war, humph! what’s it good for?

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by meghann myers

military times

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Nearly 18 years after U.S. forces first dropped into Afghanistan, yet another administration is struggliong to get out of the quagmire.

And the struggle is not going well.

As much as he wanted to pull troops out, President Donald Trump, like his predecessors, has not found the way forward.

Quite the opposite.

When Trump took office, there were about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Now there are about 14,000. Troop deaths have risen to the most in years, the Taliban holds more territory than ever and a new foe, ISIS-K, has emerged to add to the deadly misery.

Trump has signaled his eagerness to withdraw in recent months, lamenting that troops are acting more as police officers and public works employees than war fighters.

“They’re building gas stations. They’re rebuilding schools. The United States — we shouldn’t be doing that,” he said in July, calling on the Afghans to pick up the slack. “That’s for them to do.”

Trump authorized high-level peace talks with the Taliban and even floated the idea of a meeting at Camp David.  An end to the nation’s longest war looked within reach.

But in September, President Trump declared the peace talks dead, after a car-bomb near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul killed an 82nd Airborne soldier.

Days later, at the Pentagon’s 9/11 ceremony, Trump told an audience of survivors, family members and first responders from that attack that he had responded by ramping up the pressure on the Taliban.

“The last four days, we’ve hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue,” he said.

For service members deployed abroad, or preparing for their next sojourn to “the sandbox,” business will continue as usual for now. But the administration has signaled its motivation to end this endless war.  So what could that mean for future deployments, and the security risk for those on the ground if forces are scaled back?

A White House spokesman declined to answer questions on whether the administration was still planning a drawdown of troops to a recently proposed 8,600, or whether any amount of withdrawal would be tied to negotiations and a possible peace deal with the Taliban.

When combat troops withdrew from the country in 2014, the hope was that Afghanistan’s fresh, new, democratically elected government and American-trained security forces would be able to hold the line against another takeover by extremist groups.

While the Afghan government and its national police/national army organizations still exist, today the Taliban controls more square footage of the country than it did when Green Berets first parachuted in 18 years ago.

The resurgence of the Taliban, coupled with the rise of a local ISIS faction, has kept U.S. troops rotating into Afghanistan at a steady clip, even if their new mission set revolves around training, advising and assisting Afghan forces.

Neither U.S. Central Command nor Pentagon spokespeople responded to requests for specific numbers of airstrikes or other missions that would indicate the U.S. had increased operations.

That same week, multiple requests from the Pentagon press corps to have an on-camera briefing with Gen. Austin Miller, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, were also denied.

Until further notice, according to officials, nothing has changed.

Business as usual

Pentagon officials say they have what they need.

“The number of troops that we will have will always be the appropriate level that we need to provide security,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters on Sept. 9. “We’re going to focus on the counter-terrorism mission, and we’re going to focus on the reason we got into Afghanistan in the first place, and that is to prevent terrorist operations or individuals from using Afghanistan as a base from which to operate against the homeland.”

There are still roughly 14,000 troops deployed to the country, a mix of train-advise-assist units partnered with the Afghan National Army, special operations teams working the counter-terrorism mission and air support personnel to back them both up.

The Army has been sending brigade and division headquarters elements to help on the ground for half of a decade. In 2017, with an eye toward that mission continuing for years to come, the service announced it would create Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB) that would focus on that mission and be available by request for any of the combatant commands.

The first SFAB deployed to Afghanistan in 2018, followed by the second this year. As of September, a 3rd SFAB is still training for an Afghanistan deployment, Security Force Assistance Command spokeswoman Maj. Christina Wright told Military Times Sept. 16. “SFABs continue to train for worldwide deployment in support of combatant command security cooperation objectives,” she added.

Meanwhile, in the south of the country, Task Force Southwest has been rotating Marines into Helmand Province since 2017. The mission is to to train, advise and assist Afghan security partners there, according to Resolute Support officials. Earlier this year, there had been rumblings that the Marines would withdraw soon.

The task force consists of several hundred Marines. Now in its fourth rotation, and the primary Marine presence in Afghanistan, the task force has helped create a security belt around the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. The city hasn’t come under considerable pressure since it arrived even though the Taliban still control most of Helmand.

In addition to training Afghan aviation forces, the Air Force provides air support to troops on the ground and runs its own missions.

The most recently available monthly data shows the Air Force launched 810 strikes and over nearly 1,000 sorties in August — that’s about one sortie every 45 minutes.

Officials from the Navy did not provide information about its current and future efforts in Afghanistan. However, nearly 18 years of constant deployments by SEALs have created a strain on the force that’s contributed to a series of scandals, former U.S. Special Operations Command honcho William McRaven said at a recent security forum.

Experts agree that Afghan security forces are not ready to secure their country from an insurgency by themselves.

Citing DoD figures, a senior RAND Corp. researcher said Sept. 18 at the New America Special Operations Forces Policy Forum in Washington, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are at 77 percent of their goal end strength.

“They’re going to need continued aid, and this was the big lesson from the Soviet Era, of course,” Linda Robinson said. “You must continue to support this force, or it will collapse in the face of a robust insurgency.”

Afghan forces are making solid progress, according to a Pentagon report from June on Afghanistan’s security, covering Dec. 1, 2018, to May 31, 2019.

During that period, the authors wrote, the Afghan Special Security Forces “achieved over 80 percent of its projected end strength planned for 2020.”

Despite “record-high” casualties — from nearly 1,000 enemy attacks in April, but generally between 600 and 800 a month, according to the report — “ANDSF recruitment and retention outpaced attrition for the first time in several reporting periods.”

Part of that progress, as well, has been an aviation capability upgrade, switching out Russian Mi-17 helicopters with U.S.-made aircraft. U.S. troops have been on hand to train the Afghan pilots, and according to the report, they are meeting their milestones.

On the other hand, the rise of ISIS-K — Afghanistan’s local Islamic State faction — has overwhelmed both U.S. and Afghan forces, gaining territory throughout the first half of this year.

“Regionally the group continues to evade, counter, and resist sustained CT pressure,” according to the report. “While ISIS-K remains operationally limited to South and Central Asia, the group harbors intentions to attack international targets.”

If the U.S. drew down or ultimately withdrew troops, Afghan forces would not be on their own, though. There are five regional train-advise-assist commands in Afghanistan, and three of them are run by Turkish, German and Italian forces.

Still, that support is crucial to their progress.

“Right now, it’s our judgment that the Afghans need support to deal with the level of violence today,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Aug. 28 in a Pentagon briefing. “If an agreement happens, that could change.”

So far this year, 17 U.S. service members have been killed in action in Afghanistan, at the hands of both Taliban and ISIS combatants. That makes this year’s casualty count the highest since former President Obama declared the end of combat operations in 2014.

Thirteen of those were members of special operations forces, which is leading the counter-terror fight, including eight Special Forces soldiers and one Army Ranger.

Of the roughly 14,000 troops deployed there, 9,000 are under the train-advise-assist mission, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Campbell told Military Times, and the remaining 5,000 are focusing on counter-terror.

Efforts to train the Afghans to take care of themselves have seen mixed results.

The build up of the Afghan commandos, for instance, has been seen as a big success while creating a self-sufficient air force has encountered problems.

Pentagon officials say the effort to train the Afghan air force has been largely successful.

Their combat capability “continues to increase as more aircraft are fielded and as Afghan pilots become more proficient,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman. “The AAF can unilaterally plan and conduct precision strike, close-air support, and MEDEVAC/CASEVAC missions. Their growing fixed wing attack fleet is proficient in conducting precision attack using laser guided munitions.”

The Afghan air force contingent of AC-208s, MD-530s and UH-60s “are now fully fielded; the remainder of their A-29s will be fielded by the end of 2020. AAF A-29s average more than 60 bombs dropped and 20 missiles fired in combat operations per month,” said Campbell. “Their MD-530s fire an average of more than 500 rockets a month during combat missions.”

The Afghans rely on contract logistical support, “as does any air force that conducts a high volume of operations; about 80 percent of their maintenance is provided by contractors,” said Campbell. “Coalition Forces continue to mentor and provide individual pilot and maintainer training as the AAF works to grow its maintenance and aircrew workforce.”

Still, U.S. and coalition forces with the NATO-led Resolute Support mission fell short in developing Afghan tactical air coordinators’ ability to coordinate airdrop operations with Afghan air forces, according to a new report.

The Pentagon Inspector General report publicly released on Aug. 12, says Resolute Support’s Train Advise, Assist Command – Air that supports the Afghan air force failed to meet goals to develop Afghan tactical air coordinators competent in coordinating air drop operations that help provide supplies to the ANDSF.

Despite the fact air-drop training was included in training curriculum, TAAC-Air advisers chose to not provide Afghan tactical air coordinators with training or advising on air-drop operations.

