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Has nation-building built a nation?

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Tomorrow, Afghans vote in national elections, the last that will be held with a sizable NATO force in the country. While a small international contingent may remain in the country, Afghanistan will effectively be on its own by the end of the year.

The elections end the era of Hamid Karzai, who came to power as a moderate after US-led forces ousted the Taliban but whose recent years have been marked by corruption and policy disputes with Washington.

That latter issue may be more than just a personality problem. Mr. Karzai and other centrists know that after NATO’s mission ends the Taliban will try to push back into power.

Although violence is at a two-year low, it has surged in recent weeks and is likely to continue after Saturday’s vote.

Besides the Taliban, Pakistan, India, and Iran – and, to a lesser extent, Russia and China – are vying for influence, which could complicate the country’s future. But most Afghans value their independence and freedom. And NATO is leaving behind a professional Afghan military (see Scott Peterson’s report).

So, after 13 years of nation-building, the future of Afghanistan is in the hands of Afghans.

John Yemma

Russia debuts sleek force in Crimea

moscow’s new-look military is worrisome for nato.


MOSCOW – The last time the Russian military machine was on public display in Europe, its performance did not impress. But this is no longer the force that NATO observed blundering its way through a brief but messy war with its tiny neighbor, Georgia, back in 2008.

A new, leaner Russian Army has been on display in Crimea and war-gaming on the Ukrainian border over the past month or so. Its vanguard is made up of just a few elite divisions of highly motivated, well- trained, and fully equipped volunteer soldiers. That is raising alarms about the potential for wider Kremlin aggression that haven’t been heard since the end of the cold war.

Since it last went into action in 2008, the Russian military has seen huge funding increases and undergone radical reforms that have stripped it down, reorganized it, and professionalized it. Though the old Soviet-era model of a “mass mobilization” army still exists on paper, radical Kremlin-backed changes have effectively abolished about 80 percent of former military units, furloughed tens of thousands of officers, and doubled the pay for those who remained.

On Wednesday NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove warned that some 40,000 Russian troops deployed near the border could roll over eastern Ukraine in “between three and five days,” even though experts say that Russian military doctrine would call for at least 100,000 troops.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Thursday that such rhetoric was over-hyped, and that Russian troops were being withdrawn from Ukrainian border areas. He added, though, that Russia had the right to post troops anywhere on its own territory.

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Who was latest Fort Hood attacker?

portrait surfaces of a soldier with mental-health issues.


Emerging information about Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, who killed three people and injured 16, some critically, at Fort Hood on Wednesday, paints a picture of a troubled, perhaps injured soldier who was seeking treatment for mental problems before his transfer two months ago to the Texas Army base.

The Iraq war veteran, who drove a truck for his unit, is at the center of an investigation into the third major attack by a service member on his own comrades in five years. When a Fort Hood police officer drew her gun to confront Lopez during a barrage that involved two buildings at the base, he killed himself with a .45 caliber handgun.

Military officials, the FBI, and civilian police are now delving into Lopez’s past in search of a possible motive. He is originally from Puerto Rico. His mother and grandfather died recently. In 2010, he left the National Guard to join the US Army. He had recently moved to Killeen, Texas, with his wife and 3-year-old daughter from another Army base in Texas.

Lopez was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder but had not been diagnosed with that illness, Fort Hood officials say. They also say that he had reported a brain injury unrelated to his military service. Military officials are reporting that there are no records showing Lopez was engaged in combat during a four-month 2011 tour of Iraq.

So far, investigators have found no evidence that Wednesday’s attack was terrorism-related. Fox News had reported a day before the shooting that the FBI was searching for a recent Army recruit believed to be planning a “jihad-style” attack at Fort Hood. But the name of that suspect, as reported by the FBI, is not Ivan Lopez.

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Boston bombing response reviewed

at-scene response extolled; manhunt afterward called chaotic.


BOSTON – The response to the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and wounded 260 a year ago was remarkably effective in the immediate aftermath but unduly chaotic during the day-long search for the suspects later that week, according to a new Harvard University report.

In the moments after two bombs exploded on April 15, 2013, emergency personnel responded with the swiftness born of years of post-9/11 emergency planning. The last wounded person was evacuated within 22 minutes. “Every person alive when they left the scene of the bombing is still alive today,” says Herman Leonard, codirector of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Crisis Leadership and a coauthor of the report.

But when the suspects accused of the bombings were found on April 18, police officers “self-deployed” to the scene of the chase to help, leading to confusion that endangered not only the police themselves but also surrounding citizens.

The report looks more deeply into the powerful melding of organization and spontaneous public assistance that was quickly dubbed “Boston Strong.” The authors found that preparation was essential to Boston’s first response.

Within minutes of the blasts, senior officials from the mayor’s and governor’s offices and police officials began spontaneously organizing, issuing calming statements to the public, and developing a strategy for cordoning off, investigating, and cleaning up. The public was involved, too, with homeowners along the race route assisting stranded runners.

