The Donbas battle, on wide-open terrain, will look significantly different from the urban warfare around Kyiv, where the Russian military tried and failed to advance.

This does not mean that Ukraine no longer needs the anti-tank and air-defense systems that have been so effective so far, military analysts said. In addition, the Ukrainians will need powerful arms to enable a counteroffensive of their own.

The $800 million military aid package to Ukraine that President Biden announced last week for the first time included more sophisticated artillery weaponry as well as 200 armored personnel carriers. In a conference call with allies on Tuesday, Mr. Biden promised more artillery for Ukraine’s forces.

Atlantic Council analysis last week.

“This phase of the conflict will be distinct from phase one, with a greater focus on offensives against dug-in combatants as opposed to Ukrainian defense against a large attacking force,” Colonels Wetzel and Barranco wrote. “The campaign is likely to become a bloody war of attrition with limited territorial gains on either side.”

Capturing the besieged city of Mariupol is a key part of the Russian campaign. The fall of the city, which has come to symbolize the death and devastation wrought by the invasion, would allow Russia to complete a land bridge between Russian-held territory and the Crimean peninsula.

A sprawling Soviet-era steel factory in Mariupol, which its designers have said was built to withstand a nuclear attack, has been sheltering thousands of soldiers and civilians and is the last Ukrainian redoubt there.

Russian commanders said Tuesday they were beginning their final assault on the factory, the Azovstal steel plant, after the defenders had rejected ultimatums to surrender. A Ukrainian officer in Mariupol, Maj. Sergiy Volyna, wrote on a Telegram channel that “we are ready to fight to the last drop of blood.”

Thomas Gibbons-Neff reported from Kharkiv, Michael Schwirtz from Dnipro, Ukraine, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Reporting was contributed byNatalia Yermak and Tyler Hicks from Kharkiv. Katie Rogers from Washington and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russian Forces Push Ahead After Talks Failed to Make Progress

Russia’s international disinformation campaign seemed to flounder in the early days of the invasion, as narratives about Ukrainian bravery dominated the internet. But in Russia, the country’s propaganda machine was busy churning out a deluge of misinformation aimed at its own citizens.

The narrative disseminated online through state-run and unofficial channels has helped create an alternate reality where the invasion is justified and Ukrainians are to blame for violence. To control the narrative at home, Russia also shut down access to several websites and threatened the news media with long prison sentences for criticizing the war. There’s some evidence that the effort has mollified at least some Russians.

Here is what the war looks like to Russians, based on a review of state news articles, channels on the popular chat app Telegram, and input from several disinformation watchdogs who are monitoring Russia’s propaganda machine.

After Russian shellings killed Ukrainian civilians, Russia blamed ‘neo-Nazis.’

A headline from the Russian state news website Tass.
Translated into English. TapHover for the original.

Some of the most disturbing images from the war have come from Mariupol, a port city in the southeastern coast. Shelling battered the region, killing several civilians who were trying to flee the area, during what was supposed to be a cease-fire.

But Russians got a different explanation online: Ukrainians had fired on Russian forces during the cease-fire, and neo-Nazis were “hiding behind civilians as a human shield,” according to the Russian state news website Tass.

Neo-Nazis have been a recurring character in Russian propaganda campaigns for years, used to falsely justify military action against Ukraine in what Russian officials have called “denazification.” Those claims have only continued during the conflict. To explain away attacks on other Ukrainian apartment buildings, the same article by Tass claimed that neo-Nazis had placed “heavy weapons in apartment buildings, while some residents are forcibly kept in their homes,” providing no evidence.

Russian social media accounts have used a mix of fake and unconfirmed photos showing Ukrainian soldiers holding Nazi flags or photos of Hitler. An analysis by the Center for Information Resilience, a nonprofit focused on identifying disinformation, showed that the number of tweets connecting Ukrainians to Nazis soared after the invasion began.

“Propaganda works when it coincides with your existing assumptions,” said Pierre Vaux, a senior investigator at the Center for Information Resilience. “The stuff that chimes into the Nazi stuff is really effective.”

After a nuclear facility caught fire, Russians claimed they were protecting it.

A headline from the Russian state news website Tass.
Translated into English. TapHover for the original.

After Russia attacked an area near the nuclear complex in Zaporizhzhia, leading to a fire, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called it “nuclear terrorism.”

But according to a Kremlin statement reported in Tass, the military seized the facility to prevent Ukrainians and neo-Nazis from “organizing provocations fraught with catastrophic consequences.” Even though Ukrainians heavily fortified the region against an attack, Russian officials claimed they already had control of the compound before Ukrainians opened fire. They added that Ukrainians set fire to an adjacent building before fleeing, providing no evidence. Western experts said controlling the Zaporizhzhia complex would allow Russia to trigger blackouts or shut down the entire power grid.

