months."

FADEL: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thanks, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Some 30,000 people are losing their jobs as the shipping company Yellow appears to have collapsed.

MARTÍNEZ: During the pandemic, the government deemed Yellow essential to national security and propped it up with $700 million in loans.

FADEL: NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us now to talk about what's happening. Good morning, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So Yellow isn't a household name like FedEx. If you could, just tell us what this company is.

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, folks might have seen the trucks on freeways. They say yellow on an orange background. And it used to be known as YRC Freight. This is the third-biggest company in the less-than-truckload sector, which is, if you have to ship something that's bigger than a parcel - too big for a parcel service - but not big enough to take up an entire shipping container, you use a company like this. We're talking about 30,000 jobs here, right? This is significant. Jack Atkins is an analyst who tracks this industry.

JACK ATKINS: This is the largest trucking bankruptcy in the history of the United States. I mean, it's almost hard for me to wrap my mind around even though it's been the main thing we've been working on for the last, you know, few months.

DOMONOSKE: He actually drove out to his nearest Yellow terminal over the weekend and just looked at the chained-up gates.

FADEL: What have we heard from the company about the shutdown?

DOMONOSKE: From Yellow, nothing. They haven't responded to our requests for comment. But the Teamsters, which represent their unionized drivers, say that they have been notified that the company is shutting down. The union had previously warned drivers to pick up their personal items from work and prepare for the worst. The filing itself is expected as early as today.

FADEL: And what do we know about why the company is going bankrupt?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, this has been seen coming for a little while now. And the company has previously blamed the Teamsters. Yellow has been trying to restructure, when executives say that, that would have been essential for the company to survive. In legal filings, they said the union was blocking the effort to restructure and, quote, "knowingly and intentionally triggered a death spiral for Yellow." Just this month, the threat of a strike scared a lot of customers away. Atkins, that analyst, called it a mortal blow.

The Teamsters say that it's the company's gross mismanagement that caused the underlying problems here, that that's not the workers' fault. And that strike threat, it was triggered because the company wasn't paying for pensions and benefits. So it's a symptom of financial woes in addition to being a cause. The Teamsters are obviously the same union that just successfully negotiated a big deal with UPS. UPS is a big and a very healthy trucking company. Yellow's a different situation. It was deeply indebted and had been in financial trouble for years.

FADEL: Now, we mentioned that the government declared this company essential to national security. Does this mean the U.S. is less safe without it?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, there's no reason to think that. A congressional oversight board has raised a lot of red flags about this loan, this pandemic-era loan to the company, including - yeah, why would the third-largest less-than-truckload shipper be essential to national security when other companies can ship this stuff, too? There's no good answer to that, really.

The government didn't just give out this big loan, it actually took a stake in the company. So the U.S. Treasury, which is to say all of us, is actually now the largest single shareholder in Yellow. Yellow was losing money even before the pandemic, so this oversight board said, you know, it seems like the government's probably not going to get its money back, which is an assessment that certainly looks accurate right about now.

FADEL: NPR's Camila Domonoske. Thank you, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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