The Guardian (UK): The longest, most pointless and unsuccessful war that Britain has fought in the past 70 years – its intervention in Afghanistan – is to end in September. I doubt anyone will notice. Nations celebrate victories, not defeats. What has the US and UK intervention achieved? The military theorist Gen Sir Rupert Smith, in his book The Utility of Force, has pointed out that modern armies are almost useless in counter-insurgency wars. Click here to read more (external link).
Ariana: President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s decision to withdraw foreign forces set the context for a “reset” of assumptions, alignments, and actions and that the Afghan government is “not at risk of collapse”. According to him, Afghan commandos, special forces, and air force alone are 40,000 strong, and “they have trained among the best, they are among the best in the region.” Click here to read more (external link).
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
April 16, 2021
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging the United States to commit to expanded support for human rights in Afghanistan amid what it calls “fears of increased insecurity” fueled by its announced plan to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan later this year.
The U.S. government “should boost assistance for education and health, especially for girls and women, and for independent media given the threat of a widening conflict that undermines human rights gains and exacerbates the country’s humanitarian crisis,” the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on April 16.
HRW noted that U.S. assistance for legal reform in Afghanistan “has been vital for increasing access to justice for women and training hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges.”
Additional support will be needed to improve enforcement of laws protecting women and strengthen Afghan human rights groups so they can continue to monitor human rights conditions, it said.
President Joe Biden announced on April 14 his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11 — 20 years to the day after the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States that triggered the conflict.
The announcement “has raised fears that further insecurity may erode important gains in human rights that have allowed Afghans, women and girls in particular, to enjoy greater freedoms and better education and health,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director for HRW.
Washington “should commit to providing vital funding and diplomatic support to preserve and expand on those gains and press for an end to abuses against civilians,” Gossman added.
The Biden administration has ensured it would “use its full diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic toolkit to … protect the gains made by women and girls over the course of the past 20 years … [and] bolster support for civilian, economic, and humanitarian assistance programs.”
But HRW said that previous U.S. administrations “have not made human rights in Afghanistan a sufficient priority.”
Noting that U.S. assistance to vital aid programs in the country has been “shrinking,” HRW said the United States should “expand its support for programs that increase access to education and health care, especially for women and girls.”
The watchdog also pointed out that the Taliban have made no firm commitments to protect fundamental rights in a transitional government or after a peace agreement.
And the insurgent group has “restricted the rights of women and girls to education” in areas under their control and is “engaged in a pattern of threats and attacks against Afghan media.”
Should the conflict continue following the U.S. pullout, Washington “should use all diplomatic and other forms of influence to press the parties to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law, especially to protect civilians,” according to HRW.
“Afghans who have endured decades of human rights abuses are understandably fearful that achievements in media freedom, education, health care, and women’s rights may soon be lost, and that there will be no accountability for the injustices they have endured,” said Gossman, who urged the United States to “seize this moment to express its commitment and strengthen its support for human rights in Afghanistan.”
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036
Tolo News: The Ministry of Public Health on Friday reported 109 new positive cases of COVID-19 out of 1,124 samples tested in the last 24 hours. The ministry reported that the cumulative total of known COVID-19 cases is 57,721, the total number of reported deaths is 2,539, and the total number of recoveries is 52,105. Click here to read more (external link).
AOPNEWS | April 15, 2021
The US military will be able to focus more resources on perceived challenges in the Indo-Pacific region after exiting Afghanistan, a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Thursday.
Biden, in a major address on Wednesday, announced that U.S. troops would exit Afghanistan by September 11, while acknowledging that the extended NATO military presence had failed. The move violated the US-Taliban Doha pact which requires all foreign forces to be gone by May 1.
“One of the reasons why the president and his team has taken the careful steps on Afghanistan is actually to free up the time and attention and resources from our senior leadership and our military to focus on what we believe are the fundamental challenges of the 21st century and they lie fundamentally in the Indo-Pacific,” the unnamed U.S. official said during a teleconference.
