Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

Afghanistan can’t support army without US money more than 6 months – Afghan president — “This is the end game.” — ” We are under siege.”

January 16, 2018

Published time: 16 Jan, 2018 10:28

Russia Today, RT

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Without American assistance, Kabul can’t fight the many militant groups active in the country after 16 years of US involvement. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says the national army won’t last longer than six months on its own.
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American taxpayers, who contribute around 90 percent of Afghanistan’s defense budget, are bankrolling a war against terrorists in the county, which the government would not be able to continue without the US funding, Ghani told CBS News on Sunday.

“We will not be able to support our army for six months without US support and US capabilities… Because we don’t have the money,” Ghani said.
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Saying that at least “21 international terrorist groups” are operating in his country, Ghani warned that “terrorists can strike at any time.”

“Dozens of suicide bombers are being sent. There are factories producing suicide bombers. We are under siege,” Ghani told the ‘60 Minutes’ program.

In August, US President Donald Trump announced a new Afghanistan strategy and pledged continued American support for the Afghan military. Trump also said that the US contingent in Afghanistan would be expanded. There are about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan at present, including the 3,000 sent in September, following Trump’s announcement.

This continues the 16-year incursion that has seen over 2,000 US servicemen lose their lives and over $700 billion spent on military assistance, lined with repeated promises of a soon-to-come victory from three successive US presidential administrations.

Last week US military officials told the Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon hopes to increase the American military presence in Afghanistan in time for spring, by deploying an estimated 1,000 new combat advisers to Afghanistan. The Pentagon is also reportedly sending additional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as helicopters and ground vehicles. With the new arsenal, the US hopes it can finally defeat the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan.

“This is the end game. This is a policy that can deliver a win,” the commander of US Armed Forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told CBS.

“We’re killing them [Taliban] in large numbers. They can either lay down their weapons and rejoin society and be a part of the future of Afghanistan, have a better life for their children and themselves, or they can die,” Nicholson proclaimed.

While the Pentagon is focused on the Taliban fighters, who control approximately half the country, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants are expanding their presence in Afghanistan, Russia warned late last month. Afghanistan watchers say that with the ever-growing threat from the Islamists the US is unlikely to defeat them anytime soon.

“The majority of the country is far worse than it was before the US and NATO came in… NATO at their peak had 150,000 soldiers, about five years ago, and they could not turn the tide,” military analyst Kamal Alam, told RT. “So militarily the US forces and NATO are far less now on the ground… The Taliban are taking more territories. There are more non-state actors like ISIS involved as well. So I think for the US it will be very difficult to turn the tide.”

“The Taliban has not only been able to strengthen itself but there are now 20 other international terrorists groups – that is 21 total, including the faction of ISIS,” Jennifer Breedon, an international criminal law attorney, told RT. “The problem is that the US lacks in its foreign policy understanding, its knowledge of foreign affairs, its knowledge of foreign states, its knowledge of terrorist regimes and why these regimes are able to flourish.”

https://www.rt.com/news/416066-afghanistan-army-us-funding/

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Commentary: Why Pakistan continues to provide safe haven for the Afghan Taliban

January 13, 2018

 

January 13, 2018

Suspension of military aid and other forms of US coercion are unlikely to get Pakistan to change its support for the Afghan Taliban and other radical groups, says the Brookings Institution’s Vanda Felbab-Brown.

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Pakistan has fought fierce campaigns against homegrown Islamist groups, and says it has lost thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars. (Photo: AFP/Aamir Qureshi)

WASHINGTON: The Trump Administration’s decision to suspend military aid to Pakistan is one of the most significant US punitive actions against Pakistan since 2001.

The US has long been frustrated with Pakistan’s persistent acquiescence to safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and its branch in Pakistan – both benefit more from misgovernance in Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s aid helps a lot.

