The West made lots of promises to Afghan girls and now it’s breaking them

Heather Barr writes: The girls of Afghanistan have been betrayed. When Taliban rule ended almost 13 years ago, international donors rushed in to promise that young women would no longer be denied an education. Western governments spent a decade patting themselves on the back for what they touted as exceptional work supporting schools for the beleaguered girls of Afghanistan. They talked about bringing women out of purdah, literally as well as figuratively, so they could help their families and their country to prosper.

But the closing of one school after another exposes the hollowness of those promises. In fact, the state of education in Afghanistan is still so shaky that only about half of Afghan girls manage to go to school, and those numbers are set to decline.

In the volatile southern province of Kandahar, for instance, an innovative school for teenage girls will soon close its doors. The Kandahar Institute for Modern Studies, established in 2006 with funding and encouragement from the Canadian government, has run out of donors. And it is only one of a number of Afghan schools to face the budget axe swung by distant governments and cost-cutting politicians.

Other schools have been shuttered because of attacks and threats stemming from the war that continues to engulf the country. In July, girls’ schools closed in one entire district, depriving 40,000 girls of education.

The website of the U.S. development agency proudly proclaims, “In 2013, one million Afghan learners are enrolled in schools with USAID assistance, and over 5 million primary grade students benefitted from USAID assistance.” But in January 2014, the U.S. Congress cut the U.S. government’s allocation of development aid for Afghanistan by half. [Continue reading...]


Ebola and immigrants and Muslims — oh my! Operating the fear machine

Rebecca Gordon writes: Like many people around the world, four-star Marine General John Kelley is really worried about Ebola.

But he’s not worried about the more than 4,000 people who have died of the disease in western Africa. And he’s only tangentially worried about people dying in this country. What is the real threat Ebola presents to the United States, according to Kelly? Increased immigration.

On October 9, 2014, reported that for Kelly, who is the chief of the U.S. Southern Command, Ebola’s real danger is the “mass migration into the United States” of people running away from it in Mexico and Central America. If Ebola comes to Latin America, says Kelly, it’ll be “Katie, bar the door!” to keep the terrified masses out.

The general has proof that they’re already coming – all the way from Africa. In fact, he says, a U.S. embassy employee in Costa Rica told him about a group of migrants he’d met on the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. And where were these migrants coming from, Kelly asked? The embassy worker told him, “Liberia.” Liberians traveling to the United States through Central America. Who knew? [Continue reading...]


Iran offers ‘compromises’ in nuclear talks, West unmoved

Reuters reports: Iran is pushing what it portrays as a new compromise proposal in nuclear talks, but Western negotiators say it offers no viable concessions, underscoring how far apart the two sides are as they enter crunch time before a Nov. 24 deadline.

In the negotiations with six major powers, the Iranians say they are no longer demanding a total end to economic sanctions in return for curbing their nuclear program and would accept initially lifting just the latest, most damaging, sanctions.

Western officials dismiss the proposal as nothing new and say the Iranians have always known that the sanctions could only end gradually – with each measure being suspended and later terminated only after Iranian compliance had been proven.

The officials say that in talks in Vienna they too have offered what they call compromises over demands that Iran limit its nuclear program, but they have been rejected by Tehran. [Continue reading...]


Obama sees an Iran deal that could avoid Congress

The New York Time reports: No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.

Even while negotiators argue over the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to spin and where inspectors could roam, the Iranians have signaled that they would accept, at least temporarily, a “suspension” of the stringent sanctions that have drastically cut their oil revenues and terminated their banking relationships with the West, according to American and Iranian officials. The Treasury Department, in a detailed study it declined to make public, has concluded Mr. Obama has the authority to suspend the vast majority of those sanctions without seeking a vote by Congress, officials say.

But Mr. Obama cannot permanently terminate those sanctions. Only Congress can take that step. And even if Democrats held on to the Senate next month, Mr. Obama’s advisers have concluded they would probably lose such a vote. [Continue reading...]