NATO will be withdrawing nearly 10,000 troops, including 2,500 Americans from Afghanistan beginning May 1. Biden said the move was necessary because the Western military presence in the country had not proven effective since the U.S. took out Osama bin Laden.
Biden also said remaining in Afghanistan did “not make sense” as a counterterrorism strategy when the threat is dispersed globally.
Critics have accused Biden of putting troops in harm’s way unnecessarily by delaying the exit when he could have simply followed Trump’s plan. The Trump administration not only adhered to the Doha agreement but was ahead of schedule in terms of removing American troops. However, after taking over in January the Biden administration froze the plan amid a number of excuses.
The U.S. originally accused the Taliban of violating the Doha pact by failing to split with al-Qaeda, and expressed concerns about escalating violence and lack of progress on intra-Afghan talks. Some advising the White House even wanted the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan until the country was stable, sovereign, independent and democratic.
The Taliban have slammed the U.S. for failing to meet the deadline and vowed not to engage in the Afghan peace process until all foreign troops are gone.
Earlier this year the same U.S. congressionally-funded analysis that called for delaying the exit, concluded that staying in Afghanistan would hurt American interests vis-à-vis China.
In fact, as the U.S. leaves Afghanistan they appear to want China to enter the fray, as evidenced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s comments during a surprise visit to Kabul earlier today. He called on China – in addition to Russia and Turkey – to do more to support Afghanistan.
The term “Indo-Pacific” was fabricated less than fifteen years ago and propagated to new heights recently by the U.S. and its allies – mainly Japan, India and Australia – in an effort to check the rise of China.
According to a U.S. State Department fact sheet, the region spans from the west coast of the United States to the west coast of India. The U.S. has some 375,000 military and civilian personnel operating in the region and has provided more than $1.1 billion in security aid to partners. In terms of commercial value, the United States has also conducted more than $1.9 trillion in two-way trade in the region.
Hence, it is easy to understand why Washington is eager to leave Afghanistan behind and address the existential prospect that China may surpass the Americans in terms of material power in coming decades.
One slogan often bandied above by American leadership is the need to preserve a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” which refers to a well-articulated defense strategy unveiled two years ago wherein the U.S. vows to develop a more “lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating Joint Force” to militarily encounter China to ensure freedom of navigation. In this 64-page defense strategy document the phrase “Indo-Pacific” is mentioned more than 40 times and China more than 100.
Meanwhile, Beijing warned that the problem of terrorism is far from being solved in Afghanistan and called on the United States to execute a responsible and orderly exit.
“We have to emphasize that the political solution to Afghanistan and early realization of peace and stability in the country and the fight against terrorism are in the common interest of all parties concerned, including China and the US and are also common aspiration of the international community,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a briefing on Thursday.
Zhao also slammed Washington for linking the Afghan exit to countering China.
“This reflects deep rooted zero-sum mind-set from the Cold War which is detrimental to mutual trust between the two countries and it is not conducive to cooperation and coordination on international and regional issues,” Zhao said.
April 15, 2021
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit Thursday to Kabul where he told Afghan leaders that while the United States will soon begin withdrawing its remaining troops from the country, it remains committed to Afghanistan.
“The partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring,” Blinken said as he met with President Ashraf Ghani and other officials.
The visit came a day after U.S. President Joe Biden announced all U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by September 11 of this year.
“We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities,” Ghani said Thursday.
A senior State Department official told reporters that while the United States will no longer have military assets in Afghanistan, it will still be capable of confronting any threat that emerges.
Blinken also spoke Thursday to a group of mostly U.S. soldiers at the American embassy, offering praise for the military’s efforts since the first forces were deployed to the country in 2001.
“What you and your predecessors did over the last 20 years is really extraordinary,” Blinken said.
While at the embassy, Blinken met with half a dozen Afghan civil society members, but made no comments while reporters were present.
Naheed Farid, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament who was part of the session, answered a reporter’s question about Afghanistan’s future by saying, “My views are very pessimistic.”
Biden made his announcement in a televised speech on Wednesday, declaring that “war in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking.”
