Afghans and U.S. Plan to Recruit Local Militias

Published: December 23, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taking a page from the successful experiment in Iraq, American commanders and Afghan leaders are preparing to arm local militias to help in the fight against a resurgent Taliban. But along with hope, the move is raising fears here that the new armed groups could push the country into a deeper bloodletting.

The militias will be deployed to help American and Afghan security forces, which are stretched far and wide across this mountainous country. The first of the local defense forces are scheduled to begin operating early next year in Wardak Province, an area just outside the capital where the Taliban have overrun most government authority.

If the experiment proves successful, similar militias will be set up rapidly across the country, senior American and Afghan officials said.


Struggle for Kabul: The Taliban Advance

SOURCE: The International Council on Security and Development

The Taliban now holds a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan, up from 54% a year ago. Taliban forces have advanced from their southern heartlands, where they are now the de facto governing power in a number of towns and villages, to Afghanistan’s western and north-western provinces, as well as provinces north of Kabul. Within a year, the Taliban’s permanent presence in the country has increased by a startling 18%.

Three out of the four main highways into Kabul are now compromised by Taliban activity. The capital city has plummeted to minimum levels of control, with the Taliban and other criminal elements infiltrating the city at will.

Through its research platform in Afghanistan, ICOS determined the Taliban’s presence across the country using a combination of publicly recorded attacks and local perceptions of Taliban presence. One or more insurgent attacks per week in a province constitutes a “permanent Taliban presence” according to ICOS (see full methodology).

A Love of Hot Chocolate

No matter where we come from, Americans have a love of hot chocolate. Particularly this time of year. It could have something to do with Christmas–or as people so blithely call it nowadays, “the holidays”.

I live in New York City, one of the world’s intersections of cultures, customs, and countries. At the office where I work, there are roughly 28 languages spoken, a dozen countries represented, and about 5 religions observed. The religions include Muslim, Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Falun Gong, Protestant, and even some new age beliefs. There is one self-proclaimed atheist who says he believes in nothing but himself. It is a microcosm of New York City, so many people believing–or not believing–so many things. And trying to live together as peacefully as possible. For New Yorkers, what passes for peaceful might be considered rude anywhere else in the country. But all things considered, we get along quite well.

So when it comes time for Christmas, arguably the biggest holiday of the year in America, why the aversion to saying Merry Christmas? Instead, we get stuck with a friendly but dispassionate, “Happy Holidays”. What holidays? Muslims celebrate Eid a month before Christmas. Jews have important holidays months away from December. Falun Gong practitioners recognize a day of religious significance on May 13. So who are we wishing what?

During this Christmas season, I have said “Merry Christmas” to people whom I know for a fact are Catholic or Christian. Why, then, do they hesitate or refuse to say it back?

Maybe we should think about what we have in common this time of year, instead of what makes us different. Like hot chocolate, warm and familiar and part of the American cultural fabric, most Americans have Christmas memories and wishes.

One cup of hot chocolate, rich and caloric as it is, won’t ruin our girlish figures. One “Merry Christmas” won’t be offensive to whomever we say it to. Maybe it would be a warming, familiar tiding of goodwill that–for most Americans–would remind us of our traditions of generosity, selflessness, cheer, and love of fellow man.

Even if it is only for one month of the year, a little Christmas cheer goes a long way.

Fears and Dreams of the Middle East

by Genevieve Long

Last year I was planning to go and visit a very dear friend who lives in Islamabad, Pakistan. I have not seen her in years and long to sit at the same table again with this friend, and tell each other the many stories we have gathered in the time we have been apart. Friendship travels across time and distance and can sometimes shine on our shortcomings and bring them to light. Sometimes it can inspire us to things we never imagined. This particular friendship has brought all of this to me, and more. It always has.

I never made it to Pakistan last year.  I grew afraid of what I did not know about the country, it’s people and history, the language and customs. Most of all I grew afraid of becoming a victim of violence of some kind. It takes a strong mind in the America of today to resist the tide of sentiment and misunderstandings about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. It takes wanting to know more than wanting to be afraid. It takes a willingness to listen and understand, even if the end result is disagreeing.

As a journalist, part of my motivation in going to Pakistan was to report on the news happening there. Only months earlier I had reported on the reponse of the Pakistani community in New York and U.S. lawyers who were protesting the crippling of the Pakistani judiciary, the loss of civil freedoms, the silencing of the press. I was fascinated by the acerbic wit that the Pakistani community in New York was using to assess the situation. They seemed eager to talk amongst themselves, but unmotivated to reach out to the western world and help them understand. They were on the streets, protesting in front of the U.N. and at Columbia University having sharp debates. Yet it seemed that few Americans were listening closely enough to truly understand what was being said.

I regretted not going to Pakistan, instead reporting on a much less daunting story in Central America. But that regret has come in handy ever since. I started to read about and study not only Pakistan’s political history–but Iraq and Afghanistan’s as well. I started to ask questions of journalists who have lived and worked in those areas. I started to question my assumptions. The answer, at the bottom of all my fear, is that I still hope to go to Pakistan. But after learning more, I also hope to go to Afghanistan, and maybe even Iraq.

When I interviewed several veteran foreign correspondents recently for an article about the challenges of reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was humbled by the sheer audacity with which they do their jobs. Yet they see it all as stories that must be, need to be, told.

Those who criticize the media for getting the story wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, or for not covering the war up close enough, should take a good hard look at what they don’t know. And then they should turn to the work of the brave journalists who are reporting the stories there and give thanks.

