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د ۱۳۹۳ کال د ولسمشریزه ټاکنو
دنوماندانو لومړلنی نوملړ
Election 1393 (2014)
Candidate List

The Great Game Reconstructed
By: Abdul-Qayum Mohmand, Ph.D.
Regional Studies
The Journal of Regional Studies
Center of Afghanistan
Winter 2014, No. 32, Pp. 11-55

SECURITY AND PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN
BEFORE AND AFTER 2014
By: Abdul-Qayum Mohmand, Ph.D.
Some Thoughts on Islamic Economics
Professor M. Siddieq Noorzoy
RELOCATE UNITED NATIONS TO JERUSALEM TO HARMONIZE CIVILIZATIONS
By: Dr. Rahmat Rabi Zirakyar
The Nature of Statistical Data About The Afghan Economy and Their Problems
THE PROSPECTS FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN AFGHANISTAN

Today's News

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Sabawoon News Of the Day
Bomb Kills 3 Civilians in Northern Afghanistan  
Source: Associated Press By:    

A bomb placed in a thermos bottle detonated remotely at a market in northern Afghanistan killed three civilians on Wednesday, an Afghan official said.

The attack, which killed two men and a woman, took place in the Faryab province's capital of Maymana, said Ahmad Jawed Dedar, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

The explosion also wounded 12 other civilians, including four women and a child, Dedar said. The thermos was brought and left next to a shop at the market by a person wearing a burqa, the traditional head-to-toe covering of Afghan women, he added, though it was not certain if the person was a woman.

Militants in Afghanistan sometimes disguise themselves in the all-enveloping veil to avoid being noticed before the attack.

"The shopkeeper shouted out to her that she forgot some belongings but she paid no attention and ran away exactly as the explosion occurred," Dedar added.

Also Wednesday, Omer Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor of southern Helmand province, said four Afghan police officers were killed and one was wounded when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb on Tuesday evening.

The policemen were on their way back from an operation in Sangin district, said Zwak, adding that the police vehicle was completely destroyed in the blast.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in Helmand and Faryab.

Roadside bombings are a major threat to both security forces and civilians in Afghanistan. Such attacks have escalated as the Taliban have intensified their campaign ahead of the U.S.-led foreign forces withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year.


America's War In Afghanistan Effectively Ended This Week
Source: Business Insider By: Armin Rosen  

The longest war in American history effectively ended in a hurry in the past week.

On May 27, president Barack Obama laid out a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, where the U.S. is wrapping up its 12-year military presence. Just four days later, the U.S. reached an agreement with the Taliban that freed the only American prisoner of war from the conflict. And yesterday, the U.S. relinquished control over Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, an installation crucial to maintaining supply lines to the American mission in Afghanistan.

The past week demonstrates the depth of the Obama administration's commitment to its withdrawal strategy. The administration has swiftly moved towards settling some of the thorniest aspects of the U.S.'s over decade-long presence in Afghanistan.

The deal that freed Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl deal settles three outstanding issues that had to be addressed within Obama's withdrawal timetable: It frees the U.S.'s only remaining prisoner of war, potentially advances negotiations with the Taliban, and even hints at the future status of Afghanistan-related detainees held at Guantanamo.

The prisoner swap released five high-value detainees, including the former chief of staff of the Taliban's military and an intelligence official in Afghanistan's pre-invasion Taliban intelligence services.

They were among the few Guantanamo detainees with clear, established connections to the Taliban. And both the U.S. and the Afghan government have been negotiating with the hardcore Islamist militant organization since at least 2012, when the Taliban opened a political mission in Doha, Qatar.

In freeing the bulk of its proven Taliban detainees, the U.S. has resolved a potential sticking point in future talks with the group. The five won't be allowed to return to Afghanistan for another year, but this is partly aimed at keeping them off of the battlefield while U.S. combat operations are ongoing.

Manas wraps up another outstanding, Afghanistan-related issue. Manas was always a major point of contention between Russia and the U.S.: Russia considers Kyrgyzstan to be part of its "near abroad," while the U.S. viewed the airbase as its "gateway to Afghanistan." For a time, Kyrgyzstan was the only country in the world with both U.S. and Russian military bases.

In leaving Manas, the U.S. is demonstrating that it's no longer going to invest its diplomatic capital in keeping supply lines to Afghanistan open. Indeed, it will no longer need to, as this week's events are the clearest possible sign that America's longest war is truly coming to a close.


Stream of Endorsements for Ghani
Source: Tolo News By: Aazem Arash  

A number of major Afghan political figures and groups announced their endorsements of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai on Wednesday. Former campaign members of Abdul Qayoum Karzai, the Harakat Inqelab Islami Party and the Musharekat Millie Party were among those who declared support for Dr. Ghani.

"We, members of Continuity and Reform, announce our support for the team led by Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai," Qayoum Karzai's Deputy Campaign Manager Mufti Ahmad said. Mr. Qayoum Karzai himself has just returned to Kabul on Wednesday and has not endorsed any of the two candidates yet.

Ghani publicly welcomed the endorsement of former colleagues of Mr Qayoum Karzai.

"God willing, we will pass this national exam and will be successful," Ghani said.

The Musharekat Millie Party was also in attendance, and pledged support for Ghani.

"Time is limited, I ask all of you men and women, please get ready and vote for Ashraf Ghani; if this team wins, Afghanistan will be prosperous," Musharekat Millie leader Najeebullah Kabul said.

Ahmad Zia Masood, one of the recent additions to Ghani's campaign team, also took the opportunity to accuse their rivals, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah team, of corruption.

"All who were involved in corruption, and looted private banks are gathered in one team - Reform and Integration," Masood said.

Speaking to the crowd gathered at the rent on Wednesday, Ghani promised to make Shamali the center of industry and agriculture, construct residential areas for the people of Shamali and develop the agricultural industry.

"God willing, we will transform Shamali to the center of culture, agriculture and industry in Afghanistan," Ghani said.

The presidential runoff is scheduled for June 14. With about a week left in the campaign season, both candidates have stepped up their public and private coalition building efforts in hopes of securing enough support to claim victory.


Ashraf Ghani’s Afghanistan
Source: Freign Policy By: Javid Ahmad  

Can an efficient government and an improved economy in Afghanistan do what twelve years of conflict and nation-building by international forces have not? Ashraf Ghani believes they can. Ghani, a highly educated, pro-Western, intellectual alternative to Afghanistan's age-old system of corruption and warlordism, served as Afghanistan's finance minister under President Hamid Karzai from 2002 to 2004 and subsequently refused to take on any further cabinet positions because he saw that Karzai was reluctant to go after corrupt power brokers who added to bad governance. In 2009, he campaigned and challenged Karzai alongside several other candidates in the presidential election, but flopped with only 3 percent of the votes. This time, however, he is one of the leading contenders in the ongoing presidential race to succeed Karzai.

Ghani is currently locked in a head-to-head race with Abdullah Abdullah, another major contender, and although it remains to be seen whether Ghani will emerge victorious in next month's runoff, many of his significant accomplishments while serving under Karzai go unnoticed.

As finance minister, Ghani undertook sweeping reforms, including issuing a new Afghan currency; introducing a country-wide budget; centralizing government revenue; adopting and institutionalizing a single treasury account; and computerizing the ministry's operations. Additionally, he reformed the country's tariff system and overhauled customs so that the government receives the bulk of the customs revenue, and adopted regular reporting to the Afghan cabinet as well as to Afghanistan's international partners as a tool of accountability. Ghani took tough measures against corruption and sacked corrupt officials, ignoring the risks of reprisal. In one example, Ghani even refused to pay the Afghan Defense Ministry after rightly questioning that the figures provided by the Defense Ministry about Afghan forces were overstated so as to claim extra funds. Ghani's tough stance against graft has prompted alarming calls from his political opposition that if he becomes president, half of the Afghan government employees will become unemployed.

Most importantly, as a major advocate of public investment, he devised a set of public programs to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. One of his crowning achievements was the National Solidarity Program, a platform for rural development, which has funneled nearly half a billion dollars from World Bank to over 20,000 Afghan villages in block grants of $200 per family, and up to $60,000 per village for small-scale agricultural and infrastructure projects. Moreover, as finance minister, Ghani worked closely with Afghanistan's Ministry of Communication to ensure that telecom licenses were granted through a competitive bidding process. Consequently, the number of cell phones in Afghanistan jumped from a couple hundred in 2002 to over a million in 2005, and almost a decade later today, nearly 20 million Afghans have access to cell phones At the same time, private investment in the sector surpassed $200 million, turning the sector into one of the major revenue generation venue for Afghan government. It was because of some of these efforts that Ghani was recognized as the Best Finance Minister of Asia by Emerging Markets.

If Ghani wins in next month's runoff, his administration will undoubtedly inherit tough economic challenges. His single most important task would be to create a self-sustaining economy, an objective that Karzai's government has paid little attention to. Afghanistan has a nominal GDP of $19 billion, out of which at least 60 percent is foreign aid, another estimated 20 percent comes from opium cultivation, and the remaining 20 percent accounts for a legitimate economic activities. That means Afghanistan's real annual economic output stands at roughly $4 billion-a trifling number that, despite the $7 billion in international reserves, gives the country little buffer against possible economic shocks.

Against that backdrop, Ghani offers a vision and a viable framework that is defined by assets, threats and weaknesses in order to convalesce the Afghan economy and create a more capable and accountable government. It would seem that in Ghani's mind, unless there is a roadmap that sketches Afghanistan's future in the years ahead so that short- and medium-term actions can be taken today, there cannot be benchmarking. Ghani's goal is to articulate an agenda that would create at least one million jobs in the first couple years. The key to his plan, however, is to exploit and invest in the multitude of long-term economic advantages that Afghanistan has to offer.

First, Afghanistan sits on a very lucrative mineral and mining reserves, ostensibly valued at trillions of dollars, which could provide the basis of a sustainable economy but remains largely untapped. Additionally, the World Bank estimates that the copper mine at Aynak and iron ore project at Hajigak could easily generate $2 to $3 billion, with each deposit potentially delivering over half a billion dollars in government revenue in just a few years.

Second, Afghanistan owns abundant water resources but it remains largely unused with regard to agriculture production, in generating hydropower, or in creating jobs. The country reportedly produces over 80 billion cubic meters of water a year but pumps the bulk of it to its neighbors, particularly Pakistan, without getting anything in return. Despite this free flow of water, estimates show that over 9 million Afghans are dealing with severe droughts and water shortages that have affected irrigation, agricultural production, and daily life.

Nonetheless, water is going to become very valuable in Afghanistan in the years ahead as it provides the basis for hydropower, a critical element of development. For instance, the Amu River in northern Afghanistan alone has the potential to produce 10,000 megawatts of electricity a year. Recognizing this potential, Ghani sees water and energy as a critical driver in transforming not only Afghanistan, but also regional dynamics by connecting the energy markets in South Asia and Central Asia. In Ghani's words: "If 40 of the world's worst polluters come together to finance the hydropower in Afghanistan, the country could become a major exporter of electricity in the region within four to six years."

Finally, given that Afghanistan has historically been an agrarian economy, Ghani's goal is to galvanize the country's nascent agriculture sector. Although illicit drugs currently constitute a large chunk of this sector of the economy, Ghani's objective of raising the income level of ordinary Afghans from $1 a day to $4 a day would make poppy cultivation nonsensical to the average Afghan farmer. Ghani believes that no amount of investment in Afghan institutions would help to contain opium cultivation unless it is simultaneously accompanied by an agricultural development. But while, to many Afghans, ‘industry' merely means saffron, dried fruits, and carpets, the country actually holds many opportunities for large-scale foreign investments. Afghanistan needs more investments, not only in its extractive industry and farms, but also in its infrastructure. As future income levels rise, the demand for infrastructure is expected to soar. Importantly, Ghani realizes the vested interests of the private sector in stability and the important role it plays in fostering growth. Successful investment in infrastructure can be done by attracting private financing through effective public-private partnerships and building skills within the government to manage risk sharing.

Although these are achievable goals, the challenges in bringing them into fruition should not be underestimated. However, an effective, actionable, and inclusive government led by a person with a successful track record in governance can help Afghanistan realize its potential. Ashraf Ghani is a qualified sense of hope for Afghanistan and appears to be that man to lead the country into a better future.

Javid Ahmad is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Follow him on Twitter: @ahmadjavid. The views expressed here are his own.


Obama’s Afghan plan is not a ‘withdrawal’ but a ‘transition,’ U.S. commander says
Source: The Washington Post
By: Karen DeYoung  

BRUSSELS — President Obama’s plan to remove all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 “is not a zero option . . . not a withdrawal plan,” the commander of U.S. and international forces there said Wednesday.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said the plan he expects to implement, following Obama’s announcement last week, is a “transition” that bears no resemblance to the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Under the plan, nearly 14,000 U.S., NATO and other international troops will remain in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of combat forces at the end of this year.

Components of that number, according to a senior U.S. military official, include 12,000 conventional forces made up of about 8,000 from the United States and 4,000 from NATO members and others who will train and advise Afghan security forces.

To reach Obama’s announced total of 9,800, the United States will also deploy a counterterrorism force of about 1,800, according to the official. The figures are the first approximate breakdown of the U.S. forces.

“The president’s decision” on overall troop strength “for us starts the detailed planning for the [counterterrorism] mission,” the military official said.

Obama said he would cut U.S. forces roughly in half at the end of 2015, to what the military official said would be about 5,500. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss figures that have not yet been made public, said the breakdown between conventional and counterterrorism forces will depend on conditions on the ground.

At the end of 2016, the only U.S. troops remaining will be a force of several hundred assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to handle defense sales and military education programs.

Dunford briefed NATO defense ministers’ meeting here as the alliance began to review transition plans that will be formalized at a “force generation” conference later this month and adopted by government leaders at NATO’s September summit in Wales.

The United States and its allies in Afghanistan have expressed confidence that Afghanistan’s new president, to be elected in a June 14 runoff, will sign the necessary bilateral security agreement and NATO status of forces accord to permit the post-2014 deployments.

“Right now, I don’t have any concerns [about] getting to 12,000” for the conventional force, said Dunford, who briefed a small group of reporters who traveled to the NATO conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Germany, Italy and Turkey each have indicated they will leave 600 to 800 troops in Afghanistan next year, based respectively in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, Herat in the west and Kabul. Those forces will be supplemented in each location by contributions from other NATO and non-NATO countries that have troops in the current international force under Dunford’s command in Afghanistan.

“We have not yet taken positions on the exact figures, but of course the United States announcement gives you an indication of the size of the future . . . mission,” to be called Resolute Support, said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

“We haven’t yet taken a decision on the duration” of the mission, including after 2015, Rasmussen said. “Right now, we’ll concentrate on the establishment” of the mission, he said.

Rasmussen emphasized NATO’s ongoing commitment to provide annual financial support for Afghanistan’s 352,000 combined military and police forces through 2017. An initial commitment is for $4.1 billion a year — about half of it from the United States. Dunford last year asked that the U.S. amount be increased by $600 million to $800 million.

U.S. and NATO officials described a Taliban force that has been greatly debilitated since the beginning of this year and pointed to the successful first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election in April as a defeat for the militants. The top two vote-getters are competing in next week’s runoff to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign the bilateral security and status of forces agreements.

“In the wake of the election, for the first time . . . the Taliban are on the defensive in the information space,” the senior military official said. For 10 years, he said, the Taliban has had two messages — that the United States was occupying their country and ultimately would abandon it. In the wake of the turnover of combat operations to Afghan national forces over the past year, and Obama’s announcement for the future, those messages have less resonance, the official said. The coalition has made clear, the official said, that we “won’t fall off the cliff at the end of 2014.”


Nearly 20 percent of US troops staying in Afghanistan will conduct counter terrorism operations
Source: Associated Press By: Lolita C. Baldor  

The U.S. military said Wednesday that about 1,800 of the nearly 10,000 U.S. troops the U.S. plans to leave in Afghanistan at the end of the year would be conducting counterterror operations, providing that specific breakout for the first time.

The military said other nations may also be willing to provide counterterror forces, although no final decisions have been made.

The revelations came as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan told reporters at a NATO meeting that he believes there will be no problem getting enough allied troops to reach the 12,000-force total that officials believe is needed in Afghanistan to train and assist Afghan forces beyond 2014.

“Right now, I don’t have any concerns getting to 12,000,” said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Of that number, the U.S. would contribute 8,000 to train and assist Afghan forces. Italy, Germany and Turkey have all committed to providing forces to secure parts of the country. Next year, the U.S. would have troops in the east and south, while the Italians will be largely in the west, the Germans in the north and the Turks in Kabul.

Asked for an assessment of the Taliban, Dunford told reporters that he believes there is friction within the insurgency.

The U.S. and NATO combat mission in Afghanistan will come to a close at the end of this year. NATO defense ministers meeting this week discussed which countries would continue to provide forces into 2015 and beyond. The U.S. has said it will leave 9,800 forces at the end of this year, cut that number about in half by the end of 2015 and have just a small force, in the hundreds, there after 2016.

At the same time, the U.S. and allies have committed to funding an Afghan force — now at about 352,000 — for several more years. Dunford said the Afghans need to sustain that level for “the next few years.” There is broad acknowledgment that there are several areas of needed improvement for the Afghan forces, including the air force, logistical systems and the ability to plan for, budget and buy needed equipment.

And Dunford said he believes the ability of the Taliban to garner political support among the Afghans is waning.

U.S. military assessments have suggested that the Taliban’s two main arguments are eroded. The Taliban has long accused NATO and the U.S. of being occupiers of Afghanistan and has also suggested that the allies will eventually abandon the Afghans.

But as Taliban fighters have continued to kill Afghan citizens, officials believe it will be harder for the insurgents to now gain support from the people to become part of the country’s governing structure. There also is some suggestion of ongoing divisions and confusion within the Taliban.


Taliban Tells Bergdahl 'Don’t Come Back to Afghanistan'
Source: Defense One By:    

The Taliban released a dramatic video Wednesday showing Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being handed over to U.S. special forces.

While Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl recovers at a military hospital in Germany after being held captive by the Taliban for 5 years, new video emerged Wednesday showing the dramatic moment he was released to U.S. special forces.

The 17-minute video, released by the Afghan Taliban, shows Bergdahl clean-shaven and dressed in white traditional Afghan dress on a mountainside in eastern Khost province on Saturday. One of the Taliban members can be heard telling Bergdahl in Pashto, "Don't come back to Afghanistan. You won't make it out alive next time," according to a translation by the Associated Press. Several of the men are heard laughing.

By Stephanie Gaskell, Defense One
June 4, 2014

While Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl recovers at a military hospital in Germany after being held captive by the Taliban for 5 years, new video emerged Wednesday showing the dramatic moment he was released to U.S. special forces.

The 17-minute video, released by the Afghan Taliban, shows Bergdahl clean-shaven and dressed in white traditional Afghan dress on a mountainside in eastern Khost province on Saturday. One of the Taliban members can be heard telling Bergdahl in Pashto, "Don't come back to Afghanistan. You won't make it out alive next time," according to a translation by the Associated Press. Several of the men are heard laughing.

A Pentagon spokesman told AP there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video. "Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt. Bergdahl the care he needs," Rear Adm. John Kirby said Wednesday.

Once aboard the Blackhawk helicopter, U.S. military officials said Bergdahl wrote on a piece of paper "SF?" – meaning special forces. When the American troops on board yelled out "Yes!" Bergdahl broke down in tears. Bergdahl remains at Landstuhl Military Medical Center in Germany, where he is recovering. U.S. military officials are planning to question him about what happened the night he was captured after reportedly walking off his base in Afghanistan in 2009.


U.S. Marines Deploy Blackjack UAS to Afghanistan
Source: AIN Online By:    

The U.S. Marine Corps has deployed the new RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to Afghanistan through an early operational capability. The 135-pound-mtow aircraft is undergoing initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E), a phase the service expects to complete this year.

Last month, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 (VMU-2) conducted the “first early operational capability flight” of the RQ-21A “in a combat area of responsibility,” according to the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). VMU-2 will use one Blackjack system, comprising five air vehicles, two ground control systems and launch and recovery support equipment, for intelligence, surveillance and reconaissance (ISR) missions. The Blackjack “will provide the Navy and Marine Corps warfighter with immediate situational awareness via visual, voice communication and other multi-intelligence data collection capabilities,” Navair said.

At the Unmanned Systems conference in mid-May, Ryan Hartman, senior vice president with manufacturer Insitu, said the Marines had recently deployed with the Blackjack to Afghanistan and expected to fly it within days. The system’s IOT&E phase, which started in January, is slated to end later this year, he said. Insitu calls the Blackjack “the first organic and dedicated multi-intelligence” UAS for Navy and Marine tactical commanders.

As the contracting authority, Navair selected the Insitu Integrator-based RQ-21A for the services’ small tactical UAS program in July 2010. The Marines Corps requirement is for 32 RQ-21A systems; the Navy seeks 25 systems. The RQ-21A has a maximum payload of 39 pounds and is capable of a variety of payloads. A standard payload configuration includes electro-optic camera, mid-wave infrared imager, laser rangefinder, IR marker, communications relay package and Automatic Identification System receivers.

VMU-2, based at Cherry Point, N.C., is the service’s first Blackjack squadron. In March, VMU-2 announced that it flew a pair of RQ-21As for the first time from Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic along the North Carolina coast. The squadron’s mission is to provide aerial ISR for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and II Marine Expeditionary Force.


Iran tries to block Afghanistan's opium boom
Source: The Associated Press By:    

TAIBAD, Iran - In the face of Afghanistan's unprecedented boom in opium production, neighboring Iran is trying to baton down its border to slow down smuggling, building moats, walls and other large-scale projects.

Iran spent more than $26 million last year alone on the border projects, which also include large embankments, new border posts and lengths of barbed wire along parts of its 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) border with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The transit of narcotics is a complicated issue. Smugglers are wealthy. They change tactics and use modern equipment that makes it more and more difficult to discover. We need new, modern equipment to combat drugs effectively," Gen. Ali Moayedi, Iran's anti-narcotics police chief, said during a recent tour of the border.

Neighboring Afghanistan has all the makings of a narco-state and is the main source of drugs coming into Iran and headed to other markets in Europe and the United States.

Last year, 209,000 hectares (806 square miles) of poppies were planted across Afghanistan, up 36 percent over the year before. They produced an estimated 5,500 metric tons (6,062 tons) of opium, according to the United Nations drug agency. By comparison, only a little over 7,000 hectares (27 square miles) of poppy field were eradicated.

The 2014 harvest is expected to match or even exceed last year's record. In coming years, opium will grab an even larger share of Afghanistan's already troubled economy, as money from U.S. military contracts and aid work dries up. The U.N. estimates that some 200,000 families in Afghanistan are involved in opium production already and that the country has some 1 million addicts.

As a share of Afghanistan's economy, opium looms large: The U.N. estimates the potential gross value of Afghan opiates last year was around $3 billion - equal to 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

"In 2013, we confiscated 573 tons of various kinds of narcotics from drug smugglers, showing a 14 percent increase compared to 2012," Ali Reza Jazini, a senior Iranian counter-narcotics official, told foreign diplomats as they visited Iran's border with Afghanistan.

The tour, including Tehran-based diplomats from 14 countries and the U.N., was part of an effort by Iran to demonstrate the effort it is making in the fight against drug smuggling.

Iran lies on a major drug route between Afghanistan, Europe and Gulf states. Every year, it burns about 100 tons of seized narcotics as a symbol of its determination to fight drugs.

Gen. Mohammad Kazem Taqavi, the local border police chief, said his forces clashed with armed drug smugglers the day before the tour in this border town.

"Some 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of narcotics were seized, one of the smugglers was killed and their weapons and equipment were confiscated," he said.

In the past 30 years, 3,734 Iranian border guards have been killed and more than 12,000 wounded in clashes with smugglers.

The U.N. provided special equipment to Iran to detect drugs hidden in tight and closed spaces like a vehicle's fuel tank.

Taqavi said more equipment was needed, along with more international help.

Iran has also complained that it is being accused of violating human rights by hanging convicted drug smugglers, who make up 73 percent of those executed annually in Iran. Some Iranian officials have suggested that the Islamic Republic should allow transit of narcotics through its territory if it is going to be criticized for hanging convicted drug smugglers

Jazini said Iran's policy of fighting drug smuggling will remain unchanged.

"It's against Islamic teachings and our policy to allow transit of illicit drugs through our territory. We will continue to fight drug smuggling even if there is no global contribution," he said.

Friedrich Stift, the Austrian ambassador, acknowledged there was a lack of support but said the political climate had changed after moderate President Hassan Rouhani took office last year.

"Iran is protecting its own population by combating drug trafficking. However, it is indirectly doing the job for us. We appreciate Iran's efforts," he said. "With change of political climate, the way is being paved for greater global contribution to Iran's fight against narcotics."

 


We need more visas, now, for our Afghan allies
Source: Los Angeles Times By: JOHN F. KERRY  

The way a country winds down a war in a faraway place and stands with those who risked their own safety to help in the fight sends a message to the world that is not soon forgotten.

As President Obama announced last week, the United States will withdraw all but 9,800 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and by the end of 2016, only a small force will be left at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As the withdrawal proceeds, the United States is in danger of sending the wrong message to Afghan interpreters and others who risked their lives helping our troops and diplomats do their jobs in Afghanistan over the last decade.

The State Department and other government agencies have over the last year improved the path to safety for record numbers of our Afghan allies, but now we need urgent help from Congress to continue that progress and fulfill our obligation.

The Afghan special immigrant visa program was established by Congress in 2009 to help Afghans whose work for the U.S. government put them in danger of retaliation. The program, modeled after one for Iraqis, was designed to identify people who faced genuine threats and to speed their entry to this country.

The effort got off to a slow start. Delays in processing applications and lack of transparency in making decisions created problems. Bluntly stated, the process wasn't keeping up with the demand. A full-scale State Department review revealed statistics and anecdotes that highlighted unconscionably long processing times for applicants, including on background checks conducted by other U.S. agencies. Some deserving people were simply falling through the cracks. This was unacceptable to me and to the president.

To fix it, the State Department first looked inward. We identified and dealt with inefficiencies and gaps in our own operation. We mobilized additional resources, particularly at the embassy in Kabul where staffers volunteered for extra duty and cut processing times in half.

We made the system easier to use for Afghans. U.S. diplomats moved around Afghanistan, explaining the rules and procedures to potential applicants. We encouraged people to apply early to maintain a steady flow of cases and minimize wait times. Congress helped by clarifying the rules about how applicants can demonstrate that they face threats.

Even as we streamlined the process, we applied strict safeguards to prevent anyone who posed a threat to the U.S. from slipping through the process. And, because the State Department is just one stop on a visa applicant's journey from paperwork to port of entry, we worked with our interagency partners to help clear their backlogs as well.

The results have been dramatic. Nearly 5,000 Afghans, mainly interpreters and their family members, have received visas under the program since Oct. 1, 2013, compared with roughly 1,600 in the previous 12 months. More than 1,000 Afghan interpreters received visas in March and April alone.

This success has created a new challenge. At the current fast pace, we expect to reach the 2014 fiscal year visa cap of 3,000, authorized by Congress, sometime in July. This leaves us in danger of stranding hundreds of deserving Afghans until a new batch of visas is approved for fiscal year 2015. It's an outcome that will be dangerous for applicants - and damaging to our national credibility the next time we have to rely on local knowledge.

Keeping our word requires passing legislation this summer to authorize additional visas for the remainder of this fiscal year and for the next fiscal year. We don't want to lose the hard-won momentum or put lives at risk.

Fortunately, the special immigrant visa program has strong support among members of both parties. This is not a partisan issue. Nor is it a gift to Afghans. Rather, this effort fulfills the commitment to those who risked their lives working alongside Americans in Afghanistan.

At the State Department, we have done our best to honor that obligation. Now there is a unique opportunity for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work together once again to authorize enough visas for this program. It's the least we can do for our Afghan allies.


American woman, husband held in Afghanistan
Source: Associated Press By: ERIC TUCKER  

The family of a pregnant American woman who went missing in Afghanistan in late 2012 with her Canadian husband received two videos last year in which the couple asked the U.S. government to help free them from Taliban captors, The Associated Press has learned.

The videos offer the first and only clues about what happened to Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle after they lost touch with their families 20 months ago while traveling in a mountainous region near the capital, Kabul. U.S. law enforcement officials investigating the couple's disappearance consider the videos authentic but say they hold limited investigative value since it's not clear when or where they were made.

The video files, which were provided to the AP, were emailed to Coleman's father last July and September by an Afghan man who identified himself as having ties to the Taliban but who has been out of contact for several months. In one, a subdued Coleman — dressed in a conservative black garment that covers all but her face— appeals to "my president, Barack Obama" for help.

"I would ask that my family and my government do everything that they can to bring my husband, child and I to safety and freedom," the 28-year-old says in the other recording, talking into a wobbly camera while seated beside her husband, whose beard is long and untrimmed.

The families decided to make the videos public now, in light of the publicity surrounding the weekend rescue of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed from Taliban custody in exchange for the release of five high-level Taliban suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The families say they are disappointed that their children and grandchild were not freed as part of the same deal but are still holding out hope for the U.S. and Canadian governments to secure their release on humanitarian grounds.

"It would be no more appropriate to have our government turn their backs on their citizens than to turn their backs on those who serve," Patrick Boyle, a Canadian judge and the father of Joshua Boyle, said in a telephone interview.

Republicans in Congress have criticized the Bergdahl agreement and complained about not being consulted, though Obama has defended it, citing a "sacred" obligation to not leave men and women in uniform behind. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., asked Obama in a letter this week why other Americans still in the custody of Afghan militants were not included in the negotiation. The families say their children, though without political or military ties to the government, are prisoners just as Bergdahl was and should be recognized as "innocent tourists" and not penalized further for venturing into dangerous territory.

"They really and truly believed that if people were loved and treated with respect that that would be given back to them in kind," said Linda Boyle, Boyle's mother. "So as odd it as it may seem to us that they were there, they truly believed with all their heart that if they treated people properly, they would be treated properly."

Relatives describe the couple, who wed in 2011 after meeting online, as well-intentioned but naive adventure seekers.

They once spent months traveling through Latin America, where they lived among indigenous Guatemalans and where Boyle grew a long beard that led some children to call him "Santa Claus." The couple set off again in the summer of 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then finally to Afghanistan. With plans to return home in December ahead of Coleman's due date, they checked in regularly via email during their travels — expressing in their writings an awareness of the perils they faced — and toured the region, staying in hostels and their tent.

The communication abruptly ended on Oct. 8, 2012, after Boyle emailed from an Internet cafe in what he called an "unsafe" part of Afghanistan. The last withdrawals from the couple's bank account were made Oct. 8 and 9 in Kabul. Two months later, an Afghan official told the AP that the two had been abducted in Wardak Providence, a rugged, mountainous Taliban haven.

New hope emerged last year when an Afghan man who said he had Taliban connections contacted James Coleman, offering first audio recordings and, later, the two email video files. Though the man said the recordings had been provided by the Taliban, he did not reveal what, if anything, the captors wanted and has not been in touch with the Colemans for months. Meanwhile, the Boyles and Colemans regularly send letters in an effort to reach their children through a non-governmental organization, but haven't received a response.

The families have not received any ransom demands and there are no clear signs of motive for their being held, but officials say the mere fact they were Westerners in hostile territory may have been reason enough. Joshua Boyle was previously married to the sister of Omar Khadr, a Canadian man who spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay after being captured in 2002 in a firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan, but U.S. officials discount any link between that previous family tie and his capture. One called it a "horrible coincidence."

Two U.S. law enforcement officials described the investigation, speaking only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly by name about the probe which is still under way.

The videos, each under two minutes long and featuring the couple seated in spare settings before cloth-draped backgrounds, contain no apparent clues — such as distinctive ethnic music — that might help investigators identify captors or locale. The videos do contain time stamps — one says May 20, 2013, the other Aug. 20, 2013 — but officials say those notations can easily be manipulated.

U.S. officials say the videos, in their low quality and lack of detail, bear some similarities to those the Taliban released about Bergdahl. They caution that while the videos establish beyond doubt that the couple were captured, they do not qualify as proof of life since there's no mention of current events that could help establish the time.

In addition to calling for government help, the couple in the videos recite names of their family members and certain contact information.

"Just seeing her and seeing her face and hearing her, while it was very difficult, it was also something that relieved a lot of ambiguous anxieties and the fears," said Coleman's mother, Lyn.

Caitlan Coleman refers to her child in the videos, but no child is shown — a fact one U.S. official said was concerning. The grandparents say they don't know the name or gender of the child, who would be about 18 months old.

Even as he holds out hope, James Coleman frets about his daughter's health and a grandchild born into captivity in a foreign country.

"It's an event that just stands out. I think it cries to out to the world, 'This can't be. These people must be let go immediately," said James Coleman.


War in Afghanistan: What Was Won, What Was Lost?
Source: Newsweek By: Benny Avni  

Afghanistan is about to go back to the polls to pick a new president. Both candidates boast anti-Al-Qaeda credentials. But after America is gone, will the winner manage to keep a country that is perennially on the edge of war from reverting to its bad old ways?

President Barack Obama announced in late May a plan to cut the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by the end of the year and completely leave the nation to its own devices before 2017. The longest war the U.S. has ever fought is about to end, but no one can guarantee that Afghanistan, which once hosted the masterminds of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, will not pose a threat to the U.S. again.

Much will depend on who wins: former Afghan finance minister Ahsraf Ghani or former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. The two will face each other in a runoff election on June 14 because neither candidate managed to secure half of all votes when the country voted in April. Voter turnout was high, and Taliban threats to attack polling stations never materialized.

Both candidates say they will sign a Bilateral Strategic Agreement with the U.S. to allow American troops to remain in the country. But so had the outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, who nevertheless reneged on his promise and refused to sign the pact.

Both candidates have said they would negotiate with the Taliban, and, as it turns out, so has the United States, even though it considers the group that NATO forces chased from power in 2001 a terrorist organization. This week, a three-year secret negotiation between America and the Taliban culminated in the release of America's last known prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in exchanged for five high-level Taliban detainees.
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They included the Taliban's former army chief, Mohammad Fazl, and deputy intelligence chief Abdul Haq Wasiq. Critics of the administration are concerned that the five could resume their roles as fighters, adding to Afghanistan's instability once NATO leaves the country

Obama announced in late May that by the end of this year, 9,800 troops will remain in Afghanistan, where currently 32,000 U.S.-led NATO troops are stationed. By the end of 2015, that force would be cut once more, by half. And as Obama’s presidency comes to a close in 2016, American troops will be out of Afghanistan, fulfilling the vow he made before he was elected to end the two American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Washington has been trying to reassure its allies in the region that Obama’s withdrawal plan will leave behind a stronger Afghanistan and that in the remaining two years, U.S. troops will further help strengthen the country and its military.

This is not pie in the sky. There are good reasons to be optimistic about Afghanistan. The April elections “surprised quite a lot of people,” Britain’s former foreign secretary, David Miliband, told me recently. “The first round of presidential election went better than people expected. There were remarkable scenes of people queuing to vote, ordinary Afghans wanting to have their voice heard. And two credible candidates emerged for the second round.”

Ghani, a former World Bank official, was a high-profile advocate of a new Afghanistan in the aftermath of the NATO 2001 invasion that overthrew the Taliban. Most notably, he became a fighter against the widespread corruption that blights the country.

Meanwhile, Abdullah, a former eye doctor and senior member of the Northern Alliance, fought against the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and against the Russians’ successors, the Taliban. He is half Tajik, which may prove to be a disadvantage against Ghani, who is fully Pashtun, the ethnicity that dominates the country’s politics. But Abdullah benefits from strong Western backing and has managed to raise a lot of money for his campaign, say Afghan watchers. Either way, according to Miliband, both are “good for Afghanistan.”

Still, Miliband, who often visits the nation’s poorer villages in his current role as president of the International Rescue Committee, an organization providing humanitarian assistance around the globe, said that the country, the world’s fourth poorest, “continues to need help” from outsiders. And not only humanitarian assistance, he added, but also help “on the security and political fronts.”

As Ghani told the Atlantic Council last week in a videoconference call, the country’s annual revenue is $2 billion, while Afghanistan’s security needs cost $4.1 billion. While Obama has pledged to keep aid at the current level, Congress has cut it in half in 2014, to $1.12 billion. Expecting increased congressional scrutiny as U.S. troops leave, Afghanistan will “need to do a very significant amount of reform in management of the security forces,” Ghani said.

Also, after over a decade of NATO presence, many in the region dread the day the U.S. military and its allies leave. “What we’re stressing is the issue of a responsible exit,” Abdullah told the French network France 24 recently. “Nobody would like to see a situation that can have the potential to lead to the earlier situation before the [2001] intervention by the U.S.”

That is why, perhaps, Afghan voters rejected candidates favored by outgoing President Karzai back in April and gave the highest number of votes to Abdullah and Ghani instead. Karzai has confronted Washington for too long, and “in Afghanistan today you can’t be too anti-American,” said one diplomat based in the region.

The expected peaceful transfer of power to a successor will be remembered as a positive Karzai legacy, said Zalmay Khalilzad, President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and the United Nations. But Karzai’s bad relations with the U.S. during his second term will also be remembered, he added.

In an interview with Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch, an online streaming-audio station, Khalilzad noted that Karzai was initially a strong American ally. But as his re-election campaign approached in 2009, Karzai “came to a judgment that the U.S. was out to get him.”

Harking back to his stint as the ambassador in Iraq, Khalilzad noted that both Washington and Baghdad had said they wanted a Status of Force Agreement, like the one proposed in Afghanistan, to allow a residual U.S. force to remain in Iraq. But the Obama administration and Nuri al-Maliki’s government failed to agree, even though “a lot of people hoped we’d stay there for a long time,” Khalilzad said.

Obama’s top military advisers—most prominently the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, General Joseph Dunford—argued for leaving at least 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to help its military prevent an Al-Qaeda resurgence. Obama has suggested that no more than a hundred Al-Qaeda fighters remain in Afghanistan’s mountainous Kunar province. But a recently foiled car bomb attack against an American base in Afghanistan, which would have been disastrous because of the payload’s massive size, was hatched by Al-Qaeda, according to some reports, signifying, perhaps, the belligerent Islamist group’s return to active combat.

Obama has been trying to reassure Americans and Afghans that Afghanistan’s future is bright. “Al-Qaeda’s leadership in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more,” he told West Point cadets on May 28.

But not everyone is reassured. “Years ago I had a friend,” a diplomat from the region recalled recently, speaking not for attribution. “I met him in Paris while we were both young students. He was French, a recent convert to Islam. He grew a beard, changed his name, moved to Afghanistan, dressed like the locals.” When the Reagan administration and Afghani mujahedeen fighters were on the point of defeating the Soviet occupying forces in the late 1980s, the diplomat said, “my friend warned his U.S. contacts, who were about to leave, that some among the mujahedeen were already talking about the next war, against America. But all the Americans said to him was, ‘Don’t worry about that.’”

Now, the diplomat concluded, “whenever the Americans say don’t worry, I worry.”


 
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Intersting Readings
Probe launched over $500M spent on Afghanistan planes now sitting idle
Controversy Over Afghan-US Deal
Exploring Afghanistan's 'Iran option'
A Proposal for Peace in Afghanistan
What The 'Zero Option' Would Look Like In Afghanistan
Obama’s Afghanistan Specialists Stumped on Basic Facts
Kabul bank loans yet to be recovered from Mahmud Karzai and Haseen Fahim
The deadly legacy of open air burn pits
The next Agent Orange: why is our military making its soldiers sick? -Watch

 

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