“Let’s Do This Right”

~~~

by Julia Edwards, Roberta Rampton & Patricia Zengerle

Reuters via Yahoo News

October 22, 2015

~~~

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama officially vetoed the $612 billion annual defense authorization bill on Thursday, returning the measure to Congress because of the way it uses money meant for war spending to avoid automatic budget cuts to military programs.

“I’m going to be sending it back to Congress and my message to them is very simple: ‘Let’s do this right,'” Obama told reporters.

“We’re in the midst of budget discussions. Let’s have a budget that properly funds our national security as well as economic security,” he said.

Obama and many of his fellow Democrats are pushing for a broader budget deal that would address mandatory cuts in domestic spending rather than only providing more funds for the Pentagon.

But Republicans, who control Congress, say Democrats are irresponsibly playing politics with national security in order to protect pet spending programs at a time when the United States faces rising threats around the world.

“By placing domestic politics ahead of our troops, President Obama has put America’s national security at risk,” John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement.

Republicans have vowed to override his veto, only the fifth of his presidency, which would require two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate. But Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, insists the chamber will sustain it.

Under congressional rules, the House will consider the veto before the Senate. A veto override vote has been scheduled in the chamber for Nov. 5.

The Democratic president is also unhappy with measures in the National Defense Authorization Act limiting moves toward closing the military prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

~~~

http://news.yahoo.com/obama-vetoes-defense-bill-tells-congress-lets-200911716–business.html

~~~

The Terrible Truth & One Thousand Lies

 This One

is

On The House

 ~

by Rawclyde!

1980

~

     The music pounded like a locomotive.  The go-go girl followed it like a train.  And every patron in the bar was her caboose.

     Her nucleus of sexuality, hardly covered by a little white bikini bottom oh so snug, exploded, poetically speaking, all over the stage.

     She aimed it at a poor hobo and pumped him a few.  She would never know how much he appreciated that.  She did the bump ‘de bump with a lonely soldier boy’s ambition and ground to pieces an old cowboy’s sadness.  Boldly she stepped up close to a wicked man’s leer, crouched low and with her hands ludicrously rammed it in and out.

     Her fat, shapely, little belly, a masterpiece so tan, so smooth, so hot, was just about smoking like a home on fire.  Her belly button was the sun.  Her stage, more than just creaking wood, was the face of every feller’s drifting dream.

     She really knew how to dance.

     Like a snake, like a swan, like a cloud, like a shooting star, like the terrible truth and a thousand lies.  Nobody, absolutely nobody played pool when Philana danced.

     A tall stranger sauntered into the place.  Infront of the go-go bar’s stage, or ramp, he stoically stood ~ watched the go-go girl go-go.  His presence loomed so profoundly that the hooting, guffawing, and even the silent dreaming of all the Saturday night patrons ~ died.  He was that rare kind of guy.  Besides, except for a preposterous, black, cowboy hat on his head, he was naked.

     The go-go tune ended.

     Nobody clapped.  Usually everybody clapped, and a few would holler, when Philana finished a number.  But due to this stranger’s strange naked presence ~ not this time.

     An old drunk accidently knocked over a glass of beer.  He ducked his head sheepishly.  Not a soul moved.  Deep silence reigned.

     The stranger, lewdly handsome, smiled just a little bit at the intrigued saloon girl who was now standing still in the quiet limelight.  She rested her hand on her smooth hip, eyeballed the stranger up and down ~ especially down.  She was out of breath.  Her round, bare, little breasts gently rose and fell.

     “What?  What?  Are you trying to corrupt this town?”  she finally asked of him ~ her smile twitching.

     “No,” replied the stranger with an unobtrusive chuckle.  “Just escaped from jail.  All I could grab on my way out was ~ my hat.”

     Another working girl, scantily clad, quietly served him a beer.  “The bartender says this one is on the house,” she whispered.

     The stranger nodded gratefully, toasted the bartender, lifted the frosty mug to his thirsty lips.

     Philana rested a high-heeled foot on the bar that encircled the ramp.  She was staring at the stranger with not just her eyes, it seemed, but also with the provocative bulge of her snuggly, barely veiled, dynamite-packed pussy, which was at the same level as the stranger’s face and just a few inches away.  “What’s your name?” she asked.

     “Bogie,” drawled the stranger.  He ignored the saloon girl’s poignantly flaunted mound, squinted up into the soul in her brown bottomless eyes.  “Nick Bogie.”

     “I’m Philana,” said Philana.  Music began to play again.  Some fool howled.  There was laughter.  And cigarette smoke.  The woman and the man stared into each other’s eyes for a long moment.

     Then ~

     “Let’s ball, Bogie!” cried Philana like a whip.  Her eyes squinted full of tears.  Her thigh quivered.  The man to whom she had spoken held open his arms.

     She jumped.

     He carried her out the door like a bride.

Imagine Tolerating Child Rape

~~~

by Congressman Duncan Hunter

U.S.House of Representatives, 50th District, CA

Sept. 23, 2015

~~~

Imagine for a moment that you are serving in the U.S. Army and deployed to Afghanistan, and on your base there is clear evidence that child rape and other human rights violations are occurring at the hands of local Afghan police commanders and military officials.

You have already reported the crimes and nothing has been done.  Now you are standing face to face with a self-admitted child rapist and he’s laughing in your face—telling you to get lost.

What do you do?

That was the situation facing a group of Green Berets in Afghanistan, led by Captain Danny Quinn and Sergeant First Class Charles Martland.

There is no policy that requires our soldiers to look the other way, but, clearly, the fact that Quinn, Martland, and others have been punished for intervening in such cases of abuse shows exactly how our military leadership has decided to handle these cases.

In 2011, Quinn and Martland received reports that an Afghan woman was severely beaten by an Afghan commander when she went looking for her son.  Turned out her son had been kidnapped, chained to a bed and repeatedly raped by that same Afghan commander.

Quinn and Martland had experienced this before—twice, in fact.  Two other commanders received no punishment from the Afghan government for the rape of a 15-year-old girl and the honor killing of a commander’s 12-year-old daughter for kissing a boy.  And as Martland said, “I felt that morally we could no longer stand by and allow our ALP to commit atrocities.”

So Quinn and Martland confronted the commander.  He laughed in their face, told them he would not stop, and suggested they find something else to do with their time.

So Quinn picked up the commander and threw him on the ground.  Martland did the same.

In doing so, they conveyed to the commander, loud and clear, that the abuse of children—especially in the presence of U.S. forces—won’t be tolerated.

In a single confrontation, Quinn and Martland were able to do what the Afghan justice system and our own military commanders could not.  They sent a message in a language and terms he could understand and wouldn’t forget.

For doing the right thing, Quinn was immediately removed from the front line and shown the door by the Army.

Martland was also relieved from the same outpost, but he is now fighting to save his Army career after 11 years.  Because of his actions, Martland was reprimanded by the Army — at the direction of General Christopher Hass — and given a blemish on his record for “a physical altercation with a corrupt ALP commander.”

The Army stated he lacked integrity.

Even though Martland did not need to apologize, he did.  He committed to self-improvement, to show the Army that he could continue serving.  And in 2014, he was selected as runner up for the Special Warfare Training Group Instructor of the Year, competing against over 400 Senior NCOs.

This is the type of warrior and leader that deserves to be involuntarily removed from service?  I think not.

This is one case where better judgment must prevail.  Quinn and Martland were reprimanded because they were told it wasn’t their place to intervene and they should properly observe Afghanistan’s cultural and relationship practices.

