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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Afghanistan, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 40
1. Every Four Seconds

I was struck yesterday by a news item about a UN report that states that the number of refugees in the world is now at a twenty year high – with a person leaving their home to seek refuge and safety every four seconds. Every four seconds. That is the state of our world. Syria alone now accounts for 1.6 million refugees. And world wide 46 percent of refugees are under eighteen – essentially children by our own definition.

So last year approximately 2 million children left their homes, sometimes with parents, sometimes without, to find a safer place to live. Children born into war, prejudice and starvation. These two million joined the seven million who are already out there.

Contrary to the image portrayed by some sectors of the media the majority of these refugees are being supported and looked after by the developing world – 86 percent of all refugees are in the care of the developing world.

And a statistic that took me by surprise, one in four of all refugees is from Afghanistan – and has been for the past 32 years. For 32 years there has been a steady stream of people fleeing Afghanistan in search of safety. A country that the US has spent $636,000,000,000 being at war with (and this number increases every second – see Cost of War website for the figures)

Today is World Refugee Day – the UN has a page detailing how people can help refugees and you can find it here.  Small things can make a difference.

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2. Young Diplomat Killed While Bringing Books to Kids

Yesterday morning, Andrew Meyer, the operations manager for the First Book Marketplace, sent an email to the First Book staff sharing his thoughts about a young foreign service officer killed in Afghanistan while bringing books to children in need.

I was touched by Andrew’s email, and asked him if I could share it on the First Book blog.

Young Diplomat Killed Bringing New Books to Kids in Need

Anne Smedinghoff (Photo from washingtonpost.com)

Many of you probably heard that six Americans were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan this past Saturday. It seems that we have something in common with at least one of them: Anne Smedinghoff, a 25-year-old foreign service officer from Chicago. Anne was killed while delivering textbooks to children at a school.

Certainly we’re far from the chaos of Afghanistan, but I can’t help but feel a kinship with this young woman. I know as well as anyone that this business — this business of doing good — can be extremely challenging: long hours, increasing demand, lower salaries, uncertain funding sources, etc.

But never forget that we are all doing our part to increase knowledge and level the playing field. We are contributing to a movement that will have an impact centuries from now.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on life since my wife’s passing back in September and I know that when my time comes I hope to be comforted by the fact that I’ve done my part to make the world just a little bit better.

The post Young Diplomat Killed While Bringing Books to Kids appeared first on First Book Blog.

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3. Have conditions improved in Afghanistan since 2001?

CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen visited the Carnegie Council in New York City late last year to discuss Talibanistan, a collection he recently edited for Oxford University Press. Bergen, who produced the first television interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997, discussed the positive changes in Afghanistan over the past ten years: “Afghans have a sense that what is happening now is better than a lot of things they’ve lived through…”

Bergen was joined at the event by Anand Gopal, who wrote the first chapter in Talibanistan. Gopal recounts the story of Hajji Burget Khan, a leader in Kandahar who encouraged his fellow Afghans to support the Americans after the fall of the Taliban. But after US forces received bad intelligence, perceiving Hajji Burget Khan as a threat, he was killed in May 2002, which had a disastrous effect in the area, leading many to join the insurgency.

Peter Bergen on Afghanistan:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Anand Gopal on the tragic mistake made by the American military:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Peter Bergen is the director of the National Securities Studies Program at the New America Foundation, and is National Security Analyst at CNN. He is the author of Manhunt, The Longest War and The Osama Bin Laden I Know. Anand Gopal is a fellow at the New America Foundation and a journalist who has reported for the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and other outlets on Afghanistan. Talibanistan: Negotiating the Borders Between Terror, Politics, and Religion was edited by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann and includes contributions from Anand Gopal.

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The post Have conditions improved in Afghanistan since 2001? appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. 2013 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation Presented to Howard Curtis for In The Sea there are Crocodiles!

The Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation, awarded biennially since 1996, was founded to celebrate the best translation of a children’s book from a foreign language into English and published in the UK. It aims to spotlight the high quality and diversity of translated fiction for young readers. The Award is administered by the ESU on behalf of the Marsh Christian Trust.

The Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation seeks to address a situation in the UK in which less than 3% of work published for children and young people has been from the non-English speaking world. Sarah Ardizzone, who has twice won the award, describes the act of translation as ‘literary ventriloquism and the Marsh Award aims to emphasiz translation as an art.  The impact of the award has been reflected in the growing number of children’s books published in translation since it began.

On January 23, 2013 at a gala reception in London, UK, the 2013 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation was presented to Howard Curtis for In the Sea there are Crocodiles,In the Sea there are written by Fabio Geda and published in the UK by David Fickling

From the press release:

In the Sea there are Crocodiles is the harrowing story of a young boy traveling from his home in Afghanistan to Italy, in search of safety. Based on the experiences of Enaiatollah Akbari, his story is told with a sense of humour and adventure, and with great pace and tension. The judges described it as ‘a book of commendable literary quality, one that will nourish and inspire young people’.

Upon hearing the news that Curtis had won the award David Fickling, publisher, had this to say: “By every tweet, bulletin and news flash comes grim confirmation that there are indeed crocodiles in the sea, how wonderful then to hear the heart-warming news that Howard Curtis has won the Marsh Award for his brilliant translation of Fabio Geda’s amazing book, which shows indisputably that is is possible to swim safely in dangerous waters and reach our goal if we share the dogged determination, the sense of lightness and the pure human spirit of young Enaiatollah Akbari, oh, and if we listen carefully to our mothers too. This book is an inspiration, may the Marsh Award help carry it to every corner of the globe. It simply must be read.”

The 2013 shortlist – 5 books, 6 translators, 5 languages – demonstrates the high quality and diversity of translated fiction for young readers. The complete shortlist was:

Howard Curtis for In the Sea there are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda, translated from Italian,and published by David Fickling Books.