Additionally, the report found TAAC-Air did not have a thorough training curriculum for the Afghan air liaison officers regarding targeting for airstrikes. The absence of an in-depth training curriculum was attributed to a lack of oversight from TAAC-Air over contracted advisers.

In discussions of a drawdown, counter-terror special operations troops have been suggested as the preferred stay-behind force. But Robinson urged the presence of more conventional forces to support the Afghan troops.

“Aside from the need to convert our military pressure into political outcomes, I think the big lesson here is [counter-terrorism] only is not the only solution,” she said. “A small [counter-insurgency] approach is really the way ahead.”

For the Taliban, the White House’s very public motivation to withdraw troops might be emboldening, a former South Asia foreign area officer told Military Times.

“I see them targeting our people more and more,” retired Maj. Jason Howk, now a military columnist and author, told Military Times. “I think that’s going to be one of their higher-level missions, is to hit our folks as much as possible, as frequently as possible.”

It would be a top priority for them, he said, to use Trump’s own rhetoric against him.

“That was his base, that’s what he was pushing for — pull every troop out of every country and bring them all home,” Howk said. “That, unfortunately, is a signal to an enemy that knows that’s what you’d like to do. They’re going to speed that up for you.”

To be sure, a rising death toll in Afghanistan presents a strong argument for getting out.

“We don’t do body counts of our enemies, but the media worldwide loves to do body counts of American soldiers, and NATO soldiers,” Howk said. “That just drives everybody away from wanting to be involved in Afghanistan. That’s what the Taliban and their supporters are hoping for.”

It gives them an upper hand in any negotiations, according to a former CENTCOM chief of staff.

“Right now, they believe that they have a strategic advantage over us, and in fact, they do,” retired Maj. Gen. Jay Hood, who now runs his own consulting firm.

The U.S. would’ve had a chance during the Obama administration’s surge circa 2010, he said. But with one major drawdown in the recent past, and strong indications another is on the way, the Taliban can bet on waiting out the administration’s will to stay.

“Today it makes absolutely no sense for the United States to stay there and continue what they’re doing,” Hood said.

Stay or go

Whether Trump plans to go ahead with a drawdown or return to the negotiation table is an open question. While the U.S. posture in Afghanistan hasn’t changed, neither has the administration’s desire to end what many people are calling an “endless war.”

Staying in Afghanistan is a problem for the president politically, experts said, but pulling troops out of the country also presents a risk.

“This is still a diplomatic solution. We’re not going to kill our way to victory. Everybody knows that,” retired Army Col. Stu Bradin, a career Special Forces officer and current president of the Global SOF Foundation. “The problem is, nobody wants to make the compromise to get the ball moving in the right direction.”

So if troops were to draw down, from which bucket do you pick, and which personnel would be considered more essential than others?

A special operations forces footprint with strike capability will be key, he said, so that there are troops on the ground keeping an eye on things and air power to get them out of trouble.

“It’s going to be hard to say, hey, we’re going to have a force there that is for strike capability — at the same time you’re trying to sustain the Afghans with the training and the stuff they need to actually run the fight,” Bradin said. “I’m sure there’s stuff they can get rid of, but I don’t know what that would be.”

There will also likely be some train-advise-assist teams spread around, but striking a balance while keeping the footprint reduced will be tricky.

“If you drop 5,000 people that are trainers, that are focused on building out the Afghan forces, to maintain the strike package — it’s like eating your seed corn,” he said. “You’re accepting short-term victory for long-term issues.”

To smooth over that transition, the State Department began sending diplomats to Qatar in February, to meet with Taliban officials and map out some sort of agreement.

The understanding had been that the groups would agree to conditions, and if the Taliban met them, the U.S. would begin withdrawing. The effort was controversial, particularly because it did not include Afghan government officials, who would bear the brunt of a Taliban empowered by an agreement with the U.S.

The break down in talks, in fact, was welcomed by Afghan central government officials.

“As an Afghan woman, as an ordinary citizen of Afghanistan, I was relieved,” Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., said Sept. 18 in Washington.

Afghans didn’t feel in charge of their destiny, she said, as the U.S. and Taliban went around them to continue to try to strike a deal. The Afghans have been fighting the Taliban, too, she explained, and dying by the thousands between their security forces and the innocent civilians who are targeted in attacks.

“For any peace process to succeed … it must have popular buy-in,” she said, which it wouldn’t while the Afghan government didn’t get a say. “It must ensure that it will pave the way for a hopeful, prosperous future.”

Some, like a legendary former leader of SOCOM, also believed making concessions to be the wrong move.

“I do believe that if we negotiate some sort of settlement with the Taliban, and that settlement involves the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, that, you know, it won’t be six months or a year before all of the blood and treasure we have put into Afghanistan will have been reversed because the Taliban will come back in and do what the Taliban do,” retired Adm. McRaven said at the SOF Policy Forum.

Others share that sentiment, that a deal with the Taliban would inevitably crumble.

“I think they’re still pushing that, even knowing that the Taliban will probably renege on some of it and they’ll have to re-start the peace process,” Howk said. “Until the Taliban gives some sort of sign, some sort of effort that gives some confidence … then the Afghan people are going to look at America and go, ‘No way. We told you we couldn’t trust them. Let’s just keep killing them.”

On the other hand, said Hood, a former CENTCOM two-star, the U.S. is not going to subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan, especially not while they already control about half of the country’s districts and share an ethnic heritage with the roughly 40 percent Pashtun population.

The best hope for keeping the country from turning into another terrorist training ground could be to let the Taliban handle it, he said.

“Their response to somebody who acts out against what their directives are, is going to be — frankly, in that part of the world — far more effective than what we have been or ever will be,” Hood said. “They will take a very violent approach to dealing with ISIS, to dealing with anybody else who should oppose them in specific areas.”

And if they do go back on their promises, he added, the U.S. is much more prepared to head off a foreign attack.

“I hear some senior American leaders preaching the same old story,” he said.  “‘You know, if this goes bad, can you trust them? Who’s to say they won’t allow another org in these broad, ungoverned lands to train and attack the West?’ We have a lot more systems in place that allow for much more gathering of intelligence.”

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­Reporter Shawn Snow contributed to this story.

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https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2019/09/30/afghanistan-peace-negotiations-may-be-dead-but-the-wars-still-very-much-alive

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taliban attack northern provincial capital

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by bill roggio

long war journal

october 2, 2019

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The Taliban has launched an attack on Taluqan, the provincial capital of Takhar, and has been battling Afghan forces there and in several outlying districts over the past several days.

This is yet another example of the Taliban leveraging rural areas that it controls – areas that the US and coalition forces say do not matter – to threaten major population centers, including provincial capitals.

The fighting began on the evening of Sept. 29 in Baharak district and quickly spread to Taluqan. Afghan government officials optimistically claimed on Sept. 30 that the attack on Taluqan was repelled and 36 Taliban fighters were killed in airstrikes.

Yet two days later, the Afghan Ministry of Defense announced that it was conducting a “clearing operation” in the provincial capital, while “Taliban attacks in several parts of the city have caused heavy casualties,” TOLOnews reported.

Oddly enough, the Taliban has not yet commented on its operations in Taluqan, but has commented on the fighting in Baharak. On Sept. 29, the Taliban claimed it seized control of the district as well as Chah Ab and Khwaja Ghar. Two days later reported it killed 21 Arbakis, or local tribal militia, during clashes in Baharak.

Fighting in Takhar has intensified over the past month.  On Sept. 11, Afghan officials confirmed the districts of Qala-i-Yangi, Darqad, and Chah Ab were seized by the Taliban.

Security in Takhar has dropped dramatically since the US began withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan and began transferring control to Afghan security forces in the summer of 2013. Currently, more than half Takhar’s 17 districts are controlled (six, including Taluqan) or contested (four) by the Taliban, according to an ongoing assessment by FDD’s Long War Journal.

Over past two months, the Taliban has assaulted Farah City, Kunduz City and Pul-i-Khurmi, the provincial capitals of Farah, Kunduz, and Baghlan respectively. Many other provincial capitals have seen attacks over the past four years.

While the Taliban has yet to hold a major population center for a prolonged period of time, it signals a shift in the fight from the rural areas to major population centers. The Taliban has been able to accomplish this by using the the rural areas under its control as launching pads.

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/10/taliban-attacks-takhars-provincial-capital.php

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the pre-election raid ~ southern helmand

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by thomas joscelyn

long war journal

september 23, 2019

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A few days before election day, U.S. and Afghan forces targeted al Qaeda members in Musa Qala, a Taliban-controlled district in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province. The U.S. military said that “massed al Qaeda figures” at the location “presented an imminent threat.”

The Afghan government reported that “a high-profile Al Qaeda group” was “embedded with Taliban leaders” at the raid site.

The joint operations immediately caused controversy, as some accounts indicate that dozens of civilians were killed. The precise cause of the civilian casualties, including women and children, is under investigation. Several reports say at least some of the deceased were attending a wedding party.

