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Kurdish forces take on Islamic State in small, relentless battles for Iraq's villages

Even with US-led airstrikes, the situation on the ground could take months — if not years — to resolve. How did IS get so strong?
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Peshmerga field commander Mahmud Sangawy speaks from the IS/Peshmerga frontline on the outskirts of Kubashi. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)

KUBASHI, Iraq – Mortar rounds thundered over a barren landscape as Kurdish forces confronted fighters from the militant group Islamic State (IS) in a skirmish along the front line here Monday.

It was a small battle in a small war – a classic example of the kind of fighting that, even with US military air support, will take months if not longer to root out the Islamic militants.

The peshmerga, as the Kurdish forces allied with the US are called, explained that they are filling a void left by the Iraqi army when it collapsed over the summer, allowing the Islamic militants to sweep into and take control of a swath of land from Southern Syria to Northern Iraq.


With journalism under attack, protecting press freedom becomes more urgent

Editors and news executives gather to discuss how the industry will face a world that is increasingly dangerous for journalists.
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Al-Jazeera channel's Australian journalist Peter Greste (C), Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmi (L) and Egyptian journalist Mohamed Baher stand inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood at the police institute near Cairo's Tora prison on June 1, 2014. (KHALED DESOUKI /AFP/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Journalism is under fire on all fronts.

For foreign correspondents covering conflict on the front lines, a certain level of risk has always come with the terrain. And hard-hitting, investigative reporting has never been for the faint of heart, no matter what country you come from.

But at a large gathering here last week of editors and executives from American and international news organizations, a broad consensus emerged that these are uniquely dark and perilous days for practitioners of the craft – not just for correspondents in simmering conflicts with distant datelines, but also for reporters in the US and in foreign countries who are witnessing protections for freedom of the press steadily erode in their own countries.


Foley family honors son with new nonprofit

The James W. Foley Legacy Fund hopes to celebrate the kind of work Jim loved and provide support to families of American hostages.
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John and Diane Foley — along with family, friends and supporters — hope to give support to others in hostage situations and promote their late son's passions through the James W. Foley Legacy Fund. (Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)

ROCHESTER, New Hampshire — One month after the horrific video of American journalist James Foley’s beheading at the hands of the Islamic State was released, the Foley family finds itself at the center of a global debate over the US government’s policy to forbid the payment of ransom to terrorist organizations.

You’d never know all this was swirling around this faithful and dignified family here in the quiet New England town where they live and where Jim, 40, came of age along with his four siblings. But they have now stepped into a very public and emotional argument over how to address the rising scourge of kidnap and ransom.

To help focus that debate, the Foleys established a fund that will provide resources to families caught in the nightmare of a hostage situation, and that will also seek to enshrine a legacy for their brother and son who was executed after being taken hostage in Syria and held for nearly two years during which time he was beaten and tortured.  

In announcing the formation of the James W. Foley Legacy Fund on Friday, John and Diane Foley have sought to confront their anguish by promoting Jim's “passions and ideals among future generations.”

To support the James W. Foley Legacy Fund, visit the site here.

According to a statement about the nonprofit organization which was conceived of in the Foleys' home by family, friends and supporters over the last few weeks, “The Fund’s foremost aim is to build a resource center for families of American hostages as they work to bring their loved ones home.“


President Obama dives into another 'Long War' with Islamic State

Analysis: Obama's promise Wednesday night to 'degrade and ultimately destroy' IS had a hole in it that you could drive an armored Humvee through.
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US President Barack Obama stands at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, September 11, 2014, for a moment of silence marking the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — The 13 years of US-led fighting that defined the post-9/11 world in Afghanistan and Iraq, then in smaller campaigns in Yemen and Somalia, came to be known as The Long War.

On Wednesday night, the eve of the 13th anniversary of September 11, President Obama made it clear that The Long War is nowhere near over and indeed has opened a new front against the Islamic State.


Afghanistan's contested presidential election hangs over US transition

As US soldiers leave, a mentorship program that brings together US military brass and Afghan political leaders will maintain some continuity.
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Col. Tom Washington learns that Gov. Toryalai Wesa has just flown to Kabul, so he'll be meeting with Wesa's deputy, Abdul Patyal in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — With his armored trucks creeping through the thronging bazaars that line Highway 1, Col. Tom Washington recently made his weekly trip from Kandahar Airfield to the governor’s palace.

Gov. Toryalai Wesa had just left for meetings in Kabul, so the colonel met with Kandahar Province’s deputy governor Abdul Qadim Patyal, as he often does.

Ask Washington where he’s from and he’ll tell you in a lilting Tidewater accent that he’s a Virginia native. Press further and you’ll find that doesn’t just mean he was born there. His family has lived in Virginia for eight generations and is related to the Washington, the first president of the United States. Washington’s role as military liaison to the governor’s office is one of the few US military jobs that will remain in Kandahar after the planned drawdown of troops is complete. While Washington will likely finish his tour at the end of the year, he'll be replaced by another handpicked colonel, continuing the mentorship and information sharing process that is central to the post-2014 US mission in Afghanistan.

President Obama has identified counterterrorism and training as the two emphases for the road ahead, and the soldiers tasked with carrying them out will have their work cut out for them. At the moment, US soldiers are leaving Afghanistan in droves, most military bases here are now in Afghan hands and US activities in 2015 and beyond are expected to be much smaller than they’ve been in more than a decade.

A few years ago, the main effort of US mentorship and training took place primarily at the lowest levels of Afghan military and politics: US soldier to Afghan soldier, squad to squad, platoon to platoon. Four months from the combat mission’s official end, mentorship occurs only at the highest provincial levels: US general to Afghan general, corps to corps, and in Kandahar City, colonel to governor.


Retired US officials move into oil business in Kurdistan's 'Wild West'

Ex-military and diplomatic leaders are pitching Kurdistan as a more lucrative investment than Iraq. The Iraqi government is not happy about it.
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A view of the Kawergosk Refinery, some 20 kilometers east of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Ex-military and diplomatic leaders are pitching Kurdistan as a more lucrative investment than Iraq. The Iraqi government is not happy about it.

Closing time at Afghanistan's Kandahar Airfield

As American troops come home, Western fast food shops and local businesses are leaving too.
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Sajad Ahmad, proprietor of the House of Knowledge, has marked down all his wares as he prepares to close his shop. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – As the US troop presence dwindles here, The House of Knowledge is closing.

Sajad Ahmad set up the shop on a retail strip at Kandahar Airfield hoping it might help to enlighten the soldiers by offering them books about Afghanistan history and culture. At the height of the US presence, Kandahar hosted 30,000 soldiers.

“Business was not good,” Ahmad said.


Islamic State continues onslaught as US mulls military intervention

Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims remain under threat as IS thrives.
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Fauzi Ali and her 2-day-old baby fled the ISIS attack last week and arrived in the Kurdish region of Iraq. (Reese Erlich/GlobalPost)

FISH KHABUR, Kurdistan Region, Iraq — In the wake of the brutal murder of American journalist James Foley, hawks in Washington have increased calls for US military intervention in the region as the perpetrators tightened hold of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic State extremist militant group, which distributed a digital video recording of Foley's beheading to global astonishment last week, seized a stretch of the Sunni areas of northern Iraq in June and consolidated its control of Syria's Raqqa province on Tuesday.


War reporting in the time of the Islamic State

Correspondent James Foley's execution by the Islamic State forces sober reflection on the perils of front-line coverage.
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James Foley reporting in Tripoli, Libya in August 2011. (Jonathan Pedneault/Courtesy)
Correspondent James Foley's execution by the Islamic State forces sober reflection on the perils of front-line coverage.

Pope Francis calls the Foley family, whose faith breaks through ISIS-inflicted horror

Journalist James Foley's execution stunned the world, but his family continues to find strength in their Roman Catholic devotion.
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John and Diane Foley, parents of James Foley, listen to a panel discussion about the importance and dangers of reporting on world conflicts at a Free James Foley event on May 3, 2013 in Boston. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalist James Foley's execution stunned the world, but his family continues to find strength in their Roman Catholic devotion.