Afghanistan

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US Military Suddenly Decides to Classify Its Analysis of Afghan Troop Capability

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released the 25th quarterly report (pdf) on US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. We are of course at a major crossroads in US involvement in Afghanistan, as US and NATO combat involvement are being phased out and Afghanistan assumes responsibility for its own security. Some US and international troops will remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year under the new Bilateral Security Agreement, but with Afghanistan in charge it is of utmost importance that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are fully staffed and functional so that they can take on their responsibilities. One of SIGAR’s key roles in its oversight activity through the years has been to collect and review information coming directly from ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, concerning the recruitment, training and subsequent capabilities of ANSF. ISAF ostensibly is a NATO team but is of course dominated, both in command and in personnel, by the US military.

Suddenly, in the final SIGAR report before the current ISAF mission ends and operations move to the new arrangement, ISAF, and more specifically ISAF Joint Command, has decided to classify the reports it prepares on ANSF troop capability. Here is Inspector General John Sopko in his cover letter accompanying the quarterly report:

This quarterly report also examines the reconstruction effort across the security, governance, and economic sectors. In the security sector, SIGAR was deeply troubled by the decision of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to classify the executive summary of the report that assesses the capability of the ANSF. For years, SIGAR has used the ISAF report as a primary metric to show Congress and the public the effectiveness of the $61.5 billion U.S. investment to build, train, equip, and sustain those forces. Prior to this quarter, aggregate data on the operational effectiveness of the ANSF were unclassified in the Regional ANSF Status Report (RASR) as well as its predecessors, the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the Capability Milestone rating system.

ISAF’s classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. SIGAR and Congress can of course request classified briefings on this information, but its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion. Moreover, while SIGAR understands that detailed, unit-level assessments could provide insurgents with potentially useful intelligence, there is no indication that the public release of aggregated data on ANSF capabilities has or could deliver any tactical benefit to Afghan insurgents.

It is very difficult to see this move by ISAF as anything more than a blatant attempt to cover up massive failure on the part of the efforts to train Afghan troops to take over their own security functions. This move by ISAF follows previous efforts that also come off as attempts to game the system so that evaluation of the always-claimed “progress” is difficult to impossible. Note in Sopko’s letter that he refers to three different systems by which troop readiness has been analyzed and reported. First, we had the Capability Milestone system, which was replaced by the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the now-classified Regional ANSF Status Report has replaced CUAT.

In March of 2013, I pointed out SIGAR’s frustration with how ISAF was gaming the CUAT:

A related area in which SIGAR has found a disgusting level of dishonesty is in how the US goes about evaluating Afghan forces in terms of readiness. Because it became clear to the trainers in 2010 that they had no hope of achieving the trained and independent force size numbers that NATO planners wanted (and because SIGAR found that the tool they were using at the time was useless), they decided that the only way to demonstrate sufficient progress was to redefine the criteria for evaluating progress. From the report:

In 2010, SIGAR audited the previous assessment tool—the Capability Milestone (CM) rating system which had been in use since 2005—and found that it did not provide reliable or consistent assessments of ANSF capabilities. During the course of that audit, DoD and NATO began using a new system, the CUAT [Commander’s Unit Assessment Tool], to rate the ANSF. In May 2010, the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) issued an order to implement the new system which would “provide users the specific rating criteria for each [ANSF] element to be reported by the CUAT including leader/commander considerations, operations conducted, intelligence gathering capability, logistics and sustainment, equipping, partnering, personnel readiness, maintenance, communications, unit training and individual education, as well as the partner unit or advisor team’s overall assessment.”

Since the implementation of the CUAT, the titles of the various rating levels have changed, as shown in Table 3.3. In July 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised concerns that the change of the title of the highest rating level from “independent” to “independent with advisors” was, in part, responsible for an increase in the number of ANSF units rated at the highest level. GAO also noted that “the change lowered the standard for unit personnel and equipment levels from ‘not less than 85’ to ‘not less than 75’ percent of authorized levels.” In a response to SIGAR last quarter, the IJC disagreed with GAO’s assessment, saying a change in title does not “equal a change in definition.” Since last quarter, the IJC has initiated a CUAT Refinement Working Group to standardize inputs and outputs in the areas covered by the assessments.

