TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 13

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

1. The U.S. could improve its counterinsurgency strategy by gathering better public opinion data from people in conflict zones.

By Andrew Shaver and Yang-Yang Zhou in the Washington Post

2. The drought-stricken western U.S. can learn from Israel’s water management software which pores over tons of data to detect or prevent leaks.

By Amanda Little in Bloomberg Businessweek

3. Beyond “Teach for Mexico:” To upgrade Latin America’s outdated public education systems, leaders must fight institutional inequality.

By Whitney Eulich and Ruxandra Guidi in the Christian Science Monitor

4. Investment recommendations for retirees are often based on savings levels achieved by only a small fraction of families. Here’s better advice.

By Luke Delorme in the Daily Economy

5. Lessons from the Swiss: We should start making people pay for the trash they throw away.

By Sabine Oishi in the Baltimore Sun

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

Photojournalism Daily: Jan. 6, 2015

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Marcus Bleasdale‘s work from Central African Republic for an in-depth account of the country’s spiral into bloodshed by Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, with whom the photographer has covered the country since November 2013. The most recent conflict erupted after the now-disbanded Séléka coalition of Muslim rebels ousted the Christian president in early 2013 and began a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder, mostly against non-Muslims. Two days of street violence in December 2013 left hundreds dead and shocked the global community into action, with French and African peacekeepers sent in to restore security. But the retaliation by armed militia groups known as anti-balaka bred even more death and, in many cases, targetted the Muslim minority, prompting an exodus into the eastern region and neighboring countries. Bleasdale’s images provide an important and harrowing documentation of turmoil that has, in recent months, largely been ignored.

Marcus Bleasdale: The Unravelling – Journey Through The Central African Republic Crisis (Human Rights Watch)

Lucas Jackson: U.S. Military’s Last Days of Combat in Afghanistan (TIME.com) The Reuters photographer documented the final days of the U.S.’s official combat campaign in the country

The Influencers: Lynsey Addario (American Photo) The magazine features Addario as one of the five most influential photographers of the last 25 years

2014 The Year in Pictures (The New York Times) See also the Lens blog article, Choosing the Pictures of the Year, in which photo editors Meagham Looram and Jeffrey Scales explain the thinking behind the selection

Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed (The Guardian) Sean O’Hagan writes somewhat critically about the re-printing of Cartier-Bresson’s seminal book, six decades on

TIME Military

The True Cost of the Afghanistan War May Surprise You

General Motors Corp. Hummer vehicles sit on display at Humme
A row of Hummers for sale in 2009 at a Michigan dealer. Jeff Kowalsky / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Calculating the cost of a war is a little like finding the true cost of a car

Amid the revelry, did you notice that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan ended New Year’s Eve at midnight? Now that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are officially over—or merely “paused” as many in the Pentagon believe—it’s a fair time to check the meter to see how much these two conflicts cost the nation.

First rule: there are as many ways to measure the cost of a war as there are to measure the cost of a car.

Suppose, for example, you were a Pentagon war planner with a hankering for a GM Hummer back in 2009 when both wars were rumbling along. That’s the nifty, if not nimble, civilian variation of the U.S. military’s High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee, for short).

A quick check of Edmunds.com’s True Cost to Own calculator (after plugging in one of the Pentagon’s six Zip Codes) shows you’d pay the dealer $35,752 for the behemoth. But its true cost to own—depreciation, financing, fuel, insurance etc.—would more than double, to $78,616, over five years of ownership.

The analogy’s not precise, but it’s close enough to show that paying for wars doesn’t end when the fighting does. (And not only then: the nation won’t be paying for these wars only over the next five years, but for more than a generation). And while you can no longer buy a new Hummer, there’s always a new war sitting on out the lot, waiting to be waged. But it’s critical to be aware of its total cost.

The Congressional Research Service, for example, just fired up its calculators and concluded that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 trillion. That’s a fine figure, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough, and anyone who cites it as the conflicts’ cost is more Hummer salesman than steward of taxpayer funds.

Congressional Research Service via Federation of American Scientists

A truer measure of the wars’ total costs pegs them at between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. This fuller accounting includes “long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs,” Harvard economist Linda Bilmes calculated in 2013.

The Pentagon and its civilian overseers don’t like to talk about war costs, either before or after the shooting. That’s because a high price tag beforehand acts as an economic brake, making war—assuming that’s the goal—less likely. The nation may no longer draft soldiers, but when it wages war it has to draft dollars (borrowed or otherwise). Far better to try to sell a war with a low-cost estimate to mute possible public opposition.

And after the war—especially when victory is MIA—toting up the bottom line is just too depressing.

There are downsides to straying from such dogma. The George W. Bush Administration, for example, forced Lawrence Lindsey to resign as head of its National Economic Council shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, after he said the cost of a war with Iraq might reach $200 billion. A month later, just before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested the war’s total cost would be “something under $50 billion.” And the U.S., he added, would share that bill with its allies.

The new CRS report says the war in Iraq ended up costing $814.6 billion. Afghanistan has cost $685.6 billion.

Congressional Research Service via Federation of American Scientists

Bilmes, in her 2013 study, said the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been “the most expensive wars in U.S. history.” That, of course, was before the U.S. entered its third Iraq war in August, and before the U.S. decided to keep troops in Afghanistan through 2016.

But just because those U.S. troops in Afghanistan no longer have a combat mission doesn’t mean they’re a bargain: the CRS report says the cost of keeping a single American soldier there this year is an eye-watering $3.9 million.

TIME Afghanistan

Stray Rocket Kills 26 at Afghan Wedding Party

Rocket fired amid fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghan soldiers

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — A rocket fired amid fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghan soldiers killed at least 26 people at a nearby wedding party Thursday, authorities said, a grim end to a year that saw the end of the 13-year U.S.-led combat mission there.

The rocket struck a house in southern Helman province’s Sangin District, where Afghan security forces have been battling insurgents in the six months since U.S. forces withdrew from the area.

Police spokesman Fareed Ahmad Obaid said the rocket wounded at least 45 people. Bashir Ahmad Shakir, a provincial council member, said the death toll could be up to 30 killed with as many as 60 wounded.

Abdul Haleem, a cousin of the bride who was hosting her wedding, said that nine of his children were missing after the rocket struck his house as guests waited outside for the bride to arrive.

“Nine children of mine are missing; I just collected body parts,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s my children or someone else.”

Wednesday marked the final day of the U.S. and NATO’s combat mission, which began with the invasion that overthrew the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks. Al-Qaida then enjoyed safe haven in Afghanistan, where the Taliban ruled according to its own violent interpretation of Islamic law.

Afghanistan’s own 350,000-member-strong forces officially take responsibility for security starting Thursday. The insurgency has been testing the resolve of the army and police, who officials say are holding their ground even as the number of attacks increases and casualties soar.

This year was the deadliest of the war for government forces and civilians, with around 5,000 Afghan soldiers and police killed, officials have said. An estimated 10,000 civilians have been killed or wounded, the highest annual toll since the U.N. started keeping figures in 2008.

In much of the south and east, government forces are facing off against the Taliban without the assistance of coalition air support or medical evacuations. They have taken heavy casualties but have thus far prevented the Taliban from seizing large swaths of territory. Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi said the insurgents had “failed to capture even one district.”

Afghan forces may also receive a boost from warming ties with neighboring Pakistan. After the school massacre in the Pakistani town of Peshawar earlier this month — in which more than 140 people were killed, mainly children — the two U.S. allies vowed to work together to combat insurgents on both sides of the porous border.

President Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September, has said he wants to bring peace to his country after more than 30 years of continuous war. He has bolstered ties with China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as part of an effort to isolate the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table.

First Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum said Wednesday that he had reached an agreement with some 300 Taliban fighters in the northern Jawzjan province to lay down their arms.

Fighting continued elsewhere in the country. In the eastern Nangahar province, gunmen shot dead a police officer and two civilians after security forces stopped their car and motorcycle, both of which carried explosives. Provincial police chief Gen. Fazel Ahmad Sherzad said police suspected that they were on their way to attack government offices.

In central Uruzgan province, a police officer killed three of his fellow officers and wounded five while they ate dinner Tuesday, spokesman Dost Mohammad Nayab said. The gunman fled after the shooting and authorities had no motive for the attack.

TIME photography

Celebrating 80 Years of Associated Press’ Wirephoto

Exactly 80 years ago today, on Jan. 1, 1935, the Associated Press sent its very first photograph over the organization’s brand new Wirephoto service: an aerial photo of a plane crash in upstate New York. The photo was delivered across the country to 47 newspapers in 25 states.

In an article published that day in The Bulletin newspaper, AP president Frank B. Noyes named each of the papers that had opted into the service saying, “These are the pioneers of wirephoto, which outstrips other messengers in conveying the news in pictures just as, a century ago, the telegraph came to outstrip the carrier pigeon and the pony express, and, a little more than a generation ago, the typewriter relegated the stylus to oblivion.”

Photos up to that point were largely delivered by mail, train or airplane, taking up to 85 hours in transit. AP Wirephoto could transmit a photo in minutes.

The first AP Wirephoto with original caption affixed: The wreckage of a small plane lies in a wooded area near Morehousville, N.Y., on Dec. 31, 1934. AP

AT&T had made a previous attempt at their own photo wire service. In 1926, the telephone company had succeeded in setting up eight sending and receiving centers across the nation, which AP and other outlets had put to use. It was, however, a hugely expensive endeavor for the company and its users; after spending over $3m dollars with comparatively small returns, the service was shut down in 1933.

Before AT&T closed down its service, AP General Manager Kent Cooper had made it his mission to develop such a service in house. “KC was the father of the AP Newsphoto Service,” former AP executive photo editor Al Resch was quoted as saying in the company magazine The AP World in 1969. “He was deeply dedicated to the proposition that the day’s news should be just as thoroughly and competently covered in pictures as in words.”

Cooper prevailed, despite hefty internal opposition (the service posed a threat to Hearst and Scripps-Howard, AP member organizations that owned competing photo services) and under the spectre of the Great Depression. The story is well documented in AP’s annual report for 1934: “After discussion it was voted that Mr. Howard be informed that the Board and Executive Committee would be glad to confer with representatives of the Scripps-Howard and Hearst member newspapers, on the basis that the Board was always willing to consider any problem affecting its members and in which there was any mutuality of interest.”

Photographer Bill Allen uses the trunk of his car as a darkroom to develop film coverage of a 1938 Virginia mine explosion. Associated Press Corporate Archives

The system was comprised of three main elements: transmitters, receivers, and 10,000 miles of leased telephone lines – the wires. The transmitters required first a print – AP photographers would either send in their film to be developed and printed at an AP darkroom, or develop and print it themselves using portable darkrooms. At that time, they worked mainly with Speed Graphic cameras and 4×5 film.

Once the print was made and ready to be sent, it would be wrapped around a cylinder on the transmitter. At the push of a button, the cylinder, which could hold up to 11 x 17-inch prints, would spin at one hundred revolutions per minute underneath an optical scanner. The optical scanner would shine a very thin beam of light onto the spinning print, which would then reflect light back into a photoelectric cell, which, in turn, would translate the reflections of light and dark tones into signals that would be carried across the wires.

The receiver on the other end had a similar spinning cylinder with a negative on it. As the transmission came in, the signals would be converted back into light, which was then recorded onto the negative, reproducing the original image.

AP stationed a network monitor in their New York bureau to control the sending and receiving of images. It was his job to listen to daily offerings from the member papers who would call in descriptions of the best images each outlet had to send, and then to decide which of those photos would be transmitted to which member papers at what time. Each transmission could take from 10 to 17 minutes depending on the size of the print, so the network monitor’s challenge was to decide, within the time constraints of a given day, which photos the world would see. See a dramatization of this process in the video below.

A man carries AP’s portable WirePhoto transmitter. AP

Over the next 20 years, AP Wirephoto technology would be continually streamlined as the network grew. By 1936, AP technicians had made available portable transmitters that came in two 40-pound suitcases. They were bulky and required trained technicians to run them. By the end of 1937, the stationary transmitters and receivers at the AP bureaus and newspapers were replaced with ones that were smaller, lighter, and could be plugged into a wall socket instead of taking power from a wet cell battery. By 1939, the portable transmitters were made more compact and AP had 35 units ready for use. Color transmissions, which took three times as long as black and white due to color separation, became available that same year.

Picture quality on the receiving end was continually improved and fine tuned. More newspapers signed on for the service, the network continued to enlarge. As America entered WWII, the demand for pictures – and for picture delivery – forced advances in Radiophoto transmissions. Wirephoto had also transmitted maps and charts from its inception, but these became especially valuable during war time.

Postwar, the transmitters and receivers became yet again smaller, picture quality and transmission of tonality improved, and AP developed receivers that were capable of producing positives as well as negatives, again cutting down time-to-market. By 1951, over 20,000 pictures were transmitted via Wirephoto annually.

By 1963, North America and Europe were connected via a leased circuit. In the same time period, as AP began its historic coverage of the Vietnam war, its photographers were making the transition from shooting 4×5 and 120mm film to 35mm film.

Between the 1960s and the 90s there were three major leaps in technology, ultimately leading to digital transmission. The first big jump was the establishment of the Electronic Darkroom in 1978 which digitized the signals coming through on the wires. It featured computers that could crop, tone, and sharpen images as they came through. It was in a way an early, crude version of Photoshop. Operators could receive an image, edit it, and send it back out to the network without the added delay of developing a negative or making prints.

Promotional brochure announcing the AP Leafax 35, a picture transmitter that requires only a negative to transmit photographic images. 1988
Promotional brochure announcing the AP Leafax 35, a picture transmitter that requires only a negative to transmit photographic images, from 1988. Associated Press Corporate Archives

Negative scanning was the next push forward in the mid-80s with AP’s procurement of the Leafax, a compact and portable picture transmitter held in a briefcase-sized case. AP photographers could take color or black-and-white negatives, scan them into the Leafax, tone, sharpen, crop and add captions, then send them through to the network. With the exception of developing film, the Leafax eliminated darkroom work and printmaking for photographers and again cut the amount of time it took for the picture to travel from the camera to the news consumer.

President George H. W. Bush raises his hand as he takes the oath of office as President of the United States outside the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1989, Washington, D.C. Ron Edmonds—AP

“That was the first step,” Hal Buell, AP’s former head of photography, tells TIME. “The next thing was to set up a digital network which we called Photostream.” Photostream was announced in 1989, and offered all digital transmission via satellite. It reduced transmission time from 10 minutes to 60 seconds, and offered a method of delivering higher quality color pictures. AP supplied every U.S. newspaper with a Leafdesk to receive the new digital transmissions.

“We had to send a representative into every newspaper in the U.S. that took photos and show them how the digital system worked with incoming wire pictures,” says Buell. “We put these desks in every newspaper, and that not only changed the way AP handled pictures, but it changed the way newspapers handled pictures.”

AP’s first digital news photo was made and transmitted earlier in 1989 at George H.W. Bush’s inauguration by Ron Edmonds using a Nikon QV-1000c. The advent of ever more powerful computers and laptops, portable satellites, improvements in image compression, and the lightning fast evolution of digital cameras, now with possibility of in-camera transmission and video, has continued to accelerate and increase AP’s delivery of images from the late 1990s to the present. Whereas in 1951 the service transmitted 22,000 images annually, AP now transmits over 3,000 images daily.

In that early 1935 Bulletin article, Noyes touched on something that was, and continues to be, essential to the news: speed, the need for which has driven the evolution of communication technology to this day. This may seem self-evident; however, as these technologies have evolved, they directly affect how news is created and how it is digested, and thus, in very profound, sometimes imperceptible ways, how we conceive of the world around us.

The launch of AP’s Photowire service initiated just that sort of weighty paradigm shift. “From Jan. 1, 1935 on, you could say that as far as the news goes, the visual had become newsworthy and capable of carrying the news, of being news,” Valerie Komor, Director of AP’s Corporate Archives, tells TIME. “Photography could be news.”

Photography is now indeed news, as is, increasingly, video. If we think of the way in which we – as news consumers – receive and read news images today, the experience feels instantaneous. Our understanding of the world is a constant, and rapid distillation of an ever increasing number of images spread over innumerable platforms. We are offered ever more perspectives, and a wealth of information. The responsibility now often falls on the reader to pace their intake of information.

“In the same way that a story can be read at the viewer’s leisure, a photograph can be contemplated at the viewer’s leisure,” says Santiago Lyon, the Vice President and Director of Photography at AP. “You are able to consider it and you’re able to have an opinion about it. And the discerning viewer won’t just look at a photograph, they’ll read a photograph, and they’ll look at all of the details in the picture and they’ll notice things and they’ll spend some time looking at a picture.”

TIME Afghanistan

Police: Rocket Kills 26 at Afghan Wedding Party

Afghanistan
Injured Afghan children are treated at a hospital in Helmand province, south of Kabul, on Dec. 31, 2014 Abdul Khaliq—AP

"Nine children of mine are missing; I just collected body parts"

(KABUL, AFGHANISTAN) — A rocket fired amid fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghan soldiers killed at least 26 people at a nearby wedding party Thursday, authorities said, a grim end to a year that saw the end of the 13-year U.S.-led combat mission there.

The rocket struck a house in southern Helman province’s Sangin District, where Afghan security forces have been battling insurgents in the six months since U.S. forces withdrew from the area.

Police spokesman Fareed Ahmad Obaid said the rocket wounded at least 45 people. Bashir Ahmad Shakir, a provincial council member, said the death toll could be up to 30 killed with as many as 60 wounded.

Abdul Haleem, a cousin of the bride who was hosting her wedding, said that nine of his children were missing after the rocket struck his house as guests waited outside for the bride to arrive.

“Nine children of mine are missing; I just collected body parts,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s my children or someone else.”

Wednesday marked the final day of the U.S. and NATO’s combat mission, which began with the invasion that overthrew the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks. Al-Qaida then enjoyed safe haven in Afghanistan, where the Taliban ruled according to its own violent interpretation of Islamic law.

Afghanistan’s own 350,000-member-strong forces officially take responsibility for security starting Thursday. The insurgency has been testing the resolve of the army and police, who officials say are holding their ground even as the number of attacks increases and casualties soar.

This year was the deadliest of the war for government forces and civilians, with around 5,000 Afghan soldiers and police killed, officials have said. An estimated 10,000 civilians have been killed or wounded, the highest annual toll since the U.N. started keeping figures in 2008.

In much of the south and east, government forces are facing off against the Taliban without the assistance of coalition air support or medical evacuations. They have taken heavy casualties but have thus far prevented the Taliban from seizing large swaths of territory. Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi said the insurgents had “failed to capture even one district.”

Afghan forces may also receive a boost from warming ties with neighboring Pakistan. After the school massacre in the Pakistani town of Peshawar earlier this month — in which more than 140 people were killed, mainly children — the two U.S. allies vowed to work together to combat insurgents on both sides of the porous border.

President Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September, has said he wants to bring peace to his country after more than 30 years of continuous war. He has bolstered ties with China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as part of an effort to isolate the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table.

First Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum said Wednesday that he had reached an agreement with some 300 Taliban fighters in the northern Jawzjan province to lay down their arms.

Fighting continued elsewhere in the country. In the eastern Nangahar province, gunmen shot dead a police officer and two civilians after security forces stopped their car and motorcycle, both of which carried explosives. Provincial police chief Gen. Fazel Ahmad Sherzad said police suspected that they were on their way to attack government offices.

In central Uruzgan province, a police officer killed three of his fellow officers and wounded five while they ate dinner Tuesday, spokesman Dost Mohammad Nayab said. The gunman fled after the shooting and authorities had no motive for the attack.

___

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Amir Shah contributed to this report.

TIME Military

See the U.S. Military’s Last Days of Combat in Afghanistan

The U.S.-led coalition ended its combat mission on Sunday

The United States-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission on Sunday, 13 years after it began in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 10,000 troops will remain on the ground to aid Afghan forces in a new U.S. role that called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

Almost 1 million U.S. troops served at least one tour in Afghanistan; a total 3,485 allied troops were killed, including 2,356 Americans.

Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson documented the final days of the U.S.’s official combat campaign with the men and women of Forward Operating Bases Gamberi and Fenty in Laghman and Nangarhar provinces, respectively.

Read next: U.S. Ends Its War in Afghanistan

TIME Military

U.S. Ends Its War in Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-ISAF-NATO
U.S. Army General John Campbell salutes during a ceremony marking the end of the allied combat mission in Afghanistan at his headquarters in Kabul, Dec. 28, 2014. Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images

But the flag-lowering won't end the bloodshed

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission Sunday, marking the formal—if not real—end to the longest war in American history.

American warplanes began bombing the country on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. Their goal was to drive the ruling Taliban from power, after they had given sanctuary inside the country to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which had plotted the terror strikes.

That was accomplished on Nov. 13, 2001.

The U.S. and its allies have remained since then, trying to build up Afghan military and police forces sufficient to defend their country without outside help. Despite Sunday’s bowing out, the U.S. will remain involved in Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban for years to come.