He said the United States can no longer justify staying there two decades after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” Biden said at the White House. ”That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
Biden spoke in the Treaty Room, the same place where, on October 7, 2001, then-President George W. Bush announced airstrikes on Afghanistan.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” Biden said in his remarks. ”American troops shouldn’t be used as bargaining chips between warring parties in other countries.”
The U.S. leader said he is now the fourth president to oversee an American troop presence in Afghanistan — among two Republicans and two Democrats — and vowed to not pass the responsibility on to a fifth.
Biden, announcing the withdrawal would begin May 1, added that the United States would continue its diplomatic and humanitarian work in Afghanistan and ”we will continue to support the government of Afghanistan.”
The president, amid widespread concern his decision will lead to a wider civil war in Afghanistan, also said Washington and its allies would support training and help equip nearly 300,000 Afghan forces, as well as support peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban fighters.
He also called on countries in the region, especially Pakistan, but also China, India, Russia and Turkey, to do more to support Afghanistan.
The way forward
President Ghani said that he spoke to Biden in the hours prior to the official announcement and his government ”respects the U.S. decision and will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition.”
On Twitter, Ghani added that Afghanistan’s security and defense forces ”are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along and for which the Afghan nation will forever remain grateful.”
Following his remarks, Biden headed to Section 60 of the Arlington National Cemetery, where service members who died in America’s most recent wars are buried.
“Look at them all,” the president said amid the rows of headstones.
Asked by a reporter if the withdrawal decision was a hard one to make, Biden replied: “No. To me, it was absolutely clear.”
Biden’s decision will keep 3,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline that had been agreed to in a deal Washington negotiated in Doha, Qatar, last year with the Taliban when Donald Trump was U.S. president.
The spokesman for the secretary-general of the United Nations declined on Wednesday to endorse Biden’s decision.
“We are not going to comment on military decisions. The U.N.’s focus remains on finding a political accord, on finding an accord that will be good for the people of Afghanistan,” said Stephane Dujarric.
The Taliban on Wednesday said it wants all foreign forces out of Afghanistan ”on the date specified in the Doha Agreement,” and that ”if the agreement is adhered to, a pathway to addressing the remaining issues will also be found.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid added on Twitter, ”If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those (who) failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable.”
News of the U.S troop withdrawal plans had already prompted the Taliban to cancel its participation in a 10-day peace conference between Afghanistan’s warring sides later this month in Turkey.
President Biden warned the Taliban that if ”they attack us as we draw down, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal.”
Meanwhile, a pessimistic U.S. intelligence report predicted that a peace deal is unlikely in the next year and the Taliban — an enemy of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan — will make battlefield gains.
“The Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support,” said an unclassified version of the report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The U.S. ability to collect intelligence and act on threats will diminish when American troops leave Afghanistan, CIA Director William Burns testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,” said Burns, adding that the United States would, however, retain ”a suite of capabilities.”
Several prominent senators of the opposition Republican party are assailing Biden’s troop withdrawal decision.
“Apparently, we’re to help our adversaries ring in the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by gift-wrapping the country and handing it back to them,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor early Wednesday.
“I beg you, President Biden, reevaluate this. Don’t lock yourself in because things are going to change quickly in Afghanistan for the worse,” Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters following Biden’s speech. ”This is not going to end well for us.”
Biden’s decision is winning praise from those who believe the United States is no closer to winning the war today than it was more than a decade ago or would be in the future.
“President Biden has made the right decision in completing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan,” said former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president. ”There will be very difficult challenges and further hardship ahead in Afghanistan, and the U.S. must remain engaged diplomatically and through our development efforts to support the Afghan people, particularly those who have taken extraordinary risks on behalf of human rights.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the ”previous approach of maintaining thousands of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan has not led to a resolution, and a new approach is required.”
Some analysts view Biden’s decision as the best of an array of bad options.
“There’s probably no option that significantly reduces the level of violence. There’s also probably no option on the table to build the Afghanistan that the United States probably had in mind when they invested more than a trillion dollars in the war,” said University of Chicago Assistant Professor Austin Wright, whose research focuses on insurgents and Afghanistan.
