TIME Afghanistan

Thousands Are Protesting in Afghanistan Over the Savage Lynching of a Young Woman

Her death is as a symbol of the injustice and violence faced by many, especially women, in the country

Large numbers of people took to the streets in the Afghan capital Kabul for a second day on Tuesday, protesting against the brutal death of a woman who was falsely accused of burning the Quran and killed by an enraged mob.

Men and women painted their faces red and carried banners bearing pictures of 27-year-old Farkhunda’s bloody face while chanting, “Justice for Farkhunda” and “Death to the killers,” reports the Associated Press.

Farkhunda, a religious scholar, was beaten and run over by a car before her lifeless body was burned and thrown into the Kabul River by a mob last Thursday.

She had been arguing with a local mullah about his practice of selling amulets to women at a shrine. During the argument, she was accused of burning the Muslim holy book and a crowd overheard and attacked her.

An official has confirmed that Farkhunda did not desecrate the Quran.

Demonstrators on Tuesday called for action against officials and religious leaders who initially said her death was justified.

A spokesperson for Kabul police, Hasmat Stanikzai, was fired over comments he made on social media supporting her killers.

According to AP, 28 people have so far been arrested and 13 police officers have been suspended over the incident.

Some demonstrators see Farkhunda’s death as a symbol of the injustice and violence faced by many people, especially women, in the country.

“She is an example of probably what has happened silently to many,” Amrullah Saleh, a political leader and former director of the state intelligence service, told AP. “She drew a line with her blood between those who want justice, rule of law, and those who are extreme in their views and who breed in lawlessness”

[AP]

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Slows Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan

President Obama said the U.S. will keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan this year, as that country’s leaders had asked he slow the process of removing troops by 2017.

“This flexibility reflects a reinvigoration in our partnership with Afghanistan,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Tuesday.

Obama had previously said he wanted to draw down the remaining 9,800 troops to about half that number by the end of the year, with the goal of having between 1,000 and 1,500 in the country when he leaves office in 2017.

Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah have spent the past two days in Washington meeting with high-level officials and expressing gratitude for the American government’s assistance as he seeks to assert control in the country. The Afghan leaders’ trip to the U.S. have marked a bit of a new way forward between the two countries. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Monday referred to the relationship as “revitalized.”

Ghani said the flexibility will allow the country to accelerate reforms to ensure its security forces are better trained and focused on their fundamental mission and to ensure that they “honor human rights.”

“Tragedy brought us together, interests now unite us,” Ghani said at the press conference.

Obama noted that slowing the drawdown means more Americans will remain in Afghanistan who would have come home, but he stressed that the overall goal of returning most troops by 2017 hasn’t changed.

“Providing this additional timeframe,” he said, “… is well worth it.”

TIME Congress

Congress Boosts War Spending as Wars Wind Down

Paratroopers march up the ramp as they return home from Afghanistan at Pope Army Airfield in Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Chris Keane—Reuters Paratroopers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, march up the ramp as they return home from Afghanistan at Pope Army Airfield in Fort Bragg, NC on Nov. 5, 2014.

The 2016 House and Senate budget proposals for war spending that moved toward a congressional floor vote this week were loaded up with tens of billions of dollars more than the Defense Department requested, representing the largest increase lawmakers have attempted to add to the executive branch’s requests for such funds.

These moves — which come as the Obama administration tries to wind down the U.S. war in Afghanistan and to steer clear of a large new incursion in Iraq — were pushed through by Republican lawmakers that since 2003 have received a total $8 million in contributions from the political action committees and employees of top defense contractors, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

The proposals emerged from a convoluted congressional debate that pitted pro-defense hawks against federal deficit hawks, with the former — backed by defense industry lobbying — emerging triumphant.

The impetus for boosting war spending is that Congress enacted strict controls on regular Pentagon spending in 2011 and alleviated them only slightly last fiscal year, making a cut likely unless the Pentagon and the defense industry found new funds elsewhere. Supportive lawmakers as a result turned to the only military account not subject to spending caps, namely the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), a funding category created in 2001 for temporary expenditures associated with combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the Center for Public Integrity reported in December, OCO over the years has become a slush fund for lawmakers and administration officials seeking to retain or expand military programs with no direct relationship to those wars.

