TIME Afghanistan

Senior Democrat: We Should Be Proud of Afghanistan Progress

Levin Briefs On Investigation Into Private Security Contractors In Afghanistan
Alex Wong / Getty Images Carl Levin, retiring chairman of the armed services committee, thinks Americans have a "distorted" view of what the U.S. has accomplished in Afghanistan.

Retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D—Mich), chairman of the armed services committee, says things are getting better all the time in Afghanistan

Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the armed services committee, is leaving the Senate after 36 years. He spent Wednesday’s breakfast with a bunch of defense reporters responding to their questions on the U.S.-led attacks against Islamic militants and the Pentagon’s budget crunch.

Levin is no bomb-thrower or partisan hack. When we offered him the chance to say a final word at the end of his final breakfast with us, we listened:

Thank you for the years that we’ve been having breakfast together. I guess my one request, which I have feelings about, is our view of Afghanistan. I’ve been there a dozen times…they’ve made some amazing progress…The people of Afghanistan, by al measure, are glad we came. Eight million kids in school now, versus 800,000 kids under the Taliban; 40% girls, 40% women teachers. Universities now have formed.

Kabul, you can move in. Yea, there’s bombings and they’re covered all the time, and I understand it. But is it a glass half full? I think at least half full and I think, more importantly, it’s getting fuller…

I feel so strongly that the American public view of Afghanistan is distorted—it’s highly negative, they feel we failed. They have a right to feel some real satisfaction because we didn’t fail—quite the opposite. They haven’t succeeded yet, but with our help they have made some real strides, and it doesn’t come through.

So my plea would be, since this may be my last opportunity, would be to somehow or other cover the positives that have occurred in Afghanistan…

I just quote these public opinion polls: Americans, 70% or 65% think we have not achieved anything. In Afghanistan it’s 70 or 80% think we have. How does that happen that the people who are in the middle of that war think we’ve really done some good, and the people who are 10,000 or 15,000 miles away think we haven’t?

Particularly our troops and their families, they’ve got a right to feel they’ve accomplished something, ‘cause they have.

The American people, taxpayers, have a right to feel they’ve accomplished something, ‘cause they have…

I’m just going to hope that somehow or other [ex-defense secretary Robert] Gates’ point, his statement, will no longer prove to be true after a couple of more years. The statement that he made was that Afghanistan is the only war he’s ever seen that the closer you get to it, the better it looks.

I believe that that’s true, and I hope a couple of years from now, when I find a way to visit Afghanistan, that we’ll not only see more progress, but the American people finally realize that `Hey, it was worth it.’

 

 

U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Afghanistan
U.S. Navy / Getty ImagesCarl Levin, center, on a 2011 visit to Afghanistan.
TIME

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TIME portfolio

James Nachtwey: 30 Years in TIME

To celebrate James Nachtwey’s 30 years as a contract photographer for TIME, we have organized an exhibit of 54 layouts that have appeared in the magazine featuring his work from Chechnya to Somalia and from Afghanistan to Burma, along with a series of his powerful, previously unpublished photographs. Below, James Nachtwey, and TIME’s Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs, reflect on the relationship between photographer and publication.

Any worthwhile, long-term relationship is built on integrity, trust, caring and a common purpose, and those are the elements that have characterized my 30-year relationship with TIME. Working in the field in difficult circumstances, there are many things to be concerned about, from logistics to survival, but the ultimate goal is to get the story right. Knowing that the people who publish the pictures are just as motivated by that as I am means everything. Every image on these walls is the result of teamwork. I happened to be the point man, but the support, guidance and inspiration I have received for so many years have made this work possible, and I want to thank all my colleagues at TIME from the bottom of my heart. — James Nachtwey

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TIME’s exhibition at Photoville.

James Nachtwey has spent his life in the places people most want to avoid: war zones and refugee camps, the city flattened by an earthquake or a terrorist attack, the village swallowed by a flood. A Massachusetts native and graduate of Dartmouth, Jim worked in the merchant marine and as a truck driver while he taught himself photography. His assignments for TIME, where he is in his 30th year, have taken him around the world multiple times. There is a particular art to capturing the places where pain presides. Pain is the most private experience, but its causes demand public accounting. It’s exactly when you want to look the other way that Jim’s images bring you back, command attention and invite understanding. — Nancy Gibbs

James Nachtwey: 30 Years in TIME runs from September 18 to 28, 2014 and is part of Photoville, an outdoor photography exhibition in Brooklyn, New York.

James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer, documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues. Nancy Gibbs is Managing Editor of TIME.

