U.S. military special forces pictured aiding Kurdish fighters in Syria

The Guardian reports: Elite US military forces have been photographed for the first time in Syria as they join largely Kurdish forces on an advance toward, Raqqa, the Islamic State terror group’s capital.

A photographer with Agence France-Presse captured US special operations forces with Kurdish forces known as the YPG, part of the US-mentored Syrian Democratic Forces, in a rural village less than 40 miles from Raqqa. Some US troops wear the insignia of the YPG in an apparent show of support.

Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, resisted commenting on the photographs and would only describe the US special operations forces’ mission in generic terms.

“Our special operations forces in the past have, yes, worn insignias and other identifying marks with their partner forces,” Cook told reporters on Thursday. [Continue reading…]

BBC News reports: Turkey has hit out at the US over images said to show US special forces in Syria wearing insignia of Kurdish militia, during joint operations against so-called Islamic State (IS).

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the US “two-faced” and said the practice was “unacceptable”.

The images appear to show a US special forces soldier wearing the patch of the YPJ – a Kurdish militia group.

A Pentagon spokesman said troops often blended in with partners for safety. [Continue reading…]

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As Iraqi offensive unfolds, civilians trapped in Fallujah face multiple threats

The Washington Post reports: Civilians trapped in the Iraqi city of Fallujah face mounting threats as humanitarian conditions worsen and Iraqi forces­ press their offensive to oust the Islamic State, local and foreign officials said Thursday.

About 50,000 civilians are believed to remain in the city, which has been under Islamic State control since January 2014, living under the militants’ harsh and capricious rule. Conditions for residents have grown dire in recent months as a siege by government-aligned forces has aggravated shortages of food and medicine.

Now, officials from Fallujah fear that the ongoing operation designed to break the militants’ grip on the city will further endanger civilians. In recent days, a combined force of Iraqi army troops, police, Shiite militiamen and Sunni tribal fighters has made progress in clearing militants from areas around Fallujah, in preparation for a push into the city in western Anbar province. [Continue reading…]

Becky Bakr Abdulla, from the Norwegian Refugee Council, describes the impact on civilians: The first thing that struck me was the silence. On Tuesday, as I entered Al Iraq, a displacement camp in Amiriyat Al-Fallujah and the nearest to the besieged city of Fallujah, no one was outside their tents. As fighting raged just 30km away between armed opposition groups and the Iraqi military, it was strangely quiet.

The camp shelters some of the few families who have managed to escape the fighting in the city that has been under armed opposition groups control for the last two years. On Monday, as the Iraqi military began an offensive in the city, the atmosphere in our office in Baghdad became particularly tense, as the already dire humanitarian situation became critical. Staff shared the latest scraps of news. Some became particularly anxious about their friends and family among the estimated 50,000 civilians still trapped in the city.

The families I met were in a state of shock and spoke about the ordeal of their escape. They were among the 21 families in Al Iraq camp, out of approximately 114 who we believe have escaped the city so far. One woman, whose family was told by armed opposition groups that they would be shot if they tried to flee, waited until night-time to make a move. They removed their shoes and sandals so they were not heard as they started running. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. reports first case of bacteria resistant to antibiotic of last resort

The Washington Post reports: For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could mean “the end of the road” for antibiotics.

The antibiotic-resistant strain was found last month in the urine of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. Defense Department researchers determined that she carried a strain of E. coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin, according to a study published Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. The authors wrote that the discovery “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”

Colistin is the antibiotic of last resort for particularly dangerous types of superbugs, including a family of bacteria known as CRE, which health officials have dubbed “nightmare bacteria.” In some instances, these superbugs kill up to 50 percent of patients who become infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called CRE among the country’s most urgent public health threats.

Health officials said the case in Pennsylvania, by itself, is not cause for panic. The strain found in the woman is still treatable with other antibiotics. But researchers worry that its colistin-resistance gene, known as mcr-1, could spread to other bacteria that can already evade other antibiotics. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Nearly one-third of Americans prescribed antibiotics during doctor’s office visits probably should not have received the drugs, were not given a long enough course or did not get the right dose, according to new research.

