A secretive Pentagon program that started on Trump’s last day in office just ended. The mystery has not.

A secretive Pentagon program that started on Trump’s last day in office just ended. The mystery has not.

US pentagon building aerial view at sunset

 

WASHINGTON – A Pentagon program that delegated management of a huge swath of the internet to a Florida company in January – just minutes before President Donald Trump left office – has ended as mysteriously as it began, with the Defense Department this week retaking control of 175 million IP addresses.

The program had drawn scrutiny because of its unusual timing, starting amid a politically charged changeover of federal power, and because of its enormous scale. At its peak, the company, Global Resource Systems, controlled almost 6% of a section of the internet called IPv4. The IP addresses had been under Pentagon control for decades but left unused, despite being potentially worth billions of dollars on the open market.

Adding to the mystery, company registration records showed Global Resource Systems at the time was only a few months old, having been established in September 2020, and had no publicly reported federal contracts, no obvious public-facing website and no sign on the shared office space it listed as its physical address in Plantation, Fla. The company also did not respond to requests for comment, and the Pentagon did not announce the program or publicly acknowledge its existence until The Washington Post reported on it in April.

And now it’s done. Kind of.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon made a technical announcement – visible mainly to network administrators around the world – saying it was resuming control of the 175 million IP addresses and directing the traffic to its own servers.

On Friday the Pentagon told The Post that the pilot program, which it previously had characterized as a cybersecurity measure designed to detect unspecified “vulnerabilities” and “prevent unauthorized use of DoD IP address space,” was over. Parts of the internet once managed by Global Resource Systems, the Pentagon said, now were being overseen by the Department of Defense Information Network, known by the acronym DODIN and part of U.S. Cyber Command, based at Fort Meade.

The IP addresses had never been sold or leased to the company, merely put under its control for the pilot program, created by an elite Pentagon unit known as the Defense Digital Service, which reports directly to the secretary of defense and bills itself as a “SWAT team of nerds” that solves emergency problems and conducts experimental work for the military.

“The Defense Digital Service established a plan to launch the cybersecurity pilot and then transition control of the initiative to DoD partners,” Russell Goemaere, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said in a statement to The Post. “Following the DDS pilot, shifting DoD Internet Protocol (IP) advertisement to DoD’s traditional operations and mature network security processes, maintains consistency across the DODIN. This allows for active management of the IP space and ensure the Department has the operational maneuver space necessary to maintain and improve DODIN resiliency.”

But the Pentagon statement shed little new light on exactly what the pilot program was doing or why it now has ended. It’s clear, though, that its mission has been extended even as it comes more formally under Pentagon control.

On the unusual timing of the start of the pilot program – which began the transfer of control of IP addresses at 11:57 a.m. on Inauguration Day, three minutes before President Joe Biden took office – Goemaere added, “The decision to launch and the scheduling of the DDS pilot effort was agnostic of administration change. The effort was planned and initiated in the Fall of 2020. It was launched in mid-January 2021 when the required infrastructure was in place.”

Global Resource Systems did not return a request for comment Friday.

The unusual nature of the program has been tracked by several people in the networking world, including Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for Kentik, a network monitoring company.

In April, Madory, a former Air Force officer, had come to believe the program was intended to collect intelligence. By announcing control of such a large section of the internet – especially one the Pentagon had left mothballed for years – it likely was possible to reroute information flowing across the internet to military networks for examination and analysis.

Madory said Friday that routine networking errors can make such operations fruitful.

“There are a lot of networks that inadvertently leak out vulnerabilities,” he said. “I’m sure they’ve been scooping that noise up for the past few months.”

Such tactics, he added, can allow cyberspies to discover weaknesses in the networks of adversaries or potentially detect evidence of how adversaries are surveilling your own networks, to help inform the creation of better defenses.

Madory shared one more tantalizing fact: His analysis of traffic flowing through the internet addresses once controlled by Global Resource Systems are still leading to the same place as they have for most of the year – a computer router in Ashburn, Va., a major hub of internet connections for government agencies and private companies – despite the official resumption of Pentagon control.