Worse yet, Pakistan has provided direct military and intelligence aid to both groups, resulting in the deaths of US soldiers, Afghan security personnel and civilians, and significant destabilisation in Afghanistan.

PAKISTAN’S LOGIC

Pakistan has long been a difficult and disruptive neighbour to Afghanistan, hoping to limit India’s influence there, and cultivating radical groups within Afghanistan as proxies. It has augmented Afghanistan’s instability by providing intelligence, weapons and protection to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

Why does Pakistan act this way? It fears an unstable Afghanistan that becomes a safe haven for anti-Pakistan militant groups and a dangerous playground for outside powers, even though this has already happened.

Pakistan bets that the Taliban will maintain significant power and perhaps even obtain formal political power in Afghanistan one day and does not want to alienate it. The Taliban is Pakistan’s only ally among Afghanistan’s political actors, however reluctant and unfriendly an ally it may be.

Pakistan further fears that targeting Afghanistan-oriented militant groups will provoke retaliation in Pakistan’s Punjab heartland.

Its long refusal to fully sever support for these groups is a product of Pakistan’s lack of full control over the militant groups it has sponsored, even though it is loathe to admit it.

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Pakistan’s military has been battling militants in the country’s northwestern tribal regions. (File photo: AFP)

Such a disclosure of weakness would be costly: Reducing the omnipotent image of Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus with domestic audiences, including opposition politicians, and further encouraging misbehavior of militant groups.

Pakistan is also afraid of a strong Afghan government aligned with India, potentially helping to encircle Pakistan.

In his August 2017 speech on Afghanistan, US President Donald Trump invoked the India card to pressure Pakistan, calling for a greater Indian engagement in Afghanistan, but cushioning it by endorsing India’s economic engagement there.

That is not likely to moderate Pakistan’s behaviour. Instead, it can increase Pakistan’s paranoia of India’s engagement in Afghanistan, including its perceived support for Baloch separatist groups in Pakistan.

After President Trump’s speech, senior US officials sought to mitigate such fears, recognising Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan and saying that the US was keen to see and possibly facilitate an improvement in India-Pakistan relations.

AMERICA’S TOOLBOX

Suspending military aid to Pakistan and perhaps even permanently discontinuing it in the future if Pakistan does not change its behavior has been the most directly available coercive tool for the US.

But apart from the political outrage it has generated in Pakistan, the pain it delivers is limited. Parts of the US’s Coalition Support Fund, designed to enable Pakistan to go after counterterrorism targets and militant groups have been suspended for a long time because of Pakistan’s continued support for the Haqqanis.

US military aid to Pakistan also decreased by 60 per cent between 2010 and August 2017, without a significant impact on Pakistan’s behavior.

Moreover, Pakistan can seek aid from others. Russia is always looking for opportunities to undercut the US, and although direct military cooperation with Pakistan risks alienating India with significant cost for Russia, Russia no longer considers the Afghan Taliban a prime enemy in Afghanistan.

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China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (centre), Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (left) and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif (right) at the first China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue. (Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP)

Pakistan can also seek military assistance from China, long its steadfast ally. Although China does not want to see a further destabilisation of Afghanistan and an outward leakage of terrorism, it has not been willing to take punitive action against Pakistan’s support for the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban.

Finally, Pakistan can court Saudi aid, which Saudi Arabia may grant, including as an anti-Iran hedge. Thus, Pakistan can easily believe that it can ride out tensions with the US.

LIMITS ON US PRESSURE AND COUNTERMOVES

There are limits to US coercive power vis-à-vis Pakistan.

The US has interests in Pakistan beyond the Afghan conflict: Ensuring the stable control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, getting Pakistan to dispense with the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons (which could fall into terrorists’ hands), dissuading Pakistan from resurrecting its past nuclear proliferation activities, and preventing a major Pakistan-India war and Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks in India.