There is no policy that requires our soldiers to look the other way, but, clearly, the fact that Quinn, Martland, and others have been punished for intervening in such cases of abuse shows exactly how our military leadership has decided to handle these cases.

A decision on Martland’s future rests with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, whom,  I am told, is fully aware of the many appeals on Martland’s behalf.  I have to believe that he’ll do the right thing and put one of our most elite and ethical warriors above an admitted rapist.

Deciding in Marltand’s favor, given the circumstances of the case, is the quickest and most effective way for the Department of Defense to show it won’t tolerate abuse and human rights violations of any kind.

~~~

headline rewritten by Rawclyde!

~~~

http://hunter.house.gov/hunter-secretary-carter-show-world-we-wont-tolerate-afghan-child-rape

~~~

 

One Night At The Stone Fox

~ I ~

The Boys

And Mission Gorge

     Tonight was going to be a big night for Pee Wee Johnson.  He sat at the stage, near the side door, and watched the young woman dance.  Tonight was going to be his molotoff cocktail ~ no matter what.

     His finger slipped a tremble around the rim of his half-full beer glass.  The go-go music to which the half-naked dancer was blooming like a fast motion rose, was nothing compared to the drums pounding in Pee Wee’s head.

     A thousand drums.

     There were two other young men sitting at the stage.  They were alone too ~ just like Pee Wee.  One of the two was Nick Bogie.  The other was Slim Chance.  These three boys visited the place regularly.  The place was The Stone Fox.

     “When you go to the bathroom, woman, let me know, ’cause I wanna eat the peanuts out of your shit!” yelled Nick Bogie at the strutting dancer.  He laughed like a loud joke in the middle of a vegetable garden.

     The dancer stuck her tongue out at him and made a prancing detour on the stage.

     Slim Chance watched and that was all.  His glass was empty.  A sensuously dressed working girl walked up behind him ~ perfectly.  “Want another beer?”

     Slim nodded.

     The topless go-go girl on the stage did her thing, her routine and her bread.  She was dynamite.  She was also exhausted.  It was almost midnight on a slow Monday.

     The music boomed.

     The drums in Pee Wee Johnson’s head banged along.  The dancer tossed a quick glance at Pee Wee.  He was a very short guy, maybe four feet high when he stood tall as he could and in elevator shoes.  The dancer rolled her eyeballs.  She couldn’t believe what she saw in Pee Wee’s eyes.  She did a special wiggle, shot another glance at him.  God, the little squirt looked unusually mean tonight (because, you see, tonight was his night for real action).

     “You’re giving me a heart attack, woman!”  yelled Nick Bogie at the dancer.  She smiled.  “In my pants!” snidely added Bogie.

     Crude bastard.

     He was a big guy.  A handsome guy.  And pretty drunk.  You see, he was having trouble at home.  His wife didn’t like him anymore.  Like mad he wanted to ask the dancer out to dinner.  But he just couldn’t get serious enough in this place.

     But Pee Wee Johnson was very serious, sitting over by the side door.

     Mission Gorge, by the way, was the name of the dancer.

~

~ II ~

Pee Wee Makes His Move

     The place rocked on.  The bartender let the beer flow.  The bouncer sat slumped over in the corner, bored, wishing he didn’t have to constantly put up with “flakey chicks.”  While Mission Gorge stomped her third song away on the stage, the other girls, “flakey chicks,” kept the glasses full and the pitchers too.

     Slim Chance also wanted to ask Mission Gorge out for dinner but figured it was hopeless.  A year ago he had caught a venereal desease that would stay with him until the day he died.  What was the point in asking a woman out to dinner, he figured, if there was no possibility of a screwing ~ some day?  So his entire life was hopeless.  Forever he would just sit and watch.

     Mission Gorge buttoned up and darted off the stage.  Quiet moments passed.  “You’re up, Sheila!”  moaned the bouncer.

     Sheila ascended the stage, pushed the buttons to her selected hit tunes and commenced in doing her thing just as Mission Gorge had done hers ~ about 100 times a night it seemed to these young women.

     Mission Gorge shyly dashed across the saloon, flashed by Slim Chance and Nick Bogie, her skin a glow, crispy light hair a flowin’ down her back, a ghost like look of prettiness on her face.  Her eyes swung around like machine guns aiming at empty beer glasses in the dim light ~ and full ash trays.  She was a gorgeous portrait etched in lightning.  She was always too quick.

     But not tonight.

     “Mission!” called Pee Wee, as she was about to flash by him too.  She detoured on over, cautiously, as if Pee Wee was a dangerous dreamer who thought he loved her.  And that’s exactly what he was!

     Gently he took her arm in his hand.  Nice.  Then his fingers went tight like a vice.  Mission Gorge locked her eyes onto his ~ saw his bright red desperation.  Her eyes grew wide with fear.  The gleam in his eye was too damn serious!  The world stood stark raving still for half a second.

     “What?” Mission Gorge managed to ask.

     “Oh nothin’,” said Pee Wee.  He picked her up in his arms and smashed out the side door into the night.

~

~ III ~

Prelude To The Kidnapping

Of Mission Gorge

     A few months earlier ~

     Pee Wee Johnson was sitting before the lone window in his hole-in-the-wall, watching the sun go down, when he decided he was so lonely and horny that he wanted to die.

     He had worked hard all day long on his job.  He lit a small cigar.  He watched the sun sink.  He partook of a gulp of cold beer from the can in his hand.  He listened to the cowboy music on his cheap little stereo.  A puff of tobacco smoke from his cigar somersaulted against the window and bloomed into nothing.

     “Shit, I wanna die,” he muttered.  But he got up and pedaled his bicycle to a local go-go bar instead ~ The Stone Fox.

     He ordered a pitcher of beer and watched the girls dance topless.  Then Mission Gorge stepped on stage.  He was in love.

     She wasn’t the prettiest.  She wasn’t the best dancer.  But Pee Wee liked the way she moved ~ quick, haughty, and she did funny things ~ funny things like wearing Slim Chance’s hat on her breasts as she danced, and balancing Nick Bogie’s tossed quarters on her nipples after the hat fell off.  There were two real sad looking dudes sitting at the stage and she had them laughing in no time.

     And Pee Wee too.

     He became a regular.  He wanted to ask Mission Gorge out to dinner just like Nick Bogie and Slim Chance ~ and two dozen other guys.  But this go-go bar just wasn’t Pee Wee’s territory.  And Mission Gorge was always too quick to ask out ~ always passed by in a flash ~

     A portrait etched in lightning.

     And anyway, Pee Wee was a Negro ~ a Negro who liked cowboy music.  What a drag!

     One night he looked at himself in the long mirror on the closet door in his hole-in-the-wall.  He was just four feet tall ~ in elevator shoes.  Women just didn’t see anything in this city except how tall you were.  Yet Pee Wee was determined to not go to bed with Jose, the Mexican homo.

     “Shit,” moaned Pee Wee.  A tear rolled down his cheek.  He put on some of that fine shit-kicking music ~ got out a book.

     He read the book for a while.  And had an idea.  He slammed the book down on the table and gritted at the walls, “Guts!”

~

~ IV ~

The Quiet Ride

     The big ol’ bouncer bolted to his feet and hollered, “Mission Gorge!  She’s been carried away!  By that little, little ~ ” He couldn’t finish what he was saying ~ sprinted for the side door.

     “Bastard!” growled the bartender.  He knocked over a pitcher of beer, screeched around the corner of the bar like a dragster (with smoking heels instead of tires) and followed the bouncer out the side door.

     Nick Bogie jumped across the stage and dove out the side door after them.

     Even passive Slim Chance ~ out the side door.

     With his 100-pound load and an “umph!” Pee Wee waddled across the street to a parked rented car.

     “What are you doing?” screamed Mission Gorge in his arms, wondering whether or not she should laugh.  Pee Wee was pretty strong for such a little guy.

     “Nothin’,” gritted Pee Wee and threw her in the driver’s side of the car.  She bumped her head.  He hopped in after her and slammed the door shut, locked it as the bouncer grabbed the exterior handle.  Mission Gorge decided not to laugh after her bump on the head and threw herself against the other door.  The inside handle had been removed.

     “Damn,” she moaned and turned to Pee Wee.  “You better let me out of here or I’ll bust your balls!”

     Pee Wee started the engine and his rented car ~ a ’79 Buick with a tired automatic transmission ~ screeched away amidst burning rubber and exhaust and night time neon ~ through a red light.  The bouncer bounced off the bumper and fell in the gutter next to an empty half-pint whiskey bottle.

     The bartender, meanwhile, hustled back inside to the telephone, of course, to call the cops.

     Nick Bogie and Slim Chance stood side by side on the sidewalk and scratched their heads in the night.

     “Damn nigger,” muttered Nick Bogie with his chest out.

     “Takes courage to do that,” said Slim Chance.  He pulled his hat down in a philosophical way.

     The bouncer was on his feet, in about half a second was seated in the driver’s seat of his own slick sports car ~ a late-model deep-sea blue jaguar ~ and in hot pursuit.