The Washington Post’s Alice Crites and Paul Sonne contributed to this report.

‘Large waves’ of Afghanistan’s heroin supply to hit Britain’s streets

‘Large waves’ of Afghanistan’s heroin supply to hit Britain’s streets

An Afghan opium farmer stands next to his poppy field in the remote village of Baqwa in Farah - John Moore/Getty Images
An Afghan opium farmer stands next to his poppy field in the remote village of Baqwa in Farah – John Moore/Getty Images

 

Heroin supply on to the streets of Britain from Afghanistan is set to increase after the fall of the country to the Taliban, a senior policing leader has warned.

Donna Jones, the lead for serious and organized crime for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said police chiefs were concerned the loss of UK and US forces’ checks on exports would pave the way for more heroin trafficking into the UK.

Afghanistan accounts for 82 per cent of global opium cultivation, according to the National Crime Agency, with most heroin that reaches the UK trafficked through the western Balkans.

“Having checks over airport borders and shipping containers has given us an element of control,” said Ms Jones, the police and crime commissioner for Hampshire.

“With an unstable government, with the Taliban in those key roles, do we believe that these organized crime issues could be overlooked or even possibly supported by the Taliban in Afghanistan? I’d say probably yes.”

The opium trade is a major source of income for a large proportion of the Afghan population as it is far more profitable than wheat or other crops.

For about a year before the Taliban were overthrown by the US-led coalition 20 years ago, they had declared opium production as un-Islamic and led a successful campaign eradicating almost all production in areas it controlled.

However, in the past 20 years, the drug trade has become a significant source of income for the Taliban insurgency against the US.

“It is highly unlikely the Taliban will prioritize a ban on opium production at a time when they are badly in need of funds. This is the cognitive dissonance that will be going on in the minds of their leadership: ideology versus necessity,” said a police source.

Ms Jones said the initial impact was expected to be limited. “I don’t think the increase is hitting the person on the street yet, but I think it will do over the next six to 12 months and I think it will do in quite large waves,” she said.

“As a commissioner who has responsibility for making sure that we are tackling drug-related harm, I am very concerned about the effect of heroin on the streets of Britain over the next year and beyond.”

The number of drug-related deaths are at their highest on record, at 4,561 in 2020 in England and Wales, with heroin and morphine accounting for more than a third.

The warning over heroin imports coincides with a national alert by Public Health England over a surge in overdoses that have accounted for at least 16 deaths in less than two weeks in southern England.

Three of deaths – linked to heroin adulterated with the synthetic opioid isotonitazene – had been in Hampshire, said Ms Jones. Isotonitazene is said to be 500 times stronger than morphine.

Jason Harwin, deputy chief constable and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for drugs, said: “Heroin causes significant harm and misery in our communities and police continue to work hard to target those who import and sell it. We are monitoring and reviewing intelligence in relation to heroin being imported from overseas.”

Tree planting efforts aren’t replacing burned U.S. forests — not even close

Tree planting efforts aren’t replacing burned U.S. forests — not even close

As fires devastate U.S. forests, researchers work to grow super-resilient saplings

 

DEER LAKE MESA, N.M. (Reuters) – Experimental pine seedlings poke from the rocky New Mexico earth, the only living evergreens on a hillside torched by one of the U.S. West’s drought-driven wildfires.

These climate-smart sprouts about 30 miles (48 km) east of Taos are part of a push to increase the dramatically lagging replanting of U.S. forests after fires.

To condition trees for life in the Southwest, now suffering its worst drought in 500 years, biologist Owen Burney takes the scraggly seedlings to the point of death and back several times by starving them of water in the nursery.

Burney wishes he had funding to mass produce the seedlings and expand his tree nursery, the largest in the U.S. Southwest. With wildfires growing to monstrous proportions https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-WILDFIRES/EXTREMES/qzjvqmmravx, the nursery’s output of 300,000 seedlings a year does not come close to replacing torched trees.

“People get excited about reforestation, and they talk about it, but talk is cheap without action,” says Burney, who heads New Mexico State University’s forestry research center in Mora. “That’s what we’re trying to create, the action of an effective reforestation pipeline.”

