for u.s. president
for u.s. president
by Pajhwok reporters
Sep 21, 2014
KABUL: Following a deal between the candidates on a government of national unity, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) on Sunday announced the final result of the disputed presidential election.
At a brief news conference in Kabul, IEC Chairman Ahmad Yousaf Nuristani declared former finance minister Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner. The announcement ends weeks of uncertainty about the future administration.
Surprisingly, Nuristani gave no vote figures, saying the results had been shared with the presidential hopefuls, who signed the agreement on power-sharing earlier in the day at the Presidential Palace.
Previously, both runners claimed winning the rigging-marred election. However, they arrived at the accord a national unity government — thanks to intervention from the United Nations and the United States of America.
According to an authoritative source, Ahmadzai has won 3935567 votes, or 55.27 percent of the ballots cast in the mid-June polls. Abdullah earned 3185018 votes according to the final tally.
With 44.73 percent of the 7120585 votes, Abdullah trails his opponent by 755549 ballots, said one IEC official, who did not want to be named.
The source revealed the figures were not released to the media as part of an understanding reached with the commission’s international supporters, notably UNAMA.
12 July 2014
The Afghan election stalemate has come to an end with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mediating a 48-hour negotiation between the two candidates and brokering a deal to audit all 8.1 million votes cast on June 14 runoff.
Addressing a joint press conference at the United Nations (UN) office in Kabul on Saturday evening, Secretary Kerry, presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani-Ahmadzai said they have reached both a technical and political deal.
Kerry said that both candidates have reached a common ground in negotiations saying that “both are determined that the votes of the people of Afghanistan are counted.”
Secretary Kerry arrived in Kabul on Friday morning after Abdullah suspended his ties with the electoral commissions and vowed to establish a parallel government.
The agreements, reached after almost two days of consistent talks, include a Kabul-based and UN monitored audit of all votes and a formation of a national unified government under the supervision of the winner immediately after the results are announced.
The audit is set to be carried out in the next 24 hours in Kabul. Ballot boxes from other provinces will be transferred by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the audits will be supervised by the UN and the candidates’ agents.
“We anticipate this process will take a number of weeks, so we and UNAMA have asked President Hamid Karzai and the elections commissions to postpone the inauguration,” Kerry said. “Both candidates have agreed to abide by the results of the audit.”
Head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš, had sent out a letter to the president emphasizing that the audit will take a considerable amount of time to conduct in which he requests,on behalf of the two candidates, that the inauguration for the new President of Afghanistan be delayed by roughly a month.
During his talk, Kerry added that the “Afghans want a democracy that works not for some, but for all.”
At the end of Kerry’s announcement, Abdullah Abdullah took to the stage thanking both the secretary and rival Ashraf Ghani-Ahmadzai. He went on to say and reiterate what Secretary Kerry emphasized, that the inauguration ceremony needs to be put off.
“We have a technical agreement and a framework of national unity,” Abdullah said. “I would request President Karzai to delay the inauguration date.”
The inauguration date was scheduled for August 2, in which Secretary Kerry, Abdullah and Ghani-Ahmadzai all asked the president to delay until 100 percent of the votes are completely audited.
“Our agreement is in the interest of the people,” Abdullah announced. “Regardless of whom they cast their vote for.”
Ghani-Ahmadzai, in resonance to his opponent and Secretary Kerry, asked the president to postpone the inauguration as he has committed for the thorough audits.
“Fraud has no place in our national culture and democracy,” Ghani-Ahmadzai said. “Forming a government of national unity, should assure every Afghan, regardless of who they voted for, is committed to the well being of every Afghan. I request President Karzai to postpone the inauguration.”
Ghani-Ahmadzai said that he and Abdullah will form a national unified government under the leadership of the winner.
Just as the joint press conference ended, Secretary of State and UNAMA Head made their way to the Presidential Palace for another media conference in reaction to Abdullah-Ghani agreements.
President Karzai opened the conference by confirming that concerns were raised about frauds in the runoff and how he and his vice-presidents tried to address the concerns.
“Dr. Abdullah invited the UN to mediate in the election and in order to avoid any misunderstanding, I and my vice-presidents stood away,” Karzai said. “I phone Abdullah and Ghani whether both wanted the UN mediation and I accepted it once both confirmed it.”
He did add that he wished “the election process to be Afghan-led and managed, but I accepted the UN mediation to resolve the issue.”