     But Pee Wee lost him.

     And the cops never got there.

     The passing neon lights of the city caressed the flushed cheek of the Stone Fox starlet.  The handle to the window on that side of the car had been removed also.  Pee Wee rolled down his own window and smiled.

     “Hi, Mission,” he said.

     She glared at him in disbelief.  But the sudden quiet in the car, like nicely chilled milk, poured into her ears, filled up an empty soul, after having spent so many hours in that damn bar.  She decided to kick back and enjoy the subdued poetry of the situation.

     After a long moment she smiled nervously.  “Hello, Pee Wee.”

     He glanced at her, stretched his arm across the top of the steering wheel ~ relaxed.  “I’ve never seen you smile like that before.”

     “We’ve never been this close to each other with nobody else around.”

     Pee Wee nodded.

     They rolled along ~ hit a freeway ramp ~ speeded up.  Pee Wee rolled the window up ~ opened the wing-a-ding.

     “How come you did that?” asked Mission Gorge.

     “Did what?”

     “Kidnapped me!”  She laughed.

     “Well.”  Pee Wee pondered.  “Well.  I wanna ask you out to dinner.  But I can never get myself to do it at the Stone Fox ~ which happens to be the only place I ever see you at.  So I had to get you outta that place some how.  And so ~ ”  He reached over to the glove compartment, opened it.  And stuck a cigarette into Mission Gorge’s mouth ~ her favorite brand.  He lit it for her with the car’s cigarette lighter.

     “Thank you,” said the young lady.  She opened the wing-a-ding on her side of the car.  She blew a slow stream of smoke out in front of her face.  “It feels good to sit down,” she said.

     Pee Wee smiled.  “Will you go out to dinner with me?”

     “No.”

     Pee Wee’s smile disappeared.  “Why not?”

     “I’ve got two kids and an old man,” said Mission Gorge.

     “Oh.”  Pee Wee slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand.  “I should have known!”

     “Good try, Pee Wee.  Real Good.”

     “Is he a good old man?”

     “He’s okay.”  Her eyes went neon.

     They zoomed along the freeway into the night, surrounded by emptiness, plenty of room for talk.

     “You see, Pee Wee, all you guys back at the club, you all are patrons.  I’ve gotta keep my distance.  Mission Gorge isn’t even my real name!  I dance for you and serve you.  You pay for my bread and my shed ~ and the shed I have is some pretty nice shelter.  Understand?”

     “Yeah.”

     “Now I gotta get back to work.”

     “What for?  Why don’t you take the rest of the night off?”

     “‘Cause I’m getting nervous.”

     Pee Wee Johnson re-navigated the vessel toward Mission Gorge’s harbor of labor.  They sailed in silence.  A few blocks away from their destination Mission suddenly said, “Stop the car.”

     He did.

     She slid over, put her arms around his neck and gave him a long slow kiss.  Pee Wee Johnson, to say the least, was surprised.  It was a kiss to be reckoned with.  It was a kiss that could re-write encyclopedias ~ and inspire clouds in the sky to “moo” like cows.

     Later that night ~

     When Pee Wee was walking the path to his hole-in-the-wall, he was greeted in the shadows by Jose, the Mexican homo.

     “Hello, handsome,” coo-ed Jose.

     “What’s happening?” muttered Pee Wee.

     “Ohhhhhhh, not much,” coo-ed Jose.  He rested his hand on the little negro’s shoulder.

     Ordinarily Pee Wee would have stiffened.  But tonight he settled back on his heels, gazed up into the dark taunting eyes of Jose.  Upon the smaller fellow’s lips a little smile began to play.  Pee Wee’s hand near his hip rolled itself into a tight fist.  He brought it way way way back ~

     And decked the batata.

~

~

fiction by Rawclyde!

1980

pretty gal photos courtesy of Anja Rubik        ~         text copyright Clyde Collins 1989 2010

Obama Lights Up

* * *

October 15, 2015

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT ON AFGHANISTAN

Roosevelt Room

11:04 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Last December — more than 13 years after our nation was attacked by al Qaeda on 9/11 — America’s combat mission in Afghanistan came to a responsible end.  That milestone was achieved thanks to the courage and the skill of our military, our intelligence, and civilian personnel.  They served there with extraordinary skill and valor, and it’s worth remembering especially the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.

I visited our troops in Afghanistan last year to thank them on behalf of a grateful nation.  I told them they could take great pride in the progress that they helped achieve.  They struck devastating blows against the al Qaeda leadership in the tribal regions, delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, prevented terrorist attacks, and saved American lives.  They pushed the Taliban back so the Afghan people could reclaim their communities, send their daughters to school, and improve their lives.  Our troops trained Afghan forces so they could take the lead for their own security and protect Afghans as they voted in historic elections, leading to the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history.

Today, American forces no longer patrol Afghan villages or valleys.  Our troops are not engaged in major ground combat against the Taliban.  Those missions now belong to Afghans, who are fully responsible for securing their country.

But as I’ve said before, while America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures.  As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.  Our forces therefore remain engaged in two narrow but critical missions — training Afghan forces, and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.  Of course, compared to the 100,000 troops we once had in Afghanistan, today fewer than 10,000 remain, in support of these very focused missions.

I meet regularly with my national security team, including commanders in Afghanistan, to continually assess, honestly, the situation on the ground — to determine where our strategy is working and where we may need greater flexibility.  I have insisted, consistently, that our strategy focus on the development of a sustainable Afghan capacity and self-sufficiency.  And when we’ve needed additional forces to advance that goal, or we’ve needed to make adjustments in terms of our timetables, then we’ve made those adjustments.  Today, I want to update the American people on our efforts.

Since taking the lead for security earlier this year, Afghan forces have continued to step up.  This has been the first fighting season where Afghans have largely been on their own.  And they are fighting for their country bravely and tenaciously.  Afghan forces continue to hold most urban areas.  And when the Taliban has made gains, as in Kunduz, Afghan forces backed by coalition support have been able to push them back.  This has come at a very heavy price.  This year alone, thousands of Afghan troops and police have lost their lives, as have many Afghan civilians.

At the same time, Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be.  They’re developing critical capabilities — intelligence, logistics, aviation, command and control.  And meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains, particularly in rural areas, and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul.  Much of this was predictable.  We understood that as we transitioned, that the Taliban would try to exploit some of our movements out of particular areas, and that it would take time for Afghan security forces to strengthen.  Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan, and we’ve seen the emergence of an ISIL presence.  The bottom line is, in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile, and in some places there is risk of deterioration.

Fortunately, in President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah there is a national unity government that supports a strong partnership with the United States.  During their visit earlier this year, President Ghani and I agreed to continue our counterterrorism cooperation, and he has asked for continued support as Afghan forces grow stronger.

Following consultations with my entire national security team, as well as our international partners and members of Congress, President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, I’m therefore announcing the following steps, which I am convinced offer the best possibility for lasting progress in Afghanistan.

First, I’ve decided to maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, 2016.  Their mission will not change.  Our troops will continue to pursue those two narrow tasks that I outlined earlier — training Afghan forces and going after al Qaeda.  But maintaining our current posture through most of next year, rather than a more rapid drawdown, will allow us to sustain our efforts to train and assist Afghan forces as they grow stronger — not only during this fighting season, but into the next one.

Second, I have decided that instead of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, we will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases, including at Bagram, Jalalabad in the east, and Kandahar in the south.

Again, the mission will not change.  Our troops will focus on training Afghans and counterterrorism operations.  But these bases will give us the presence and the reach our forces require to achieve their mission.  In this sense, Afghanistan is a key piece of the network of counterterrorism partnerships that we need, from South Asia to Africa, to deal more broadly with terrorist threats quickly and prevent attacks against our homeland.