Reforestation supporters say planting trees helps fight climate change, protects watersheds and creates jobs — arguments that help generate both global enthusiasm and U.S. bipartisan support https://www.fs.usda.gov/features/trillion-trees. Lawmakers are seeking extra federal funding for such efforts. Some public-private partnerships committed to growing trees have been launched.

Still, evidence suggests replanting campaigns cannot keep up with blazes.

Even with efforts in New Mexico, California https://www.americanforests.org/our-work/restoring-californias-forests and Oregon https://www.orparksforever.org/homepage-box/wildfire-tree-replanting, there is not enough seed collection or nursery capacity https://usfs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=88825ecd8e4a40f9aefdb24147b821e9, according to nearly two dozen land managers, biologists and conservationists Reuters spoke to since June.

Federal replanting remains underfunded and poorly coordinated with the private sector. State, tribal and private landholders struggle to find sufficient seedlings, they said.

Wildfire is a natural part of a forest’s lifecycle, but climate-fueled fires https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-wildfires-climatechange-idUKKCN26C30W are so ferocious they incinerate entire stands together with seeds that start regrowth.

That destruction also poses problems for the 180 million Americans who rely on national forests to filter drinking water https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/us-west-faces-little-known-effect-raging-wildfires-contaminated-water-2021-07-01 and the 2.5 million employed in forest industry jobs.

SYSTEM OVERWHELMED

Most U.S. wildfires burn on U.S. Forest Service land. The agency replants around 6% of its land that needs replanting after wildfires.

“Our systems just haven’t kept up,” said David Lytle, the service’s director of forest and rangeland management and vegetation ecology. “The change to these larger, more severe wildfires has dramatically ramped up our reforestation needs.”

Tree-planting fervor peaked in 2020 when the World Economic Forum launched its One Trillion Trees initiative, or 1t.org, to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees globally. Former President Donald Trump backed the plan. U.S. corporations and foundations pledged 50 billion trees.

Yet visit any Western national forest outside the Pacific Northwest, which still has timber harvests that require trees to be replanted, and there are no major planting efforts, says Collin Haffey of The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

“It seems to be an afterthought of forest management,” said Haffey, the group’s conservation coordinator in New Mexico.

According to Lytle, the problem is not tactics or expertise, but funding. The U.S. Forest Service spends over half its budget fighting and preventing fires. Last year, Congress granted it $7.4 billion in discretionary appropriations. Meanwhile, the amount available for post-fire replanting has not grown since the 1980s. The agency says it does not have enough money or resources to fully reforest burn areas.

To boost replanting, lawmakers have included legislation — called the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees (REPLANT) Act — within the infrastructure bill Congress is considering. It would help the service plant 1.2 billion trees on 4.1 million acres of national forests hit by fire, pests and disease over the next 10 years by removing a $30 million annual funding cap to roughly quadruple spending.

With limited public money, Wes Swaffar of 1t.org tries to channel private funds into replanting. That can mean teaming companies seeking zero net carbon emissions with projects that sequester carbon.

“I’m so frustrated by the fact that I have to do this job in the first place,” Swaffar said. “I have to play this interconnector role between the public and private sectors, because neither one is able to do it by themselves.”

A small success story is growing 85 miles (137 km) southwest of Burney’s test site. With some money from the public-private Rio Grande Water Fund, around 4,000 acres of burned-out forest near Los Alamos are being replanted to mimic “tree islands” left after moderate fires. Developed by the TNC, the project has 400 moisture-rich sites, some at higher, cooler elevations to help seedlings survive future, higher temperatures.

“If we’re trying to do anything related to climate change, carbon sequestration, then trees need to be in the ground,” said Burney, who is seeking $40 million to create a New Mexico reforestation center and help lift state annual seedling output to 5 million.

(Reporting by Adria Malcolm at Deer Lake Mesa, New Mexico, Andrea Januta in New York and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

Afghan allies in hiding, executed in the street — Jewish people know this haunting story

Afghan allies in hiding, executed in the street — Jewish people know this haunting story

 

The clock is ticking. As an American Jew, a rabbi, and the CEO of an organization trying to get the families of our staff out of Afghanistan, the bell tolls with every passing second.

