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Biden, NATO leaders to bid symbolic adieu to Afghanistan at summit

BRUSSELS — U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts will bid a symbolic farewell to Afghanistan on Monday in their last summit before America winds up its longest “forever war” and the U.S. military pulls out for good. The meeting is bound to renew questions about whether NATO’s most ambitious operation ever was worth…

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BRUSSELS — U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts will bid a symbolic farewell to Afghanistan on Monday in their last summit before America winds up its longest “forever war” and the U.S. military pulls out for good. The meeting is bound to renew questions about whether NATO’s most ambitious operation ever was worth it. The 18-year effort cost the United States alone $2.26 trillion, and the price in lives includes 2,442 American troops and 1,144 personnel among U.S. allies, according to figures from Brown University. NATO does not keep a record of those who die in its operations. Those casualty figures are dwarfed by Afghan losses, which include more than 47,000 civilians, up to 69,000 members of the national armed forces and police, and over 51,000 opposition fighters. The military effort followed the 2001 arrival of a U.S.-led coalition that ousted the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Few experts argue that it brought long-term stability, meaningful democracy or security. “At this point, you get the impression that NATO leaders almost want to downplay and leave quietly, rather than making too big a deal of it, and going on to focus on other business,” said Erik Brattberg, director of the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. U.S. soldiers walk next to armored vehicles as they arrive at their base on the outskirts of Spin Boldak, about 100 kilometers (63 miles) southeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Emilio Morenatti/AP) Sign up for the Early Bird Brief Get the military’s most comprehensive news and information every morning. 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With the U.S. leading the withdrawal, European allies and Canada want to hear Biden’s thinking about how security will be assured at their embassies, along major transport routes and above all at Kabul’s airport. Many wonder whether the Afghan government can survive a resurgent Taliban. Some think Kabul’s capitulation is only a matter of time. “We are currently in intense discussions with our member states, the United States, NATO and the United Nations on the absence of essential security conditions for our continued diplomatic presence. It will be difficult to keep it” in place, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. For now, NATO plans to leave civilian advisers to help build up government institutions. It’s unclear who will protect them. The 30-nation alliance is also weighing whether to train Afghan special forces outside the country. As an organization, NATO will not provide sanctuary for Afghans who worked alongside its forces — routinely risking their lives — although a few individual members will. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says it’s simply time to leave. “Afghanistan has come a long way, both when it comes to building strong, capable security forces, but also when it comes to social and economic progress,” he told The Associated Press. “At some stage, it has to be the Afghans that take full responsibility for peace and stability in their own country.” Few Afghans share that assessment of their country, which has a 54% poverty rate, runaway crime, rampant corruption and an illicit economy that outstrips the legal economy. When NATO took charge of international security operations in 2003, Afghanistan was its first major mission outside Europe and North America. The aim was to stabilize the government, build up local security forces and remove a potential base for extremist groups. Yet 18 years later, security is at its lowest ebb for most Afghans. The capital is rife with criminal gangs, many linked to powerful warlords, and there are routine attacks by an upstart Islamic State. Quite early into the operations, as combat took its toll on NATO troops, extremists and civilians, a stalemate developed. The Taliban could not be routed from outlying areas, but neither could its fighters seize and hold major cities. Troop surges made little difference, and it soon became clear that NATO’s military training effort was its exit strategy. Only by creating a big army capable of standing on its own feet could the organization wind up its operations. But the Afghan army was plagued by corruption, desertion and low morale. Experts say it still is, and this remains a major concern as NATO insists on funding the nation’s security forces after it’s gone. In this April 29, 2021, photo, an Afghan national flag flutters on a mast at the Kandahar Fire Department on a U.S. military base in Kandahar. (Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images) Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to leave by May 1 stunned U.S. allies. It highlighted NATO’s weakness: European members and Canada simply cannot sustain major operations without logistical support from their biggest partner. Biden’s decision to pull U.S. troops out by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington changed little, although he did consult allies this time. James Dobbins, a former Afghan envoy who now works for the RAND Corporation think tank, predicts the exit will mean the loss of government legitimacy. “The U.S. departure will be seen as a victory for the Taliban and a defeat for the United States,” he said in an opinion piece. “The result will be a blow to American credibility, the weakening of deterrence and the value of American reassurance elsewhere.” On Monday, NATO’s leaders will reaffirm the strength of their alliance and go back to what they know best: their old nemesis, Russia. Biden will brief his partners before meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was not invited to NATO’s summit. “There is little appetite left to continue investing in Afghanistan,” Brattberg said. “There is a sense of being fed up in a lot of NATO countries, and now it’s just time to pack the bags and get out with little consideration about the consequences that could have on the ground.” Associated Press Writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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‘We have been hit by a fish!’ Lest we forget the great submarine vs. swordfish battle of 1967

Marvin McCamis, Valentine Wilson, and Edward Zarudzki comprised a three-man crew operating the Navy-owned deep-sea submersible ALVIN (DSV-2) in July 1967 when they were attacked by an unusual enemy.“We have been hit by a fish!” one of the sub’s pilots shouted.At a depth of approximately 2,000 feet off the coast of Florida, the research submersible,…