Third, we will work with allies and partners to align the steps I am announcing today with their own presence in Afghanistan after 2016.  In Afghanistan, we are part of a 42-nation coalition, and our NATO allies and partners can continue to play an indispensable role in helping Afghanistan strengthen its security forces, including respect for human rights.

And finally, because governance and development remain the foundation for stability and progress in Afghanistan, we will continue to support President Ghani and the national unity government as they pursue critical reforms.  New provincial governors have been appointed, and President Ghani is working to combat corruption, strengthen institutions, and uphold rule of law.  As I told President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah yesterday, efforts that deliver progress and justice for the Afghan people will continue to have the strong support of the United States.  And we cannot separate the importance of governance with the issues of security.  The more effective these reforms happen, the better off the security situation is going to be.

We also discussed American support of an Afghan-led reconciliation process.  By now it should be clear to the Taliban and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of U.S. and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government.  Likewise, sanctuaries for the Taliban and other terrorists must end.  Next week, I’ll host Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan, and I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve.

In closing, I want to speak directly to those whose lives are most directly affected most by the decisions I’m announcing today.  To the Afghan people, who have suffered so much — Americans’ commitment to you and to a secure, stable and unified Afghanistan, that remains firm.  Our two nations have forged a strategic partnership for the long term.  And as you defend and build your country, today is a reminder that the United States keeps our commitments.

And to our men and women in uniform — I know this means that some of you will rotate back into Afghanistan.  With the end of our combat mission, this is not like 2010, when nearly 500 Americans were killed and many more were injured.  But still, Afghanistan remains dangerous; 25 brave Americans have given their lives there this year.

I do not send you into harm’s way lightly.  It’s the most solemn decision I make.  I know the wages of war in the wounded warriors I visit in the hospital and in the grief of Gold Star families.  But as your Commander-in-Chief, I believe this mission is vital to our national security interests in preventing terrorist attacks against our citizens and our nation.

And to the American people — I know that many of you have grown weary of this conflict.  As you are well aware, I do not support the idea of endless war, and I have repeatedly argued against marching into open-ended military conflicts that do not serve our core security interests.

Yet given what’s at stake in Afghanistan, and the opportunity for a stable and committed ally that can partner with us in preventing the emergence of future threats, and the fact that we have an international coalition, I am firmly convinced that we should make this extra effort.  In the Afghan government, we have a serious partner who wants our help.  And the majority of the Afghan people share our goals.  We have a bilateral security agreement to guide our cooperation.  And every single day, Afghan forces are out there fighting and dying to protect their country.  They’re not looking for us to do it for them.

I’m speaking of the Afghan army cadet who grew up seeing bombings and attacks on innocent civilians who said, “because of this, I took the decision to join the army, to try and save innocent people’s lives.”  Or the police officer training to defuse explosives.  “I know it’s dangerous work,” he says, but “I have always had a dream of wearing the uniform of Afghanistan, serving my people and defending my country.”

Or the Afghan commando, a hardened veteran of many missions, who said, “If I start telling you the stories of my life, I might start crying.”  He serves, he said, because, “the faster we bring peace, the faster we can bring education, and the stronger our unity will grow.  Only if these things happen will Afghanistan be able to stand up for itself.”

My fellow Americans, after so many years of war, Afghanistan will not be a perfect place.  It’s a poor country that will have to work hard on its development.  There will continue to be contested areas.  But Afghans like these are standing up for their country.  If they were to fail, it would endanger the security of us all.  And we’ve made an enormous investment in a stable Afghanistan.  Afghans are making difficult but genuine progress.  This modest but meaningful extension of our presence — while sticking to our current, narrow missions — can make a real difference.  It’s the right thing to do.

May God bless our troops and all who keep us safe.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Q    Mr. President, can you tell us how disappointing this decision is for you?  Is this — can you tell us how disappointing this decision is for you?

THE PRESIDENT:  This decision is not disappointing.  Continually, my goal has been to make sure that we give every opportunity for Afghanistan to succeed while we’re still making sure that we’re meeting our core missions.

And as I’ve continually said, my approach is to assess the situation on the ground, figure out what’s working, figure out what’s not working, make adjustments where necessary.  This isn’t the first time those adjustments have been made; this won’t probably be the last.

What I’m encouraged by is the fact that we have a government that is serious about trying to deliver security and the prospects of a better life for the Afghan people.  We have a clear majority of the Afghans who want to partner with us and the international community to achieve those goals.  We have a bilateral security arrangement that ensures that our troops can operate in ways that protect them while still achieving their mission.  And we’ve always known that we had to maintain a counterterrorism operation in that region in order to tamp down any reemergence of active al Qaeda networks, or other networks that might do us harm.

So this is consistent with the overall vision that we’ve had.  And, frankly, we anticipated, as we were drawing down troops, that there would be times where we might need to slow things down or fill gaps in Afghan capacity.  And this is a reflection of that.  And it’s a dangerous area.

So part of what we’re constantly trying to balance is making sure that Afghans are out there, they’re doing what they need to do, but that we are giving them a chance to succeed and that we’re making sure that our force posture in the area for conducting those narrow missions that we need to conduct, we can do so relatively safely.  There are still risks involved, but force protection, the ability of our embassies to operate effectively — those things all factor in.

And so we’ve got to constantly review these approaches.  The important thing I want to emphasize, though, is, is that the nature of the mission has not changed.  And the cessation of our combat role has not changed.

Now, the 25 military and civilians who were killed last year, that always weighs on my mind.  And 25 deaths are 25 too many, particularly for the families of the fallen.  But understand, relative to what was involved when we were in an active combat role and actively engaged in war in Afghanistan was a very different scenario.

So here, you have a situation where we have clarity about what our mission is.  We’ve got a partner who wants to work with us.  We’re going to continually make adjustments to ensure that we give the best possibilities for success.  And I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next President.  And as conditions improve, we’ll be in a position to make further adjustments.

But I’m absolutely confident this is the right thing to do.  And I’m not disappointed because my view has always been how do we achieve our goals while minimizing the strain and exposure on our men and women in uniform, and make sure that we are constantly encouraging and sending a message to the Afghan people, this is their country and they’ve got to defend it, but we’re going to be a steady partner for them.

Thank you, everybody.

END                                        11:22 A.M. EDT

US Military Strikes al Qaeda

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by Bill Roggio & Thomas Joscelyn

The Long War Journal

October 13, 2015

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Between Oct. 7 and Oct. 11, the US military orchestrated a large-scale operation against two al Qaeda camps in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. Dozens of jihadists were reportedly killed during the raids.

One of the two camps was so big that it covered almost 30 square miles, an indication that al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is far more significant than US officials have claimed in the past.

The jointly conducted raids targeted a pair of camps in the Shorabak district in Kandahar, according to a US military statement that was obtained by The Long War Journal. More than 200 US troops and Afghan commandos launched the operation after months of advanced planning.