The season of reflection and reconciliation is upon us. Our names are being inscribed for life or death.

Americans must make good on our pledge and take concrete, immediate action to get these Afghan families and allies out. President Joe Biden must direct his administration to create an expedited process to evacuate them. This is a moment when we can not wait until all the details are worked out.

I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for those left behind to see the gates at the Kabul airport shut and the last flight leave, knowing they would face the danger ahead alone.

The last member of Afghanistan’s Jewish community left the country this week. Yet there remain so many other people, our Muslim allies, who need help. In-text messages and voicemail we received, the desperation is palpable: We are left behind, they tell us. The gates are closed. The roads are unsafe. We are in hiding. Please help us, they beg.

I have heard the audio messages of gunfire in the streets. In a terrified call from a family in Panjshir province Tuesday we were told the Taliban dragged all males aged 10 to 65 from their homes and executed them in the street. Children as young as 10 years old murdered just for existing. Their blood is on our hands.

‘Never forget’ is a call to action

As Jews, we know this story all too well. We know what it’s like to fear for the death of our children. These families are in danger because of their work with the United States government and our military.

Our staff feels helpless. They’ve been working tirelessly to save 123 people, many of whom are family members of our team. Seventy-three of them are children forced to play a deadly game of hide and seek with the Taliban. In voice messages from Kabul, I’ve heard children’s hushed laughter in the background even as their parents talked in despair.

A Taliban soldier stands guard at the gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 5, 2021. Some domestic flights have resumed at Kabul's airport, with the state-run Ariana Afghan Airlines operating flights to three provinces.

As a Jewish social service organization, our reaction to this crisis is urgent and familiar. There are painfully obvious echoes between what is happening in Afghanistan today and what our people endured leading up to the Holocaust. People are being hunted. Families in hiding. We heard of children executed in the street.

“Never forget” is a call to action, not just a suggestion to always remember. For our Jewish community, it doesn’t matter that we are trying to save Muslims. As our tradition teaches, “One who saves a single life, saves an entire world.”

As Americans, we have a moral obligation. All people of faith have a religious one as well. The call of history echoes loud today. “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible,” said Rabbi Joshua Heschel back in 1972. Those words are as true today as they were 50 years ago.

We will be judged by our actions or indifference. Our words or our silence. Many of my colleagues in faith, as well as community leaders and heads of resettlement organizations, are mortified. We can’t accept the United States government isn’t doing better. We must do better. We have the resources. We just need the will.

What is the actual plan to save lives?

This must not be reduced to politics. We don’t need vague promises. We don’t need to hear, “we are working on it.” We can’t settle for being directed to dead-end websites or email addresses to which no one responds.

We need to know what the plan is to save these people’s lives. Who has the authority to act? People need to be empowered, not left waiting for guidance.

We have no clear answers. We are improvising, communicating with Special Immigrant Visa families in safe houses. They’re scared and are in fear the world will move on after the spectacle of the U.S.’s hasty withdrawal. We owe it to them not to move on until they are safe.

Earlier this summer, the State Department created a staffing surge to help ease the passport backlog so people could take their summer vacations. Why isn’t the State Department creating an even larger staffing surge to process Special Immigrant Visas so we can save the lives of our families and friends who fought and worked with our troops and our government?

The Biden administration must finish the mission. The mission isn’t complete if we leave these people to die.

Rabbi Will Berkovitz in Seattle, Washington, in August 2020.
Rabbi Will Berkovitz in Seattle, Washington, in August 2020.

 

We don’t have the luxury of time. The longer this drags on, the more desperate those left behind will become. We can’t urge people to take dangerous overland routes based on rumor, speculation, or hope. Cut the bureaucracy and prioritize evacuating these refugees to any intermediary country. Create safe corridors and charter flights. Get the airport in Kabul reopened. At the very least help us determine what is fact and what is fiction.

