Seventy percent of the country’s population is under 25. Can music make them interested in politics?
Testifying Wednesday before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, offered a grim assessment of the war-torn country—and revealed startling details about America’s hapless reconstruction efforts there.
Few have a job as challenging as Sopko’s. As the inspector general, he must study our actions and spending, and uncover and investigate examples of fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption. Since the U.S. has spent the last 12 years blasting dollars into Afghanistan, “following the money” is a task on the order of investigating grains of sand in the desert. Still, Sopko and his team have proven to be uncompromising, inexhaustible, and enormously effective. His office is independent; he is not beholden to the usual feudal lords in Washington. As Congress has decided to sit this war out, Sopko has proven to be the conflict’s only real oversight mechanism.
Since taking charge in 2012, he’s uncovered everything from $230 million in missing spare parts to spending on diesel running $500 per gallon (when the going rate was around $5 per gallon). Thanks to Sopko, American taxpayers learned that they bought $200,000 thermostats for air conditioners in a small medical clinic that was never completed—and according to the Afghan government, was probably never going to be used. And that’s just in the areas to which he has access. Because of security concerns, by next year his office will be restricted to a mere 21 percent of the country.
Read more.[Image: Reuters/Parwiz]
Western forces continue their long withdrawal from Afghanistan, scheduled to be complete within a year, save for a small number NATO advisers and security teams. Recent reports and evaluations of the state of affairs in Afghanistan indicate a bleak immediate future, despite billions of dollars of foreign aid. Human rights groups report that violence against women is intensifying, malnutrition is mysteriously on the rise nationwide, economic growth has dropped sharply, and continued foreign aid is threatened by possible instability post-withdrawal. Gathered here are recent images from this war-weary country, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan.
Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus has been covering conflicts from Bosnia to Afghanistan for more than 20 years, earning a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, as part of a team of AP photographers covering the Iraq War. She has traveled to Afghanistan numerous times, photographing events from 2001 until today, sending photos from Kandahar as recently as yesterday. Documenting a decades-long story like the Afghanistan War is a challenge for any photojournalist, from simple logistical issues, to serious safety concerns, to the difficulty of keeping the narrative fresh and compelling. Niedringhaus has done a remarkable job, telling people’s stories with a strong, consistent voice, an amazing eye for light and composition, and a level of compassion that clearly shows through her images. Gathered here are just a handful of her photos from the war-torn nation, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan.
The average cost of each U.S. troop—that is, each military member—in Afghanistan will nearly double in the last year of the war to $2.1 million, according to a new analysis of the Pentagon’s budget.
For the past five years, from fiscal 2008 through 2013, the average troop cost had held steady at roughly $1.3. million. But the Pentagon’s 2014 war budget would dramatically increase that figure. The added cost, argue Defense Department officials, is a reflection of the price of sending troops and equipment back home in the drawdown.
Read more. [Image: Shamil Zumatov/Reuters]
A bulldozer. A radio. A pencil. A Koran. These are just a few of the candidates vying to win Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election.
For each of the 10 candidates expected to be on the ballot for the April 5 vote, there is a symbol. And those symbols will be printed on ballot papers alongside the name and photograph of each candidate to help voters choose their preferred candidate.
The idea is to make voting easier for the many eligible voters in the country who cannot read. Only 39 percent of Afghanistan’s adult population is literate.
In keeping with elections dating back to 2004, the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) initially assigned a symbol to each potential candidate assuming that there would be a high number of contenders to choose from.
Read more. [Image: Omar Sobhani/Reuters]
While the U.S. military can win wars with overwhelming firepower, the conventional wisdom is that the U.S. lacks effective civilian tools to win the peace. Afghanistan’s public health care system provides a powerful counterpoint: financed largely by American foreign aid, it has produced the most rapid increase in life expectancy observed anywhere on the planet. What went right? And why do American auditors and Congressional overseers suddenly want to pull the plug?
In late 2011, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced some astonishing news about progress in health and mortality in Afghanistan. The new findings came from the release of the 2010 Afghanistan Mortality Survey, the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken in Afghanistan. The survey showed that from 2004 to 2010, life expectancy had risen from just 42 years—the second lowest rate in the world—to 62 years, driven by a sharp decline in child mortality. As a result, nearly 100,000 Afghan children per year who previously would have died now don’t.
Read more. [Image: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]
Child-rights icon Malala Yousafzai has called on conspiracy theorists and critics in Pakistan to think about her message before condemning her. In an interview, Malala says her intentions in promoting the rights of girls and women are pure.
Over the past few months here, I’ve focused on different aspect of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, featuring the region in the 1950s and 60s, the children of war, and the women of the war. Today’s entry takes a look at events that took place in Afghanistan this summer. For Afghans, the violence continues, and deep uncertainty remains as they prepare for a presidential election next April, and the withdrawal of NATO troops by the end of next year. The photos here are part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, and a high concentration of donkeys.
Enter the maternity saddle — a new invention that promises to carry women in labor across Afghanistan’s difficult terrain so they can get the medical care they need.
The British charity HealthProm and designer Peter Muckle developed the inflatable donkey saddle to ease the burden on women about to give birth in remote areas of Afghanistan.
The lack of suitable transport in mountainous areas leads many pregnant women to opt against heading to health centers in favor of giving birth at home, raising the risks for both mother and child should complications arise.
Read more. [Image: Screenshot HealthProm]