The statement quoted Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, a US military spokesman, who said the US and its ally had carried out “one of the largest joint ground-assault operations we have ever conducted in Afghanistan.” The two camps were hit with 63 airstrikes, which provided cover for ground forces.

General Shoffner’s description of the facilities indicates that they had been built long ago. “The first site, a well-established training camp, spanned approximately one square mile. The second site covered nearly 30 square miles,” Shoffner said.

According to the statement, “numerous” al Qaeda fighters were killed, but an exact number has not been disclosed. On Oct. 10, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s interior ministry tweeted that 100 terrorists were killed and 50 more injured.

The US military said that a “large media cell” was broken up at one of the sites and a cache of weapons was seized during the raid. Although the military did not identify the members of the “media cell,” they likely belong to As Sahab, al Qaeda’s official propaganda arm. Jihadists on social media have said that As Sahab relocated its operations into Afghanistan over the past year.

The haul recovered at the camps reportedly includes “heavy weapons, IED-making material and other valuable intelligence data including foreign passports, laptops and associated IT media, digital cameras and cards, documents, and mobile phones.” In addition, the US and its Afghan allies seized “anti-aircraft weapons,” “rocket-propelled grenade systems with associated hardware and warheads,” “machine guns, pistols, rifles and ammunition.”

General Shoffner characterized the operation as an “enormous success” that “validates our ongoing campaign.”

“Working with, by, and through our Afghan partners, we’re building their capabilities while we fight our common enemies,” he continued. Shoffner added that the “goal of the operation was to degrade the terrorist network in Afghanistan.”

Junood al Fida

At least one al Qaeda-affiliated group is known to operate in the Shorabak district, as well as the neighboring Reg district of Kandahar.

Last year, both the Taliban and an al Qaeda group named Junood al Fida claimed to have successfully pushed Afghan forces out of the Reg district. The Taliban said at the time that the Afghans fled into Shorabak. Junood al Fida, which is openly loyal to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and the Taliban, posted a series of photos on its official Twitter feed from the attacks.

In a statement released in July 2014, Junood al Fida described Zawahiri as “Our Shaykh al Habeeb” [beloved leader] and “Ameeruna” [our chief]. Junood al Fida’s hostility to the US was highlighted throughout the message. Its members had “migrated to areas in southern Afghanistan to wage jihad against the United States and the ‘US puppets’ in Afghanistan,” the statement read. “As for the United States’ future in Afghanistan,” Junood al Fida threatened, “it will be fire and hell and total defeat, God willing, as it was for their predecessors – the Soviets and before them, the British.” An image (seen on the right) released by the group via Twitter showed one of its fighters pretending to take aim at the US Capitol building.

In early August 2014, Junood al Fida, which draws fighters from Baluchistan, eulogized one of its commanders. The eulogy described Abdul Hafeez (also known as Maulvi Abu Baseer) as “a well-known commander” in the Zabul, Helmand and Kandahar provinces of the Taliban’s emirate in Afghanistan. The statement also indicated that Abdul Hafeez had waged jihad for decades, going back to the Soviets’ days in Afghanistan.

Beginning in May 2014, Junood al Fida released several videos of its operations in the Shorabak district and nearby areas. The videos show the jihadists targeting Afghan forces and checkpoints.

Al Qaeda operating throughout Afghanistan

The US military has not answered an obvious question: How did al Qaeda establish two training camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border in a province that is supposedly secure from the Taliban?

Before his death, Osama bin Laden ordered al Qaeda operatives to relocate from Pakistan’s tribal areas back into Afghanistan. The move ensured that al Qaeda would outlive the US drone campaign, which successfully killed dozens of top al Qaeda figures. Al Qaeda also moved some of its infrastructure, including training camps, into Afghanistan.

Even before bin Laden’s order to relocate, al Qaeda was known to run training facilities in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has hosted camps in the northern district of Baghran in Helmand province. Hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters rotated through the Baghran camps, which were run by the Shadow Army, US officials told The Long War Journal in 2009.  It is unclear if the Taliban and al Qaeda still train in the district. However, Baghran is believed to be still under the Taliban’s control. The Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, is al Qaeda’s paramilitary force and fights alongside the Taliban and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Al Qaeda is also known to run training camps and maintain bases in Kunar, using the province to direct operations in the Afghan east. A dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda military commander known as Qari Zia Rahman oversees training camps that are used to indoctrinate and train females, including children, to carry out suicided attacks on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. ISAF has targeted several bases and camps in Kunar over the past several years.

Al Qaeda allies such as Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba have training camps in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan as well. As late as August 2014, the US government said that HUM, an al Qaeda and Taliban-linked jihadist group based in Pakistan, has training facilities in Afghanistan.

“HUM also operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan and has conducted a number of operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in the Kashmir region,” the US State Department said in its update to HUM’s foreign terrorist organization designation in August 2014. The Long War Journal confirmed in a follow-up inquiry with State that the HUM camps in eastern Afghanistan are still in operation. The exact number and location of the camps has not been disclosed.

The Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur jihadist group closely allied to al Qaeda, also advertised a training camp in Afghanistan earlier this year.

The US military’s raid in Shorabak contradicts two important claims that have been repeatedly made by both the Obama administration and the US military. First, US officials have argued that al Qaeda is primarily confined to Kunar and Nuristan. The latest US-led operations show this claim is false. Second, US officials have said that al Qaeda has only a small number of fighters, some 50 to 100, in all of Afghanistan.

Kandahar is far from Kunar and Nuristan, and the two large camps described by the military would likely have dozens of staff and trainees, if not far more.

More than 14 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, al Qaeda retains a significant footprint in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s importance within the Taliban-led insurgency was underscored in August, when the new Taliban emir, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, publicly accepted Zawahiri’s oath of allegiance.  Indeed, the Taliban’s leadership is closely allied with al Qaeda.

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/10/us-military-strikes-large-al-qaeda-training-camps-in-southern-afghanistan.php

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Taliban Announce Withdrawal

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by Thomas Joscelyn

Threat Matrix

October 13th, 2015

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The Taliban released a statement on its official “Voice of Jihad” website earlier today saying that its forces had withdrawn from the center of Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban presents the move as being somewhat altruistic. “Withdrawal from Kunduz city bazaar and government buildings is done purely for the higher interests of Jihad, the main goal of which was to secure the population from air raids and protect the human and material cost of Mujahideen from waste in a protracted defensive battle,” the statement reads.

Of course, multiple sources say the Taliban wasn’t so concerned about civilians in Kunduz during its multi-day siege.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International accused the Taliban of committing numerous crimes in Kunduz. “As Afghan government forces continue their efforts to drive the Taliban out of the strategically important city of Kunduz, Amnesty International (AI) has released alarming testimonies by civilians citing mass murder, abductions, rape, and house-to-house searches by Taliban death squads during the Islamist group’s brief capture of the provincial capital,” Amnesty’s report reads.

Without mentioning Amnesty International by name, the Taliban rejects its findings:

At the same time they won over the hearts of the entire nation especially the honorable people of Kunduz with their Islamic behavior. Their Islamic and ethical conduct with the enemy prisoners was such that the flow of opposition fighters and workers surrendering and joining Mujahideen throughout the country has also increased. We strongly reject all claims of enemy and foreign malicious circles accusing the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate of transgressing against the lives, property and honor of anyone. The people of Kunduz are witnesses that the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate have treated them with respect and have not inappropriate the rights of anyone during their control.

The fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces, backed by the US, has been fierce over the past several days. It hasn’t been clear which side was in control of the city’s center until today. The battle has also been chaotic, with the US bombing a hospital where civilian doctors were working.

Despite its withdrawal, however, the Taliban still controls all of the districts surrounding Kunduz city. Indeed, the jihadists were able to make swift advances in the city itself in part because they are already firmly entrenched in the outlying areas.

While admitting that its fighters are no longer in central Kunduz, the Taliban still crows about its gains. In addition to freeing prisoners (Amnesty found male prisoners were armed for battle, while female inmates were raped and beaten), the Taliban brags about its war booty, saying the “[m]ujahideen seized and secured hundreds of various type [sic] military equipment, APCs, launchers, tons of heavy and light arms ammunition as well as archived documents from the ministry of national directorate services and other organs.”

The Taliban also lists all of the areas where its forces have purportedly made gains during its northern offensive:

Kunduz which is considered militarily strategic and a command center for the entire north east provinces of Afghanistan was attacked and taken over by Mujahideen, causing a wave of panic in the enemy ranks as a result of which large areas were completely cleared by Mujahideen with negligible casualties and small scale operations in Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, Badakhshan and other provinces of the north. Amidst this advance, Baghlan’s Talaw Barfak district, tens of villages and military bases in Markazi Baghlan and Pul-e-Kumri districts; Takhar’s Eshkamesh, Yangi Qala and Khwaja Ghar districts; Badakhshan Warduj and Baharak districts; Faryab’s Khwaja NaMusa and Garzewan districts; Saripul’s Kohistanat district; Jawzjan’s Kham Aab district; entire districts of Imam Sahib, Qala Zaal and Chahr Dara and large parts of Khanabad and Aliabad districts all fell to the Mujahideen in a few short days while tens of vehicles, hundreds of heavy and light arms and large amounts of other equipment were also seized by the Mujahideen and subsequently transferred to secure locations. Such consecutive conquests had not been witnessed in the recent past.

Given that the Taliban has made a major push throughout all of Kunduz province, as well as throughout northern Afghanistan, the city of Kunduz will likely be threatened once again in the future.

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Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/10/taliban-announces-withdrawal-from-center-of-kunduz-city.php

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Ghani Orders Investigation

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by Lynne O’Donnell

Associated Press

October 10, 2015

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has appointed a team of investigators to look into the circumstances leading to the Taliban’s brief capture of the northern city of Kunduz as well as a U.S. airstrike that destroyed a hospital and killed at least 22 people there, his office said Saturday.

The five-man delegation appointed by presidential decree will leave soon for Kunduz to conduct a province-wide probe into how the insurgents were able to overrun the city on Sept. 28 and hold it for three days before government troops launched a counter offensive, Ghani’s office said.

Part of the team’s mandate would include looking into the Oct. 3 airstrike on a trauma center run by the international charity Doctors Without Borders. The team would be led by the former head of the national intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, and would report to the president.

The “fact-finding team” will deliver a “comprehensive report so that we know what happened in Kunduz, what kind of reforms should be brought and what are the lessons learned for the future,” the president was quoted as saying.

Ten days after government troops entered Kunduz, they are still fighting to clear out pockets of Taliban insurgents, officials and residents said.

Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the provincial police chief, said three areas of the city had been retaken overnight, though a gas station in Seh Darak was hit by a rocket and destroyed. Hussaini said he did not know which side was responsible.

Kunduz resident Abdullah said that people were still leaving the city for safety. He said he had seen grocers emptying their shops of food to take home, fearing scarcities. He would only give his first name because of security concerns.

The World Food Program said it was feeding thousands of people who had left Kunduz and were now living in camps in other cities in the north, and that “additional wheat is being milled in anticipation of increased needs in the coming days.”

Food and water were still not getting through in adequate quantities, and the city remained without electricity, residents said.

“The whole city is empty of people,” Abdullah said. “Residents are still not feeling safe.”

Representatives of Doctors Without Borders met with Ghani and his national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar on Friday, his office said in a statement.

Ghani told them he had ordered Afghan security forces to ensure the protection of humanitarian organizations. The statement quoted him as saying investigations were needed “so that we know what happened in the incident, how information was collected, and how the incident happened based on that information.”

Doctors Without Borders has called for an independent probe of the incident by the Swiss-based International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission — which is made up of diplomats, legal experts, doctors and some former military officials from nine European countries, including Britain and Russia. It was created after the Gulf War in 1991, and has never deployed a fact-finding mission.

Doctors Without Borders — a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization that provides medical aid in conflict zones — is awaiting responses to letters sent Tuesday to 76 countries that signed the additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, asking to mobilize the 15-member commission.

For the IHFFC to be mobilized, a single country would have to call for the fact-finding mission, and the U.S. and Afghanistan — which are not signatories — must also give their consent.

The airstrike was requested by Afghan ground forces, according to the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, but mistakenly hit the hospital.

The bombing continued for about an hour and destroyed the hospital’s main building. President Barack Obama apologized and the U.S. military is investigating. The hospital has been abandoned.

Doctors Without Borders said that 12 staff members and 10 patients, all of them Afghans, were killed. Many more are still missing, though all foreign staff have been accounted for.

In Washington, the Pentagon said it would offer “condolence payments” to civilians injured in the airstrike and the families of those killed as well as provide funds for repairing the hospital. The compensation will be handled through the already existing Commanders’ Emergency Response Program in Afghanistan, and if necessary additional authority will be sought from Congress, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement issued Saturday.

“The Department of Defense believes it is important to address the consequences of the tragic icncident atht eh Doctors Without Borders hospital,” Cook said.

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http://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/afghan-president-orders-investigation-into-fall-of-kunduz-1.372678

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Taliban Grab 2 More Northern Districts

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by Bill Roggio & Caleb Weiss

The Long War Journal

October 8, 2015

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The Taliban overran two more districts in northern Afghanistan, this time in the province of Faryab, where the jihadist group made a push to seize the capital just last weekend.

The Taliban said it seized control of the districts of Garziwan and Pashtun Kot in two separate statements that were released on Voice of Jihad, the group’s official propaganda outlet.

“Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate have managed to completely liberated [sic] Khwaja Musa district [Pashtun Kot] administration center, police HQ building and all the surrounding areas during a large scale operation,” the first statement said. “14 enemy check posts were overrun, forcing the enemy to flee while leaving behind 4 dead bodies and 2 APC wreckages.”

The Taliban later stated that it “liberated [the] Garzewan administration center, police HQ building and all the surrounding buildings around 05:30 pm local time today” after launching an offensive yesterday.

The Taliban’s claims were largely confirmed in Afghan press reports.  Pajhwok Afghan News reported yesterday that the attack in Garziwan was executed by “hundreds of Taliban fighters, led by Mullah Shoib, Mullah Ahmad Shah, Qari Jailan and a Pakistani Sheikh,” and the Taliban advanced to within 4 kilometers of the district center as Afghan political leaders fled.

