Hamid Karzai says US cutting supplies to put pressure on security pact
Nato-led force responds to Afghanistan president: 'There has been no stoppage in the delivery of requested fuel'
The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and his national security council have accused the United States of cutting military supplies, including fuel, to put pressure on the country to sign a security pact, a statement from Karzai's palace said on Sunday.
The US embassy in Kabul denied that supplies had been cut. US officials said logistical problems in Pakistan might have given rise to the alleged delays in deliveries. In a statement, the Nato-led force in Afghanistan said: "There has been no stoppage in the delivery of requested fuel and we continue to process all orders as soon as they are received."
Karzai's relationship with the United States has worsened since he invited thousands of elders to vote on the security deal last week and then ignored their advice, which was to sign it promptly. The pact's terms were settled after about a year of wrangling, but Karzai has since added conditions that include the release of all Afghan prisoners from Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and an end to military operations involving Afghan homes.
On Thursday, Karzai denounced his Western allies for bombing an Afghan home and killing a child, an accusation the Nato-led force has promised to investigate.
If the bilateral pact is not signed, western aid running to billions of dollars will be in jeopardy and confidence in the fragile economy could collapse amid fears that Afghanistan will slip back into ethnic fighting or civil war. Diplomats said Karzai may have overplayed his hand, raising the risk of a complete US withdrawal from a country where western troops have fought Taliban militants for the past 12 years. Karzai's domestic critics say he is playing a dangerous game with Afghanistan's future security.
On Sunday Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the US Senate intelligence committee, had strong words for Afghanistan's president over his refusal to sign the deal. Feinstein, appearing on CNN's State of the Union talkshow, said she thinks Hamid Karzai "is such a cipher" and added that Karzai was "so much the victim of what thought occurs to him right at the moment based on some anger that he feels about something that may not even be related".
In Kabul, the issue was raised during a Sunday meeting of the Afghan national security council.
"The meeting concluded that the cutting of fuel supplies and support services to the Afghan army and police is being used as a means of pressure to ensure Afghanistan … signs the Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] with the US," said a statement from the presidential palace.
The BSA is a decade-long security deal which would mandate the size and shape of the US military presence in Afghanistan once the Nato combat mission ends next year. Without it, the US would be unable to maintain troops in the country; it would likely also precipitate the withdrawal of the military forces of most other nations.
Afghan president denies suggesting elections be delayed
President Hamid Karzai denied on Monday that he had suggested delaying the elections scheduled for April next year to avoid the heavy snow that could cut off access to some parts of the country, as asserted by the poll's organisers.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) chairman had told Parliament that Karzai suggested pushing back the elections to address concerns about snow blocking voters. Karzai's spokesman however denied that changing the date had been discussed.
"The president will never interfere in the affairs of the election commission nor he would allow others to do so," Aimal Faizi said.
The prospect of a delay was likely to worry the United States and critics of Karzai who fear he may be trying to drag out his second and final term.
Karzai is barred by the constitution from running for a third term and has so far refrained from backing any of the candidates, although he is widely expected to support his elder brother Qayum, seen as one of the front runners.
The president has also refused to sign a pact that would keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after next year when most international troops pull out. His assertion the deal should wait until after the elections has been taken by some as evidence of his reluctance to step out of the limelight.
"Regarding the weather, there have been concerns," IEC chairman Yousof Nooristani told parliament's upper house on Sunday. "Even the president has suggested we could make changes to this (the election date) because he received complaints from the people."
"I told him we couldn't because the date is set, based on the constitution and electoral law."
But while electoral law states the date cannot be changed, one member of the IEC - appointed by Karzai's administration to organise the vote - said it could be delayed if the weather threatened to exclude groups of voters.
"That is possible, but one thing is clear. We are trying not to say this...it is premature," the commissioner told Reuters, asking to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to give statements to the press.
Critics at home and diplomats however have long feared that Karzai could use bad weather or poor security as a tool for pushing back the vote set to mark the first democratic transfer of power since the Taliban fell in 2001.
But the IEC's spokesman said that neither the organisers nor the president had authority to change the date.
"Some members of the upper house asked the chairman if the time could change because of the climate issue in the north of the country," IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said.
"No one can have the authority to change the date and time, because it is quite clear in the constitution."
The IEC chairman's assertion that Karzai advocated delaying the vote will come as a disappointment to Washington, engaged in the standoff over the signing of the security agreement.
Organisers already say poor security, a shortage of monitors and funding holes are undermining their ability to safeguard the process from the widespread fraud that marred the last poll in 2009.
Another deeply flawed election would undermine the attempts of Washington and its allies to foster democracy before the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Western nations, who have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on a conflict that has failed to end the Taliban insurgency, have pledged about a third less cash to the United Nations fund that will cover most of the election's costs compared with 2009, official U.N. figures show.
Corruption among election staff is rife, according to both U.N. and Afghan sources, and even those that want to remain independent fear their lives may be in danger if they try to stop fraud. Many important roles in the IEC remain vacant just five months before the poll.
There is also a severe shortage of female staff, which threatens to exclude most women from voting and makes polling stations for women harder to monitor.
If the pact with the United States is not signed, Western aid running to billions of dollars will be in jeopardy and confidence in the fragile economy could collapse amid fears the country will slip back into ethnic fighting or civil war.
The logic for setting the election date in early April was to minimise the risk of attacks by the Taliban insurgency. Because of heavy snow, fighting in Afghanistan tends to subside during the winter months.
KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has suggested delaying April elections to avoid heavy snow, organisers said, an idea that will rattle the United States and critics who fear he may be trying to drag out his second and final term.
Karzai is barred by the constitution from running for a third term and has so far refrained from backing any of the candidates, although he is widely expected to support his elder brother Qayum, seen as one of the front runners.
But Karzai has also refused to sign a pact that would keep thousands of US troops in Afghanistan after next year when most international troops pull out.
