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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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Here are the signs that America's longest war is finally ending

Kandahar Airfield is unusually quiet and military contractors are looking for their next gigs. As Iraq falls apart, what will Afghanistan look like in a few years?
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Stenciled on a blast wall at Kandahar Airfield, a soldier's gallows humor echoes the uncertainty of Afghanistan's future. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Arriving here for the sixth time since 2010, I’ve never seen Kandahar Airfield as quiet as it is now. Most of the roaring diesel generators are gone, and the buildings they once powered are either abandoned or demolished. What was once a flood of traffic with huge armored convoys jockeying against trash trucks and fuel tankers on the airfield’s narrow streets has slowed to a trickle.

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How the US pulled off its humanitarian aid missions to the Yazidis

Everything you could want to know about the technology that made the aid airdrops in Iraq possible.
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A young displaced Iraqi Yazidi, who fled a jihadist onslaught on Sinjar, stands inside a tent after he took refuge at the Bajid Kandala camp in Kurdistan's western Dohuk province, on August 13, 2014. Time is running out for starving Yazidis trapped on an Iraqi mountain as the West ramp up efforts to assist survivors and arm Kurdish forces battling jihadists. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

US Air Force cargo planes have flown seven missions over northern Iraq this week to drop humanitarian aid to Yazidis trapped by the Islamic State on Mount Sinjar in Nineva Province. While the US Central Command won’t specify where these flights are coming from, a little research can uncover more information than the government is willing to share.

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USAID’s $500 million dam project circling the drain in Afghanistan

The strategically critical city of Kandahar will soon be without electricity after USAID's epic failure to finish a dam that has already cost half a billion dollars.
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Engineers work in the control room at the Kajaki Hydroelectric Power Plant in Helmand Province. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

A linchpin of the American counterinsurgency strategy in southern Afghanistan is maintaining electrical service in Kandahar City, and even that modest goal appears to be slipping away with the ongoing troop withdrawal. That is because the long-overdue upgrade of Kajaki Dam, slated to provide power to Kandahar, now appears unlikely to ever be finished.

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Duplicity’s Child: How British promises sowed the seeds of today’s Israel-Palestine bloodshed

Gaza and Jerusalem were promised to both the Arabs and the Jews. They're still fighting nearly a century later.
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Israeli soldiers stand in front of a banner with a copy of a letter from the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild (a leader of the British Jewish community) known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, as Palestinians, Israeli and foreign protesters demonstrate near the Karmi Tsor Jewish settlement not far from the Palestinian village of Beit Omar in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on November 6, 2010. (Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images)

In October 1917, British forces finally drove the Ottoman army from Gaza, in recent weeks the site of Israeli-Palestinian fighting but then a dusty garrison town that had stubbornly held out against British attacks.

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