By today, “Taliban fighters captured more parts of Garziwan and Pashtun Kot districts” while “security personnel said they had tactically vacated the areas,” Pajhwok reported.

The fall of the districts of Garziwan and Pashtun Kot took place just one week after the Taliban attempted to seize control of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab. The two districts are on the outskirts of Maimana, and control access from the east.

The situation in Faryab somewhat mirrors that of Kunduz, where the Taliban took control of several districts since it launched its offensive in the province in May. After months of fighting, and several failed attempts to take the capital of Kunduz city, the jihadist group succeeded in doing so on Sept. 28. The current status of Kunduz city is unclear; the Afghan military and government have claimed to have cleared it several times, only to see the Taliban reenter and raise its white flag over the city center.

While fighting for control of the provincial capital of Kunduz, the Taliban launched a wider offensive in the Afghan north aimed at seizing control of districts in five provinces: Badakhshan, Baghlan, Faryab, Kunduz, and Takhar. Since Sept. 28, the jihadist group has taken control of 11 districts in these five provinces and another in the western province of Farah.

The Taliban has made a concerted effort to regain control of territory since the US and NATO ended its combat mission in Afghanistan and switched to an “advise and assist” mission. According to a study by The Long War Journal, 31 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts are under Taliban control, and another 36 districts are contested. 331 districts are either under government control, or their status cannot be determined based on open source information.

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/10/taliban-seize-two-more-districts-in-afghan-north.php

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Democrats Crave Nation of Cowards

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by Travis J. Tritten

Stars & Stripes

October 8, 2015

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WASHINGTON — House lawmakers weary of the war pushed back Thursday against the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan who has advised the White House to keep more troops deployed there and abandon a plan to end the conflict.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee, many of them Democrats, said they are frustrated by a lack of progress in training a capable Afghan army and police force to take over security, despite a 14-year war, now the longest in American history.

The comments came during testimony by Gen. John Campbell, who urged the committee to have patience with the security forces, which are still unable to protect the entire country from a resurgent Taliban. Earlier this week, he told the Senate that he has advised President Barack Obama to maintain higher troop levels in 2016 and remain in the war.

As Campbell spoke in Congress on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with NATO officials. They indicated a U.S. military presence larger than the planned embassy force will remain past 2016, though the final troop numbers were yet to be decided.

“General, I’ve heard this for 14 years,” Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., said, referring to Campbell’s assurances Afghans are increasingly capable of security operations but not quite yet ready to operate on their own.

President Barack Obama had planned to end the war by the end of his second term, but the continuing shortcomings of Afghan forces and new Taliban attacks have pushed him to slow the drawdown. Earlier this year, he made an agreement with the Afghan government to keep the 9,800 troops in the country through this year, instead of 5,000.

Now, Campbell has advised against a planned drawdown to an embassy force by the end of 2016 following a tough fighting season for the Afghans and a surprise Taliban siege of the provincial capital of Kunduz last week.

He said the Afghans are still deficient in key military abilities, such as command-and-control and intelligence gathering.

“I think we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired of the same thing happening in Afghanistan, and I think we need to close up shop,” Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., a rare Republican opposing continued intervention, said the United States has spent $686 billion since its invasion in 2001 and wasted billions of dollars on rebuilding the country, despite an $18-trillion national debt.

“The American taxpayer has got to know at some point in time there is going to be an end in this investment. Money, blood, there has got to be an end to it,” he said.

Many Republicans opposed the position, saying continued support and troops are critical to avoiding a collapse and holding off future attacks on the United States similar to those by al-Qaeda, which were orchestrated from a sanctuary in Afghanistan.

“Right now, we face the danger of repeating the mistake of Iraq, where a new, more virulent terrorist threat has grown after we left too soon,” Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said in a released statement. “If we make the same mistake in Afghanistan, the danger to the homeland and to American citizens and interests around the world will grow significantly.”

On Monday, 23 lawmakers on the Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Obama urging him to maintain the current troop levels through 2016.

In Brussels, Carter and NATO’s defense ministers discussed future NATO troop levels and funding levels to support Afghan forces “both in 2016 and in the years thereafter.”

“I think there’s complete agreement within the alliance of the need to continue to do both of those,” Carter said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies are assessing the needs and are still dedicated to supporting the Afghans.

“So, what we are discussing is not whether we are going to leave or to stay, because we are going to stay,” he said.

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Reporter Tara Copp contributed to this story

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Headline rewritten by Rawclyde!

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http://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/democrats-question-more-troops-for-afghanistan-1.372257

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House-to-House Fighting In Kunduz

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by Josh Smith

Stars & Stripes

October 7, 2015

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KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — Police and soldiers lined key intersections and manned checkpoints in Kunduz city Wednesday, but few civilians ventured into the glass-strewn streets after more than a week of sometimes fierce fighting to reclaim the city from Taliban insurgents.

Fighting continued Wednesday, and heavy gunfire could be heard as troops went house to house trying to root out entrenched insurgents, six days after President Ashraf Ghani declared the city secure.

Many shops and houses appeared damaged by bullet strikes, with a few burned-out vehicles left in the streets, which were littered with broken glass from shop windows. Among the abandoned vehicles in the middle of one road was a shiny new city fire engine, riddled with bullet holes.

The government, backed by U.S. special operations forces and airstrikes, launched an offensive Thursday to retake the city from insurgents who overran it in a surprise, complex strike three days earlier. Since, then, control of the central square has repeatedly changed hands, with each side tearing down the other’s flag and hoisting its own. On Wednesday, the government flag was flying over the main square.

A large poster of Taliban nemesis Ahmed Shah Massoud, Afghanistan’s national hero, had been torn down and vandalized, the eyes gouged out. Massoud led resistance against the Taliban for years until he was assassinated by al-Qaida on Sept. 9, 2001, two days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Power was out in many parts of the city, with some entrepreneurs setting up mobile phone-charging stations connected to generators. Residents described a worsening humanitarian situation, especially after most aid organizations were forced to pull out.

“We are already in a nightmare; people started dying of hunger and health problems,” said resident Gul Mohammad.

Near the airport, a few miles south of the city, rocket batteries fired at suspected Taliban positions across the Kunduz River to the west.

In Kabul, a spokesman for Ghani said some “scattered elements of the enemy” remained in residential areas of Kunduz as operations continued to clear the Taliban from the city, The Associated Press reported.

Both security forces and residents described a lightning Taliban offensive on Sept. 28 that met with very little initial resistance from government forces.

By the time troops pushed back into the city of 300,000, Taliban fighters had taken up positions in houses and other buildings. Sherzaman, a 40-year-old militia fighter, said he was wounded in one effort to dislodge two Taliban gunmen from the upper floor of a construction company building. When the militia tried to run up the stairs, Sherzaman was shot in the leg. The enraged militia fighters then doused the building in gasoline, set it on fire and burned the two Taliban to death.

