Posts Tagged ‘John Nicholson’

Is Russia arming the Afghan Taliban?

April 3, 2018

BBC News

April 2, 2018

Image result for Gen John Nicholson, photos

Gen. John Nicholson

The US accuses Russia of trying to destabilise Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban. Senior US officials have been saying for months that Moscow is even supplying the militants with weapons.

Russia and the Taliban, who are historic foes, deny the charges. They come amid what some observers see as a “new Cold War” – so how much truth is there to the US claims?

What is the US alleging?

In a BBC interview in late March, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan Gen John Nicholson alleged that Russian weapons were being smuggled across the Tajik border to the Taliban.

He accused Russia of exaggerating the number of Islamic State (IS) fighters in Afghanistan “to legitimise the actions of the Taliban and provide some degree of support to the Taliban”.

“We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and [they] said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban,” he said.

Some Afghan police and military officials told the BBC that the Russian military equipment includes night-vision goggles, medium and heavy machine guns, and small arms.

Who agrees?

US officials have accused Moscow of supporting the Taliban for more than a year. In December 2016 Gen Nicholson criticised Russia and Iran for establishing links with the Taliban and “legitimising” the group.

Since then a number of high-ranking US officials, mainly military, have made similar claims, some suggesting Russia is also arming the Taliban.

General John Nicholson pictured at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on October 23, 2017.Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionGeneral John Nicholson has accused Russia and Iran of “legitimising” the Taliban

But a number of US and Nato officials have been more cautious.

Testifying at a Senate hearing in May 2017, US Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt-Gen Vincent R Stewart said: “I have not seen real physical evidence of weapons or money being transferred.”

US Defense Secretary James Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee in October 2017 that he wanted to see more evidence about the level of Russian support for the Taliban, adding that what he had seen “doesn’t make sense”.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is on record saying, in July 2017, “we haven’t seen any proofs, any confirmed information about that kind of support”.

For its part Tajikistan has denied funnelling Russian weapons to the Taliban, calling Gen Nicholson’s claim “groundless”.

What’s the view of Afghan officials?

The Afghan authorities have also given contradictory statements.

A few provincial officials have been explicit in alleging Moscow’s military support for the Taliban. But the spokesman for Afghanistan’s chief executive officer (CEO) said in May 2017 that there was no evidence.

Last October President Ashraf Ghani publicly taunted the Taliban for accepting Russian guns.

However, his defence minister said the following month that such reports were just “rumours” and “we don’t have evidence”.

What do Russia and the Taliban say?

Moscow and the Taliban deny the US claims that they are working together. They separately rejected Gen Nicholson’s comments to the BBC, saying he had no evidence.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks to students at a ceremony at the University of Kandahar, in Afghanistan, on 7 October 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAfghan President Ashraf Ghani has claimed that Russia is arming the Taliban

The Russian embassy in Kabul and the foreign ministry in Moscow dismissed such claims as “baseless” and “idle gossip”.

A Taliban spokesman said they had not “received military assistance from any country”.

Moscow has repeatedly accused the US and Nato of trying to blame Russia for their “failures” and worsening security in Afghanistan.

Russian officials and politicians have even implied that the US and Nato support IS in Afghanistan; a charge the US vehemently denies and most observers find incredible.

Do Russia and the Taliban acknowledge links?

Russia denies materially supporting the insurgents but acknowledges “contacts” with the Taliban.

According to some Taliban sources, a communication channel between Moscow and the Taliban was established almost a decade ago, following the Taliban’s removal from power by the US in 2001.

But ties between Moscow and the Taliban have improved significantly over the past three years, especially since the establishment of the so-called “IS Khorasan” group in Afghanistan in January 2015.

Red Army soldiers surrounded by foreign press wait at Kabul airport in February 1989, during the Soviet Army's withdrawal from Afghanistan.Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionRed Army soldiers in February 1989 during the Soviet Army’s withdrawal from Aghan War

Taliban sources confirm their representatives have met Russian officials inside Russia and “other” countries several times.