In response to the requests made earlier by the two candidates, the Secretary of State and UNAMA of postponing the inauguration ceremony, Karzai accepted their stance.
“I accept the postponement of the initially planned August 2 inauguration until the audit is completed,” Karzai announced. “I hope the audit takes place quickly.”
President Karzai’s agreement to remain in power for another couple of weeks after August 2 prevents a possible power vacuum in the country.
Kubiš, expressed his gratitude to the U.S. for their works in bringing the two candidates together and breaking the electoral stalemate.
“Both candidates showed true statesmanship, for a good future for Afghanistan,” Kubiš said. “The UN is here to support and provide assistance to a unique and inclusive audit.”
Kubiš thanked President Karzai for his leadership during the difficult time and praised Secretary Kerry’s role in ending the deadlock.
“Afghanistan is blessed to have such a strong partner like the US and a friend like yourself,” referring to Kerry, Kubiš said in his concluding remarks.
The Afghanistan Express Daily Newspaper
June 29, 2014
Kabul, Afghanistan ~ With the electoral bodies failing to address complaints regarding concerted vote rigging, the candidates seem to be choosing other options in the dispute. On Friday, thousands of supporters of Abdullah Abdullah took to streets in downtown Kabul and demanded cleansing the people’s votes. Abdullah is boycotting the vote counting, while the electoral bodies are preparing for announcement of the preliminary results of the the elections. The street protests came as a few days ago Ashraf Ghani, finally broke his silence over the recent disputes. Ashraf Ghani defended the votes he has garnered saying that his votes were clean and he will defend them. He used harsh language after his week-long silence criticizing Dr. Abdullah for refusing the vote counting, warning that no one should promote violence and everyone should wait for the electoral bodies to decide.
Ashraf Ghani camp and the electoral bodies are now moving to push the election process forward and aim to announce the preliminary results of the elections about a week later. The move to get the election process on track without waiting for resolution of the dispute is coming at a time when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is trying to mediate for resolving the deadlock. Abdullah’s team is demanding explanation from the electoral bodes the real level of election turnout and how Ghani has been having unusual lead over him in some specific provinces which was suggesting there had happened vote rigging and extensive stuffing of ballot boxes. Zia-ul Haq Amrkhil’s resignation paved the way for beginning of serious talks for breaking the deadlock. Seemingly, now both teams are engaged in talks with the United Nations and the government.
However, now it seems that the electoral bodies and the Ghani camp is take pre-emptive moves for accelerating their winning which is far from being considered as fully legitimate. The only way now for resolving the election crisis is to make a political consensus with direct engagement of all stakeholders including the two campaigns, the UN and President Karzai’s government. Making tactician moves by the candidates while the issue is yet to be resolved will not be constructive as it will spur the rival campaign to take actions which might be harmful for the process. For instance, if Abdullah’s campaign moves on to street protests as a show of strength to force the electoral bodies and the government to deal with election rigging, it will further deteriorate the election stalemate and even may instigate uncontrolled violence. Abdullah’s demand the rigging must be probed transparently is a legitimate demand and all parties have no option except heeding the call.
Therefore, the electoral bodies must avoid provocative moves and wait for the mediation efforts to yield a settlement for the crisis. The Afghan government failed to guarantee a transparent and fraud-free election. Now, the best thing it can do for settling the dispute is to help the UN mediation until fraudulent votes are discarded and an acceptable deal is reached.
The Afghan Express Daily Newspaper
WASHINGTON – Days ahead of the presidential elections, the White House on Monday hoped the milestone event would be peaceful and inclusive, and broadly acceptable to the Afghan people. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters a stable and acceptable political transition was critical to sustaining international support for Afghanistan.
“This is an important milestone, and we are watching it very closely,” Carney said, adding the US expected millions of Afghans to go to the polls on Saturday to vote for their next president. These were critical elections and the United States welcomed the democratic process that was underway in Afghanistan, he said, stressing the process was Afghan-owned.
Carney added: “The Afghan security forces are in the lead nationwide. The leaders and staff of the electoral institutions are all Afghan. The campaign period over the past two months was full of open and responsible debate among the candidates, and it will be up to the Afghan people to choose the direction of their country.” (Pajhwok)
I am an American who backs whatever choice the Afghan people make in regards to the government we’ve been nurturing in their country. I believe in free will. I do not believe in tyranny. Taliban believe in tyranny.