Airstrikes were called in as American and Afghan forces battled al Qaeda and Taliban fighters at the compound in Musa Qala.

According to U.S. military officials, the airstrikes were conducted “against barricaded terrorists firing on Afghan and U.S. forces.” The U.S. assesses that “the majority of those killed in the fighting died from al Qaeda weapons or in the explosion of the terrorists’ explosives caches or suicide vests.”

That is, the U.S. claims al Qaeda is responsible for most of the civilian casualties.

According to President Ashraf Ghani’s national security staff, the target of the raid was Asim Umar, the first leader of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). However, it seems that Umar was not present at the time, or escaped.

Afghanistan’s National Security Council (NSC), which reports to President Ghani, tweeted that the “joint operation” was intended to eliminate “a high-profile Al-Qaeda group embedded with Taliban leaders in a compound in Musa Qala, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province.”

Asim Umar, the first leader of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), was thought to be “in the compound and a target of the operation.”

The NSC didn’t say that Umar was killed, but did claim that his “courier,” who was “responsible for delivering messages to Ayman al-Zawahiri,” met his demise.

“Also killed in the operation were Taliban’s explosives chief for Helmand & two of his deputies,” the NSC tweeted. “Two other Taliban leaders are among the several Taliban & foreign terrorists killed.”

Asim Umar’s wife is among the six Pakistani women who are now in custody, according to NSC. “Eight Taliban and several foreign terrorists” were also detained, while “Taliban weapons and ammunitions” were “seized and destroyed.”

Afghan’s Ministry of Defense released a statement earlier in the day saying that “22 foreign members of Taliban were killed and 14 arrested.” Among those detained were “five Pakistani nationals and one Bangladeshi.” This “foreign terrorist group was actively engaged in organizing terrorist attacks” and “a large warehouse of the terrorists’ supplies and equipment was also demolished.”

AQIS is known to operate in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 2015, U.S. and Afghan forces raided two large-scale AQIS training facilities in the Shorabak district of Kandahar. General John W. Nicholson, the previous top American military commander in Afghanistan, told the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point that intelligence and media captured during the raid showed how AQIS’s tentacles reached into Bangladesh. There “were congratulatory notes going back and forth about some of these activities in Bangladesh,” Nicholson said.

Although the Afghan government describes Asim Umar as AQIS’s overall leader, there is evidence that his one-time lieutenant is now in charge of the al Qaeda branch. Umar may have assumed another leadership role within al Qaeda. In June, Umar released a message praising the Taliban’s “victory” and America’s “defeat” in Afghanistan. He also referred to the Taliban’s overall leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, as the “Amir-ul-Momineen,” meaning the “Emir of the Faithful.” That honorific is usually reserved for a Muslim caliph, but al Qaeda consistently uses it to describe the Taliban’s leader — an indication of his ideological importance to the movement.

Taliban reaction to

raid

in Musa Qala

The Taliban quickly produced multiple images and a video highlighting the civilian casualties in Musa Qala.

“US and Afghan forces indiscriminately raided and bombed a wedding in Kunjak & Shawaroz areas near Musa Kala bazaar, Helmand, last night during which tens of civilians mostly women and children were killed along with 6 homes and 3 vehicles destroyed,” the text in one Taliban video reads. The production is part of the jihadist group’s “Hidden Crimes” series, which highlights reports of civilian casualties caused by Afghan and Western forces.

The Taliban also disseminated a series of images purportedly showing some of the children who were killed.

The Taliban hasn’t addressed al Qaeda’s reported presence at the site. But this isn’t unusual. AQIS fights under the Taliban banner and, with few exceptions, doesn’t advertise its direct participation in the fighting. Al Qaeda prefers to hide its hand. Moreover, the Taliban has repeatedly lied about al Qaeda in Afghanistan since the 1990s and only occasionally acknowledges the close relationship in public.

Until earlier this month, the State Department was prepared to endorse a deal in which the Taliban’s political office would distance their comrades from al Qaeda. While it isn’t clear what the terms of the proposed accord actually said, it was widely reported that the Taliban would renounce al Qaeda. However, there are many problems with that claim.  Assuming the Afghan government and U.S. military are correct about the compound in Musa Qala, then this additional evidence shows that the Taliban and al Qaeda remain inextricably tied together. There is no evidence that the Taliban’s commanders are prepared to betray AQIS or its men.

And according to the Afghan government, the AQIS leadership is communicating directly with Ayman al-Zawahiri. That isn’t surprising, as Zawahiri and his lieutenants established AQIS in the first place.

U.S. and Afghan forces

have repeatedly targeted al Qaeda

Taliban’s “Red Unit”

and drug facilities in Helmand

Al Qaeda has a longstanding presence in Helmand. In Aug. 2017, for instance, Afghan forces killed several al Qaeda operatives during a raid in Helmand’s Garmsir district. Several reports indicated that AQIS had training facilities in Helmand as of 2015.

NATO and Afghan forces have repeatedly sought to damage the Taliban’s infrastructure in Musa Qala, including personnel responsible for orchestrating suicide bombings and facilities used in the group’s narcotics trafficking. In 2017, U.S. and Afghan forces struck locations throughout Helmand as part of a campaign to disrupt the Taliban’s finances.

On Nov. 21 2017, General John W. Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support and U.S. Forces – Afghanistan at the time, explained that “new authorities” allowed the U.S. to bolster Afghan raids on Taliban drug networks and other facilities in Helmand. The “primary focus of this particular operation’s been in Northern Helmand, the so-called emirate of the Taliban, where they have enjoyed relative freedom of action for the last several years and where much of their drug enterprise is located,” Nicholson said.  Among the targets was a “Taliban narcotics production facility in Musa Qala.”

On Dec. 1, 2017, a Taliban “Red Unit” commander known as Mullah Shah Wali (also known as Haji Nasir) “was killed in a kinetic strike” in Musa Qala, according to NATO’s Resolute Support.  “One of Wali’s deputy commanders and three other insurgents were also killed in the strike.”

Resolute Support explained that Wali and his men were “responsible for planning numerous suicide bombings, Improvised Explosives Device (IED) attacks, and coordinated assaults against civilians, Afghan and coalition forces.” Wali “was directly responsible for coordinating operations and resupply of munitions, explosives, and materials for the Taliban throughout Helmand province.”

General Nicholson also connected Wali to the Taliban’s narcotics production and trafficking in Helmand, claiming his demise would “degrade” their drug trade.

On May 24, 2018, Task Force-Southwest, which operates under U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, conducted a “ground-based rocket artillery strike using the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, against a command and control node for high-level Taliban leaders in” Musa Qala…

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

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https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/09/joint-raid-targeted-al-qaeda-members-in-taliban-stronghold-u-s-and-afghan-officials-say.php

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taliban body count skyrocketing

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by Omar

Salaam Times

09-17-2019

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HERAT — Afghan and coalition forces have ramped up military pressure against the Taliban over the last two weeks, killing hundreds of militant commanders and leaving fighters with fewer and fewer places to hide.

More than 350 Taliban fighters have been killed in attacks conducted by security forces in Afghanistan’s western provinces since September 1, according to official data.

Those killed have included the Taliban shadow district governors of the Ghorian, Gulran, Obe, Keshk Rabat Sangi and Adraskan districts of Herat Province, as well as other well-known commanders, say authorities in Herat.

“Our security forces have launched operations in all areas where the Taliban exist,” said Herat Governor Abdul Qayum Rahimi.

“Operations against the Taliban are underway in Keshk Rabat Sangi, Gulran, Shindand and Obe districts, and we’ll continue these operations until we clear these areas of the Taliban,” he said.

In an operation in Obe District on September 5, “more than 50 Taliban fighters, including three of their famous commanders, were killed and another 50-plus were injured,” said Rahimi.

Rahimi earlier announced on September 3 that a Taliban trainer for suicide bombers was killed in Keshk Rabat Sangi District.

“In our operations in Keshk Rabat Sangi and Gulran districts of Herat Province, tens of Taliban fighters including a number of their group leaders were killed,” said Herat Police Chief Gen. Aminullah Amarkhil.

Mullah Sardar, the Taliban shadow district governor for Gulran, and Mullah Nabi, the shadow district governor for Keshk Rabat Sangi, were killed in these operations, he said.

“Mullah Idris, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Ghorian District of Herat, was killed along with six of his comrades in an air strike on September 10,” Amarkhil added. “Mullah Idris was the core organiser of blowing up electricity pylons in Ghorian and Zindajan districts.”

Nowhere to hide

Under pressure, Taliban fighters have withdrawn from most districts in the western region to remote areas. However, there is no place to hide, say officials.

“We have launched heavy and expansive attacks on the Taliban,” said Ghor Governor Ghulam Naser Khaze, referring to operations that started on September 1. “These operations were conducted in the west of Firuzkoh City and in some of the western districts [of Ghor Province].”

“More than 90 Taliban fighters lost their lives in these operations” and dozens were wounded, he added.

