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from The Great Debate:

A fragile peace with Taliban if school attacks escalate

In the week in which America opened the door for negotiations with the Taliban, three bloody massacres of school children -- shot down simply because they wanted to go to school -- raise grave questions about what kind of peace the Taliban offer.

Within days of the initiative for talks, the Taliban shot to death nine foreign tourists encamped on the peak of Nanga Parbat in northern Pakistan, saying the murders were in retaliation for a drone attack that killed one of their leaders. But what kind of justification can possibly be offered for the firebombing of a college bus carrying forty girls from their Quetta campus in Pakistan? Fourteen defenseless girls died in the bombing; eight more people died when the terrorists ambushed the hospital.

We are confronted by a savage war waged by Islamic extremists against young people seeking education. In the wake of the outrage in Pakistan, two appalling massacres that killed 16 students were perpetrated in Nigeria by the country’s leading terrorist group, Boko Haram, whose name literally means, “Western education is sin.” It all underscores what is crucially missing from the seemingly good news that the Taliban, ensconced in its nice new headquarters in Doha, Qatar, has made two pledges for peace. One: to end the war peacefully, and a second to stop using Afghanistan as a base for terror strikes against other countries, as it did in 9/11.

But a peace deal will not bring violence to an end without a credible pledge to respect elementary human rights. Since last October, when a Taliban terrorist shot down 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai because she had stood up for the right of girls to go to school, there has been a clear pattern in the targeting of victims by Islamic extremists. The five who lost their lives in Monday’s killing in the Jajeri ward of Nigeria's Maiduguri metropolis were students gunned down in the main school hall just a few minutes after they had started their annual exams. This episode -- and the Sunday killings at another Nigerian school -- resemble earlier attacks in Pakistan. There, only a few weeks ago, bombs were thrown into the playground of an all-girls school just as a Saturday morning open-air prize giving ceremony began. The head teacher and three pupils died.

from The Great Debate:

The robots of war

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Air Force airman performs tests on a Talon robot in Afghanistan in 2011. Photo from Air Force.

Here are just a few of the robots assigned to the U.S. Army's last combat brigade in Afghanistan: Tractor-size robots that trawl ahead of foot patrols, probing for buried bombs. Smaller 'bots that help blow up the uncovered incendiary devices. Unmanned aerial vehicles -- from tiny, hand-thrown models to a high-endurance version the size of a Cessna. Silent robot sentries that watch over sleeping U.S. troops.

from Photographers' Blog:

Helpless in an explosion’s wake

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Kabul, Afghanistan

By Omar Sobhani

Last Friday was a public holiday here in Afghanistan but I was on call and had gone for lunch in Kabul with my friends. Our relaxing day was interrupted by a huge explosion.

It took little time to figure out what was going on. As on most days, working or not, I carry my cameras so I jumped in my car and rushed towards the noise. My colleague Mohammad Ismail, who was enjoying a day off also, heard the explosion and called me as I headed towards the scene saying that he was coming to help cover the story. I spoke to my text and TV colleagues at Reuters bureau although the sound of the attack was too loud to hear easily but they were well aware of the incident.

from The Great Debate:

Civil wars and Syria: lessons from history

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A man at a site recently hit by what activists said was a Scud missile in Aleppo's Ard al-Hamra neighborhood, February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

Most of the international debate about Syria policy focuses on how to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.

from David Rohde:

From Afghanistan to Syria, an anemic U.S. civilian effort

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Rear Admiral Gregory Smith (L), director of the Multi-National Force – Iraq's Communications Division, and Denise Herbol, deputy director of USAID – Iraq, in Baghdad January 13, 2008. REUTERS/Wathiq Khuzaie/Pool

After helping coordinate the American civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, Mark Ward arrived in Turkey last year to oversee the Obama administration’s effort to provide non-lethal assistance to Syria’s rebels. Unwilling to provide arms, Washington hoped to strengthen the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Led by moderates, the group was seen as a potential counterweight to jihadists.

from The Great Debate:

Drone coalition: Key to U.S. security

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The Pentagon’s biggest, most high-tech spy drone aircraft — one of the hottest items on the international arms market — is the key to a burgeoning robotic alliance among the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk, a $215 million, airliner-size Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) built by Northrop Grumman, could help this four-nation coalition monitor both China, as it increasingly flexes its military muscles, and North Korea, as it develops ever more sophisticated nuclear weapons.

from The Human Impact:

India’s growing global humanitarian role: Is it enough?

India is increasingly seen as an important player when it comes to supporting nations hit by disasters or conflict, as well as for development, but given its size and influence, is it really doing enough to help resolve global crises?

Many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), think not, especially when it comes to addressing humanitarian issues at an international level.

from Photographers' Blog:

Gone, but never forgotten

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Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia

By Kevin Lamarque

From a distance, the graves at Arlington National Cemetery are all seemingly uniform, precise rows of white headstones as far as the eye can see. However, a visit to Section 60, burial site of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, shows how fresh the wounds of these wars are. Many of these graves are adorned with photos, trinkets, stones, messages, keepsakes and other mementos placed atop or around the headstone. These items help form a bond to the deceased, a reminder that they are sorely missed and will never be forgotten. For each headstone in Section 60, there is the painful story of a life that ended far too soon. It is also the story of those left behind who must bear this insufferable loss. These headstones help tell a small part of this story, a story of profound sadness.

from Events:

Brennan’s confirmation and where CIA drones go from here

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If President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan is confirmed as director of the CIA on Thursday, he will take the role of the lead authority for CIA drone strikes, institutionalizing a program that has killed an unknown number of suspected militants and civilians since 2004. Although his confirmation is expected to help preserve the drone program while glossing over concerns about its transparency and effectiveness so far, his appointment leaves a bigger question about the CIA's future role.

Brennan’s open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday has been pegged as a time to demand answers about the highly secretive U.S. campaigns to target and kill al Qaeda militants using unmanned aerial vehicles in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The administration is tight-lipped on the subject, and critics have assailed the campaign over its lack of public accountability. U.S. drone strikes have killed not just foreign militants, but also civilians and American citizens. Rights groups have lambasted the extrajudicial killings of American citizens, including the “Internet imam” Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in Yemen. A New York Times report last May revealed that the government’s troubling definition of a “militant” suggests any military-age man in a strike zone is fair game. On Tuesday, a 16-page memo from the Justice Department published by NBC News further outlined the vague criteria for who can target and be targeted, as well as showed an expanded definition of conditions that the government can use to order strikes.

from Thinking Global:

Obama’s Afghan test

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Munich – For America’s friends and allies, who will welcome Vice President Joe Biden to the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend, President Obama’s second inaugural address was notable for its single-minded focus on U.S. domestic issues even as global challenges proliferate. It was the clearest sign yet that Obama intends to build his historic legacy at home.

No one quibbles with Obama’s conviction that America’s global role can best be sustained through a period of “nation-building at home.” The problem is the world is unlikely to hit the pause button as America gets itself off the fiscal cliff, reforms its immigration system, modernizes its infrastructure, fixes its education system and focuses on other long-neglected home chores.

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