He has said the agreement shouldn’t be signed until after the election, which some say illustrates his reluctance to step out of the limelight. “Regarding the weather, there have been concerns,” the chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), Yousof Nooristani, told the upper house of parliament yesterday.
“Even the president has suggested we could make changes to this (the election date) because he received complaints from the people. I told him we couldn’t because the date is set, based on the constitution and electoral law.”
The proposal was raised after government officials said snow blocking roads in their provinces could prevent voters from reaching polling stations.
While electoral law states the date cannot be changed, one member of the commission, appointed by Karzai’s administration to organise the vote, said it could be delayed if the
weather threatened to exclude groups of voters.
“That is possible, but one thing is clear. We are trying not to say this... it is premature,” the commissioner said.
Critics at home and diplomats however have long feared that Karzai could use bad weather or poor security as a tool for pushing back the vote set to mark the first democratic transfer of power since the Taliban fell in 2001.
But the commission’s spokesman said that neither the organisers nor the president had authority to change the date.
“Some members of the upper house asked the chairman if the time could change because of the climate issue in the north of the country,” IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said. “No one can have the authority to change the date and time, because it is quite clear in the constitution.”
Taliban urge Afghan president Hamid Karzai to reject US security deal
Taliban offer Karzai rare support but say 'the decision of Afghan nation is clear: they don't want any occupier in our homeland'
The Taliban have urged the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to turn a delay in signing a long-term security deal with the United States into outright rejection, in an unusually polite statement directed at a leader the insurgents have repeatedly denounced as a US puppet.
Karzai last month called a national assembly to vote on the bilateral security agreement (BSA) and then shocked most of the country, including some of his closest advisers, by ignoring the advice of the handpicked group that he sign as soon as possible.
The deal would allow US forces to stay on past the 2014 end of the current combat mission, and seal billions of dollars a year in funding for the Afghan police and military. Karzai's delaying tactics stirred widespread condemnation from many in the Kabul elite worried about how the country would fight the Taliban without foreign funds or back-up.
The Taliban on Monday offered the Afghan leader rare, if somewhat grudging, support for his position so far, but also demanded that he abandon all conditions and reject the pact unilaterally.
"Karzai, the president of the Kabul administration, apparently conditionally refused to sign the BSA," the emailed statement from spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. "If he truly understands the real (situation), he should reject it without conditions, from a sense of Afghan spirit.
"The decision of the Afghan nation is clear: they don't want any occupier in our homeland."
The insurgent group's statement came on the day Iraq's foreign minister visited Kabul and admitted that his country still needs "continued US support" to combat widespread sectarian violence, even though it turned down a deal for long-term military support two years ago.
The last American soldiers pulled out of Iraq in 2011 after the two countries failed to agree a pact similar to the one Afghanistan is now being offered. The sticking point was Baghdad's refusal to grant immunity from Iraq law to US troops.
"Our expectation of the government of Afghanistan is to sign the BSA with the US, because Afghanistan needs US support," Tolo television station quoted minister Hoshyar Zebari telling Afghan journalists.
Karzai has said he will not sign the BSA until after a presidential election to choose his successor next year – he cannot stand again – and recently listed a range of new demands, from an immediate halt of all raids on foreign homes to the release of all Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo day.
The US has said that the negotiations are finished, and Karzai must make a decision by the end of the year, to allow time for planning either a troop departure or the shape of the follow-up presence, expected to be around 8,000 to 10,000 US forces and a smaller number from Nato allies.
If the deal is not signed, all foreign soldiers will leave when the current combat mission ends in 2014, and most of a promised $8 billion a year in military and development aid is likely to vanish. A still-weak army that relies on foreign training and back-up would be on its own in the fight against the Taliban.
Karzai's close advisers, including spokesman Aimal Faizi, have said they do not believe there is really a "zero option" of withdrawing all troops, and the US is trying to intimidate a poorer, weaker ally.
But US politicians, diplomats and analysts warn that after years of mostly outfoxing his foreign backers when the Afghan war was a top policy priority, Karzai may have severely miscalculated the mood in an economically strained US, and a White House distracted by other international crises from Syria to China.
Tensions between the United States and Afghanistan flared up further in the past few days after a Nato airstrike killed a young boy in Helmand province. The Afghan leader's office said that attack was a betrayal of a promise by US President Barack Obama that his forces would respect Afghan civilians as they do their own citizens.
At the weekend Karzai also accused the US of cutting off fuel supplies to the police and army in a bid to force him into signing the pact. The Nato-led coalition denied any halt in flows of diesel or gasoline vital to patrols and military operations against the Taliban.
"We are aware of a statement on the Afghan presidential website concerning issues with fuel provisions for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)," spokesman David Simons said in an email. There has been no stoppage in the delivery of requested fuel and we continue to process all orders as soon as they are received from the ANSF."
According to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, the American government paid more than $1.1 billion to fuel the Afghan army from 2007 to 2012, the Associated Press reported. It plans to spend more for fuel until 2018, but only if a security deal is signed.
KABUL: Senate chairman Fazl Hadi Muslimyar on Monday announced his opposition to signing of a key security agreement with the US and instead supported a strategic partnership agreement reached between the two allies two years ago.
Muslimyar told a press conference in Kabul he was not only against the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), but everyone even from Saudi Arabia coming to Afghanistan with guns.
“I am personally not a supporter of signing the agreement, but can say nothing about other house members,” said the Meshrano Jirga chairman, who asked the US and Afghan governments to stay committed to their pledges and not to leave the security agreement undecided.
He said he was supportive of the strategic partnership agreement with the US and wanted Afghanistan to have good relations with the whole of the world.
The BSA was approved by a consultative Loya Jirga, asking President Karzai to sign the document within next six or seven weeks.
