Despite Presidential Legacy Goals, Obama Agrees to Slow Afghanistan Troop Drawdown

U.S. Soldier in Afghanistan, Courtesy of the U.S. Army

U.S. Soldier in Afghanistan, Courtesy of the U.S. Army

AFGHANISTAN - In March, President Obama announced that troop levels in Afghanistan would not be reduced, despite the president's pledge to decrease the number by half. In the following weeks a flood of diplomatic engagements, press conferences and speculation by world leaders unraveled about what the bilateral relationship will look like in the coming months and years.

What has become clear is an already tense and fragile relationship has become increasingly volatile with the rise of ISIS, coupled with the lessons learned from Iraq’s draw downs. In Iraq, many think we withdrew too quickly, leaving the vulnerable Iraqi troops to fend for themselves against ISIS, who advanced quickly against the inexperienced resistance.

Despite these factors, amplified lobbying efforts by President Ashraf Ghani certainly doesn't bode well for Obama’s plan to get half of the troops remaining in Afghanistan out by the end of 2015. With these pressures accumulating for months, Obama has officially decided to slow his planned troop draw down by scratching the 50% reduction in troops he was planning for the end of 2015. Now, the plan is to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, when the timeline will be further evaluated and structured for 2016.

Regardless of this major decision, Obama is unyielding on his benchmark goal of ending the war in Afghanistan before his Presidency comes to an end. Therefore, while there may be 10,000 troops in Afghanistan in December, he plans to have only a few hundred troops at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul left in the country by the end of 2016. The pace of this drawdown, though, is yet to be situated.

No doubt the White House, Pentagon, CIA and others are weighing the pros and cons versus staying longer to establish peace and stability, a strong Afghan military, and a more robust response to ISIS advances – but there is the eternal reminder that this is already America’s longest war and it cannot drag on forever. And while Obama may be dogged about having troops out by the end of 2016, he may be outweighed by recommendations from senior advisers and officials in these agencies who are pushing for Americans to stay longer and lock in the progress made over the last 13-years. It remains to be seen who will win this fight.

Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols
LinkedIn: Jessamy Nichols

ISIS Continues to Exterminate Yezidis, Yet Mainstream Media Muted in Coverage of Atrocities

no to terror protests against isis genocide of yzides, photo by kurdistan photos

no to terror protests against isis genocide of yzides, photo by kurdistan photos

IRAQ, Nineveh Province - Charlie Hebdo, a weekly magazine based in Paris, France which pilloried religion (Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism), the racist rants of extreme right entities like the nationalist National Front Party (NF), among other topics, and professed to be both secular, atheist, and left-wing in its political stance was the target of two terrorist attacks, the first in November 2011 and subsequently in February 2015.

The presumed motive for the attacks was terrorists’ response to a number of controversial Muhammad cartoons it published. In the second of these attacks, 12 people were killed, including former editor Stéphane Charbonnier and several contributors. (Source: Wikipedia)

The savagery of the latest attack coupled with the seemingly incomprehensible response by terrorists to what those in the West would consider ‘freedom of expression,’ garnered worldwide attention. The result was that news outlets around the world reported on, dissected, discussed, and speculated about this horrific event for months after the attack.

As an online media publication we understand and accept the nature of news gathering and publishing; however, as journalists and editors we should also be sensitive to appearing partisan to the point of ignoring other equally compelling news stories. Such is the case with atrocities being committed by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) against Iraqi citizens, most notably against the Yezidis.

News outlets from Turkey, Bugun and Internet Haber, both reported on an Anatolian Agency and Anadolu Ajansi (AA) story about a two-day panel “Ethnical extermination against Yezidis and Christians in Iraq” hosted on 8 February 2015 in Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional capital Erbil at Saad Abdullah Conference Hall. It was a chilling story of several Yezidi women who escaped ISIS captivity. Although the story was widely reported on across the Middle East, the same could not be said of mainstream Western media.

Iraqi President Fuad Masum attended the panel and spoke about the violence of ISIS militants. “The ISIS violence in Iraq is a crime against humanity and it is no different than what Nazis did in Germany. So far, ISIS killed 5,000 Yezidis, captured 5,000, and forcibly displaced 350,000 people of the Yezidi community including their children. The crimes against Christians are similar. The cruelty that Yezidis and Christians underwent is rarely seen in the history,” he said.

According to an AA report on Internet Haber, the women who escaped ISIS captivity spoke on safeguarding their identity to prevent retaliation by background hiding their identity for their safety by using code names. 17-year-old “Vaha” who was kidnapped along with her family by ISIS while they were trying to escape from the Tel Azer village in Sinjar in Northern Iraq told of how the militants beat her for long periods and tortured everyone without distinction of age.

The militants then separated them in three groups - men, women and young girls, and children. “They brutally killed 17 men in an open field before us. Those who were killed took their last breathe looking at their families,” Vaha said.

She said among those who were killed were her brother and her uncle. The 23 women abducted were taken to Mosul, where they joined other captives which eventually grew to 500 captives.

“We did not have food for 10 days. They were rude to people and they attacked women. We were very afraid and we did not know what to do,” she said.

A group of 20 women including Vaha were sold to a man named Abu Layd. At the place they were taken, each were given to an ISIS militant.

“I wanted to resist the man who wanted to take me. I did not want to be separated from my friends. But he beat me and took me away. I was raped and beaten every day,” she said in tears. ISIS militants bought and sold women like a piece of merchandise, or even gave them to each other as a gift.

“I have seen a 50-year-old man taking away a 5-year-old girl. They took the little girls, but none of us know what they did to them. Because they were adding something to our food, so, affecting our consciousness. Nevertheless, they were doing whatever they wanted to us,” Vaha said. “One day, the area around Mosul was under airstrikes, and the guard at our door left. We were able to escape late that night.”

21-year-old Hezal Mirzo who also talked at the panel said she witnessed many Yezidi men being executed by firing squad.

“Throughout the three month of captivity I was raped numerous times. They gave medicines to pregnant women to abort their children. They liked it when we suffered,” she said.

After staying in Mosul for a while she was taken to a school in Tel Afar. “At every different place we were taken, a different man raped us. If we resisted, they added some medicine to our food making us lose consciousness,” she said. “I had the hardest and filthiest days of my life there. We ask United Nations, Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to rescue our people from ISIS captivity. We continue our lives here, while ISIS continues to persecute more people.”

The human rights abuses perpetrated against the Yezidis, also befalls Christians and Muslims who refuse to acquiesce to ISIS, and yet this violence slips quietly unnoticed and under reported in mainstream media. In fairness, there are a few news outlets such as PBS News Hour and the Daily Mail that choose to cover the severe conditions in Iraq under the tyranny of ISIS; and the Voice of America (VOA) has recently produced a story covering the human rights abuses in Iraq, especially of the persecution of the Yezidi community, but it is not enough.

The kidnapping of the school girls by the violent, radical Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria received greater attention than the inhuman and reprehensible treatment of the Yezidis women and girls.

Though people were rightfully outraged and reacted strongly to the Paris terrorist attack, these atrocities that are occurring across the Middle East, like those the Yezidi community are experiencing, have not receive the same amount of coverage.

Yes, terrorist attacks and killings in Middle East have become routine occurrences, and perhaps because of this have lost their media cache; but just because an atrocity happens repeatedly or on a large scale, does not absolve us in the West of the responsibility to be more vociferous in our denouncements.

Contributing Journalist: @ElvanKatmer
LinkedIn: Elvan Katmer

War Porn: The Death of James Foley

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ALEPPO, Syria -- We have become a world of sensates, who require more and more input only to receive less and less gratification. We live in a world, and in fact this website and the millions of others like it, inhabit a sphere dedicated to satisfying the immediate need for any information or misinformation that we may seek.

Today, we awoke to the news that another journalist had fallen in the line of duty while trying to expose gross injustices in war-torn Syria. His death was as brutal as, or more so than, the hundreds of murders captured by video and being circulated through the web depicting the torturous final moments of people chosen by radicals to demonstrate the nature of their resolve.

The radical 'du jour' was ISIS, a.k.a. Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, but yesterday it was Boko Haram, tomorrow it may be Hamas, the next, The Ayran Brotherhood, perhaps the KKK,  Al-Qeda may rattle a saber or two, but in the end, the name of tyranny is less important than the fact that "all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." ~ Edmund Burke.

