Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Afghan Official: 7 Die in Violence in Western Herat Province

August 18, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan official says seven people have died in two separate incidents of violence in the western Herat province.

Hekmatullah Hekmat, governor in Shindand, says a gunbattle between two rival Taliban groups there killed four people, all members of the same family, when a mortar shell hit their home.

The fighting erupted overnight and lasted into early morning on Friday.

In the same district, also on Friday, a roadside bombing killed three civilians driving in a car.

No one claimed responsibility for the deadly explosion but Hekmat blamed the Taliban for planting the bomb.

Along with the Taliban, the Islamic State affiliate has also been active in Herat. Earlier this month, a brutal IS suicide bombing in a Shite mosque in the provincial capital of Herat killed 33 worshippers.

Afghan Governor Accused of Abduction, Assault — Adds to Woes for President Ghani

August 18, 2017

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — A powerful Afghan governor is facing accusations he detained and assaulted a political rival in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif this week, the second senior Afghan official to be accused of violence in a year.

The fresh allegations add to Afghanistan’s domestic political woes, as President Ashraf Ghani’s government has struggled in the war against Taliban insurgents amid a fractious political arena that includes former warlords with armed followers.

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President Ashraf Ghani

Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh province, denies an accusation by provincial council member Asef Mohmand that Noor and his sons abducted him from the Mazar-i-Sharif airport and then assaulted him.

Mohmand told reporters one of Noor’s son bit off part of his ear during the beating.

A spokesman for Noor called Mohmand’s story a “pure lie”.

The claims come as Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum remains in Turkey amid unresolved accusations that he ordered his men to abduct, beat, and rape a political rival last year.

Noor was among several prominent politicians to form a coalition with Dostum and earlier in August he held a demonstration to call for the “unconditional return” of the vice president.

A government delegation has been dispatched to Mazar-i-Sharif to investigate the allegations against Noor, his office said.

On August 9, Mohmand held a press conference in Kabul criticizing Noor for corruption and running personal prisons. When Mohmand returned to Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday, he said he was met by Noor and “dozens of armed men”.

Mohmand, appearing at a press conference on Kabul on Thursday with a bandaged head, told reporters that he was taken to Noor’s house where the governor and his sons beat him.

“His son came forward and bit my ear as you can see,” Mohmand said. “His second son was punching and kicking me and saying, ‘Now you can see how powerful we are’.”

Mohmand said Noor himself stepped on his throat and accused him of trying to conspire against the governor.

Noor’s office rejected Mohmand’s account.

“Mohmand was directly taken to the police station and the injuries could have happened during his arrest,” said Muneer Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for the Balkh governor’s office. “He was not taken to the governor’s residence.”

Many of Afghanistan’s leaders, including Noor and Dostum, are former warlords who maintain large followings and armed militias.

After Ghani was elected in 2014, he removed all of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial governors.

Noor, however, refused to leave and has retained his position in Balkh.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)



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Security officials inspect the scene of the blast outside the Great Mosque in Herat, August 1, 2017.

US reviews war strategy for Afghanistan

August 18, 2017
Taliban and ISIL fighters. Reuters file photo

President Donald Trump and his national security advisors meet on Friday to discuss US strategy for the war in Afghanistan.

The 16-year conflict is the United States’ longest war, and there are 8,400 US soldiers still on the ground battling the deadly insurgency.

Options being considered include sending more American troops, withdrawing US forces completely, or replacing them with private contractors.

Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse reports from Kabul.



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Security officials inspect the scene of the blast outside the Great Mosque in Herat, August 1, 2017.

US soldier killed in Afghan operation against IS

August 17, 2017


© AFP/File | Wednesday’s death, the latest blow to American forces in Afghanistan, follows a Taliban suicide bomb attack in Kandahar earlier this month that killed two US soldiers

KABUL (AFP) – A US soldier has been killed in Afghanistan in an operation targeting Islamic State group insurgents, commanders said Thursday, in the latest blow to American forces in the war-torn nation.

The death brought the number of US soldiers — who are supposed to be in a non-combat role in Afghanistan — killed in action in the country so far this year to 10, one above the tally for the whole of 2016.

“One US service member has died as a result of wounds suffered Wednesday during a partnered operation with US and Afghan forces in Eastern Afghanistan,” United States Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement.

“US and Afghan forces were also injured during the operation aimed at further reducing Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan presence in Afghanistan,” it said, referring to the IS group’s regional affiliate.

The wounded were later evacuated for treatment, the statement added.

Earlier this month two US soldiers were killed in Kandahar when a Taliban suicide bomber rammed a vehicle filled with explosives into their convoy.

The deaths come as President Donald Trump considers sending more troops to Afghanistan to help beat back a resurgent Taliban and an increasing IS presence.

US forces have been regularly targeting IS fighters in Afghanistan since the insurgents gained a foothold in the east of the country in 2015.

The US has killed several leaders of the group’s Afghan affiliate in recent months and says it wants to defeat the outfit by the end of the year.

In April, the US military dropped the so-called Mother Of All Bombs on IS hideouts in a complex of tunnels and bunkers in eastern Nangarhar province, killing over 90 militants.

The Pentagon said the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast device was the biggest non-nuclear weapon it had ever used in combat.

IS continues to wreak havoc in the war-torn country. Earlier this month it claimed an attack on a mosque in Herat that killed 33 worshippers.

Trump to Discuss Afghan Strategy With Security Team on Friday

August 16, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will meet with their national security team on Friday at Camp David to discuss U.S. strategy in South Asia, a White House spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The administration has been working to develop a new strategy for the long-running conflict in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region as it decides whether to deploy additional troops to combat recent Taliban advances.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

Young Afghans See Opportunities Dwindle as Security Worsens — “Growing sense of hopelessness and despair”

August 16, 2017


AUG. 16, 2017, 2:12 A.M. E.D.T.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Sultan Hossaini sent three of his children from their rural home to the capital, Kabul, hoping they would gain degrees and employment in the new Afghanistan that was promised after the overthrow of the Taliban.

But one was killed by a suicide bomber, and the other two face dwindling opportunities and mounting fears as the country slides into chaos.

Despite 16 years of war and billions of dollars in international aid, security is worsening and jobs have grown scarce. More than 2.5 million Afghans have fled — the second largest refugee population after Syria’s.

Hossaini’s oldest son, Khadim, was 10 years old when the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. He went on to study computer science and earn a degree, but these days he is searching for work.

Khadim’s younger sisters, Najiba and Maryam, were part of the first generation of Afghan women to attend school after the fall of the Taliban, who had outlawed women’s education. Najiba studied information technology and was eventually hired by the Petroleum Ministry, which sent her to Japan to earn a master’s degree.

But as the Hossainis pursued their dreams, Afghanistan remained mired in conflict. The Taliban have expanded their reach across much of the country, where they compete with increasingly powerful warlords. Corruption is rife, and the economy is in ruins.

Maryam, who is studying computer science in Kabul, said her sister had considered staying in Japan, fearful of the growing unrest. But Najiba eventually returned, only to have her improbable journey ended by a suicide bomber, who rammed his car into a bus full of Petroleum Ministry employees on July 31.

“All my dreams for my country, for my children, died with Najiba,” said Hossaini.

Maryam recalls racing from hospital to hospital until finally she found what remained of her sister — a hand and a leg. She recognized her sister’s engagement ring, which Najiba’s fiance had given her after making two trips to their rural home in the Daikhundi province to convince her parents he was good enough to marry their accomplished daughter.

“Every day someone is dying. Who can live in Afghanistan without wondering if they will be the next to be killed?” Maryam said. “We have only one hope now in Afghanistan, and that hope is just to survive.”

Andrew Wilder, vice president of the United States Institute for Peace’s Asia program, said Afghanistan’s young were the greatest benefactor of a post-Taliban “bubble economy” generated by international aid as well as opium trafficking.

“High-paying jobs were relatively plentiful for bright young Afghans with English language and computer skills,” he said.

Those opportunities dwindled as the security situation worsened, and the bubble finally burst after 2014, when the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission. Aid organizations also scaled back efforts in response to the growing chaos and the need to address other global crises, including in Syria and Iraq.

The deterioration has fueled a “growing sense of hopelessness and despair” that has led many Afghans to flee, Wilder said.

Afghanistan’s deputy minister of youth affairs, Kamal Sadat, sees a missed opportunity.

“We had a golden chance to change things with all the money which came in,” he said. “We didn’t use those opportunities the way we should have.”

He said more attention was paid to building schools and universities than to staffing them with quality teachers. Nowadays many Afghans have turned to private institutions instead.

Many young people say they know of someone who has left and that they would do the same if they had the means.

Shaban Hamraz works in a local grocery store, but the 19-year-old says he hopes to leave Kabul for Iran or Turkey. Three friends recently headed to neighboring Iran, and Hamraz has heard that some smugglers charge as little as $1,400 for the crossing.

Of those who remain, many refuse to attend school or pursue other opportunities because of the violence.

“In just one month, three attacks in Afghanistan killed almost 100 people,” said Ahmad Riaz, an 18-year-old high school graduate. “I have no heart to go out of the house.”

An Afghan man, who asked not to be named because he works for a foreign organization and fears Taliban retribution, said he sent his entire family to live in Turkey last year after a Taliban assault on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, where his son was a student.

He recalls watching the bodies being carried away from the campus as he fearfully awaited word on his son. He finally emerged unharmed at 4 a.m. He says he kept his family in Afghanistan through decades of war and instability, but now he believes it’s too dangerous for them.

Despite the challenges, there are still pockets of hope.

Mahal Wak was in the vicinity of the blast that killed Najiba, and recalls the screaming, the shrapnel and the bodies. “I was in a bad condition,” the 17-year-old said. “But all I could think of at the time was to help the wounded, the children.”

She’s determined to remain in the country, and to continue working as a model for traditional embroidered Afghan clothing. “If (the Taliban) think this is wrong that is their mistake. We are sharing our culture,” she said.

Her employer, Ajmal Haqiqi, who hails from the restive Ghazni province, said he exhibits and markets the traditional clothing in hopes of preserving Afghanistan’s 5,000-year-old culture.

“I think if I die here or somewhere else, does it matter?” he said. “I love my country.”


Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Roadside Bomb Blast Kills Eight Soldiers in Southwest Pakistan

August 16, 2017

QUETTA, Pakistan — A roadside bomb killed eight soldiers in a remote district in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, a government official said on Tuesday, the second attack within days in the troubled region.

The blast late on Monday in Harnai district was some 160 km (100 miles) east of the provincial capital, Quetta, where a suicide bomber rammed his motorcycle into an army truck on Saturday, killing eight soldiers and seven civilians.

The separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) group claimed responsibility for the bombing in phone calls made to media in Quetta. Islamic State said it carried out Saturday’s bombing.

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Army chief General Qamar Bajwa said the attack was an attempt to mar celebrations on Monday as Pakistan celebrated 70 years since independence from British colonial rule.

“Our resolve won’t succumb to any challenge,” Bajwa said in a statement the army media wing posted on Twitter

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Separatist militants in Baluchistan have waged a campaign against the central government for decades, demanding a greater share of resources in the gas-rich province, which is a key part of a $57 billion Chinese economic corridor through Pakistan.

The province, which shares border with Afghanistan and Iran, was rocked by a series of attacks late last year that raised concerns about a growing militant presence, including fighters affiliated with Islamic State.

(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Taliban ‘Open Letter’ to Trump Urges US to Leave Afghanistan — After 16 years of war

August 15, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have sent an “open letter” to President Donald Trump, reiterating their calls for America to leave Afghanistan after 16 years of war.

In a long and rambling note in English that was sent to journalists on Tuesday by Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, the insurgents say Trump recognized the errors of his predecessors by seeking a review of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan.

Mujahid says Trump should not hand control of the U.S. Afghan policy to the military but rather, announce the withdrawal of U.S. forces — and not an increase in troops as the Trump administration has planned.

The note, which is 1,600 words long, also says a U.S. withdrawal would “truly deliver American troops from harm’s way” and bring about “an end to an inherited war.”


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Security officials inspect the scene of the blast outside the Great Mosque in Herat, August 1, 2017.

Senior Islamic State commanders killed in Afghanistan air strike: U.S. military

August 13, 2017

By Josh Smith


KABUL (Reuters) – Several senior members of Islamic State’s central Asian affiliate were killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

The attack on Thursday killed Abdul Rahman, identified by the U.S. military as the Kunar provincial emir for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan, according to a statement from the command in Kabul.

“The death of Abdul Rahman deals yet another blow to the senior leadership of ISIS-K,” said General John Nicholson, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

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Abdul Rahman

Three other senior ISIS-K members were also among those killed in the strike in eastern Kunar province.

Nicholson has vowed to defeat Islamic State militants in Afghanistan this year.

The group’s emir, Abu Sayed, was reported killed in a strike on his headquarters in Kunar in July, the third Islamic State emir in Afghanistan to be killed since July 2016.

In April, Nicholson deployed a 21,600-pound (9,797 kg) “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” bomb against Islamic State positions in neighboring Nangarhar province, one of the largest conventional weapons ever used by the United States in combat.

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Smoke rises after the U.S. strikes positions during an ongoing operation against ISIS in Nangarhar province

On Saturday, Afghan officials said as many as 16 civilians, including women and children, had been killed by a U.S. air strike in Nangarhar, but American officials said only militants were killed.

As part of an increased campaign against both Islamic State and the Taliban, the dominant Islamist militant group in Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force has dropped nearly 2,000 weapons in the country as of the end of July, compared to fewer than 1,400 in all of last year.

Despite some battlefield successes by Afghan and American special operations troops, Islamic State has continued deadly attacks around Afghanistan, fueling fears that the group is seeking to bring the group’s Middle East conflict to Central Asia.

Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Kim Coghill

Inside Erik Prince’s secret proposal to outsource the war in Afghanistan

August 10, 2017

By  Josh Rogin
The Washington Post

August 9, 2017

Erik Prince in 2007. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Businessman and Blackwater founder Erik Prince has been shopping around Washington a detailed proposal for replacing thousands of American soldiers in Afghanistan with contractors from foreign countries led by a “viceroy” with almost unfettered power over U.S. military and diplomatic policy.

Prince has been public about the broad outlines of his plan, which is reportedly supported by some senior White House officials, including chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, but many crucial details have not been brought into public view, until now. Prince has laid out his proposal in a PowerPoint presentation to government officials, lawmakers and congressional officials.

Entitled “A Strategic Economy of Force,” it is nothing less than a plan to change the way Afghanistan is governed, how the war is fought and the very nature of the U.S.-Afghan bilateral relationship.

Prince’s plan is opposed by senior military leaders including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, key lawmakers who have received Prince’s brief and senior military officials who have fought in Afghanistan over the past 16 years.

“It’s something that would come from a bad soldier of fortune novel,” said Sen. Lindsay O. Graham (R-S.C.) who met with Prince about the proposal. “It’s a military-political approach and it would be a disaster on both fronts.”

Prince has described the proposal in interviews this week as a plan to send 5,500 private military contractors to embed with Afghan National Security Forces units at the battalion level to fight the Taliban, supported by a 90-plane private air force. Prince presents the plan as an alternative for President Trump to the proposal put forth by his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, who has publicly called for a “few thousand” more U.S. troops to be added to the approximately 8,200 U.S. soldiers there now.

Prince’s proposal states that Afghanistan is headed to a complete meltdown and is effectively in “bankruptcy” with the best way forward analogous to a Chapter 11 reorganization. The proposal would “allow for Afghan political decentralization the way it worked for centuries,” the proposal states.

Prince wants Trump to appoint a “trustee” to preside over all U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan with authority over the military commanders, the U.S. ambassadors and even the Afghan military’s own decision-making regarding operations, targeting, rules of engagement and internal promotions.

That handover of control to what Prince has called a “viceroy” is a non-starter for many on Capitol Hill, especially since that person would also control spending and contracting. Graham said that if Trump endorses Prince’s proposal, he will fight him at every turn.

“I trust our generals, I don’t trust contractors to make our national security policy decisions,” said Graham. “It sends the wrong message about the importance of Afghanistan to the United States. The last thing in the world we want to do is contract out our homeland security.”

There are signs Trump is open to the idea. For one, Trump disparaged his own generals, including Nicholson, in a July meeting reported by NBC News. Trump compared his willingness to ignore his generals’ advice on Afghanistan to a distorted story about the renovation of Manhattan’s ’21’ Club in the 1980s.

In Prince’s proposal, he compares Afghanistan with another Trump renovation project, the redo of the Wollman Ice Rink in New York’s Central Park in the 1980s, which Trump often brags came in ahead of schedule and under budget. The proposal claims Prince’s plan would provide “an off ramp to the longest war in American history and a sustainable victory for America.”

Several officials briefed on the plan told me that Prince’s idea, while possibly appealing on the surface, is problematic for a number of reasons. First, according to the Pentagon, the United States is prohibited by law and policy from employing contractors in a military combat role. Prince has told officials that the legal workaround would be to place the contractor program not under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs overt military operations, but under Title 50, which governs classified operations.

One congressional official briefed by Prince said that placing the contractors under Title 50 would severely compromise their accountability and hinder public congressional oversight. The proposal states that contractors who commit crimes would be tried in Afghanistan under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But officials said contractors would not be covered by the U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement and the legal authorities would be unclear.

“The whole concept runs afoul of Afghan sovereignty, which we’ve said we support for 16 years,” the official said. “Accountability is crucial in a war zone. This is not what America is. This is not how America fights.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who was also briefed by Prince, declined to comment on the proposal itself, citing its secrecy. But he defended the use of contractors in general.

“I take exception to anyone who suggests that contractors are not brave and sacrificing a lot for America, whether they are pulling triggers or delivering mail for our soldiers,” he told me.

A former senior commander in Afghanistan told me that while contractors are fine for logistics, training, site security and medical services, placing them on the front lines of the battle with the Taliban would be a huge mistake.

“Contracting out engagement with the enemy — hiring mercenaries for offensive operations normally restricted to uniformed military members — strikes me as misguided and dangerous,” the former military commander said. “We have repeatedly seen the shortcomings of mercenary forces, and those contemplating this course of action should revisit that history.”

Under the Prince proposal, contractors would be embedded inside each of the 91-plus battalions of the Afghan National Army on a long-term basis. Special forces veterans would be recruited from the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

The selling point to Trump is a “seamless drawdown” for U.S. and NATO forces, a “no risk method” for bringing home the troops. The proposal states the U.S. military presence could be reduced to about 2,000 within 20 months.

Prince says the plan would cost under $10 billion a year, less than a quarter of what the United States spends in Afghanistan now. A representative for Prince declined to say if he or his company, Frontier Services Group, would bid on the contract. Prince told CNN this week that he knows that Trump’s top generals are opposed to the plan.

“General McMaster does not like this idea because he is a three star conventional Army general. He’s wedded to the idea the U.S. Army’s got to solve this,” Prince said. “But I think for the president he’s got to say, after 16 years, when are we going to try something different?”

The generals are left to argue for something they know is difficult and unpopular — asking the president to add more U.S troops and take ownership of a war he doesn’t like. But Prince’s proposal is dangerous and unlikely to work. It would feed the Taliban’s narrative that Afghanistan is under occupation and that America never cared in the first place.

“What does it do to their morale and mentality if we leave and hand this over to contractors?” one official said. “This hands global jihadism a major victory. The propaganda element is hard to overstate.”

Graham said Trump told him personally last month that he would sign off on his generals’ Afghanistan plan, before he apparently decided to rethink it. Trump still has time to do the right thing and show that the United States does have the wherewithal to continue trying to stabilize Afghanistan, despite the challenges.

“If the president doesn’t have the will to see this through, we’re going to lose and another 9/11 will come from Afghanistan,” Graham said. “Whether he likes it or not, he’s in charge of Afghanistan.”