War of Fortune: 18 Years and Counting

War of Fortune: 18 Years and Counting

The tattoos were a tell-tale sign. So were the black t-shirts, baseball caps, Oakley shades and bird-nest beards. But it was those dark jags of ink splayed over tanned forearms that really screamed soldiers of fortune. This group of hired guns had strapped in beside me aboard a Lockheed C-130 transport plane, en route to southern Afghanistan's restive Helmand province. The men were mostly silent as the plane took off, with occasional head bobs to adjust the keffiyehs neatly tucked under their chins. On their laps rested German-engineered MP-5 long guns. On mine, a grey notebook and a small camera.


It was the summer of 2011, one of the deadliest years for Americans in a long war brought on the attacks nearly 7,000 miles away in Manhattan, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. After nearly a decade of fighting, the Taliban was steadily gaining ground. More than 400 coalition soldiers had already died in a rash of ambush assaults and roadside bombs. And so we had all chosen to fly rather than drive to our destination: Camp Leatherneck, then the largest US Marine Corps base in the world.

At Leatherneck, I ate with newly deployed Marines, slept in their tents, and traveled out to their forward operating bases. "Where were you on September 11th?" I'd ask, the 10-year anniversary of that day approaching. "I was 10-years-old," said a young Marylander, who declined to give his name on account of what seemed a natural skittishness. "I was in the 5th grade… it was first period."

Shy, almost innocent-looking, he was nothing like the motley crew I had flown in with. There was a nervousness that enveloped him, as well as the others his age. No tattoos. No bravado. And no real conception of the world into which he had stepped.

Though the violence in Afghanistan had gotten worse, many of us back in the States seemed to think the war was winding down, particularly after US forces killed Osama Bin Laden in the spring of 2011, and President Obama announced a major drawdown of troops a month later. CNN, my employer, no longer kept a full-time bureau operating in country. Coverage was coordinated from across the border, in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. Afghanistan already seemed to have become America's latest forgotten war.

For several months, I reported on the NATO drawdown and hand-over of power to local forces, who were clearly incapable of maintaining control by themselves. A hydra of insurgent groups, from the Afghan Taliban to the Haqqani network and other local warlords, had emerged from the shadows to fill the void. Meanwhile, though the Americans said they planned to leave, tens of billions of US dollars were still flowing into the country, often with little oversight.

That was eight years ago. American troops are still in Afghanistan. Kids born after 9/11 are fighting there now. The US-backed government barely holds half the country, and the Taliban controls more territory than at any point since 2001. Peace talks between the US and the Taliban that were meant to have a dramatic conclusion this week have fallen apart, throwing the future of Afghanistan into a fresh, if familiar, uncertainty.

As we mark the 18th anniversary of the attacks that led to the US invasion in the first place, I think about those young US Marines I met back at Leatherneck, across from those dusty barracks in Helmand province. Did they survive? Roughly 2,400 Americans didn't. Did they return home? Or are they plying the lucrative, dangerous trade of private security contractors over there? By now they could well be battle-hardened fighters themselves, in black t-shirts, keffiyehs, arms all inked up too.

I had met them while covering the supposed end of a war that still has not ended.

Yau Abdul Karim lives and works in Garin Mai Jalah, located in the Yobe State of northeastern Nigeria. Essential to his work raising cattle is reliable access to water, yet environmental degradation has led to fewer water sources, severely impacting communities like his that depend on livestock. In 2019, with the help of FAO, Eni installed a special solar-powered well in Yau's town that provides water during the day as well as light at night.

Watch Yau's story as he shows how his family and community enjoy life-enhancing access to both water and light.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And I thought I'd talk a little bit today about the latest in Israel, Palestine. It's obviously been driving headlines all week. And of course, on social media, there's no topic that we all get along and agree with each other more than Israel, Palestine. It's an easy one to take on. Yeah, I know I'm completely full of crap on that. But I thought I would give you some sense of what I think is actually happening where we're going. So first point, massive fight, big conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli defense forces. Not only that, but also more violence and a lot of violence breaking out between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Extremists on both sides taking to the streets and fairly indiscriminate violence, in this case, worst since 2014.

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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, says another independence referendum for Scotland is now a matter of "when not if," and that after leaving the UK, Scotland will launch a bid to rejoin the EU. But there are formidable obstacles ahead.

Getting to a vote will force a complex game of chicken with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. If a majority of Scots then vote for independence — hardly a sure thing – the process of extricating their new country from the UK will make Brexit look easy. Next, come the challenges of EU accession. In other words, Scotland's journey down the rocky road ahead has only just begun.

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Cyber is a tool, and sometimes a weapon. Whether espionage for commercial gain or indiscriminate attacks on critical infrastructure, actions taken in cyber space affect you directly, potentially upending even the most mundane realities of everyday life.

Join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens in a Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event on Tuesday, May 18.

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According to Delhi-based journalist Barkha Dutt, while the Indian government has finally started to mobilize in response to the COVID crisis, there's still a lot of denial about the severity of the ourbreak. "Our Health Minister, for instance, made a statement in the last 24 hours saying that India is better equipped to fight COVID in 2021 than in 2020. That's simply rubbish. We had India's Solicitor General telling the Supreme Court that there is no oxygen deficit as of now. That's simply not true." In an interview on GZERO World, Dutt tells Ian Bremmer that only the connection between fellow Indians, helping each other when the government cannot, has been a salve.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

Listen: Ask national security experts how they view China today and they'll likely the use a term like "adversary" or "economic competitor." But what about "enemy?" How close is the world to all-out-war breaking out between United States and China? According to US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), who served as Supreme Allied Commander to NATO, those odds are higher than many would like to admit. In fact, Stavridis says, the US risks losing its military dominance in the coming years to China. And if push comes to shove in a military conflict, it's not entirely clear who would prevail. Admiral Stavridis discusses his bestselling new military thriller 2034 and makes the case for why his fictional depiction of a US-China war could easily become reality.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's the issue with the letter in France talking about the "civil war"?

Well, I think it is part of the beginning of the French election campaign. We have some people in the military encouraged by the more right-wing forces, warning very much for the Muslim question. That's part of the upstart to the election campaign next year. More to come, I fear.

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When asked about where a US-China war may start, US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) doesn't hesitate: Taiwan. He suggests that China may believe the US is distracted by internal politics: "I think it would be a miscalculation on the part of the Chinese, but they may calculate that now is the moment." How would a move against Taiwan play out? Stavridis speculates how the Chinese military may plan to invade the island on the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which begins airing on US public television Friday, May 14. Check local listings.

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace. Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT/ 1pm ET

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace | Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT / 1 pm PT

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