The biology of deceit

Daniel N Jones writes: It’s the friend who betrays you, the lover living a secret life, the job applicant with the fabricated résumé, or the sham sales pitch too good to resist. From the time humans learnt to co‑operate, we also learnt to deceive each other. For deception to be effective, individuals must hide their true intentions. But deception is hardly limited to humans. There is a never-ending arms race between the deceiver and the deceived among most living things. By studying different patterns of deception across the species, we can learn to better defend ourselves from dishonesty in the human world.

My early grasp of human deception came from the work of my adviser, the psychologist Delroy Paulhus at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who studied what he called the dark triad of personality: psychopathy, recognised by callous affect and reckless deceit; narcissism, a sense of grandiose entitlement and self-centered overconfidence; and Machiavellianism, the cynical and strategic manipulation of others.

If you look at the animal world, it’s clear that dark traits run through species from high to low. Some predators are fast, mobile and wide-ranging, executing their deceptions on as many others as they can; they resemble human psychopaths. Others are slow, stalking their prey in a specific, strategic (almost Machiavellian) way. Given the parallels between humans and other animals, I began to conceive my Mimicry Deception Theory, which argues that long- and short-term deceptive strategies cut across species, often by mimicking other lifestyles or forms.

Much of the foundational work for this idea comes from the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, who noted that many organisms gain an evolutionary advantage through deception. [Continue reading...]


Music: Lars Danielsson — ‘Passacaglia’


ISIS seizes two Yazidi villages as it advances on Mount Sinjar

The Washington Post reports: Islamic State militants advanced on Mount Sinjar on Monday, seizing two villages and blocking roads as besieged fighters from the minority Yazidi sect pleaded for U.S.-led airstrikes to save them.

Yazidi volunteers who have been protecting the area for more than two months said they retreated from the villages north of the mountain after the extremists attacked in the early hours of Monday under the cover of bad weather. The Yazidis pulled back to a shrine in the foothills of the mountain but said the militants were closing in — their armored vehicles visible just a few miles away as night fell.

“We have so little ammunition, and they are advancing,” said Khalid Qassim Shesho, a 44-year-old fighter trapped in the Sharfadin shrine. “I can see five Humvees without using binoculars. We need planes!”

The extremist gains around Mount Sinjar strike an embarrassing blow to the international campaign against the Islamic State. In August, President Obama authorized targeted airstrikes in Iraq to address the plight of thousands of Yazidis trapped on Sinjar in the face of an initial militant onslaught. [Continue reading...]


U.S. airdrops with weapons and ammunition raise morale inside Kobane

The New York Times reports: Kurdish officials had repeatedly complained that without new supplies of ammunition and weapons, the airstrikes would not be sufficient to drive away the militants. On Monday, a commander in Kobani, Abu Hasan, said that “spirits and morale were high,” after the airdrops, which United States officials said included 27 palettes from Iraqi Kurdish authorities and contained medical supplies, ammunition and weapons.

The containers fell to the west of Kobani at about 4 a.m. local time, he said, adding that one palette that fell astray was destroyed to prevent it from falling into militant hands.

Polat Can, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters in Syria, said that shipment included antitank weapons. He said that the Kurdish forces were expecting more airdrops in the coming days.

There was less visible fighting in the city during the day. In the afternoon, fires started appearing to the east of the city, an area still partially controlled by ISIS fighters, and residents fretted that the militants were torching homes.

Mr. Cavusoglu did not say how or when the pesh merga fighters would cross into Kobani. Late Monday, Hemin Hawrami, an Iraqi Kurdish official, wrote on Twitter that the fighters had been ordered to deploy in the next 48 hours.

A senior Pentagon official said on Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity, that “it will be a significant change to be able to have a free flow of fighters going into Kobani.”

A Kurdish defense official in Kobani, Ismet Sheikh Hassan said he had not been given any information about when the pesh merga would arrive. He welcomed the influx, while asserting that the Kurdish fighters already in the city — members of the People’s Protection Forces, the Y.P.G. — were not desperate for more fighters.

“We are short on ammunition and weapons,” he said “not on human power.” [Continue reading...]


Victims of ISIS: Non-western journalists who don’t make the headlines

The Guardian reports: Last week, Islamic State militants released a fifth video of the British freelance journalist John Cantlie, wearing a Guantánamo Bay-style orange jumpsuit and appearing to read from a script.