The image of Russia as a world protector surfaced again after the country’s officials claimed they discovered evidence that Ukraine was working on a nuclear bomb. According to Russian officials, plans for the bomb were uncovered at the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

“It doesn’t even make sense, because if you’re going to develop a nuclear weapon, you don’t do your secret development in a nuclear power plant,” Mr. Vaux said. “But that kind of thing is just being beamed out on Russian state TV.”

After Russia shelled a residential neighborhood, Russians claimed Ukrainians did it.

An attack on Kharkiv, a northeast Ukraine city bordering Russia, provided additional evidence that Russia had indiscriminately bombed residential neighborhoods and killed civilians, according to the Atlantic Council, an American research group. The International Criminal Court opened an investigation into war crimes after the assault.

In one attack that included heavy shelling, 34 civilians were killed and 285 were injured, according to the Ukrainian State Emergency Service.

A post from the Telegram channel for the Russian news site Readovka.
Translated into English. TapHover for the original.

But Russians listening to state media or browsing channels on Telegram heard another story: The missiles, those sources claimed, came from Ukrainian territory.

On a Telegram channel for the Russian news site Readovka, one post described how “Ukrainian missiles” had “arrived from the northwest” — an area controlled by the Ukrainian military.

Russia’s defense department said that it never attacked cities, instead targeting “military infrastructure” with “high-precision weapons,” according to an article in the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

After attacks bloodied civilians, Russians called injured Ukrainians crisis actors.

A woman who survived a blast at her apartment building became the focus of disinformation efforts after her bloodied and bandaged photograph spread widely through newspapers and Western media.

The woman was a resident of an apartment complex in Chuhuiv, near Kharkiv. The photojournalist Alex Lourie captured her portrait after the attack, and the image was soon featured on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

A post from the Telegram channel War on Fakes.
Translated into English. TapHover for the original.

But Russian social media channels falsely described her as a member of Ukraine’s psychological operations unit, according to an analysis by the Ukrainian fact-checking website StopFake.

A post by “War on Fakes,” a pro-Russian website and Telegram channel that appeared at the start of the invasion, suggested that the blood could be grape juice and that the woman could be “part of the territorial defense.” As evidence, the post included a shot of another woman bearing some resemblance. That image came from a New York Times photograph, which was taken in Kyiv — a seven-hour drive west of Chuhuiv.

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In Talks on Ukraine, U.S. and Russia Deadlock Over NATO Expansion

GENEVA — The United States and Russia emerged from seven hours of urgent negotiations on Monday staking out seemingly irreconcilable positions on the future of the NATO alliance and the deployment of troops and weapons in Eastern Europe, keeping tensions high amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov, Russia’s lead negotiator, insisted after the meeting that it was “absolutely mandatory” that Ukraine “never, never, ever” become a NATO member.

His American counterpart, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, reiterated that the United States could never make such a pledge because “we will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open door policy,” and she said that the United States and its allies would not stand by if Russia sought to change international borders “by force.’’

The impasse left the fate of Ukraine — which was not invited to the bilateral talks — in a state of uncertainty, with Russia’s military intentions far from resolved following hastily-scheduled meetings between Ms. Sherman and Mr. Ryabkov on Sunday night and on Monday.

massed roughly 100,000 troops on its borders with Ukraine, Mr. Ryabkov told reporters “we have no intention to invade Ukraine.” And both sides offered some positive assessments.

Ms. Sherman, talking to reporters via phone after Monday’s meeting, said that she saw some areas where the two countries could make progress, and Mr. Ryabkov described the talks as “very professional, deep, concrete” and that their tone “makes one more optimistic.’’

The talks will continue on Wednesday in Brussels, when Russian officials meet with NATO allies, and on Thursday in Vienna, at a gathering of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes both Russia and Ukraine as well as the United States. Mr. Ryabkov said that the outcome of those discussions would determine whether or not Russia was willing to proceed with diplomacy.

And he warned that if the West did not agree to Russia’s demands to roll back NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe, it would face unspecified consequences that would put the “security of the whole European continent” at risk.

American officials told The New York Times, signaling that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia still may not have made up his mind about whether to proceed with an attack, or might be considering something less conventional than pouring troops over the border.

The U.S. officials say they are preparing for everything from a full-scale invasion, to partial incursions, to cyberattacks intended to paralyze the country.

“He tried to maintain a flexible position that would allow Putin to decide either way,” Kadri Liik, a Russia specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said of Mr. Ryabkov’s approach. “It will be Putin’s decision whether to continue these talks under the conditions that the U.S. makes available.”

Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and fomented a separatist war in the country’s east after the pro-Western revolution in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in 2014. The war in eastern Ukraine continues to simmer, having claimed more than 13,000 Ukrainian lives on both sides.

In the last year, Mr. Putin has increasingly cast Western support for Ukraine as an existential threat, claiming that the neighboring country, formerly a Soviet republic, was being turned into an “anti-Russia” that the West could use to attack or otherwise weaken his country.

But Russia’s aims go far beyond the future of Ukraine, a position it put forth in an extraordinary set of demands to the West last month that sought to roll back NATO’s military presence to 1990s levels. It also asked for guarantees that NATO would not expand eastward or keep forces or weapons in former Soviet states that have since joined NATO. .

a new phase of the conflict.

Even without any American concessions, Monday’s talks already represented a victory of sorts for the Kremlin because they brought the issue of NATO expansion, which has long angered Mr. Putin, to the forefront of issues confronting Washington policymakers.

Ms. Liik, the analyst, said the seriousness with which the United States appeared to prepare for Monday’s talks — sending a large delegation that included officials from the Defense Department, the State Department and the National Security Council, which coordinates policy at the White House — sent an important signal to Moscow.

“We had the feeling that the American side took the Russian proposals very seriously and studied them deeply,” Mr. Ryabkov said. “Now, things are being called by their names, and this in itself has a healing effect on our relations with the West.”

Mr. Ryabkov said Russia would make a decision on whether or not to continue diplomacy after the meetings this week, warning that “the risks connected with a possible intensification of confrontation cannot be underestimated.”

But Mr. Ryabkov was vague as to what, exactly, the consequences would be if the United States refused Russia’s demands. He repeatedly said that Russia had no plans to attack Ukraine and that there was “no reason to fear an escalation scenario in this regard.”

But he also said that increased military activity by the West in Ukraine and in the Black Sea region had caused Russia to shift its military posture in the region, and that it was concerned about “deliberate provocations” by Ukraine.

Western officials have said they believe that Russia could manufacture a “provocation” as a pretext for an invasion.

Describing the consequences of what would happen if diplomacy fails, Mr. Ryabkov repeated Mr. Putin’s wording that the West would face a “military-technical response” by Russia. He said Russia would not make public what that response would look like because doing so would invite new sanctions threats, but he indicated it could involve new deployments of certain weapons systems.

Ms. Sherman, cautious after a long career of sparring with Russian officials, was asked after the meeting whether she had realistic hope for a diplomatic solution.

“It’s very hard for diplomats to do the work we do if you have no hope,’’ she said. “So of course I have hope.”

She paused briefly. “But what I care about more is results.”

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Ukraine Commanders Say a Russian Invasion Would Overwhelm Them

KYIV, Ukraine — On the 30th anniversary of the founding of Ukraine’s armed forces this week, the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, donned a helmet and flak jacket to tour the trenches and announced with great fanfare the delivery of new tanks, armored vehicles and ships to frontline units engaged in fighting Russian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists.

While the weapons systems may help to maintain parity in the slow-moving war of attrition that has prevailed for years, neither they nor anything else the Ukrainian military can now muster would be sufficient to repel the full-on Russian assault that Ukrainian and Western officials say Moscow appears to be preparing. With nearly 100,000 troops now massed across Ukraine’s eastern, northern and southern borders and more on the way, even the Ukrainian officials responsible for their country’s defense acknowledge that without a significant influx of resources, their forces do not stand much of a chance.

“Unfortunately, Ukraine needs to be objective at this stage,” said Gen. Kyrylo O. Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service. “There are not sufficient military resources for repelling a full-scale attack by Russia if it begins without the support of Western forces.”

General Budanov outlined his nightmare vision of a Russian invasion that would begin with airstrikes and rocket attacks aimed initially at ammunition depots and trench-bound troops. Very quickly, he said, the Ukrainian military would be incapacitated, its leadership unable to coordinate a defense and supply the front. After that, he said, responsibility would fall to frontline commanders to carry on the fight alone.

a video call with President Biden on Tuesday, Mr. Putin dismissed concerns about the troop buildup on Ukraine’s border, shifting blame to the United States and NATO, which he accused of threatening Russia’s security by supporting Ukraine’s military with arms and training.

“The Russian troops are on their own territory,” an adviser to Mr. Putin, Yuri V. Ushakov, said in a briefing with reporters after the presidents had spoken. “They don’t threaten anyone.”

Still, the amassing of troops and heavy weaponry on the border has forced Ukrainian officials to face some hard truths in recent weeks. The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Russia has devised plans for an offensive involving 175,000 troops.

delivered about 88 tons of ammunition, part of a $60 million military aid package pledged by the Biden administration.