Each of us should feel we are standing before the gates of repentance this season as the ram’s horn blows a final time. As we are sealed in the book of life or death, let us never forget we can give our allies a chance for life as well. The mission won’t be complete if we leave our allies to die. We will all be judged on both what we do and what we fail to even try.

Rabbi Will Berkovitz is the CEO of Jewish Family Service, a Seattle-based social services agency founded in 1892 that helps vulnerable individuals and families achieve well-being, health and stability.

UN report: Afghanistan “on the brink” of universal poverty

UN report: Afghanistan “on the brink” of universal poverty

 

Afghanistan is close to universal poverty, according to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report released Thursday.

 

Why it matters: The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan along with the COVID-19 pandemic and severe drought have set up the poverty rate to balloon. As much as 97 percent of Afghans could be below the poverty line by mid-2022, according to the UNDP.

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  • The myriad of challenges facing the country “form a crisis that demands urgent action,” UNDP Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Kanni Wignaraja said.

By the numbers: UNDP analyzed four possible scenarios that could cause the country’s GDP to plummet as much as 13.2%. In the worst-case scenario, the report estimates that poverty could increase by about 25%.

  • 72% of the population currently live in poverty, UNDP reports.

What they’re saying: “We are facing a full-on development collapse on top of humanitarian and economic crises,” Wignaraja said.

  • “Half of the population is already in need of humanitarian support. This analysis suggests that we are on course for rapid, catastrophic deterioration in the lives of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people,” Wignaraja added.

What’s next: The UNDP is proposing an aid package aimed at helping the most vulnerable people and communities in Afghanistan.

  • The 24-month community development program would support “close to nine million vulnerable people” and would prioritize women and girls’ rights.
  • It would also include a cash-for-work plan, grants for small and medium enterprises and temporary basic income through monthly cash transfers for children, elderly citizens and the disabled.

New Mexico cattle ranchers pummeled by ongoing drought

New Mexico cattle ranchers pummeled by ongoing drought

 

State Sen. Pat Woods saw a lot of it over this past year — cows culled from a herd and sent to the slaughterhouse because their owners couldn’t afford to feed them anymore.

“It was awfully dry,” said the longtime rancher and Republican lawmaker from Broadview, a ranching community about 30 miles north of Clovis. “They were forecasting it would never rain again and it was going to be such a tough year that a lot of ranchers didn’t want to put their money into the cow.”

The drought strikes again — and its effects are having a significant impact on the state’s cattle ranching industry, according to a new report from the New Mexico State University Department of Animal and Range Sciences.

The report, which was presented to Woods and other members of the interim Water and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, laid out in stark terms how drought conditions are hurting ranchers.

Some climate experts have called the drought enveloping the southwestern part of the country one of the worst in centuries. As of last Thursday, when the last U.S. Drought Monitor report for New Mexico was updated, about two-thirds of the state was experiencing moderate to extreme drought conditions. And that was after a healthy monsoon season in many areas.

Among other outcomes, drought conditions decrease animal growth, diminish forage opportunities for livestock, increase the cost of production and decrease calf prices, the report says.

That in turn leads to extra costs when it comes to restocking herds that have been thinned out.

Calling the situation “the perfect storm of drought and pandemic,” Loren Patterson, president-elect of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, said the industry is reeling under “all of the above” pointed out in the study.

“It has a pretty big impact on us economically,” he said by phone following the presentation of the report. “It raises our cost of production. Not only do we have to reduce cow numbers, we have to supplement more for the cows we keep.”

Economically speaking, the cattle industry is a meaty, if not mighty, force. A 2019 report, from the environmental publication Sustainability, said its role in the state economy is “substantial.” Using 2012 data, it said about 44 percent of revenue from the state’s agricultural industry is derived from cattle.

Patterson said while those who work in agriculture are accustomed to dealing with problems brought on by longterm drought, “it’s always a little tougher than you prepare for.”

Ultimately, consumers will feel the brunt of the impacts at meat markets, grocery stores and restaurants, Patterson said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index reports the price of beef and veal went up 6.5 percent between July 2020 and July 2021 — though it does not provide an explanation for the increase.