Fatima Sharafeddini for My Own Special Way by Mithaa Alkhayyat (retold by Vivian French), translated from Arabic and published in the UK by Orion Children’s Books.

Ros and Chloe Schwastz for The Little Prince by Antoine de St-Exupery, translated from French and published in the UK by The Collector’s Library.

Lucia Graves for The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafron, translated from Spanish and published in the UK by Orion Children’s Books.

Karin Chubb for Themba by Lutz van Dijk, translated from German and published in the UK by Aurora Metro Books.

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5. Will Obama address Afghanistan in his State of the Union address tonight?

President Obama is expected to announce at his State of the Union address tonight that 34,000 US troops — half the number currently stationed there — will return from Afghanistan next year. The war in Afghanistan has now continued for over ten years, since US forces entered the country after September 11th. The country, however, is still far from stable, and as Alex Strick van Linschoten, co-author of An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, explains, US involvement has become a crutch for a country still trying to find order. “It is a reality that the only thing holding the country together at the moment is essentially the presence of the foreigners, yet at the same time it’s one of the reasons for the continuing instabilities,” Strick van Linschoten says.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Alex Strick van Linschoten has lived in Afghanistan since 2006. With Felix Kuehn, he is the co-author of An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, co-editor of My Life with the Taliban, and The Poetry of the Taliban. He is currently working on a PhD at the War Studies Department of King’s College London. Follow him on Twitter @alexstrick.

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The post Will Obama address Afghanistan in his State of the Union address tonight? appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. Girls’ Day and Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan

Today is Girls’ Day in Japan and many girls will celebrating it with their families.  I have written a post about the holiday in the past for PT.  This year I’d like to draw your attention to girls in other parts of the world, namely in Canada and Afghanistan.  Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan is an organization started in 2007 by a Canadian girl named Alaina Podmorow in British Columbia.  After hearing a stirring talk by writer and activist  Sally Armstrong about the plight of women in Afghanistan, Alaina started to fundraise by hosting a silent auction which raised enough money to support four teachers’ salaries in Afghanistan.  She then contacted the organization Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and joined with them under the name she chose for her group and hence was Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan born!   Check out their website for more details.

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7. Quickcast – OSAMA BIN LADEN

What does Osama bin Laden really want from us? Listen to this podcast and find out.

Want more of The Oxford Comment? Subscribe and review this podcast on iTunes!
You can also look back at past episodes on the archive page.

Featured in this Episode:

Michael Scheuer was the chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999 and remained a counterterrorism analyst until 2004. He is the author of many books, including the bestselling Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism (recommended by bin Laden himself). His latest book is the biography Osama bin Laden which he recently discussed on The Colbert Report (and this podcast!).

* * * * *

The Ben Daniels Band

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8. Political violence and PRI

By Mark Kantor, Michael D. Nolan & Karl P. Sauvant

The conversation in the new and old media over the last several weeks has been dominated by reports about uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and violent clashes in Bahrain, Yemen, the Ivory Coast, Iraq and elsewhere. In Libya, fighting currently is reported to take place close to strategic oil installations. Because of the scarcity of claims arising out of similar events in investor-state arbitration, political risk insurance claims determinations by the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) can play an important role to develop this area of law and fill these gaps in future investor-state arbitral arbitrations.

OPIC has a long history of dealing with claims under political risk insurance policies arising from political violence. Its first political violence claims arose as a consequence of the rebuilding efforts by the Organization of American States following political strife in Dominican Republic in 1967.  Early claims included a 1968 claim arising out of war damage to an extension of Jerusalem airport.  Since then, OPIC has addressed political violence claims relating to projects in inter alia Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chile, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Philippines, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Gaza, Colombia and Afghanistan.  These claims concerned damages suffered as a consequence of declared war, violent secessions, military coups, civil war, or revolution.  The variety of the different situations encountered in OPIC claims determinations provides valuable insight into how political violence can and does affect foreign investments.

One key element that OPIC determinations have spent significant time addressing is attribution to establish who is responsible the underlying act of violence and for what purpose it was committed. Was violence committed by a group that was trying to overthrow the government, was it committed by a group that was under the control of a government? Or was the violence non-political in nature and as such not covered by the OPIC policy?

The OPIC claims determination with respect to the Freeport mining project in Indonesia is perhaps particularly on point for current events.  Freeport Indonesia was engaged in mining activities in the area then known as Irian Jaya (now West Papua), a province of Indonesia on the island of New Guinea The area in which Freeport Indonesia operated became part of Indonesia only after negotiations between the Netherlands and Indonesia.  A year after Irian Jaya was joined to Indonesia, various dissident groups, known as the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (“OPM”) formed for the purpose of asserting independence. 

In 1969, a first uprising took place, which did not damage Freeport Indonesia facilities.  In 1976, though, Freeport Indonesia received letters from OPM demanding assistance in a renewed insurrection expected in spring of 1977.  That uprising would reputedly be joined by a major invasion of nationalist forces from neighboring Papua New Guinea.  An uprising did occur in 1977, including in the area of Freeport Indonesia’s facilities.  Government of Indonesia armed forces were sent to quell the insurrection.  The military apparently used Freeport Indonesia facilities as a base of operations.  During the period from July 23, 1977 to September 7, 1977, Freeport Indonesia’s facilities suffered damage during acts of sabotage and attacks. Because the partisans shared a common purpose to assert independence, OPIC determined that the loosely affiliated OPM did constitute a revolutionary force despite its lack of a clear command structure. OPIC further applied a “preponderance” test, weighing the evidence available to OPIC to establish whether it was more likely than not that the harm done to Freeport’s facilities was the result of

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9. Greg Mortenson Accused of Fabricating Parts of His Memoir

A 60 Minutes report last night accused author Greg Mortenson (pictured, via) of fabricating parts of his bestselling memoirs and misusing funds from his charity, the Central Asia Institute (CAI).

The report examined three particular issues: (1) Did Mortenson first visit the village of Korphe after a mountain climbing trip as he wrote in his memoir, Three Cups of Tea? (2) Was Mortenson captured by the Taliban as he alleged in his follow-up Stones into Schools? (3) Is the CAI carrying out its charitable mission with the money it collects from philanthropists and donors? According to several sources who were interviewed, the answer is “no” to all three questions.

Former CAI donor Jon Krakauer called Mortenson’s first meeting with Korphe villages “a beautiful story” and “a lie.” Mansur Khan Mahsud denied that the Taliban kidnapped the author.  Mahsud appears in a photograph from the alleged kidnapping, but works as the research director of a respected Islamabad think tank.


New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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10. The battle for “progress”

By Gregory A. Daddis

David Ignatius of The Washington Post recently highlighted several “positive signs in Afghanistan,” citing progress on the diplomatic front, in relations between India and Pakistan, and on the battlefield itself. Of note, Ignatius stressed how U.S.-led coalition forces had cleared several Taliban strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.  The enemy, according to the opinion piece, was “feeling the pressure.” That same day Britain’s former ambassador to Afghanistan condemned General David Petraeus’s tactics as counterproductive and “profoundly wrong.” Denouncing an overemphasis on military action, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles noted that the use of body counts and similar statistics was reminiscent of the Vietnam War and “not conducive to a stable political settlement.”

The allusion to Vietnam, made frequently in the last five years, suggests uncertainty over the true amount of progress being made in Afghanistan today. For nearly a decade Americans in South Vietnam similarly tried in vain to assess progression towards the daunting political-military objective of a stable and independent noncommunist government in Saigon. Military officers and their civilian leaders employed a range of metrics to track success in the myriad political, military, economic, security, and social programs. As early as 1964, analysts were wading through approximately five hundred U.S. and Vietnamese monthly reports in an attempt to appraise the status of the conflict. In the process, the American mission in Vietnam became overwhelmed with data, much of it contradictory and, thus, of dubious value. By war’s end, questions remained over whether the U.S. Army in particular had achieved its goals in Southeast Asia. That debate continues to this day.

The American experience in Vietnam has served—rightfully so—as only an imperfect roadmap for our more current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In short, all wars are unique. Our recent conflicts, however, do illustrate the continuing challenges of defining progress and success in unconventional wars and of developing a coherent strategy for such wars. It is here that an objective study of Vietnam can offer insights and perspectives into the unresolved problems of measuring what matters most in an environment like Afghanistan. Quantitative statistics often do not tell the whole story as governmental allegiances, population security, and political stability all are highly subjective assessments. As in Vietnam, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have varied from province to province and any broad, centralized appraisals of the war likely miss the finer points of local conditions driving the political and military struggle.

Even in a war without front lines, Americans expect wartime progress to be linear. Effort should equal progress. Progress should lead to victory. The widely contrasting views of David Ignatius and Sherard Cowper-Coles, however, imply a battle is being waged over the very idea of “progress” in Afghanistan today. (Asking if the United States “won” in Iraq would provoke equally opposing responses.) If historical examples can be instructive in any way, the problem of metrics in Vietnam arguably helps illuminate the reasons why gauging wartime progress in Afghanistan has produced such a wide range of opinions. Assessing wars oftentimes is just as difficult as winning them.

Colonel Gregory A. Daddis is the author of No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War. Daddis teaches history at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. He has served in a variety of

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11. book review: Beyond Bullets

"Stunning photos reveal the Afghanistan we rarely see."

title: Beyond Bullets

author: Rafal Gerszak

date: Annick Press; August, 2011

middle grades non-fiction

Rafal Gerszak is an award winning photojournalist who decided to cover the Afghanistan War from two perspectives. He first spent 12 months embedded into an American patrol. What he witnessed during this time is recounted in the first half of Beyond Bullets. He brings readers to the warfront with his descriptive honesty. While he admits to not being a soldier, to not being prepared for the attacks perpetrated on the soldiers with whom he travels, he does assume their perspective in viewing situations encountering individuals who could be friend as easily as foe. He then switches his perspective to helps readers to understand the daily actions that are impacting life in this country, and that had affect it decades before under Russian attacks. From this image, he takes us to the civilian side of the story where people work, play, learn and celebrate while suicide bombers are quotidian events.


From the use of handwriting like font to the discussion of photographs in the text, the book takes on the feel of time spent with a gifted storyteller. Gerszak’s only agenda seems to be telling what it is like living in a country at war. It is neither political nor moral.

Just now, I wonder: What do the people of Afghanistan call this war? Gerszak does take a very American/Canadian/NATO perspective on this conflict, but if he didn’t his book probably would be beyond our comprehension.

Rafal Gerszak was forced with his family to flee their home during the Soviet era and live for some time in a West German refugee camp. After immigrating to Canada in 1990, he began to identify with socially displaced groups.


Related books:

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Naming Maya by Uma Krishnaswami

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

National Geographic Countries of the World: Afghanistan by Susan Whitfield

Review copy provided through NetGalley

Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: Afghanistan, non-fiction 3 Comments on book review: Beyond Bullets, last added: 10/22/2011
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12. “We are in this to win”

Outdated goals of war in the 21st century By Louis René Beres Even now, when the “fog of war” in Iraq and Afghanistan is likely at its thickest point, our leaders and military commanders still speak in starkly traditional terms. Such ordinary emphases on “victory” and “defeat” belie the profound and critically-nuanced transformations of war presently [...]

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13. Afghanistan Is Making Slick Computer Animated Films

Buz-e-Chini is being hailed in the news story above as being the first computer-animated short in Hazaragi, the language of the Hazara people, who are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The director, Abbas Ali, was born in Afghanistan, but fled the country when the Taliban took over and studied animation in Pakistan. The film appears to have been produced mostly in Pakistan since the production company is Karachi-based Post Amazers. Also, in the news piece above, the director indicates that he started production on the film while he was still living in Pakistan.

The entire film can be viewed below. It’s an impressive production based on a Hazara folk tale. The film is dedicated to Hussain Ali Yousafi, the voice of the wolf, who was assassinated in 2009. No one said making animated films in Afghanistan would be easy.

(Thanks, @PrinceofRazors)

Cartoon Brew | Permalink | No comment | Post tags: , ,

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14. The Operators

The OperatorsI have mixed emotions about publishing this blog the day after Australia’s worst single-day fatalities since Vietnam. On the one hand, the post may seem a little insensitive; on the other, it’s arguably never been more timely.

What’s clear is that regardless of what you think of the US’s (and our) involvement in Afghanistan (and I’ll wholly admit to being wholly in the ‘against’ camp), things are not going well.

I picked up Michael Hasting’s The Operators on ABC journalist Naomi Woodley’s advice—and I have to thank her. While not quite in the realm of uber high benchmark Race of a Lifetime, which I rabidly recommend to anyone who’ll listen, Hasting’s book is the first I’ve read in a while that unpacks complex, fraught, of-the-moment issues in an incredibly insightful, game-changing, haunting manner.

The Operators is the extended, book version of an explosive Rolling Stones article Hastings wrote after being allowed inside ‘the bubble’ of General Stanley McChrystal, AKA the guy in charge of the US troops’ stay in Afghanistan.

Courting the media and arguably keen to make the cover of the iconic Rolling Stone magazine and impress his son, a musician, McChrystal allowed Hastings to accompany him and his team during a PR trip to Europe as well as spend time with them in Afghanistan. It wasn’t an unusual allowance. What was unusual was that McChrystal and his team were far more frank and unguarded than Hastings ever expected to find.

Over the course of a few Almost Famous-ilk weeks, which included an unexpectedly extended stay with them in Europe courtesy of the Icelandic ash cloud, Hastings witnessed the team going off message. These indiscretions (if that’s the best way to describe them) included them criticising President Obama for not supporting the war and effectively saying it was unlikely they’d catch Osama bin Laden.

Hasting’s subsequently published article didn’t put McChrystal on the Rolling Stone cover (Lady Gaga commandeered it as he and McChrystal had joked), but the article did go explosively viral (that’s an, er, technical term)—so much so that it saw McChrystal summoned back to the US and summarily fired.

Hastings’ incisively written book is unsettling on many, many levels. It exemplifies the constant tension between journalist and subject, and the heightened tension of embedded journalism.

‘You’re not going to fuck us, are you?’ one officer asks him, to which Hasting’s gave his standard reply: ‘I’m going to write a story. Some of the stuff you’ll like, some of the stuff you probably won’t like.’

Later in the book, he outlines his position further:

I knew McChrystal’s team wouldn’t be happy with the way the story was shaping up. It was the classic journalist dilemma. Janet Malcolm had famously described journalise as the art of seduction and betrayal. Any reporter who didn’t see journalise as ‘morally indefensible’ was either ‘too stupid’ or ‘too full of himself’, she wrote. I disagreed. Without shutting the door on the possibility that I was both stupid and full of myself, I’d never bought into the seduction and betrayal conceit. At most, journalism—particularly when writing about media-hungry public figures—was like the seduction of a prostitute. The relationship was transactional. They weren’t talking to me because they liked me or because I impressed them; they were talking to me because they wanted the cover of Rolling Stone.

I think he’s 90% right about that. Rolling Stone’s rep is what got him in the door and leant him an immediate, ‘rock star cool’ legitimacy. But while there’s an element of transaction—McChrystal needs the media as much as they need him and he’s after good media coverage—the emphasis is on the word ‘good’. He might be in charge of a war, but he’s human—he hopes to be liked and trusts that journalists will show him in a flattering, heart-in-the-right place light.

I’m still confused why the media officer didn’t set ground rules/wasn’t trying to get the guys to be more on message at the time. It makes me think he thought there was a tacit agreement in place that Hastings would overlook the off-the-cuff honesty, or at least buff its rough edges. That or they were just a little naïve.

Race of a LifetimeThat naivety perhaps explains why McChrystal was upset that Obama wasn’t falling over himself to throw money, troops, and anything else McChrystal asked for for Afghanistan. McChrystal seems not to fully comprehend that Obama, the very antithesis of gun-toting George Dubya, was elected on an anti-war stance and was never, ever going to be blindly complying with his more-muscle, more-money requests. He also seems completely oblivious to the fact that Obama inherited a financial crisis of epic, worldwide proportions and that an offshore ‘war’ costing the US in the vicinity of $600 billion annually might not be helping him balance the budget.

McChrystal’s lucky Obama didn’t tell them they had a drop-dead date and that there’d be no more funding beyond that (which is what I’d be tempted to do were I in Obama’s place—yes, it would be ugly, but no more or less than them staying in there fighting and further fueling a futile ‘war’).

Which hints at the book’s other, necessarily troubling theme of (if you’ll forgive me for paraphrasing the famous saying) war: what is it good for? If The Operators’ findings are anything to go by: nothing. Worse, the very reason for the US being in Afghanistan seems shakier than ever. Al-Qaeda wasn’t really setting up shop, bin Laden turned out to be in Pakistan and not Afghanistan, and troops found themselves caught up not in fighting terrorism but a decades-old civil war.

