KABUL, Afghanistan — It’s painful for US soldiers to hear discussions and watch movies about modern wars when the dialogue is full of obsolete slang, like “chopper” and “GI.”
Slang changes with the times, and the military’s is no different. Soldiers fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed an expansive new military vocabulary, taking elements from popular culture as well as the doublespeak of the military industrial complex.
The definitive glossary of modern US military slang
Photos by Ben Brody/GlobalPost
As a Loya Jirga, or grand council, prepared to gather in Kabul Thursday to debate Afghanistan’s future, final details were being negotiated on a document that could keep thousands of United States soldiers — and billions of dollars — in the country indefinitely.
Some 3,000 Afghan lawmakers and politicians have been summoned to the council, which, according to the Afghan constitution, is “the highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan,” with the power to “take decision on the issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and supreme interests of the country.”
This may well be true, but in reality the Loya Jirga is a purely consultative body, with no legal teeth.
Critics argue that President Hamid Karzai has convened the assembly to give an illusion of popular support to what is all but a done deal: a bilateral security agreement (BSA) that would, in effect, turn Afghanistan into a US protectorate for the foreseeable future.
On Wednesday, hours before the council’s opening, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he and President Karzai had finalized the draft to be reviewed by the Loya Jirga.
Afghanistan: The war is over! Long live the war!
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
It’s good news, bad news on opium production in Afghanistan.
First, the bad: 2013 has been an all-time record year for Afghan poppy farmers, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The area under cultivation grew by 36 percent over 2012, which helped opium production soar by a whopping 49 percent despite adverse weather conditions and lower yields.
The good news is, it apparently could have been much worse.
The same report lauds Afghan counternarcotic institutions, which “have taken a significant step forward [and have] … tripled their effectiveness over recent years.”
One shudders to think what the totals might have been with a less “effective” anti-drug brigade.
Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world’s supply of illicit opium, the main component of heroin.
The poppy crop’s farm gate value is $950 million; the total value of exports is exponentially higher — between $3 billion and $4 billion, an astronomical sum in a country whose GDP hovers around $18 billion.
Most of the end product stays right in Asia, with a large part of the heroin being smuggled through Tajikistan into Russia.
Another significant portion goes to Iran, where the Taliban exchange drugs for guns along the two countries’ common border.
Relatively little ends up in the United States, which gets most of its drugs from Colombia and Mexico.
Afghanistan: The rise of a narco state
Photos by AFP/Getty Images
Polio — known by the scientific name poliomyelitis — has existed as long as human civilization.
It terrified parents because children were especially susceptible to the incurable disease, which caused paralysis and in some cases death.
Only 60 years ago, the United States experienced an epidemic, with nearly 58,000 cases reported in 1952. More than 3,000 died of polio that year.
Still, as of 2012 polio was eliminated in a majority of the world thanks to global initiatives to vaccinate children. It only remained endemic in three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
However, the chaos of war and breakdown of infrastructure have allowed polio to rear its head again in places like Syria and Somalia.
GlobalPost spoke to Walt Orenstein (WO), a vaccine expert at Emory University, Oliver Rosenbauer (OR), spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at WHO and Simon Ingram (SI), senior spokesperson for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa, about the recent outbreaks.
Polio: A common enemy from Syria to Somalia (Q&A)
Photos via AFP/Getty Images
'Afghanistan: Between Life and War'
Afghanistan is a country that much reported on in the West but little understood, says Paula Bronstein, a photojournalist who has worked in the country on and off for the last 12 years. In her proposed book, “Afghanistan: Between Life and War,” she attempts to show how the Afghan people constructed their lives against the backdrop of incessant war and Taliban insurgency, and hopes to provide a voice to people who have none.
Paula has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding for the book and must reach her goal by Sunday, Dec. 7.
Paula, who is represented by Reportage by Getty Images, is an award-winning and internationally published photojournalist with over 30 years in the business. Originally from Boston, Bronstein worked for newspapers including The Hartford Courant and The Chicago Tribune before moving overseas to Thailand in 1998 to cover the Asian region including Afghanistan and Pakistan. She spent more than a decade as a Getty Images staff photographer, documenting disasters, conflict, and political unrest around the world. View some of her past work on the Reportage Web site.
Caption: An Afghan woman with severe burns on 45% of her body from self-immolation shows her scars at a hospital in Herat. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Reportage by Getty Images)
KABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan — This year marks the last full fighting season before the scheduled drawdown of US troops begins in earnest in 2014. People are not sure what to expect as the Americans prepare to leave, particularly in villages like this one where there is a girls’ school—the first ever in the community. Villagers worry the Taliban—with its draconian views towards women—will exert its influence as soon as the US troops pull out, and their school could be closed, or worse, attacked.
VIDEO: A school in Afghanistan wonders ‘what tomorrow brings’
It would be very difficult to try and force them to stop fighting — they have their weapons positioned on the high ground. Everyone there is just trying to steal as much as they can before 2014.
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Afghanistan knows how to welcome you back after a six-month absence.
While waiting in Dubai for my flight into Afghanistan, I learned that our plane was still stuck on the ground in Kandahar during a Taliban rocket attack, and would be delayed while the airfield was locked down.
Back to Afghanistan as America ends its longest war (VIDEO)
Photos and story by Ben Brody for GlobalPost
The origins of the Pakistani Taliban are closely tied to their Afghan brothers. During the anti-Soviet jihad, fighters from Pakistan spilled across the border to help drive out the foreigners, and history repeated itself following the US-led invasion of 2001.
By 2002 there were enough militants in Pakistan’s border areas that the government felt compelled to try and establish some form of control, which only forced the fighters to coalesce.
“Supporters of the Afghan Taliban in the tribal areas transitioned into a mainstream Taliban force of their own as a reaction to the Pakistani army’s incursion into the tribal areas, which began in 2002, to hunt down militants,” the Council on Foreign Relations writes.
“In December 2007, about 13 disparate militant groups coalesced under the umbrella of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) … with militant commander Baitullah Mehsud from South Waziristan as the leader.”
The Pakistani Taliban was, from the outset, ideologically quite different from its Afghan colleagues.
Who are the Pakistani Taliban?
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
The word “Taliban” conjures up the bearded, black-turbaned militants who swept to power in Afghanistan in 1996. They imposed a brutal regime that confined women to their homes, kept girls from schools, forced men into the mosques to pray five times a day and blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas.
They had cut their fighting teeth during the anti-Soviet jihad, generously supported, along with other mujahideen groups, by the United States and Pakistan.
The Taliban were chased out of Kabul by the US invasion in October 2001, as Washington sought to punish the Afghan regime for harboring Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
But they did not stay gone; by 2005 they had mounted a robust insurgency that continues to this day.
The rise and fall (and rise?) of the Afghan Taliban
Part 2: Who are the Pakistani Taliban?
Photo by AFP/Getty Images