Most Americans with whom I am acquainted know next to nothing about Afghanistan ~ the country in which the United States has been waging war for around 12 years. The two countries have a relationship ~ but it could be better ~ much better. As far as I am concerned, that better relationship begins right here with me. At times it may not seem so, but I’m quite serious about this. Just because we’re getting a divorce certainly doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. However, that might occur if the Taliban end-up ruling in Afghanistan. But that’s up to the citizens of Afghanistan.
April 5, 2014, about a week from now, an election is on that nation’s schedule to happen, more intense & important than any to which I’ve ever been privy. Lot’s of people are dying. I’m sorry about that. The fighting, as observed from my perch on the other side of our planet, is fierce. And it’s between the Afghans, nobody else, although each side has its own back-up & loyal & un-loyal tribes. Somehow, the Afghan government & my government have made it this way. And it’s about as fair as it can get. It’s just too bad there’s so much bloodshed. I blame that on the Taliban.
They are the sons of Afghanistan ~ but not the only sons of that country. I back the Afghan National Army. They are also sons (and daughters) of Afghanistan ~ and are democratic rather than tyrannical like their fierce but not fiercer opponents, the Taliban, who governed for a while but not right now. Presently, if the Taliban want to govern they must run for election, campaign & be elected ~ or blow the whole thing to pieces if the rest of Afghanistan and its brand new army let’s them. Also, I must add, if the Taliban do get elected sometime in the misty future, they’ve got to uphold a democratic rather than instigate a tyrannical rule, or, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, they quite possibly won’t be ruling for but a few months.
The Taliban have nobody to blame but themselves for the presence of my countrymen & others in Afghanistan. You don’t coddle the murderer of 3,000 American citizens on American soil (September 11, 2001) and likely get away with it. The staunch and fierce Taliban are doomed as long as they are unwilling to compromise ~ and that’s how they appear to be ~ uncompromising. I’ve read that at one time they were kind of like folk heroes. But it looks to me now that nobody likes them, not even their own people. If they think their own people are only Pashtun, I beg to defer. Their people now include all the other Afghans too. Sorry.
One last thing ~ the Taliban or any other extremist-group highjacking of the Islamic faith is not appreciated by the truly religious anywhere on Earth. Go ahead & ask Benazir Bhutto, the Islamic prime minister twice of Pakistan who was assassinated, as she rolls in her grave with each murder that the misled Talibanee commit in her neighboring country as well as in her own.
Afghan National Army ~ new heroes in town
UNAMA was established by the Council in 2002 in order to help Afghanistan achieve peace and development.
In the Monday resolution, the Security Council also reiterated “its concern about the security situation in Afghanistan, in particular the ongoing violent and terrorist activities by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other violent and extremist groups.”
The country’s third presidential and provincial council election is slated for April 5. The current two-term president, Hamid Karzai, will not be eligible to run.
Since the start of the election campaign on Feb. 2 at least a dozen election workers have been killed or injured by anti- government militants.
The Taliban warned the Afghan people to stay away from polling stations and election offices if they do not want to be harmed. It has ordered its fighters to target candidates, election workers, election activists, and persons who provide security for the election personnel as well as candidates.
The Security Council “condemns in the strongest terms all attacks, including Improvised Explosive Device attacks, suicide attacks, assassinations and abductions, targeting civilians and Afghan and international forces,” said the resolution.
The most powerful UN body further called upon the Afghan government, with the assistance of the international community, to “continue to address the threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other violent and extremist groups.”
While battling the formidable Taliban
The brave citizens of Pluckame set-up
a voting poll
in a shed owned by one of the elders
Everyone in the village has a voting card
Even Ollie & his midget friends have voting cards
Goats & chickens have voting cards hung around their necks
Only Taliban lurking behind distant trees don’t have them
From very far away the Taliban share a pair of binoculars
They see even a blind goat is going to vote
In the nationwide election for the next president
Everybody is going to make a difference but not the Taliban
Their Al Qaeda leader peers thru the binoculars & grimaces
He says something rude about what he sees
A swift arrow made in the USA cracks thru one of the lens
And sticks out the back of his head
As the Arab falls-over a voting card is suddenly revealed
To his “holy war” buddies
It is nailed on the tree beside which their leader has been sitting
They look around ~ all the trees have voting cards…
(Text Copyright Clyde Collins 2014)
by Abhimanyu Singh & Ashok K. Behuria
IDSA (The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)
New Delhi, India
March 12, 2014
There have been three major surveys held recently predicting the future leader of Afghanistan, which indicate that the Presidential race is almost certain to enter the second round as none of the candidates may be able to poll more than 50 percent of the votes.