But it turns out that the CUAT itself was developed only when SIGAR initiated an audit (pdf) of the Capability Milestone rating system. So, twice, when SIGAR decided to audit the system for evaluating Afghan troop readiness, ISAF responded by developing a totally new system, creating a strong discontinuity in the ability to track Afghan troop readiness over time. And now that we are at the most important moment for Afghan troops to be ready, ISAF decides that any information at all on their readiness is classified, even though they have provided the very same information without classification for years.

When we drill down to the details about the classification that SIGAR provides in the report, we see in footnote 196 (page 94) that they were informed of the classification in response to a data call submitted to IJC on October 3 of this year. Noting this and the arguments that SIGAR provides that aggregate data on Afghan troop readiness should not provide any sort of strategic advantage to insurgents, I submitted the following question to SIGAR: Continue reading

Described Focus of Protest in Kabul Dependent on News Outlet

Khaama Press photo of Sunday's protest in Kabul.

Khaama Press photo of Sunday’s protest in Kabul.

A protest variously described as featuring “over a hundred”, “hundreds” or “over 500″ protesters took place in Kabul on Sunday. The object of the protest, however, was very dependent on whose report (or even whose headline) on the protest is being read.

The Wall Street Journal ran with the headline “Islamic State’s Siege of Kobani, Syria Sparks Protest in Kabul, Afghanistan” while Iran’s PressTV went with “Afghan protesters blast US-led forces, BSA”. Remarkably, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press did not see it necessary to spin the focus of the protest in a particular direction, using the headline “Afghans protest against Islamic State, US and NATO forces in Kabul”.

The Khaama Press article quickly sums up the protest:

Over 500 people participated in a demonstration against the Islamic State and presence of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The protesters were shouting slogans against the presence of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and in support of the Kurdish people who are fighting the Islamic State militants.

Protesters were also carrying signs purporting crimes committed by US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and resistance of the female Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State.

The US and NATO were also accused by protester for supporting the extremist groups in Afghanistan and Kobane.

We learn in the article that the protest was organized by the Solidarity party of Afghanistan, which Khaama described as “a small and left wing political party in the country”. Presumably, since they were allowed to stage the protest, the ban on the party issued in 2012 must have been lifted.

One has to read the Wall Street Journal article very carefully to find any evidence of the US criticism that was in the protest. The article opens:

Residents of Kabul have a war on their own doorstep: The provinces around the Afghan capital have seen an upsurge in violence this year.

But the conflict in Syria was on the minds of demonstrators who marched Sunday in solidarity with the town of Kobani, Syria, currently under siege by Islamic State militants.

Over a hundred Afghans—most of them women—held placards supporting Kurdish fighters defending the city.

Near the end, the article mentions, but dismisses as “conspiracy theory”, the accusations of US involvement in the creation of ISIS:

Conspiracy theories often thrive in Afghanistan, and at Sunday’s protest, many demonstrators expressed the belief that Islamic State was a U.S. creation. Some held placards saying, “Yankee Go Home.”

The article then mentions the BSA without stating that it was also a target of the protest other than citing the “Yankee Go Home” sign.

PressTV, on the other hand, focused exclusively on the anti-US aspects of the protest. In fact, the video accompanying their story does not match the photo that is used in the video frame while the video isn’t playing. The photo, which is full-frame, shows protesters somewhere burning an American flag, but the video itself-which appears to match the same event in the Khaama Press photo-only partially fills the frame and does not show any flag-burning. PressTV opens:

Afghan protesters have staged a rally in the streets of the nation’s capital, Kabul, to reiterate their opposition to the continued presence of US-led troops in the war-ravaged country.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched through the capital on Sunday to also express their outrage against the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) signed by the newly-inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

The protesters were reportedly carrying banners pointing to alleged crimes committed by US and NATO forces across Afghanistan

Remarkably, even though Iran is staunchly opposed to ISIS, the PressTV story makes no mention of the protest also being aimed against ISIS, or even of the accusations of a US role in the creation of ISIS.