But they’ve never sought to do it as blatantly or unashamedly as they did this month, when the Senate Budget Committee voted in a straight party-line vote to spend $96 billion in the OCO budget for 2016, and the House Budget Committee voted similarly to spend $94 billion. The amount appropriated for OCO in 2015 was $63 billion. While no precise listing of the additional programs to be funded under the Republican proposals has yet been released, lawmakers who favored the OCO increases did not assert that the extra funds were needed only for the wars.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) were the principal sponsors of the successful Senate amendment to grow the OCO account. In urging a positive vote, Graham — who is exploring a presidential run — provided a long but imprecise list of security threats: “Everything that you have in common, radical Islam hates, and if somebody doesn’t do something about it soon, they will come our way again,” he told the committee, adding that increases to the OCO account were needed “to defend the nation.”

Signaling a difference of views among Republicans, the House Rules Committee on Monday night approved two versions of the OCO provision, requiring a final decision on the House floor. One sets OCO spending at $94 billion but requires $20 billion of that sum to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere, and another sets OCO spending at $96 billion while not requiring any offsets.

In total, the 67 current members of the House and Senate Budget and House Rules committees have received $15.6 million in adjusted dollars from the 2013 fiscal year top 75 defense contractors’ PACS and employees, from 2003 through the end of the 2014 election season.

On average, the top defense contractors gave Republicans $264,244 apiece while Democrats and Independents received $189,881. The lion’s share of contractor support went to the Senate Budget Committee’s 12 Republicans. The contractors’ PACs and employees contributed $5.7 million to their campaigns and leadership PACs, or an average of $472,219 per lawmaker.

Republicans on the House Rules committee received a total of $2.3 million, making them the second-highest average recipients of contractor largesse.

Graham received $760,244. The other sponsor of the amendment to increase the OCO fund, Ayotte, has less seniority than Graham but is one of the top average recipients of defense contractor contributions, calculated on a two-year basis, among the 67 committee members. First elected to the Senate in 2010, she’s raised $363,205 from the top contractors.

Two Senate Budget Democrats were also among the top 10 recipients of defense contractor contributions, though they voted against the Graham and Ayotte amendment. Hailing from a state that many defense companies call home, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia received $1,053,271 in adjusted dollars. He was followed by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the fourth highest recipient overall, who received $823,536 in adjusted dollars.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) disputed Graham’s claims during last week’s Senate Budget Committee hearing, saying the United States already spends more on defense than the next nine countries, and he rebuked his fellow senators for adding to the national deficit. “Republicans took us into protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—and ran up our national debt by trillions because they chose not to pay for those wars,” he said in a prepared statement.

The Center calculated campaign contributions in 2014 dollars from the top 75 defense contractors, as ranked in fiscal 2013, using campaign data compiled by The Center for Responsive Politics as well as data from the Federal Election Commission.

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. To follow their investigations into government spending and national security, follow them on Twitter.

TIME On Our Radar

Winner of the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award Revealed

American photographer Heidi Levine wins the inaugural award

“I think it’s the highest honor I’ve ever experienced in my career,” says American photographer Heidi Levine, the first recipient of the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award. “Yet, at the same time, I really feel heartbroken because of the circumstances in which this award was created.”

Niedringhaus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press (AP) photographer died a year ago when she and her AP colleague Kathy Gannon were shot by a uniformed Afghan police officer in Khost Province, Afghanistan. The International Women’s Media Foundation launched the award to honor Niedringhaus’ courage and dedication.

Levine was selected for her work covering last year’s conflict in Gaza, the most recent set of images she’s produced about the enclave since moving to the Middle East in 1983.“I’ve [always felt] this calling to bear witness,” she tells TIME. “I know that most people don’t understand why we do what we do; why we run forward when everyone else is fleeing; why we’re compelled to do this. And this award will help me continue to believe in what I’m doing and not give up.”

For the judges, who included TIME’s director of photography Kira Pollack, AP’s vice president Santiago Lyon and Michele McNally of the New York Times, Levine’s work showed that her “courage and commitment to the story” were unwavering. “She documents tragic events under dire circumstances while displaying a depth of compassion for the people she encounters,” the jury said in a statement.

Levin will receive her award, as well as a $20,000 cash prize, at a ceremony in Berlin on June 25.

The jury also gave honorable mentions to photographers Anastasia Vlasova and Rebecca Blackwell for their work in Ukraine and Central African Republic, respectively.

TIME Afghanistan

Official: Gunmen Kill at Least 13 in Afghan Highway Attack

The gunmen opened fire on three separate vehicles in the attack, including a bus traveling from Kabul

(KABUL) — Gunmen in eastern Afghanistan attacked passing vehicles on a darkened highway during a midnight assault Tuesday, killing at least 13 people, authorities said.

The attack happened in Wardak province’s Sayad Abad district, where Taliban fighters hold much territory and launch frequent attacks on security forces. However, no group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault, which comes after several recent attacks targeting buses in the country.

The gunmen opened fire on three separate vehicles in the attack, including a bus traveling from Kabul and heading to Ghazni province, said Attahullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He gave the death toll and said the gunfire wounded at least two civilians.

Last month, gunmen in southern Afghanistan kidnapped 30 members of the Hazara ethnic community traveling on a highway in Zabul province. Security forces have been trying to secure their release ever since the attack, the latest to target Shiites in the predominantly Sunni country

Afghan forces have taken the lead in securing the country after U.S. and NATO troops formally ended their combat missions in the country at the start of this year.

TIME Military

Afghan President Thanks the Pentagon … and U.S. Taxpayers

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the Pentagon courtyard Monday morning. DoD photo / Sean Hurt

Ashraf Ghani stops by Defense Department to acknowledge U.S. sacrifices

Nearly 14 years after the U.S. military forced the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, the country’s new leader showed up bright and early Monday morning in the Pentagon courtyard to thank American troops and taxpayers for their sacrifices for his country.

Unlike Hamid Karzai, who served as Afghanistan’s president from 2004 to 2014, Ashraf Ghani is far more accommodating to U.S. concerns. He thanked the 2,215 U.S. troops who died in Afghanistan, the 20,000 wounded, and the nearly 1 million who served there.

“You have been in the most remotest valleys, and the highest peaks, and the parched deserts, and beautiful valleys, but also in most demanding situations,” he said. “When you wake up at night, sometimes you’re not sure whether you’re back there or here, but what gratifies me as the president of Afghanistan is what I’ve had the honor to hear repeatedly from American veterans, ‘I have left a piece of my heart in Afghanistan.’”

Ghani is in the U.S. this week to meet with President Obama and seek Washington’s continued help, both military and financial, to strengthening his struggling nation. He is spending much of Monday with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry discussing his nation’s needs at an Obama-free Camp David. Ghani knows how this game is played: he worked at the World Bank, two blocks from the White House, for more than a decade before returning to his homeland in 2002 following the Taliban’s overthrow.

Ghani said he hoped American veterans of the war in Afghanistan will someday return as tourists with their families so that Afghans “will be able to say thank you to each one of you personally, shake your hands, and invite you to our homes.”

Unlike Karzai, who could be taciturn, Ghani was good natured as he praised the U.S. generals who commanded the Afghan campaign. “Let me say these generals hardly get more than six hours of sleep. And thanks to Pentagon, most of the time, because of [overnight] video conferences, they don’t even get that,” he said to laughs from his chilly-morning Pentagon audience.

He praised Obama for his “sense of clarity” in ending the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan three months ago, and the U.S. role in creating “a proud Afghan security force that has dealt with the best of you and emulates the best of your example.” Nearly 10,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan.

Finally, he thanked U.S. taxpayers for making “your hard-earned dollars available” to rebuild his country. The U.S. has spent nearly $700 billion in Afghanistan since 2001. Ghani pledged “to account for every single one of those dollars and pennies.” That will delight the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, who has spent years trying to do just that.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. India has banned a documentary on the 2012 gang rape that rocked the country. That was a huge mistake.

By Shashi Tharoor at NDTV

2. Berkeley decided to give campus departments a real incentive to cut power consumption by charging them directly — and energy use went down.

By Meredith Fowlie in The Berkeley Blog

3. Pakistan is helping Afghanistan’s president make peace with the Taliban. Other powers should back him.

By the Economist

4. Ukraine’s military will never be strong enough to beat Russia outright. But it doesn’t have to be.

By Alexander J. Motyl in Foreign Policy

5. Micro-bubbles — guided with magnets, deployed with sound waves — could revolutionize the delivery of medicine and even chemotherapy.

By Charvy Narain at the Oxford Science Blog

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in February, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including Stephanie Sinclair‘s work on child and underage brides in Guatemala in the latest installment of her decade-long project spanning 10 countries to document the issue of child marriage around the world. In Guatemala, over half of all girls are married before 18, and over 10% under 15. Many girls marry men far older than themselves, end up withdrawing from school and become mothers long before they are physically and emotionally ready. Sinclair’s powerful pictures and accompanying video capture Guatemalan girls trying to come to terms with the harsh realities of early motherhood, especially for those who have been abandoned by their husbands.