This sentiment is summed up well in the resignation letter of Matthew Hoh, who was only the third senior American government official to have resigned for reasons of conscience. Hastings quotes it here:

To put [it] simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued US casualties of expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war. … If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes valleys, clans, villages, and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah’s reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated, and moderate of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate, and traditional.

He goes on to liken Afghanistan to Vietnam, something we’re increasingly seeing and hearing around the world:

Our support for [the Afghan] government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency’s true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation’s own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology … If honest, our state strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc.

Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, I submit my resignation.

I’ve always been vehemently opposed to us (Australia) supporting the US in both Iraq and Afghanistan—we have no business being in either, the operations are operating under misguided and false pretences, and even if they have the best of intentions, violence begets only violence. But nor is there any pleasure in ‘being right’ (whatever that might mean) and taking the moral high ground doesn’t make yesterday’s five-death day any less sobering.

Hasting’s book might have ‘fucked’ McChrystal, but perhaps necessarily so—The Operators highlights futility of the Afghanistan occupation and the too-high human and financial cost of a no-longer-clearly-defined ‘war’.

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15. The non-interventionist moment

By Andrew J. Polsky

The signs are clear. President Barack Obama has nominated two leading skeptics of American military intervention for the most important national security cabinet posts. Meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who would prefer a substantial American residual presence after the last American combat troops have departed in 2014, Obama has signaled that he wants a more rapid transition out of an active combat role (perhaps as soon as this spring, rather than during the summer). The president has also countered a push from his own military advisors to keep a sizable force in Afghanistan indefinitely by agreeing to consider the “zero option” of a complete withdrawal. We appear on the verge of a non-interventionist moment in American politics, when leaders and the general public alike shun major military actions.

Only a decade ago, George W. Bush stood before the graduating class at West Point to proclaim the dawn of a new era in American security policy. Neither deterrence nor containment, he declared, sufficed to deal with the threat posed by “shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend” or with “unbalanced dictators” possessing weapons of mass destruction. “[O]ur security will require all Americans to be forward looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.” This new “Bush Doctrine” would soon be put into effect. In March 2003, the president ordered the US military to invade Iraq to remove one of those “unstable dictators,” Saddam Hussein.

This post-9/11 sense of assertiveness did not last. Long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan discredited the leaders responsible and curbed any popular taste for military intervention on demand. Over the past two years, these reservations have become obvious as other situations arose that might have invited the use of troops just a few years earlier: Obama intervened in Libya but refused to send ground forces; the administration has rejected direct measures in the Syrian civil war such as no-fly zones; and the president refused to be stampeded into bombing Iranian nuclear facilities.

The reaction against frustrating wars follows a familiar historical pattern. In the aftermath of both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Americans expressed a similar reluctance about military intervention. Soon after the 1953 truce that ended the Korean stalemate, the Eisenhower administration faced the prospect of intervention in Indochina, to forestall the collapse of the French position with the pending Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu. As related by Fredrik Logevall in his excellent recent book, Embers of War, both Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles were fully prepared to deploy American troops. But they realized that in the backwash from Korea neither the American people nor Congress would countenance unilateral action. Congressional leaders indicated that allies, the British in particular, would need to participate. Unable to secure agreement from British foreign secretary Anthony Eden, Eisenhower and Dulles were thwarted, and decided instead to throw their support behind the new South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.

Another period marked by reluctance to use force followed the Vietnam War. Once the last American troops withdrew in 1973, Congress rejected the possibility they might return, banning intervention in Indochina without explicit legislative approval. Congress also adopted the War Powers Resolution, more significant as a symbolic statement about the wish to avoid being drawn into a protracted military conflict by presidential initiative than as a practical measure to curb presidential bellicosity.

It is no coincidence that Obama’s key foreign and defense policy nominees were shaped by the crucible of Vietnam. Both Chuck Hagel and John Kerry fought in that war and came away with “the same sensibility about the futilities of war.” Their outlook contrasts sharply with that of Obama’s initial first-term selections to run the State Department and the Pentagon: both Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates backed an increased commitment of troops in Afghanistan in 2009. Although Senators Hagel and Kerry supported the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, they became early critics of the war. Hagel has expressed doubts about retaining American troops in Afghanistan or using force against Iran.

Given the present climate, we are unlikely to see a major American military commitment during the next several years. Obama’s choice of Kerry and Hagel reflect his view that, as he put it in the 2012 presidential debate about foreign policy, the time has come for nation-building at home. It will suffice in the short run to hold distant threats at bay. Insofar as possible, the United States will rely on economic sanctions and “light footprint” methods such as drone strikes on suspected terrorists.

If the past is any guide, however, this non-interventionist moment won’t last.  The post-Korea and post-Vietnam interludes of reluctance gave way within a decade to a renewed willingness to send American troops into combat. By the mid-1960s, Lyndon Johnson had embraced escalation in Vietnam; Ronald Reagan made his statement through his over-hyped invasion of Grenada to crush its pipsqueak revolutionary regime. The American people backed both decisions.

The return to interventionism will recur because the underlying conditions that invite it have not changed significantly. In the global order, the United States remains the hegemonic power that seeks to preserve stability. We retain a military that is more powerful by several orders of magnitude than any other, and will surely remain so even after the anticipate reductions in defense spending. Psychologically, the American people have long been sensitive to distant threats, and we have shown that we can be stampeded into endorsing military action when a president identifies a danger to our security. (And presidents themselves become vulnerable to charges that they are tolerating American decline whenever a hostile regime comes to power anywhere in the world.)

Those of us who question the American proclivity to resort to the use of force, then, should enjoy the moment.

