Editor’s note: This is one of a series of stories looking at the U.S. legacy in Afghanistan as its 13-year combat role draws to a close.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Surrounded by scaffolding, a blue-domed mosque is nearing completion on a site where a cinema once stood.
The Afghan government is funding the project, which the Taliban began after razing the movie theater and closing all the others in town as part of their campaign against anything deemed immoral. Before the Taliban could finish the mosque, the U.S. swept them from power in 2001, beginning a war that few thought would still be raging nearly 13 years later.
Like the mosque, the Taliban are back.
In the twilight of a U.S.-led combat mission that has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 foreign troops and tens of thousands of Afghans, the Taliban’s military position is in many ways as strong as ever. Although the Taliban lack the popular support that swept them into power in the early 1990s, a recent International Crisis Group report found violence levels in Afghanistan are higher than at any time in the war. The Taliban are also inflicting staggering casualties on the Afghan security forces, who have taken over most of the fighting.
Many in Afghanistan worry that the soaring violence shows the Taliban, like the Kandahar mosque, are on the rise again as international military forces rapidly withdraw at a time when an election crisis threatens to undermine the next Afghan government and the country’s first democratic transition of power.
“The Taliban remain very hopeful, they seem upbeat, they have not been defeated,” said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert who has been studying the group since its inception. “They remain very committed and think they can fight for some years.”
Few see the Taliban taking Kabul again. But only the most optimistic analysts see the Afghan security forces defeating them, something the nearly 50-nation U.S.-led coalition failed to do in more than a decade of fighting.
This was underscored in late June, when Taliban fighters laid siege to Sangin district — an area of Helmand province where hundreds of American and British marines were killed or wounded before turning security over to their Afghan counterparts. Insurgents have killed at least 30 Afghan soldiers and police in the battle and up to 100 civilians have been killed. Even with ISAF air support, Afghan security forces are still struggling to control the area nearly a month after the initial attack.
Read it all at Stars and Stripes.
WWII photos set to “American Patrol” by Glen Miller’s band. Photos include Easy Company, 7th Armor, 8th Airforce, Pacific Fleet, Marines, Audie Murphy, ect.
A “humanitarian” ceasefire would give Hamas time to find answers for Israeli Chariot-4’s Windbreaker armor
Thursday, July 24, the 17th day of the IDF’s Gaza operation, Israeli ministers were discussing a possible “humanitarian ceasefire” in IDF-Hamas hostilities, which could last up to five days. According to DEBKAfile‘s military sources, it is Hamas which, behind its tough stance, is keen on a pause – and not just out of sudden concern for Gaza’s civilians. Its tacticians are desperate to find a chink in the Chariot-4 tank’s Armored Shield Protection-Active Trophy missile defense system, known as the Windbreaker. The 401st armored brigade is the only IDF unit with this armor.
Hamas has tried to stop these tanks with two kinds of advanced guided anti-tank missiles, the Russian Kornet-E, and the 9M113 Konkurs. But Windbreaker repels them and blows them all up.
Wednesday July 23 the IDF deliberately placed brigade commander Col. Sa’ar Tzur, one of the outstanding commanders in Operation Protective Edge, before TV cameras, while standing in front of a Chariot-4 tank.
He spoke at length about the brigade’s unstoppable performance under anti-tank missile fire. Those missiles are blown up without penetrating the tanks’ armor, he said, and are powerless to slow their advance.
Hamas has found no answer for the Active Trophy defense system, any more than it has for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense batteries, which keep Israeli civilian populations safe from its rockets. Both systems are home-made, developed by Rafael advanced armed systems industries.
Hamas is not giving up, which is why it is holding out against a long ceasefire, but aiming for just enough time to come up with new stratagems, DEBKAfile‘s military sources say.
This was the message conveyed in the statement Hamas leader Khaled Meshal made Wednesday July 23 in Qatar: He rejected a long-term ceasefire, but left the door open for a “humanitarian” pause.
While its forces have taken serious punishment, most of Hamas’ underground command and military infrastructure is still far from knocked out. But if the Israeli military decides to go for a decisive coup against those core facilities – defined by the Israeli security cabinet’s euphemism of “expanding the operation” – Hamas chiefs expect it to be spearheaded by a fleet of Chariot-4 tanks hurtling towards them behind the protection of their impenetrable “Windbreakers.”
