TIME Afghanistan

Senior ISIS Leader Killed in U.S. Strike

Hafeez Sayeed was one of more than 30 militants killed

(KABUL, Afghanistan)—Afghanistan’s intelligence service says the highest-ranking leader among local militants loyal to the Islamic State group was killed in an airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.

Abdul Hassib Sediqi, spokesman for the National Directorate of Security, said on Saturday that Hafeez Sayeed was one of more than 30 militants killed in a U.S. strike Friday in Nangarhar province.

Sediqi said the Afghan intelligence service provided information to U.S. forces, who carried out the strike.

Afghan government officials have claimed the presence of Islamic State group activity in at least three provinces of the country, but the existence of an active Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan has not been confirmed. The Taliban, at war with the Afghan government for nearly 14 years, have warned the IS group to stay out of Afghanistan.

TIME Military

U.S. Army Plans to Cut Troop Numbers to Pre–World War II Levels

The decision has prompted the ire of conservative lawmakers

The U.S. Army has announced plans to cut 40,000 troops and 17,000 civilian employees over the next two and a half years in accordance with Pentagon budget reductions.

The plan will decrease the size of the army to 450,000 troops — the lowest it has been since 1940, the year before the U.S. entered World War II. Prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, there were around 480,000 active-duty service members, USA Today reports.

Some of the cuts are the anticipated deflation of the troop surge witnessed in 2012, when the armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their peaks. The remainder reflects an ongoing shrinking of the military budget in the wake of two expensive wars.

Conservative pundits and politicians have openly disparaged the plan, citing mounting tensions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“One person who’s going to be very pleased with this is Vladimir Putin,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska.

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama remarked that his administration has no current plans to escalate the military presence in areas of ongoing conflict. There are currently 3,500 stationed in Iraq, a point of frustration for those who view Washington’s response to militant Islamic group ISIS as lukewarm.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Government Officials in Direct Talks With Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Allauddin Khan—AP Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference in Kabul on May 26, 2015.

This marks the first official meeting between the two sides since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — An Afghan official says a government delegation has met with Taliban representatives in Pakistan.

An official from the Afghan government’s high peace council told The Associated Press that the meeting took place Tuesday in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Sayed Zafar Hashemi, deputy spokesman for the Afghan president’s office, confirmed that the delegation travelled to Pakistan for talks with the Taliban.

The talks marked the first official meeting between the two sides since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition invasion. Taliban and government representatives have met informally in the past. New Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has made it a public priority to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

TIME Innovation

Why Iran Wants a Nuclear Deal

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

These are today's best ideas

1. Here’s the real reason Iran wants a nuclear deal.

By Kathy Gilsinan in the Atlantic

2. We need a Marshall Plan for the victims of America’s War on Drugs.

By Nancy Gertner at the Aspen Ideas Festival

3. Investors and entrepreneurs are getting creative to weather Greece’s crumbling economy.

By Elmira Bayrasli in TechCrunch

4. We need a partner to stabilize Afghanistan. India is right for the job.

By Alyssa Ayres at the Council on Foreign Relations

5. Though a cleaner source of power, hydroelectric dams drastically slash biodiversity.

By the University of East Anglia

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 On Our Radar

Finding Afghanistan’s Resilient Spirit Amid the Destruction

Afghan-born photographer Zalmaï documents an everyday war to survive

Struggle, grief, and yet the dream of normalcy — these are just some in a complex mix of emotions pictured in a new book by Afghan-born photographer Zalmaï.

After the Soviet invasion in 1980, he left Afghanistan for Switzerland, where he pursued his passion for photography and eventually began to work internationally as a freelance photographer.

Following the 9/11 attacks, he returned to his home country to cover the fall of the Taliban where he discovered a resilience he hadn’t known was there. “I felt there was a lot of hope and a desire to build the country,” he says. “Everything was interesting for me, and I was in a beautiful situation because I could speak the language.”

Instead of reiterating the narrative of Afghanistan from the perspective of Western intervention, Zalmaï chose to focus on the Afghan spirit, deliberately circumventing the spectacle of war and illuminating the everyday fight for normalcy in the midst, wake and in spite of destruction. “We could not handle one day of what they have lived through for 35 years,” he says. “And yet people think everything started in 2001. I felt it was necessary to talk about Afghanistan in a different way.”

Between 2008 and 2013, he photographed in remote villages as well as the big cities, where he found deep pain and misery lurking behind each door he knocked upon. But underneath this struggle, there was also defiance. “It’s there, from dawn until sunset,” he says. “Boys and girls are going to school. When you have a child in a country at war, and you send this child to school — for me, this is a force of life, because you believe things are going to change one day.”

The book’s cover features no image, but is cloth-bound in a shade of blue that hints at either dawn or dusk. Its contents, intentionally left uncaptioned, sandwich colorful smartphone snapshots between more classic black-and-white reportage. “You see dread, dream, and you go back to the dread,” Zalmaï tells TIME. “And that, I think, is more accurate to what is happening in Afghanistan.” The emotional seesaw is echoed in his work method — the color images are energetic, loose and spontaneously captured, while the monochromatic images are moodier, with more deliberate compositions.

The release of the work comes at a significant time, says Zalmaï, as the security situation on the ground becomes more precarious. “With all these warlords, corruption and different ethnic groups, it’s very difficult to have a real democracy,” he says. “I think this year it’s going to be a huge test for the Afghan army and coalition government. If they cannot really unite all their political forces right now, it could become a nightmare that I don’t even want to think about.”

Zalmaï hopes his photographs will be a reminder to the world not to forget about Afghanistan again. “Because in 10 years,” he says, “who’s going to send 500,000 soldiers to fix the problem, when you didn’t fix it?”

Zalmaï‘s Dread and Dreams is published by Daylight and is available now.

Jen Tse is a photo editor and contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter @jentse and Instagram.

TIME well-being

This Surprising Country Leads the World in Feeling Good

RODRIGO ARANGUA—AFP/Getty Images A merchant ship sails along the Panama Canal.

The U.S. has fallen to No. 23

Panama leads the world in well-being, surpassing even wealthier countries such as Switzerland, Norway, and the United States, according to the research released Wednesday.

It’s the second-year running that Panama has topped the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index. About 53% of residents are thriving in three or more areas of well-being tracked by Gallup, which includes a person’s sense of purpose, financial well-being, and physical health.

“People in Panama will report a lot of daily happiness, a lot of daily smiling and laughter, and a lot of daily enjoyment without a lot of stress and worry,” Dan Witters, who compiled the index, told Reuters.

Panama’s also had the benefit of a strong and growing economy in the last year, plus the country’s had relative political stability and investments in national development.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has fallen in its well-being ranking, dropping to No. 23 of 145 countries, territories and areas tracked by the index. That’s down from 12th place a year earlier. The decline is credited to a drop in the number of people saying they are satisfied with their sense of community, which includes safety as well as strong social ties, according to Witters.

At the bottom of the list are Afghanistan areas across sub-Saharan Africa, including Togo and Cameroon.

The index is compiled using feedback from more than 146,000 people who are 15-years-old or older. It asks them questions relating to five key areas of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community and physical.

TIME Afghanistan

Witness the Taliban Attack on Afghanistan’s Parliament

Seven Taliban militants were killed on Monday after launching a major attack, involving a suicide bomb and gunmen, on the Afghan Parliament. No lawmakers lost their lives

TIME United Nations

There Have Never Been More Displaced People Across the World Than Now

If the number of displaced persons formed a nation, it would be the 24th largest country in the world

The total number of people forcibly displaced by war, conflict and persecution rose to a record 59.5 million at the end of 2014, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) has said.

The agency’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released Thursday, found forced displacement worldwide has reached unprecedented levels, with a record annual rise of 8.3 million more displaced people since 2013. Some 38.2 million of the total were internally displaced in their own countries.

If the number of displaced persons formed a nation, the report said, it would be the 24th largest country in the world.

Speaking in Turkey on Thursday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres confirmed worldwide displacement was at the highest ever recorded.

“When you see the news in any global network, we clearly get the impression that the world is at war,” he said. “Indeed many areas of the world are today in a completely chaotic situation and the result is this staggering escalation of displacement, the staggering escalation of suffering, because each displaced person is a tragic story,” he said.

Syria overtook Afghanistan to become the biggest source of refugees last year, with 1.77 million Syrians having fled the nation’s ongoing civil war.

Just over half of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide came from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The report also pointed to new and continuing conflicts in South Sudan, Ukraine and Iraq, among others, which have caused suffering and widespread displacement.

Guterres warned that humanitarian organizations were “no longer able to clean up the mess.”

“U.N. agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross — we no longer have the capacities and the resources to respond to such a dramatic increase in humanitarian needs,” he said.

Turkey overtook Pakistan to become the nation hosting the most refugees in the world with 1.59 million people currently displaced within its borders. Guterres praised Turkey’s willingness to keep its frontiers open and called on richer countries to do more.

“That has a special meaning in a world where so many borders are closed or restricted,” he said. “And where new walls are being built or announced.”

TIME Military

U.S. Adapts ‘Lily Pad’ Strategy to Defeat ISIS in Iraq

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked against the Taliban in Afghanistan

The top U.S. military officer likened the expanding American footprint in Iraq Thursday to “lily pads” that will sprout across the pond known as Anbar Province, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria seized the capital last month.