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Marvin McCamis, Valentine Wilson, and Edward Zarudzki comprised a three-man crew operating the Navy-owned deep-sea submersible ALVIN (DSV-2) in July 1967 when they were attacked by an unusual enemy.“We have been hit by a fish!” one of the sub’s pilots shouted.At a depth of approximately 2,000 feet off the coast of Florida, the research submersible, best known for exploring the wreck of the HMS Titanic, was conducting an up-close investigation of a curious coral specimen when it was suddenly blindsided by an aggravated swordfish (no relation to the catastrophic John Travolta and Halle Berry disaster of 2001).The scraping noise bewildered the crew, each believing the sound to be the result of drifting or a depth miscalculation. Looking out the porthole, however, they saw the sub was stationary.“The co-pilot who was watching out through the starboard porthole … recoiled from it,” Zarudzki recalled in a written statement. “Outside the starboard porthole I saw a large fish, apparently captive, violently trying to disengage itself and in the process tearing some of the skin and flesh [from] its back.”Thanks to ALVIN’s curvaceous disposition, the blow delivered by the swordfish glanced from its intended target before becoming wedged in a crevice between the upper and lower sections of the sub’s fiberglass hull.Never having been briefed on what to do in the event of encountering a kamikaze swordfish, the crew launched into a quick conference to ensure there were no leaks or debilitating damage. When they discovered there was, in fact, a minor — albeit unthreatening — leak, the team opted to surface.As the sub ascended from the watery depths, “the pilot requested the swimmers who attach the mooring lines to ALVIN to throw a noose around the fish’s tail, securing it to the [ship],” Zarudzki’s account read. “The submarine was then guided onto the cradle and hoisted aboard the catamaran mother ship.”There, the crew came face-to-face with their sabre-snouted foe, a 196-pound catch measuring 8 feet long that the crew surmised had rammed ALVIN after the sub startled it from its deep-sea vibe sesh.The now-surfaced fish fought violently, severing its own sword before being hoisted by its tail aboard the catamaran.It took the crew two hours to separate fish from sub. Afterward, it was “dressed aboard and over 100 lbs. of steak was deep frozen,” Zarudski wrote.“The following day delicious steaks were enjoyed by the crew.”Mariner myth suggests it was this very incident that yielded the old seaman’s proverb, “I love the fishes ‘cause they’re so delicious. Gotta go fishin’. I could eat them everyday, and my mom says that’s OK.”Remember that? Pepperidge Farm remembers.Observation Post is the Military Times one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories may reflect author observations.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.

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NatGeo’s ‘9/11: One Day in America’ is a painstaking portrait of horror, resilience & hope

“Are you ready? Okay, let’s roll.”The final words of Todd Beamer, one of the four men believed to have overpowered hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93, match the sustained tone of National Geographic’s latest six-part memorialization of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.9/11: One Day in America, an all-new, comprehensive retelling of the infamous day…

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“Are you ready? Okay, let’s roll.”The final words of Todd Beamer, one of the four men believed to have overpowered hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93, match the sustained tone of National Geographic’s latest six-part memorialization of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.9/11: One Day in America, an all-new, comprehensive retelling of the infamous day that launched a forever war and shocked the world, can only be described as heartbreakingly thorough. With never-before-seen footage and all-new interviews, the documentary series from the production team of Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin (“Undefeated” and “LA 92”) is a devastating yet mesmerizing portrait of America on perhaps the nation’s worst day in generations.While the documentary begins like many accounts that preceded it — imagery of New York City firefighters and businessmen who worked at the World Trade Center — little time elapses before realizing this series is different.Image taken by NOAA’s Cessna Citation Jet on Sept. 23, 2001, from an altitude of 3,300 feet. (NOAA) Audio and video footage spans past and present narratives while highlighting vantage points that range from the casual New Yorker standing horrified outside of a taxi to the frantic personnel inside the actual towers.Calls previously released from American Flight 11 are included, as is an account of one man working in the WTC whose sister and niece were onboard the plane that hit the North Tower. There’s the fire chief who lost his brother after giving him one final order, a mother who hoped her kind-hearted son could be a killer when he needed to be, a security officer who sang people to safety, a man buried alive and left behind, a fighter pilot faced with a decision to kill innocent Americans — and herself with them — before another plane reached its target.Still, perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this oft-agonizing and meticulous series lies not within the footage of witnesses, but in the moments of hope and resiliency that underscore those fateful events and the days that followed.Viewers will watch horrified one moment as clouds of ash, smoke and debris swallow screams and people alike, only to be rejuvenated the next by a woman, who should have died, sitting in a hospital bed happily showcasing a gift from her fiancé, or even a former Marine-turned-firefighter recounting the heroism of a colleague who saved his secretary.Every viewer may know how the story ends, but this immersive retelling leaves no doubt as to why that day 20 years ago should remain prominent in our memories.“This was my world, never to be the same again,” one interviewee says.That same sentiment will no doubt resonate with viewers.National Geographic’s 9/11: One Day in America is currently available to stream on Hulu, and will air in three-episode segments on the National Geographic channel on Sept. 10 and 11.Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and Master’s candidate at New York University. She’s currently an Editorial Fellow for Military Times.

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The Best Digital Cameras for Taking Gallery-Ready Black-and-White Photographs

When it comes to monochromatic digital cameras, seeing the world in black and white isn’t a fault—it’s an asset. To take black-and-white or monochrome shots on most conventional digital cameras, you’re forced to pick between two imperfect options: You can turn on monochrome shooting mode, which often just re-filters the color in black and white,…

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When it comes to monochromatic digital cameras, seeing the world in black and white isn’t a fault—it’s an asset. To take black-and-white or monochrome shots on most conventional digital cameras, you’re forced to pick between two imperfect options: You can turn on monochrome shooting mode, which often just re-filters the color in black and white, or you can color-correct your pictures in postproduction. However, because of the way most camera sensors encode light—and in turn color—both processes tend to rob the image of crispness and depth. True monochrome shooting offers a solution: Light is directly recorded on the sensor rather than filtered by a Bayer mosaic, the traditional digital color encoding technology. Monochrome-only cameras lack Bayer filters altogether, and some multipurpose mirrorless cameras have “true” black-and-white modes that sidestep color encoding. Both options are capable of capturing hyper-detailed images, all in shades of gray. Here are the five best monochrome shooters on the market.

1. Fujifilm X-Pro3 Mirrorless Digital Camera
Commit fully to the retro bit with this high-end offering by Fujifilm, consistently the most photogenic (har, har) camera brand on the market. This model is available in black, silver, and “Dura Black,” but the real highlights are the blacks and silvers it can render through its top-of-the-line X-trans CMOS 4 sensor (APS-C). In fact, the X-Pro3 is the first in Fujifilm’s Pro line to offer a dedicated monochromatic color mode. That doesn’t just mean black and white: You can choose a focal color from an on-screen spectrum and snap away. With its advanced sensor and low-light capabilities, the raw image processing of this camera has to be seen to be believed.

Buy:
Fujifilm X-Pro3 Mirrorless Digital Camera

$1,799.95

2. Sony a7R III Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera
At its launch in 2015, the Sony 7R II was a towering presence at the intersection of hobbyist and professional-quality mirrorless cameras, and the Sony 7R III features small but appreciable improvements, including faster autofocus and longer battery life. Not everyone may know that 7R series cameras are amazing not only for color but for black-and-white shots as well. You can shoot in one of two monochrome modes: rich tone and high contrast. Rich tone essentially operates like an HDR shot, combining three successive black and white images to create a smoother, softer, lower-contrast hybrid image. For images that are crisper and less textured, high-contrast mode is your best bet.

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Sony a7R III Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera

$2,298.00

3. Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera
The a6000 takes some of the muscle of the Sony a7R II and squeezes it into a more affordable (albeit slightly older) package. Released in 2014, this camera also offers high-contrast and rich-tone monochrome modes, plus all manner of other color-adjusted shooting options: posterization (in both B&W and color), pop color, retro effects, partial color (R/G/B/Y), HDR painting, and more. And boy, does it punch above its weight—or rather, its price tag. Its Exmore CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processing technology still stack up against newer cameras. This is your one-stop camera for achieving all kinds of unconventional effects without sacrificing image quality, and it’s compatible with any E-mount series lens.

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Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera

$2,298.00

4. Leica Q2 Monochrom Full Frame Compact Digital Camera
It’s in the name: This is the truest monochrome camera on our list. The Leica Q2 completely lacks color filters, meaning black-and-white images are captured directly on its 47.3 full-frame monochrome sensor. Unlike the mirrorless cameras on our list, this is a point-and-shoot digital camera with a fixed lens (Summilux 28 mm f/1.7 ASPH). But it’s going to blow any other point-and-shoot you’ve owned out of the water. Its extremely fast-acting autofocus homes in on subjects in 0.15 second, it can shoot in 4K video, and it boasts an amazingly broad ISO range of 100 to 100,000. You can preview your shots on a 3-inch touchscreen LCD display, then share them via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Plus, it’s resilient, with a compact, weather-sealed body.

Buy:
Leica Q2 Monochrom Full Frame Compact Digital…

$6,164.02

5. Sigma DP3 Quattro Compact Digital Camera
The DP3 Quattro may be one of the most difficult to pin down cameras on the market. It’s nominally a point-and-shoot, with a fixed 50mm F2.8 lens (equivalent to a 75mm lens on a 35mm SLR camera). But, like the Q2, it’s not your mom’s digital camera. Its finesse in monochrome shots comes from its unique Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor: Rather than process color through a pixel-based Bayer filter, it captures light through a three-layered sensor, one for each base color (red, green, blue). This gives colors a depth and richness equivalent to 39 megapixels in conventional color filter array sensors, and it lends extra oomph to monochromatic shots. It’s not going to be the best pick for low-light (high ISO) or action shots, but for portraits, landscape, and detail work, it really shines. And if you like to stand out from the crowd, you’ll also like its unconventionally thin and wide body design.

Buy:
Sigma DP3 Quattro Compact Digital Camera

$1,122.86

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