Militant Attack and Support Zones in Afghanistan: April – September 2015 (Institute for the Study of War)

Attack and support zones of ISIS, Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan (click for detailed view). Map: Evan Sterling/Institute for the Study of War

This report was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 7 August, 2015.

Taliban elements and other militant groups are conducting operations across Afghanistan, including spectacular attacks against major population centers and U.S. bases. The Haqqa­ni Network, a Taliban aligned-group, continues to pressure the ANSF and NATO forces with spectacular attacks in Kabul and Khost. Taliban elements are also conducting numerous ground assaults to seize district centers, especially in northern and southern Afghanistan. These campaigns comprised the 2015 warm weather from April 2015- September 2015. There have been several notable developments following the announcement of the death of Mullah Omar onJuly 29. First, Taliban militants have claimed control of two district cen­ters in Helmand on August II and August 26. Second, ISIS’s Wilayat Khorasan have claimed control of seven district centers in Nangarhar over the course of July and September. Third, Taliban infighting has escalated as different factions compete and express varying positions on who should lead the Taliban movement. » More

North Korea’s Quiet Market Reforms

Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea. Image: Democracy Chronicles/Flickr

This article was originally published by NK on 14 September, 2015.

Not everybody would agree, but it seems increasingly likely that Kim Jong Un and his administration (whatever that means) are executing a careful set of market-oriented reforms. These reforms bear some similarities to what the Chinese leadership did in the 1970s, though they are significantly less radical in many regards. » More

International Actors and the Inter-Palestinian Reconciliation: Where is the Urgency?

Banner for UN Resolution 194. Image: Dieter Zirnig/Flickr

This article was originally published September 2015 by swisspeace.

On 23rd of April 2014, Fatah and Hamas signed in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp the latest of a series of reconciliation agreements. Hopes were not particularly high, as a number of similar agreements had been signed in the past (Sana’a 2008, Mecca Agreement of 2008, Cairo Agreement of 2011, and Doha Declaration of 2012) but were incapable of overcoming the factional divide in practice. The Shati agreement had the potential to be different. The parties indeed proceeded to form a Government of National Consensus (GNC) and thus gave proof of significant political will. » More

The Moral Code: How To Teach Robots Right and Wrong

“PackBot”, a battlefield robot used by the US military. Image: Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Foreign Affairs on 12 August 2015.

At the most recent International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, over 1,000 experts and researchers presented an open letter calling for a ban on offensive autonomous weapons. The letter, signed by Tesla’s Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, and Professor Stephen Hawking, among others, warned of a “military artificial intelligence arms race.” Regardless of whether these campaigns to ban offensive autonomous weapons are successful, though, robotic technology will be increasingly widespread in many areas of military and economic life.

Over the years, robots have become smarter and more autonomous, but so far they still lack an essential feature: the capacity for moral reasoning. This limits their ability to make good decisions in complex situations. For example, a robot is not currently able to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants or to understand that enemies sometimes disguise themselves as civilians. » More

Mediation Perspectives: What Monsters Can Teach us about Religion and Conflict

A cute Monster overlooking a crowd of people

Image: dylan Snow/flickr

One of my favorite group exercises in mediation training is the monster game. It begins with the participants forming a big circle and designating someone to be the first monster. The monster then speaks the name of one participant in the circle and slowly approaches him/her making a dangerous looking monster face and terrible monster-like noises. The rules are simple: when you are attacked, you are not allowed to move until you’ve said the name of another participant in the circle. You need to do so before the monster physically touches you. If you can’t give a name in time, or you start moving before you have given a new name, you are “dead” and have to leave the circle. The “survivor” then becomes the new monster and the game continues.

While the aim of the game is to stay alive, many participants don’t survive the first few times they get attacked. That’s because when we get scared, our brains don’t function the way they usually do and raw survival instincts take over. Our first reaction is to escape from the threat as fast as we can. That’s also why we regularly use the monster game in mediation training – complex mediation processes may take unexpected turns. For instance, participants might experience emotions such as insecurity and doubt, or even outright fear and panic. These emotions are neither good nor bad, but merely provide us with information that there is a (perceived) monster in the room. However, our immediate and instinctual reaction may set us back in the sensitive mediation processes we are involved in – just as they may inhibit us from producing the name of another participant in the monster game. » More

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