The Truth in Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s Shoes

by Genevieve Long

When Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi hurled his shoes and insults at U.S. President George Bush recently, it sent a shockwave around the world. In the U.S., we watch the video of our lame-duck president dodging size 10 Iraqi shoes and laughed. Maybe in embarassment, satisfaction, or even disgust at the havoc Bush’s administration has so obviously wrought in Iraq.

Iraq is home to what veteran war journalist Jon Lee Anderson calls a “new generation” of hard-working, dedicated Iraqi journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 136 journalists have been killed working in Iraq since the war started in 2003. The large majority–114–were Iraqi. Al-Zeidi himself was kidnapped by militants last year for 2 days, but continued to work.

It is a falsity that journalists need sympathize with or not detest military forces and their governments in order to report on a war. Al-Zeidi stepped out of his observer role of journalist, yes, but it is also a falsity that the standards news organizations hold their journalists to are universal. In al-Zeidi’s case, his Cairo-based employer has supported him and called for his release since after he was taken into custody.

Not only has his employer supported him, but so have the hundreds of Arabs who are marching in the streets in Iraq to call for his release. What’s more, they are sending the message that they, too, have strong feelings of resentment toward Bush and his administration for the damage that has been wrought on their country and people in the last five and half years of war.

The Iraqi people have undergone tremendous suffering in the past few years, and it can’t be denied that the U.S. government is largely responsible for this. In fact, the shoe-hurling incident gave Bush a chance to see, extremly close-up, how frustrated and bitter some Iraqis have become toward the U.S. It could have been a chance to apologize. Instead, he dodged both shoes and any responsibility for the pain the war has caused.

Maybe the western world should stop and ask themselves what they would have done if they were in Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s shoes.

Scryve Set to “Become the Zagat of the Environmental and Social World”


Scryve is a green ranking for companies so that you can quickly and easily see how businesses rank in greenness, and compare companies to make more environmentally conscience purchasing decisions without having to spend hours looking up company info and doing your own analysis.

As the creators say, they’re set to be the Zagat of greenness.

Basically, you can search their site or download a widget you can install so that a ranking pops up on the website you’re visiting. Read on for more about how their ranking works, how you can utilize their database, and how you can get them $40k to expand green rankings.

How Scryve Works
Scryve’s ranking is based on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the most green. Based on a company’s environmental and social records, they’re given a number. A user will see the ranking number, and can read more details about why the company earned, say, a 5. Readers are given a “big picture narrative” rather than intricate details about the company’s history, making at-a-glance reference easier.

Scryve Generalizes the Details for Quick Reference
If you’re searching for highly personalized info about the company, this isn’t the tool for you. It’s really more for quick reference and comparison. The information provided in each area that is used for ranking is boilerplate. You’ll get the same write up for the same ranking in certain areas – basically telling you the gist of what they’re doing in that area that earned them their number. They don’t go into detail about specific actions or policies for each company – which is perfectly understandable considering they already have thousands of rankings and are working on ever expanding their database. It’d take countless hours to keep on top of highly personalized info for each company in the database.


Consumer Groups Call on Obama Administration to Take Action on Food Safety During First 100 Days


IOM Recommendation to Move Meat and Poultry to FDA Questioned

WASHINGTON—The Institute of Medicine today stated that the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety system remains ill-equipped to meet emerging challenges, and the legal authority underlying all government inspection programs should be updated to emphasize prevention of foodborne illness. The IOM further suggested there would be benefits to creating a new focused food safety entity within the Department of Health and Human Services rather than continuing at FDA. Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public Interest endorsed that action and today are urging President-Elect Barack Obama to act quickly to advance it.

The groups are puzzled, though, that the IOM recommended moving well-functioning U.S. Department of Agriculture programs into the dysfunctional FDA. While consumer groups and numerous members of Congress have supported consolidating all food safety functions in a single independent agency, moving meat and poultry inspection to FDA would undermine the strengths of meat and poultry inspection and overwhelm the food safety apparatus in HHS.

It is also true that Congress has consistently refused to consider moving the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s inspection programs to HHS. That recommendation from the IOM is dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, and it should be, according to CSPI and CFA.

Instead, the groups urged the Obama Administration to take immediate steps to re-invigorate the federal food safety effort, reduce the risk, and restore consumer confidence in the ability of the government to assure the safety of the food supply.

The groups said that the President, within the first 100 days in office, should:

  • Issue an executive order re-establishing the White House Food Safety Council to provide him an overall view of food safety needs, and direct the council to manage strategic coordination of all food safety efforts and create a long-term budget plan for food safety agencies.
  • Direct the Food Safety Council to work with Congress to establish a commission made up of government officials, industry and consumer leaders, and food safety experts to develop a proposal to bring together the various federal food safety efforts into a single agency charged with protecting the public from food-related illnesses.
  • Instruct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to combine under a single HHS official, program and budget responsibility for all HHS food safety activities. The official should be directly accountable to the Secretary and responsible for leading food safety activities at FDA, including setting preventive safety standards for all FDA-regulated foods and assuring FDA inspection activities are carried out effectively. The secretary should also direct this official to lead the effort to establish a Food Safety Administration within HHS, consisting of the food-related activities now undertaken by the FDA operating under a modernized food safety statute.

“These steps will go a long way toward putting our food safety regulatory system back on track,” said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “This is an opportunity for the new administration to greatly improve the safety of America’s food supply.”

“The safety of America’s food supply has suffered from malign neglect under the Bush Administration,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Comprehensive food safety reform is the kind of change we need. The status quo, after all, is killing about 5,000 and sickening tens of million Americans a year.”

“The President cannot alone fix the organizational problems that make Americans uncertain about the safety of our food but, by acting quickly to do what he can, he will help restore confidence that government is working to address the problems,” added Carol Tucker-Foreman, distinguished fellow at CFA.