And there may be less beef to go around. Patterson said ranchers who have thinned herds are now trying to restock them by keeping female cows so they birth calves. Those cows are not headed into the food supply chain anytime soon. That can affect the beef supply for up to three years, he said.

Restocking is expensive, the report says.

Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, who is a rancher and a member of the interim committee, said she has experienced that cost firsthand — noting in an interview she had to sell off more than 100 of her herd at the end of 2019 because of the effects drought had on her operation.

Now, trying to restock, she finds cows once worth $700 going for nearly twice that price as demand outpaces supply.

“That’s a scarcity of a commodity that we as ranchers need,” Ezzell said.

Carla Gomez, a small cattle rancher in Mora County, said the drought has had a “devastating” impact on fellow ranchers in her area, despite a season of really good rainfall.

“Here in Mora, a lot of people who have had cattle in the past don’t anymore because of this continual drought cycle,” she said. “People sell their cattle … some people build the herd back up and some don’t.”

The report offers a number of recommendations for easing the drought’s effects, such as weaning and selling offspring early to reduce grazing fees; providing supplements to replace milk and grass for feed purposes; culling both old and young “low productivity” animals out of herds; keeping animals in a pen to feed them stored-up food products.

Some of these options are expensive, the report noted.

While Patterson said these options will “absolutely” help, selling off livestock or sending them to the slaughterhouse is “economically devastating” for cattle ranchers.

And, he said, it will cost the state and local counties in tax revenue because cattle ranchers “pay taxes on every head of livestock, so obviously the counties and state will realize less taxes.”

Some Afghans evacuated from Kabul struggle to find help in U.S.

Some Afghans evacuated from Kabul struggle to find help in U.S.

Fahima, 30-year-old a refugee from Afghanistan, sits in her sister’s apartment in Virginia

 

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) – After Fahima, 30, stepped off a plane at Dulles international airport in Virginia on Aug. 26th, she asked an immigration official what would happen to her next. He shrugged, she said, and told her to find a lawyer.

Like many among the thousands of Afghans who were hurriedly evacuated by the U.S. military from Afghanistan last month, Fahima is now facing an uncertain future in the United States.

“I was a little confused,” Fahima said through an interpreter. “I didn’t know that we had to talk to a lawyer and do all these things by ourselves. I thought the American government was going to take care of this.”

The next day, Fahima was picked up at a convention center near the airport by her older sister Hakima, whose own experience as a refugee resettling in the United States four years ago was markedly different and underscores the challenges now facing recent arrivals like Fahima.

When Hakima arrived in 2017, she received the traditional benefits of a resettled refugee, such as cash assistance, health insurance and food stamps. Because Fahima was evacuated without a visa, she entered the country on urgent humanitarian grounds, a temporary reprieve that doesn’t come with the same resettlement resources or path to citizenship.

“We don’t know how she is eligible for any resettlement services,” said Hakima, 37. “We haven’t received any instruction or services,” she said in an interview.

Both sisters asked to be identified only by their first names to protect their family in Afghanistan.

“The problem is people had to come on a short notice with nothing but clothes on their back,” due to the nature of the rescue operation, said Erol Kekic, senior vice president at Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program. The lack of benefits “is a huge issue,” he said.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said the vast majority of special immigrant visa (SIV) applicants and other vulnerable Afghans are transferred to military bases upon arrival, where they receive help applying for work permits and with applications for immigration statuses they may be eligible for. There are about 45,000 Afghans at military bases in the United States, he said.

Afghan parolees will also be eligible for a State Department program that provides limited relocation assistance.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

In Afghanistan, Fahima worked as an administrator for a U.S. organization and had a pending refugee application, she said. When the Taliban took over, she rushed to the airport in Kabul, fearing for her life. She sent her sister text updates when she got through the gate and eventually onto a plane first to Qatar, then Europe and a few days later, to the United States. Their parents and brother remain in Kabul.

Hakima, who works for a think tank in Washington, D.C., took Fahima back to her two-bedroom apartment, which she shares with a roommate. Hakima, Fahima and her cousin, who also recently arrived from Afghanistan, share Hakima’s room in a high-rise in Alexandria, Virginia.

At dinner, the women discuss their living situation. Hakima’s lease ends in October and she started looking at three-bedroom apartments, but found her income from the think tank wouldn’t cover the rent. Hakima has started looking for a second job.

Fahima has been searching for English classes at a nearby community college as well as jobs online, but doesn’t know what she needs to do to be allowed to work or study. The humanitarian parole status under which she entered the United States does not confer work privileges, but she can apply for a work permit, a process that takes time, said Church World Service’s Kekic.

Hakima has looked into getting Fahima a lawyer, but said she worries about the cost.

“I have to support my family in Afghanistan, too,” said Hakima. “I have to consider everything.” But she is happy to have her sister with her.

Fahima has stayed close to home since arriving, she said, sleeping in and going for walks nearby.

On Fahima’s walks she marvels at the greenery and how empty the streets are compared to Kabul. But most of the days she spends at home, helping with cooking and cleaning, and waiting for her parents in Kabul to wake up so she can call them.

Last week, the sisters got some news that made them hopeful. Their brother had found somebody who said they could smuggle his family and their parents to neighboring Tajikistan for $1,100 per person. A dangerous trip, but they feel they have no choice.

“We’re trying to get them out to any country which is safe,” Fahima said.

While they wait to see whether their parents make it out of Afghanistan, Hakima wants to make sure Fahima is not putting her own life on hold. She tells her to leave the house and meet people.

“It takes time finding friends, she doesn’t know anybody here,” she said. “We all need our friends and our connections.”

(Reporting by Merdie Nzanga, editing by Kristina Cooke, Ross Colvin and Nick Zieminski)

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Thousands of flood-damaged cars may float back to market after Ida. How to spot one

Thousands of flood-damaged cars may float back to market after Ida. How to spot one

 

Cars damaged in floodwaters caused by Hurricane Ida could soon be on the resale market, putting would-be buyers at risk.

Carfax spokesman Chris Basso estimates “378,000 flood-damaged autos were already on the roads” before Ida made landfall as a Category 4 storm in Southeast Louisiana last month, according to CNBC. The system left a trail of destruction stretching from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the Northeast, leaving parts of New York City underwater.

“If history holds true, we’re looking at several thousand more [flooded] vehicles,” Basso told CNBC, “and a decent percentage of them will make it back into the market.”

Flood-damaged cars can be repaired and resold. However, potential buyers aren’t always privy to a vehicle’s history. This is largely because waterlogged cars “are often transported well beyond their original region after major storms,” according to Consumer Reports.

If flood damage is disclosed on a car’s title, it can be legally resold once it has undergone the necessary repairs and a re-inspection, the consumer watchdog agency said. Still, some water-damaged cars will float back on the market with a clean history.

That’s why experts encourage consumers to do a thorough inspection before buying a new ride — or pay a trusted mechanic to take a look.

How to spot a flood-damaged car

When determining if a car has flood damage, the Better Business Bureau said shoppers should always ask to see the title.

“If the title is stamped ‘salvage’ or has arrived from a recently flood damaged state, ask questions,” the BBB’s website states. “[Also] consider purchasing a vehicle history report of the vehicle, which includes information [on] if the car has ever been tagged as ‘salvage’ or ‘flood damaged’ in any state.”

The vehicle’s dashboard and electronic components, such as lights, radio and turn signals, should be checked carefully to ensure everything is in working order, according to the BBB. Over time, water can make its way into vital systems, corroding metals, short-circuiting wires and warping brakes or rotors, says Consumer Reports.

Carpeting and upholstery should also be checked for signs of dampness, mud or silt.

A smell-test is also necessary, Carfax says. If a car smells of mold or mildew, it’s likely been underwater. Other tell-tale signs of water damage include:

  • Mud, dirt or debris under the seats or in the glove compartment
  • Visible rust around doors, under the dashboard, on the pedals or inside the hood
  • Brittle wiring under the dashboard
  • Fogging or moisture beads in exterior and interior lights

All in all, experts say it’s best to pass up a car with potential signs of flood damage, “even if [it] looks acceptable and may be working when you inspect it,” Consumer Reports chief mechanic John Ibbotson said.

