NYC Celebrates Death of Osama Bin Laden

I couldn’t resist driving by Times Square and Ground Zero last night to witness the celebration over OBL’s death. The most unique chant by far was “Who has weed?”

Several friends have commented on how it seems untoward to be celebrating a violent death, regardless of how evil the person is who has died. To me, the celebration seems healthy, and I’m glad that the person who wrought so much carnage can kill no more. It’s cathartic after a decade living with the knowledge that the person who planned the death of so many thousands finally met with justice.

Now maybe we can finally put to rest the non-winnable “War on Terror” and get on with life.

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Are Night Raids in Afghanistan Really Working?

US Army photo by Staff Sergeant Jeremy D. Cris

They hunt at night and in packs: special operations forces that track down Afghan insurgents. They surround the house of their intended target, announce their presence, and give the now wide-awake inhabitant a brief moment to surrender. 80 percent do, the other 20 percent are shot and killed.

Night raids by specially- trained ISAF and Afghan forces are an integral part of the American strategy to weaken the Taliban sting. Some say the strategy is working. Carlotta Gall reported in the NY Times yesterday that the killings of top insurgent commanders deep in the Taliban redoubt of Quetta, Pakistan, are being attributed to the raids:

No one seems to know for sure who is behind the killings. Members of the Taliban attribute them to American spies, running Pakistani and Afghan agents, in an extension of the American campaigns that have used night raids to track down and kill scores of midlevel Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and drone strikes to kill militants with links to Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

I am currently sitting in front of a computer in Brooklyn and get my Afghanistan news through a hodgepodge of secondary sources. It’s impossible for me to gauge how effective night operations are and whether their impact against the Taliban is worth the inevitable civilian casualties. But the operations do lead to inadvertent slaughter. In one botched operation in February of 2010,  23 young Afghan men were killed in Oruzgan Province by hellfire missiles and rockets fired from an attack helicopter because of faulty intelligence given by a drone operator. The operator deemed the trucks a potential threat to nearby special operations forces, even though the trucks were seven miles away and no weapons confirmed.

More than anything, I’m curious about the logistics of these raids. Who are the men that participate in them? How do they vet the intelligence used to determine who is to be targeted and as a result potentially killed? When a Taliban commander is captured or killed, does anger against the heavy-handed home invasions justify the tactical gain? Are the numbers of deaths caused by the raids, be it Taliban or other, going up or going down? Special operations forces seem to be operating inside Pakistan; is this being done with ISI knowledge and acquiescence?

I’ve contacted an ISAF press officer in Afghanistan for more information. We’ll see if a blogger merits a response. Regardless, more to come.

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Dying to Cover Afghanistan

Rupert Hamer, British journalist killed by an IED

One of my main career-related resolutions in 2011 is to finally travel to Afghanistan as a reporter. While the resolution may seem to suggest otherwise, my goal is to contribute to a relatively under-reported story while minimizing my exposure to unnecessary risk of injury or untimely death.  So before putting down money on a plane ticket, I wanted a clear view of the risks I’d be facing.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 22 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 1992. That’s number 10 on the list of the 20 deadliest countries for journalists. A sobering number, but well behind the 146 journalists killed in Iraq over that same time period.

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Ahhh, aggregation….

I picture the infinite amount of information available to anyone with a computer and internet connection as a raging river. Every time I go online that massive river sweeps my attention away, and before I know it, I’ve gone from a NY Times headline to a video of a dog attacking its own leg.

One of the most effective tools to calm that river, one that has been around for years, is the RSS (or Really Simple Syndication) reader. Also known as feed readers or news aggregators, RSS readers are web, mobile or desktop-based software used to subscribe to a web-site’s RSS feed. Every time that site publishes new content, you get it delivered to your RSS reader. You no longer have to check dozens of different sites for your news fix, the news comes to you.

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