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Taliban leader Mullah Muhammed Omar is dead. According to Afghanistan, he died two years ago in a Pakistani hospital.
As the supreme religious figure in Afghanistan, he commanded allegiance from all Taliban and foreign fighters, including Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda.
He had not been seen in public since 2001 and it was long rumored he was dead.
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It will be a banner year for poppy growers in Afghanistan, largely due to a new kind of seed.
The new poppy seeds allow farmers to almost double the output from each plant, said Helmand's provincial police chief Nabi Jan Malakhail. At harvest, collectors cut the bulb of the plant, allowing the raw opium to ooze out. This resin dries and is collected the following day.
Malakhail said the new seeds grow bulbs that are bigger than usual and can be scored twice within a few days, thus doubling the quantity of raw opium. The plants mature in three to four months, rather than the five months of the previous seed variety, allowing farmers to crop three times a year instead of just twice.
Drug officials blame the Taliban. Farmers blame the Afghan government which doesn't provide irrigation and power, both of which would allow them to grow other crops. [More...]
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The Taliban released this video of the transfer of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to U.S. forces.
The full video is 11 minutes long, with the message "Don[sic] Come Back to Afghanistan." The New York Times has more here.
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A US airstrike in Afghanistan yesterday targeting a Taliban leader killed 11 children. Also yesterday, 6 Americans including a young female diplomat were killed in a suicide bombing:
The battle unfolded on Saturday, the same day that a total of six Americans, including three U.S. soldiers, died in violent attacks. In addition to the U.S. adviser killed during the operation in the east, two others — a female foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department and an employee with the U.S. Defense Department — died in a suicide bombing in southern Zabul province during a trip to donate books to Afghan students.
The war is in its 12th year, and this was one of the most violent weeks to date.
There are about 100,000 international troops currently in Afghanistan, including 66,000 from the United States. The U.S. troop total is scheduled to drop to about 32,000 by early next year.
More on the Americans killed here.
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17 of Romney’s 24 special advisors on foreign policy served in the Bush-Cheney Administration.
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The United States officially handed over control of Bagram Prison in Afghanistan today.
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The United States government during the Bush administration tortured opponents of Muammar Gaddafi, then transferred them to mistreatment in Libya, according to accounts by former detainees and recently uncovered CIA and UK Secret Service documents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. One former detainee alleged he was waterboarded and another described a similar form of water torture, contradicting claims by Bush administration officials that only three men in US custody had been waterboarded.
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The LA Times has photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan posing with body parts of dead Afghans.
The troops were with the 82nd Airborne Division. In one instance, their mission on the first such occasion was simply to :
Check out reports that Afghan police had recovered the mangled remains of an insurgent suicide bomber. Try to get iris scans and fingerprints for identification.
They did the same while investigating another suicide bombing a few months later. The photos were given to the Times by a soldier in the division. A criminal investigation has been launched:
It is a violation of Army standards to pose with corpses for photographs outside of officially sanctioned purposes," said George Wright, an Army spokesman. "Such actions fall short of what we expect of our uniformed service members in deployed areas."
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Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was $1 million in debt and has no memory of the killings. He and his wife had just listed their home for $50k less than they paid. He was on his fourth deployment.
How could his superiors not notice something askew? Was he evaluated or taking medication for depression? Taking the wrong combo of meds? He was recently passed over for promotion -- surely his record contains some concerns.
His background does not match the rosy description portrayed by those he grew up with: [More...]
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The U.S. military has dismissed a murder charge against Army Specialist Michael Wagnon, the remaining member of the 5th Stryker Brigade charged with pre-meditated murder in the 2010 "Thrill Kill" spree of killings and corpse mutilation of unarmed Afghan civilians.
The dismissal of the case against Wagnon, 31, brought to an abrupt end the Army's prosecution of the most egregious atrocities that U.S. military personnel have been convicted of committing during a decade of war in Afghanistan.
Five members of the infantry unit formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade were charged with killing Afghan civilians in cold blood in random attacks staged to look like legitimate combat engagements. Seven other GIs were charged with lesser offenses in a case that began as an investigation into rampant hashish abuse within the unit.
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The Taliban carried out a suicide bombing attack on coalition forces in Kabul today, killing 13 Americans.
The Taliban said the bomber, Abdul Rahman, was driving a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV containing 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of explosives and targeting foreigners providing training for Afghan police.
...It was the deadliest single attack against the U.S.-led coalition across the country since the Taliban shot down a NATO helicopter on Aug. 6 in an eastern Afghan province, killing 30 U.S. troops, most elite Navy SEALs, and eight Afghans.
According to a U.N. report last month, "violence against civilians had risen to its highest levels of the decade-long war."
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PFC Andrew Holmes, a member of the "Kill Team" of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan that killed villagers for sport, was sentenced today to 7 years in prison for killing an unarmed 15 year old.
Five members of the former 5th Stryker Brigade have faced murder charges in connection with what military prosecutors say were staged attacks on Afghan villagers. In the attacks, prosecutors say, U.S. soldiers fired volleys of guns and grenades at innocent people and then planted weapons to make it look as though the victims had shot first.
Holmes is the 9th soldier convicted. Charges remain pending against two or three others. [More...]
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The Taliban spent the past 5 months building a 1,060 foot underground tunnel that led directly into Sarposa Prison in Khandahar and broke out 575 inmates, including about 100 Taliban commanders.
Their tunnel operation was not discovered. They were able to bypass checkpoints and main roads. When asked how the Taliban were able to build the tunnel and effect the breakout, Gov. Tooryalai Wesa said only, "It's under investigation."
This is one of the prisons at which the U.S. has been providing training and funding to strengthen the Afghan secuirty guards.
The facility has undergone security upgrades and tightened procedures following a brazen 2008 Taliban attack that freed 900 prisoners. Afghan government officials and their NATO backers have regularly said that the prison has vastly improved security since that attack.
All the prisoners had left through the tunnel, taking 4.5 hours to do so, before anyone knew they were gone.
Guess they are still not ready for prime-time. How much more will it cost us to stay longer and re-train them?
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There are 20,000 Marines in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Apparently, that's not enough as the U.S. is about to send another 1,000.
Overall, there are 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. What about the Pentagon budget cuts announced today?
Cutting up to 47,000 troops from the Army and Marine Corps forces — roughly 6 percent — would be made easier by the withdrawal under way from Iraq, and the reductions would not begin until 2015, just as Afghan forces are to take over the security mission there.
One way the Pentagon plans to recoup some money: charging vets more for health insurance:
To make ends meet, Mr. Gates also announced that he would seek to recoup billions of dollars by increasing fees paid by retired veterans under 65 for Defense Department health insurance, even though Congress has rejected such proposals in the past.
And what won't be affected by the cuts:
The president’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which is due by mid-February, would freeze discretionary spending, but that would not apply to military, veterans and Homeland Security programs.
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