Stephanie Sinclair: Child, Bride, Mother (The New York Times) See also the Too Young To Wed website.

Sebastian Liste: The Media Doesn’t Care What Happens Here (The New York Times Magazine) These photographs capture a group of amateur journalists trying to cover the violence in one of the largest urban slums in Brazil, Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro.

Ross McDonnell: Inside the Frozen Trenches of Eastern Ukraine (TIME LightBox) The Irish photographer documented the Ukrainian soldiers in the week preceding the most recent, fragile cease-fire.

Sergey Ponomarev: Pro-Russian fighters in the ruins of Donetsk airport (The Globe and Mail) Haunting scenes of the Pro-Russian held remains of Donetsk airport.

Alex Majoli: Athens (National Geographic) The Magnum photographer captures the people of Greece’s struggling capital for the magazine’s Two Cities, Two Europes feature on Athens and Berlin.

Gerd Ludwig: Berlin (National Geographic) Ludwig documents Germany’s booming capital for the magazine’s Two Cities, Two Europes feature on Athens and Berlin.

John Stanmeyer: Fleeing Terror, Finding Refuge (National Geographic) These photographs show the desperate conditions facing Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Edmund Clark: The Mountains Of Majeed (Wired RawFile) The British photographer’s latest book is the Bagram Airfield U.S. Military base in Afghanistan, which one held the infamous detention facility. Also published on TIME LightBox.

Sarker Protick: What Remains (The New Yorker Photo Booth) This moving, beautiful series documents the photographer’s grandparents. The work was recently awarded 2nd Prize in the Daily Life stories category in the World Press Photo 2015 contest.

Muhammed Muheisen: Leading a Double Life in Pakistan (The Washington Post In Sight) The Associated Press photographer captures a group of cross-dressers and transgender Pakistani men to offer a glimpse of a rarely seen side of the conservative country.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Army Takes On Taliban in First Solo Offensive

In this Feb. 26, 2015 photo, Afghan security police stand guard at checkpoint in Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan
Abdul Khaliq—AP Afghan security police stand guard at checkpoint in Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Feb. 26, 2015

The Afghan army hopes to prove it can rout the Taliban without the aid of U.S. or NATO troops

(KABUL) — The Afghan army is waging its largest-ever solo offensive against the Taliban, hoping to strike a decisive blow ahead of the spring fighting season and prove it can rout the insurgents without the aid of U.S. and NATO combat troops.

Afghan troops have been slowly pushing up through a fertile river valley in the southern Helmand province, with special forces mounting nighttime helicopter raids into mud brick compounds and ground troops gradually advancing across the poppy fields that in past years have furnished the insurgents’ main cash crop.

U.S. and British troops suffered some of their biggest losses of the decade-long war here, seizing territory that was later lost by ill-equipped and poorly trained Afghan forces. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to break the grim cycle, and the latest offensive is widely seen as a test for his efforts to overhaul the army and police since taking office in September.

Ghani was personally involved in planning the operation, which is codenamed Zolfiqar — meaning double-edged sword — and which began on Feb. 10, according to Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller, deputy chief of staff for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. Ghani heads to Washington later this month, where he is expected to seek enhanced U.S. military backup, particularly air support.

“This is an incredibly important operation,” said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the secret operation. “This is Ghani’s attempt to demonstrate to the U.S. and the U.S. Congress that Afghan ground forces are able to take the lead and conduct offensive operations if they have the right enablers to support them.”

U.S. and Afghan officials say local security forces are so far proving they can take the fight to the Taliban without the aid of foreign combat troops. There are 13,000 foreign soldiers in the country, down from a peak of 140,000 in 2009-2010, with 5,000 U.S. troops engaged in counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

U.S. military leaders have advised the troops in Helmand and helped plan the operation, but American troops are not involved in the fighting.

Fuller said the troops have already cleared large areas where the insurgents had been entrenched for more than a decade, saying the Taliban’s casualties were higher than those of government forces by “a factor of 10 to one.”

He said Afghan forces had found bunkers, tunnels, trench lines, and a giant slingshot apparently used to fling grenades at government forces.

