Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

Taliban shuts down clinics providing medical care in southern Afghan province

September 24, 2017


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – The Taliban has shut down dozens of clinics in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan in the past few days, officials said, amid demands for special treatment for its fighters who control most of the embattled region.

Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said authorities were talking to elders, asking them to intercede with the Taliban to allow the clinics to reopen.

“Hospitals are not places for politics and we are asking the Taliban to let our doctors and healthcare workers return,” Nayab said.

 {Photo: Dominic Chavez}
Photo: Dominic Chavez

Only three clinics, including the provincial hospital, were operating after the Taliban shut down 46 of the 49 treatment centers in Uruzgan since Friday, Nayab said. The Taliban were asking for special treatment for their fighters, he said.

“We have asked elders in the areas to talk to the Taliban to fix this problem,” he said.

Uruzgan, which abuts the Taliban heartlands of Kandahar and Helmand, has been under intense pressure from the insurgents for years and the defences of the provincial capital Tarin Kot were briefly overrun last year.

Image result for Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan map

A Taliban spokesman confirmed that its fighters had closed down dozens of treatment centers but said it was done because of poor services, underlining its push to replace basic government services in many areas under its control.

“In most of these centers there was no proper medication. There were no doctors or healthcare personnel,” the spokesman said. “We asked repeatedly for better services but no one cared. Now if the local administration do not provide basics, we will.”

The incident underlines the difficulty the Western-backed government in Kabul has in exerting control in provincial regions where the insurgency is strongest.

U.S. officials estimate that the Taliban, fighting to drive out foreign forces and impose strict Islamic law on Afghanistan, control or contest around 40 percent of the country, although they have not taken any major provincial city.

Uruzgan province was identified by U.S. commanders as a major priority for 2017 and there has been a big focus on bolstering Afghan forces with on-the-ground U.S. training teams.

Reporting by Sayed Sarwar Zamani Amani; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Paul Tait

Health workers vaccinating children for polio in Kandahar, Afghanistan. A vaccination campaign in nearby Oruzgan Province will be delayed because clinics there have closed under pressure from the Taliban, officials say. Credit Muhammad Sadiq/European Pressphoto Agency


Taliban Kill District Police Chief in Southern Afghanistan — 3 Police Chiefs Are Killed in a Month in Nearby Ghazni Province

September 24, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan official says the Taliban have killed a district police chief in the southern Helmand province.

Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor, says the officer was killed late Saturday when gunmen attacked his vehicle during a patrol. Another police officer was wounded.

The Taliban, who have stepped up their attacks against security forces in recent years, claimed responsibility.


KABUL, Afghanistan — The police chief of a volatile Afghanistan district was killed by a roadside bomb on Thursday, officials said, just two weeks after taking over for his predecessor, who was killed in the same manner.

It was the third such killing of a security chief in the district — Jaghatu, in southeastern Afghanistan — in about a month, underscoring the continuing high casualties Afghan forces are suffering in defending against a resurgent Taliban. Their predecessor was killed in a Taliban ambush.

Although Afghan security forces have denied the Taliban major victories in recent months, bloody local skirmishes continue, and military officials say the country’s forces are engaged in fighting in 20 of the country’s 34 provinces.

The government does not release official casualty tallies of its forces, but senior officials say this year’s figures have matched, and at times exceeded, the record numbers for 2016, when about 6,300 members of Afghan forces were killed and close to 12,500 were wounded.

The Jaghatu District police chief, Mera Jan Jafari, was killed by a roadside bomb while traveling to the Mohmand Pass area to set up a checkpoint, said Mohammed Arif Noori, a spokesman for the governor of Ghazni Province, where Jaghatu is located.

“This is a concern for us, and we will investigate what is the reason that Taliban can easily kill a commander,” Mr. Noori said. “We have heard that some people help the Taliban, but that isn’t proved yet.”

The Taliban have long controlled Nawa District in Ghazni and parts of at least five other districts in the province, local officials said, and regularly use those areas to launch attacks on suburbs of the provincial capital.

“Ghazni has 18 districts, and 2,600 police is not enough for such a province,” said Amanullah Kamran, a member of the provincial council.

“In Ghazni, army forces are not active — most of the operations have been done by police and uprising forces,” he said, referring to local residents who are armed and paid by the government as an irregular militia force.

Jaghatu, with a population of about 70,000, is secured by just 100 police officers and about 80 “uprisers,” said Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, a member of Ghazni provincial council.

The country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, said that his army had been overhauled and that it had improved enough to quickly recapture districts taken over by the Taliban.

But the police are struggling to retain control of these areas, and are often a soft target for the Taliban, who are more heavily armed. “Our problem has been holding — because our police is not substantially reformed and is not at the capacity,” Mr. Ghani told a gathering at the Asia Society in New York.

Mr. Ghani’s government is considering forming a new local force, under the regional army’s command, that will be able to hold the areas cleared by the regular army — a proposal that has raised concerns among human rights activists because of the country’s history of military abuses.

Although the level of violence has persisted in recent weeks, senior Afghan officials say an increase in American airstrikes since President Trump announced his new strategy for the country has helped their forces fend off Taliban advances and avoid any major victories for the group, which last year overtook several districts and the city Kunduz.

So far this year, the United States has dropped nearly twice as many munitions in Afghanistan as it did during all of 2016. In August alone, American forces dropped more than 500.

The increase in airstrikes has also led to multiple instances of civilian casualties.

Afghan President Says Trump War Plan Has Better Chance Than Obama’s

September 20, 2017

(Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy to win the war in Afghanistan will work where his predecessor’s failed because the Afghan army is stronger and Trump wants a regional approach and a harder line with Pakistan.

Ghani also said that former President Barack Obama “did not have a partner in Afghanistan,” implicitly criticizing former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who frequently disdained U.S. policy and the U.S.-led international military force.

“President Trump is not just an individual (but) a team of partners in Afghanistan,” Ghani told the Asia Society in New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly. “The Trump administration’s strategy has the uniqueness of immense consultations with us.”

At the same time, Ghani said, Obama’s decision to maintain some U.S. forces in Afghanistan “ensured our survival” despite advances by Taliban insurgents.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced on Tuesday that more than 3,000 additional U.S. troops are being deployed to Afghanistan under the new strategy announced last month. The number of U.S. forces would rise to around 12,000, compared to a high of more than 100,000 under Obama.

While providing few details, Trump pledged stepped-up operations against the Taliban and an open-ended commitment of U.S. military advisers, trainers and counter-terrorism units.

He also vowed to take a tougher line to end what U.S. officials say is Pakistan providing refuge and other support to the Taliban and other extremist groups. Pakistan denies the charge.

Asked how Trump’s strategy differs from Obama’s, Ghani said Trump’s plan takes “a regional approach” to security and a harder line with Pakistan while providing a new opening for peace talks.

“The message to Pakistan to engage and become a responsible stakeholder in the region and in the fight against terrorism has never been clearer,” Ghani said. “What I am offering the Pakistan government, the Pakistan security apparatus, is the invitation to a comprehensive dialogue.”

“If Pakistan does not take this opportunity, I think they will pay a high price,” he said, without elaborating.

“Afghans are determined to fight,” he said. “No one should mistake our will to defend our country.”

Not only is the army better trained and profiting from a new generation of soldiers, but it gained experience because the massive cuts in the U.S.-led international force under Obama forced Afghans to assume a bigger role in the fighting, Ghani said.

When it was pointed out that the Taliban have expanded their control of territory, Ghani blamed the inability of the police to hold ground.

The next phase of reforming Afghanistan’s security forces will focus on the police, he said.

As for when the 16-year-long war would end, Ghani said, “I think we are not talking a decade or longer. We are talking some limited years.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by John Walcott and Grant McCool)

Afghanistan mulls plan to arm 20,000 civilians to fight insurgents

September 17, 2017


© AFP/File / by Emal HAIDARY | Anti-Taliban Afghan fighters listening to their commander during a patrol against Taliban insurgents at Jamshedi, on the outskirts of northern Faryab province

KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan is considering training and arming 20,000 civilians to defend territories where Islamic militants have been driven out, officials say, sparking fears the local forces could become another thuggish militia.The proposal for a government-backed armed group that would protect its own communities from the Taliban and the Islamic State group comes as Afghanistan’s security forces, demoralised by killings and desertions, struggle to beat back a rampant insurgency.

But the proposal has raised concerns that the local forces could become unruly and turn into another abusive militia terrorising the people it is supposed to defend.

“The Afghan government’s expansion of irregular forces could have enormously dangerous consequences for civilians,” said Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based group said Western diplomats in Kabul familiar with the plan — modelled on the Indian Territorial Army that supports the country’s regular forces — said Afghan officials had expressed concerns the militia could be used by “powerful strongmen” or become “dependent on local patronage networks”.

American and Afghan officials told AFP the fighters would come under the command of the Afghan army and be better trained than the Afghan Local Police — a village-level force set up by the United States in 2010 and accused of human rights violations.

“Right now we rely on commandos and air strikes to retake the lost territories but after the commandos leave we don?t have enough forces to hold onto the territories,” said a senior defence ministry official who asked not to be named.

“The force will operate under an army corps and will be used to fill the gaps. They will be recruited from the locals and will be numbered around 20,000.”

Defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri confirmed to AFP that a plan for “local forces” was being discussed.

“People will be recruited from their areas because they know their regions and how to keep them,” Waziri said, but added there was no guarantee it would be implemented.

A spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support train and assist mission also confirmed a proposal for an Afghan territorial army was on the table.

But another American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told AFP the idea was still in “the brainstorming phase”.

– Security quick fix –

The Afghan government and its foreign backers have been cultivating militias to bolster the 330,000-strong Afghan National Security and Defense Forces as they battle to get the upper hand in the grinding conflict.

In Afghanistan, militias — private armies and government-backed armed groups — have a long and chequered history in the war-torn country and many Afghans are wary of them.

Civilian casualties were at record highs in the first six months of 2017, a UN report showed, with forces loyal to the Afghan government accounting for nearly 20 percent of the deaths and injuries.

Since NATO ended its combat mission in 2014 the Taliban has been gaining ground and Islamic State is expanding its footprint.

As of February only about 60 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were reported to be under government control, according to the US watchdog agency SIGAR.?

Earlier this year Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered a near doubling of the country’s elite fighting force from 17,000 as part of a four-year roadmap that also aims to strengthen Afghanistan’s air force.

While US President Donald Trump’s commitment to increase American troop numbers and leave them there indefinitely has been welcomed by Afghan authorities, they know it will take time to improve the fighting abilities of their security forces.

With parliamentary and presidential elections planned in the next two years they want a security quick fix.

But critics fear that rather than support Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces, the militia could aggravate factionalism and push Afghanistan deeper into conflict.

“It’s a tool that the US military and successive Afghan governments have reached for and it looks like a solution to their problems but actually the real solution would be to have a functioning ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police),” Kate Clark, a senior analyst at Afghanistan Analysts Network, told AFP.

“It’s a dangerous thing to play with, arming your civilians.”


Iran Recruits Afghan and Pakistani Shiites to Fight in Syria

September 16, 2017

ISLAMABAD — Thousands of Shiite Muslims from Afghanistan and Pakistan are being recruited by Iran to fight with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, lured by promises of housing, a monthly salary of up to $600 and the possibility of employment in Iran when they return, say counterterrorism officials and analysts.

These fighters, who have received public praise from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even have their own brigades, but counterterrorism officials in both countries worry about the mayhem they might cause when they return home to countries already wrestling with a major militant problem.

Amir Toumaj, Iran research analyst at the U.S.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the number of fighters is fluid but as many as 6,000 Afghans are fighting for Assad, while the number of Pakistanis, who fight under the banner of the Zainabayoun Brigade, is in the hundreds.

Image result for Zainab Ayoub Brigade, photos

In Afghanistan, stepped-up attacks on minority Shiites claimed by the upstart Islamic State group affiliate known as Islamic State in the Khorasan Province could be payback against Afghan Shiites in Syria fighting under the banner of the Fatimayoun Brigade, Toumaj said. Khorasan is an ancient name for an area that included parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

“People were expecting blowback,” said Toumaj. IS “itself has its own strategy to inflame sectarian strife.”

Shiites in Afghanistan are frightened. Worshippers at a recent Friday prayer service said Shiite mosques in the Afghan capital, including the largest, Ibrahim Khalil mosque, were barely a third full. Previously on Fridays — the Islamic holy day — the faithful were so many that the overflow often spilled out on the street outside the mosque.

Mohammed Naim, a Shiite restaurant owner in Kabul issued a plea to Iran: “Please don’t send the poor Afghan Shia refugees to fight in Syria because then Daesh attacks directly on Shias,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Pakistan has also been targeted by the Islamic State in Khorasan province. IS has claimed several brutal attacks on the country’s Shiite community, sending suicide bombers to shrines they frequent, killing scores of devotees.

In Pakistan, sectarian rivalries routinely erupt in violence. The usual targets are the country’s minority Shiites, making them willing recruits, said Toumaj. The most fertile recruitment ground for Iran has been Parachinar, the regional capital of the Khurram tribal region, that borders Afghanistan, he said. There, Shiites have been targeted by suicide bombings carried out by Sunni militants, who revile Shiites as heretics.

In June, two suicide bombings in rapid succession killed nearly 70 people prompting nationwide demonstrations, with protesters carrying banners shouting: “Stop the genocide of Shiites.”

A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said recruits are also coming from northern Gilgit and Baltistan. Recruiters are often Shiite clerics with ties to Iran, some of whom have studied in seminaries in Iran’s Qom and Mashhad cities, said a second Pakistani official, who also spoke on condition he not be identified because he still operates in the area and exposing his identity would endanger him.

Yet fighters sign up for many reasons.

Some are inspired to go to Syria to protect sites considered holy to Shiite Muslims, like the shrine honoring Sayyida Zainab, the granddaughter of Islam’s Prophet Muhammed. Located in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the shrine was attacked by Syrian rebels in 2013. Others sign up for the monthly stipend and the promise of a house. For those recruited from among the more than 1 million Afghan refugees still living in Iran it’s often the promise of permanent residence in Iran. For Shiites in Pakistan’s Parachinar it is outrage at the relentless attacks by Sunni militants that drives them to sign up for battle in Syria, said Toumaj.

Mir Hussain Naseri, a member of Afghanistan’s Shiite clerics’ council, said Shiites are obligated to protect religious shrines in both Iraq and Syria.

“Afghans are going to Syria to protect the holy places against attacks by Daesh,” he said. “Daesh is the enemy of Shias.”

Image result for Mir Hussain Naseri, photos

In this Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 file photo, men carry a woman’s body after an attack on a Shiite mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to fight in Syria generating fears that their return could aggravate sectarian rivalries, say counterterrorism officials as well as analysts, who track militant movements. AP photo

Ehsan Ghani, chief of Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Authority, told The Associated Press that his organization is sifting through hundreds of documents, including immigration files, to put a figure on the numbers of Pakistanis fighting on both sides of the many Middle East conflicts, including Syria. But it’s a cumbersome process.

“We know people are going from here to fight but we have to know who is going as a pilgrim (to shrines in Syria and Iraq) and who is going to join the fight,” he said.

Pakistan’s many intelligence agencies as well as the provincial governments are involved in the search, said Ghani, explaining that Pakistan wants numbers in order to devise a policy to deal with them when they return home. Until now, Pakistan has denied the presence of the Islamic State group in Pakistan.

Nadir Ali, a senior policy analyst at the U.S.-based RAND Corp., said Afghan and Pakistani recruits also provide Iran with future armies that Tehran can employ to enhance its influence in the region and as protection against perceived enemies.

Image may contain: 3 people

In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo, Pakistani Shiite Muslims mourn next to the bodies of their relatives, a victims of bombing that killed scores of people in Quetta, Pakistan. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to fight in Syria generating fears that their return could aggravate sectarian rivalries, say counterterrorism officials as well as analysts, who track militant movements. AP photo

Despite allegations that Iran is aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ali says battle-hardened Shiite fighters are Tehran’s weapon should relations with an Afghan government that includes the radical majority Sunni religious movement deteriorate.

“Once the Syrian civil war dies down Iran is going to have thousands, if not tens of thousands of militia, under its control to use in other conflicts,” he said. “There is a potential of Iran getting more involved in Afghanistan using militia because Iran is going to be really concerned about security on its border and it would make sense to use a proxy force.”

Pakistan too has an uneasy relationship with Iran. On occasion the anti-Iranian Jandullah militant group has launched attacks against Iranian border guards from Baluchistan province. In June, Pakistan shot down an Iranian drone deep inside its territory.

In Pakistan the worry is that returning fighters, including those who had fought on the side of IS, could start another round of sectarian bloodletting, said the intelligence official.


Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan; Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan; Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.




China, Iran,Turkey stand with Pakistan on Afghanistan

September 15, 2017

China,Iran,Turkey stand with Pakistan for peace in Afghanistan: Asif

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif on Wednesday said that China, Iran and Turkey have endorsed the stance of Pakistan regarding Afghanistan issue.

Speaking at Geo News Program ‘Aaj Shahzaib Khanzada Kay Sath’, the minister said that China, Iran and Turkey have acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terrorism  and assured their full support to Pakistan for its stance of politically-negotiated settlement of Afghan conflict instead of increasing troops deployment in the war-torn country.

The minister said that these three nations agreed that there is no military solution to the problems in Afghanistan as it should be resolved politically.

All countries desire peace in Afghanistan, and ready to help for the stability in the country which links to the peace in the region, he added.

Asif said that he had briefed Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi about the conflict in Afghanistan.

“India is  investing in Afghanistan along the border of Pakistan and we have serious reservations on it,” the minister added.

He shared his future steps in this connection saying that he would soon hold meetings with leaders of the world including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during his visit to United States (US).

During his visit to Tehran on Monday, the foreign minister said the US forces had failed to restore peace in Afghanistan and emphasised a politically-negotiated solution to the conflict.

Last week, Asif delayed his meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington. The Pakistani government also postponed the visit of Alice Wells, acting assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, to Islamabad after US President Donald Trump’s allegations against Pakistan.

During his recent visit to China, Khawaja Asif has reiterated support for China’s offer to host the first trilateral meeting of Foreign Ministers of Pakistan, China and Afghanistan later this year, focusing on strategic communication, practical cooperation, and security dialogue.

Drone Strike Kills 3 Militants in NW Pakistan Tribal Areas

September 15, 2017

ISLAMABAD — Two Pakistani officials say a suspected U.S. drone strike has targeted a compound in a northwestern tribal region along the Afghan border, killing three suspected militants.

The officials said two suspects were also wounded in Friday’s strike on a border village in the Kurram tribal region.

Image result for U.S. armed drone, photos

If confirmed, it would be the first U.S. drone strike on Pakistan since President Donald Trump announced his new strategy for Afghanistan.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief media.

The officials said apparently Afghan Taliban, including member Abdul Salam, were targeted but it was unclear whether they were present at the time.

Salam is a relative of Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who served as ambassador to Pakistan during the Taliban’s rule.

Bomber attacks NATO military convoy in Afghanistan — Romanian soldiers may have been killed

September 15, 2017
© AFP | NATO soldiers keep watch near the wreckage of a military vehicle hit by a suicide car bomber in Kandahar
KANDAHAR (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – A suicide attacker driving an explosives-filled vehicle slammed into a convoy of foreign troops in southern Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, with reports of several soldiers wounded.

The Taliban claimed the attack which Kandahar provincial governor spokesman Fazal Bari Baryalai told AFP “totally destroyed” one of the vehicles carrying Romanian soldiers in Daman district.

Afghan and NATO officials could not confirm reports of casualties but in a WhatsApp message to journalists Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said “seven invading forces” were killed.

The militants routinely exaggerate battlefield claims.

Provincial police chief General Abdul Raziq told AFP the scene had been cordoned off by foreign forces.

The Taliban’s latest assault follows the militant group’s pledge to turn Afghanistan into a “graveyard” for foreign forces after US President Donald Trump’s announcement to keep American boots on the ground indefinitely.

Earlier this month two Taliban suicide bombers launched separate attacks around Bagram Airfield, America’s largest base in the country, that wounded several US soldiers and civilians.

One of those attacks was in direct response to a US drop in the northern province of Parwan, where Bagram is located, that offended many Muslims in the deeply religious country.

The leaflet depicted a lion chasing a white dog — the same colour as the Taliban’s flag — with the Islamic statement of faith — “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah” — superimposed on its body.

Dogs are seen as unclean creatures by some Muslims and the association of Islam with a canine angered many people and sparked protests.

Trump weighing aggressive Iran strategy — More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

September 14, 2017

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi’ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

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United States and Iran Relations throughout time

In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi’ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.


The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

RELATED: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.


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Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”


(Writing by Jonathan Landay.; Reporting by Arshad Mohammed,Jonathan Landay, and Steve Holland.; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller)

Includes videos:


Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s administration has been reviewing the Iran nuclear deal. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

More than 80 experts on nuclear proliferation urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in a statement on Wednesday.

The agreement, which was negotiated under former President Barack Obama in 2015, ended several sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to regular inspections to monitor whether it adheres to those rules under terms of the agreement.

The signatories, which include many academics and some former State Department officials, wrote that they are “concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the deal as a “very flawed and very limited agreement” and contended that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The experts who signed the letter, though, described the agreement as “an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts” and warned against leaving it.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges,” they wrote. “These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.”

President Donald Trump was a critic of the Iran deal as a candidate, but he has not taken steps to abandon it since taking office. His administration, however, has been reviewing the deal.

Pakistan Says It Is Open to Joint Afghan Border Patrols — Pakistan is “fighting agents of chaos.”

September 12, 2017

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister says his country is willing to set up joint patrols with Afghanistan to combat militants along their porous border.

Last month, President Donald Trump called on Pakistan to do more to eliminate militant sanctuaries, a longstanding U.S. demand, as he announced a new strategy to try to win the 16-year war in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi denied the existence of militant sanctuaries in a meeting with reporters on Tuesday, saying Pakistan is “fighting agents of chaos.”

U.S. officials and independent analysts have long accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to militants battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan, even as it cracks down on other militant groups that target its own citizens.