Congratulations to Khaama Press for choosing to not spin a story that major outlets in the US and Iran used as propaganda pieces.

Unrepentant War Criminal Dostum Sworn in as Vice President in Afghanistan

The worlds largest vendors of death and destruction, US defense contractors, must be at their highest state of euphoria ever. Last week, they were able to add Syria to the newly expanded list of fronts on which they are vending weapons for US misadventures (after Iraq had recently been brought back onto the list as well). Today, high fives and the clinking of toasting cocktail glasses must be sounding throughout the beltway as the long-awaited swearing-in of the new Afghan President (Ashraf Ghani) has finally taken place this morning. That means that the biggest and longest-lasting source of their bloodstained wealth, Afghanistan, will continue to pay them handsomely for at least a couple more years, as it is widely expected that the Bilateral Security Agreement will be signed tomorrow, keeping the flow of weapons and destruction wide open.

Nearly lost in all the drama of the prolonged “election” process in Afghanistan is that the first vice presidential candidate on the eventually “winning” ticket headed by Ashraf Ghani was Rashid Dostum. Yes, that Rashid Dostum, as described by McClatchy in 2008:

Seven years ago, a convoy of container trucks rumbled across northern Afghanistan loaded with a human cargo of suspected Taliban and al Qaida members who’d surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord and a key U.S. ally in ousting the Taliban regime.

When the trucks arrived at a prison in the town of Sheberghan, near Dostum’s headquarters, they were filled with corpses. Most of the prisoners had suffocated, and others had been killed by bullets that Dostum’s militiamen had fired into the metal containers.

Dostum’s men hauled the bodies into the nearby desert and buried them in mass graves, according to Afghan human rights officials. By some estimates, 2,000 men were buried there.

Earlier this year, bulldozers returned to the scene, reportedly exhumed the bones of many of the dead men and removed evidence of the atrocity to sites unknown. In the area where the mass graves once were, there now are gaping pits in the sands of the Dasht-e-Leili desert.

Dostum and his followers continue to be thugs, adding to tensions last night that led to speculation that Abdullah Abdullah might boycott today’s inauguration (he eventually did show up):

Another bad sign occurred Sunday morning, when Mr. Abdullah’s representatives and those of Mr. Ghani’s running mate as first vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, got into a scuffle over office space in the Arg, as the presidential palace here is known, a Western diplomat, who spoke to a witness to the episode, said.

Mr. Dostum is a warlord from northern Afghanistan whose heavily armed followers, wearing civilian clothes, have been much in evidence in Kabul lately.

Mr. Abdullah’s team believed it had been assigned those offices in the Arg for the chief executive officer and his staff, and had already moved in furnishings, when Mr. Dostum’s representatives arrived on Sunday.

“Incredibly enough, they came and cleared them out for Dostum,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivities involved.

So while Abdullah has been declared to be the chief executive of Ghani’s government, I would expect Dostum and his thugs to move in on more of Abdullah’s territory than just his assigned office space. With billions of US dollars up for grabs over the next two years, I expect Dostum to waste no time in grabbing all he can while laughing at anyone who would dare to say it isn’t his.

Graft-Sharing Agreement Signed, Ghani Awarded Afghan Presidency

On Sunday, Ashraf Ghani was declared the new President of Afghanistan. Despite months of “auditing” the votes cast in the runoff, we have not yet had an announcement of actual vote totals. That is because Abdullah Abdullah, who won the first round of voting by over a million votes still disputed that he could have then lost by over a million votes in the runoff. Abdullah had refused to play along with the plan to announce vote totals at the same time as awarding the presidency to Ghani. Ghani will be sworn into office on Monday.

In this morning’s New York Times, Michael Gordon transcribes the State Department’s elation over the planned signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement shortly after Ghani is sworn in:

A new security agreement authorizing the presence of American forces in Afghanistan after 2014 will be signed just days after the nation’s new president is inaugurated on Monday, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

Both Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president-elect, and his chief opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, indicated during their election campaign that they supported the security agreement. And both men recommitted themselves to the agreement in recent weeks as they worked out the terms of a power-sharing arrangement, American officials said.

“We expect that it will be fully signed in a matter of days after the new administration starts,” said the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under the agency’s rules for briefing reporters. “No one has talked about reopening the issues.”

Though widely anticipated, the signing of the agreement is an important step that would provide a legal basis for American forces to advise Afghan forces after 2014.

Abdullah is reported as “optimistic” about the new national unity government and is saying all the right things about Afghanistan appearing to have avoided a violent resolution of the election conflict.

As a full-time skeptic, though, I can’t help wondering if at least a part of the prolonged process of negotiating the national unity government was just haggling over how much cash will be in Abdullah’s monthly bag from the CIA. After all, Karzai’s take is known to have been at least tens of millions of dollars.

Details of the “power-sharing” agreement are beginning to come out:

Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the president-elect of Afghanistan and the chief executive officer Dr. Abdullah Abdullah have shared the key government institutions almost on equal basis among themselves.

According to documents obtained by 8am newspaper, the ministry of interior and finance has been taken by Dr. Ashraf Ghani while the ministry of defense and foreign affairs have been taken by Dr. Abdullah.

Other key ministries and government institutions have also been equally shared among the two teams, according to the documents.

So although Ghani is to be President, it is very significant that Abdullah will have control of the defense ministry. Returning to my link above about the bags o’ cash that Karzai got, those payments are mere pocket change compared to the real cash that Afghan officials are able to siphon out of the firehose of US cash flowing into the country. As noted there, in 2011 the US committed around $11 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund alone and in that same year, SIGAR quoted the Congressional Research Service finding that around $4.5 billion in cash left the country through the Kabul airport.

Not quite as much cash will be there for the taking in 2015 and beyond, but by being in charge of the defense ministry, Abdullah would appear to be first in line for siphoning off parts of the $4.1 billion in funds from the US and one billion Euros from the EU plan for ANSF support next year.

By controlling the ministry of finance, Ghani also will have access to vast sums that can be siphoned off, so their graft-sharing appears on the surface to be fairly equitable. Also, one would presume that the interior department will be in line for bribes relating to Afghanistan’s reputed vast mineral wealth.

It appears that both Ghani and Abdullah are very well cared-for in their carefully negotiated graft-sharing agreement.

Postscript: There is one more aspect of Gordon’s transcription this morning that can’t be left unchallenged:

The signing of the agreement would not end the debate over the continuing American role in Afghanistan. Given the escalation of violence that followed the withdrawal of the last American forces from Iraq in 2011, some critics, including former ranking officials in the Obama administration, have urged the White House to adopt a more flexible approach toward removing troops from Afghanistan.

As I pointed out in this post, a full 18 months passed between the withdrawal of the last US troop from Iraq and the surge in violence there. Those 18 months are now being purged from the collective memory of the hive mind of the DC village.

Did Afghan and Pakistani ISIS Recruits Really Expect to Travel Length of Iran?

The red marker for Bandar Abbas falls close to a projected flight path, and more than halfway from Bagram (Kabul) to Dubai. Note that travelers entering Iran along the Pakistan border would need to traverse entire country to reach Iraq.

The red marker for Bandar Abbas falls close to a projected flight path, and more than halfway from Bagram (Kabul) to Dubai. Note that travelers entering Iran along the Pakistan border would need to traverse entire country to reach Iraq.

