Afghanistan is still a war that the United States is fighting

GlobalPost
An Afghan National Army soldier speaks on a radio at an outpost in Helmand province on Dec. 20, 2015. 

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NEED TO KNOW:

Afghanistan is still a war zone where the United States is fighting. That was made tragically clear yesterday when the Taliban killed six US service members near the Bagram air base outside of Kabul.

The US soldiers were attending a meeting of local leaders when a motorcycle rigged with explosives detonated nearby. It was the deadliest attack on US troops in three years.

The war in Afghanistan is not winding down. If anything, it’s winding up. US President Barack Obama has already extended the American mission there longer than he intended, mostly because the Taliban is making a comeback. About 10,000 troops remain in Afghanistan. Obama extended their stay in October through “most of 2016.”

Afghanistan needs the help. The Taliban have made significant gains against Afghan forces and even control some key areas in Helmand province. The Taliban did control Kunduz, a major city, earlier this year. It took weeks for Afghan forces to take it back. The fall of Kunduz was the first time the Taliban had taken a city since it was ousted in 2001. Britain said today that it was sending some of its forces back to Helmand province amid reports that the district capital Sangin was on the verge of falling to the Taliban.

There is also apparently the Islamic State to contend with now. Both Afghan forces and the Taliban are believed to be fighting insurgents claiming to be from the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

Then there are the civilians. This year has been one of the deadliest ever for regular people in Afghanistan. The United Nations says more people will likely be killed this year than in 2014, when almost 3,700 civilians died.

WANT TO KNOW:

For nine months Saudi Arabia has been both bombing Yemen, at times indiscriminately. It has also imposed a crippling blockade, courtesy of a rubber stamp from the UN Security Council.

The results have been dire for what was already the poorest country in the region. Food is scarce and Yemenis everywhere are going hungry. Officials say the country is on the brink of famine. The blockade has also prevented deliveries of fuel, which inhibits the ability of Yemenis to travel — to hospitals, for example. It has also led to an energy crisis. Electricity is intermittent at best. Meanwhile, violence has displaced millions. For all these reasons, the economy has essentially collapsed.

Saudi Arabia put together a coalition of Arab countries in March that is directly supported by the United States. The stated goal is to drive back the Houthi rebels and reinstall the country’s ousted president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour. Mansour is friendly to Saudi Arabia and the United States, allowing the latter to conduct its counterterrorism campaigns inside the country. For Saudi Arabia, the war is about countering perceived Iranian influence on a neighboring country.

The airstrikes alone have devastated Yemen, hitting civilian targets like weddings and hospitals with disturbing regularity. The blockade, meanwhile, is having a quieter, slower, but ultimately more deadly impact.

Saudi Arabia says the blockade is preventing weapons from reaching the Houthis. But it is also preventing humanitarian aid from reaching Yemenis. The Houthis and their allies have set up their own blockades in areas they control, making the problem even worse.

Effectively, Yemenis are being strangled to death. Every day that passes they lose more and more of the essentials: food, water, shelter, fuel and health care. Yemen has always been poor. It was one of the hungriest places on the planet even before the Saudis invaded. Now it is one of the world’s most dire humanitarian catastrophes.

Yemenis urgently need help.

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

Call it the Cecil effect. Remember Cecil the Lion? Here's a reminder: A wealthy American dentist paid obscene amounts of money so that he could kill him without much effort earlier this year. Cecil was famous. He was beloved. And his death sparked global outrage at a level rarely seen.

Now the United States has moved to protect lions like Cecil from being killed by trophy hunters: It put them on the endangered list. That means hunters will be prohibited from bringing their trophies back with them to the United States.

If you can’t brag about all the lions you’ve paid people to let you kill, what fun is it?