On Wednesday, President Biden ruled out deploying U.S. forces to Ukraine to deter Russia. But there are more than 150 U.S. military advisers in Ukraine, a combination of U.S. Special Forces and National Guard, currently the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, according to two U.S. Defense Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive troop deployments. About a dozen other NATO countries also have military advisers in Ukraine now, the officials said.

delivering a new cache of missiles in October. John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday that there were no conditions or restrictions placed on the Javelins, except that the Ukrainian forces use them “responsibly” and “in self-defense.”

interview with Radio Liberty this month, Gen. Oleksandr Pavlyuk, the commander of the Joint Operation Forces fighting the separatists, said the Javelins had already been deployed to military units in eastern Ukraine. A senior Ukrainian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military issues, confirmed that Javelin missiles had been deployed to frontline military units a month ago, but had not yet been fired in battle.

“The Javelins are there, and if our enemies employ tanks they will be used,” the official said.

The Biden administration has remained vague about how else it might come to Ukraine’s defense in case of invasion.

In his video call with Mr. Putin on Tuesday, President Biden looked his counterpart in the eye and warned the United States would go beyond the economic punishments imposed on Russia after the 2014 seizure of Crimea should Mr. Putin decide to order military action, according to an account by Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser. What those penalties might be were left unclear, though few expect the United States to commit significant military assistance beyond what has already been provided.

The lack of firm commitments from Ukraine’s Western backers are a source of consternation for Ukrainian officials.

“They need to decide, either we’re allies as they declare — and in that case allies help one another — or they need to say that this is not exactly the case,” said General Budanov, the military intelligence chief. “If the civilized world wants to avoid catastrophe — and this will be a catastrophe for everyone — we need military technical support now, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, not in year. Now.”

Those who understand that such a level of support is unlikely have begun to speak darkly of popular armed resistance against any Russian occupation. In an interview, General Pavlyuk noted that Ukraine had up to half a million people with military experience. If the West does not come to Ukraine’s aid, he said, “we’ll start a partisan war.”

“Eight years have passed and there are very many people with military experience who are prepared with weapons in their hands to fight,” he said.

One senior Ukrainian military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that if all else failed, the military would simply open its weapons depots and allow the Ukrainian people to take whatever they need to defend themselves and their families.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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Google Wants to Work With the Pentagon Again, Despite Employee Concerns

Three years after an employee revolt forced Google to abandon work on a Pentagon program that used artificial intelligence, the company is aggressively pursuing a major contract to provide its technology to the military.

The company’s plan to land the potentially lucrative contract, known as the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, could raise a furor among its outspoken work force and test the resolve of management to resist employee demands.

In 2018, thousands of Google employees signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a military program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and could be used to refine the targeting of drone strikes. Google management caved and agreed to not renew the contract once it expired.

The outcry led Google to create guidelines for the ethical use of artificial intelligence, which prohibit the use of its technology for weapons or surveillance, and hastened a shake-up of its cloud computing business. Now, as Google positions cloud computing as a key part of its future, the bid for the new Pentagon contract could test the boundaries of those A.I. principles, which have set it apart from other tech giants that routinely seek military and intelligence work.

contract with Microsoft that was canceled this summer amid a lengthy legal battle with Amazon. Google did not compete against Microsoft for that contract after the uproar over Project Maven.

The Pentagon’s restart of its cloud computing project has given Google a chance to jump back into the bidding, and the company has raced to prepare a proposal to present to Defense officials, according to four people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly. In September, Google’s cloud unit made it a priority, declaring an emergency “Code Yellow,” an internal designation of importance that allowed the company to pull engineers off other assignments and focus them on the military project, two of those people said.

On Tuesday, the Google cloud unit’s chief executive, Thomas Kurian, met with Charles Q. Brown, Jr., the chief of staff of the Air Force, and other top Pentagon officials to make the case for his company, two people said.

Google, in a written statement, said it is “firmly committed to serving our public sector customers” including the Defense Department, and that it “will evaluate any future bid opportunities accordingly.”

The contract replaces the now-scrapped Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, the Pentagon cloud computing contract that was estimated to be worth $10 billion over 10 years. The exact size of the new contract is unknown, although it is half the duration and will be awarded to more than one company, not to a single provider like JEDI.

Project Maven in 2017 and prepared to bid for JEDI. Many Google employees believed Project Maven represented a potentially lethal use of artificial intelligence, and more than 4,000 workers signed a letter demanding that Google withdraw from the project.

Soon after, Google announced a set of ethical principles that would govern its use of artificial intelligence. Google would not allow its A.I. to be used for weapons or surveillance, said Sundar Pichai, its chief executive, but would continue to accept military contracts for cybersecurity and search-and-rescue.

weapons or those that direct injury.”