It is easy for us to blame the evil perpetrators for their reprehensible behavior, and indeed, we should feel outraged, but in so doing we must examine ourselves for our role in this dance of the macabre. ISIS would be just another group of religious zealots killing, maiming, and torturing people in the name of their version of "god," but for social media.

ISIS has learned to harness the power of social media to promulgate its ideology, but more insidious, they understand that human nature will do the rest. Much like the style of horror movies known as "torture porn" for its gratuitous amount of screaming, nudity, and bondage; the industry continues to produce these movies because there is an appetite for it. It satisfies a certain type of voyeurism that requires sadism to complete the experience.

Hence, more and more violence, for less and less satisfaction, as proven by the plethora of disturbingly violent videos and graphic images that crisscross the web. Most cannot be authenticated, but lacking in provenance doesn't stop people from 'sharing' and circulating it. Thus is the case with the horrific beheading of James Foley, an American journalist who reported from conflict ridden areas of the world as a freelance photojournalist for the GlobalPost.

That we would wake up this morning to millions of shares of the images captured by an ISIS adherent of Foley's lasts moments, should make us all feel soiled. ISIS heinously, with malice aforethought, and in cold-blood staged the beheading of Foley for the sole purpose of having us, the audience, disseminate it. They are the bait trap, into which we have climbed, and thus poisoned, we leave believing we have escaped, when in fact, we have become the carrier of that which will kill not only us, but everyone with whom we come in contact.

Like pornography, once the image has been viewed it can never be removed nor unseen. There is no such thing as a degausser for our brains. That is what makes pornography so pernicious, it repels and attracts, the image horrific or seductive continues to gain strength and relief is only found in revisiting the image, thus trying to recapture the initial sensation, it becomes addictive.

ISIS knows this as well as any successful purveyor of illicit material. They know that they only have to put it out there, and if one person views it, and even if that person is appalled and simply wants to share their outrage with their social media network, ISIS has already accomplished the goal of proselytizing through the power of concentric exposure.

That Foley had to die under such tragic and inhumane circumstances is heartbreaking. That his mother had to hear about or read about the fact that the world was greedily consuming the last moments of the life of her child is unimaginable. That his family and friends were not even allowed the dignity and privacy to begin the mourning process without the vivisection of their tragedy is shameful. That news media outlets lacked both decorum and humanity in posting the graphic video and images of Foley's beheading is morally reprehensible.

That we have a choice to share or not share the video and images of Foley's murder is the greatest and most powerful choice we can make in this situation. That, and to remember that "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

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Punjab Immigrants Stuck in Iraq | How to Avoid Fraudulent Job Offers

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Vinita Tiwari, Middle East CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:50 p.m. DST, 24 June 2014

Self portrait – All about the Sandy’s, Photo by: MattysFlicksPUNJAB, India & Dubai -- When dreams get wings, they fly high. But when dreams are met with deceit, often disappointment and broken aspirations are the residue left behind.

The metaphor is evident in a recent tragedy that has stirred the whole world and has discredited the developing economies involved in Dubai.

Let us unfold the chapters of this very dark story......

A Shameless Tale of Innocent Job Seekers & Fraud Predators

More than 40 young job aspirants from Punjab were lured west by proposals offered by travel agents who promised them high-paying job opportunities in Dubai. The worst part here was that these travel agents were in direct connections with illegal recruitment organizations operating from the Gulf countries.

The travel agents (as per their promise) sent these youth to Dubai, but there the job seekers were told to wait for many weeks. Later, they were informed that Dubai has dearth of ideal jobs, and currently Iraq would be a better fit for them.

In need of money and a better career, the aspirants agreed and moved on, not knowing that Iraq has been the epicenter of political and social unrests for the past decade.

Subsequent to the arrival, several of the hopeful employees disappeared and are still unaccounted for, and the families of these individuals are heartbroken. They are imploring Dubai to deliver justice and proper punishment for the fraudsters. Those immigrants who have been located in Iraq are trying to return home, but the cost of travel has been a barrier for many of these individuals. Other reports claim that ISIS terror group are holding the Indian workers.

Be Aware

While this seems like an extraordinary occurrence, many similar cases have been reported in recent years. The best antidote is to be aware and cautious when applying to jobs in Dubai or elsewhere. Whether you are promised a job in a large metropolis or rural area, the same risks apply.

Here is a plan to avoid becoming the next victim of such fraud:

  1. “Deposit Money & Get Your Dream Job In-Hand”

This is the first red flag that the there is something suspicious about the job offer. As the saying goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Well, if the opportunity is genuine, potential employees will never ask for money, but rather they will ask you your expected salary range. In these cases, the best advice is to avoid such opportunities and not fall prey to fraudulent career-furthering options. The statement is generally mentioned in the ‘terms & conditions’ part of the intent letter.

  1. Remuneration Amount Beyond Experience & Expectations

This is another technique used by the conmen to raise hopeful employee's hopes and encourage a flood of applicants. It is understandable that if you get an opportunity to go for a high-paying job in Dubai or EU, as these are some of the flourishing economies of late, you might have a hard time saying 'no.' However, it is advisable to study the current global market salary trends in advance, so you can find work that pays well, and avoid fraudulent job offers.

  1. Use the Power of Internet

Make use of the power of the internet by searching buzzwords and hashtags related to your job. There are cyber cafes that offer access to the world wide web in small towns and big cities of every globalized country. To know the authenticity of the job offer, enter the company’s name, the agency’s name, and even the address of the company. You can find this information in prior corporate mailings and brochures.

  1. Job Search Sites

If you are eyeing opportunities in Dubai or other flourishing economies, you should access famous Dubai job portals like Naukrigulf.com. You just have to create a profile, and then you can access several legitimate job options at your convenience.

  1. No Personal Information Please!

There have been incidents of hacking and identity theft; therefore save yourself from this trap. There are mailers containing job opportunities that may ask you for your birth date, social security number or your mother’s maiden name. It is safe to assume that the intention of these mailings is to steal your identity or access your financial accounts.

Last Word of Advice

Be aware as you conduct your international job search. However if you find yourself a victim of a fake job offer, immediately report it to the job board, the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The commission or the establishment will vary from country to country, but by reporting the offense, you can actively end the fraudulent and exploitative practices perpetrated by these recruiters.

Follow Vinita on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Middle East Correspondent: @vinita1204

ISIS | The Extremist Group Too Violent for al-Qaeda

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SYRIA — A formerly affiliated subsidiary of al-Qaeda, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), has been committing brutal acts of violence that even al-Qaeda condemns. After being denounced from al-Qaeda as a “deviant organization," the group is increasing its presence in the Levant (the Sham), particularly Syria. In Early May ISIS carried out seven public executions in the Syrian city of Ar-Raqqa, leaving two of the deceased on display, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The slaying of the seven Syrian rebels in Ar-Raqqa are just the beginning of the threat ISIS poses on the region. According to the group, the seven prisoners were crucified in response to a grenade attack on ISIS members. However, an eyewitness source told CNN that the five dead prisoners that were not displayed were children. The source, from an anti-ISIS activist group, also claims that these five victims were under eighteen; one was a seventh-grade student.

Their other attacks are also seemingly unjustified acts of terror. ISIS’s targets tend to be apparently innocent civilians, including cab drivers, goat herders, and children. Their use of crucifixion began this March when, as CNN reported, ISIS accused a shepherd of theft and murder. ISIS members shot the shepherd in the head and posted his body to a wooden cross. Photo evidence showed the body leaning against a building painted with ISIS’s name and flag.

ISIS relies on symbolism in their attacks—like with the crucifixion—making their acts all the more terrifying for the people. CNN reported that another man killed by ISIS had his body covered in a red sign that read in Arabic, "This man fought Muslims and detonated an IED here."

The group justifies many attacks as revenge.  However, in February, Daily Mail reports that a young girl was stoned to death in Syria by ISIS. She had made a Facebook account and ISIS authority condemns the use of social media, equating it to adultery.

The Syrian government has left voids in the communities since the civil war, which has allowed ISIS to easily slip into power by preying on the people. ISIS has been using the absence of authority to seize it for themselves and issue dictates that comply to strict sharia law. CNN reports that decrees are posted on buildings that command: "All shop owners must close their stores immediately upon the announcement of prayer and go to the mosque. Any violators after the issuance of this announcement will face consequences."