He said the Sangin district, which had seen months of heavy fighting, was declared clear on Friday, adding that Afghan forces had “met with heavy resistance that was more than they anticipated.”

Gen. Mohammad Salim Ahses, the head of the national police, told The Associated Press by telephone from Sangin that 385 Taliban fighters had been killed there, including 31 commanders. It was not possible to confirm those figures. The areas where the fighting is taking place are not accessible to journalists, and few Afghan officials were willing to speak about the operation.

The international charity Emergency said its hospitals in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital, and the national capital Kabul had seen casualties almost double in February to 226 over the same month last year due to increased insurgent violence across the country, according to program coordinator Luca Radaelli.

“We are definitely seeing a spike in the number of war casualties coming in from the operation in Helmand,” he said, adding that most were men and many were policemen. Further details on the casualties, including a breakdown of dead and wounded on each side, were not immediately available.

The real test will come later, when Afghan forces try to hold hard-won territory.

Fuller said Afghan officials have begun meeting with local leaders to plan the building of new schools, clinics, police stations and courthouses. He said tribal elders are already helping to recruit residents for the local police and border guard.

Helmand’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, said small army and police posts, each of which will house 100 men, are being built across the valley. “This time we are moving according to a proper plan” to keep the Taliban from returning, he said. “We will not leave this place alone.

TIME portfolio

Inside Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield

British Photographer Edmund Clark reflects on the Afghan War with a new exhibition, The Mountains of Majeed

Last December, the United States and its allies ended their official combat operations in Afghanistan, closed the infamous detention facility at Bagram Airfield, and left behind only a small force to conduct security training.

In order to photograph the life and experiences of Americans in Afghanistan at the end of this decade-long war, British photographer Edmund Clark embedded with American troops for nine days in October 2013 at Bagram Airfield, once the largest American military base in the country, where at its peak housed 40,000 military personnel and civilian contractors, many of whom, Clark says, never left the base during their service.

“Their vision of Afghanistan is what they see over the perimeters, or represented inside the walls of enclaves like Bagram Airfield,” writes Clark of his recently published book, The Mountains of Majeed, which has now transformed into an exhibition at the Flowers Gallery opening in London today.

Clark’s interest in Bagram grew out of years spent examining the relationship between representation and politics. In his previous project, Guantanamo: If the Light Goes out, he photographed the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, its detention camp and the homes of released detainees. He then laid them out unordered to create the sense of disorientation familiar to the detainees.

For Clark, the similarities between Guantanamo Bay and Bagram are striking: Bagram is the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, while Guantanamo Bay is the oldest U.S. naval base overseas. Both are notorious for their treatment of detainees; in fact, many who ended up in Guantanamo had first passed through Bagram, Clark tells TIME.

For the Americans fighting the war against terror abroad, however, these two bases are their home away from home. In Guantanamo, Clark photographed the navy’s small but full-fledged community, a similar approach he envisioned before his flight into Afghanistan. Yet once at the airfield, he was surprised by an overwhelming view of the Hindu Kush, a mountain never shy of military presence that’s deeply intertwined with the country’s wobbly history.

Clark’s visit happened to overlap with the Muslim religious holiday Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) during which the insurgency tends to flare up. For some nights, he had to stay in a bunker, trying to fall asleep amid the sound of incoming rockets from militants hidden in the dark mountains outside the heavily secured enclave.

From inside his fortification, however, these mountains were portrayed in a much different, even tranquil, light: they were picturesque, romanticized by a series of large-scale paintings screwed to the wall of the base’s dining hall. Their painter is known only by the name of Majeed.

Edmund Clark

To illustrate this conflict of experiences with the Hindu Kush: at once a harsh and violent landscape, and yet a profoundly breathtaking vista, Clark incorporated Majeed’s paintings as well as drew from poetry by the Taliban, and blended them with his architectural images of the American base.

“I have been looking for the different kind of references to the significance of mountains in Afghanistan after I came back,” Clark says. “[The Taliban poets] are the people [on the] outside looking in, and my photographs are about people inside looking out.”

The project, Clark hopes, will poke at “the idea of the [division] between the two sides involved in the war” and cast a reflection on Operation Enduring Freedom, the official name of the military occupation, emphasizing the critical question of what will happen next in Afghanistan.

Edmund Clark is a London based photographer whose work has been exhibited at museums and galleries worldwide. The Mountains of Majeed is on view at the Flowers Gallery in London until April 4, 2015. The book is available at Here Press.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com