Lucy Suchman, a professor of anthropology of science and technology at Lancaster University whose research focuses on the use of technology in war, said that with so much money at stake, it is no surprise Google might waver on its commitment.

“It demonstrates the fragility of Google’s commitment to staying outside the major merger that’s happening between the D.O.D. and Silicon Valley,” Ms. Suchman said.

Google’s efforts come as its employees are already pushing the company to cancel a cloud computing contract with the Israeli military, called Project Nimbus, that provides Google’s services to government entities throughout Israel. In an open letter published last month by The Guardian, Google employees called on their employer to cancel the contract.

The Defense Department’s effort to transition to cloud technology has been mired in legal battles. The military operates on outdated computer systems and has spent billions of dollars on modernization. It turned to U.S. internet giants in the hope that the companies could quickly and securely move the Defense Department to the cloud.

awarded the JEDI contract to Microsoft. Amazon sued to block the contract, claiming that Microsoft did not have the technical capabilities to fulfill the military’s needs and that former President Donald J. Trump had improperly influenced the decision because of animosity toward Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s executive chairman and the owner of The Washington Post.

In July, the Defense Department announced that it could no longer wait for the legal fight with Amazon to resolve. It scrapped the JEDI contract and said it would be replaced with the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability.

The Pentagon also noted that Amazon and Microsoft were the only companies that likely had the technology to meet its needs, but said it would conduct market research before ruling out other competitors. The Defense Department said it planned to reach out to Google, Oracle and IBM.

But Google executives believe they have the capability to compete for the new contract, and the company expects the Defense Department to tell it whether it will qualify to make a bid in the coming weeks, two people familiar with the matter said.

The Defense Department has previously said it hopes to award a contract by April.

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These U.S. Veterans Won’t Rest Until They’ve Kept a Promise to Afghans

An informal network that includes former government and military officials is working around the clock to fulfill a pledge to save Afghans who put their lives on the line for America.


FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Rex Sappenfield does not sleep well. A former Marine who served in Afghanistan, he is tormented by the fate of his interpreter, an Afghan with a wife and three young children to whom Mr. Sappenfield made a battlefield promise: We will never abandon you.

Now a high school English teacher who tries to instill a sense of rectitude in his students, Mr. Sappenfield has thought about his pledge every day since the United States pulled out of Afghanistan on Aug. 30.

“We broke a promise, and I just feel terrible,” Mr. Sappenfield, 53, said. “I said it to the faces of our Afghan brothers: ‘Hey guys, you can count on us, you will get to come to the United States if you wish.’”

But if America has withdrawn from Afghanistan, Mr. Sappenfield and many other veterans have not. He is part of an informal network — including the retired general who once commanded his unit, retired diplomats and intelligence officers and a former math teacher in rural Virginia — still working to fulfill a promise and save the Afghan colleagues who risked their lives for America’s long fight in Afghanistan.

the American evacuation.

“I tell my students in 11th grade that they are the only ones who can betray their integrity,” Mr. Sappenfield said. “It’s theirs to give away if they choose to lie or cheat. But in this case, someone else broke my word for me. It just irritates the heck out of me.”

Did our service matter?

The question gnawed at Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson as he drafted a letter in August to the men and women with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. “Nothing,” he wrote, “can diminish your selfless service to our nation.”

Nothing — not the Taliban’s sweeping takeover after two decades of war, not the desperate Afghans falling from planes, not disbelief that Afghanistan had fallen overnight to the same enemy that the Americans had vanquished 20 years ago.

“I felt I had to say to the guys, ‘Hey, get your heads up,’” said General Nicholson, who retired as a three-star in 2018. Recalling the 92 Marines who died under his command in Helmand Province, the 2,461 American service members overall who died in Afghanistan and the untold treasure lost, he wrote to his fellow Marines:

“You raised your hand and said, ‘IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?’”

the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, the network worked with soldiers and intelligence officers on the ground in Afghanistan. She showed The Times a list of Afghan names, including large families, a few marked in purple with the words “GOT OUT!!!”

their origin story and their record as rulers.

“Among Americans there is no shared scar tissue from the wars,” said J. Kael Weston, a retired foreign service officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside General Nicholson and has been part of the network. “A culture gap opened up.”

In rural Virginia, Ms. Hemp and others are still working to save more Afghans. She has three young grandchildren and doesn’t have to do this, given that many Americans have already forgotten Afghanistan, or scarcely paid attention to it before.

“I was raised with the Golden Rule, an honor code,” she said. “You do not lie to people. You honor your promises.”

She looked out at her crab apple tree and the rolling green fields. “People today don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. ‘Choices have consequences’ is now ‘choices have consequences for everyone but me.’ People are just so angry.”