Moreover, the US wants to encourage democratisation, pluralisation and stronger civilian and technocratic governance in Pakistan. Just as there is a young, educated, well-meaning technocratic segment of the population battling it out against the warlords and parochial powerbrokers in Afghanistan, there are such reformist elements in Pakistan.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis said in December 2017 that stronger military ties with India should not affect Pakistan. (File photo: AFP/John Thys)

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Pakistan can threaten any of these interests. It can discontinue cooperation on nuclear safety issues or suspend Pakistan-India nuclear confidence-building measures. It can also provoking border instability in the Punjab.

Most immediately, Pakistan can again shut down the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for US military logistics, including ground lines of transportation and air routes as it has done before. That would significantly hamper US military operations in Afghanistan.

It is highly unlikely that major US pressure would motivate Pakistan to fully sever its support for and desire to control the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, even though it could produce a temporary decrease in support for these groups.

Most likely, Pakistan will claim it is not supporting Afghanistan-oriented militant and terrorist groups and temporarily reduce its level of support for them. But it won’t sever the relationship fully, and will wait to increase it again.

ANY HAPPY SCENARIO?

There are three possible scenarios under which Pakistan could become motivated to dramatically reduce or altogether cut support for the Taliban and the Haqqani networks, and perhaps even start targeting their networks in Pakistan:

  • Pakistan-India relations significantly improve.
  • The military-intelligence apparatus loses its predominant power in the Pakistani government and becomes subordinated to an enlightened, capable and accountable civilian leadership. That means that both the Pakistani military and the country’s civilian politicians undergo a radical transformation.
  • Pakistan develops the political and physical resources and wherewithal, to tackle its own internally-oriented and metastasising terrorist groups, such as various Punjab Taliban groups. If those threats become mitigated, Pakistan may have more stomach to go after the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis.

To some extent, the US can help induce at least the last scenario by helping Pakistan develop politically-informed, sequential targeting counterterrorism strategies, focused on anti-Pakistani groups of regional and global concern.

 

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan on Dec 4, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

But the US’s ability to encourage the first two scenarios is highly limited.

US efforts at facilitating a Pakistan-India rapprochement, while critically defusing acute crises, have produced little lasting effect, with India systematically rejecting such a US role and Pakistan systematically failing to meet expectations.

Whenever some progress has been achieved, a terrorist spoiler or an institutional spoiler has effectively undermined the efforts.

The US’s capacity to promote a systematic change of political and power arrangements in Pakistan is highly limited as well, though Washington can and should provide sustained and patient support to the development of civil society, a technocratic class and rule-of-law institutions.

In addition, Washington can provide support by encouraging the growth and engagement of new economic interests in Pakistan that benefit from more peaceful relations with India and Afghanistan.

However, any such positive developments will likely take decades to fundamentally alter Pakistan’s internal power distribution and strategic calculus.

Vanda Felbab-Brown is senior fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Centre for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. This commentary first appeared in the Brookings Institution’s blog. Read it here.

Source: CNA/sl
Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/commentary-why-pakistan-continues-to-provide-safe-haven-for-the-9842316

 

Pakistan army chief says nation felt “betrayed” at U.S. criticism

January 12, 2018

Reuters

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s army chief told a top U.S. general the nation “felt betrayed” at criticism that it was not doing enough to fight terrorism, the military said on Friday, after U.S. President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit”.

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Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Pakistan’s army said in a statement that U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel told General Qamar Javed Bajwa the United States was not contemplating any unilateral action inside Pakistan.

“(Bajwa) said that entire Pakistani nation felt betrayed over U.S. recent statements despite decades of cooperation,” the army said, referring to a conversation between Bajwa and Votel.

Ties between the United States and Pakistan worsened after Trump on Jan. 1 tweeted that Washington has got nothing but “lies and deceit” from Pakistan despite sending billions of dollars in aid.

Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

U.S. Turns Military Focus to Afghanistan as ISIS Battles Ebb

January 11, 2018

Pentagon plans to dedicate new combat advisers, drones and other hardware in 2018

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon is planning to double down on the Trump administration’s new approach in Afghanistan by reallocating drones and other hardware while sending in approximately 1,000 new combat advisers, according to U.S. and military officials.

The idea is to bulk up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by the time the traditional fighting season begins in the spring. The military will send a larger number of drones, both armed and unarmed, to Afghanistan for air support as well as for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The Pentagon also plans to bolster capabilities such as helicopters, ground vehicles, artillery and related materiel, according to U.S. officials, moves made possible by a reduction of combat operations in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State extremist group.

Adding to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the administration will deploy as soon as next month members of an Army security-force assistance brigade from Fort Benning, Ga., to work as combat advisers to Afghan National Security Forces, expanding the U.S. training commitment, the officials said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, right, is briefed by U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, in Doha, Qatar, in April 2017. Photo: BRIGITTE N. BRANTLEY/PLANET PIX/ZUMA PRESS

These moves all accelerate President Donald Trump’s decision last August to approve some 4,000 additional troops in Afghanistan, bringing the number of American personnel to about 14,000. The additional security-force assistance units could push that number higher, although other forces could be withdrawn at the same time.

The emphasis on Afghanistan is part of a broader shift that ultimately is expected to shrink America’s military footprint in the Middle East as it refocuses its capabilities in East Asia.

That shift grew out of a request by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that Army Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, recommend ways to rethink the military capabilities those countries will require over time.

Mr. Mattis, in a video teleconference late last year, asked Gen. Votel to consider how to use military resources for Afghanistan and to counter Iran, while also giving up military capabilities in other parts of the world, particularly in Asia, where the U.S. faces North Korean hostility and Chinese assertiveness.

The collapse of territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria led to calls to shift some of the resources dedicated to that war. But past lessons loom large, and U.S. military planners have said they don’t want to remove troops helping to fight Islamic State and risk allowing an insurgency.

How Islamic State’s Caliphate Crumbled Maps tell the story of the terror group’s violent rise and fall in Syria and Iraq—and show where the homecoming of ISIS foreign recruits poses the next challenge.

One military official described the dilemma by noting how the Pentagon expends massive resources to eliminate tactical threats—say two suspected terrorists riding a motorcycle inside Iraq or Syria—while lagging in some aspects of competition with China.

Mr. Mattis didn’t put a deadline on drawing down resources from Central Command, the military official said. His direction was premised on the need to allocate resources elsewhere around the globe, including the Pacific Rim.

The Pentagon is preparing to release a national defense strategy Jan. 19, building on the White House’s own national security strategy released last month.

Top military leaders publicly hinted at the shift toward Afghanistan late last year. “As assets free up from Iraq and Syria and the successful fight against [Islamic State] in that theater, we expect to see more assets come to Afghanistan,” Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander in Afghanistan, told reporters Nov. 28.

U.S. military planners hope to reduce the number of ground troops in Iraq and Syria over the next year, as local forces increasingly take the lead, U.S. military and defense officials said.

The remaining U.S. forces would focus on counterterrorism operations and security for diplomats and contractors, another U.S. military official said. There now are more than 5,000 American troops in Iraq and Syria, according to the Pentagon.

A U.S. Marine looks on as Afghan National Army soldiers raise the Afghan National flag on an armed vehicle during a training exercise at the Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, in August 2017.Photo: WAKIL KOHSAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

In Brussels, allied officials said they have sensed a shift in U.S. priorities as well, with less pressure from the Americans for contributions to the coalition fight against Islamic State in the Middle East. Instead, the officials said, there is more of a focus by the U.S. on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization effort in Afghanistan. Allied diplomats say that reflects the gains the coalition has made in retaking territory from Islamic State, and the new troop requirements necessitated by the administration’s strategy for Afghanistan.

U.S. Central Command has enjoyed the lion’s share of Pentagon resources as it has fought wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but officials there recognize many of those resources may need to go elsewhere.