At the headquarters of the Afghan army’s 2nd Brigade, 209th Corps, south of the city, it was apparent that American and coalition advisers remain at the center of government efforts to retake the strategically important city. Troops from the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom mixed with Afghan soldiers and police.

The base, which lies just south of the airport that became a government stronghold when the Taliban occupied the city on Sept. 28, is teeming with regular army advisers and special forces soldiers. Afghan military casualties evacuated by helicopter were being transported to an Afghan base in Mazar-e-Sharif, the largest city in northern Afghanistan.

Among the U.S. advisers were troops from the 10th Mountain Division, including Col. Paul Sarat, who commands the coalition’s northern training and advising command.

But it’s the special forces troops who are at the heart of the fighting.

They are also at the center of a controversy over the airstrike last week that killed 22 medical staff and patients at a hospital in the city run by the Doctors Without Borders medical volunteer group. It has been reported that American special operations forces may have been involved in calling in the strike by an AC-130 gunship.

Doctors Without Borders — also known by the group’s French acronym, MSF — has said it believes the bombing was a war crime. The politically influential group is also calling for an independent probe by an international investigative commission.

U.S. officials say they are investigating, but the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, believes the troops involved may not have followed the rules of engagement, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing unnamed officials.

A contingent of the elite special forces soldiers has been based permanently at Kunduz airport for about five months, since the Taliban made their first major push on the city, which was unsuccessful.

Nestled among barracks housing Afghan commandos, the special forces compound gives indications that the troops here are involved in more than classroom instruction.

Their camp, which appeared to house both U.S. and German troops, bristles with heavy machine guns, sniper rifles with suppressors, advanced communications equipment, and a variety of sand-colored vehicles, including dune buggies, 4×4 all-terrain vehicles, up-armored Humvees and pickup trucks with Afghan military markings.

Afghan commandos say they are conducting operations nearly every night, especially near the old Bala Hisar fortress, which overlooks the town.

Despite the declared end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of last year, Americans have been drawn back into the fighting as the Taliban have made gains during their summer offensive.

U.S. airstrikes were said to have been key to preventing the Taliban from overrunning Kunduz airport, and many Afghan troops here bemoan the fact that there have been no more in the area since the hospital strike early Saturday.

Afghan aircraft have continued airstrikes, however, as government troops continue to struggle to fully clear the city of Taliban resistance.

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http://www.stripes.com/news/house-to-house-fighting-continues-in-kunduz-city-1.372122

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Kunduz Fall Exposes Vulnerabilities

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by Abubakar Siddique

Gandhara News

October 03, 2015

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The fall of a major provincial capital on Afghanistan’s northern border with Central Asia hangs over the first anniversary of the country’s national unity government coming into power.

Hundreds of lightly armed Taliban riding on motorbikes seized Kunduz city, capital of Kunduz Province, on September 28. Their capture marked the fall of the first major Afghan city to the insurgents in 14 years.

“The success of the Taliban stands out because it is one of those rare occasions — and nothing so significant as this –when it has felt confident enough to openly occupy territory,” Marvin Weinbaum, a former Afghanistan-Pakistan analyst for the U.S. State Department, told RFE/RL’s Gandhara website.

Weinbaum, now a South Asia specialist at the Washington, D.C., Middle East Institute think tank, says that even if the Taliban are unable to hold the city for long in the face of an Afghan counterattack, the insurgents still will have a major presence in the province.

With the help of thousands of battle-hardened Central Asian fighters, the Taliban gradually increased their presence in Kunduz in recent years and came close to overrunning the city of 300,000 in April. Most Central Asian fighters were pushed into Afghanistan last year by a major Pakistani offensive against their hideouts in North Waziristan, close to the country’s western border with Afghanistan.

“As a blow to the national psyche, the Taliban’s gains promise to accelerate the public’s loss of confidence in the Kabul government and its ability to provide basic security,” he said. “The loss can also be expected to increase the exodus [of youth] from the country already in progress.”

In Kabul, the Afghan government has attempted to put on a brave face after the debacle. President Ashraf Ghani vowed that Afghan security forces will retake Kunduz.

He urged Afghans to trust the country’s security forces and not give in to “fear and terror.”

“The government of Afghanistan is a responsible government. It cannot and will not bombard its own citizens inside the city. That is why I ordered ministers, commanders, and all security and other officials to preserve the lives of civilians first,” he told journalists in Kabul on September 29.

But on the ground in Kunduz a counterattack will be more complicated and fraught with risks. A former Western official familiar with the region says Kunduz was a point of tension within the national unity government.

“It is an ethnically mixed area with many disputes over land, water, and control of roads,” he told RFE/RL Gandhara while requesting anonymity because of Afghan government sensitivities. “This translated into disputes over appointments in government and security forces.”

Factions and powerful figures within the Afghan national unity government have a long history of fighting over Kunduz.

He says that Kabul’s backing for anti-Taliban militias in Kunduz this year created forces that were hostile to each other. In recent months, many Kunduz residents had complained of militia fighters who had turned into marauding predators.

“All this leads to a very divided and weak government,” he said.

Decades ago, Kunduz emerged as a major battleground during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was one of the first cities to fall into the hands of the anti-Soviet Islamist mujahedin guerillas after the departure of the Red Army in 1989.

During the ensuing civil war of the 1990s, Kunduz turned into one of the most insecure Afghan regions and frequently changed hands among quarreling factions.

The Taliban conquest of the region in the late 1990s finally ended the infighting, but they turned Kunduz into a major military base hosting thousands of Central Asian fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Kunduz’s fall in November 2001 was marked by the surrender of thousands of Taliban fighters, some of whom were later killed in captivity and a prison uprising in the nearby Balkh and Shiberghan provinces.

Today, in addition to the local disputes and power struggles, Kunduz appears to be at the crossroads of regional rivalries and covert wars that characterize the current Afghan conflict.

Ghani pivoted to Pakistan after assuming office last year in the hope that Islamabad would help end the Afghan war by using its influence over the Taliban to end their violent campaign and deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table.

But escalating violence — thanks to the biggest-ever Taliban summer offensive and Islamabad’s somewhat open tolerance of Afghan Taliban sanctuaries on its soil and its alleged covert support for its leaders and fighters — forced the Afghan leader to close the window on Pakistan.

“This war is being imposed on us. Everyone knows that it was imposed in the name of someone who has been dead for two years,” Ghani said, alluding to the former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death in April 2013 was only confirmed this year.

Barnett Rubin, a veteran scholar of Afghanistan, says Islamabad’s condition for action to limit Taliban military capabilities were key concessions about the role and influence of its archrival India in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan might want this [Taliban advance] to show the Afghan government that it has to make more concessions on India,” he told RFE/RL Gandhara.

Kunduz’s fall also has major implications for Kabul’s relations with its northern neighbors. It is expected to alarm Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and key regional power Russia.

South Asia scholar Marvin Weinbaum says the capture of Kunduz, separated by the Amu Darya River from Tajikistan, could convince Moscow and its Central Asian allies to strengthen ties with major power brokers and their militias across northern Afghanistan.

“Less certain is the extent to which they will draw closer to the Kabul government,” he said.

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http://gandhara.rferl.org/content/afghanistan-kunduz-fall-exposes-government-vulnerabilities/27277553.html

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