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U.S. Troops Might be in Danger. Why Is the Military Trying to Hide It?



It was a brazen assault that put the extreme vulnerability of American military bases in Africa on full display. On January 5, 2020, members of the terrorist group al Shabaab attacked a longtime American outpost in Kenya, and when it was over three Americans were dead, two others were wounded, six aircraft had been wrecked, a fuel storage area had been destroyed, and the airfield—which had been considered a “safe area” for U.S. troops—was on fire and out of commission.

At the beginning of the attack, two U.S. contractors were taxiing their surveillance plane on the tarmac when a rocket-propelled grenade came streaking toward them. The assault was such a surprise that it took an hour for American troops to respond, and as many as eight hours to evacuate a private contractor that sustained injuries 1,500 miles away to a military hospital in Djibouti. Shortly after the assault, reports also emerged that many of the Kenyan soldiers assigned to protect the Manda Bay outpost fled and hid until the fighting was over. (The military’s Africa command, or AFRICOM, refused to respond to VICE News about these allegations.)

Months later, the United States military is still conducting an investigation into the attack. Personnel have been tight-lipped on the reasons why al Shabaab, an East African terrorist organization affiliated with al Qaeda, was able to deal the U.S. such a heavy blow, but one fact is clear: Measures to secure the base, also known as “force protection,” failed spectacularly.

Two sets of exclusive, formerly secret AFRICOM documents obtained by VICE News show that as many as 20 American outposts across Africa may be in similar danger of the type of debacle that occurred at Manda Bay. These files also suggest that Africa Command has taken steps to obscure information about the sites where local forces provided protection. Another batch of exclusive documents also reveals that the Manda Bay attack occurred not long after a sweeping security upgrade of the outpost, calling into question the efficacy of measures to protect that base and the safety of U.S. personnel stationed elsewhere on the continent.

“It’s highly likely that another attack like this will happen again somewhere in Africa,” retired Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, who served at  U.S. Africa Command from 2013 to 2015 and then headed Special Operations Command Africa until 2017, told VICE News. “What’s going on in Africa, in terms of attacks on U.S. forces, is a classic example of poor policy, poor strategy, and a poor operational approach that endangers the safety and security of our service members.”

Africa Command still refuses to say if steps have been taken to remedy any existing security gaps and provided boilerplate responses to VICE News about security upgrades at Manda Bay, potential adjustments to force protection at other bases, and whether local forces were still providing critical security at most U.S. outposts in Africa.

“Force protection is one of the command’s most important priorities,” spokesperson John Manley told VICE News. “We continuously assess force protection and security measures and make adjustments as necessary across the continent.”

While Manley declined to name locations, or even provide a simple count, of other bases where foreign forces provide security for U.S. troops, formerly secret 2019 AFRICOM planning documents reveal that local forces provided some or all of the “force protection function” at 20 U.S. bases across the continent. This means that Americans at the majority of  U.S. military sites in Africa may be vulnerable to the security breakdowns that led to the deaths at Manda Bay.

Manley told VICE News that AFRICOM does not view force protection by local troops as a danger, but U.S. military history is replete with examples of outsourced security leading to the deaths of Americans. In 1965, an attack on an airfield at Pleiku, South Vietnam, whose perimeter was primarily defended by local forces, killed nine U.S. troops, wounded another 128, and destroyed a 122 aircraft. In October 2000, while refueling in a port primarily defended by Yemeni forces, the USS Cole was attacked by al Qaeda militants, resulting in the death of 17 American sailors. In 2012, Taliban forces penetrated Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, which was guarded by Tongan troops, killing two Marines and destroying six aircraft. An investigation led to the firing of two generals and a stark pronouncement by the Marine Corps Commandant, General James Amos: “Marines can never place complete reliance for their own safety in the hands of another force.”

An article in a 2014 Air Force anthology on air base defense also noted that that service branch “historically considered threats outside the air base perimeter the responsibility of either sister services or host-nation forces,” but that experiences in South Vietnam and during the Gulf War “demonstrated that these organizations may not have sufficient forces to perform exterior air-base defense missions effectively.” Another article in a 2019 follow-up anthology published by the Air Force’s Air University Press warned that a “host-nation force is unlikely to replicate the standard of U.S. forces” in terms of ensuring “appropriate levels” of base security.

Bases where force protection is provided by host-nation troops are also, the AFRICOM files show, predominantly located in countries where America has waged quasi-wars in recent years.  U.S. forces have taken part in combat in at least 13 African nations over the last decade, according to former Special Operations Command Africa, or SOCAFRICA, commander Bolduc. Documents, obtained by VICE News through the Freedom of Information Act, show that 16 of the bases where the “host nation contributes to or provides the entirety of the force protection function” are in these same countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Niger, Somalia, and Tunisia.

“The attack on Manda Bay wasn’t surprising,” said Bolduc, noting that there is a high risk of another attack like Manda Bay in the future, but that the dangers aren’t new and echo similar issues when he took command of SOCAFRICA, a subcommand of U.S. Special Operations Command under the operational control of AFRICOM, which oversees elite American commandos on the continent. “There was a lack of investment in force protection for our SOF [Special Operations forces] whether they were on host nation bases or in other areas,” he said. “I had 96 individual missions with 886 separate tasks in 28 different countries when I took command of SOCAFRICA, but had to carry that out with inadequate medical coverage, inadequate ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] coverage, and inadequate personnel recovery assets.”

The losses at Manda Bay and U.S. actions after the attack suggest that the base was, indeed, under-resourced.  In the wake of the al Shabaab assault, about 120 infantrymen from the 101st Airborne Division were rushed to the base and, according to President Donald Trump, unspecified “equipment” was also “deployed to Kenya to increase force protection measures.” (AFRICOM refused to provide VICE News with details about current troop levels or if steps were actually taken to increase security at the base.)

Additionally, the 2019 planning documents, which were drafted roughly one year and three months prior to the al Shabaab attack on Manda Bay, inexplicably do not list that airfield as one of the U.S. outposts where local forces provide security. The only facility in Kenya protected by local troops, according to the documents, is located in Mombasa, a coastal city about 200 miles from Manda Bay.

Bolduc told VICE News that as SOCAFRICA commander, he recognized Manda Bay as a critical sea and air base, visited often, and bolstered the outpost’s defenses with additional American troops “augmenting our host nation partners.”  The dangers were also no secret, he explained.  “We know that those local forces are—in the event of an attack—probably going to run.  We know that there is a lot of corruption, so they may be paid off to run,” he said.  “So, I made sure that we had adequate force structure there to protect it.  I assume there were changes made.”

According to documents obtained by VICE News, upgrades to Manda Bay’s security were made prior to the attack. Exclusive 2018 Air Force documents reveal that there already had been “a sweeping upgrade of force protection at Manda Bay” between June 2017 and June 2018. The partially redacted documents, produced by the 449th Air Expeditionary Group, refer to the “construction of a new defensive perimeter” and the acquisition of an unspecified “capability” to provide security and protect $142 million in air assets then located at the base.

The files also note that during that same time span, Colonel Shawn Cochran, then the commander of the 449th Air Expeditionary Group, “championed a major shift in East Africa’s decade-old personnel recovery posture,” leading to a 75% decrease in the time between an alert about injured personnel and the time that help arrives. The files say that these changes were “ultimately mitigating risk to [the] United States and partner nation force nations.”

At least one other tangible action was taken by AFRICOM in regard to security provided by host nation forces at U.S. bases: In the command’s formerly secret 2020 planning documents, AFRICOM redacted all material relating to force protection by local troops, making it impossible to know which bases continued to rely on resident troops for the security of U.S. forces this year.

Compared side by side, the language in the 2020 documents is identical to the 2019 version, until the mention of host-nation contributions to force protection is redacted. Neither AFRICOM’s Freedom of Information Act office nor its communications office would offer an explanation for the decision to redact the 2020 files. “It would be inappropriate for me to speculate on the reasons why sections were redacted beyond established law,” AFRICOM’s John Manley told VICE News.

“It’s pretty obvious why they did it. We’re at all these places where troops are at risk, but they don’t want you to know about it. And if they had the right security, they would want to talk about it. That says a lot,” Bolduc told VICE News after reviewing the 2019 and 2020 AFRICOM documents. “It’s pretty clear that they don’t want Congress or the American people asking questions about it.”

After four Americans—two diplomats and two CIA contractors—were killed by militants in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, there were 10 investigations, 33 congressional hearings, and a great furor over the security failures that led to their deaths. Since the January attack on Manda Bay, there has not been a Benghazi-like outcry over the fact that Kenyan forces reportedly fled from the battle and failed to stop al Shabaab from penetrating the airfield.

Earlier this year, however, members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees questioned AFRICOM commander Army General Stephen Townsend about the attack on Manda Bay. “I think it is self-obvious we were not as prepared there in Manda Bay as we needed to be,”  Townsaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee, not mentioning the previous security upgrades that had been made to the Manda Bay base during 2017 and 2018. “Al-Shabaab managed to penetrate onto that airfield … they were able to get access to that airfield, kill three Americans and destroy six aircraft there. So we weren’t as prepared and we’re digging into that to find out why that’s the case.”

Throughout their questioning, the committee did not ask about any ongoing security risks to American bases posed by a reliance on local African forces. Senator Martha McSally, a Republican lawmaker from Arizona and 26-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, questioned Townsend about the “surprisingly sparse security” at the Kenyan base and steps being taken “to make sure that others are not going to be in a similar risk.” But when the AFRICOM chief confined his answers to actions taken at Manda Bay, she asked no follow-ups about the broader issue of base security on the continent.

McSally, who once oversaw planning of counterterrorism operations in Africa, later issued a press release in which she stressed the “need to improve security of U.S. assets in Africa**,**” but, her staff said, she was unaware of the many other bases that may be as vulnerable as Manda Bay due to a reliance on local forces for force protection. “The Senator was never made aware of the aforementioned dangers you describe,” Amy Lawrence, her communications director, told VICE News. (McSally’s office ignored repeated inquiries from VICE News for further comment on the potential dangers to U.S. troops at bases across Africa.)

Congressmember Karen Bass, a Democrat from California and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations similarly failed to respond to questions about the potential vulnerabilities faced by U.S. forces across the continent. “The Congresswoman has previously supported calls for congressional investigations into these matters and all military activity across Africa in order to protect the lives of American citizens and their African counterparts,” said Janette Yarwood, the staff director of the subcommittee, in an emailed statement on behalf of Bass.

“We viewed and the Kenyans viewed Manda Bay as a safe area,” Townsend told the senators in January. ”And so I am looking with a clear eye at every location in Africa now.” To be certain, Benghazi and Manda Bay are far from the only attacks targeting Americans in Africa. The number of casualties from attacks on Americans by militants in Africa under the Trump administration is at least five times greater than the death toll at Benghazi, according to a tally drawn from press reports. These include the 2017 ambush in Niger by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara that left six U.S. soldiers dead or wounded and an attack by al Shabaab in Somalia, just last month, that injured a U.S. service member.

More recently, reports emerged that AFRICOM is pressing for clearance to carry out drone strikes in portions of eastern Kenya as a result of the January attack. Last year, the Trump administration conducted 63 declared air attacks in Somalia, the most ever. This year, it has already conducted at least 47 strikes in neighboring Somalia, exceeding the number of U.S. air strikes in the country during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined. But expanding America’s drone war would likely entail expanding intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, meaning even more contractors—the Americans who bore the brunt of the attack at Manda Bay—could be placed in harm’s way.

Elizabeth Shackelford, a former State Department Foreign Service officer who served in both Somalia and Kenya, questions the need for all the U.S. bases spread across the continent, noting that it is the U.S. military presence and activity in Africa that make Americans targets for extremist groups like al Shabaab. “It’s shocking that practically no one even asked this question after the Manda Bay attack, but instead we’re looking to double down and expand our authority to conduct drone attacks in Kenya now? It seems backwards to me,” she told VICE News.

Shackleford, now a fellow with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, D.C., posed a different set of questions beyond those related strictly to U.S. base security, suggesting the need for a more sweeping reappraisal of the U.S. mission on the continent.  “We’ve been building the U.S. military footprint in Africa for nearly a generation and with little real to show for it,” she said.  “Our presence is risky and costly, and what does that, in fact, provide for the U.S. national interest? How does that risk and cost compare to what our real interests are? It isn’t that I don’t think we have national security interests in Somalia—it’s just that I think no one has bothered to articulate them, measure them, and compare them to our strategy and the cost of our engagement.”

Nine months later, the military’s investigation into the attacks on Manda Bay grinds on with no clear end date, according to a Pentagon spokesman. “Work continues on the investigation,” Lieutenant Colonel Anton Semelroth told VICE News. “After it is completed, families and Congress will be briefed first, followed by the general public and news media.”

In September, a report released by the Pentagon’s Inspector General noted that “al-Shabaab moved freely and launched attacks in Somalia and Kenya,” that the group “conducted weekly cross-border raids and attacks on security camps in the Somalia-Kenya border region,” and that the violence had increased over the previous year with attacks in Somalia reaching “historically high levels” despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, in apparent recognition of the risks facing U.S. forces there, SOCAFRICA commandos carried out a medical evacuation training exercise, involving the use of helicopters to provide rapid response to the injured, at Manda Bay. The same week, U.S. Army Major General Joel Tyler, AFRICOM’s director of operations, also visited the base, highlighting the threat posed by the terror group that attacked it, while talking up the dedication of America’s local allies. “Al-Shabaab remains a dangerous enemy,” said Tyler. “I saw first-hand the commitment of our Kenyan and Somali partners as we address a mutual threat in al-Shabaab. We will continue to sharpen our focus and counter this common threat.”


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year



(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.


Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.


Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.


Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.


Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.


Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.


Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.


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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained



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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year



From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.


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