On many days, Mr. Sappenfield speaks on Zoom with P, the interpreter. They exchange videos of their children but more often they talk about fear and frustration. The fear is about the Taliban. The frustration is with the State Department, which has been slow walking his visa application for many years.

“They are not taking any action,” P said in a Zoom call. “I feel hopeless. I feel I will be killed in front of my kids.”

For more than a decade, P has been caught in the Catch-22 labyrinth of the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, application process. He has already had two visa interviews — on March 3, 2020, and April 6 of this year — at the now closed U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Yet in a Sept. 21 email to Ms. Hemp, a foreign service officer wrote that P still needed another interview. “Obviously,” the officer added, “that will not be happening in Kabul.”

He concluded, “Sorry this is so murky and chaotic.”

Ms. Hemp responded bluntly. “In this day and age of online meetings, zoom conference calls, FaceTime calls, Messenger video chat, why can’t they do an online interview?” she wrote.

The foreign service officer checked with a colleague in Washington, who confirmed that, given the closure of the embassy in Kabul, there was no way for P to get another interview unless he managed to leave Afghanistan.

“Then the SIV case can be transferred to that country,” the officer wrote. “So, it seems to be a Catch-22 situation.”

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said on Capitol Hill last month that only about 3 percent of the Afghans evacuated to the United States during the American withdrawal actually have special immigrant visas.

P’s application was first submitted in April 2010, when Mr. Sappenfield’s unit was rotating out of Helmand. Had the process not been so labyrinthine, P would have gotten out of Afghanistan before it fell to the Taliban. Now he is trapped.

In an email, a State Department spokeswoman said the effort to help people like P was “of utmost importance” but acknowledged that “it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country” in order to have a visa interview.

P has not given up. Every day there is a different word on flights. So far, none have had a spot for him.

Ms. Hemp, Mr. Sappenfield, Mr. Britton and General Nicholson haven’t given up, either.

“Since the weather is changing, people are asking me to find blankets and warm clothes for their families in Afghanistan,” Ms. Hemp wrote recently. “Of course, they continue to ask when their loved ones will be evacuated. No clue, probably never, but I don’t dare tell them that.”

Mr. Sappenfield, a religious man, also recently wrote: “Haunted by the promises I made but my government wouldn’t allow me to keep, I ponder my own Judgment Day.

“Irreverently, perhaps, I am hoping for a front row seat when that day of reckoning comes for those responsible for these crimes against humanity.”

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Biden Defends Evacuation as Thousands Besiege Kabul Airport

LONDON — The desperate scenes at the Kabul airport reverberated around the world on Friday, forcing President Biden to defend his handling of the chaotic evacuation and fueling recrimination from American allies that are struggling to get their own citizens out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden insisted the American-led operation made “significant progress” after a rocky start, with nearly 6,000 American troops evacuating 5,700 Americans, Afghans, and others on Thursday. Flights were suspended for several hours on Friday to process the crush of people at the airport, but they were resuming, he said.

“We’re acting with dispatch,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Signs of the Taliban’s tightening grip over the capital were everywhere on Friday. An activist posted a photo on Twitter of billboards of women’s faces outside a Kabul beauty salon that were blacked out.

Khalil Haqqani, the leader of one of the most powerful and violent Taliban factions, appeared at Friday prayers, the high point in the Islamic week. Mr. Haqqani, 48, is on both the U.S. and United Nations terrorist lists, responsible for kidnapping Americans, launching suicide attacks and conducting targeted assassinations. He is now playing a prominent role in the new Taliban government.

crystallized a sense in Britain that their leaders were asleep at the wheel — a striking turn for a NATO member that contributed more troops to the Afghan war than any but the United States. It has also hardened feelings toward the United States, which barely consulted its ally about the timing or logistics of the withdrawal.

British newspapers pointed out that Mr. Biden did not take a call from Prime Minister Boris Johnson until Tuesday, days after Britain requested it. Some British diplomats said they could not recall a time when an American president came under harsher criticism than Mr. Biden has in recent days.

“It shows that Biden wasn’t that desperate to get the prime minister’s input on the situation,” said Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to Washington. “It’s all escalated a bit. It’s not a great sign.”

Reporting was contributed by Jim Huylebroek in Kabul, Carlotta Gall in Istanbul, Eric Schmitt and Zolan Kanno-Youngs in Washington, Nick Cummings-Bruce in Geneva, Steven Erlanger in Brussels, and Marc Santora in London.

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Taliban Quash Afghanistan Protests, Tightening Grip on Country

The Taliban cracked down on protests that erupted in at least four cities in Afghanistan on Thursday and rounded up opponents despite promises of amnesty, even as fearful workers stayed home and thousands of people continued a frenzied rush to leave the country.