Andrew Polsky is Professor of Political Science at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. A former editor of the journal Polity, his most recent book is Elusive Victories: The American Presidency at War. Read Andrew Polsky’s previous blog posts.

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16. Nasreen’s Secret School

Nasreen’s Secret School: a True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

The author of The Librarian of Basra brings readers another true story from the Middle East.  This is the story of Nasreen, a young Afghan girl who has not spoken since her parents disappeared.  Her grandmother hears about a school for girls which is secret and forbidden.  In the hopes of bringing Nasreen out of her silence, her grandmother enrolls her.  The girls attending the school must be clever.  They must leave alone or in small groups.  They must hide their schoolwork if they are inspected by soldiers.  Little by little, Nasreen and her classmates learn to read and write.  And little by little, Nasreen begins to join this community of women and girls.

Winter’s illustrations are are framed by lines and painted in thick acrylic paints.  This gives them the feel of more traditional work, though they depict modern life.  Though the situation is complex, Winter manages to tell the story in short sentences.  American children will learn of a society where people disappear and girls are not allowed to be educated, all explained at their level of comprehension.  Expect lots of questions and discussion after sharing this true story with children.

An important piece of work, this picture book allows children to glimpse another culture that is now intertwined with our American one.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Also reviewed by A Year in Reading.

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17. A different look at the war...

Wanting Mor Rukhsana Khan

After Jameela's mother dies, her father takes her from their small Afghani village to Kabul. In the city, Jameela's devout and conservative following of Islam is seen as proof that she is nothing more than a slack-jawed yokel. Her refusal to change, to do what she considers sinful acts (such as going without her porani to cover her hair and face) leads her father to ultimately abandon her.

Jameela finds her way to an orphanage where she learns to read and write and tries to live up to her mother's advice, "If you cannot be beautiful, you should at least be good. People will appreciate that."

While definitely a bleak premise, this novel is ultimately hopeful. I most appreciated that as Jameela grew, she never did cave on what she felt was the right way to practice her faith. Eventually, she chooses to wear the chadri (burka), as it frees up her hands so she doesn't need to always draw her porani across her face to cover it. I also liked her confusion about the role of Americans. One on hand, the American soldiers are the ones who killed her entire extended family, they are the ones who bombed Kabul, but they're also the ones who pay for the orphanage and give Jameela surgery to correct her cleft lip. She never can decide if they're good or bad or somewhere in between and I think this reflection and indecision are very real, especially for a girl from a traditional village that didn't see the effects of the removal of the Taliban like they did in larger cities like Kabul.

A beautiful book.

Book Provided by... my local library

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18. Measuring Progress in Afghanistan

David Kilcullen is a former Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to General David Patraeus in Iraq as well as a former advisor to General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. Kilcullen is also Adjunct Professor of Security Studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and the author of The Accidental Guerrilla (2009). His new book, Counterinsurgency, is a no-nonsense picture of modern warfare informed by his experiences on the ground in some of today’s worst trouble spots–including Iraq and Afghanistan. In this excerpt, Kilcullen shares a few insights as to how progress in the Afghan campaign can be properly tracked and assessed.

In 2009 in Afghanistan, ISAF seems to be in an adaptation battle against a rapidly evolving insurgency that has repeatedly absorbed and adapted to past efforts to defeat it, including at least two previous troop surges and three changes of strategy. To end this insurgency and achieve peace, we may need more than just extra troops, new resources, and a new campaign plan: as General Stanley McChrystal has emphasized, we need a new operational culture. Organizations manage what they measure, and they measure what their leaders tell them to report on. Thus, one key way for a leadership team to shift an organization’s focus is to change reporting requirements and the associated measures of performance and effectiveness.

As important, and more urgent, we need to track our progress against the ISAF campaign plan, the Afghan people’s expectations, and the newly announced strategy for the war. The U.S. Congress , in particular, needs measures to track progress in the “surge” against the President Obama’s self-imposed eighteen-month timetable. To be effective, these measures must track three distinct but closely related elements:

1.   Trends in the war (i.e., how the environment, the enemy, the population, and the Afghan government are changing)

2.   ISAF’s progress against the campaign plan and the overall strategy including validation (whether we are doing the right things) and evaluation (how well we are doing them)

3.   Performance of individuals and organizations against best-practice norms for counterinsurgency, reconstruction, and stability operations

Metrics must also be meaningful to multiple audiences, including NATO commanders, intelligence and operations staffs, political leaders, members of the legislature in troop-contributing nations, academic analysts, journalists, and–most important–ordinary Afghans and people around the world.

We should also note that if metrics are widely published, then they become known to the enemy, who can “game” them in order to undermine public confidence and perpetuate the conflict. Thus, we must strike a balance between clarity and openness on the one hand and adaptability and security on the other.


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19. Books at Bedtime: The Roses in My Carpets

The Roses in My Carpets by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Ronald Himmler (Holiday House, 1998)A young Afghan boy shares his life and dreams for the future with us in The Roses in My Carpets by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Ronald Himler (Holiday House, 1998), a beautiful, thought-provoking picture book set in a refugee camp in Pakistan. He doesn’t like school but loves the afternoons he spends weaving carpets from brightly colored threads that all hold special meaning for him: although “Everything in the camp is a dirty brown, so I do not use brown anywhere on my carpets.” One day his work is interrupted by the shocking news that his sister has been badly hurt. He runs to the hospital. His mother is already there, too distraught to think rationally. Our young narrator takes charge, sending his mother home while he waits for news at the hospital. Fortunately, this being a children’s story, the news is good – which in turn allows for a breathing space that alters the nightmare of conflict he describes at the beginning of the book: that night his dreams open up to allow a tiny space out of danger for him and his beloved family.

Reading a story that includes issues of conflict and hurt needs plenty of thinking and discussion space around it, especially at bedtime – but Rukhsana Khan has written this story so deftly that they too will be comforted by the ending. This wonderful book includes a lot of incidental detail, such as the muezzin calling people to prayer and the boy’s musings about his overseas sponsor. Particularly convincing is the way the boy and his mother can hardly eat at the end of the day, after their terrible fright; and also the reality depicted of a boy who is very mature – who has had to grow up too quickly and take adult responsibilities on his shoulders. The attention to detail also carries over into the fine ilustrations – and young readers, and perhaps adults too, may be particularly struck by the mud buildings in the refugee camp.

I have included The Roses in My Carpet in my Personal View for our current issue of PaperTigers, which focuses on Refugee Children. Rukhsana also talks about the book in her interview with us last year; and do listen to her reading it here. On her blog, she has been discussing Ramadan recently – and I particularly enjoyed this post with an Afghan fable. Yesterday Aline pointed to some books for children that focus on Ramadan – including another of Rukhsana’s…

And please, please spare a thought for all those caught up in the floods in Pakistan, including Afghan refugees like the boy and his family in The Roses in my Carpets. If you’re looking for a charity who are sending relief, take a look at Sally’s post for some links.

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20. To Be a Child Soldier

By Susan C. Mapp

On December 23, 2002, the United States ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This document defines a “child soldier” as a person under the age of 18 involved in hostilities. This raises the minimum age from the age of 15 set in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Neuroscience is now providing us with the tools to see what many have long suspected: the adolescent brain has not yet fully developed. In particular, the prefrontal cortex, which regulates complicated decision-making and calculation of risks and rewards is not yet fully developed. The American Bar Association used this knowledge in its support of the ban on the death penalty for minors.

Article 7 of this document states that nations who are parties to it will cooperate in the, “rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons who are victims.” The Declarations and Reservations made by US related primarily its recruitment of 17-year-olds and noting that the ratification did not mean any acceptance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child itself, nor the International Criminal Court, thus indicating its acceptance of Article 7.

However, the United States frequently detains and incarcerates child soldiers. The United Nations has noted the “presence of considerable numbers of children in United States-administered detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan” (p.6). The New York Times states the U.S. report to the UN regarding its compliance with the Optional Protocol states that it has held thousands of children in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. The same report also states that a total of eight children have been held at Guantanamo Bay.

The United States is currently in the process of trying a child soldier who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for the past 8 years. Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, is accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer. Omar was 15 years old at the time, well below the minimum age for child soldiers. The head of UNICEF, a former U.S. national security advisor, has stated his opposition to the trial:

The recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime, and those who are responsible – the adult recruiters – should be prosecuted.  The children involved are victims, acting under coercion. As UNICEF has stated in previous statements on this issue, former child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution.

The Paris Principles, principles and guidelines on children associated with armed groups, was developed in 2007 to provide guidance on these issues. Developed by the United Nations, it has been endorsed by 84 nations as of 2009, not including the United States. It states that “Children … accused

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21. Does Obama See a Silver Lining in Losing the House?

By Elvin Lim

The “Summer of Recovery” has failed to materialize, and with that, the White House has had to start planning for 2012 earlier than expected.

After all, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had already conceded this summer that the House may fall to Republican hands. (Nancy Pelosi didn’t like the sound of his prescience then, but Gibbs was merely thinking strategically for his boss.) The one thing Democrats have going for them is that nearly every political commentator believes that an electoral tsunami awaits Democrats this fall, which means that they have low expectations on their side. And because the Democrats currently have a healthy majority, it would be nearly impossible that the flip will generate a Republican majority bigger than the one Democrats now enjoy. Victory for the Republicans would not taste so sweet because it would be fragile.

There is a silver lining inside this silver lining for the White House. If Republicans take control of the House, then at noon on January 3, 2011, President Obama will finally be able to do what presidents do best – blame the stalled progress on his domestic agenda on congressional intransigence, and switch to the domain in which presidents are able to act (and receive credit) unilaterally – foreign policy.

About a week and a half ago, Obama appeared to be embarking on this strategy, when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Whereas his second Oval Office address started with foreign policy issues and meandered awkwardly toward the economy (because the President was still hoping for a “summer of recovery”), the President’s first press conference inverted this order of priorities.

This press conference was delivered in the middle of the work day. It was directed to Washington elites and insiders, not the American public, for whom more talk of the economy would have been politically appropriate this election year. But the president began with the economy, but then ended with the Arab-Israeli conflict – displaying not only the agenda-setting power of the media to determine what presidents talk about, but also the instinct of presidents (even liberal ones) to withdraw to foreign policy as the presidential domain when domestic policy is not producing political credit for them.

It is no coincidence that very few Democratic candidates are campaigning on healthcare reform, even though it is the signature accomplishment of the Obama presidency and Democratic congress and the topic which headlined the political discussions of 2009. This is why Obama did not mention healthcare reform at all in his first and second Oval Office addresses, and he only brought it up haltingly and defensively in his first press conference last Friday.

With unemployment still at about 9.6 percent, everyone knows that the preeminent issue for Election 2010 is the economy. But Obama actually has, by a 10-point margin, higher approval numbers in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief than his handling of the economy. The White House realizes that the lack of results or higher casualties in Afghanistan doesn’t matter. What matters is that Obama is doing exactly what a Republican president would have done in Afghanistan and when there is nothing to fight about, the public approves.

After spending half of his first term on an ambitious domestic agenda for which he has gotten no credit but only blame, Obama may fin

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22. Jake Tapper Lands Book Deal for Afghanistan Reporting

ABC News senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper has landed a book deal with Little, Brown and Company to write Enemy In the Wire about a major battle in Afghanistan.