However, on the last day of the three-day tribal assembly, Karzai said he would not sign the deal even after approved by the assembly and ratified by the parliament.
He said the US should guarantee peaceful elections, end to raids on Afghan homes and arrange formal talks between his government and the Taliban.
Washington has warned withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan if the deal was not signed over the next five weeks.
Muslimyar said Afghan forces should be strengthened in all departments, hoping the forces would be able to take in their hand the entire security responsibility and not only maintain peace in Afghanistan, but also assist foreign countries.
He also said rockets attacks from Pakistan had left the people of eastern Kunar province worried about their safety, suggesting the issue should be raised with the Americans.
NATO says Karzai failure to sign pact would end Afghan mission
NATO would have to pull all its troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 if Afghan President Hamid Karzai does not sign a security pact with the United States, alliance chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday.
An assembly of Afghan elders, the Loya Jirga, last month endorsed the security pact intended to shape the U.S. military presence in the country beyond 2014. But Karzai said he might not sign it until after elections in April.
The NATO-led force currently has around 80,000 troops in Afghanistan, the majority American. NATO is winding down combat operations, handing responsibility for fighting Taliban insurgents to the Afghans, before most foreign combat forces pull out by the end of 2014.
NATO plans to leave a training mission, expected to number 8,000 to 12,000 soldiers, in Afghanistan after 2014.
The United States has already warned it could withdraw all its forces by the end of next year, the so-called "zero option", if Karzai does not sign the pact.
Without the U.S.-Afghan accord, NATO will not be able to finalize its own agreement with the Afghan government setting the terms for troops from other NATO and partner nations to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, Rasmussen told reporters.
"In that case, we don't have a proper legal framework in place and it will not be possible to deploy a 'train, advise, assist' mission to Afghanistan after 2014," Rasmussen said.
He voiced hope Karzai would follow the advice of the Loya Jirga and sign.
The agreement that NATO needs with Afghanistan is modeled on the proposed U.S. pact and, in any case, Washington is expected to supply most of the forces for the post-2014 NATO mission, so without the United States, the mission is unlikely to be feasible.
Although terms of the Afghan-U.S. pact were settled after a year of wrangling, Karzai has since added conditions including the release of all Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and an end to military operations involving Afghan homes.
NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss Afghanistan. The delay in signing the U.S.-Afghan security pact is causing mounting frustration among NATO diplomats because it is holding up detailed military planning for the post-2014 mission.
NATO officials and diplomats warned privately of dire consequences for Afghanistan, including threats to up to $8 billion a year in aid, if Karzai failed to sign the U.S. pact.
A senior diplomat at NATO said U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice had made clear on a recent visit to Kabul that Washington would begin planning to pull out all its troops by the end of 2014 unless Karzai signed by the end of this year.
Foreign donors are required to provide the bulk of the $4 billion a year needed to finance the Afghan security forces.
Withdrawal of all foreign troops could jeopardize that foreign funding as well as around $4 billion a year in civilian aid, the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
"We are concerned, without those eyes and ears on the ground, that the $4 billion a year (in security assistance) will be difficult to appropriate across our capitals because there will simply be less confidence that the money is going to go where it is intended to go," he said.
KABUL: Iraq’s foreign minister said on Monday he shared his country’s failed experiences in negotiating a US security deal with Afghan officials, who have repeatedly delayed signing a similar agreement with America.
Hoshyar Zebari did not provide details of his talks with President Hamid Karzai in a brief statement after signing an agreement to facilitate pilgrimages to Iraqi religious sites, but hinted that Iraq needed American help to overcome its security challenges following a wave of brutal sectarian violence.
In 2011, the United States and Iraq couldn’t agree on terms of a similar security arrangement to keep American troops in that country and all US forces pulled out.
Sectarian violence has plagued Iraq ever since, and some fear Afghanistan could head down that path without a continued US presence if Afghan forces cannot defend the country themselves.
Zebari’s brief visit came amid fresh tension with the United States following yet another flare-up with the Afghan government.
Karzai’s office charged late Sunday that American forces were not delivering fuel to some army and police units as part of an attempt to force the president to sign the security agreement.
The US-led international coalition immediately denied the allegations and said all fuel deliveries to the Afghan National Security Forces were being carried out normally.
Zebari said he shared “our expertise in signing the security agreement with the American forces” and added, “I think it was a very useful exchange of experience.”
He added that Iraq still needs “continued US support for the security challenges that we are going through.” Zebari did not elaborate and reporters were not allowed to ask questions during a signing ceremony for a deal to facilitate Afghan Shiites wishing to travel on pilgrimages to holy sites in Iraq.
Although Karzai has endorsed a long-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States that will keep thousands of troops here past a 2014 deadline, and a national assembly of Afghan dignitaries has approved it, he has repeatedly refused to sign it.
Karzai has instead deferred its signature to his successor after next April’s presidential elections.
The US says it wants the deal signed by the end of next month and has threatened to make plans for a complete pullout after a Nato mandate expires at the end of 2014 if it’s not. America’s Nato allies have also said they will not keep troops here to train and mentor Afghan forces if America leaves.
Pakistan Pledges Support for Afghan-Taliban Peace Talks
In his first visit to Afghanistan since he took office in June, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Saturday promised to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai's efforts to seek peace and reconciliation with the Taliban.
Sharif’s visit to Kabul came only days after a senior delegation from the Afghan Peace Council visited Islamabad to discuss the peace process and visit Afghan Taliban prisoners in Pakistan. In the wake of that meeting, Pakistan released three Taliban commanders—including a close aide of Mullah Omar, a move seen as an effort to encourage negotiations in Afghanistan.
Following talks, Sharif promised that his civilian government would maintain friendly relations with its neighbors--including Afghanistan, and will play a neutral position in Kabul’s effort to make peace with the Taliban.
“A peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s vital interest,” Sharif said, stressing that peace and stability in and with Afghanistan is key to a “peaceful and prosperous neighborhood.”
NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ends in December 2014, and most observers believe Pakistan stands to play a key role in advancing a political solution to the 12-year-old Afghan conflict.
But skeptics in Kabul question Pakistan’s ability to maintain neutrality. Afghans have long accused Pakistan of fueling instability in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan insurgents and giving them safe havens in the country’s tribal areas.
Pakistan rejects these allegations, and on Saturday, Sharif said he would encourage a meeting between members of an Afghan peace council and former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from Pakistani jail last September.
Islamabad’s former Ambassador to Kabul, Rustam Shah Momand, believes that Sharif’s visit has reassured Karzai of Pakistan’s sincerity in the Afghan peace process and its willingness to play a positive role in it.
“Peace in Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan,” Mohmand said. “Security in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan the most, and insecurity in Afghanistan will harm Pakistan the most.”
Ghafoor Liwal, Director of the Afghan Center for Strategic and Regional Studies, believes that Nawaz Sharif has visited a Kabul that is much changed.
“The political environment in Afghanistan is no longer the same as it was during the 90s,” Liwal said. “Afghan people’s perceptions about Pakistan have changed a great deal. Back in the 90s, Pakistan was viewed as the center of Islam by most Afghans, whereas now Pakistan is more viewed more as a potential adversary by most Afghans, [rather] than an ally.”
Some experts believe that Pakistan’s history of conflict resolution efforts in Afghanistan during the early 90s--and again with the Taliban regime in late 90s--could be an asset in the current peace and reconciliation process.
Who has the final say?
A question remains, however, as to how much autonomy Sharif, a civilian leader, has to make important foreign policy decisions, particularly regarding Afghanistan. Many believe that any decisions made by Sharif will have to be approved by Pakistan’s strong military.
“Pakistan’s military plays a vital role in sustaining the country’s unity against a rival India and other powers in the region and without doubt the military will continue to have that dominance in the future as well,” Payand said.
That said, Payand believes that military can only go so far. “Soldiers cannot run the economy nor can they do other vital national tasks that civilian administration can, and I think Pakistan’s military has realized this,” he said.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of aid workers killed in Afghanistan has more than tripled this year, making the country by far the most dangerous place in the world for relief work, according to data released by United Nations officials here.
Officials were reluctant to attribute the increase to any single factor. But in a number of recent cases, Taliban insurgents have openly claimed responsibility — despite espousing an official policy that rejects attacks on humanitarian workers.
“We are looking at the situation with concern about what are clearly increasing numbers of aid workers affected by the conflict,” said Mark Bowden, the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations here.
Through November, he said, there were 237 attacks on Afghanistan’s aid workers, with 36 people killed, 46 wounded and 96 detained or abducted. Through all of last year, there were 175 attacks, with 11 people killed, 26 wounded and 44 detained or abducted.
“The nature of the fighting has changed,” Mr. Bowden said. “You have more disseminated ground-level fighting than you’ve had before, and this has come as a result of a change of tactics by handing over the fighting to the Afghan national security forces. So civilian casualties have increased dramatically this year, so obviously you’re seeing more widespread displacement of people as well.”
Afghanistan relies heavily on international aid, which makes up a vast majority of Afghan economic activity. And continuing such assistance after the 2014 American military withdrawal is a central part of security planning.
“I think it’s just that we don’t have any more ISAF in the field, so these people who are on a jihad, they need someone to attack — so we are the target because we are out there,” said the head of a humanitarian organization, who did not wish to be named criticizing one side or another in the conflict. ISAF is the International Security Assistance Force, the American-led military coalition.
Some other officials in the aid community have also been reluctant to directly blame insurgent groups for the increase in attacks.
“I’m really worried,” said Justine Piquemal, the director of Acbar, a group that represents many of the country’s leading nongovernmental organizations doing relief work. “Because, unfortunately, figures show clearly we are the very worst place in the world for aid workers.”
Ms. Piquemal said it was impossible to be sure whom to blame, saying in many cases that attacks seemed to stem from criminal behavior. Her organization, using different definitions for aid workers, counted 32 fatalities this year.
Data compiled by the Aid Worker Security Database, a project financed by the United States Agency for International Development, also using different definitions of aid workers, showed 75 attacks in 2013, compared with 56 in 2012 — the most of any country. (South Sudan was the second worst, with 25 attacks.)
That is partly because the aid community in Afghanistan is much larger than most other countries, with 2,320 organizations registered with the Afghan government employing 90,000 people.
A vast majority of those are Afghans, with only 3,337 foreigners registered, according to Sayed Hashim Basirat, the head of the government’s NGO registration office.
For the past five years, the number of foreign aid workers in Afghanistan has been declining as security concerns have deterred many organizations from sending foreigners into areas where the Taliban are contesting territory.
Officially, the Taliban say there has been no change in their policy of avoiding attacks against aid workers. “In the places which are under our control, there aren’t any incidents,” Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents, said in a telephone interview. “We do not target those NGO workers who aren’t working for the foreigners.”
Yet when six workers with a French aid group were shot to death in their car in northern Faryab Province on Wednesday, a lone survivor of the ambush said the armed men who carried it out deliberately made sure each of the workers, all Afghans, were dead.
Subsequently, in a statement on a Taliban website dated Wednesday, the insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack on the aid group, the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development, naming them but giving no explanation.
The French group has worked in Afghanistan for about 20 years on many rural projects in conflict areas and has no association with the military.
Speaking for her group, Acbar, Ms. Piquemal said that so far, the increased attacks were not forcing cuts in programs or preventing aid workers from doing their jobs. Her organization’s 133 member groups work in every province of Afghanistan, she said.
Others, however, say the effects are already being felt.