ISIS forces the Christian minority to follow a different set of rules. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Christians must not recite prayers around Muslims, cannot repair churches, cannot display crosses, and must pay a special tax to militants.

ISIS’s rule is so harsh that even Al-Qaeda criticizes the group and cut ties with them. The imprisoned al-Qaeda leader, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi has written letters from jail condemning ISIS’s actions. The Long War Journal reports that Maqdisi wrote that their attacks on Muslims is “unlawful” and that the group has denied al-Qaeda leadership saying they “began to justify their sin and their transgression against the Mujahideen, as well as their rebellion against their leaders and their rejection of the advice of their leaders, under the guise that al Qaeda has deviated from the path of Jihad.”

The rules instated by ISIS have not been imposed since ancient Islamic times. Abbas Barzegar, assistant professor of Islamic studies at Georgia State University, told CNN,” It has become a standard feature of fringe Islamist groups to revive these outdated practices in an effort to bring back what they believe is authentic." And he goes on to say that what the group believes is “authentic” to Islam is to punish anyone who opposes God because they “deserve the highest form of punishment possible”.

There are Syrians that are confronting the extremist group. An anti-ISIS activist uses Facebook for updates, plans for protests, and posts of alleged crimes committed by ISIS. The anti-ISIS Facebook page currently has 12,000 followers.

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

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ICC to Investigate Alleged British War Crimes

 New Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart Sworn in by the International Criminal Court ICC, Photo Courtesy of ICC

 New Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart Sworn in by the International Criminal Court ICC, Photo Courtesy of ICC

The International Criminal Court (ICC) will launch a preliminary investigation of alleged war crimes committed by British troops during the years of 2003 - 2008.

The claim being analyzed is that there were 52 cases of unlawful killing and more than 170 counts of mistreatment of detained Iraqi soldiers.  Accusations include incidents of electrocution, mock executions, beatings and sexual assault.

The ICC first examined claims of abuse in 2006, but there was insufficient evidence to pursue the matter further. However, in January the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights and the law firm Public Interest Lawyers requested that ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda re-open the case because of new information. The latest update shows that the abuse was much more common, happened over a longer period of time and was more geographically widespread than originally thought.

The UK is the first western country to be under ICC scrutiny. However, the ICC will probably not launch a more formal investigation, as the allegations are now being taken care of by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, a unit the Ministry of Defense created in 2010 to investigate issues of misconduct. The ICC may only officially investigate claims if they feel that national attempts are insufficient, but it will keep a close eye on the internal proceedings to make sure correct protocol is followed.

Action Needed on Iranian Hostage Situation

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 14:41 p.m. DST, 16 September 2013

Omid Dana, Iranian Dissident in danger of execution, Photo by Robert Reed Daly

CAMP ASHRAF, Iran - On 1 September 2013, Iraqi soldiers led by a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard entered Camp Ashraf in Iraq and proceeded to kill 52 members and take 7 hostage of the Iranian dissident movement, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI).

With ties growing stronger every day between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran, an attack on the unarmed residents of Ashraf appears to have only been a matter of time, as the other PMOI camp, Liberty, has already been targeted several times.

After eleven days of pressure, Iraq, a staunch ally of Iran’s government, finally admitted on September 12th to having the hostages in custody. Several human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have released statements urging action to be taken as the hostages are at risk of being sent back to Iran to face execution at the hands of the Revolutionary Guard.

Furthermore, the remaining residents in Camp Ashraf, many of whom were injured in the raid, are being moved to Camp Liberty, which further exacerbates the ongoing refugee situation there. This tense situation has the potential to explode into further violence if further action is not taken by the international community promptly. Otherwise, the Iranian and Iraqi governments may feel emboldened to continue these threatening actions.

This incident comes at a critical time in terms of the global agenda as President Obama has given the Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power the mandate to press forward on human rights, as well as Iran being on the agenda of next month’s UN General Assembly meeting. With attention shifting towards Iran in the midst of Syria’s chaos, Rouhani and his leaders should be pushed to explain the attack, ensure the release of the hostages, and assure freedom from persecution for opposition groups.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols