January 03, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

The Fog of War

Americans recently learned that their military has been less-than-truthful about Afghanistan.

“U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable,” wrote the Washington Post in a bombshell scoop called the Afghanistan Papers published in early December.

Based on 2,000 pages of internal documents and interviews with more than 400 officials, the Afghanistan Papers detailed how military brass didn’t know their objectives as 775,000 American troops were deployed to the Central Asian country. So far, more than 2,300 have died and around 20,600 have suffered injuries.

One of the latest casualties was Michael Goble, a Green Beret from New Jersey, reported the Daily News. The Taliban claimed credit for setting the roadside bomb that killed Goble.

“Afghan roads are some of the most dangerous in the world, turned into killing grounds through years of bitter guerrilla warfare,” wrote the New York Times.

The Washington Post’s reporting echoed the New York Times’ 1971 scoops in the Pentagon Papers, which illustrated how officials lied about the military’s progress in the Vietnam War.

American leaders disputed the comparison in Politico, however, saying there has been no conspiracy to deceive the American people. The Afghanistan Papers, they argued, were based on interviews designed to look back and learn lessons on the 18-year-long conflict. Brookings Institution researchers Tamara Cofman Wittes and Kevin Huggard, in turn, disputed those assertions in the Atlantic.

Historians will debate these issues for generations.

Meanwhile, diplomats are trying to put an end to the fighting. In November, President Donald Trump surprised the world by saying that talks with the Taliban had resumed after declaring them “dead” in September.

Writing in the Conversation, Johns Hopkins University scholar Elizabeth B. Hessami explained how, in addition to removing 14,000 American troops from the country – there since 2001, when the Taliban sheltered Osama Bin Laden, the architect of the September 11th terror attacks – leaders will need to figure out how to leverage the country’s ample natural resources into economic development.

The PBS NewsHour explained how negotiators would also need to include Afghanistan’s numerous ethnic groups in a peace accord.

The role of the current Afghan government is also up in the air. The Taliban has been coy about sharing power with leaders in Kabul, wrote NBC News. Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani recently won reelection, but allegations of fraud have marred his victory, wrote Reuters.

The US has few options but to stay, mused Foreign Policy magazine.

It’s hard to tell whom to believe.

WANT TO KNOW

AUSTRIA

‘Best of Both Worlds’

Austria’s conservatives and its Green party agreed to form an unprecedented coalition government after months of negotiations that followed snap elections held in September, the BBC reported Thursday.

This will be the first time that the left-wing party will serve in government, and it will also mark the return of conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Previously, Kurz’s People’s Party had been in a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party until a scandal toppled the government in May 2019.

The new coalition aims to lower taxes in general – a People’s Party pledge – and implement higher environmental taxes, in line with Green policies.

“We succeeded in uniting the best of both worlds,” Kurz said on Wednesday. “It is possible to protect the climate and borders.”

Green party leader Werner Kogler said that now Austria will become a European leader in combating climate change and the reformist agenda could put pressure on European leaders who haven’t addressed voters’ climate-related concerns, the Wall Street Journal reported.

LEBANON

The Fugitive

Lebanese authorities said Thursday that they received an Interpol arrest warrant for fugitive former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn, who mysteriously fled Japan to Lebanon to avoid a trial on financial misconduct charges, the Associated Press reported.

His escape to Lebanon via Turkey earlier this week has baffled Japanese authorities, who have kept him under tight surveillance.

Lebanon’s Justice Minister Albert Serhan said that Ghosn entered the country with a legal French passport.

He added, however, that Lebanon “will carry out its duties” after receiving Interpol’s Red Notice for Ghosn’s arrest – which requests law enforcement agencies worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a wanted fugitive.

Turkish authorities, meanwhile, arrested seven individuals involved in Ghosn’s escape.

Ghosn, who is Lebanese and holds French and Brazilian passports, skipped bail before his much-anticipated trial was set to begin in April.

He faces charges in Japan for underreporting his future compensation and breach of trust. However, he strongly denies any wrongdoing.

He argued the Japanese judicial system was unjust and that he is trying to avoid “political persecution.”

EUROPE

Clashing Interests

Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a deal on Thursday to build a 1,180-mile subsea pipeline to carry natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean’s rapidly developing gas industry to Europe, Reuters reported.

The nearly $7 billion EastMed project is expected to carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Israeli and Cypriot waters to the Greek island of Crete and into Europe’s gas network via Italy.

European governments and Israel inked the deal last year. The Greek and Cypriot leaders said Thursday that the new pipeline will foster closer energy cooperation in the Middle East.

However, the pact comes a few weeks after Turkey and Libya signed an accord on sea boundaries in the Mediterranean, a move that Greece, Cyprus and Israel opposed.

Analysts argue that the Turkish-Libya maritime pact could present problems for the proposed pipeline, which Turkey opposed and which would have to cross the planned Turkey-Libya economic zone.

DISCOVERIES

A Bad Taste

Moths have evolved various defense mechanisms to evade predatory bats, such as ultrasonic hearing, erratic flight movements, and the ability to produce sounds that confuse the bat’s natural radar.

Scientists recently discovered that some moth species are more “nonchalant” toward predators simply because they taste awful, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Lead author Nicholas Dowdy and his team hypothesized in their study that a moth’s bad taste was connected to its relative sluggishness in the face of incoming predators.

In an experiment, researchers collected five different species of tiger moths and set them loose in an outdoor flight arena which bats would visit to feast.

The team surgically silenced the insects so they couldn’t produce defensive sounds and monitored the interactions between bats and moths to test the palate theory.

It turned out that unpalatable moths were slower and rarely employed evasive maneuvers to escape bat fangs.

“Strikingly, we observed that moths with weak or no chemical defenses often dive away to escape bat attacks,” explained Dowdy. “However, moths with more potent chemical defenses are more ‘nonchalant,’ performing evasive maneuvers less often.”

This relaxed behavior might actually benefit moths, since employing other anti-predator methods might backfire – a moth flying erratically might end up on a spider web.