“There is a remarkable decrease in registration of Afghan NGOs that receive funds from donors,” Mr. Basirat said. “We believe this is because donors are worried about the present situation.”
Ahmad Ibrahim Haidari, the director of the Afghan Bureau for Reconstruction, said: “Due to the targeting of NGO workers these days, it is hard for us to convince our Afghan staff to travel outside major cities. And the recent incident in Faryab doubled that concern.”
Mr. Haidari said his group had already ceased operations in Wardak and Logar Provinces because of security concerns. “Our vehicles have been fired at, our equipment confiscated,” he said.
Some aid workers say they are feeling a growing threat not only from insurgents and criminals, but also sometimes from Afghan government forces and even, on occasion, from the American-led coalition.
Andreas Stefansson, the country director for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, said that at least 10 times this year, Afghan and Western soldiers — mostly thought to be Special Operations units — had occupied or searched medical clinics that the group operates. He said the actions were clear violations of Geneva Conventions that put medical facilities themselves off limits to armed parties, even if insurgents go there for treatment.
Mr. Stefansson said that while the incidents rarely lasted more than a few days, he said, they have made it increasingly dangerous for the group’s staff to operate in conflict areas. “The local population don’t trust the impartiality of the clinic,” he said. “If you end up having armed troops patrolling in and around these places, you disrupt the trust you have.”
Later on Monday, ISAF released a statement on the issue. “In accordance with international law, ISAF recognizes health or medical facilities as protected structures. ISAF forces do not intentionally use medical facilities as firebases or lodging, or for any other military use,” it said, adding, “Insurgent forces, on the other hand, have used protected structures contrary to international law and conducted operations from them.”
President Obama Must Turn The Interminable Afghanistan Conflict Over To The Afghans
The longest war in American history drags on, with Washington a captive of purposeless inertia. The Obama administration should bring all U.S. forces home from Afghanistan and turn the conflict over to the Afghans.
After Afghan-based terrorists orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Washington invaded the Central Asian nation. The Bush administration had little choice but to make an example of the Taliban regime as well as target al-Qaeda. Members of any government giving sanctuary to those who attack Americans need to understand that they will no longer be members of any government.
But that lesson was delivered 12 long years ago when U.S. forces aided indigenous opponents of the Taliban to capture Kabul. If nation-building in Central Asia ever was a realistic objective, the moment soon passed. The Bush administration shifted its gaze to Iraq and careened to disaster along the Euphrates.
Yet President Bush continued to pursue a resource-starved counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. The conflict wasn’t as costly—in lives or money—as Iraq, but the war lacked serious strategic rationale. As 9/11 receded into the past, fewer Americans had any idea what the fighting was about.
President Barack Obama took office having opposed the Iraq invasion, but twice increased the number of troops in Afghanistan. Still, he promised that U.S. forces would return home. Last year Vice President Joe Biden stated simply: “we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period.”
But now the administration wants American troops to stick around, for years if not forever. The newly negotiated Bilateral Security Agreement would take effect on January 15, 2015 and run until “the end of 2024 and beyond.” The administration apparently hopes to keep between 8,000 and 15,000 troops on station.
The president has made Afghanistan his war.
Why? Back when even some Republicans began turning against the conflict, the Heritage Foundation’s Baker Spring said the Afghan war was necessary to “defend the vital interests of the United States.” These days “vital interests” have taken over the role of “patriotism,” which Samuel Johnson famously called “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Almost any issue any where in the world is routinely elevated to “vital” status to justify extensive and expensive U.S. intervention.
Afghanistan never was vital to America. Not even during the Cold War. After the Soviet invasion in December 1979 the conflict offered a convenient and inexpensive (for Washington, not the Afghan people) opportunity to bleed Moscow dry. Less then a decade later Soviet forces withdrew.
The U.S. government has been criticized for then losing interest in the struggle, but there was little Washington could have done. The civil war continued. There was no peace to keep and only direct military intervention could have imposed one. America had neither cause nor ability to do so.
Osama Bin Laden again focused U.S. attention on Afghanistan, but only the transitory terrorist connection made control of Kabul critical to America. With the displacement of al-Qaeda and punishment of the Taliban, Afghanistan quickly receded in importance. Observed Biden: “we went there for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans, al-Qaeda. We’ve decimated al-Qaeda central. We have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose.”
So what is Washington doing there today? A mix of nation-building, democracy-promotion, and humanitarian intervention. The State Department’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James F. Dobbins, warned that if the U.S. fails to maintain its presence “you project into the upcoming electoral period a degree of instability caused by growing alarm at Afghanistan returning to the 1990s.” The election could turn into “winner takes all” and “every man for himself, where losers in the election don’t just go into the opposition but get killed or go into exile.”
However, if the Afghan political system is as fragile as Dobbins suggests despite years of allied military and financial support, the few thousand personnel the Obama administration hopes to keep in country won’t make much difference. In fact, social engineering in Afghanistan has failed. Coincident with the negotiation over the BSA was the announcement that the Afghan Justice Ministry was drafting a new penal code which would punish adulterers by stoning—the same penalty imposed by the previous Taliban government.
Moreover, war is a dubious humanitarian tool. Afghan civilian deaths are in the thousands. The Taliban are the greater killers, but the conflict is their occasion for doing so. Moreover, the U.S. bears responsibility for misdirected air strikes, violent home raids, and substantial other “collateral damage.” Before his recall even Gen. Stanley McChrystal complained about checkpoint killings: “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.” Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been displaced, many fleeing into Pakistan.
Why else should Washington stay in Afghanistan? The country’s travails are destabilizing its neighbors, most obviously Pakistan, but the conflict is the most harmful factor. Unfortunately, American involvement exacerbates the problem. There is near-constant confrontation with Islamabad over cross-border incidents, drone strikes, supply convoys, and more.