“We are going to use them as long as we have them,” one defense official said. “The clock could be ticking. We don’t know.”

Mr. Mattis’s Pentagon, however, is aware that drastic troop reductions in Iraq and Syria could allow militants to return.

“The real caution, the thing that’s being discussed, is that we cannot make the mistake of taking our eye off ISIS too quickly,” a military official said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “We don’t want to make the same mistake we’ve made before, we don’t want to allow that to happen.”

—Julian E. Barnes in Brussels contributed to this article.

Write to Nancy A. Youssef at Nancy.Youssef@wsj.com and Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

Pakistan court frees anti-US cleric amid spat with Trump

January 9, 2018

Sufi Mohammad (AP)
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A Pakistani court has ordered the release of a radical anti-US cleric who went to Afghanistan with thousands of volunteers to help the Taliban fight against Americans after the 2001 US-led invasion, a defense lawyer said Tuesday.
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The development comes amid rising US-Pakistani tensions following President Donald Trump’s accusations that Pakistan was harboring militants and the withholding of American aid to Islamabad.
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Sufi Mohammad was set free on health grounds and the paperwork for his release was still being processed Tuesday, said defense lawyer Fida Gul.
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Mohammad, imprisoned since 2009, is also known as the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.
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Washington accuses Pakistan of turning a blind eye to militants. Pakistan denies the charge. Last week, Trump said that the United States had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years and had gotten nothing in return but “lies & deceit.”
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Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, accused the Trump administration of ignoring the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war on terror.
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The claim is unfair, Chaudhry told The Associated Press over the weekend, before heading back to Washington.
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“We have been the victim of terrorist attacks and how can we tolerate the presence of militants on our soil,” he said.
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Ties between Islamabad and Washington could be further strained by the release of Mohammad, who back in 2001 issued an edict, or fatwa, for holy war against US-led forces in Afghanistan.
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Pakistan has banned the Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammed, or TNSM, pro-Taliban group.

The U.S. Pakistan Story: “There’s no amount of bribery or threat that can ultimately make people act against what they consider to be their core interests”

January 5, 2018

© AFP | Pakistani demonstrators burn the US flag at a protest in Quetta on Jan 4 as Washington escalated its criticism over militant safe havens

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Washington accuses Pakistan of playing a dangerous double game, taking billions in US aid while supporting militants attacking its forces in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.Its belated move to suspend assistance, after years of mistrust, highlights the perils of alienating a quasi-ally whose support is vital in the long-running Afghan conflict.

The dramatic freeze in deliveries of military equipment and security funding comes after President Donald Trump lambasted Pakistan for its alleged support for militant safe havens, including in a furious new year tweet.

What does the US want from Pakistan?

Washington and Kabul accuse Pakistan of cynically supporting militant groups including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani group.

They say the insurgents have safe havens in Pakistan’s border areas and links to its shadowy military establishment, which aims to use them in Afghanistan as a regional bulwark against arch-nemesis India.

Pakistan’s support for these groups must end, Washington insists.

Islamabad has repeatedly denied the accusations, insisting it has eradicated safe havens and accusing the US of ignoring the thousands who have been killed on Pakistani soil and the billions spent fighting extremists.

It also levels the same charge at Kabul, accusing Afghanistan of harbouring militants on its side of the border who then launch attacks on Pakistan.

Why hasn’t Washington axed aid before?

US figures show that more than $33 billion has been given to Pakistan in direct aid since 2002. Given fears Pakistan is being duplicitous, cutting the money off seems an obvious step.

It has been suspended before, notably after the US raid on the Pakistani town of Abbotabad in 2011 that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The discovery of the world’s most wanted man, less than a mile from Pakistan’s elite military academy, drew suspicions that he had been sheltered by the country’s intelligence agency for years.

But despite the provocations, the US does not want to completely rupture its relationship with Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment already runs high.

Washington’s footprint in Afghanistan is much smaller than it was at the height of the war, and it needs access to Pakistan’s supply lines and airspace.

Pakistan is still believed to have the strongest influence over the Taliban, making its cooperation necessary for peace talks.

Pakistan also holds the Muslim world’s only known nuclear arsenal and the US wants to prevent it from going to war with rival nuclear power India, or collapsing and allowing the weapons to fall into the hands of extremists.

“They want to apply graduated pressure to Pakistan to change its policy, rather than abandon it altogether,” security analyst Hasan Askari said.

Will the US strategy work?

Some analysts have said there is no real way to pressure Pakistan, which believes keeping Kabul out of nemesis India’s orbit is more important than clamping down on cross-border militancy.

Askari warned the suspension of millions of dollars in security assistance might see the US lose crucial influence over Pakistan which will instead look to other countries for support.

China — which is investing some $60 billion in infrastructure projects in Pakistan — was the first to rush to Pakistan’s defence after Trump’s latest tweet criticising its militant policy.

But China may also prove to be intolerant of any double-dealing with extremists.

It has a horror of Islamist militancy and its own interests in keeping Pakistan and Afghanistan stable, from protecting its investment to ensuring security on the borders with its vast, restive western province of Xinjiang.

In the end, observers say, until Washington addresses Pakistan’s fears over India, it will not shake its support for militant proxies.

“There’s no amount of bribery or threat that can ultimately make people act against what they consider to be their core interests,” tweeted journalist Murtaza Mohammad Hussain.

11 killed, 25 wounded in Kabul suicide attack

January 4, 2018

AFP

© AFP | Kabul has become one of the deadliest places in war-torn Afghanistan for civilians in recent months

KABUL (AFP) – A suicide attacker blew himself up near a crowd of police and protesters in Kabul Thursday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 25 others, officials said, in the latest deadly violence to bring carnage to the Afghan capital.”A suicide attacker has detonated himself… close to a number of police who were trying to provide security for an ongoing protest,” deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP.

Health ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh told AFP that 11 bodies had been taken to hospitals around the city along with 25 wounded.

Majroh added that the toll could rise.

A security source who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity said 20 people had been killed and 20 wounded in the attack, but that higher toll could not be immediately confirmed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack which happened during a protest following the death of a shopkeeper during a police operation targeting alcohol and bootleggers, an unnamed official said.

The deadly assault comes a week after more than 40 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide blast claimed by the Islamic State group that targeted Shiites in Kabul.

The capital has become one of the deadliest places in war-torn Afghanistan for civilians in recent months, as the Taliban step up their attacks and IS seeks to expand its presence in the country.

Last week’s assault came days after a suicide bomber killed six civilians in a Christmas Day attack near an Afghan intelligence agency compound in the city, which was also claimed by IS.

On December 18 militants from the group stormed an intelligence training compound in Kabul, triggering an intense gunfight with police, two of whom were wounded.

Security in Kabul has been ramped up since May 31 when a massive truck bomb ripped through the diplomatic quarter, killing some 150 people and wounding around 400 others — mostly civilians. No group has yet claimed that attack.

Despite the increased security measures militants continue to carry out attacks.

On Wednesday Afghanistan’s spy agency announced it had busted a 13-member IS cell in Kabul that had been planning to carry out “a series of big terrorist attacks” in the city.

The Middle Eastern jihadist group has gained ground in Afghanistan since it first appeared in the region in 2015 and has scaled up its attacks in Kabul, including on security installations and the country’s Shiite minority.

U.S. places Pakistan on watch list for religious freedom violations

January 4, 2018

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom,” it said on Thursday, days after the White House said Islamabad would have to do more to combat terrorism to receive U.S. aid.

The State Department also said it had re-designated 10 other nations as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.

The re-designated countries were China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They were re-designated on Dec. 22.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity,” the department said in a statement. “These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to combat terrorism, and his administration has informed members of Congress that it will announce plans to end “security assistance” payments to the country.

Pakistan has said it is already doing a lot to fight militants, and summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain a tweet by Trump that said the United States had been foolish in dispensing aid to Islamabad.

Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Susan Thomas

Pakistan responds to US action after Trump’s inflammatory tweet

January 4, 2018

Pakistan’s army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor addresses a news conference, saying he wants Pakistan to continue cooperation with the US but will not “compromise on national interests and prestige.” (AP)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is ready to face any US action in the wake of President Donald Trump’s tweet on New Year’s Day threatening the country, according to the country’s defense minister and an army spokesman.

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Khurram Dastagir said on Thursday there should be “no doubt or fear as the defense of Pakistan is in competent and strong hands.” Earlier, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said Pakistan’s response will be “in line with the wishes of the Pakistani people.”
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Trump accused Islamabad of providing a safe haven for terrorists in his tweet. On Monday, he tweeted that the United States had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years and had gotten nothing in return but “lies and deceit.”
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Washington confirmed it will withhold $255 million in US military aid to Pakistan this year, a threat first issued last August when Trump announced his Afghan policy, which took aim at Pakistan and demanded an end to Islamabad’s alleged support for the Afghan Taliban.
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Pakistan denies supporting militants, pointing to its own war against extremist groups battling to overthrow the government.
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In contrast to recent visits by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who spoke of “engagement and trust-building during their visits here … now President Trump and Vice President Pence are talking of threats, insults and ‘putting Pakistan on notice,’” Dastagir said. “We have to develop our strategy cool-headedly, after analyzing the both sides of US administration.”
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On Wednesday night, Ghafoor told local Geo TV that Pakistan wants to continue cooperation with the US but will not “compromise on national interests and prestige.”
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“Allies don’t fight,” he said, adding that “the US should realize how Pakistan has been cooperative in the war against terror.”
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Pakistan says much of the money it received from the US came as reimbursement in coalition support for services the country provided in the war on terror. It says the US still owes Pakistan $9 billion in the coalition support fund.
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The uneasy US-Pakistan relationship has been on a downward spiral since the 2011 US operation that killed Osama bin Laden in his hideout in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad.

Trump administration to announce cuts in ‘security assistance’ for Pakistan

January 4, 2018

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been informing members of Congress that it will announce as soon as Wednesday plans to cut off “security assistance” to Pakistan, congressional aides said on Wednesday, a day after the White House warned Islamabad it would have to do more to maintain U.S. aid.

 

Aides in two congressional offices said the State Department called on Wednesday to inform them that it would announce on Wednesday or Thursday that aid was being cut off, although it was not clear how much, what type or for how long.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders declined to say whether an announcement was imminent. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The calls to Capitol Hill came a day after Washington accused Pakistan of playing a “double game” on fighting terrorism and warned Islamabad it would have to do more if it wanted to maintain U.S. aid.

Pakistan-US war of words over Donald Trump's tweet

Ties between Pakistan and the US have deteriorated recently [File: Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty]

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Tuesday that Washington would withhold $255 million in assistance to Pakistan. Her statement followed an angry tweet from Trump on Monday that the United States had been rewarded with “nothing but lies and deceit” for giving Pakistan billions in aid.

Pakistan civilian and military chiefs rejected what they termed “incomprehensible” U.S. comments and summoned U.S. Ambassador David Hale to explain Trump’s tweet.

Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been strained for years over Islamabad’s alleged support for Haqqani network militants, who are allied with the Afghan Taliban.

The United States also alleges that senior Afghan Taliban commanders live on Pakistani soil and has signaled it will cut aid and take other steps if Islamabad does not stop helping or turning a blind eye to Haqqani militants crossing the border to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

Many members of the U.S. Congress, particularly Republicans, who control both houses of the legislature, have been critical of the Pakistani government and called for cuts in military and other aid.