As part of these new “links”, some Taliban expected sophisticated weapons from Russia that could dramatically turn the Afghan war in their favour – anti-aircraft guns and missiles that could challenge US air supremacy; similar to the surface-to-air Stinger missile the US provided to the Afghan resistance fighters during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s.

So far this remains wishful thinking on the part of the Taliban mainly for two reasons – such weapons could be easily traced back to the source and US-Russia relations are not that bad to justify such a drastic measure.

What do the Taliban gain from Russia?

For the Taliban, moral and political support by a major regional power is more important than the light weapons they say are widely available in Afghanistan and can be bought on the black market in the wider region.

Taliban diplomatic outreach also extends to building relations with China and Iran.

Suspected Taliban militants held by Afghan security forces in Jalalabad, 17 MarchImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionSuspected Taliban militants held by Afghan security forces in Jalalabad

This is a morale-booster and has strengthened Taliban conviction in the “legitimacy” of their struggle to oust US-led forces from Afghanistan.

The fact that Russia and Iran are accused of supporting the Taliban challenges the narrative that the militants are solely dependent on Pakistan.

From enemies to frenemies?

Softening its approach towards the Afghan Taliban is a dramatic and somehow unexpected shift for Russia.

Almost all founding members of the Taliban movement were part of the mujahideen, which fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. During the factional war that followed the Soviet pullout, Russia provided financial and military support to groups opposed to the Taliban.

But after the US invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in the US, the Taliban apparently saw an opportunity to work with Russia.

Russia now no longer sees the Taliban as a pressing security threat. Instead, policymakers in Moscow view the group as a reality in Afghanistan which cannot be ignored.

In March 2017, President Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, even said the Taliban’s demand for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan was “justified” and criticised the long-term presence of US and Nato forces in the country.

What does Russia gain?

There are three major reasons for Russia-Taliban links.

Firstly, Russian officials say these contacts are aimed at ensuring the security of Russian citizens and political offices in Afghanistan, especially in areas where the resurgent Taliban have expanded their territorial control in recent years.

At least two Russians were captured by the Afghan Taliban on two separate occasions, in 2013 and 2016, when their helicopters crashed in Taliban-controlled areas. Both were released after lengthy negotiations.

Secondly, the emergence of IS in Afghanistan prompted fears in Moscow that the group may expand into Central Asia and Russia.

Residents gathered at site of suicide car bomb attack in KabulImage copyrightEPA
Image captionThe Taliban continues to use suicide bombing attacks including this, targeting global security firm G4S in Kabul

The Afghan Taliban have been fighting against IS in Afghanistan and repeatedly assured neighbouring countries, that unlike IS, their armed struggle is limited to Afghanistan. In December 2015, the Russian president’s special representative to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, declared that “the Taliban interest objectively coincides with ours” in the fight against IS.

Russia has also suggested the possibility of staging a Syrian-style intervention in Afghanistan if IS gained strength and became a “serious threat” to the stability of Central Asian countries on the pretext of protecting its “backyard”.

However, US officials say Moscow uses the IS presence as an excuse to justify its meddling in Afghanistan and to further grow its military influence in Central Asia.

Thirdly, Russian officials insist the Afghan conflict needs a political, not a military, solution. They have grown increasingly frustrated by and suspicious of the US strategy that has not so far stabilised Afghanistan after 16 years of fighting.

Moscow says the contacts are intended to encourage the Taliban to enter peace talks.

What’s the effect on the Afghan conflict?

A resurgent Russia under President Putin has been pushing for influence in Afghanistan, in moves seen as part of an effort to ensure a seat for Moscow at the top table in any future arrangement in the country.

This comes at a time when US-Russian relations are at a low point and the geopolitical situation is changing fast.

Moscow’s increasingly assertive stance is linked to US-Russian tensions in other parts of the world, especially Ukraine and Syria.

By establishing links with the Taliban, Moscow seems to be aiming to pressurise and even undermine the US and Nato.

Meanwhile, as the rift between Washington and Islamabad grows, Russia and Pakistan are building diplomatic and military relations after decades of hostility.

Moscow’s reappearance in Afghan affairs is largely designed to irritate the Americans.

The persistent accusations traded by the former Cold War powers has to be seen in the context of a wider blame game. Their rivalry is complicating the conflict in Afghanistan, where the number of actors is increasing.

This has renewed fears of a “new Great Game”, with Afghanistan once more a battlefield for regional and international players. A way out of the decades-long quagmire appears as far off as ever.

Includes videos:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41842285

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US urges Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counter-terrorism efforts – or let CIA do it — “Taliban fighters are living in comfort outside of their country with plenty of drug money.”

December 5, 2017

RT — Formerly Russia Today

US urges Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counter-terrorism efforts – or let CIA do it

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis urges more efforts on counter-terrorism from Pakistan’s government leaders, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defense Minister Khuram Dastgir, December 4, 2017. U.S. DoD photo

Washington has urged Islamabad to “redouble” its efforts in fighting terrorists. And while Pakistan insists that “no safe heavens” exist in the Central Asian country, the CIA over the weekend vowed to fight terrorism with or without Islamabad.

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On Monday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in Pakistan, seeking to convince Islamabad to get onboard with the Trump administration’s “Afghanistan strategy.” In a speech in August, President Donald Trump slammed Pakistan for “sheltering terrorists” and threatened to reduce the aid to the country if it continues to “harbor criminals and terrorists.” While Islamabad has repeatedly rejected such accusations, on Monday Mattis once again called on Pakistan to do more to fight jihadists.

“The Secretary reiterated that Pakistan must redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country,” the Pentagon said in a statement after Mattis met with a number of Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defense Minister Khuram Dastgir.

 

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis recognizing Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terrorism, emphasized the vital role that can play in working with the and others to facilitate a peace process in .


Mattis is the second senior US official, after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to have visited the country in recent months as the US revamps its counter-terrorism strategy in the region. Pakistan enjoys certain privileges as one of 16 nations that Washington introduced to a “Non-NATO Major Allies” club. As a member of this group, Pakistan receives billions of dollars in aid and access to US military technology. Pakistan may, however, potentially lose such privileges if it diverges from the US course.

READ MORE: US wants Pakistan military force in Afghanistan but won’t pay the cost – former intelligence chief

On Monday, the government in Islamabad reiterated that it does not protect or harbor extremists, less than a week after the Pentagon accused the country of doing almost nothing to fight the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network.

“The prime minister reiterated that there are no safe havens in Pakistan and the entire nation was committed to its resolve on eradicating terrorism once and for all in all its forms and manifestations,” the Pakistani government said in a statement.

Prime Minister Abbasi also noted that no other country “benefits more” from stability in Afghanistan than Pakistan. He stressed that both the US and Pakistan have “common stakes in securing peace and security in Afghanistan for the long term stability of the broader region.”

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa told Mattis that the Pakistani military and security forces “have eliminated safe havens from Pakistan’s soil,” but added that the Pakistanis are “prepared to look into the possibility of miscreants exploiting Pakistan’s hospitality to the Afghan refugees to the detriment of our Afghan brothers.”

Statements made by Pakistani officials contradict the assessment voiced by the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, who last week accused the Taliban fighters of “living in comfort outside of the country with plenty of drug money.”

Gen. John Nicholson told reporters Tuesday that the US has not seen Pakistan implement any changes, despite being pressured by Trump to do so.

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“We are hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing the Durand Line,” Nicholson said. “The offensive operations against sanctuaries would be in other areas that we’ve identified with the Pakistani leadership on a number of occasions.”

READ MORE: No troop pullout, threats to Pakistan in Trump speech on new Afghanistan strategy (VIDEO)

Reassurance voiced by the Pakistani officials comes just days after Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) explained that the US “will do everything it can to ensure they don’t exist anymore.”

“In the absence of the Pakistanis achieving that, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that that safe haven no longer exists,” Pompeo said, according to the Voice of America.

https://www.rt.com/usa/411940-pakistan-redouble-terrorism-fight/

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NATO divided on Trump’s new Afghan course

August 23, 2017

Donald Trump’s ‘new strategy’ for Afghanistan receives mixed reactions in Europe, Kabul

The US has finally announced its “new strategy” for Afghanistan. Some at NATO have applauded the proposals, though Trump’s lack of specifics on troops leave NATO insiders and allies still wanting more clarity.

US soldiers on patrol near Kandahar, Afghanistan (Getty Images/AFP/Smialowski)

President Trump’s announcement on Monday of his new military strategy for Afghanistan could be considered a broken campaign pledge, since he had promised in 2016 to quit the war in Afghanistan. And NATO was listening to the US president’s speech for hard numbers that he didn’t offer. But Trump’s finger-pointing at Pakistan and renewed commitment to take aggressive action against Islamic insurgents drew kudos in Kabul.

“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump declared. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”

Despite not hearing concrete plans from Trump on how he’ll ensure a victory in Afghanistan, former NATO official Mohammed Shafiq Hamdam said what the speech did convey was much more important than what was missing. Hamdam, now an Afghan analyst living in Washington, DC, said the address was so highly anticipated that many of his Afghan counterparts tuned in to hear it live at 05:30 am Kabul time.

“It was a big day for Afghanistan,” Hamdam told DW from Kabul, which he was visiting. “We have never waited for any announcement for such a long period of time, but it was worth it. The Afghans feel so happy about this decision, and they are confident that the US and NATO allies will not abandon Afghanistan.”

Hamdam said he was gratified to hear Trump call out Pakistan’s support and sanctuary for the Taliban, a source of constant angst in Kabul but something US policymakers have often shied away from highlighting.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump said. “Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.”

Shortly after the president’s announcement, Hamdam seconded the call via Twitter for Pakistan to prove its dedication to regional and global stability.

.@POTUS: It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.

“The strategy reflects exactly what the Afghans have urged for the last 16 years,” Hamdam said. “Afghanistan needed a regional solution, and Pakistan has been part of the problem forever. In particular since 2001, Pakistan hosted, trained, financed, equipped and politically supported Taliban and other insurgents and, gladly, this issue is clearly identified in this strategy.”

NATO will continue to wait for troop numbers

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed President Trump’s “conditions-based approach” to Afghanistan and the region. “NATO remains fully committed to Afghanistan and I am looking forward to discussing the way ahead with Secretary Mattis and our allies and international partners,” Stoltenberg said in a statement. “NATO allies and partners have already committed to increasing our presence in Afghanistan. NATO currently has over 12,000 troops in the country.  In recent weeks, more than fifteen nations have pledged additional contributions to our Resolute Support Mission.”

The top US and NATO military commander of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, Army General John Nicholson, was more direct, saying the strategy means now the “Taliban cannot win militarily”.

But while an optimistic reading of the “conditions-based” phrase would mean the US will provide whatever resources are necessary to reduce the terrorist threat to a negligible level, NATO military planners must continue to wait on the specific resource numbers that the US will employ.

As early as the June defense ministers’ meeting, NATO expected the Trump administration to be able to tell allies how many US troops would remain in Afghanistan, whether as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission or under unilateral US command. Currently, of the more than 12,000 international forces, about two-thirds are American. The president has given no public indication of whether Nicholson will get the troops needed to turn the tide against the Taliban, which now controls more than 40 percent of Afghanistan.

Despite NATO leaders’ positive response to Trump’s announcement, leading Afghan journalist and commentator Bilal Sarwary feels the lack of direction for the military alliance just can’t be overlooked. “The situation on the ground is getting worse, and there was little appreciation by Trump of what’s actually happening on the ground,” Sarwary told DW from Kabul. “Similarly, I think the big challenge now is that, with the Taliban being so powerful in terms of enveloping major cities and launching attacks, being on the offensive, what sort of US involvement are we talking about? Will troops and advisers and special forces go to brigade level?”

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, shown here with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (picture-alliance/epa/J. Jalali)NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, shown here with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last year, says he welcomes a new US strategy conditioned on progress on the ground in Afghanistan

Germany, NATO allies still awaiting US lead

NATO allies typically wait to see what the Americans are doing before making their own commitments. While European allies made promises of troop numbers at a “force generation conference” in June, nothing will be finalized until US contributions are clear.

Trump asserted in his speech that his plan, once fleshed out, would find backing in Europe. “We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy, with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own,” he said. “We are confident they will.”

But NATO specialist Bruno Lete of the German Marshall Fund is skeptical there will be such enthusiasm. “Nearly a thousand European soldiers have died in Afghanistan to date,” Lete pointed out. “Europe sees little result and a country with an uncertain future. Hence, neither politicians or the public opinion in Europe feel much appetite to go down the military road again.”

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has already said clearly that Germany would not look kindly on such a troop increase request.

The German government welcomes Donald ‘s commitment for , but also says:  is not first in line to send more troops

Common ground on counterterrorism

On the contrary, Lete told DW, “there is a belief in Europe in the need to step up state-building efforts, but President Trump had little to say on this aspect in yesterday’s speech.” Lete expects common ground to be found in NATO’s increased efforts to train Afghan defense forces in counterterrorism, something he says “will certainly gain support here in Europe.”

Stoltenberg spoke with US Defense Secretary James Mattis on Sunday before the Trump speech and there are expectations there will be another such conversation in the very near future. But even without firm troop figures, NATO sources say, the fact that Trump has finally articulated a strategy that continues vigorous US military support is a step forward and a relief.

 http://www.dw.com/en/donald-trumps-new-strategy-for-afghanistan-receives-mixed-reactions-in-europe-kabul/a-40197569

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision

August 19, 2017

The Hill

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision
© Getty

President Trump on Friday again deferred on choosing a path forward for the 16-year-old Afghanistan war, despite a high-level meeting at Camp David to discuss options with his core national security team.

The meeting included Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Vice President Pence cut short a trip to South America to attend the meeting.

This is not the first time the president was widely expected to make a decision on an updated strategy for the war in Afghanistan but held off, frustrating top national security and defense officials as well as lawmakers.

Administration officials expected Trump to pick a path in May prior to attending the NATO summit in Belgium. And Mattis in June promised lawmakers that a decision would likely come in July.

A variety of reasons are driving the delay, including the complexity of the conflict and the president’s hesitation to make a decision that may ultimately prove to be the wrong move, according to James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation

“We need a strategy that’s going to be sustainable maybe eight years. There is no short answer here,” said Carafano, who was a member of the Trump transition team.

“The burden really is on the national security team to show Trump they have the most effective strategy to do that, because this is then going to be his war, his responsibility.”

Members of the administration still hold disagreements on the best path forward for Afghanistan, which will include how to handle conflicts along the border of Pakistan. Military leaders are pushing for additional U.S. troops, but Trump has reportedly been wary of continued American presence in the region.

Mattis and National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. HR McMaster want to send 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops to the country to combat the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al Qaeda. Recently ousted chief strategist Stephen Bannon, however, had urged against it, saying that would amount to nation building.

Other options on the table include using private contractors, withdrawing altogether or keeping the current strategy, which consists of the existing 8,400 U.S. troop continuing to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions.

In July, Trump showed his reluctance to side with his military advisors by increasing troop numbers.

“We’ve been there for now close to 17 years, and I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s going, and what we should do in terms of additional ideas,” Trump told reporters.

When asked about a possible troop increase, Trump only said, “We’ll see.”

The immobility on a plan also has bothered lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who earlier this month unveiled his own strategy for Afghanistan.

“Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened,” McCain said in a statement. “The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”

Anthony Cordesman, a military strategy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the president is deeply frustrated with his list of military options, a complex formula that depends upon the backing of the Afghan government.

Foreign policy experts have expressed doubt that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will be able to stop corruption and effectively use American aid to bolster the Afghan National Security Forces. Pentagon leaders would depend on the forces to keep out terrorist groups once U.S. troops leave.

Image result for President Ashraf Ghani, photos

President Ashraf Ghani

“The Afghan government is very divided, it’s weak,” Cordesman said. “Even if [Trump] does all the military recommends, there is a 50-50 chance that the Afghanistan response is going to be effective enough. Everything we’re doing depends on the Afghans.”

Cordesman also suggested that Trump’s reported criticism of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, “likely stems from Nicholson told him the truth and the truth is unpleasant.”

Trump in July 19 meeting with his national security team pushed to fire Nicholson, NBC News reported earlier this month.

“We aren’t winning,” Trump complained during the meeting. “We are losing.”

“The options are so uncertain and so complex and confusing,” Cordesman said. “Not the kind of forward, positive proposal that [Trump] may be used to.”

Cordesman added that the longer Trump waits to make a decision, the worse it will be for soldiers on the ground. Afghanistan’s fighting season lasts into the fall. With no plan yet given as of late August, “nothing you do now is going to be effective, you lost pretty close to a year to actually influence the situation on the ground.”

Even with no decision yet made, Carafano said it was significant that Trump and his national security team went off site to Camp David to discuss options.

“Obviously I wish the process had gone on sooner, I think part of that is the difficulty of the decision. Afghanistan involves a lot of moving pieces and you have to make a commitment that will stick longer over time,” he said.

Mattis, meanwhile, promised again Thursday that the administration is “coming very close to a decision, and I anticipate it in the very near future.”

Earlier this month, Trump assured reporters of the same thing at his club in New Jersey.

“We’re getting close. We’re getting very close,” Trump said. “It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess and we’re going to make it a lot less messy.”

http://thehill.com/policy/defense/347178-trump-again-puts-off-afghanistan-war-decision

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U.S. Defense Chief Mattis Pays Surprise Visit to Kabul — Bomb attack reported near US army camp in Afghanistan just after Mattis lands

April 24, 2017
A suicide blast has reportedly taken place near an airfield used by the US military in Afghanistan, according to local media. It occurred shortly after US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in the country.
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Photos on social media show a plume of smoke rising from the scene.

The attack, which reportedly happened in the eastern province of Khost, comes after Mattis’ arrival to discuss the situation on the ground, as President Donald Trump contemplates sending more troops to Afghanistan.

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Khost Airfield has been used by the US military, but was developed and expanded for public use in recent years. Construction is currently underway to turn it into an international airport.

General John Nicholson, the top American commander in Kabul, recently told Congress that he needs a few thousand more soldiers deployed to assist Afghan security forces, so they can eventually tackle the Taliban insurgency on their own.

– explosion reported in Khost province, close to Khost airport close to U.S Forces base

The US currently has around 9,800 troops in Afghanistan. Although Washington ended its combat mission against the Taliban in 2014, troops are currently involved in backing up Afghan forces on the ground.

READ MORE: Casualty count from Afghan base attack rises to 100 – Defense Ministry

More than 100 Afghan soldiers were killed and injured in a Taliban attack on a military base in northern Afghanistan on Friday, according to the country’s Defense Ministry.

The attack prompted Afghanistan’s defense minister and chief of staff to resign on Monday.

https://www.rt.com/news/385910-afghanistan-us-base-blast/

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U.S. Defense chief to discuss strategy just days after deadly Taliban attack in Mazar-e-Sharif

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U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis looks out over Kabul as he arrvies in Afghanistan, April 24, 2017. Reuters photo

April 24, 2017 5:20 a.m. ET

KABUL—Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Afghanistan for a surprise visit, his first stop here as Pentagon chief, to discuss strategy, troop levels and the dropping of the massive bomb against Islamic State fighters last week.

It is Mr. Mattis’s first visit to Afghanistan as defense chief but his experience here is deep: A former Marine, he was the first commander of American troops here following the U.S.-led invasion of the Central Asian country in 2001.

While the Taliban were quickly forced from power that year, Afghanistan has been at war since then, and during his visit here, Mr. Mattis and the head of American-led international military force, Gen. John Nicholson, will discuss whether to recommend to President Donald Trump the deployment of more U.S. troops to the country.

In testimony to U.S. Congress in February, Gen. Nicholson said a needed a few thousand additional American troops to advise and train Afghan forces.

Currently, there are about 8,500 U.S. forces and some 6,000 soldiers from other members of the international coalition in Afghanistan in support of the central government in Kabul, which is fighting both the Taliban, the largest insurgency, and the local affiliate of the extremist group Islamic State.

Mr. Mattis’s visit comes amid turmoil in the Afghan armed forces.

The government of President Ashraf Ghani had no immediate comment on the departures of the defense minister, Abdullah Habibi, and the army chief of staff, Qadam Shah Shahim, and no reasons were given for the moves. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the defense ministry spokesman, said only that their resignations had been accepted by Mr. Ghazni.

Friday’s Taliban attack on a government army base in Balkh province left about 170 people dead, Afghan officials said, after six Taliban fighters infiltrated the heavily guarded base aboard military vehicles and opened fire in what became a five-hour battle. Five of the militants were killed and a sixth was captured alive by Afghan commandos who had been rushed to join the battle, according to Afghan military officials.

The Afghan defense ministry, which has come under pressure after initially trying to play down the attack, is examining what went wrong.

“The investigation has begun and many other officials will be investigated and sacked.” Gen. Waziri said.

Mr. Mattis is winding up an eight-day trip that has taken him to Riyadh, Cairo, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as Doha and Djibouti. His talks with officials have focused on fighting terrorism and countering what the Trump administration says is Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East and North Africa.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/mattis-pays-surprise-visit-to-kabul-1493025633

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CNN

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has arrived in Afghanistan, where he is meeting government officials including President Ashraf Ghani.

Mattis also is visiting the headquarters of Operation Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission to train and advise Afghan security forces.

Mattis’s arrival in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, comes just days after an attack on a northern army base that left more than 100 Afghan soldiers dead or wounded.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Friday’s raid at Camp Shaheen near Mazar-e Sharif, with a spokesman telling CNN it was revenge for the deaths of two of its officials in the region.

The US Defense Secretary was due to meet with his Afghan counterpart, but hours before Mattis touched down in Kabul, Ghani announced that his Defense minister and Army Chief of Staff had resigned with immediate effect.

Mattis’s visit to Afghanistan follows meetings in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Djibouti.

The US Defense Department says his tour is aimed at reaffirming key US military alliances, engaging with strategic partners and discussing cooperation to counter terrorism.

US troops have been fighting for nearly 16 years in Afghanistan, where the government and its coalition allies are battling a resilient Taliban as well as other terror groups including ISIS.

Attacks and counterattacks

American forces enjoyed a brief victory last week, when the US military said Taliban leader Quari Tayib was killed in an airstrike in Kunduz province.

But it was followed by Friday’s attack on a mosque and dining facility at Camp Sheehan. The slaughter lasted around six hours. By the end, at least five attackers were killed and one was arrested, Afghan army spokesman Abdul Qahar Araam said.

The commander of Resolute Support, Gen. John Nicholson, said the attack “shows the barbaric nature of the Taliban.”

He said Afghan soldiers and security forces “have my personal assurance that we will continue to stand with them.”

On April 13, the US military dropped America’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb on ISIS targets in Afghanistan, killing 94 ISIS fighters. Meantime ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack last month on Kabul’s heavily fortified diplomatic quarter.

Security situation ‘a stalemate’

In February, Gen. Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that leadership assesses “the current security situation in Afghanistan as a stalemate.”

He cited the government’s stability; Afghan military casualties; the influence of Pakistan, Russia and Iran; “the convergence” of various terror groups; the narcotics trade and corruption.

There are 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan and 6,000 troops from NATO and allied counties. Nicholson said the coalition faces “a shortfall of a few thousand troops” to break the “stalemate.”

Insurgent gains

From January 1 through November 12 last year, 6,785 Afghan national security forces were killed, according to the latest quarterly report of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

The agency’s analysis of information from US forces in Afghanistan “suggests that the security situation in Afghanistan has not improved this quarter.”

“The numbers of the Afghan security forces are decreasing, while both casualties and the number of districts under insurgent control or influence are increasing,” according to the January 30 report to Congress.

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