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.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

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Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truckloads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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Sort of, but governments haven't lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers "so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy." On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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