TIME Afghanistan

Suicide Bomber Attacks NATO Convoy in Kabul Killing 3

U.S. troops carry the dead body of a member of an international troop at the site of suicide attack in Kabul
Omar Sobhani — Reuters U.S. troops carry the dead body of a member of an international troop at the site of suicide attack in Kabul September 16, 2014.

Taliban claims responsibility

Updated: Sept. 16, 2014, 2:51 a.m. E.T.

A suicide bomber attacked a military convoy in Kabul Tuesday morning, killing three NATO soldiers and injuring 16 civilians.

The explosion took place around 8 a.m. local time in heavy traffic on the airport road near the Supreme Court, according to the BBC.

Witnesses said a vehicle from the convoy was completely destroyed in the attack, and injured soldiers were seen receiving first aid soon after.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which took place amid uncertainty and controversy over Afghanistan’s recent presidential elections. The elections have been dogged by allegations of fraud.

The nationalities of the soldiers in the convoy are not yet known, reports said.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Militants May Join ISIS Says Their Commander

The link-up could pose a renewed threat to an already fragile Afghanistan

An Afghanistan-based militant group with links to the Taliban is considering aligning itself with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the BBC reports.

Commander Mirwais of the Hezb-e-Islami, a group notorious for its brutality, called ISIS fighters “great mujahideen,” and told the BBC his group was waiting to see if ISIS met the requirements for a true Islamic caliphate. “We pray for them,” he said, “and if we don’t see a problem in the way they operate, we will join them.”

Hezb-e-Islami, along with the rest of the Taliban and its allies, are in conflict with an Afghan government in the midst of a leadership crisis. A winner of the recent presidential election has yet to be named, as the voting is being audited.

Mirwais said the current government was weak and had no control in rural areas, adding that the group will “continue to fight until we establish an Islamic state.”

Kabul-based politician and intelligence expert Amrullah Saleh told the BBC that politics and society in Afghanistan had changed too much for the Taliban to retake power. But a link-up between Afghan insurgents and extremist ISIS fighters could pose a renewed threat.

[BBC]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 26

1. “This is a reflection of long-standing and growing inequalities of access to basic systems of healthcare delivery.” –Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer on the Ebola outbreak.

By Democracy Now!

2. Despite commitments to the contrary, elite colleges are still failing to bring poorer students into the fold.

By Richard Pérez-Peña in the New York Times

3. #ISISMediaBlackout: Tuning out Islamist rhetoric and taking out their powerful propaganda weapon.

By Nancy Messieh at the Atlantic Council

4. What makes income inequality so pernicious? The shocking odds against moving up the income ladder for some Americans.

By Richard Reeves at the Brookings Institution

5. The specter of Iraq’s looming collapse is inflaming concerns about Afghanistan’s electoral crisis. But the two countries are very different.

By The Editors of Bloomberg View

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

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 19

1. To understand the conflict in Ferguson, we must acknowledge and overcome structural racism.

By Karen J. Aroesty in the St. Louis Dispatch

2. As we leave Afghanistan, we owe justice and transparency to civilians caught in the crossfire of our occupation.

By Christopher Rogers in Al-Jazeera America

3. The wisdom of crowds: The CIA is learning a lot by aggregating the guesswork of ordinary Americans.

By Alix Spiegel at National Public Radio

4. In the age of MOOCs, remote labs are making a comeback and giving STEM students affordable new ways to do research.

By Steve Zurier in EdTech

5. Delaying child bearing and getting a high school diploma could drastically alter the future for today’s teen moms.

By Emily Cuddy and Richard V. Reeves at the Brookings Institution

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

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 15

1. 1,000 new visas is a good start, but to continue building trust, the U.S. must further expand the visa program for Afghans assisting ISAF at great risk.

By Jordan Larson in Vice

2. It’s not too late for the Internet to ditch pop-up ads and build a better web.

By Ethan Zuckerman in the Atlantic

3. A peace deal may be the only way to relieve Gaza’s “health disaster.”

By Dana Lea in Politically Inclined

4. Now ubiquitous, mobile phones can close the gap for maternal health care.

By Becky Allen and Jenna Karp at the Council on Foreign Relations

5. To save the African elephant, we must ban all ivory sales for a decade or more.

By Daniel Cressey in Nature

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

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. General Officer Killed in ‘Insider Attack’ in Afghanistan

Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch at the gate of a British-run military training academy Camp Qargha, in Kabul on August 5, 2014.
Omar Sobhani—Reuters Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch at the gate of a British-run military training academy Camp Qargha, in Kabul on August 5, 2014.

The Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday that a U.S. general was killed,

Updated 5:17 p.m. ET August 5

A man in an Afghan army uniform opened fire Tuesday on American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, injuring up to 14 troops and killing a United States general officer, the Pentagon said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said at a news conference hours after the incident that the officer, Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, was “one of if not the highest ranking deaths” in the war in Afghanistan. Greene was re-assigned in January from a position in Washington, D.C., to take on the role of deputy commanding general in Afghanistan.

Multiple news outlets reported through the day that a U.S. Army major general was killed in the attack in Kabul, with the New York Times saying the officer was the highest-ranking member of the U.S. military to die in hostilities in Afghanistan.

Kirby said there were up to 15 casualties, including members of the Afghan National Security Forces. He said the shooter was suspected to be a member of the ANSF.

The NATO-led forces confirmed earlier that the attack occurred at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul, and not Camp Qargha as the German military said in its statement earlier Tuesday.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, said a “terrorist in an army uniform” opened fire on local and international troops, according to the Associated Press.Azimi said the shooter was killed. The German military, which said the assault was launched “probably by internal attackers,” said a German brigadier general was among the injured.

So-called “insider attacks” in Afghanistan have dropped sharply since 2012, when such attacks killed 53 coalition troops, according to the AP. Last year, 16 people were killed by such attacks.

The Taliban, which often take credit for such attacks, did not immediately comment to a New York Times reporter.

[NYT]

TIME Military

Afghanistan: Awash in Guns, as Well as Narcotics

SIGAR U.S.-supplied weapons like these M-16s in Kandahar, Afghanistan, often lack proper accounting by both U.S. and Afghan authorities, according to a new investigation

Contrary to law, U.S. military lacks data on nearly half the weapons delivered

The bad news out of Afghanistan this week is that the U.S. military’s accounting for the arsenals the Pentagon is giving to Afghan security forces is plagued by “incompatible inventory systems” that generate “missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records,” according to a new report from the top U.S. government investigator inside Afghanistan.

The worse news? The problems become “far more severe” once the weapons are in the hands of the Afghan forces. “Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the Afghan National Security Forces, and Afghan civilians,” according to John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

Sopko and the U.N. have made clear in recent years that the production of opium in Afghanistan is growing with every passing year. Sopko’s latest report, released Monday, makes clear that Afghanistan is also awash in undocumented American-supplied arms.

As the U.S. pulls its combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, proper accounting and tracking of the arms become critical for Afghan forces to battle the Taliban — and to keep those weapons out of enemy hands. “Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops,” the New York Times reported Sunday.

“We’re not talking just handguns and M-16s and AK-47s,” Sopko told TIME correspondents over lunch on Friday. “We’re talking some high-powered stuff — grenade launchers, RPGs, machine guns — anything that one person could use.” His new report says the U.S. recorded improperly, or simply failed to record, the serial numbers of 43% of the nearly half-million small arms the U.S. has supplied Afghanistan over the past decade.

Sloppy U.S. record keeping is compounded by Afghanistan’s indifference to the congressionally mandated U.S. oversight of the weapons’ whereabouts. “When we went there and said, ‘We want to see how the Afghans handle this,’ the Afghans refused to let us in to check the weapons” at one facility in Kabul, Sopko said. U.S. military officials told Sopko’s auditors they’d get them in. “We showed up and guess what — everybody was attending a funeral,” Sopko said. “We could not get in. When our guys tried to take pictures, all of a sudden, whoa, the Afghans kicked us out — and our U.S. military couldn’t get us in.”

The problem of untracked weapons, according to excerpts from the 28-page report, is likely to get worse:

As of November 2013, more than 112,000 weapons provided to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police exceed requirements in the current [Afghan government requirement] …

excess weapons

The Afghan National Army has 83,184 more AK-47s than needed because, prior to 2010, DOD issued both NATO-standard weapons, such as M-16s, and non-standard weapons, such as AK-47s. After 2010, DOD and the Afghan Ministry of Defense determined that interoperability and logistics would be enhanced if the Afghan National Army used only NATO standard weapons. Subsequently, the requirement was changed. However, no provision was made to return or destroy non-standard weapons, such as AK-47s, that were no longer needed …

This problem of the Afghan National Security Forces having more weapons than needed is likely to be exacerbated as the number of ANSF personnel decreases to lower levels in the coming years. Specifically, the current requirements in the [Afghan government requirement] are based on supporting the ANSF at a surge strength of 352,000 personnel. At the Chicago Summit held in May 2012, the international community and Afghan government approved a preliminary model for a reduction of the ANSF force strength by 123,500 personnel to a total of 228,500 by 2017. [U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan] told us they are still planning on providing weapons at the 352,000 personnel level because that is the number stated in the current [Afghan government requirement].

Part of the accountability problem, the report notes, stems from imposing rules that require schooling in a country without much of it. “Efforts to develop the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces personnel to manage the central depots,” it says, “have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel.”

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