Geoff Shandler acquired the book from Christy Fletcher at Fletcher and Company. In 2001, Tapper (pictured, via)  published Down and Dirty with Little, Brown.

Here’s more about the book, from the release:  “[It] will tell the investigative and inspiring story of the 54 US soldiers who were attacked by and ultimately (after more than 18 hours of fighting) prevailed over 300-400 Taliban at Combat Outpost Keating in northeast Afghanistan.  Tapper will detail the battle and the soldiers’ heroism and valiant service under fire and tell their stories, those of their loved ones, and those of the eight US troops killed that day. He will also investigate the unusual and compromising geography of the camp — tucked in a vulnerable valley surrounded by three heavily forested mountains near the Pakistan border, and explore the history of the camp within the context of the larger mission in Afghanistan.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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23. Review of the Day: Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Words in the Dust
By Trend Reedy
Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-0-545-26125-8
Ages 11 and up.
On shelves now.

A children’s book, written by a soldier about an Afghani girl, set in the recent past. That’s a toughie. There are a lot of easier books out there to review too. Why aren’t I writing one about the adorable little girl who wants to be Little Miss Apple Pie or the one about the cute dog that wants to find its home? Well, sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone, which I suspect is what author Trent Reedy wanted to do here. With an Introduction by Katherine Paterson and enough backmatter to sink a small dinghy, Reedy takes a chance on confronting the state of the people of Afghanistan without coming off as imperialist, judgmental, or a know-it-all. For the most part he succeeds, and the result is a book that carries a lot more complexity in its 272 pages than the first 120 or so would initially suggest. Bear with it then. There’s a lot to chew on here.

Zulaikha would stand out in any crowd. It’s not her fault, but born with jutting teeth and a cleft upper lip she finds herself on the receiving end of the taunts of the local boys, and sometimes even her own little brother. Then everything in her life seems to happen at once. She’s spotted by an American soldier, who with his fellows manages to convince their captain to have Zulaikha flown to a hospital for free surgery. At the same time she makes the acquaintance of a friend of her dead mother, a former professor who begins to teach her girl how to read. Top it all off with the upcoming surprise marriage of Zeynab, Zulaikha’s older sister, and things seem to be going well. Unfortunately, hopes have a way of becoming dashed, and in the midst of all this is a girl who must determine what it is she wants and what it is the people she cares about need.

I approach most realistic children’s fiction with a great deal of trepidation, particularly when it discusses topical information. The sad truth of children’s books is that they are perfect containers for didacticism, even if you did not mean for that to be the case when you begin. With that in mind I read the first 120 pages of the story warily. I wasn’t certain that I liked what I saw either. Seemed to me that this book was indeed showing an in-depth portrait of Afghanistan, beauty, warts, and all, while the Americans were these near saviors, picking a poor girl out of the crowd upon whom to bestow free surgery out of the goodness of their golden glorious hearts. Fortunately, by the time we got to page 120 we saw the flip side of the equation. Yes, the Americans are perky and western and what have you. They’re also doofuses. Sometimes. They sort of blunder about Afghanistan without any recognition of the cultural courtesies they’re supposed to engage in. They merrily serve their Muslim guests food made out of pigs, unaware of what they’re doing. At one point Zulaikha’s father grows increasingly angry with them for their distrust of common Afghan workers (watching builders at gunpoint so that none of them steal tools) as well as their conversational blunders. Don’t get me wrong. The Americans are generally seen as good blokes. But I was worried that this book was going to be one sweet love song to the American invasion, and it’s not that. It’s nuanced and folks are allowed to be both good and bad. Even the ones writing the book.

I still got nervous, though. I desperately did not want this

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24. Words in the Dust

reedy words

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

This is the wrenching tale of Zulaikah, an Afghani girl who lives with a cleft palate that has earned her the nickname of Donkeyface from the bullies in her neighborhood.  It is a modern story, set after the defeat of the Taliban.  Zulaikah lives with a harsh taskmaster of a stepmother, her beloved older sister, and two younger brothers.  Despite her face, she is the one her stepmother sends to the  market for supplies, giving the other children a chance to mock her.  With the Americans in town, Zulaikah is offered the chance to have her face repaired.  She also meets Meena, an old friend of her late mother who offers to teach her to read.  These are immense opportunities for her, but will she be allowed to take advantage of them?

Reedy is a debut author  who served in Afghanistan with the National Guard.  Zulaikah’s story is based on a girl he met in Afghanistan.  Reedy has created a marvelous lens for readers to better understand Afghanistan, its culture and its people.  The day-to-day life shown here is so very different from our own, that one never forgets that this is a different country.  Yet Zulaikah’s hopes and dreams are universal.  So this book manages to offer a view of a foreign country at the same time it is showing our united humanity.

Zulaikah is a heroine who has seen unthinkable things, lives with a very visible disability, and yet remains hopeful about the future.  She is a girl living in a culture that devalues women and girls, and while she searches for someone to teach her to read, she is not straining against the culture she is a part of.  That is a large part of what makes this book so successful.  This is a girl who is a product of her family and culture, yet radiant with inner beauty and always hope.

This is a particularly timely book that offers a perspective of modern Afghanistan.  It also offers a very human character who will have you viewing news of Afghanistan differently, now with a spirited girl to inspire understanding.  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

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25. Michael Scheuer sits down with Stephen Colbert

Michael Scheuer was the chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999 and remained a counterterrorism analyst until 2004. He is the author of many books, including the bestselling Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism. His latest book is the biography Osama bin Laden, a much-needed corrective, hard-headed, closely reasoned portrait that tracks the man’s evolution from peaceful Saudi dissident to America’s Most Wanted.

Among the extensive media attention both the book and Scheuer have received so far, he was interviewed on The Colbert Report just this week.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Michael Scheuer
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Interested in knowing more? See:

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