The new study into how doctors prescribe antibiotics to Americans in outpatient settings comes as rates of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections are on the rise. Up to 23,000 Americans die and 2 million more become sick due to antibiotic resistant bacteria each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and scientists have found rates of such infections on the rise.

“This study shows that there certainly is a lot more work to be done,” said Dr Katherine E Fleming-Dutra, a CDC researcher and lead author on the study. “It is so critical to preserve antibiotics for the future, to make sure they work.”

The study of 184,032 visits, titled Prevalence of Antibiotic Prescriptions Among US Ambulatory Care Visits, 2010-2011 and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, comes as a White House panel of experts convened to work on the issue push doctors to halve the prescribing of antibiotics in such settings by 2020. [Continue reading…]

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Unhappiness in white America

Carol Graham writes: Everyone is struggling to understand why so many whites — including many who are not suffering economically — are rallying to the angry words and fearful music of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Meanwhile, blacks and other minorities are sticking with the status-quo incrementalism of Hillary Clinton. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but there’s an explanation, one with far-reaching ramifications. A wide and growing optimism gap has opened between poor and middle-class whites and their counterparts of other races — and the former are the congenital pessimists.

My research finds deep divisions in our country – not just in terms of income and opportunity, but in terms of hopes and dreams. The highest costs of being poor in the U.S. are not in the form of material goods or basic services, as in developing countries, but in the form of unhappiness, stress, and lack of hope. What is most surprising, though, is that the most desperate groups are not minorities who have traditionally been discriminated against, but poor and near-poor whites. And of all racial groups in poverty, blacks are the most optimistic about their futures.

Based on a question in a Gallup survey asking respondents where they expected their life satisfaction to be in five years (on a 0-10 point scale), I find that among the poor, the group that scores the highest is poor blacks. The least optimistic group by far is poor whites. The average score of poor blacks is large enough to eliminate the difference in optimism about the future between being poor and being middle class (e.g. removing the large negative effect of poverty), and they are almost three times more likely to be higher up on the optimism scale than are poor whites. Poor Hispanics are also more optimistic than poor whites, but the gaps between their scores are not as large as those between blacks and whites.

In terms of stress — a marker of ill-being — there are, again, large differences across races. Poor whites are the most stressed group and are 17.8 percent more likely to experience stress in the previous day than middle-class whites. In contrast, middle-class blacks are 49 percent less likely to experience stress than middle-class whites, and poor blacks are 52 percent less likely to experience stress than poor whites (e.g. their odds of experiencing stress are roughly half those of poor whites.

Why does this matter? Individuals with high levels of well-being have better outcomes; they believe in their futures and invest in them. In contrast, those without hope for their futures typically do not make such investments. Remarkably, the poor in the U.S. (on average) are less likely to believe that hard work will get them ahead than are the poor in Latin America. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump would allow Keystone XL pipeline and end Paris climate deal

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump pledged to cancel the Paris climate agreement, endorsed drilling off the Atlantic coast and said he would allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built in return for “a big piece of the profits” for the American people.

At an oil and natural gas conference in North Dakota on Thursday, just minutes after he had celebrated hitting the 1,237 delegate mark needed to formally clinch the party’s nomination, Trump gave a speech on energy policy that was largely shaped by advice from Kevin Cramer, a US representative from the state.

In a press conference before the event, Trump praised the advice of oil tycoon Harold Hamm. Hamm and Cramer then introduced him onstage.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club environmentalist group, was taken aback by Trump’s address.