“Our campaign is built on establishing these ‘lily pads’ that allow us to encourage the Iraqi security forces forward,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a visit in Italy. “As they go forward, they may exceed the reach of the particular lily pad”—leading to the creation of new ones.

While the strategy may be a new one since the U.S. pulled its forces out of Iraq in 2011, it has been done before. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, similar campaigns were carried out, often called “oil spot” or “ink blot” strategies.

Retired Army lieutenant colonel Andrew Krepinevich popularized the oil-spot notion in a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs, during the darkest days of the U.S.-led alliance in Iraq. “Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort—hence the image of an expanding oil spot,” wrote Krepinevich, who heads the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Military scholar Max Boot advocated using what he called the “‘spreading inkblot’ strategy” in and around Baghdad in 2007.

It makes sense to establish protected bases in potentially-hostile terrain that can be linked to safer rear areas by air and roads. Each lily pad (or oil spot, or ink blot) gets bigger if its troops succeed in expanding the secure zones around them. Military momentum can lead to the creation of additional lily pads. Ultimately, they all expand until the entire region is free of enemy forces and secure.

Wednesday’s announcement boosts the number of U.S. bases in Iraq to five. “We’re looking all the time to see if additional sites might be necessary,” Dempsey said, although he said the two now in Anbar would probably suffice for that province. “I could foresee one in the corridor that runs from Baghdad to Tikrit to Kirkuk over into Mosul,” he added.

Dempsey detailed the evolving U.S. strategy the day after the White House said it would send up to 450 trainers and advisers to a base near Ramadi in eastern Anbar, within easy range of ISIS attacks. President Obama has pledged to keep U.S. troops out of combat with ISIS, even though allowing small numbers to embed with Iraqi forces to call in U.S. air strikes would make them more effective. The additional forces would push the U.S. troop total in Iraq to 3,550. Any decision to plant additional lily pads could require more U.S. troops in Iraq. U.S. troop strength in the 2003-2011 Iraq war peaked at 158,000 in 2008.

Adding U.S. troops to the Taqaddum military base is significant, Dempsey added, because “it gives us access to another Iraqi division and extends their reach into al Anbar province and gives us access to more tribes.” The U.S. is eager to enlist the Sunni tribes in Anbar in the fight against ISIS, whose members are Sunni. Sending the largely Shi’ite forces in Iraq’s national army to battle Sunnis in the Sunni heartland could inflame sectarian tensions.

Of course, lily pads don’t always thrive. In Afghanistan, they’ve shrunk in recent years. John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, warned two years ago that danger was spreading across the country and limiting the places his inspectors could visit to do their jobs. “U.S. officials have told us that it is often difficult for program and contracting staff to visit reconstruction sites in Afghanistan,” he said in October 2013. “U.S. military officials have told us that they will provide civilian access only to areas within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility.”

The Afghan lily pads have continued to shrivel. “Americans can only really travel safely in Kabul, and for most part no travel outside of green zone in Kabul,” one U.S. official said Thursday, speaking of travel in and around the Afghan capital. “Helicopters are needed to travel less than a mile from the embassy to airport.”

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

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

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including Stephanie Sinclair’s compelling National Geographic photo essay on young Newari girls in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley who are worshipped as living goddesses.

Stephanie Sinclair: Living Goddesses of Nepal (National Geographic)

Daniel Berehulak: Caught in Nepal’s Earthquakes (The New York Times Lens blog) Powerful images by a photographer who just received a Pulitzer Prize for his Ebola coverage.

James Nachtwey: Nepal Pt1. | Pt. 2 (TIME LightBox) Two sets of pictures and text by the TIME contract photographer, who spent two weeks covering the quake’s aftermath.

Carolyn Drake: Sins of the Aral Sea (National Geographic) Photo essay highlights the current state of the vast inland sea that is now 90 percent gone.

Kirsten Luce: The Corridor of Death: Along America’s Second Border (TIME LightBox) Luce continues her strong documentation of the US-Mexico border.

Lynn Johnson: High Science (National Geographic) The magazine’s veteran documents the issues surrounding marijuana’s potential benefits and drawbacks.

Bryan Denton: Disabled and Facing More Challenges in Afghanistan (The New York Times) These pictures capture the struggles of injured Afghan soldiers and policemen.

Adam Ferguson: Cambodia’s Child Grooms (Al Jazeera America) Early marriage is on the increase in the country’s highlands.

Jerome Delay: Mob Attacks Suspected Militia Member in Burundi (NBC News) Dramatic sequence from Burundi’s capital by AP’s Africa chief photographer. Delay was also interviewed on TIME LightBox.

Alessio Romenzi: Gambling for a better life across the Mediterranean (Al Jazeera English) These pictures document the crowded conditions faced by migrants held in Libya’s detention centers.

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