America’s longest war just got a little longer ... again

GlobalPost
US soldiers patrol near Kandahar Airfield on June 3, 2014.

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NEED TO KNOW:

America’s longest war just got a little longer. US President Barack Obama announced today that instead of withdrawing most of the remaining 9,800 American troops still in Afghanistan, he will leave them there through “most" of 2016.

It couldn’t have been an easy decision for Obama. The American president was first elected on a pretty anti-war platform (which after he was elected sort of morphed into an anti-ground-war-only platform), promising to bring all troops home from both Iraq and Afghanistan. He appears to be hoping he can still do that, just not nearly as soon as he intended. He has until Jan. 20, 2017, his last day in office.

The problem is that Afghanistan needs help. Afghan forces are on the ropes against the Taliban, which is resurgent. The Taliban remains dominant in much of Helmand province and it recently managed — however briefly — to take control of Kunduz, a major city. The fall of Kunduz was the first time the Taliban had taken a city since 2001.

There is also the entrance of the Islamic State into the conflict. The world’s most ambitious terrorist group is making gains around Afghanistan. The Taliban, which doesn’t like the Islamic State — much like it didn’t like Al Qaeda in 2001 — has battled the terrorist group on multiple fronts. 

Meanwhile, 2015 is on track to be the bloodiest yet for civilians, at least since the United States first invaded 14 years ago. The United Nations says more people will likely be killed this year than in 2014, when almost 3,700 civilians died.

WANT TO KNOW:

The American troops still in Afghanistan primarily advise and train Afghan forces. That was their original mission. But last year, Obama quietly expanded the role of US forces.

The president authorized US troops to also carry out combat operations against the Taliban. The new plan also allowed the use of American jets, bombers and drones against the Taliban.

Like the jet that bombed a hospital outside of Kunduz earlier this month, killing 24 people, including 12 staff from the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders. In a rare move for a US president, Obama called the president of Doctors Without Borders and apologized. The call did little to deter the group, however, from pursuing an independent, international investigation into the incident.

The availability of American air power is also used to support Afghan forces conducting controversial “night raids.” This is when soldiers burst into homes in the dead of night in the hopes of capturing or killing suspected militants. The strategy, which goes a long way toward terrifying the general population and invites all manner of mistakes, has been highly criticized by the international community.

The lingering US troop presence in Afghanistan also means there will be a lingering risk of losing more American lives there. More than 45 Americans were killed in 2014, including Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the highest-ranking US military officer to be killed in Afghanistan — ever.

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been locked in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012. If he leaves, he risks arrest by the UK police and then extradition to Sweden. That’s because Assange faces allegations of rape in Sweden.

Assange has denied the accusations and says he believes that the whole thing is a ploy to send him to the United States to face charges for releasing thousands of classified US government documents.

Now the Ecuadorean government is asking UK officials to let Assange leave the embassy to go to the doctor. Apparently he has a pain in his shoulder and needs to get to an MRI machine. The UK government said Assange was free to go. But that he’d be arrested in the process.