Disclaimer: There is a very good chance that my thinking here is so off-target as to make it total bullshit, but it is still a fun exercise in trying to make sense of recent events. –JW

Long-time readers will be familiar with my strange hobby of noting interesting events taking place along the border between Pakistan and Iran. We have a new entry in that category, and this time the information we have is quite cryptic. The initial report came from IRNA, dated September 8:

Minister of the Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said here on Monday Afghan and Pakistan nationals, who were trying to cross Iranian borderlines to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as Daesh) terrorists in Iraq, have been arrested.

Speaking in a local gathering, Rahmani Fazli underscored that the Iranian military forces and residents of the border areas are fully vigilant against Daesh plots to counter potential threats.

He added that Iranian forces are on full alert, as the Daesh terrorist group is failing in Iraq.

Note that Fazli does not state where or when these arrests took place. Mehr News expanded slightly on the IRNA story:

Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli in a meeting of the country’s deputy governors for political, social and security affairs said that a number of Afghans and Pakistanis who were passing through Iran seeking to join ISIL in Iraq were arrested.

Rahmani Fazli added that the country had already prevented some other Afghans and Pakistanis to enter Iran.

“ISIL terrorists have not succeeded in recruitment of fans inside the country; however, this is not to deny they promote their ideology, since they are active in the cyberspace, connecting to the possible candidates for recruitment,” the minister said.

He asserted that there is no fear of any danger of this terrorist group for the country because the residents of Iranian border provinces are smart enough and the security forces are completely dominant over the borders.

Hmm. Last October those security forces weren’t exactly “completely dominant” when fourteen Iranian border guards were killed. But mostly, it does seem to me that Sunni fighters wishing to make their way to the front lines to aid ISIS in Iraq or Syria would be ill-advised to try to make their way across the longest part of Shia-controlled Iran from Pakistan.

News outlets in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have noted Iran’s announcement of the arrests but add no new information on how many militants were arrested or the loacation or date of the arrests.

This event stood out to me because I had been intrigued by Friday’s strange episode where a plane transporting coalition military contractors from Kabul to Dubai made an unscheduled landing in Iran: Continue reading

Abdullah Declares Himself Election Winner, Won’t Accept Audit Result

In a press conference completed only about an hour ago, Abdullah Abdullah has declared himself the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election and said that he will not accept the result of the audit that has been taking place since the June runoff election. Khaama Press appears to be the first to come out with a story on Abdullah’s statements, although there were Twitter updates from several sources as he spoke:

Afghanistan’s controversial presidential election was once again taken towards a deadlock after the Reform and Partnership tem led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah announced their stance regarding the election process.

/snip/

Abdullah said the political process has now entered to a deadlock and claimed that his team was the winner and will be the winner of the presidential election, accusing the electoral bodies for being involved in industrial scale fraud.

Abdullah criticized the vote audit and invalidation process and said the process had problems since the beginning and his team’s complaints and concerns were not considered by concerned parties involved in the process.

He claimed that his rival team had the support of government and the electoral bodies during the election and vote audit process.

Although Abdullah did speak out against violence, there appears to be widespread concern that if the audit and power-sharing process have indeed broken down, fighting could break out along ethnic lines.

It appears that Obama was still pushing last night for Abdullah and Ghani to work out a deal, but that effort clearly failed.

By declaring himself the winner, Abdullah seems to be setting the stage for both candidates to declare themselves winners. From this morning’s Washington Post:

Daoud Sultanzoy, a top aide to Ghani, said the Ghani campaign hopes that Abdullah will not announce he’s abandoning the process. But if he does, Ghani appears prepared to assume power unilaterally.

When the US begins to squawk about both candidates abandoning Afghanistan’s constitution to declare themselves winners, don’t forget that it was the US who first brought up the extra-constitutional “power-sharing” government idea. There seems to be a very good chance that the situation will get worse very quickly at this point.

NATO Will Cry Through Their Party Without Guest of Honor

Remember that as recently as the beginning of last week, Hamid Karzai still clung to the illusion that yesterday was the date on which Afghanistan’s new president would be sworn into office. Yesterday was a very important deadline because tomorrow, NATO begins their summit in Wales. For over a year, this particular summit has been circled on many calendars as the time when Afghanistan’s new president would revel in having signed the new Bilateral Security Agreement and begin to benefit from the graft flow of training and weapons coming from a residual NATO force now immunized against charges in Afghan courts and eligible to remain in the country past the end of this year. With no new president emerging yet, today’s Washington Post reports that NATO is going ahead with their summit, even though there will be a notable absence:

A gathering of leaders from NATO countries this week was supposed to be an opportunity to celebrate the close of the alliance’s long war in Afghanistan and to embrace the country’s new president.

But it’s hard to have a party without the guest of honor.

Despite smiling promises to Secretary of State John F. Kerry last month, two rival candidates to succeed Afghan President Hamid Karzai have failed to resolve a disagreement over a review of disputed election results in time to declare a winner. As a result, there will be no Afghan head of state at the NATO summit in Wales.

Gosh, John Kerry just can’t understand Abdullah Abdullah. Why can’t he be the man Kerry was, and, “for the good of the country”, go ahead and concede in the face of evidence the election was stolen from him? Alternatively, why didn’t Kerry insist that Afghanistan’s Supreme Court just select a winner in the election dispute, so that the country can “move on”? After all, that worked out so well for the US (and, indirectly, for Afghanistan) in 2000.

NATO’s Secretary General managed to hold back on his tears long enough to issue a statement picked up in the Post story:

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the best of a disappointing situation at a news conference Monday.

“We have done what we set out to do,” Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels. “We have denied safe haven to international terrorists. We have built up capable Afghan forces of 350,000 troops and police. So our nations are safer, and Afghanistan is stronger.”

Who needs international terrorist groups when you have home-grown ones? The Taliban had this to say to NATO:

The Taliban militants group in Afghanistan touted the group’s role as trouble shooters, bridge builders and problem solvers in a bid to ally the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s concerns.

Taliban following a statement released ahead of the NATO summit in Wales, claimed that the group is the true representative of the Afghan people.

The statement further added that the group can play a central role in resolving the ongoing crisis of Afghanistan.
“The Islamic Emirate has arisen out of this nation and shared in all its toils and sacrifices. Due to this the Afghan nation has firm belief in the Islamic Emirate,” the statement by Taliban said.

Taliban called for an end of foeign [sic] military occuption [sic] in a bid to end the crisis in Afghanistan and inisted [sic] that complete withdrawal of foreign forces is the only successful solution.

Afghanistan’s ToloNews tries to put the best face on the summit taking place without a new president:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit is scheduled to be held this Thursday and Friday on September 4-5 in Wales where the 28-nation alliance will discuss and decide the financial and security assistance to Afghanistan.

Representing Afghanistan will be Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi, given that a president has not been elected yet.

Afghan political analysts hope that the absence of a new president will not change NATO’s stance on Afghanistan and continue to be committed to the country after the formation of a national unity government, stressing that the summit will significantly impact the nation’s future.

The article even does a bit of lobbying ahead of the summit:

The NATO Chicago conference had pledged to provide $4.1 billion to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF); however the Afghan government has announced that the overall financial obligations of the forces are currently about $6.1 billion.

Gosh, even as Afghanistan melts down, graft training and arming Afghan troops remains a growth industry.

The real tears are left for the final sentence of the story:

This year’s summit has been called the most important conference in the past 70 years.

Poor NATO. They’re hosting the most important party in 70 years and yet they have no boyfriend to bring to it. Go ahead, NATO. You can cry if you want to.

Abdullah Becomes Serial Quitter While Dempsey Continues Denying Reality

The last 24 hours in Afghanistan are a perfect summation of the insanity imposed by endless US occupation.

On the election recount front, after warning for several days that he might do so, Abdullah Abdullah has withdrawn his observers from the audit process. The UN is desperate to see the process through to the end, as tweeted by ToloNews:

The Washington Post, in its article on Abdullah’s withdrawal, holds out hope that he will continue to take part in the negotiations on Kerry’s extra-constitutional shared governance plan:

It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether Abdullah still planned to participate in a unity government with Ghani.

Ghafour Liwal, a Kabul-based political analyst, said Abdullah’s campaign may be using the boycott to seek more concessions from Ghani about his future role in a new government.

“Abdullah’s team is using the withdrawal from the audit process as political pressure,” he said.

Those talks about possible power-sharing are “far more important than” the technical issue of how to conduct the audit, Liwal said.

The New York Times, though, sees Abdullah as likely withdrawing from the entire process:

Both Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani pledged to Secretary of State John Kerry that they would accept the audit’s conclusions about who had won the election and then would form a government of national unity including officials from both campaigns.

But it was unclear Wednesday whether Mr. Abdullah planned to keep that commitment. He had yet to make a public comment on the matter, but statements from his aides have been negative. On Tuesday, his chief auditor, Fazul Ahmad Manawi, said that if the campaign’s demands for changes to the audit were not met, Mr. Abdullah would pull out of both the audit and the broader election process. “We will not continue to be part of the process, and any result coming out of it will not be acceptable to us and will have no credibility to us,” he said.

Gosh, Abdullah withdraws in the face of widespread fraud that he is unable to overcome. We’ve seen this movie before. Remember that was eligible to take part in a runoff election against Karzai in 2009 but withdrew just a few days before the election, knowing that Karzai would make sure of his own victory. The runoff was canceled and Karzai served a second term.

It was already becoming clear as the recount progressed and Ghani was looking more and more likely to retain an edge in the “final” count that he had no intention of really sharing power with Abdullah, so it seems likely to me that Ghani will assume the role of president in the next few weeks. It seems unlikely that there will be time for this to play out before the NATO summit at the end of next week, but the US (and by extension, NATO) stands ready to allow extra time for the eventual winner to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement.

And that brings us to the other insanity front in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours. Visiting Afghanistan to preside over the handing off of ISAF command from Joseph Dunford to John Campbell, Joint Chiefs Chair Martin Dempsey proved he is genetically incapable of straying from the military’s constant Afghanistan script of “We have the Taliban on the run and things are improving” no matter how dismal the situation: Continue reading

With Clock Still Ticking, Afghanistan No Closer to Resolving Election Crisis

Reuters reminds us this morning that under one previous set of plans, today was to have been inauguration day for Afghanistan’s new president. Karzai is now insisting that the candidates must work out the vote audit and their power sharing agreement very quickly because he intends to stand by September 2 as the definite inauguration day. But that doesn’t look like a realistic deadline, either, according to Reuters:

But officials from the rival camps, as well as from the election commission, doubt that the Sept. 2 date would be met.

“Honestly, I cannot come out with something definite on that, but I hope. It’s Afghanistan. Things are unpredictable,” said Abdullah’s spokesman, Mujib Rahman Rahimi.

An official for Ghani’s campaign, who declined to be identified, said little progress had been made in interpreting the framework for a power-sharing deal.

“Nothing yet has added to the political framework and the commission couldn’t reach an agreement in most of the areas,” the official said, adding that the candidates were meeting to try to break the deadlock.

Many Western diplomats also say the process is unlikely to be resolved in time.

“I don’t see how there will be any space for compromise, because the pie is too small and there are too many people who want a piece,” said one Western official.

BBC chimes in with a report today that the small pie is getting even smaller:

Afghanistan’s finance minister has said deadlock over the disputed presidential election has cost the economy $5bn.

Omar Zakhilwal told the BBC he would have to cut salaries and lay off government workers if the crisis was not resolved by the end of the month.

Foreign investment is at a standstill and government revenues have fallen sharply since the April vote.

Khaama Press adds that in addition to the $5 billion in lost revenues, Afghanistan also has seen around $6 billion in capital flight due to the election dispute.

The final process of invalidating votes is apparently underway this afternoon in Kabul, but as Carlotta Gall noted Saturday in the New York Times, the math of the audit is daunting:

The huge scale of the fraud — involving perhaps more than two million ballots out of roughly eight million reported cast, according to independent international estimates — has stymied efforts to achieve a democratic transition. Secretary of State John Kerry has intervened twice to keep the campaigns in agreement on a unity government and a complete audit of the vote, but the process has repeatedly broken down in disputes.

/snip/

Mr. Abdullah was the clear leader in the first round, with a 900,000-vote margin over Mr. Ghani. But the preliminary results of the runoff showed a gigantic improvement for Mr. Ghani — an “impossible” one, according to one Western official — of 1.9 million votes.

Hmm, some dirty hippie had come up with very similar math on the dramatic change in vote numbers–back on July 8.

Oh, and even if by some miracle, a new “final” vote tally does appear before September 2, don’t look for an agreement on the structure of the power sharing government any time soon.

With the NATO summit still planned for September 4, that looms as the real deadline for the West to decide if the zero option on troop deployment after the end of this year becomes the only option.

For John Kerry’s State Department, Constitutions Matter Only on One Side of Durand Line

John Kerry has made not one, but two trips to Afghanistan to pursue his extra-constitutional “power sharing” agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah that creates the completely new position of chief executive within the Afghan government. As was easily predicted, that plan now teeters near total failure. Clearly, Afghanistan’s constitution means nothing to John Kerry in his pursuit of US goals in that country.

In the daily press briefing yesterday at Kerry’s State Department headquarters, spokesperson Marie Harf had this remarkable exchange with a reporter, where we suddenly see that next door, in Pakistan, the constitution is of prime importance*:

QUESTION: One more quickly. What Imran Khan is saying and others in the country, including hundreds of thousands or millions of people in Pakistan, they are not happy with the current government, and Imran Khan is saying that those elections by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were fraud and fake and they were not legitimate or he’s calling that he should step down. That’s what I’m asking. I’m saying –

MS. HARF: He’s the prime minister, period.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So you’re not calling for Prime Minister Sharif to step down?

MS. HARF: I in no way am calling on that.

QUESTION: Does the United States support regime change in Pakistan?

MS. HARF: We support the constitutional and electoral process in Pakistan, which produced the Prime Minister of Nawaz Sharif. That was a process they followed, an election they had, and we are focused on working with Pakistan. And we do not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them.

How about that? In Pakistan, the State Department does “not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them”, while just across the border in Afghanistan, the Cabinet member in charge of the State Department is putting a huge amount of his own energy into an extra-constitutional change to the democratic system there.

Just three days ago, Kerry included this snippet in his letter of congratulations to Afghanistan on their independence day:

With millions of Afghans across your great nation braving violence and intimidation to cast their ballots, it is critical that all parties honor those voters’ aspiration for a democratic, peaceful transfer of power that unifies the country. We will continue to strongly support the democratic process and the agreement reached between the two candidates concerning the formation of a national unity government.

So Kerry claims he supports the democratic process and yet he wants it to produce a “national unity government” that is described nowhere in the constitution that enabled the voting. His real aim appears near the end of the letter:

With a timely resolution of the election and the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement, I am confident that the next year will open an important new era in U.S.-Afghan relations.

For John Kerry, as well as the rest of the US government, it always has been and always will be about keeping those troops going (and those military contracts running).

Postscript: Did you notice the *asterisk above? I felt compelled to add it when I said that for the US, the constitution in Pakistan is of prime importance. There is a huge exception to that statement. The democratically elected government of Pakistan, whose constitutionality Harf is praising in her briefing, means absolutely nothing to the US when the US wishes to carry out a drone strike inside Pakistan’s borders, even when that same democratically elected government has made it clear that such actions are a violation of sovereignty.

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