The “high degree of effective coordination” among response agencies and other organizations was a “hallmark of the successful elements” of the response and a sharp contrast to the response following hurricane Katrina, the report noted.

But that spontaneous urge to help led to problems three days later when the suspects were found, culminating in a morning gunfight between a large unorganized group of officers who had surrounded the suspects.

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Britain probes Muslim Brotherhood

WHILE safe in exile, do group’s leaders risk becoming irrelevant?


CAIRO – British Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an investigation into whether the Muslim Brotherhood’s London operation has links to terrorist attacks in Egypt.

For Brotherhood officials who fled an aggressive crackdown at home for sanctuary in Britain, the investigation is a setback. But arguably a greater challenge for the exiles is their growing distance from rank-and-file activists on the streets of Egypt and their inability to direct the movement from afar.

Following the Egyptian military’s removal of President Mohamed Morsi, a senior Brotherhood leader, the group has built up its presence in London; Doha, Qatar; and Istanbul, Turkey. Its London office is a cozy apartment above an abandoned kebab shop. British investigators will examine whether any terror attacks in Egypt were planned there.

There is scant evidence to suggest any Brotherhood involvement in the wave of bomb attacks that have killed more than 400 security personnel through mainland Egypt since July 2013. Most high-profile bomb blasts have been claimed by Ansar Bayt el Maqdis, an Egypt-based jihadist group with links to Al Qaeda. Wednesday’s bombing at Cairo University, which killed a police officer, was claimed by another group, Ajnad Misr.

The Brotherhood’s London office is primarily a public relations office, according to those who follow the organization closely. They say it will be difficult to prove it has been a launchpad for anything more sinister.

A source with knowledge of the British investigation said it was prompted by Mr. Cameron’s desire to keep good relations with Saudi Arabia, which has encouraged regional allies to deny the Brotherhood refuge.

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Rwanda’s genocide anniversary

This month, Rwanda marks the 20th anniversary of an event that its name is most associated with – the 1994 mass slaughter of the Tutsi minority and many in the majority Hutu. Over 100 days starting April 7, more than 800,000 people were killed, many by neighbors incited to ethnic hatred by a political elite. It is a genocide often cited since then to justify military intervention in similar ongoing atrocities.

But another lesson from Rwanda’s experience deserves to be remembered – an amazing reconciliation of killers and survivors through individual confession and forgiveness in nonjudicial village courts.

This type of reparative justice in an intimate setting could prove useful in countries that will need post-conflict healing, such as Syria, Colombia, and Myanmar (Burma). It might also help prevent a cycle of revenge and retribution in those countries, as it has in Rwanda.

Most of Rwanda’s main perpetrators in the genocide have been tried in regular courts, either in Rwanda, Europe, or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, set up by the United Nations. But for hundreds of thousands of others the country had to fall back on a form of community-based traditional justice known as gacaca.

This court system is designed to achieve the end result of allowing people who knew each other to resume living in the same community. The courts also bring together an entire village to witness a confession, attest to its sincerity, and agree on some reparation.

It hasn’t worked in every case. Many Tutsis who killed Hutus have not been tried. Many victims could not bear the trauma of hearing how their loved ones had died. And many Hutus disappeared or were able to hide from the truth.

Rwanda is not yet a “post-ethnic” nation. But the possibility of a future political class inciting Hutus and Tutsis to take up violence now seems slim. When almost every village in an entire nation goes through reconciliation, the lesson is worth repeating elsewhere.

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Beauty’s reach

There are profound lessons to be learned about the holiness of true beauty – sometimes in life, sometimes in books, and recently from actress Lupita Nyong’o. At the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, her speech for her work in “12 Years a Slave” broke through the boundaries of age, skin color, and circumstance, and it went viral on the Internet.

Ms. Nyong’o invoked a young black girl who had written her, finding newfound hope in the acceptance of the actress’s “night-shaded skin.” Nyong’o told of her own failed attempts earlier in life to “negotiate with God” for lighter skin, feeling “unbeautiful.” She spoke of the need to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

Each of us can draw on moments when our concept of beauty transcended the physical, and we found ourselves humbly edified.

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, set the bar high for these moments, encouraging us to strive to be “that one which has lost much materiality ... in order to become a better transparency for Truth” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 295). Every moment that draws its intelligence, its perception, its sense of abiding love from the Divine allows us to lose the opacity of judgment and expectations, and to reflect on the beauty that is our God-given birthright.

Being a “better transparency,” as Mrs. Eddy calls it, allows us to experience infinite good in all its glory. It is life experienced beyond the human picture, beyond how we define and evaluate ourselves and others. As we come to understand the profound value in nourishing innately spiritual qualities, restrictions fade out. The light of our authentic being – our entirely spiritual self – has the opportunity to shine forth.

– Joan Taylor

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Prayerful thoughts on current events

Eye on the World: new UN climate change report

This week, the Sentinel staff offers prayerful ideas relating to the release of a United Nations report on global climate change. Read more

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