Thursday, February 14, 2019

U.S. troop reduction in Afghanistan 'will be coordinated' with NATO, acting defense secretary says

BRUSSELS — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Thursday that the United States will not withdraw from Afghanistan without consulting NATO allies, and suggested that any coming troop reduction would be coordinated.

"There will be no unilateral troop reduction," Shanahan said in a press conference at the conclusion of a NATO meeting of defense ministers in Brussels.

"That was one of the messages of the meeting today," he said. "It will be coordinated."

Last month, the U.S. began peace talks with the Taliban to try to end a war now in its 18th year. President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address last week to argue “that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.” "And the other side would like to do the same," Trump said.

There have been roughly 3,500 coalition casualties in Afghanistan, with the United States losing approximately 2,300 troops. U.S. commanders have referred to the conflict as a "stalemate," and the Taliban does not appear to be losing territory 18 months into Trump's new Afghanistan strategy.

On Wednesday, the Taliban said that the talks would resume on Feb. 18 in Islamabad.

Those peace talks, if successful, could lead to a reduction of some of the 14,000 troops that are currently serving in Afghanistan under a NATO mission, according to Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO.

The military alliance has "discussed the possibility, of course as part of a peace deal, to reduce the presence of NATO troops" in the country, Stoltenberg told NBC News on Tuesday.

But on Thursday, the top U.S. NATO commander said that troop reductions did not come up in formal discussions during the two-day NATO gathering of defense ministers.

"There’s no plans right now at NATO to withdraw troops," General Curtis Scaparrotti told NBC News. "We came in together, we go out together." - Read More

U.S. troop reduction in Afghanistan 'will be coordinated' with NATO ...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

مراسم تشییع جنازه صبغت الله مجددی برگزار شد - BBC

مراسم تشییع جنازه صبغت الله مجددی، نخستین رئیس دولت اسلامی افغانستان امروز چهارشنبه ۲۴ دلو/بهمن برگزار شد.
آقای مجددی، نخستین رئیس دولت اسلامی افغانستان در دهه نود میلادی و رهبر حزب نجات ملی در سن ۹۳ سالگی روز دوشنبه در کابل درگذشت. او اخیرا بیمار بود.

صبغت الله مجددی در سال ۱۳۰۵ خورشیدی در یک خانواده روحانی در شهر کابل به دنیا آمد. او از مشایخ طریقت نقشبندیه و منتسب به شیخ احمد سرهندی، معروف به مجدد الف ثانی بود.

صبغت الله مجددی در سال ۱۳۰۵ خورشیدی در یک خانواده روحانی در شهر کابل به دنیا آمد. او از مشایخ طریقت نقشبندیه و منتسب به شیخ احمد سرهندی، معروف به مجدد الف ثانی بود. - Read More

مراسم تشییع جنازه صبغت الله مجددی برگزار شد - BBC News

Endless War: A Visit with the Taliban in Afghanistan - SPIEGEL ONLINE

More than 17 years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the country is still at war. The Afghan army is weak, a resurgent Taliban is mounting fresh attacks and new peace negotiations do not include Kabul. Peace remains a distant goal.
Mullah Niazi sits on top of his mountain and waits -- waits for news from his commanders, waits for his fighters and waits for victory. He's been living up here in his mountaintop fortress -- where the shacks are as brown as the mountain and where no motorcycle, car or tank can travel -- for two-and-a-half years. He is waiting for God's rule to once again take hold on the streets of Afghanistan's, just like when he was a spokesman for Taliban founder, Mullah Omar. His patience seems to be paying off.

Slowly, Niazi's fighters, who are taking us to him, ascend the final slope. The air is still damp and cold from the night before, and it smells like the scree that is dislodged by our every step. The only sound is the fighters' heavy breathing and the metallic clink of ammunition belts against their machine guns.

Apart from our group, silence envelops these mountains southeast of Herat, a range known locally as Haft-Darband. It is where Mullah Niazi is lying in wait to reclaim what the Americans took from the Taliban: control over Afghanistan. Things haven't looked this good for the Islamic fundamentalist movement for 17 years.

Surrounded by his heavily armed men, a smiling Niazi is standing at the entrance to his fortress. He is wearing a black vest over his shalwar kameez along with a black turban. His long, gray beard is forked. "The Americans," he says, "are no longer an enemy. They are pulling out. They have lost."

War has been a constant in Afghanistan for the last 41 years, but recently it has become bloodier than it has been in a long time. The Taliban are on the advance, with just 55 percent of the districts in the country currently under the control of the government, according to a U.S. report. The U.S. military dropped more bombs in 2018 than in the 10 previous years and the big cities have seen repeated attacks. - Read More

Endless War: A Visit with the Taliban in Afghanistan

Germany to extend Afghanistan military mission

The German government has opted to extend the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan for another year. The move defies concerns that the US is preparing to pull out of the country, rendering Germany's contribution futile.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet has decided to extend the military mission in Afghanistan a day after an internal strategy paper showed Germany had offered to host another peace conference, this time with an extra invitation for the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic movement currently at war with NATO in the country. The Taliban took part in framework talks with US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, Qatar, last month, while further talks, without the US, were held in Moscow.

The Bundeswehr currently has around 1,200 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, part of NATO's Resolute Support mission, though the whole operation was thrown into uncertainty in late December, when news reports from the US suggested that President Donald Trump was planning to withdraw around half of the US military's 14,000 troops in Afghanistan.

No timetable was laid out for the mooted withdrawal, though several German military experts, most notably retired General Harald Kujat, told the media at the time that a US withdrawal would render Germany's continued presence futile. - Read More

Germany to extend Afghanistan military mission | Germany| News and

Monday, February 11, 2019

Pentagon Chief Assures Afghanistan of U.S. Support -- WSJ

The Pentagon’s top official assured Afghanistan’s government on Monday that the U.S. wouldn’t desert the country’s security forces, the Afghan Defense Ministry said, signaling American support for the jittery government while the U.S. holds talks with the Taliban to end the country’s 17-year war.

In his first overseas trip as acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan met senior U.S. military officers and top Afghan officials, including President Ashraf Ghani, whose government has been excluded from the latest effort to negotiate a settlement of the punishing conflict. The Taliban have refused to enter talks with the Kabul administration, which they say is illegitimate.

An Afghan Defense Ministry statement in Dari and Pashto, the country’s two main languages, said Mr. Shanahan had assured Afghanistan’s acting defense minister that under a peace deal the U.S. “wouldn’t abandon Afghan forces in training and fighting terrorism.” An English version of the statement omits the pledge to the Afghan official, Asadullah Khalid.

An aide to Mr. Shanahan said that during the meeting with the defense minister, the Pentagon chief affirmed the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan’s security and discussed the progress in President Trump’s South Asia strategy.

Earlier, the former Boeing executive, who became acting defense secretary in December following the resignation of Jim Mattis, told reporters accompanying him on his unannounced visit to Kabul that Afghan government participation in the peace process is important.

“The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future,” he said. “It’s not about the U.S., it’s about Afghanistan.”

It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Shanhan indicated to Mr. Ghani how or when his government would be brought into the peace process.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy leading the American negotiating effort, said in a speech on Friday in Washington that he wanted dialogue among Afghans to “start right away.”

In response, Mr. Ghani told President Trump in a letterlast month that his government was willing to discuss how to reduce the size and cost of the American military presence in Afghanistan. The Trump administration requested $45 billion for combat operations in the country this fiscal year and $5.2 billion in aid for the Afghan security forces. - More

Pentagon Chief Assures Afghanistan of U.S. Support - WSJ

Friday, February 08, 2019

Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad on the Prospects for Peace in Afghanistan

The U.S. has redoubled its efforts to facilitate a peace process that will end the conflict in Afghanistan, protect U.S. national security interests, and strengthen Afghanistan’s sovereignty. As President Trump said in the State of the Union address, “my administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban. As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counterterrorism.”

USIP is pleased to host Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad for his first public event since becoming the special representative. His remarks will discuss recent progress and challenges to advance a peace process in Afghanistan, and will be followed by a discussion with USIP Board Chair and former National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley. - Read More

Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad on the Prospects for Peace ...

Plan for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan takes shape — but will it stick?

Negotiations that would lead to a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan continue to advance, but are a long way from completion, the top U.S. envoy to U.S.-Taliban peace talks said Friday.

Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace that ongoing discussions with the Taliban have so far focused on the top two priorities of both parties, and have led to an agreement “in principle” on those issues.

For the U.S., the priority was securing a commitment from the Taliban that it would never again allow a terrorist group to use Afghanistan as a staging ground to attack the U.S. or its allies, and an agreement in principle was reached on that issue.

For the Taliban, "with regard to troops, that was their most important issue,” Khalilzad said. As part of these initial talks, “we have agreed in principle on a framework for possible U.S. withdrawal,” Khalilzad said.

A Taliban spokesman told news agencies this week that the U.S. had agreed to remove half of its forces by May as part of this round of talks.

Khalilzad said the talks are still in the very initial stages. To date theTaliban has not agreed to meet with Afghan government officials directly and Khalilzad said that reluctance is likely to continue through Afghanistan’s July 20 presidential elections. Both of the two agreements would have to be taken up by the Afghan government, along with a host of other issues. - Read More

Plan for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan takes shape — but will it ...

The US has ruined Afghanistan. It can’t just walk away now - The Guardian

The departure of American troops risks civil war, and many Afghans fear the return of a fundamentalist society

The approaching US withdrawal from Afghanistan is not an honourable retreat – it’s a capitulation. The best the Americans can hope for in exit talks with the Taliban, due to resume in Doha later this month, is a promise that coalition troops, unlike the British army led by General Elphinstone in 1842, will not depart under fire. After more than 17 years of conflict, with at least 38,000 civilians killed and millions more injured, traumatised or exiled, none of the long-term objectives set out by George W Bush following the 2001 invasion has been met. In short, the US has lost the war, and lost badly.

The al-Qaida terrorists who used Afghanistan as a base from which to launch the 9/11 attacks have not been wholly vanquished, as Bush promised. Their former leader, Osama bin Laden, is dead but the group, and likewise Islamic State, made territorial gains in Afghanistan last year, according to UN experts. It is unlikely that Taliban leaders could in future prevent jihadists once again using parts of the country as a terrorist safe haven – a key demand of American negotiators – even if they sincerely wanted to.

The idea, promoted by successive US administrations and Nato partners such as Britain, that Afghanistan could become a model nation-building exercise has long since been exposed as a neoliberal fantasy. This is not to dismiss the tenacious efforts of British and allied forces on the ground who struggled valiantly, for instance, to bring stability to Helmand province. But they, and the Afghan people, have paid a terrible price for a lack of clarity and candour on the part of the politicians who sent them there.

Another delusion – that Afghan security forces could be trained and equipped to a point where they could, unaided, contain the Taliban and control the country – has also been shattered. Despite Nato’s best efforts, 30 to 40 Afghan soldiers and police were being killed each day last autumn. About 45,000 Afghan soldiers have died since 2014. This increase in mortality mirrors the decrease in western troop numbers since the 2011 peak.

Despite massive diplomatic and developmental assistance, the Afghan government holds limited sway beyond the barricaded safe zones of central Kabul. The Taliban refuse to allow it to participate in withdrawal talks, dismissing it as a mere puppet. The implications, once the Americans have gone, are ominous. A rapid descent into civil war, involving government forces, jihadist groups and rival warlords, in a rerun of not-forgotten 1990s anarchy, is a strong possibility. Last year saw record civilian deaths, caused by terror bombings, intensified fighting and increased US airstrikes. Coming years may prove yet more deadly.

Even if the worst is avoided, Afghan civil society organisations and education, public health and women’s rights advocates rightly dread the inclusion of Taliban Sunni fundamentalists in any postwar political settlement. Despite assurances to the contrary, the prospective return of Taliban hardliners to positions of influence presages a new dark age of regression, discrimination and bigotry. And how long will any pretence of democratic government persist? As in the past, Afghanistan could quickly revert to a Great Game free-for-all involving Pakistan, India, Russia, Iran – and now China, too. In sum, the Americans are leaving an unholy mess that they, more than any other individual actor, helped create.

From a narrow US viewpoint, there are still plenty of reasons for quitting while they’re behind. Donald Trump campaigned against “endless wars”, and recently decided to halve the current US force of 14,000. Most voters want the troops out. Billions of dollars have been expended to no lasting effect, while millions more have been lost to corruption. In the absence of any post-9/11 foreign terrorist attacks on US soil, Bush’s old claim that fighting terror abroad avoids the need to fight it at home carries diminishing weight.

In a significant shift, the New York Times which, like all major US media, supported the 2001 invasion, called this week for the troops to come home – and eviscerated the overall US approach to fighting terror. Far from eradicating international terrorism as Bush pledged, the “global war on terror” was in large part responsible for the worldwide growth since 2001 of Islamist-inspired terrorist groups, the paper’s editorial noted.

Put this another way. The British-supported US global war on terror, which has claimed about half a million lives, been waged across 80 nations, corroded respect for human rights and international law, and cost an estimated $5.9tn, was, from the outset, a catastrophic mistake based on a false premise, aggravated by self-righteous arrogance and an unforgivable ignorance of the world beyond America’s shores. At long last, reality dawns! - Read More

The US has ruined Afghanistan. It can't just walk away now | Simon ...

Why The U.S. Has Continued To Fight In Afghanistan

President Trump made it clear that he's intent on leaving Afghanistan, even as top military officials warn that nation harbors a growing number of groups intent on attacking the U.S.

Eighteen years into fighting the nation's longest war, the U.S. is trying to find an exit ramp for the 14,000 troops still in Afghanistan. Here's President Trump earlier this week in his State of the Union address.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Great nations do not fight endless wars.

MARTIN: U.S. delegates have been trying to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban. But what happens to the fight against terrorism, which was the entire reason for the U.S. invasion in 2001? NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Twelve years ago, George W. Bush, the president who first ordered troops into Afghanistan, was speaking at an American Legion convention. He explained that the U.S. was still fighting in Afghanistan years after toppling the Taliban regime because of all the terrorist groups holed up there.

GEORGE W BUSH: Our strategy is this. We will fight them over there so we do not have to face them in the United States of America.

WELNA: Earlier this week, I spoke with John Nicholson. He's the retired Army general who recently stepped down as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Nicholson thinks what President Bush said about why the U.S. was in Afghanistan still holds true today.

JOHN NICHOLSON: The point here is that a presence in the region with a willing partner, as we have with the Afghans, I believe, does give us the ability to keep pressure on these groups and their sanctuary areas. And this degrades their ability to attack us at home.

WELNA: Al-Qaida's presence in Afghanistan has faded. But according to Nicholson, 20 other terrorist groups operate there or just across the border in Pakistan. Nevertheless, in his State of the Union address, Trump left no doubt he plans to cut back U.S. forces in Afghanistan.- Read More

Why The U.S. Has Continued To Fight In Afghanistan

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The Guardian view on Afghanistan talks: hopes for peace, but at what cost? - The Guardian

America’s longest-running war is edging closer toward a conceivable end. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Donald Trump acknowledged that talks with the Taliban might not succeed, but that “the hour has come to at least try for peace” in Afghanistan, noting his country’s casualties. He did not mention the Afghans who have died (24,000 civilians since 2009, and 45,000 members of the security forces in the last five years), let alone the nation’s broader suffering in the world’s deadliest conflict. Around half of Afghanistan’s population was not born when this war began, in 2001. Their elders have lived with conflict for most of the last four decades, since the Soviet invasion.

A country so fissured is united in its longing for peace as last year’s brief ceasefire, in which civilians, militants and soldiers celebrated together, showed. A US-Taliban agreement would be one step along that road. Yet Afghans ask at what cost a deal may come, conscious that those likely to pay the most are not negotiating the bill. Only two women are present at the talksbetween Taliban representatives and Afghan politicians, warlords and other powerbrokers in Moscow. These follow last month’s talks between US and Taliban negotiators in Qatar, which reached a draft framework under which the US would withdraw troops in exchange for guarantees that the country would not harbour terrorists.

The considerable obstacles that remain include, most obviously, the Taliban’s refusal to speak to the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, and his government. Hope for peace coexists with the fear that the US will leave as carelessly as it boosted intervention in 2017, when civilian deaths surged due to increased air strikes. The Trump administration’s lack of interest in human rights, and the president’s record of contempt for women’s rights, increases those anxieties.

Women – and many men too – are frightened about the possible terms of an agreement and very aware that they would essentially be unenforceable once US troops were out of the country. They are rightly frightened that it could dismantle the gains they have made, which fall far short of what is needed – patriarchal values and misogyny are hardly unique to the Taliban – but are nonetheless real, substantive and precious.

The Taliban’s statement in Moscow is clearly meant to dispel the memories of women being beaten and murdered under its brutal theocratic rule, as well as forced into burqas and barred from leaving their homes without a male relative as escort. It states that “Islam has given women all fundamental rights, such as business and ownership, inheritance, education, work, choosing one’s husband, security, health and right to good life”. Yet the words which follow are anything but reassuring, warning that “immorality, indecency and circulation of non-Islamic culture” have been imposed on Afghan society “under the name of women [sic] rights”. Despite Taliban pledges that they allow women’s education, schooling for girls generally stops around puberty in Taliban-controlled areas. - Read More
The Guardian view on Afghanistan talks: hopes for peace, but at what

Taliban 'not seeking to seize all of Afghanistan'

The leader of the Taliban's peace negotiations with the US says the insurgents do not want to seize "the whole country by [military] power".

"It will not bring peace to Afghanistan," Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai told the BBC.

However, he said the group would not agree to a ceasefire until foreign forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan.

UN data shows the Taliban are responsible for more civilian casualties than any other party.

Mr Stanikzai, who until recently was the head of the Taliban's political office in Qatar and remains a leading figure in the group, was giving his first interview to the international media while attending a meeting in Moscow with senior Afghan opposition politicians.

He said the Taliban's experiences in power in the 1990s, when it faced armed opposition from rival Afghan groups, had led the group to conclude it was preferable to reach a solution by "coming to the table".

The meeting in Moscow is separate from the US-Taliban peace talks.

In addition to a Taliban delegation, it was also attended by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as other high-profile opposition figures.

Topics of discussions included how the country could be governed in the future, if the Taliban were to become a mainstream political force. - Read More

Taliban 'not seeking to seize all of Afghanistan' - BBC News

Climate change: World heading for warmest decade, says Met Office

The world is in the middle of what is likely to be the warmest 10 years since records began in 1850, say scientists.

The Met Office is forecasting that temperatures for each of the next five years are likely to be 1C or more above pre-industrial levels.

In the next five years there's also a chance we'll see a year in which the average global temperature rise could be greater than 1.5C.

That's seen as a critical threshold for climate change.

If the data matches the forecast, then the decade from 2014-2023 will be the warmest in more than 150 years of record keeping. - More, BBC

وزیر خارجه آمریکا: تا تامین صلح، اتحاد نظامی افغانستان و آمریکا برقرار است

ارگ ریاست جمهوری افغانستان می‌گوید محمد اشرف غنی، رئیس جمهوری افغانستان با مایک پمپئو، وزیر خارجه آمریکا تلفنی صحبت کرده است.

در خبرنامه ارگ که امروز چهارشنبه ۱۷ دلو/بهمن به رسانه‌ها فرستاده شده آمده که این دو نفر در مورد همکاری‌های دوامدار، روند صلح و انتخابات آینده ریاست جمهوری صحبت کردند.

ارگ می‌گوید آقای پمپئو گفته "ابهامات معمولا در اثر بعضی از صحبت‌ها ایجاد می‌گردد اما شایعات نمی‌تواند جای عمل را گرفته و مناسبات هر دو کشور مستحکم است."

وزیر امور خارجه آمریکا گفته تا برقراری صلح دوامدار، اتحاد نظامی میان افغانستان و آمریکا برقرار می‌باشد.

او همچنین گفته که دولت آمریکا از مذاکرات صلح به محوریت دولت افغانستان حمایت می‌کند

آقای غنی نیز در این تماس گفته روابط میان افغانستان و آمریکا درازمدت و مستحکم است.

همزمان با این تماس تلفنی، دونالد ترامپ، رئیس جمهوری آمریکا نیز در نطق سالانه خود بر کاهش حضور نظامی آمریکا در افغانستان و سوریه تاکید کرده و گفته: "کشورهای بزرگ جنگ های بدون پایان نمی کنند."

قای ترامپ با اشاره به مذاکرات آمریکا با گروه طالبان گفته: "وقتی ما در این مذاکرات پیشرفت داشته باشیم قادر خواهیم بود که حضور نیروهای خود را کاهش بدهیم و بر مبارزه با تروریسم تمرکز کنیم."

دونالد ترامپ گفته نمی‌داند که روند مذاکرات به نتیجه خواهد رسید اما به نظر او پس از دو دهه جنگ زمان آن فرا رسیده که حداقل برای صلح تلاشی بشود. - Read More

وزیر خارجه آمریکا: تا تامین صلح، اتحاد نظامی افغانستان و آمریکا برقرار ...

Transcript: Trump’s State of the Union, (I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan.) - nytimes

Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.

Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years. In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives. More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than seven trillion dollars in the Middle East.

As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars. When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Just two years ago. Today, we have liberated virtually all of the territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters. Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.

I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan. The opposing side is also very happy to be negotiating. Our troops have fought with unmatched valor — and thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict. In Afghanistan, my administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban.

As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troops presence and focus on counter-terrorism. And we will indeed focus on counter-terrorism. We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace. And the other side would like to do the same thing. It’s time. -More, NYTimes

Transcript: Trump’s State of the Union, Annotated