“In the wake of the Taliban’s defeat in 2001, Afghanistan possessed no standing, professional security forces,” Army General John Campbell, chief of the International Security Assistance Force, said. “Over the course of a decade, our Afghan partners and we have built a highly capable Afghan army and police force of over 350,000 personnel.”

Sunday marked the formal handoff to that largely U.S.-trained Afghan military. “The road before us remains challenging, but we will triumph,” Campbell told a small gathering at ISAF headquarters.

“For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan,” President Obama said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

The new, slimmed-down allied mission, Campbell said, will be called Operation Resolute Support. Back in Washington, the Pentagon said its piece of the new mission will be called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“We will work with our allies and partners as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission to continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces,” outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “And we will continue our counterterrorism mission against the remnants of al Qaeda to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks against our homeland.”

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in 2010, will fall to 10,800 in January, aimed at helping the Afghan government hold on to power, even as Taliban units occupy territory increasingly close to the capital. Nearly 1 million U.S. troops pulled at least one tour in Afghanistan.

Yet during 2002 and 2003, the average number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan never topped 10,400. That means the U.S. forces left in country following the war will top the number fighting there during its first two years.

A total of 3,485 allied troops died in Afghanistan over the past 13 years, including 2,356 Americans. The war cost U.S. taxpayers, past, present and future, about $1 trillion.

“We will never forget your sons and daughters who have died on our soil,” Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar said at the flag-lowering ceremony Sunday. “They are now our sons and daughters.”

TIME Pakistan

U.S. Missile Strikes Kill 7 Militants in Northwest Pakistan

An army soldier stands near a woman reading messages left by people for the victims of the Taliban attack on Army Public School, in Peshawar
An army soldier, left, stands near a woman reading messages left by people for the victims of the Taliban attack on Army Public School, in Peshawar Dec. 23, 2014 Khuram Parvez—Reuters

Attacks are designed to eliminate militants in areas inaccessible to the Pakistani military

(DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan) — A suspected U.S. drone fired missiles at two compounds in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region Friday, killing at least seven alleged militants, while security forces killed the alleged planner of the deadly recent attack on a school, Pakistani officials said.

Four intelligence officials said the early morning strikes hit the compounds of the Punjabi Taliban and a group of Uzbek militants in the Shawal area of North Waziristan.

Two missiles struck the compound of the Punjabi Taliban in the village of Kund, killing four militants, the officials said. They said the compound was being used as a training facility by the group’s commander, Qari Imran, but it was unclear whether Imran himself was present at the time of attack. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Minutes later, another drone-launched missile struck the compound of a group of Uzbek militants in the village of Mangrotai, killing three alleged militants, the officials said.

Drone strikes are largely unpopular in Pakistan where many consider them a violation of the country’s sovereignty and resent the collateral damage caused to Pakistani civilians. But the U.S. insists these attacks are effective to eliminate militants in areas inaccessible to the Pakistani military.

Meanwhile, a top government official in the Khyber tribal region said security forces have killed the alleged planner of the recent school attack in the city of Peshawar. Security troops, acting on intelligence information, conducted a raid in the Bara area late Thursday night, where they fought a gunbattle with the militant commander known as Saddam and his accomplices, said Shahab Ali Shah, head of police administration in Khyber.

Shah said that Saddam was killed in the hour-long shootout, while his six accomplices were injured and arrested. He said Saddam helped plan the Peshawar school attack and was also involved in attacks on health workers giving polio vaccinations in the Peshawar valley.

On December 16, militants strapped with explosives broke into a military-run school in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and killed 148 people — most of them children.

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. Transfers 4 Guantánamo Prisoners to Afghanistan

Guantanamo Bay
A U.S. military guard on the grounds of the now closed Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 22 2013. Johannes Schmitt-Tegge—EPA

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009

Four Guantánamo prisoners were transferred to Afghan authorities, the Pentagon said Saturday, as part of a continuing push by the Obama administration to close the contentious prison.

The detainees boarded a U.S. military plane and were flown to Kabul overnight, ending a decade of detention at the prison for suspected involvement in Taliban-affiliated militias, Reuters reports.

“Most if not all of these accusations have been discarded and each of these individuals at worst could be described as low-level, if even that,” an unnamed senior official told Reuters.

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009. 132 detainees are still being held at the Guantánamo complex, which President Barack Obama vowed to shut down early in his presidency–a promise he has struggled to carry through amid legal obstacles and stiff resistance from Congress.

Read more at Reuters.

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