“The Taliban were forcing people into giving them tithe and zakat in some areas and districts of Ghor Province, but the security forces were able to stop this practice of extortion and expel them [the Taliban] from the villages,” said Khaze.

“The Taliban tried a lot to make the Herat-Ghor Highway unsafe and take control of the route, but in an operation, we cleared the highway of the Taliban,” he added. “We are working on putting permanent checkpoints to maintain the highway’s security.”

“The Taliban have seen heavy casualties in the past 10 days,” Col. Hasibullah Akhundzada, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the Afghan National Army in Badghis Province, said September 10.

“According to our reports, 114 Taliban fighters lost their lives and 67 sustained injuries, and a number of their commanders are also among the casualties,” he said. “We are trying to increase the number of ground attacks and air strikes on the Taliban.”

The Taliban attacked Farah City on September 6 and tried to capture certain areas, but they were defeated, said Farah Police Chief Gen. Ghulam Muhaiuddin Khairkhwa.

“Nearly 90 Taliban fighters, including their intelligence chief for Farah Province, Noor Ahmad Chakani, were killed,” he said. “A few other famous Taliban commanders who were leading the attack on Farah City were also killed in ground operations and air strikes.”

“Our operations on the Taliban have continued for three days in the outskirts of Farah City and we’ll search and clean all the areas,” Khairkhwa said on September 10.

“The Taliban intended to capture Farah City, but security forces with support from the Resolute Support Mission air forces were able to contain the Taliban and forced them to escape,” he added. “The Taliban couldn’t reach their goals and they didn’t succeed in killing civilians and the security forces.”

Losing a golden opportunity

The sustained pressure on the Taliban comes after a secret meeting in the United States between the Afghan government, US negotiators and Taliban leaders was called off September 8.

The Taliban passed up an opportunity by continuing violence amid talks in Qatar and causing the cancellation of the summit, say political experts and civil society activists.

The Taliban are no longer in the position they were in a few months ago and have lost their credibility at a global level by attempting to use the killing of civilians as a bargaining chip, they say.

“The Qatar peace talks were a great chance for the Taliban as it provided them with an opportunity to sign a peace deal with the international community, especially with the United States,” said Jawad Ameed, a civil society activist in Herat Province. “But the Taliban made a mistake as they declined to accept the ceasefire and increased violence and the killing of people, and thus lost the opportunity.”

“It is obvious that the Taliban will face enhanced military pressure in the wake of losing the chance to make peace, and this will be a huge blow to the group,” he said.

“The Taliban lost one of the best opportunities,” said Muhammad Rafiq Shahir, a political expert in Herat City. “The Taliban were dreaming of the Islamic Emirate in recent months, but they have to accept that now they have nothing, and they have lost their credibility.”

“If more military pressure is mounted on the Taliban in this situation, it will force them to renounce violence and join the peace talks,” he added.

“Giving the Taliban privilege and showing flexibility to them is like nurturing a snake in your bosom,” said Shahir.

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http://afghanistan.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_st/features/2019/09/17/feature-01

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afghan security forces, lethal & majestic

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Col. Abdul Rahman Rahmani and Jason Criss Howk

Military Times

August 29, 2019

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The evidence that the U.S. wants a shift in its current political policy in Afghanistan is clear, yet actions should to be taken to fulfill the coalition’s commitments in Afghanistan…

The government of Afghanistan has been a trusted ally for over 18 years and can be trusted to bring an end to the Taliban insurgency, either by negotiations or by force…

If funded, supported, and advised adequately, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) can continue to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield and pressure them to hold talks with the Afghan government in Kabul…

The Taliban militia force of the insurgency, leading a campaign of terror against the Afghan people, were supposed to be able to get strong enough to over-power the Afghan security forces after the U.S.-led coalition left. That did not happen for two reasons. First, the creation of a professional and lethal ANDSF was a priority effort that started just weeks after the U.S.-led invasion and it has continued non-stop for 18 years. Second, the U.S.-led coalition of military, development and diplomacy experts from around the globe did not heed anyone’s advice to keep the ANDSF small and then leave quickly without training them adequately.

The continued efforts of dozens of nations have enabled the ANDSF to become one of the premier forces in the region. The ANDSF is the most respected institution in the Afghanistan government. The ANDSF does not just defend Afghanistan, it is also the primary force facing the global terrorism front line. Despite many states sponsoring the Taliban to destroy ANDSF, and despite thousands of ANDSF lives lost in the past 18 years, the ANDSF have displayed valor, lethality and professionalism, as they continued to grow towards their necessary capabilities. Fighting against over 20 different terrorist groups — who, of course, use different methods, techniques, and tactics on the battlefields — our innovative and proud ANDSF have not permanently lost a single province or city to the enemies. In fact, they have steadily gained territory and caused heavy human and material losses to the Taliban and other terrorist groups such as ISIS-K.

Currently, the ANDSF — particularly the Afghan Special Forces and the Afghan Air Force who are taking responsibly for much of the fighting — are in a good shape, conducting complex independent operations with no or limited foreign support. This record of battlefield success and continuing professionalism is the exact opposite of the communist army that was defeated by the mujahedeen in the 1980s and ’90s. This patriotic military force will not falter and is loyal to the Afghan citizens.

This year, as usual, the Taliban and their terrorist allies tried to launch a campaign of murder and brutality in Afghanistan that they like to call their spring offensive. This year it failed to even start. Let’s see how:

This April, the Taliban attempted to initiate an offensive campaign aiming to gain leverage in the Doha talks with the U.S. via some ground victories. In order to transport their terrorist allies and smuggle drug caravans to Central Asia, the Taliban wanted to overrun a strategic district bordering Turkmenistan. Right after their offensive campaign announcement, they attacked Balamorghab district in Badghis Province located in the northwestern Afghanistan, with a force of over 2,000 fighters. This was their third attempt since 2013 to capture this strategic district, but they failed to do so because the ANDSF denied them victory. Under the command of Gen. Yasin Zia, a new and passionate first deputy for Ministry of Defense, they launched a 10-day air and ground campaign on the Taliban fighters inflicting heavy casualties and clearing the district from the Taliban in the matters of days.

The ANDSF victory in Balamorghab and Taliban’s humiliating defeat, angered their leaders and regional supporters; and to ease this humiliating defeat on the battlefield, they ramped up their attacks on several key districts across Afghanistan in the months of May and July, including Shamulzayi and Mizan in Zabul province, Obe in Herat, Qush Tepa in Jawzjan, and Dila Wa Khushamand in Paktika province. But they have failed to permanently even capture them. If by surprise they were able to gain any ground, they have failed to hold on in those districts. Not only are those districts under government control, the ANDSF have also succeeded in retaking some key districts form the Taliban, including Dehyak and Khuwaja Omari in Ghazni and Bilchiragh in Faryab province.

Also, worth noting that, for the first time, ANDSF have successfully conducted 10 self-planned and self-commanded and controlled “liberating ops,” as they call them, to free ordinary Afghans and ANDSF personnel from the Taliban prisons. As a result, they have freed more than 250 men from the Taliban prisons. From the beginning of the Taliban’s so-called spring offensive, ANDSF have killed more than 24 Taliban shadow governors, battlefield commanders, and senior leaders including Sadar Ibrahim, the Taliban’s Defense Minister and Mullah Manan, their notorious leader in Helmand and other southern provinces.

These ANDSF successes, have significantly affected the Taliban campaign of murder and terror. Therefore, they turned their guns from ANDSF to ordinary Afghans. Recently, the Taliban took responsibility of a bombing that claimed lives of 16 Afghan civilians and injured 105, including 51 children and five women. The angrier and more desperate the Taliban become, the more they lose. Taliban lose not only on the battlefields, but also at the negotiating table. The Afghan government and people are right now considering whether they can allow the Taliban to reenter Afghan society. Atrocities against civilians, especially children are not helping the Taliban in this respect.

This war has been deadly for the ANDSF. It’s been costly for their families, as well. Despite the losses of tens of thousands of police and military members in this war, the morale of the ANDSF has been steadily increasing. The Afghan people have chosen their security forces over the insurgency militants, and continue to send their sons and daughters to join the ANDSF and defend the republic.

In closing, the ANDSF is firmly under the control of the Afghan government and by extension the Afghan people. They stand ready to continue to secure the nation against internal and external threats. It is time for the Taliban to accept the olive branch that the Afghan government is offering. A cease fire and peace talks with the Afghan government will give the Taliban a chance to return to normal life. The Afghan people deserve peace, and the ANDSF are the cornerstone of a durable peace. It’s time for the killing to stop inside Afghanistan, there are many external threats for the ANDSF and its allies to focus on in the region.

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Col. Abdul Rahman Rahmani is an Afghan Special Mission Wing pilot by profession and is currently assigned to the Afghan National Security Council staff in Kabul. He is the author of “Afghanistan: A Collection of Stories.” Rahmani is an Expeditionary Warfare School graduate from Marine Corps University.

