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 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 alAdha (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.

TIME Afghanistan

U.K. Paratrooper Honored for Saving U.S. Marine

Handout photograph of VC recipient Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey of the Parachute Regiment
Reuters Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey of the Parachute Regiment is seen in this undated photograph released in London by Britain's Ministry of Defence February 26, 2015.

The Victoria Cross has only been awarded 15 times since the end of World War 2

A British paratrooper was awarded the highest British military honor Thursday for his actions during a firefight in 2013 in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey, 27, is only the third serviceman to receive the Victoria Cross for service in Afghanistan and the fifteenth since World War 2, according to the BBC.

Leakey was with a group of British and American troops who were pinned down on the side of a hill in Helmand province by about 20 insurgents. During the Taliban attack, he ran through heavy fire multiple times to assess the situation, assist the wounded U.S. Marine Captain, and fire on the enemy, ultimately helping the troops regain the initiative. During the battle, 11 Taliban were killed and four were wounded.

TIME Cricket

Afghanistan Has Just Won Their First Match at the Cricket World Cup

Cricket WCup Afghanistan Scotland
Dianne Manson—AP Afghanistan's Hamid Hassan is watched by his teammates as he performs a hand-stand after taking a catch to dismiss Scotland's Josh Davey during their Cricket World Cup Pool A match in Dunedin, New Zealand, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015.

The feat is astonishing for a war-ravaged nation that only took up the sport 15 years ago

The Afghanistan cricket team created history on Thursday, winning its first match in the World Cup after a nail-biting finish.

Chasing 210 for victory against Scotland in a group match, the Afghans were in danger of collapsing when 7 of 10 batsmen got out for just 97 runs, the BBC reported.

But player of the match Samiullah Shenwari pulled the team through with a classy individual effort, adding 96 runs of his own to inspire a monumental victory with just three balls left in the game.

The feat is remarkable considering the Afghan team’s history. Cricket only began in the war-torn nation 15 years ago, and many of the players grew up in the refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan after their families were displaced by the Soviet invasion of the 1970s.

While simply qualifying for their first World Cup was a huge achievement, the maiden victory at the tournament caps a fairytale run from the sport’s lowest tier in 2008 to its biggest stage less than a decade later.

The win will no doubt have sparked wild celebrations in Afghanistan, with the country’s president Ashraf Ghani praising the team in a tweet. It also had the global cricket fraternity showing its admiration.

TIME Australia

Former Gitmo Inmate ‘Relieved’ After Terrorism Conviction Quashed

Former Australian Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks, right, in Sydney on February 19, 2015
Saeed Khan—AFP/Getty Images Former Australian Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks in Sydney on February 19, 2015

U.S. court says Australian David Hicks did not commit a war crime

Australian David Hicks announced relief after a U.S. court overturned his terrorism conviction Wednesday.

The court declared that the former Guantanamo Bay inmate did not commit a war crime, therefore his conviction was not eligible to be heard in a military court, reports the BBC.

“It’s a relief because it’s over,” Hicks said in a Sydney news conference.

Hicks, 39, pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of providing material support to terrorism. In 2000, Hicks trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan and participated in an attack against Indian forces. In 2001, the Northern Alliance captured Hicks in Afghanistan, where he met Osama bin Laden and enrolled in Al-Qaeda training camps, the BBC reported.

In a rare move, the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review overturned his conviction in a unanimous ruling. Under new rules, providing material support for terrorism no longer qualifies as a war crime for events prior to 2006.

Hicks was sentenced to seven years in Guantanamo Bay, but after pleading guilty, he was allowed to return to Australia after nine months. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said, “Let’s not forget whatever the legalities… he was up to no good on his own admission.”

[BBC]

TIME Afghanistan

Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Topped 10,000 in 2014

Afghan officials and mourners perform funeral prayers over the coffin of Angiza Shinwari, a provincial member, in Jalalabad on Feb. 16, 2015.
Noorullah Shirzada—AFP/Getty Images Afghan officials and mourners perform funeral prayers over the coffin of Angiza Shinwari, a provincial member, in Jalalabad on Feb. 16, 2015.

Increased ground fighting led to the highest civilian casualty rate in Afghanistan since record-keeping began in 2009

More civilians died in Afghanistan in 2014 than in any year since the year the United Nations began keeping records in 2009, signaling a new level of violence and ground engagements between Taliban insurgents and the embattled Kabul-based government.

The U.N. said Wednesday that it documented 10,548 civilian casualties in 2014, including almost 3,700 deaths, a 25% rise in fatalities over the year before. It was the first year casualties surpassed 10,000 since record-keeping began in 2009.

The bloodshed has been caused primarily by the change in ground warfare, with fewer American-led coalition troops fighting and less air support available to keep the Taliban from massing in large groups. Afghan troops are facing the insurgents in a head-on fight, increasing casualties on the ground.

“In communities across Afghanistan, increased ground fighting among parties to the conflict and more IED attacks exacted a heavy toll on Afghan civilians,” said the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom. “Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfill commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 17

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

1. Is the Taliban’s fracturing a sign of its demise or a possible turn to a more lethal strategy?

By Sundarsan Raghavan in the Washington Post

2. To fight cybercrime, President Obama needs Silicon Valley.

By Katie Benner in Bloomberg View

3. The FDA needs updated systems to review drugs — made from our own cells — that target cancer and more.

By Peter W. Huber in City Journal

4. Our high incarceration rate no longer reduces crime.

By Lauren-Brooke Eisen in USA Today

5. Better than an action movie: Catch a college lecture on your next commercial flight.

By Kim Clark in Money

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.

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