To maintain any kind of draw with the IDF, Hamas stands in urgent need of two resources: 1) Technology for neutralizing the Windbreaker; and 2) Missiles able to pierce it.
While Khaled Meshal haggles with ceasefire brokers in Qatar, his agents are known to have appealed urgently to Tehran to find the weapons they need and deliver them at top speed to the Gaza Strip – possibly from Libya by the Iranian-terrorists’ arms smuggling route through Egypt.
A reference to this appeal was made in a comment by a senior military intelligence official Wednesday, when he disclosed that Iran had promised to rebuild Hamas’ military machine, including its rocket production and launch systems. Hamas and Tehran also broached the problem of the Chariot-4 armor. Both fully understood that unless it can be solved, Hamas may have no way of defending its high command and arsenal in their elaborately furnished underground bunkers.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has all these facts to hand, fed by a steady stream of intelligence from US informants in and over the battlefield. His efforts for a ceasefire are based on his perception that Israel has so far not managed to inflict a clear defeat on Hamas and needs to expand its operation to tip the scales.
He calculates that if Israel launches its final thrust, which has not yet been approved, it will not accept a ceasefire before achieving its goal, and this may take at least a week to ten days.
But if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hold off on Israel’s decisive attack, then negotiations can start for a truce of some kind, while both sides size up their respective situations and decide whether or not it is to their advantage.
“The US FAA has extended the ban on flights into Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, citing increased risk after a Hamas rocket landed within a mile of the airport. Hamas is calling the ban a “great victory,” while several European countries are following up with flight bans of their own.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is now asking, is the FAA’s decision really based on risk, or is it a stealth economic boycott of Israel? … In a press release, Cruz notes that the FAA still allows flights into Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, all of which are under constant terrorist threat … Sen. Cruz also notes that so far in the current battle with Hamas, the terrorist group has launched over 2,000 rockets. Only one has landed anywhere near Ben Gurion.
…According to Sen. Cruz’s statement, tourism is an $11 billion industry in Israel. Thanks to the FAA’s ban, though, tourist charters are canceling trips at a 30% rate, costing the Israeli economy enormously. At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry arrive in Israel — at Ben Gurion, incidentally — pledging $47 million in aid for the Palestinians, which really means more money for Hamas.
Taking the impact of these decisions together with Kerry’s previous statements, in which he has accused Israel of being an “apartheid state,” Cruz wonders what is behind the FAA’s decisions — true risk or politics?” –Bryan Preston
“Government always grows, and government is force. Force is always dangerous.” – John Stossel in Conservatives, libertarians and liberals should all worry about the militarization of police [via foxnews.com]
Big Data: Are we making a big mistake?
Five years ago, a team of researchers from Google announced a remarkable achievement in one of the world’s top scientific journals, Nature. Without needing the results of a single medical check-up, they were nevertheless able to track the spread of influenza across the US. What’s more, they could do it more quickly than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Google’s tracking had only a day’s delay, compared with the week or more it took for the CDC to assemble a picture based on reports from doctors’ surgeries. Google was faster because it was tracking the outbreak by finding a correlation between what people searched for online and whether they had flu symptoms.
Not only was “Google Flu Trends” quick, accurate and cheap, it was theory-free. Google’s engineers didn’t bother to develop a hypothesis about what search terms – “flu symptoms” or “pharmacies near me” – might be correlated with the spread of the disease itself. The Google team just took their top 50 million search terms and let the algorithms do the work.
The success of Google Flu Trends became emblematic of the hot new trend in business, technology and science: “Big Data”. What, excited journalists asked, can science learn from Google?
As with so many buzzwords, “big data” is a vague term, often thrown around by people with something to sell. Some emphasise the sheer scale of the data sets that now exist – the Large Hadron Collider’s computers, for example, store 15 petabytes a year of data, equivalent to about 15,000 years’ worth of your favourite music.
But the “big data” that interests many companies is what we might call “found data”, the digital exhaust of web searches, credit card payments and mobiles pinging the nearest phone mast. Google Flu Trends was built on found data and it’s this sort of data that interests me here. Such data sets can be even bigger than the LHC data – Facebook’s is – but just as noteworthy is the fact that they are cheap to collect relative to their size, they are a messy collage of datapoints collected for disparate purposes and they can be updated in real time. As our communication, leisure and commerce have moved to the internet and the internet has moved into our phones, our cars and even our glasses, life can be recorded and quantified in a way that would have been hard to imagine just a decade ago.
Read it all HERE.