Jason Criss Howk is an interfaith leader and Islamic studies instructor who has worked on reintegration and reconciliation in Afghanistan since 2002. He is the author of the award-winning book “The Quran: a Chronological Modern English Interpretation” and the co-host of the “We’re Just Talking About It” podcast.

These are their personal views on the war in Afghanistan and neither of the authors speak on behalf of their nations or any organization.

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original

https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2019/08/29/afghan-security-forces-still-worth-supporting

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Editor ~ Rawclyde

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trump’s bad deal with the taliban

Time Machine

The Trump administration seems poised to give away everything America has fought for in Afghanistan since 9/11…

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news analysis by Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio

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Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio are senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the editors of FDD’s Long War Journal

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Last week, Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, launched into a broadside against Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American diplomat responsible for negotiating with the Taliban. Addressing reporters in Washington, Mohib insinuated that Khalilzad is seeking to install himself as the “viceroy” of a new “caretaker government.” The State Department quickly issued a sharp rebuke, saying that any condemnation of Khalilzad was really a critique of its leader, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

While Mohib’s specific charge may have been hyperbole, it almost certainly wasn’t a slip of the tongue. Mohib has been around Washington for years, including as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., so he knew how his words would be received. His harsh critique of Khalilzad reflects the Afghan government’s deep mistrust of the Trump administration’s plans. Everyone knows that President Donald Trump wants out of Afghanistan, and the Afghans know that the State Department’s dealings with the Taliban will not deliver “peace.” Instead, Khalilzad’s talks have further empowered the same jihadists America has been fighting for nearly two decades.

The Taliban has repeatedly dismissed the elected Afghan government as an illegitimate “puppet” of the U.S. and refused to talk with President Ashraf Ghani’s representatives. Khalilzad’s diplomacy has validated the Taliban’s claim. The State Department long maintained that the talks must be “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned,” but nobody seems to have told Khalilzad. He caved to the Taliban’s demand for unilateral negotiations with the U.S. early on, holding extensive two-party talks without any preconditions. Incredibly, though the Afghan government has never been invited to the negotiating table, Khalilzad has already announced that a “draft” agreement is in place. Only after this accord with the Taliban is “finalized” can the Afghan government hope to participate in “intra-Afghan negotiations.”

But meaningful peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government are not likely to happen. The Taliban is fighting to resurrect its totalitarian Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and has already established a shadow government throughout parts of the country. The jihadists’ rulers-in-waiting do not intend to share power with the elected Afghan government—they quite openly plan to usurp it. And they are closer to achieving that goal today than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001. With American and NATO forces preparing to leave, why would the Taliban suddenly get serious about peace? Indeed, the jihadists know that one of the last major obstacles to their victory is about to be removed.

While Afghan officials like Mohib have their own reasons to distrust Khalilzad, Americans should also be concerned. The U.S. military would have you believe that the Taliban was driven, through force, to the negotiating table. That’s not true. The Taliban contests or controls more than half of Afghanistan’s territory. This ground is sparsely populated and mostly rural, but the Taliban’s men are circling several provincial capitals, just waiting to seize at least some of them. America has little will to keep them at bay any longer. So the State Department begged the Taliban for talks—not the other way around. As a result, the jihadists are negotiating from a position of strength, and they know it.

But that doesn’t excuse Pompeo’s willingness to accept an exceptionally bad deal. In addition to alienating the Afghan government, America’s long-standing, albeit problematic ally, Khalilzad has endorsed the Taliban’s big lie concerning al-Qaida and international terrorism. This should be offensive to all Americans affected by the 9/11 wars. Let us explain.

Although he has provided few specific details, Khalilzad tweeted on Mar. 12 that  the Trump administration’s draft accord with the Taliban covers two key issues: a “withdrawal timeline” and “effective counterterrorism measures.” In essence, Khalilzad has sought a Kissinger-style “decent interval” during which the U.S. can execute an orderly withdrawal in exchange for a promise that Afghan soil won’t be used as a hub for international terrorism once again. On the latter point, Khalilzad has been remarkably credulous, stating that he is already satisfied with the Taliban’s assurances.

Other than the Taliban, no one else should be satisfied—especially given the sordid history of the Taliban’s relationship with al-Qaida.

Afghanistan is, today, already home to international terrorist groups. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaida fight and train throughout the country. The Taliban has no control over the Islamic State’s regional arm, which operates across the Afghan-Pakistani border and has ties to the self-declared caliphate’s mothership in Iraq and Syria. Although there may be some episodic cooperation between the two sides, Islamic State loyalists clash regularly with their jihadist counterparts in the Taliban. And the Islamic State rejects the Taliban’s legitimacy, so it will not abide by any agreement struck with the U.S. Thus, the Taliban cannot guarantee that it will hold the Islamic State’s global ambitions in check.

More important, there is no reason to think the Taliban wants to hold al-Qaida’s global agenda in check. And this is where Khalilzad’s credulity becomes especially problematic. He has already declared the Taliban to be a de facto counterterrorism partner. This is an absurd proposition.

As the United Nations Security Council found in two recent reports, al-Qaida and the Taliban remain “closely allied” and their “long-standing” relationship “remains firm.”  Al-Qaida’s leaders still view Afghanistan as a “safe haven,” and their men act like a force multiplier for the insurgency, offering military and religious instruction to Taliban fighters. Indeed, al-Qaida is operating across multiple Afghan provinces, including in areas dominated by the Taliban.

Given this current reality, Khalilzad has not explained to the American public why he trusts the Taliban to restrain al-Qaida now. As part of any final deal, the Taliban should be required to state, in no uncertain terms, its official position on al-Qaida.

Below, we outline four key aspects of the Taliban-al-Qaida relationship that the State Department should address. If Khalilzad’s final deal with the Taliban doesn’t take into these issues, in some direct fashion, then the agreement is an obvious charade.

First, the Taliban has never publicly renounced al-Qaida, by name, or accepted responsibility for harboring it before 9/11. If the Taliban has really offered an ironclad counterterrorism guarantee, as Khalilzad claims, then the group should have no problem officially disowning al-Qaida. Indeed, a disavowal should be mandatory—a key test of the Taliban’s truthfulness.

Some have tried to absolve the Taliban of any responsibility for the 9/11 hijackings, as well as a string of other terror plots hatched on Afghan soil, claiming that the group didn’t really endorse Osama bin Laden’s anti-American terrorism. But this bit of apologia falls apart when subjected to basic scrutiny. The Taliban deliberately shielded bin Laden, even as the U.S. demanded that he be turned over.

In its final report, released in the summer of 2004, the 9/11 Commission documented various American and Saudi efforts to convince the Taliban to break with al-Qaida. All of them failed. In April 1998, for instance, the Taliban’s men told a U.S. delegation led by U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson that they didn’t know where bin Laden was and, in any event, al-Qaida didn’t pose a threat to America. The Taliban told this brazen lie despite the fact al-Qaida had already declared war on America.

On August 7, 1998, four months after Richardson’s encounter, al-Qaida’s suicide truck bombs struck the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing and wounding hundreds. It was al-Qaida’s most devastating attack prior to the 9/11 hijackings. The U.S. retaliated by lobbing some missiles into a training camp in Afghanistan and at a suspected al-Qaida facility in Sudan. The bombs missed bin Laden, but the Taliban’s lie had been conclusively disproved. Bin Laden was clearly a threat to the U.S.

Still, the Taliban didn’t budge. In late 1999, according to the 9/11 Commission, the Taliban’s senior leadership voted to continue providing safe harbor for bin Laden and his terrorists. Mullah Omar even ordered the killing of a subordinate who objected to his pro-bin Laden policy. Then, on September 9, 2001, two al-Qaida suicide bombers killed the Taliban’s main battlefield opponent: Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Al-Qaida and the Taliban launched a joint offensive against the Northern Alliance the very next day. Al-Qaida’s senior leaders knew that America would rely on Massoud’s men as part of a counterattack after the kamikaze hijackings. And, in a premeditated move, al-Qaida helped the Taliban go on the offensive beforehand. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar then refused to turn over bin Laden even after the U.S. issued a post-9/11 ultimatum, deciding he’d rather lose his Islamic emirate than sacrifice the al-Qaida leader.

The Taliban has never accepted responsibility for any of this. These facts are not merely a matter of history. To this day, al-Qaida continues to praise Omar for his obstinacy in the face of a superpower. The Taliban has had more than two decades to renounce al-Qaida and it hasn’t done so. And the Taliban still hasn’t proven its willingness to hinder al-Qaida’s international plotting from inside Afghanistan. In fact, the U.S. killed a senior al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan just days prior to the 2016 presidential election. This same al-Qaida figure, Faruq al-Qahtani, was not only overseeing terrorist plots against the West, he also buttressed the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan by delivering cash and weapons to Taliban fighters, while also planning attacks on coalition forces.

If Khalilzad negotiates a denunciation of al-Qaida as part of the accord, then that would be significant. If not, then everyone should be aware that the Taliban hasn’t really come clean.

As a second measure, Khalilzad’s deal needs to address al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s oath of allegiance to the Taliban’s current top leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada.

Al-Qaida’s top leaders have been loyal to the Taliban’s emir since well before 9/11. In al-Qaida’s view, the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was the only religiously legitimate state in the world at the time of the hijackings. Al-Qaida deemed Mullah Omar to be Amir al-Mu’minin, or the “Emir of the Faithful,” an honorific usually reserved for the Muslim caliph. (ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi adopted the same title in 2014, after the Islamic State declared its caliphate in Iraq and Syria.) As a result, bin Laden swore fealty to Omar and encouraged other Muslims around the world to do the same.

Bin Laden was killed in 2011. Mullah Omar is thought to have passed away sometime in 2013. Nevertheless, al-Qaida continued to market its loyalty to Omar until 2015, when the Taliban finally admitted that its founder had passed away two years earlier. The Taliban then named Mullah Mansour, a powerful figure who considered al-Qaida’s men to be the “heroes of the current jihadist era,” as its leader. Bin Laden’s successor, Zawahiri, quickly swore his fealty to Mansour, and Mansjour publicly accepted Zawahiri’s allegiance.

After Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May 2016, the Taliban named Akhundzada as its emir. Zawahiri fell in line once again — publicly declaring that Akhundzada was the new “Emir of the Faithful.”

Akhundzada’s formal rejection of Zawahiri’s loyalty pledge would shake al-Qaida’s entire scheme. Al-Qaida is an international organization, with branches operating in several countries. Some of these branches have publicly endorsed the idea that Akhundzada is the true spiritual leader of the global jihad. Zawahiri has also declared that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate will be the “nucleus” of a new global caliphate, which al-Qaida’s men are fighting to re-establish. If Akhundzada broke with Zawahiri, then it would therefore undermine al-Qaida’s foundational mythology.

Third, Khalilzad’s agreement must sever the decadeslong partnership between al-Qaida and the Haqqani Network, an integral part of the Taliban that has conducted many of the worst terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan. This issue is especially pressing, because the Taliban’s deputy emir is an infamous character: Sirajuddin Haqqani. As part of any deal with the Taliban, the State Department should require Sirajuddin to issue a statement, in his name, renouncing al-Qaida. Here’s why this is crucially important:

Sirajuddin is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a power broker along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border who was one of bin Laden’s earliest allies.  Jalaluddin’s eponymous network welcomed the first generation of Arab foreign fighters to the region during the 1980s jihad against the Soviets. Some of al-Qaida’s initial leaders were trained in the Haqqanis’ camps. The Haqqani Network has maintained close relations with al-Qaida in the decades since. Documents recovered in bin Laden’s compound show that al-Qaida’s men continued to cooperate with Sirajuddin in Afghanistan years after the U.S.-led war began.

Sirajuddin was named the Taliban’s No. 2 in 2015. With his assumption to that role, the Haqqanis consolidated their power in the Taliban’s hierarchy. Sirajuddin has broad military responsibilities, meaning the Haqqanis are well-positioned to expand their influence across Afghanistan after the U.S. and its allies leave.

More than a generation after the Haqqanis first embraced bin Laden, there is no hint that they are willing to break with al-Qaida or renounce global jihad.

In December 2016, the Haqqanis’ media arm released a lengthy video celebrating the unbroken bond between the Taliban and al-Qaida. After the Taliban announced Jalaluddin’s death last year, al-Qaida issued a glowing eulogy, emphasizing the elderly Haqqani’s brotherhood with bin Laden. Al-Qaida’s central leadership said it took “solace in the fact” that Sirajuddin was now “deputy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Emir of the Faithful,” describing both Sirajuddin and Akhundzada as “our emirs.” The Taliban’s own video eulogy for Jalaluddin featured commentary from jihadists in Syria, including an al-Qaida-linked cleric from Saudi Arabia who has been designated as a terrorist by the U.S.

Sirajuddin himself is an internationally wanted terrorist, with a $10 million bounty on his head. The U.S. and the United Nations have sanctioned the Haqqani Network and multiple members of the group. These legal measures are backed by abundant evidence. Not only have the Haqqanis conducted some of the most devastating terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan, they have also harbored al-Qaida’s internationally-focused operatives along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The U.S. and its allies have traced a series of global terror plots to the Haqqanis’ strongholds in northern Pakistan.

Fourth, and finally, any agreement has to take into account the many al-Qaida and al-Qaida-linked fighters embedded within the Taliban-led insurgency.

In 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which operates throughout South Asia. AQIS’s first major terrorist plot was an attempted hijacking of two Pakistani frigates. The jihadists intended to fire the ships’ missiles at Indian and American naval vessels, possibly sparking an even more deadly international conflict. The plot was thwarted by Pakistani officials, but only after AQIS came close to taking control of the ships.

While AQIS’ audacious terror schemes remain a concern, the group’s primary mission is to help the Taliban resurrect its Islamic Emirate. AQIS has made this clear in its “code of conduct” which stresses AQIS’s loyalty first to Zawahiri and then to Akhundzada. AQIS retains a significant footprint in Afghanistan. In 2015, for instance, American and Afghan forces raided two large AQIS training camps in the Shorabak district of the southern Kandahar province. U.S. military officials revealed that one of the camps was nearly 30 square miles in size, making it the largest al-Qaida training facility discovered post-9/11. The Shorabak camps were hosted by the Talibabn and intelligence recovered in the facilities shows that AQIS’s tentacles stretch from Afghanistan into other nearby countries, including Bangladesh.

AQIS’s leader, Asim Umar, has already declared that America’s defeat in Afghanistan is imminent. In a tract released in April 2017, Umar argued that Trump’s ” America First” policy really meant that the U.S. would “give up the leadership of the world.” Umar exaggerated America’s weakness, but he clearly saw a retreat from Afghanistan as a victory for al-Qaida. Other al-Qaida-linked jihadists, including Central Asian and Uighur groups, are eyeing a post-withdrawal Afghanistan as fertile ground for their jihadist projects as well.

Will Khalilzad’s deal with the Taliban address these al-Qaida-related issues? Or is Khalilzad going to accept the deliberately ambiguous denials the Taliban has issued for years?

The Afghan government has its own reasons to distrust Khalilzad.

But Pompeo’s diplomats shouldn’t trust the Taliban either.

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https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/03/18/donald-trump-afghanistan-zalmay-khalilzad-225815

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trump says peace talks are dead

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by Deb Riechmann, Matthew Lee, Robert Burns

Associated Press

Sept. 9, 2019

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WASHINGTON — U.S. peace talks with the Taliban are now “dead,” President Donald Trump declared Monday, one day after he abruptly canceled a secret meeting he had arranged with Taliban and Afghan leaders aimed at ending America’s longest war.

Trump’s remark to reporters at the White House suggested he sees no point in resuming a nearly yearlong effort to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, whose protection of al-Qaida extremists in Afghanistan prompted the U.S. to invade after the 9/11 attacks.

Asked about the peace talks, Trump said, “They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead.”

It’s unclear whether Trump will go ahead with planned U.S. troop cuts and how the collapse of his talks will play out in deeply divided Afghanistan.

In his remarks to reporters Monday, Trump said his administration is “looking at” whether to proceed with troop reductions that had been one element of the preliminary deal with the Taliban struck by presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

“We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time,” Trump said.

What had seemed like a potential deal to end America’s longest war unraveled,  with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

The insurgents are now promising more bloodshed, and American advocates of withdrawing from the battlefield questioned on Monday whether Trump’s decision to cancel what he called plans for a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders at the Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat over the weekend had poisoned the prospects for peace.

“The Camp David ploy appears to have been an attempt to satisfy Trump’s obsession with carefully curated public spectacles — to seal the deal, largely produced by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators, with the president’s imprimatur,” said John Glaser director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Trump has been talking of a need to withdraw U.S. troops from the “endless war” in Afghanistan since his 2016 presidential campaign. And he said anew in a tweet on Monday, “We have been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and that was not meant to be the job of our Great Soldiers, the finest on earth.”

He added, without explanation, “Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years.”

There has been no evidence of a major U.S. military escalation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s weekend moves.

“When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work,” Pompeo said Sunday.

Trump said he called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence. But the emerging agreement had started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.

As Trump’s re-election campaign heats up, his quest to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan remains unfulfilled — so far.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined Monday to comment on the outlook for the administration’s plan to reduce the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan to 8,600.

Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one. Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal only included Taliban commitments to reduce violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government it sees as illegitimate and a puppet of the West. So, the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.

A U.S. official familiar with the Taliban negotiations said the “very closely held” idea of a Camp David meeting was first discussed up to a week and a half ago. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, did not back the agreement with the Taliban as it was written, the official said. They didn’t think the Taliban can be trusted. Bolton advised the president to draw down the U.S. force to 8,600 — enough to counter terror threats — and “let it be” until a better deal could be hammered out, the official said.

Khalilzad, the lead U.S. negotiator, recently announced that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban. Under the deal, the U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of signing. In exchange, the insurgents agreed to reduce violence and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks, including from a local Islamic State affiliate and al-Qaida.

Pompeo said the Taliban agreed to break with al-Qaida — something that past administrations have failed to get the Taliban to do.

The insurgent group hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks in 2001. After the attacks, the U.S. ousted the Taliban, which had ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2000.

But problems quickly emerged. On Thursday, a second Taliban car bomb exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing 12 people including a U.S. soldier. Khalilzad abruptly returned to Doha, Qatar for at least two days of negotiations with the Taliban. He has since been recalled to Washington.

It’s unclear if the talks will resume because the Taliban won’t trust future deals they negotiate with the U.S. if they think Trump might then change course, according to the former senior Afghan official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The official, who has discussed the peace process with U.S. and Afghan officials, said Khalilzad’s team was not aware of Trump’s plans to tweet the end of the talks Saturday evening.

Trump’s suspension of the negotiations “will harm America more than anyone else,” the Taliban said in a statement.

The former Afghan official said the deal fell apart for two main reasons. First, the Taliban refused to sign an agreement that didn’t state the end date for a complete withdrawal of American forces. That date was to be either November 2020, the same month of the U.S. presidential election, or January 2021, he said.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement was to be followed by Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government to chart a political future for the country. Ghani told Khalilzad that putting a withdrawal date in the agreement would undermine the all-Afghan discourse before it began; the Taliban would have leverage in those negotiations from the get-go because the U.S. troops would be on a timeline to permanently withdraw.

Secondly, the U.S. was unsuccessful in convincing Ghani to postpone the Afghan presidential election set for Sept. 28, the official said. The U.S. argued that if the elections were held and Ghani won, his opponents and other anti-Ghani factions would protest the results, creating a political crisis that would make the all-Afghan talks untenable. Other disagreements included why the deal did not address the Taliban’s linkages to Pakistan and prisoner-hostage exchanges, the official said.

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Associated Press writers Cara Anna and Rahim Faiez in Kabul; Jonathan Lemire in Washington, and Julie Walker with AP Radio contributed to this report.

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https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/09/09/us-troop-reduction-in-afghanistan-unclear-as-trump-says-peace-talks-with-taliban-are-now-dead

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trump calls off secret meeting

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by Jonathan Lemire and Deb Riechmann

The Associated Press

Sept. 8, 2019

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Saturday he canceled a secret weekend meeting at Camp David with Taliban and Afghanistan leaders after a bombing in the past week in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier, and has called off peace negotiations with the insurgent group.

Trump’s tweet was surprising because it would mean that the president was ready to host members of the Taliban at the presidential retreat in Maryland just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, which were harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for 9/11.

Canceling the talks also goes against Trump’s pledge to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and close U.S. involvement in the conflict that is closing in on 18 years.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s diplomat talking to the Taliban leaders for months, has said recently that he was on the “threshold” of an agreement with the Taliban aimed at ending America’s longest war. The president, however, has been under pressure from the Afghan government and some lawmakers, including Trump supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who mistrust the Taliban and think it’s too early to withdraw American forces.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump tweeted Saturday evening.

“They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” he wrote.

On Thursday, a Taliban car bomb exploded and killed an American soldier, a Romanian service member and 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The bombing was one of many attacks by the Taliban in recent days during U.S.-Taliban talks.

The Defense Department says Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico, was killed in action when the explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was the fourth U.S. service member killed in the past two weeks in Afghanistan.

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump tweeted. “If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?”

It remains unclear if the U.S.-Taliban talks are over or only paused. Trump said he called off the peace negotiations after the bombing, but Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy negotiating with the Taliban, was meeting with leaders of the insurgent group in Doha, Qatar, on both Thursday and Friday.

The State Department and the White House declined to respond to requests for clarification. There was no immediate response from the Afghan government as Kabul woke up hours after Trump’s announcement.

Many in the Afghan government, which has been sidelined from the U.S.-Taliban talks, and among the Afghan people have been skeptical of the negotiations, fearing there was little if nothing in the deal to stop the Taliban from continuing its attacks against civilians. The two shattering Taliban car bombings in Kabul in the past week, which the insurgent group said targeted foreigners but killed far more civilians, renewed those fears.

Longtime Afghanistan watchers, including former U.S. officials, apparently didn’t see this twist coming. After word emerged that a Washington visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had been postponed, some assumed Ghani had been trying to make a last-minute effort to meet Trump to express concerns about the nearing deal.

“Whatever was the reason for inviting Taliban leaders to Camp David and whatever the real reason for pulling the plug, the peace process has been disrupted at least for the moment,” said Laurel Miller, Asia director for International Crisis Group.

“After all the violence during many months of negotiations, it’s difficult to see why last Thursday’s attack would be the sole reason for changing course. This could be a blow to the credibility of the U.S. commitment to the peace process. Hopefully it can be brought back on track because there’s no better alternative,” Miller said.

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Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/09/08/trump-calls-off-secret-camp-david-meeting-with-taliban-afghan-leaders

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u.s. envoy returning to doha for new round of peace talks with taliban

Zalmay Khalilzad to resume talks with Taliban in Qatari capital to facilitate peace process to end war in Afghanistan.

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news agencies

Al Jazeera

Aug 20, 2019

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The United States special envoy to Afghanistan is heading to Qatar and the Afghan capital to resume peace talks aimed at ending 18 years of military intervention.

Zalmay Khalilzad will resume talks with the Taliban in Doha “as part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that ends the conflict in Afghanistan,” the US Department of State said in a statement on Tuesday.

In Kabul, he will consult with leaders of the Afghan government and encourage intra-Afghan negotiations, it said.

A breakthrough could pave the way for a withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, including some 14,000 US soldiers.

Khalilzad bolstered optimism for a peace agreement last week when he concluded the eighth round of negotiations with the Taliban, saying in a tweet he hoped this was the final year that the country was at war.

On Tuesday morning, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC television that a deal was possible, if the current level of violence in the country could be significantly reduced.

“The conversations are going well,” Pompeo said.

“What really happens on the ground, if we can reduce violence, we’ll create a space where we can withdraw not only American support but NATO forces that are there, as well.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group ~  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant ~ claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in a wedding hall full of people in Kabul on Saturday that killed 63 people and wounded 182.

ISIL, who battle government forces and the Taliban, and have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in urban centres, will not be part of the deal between the US and the Taliban.

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https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/envoy-returning-doha-taliban-peace-talks-190820173131453.html

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a synopsis of the u.s./taliban peace talks

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by Shereena Qazi

Aljazeera

29 June 2019

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United States officials and Taliban representatives are meeting in Qatar’s capital for a seventh time since October in a bid to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The latest round of direct talks, which got under way in Doha on Saturday, is focused on four key issues: a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow fighters to use Afghanistan to launch attacks outside the country, the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.

The Taliban government was overthrown in 2001 by a US-led military coalition for sheltering al-Qaeda, the group blamed for the 9/11 attacks in the US.

The Afghan government, however, is not involved in the talks as the Taliban has refused to negotiate with it, deeming it illegitimate and a “puppet” of the US.

Following the end of the sixth round of negotiations with the Taliban in May, the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that “faster progress” was needed as “the conflict rages” and “innocent people die”.

But analysts say peace has never been closer in Afghanistan since the talks between the US and the Taliban began.

Separately, three meetings have been held since 2017 in Moscow between the Taliban and senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai.

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a grand council in Kabul with politicians and tribal, ethnic and religious leaders to discuss the talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha.

But as these initiatives remain in the spotlight, deep divisions among the Afghan government and politicians complicate efforts to establish peace in Afghanistan.

What has been agreed to so far in US-Taliban talks?

Khalilzad, an Afghan-American diplomat who served as US ambassador to the United Nations (2007-2009), Iraq (2005-2007) and Afghanistan (2003-2005), is leading the US side in the Doha talks.

The Taliban is represented by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the group’s office chief, and cofounder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released in October last year from a Pakistani prison.

The Taliban has long demanded the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which has been a sticking point in the meetings between the US and the group in Doha.

In previous rounds of talks, the two sides had agreed on a “draft framework” that included the withdrawal of US troops, a discussion on Taliban’s commitment that the Afghan territory would not be used by international “terror” groups, and that a ceasefire would be implemented across the country.

But the Taliban insists it will not commit to any of these things until the US announces a withdrawal timeline.

The sixth round of talks last month ended with “some progress” on a draft agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops, according to a Taliban official.

Khalilzad said at the time the talks with the Taliban on ending Afghanistan’s war were making slow but steady progress, while signalling a growing frustration with deadly attacks in the country.