The film’s release was widely reported. Unsurprisingly: since August, Isis has released videos showing its beheading of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as two British aid workers, David Haines and Alan Henning. All have been huge news events.

Less widely covered were reports that, on 13 October, Isis shot and killed the Mosul correspondent of Iraq’s Sada news agency in the city’s al-Ghazlani camp. Several local sources, as well as a Kurdish Democratic party spokesman and a medical centre, confirmed Mohanad al-Aqidi’s death to numerous NGOs (members of his family have since disputed the reports, and al-Aqidi’s fate is currently unclear.)

There are no doubts about the public beheading on 10 October, in Samarra, 50km south-east of Tikrit, of Raad Mohamed al-Azaoui , an Iraqi cameraman and photographer for Sama Salah Aldeen TV. Azaoui, a 37-year-old father of three, was killed with his brother after Friday prayers. [Continue reading...]


How to cover the ISIS — and survive

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, writes: Sometime in 2013, as Islamic State militants expanded the territory under their control, an order came down to the local brigades: Grab any non-Muslim foreigner you can find. Western journalists became prime targets, and over the next few months dozens were captured by local fighters.

International news organizations purposely avoided covering the kidnappings. Such blackouts are intended to create space for hostage negotiations to move forward discreetly, undisturbed by the media spotlight. Yet this voluntary censorship also had unintended consequences: In late 2013, when 30 journalists were missing in Syria, there was virtually no coverage of the problem, little public awareness that Islamic State fighters were actively searching for journalists and humanitarian workers to abduct, and less recognition of the rise of a group that has now emerged as a serious international security threat.

The Islamic State’s approach to news media, meanwhile, has reaped huge benefits for the group. Ransom payments by European governments have generated millions of dollars in revenue, with the going price per hostage estimated to be north of $2 million. Its grisly videos showing the beheadings of journalists such as James Foley and Steven Sotloff have reinforced the militants’ message of terror and served as valuable recruiting tools. And the group has managed its global image through its deft use of social media and its ability to restrict access to independent journalists.

In the battle over information between the Islamic State and journalists, the terrorists are winning. [Continue reading...]


In reversal, Turkey to open passage to Kobane for Iraqi Kurdish fighters

The Wall Street Journal reports: Turkey said Monday it would allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross its territory to reinforce the embattled Syrian city of Kobani, reversing its long-standing opposition to such aid hours after U.S. airdrops of weapons and ammunition to the city’s Syrian Kurdish defenders.

Speaking in a news conference in the Turkish capital Ankara, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu didn’t offer details how Turkish authorities would enable the transfer Kurdish Peshmerga fighters across Turkey or whether Syrian Kurdish authorities would accept additional forces.

“We are aiding the transfer of Peshmerga forces to Kobani for support. Consultations on this matter are ongoing,” Mr. Cavusoglu said. [Continue reading...]


U.S. airdrops weapons and supplies to besieged Syrian Kurds in Kobane

The Wall Street Journal reports: The U.S. dropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State extremists in the embattled city of Kobani, U.S. officials said Sunday.

Three U.S. C-130 cargo planes began dropping the weapons and supplies, provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq, on Sunday, the officials said. Over several hours, the U.S. dropped 27 bundles of small arms, ammunition and supplies.

The mission marks a deeper U.S. involvement in the conflict and comes over the objections of U.S. ally Turkey, which strongly opposes arming the Syrian Kurds.

The U.S. has conducted some 135 airstrikes in the area of Kobani, itself a main focus of the Islamic State militant offensive. U.S. military officials said they have killed hundreds of fighters and damaged scores of combat equipment. [Continue reading...]

Reuters adds: The main Syrian Kurdish armed group defending the Syrian border town on Kobani against Islamic State attackers said on Monday arms air-dropped by the United States would not be enough for it to win the battle, and asked for more support.

Redur Xelil, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG group, said the weapons dropped overnight would have a “positive impact” on the battle and the morale of fighters who have been out-gunned by Islamic State. But he added: “Certainly it will not be enough to decide the battle.”

“We do not think the battle of Kobani will end that quickly. The forces of (Islamic State) are still heavily present and determined to occupy Kobani. In addition, there is resolve (from the YPG) to repel this attack,” he told Reuters in an interview conducted via Skype.


The impact of airstrikes on the battle for Kobane

The Telegraph reports: The first signs that things could change came when planes appeared in the sky, circling for hours, but not attacking. The first strikes came on October 7 when US-made vehicles driven by Isil fighters to resupply the city were hit outside the town.

Scorched metal skeletons were all that remained of the jihadist’s prized Humvees.

“We had a walkie-talkie tuned on the Isil radio system, that we had taken from a jihadist that we killed,” said Mr Kharaba.

“When the first air strikes hit, we heard them on the radio screaming in panic.

“They were shouting ’Allah Akbhar’ (God is great) and listing the leaders who were killed: Abu Anas, Abu Hamza and many others.” Within a week, the air strikes had escalated from a few every day, to several every hour and by Tuesday the US and allies launched 21 air strikes on Isil positions in and around Kobane.

They bombed Tel Shair, a hill at the edge of Kobani, from which Isil had boastfully erected its black flag, and which it had used as a position to shell the town from.

Kurdish forces stormed the hill after the air strikes and cleaned it of their enemy.

“After we took the hill, I knew that Isil was on the back foot,” said Mr Kharaba.

“I knew it would be hard for them to keep Kobane.” The next day the strikes were hitting inside Kobane itself and the tide began to turn.

Pilots overhead grew in confidence and began to strike positions in the centre of Kobane, hitting Isil on their front lines.

Mr Kharaba described to the Telegraph being just metres from the air strike’s targets, and knowing he was safe: “They are incredibly accurate. If the Americans wanted to put a rocket in someone’s eye, even from hundreds of meters in the air, they could.”

The Syrian rebels and their Kurdish allies claimed they worked closely with the US planners to help set up the coordinates for the laser guided bombs.

Idris Nassan, 40, a senior spokesman for the Kurdish fighters told the Telegraph: “There is close co-ordination. We have a member of YPG who works directly with the Americans.”

Officially, the US government has shied away from directly admitting coordinating its attacks through the YPG, whose affiliate, the PKK, is on America’s terrorist list.

But John Allen, the US special envoy in charge of building the international coalition against Islamic State, admitted that Washington was open to receiving information on targets from all sources.

“Obviously, information comes in from all different sources associated with providing local information or potentially targeting information.

“And we’ll take it all when it comes in. It’s ultimately evaluated for its value,” Allen told reporters in Washington.

One fighter who asked not to be named recalled a battle on the eastern front of Kobane where his men were about to be forced into a retreat: “We called a Kurdish commander for help. He told us to move back a few meters. Then, minutes after, an air strike hit the men we had been fighting.”

The results have been increasingly effective. [Continue reading...]


Humiliation replaces fear for the women kidnapped by ISIS

The Guardian reports: They sold Amsha for $12. Other girls and women went for more, much more. But Amsha had a small son and was pregnant with her second child. She had already seen Islamic State (Isis) militants execute her husband in front of her. Now the terror of that crime and the fear of captivity was to be replaced by the indignity and humiliation of being traded like cattle.

“A 50-year-old man with a dark beard came to buy me,” she recalls. “From that day on, I didn’t want to live any more.”

Amsha is one of hundreds of Yazidi women from northern Iraq captured during Islamic State’s rapid advance this year. Interviews with women who escaped reveal that Isis corralled the women into halls and other detention centres and gradually sold them off to fighters as the spoils of war.

Isis said in an online article that it was reviving an ancient custom of enslaving enemies and forcing the women to become wives of victorious fighters.

“One should remember that enslaving the families of the [non-believers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the sharia, that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narrations of the prophet,” the article said, adding that mothers were not separated from their young children. [Continue reading...]


Denmark tries a progressive approach to fighters returning from Syria

The Washington Post reports: The rush of morning shoppers parted to make way for Talha, a lanky 21-year-old in desert camouflage and a long, religious beard. He strode through the local mall with a fighter’s gait picked up on the battlefields of Syria. Streams of young Muslim men greeted him like a returning king.

As-salamu alaykum.

Wa alaikum assalaam.

In other countries, Talha — one of hundreds of young jihadists from the West who has fought in Syria and Iraq — might be barred from return or thrown in jail. But in Denmark, a country that has spawned more foreign fighters per capita than almost anywhere else, the port city of Aarhus is taking a novel approach by rolling out a welcome mat.

In Denmark, not one returned fighter has been locked up. Instead, taking the view that discrimination at home is as criminal as Islamic State recruiting, officials here are providing free psychological counseling while finding returnees jobs and spots in schools and universities. Officials credit a new effort to reach out to a radical mosque with stanching the flow of recruits.

Some progressives say Aarhus should become a model for other communities in the United States and Europe that are trying to cope with the question of what to do when the jihad generation comes back to town. [Continue reading...]


President Rivlin: Time to admit that Israel is a sick society that needs treatment

The Jerusalem Post reports: The time has come to admit that Israel is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment, President Reuven Rivlin said at the opening session on Sunday of a conference on From Hatred of the Stranger to Acceptance of the Other.

Both Rivlin and Prof. Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, which organized the conference at its premises on the capital’s Jabotinsky Street, spoke of the painful and bloody summer, and the resultant resurgence of animosity between Arabs and Jews that had escalated to new heights.

Referring to the mutual expressions of hatred and incitement, Arnon said that Jews, who in the Diaspora had been exposed to anti-Semitism and persecution, should be more sensitive to the dangers of incitement. “But are we?” she asked.

Rivlin wondered aloud whether Jews and Arabs had abandoned the secret of dialogue.

With regard to Jews he said: “I’m not asking if they’ve forgotten how to be Jews, but if they’ve forgotten how to be decent human beings. Have they forgotten how to converse?” [Continue reading...]


At birthplace of the Arab Spring, discontent opens a door to the past

The New York Times reports: Chaima Issa, a poet and the daughter of a former political prisoner, is determined to keep Tunisia’s revolution alive.

She is running as a candidate for a small democratic party in parliamentary elections next weekend in one of the most populous constituencies of the capital. A 34-year-old who wears purple-frame glasses, a tight white T-shirt and jeans, she is an outsider but a passionate one as she crisscrosses the old quarter of Tunis reaching out to voters.

Almost four years after a popular uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and set off the Arab Spring in 2011, Tunisians are grappling with price increases, unemployment and rising terrorism — and roundly blame their politicians for the mess. The frustration is such that people often say they wish for a return of the Ben Ali era.

Tunisia has been torn by ideological divisions between Islamists who won the first elections after the revolution in 2011 and secularists who led a protest movement against the Islamist government last year after the assassination of two members of Parliament. Now riding on the wave of discontent, former officials from the Ben Ali government, who are free to run for office for the first time since the uprising, are attempting a comeback.

It is a prospect that incenses Ms. Issa.

“It is horrible, shameful,” she said. “They are profiting from our revolution; they are picking our flowers. It is they who spilled our blood.”

In the capital’s old city recently, Ms. Issa found voters in an angry mood and vowing not to vote at all for the politicians, whom they clearly distrust. “All they want is a position, and then they never let go!” shouted one market worker striding past a group of workers from Ms. Issa’s National Democratic Alliance party who were wearing white party T-shirts and handing out leaflets and waving flags. “Long live Ben Ali!” shouted a vendor when he saw her party flags. [Continue reading...]


Iran vows to aid Lebanese military

The Associated Press reports: Iran said Sunday it is ready to provide aid to the Lebanese army as well as the Shiite Hezbollah group to help combat “terrorists.”

The promise of aid comes after Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia pledged billions of dollars to Lebanon’s armed forces, and will be seen by many Lebanese as part of a competition for influence over the tiny country, which is gripped by sectarian tensions and bitterly divided over the Syrian civil war.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was quoted by state TV as saying that “supporting the Lebanese nation, army and resistance will still remain on Iran’s agenda.” Hezbollah’s allies refer to it as the “resistance” because of its stated mission of driving Israel out of occupied territory.