Even as the Taliban moved to assert control, hundreds of protesters took to the streets for a second day to rally against their rule, this time marching in Kabul, the capital, as well as other cities. Again, the Taliban met them with force, using gunfire and beatings to disperse crowds. And again the actions of Taliban foot soldiers undermined the leadership’s suggestions that, having taken power, they would moderate the brutality they have long been known for.

The police officers who served the old government have melted away, and instead armed Taliban fighters are operating checkpoints and directing traffic, administering their notions of justice as they see fit, with little consistency from one to another.

according to witnesses and a security assessment prepared for the United Nations. Though the Taliban have said there would be no reprisals, there have been arrests, property seizures and scattered reports of reprisal killings.

city after city with remarkable speed once most U.S. forces had withdrawn, brushed aside the demoralized and disorganized Afghan security forces, and swept into Kabul on Sunday. Now they are learning that while conquest may have been swift, governing a vibrant, freethinking society is not so easy.

The anti-Taliban protests have been a remarkable display of defiance of a group that has a long history of controlling communities through fear and meeting dissent with lethal force. The protests also offered evidence that while tens of thousands are now seeking escape, some of those left behind would try — for now, at least — to have a voice in the country’s direction, despite the growing crackdown.

independence from Britain in 1919. It was not clear whether the victims had been shot or had died in a stampede.

There were even demonstrators waving the flag in Kandahar, the southern city that is considered the birthplace of the Taliban. In the southeastern city of Khost, the group imposed a curfew, a day after demonstrations and clashes there. The protests on Thursday in Kabul included one near the presidential palace, and another that drew about 200 people before the Taliban used force to break it up.

The events, led primarily by young men and women, were a wholly new experience for Taliban insurgents who have spent the last 20 years mostly in the mountains and rural districts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — the same name they used a generation ago.

The tricolor flag flown by the collapsed government, taken down by the Taliban and replaced by their own banner, has become a repeated flash point, with people in multiple cities beaten for displaying it. On Wednesday, the Taliban fired on demonstrators waving the flag in the eastern city of Jalalabad, with reports of two or three people killed.

she said on Twitter.

She added that after the Taliban spokesman’s first news briefing, held on Tuesday, when he insisted that the rights of the media and women would be respected, she had not expected much good to come.

“I had low expectations but now it has become clear that there is a gap between action and words,” Ms. Atakpal said.

Residents of Kabul were feeling their way under the new regime gingerly. The streets were quiet, largely empty of traffic, interrupted by occasional bursts of gunfire and the roar of American military planes patrolling and conducting the round-the-clock evacuation.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

One woman complained that popular Turkish television serials were no longer airing, after cable companies closed down their services. The Taliban, which banned all television during their previous time in power, have since embraced media as a propaganda tool, and cable companies were already anticipating new rules on morally acceptable content in accordance with the militants’ strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Mr. Shesta said he was deleting photos from his cellphone of him meeting with the former president, Ashraf Ghani, and other government officials, many of whom have fled the country. Mr. Ghani left the capital on Sunday, and several of his senior officials traveled to Turkey on Monday.

At the Kabul airport, which is still controlled by U.S. troops, the Taliban are in charge outside its blast walls and used force and intimidation to control access, beating people back and firing their rifles.

Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, cited multiple reports that the Taliban had a list of people to question and punish, as well as their locations. Military and police personnel and people who worked for investigative units of the toppled government were particularly at risk, according to the document, which was dated Wednesday.

Already, the Taliban were going door to door and “arresting and/or threatening to kill or arrest family members of target individuals unless they surrender themselves to the Taliban,” said the document, which was seen by The New York Times.

It contained a reproduced letter dated Aug. 16 from the Taliban to an unnamed counterterrorism official in Afghanistan who had worked with U.S. and British officials and then gone into hiding.

The letter instructed the official to report to the Military and Intelligence Commission of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in Kabul. If not, it warned, the official’s family members “will be treated based on Shariah law.”

Victor J. Blue, Helene Cooper and Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting.

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Iran’s Proxies in Iraq Threaten U.S. With More Sophisticated Weapons

BAGHDAD — The United States is grappling with a rapidly evolving threat from Iranian proxies in Iraq after militia forces specialized in operating more sophisticated weaponry, including armed drones, have hit some of the most sensitive American targets in attacks that evaded U.S. defenses.

At least three times in the past two months, those militias have used small, explosive-laden drones that divebomb and crash into their targets in late-night attacks on Iraqi bases — including those used by the C.I.A. and U.S. Special Operations units, according to American officials.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the top American commander in the Middle East, said last month that the drones pose a serious threat and that the military was rushing to devise ways to combat them.