The Economist magazine worried about “a civil war that might suck in the local powers, including Iran, Pakistan, India and Russia,” which would eventually “end up harming America.” Yet the price of conflict without America is likely to remain far less than with America. Neither history, with three decades of war, or geography, with porous borders, gives much hope for eliminating the Taliban and stabilizing the region.
Some U.S. officials want to keep troops in Afghanistan for embassy security. However, most of the projected personnel would be scattered about the country, not available to protect diplomatic posts. Washington better would reduce its vulnerability by staying out of the fighting and reducing the size of its facility alongside its ambitions.
The last stand for U.S. officials is counter-terrorism. When I visited Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 I received a plethora of briefings. Allied commanders and officials routinely justified the Western presence as being necessary to prevent an al-Qaeda revival. Back in America John Bolton similarly contended that the Taliban and al-Qaeda had to be defeated lest they “reconquer Afghanistan and make it a base for international terrorism.”
Yet this scenario is highly unlikely. Global al-Qaeda is weak if not moribund, more a symbolic franchise than an ongoing operation. Three years ago CIA Director Leon Panetta concluded: “At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less” al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Terrorists don’t need to locate in Afghanistan when they can operate in Pakistan and many other nations. Indeed, al-Qaeda affiliates seem to be far more active in Yemen, Syria, and increasingly Iraq than in Afghanistan.
Moreover, even a triumphant Taliban wouldn’t likely welcome back the group which brought down the wrath of America. There is evidence that top Taliban leaders were not pleased by their guest’s behavior in 2001. Indeed, Washington should point out that the lesson of 9/11 still applies: aid terrorists against America and suffer the consequences.
For the most part, the largely Pashtun Taliban isn’t interested much in larger struggles. Its members simply don’t want foreign occupation of their land. Concluded a Washington Post story on administration deliberations on a full withdrawal: “Many of the groups that U.S. forces target in Afghanistan—most notably the Afghan Taliban—do not appear eager to attack Americans or U.S. interests outside the country.”
The strongest argument against the “zero option” of no troops is that it would limit Washington’s capability to strike elsewhere, most notably in Pakistan. One unnamed administration official told the Post: “The footprint of the intelligence community depends to some extent on the footprint of the military.”
No doubt, fewer troops would mean less reach. However, the projected 8,000 to 15,000 military personnel, servicing a complex of bases, communications facilities, airfields, and out-size embassy, look more configured to act in the civil war that is likely to continue. The draft BSA allows U.S. forces to engage in combat if “mutually agreed” and notes that “U.S. military operations to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism.” The Post cited Pentagon officials as affirming that widely dispersed bases “would allow U.S. intelligence personnel and Special Operations forces to remain within easy striking distance of insurgent groups in the tribal area that straddles the border with Pakistan.” Yet insurgents against the Pakistan government are even less likely than the Afghan Taliban to attack America.
Further, the larger the projected presence, even if focused on counter-terrorism, the greater the target for terrorists, insurgents, and malcontents of any variety. Better a much smaller counter-terrorist operation, perhaps embedded within an Afghan base to lower its profile. Better still would be moving any operations off-shore, as with Yemen. Action “would get longer, slower and harder,” said Linda Robinson of RAND. Nevertheless, that would be a cost worth paying to restrain dubious American military involvement.
Moreover, Washington should scale back its drone operations in Pakistan and elsewhere. It’s not easy to assess the current program’s costs and benefits, and especially the number of non-combatants killed—with a consequent rise in hostility toward America. But so-called “signature” strikes, in which most anyone in proximity to suspected terrorists is viewed as a likely terrorist, undoubtedly kill locals who threaten no one. Further, the U.S. began targeting the Pakistan Taliban apparently on the rationalization that Pakistani militants might threaten Americans in Pakistan. Unfortunately, blowback was inevitable: the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was motivated by U.S. drone strikes and trained by the PT, after it found itself under attack.
Nevertheless, the administration remains committed to preserving a sizeable military presence in Afghanistan. However, President Karzai unexpectedly declared that he did not want to sign the BSA until after April’s presidential election. He convened a Loya Jirga, or grand council, to debate the accord, but told the meeting that “This pact should be signed when the election has already taken place, properly and with dignity.”
The Obama administration is insisting on immediate approval. Said National Security Adviser Susan Rice: “Without a prompt signature, the U.S would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan.”
The dispute has turned into an international game of chicken. Karzai admitted: “My trust with America is not good. I don’t trust them and they don’t trust me. During the past ten years I have fought with them and they have made propaganda against me.”
Some suspect that Karzai hopes to enhance his nationalist credentials and administration’s reputation, as well as wring more benefits out of Washington. Four years ago U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry opined: “He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending war on terror and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.” Former and future Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said that Karzai “thinks the Americans are keen to stay in Afghanistan at any price and at any cost.” In fact, Karzai told the Loya Jirga: “We want the Americans to respect our sovereignty and be an honest partner. And bring a lot of money.”
While Afghan support is necessary for any continued American presence, it is not enough. The U.S. presence should serve U.S. interests. American security guarantees are popular around the globe: The Europeans, Australians, Japanese, and South Koreans have subcontracted their defense to Washington since the 1950s. And none of them has tired of the subsidy. Afghanistan likely would be no different.
In putting off implementation of the BSA President Karzai actually is doing America a favor. U.S. troops actually might leave Central Asia—as they should.
What would follow? It almost certainly would not be the sort of liberal, democratic society which the West favors. However, Taliban misrule and brutality have left most Afghans with little enthusiasm for a repeat of the past. In fact, the existing regime might prove to be more resilient than expected: contra expectations, Soviet client Mohammed Najibullah survived for three years on his own before the Mujahedeen triumphed. Most likely may be a fractured nation—a tragedy, to be sure, but one beyond U.S. remedy, at least at satisfactory cost.
Americans have been fighting in Afghanistan for longer than the Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined. America has overstayed its welcome. It’s time to go home.