“We made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war. We are getting into the nitty-gritty. The devil is always in the details,” Khalilzad said.

“However, the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die. We need more and faster progress. Our proposal for all sides to reduce violence also remains on the table.”

In June, both sides said there was an understanding on the withdrawal but the details, including a timeline, had not been worked out yet.

This week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a trip to Kabul that the US was close to wrapping up the draft agreement with the Taliban on counterterrorism. He hoped a peace agreement could be reached by Sept 1.

Why is the Afghan government excluded?

The Taliban has long refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which has repeatedly invited the group for talks with no success.

Washington also initially tried to get the Taliban to agree to talking with Kabul. When the Taliban refused to budge, the US was left with no option but to enter into the talks.

The group has given several reasons on why it is not willing to talk to the Afghan government.

Since the Taliban was overthrown by the US-led military intervention in 2001, the Taliban maintains that the country has been occupied by foreign forces.

It says the Kabul government has no real power and considers it a “puppet regime”. The group says any engagement with the government would grant it legitimacy.

In June, Ghani decreed the formation of a peace ministry, headed by his top aide, Abdul Salam Rahimi, to encourage direct talks with the Taliban.

What can cause US-Taliban talks to collapse?

Dawood Azami, an academic and journalist who works as a multimedia editor at BBC World Service in London, said a peace deal could only be possible when both parties were flexible and willing to make concessions.

“The lack of consensus in Kabul, the failure of the Afghan government and the non-Taliban Afghans in general, to agree on the appointment of an inclusive and authoritative negotiating team able to negotiate with the Taliban will prove a major challenge and could result in a breakdown,” he said.

“I think the next phase of talks among the Afghans [generally termed as intra-Afghan dialogue] will prove more challenging than the first [US-Taliban talks]”.

Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat and ex-UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said if any peace deal was to happen, there would be several hurdles before it was implemented, which he felt was a sign of its possible collapse.

“The deal-breakers are the possibility of exceptionally violent and gruesome Taliban attacks; the refusal of Afghan government to go along; a refusal of the Tajiks and Hazaras to accept a deal [even if approved by President Ashraf Ghani]; and a Taliban belief that it can prevail militarily without a deal,” he said.

“But the biggest deal-breaker may be an inability of the Taliban negotiators to get all the factions of the Taliban to follow any peace document that is signed.”

Galbraith said the US President Donald Trump administration’s determination to withdraw, regardless of the consequences, was probably the single most important factor in making a US-Taliban deal possible.

Why is Taliban refusing calls for ceasefire?

Intense fighting continues across the country even as the Taliban remains in talks with the US. The group now controls or holds influence over more Afghan territory than at any point since 2001.

“As the peace talks are entering an important phase, the Taliban want to maximize their leverage and speak from a position of strength at the negotiating table,” Azami said.

“In addition, the Taliban leadership is under pressure from their military commanders not to agree to a ceasefire before achieving a tangible goal.”

The armed group has also said on several occasions that there will be no ceasefire until the US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

When the loya jirga (grand council) called for an immediate ceasefire between the government and Taliban during the holy month of Ramadan, Ghani agreed to a truce provided it was not “one-sided”.

However, the Taliban rejected the call for a ceasefire, saying waging a war during Ramadan had “even more rewards”.

In an interview with Tolo News, Afghanistan’s largest private television station, Khalilzad said last month that any peace agreement with the armed group would depend on the declaration of a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the war.

“If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion it means the continuation of war, not peace,” Khalilzad said.

What is the Afghan president’s loya jirga?

Last month, the Afghan president held a loya jirga, a grand assembly which brought together more than 3,200 participants, including politicians, tribal elders and other prominent figures from across the country.

The council, which sought to hammer out a shared strategy for future negotiations with Taliban, ended with delegates demanding an “immediate and permanent” ceasefire.

The meeting, traditionally convened under extraordinary circumstances, was held in a bid to build consensus among various ethnic groups and tribal factions over restoring peace in Afghanistan.

However, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with Ghani, and Karzai, the former president, were among a number of senior figures who boycotted the gathering, accusing the president of using it for political ends ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September 28.

On its website, the Taliban said there had been progress in negotiations with the US and the loya jirga was an “obstacle for ending occupation” and was “sabotaging the authentic peace process”.

Moscow talks

In February this year, a two-day conference was held in the Russian capital between the Taliban and prominent Afghan politicians in a bid to lay down a plan for ending the war.

The meeting in Russia was the first public contact in years between the Taliban and prominent Afghans, including Karzai.

But Ghani dismissed the Moscow talks, saying those attending carried no negotiating authority.

In May, a delegation of Taliban negotiators, who met Afghan politicians in Moscow, said “decent progress” was made at talks but there was no breakthrough.

“The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan,” the Taliban’s Baradar said.

What if the peace talks collapse?

A United Nations report released earlier this year said that 2018 saw the highest number of civilians killed in Afghanistan’s war than any other year on record.

Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent from 2017 to 3,804 people killed, including 927 children, and another 7,189 people wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across Afghanistan.

In another report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in May, Afghan and international forces, including NATO, killed more civilians in the first three months of this year than the Taliban or fighters from other armed groups.

At least 305 civilians were killed by pro-government forces between January and March, 52.5 percent of all deaths in that period.

With the spike in violence, there is a growing desperation for peace among ordinary Afghans. “If the talks collapse, fighting will further intensify and the Afghan people will suffer more,” Azami said.

“The Taliban would try to increase their territorial control and put maximum pressure on the Afghan government by attempting to capture cities, including provincial capitals and taking control of major highways,” he said.

Azami said the Afghans and the rest of the world would have to deal with a “possible security vacuum in which groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL found fertile ground”.

“Increased production of drugs and the overflow of refugees would pose serious challenges not only to Afghanistan but to the whole region and rest of the world,” he said.

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https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/taliban-talks-peace-afghanistan-190510062940394.html

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Crash Landing

 Capt'n Fiddler's Prosthetic Leg

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Floating up & down, floating all around

A floating nightmare unable to hit ground

I see Kabul, I see Herat

The parachute an eternal tea-party hat

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Down below in Pluckame I see

The last Taliban setting fire to the voting shed

I loosen my artificial leg, it falls free

Like a smart bomb it hits him in the head

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This vortex of wind is exasperating me

I shrug, embrace Afghaneeland reality

Dozing off with one leg left a dangle

I become a banner of star spangle

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Sunrise sunset ticktocks by again & again

Dehydration comes along, hyperventilation too

Pretty soon I’m twirling with a crazy-boy grin

& a palpitating heart tells me I’m about thru

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Then an arrow sticks into the heel of my one & only boot

Tied to the arrow is a very long string

This string gets taut as someone hauls me down

My last leg breaks when I slide across the ground

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Mine is now a sorry plight

Without flight & without fight

Yours truly blacks out

& without light

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Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II

Rawclyde!

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(Text Copyright Clyde Collins 2014)

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ANA Climbs Out Of Twilight Zone

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by Aref Musavi

TOLO news

18 September 2016

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The Afghan National Army (ANA) battling insurgency in the northern parts of the country has changed its war strategy from a defensive one to an offensive position and are systematically attacking insurgent strongholds, military officials confirmed.

“Now we are not in a defensive position, everyone knows that we attacked insurgents in Sar-e-Pul province and advanced up to Masjid-e-Sabz and Deh Mordeh villages. Also we attacked the Taliban in Baghlan and our operation is ongoing in Kunduz as well,” said General Mohmand Katawazai, a military official in the north.

Katawazai added that Afghan security forces are targeting the enemy but that they are having difficulties destroying Taliban strongholds in remote areas.

He said that the Afghan security forces are not afraid of the risks as they advance on the insurgents.

Meanwhile, military officials in the north have said the Taliban’s “Omari” operation – their summer offensive – has failed and that in the past five months a large number of insurgent have been killed in the north and south-east of the country.

“In the recent five months, 1,010 insurgents were killed and their bodies remained on the battlefields,” said General Hasibullha Quraishi, a special forces commander in northern Balkh province.

Quraishi added: “Around 405 wounded insurgents have been arrested by security forces. We can say that intelligence forces have confirmed this.”

He added that Afghan security forces also had sustained casualties, but their numbers were less.

However, the Kohistanat district in Sar-e-Pul province has been under Taliban control for the past year while a few other districts in the province are under serious threat.

Asked why an operation has not been launched to retake Kohistanat district from the Taliban, Mohammad Zahir Wahdat, governor of Sar-e-Pul, said: “The reason why a large-scale operation has not been launched in Kohistanat, I think is because security forces, the president, the chief executive, ministers and other security sectors are busy trying to solve the problems.”

However, he did not clarify what he meant by the word problems.

Officials have however urged the public to cooperate with security forces and to not listen to the propaganda of insurgents.

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http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/27314-ana-changes-war-strategy-in-northern-zone

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