The poll survey was conducted by Glevum Associates, in which 2,148 prospective voters from 34 provinces of the country gave their views on the candidates and overall election scenario in Afghanistan. The trends emerging from the survey are: 90 per cent of the respondents said that they would not vote for a candidate against whom there are allegations of corruption; 61 per cent said they would vote for someone who could open talks with Taliban; 51 per cent supported candidates willing to maintain good relations with Pakistan; and 71 per cent for those who advocated good relations with the USA.
Coming to their view on the candidates, 29 percent supported the candidacy of Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank expert, who is one among the three probable candidates President Karzai is supposed to favour. Abdullah Abdullah, runner up in a 2009 Presidential poll and former Foreign Minister, came second with 25 percent. The rest of the candidates, including Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayaaf, polled under 10 percent and have little hope of success in the upcoming elections, unless some dramatic event alters the equations drastically.
The two other polls put Ashraf Ghani in second place. The first among them was done by Democracy International, based in the United States. It found in its survey, out of the three planned, in January 2014, that 25 percent of the 2,500 people it surveyed would vote for Ashraf Ghani, while 31 percent of them supported Abdullah’s candidacy. The third poll by Tolo News and ATR Consulting, both based in Kabul, placed the candidates roughly in the same order as Democracy International, with Abdullah leading the race. Though the methodology of this poll is far less exhaustive, the last poll is regarded by observers in Afghanistan as more credible. It is believed that Tolo News has extensive reach in Afghanistan as the most-watched television channel in Afghanistan and thus its pre-poll survey may have more impact on the people than the other two provided above.
In all these opinion surveys, there is a clear preference for two candidates— Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Among the two, Abdullah, despite his father being a Pashtun, is regarded as Tajik among the people. Claiming to represent the legacy of legendary Tajik leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, he has Muhammad Khan, a Hizb-i-Islami leader, and well-known Hajara leader, Muhammad Mohaqiq, as his vice presidential nominees. The fact that Massoud’s brother is in the fray as a vice presidential candidate with Zalmai Rassoul may divide Abdullah’s votes among the Tajiks and pose a critical challenge for him in the election. Nevertheless, his continuing efforts to reach out to the people at the grassroots may work in his favour, as massive turnouts in his campaign trail indicate.
Interactions with Afghans suggest that Ghani also runs an equally good chance. He is perceived as a liberal who has introduced a new kind of politics in the war-torn country, where ethnicity-based political system focussing primarily on tribal loyalty has been determining the course of elections for many decades. He favours inclusive politics. Ghani has tried over the years to reach out to all the factions and ethnicities in the country. As per media reports, he is even popular among religious leaders, some of whom are affiliated to Taliban, despite being a liberal.
In his campaigns, he is presenting a very sanguine picture of Afghanistan by assuring people about his intention to include people from all ethnicities in his cabinet, who have the will and potential to steer the country out of its present mess. He has even claimed that if he wins he would knock on the doors of Abdullah a hundred times to include him in his cabinet as foreign minister, a responsibility Abdullah had earlier shouldered quite ably for four years. This is something very new to Afghan politics, where such amity among factions and ethnicities is rarely seen. He has strong vice presential running mates in the Uzbek strongman, Dostam, and the moderate Hazara leader, Sarwar Danish, popular among urban youth. His success in the elections will largely depend on his ability to woo Tajik votes.
Apart from these two, recent political developments have catapulted Zalmai Rassoul, former foreign minister, to the political center-stage as the third most probable candidate. This is so because Karzai’s elder brother, Qayum Karzai, withdrew from the presidential elections barely a month before the polling, despite the fact that a tribal Jirga in Kandahar had voted overwhelmingly in his favour as the preferred candidate between the two, in February. Apparently, it was Karzai who played a major role in dissuading his brother and the Jirga-men, in support of Rassoul’s candidacy. Rassoul is a moderate and has a relatively clean record as a politician. Moreover, the vice presidential nominees in his presidential ticket have cleaner records compared to that of others in the fray. One of them is the only female candidate in the election, while the other is the brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who is likely to eat into the Tajik votes creating problems for Abdullah as has been noted above.
Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf is another heavyweight who has a decent chance of turning the tide in his favour as well. As a former mujahideen leader he has his own pockets of support in the tribal hinterland. Moreover, as a proponent of the west-sponsored democratic experiment in Afghanistan, he has managed to appeal to the liberals, who look upon him as an ideal candidate for post-election reconciliation with radical elements, and also as somebody who can provide an ideological alternative to the Taliban. He has Tajik warlord, Ismail Khan, of Herat and conservative Uzbek politician, Abdul Irfan, from Takhar as his running mates, through whom he may access some minority votes as well.
Others in the fray have less chances of making it to the run off. Important ones among them are Qutubddin Helal, Gul Agha Sherzai, Mohammad Naeem Khan, Abdul Rahim Wardak and Dawood Sultanzoi. Helal has received support from Hezb-i-Islami chief, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, which may ensure Pashtun support for him in the eastern pockets of the country. Sherzai, a regional strongman and former governor of Kandahar and Nangarhar, has some following among the Pashtuns and may win the support of another Pashtun candidate, Hedayat Amim Arsala, as media reports suggest. Naeem Khan is the grandson of former King Zahir Shah. Wardak, former defence minister, has some support among the Pashtuns. Sultanzoi, a Pashtun and a pilot by training, had polled well in the last election among Pashtuns in Ghazni. However, none of them has any chance of getting anywhere close to the run off.
As things stand today, none of the candidates is likely to get more than fifty percent of the votes in the election scheduled for April 5, 2014. Afghan analysts also say there might be delays in the run-off, if the election commission is called upon to investigate into allegations of poll irregularities, which may prolong the phase of political uncertainty unnecessarily. Therefore, coalitions are being worked out behind the scene to avoid a run-off. However, given the divisions within each of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that any decisive bipolar coalition will emerge before the election to spare the country of yet another round of election.
In all probability, Abdullah runs the best chance of making it to the run off at the moment, followed by Ashraf Ghani, unless of course, Qayum Karzai’s support works magic for Zalmai Rassoul propelling him to the second place. In case of a run off, it is likely that all Pashtun votes may get consolidated against Abdullah, making it difficult for him to win in the end. But a lot will depend on whether the Pashtuns will come out to vote despite the Taliban warnings not to participate in the elections.
Views expressed are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.
by Kim Gamel
Mar. 10, 2014
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban threatened voters Monday and warned they will “use all force” possible to disrupt Afghan presidential elections next month, posing a crucial test for the country’s security forces seeking to show they can bring stability as the West prepares to end its combat mission by the end of the year.
The Taliban’s first direct threat against the vote was one half of a double blow to hopes for a peaceful outcome from the elections. Observers said the death of the influential vice president over the weekend deprives the country of a powerbroker who could have prevented bitter recriminations among factions after the new leader is named.
The April 5 balloting will be a key benchmark in Afghanistan’s efforts to forge a democracy as voters will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has governed the country since 2004, three years after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban. Karzai is not allowed to seek a third term.
Previous elections have been fraught with allegations of widespread fraud leading to mistrust among most Afghans toward the polling and candidates.
International and Afghan officials have expressed confidence that new measures will be in place to make the voting smoother in April, but many fear complaints will be inevitable as the factions jockey for influence as the balance of power shifts for the first time after 10 years of Karzai’s rule.
Sunday’s death of Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a key political player who held the rank of field marshal, has raised concerns about the ability of the government to ensure a smooth transfer of power, especially if losing factions complain of fraud.
“Marshal Fahim was a good bridge between the government and rival groups,” said Waqef Hakimi, an Afghan political analyst. “He would mediate and promote discussions between the sides whenever difficulties arose. He was a balancing factor.”
Fahim, an ethnic Tajik who died of natural causes, was the top deputy of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the charismatic Northern Alliance commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was widely accused of marginalizing Pashtuns in the years after the Taliban were ousted but later reconciled with Karzai and was lauded as a champion of national unity during ceremonies on the eve of his funeral, which was scheduled for Tuesday.
“He wanted the unity of Afghanistan,” Karzai said Monday in a statement. “Fahim always insisted it’s the duty of the president to bring peace to this country.”
The Taliban are dominated by Pashtuns, which form a majority in Afghanistan, and have waged bitter battles with ethnic minorities such as Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks.
Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network said Fahim was one of the main powers in the early years after the Taliban’s ouster, and he maintained strong influence even as a number of different people became political leaders.
“He has stamped his mark on the state that has emerged … both in terms of structures and who ended up in places where they could become powerful,” she said.
Fears of violence also are high as the Taliban have waged a series of high-profile attacks in recent months in a bid to undermine confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to protect the people as the Islamic militants try to position themselves to reassert power after the U.S. and its allies withdraw. Efforts to bring the fundamentalist movement into peace talks have stalled and it retains influence despite numerous U.S. and Afghan offensives against it.
U.S. officials have said the Afghan security forces already have performed well in taking the lead from foreign forces but still need training and logistical assistance. A study ordered by U.S. Congress and conducted by CNA Strategic Studies, a federally funded research group, said Afghanistan will need international trainers and advisers at least through 2018.
Karzai, however, has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States, which would allow for a residual U.S. and NATO force to stay in the country beyond the end of 2014. The main contenders in the upcoming elections have all said they will sign the deal.
On Monday, the Taliban issued a statement calling on clerics and teachers across to country to spread the word that the election is “an American conspiracy.” The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan declined to comment on the threat.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid urged all countrymen “to avoid becoming victims of the enemy conspiracies in the upcoming elections process; reject it wholly and do not put yourselves in danger.”
He also said the Taliban have given orders to fighters “to use all force” at their disposal to disrupt the “upcoming sham elections” by targeting election workers, activists, as well as the security apparatus and offices. He also warned the government against using mosques, schools, clinics and other public places for polling.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for several election-related attacks already in the weeks leading up to the vote, including the assassination of a campaign worker for a presidential frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah and a failed suicide bombing targeting Ismail Khan, a vice presidential candidate on powerful warlord Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf’s ticket. A member of the Independent Election Commission also was shot and killed in northern Kunduz province.
Mahmoud Saikal, a former deputy foreign minister and a supporter of Abdullah, said violence was to be expected, but the Afghan security forces were better prepared to confront it.
“I don’t think they can organize large-scale operations that could cripple the election at the national level,” he said, referring to the Taliban. “Yes, they may succeed in pulling some punches here and there, but those punches may not have a big impact on the overall election.”
Associated Press writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.
Story by Cpl. Joshua Young
1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Regional Command Southwest
February 8, 2014
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Afghan National Army soldiers with 2nd and 3rd Brigades, 215th Corps, teamed with the Afghan Uniform Police and other Afghan National Security Forces to conduct a completely Afghan-led operation called Oqab 144, with only advisor-related help from coalition forces.
The operation, which took place Jan. 27 – Feb. 4, means “Eagle 144,” in English. It is a process to eliminate hostile threats from the Sangin Valley, Helmand province, Afghanistan, prior to the upcoming national election in order to offer a better environment for potential voters and the local populace.
The operation was conducted weeks before the Afghan presidential elections, which are scheduled to take place April 5. The current president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is not eligible to run for re-election due to term limits, making this the first transfer of the presidency since his inauguration in 2004 and the first democratic transition of power in the history of Afghanistan.
“They’re sharing stories about the election and belief in their government,” said Col. Christopher Douglas, the team leader of Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 2-215. “I believe this gives people the opportunity to see that the future is bright because these operations are being executed for Afghans by Afghans with no coalition presence visible to them during the operation.”
The ANSF partners are working together to build trust within the local populace to achieve a more stable and secure environment for the election as well as the future of Afghanistan, Helmand province, and Sangin Valley.
“This shows that it’s an Afghan election process,” said Douglas, whose team is stationed out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. “We’re not driving it. It shows faith in the system, now they’re gaining more of that confidence. We can’t force them to do something, so it comes down to inspiring them.”
During May 2012, the Afghan and U.S. governments agreed a contract needed to be created to establish how many, if any, American forces would remain in Afghanistan following the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission in 2014. Without such a contract, known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, the U.S. must pull all forces out of the country by the end of the year.
The two governments began working on the agreement Nov. 15, 2012, which would allow a contingent of U.S. troops to stay in the country in an advisory role.
Despite the approval of the Loya Jirga, or “grand council” on Nov. 24, 2013, and increasing support from Afghanistan and the international community, President Karzai has yet to sign the agreement.
Due to the hesitation from President Karzai, the next president of Afghanistan may be responsible for signing the agreement. This places the fate of the BSA in the hands of the voters —the people of Afghanistan — as they choose their next leader.
“It’s a very exciting time,” said Maj. Paul D. Tremblay, deputy team leader, SFAAT 2-215. “It’s an election where the people can choose a leader who’s going to take them the rest of the way.”
The operation to clear the Sangin Valley of hostile threats was met with resistance and casualties, but also several milestones of success.
Seeing only Afghan uniforms during the operation helped build the locals’ confidence in the ANSF. In turn, some locals provided the forces with information on insurgent movements and known locations, as well as locations of improvised explosive devices and explosives labs.
“As (the operation) went on through the Sangin area with 2nd and 3rd Brigades, they were approached by some locals who advised them they missed some IEDs during the clear,” Douglas said. “That was a great surprise. It showed confidence in the ANA’s ability to work with the locals and them feeling comfortable enough to come up to members of the ANA or the police and work with them to create a more secure environment in their community.”
When they first entered the Sangin Valley in 2006 after the resurgence of the Taliban, the coalition forces had the lead role in all combat operations. During the course of the campaign, the lead has steadily been turned over to Afghan forces as the coalition took on an advisory role.
Oqab 144 marks one of the first operations in the region during which the populace hasn’t seen a coalition force presence. Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 2-215 played a silent role in the operation, offering only advisory assistance and minimal relief in casualty evacuations.
“They’re in the lead,” Douglas said. “We’re here and able to watch through some of our assets, but the big thing is seeing their excitement for how well things are going for them and hearing their stories of sharing a big success together. Now they’re out there doing it.”
“We’re kind of like father figures, and we’re watching our children grow and flourish,” Tremblay said. “They have it, you can see it in their eyes. They just need to continue to grow and mature. Once they get in the highest leadership positions, they’ll be unstoppable.”
“They have an incredibly capable staff,” Tremblay said. “They have all the enablers and they’re learning each and every day. This operation is certainly demonstrating their capacity to take independent action and learn and grow as they progress.”
“It’s one of the most complex problems I’ve ever seen in my 18 years in the Marine Corps,” Tremblay said. “It’s fascinating to study and the more you do, the more you learn about the intricacies at play here and what can potentially be done in the future.”
The SFAAT considered the operation to be a success and is dedicated to helping the ANA in the region become completely sustainable and self-sufficient.
One of the obstacles the SFAAT and the ANA face in the region is the annual fighting season, tied to the weather and poppy harvest.
The Sangin Valley is known by many as a hotbed for nefarious and illegal activities. It’s strategic in its relevance to major corridors such as Route 1 and Route 611.
Drug runners and insurgents often use Route 1, which runs all the way through Afghanistan from Pakistan to Iran. The two routes are a crossroads for both trade and drug trafficking. Much of the Taliban’s funding comes from the profits of the poppy harvests. Black-tar heroine is extracted from the poppy plants and the drugs are shipped all over the world.
The Taliban control much of the heroine trade and are dependent on the industry. When the weather cools off, the insurgency turns toward facilitating the poppy planting. When planting begins, fighting almost instantly ceases.
“It’s a constant disruption mentality,” Tremblay said. “Whether it’s Marines, British or Afghans, their ability to consistently disrupt the activity of the insurgents by projecting combat power prevents the insurgent from feeling comfortable enough to go in and interact with the populace, plant an IED or set up a firing position.”
The progress that has been made since the coalition first entered the Sangin Valley can be measured by the success of Oqab 144 and the relationship building between the ANSF and the local populace.
“Without this group we would not have reached this stage,” said Col. Abdul Hai Neshat, executive officer, ANA 2nd Brigade. “Due to the Marines’ hard work along side us, we can lead our units. They’re very helpful and useful.”
Success in the region did not come easily. Many service members from coalition forces and the ANSF have paid the ultimate price to bring stability to the war-torn area.
“I don’t think we could ever put a number on the blood, treasure and heartache that has been poured into this area,” Tremblay said. “The blood, sweat and tears, the brothers we’ve lost, the horrific injuries sustained and the invisible ones that keep you up at night are beyond description. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to capture what has been sacrificed to get us to this point. Especially when you read in the media what’s going on in certain areas in Iraq, it’s hard not to question: ‘Has it been worth it?’ In my opinion, the answer is absolutely, ‘Yes.’ All of that sacrifice has led to an opportunity we’re seeing start to grow and gain momentum today.”
With all the progress that has been made in the past eight years, there is still more to be done.
“I’d like to say, on behalf of my personnel and soldiers, thank you to the Marines and the U.S. in a common (effort) for helping Afghanistan,” Neshat said. “Without U.S. support, we would not be able to stand as a country. Hopefully in the future the U.S. will continue the support and help Afghanistan and not leave. All people in Afghanistan want peace in this country and to live a normal life. It’s very important to help us. These are the wishes of all of Afghanistan.”
Following the operation, Maj. Gen. Sayed Malook, commanding general, 215th Corps, traveled to Camp Leatherneck via Route 611 to show his confidence that the Sangin Valley had been cleared, said Maj. Gen. W. Lee Miller, commanding general, RC(SW). “Every day is a step in the right direction.”
by Omar Samad
Former Afghan Ambassador to France
Despite the recent repudiation of elections by the Afghan Taliban’s fugitive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, and despite the increased bloodshed experienced by Afghans this year, there is a growing public desire to see the election process move forward and a historic and peaceful transfer of power and legitimate order.
Signs of growing enthusiasm are not only detected among the political elites and interest groups, but also in civil society, youths and women groups, the private sector, rural community councils, and in the way new and traditional media are covering the issues.
If we assume that next year’s presidential and provincial elections will take place as planned, one of the main challenges that Afghanistan will face is security, and making sure that enough polling centers are open across the country to assure the viability of the exercise. Another test will be maintaining the positive momentum that is rising, investing as many Afghans as possible in the process, and making the vote as inclusive and transparent as possible.
This effort not only requires widespread public awareness programing, but also overcoming the public trust deficit that exists toward Afghan political and electoral institutions. Above all, it requires political will by the country’s leadership not to hinder the process or constitutional order.
Thus far, it appears that the newly formed Independent Election Commission (IEC), responsible for managing the elections, is making a sincere attempt to regain the public trust and avoid a repeat of the 2009 electoral debacle.
The head of the IEC, Yousuf Nuristani, in an in-depth interview with TOLOnews this week, conveyed several key points that give hope and are essential to the successful management of elections:
He assured the public that the IEC would remain impartial and independent. He stressed that the IEC would strictly follow its mandate. He acknowledged that mistakes were made in past elections and that he would not allow their repeat. He asked for dialogue and cooperation with all other stakeholders, including political parties and civil society to prevent fraud and irregularities. He proposed reforms that would allow for stronger monitoring and reduce fraud. He stressed his own credentials as a person who believes in the democratic process.
Nuristani has raised the bar for electoral oversight and now has to deal with three types of pressures:
The other IEC commissioners, most of whom have little experience in electoral technicalities and run the risk of being pressured by powerful political circles whose aim is to subvert the process. The Election Complaints Commission (ECC), a five-member body to be selected in the next few days, which will have the final say on complaints adjudication. It is critically important that the selection of ECC members is based on clear qualification criteria, void of ethnic or political bias. If the ECC is seen as either unqualified or prejudiced, then the overall process will unfold either before or after elections are held. To give it more weight, having civil society’s representative present in the selection committee is a must. Powerful political circles and individuals whose interests may lie with the cancellation or postponement of elections, violation of the constitution, or underhanded electoral fraud.
As Mullah Omar’s Eid message clearly indicated last week, any hope that may have existed for Taliban participation in the elections should be dashed. The message stipulated that not only do the radicals within their ranks continue to want to impose their will on the population through power-sharing deals with other ethnic groups, but that their supporters outside the country are leery of seeing a democratically elected government emerge in Afghanistan.
Contrary to the wish of most Afghans, the message also made it clear that the Taliban will go to any length to prevent a continued U.S./NATO presence, albeit small and for a non-combat role, in the country post 2014.
Another sign of forward-moving impetus in the country’s political life is its political dynamism. Political actors realize that time is not on their side, and they need to interact, form teams, and eventually build coalitions that could introduce candidates for the presidential election by early October, when the nomination process will be complete. Forming these teams and coalitions will not be easy unless some contenders are ready to lower their expectations of being at the top of a ticket, and instead focus on agreeing to work on common reform agendas.
To offset this political drive, Taliban diehards have and will continue to use psychological tactics, including the use of violence, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations, to dampen the enthusiasm that is emerging in the country. We have seen several troubling examples of such tactics lately with attacks on members of parliament and their families.
With a segment of society disinterested in the political ruckus, the Taliban are aiming to either draw them to their side or enlarge the pool of neutral observers, and by doing so undermine the 2014 elections.
It is now up to motivated political elites and institutions such as the IEC and ECC to build up the nascent momentum, counter the Taliban narrative, and rebuild the public trust through legitimate decisions and practices. The Afghan people, as well as the international community that has invested heavily since 2002, are watching. The country’s political actors cannot afford to lose either or both.
Omar Samad, Afghan ambassador to France 2009-2011, is currently Afghanistan senior expert in residence with the Center for Conflict Management at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The Afghanistan Express