Margaret Besheer at the UN, National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, Ayaz Gul in Islamabad, and White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report
- Blinken in Kabul: Permanent US Presence ‘Never Intended
- Afghanistan Withdrawal Could Pose ‘Significant Risk’ to US, Intelligence Officials Say
- Blinken: Taliban will never be legitimate if it tries to take Afghanistan by force
- Taliban issue veiled threat in response to new drawdown plan
- The US’s Elusive Sense of Responsibility: Op-Ed
Tolo News: The Ministry of Public Health on Thursday reported 78 new positive cases of COVID-19 out of 2,369 samples tested in the last 24 hours. The ministry reported that the cumulative total of known COVID-19 cases is 57,612, the total number of reported deaths is 2,529, and the total number of recoveries is 52,005. Click here to read more (external link).
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
April 14, 2021
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says it is time for the United States and its NATO allies to withdraw from Afghanistan as U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to announce the withdrawal of U.S. troops by September 11 — 20 years to the day after the Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.
“We will work very closely together in the weeks and months ahead on a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces,” Blinken said in a televised statement at NATO headquarters in Brussels on April 14 ahead of a video conference with the military alliance’s foreign and defence ministers.
Some 7,000 non-U.S. troops from mainly NATO countries, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumbering the 2,500 American soldiers in Afghanistan but still relying on U.S. air support, planning and leadership for their training mission.
“Together, we have achieved the goals that we set out to achieve and now it is time to bring our forces home,” said Blinken, who was accompanied in the Belgian capital by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Biden’s expected announcement would mean a delay by about five months of a U.S. pledge to withdraw by May 1, a deadline agreed with the Taliban under former President Donald Trump.
The militant group on April 14 reiterated its call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces by the date stipulated in the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020.
A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters on April 13 about Biden’s decision on the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan said the withdrawal would begin before May 1 and could be complete well before the September 11 deadline.
The withdrawal will not be subject to further conditions, including security or human rights, the official said.
“The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe in staying in Afghanistan forever,” according to the official. The United States will instead focus its efforts on supporting the ongoing peace process, the official added.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said it was now important “for us in NATO to synchronize our planning with U.S. planning.”
“We always said: we’ll go in together, we’ll leave together,” she told ARD public television. “I am for an orderly withdrawal and that is why I assume that we (NATO) will agree to that today.”
It remains unclear how the move would impact a planned summit scheduled to begin April 24 in Istanbul seeking to revive intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar.
An unidentified Afghan government peace negotiator expressed disappointment at the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops.
“It is the most irresponsible, selfish thing the U.S. could do to its Afghan partners,” dpa quoted the negotiator as saying, adding: “They could have ended this in a responsible way, with a little more patience.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned: “If the agreement [with the United States] is breached and foreign forces fail to exit the country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who failed to comply with the agreement will be held responsible.”
Another Taliban spokesman, Muhammad Naeem, said on April 13 the group would not take part in any summits that would make decisions about Afghanistan until all international troops “completely withdraw from our homeland.”
The agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban called for the Taliban to halt attacks and hold peace talks with the Afghan government in exchange for a U.S. commitment to a complete withdrawal by May 2021.
Biden said last month that the withdrawal deadline would be difficult to meet due to logistical challenges, while the Taliban warned of “consequences” if it reneged on the May 1 deadline.
U.S. commanders have said that the Taliban has failed to meet the conditions of the peace agreement by continuing attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians and failing to totally cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
Biden’s decision comes after a review of the February 2020 agreement and amid a growing consensus in Washington that little more can be achieved in the country. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) accused Biden of abandoning the fight.
“Precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a grave mistake,” McConnell said, adding that effective counterterrorism operations require presence and partners on the ground.
The United States has tried before to withdraw from Afghanistan, but concerns about Afghan security forces, corruption, and the resiliency of the Taliban have hampered the plans.
A U.S. withdrawal by September 11 would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people. After the attacks, the United States led an invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime for harboring Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036