Afghans refugees living in Iran are being plunged deeper into poverty as sanctions slapped on Tehran over its disputed nuclear drive sap the economy, a refugee agency has warned.
"Sanctions on Iran have been bad news for both Afghan refugees and for humanitarian operations," Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told AFP during a visit to Tehran this week.
Some five million Afghans driven by war, oppression and poverty have crossed the border into Iran and Pakistan in the past three decades, seeking better lives and jobs.
Almost a million Afghans also are illegal immigrants in Iran, according to police figures published on Monday.
While some 840,000 Afghans have been able to register as refugees in Iran, many others have lived among Iranians with relative ease for many years, and those permitted to work have been able to seize opportunities in the labour sector.
But as Iran faces its own economic problems, exacerbated by sanctions targeting its vital petrodollar and access to the global banking system, those opportunities have progressively dried up.
"The Afghans allowed to work had been able to help the Iranian economy and also take care of themselves," Egeland said. "But there is now exploding unemployment among Afghans."
Sanctions are designed to coerce Tehran into rolling back its nuclear drive, which Western powers and Israel suspect mask military objectives. Iran says its work is peaceful and has defiantly expanded its activities.
But its economy has gone drastically downhill in the past two years, struggling with rampant inflation of nearly 40 percent, a massive depreciation of the national currency, and a double-digit unemployment rate, according to official figures.
The situation has also led to "increased tension between Iranian local communities and Afghans who have lived well together for years," Egeland said, pointing to rising calls by Iranians for the refugees to return to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan -- whose weak economy is mostly supported by foreign aid -- is unprepared to host a large return of refugees, the NRC chief said, adding that the situation would become even worse once NATO forces depart in 2014.
"We have seen refugees leaving bad conditions here to even worse conditions there," he said.
Circumventing sanctions is costly
His organisation, he added, had been affected by punitive measures overseen by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, a department in the US Treasury, that limit the amount of humanitarian aid that can be transferred into Iran.
"We can transfer a total of $500,000 in a year -- this amount is nothing for us," said Egeland, whose organisation raises around $2 million in funds annually.
The NRC therefore resorts to "cumbersome and costly" alternatives.
Egeland criticised the unintended consequences of the sanctions regime in complicating efforts to provide shelter, food security, information and legal assistance, water and sanitation, and education to the refugees, particularly those living in "very poor conditions ? and in mud huts."
"We live in 2013; there should be a possibility to make a rational and reasonable exemptions to such a sanctions regime," he said.
Iran and world powers clinched a long-elusive nuclear deal last week, which could lead to the lifting of sanctions in the coming years should further negotiations over a final agreement proceed smoothly.
Egeland expressed hope that the deal could lead to exemptions to enable unlimited transfer of aid for humanitarian operations in Iran.
He also called for better cooperation from the government of President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in August.
"We need unhindered access to refugee sites that have so far been denied for various reasons," he said.
When he visited Washington in 2002, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was treated like a rock star. He charmed Washington insiders at cocktail parties with his perfect English, his cape and Karakul cap. He sat in the balcony of the House chamber as then-President George W. Bush praised him for his role in the liberation of Afghanistan.
“America and Afghanistan are now allies against terror. We will be partners in rebuilding that country,” Bush said in his State of the Union address. “And this evening we welcome the distinguished interim leader of a liberated Afghanistan: Chairman Hamid Karzai.”
Karzai beamed as he received a sustained standing ovation from Congress. He seemed a modern man of sophistication from a country hundreds of years from modernity.
As recent events show, a lot can change in a decade.
-Karzai, a man who was welcomed to Washington as an ally and hero a decade ago, has now been cast in the role of Afghan villain. He’s been undermining U.S. efforts to end more than a decade of war repeatedly in the last year, and his latest efforts to disrupt American military and foreign policy planning might be his most contemptible action yet.
Karzai had assured American military planners and diplomats that he would agree to a long-term security deal if approved by a council of Afghan elders last week. These elders endorsed the deal, and the White House expected it to be finalized this week.
Now, Karzai has reneged on that promise. He issued a whole new set of demands of the Americans last week, telling National Security Adviser Susan Rice that he would only agree to the deal if the United States released 17 Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. He also demanded the United States help his government start peace talks with the Taliban – talks he unexpectedly pulled out of last summer – and said he would not sign if “another [U.S.] soldier steps foot into an Afghan home,” his spokesman Aimal Faizi said. He has also demanded the United States stop drone strikes as a condition of the agreement.
The deal is now on the verge of falling apart. Rice said that if no agreement were reached by year’s end, the United States would have no choice but to begin preparations to withdrawal—the zero option. Karzai has pushed negotiations to the brink and no one knows what his end game is. His only real motivation is to extract as much as he can from the U.S. while keeping power.
“I don’t think we should be surprised,” said Michael Rubin, an Afghan specialist at the American Enterprise Institute. “Karzai is going to think more about Karzai than anyone else; the only way he can maintain leverage is to not let this pass right away.”
“Expecting loyalty out of Karzai is like expecting loyal out of a pet cat,” Rubin added. “They’re both going to be most loyal to where they’re getting their next bowl of food from.”
Picked from Relative Obscurity
Karzai comes from a prominent family of politicians form Kandahar. His father and grandfather both served in the Afghan national government. Yet he had no real ties with the west until 2000, when he began warning American and European officials about the Taliban’s connection to al Qaeda. His reputation was solidified when these warnings turned out to be authentic.
This reputation compelled the United States and its NATO allies to support Karzai as interim Afghan president in 2001. He was easily elected president in 2004. However, as U.S. attention turned to Iraq, Afghanistan took a turn for the worse. The Taliban returned to take control of many restive regions, including Karzai’s home, Kandahar.
As the situation deteriorated, Karzai’s approval fell. He was reelected in 2009 amid charges of ballot stuffing and corruption.
It was around this time that America turned its attention back to Afghanistan. Karzai, who had sought out American approval when U.S. troops first arrived, began criticizing American actions in an attempt to distance himself from the increasingly unpopular American occupying force. He’s also been constantly dogged by corruption charges, including a claim that he’s pocketed billions given to him by the CIA to win influence within the Afghan government.
A Bad Year
Relations between Karzai and the United States have deteriorated quickly over the course of the last year. He publicly embarrassed Chuck Hagel by saying American troops were colluding with the Taliban during Hagel’s first visit as Secretary of Defense. He attempted (unsuccessfully) to prevent Special Forces from operating in a key province. But backing away from a long-term security deal that would commit thousands of U.S. troops and billions of dollars to his country is his most egregious break with Washington.
Yet it remains unclear exactly what Karzai wants, according to Austin Long, an assistant professor of international affairs at Columbia University. “There are literally dozens of analysts trying to figure that out right now,” he said.
Even though the draft security agreement is packed with American concessions, Austin said, Karzai’s brinkmanship is an attempt to gain even more.
“The Afghans have always felt this was a waning commitment by the west. This is the story of Afghan history. Outside powers show up, support it, get tired of it and leave,” he said. “You want to be able to go to your constituents and say, ‘It’s not like I’m a puppet of the Americans. I drove as hard a bargain as I could.’”
Austin said that Karzai might also fear that Afghanistan could become like Iraq. The United States invaded, destroyed the country and the Iraqi government, and now has little interest in it as it descends into violence.
“The Iraq analogy is telling. Iraq, which in some cases was a more capable state than Afghanistan, is still having enormous problems and its getting worse,” Austin said. “Afghanistan, even though we’ve been there longer, is not built up to the level we got Iraq to before we left. The worst case is a return to civil war and a return to Taliban dominance. “
AEI’s Rubin, however, believes that Karzai is motivated by one primary factor.
“Even though most Afghans would want some sort of security guarantee and certainty, Karzai is playing a game that has to do with his own relevance and power,” he said.
Recent Drone Strikes Strain U.S. Ties With Afghanistan and Pakistan
KABUL, Afghanistan — Two separate but similarly bitter disagreements over drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan have complicated relations between the United States and those two countries at a delicate moment, again highlighting the political complications from America’s persistent reliance on the lethal remote-controlled weapons.
In Afghanistan, the American military commander called President Hamid Karzai late Thursday to apologize for a drone strike that resulted in civilian casualties and that gave Mr. Karzai renewed reason to refuse to sign a long-term security agreement with the United States.
In Pakistan’s tribal belt, meanwhile, what was thought to be C.I.A. drone strike on Friday killed a Pakistani militant days after a major political party, as part of its campaign to end the drone strikes, publicly named a man it said was America’s top spy in the country.
The use of these weapons, which is deeply resented, highlights the political costs to the United States of the drone campaigns, even as its range of military options in the region has started to narrow with American combat troops leaving Afghanistan.
The American military already has greatly restricted raids on Afghan homes, amid demands from Mr. Karzai for a complete ban on such operations. The raids, normally carried out by Special Operations forces to apprehend insurgent leaders, are the last routine combat missions of the United States in Afghanistan.
Afghan anger over one such raid last week led Mr. Karzai to insist on a ban, and he has said he will not sign the long-term security agreement with the United States until such operations are definitively over.
That leaves airstrikes, particularly by drones, as one of the last practical military options left to the American-led military coalition in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, where there are no American military ground operations and the C.I.A. controls the drones, that has long been the case.
There, nationalist politicians have long denounced the C.I.A.-led campaign in the tribal belt as a flagrant breach of sovereignty, and are now employing new means to frustrate it.
As part of that effort, the political party of the former cricket star Imran Khan on Wednesday accused the director of the C.I.A. and the man it identified as the agency’s Islamabad station chief of murder.
Mr. Khan says the strikes have jeopardized efforts to start peace talks with Taliban insurgents. Last Saturday, Mr. Khan led a large protest rally in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, which his party governs. Since then, Mr. Khan’s supporters have tried to block NATO supplies in the province.
After the latest strike, officials of Mr. Khan’s party renewed their criticism.
The “U.S. has nothing but contempt for Pakistan’s leadership,” said Shireen Mazari, the party’s central information secretary, calling the attack a “direct test of the will of the federal government” led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Friday’s drone strike in Pakistan occurred at a delicate moment for the army, as leadership was passing from the previous army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to his successor, Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif.
At a ceremony in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, General Kayani expressed confidence in his successor and paid tribute to soldiers who had died in operations against the Taliban in the troubled northwest of the country.
“I kept the interest of the country and armed forces above everything in the decisions that I took in the last six years,” General Kayani said, referring to his tenure as army chief.
In Afghanistan, even an apology by the American commander appeared to do little to assuage official anger.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, called Mr. Karzai late Thursday to express “deep regrets” about the drone strike in Helmand earlier that day, and promised a joint investigation, a coalition official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The coalition official confirmed that two drone attacks had taken place in Helmand Province on Thursday. The first, in Garmsir district, targeted an insurgent commander traveling on a motorcycle, but the missile missed him and apparently hit civilians; one child was reported killed, and two women were severely wounded. The targeted man fled on foot and was killed by a later drone strike.
In the second attack, in Nawa Barak Sai district nearby, a drone strike killed a single insurgent who had been targeted, causing no civilian casualties, the official said.
But Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, disputed the NATO account. He said that in the first instance, American drones fired missiles at the man while he was riding a motorbike but also while he was hiding in a house.
Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the Helmand governor, identified the target of the strike as Mullah Nazar Gul, who he said was a bomb maker. Mr. Zwak said the man had been killed inside a house.
Rod Nordland reported from Kabul, and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan.