Monday, April 24, 2017

U.S. defense chief arrives in Kabul as Afghan defense minister resigns in disgrace

 Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived for a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday as the Trump administration considers boosting U.S. military support for a conflict that commanders say has degenerated into a stalemate.

The visit, Mattis’s first as defense secretary, comes just days after a devastating Taliban attack on one of Afghanistan’s largest and most secure bases killed nearly 200 soldiers — leading to the resignation Monday of the country’s army chief and defense minister.

The brazen attack Friday was the largest ever carried out by the Taliban against the military. Gunmen dressed in army uniforms penetrated the base and gunned down unarmed servicemen returning from prayers.

The Taliban fighters were ultimately killed by a response force led by Afghan commandos. Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, praised the elite but overworked units’ response that brought the “atrocity to an end.”

It is unclear how the attack will affect Afghan recruiting efforts, already strained by casualties and retention rates among the ranks. But the subsequent resignation of the two top military officials is a rare development in Afghan politics.

Speaking to reporters alongside Mattis, Nicholson said the level of sophistication in Friday’s attack made it “quite possible” that the gunmen were linked to the Haqqani network, a Taliban splinter faction based in Pakistan.

President Ashaf Ghani accepted the resignations of Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and Army Chief of Staff Qadam Shah Shahim on Monday.

“No one has put pressure on me. I have resigned for the national interest of the country,” Habibi told reporters. Shahim also said he stepped down voluntarily.

Three other top commanders were replaced by Ghani, and the shake-up and resignations have been hailed as a return to government accountability. Retired general and analyst Javid Kohestani said the actions would reduce the “level of mistrust and boost the morale of the troops.”

A U.S. military official said the resignations were “not a surprise.” Following an Islamic State raid on a heavily used hospital in Kabul in March, Friday’s attack created expectations of blowback within the Afghan leadership.

“We knew there was going to be accountability,” the official said. - More, washingtonpost

U.S. defense chief arrives in Kabul as Afghan defense minister resigns in disgrace


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