Iran — weakened by years of harsh economic sanctions — is using its proxy militias in Iraq to step up pressure on the United States and other world powers to negotiate an easing of those sanctions as part of a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Iraqi and American officials say Iran has designed the drone attacks to minimize casualties that could prompt U.S. retaliation.

a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment published in April. In the last year, a proliferation of previously unknown armed groups have emerged, some claiming responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets.

thousands of American military contractors operate.

MQ-9 Reaper drones and contractor-operated turboprop surveillance aircraft are stationed in an attempt to disrupt or cripple the U.S. reconnaissance capability critical to monitoring threats in Iraq.

The United States has used Reapers for its most sensitive strikes, including the killing of Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a senior Iraqi government official and a leader of Iraq’s militia groups, in Baghdad in January 2020.

While the United States has installed defenses to counter rocket, artillery and mortar systems at installations in Iraq, the armed drones fly too low to be detected by those defenses, officials said.

Shortly before midnight on April 14, a drone strike targeted a C.I.A. hangar inside the airport complex in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, according to three American officials familiar with the matter.

No one was reported hurt in the attack, but it alarmed Pentagon and White House officials because of the covert nature of the facility and the sophistication of the strike, details of which were previously reported by The Washington Post.

talks between them in Baghdad in April, the Saudis demanded that Iran stop those attacks, according to Iraqi officials.

While visiting northeastern Syria last month, General McKenzie, the top American commander for the region, said military officials were developing ways to disrupt or disable communications between the drones and their operators, bolster radar sensors to identify approaching threats more rapidly, and find effective ways to down the aircraft.

In each of the known attacks in Iraq, at least some of the drones’ remnants have been partially recovered, and preliminary analyses indicated they were made in Iran or used technology provided by Iran, according to the three American officials familiar with the incidents.

These drones are larger than the commercially available quadcopters — small helicopters with four rotors — that the Islamic State used in the battle of Mosul, but smaller than the MQ-9 Reapers, which have a 66-foot wingspan. Military analysts say they carry between 10 and 60 pounds of explosives.

Iraqi officials and U.S. analysts say that while cash-strapped Iran has reduced funding for major Iraqi militias, it has invested in splitting off smaller, more specialized proxies still operating within the larger militias but not under their direct command.

American officials say that these specialized units are likely to have been entrusted with the politically delicate mission of carrying out the new drone strikes.

Iraqi security commanders say groups with new names are fronts for the traditional, powerful Iran-backed militias in Iraq such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Iraqi officials say Iran has used the new groups to try to camouflage, in discussions with the Iraqi government, its responsibility for strikes targeting U.S. interests, which often end up killing Iraqis.

The Iraqi security official said members of the smaller, specialized groups were being trained at Iraqi bases and in Lebanon as well as in Iran by the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — which oversees proxy militias in the Middle East.

American and Iraqi officials and analysts trace the increased unpredictability of militia operations in Iraq to the U.S. killing of General Suleimani and the Iraqi militia leader.

“Because the Iranian control over its militias has fragmented after the killing of Qassim Suleimani and Abu Mahdi Muhandis, the competition has increased among these groups,” said Mr. Malik, the Washington Institute analyst.

Jane Arraf reported from Baghdad and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Falih Hassan contributed reporting.

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Pentagon Accelerates Withdrawal From Afghanistan

To keep tabs on the military situation on the ground, the U.S. military wants to continue using some version of what it calls the Combined Situational Awareness Room, where it coordinates with its Afghan counterparts (often over WhatsApp), funneling information and helping put air support and other forces into place on the battlefield. But it remains unclear where the command center would be, with options including the American Embassy or outside the country.

Though the Afghan Air Force has become increasingly capable in recent years, American drones and other surveillance aircraft still provide key targeting information. And U.S. strikes, though reduced under extremely restrictive rules of engagement, still occur as international forces depart and Afghan security forces struggle to hold ground.

U.S. military officials believe the United States will devote a significant number of reconnaissance aircraft to continue to help the Afghan forces but will limit airstrikes to “counterterrorism operations” only, a loose description that has been used in the past to justify a variety of actions.

With no bases to position aircraft close to Afghanistan, that means American aircraft will have to fly from bases in the Middle East or from aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea to support Afghan forces or to conduct counterterrorism missions from “over the horizon.”

For prop-powered surveillance drones and planes, that means several-hour trips just to get to Afghanistan.

For jets based on aircraft carriers, that means frequent midair refueling stops. As land-based U.S. jets leave Afghanistan, United States forces are struggling to meet the demand for carrier-based aircraft because of an increased need for refueling tankers. For now, the jets onboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea can fulfill only around 75 percent of the requests over Afghanistan, a military official said.

Questioned by lawmakers last month about the challenges of countering terrorist threats in Afghanistan after American troops leave, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, said, “It’s going to be extremely difficult to do, but it is not impossible.”

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