A week after a Taliban attack in Kabul left six people dead and over a hundred wonded, an all-Afghan peace summit is due to start in Doha on Sunday. Germany is co-sponsoring the meeting with Qatar.
Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, made the announcement and said, “only Afghans themselves can decide the future of their country.”
Potzel has become a familiar face in Afghanistan. Just a few weeks ago, he held meetings with key stakeholders across the Afghan political spectrum. In May, he had at least two meetings with the Taliban.
Germany wants to play an active role in the peace process and ensure that it is inclusive. The Afghan government’s exclusion from bilateral talks between the Taliban and the United States is a concern in Berlin. The Germans believe only an all-Afghan process can pave the way to a sustainable settlement. The hope is that the Doha meeting will be a step in that direction. Read more “Germany Seeks Active Role to Ensure Inclusive Afghan Peace Process”
President Barack Obama was expected to announce on Thursday that the United States would keep some 5,500 soldiers in Afghanistan into 2017, slowing the troop withdrawal in the face of a resurgent Taliban.
9,800 American troops are now stationed in the South Asian country, down from the 100,000 that were fighting there as recently as 2010.
The president said last year that he planned to pull out nearly all remaining forces by the end of his second term, leaving only around a thousand troops to provide security in the capital, Kabul.
Under his latest plan, troops would stay at their bases in Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar. The decision on when to withdraw and how fast would be left to Obama’s successor.
The United Nations said earlier this week that the Taliban’s reach is now wider than it has been since the 2001 invasion. The fall of Kunduz, a provincial capital in the north of the country, last month underlined both the determination of the radical Islamist group to retake power and the inefficacy of the Afghan security forces that have been trained by the United States. The city was reconquered a week later — but only with the help of Western soldiers.
American jets launched airstrikes in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday in support of an army effort to retake the city of Kunduz from Taliban militants.
Afghan forces engaged the insurgents the same day. They had been driven to the outskirts of the city following a summer Taliban offensive that culminated in them occupying its center.
Kunduz is Afghanistan’s sixth largest city and the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since the Islamist movement was toppled in an American-led invasion in 2001.
The multiethnic Kunduz Province, bordering Tajikistan, was one of the areas where the Northern Alliance resisted Taliban rule in the late 1990s. A contingent of NATO troops, led by Germany, was stationed there from 2003 to 2013.
The province was largely peaceful until 2009 when successful counterinsurgency operations in the Taliban’s southern heartland compelled the group to shifts its focus to the more lightly-guarded north.
American president Barack Obama called it an historic moment and commanders running the war referred to it as the final step on the road to Afghanistan’s full independence.
On Wednesday, the thirteen-year operation that the United States called Operation Enduring Freedom passed into history, replaced with a mission that consists purely of advising and assisting Afghan security forces and launching occasional counterterrorism raids on Al Qaeda or Taliban targets.
As helicopters and planes lifted the last American and British forces out of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on Monday, the Reuters news agency cited one Marine captain of mixed Vietnamese descent saying the scene reminded him of the fall of Saigon, “of people running to the helicopters — just this mad dash to the aircraft.”
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, has managed to be more productive in one day than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, was for months. After nearly a year of stalling by Karzai’s administration over concerns about excessive civilian casualties, Afghanistan and the United States finally ratified a Bilateral Security Agreement on Tuesday — a document that took Afghan and American negotiators a year to draft and one that was the subject of so much confusion and frustration for the Obama Administration this year.
Rather than signing the agreement, Karzai had pledged to leave the task to his successor. So when Ghani and his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, formed a unity government after a disputed presidential election this summer, the new administration in Kabul signed the security document on its first official day of business. Read more “Afghanistan Finally Signs Security Agreement”
Preliminary results released on Monday from Afghanistan’s presidential election seemed to give credence to candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s claim that voter fraud had been committed to favor his rival, Ashraf Ghani.
Abdullah and Ghani emerged as the frontrunners from a first voting round in April. According to Afghanistan’s election commission, the former got 3.5 million votes in the second round last month against 4.5 million for Ghani.
The chairman of the commission cautioned that the results were preliminary and admitted that votes had been rigged. “We cannot ignore the technical problems and fraud during the election process,” said Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani. “Some governors and government officials were involved in fraud.”
When NATO withdraws from Afghanistan later this year, India and Russia may well fill the security vacuum to prevent the Taliban from resurging, aligning them both against neighboring Pakistan.
India has reportedly agreed to pay Russia to deliver small arms, such as light artillery and mortars, to Afghanistan. The transfer could eventually include heavy artillery, tanks and possibly attack helicopters.
India’s foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, said during a visit to Afghanistan in February, “We are giving them helicopters and we will be supplying them very soon.”
A Foreign Ministry official told the Reuters news agency that India won’t commit troops on the ground nor give Afghanistan all the military equipment it has asked for — “for all sorts of reasons, including the lack of surplus stocks.”
With Afghan election workers continuing to count the ballots of the country’s most important presidential election since 2001, the Obama Administration is once again reopening the debate about how many troops should remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year.
The debate has been ongoing since last year when Afghanistan’s outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, put his foot down and refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement — a document that would allow foreign forces to stay in Afghanistan after NATO’s war mandate expires in December 2014. But with Karzai now due to be replaced by either Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani, the administration is putting renewed energy into the question of what kind of force would best accomplish the post-2014 mission.
Both leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential election have signaled their support for the security agreement and both have acknowledged that Afghanistan’s own troops need continued support from America’s and NATO’s if they have any chance at keeping the country secure from the Taliban. The debate inside the White House and Pentagon right now is therefore not about whether American troops should stay but how many should be deployed. Read more “Only Thousands of Troops Could Be Left in Afghanistan”