“I have never heard more contradiction in one hour than I heard in the speech,” he told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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The void of the float tank stops time, strips ego and unleashes the mind

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M M Owen writes: The floatation tank was invented in 1954. Amid debates over whether consciousness was a purely reactive phenomenon or generated by resources of its own making in the mind, the neuroscientist John Lilly arrived at a novel way to examine the problem: isola te the mind from all sources of external stimulation, and see how it behaved. Serendipitously, Lilly’s place of work, the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, possessed a sealed, soundproof tank, built during the Second World War to facilitate Navy experiments on the metabolisms of deep-sea divers. The first floatation tank was born. It resembled a large upright coffin, in which the floater was suspended in water, head engulfed in a rubber breathing mask. Despite this grim setup, during his floats Lilly perceived that the mind was far from merely reactive, and that ‘many, many states of consciousness’ emerged from total isolation. He was hooked.

Lilly was the sort of scientist it’s hard to imagine rising to prominence today. Alongside inventing the first floatation tank, he was an evangelist of psychedelics fascinated by human-dolphin communication and convinced that a council of invisible cosmic entities governed reality. Despite a mixed reputation among his scientific peers, Lilly’s almost single-handed promotion of floating in the 1960s caused it to catch on. In 1972, the computer programmer Glenn Perry attended one of Lilly’s floating workshops, and was so taken with the tank experience that, over the following year, he designed the first inexpensive tanks for home use. To this day, his so-called ‘Samadhi’ tanks (after the ultimate stage in meditation) remain among the most popular, with retail prices starting at around $11,000.

Cultural notables such as the polymath Gregory Bateson and the self-help guru Werner Erhard visited Lilly’s Malibu home and tried out his tank. Word spread. In 1979, Perry opened the first commercial float centre in Beverly Hills.[Continue reading…]

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Music: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — ‘Nothing Without You’

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Reading Edward Said in a warming world

Naomi Klein writes: Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.​ In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor. The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated. Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil? The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet. Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics. This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification. A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century. And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth. Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos. And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads. It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region. In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again. A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations. A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands. Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that. Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’ As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too. In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. [Continue reading…]

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The citizen soldier

Phil Klay writes: I can’t say that I joined the military because of 9/11. Not exactly. By the time I got around to it the main U.S. military effort had shifted to Iraq, a war I’d supported though one which I never associated with al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden. But without 9/11, we might not have been at war there, and if we hadn’t been at war, I wouldn’t have joined.

It was a strange time to make the decision, or at least, it seemed strange to many of my classmates and professors. I raised my hand and swore my oath of office on May 11, 2005. It was a year and a half after Saddam Hussein’s capture. The weapons of mass destruction had not been found. The insurgency was growing. It wasn’t just the wisdom of the invasion that was in doubt, but also the competence of the policymakers. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had been proven wrong about almost every major post-invasion decision, from troop levels to post-war reconstruction funds. Anybody paying close attention could tell that Iraq was spiraling into chaos, and the once jubilant public mood about our involvement in the war, with over 70 percent of Americans in 2003 nodding along in approval, was souring. But the potential for failure, and the horrific cost in terms of human lives that failure would entail, only underscored for me why I should do my part. This was my grand cause, my test of citizenship.

The highly professional all-volunteer force I joined, though, wouldn’t have fit with the Founding Fathers’ conception of citizen-soldiers. They distrusted standing armies: Alexander Hamilton thought Congress should vote every two years “upon the propriety of keeping a military force on foot”; James Madison claimed “armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people”; and Thomas Jefferson suggested the Greeks and Romans were wise “to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army.”

They wanted to rely on “the people,” not on professionals. According to the historian Thomas Flexner, at the outset of the Revolutionary War George Washington had grounded his military thinking on the notion that “his virtuous citizen-soldiers would prove in combat superior, or at least equal, to the hireling invaders.” This was an understandably attractive belief for a group of rebellious colonists with little military experience. The historian David McCullough tells us that the average American Continental soldier viewed the British troops as “hardened, battle-scarred veterans, the sweepings of the London and Liverpool slums, debtors, drunks, common criminals and the like, who had been bullied and beaten into mindless obedience.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s people: Among the fans in Florida, New Hampshire, and Iowa

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Paul Wood writes: Trump’s supporters believe that he is the only one “out there telling the real story” about the Islamic State, as a Florida man named Richard Sherman told me. He was retired, in his sixties, wearing white shorts and a white cutoff T-shirt that called for jihadists to be fed to pigs. “I designed it myself,” he said. “Every time we kill a jihadist, we should chop him up on the White House lawn, on worldwide television, and have pigs eat him. They like to chop off heads. You have to treat terror with terror. That’s the only thing they understand. The Koran tells them to kill Jews, kill Christians, to die in the process, and they will get seventy-two virgins. Okay, we can say: ‘You’re going to be eaten and excreted by pigs. Do you want that?’ If you can get the seventy-two virgins after that, God bless you.”

Of the race for the Republican nomination, he said, “We’re tired of the people who say they’re against Obama and then they do everything Obama wants. The Muslims are slaughtering us — in San Bernardino, in Boston, in Chattanooga. They’re coming to this country and slaughtering us. The immigration people are not keeping them out. All you’re finding is dead Americans all over America. We want somebody who’s going to stop that.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s plan to renegotiate the climate deal would require the agreement of 195 countries

Reuters reports: Donald Trump would be “highly unlikely” to be able to renegotiate the global accord on climate change if elected U.S. president, the U.N.’s climate chief said on Wednesday, as doing so would require the agreement of 195 countries.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, told Reuters earlier this month he was “not a big fan” of the climate accord and would seek to renegotiate elements of the deal.

“As we all know, Donald Trump relishes making very dramatic statements on many issues, so it is not surprising, but it is highly unlikely that that would be possible,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told journalists at the Carbon Expo event in Cologne.

The accord, struck in Paris last December, saw countries agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 with the aim of limiting the rise in the global average temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

“An agreement that has been adopted by 195 countries would require 195 countries to agree to any new negotiation,” she said.

She added the current U.S. administration was a strong supporter of the deal because it benefits the country. [Continue reading…]

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What will Netanyahu do with his expanded coalition?

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The wars of Vladimir Putin

Timothy Snyder writes: 1989, the year that the Polish war reporter Paweł Pieniążek was born, was understood by some in the West as an end to history. After the peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe, what alternative was there to liberal democracy? The rule of law had won the day. European integration would help the weaker states reform and support the sovereignty of all. Peter Pomerantsev, the son of Soviet dissidents who emigrated to Britain in 1978, could “return” to Russia to work as an artist. Karl Schlögel, a distinguished German historian of Russian émigrés, could go straight to the sources in Moscow.

But was the West coming to the East, or the East to the West? By 2014, a quarter-century after the revolutions of 1989, Russia proposed a coherent alternative: faked elections, institutionalized oligarchy, national populism, and European disintegration. When Ukrainians that year made a revolution in the name of Europe, Russian media proclaimed the “decadence” of the EU, and Russian forces invaded Ukraine in the name of a “Eurasian” alternative. [Continue reading…]

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‘Waiting for the world’: An interview with one of Aleppo’s last doctors

Christoph Reuter reports: For almost four years now, eastern Aleppo has been the target of bombing by the Syrian air force, with Russia joining the bombardment as of last September. The cease-fire announced in February only briefly changed the situation. Beginning in April, the Syrian army again increased its targeting of civilians.

The most tragic bombing occurred close to three weeks ago, when the regime’s warplanes fired rockets and destroyed the al-Quds hospital, which is supported by Doctors without Borders. More than 50 people died, including Muhammad Waseem Moaz, one of the last remaining pediatricians in the city.
Prior to the war, thousands of doctors worked in the city, which was once home to a million people. In the eastern part of Aleppo, only around 30 doctors remain today. Osama Abo El Ezz, a 30-year-old surgeon, is one of the few still holding out.

At the beginning of the telephone interview with SPIEGEL, the doctor said that our discussion might be repeatedly broken off if he had to perform an emergency operation or if jets approached the hospital.

SPIEGEL: Did the April 27 attack on the al-Quds hospital have an impact on you and your work?

Ezz: Absolutely, even if they aren’t bombing us, we still run to the cellar every time jets appear over the city. They are able to target much more precisely than they could before when they dropped their untargeted barrel bombs. They were savagely powerful, but they hit their target less often. Today they do hit their targets. And they obviously want to hit and kill the last doctors and nurses in eastern Aleppo. [Continue reading…]

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Is the killing of militant leaders counterproductive?

The Wall Street Journal reports: Killing leaders of Islamist militant groups, such as the Saturday strike on Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, has long been a signature strategy of the Obama administration—an alternative to massive troop deployments overseas.

But how effective are those “decapitations” in the long run? The verdict is far from clear and, to an extent, depends on the size and cohesion of the targeted group.

Both the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and the targeting of Mullah Mansour on a Pakistani road were major successes for U.S. intelligence and the Pentagon.

Al Qaeda’s central command, a relatively tight international terror network now led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been in decline since bin Laden’s death. It has been unable to fully recover from the blow or to mount major attacks against the West.

But the experience is less encouraging for wide-scale insurgencies such as the Afghan Taliban. While such decapitations can provide a short-term gain, they rarely change the course of the conflict — and frequently backfire if not accompanied by a much broader, resource-intensive involvement of a kind the White House has been loath to pursue.

Unlike al Qaeda, the Taliban enjoy support from a significant swath of the Afghan population. The group’s military advances in 2013-15 weren’t impeded by the fact that its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was secretly dead at the time, or by the assassinations of scores of commanders.

In announcing Mullah Mansour’s death, President Barack Obama said his killing “gives the people of Afghanistan and the region a chance at a different, better future.”

That optimistic assessment isn’t shared by many, in the region or in the U.S., who closely follow the Taliban.

“I don’t think it will weaken the Taliban, and it may strengthen them,” said Barnett Rubin, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on peace negotiations with the Taliban and who is now associate director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.

It is also far from certain that removing Mullah Mansour would make such peace talks — an avowed U.S. goal — any easier to resume.

The minister of aviation in the pre-2001 Taliban government, Mullah Mansour belonged to the original generation of Taliban leaders, was involved in the political outreach, and could influence field commanders. His successor named on Wednesday, Maulavi Haibatullah, is believed to represent a more uncompromising cast.

“After this killing, the Taliban will be more hard-line and the people who think that the war will solve all the problems will be more powerful. This is a blow to peace,” said Waheed Muzhda, a Kabul political analyst who served in the Taliban regime’s foreign ministry before 2001.

U.S. officials have argued that, with Mr. Mansour, there wasn’t any peace process to derail anyway.

“It’s not as if he was going to open negotiations and this is going to stop that effort. He was not,” said James Cunningham, a fellow at the Atlantic Council who served as U.S. ambassador in Kabul in 2012-14.

Social scientists who examined the effect of such decapitations on militant groups have found little empirical evidence that the killings advance U.S. goals. [Continue reading…]

Vanda Felbab-Brown writes: Commenting on the death of Mullah Mansour during his visit to Vietnam this week, President Obama said, “Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children.”

So runs the official line from the White House: Because Mullah Mansour became opposed to negotiations, removing him became necessary for new peace talks. Yet the notion that the United States can drone-strike its way through the leadership of the Afghan Taliban until it finds an acceptable interlocutor seems optimistic, at best.

The revelation, last July, of the 2013 death in Pakistan of the Afghan Taliban’s previous leader and founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, led to a competition for the succession that hurt the group’s willingness and capacity to negotiate. The Taliban’s subsequent military push has been its strongest in a decade, causing thousands of civilian casualties. In particular, suicide bombings by the Taliban’s most dangerous and violent faction, the Haqqani network, have struck at the heart of the nation’s capital.

Facing this onslaught, the whole country has been plunged into insecurity. The struggling Afghan National Security Forces have been hanging on, but the military momentum is on the Taliban’s side.

In quickly announcing on Wednesday that Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a deputy to Mullah Mansour, would be their new leader, the Taliban is trying to avoid the chaos that surrounded Mr. Omar’s succession and to keep their military momentum. It’s likely the violence will continue. [Continue reading…]

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