The interior of a car damaged by the flood is seen covered in mud, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. More than three days after the hurricane blew ashore in Louisiana, Ida’s rainy remains hit the Northeast with stunning fury on Wednesday and Thursday, submerging cars, swamping subway stations and basement apartments and drowning scores of people in five states. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Who to blame for Taliban takeover? Former Afghan envoy points finger at Kabul

Who to blame for Taliban takeover? Former Afghan envoy points finger at Kabul

 

FILE PHOTO: Afghan Ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani speaks during an interview with Reuters in Washington.

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan’s first female ambassador to the United States who left her post in July, is clearly horrified by the Taliban takeover of her country. But she is not surprised.

In an interview, Rahmani accused the former U.S.-backed government in Kabul of a failure to lead the country and of widespread corruption that ultimately paved the way for the Taliban’s victory last month.

She also warned the United States, still smarting from its defeat, that the rise of the Taliban would have far-reaching geopolitical consequences.

“I, as an Afghan, was not surprised by the fact that the Taliban took over Afghanistan the way they did and how quickly they did, partly because of the lack of leadership by the Afghan government that was in place at the time,” Rahmani said.

President Joe Biden acknowledged he and other officials were aware of the risk that the Afghan government could collapse following the U.S. military withdrawal.

But they say they were caught off-guard by the speed of the Taliban victory, a miscalculation that helped lead to a chaotic U.S. military airlift of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans. Thirteen U.S. troops and scores of Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing during the operation.

Biden, in a speech last month, accused Afghan troops of lacking “the will to fight” for their country’s future.

Rahmani saw things differently.

“It was not the Afghan forces, that they were not willing to fight for their freedom and for protection of their people. It was the leadership that was corrupt. And they handed over, basically, the country to the Taliban,” she said, without providing specific allegations.

In particular, Ashraf Ghani’s decision to abandon the presidency and leave Afghanistan on Aug. 15 was “extremely disappointing and embarrassing,” she said.

Ghani said on Wednesday he left because he wanted to avoid bloodshed. He denied allegations he stole millions of dollars on his way out.

“Leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life,” Ghani said.

Rahmani, who is 43, left the job as ambassador to the United States after nearly three years in the role. During her posting she wrestled with what she believed was a politically-motivated case over an embassy construction project.

She denied any wrongdoing and an anti-corruption court found flaws in the case, sending it back even before the Afghan government crumbled.

“I invite any investigative body to look at all the documents,” she said.

But Rahmani’s accusations of broad corruption and mismanagement in Kabul carry echoes of warnings by current and former U.S. officials for years. Experts say corruption was steadily eroding ordinary Afghans’ faith in the U.S.-backed government and even turning some of them to the Taliban.

Rahmani described being cut out of discussions between Washington and Kabul, including during the Trump administration. Neither capital appeared to be fully preparing for consequences of the U.S. withdrawal, she said.

She warned of geopolitical shifts that will impact the United States and its allies.

Pakistan – a prickly U.S. ally that is close to the Taliban – will have gained leverage in its dealings with the Washington, she said.

“I believe that the United States will be facing a new Pakistan,” she said, while cautioning the Taliban’s takeover will have ripple effects on India, China, Turkey and beyond.

LAUDS AFGHAN WOMEN PROTESTERS

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, girls could not attend school and women were banned from work and education. Religious police would flog anyone breaking the rules and public executions were carried out.

The Taliban have urged Afghans to be patient and vowed to be more tolerant this time.

But Rahmani says the Taliban’s decision to exclude women from all of the top government positions announced on Tuesday was proof that dark times may be ahead for women.

On Tuesday, a group of Afghan women in a Kabul street had to take cover after Taliban gunmen fired into the air to disperse hundreds of protesters.

“I salute all the brave women of Afghanistan. It is quite risky to do what they are doing,” Rahmani said. “And it’s also an indication to the rest of the world that they have everything to lose at this point.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mary Milliken and Angus MacSwan)